2661 West 14th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
by Beau Cadiyo
Full disclosure: Bac is an ex-roommate of my girlfriend’s friend from high school (it’s ok to go back and read that again for clarity). I first met him just before he got out of the corporate world and signed the lease for his building; he’s energetic, funny, and has the sort of vibrant personality that naturally draws people to him. He’s also subject to uncontrollable, unexplainable laughing fits which inevitably includes two or three other people, while everyone else in the room is left to wonder what just happened. Second, he invited us to a “soft opening," which meant free food for us so long as we didn’t write about that particular visit. It’s thus hard to write objectively about Bac’s, although I’m going to try.
Ok. Here goes.
Bac’s Asian-American Bistro and Lounge is fricking amazing.
Most restaurant lure patrons in with relatively deep happy-hour discounts . They rely on volume – of both customers and items sold – to make up for the larger per-item profit they would have otherwise realized. Bac, on the other hand, offers only $2 off a few dishes and drinks – not enough to arrange your evening around, but any less and they likely wouldn’t be able to cover their already reasonable prices.
When we walked in on a Friday at 6:20 p.m., Frank Hoxha and I were the only two people in the restaurant, and thus the only two who could enjoy the happy-hour pricing. At 6:35 p.m., five minutes after happy hour had ended, patrons started streaming in just as we got our first round (papaya salad and a bahn mi). By the time we got around to ordering again (spring rolls and tom yum soup), the dining area was full and dates without reservations who had hoped for tables were being seated at the bar. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – the entire restaurant is stunning, and the bar is a particular delight, well lit and, with the Cavs game playing, better located for cheering on Cleveland. The whole place feels like a tropical retreat, with verdant green on every wall. Televisions are visible in two corners, but are not the central focus of the bar.
And the food. The food! The Bahn Mi had pork, ham, Vietnamese sausage, pate, dill radish, carrot, cucumbers, cilantro and house mayonnaise generously layered on a baguette. I’ve been eating Superior Pho’s Bahn Mis recently, and they are delicious, especially when chicken is substituted for pork. Bac’s Bahn Mi, though, was superior to Superior. Multiple flavors came out at different points during each bite: first the sausage, then the other meats, vegetables, mayo and then cilantro for a strong finish. I finished The Billionaire’s Vinegar a few weeks ago, and it reminded me of Benjamin Wallace’s description of how a fine wine “opens” itself up to the drinker. This sandwich evolved in the same way. The papaya salad was sweet and tart, the tom yum soup had delicious shrimp and was spicy, sweet and thick, and the spring rolls were stupendous when dipped in the soup or in the peanut sauce that came with them. A biting ginger beer rounded off each bite perfectly.
I recently ate at Lucky’s, where a small portion of food can easily run to $15 without tip, leaving one’s pocket light and stomach unsatisfied. At Bac’s, two people can be well fed and alcoholed for $30, including tip. I admit that I may be biased, but tonight Edward Sandwichhands is coming into town, and we’re hitting a few places for some of Cleveland’s culinary delights. The first place we're going to stop: Bac’s.