We’ve all come out of the pandemic a little differently — evolved, perhaps.
Some of us have grown mustaches, opened TikTok accounts, or picked up new hobbies. Rood Food and Pie, meanwhile, has become a brand new restaurant. The stylish Lakewood spot with its neon signs, glowing paintings, and artsy ’70s trailer park vibe opened in 2018 and offers a tight menu of gourmet family-style sliders and pies. But the pandemic has forced owner Brian Ruthsatz to rethink his shareable service concept. Today, Rood Taste & Vibes is home to an expansive exploration of seasonal ingredients, rustic cuisine and modern presentation by one of Cleveland’s hottest young chefs, Rachelle Murphy, a 23-year-old who seems out of nowhere.
“Rachelle really defies the norm and comes up with unique dishes,” says Ruthsatz, who once made Murphy a partner in the business after just her first year.
Murphy’s journey into leadership began at Baker College’s Culinary Institute of Michigan. She quickly caught the attention of her instructors, especially chef Amanda Miller. The pastry chef, who appears in Netflix’s School of Chocolate, coached Murphy to multiple gold medals in American Culinary Federation competitions and helped the 20-year-old land a guest appearance on an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games.
“She taught me to have confidence in what I’m doing,” Murphy says.
The institute also led Murphy to an internship at Ristorante Zeppelin in Italy, a culinary academy run by chef Lorenzo Polegri. Amidst the raunchy rock ‘n’ roll of Led Zeppelin, she fell in love with Italian food and pasta making. She traveled to Parma, Italy to see fresh cow’s milk turn into cheese wheels. “It was an amazing experience,” she says.
After graduating, Murphy returned home to Grand Haven, Michigan, where the 20-year-old spent the next year as executive chef of the Fuel Bar and Refuge. At a remodeled 1930s gas station with a smoker, she ran a pasta-
a kitchen from scratch that laid the foundation for what it does now but lacked refinement.
“I loved that stuff, but it wasn’t who I am,” she says. “I like well-presented dishes. It is beautiful, elegant and artistic. There, people just want their meat and their potatoes.
In early 2020, Murphy traveled to Seattle for a conference. During a sightseeing visit to the Pike Place Fish Market, she struck up a conversation with salmon-throwing fishmonger Colin Kiplinger. “I was just trying to catch a fish,” Murphy explains. “Now I’m about to marry her.” Although his plane left in a few hours, they went for a drink and fell in love. A few weeks later, she visited again and never returned home, taking a job at the Charlotte Restaurant & Lounge, a five-star restaurant in the city’s Lotte Hotel. When the pandemic hit, the newly engaged couple decided to move to Kiplinger’s hometown of Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Ruthsatz was in trouble at his restaurant Lakewood. Rood Food and Pie’s build-it-yourself slider concept had opened to rave reviews, with that magazine calling the atmosphere and menu of fresh rolls, funky coleslaw, and exotic meats “endearing offbeat.” “. But its concept of social sharing didn’t work in a new world of social distancing, and the slider plating took away the fun of trying a little of this and a little of that.
“How do you elevate the sliders and make them sexy? By making lamb, rabbit, goat and daikon salad,” he says. .”
It was getting by with a “boujee brunch” but needed a new executive chef with a strong vision for the uncertain future. After 12 interviews, he finally found Murphy, who was hired in January 2021.
“Her menu in Grand Haven blew my mind. Really unique stuff,” he says. “I said to this woman, ‘It’s a blank canvas. they never had before. And that’s what she did.
Murphy’s first menu was quietly launched in March 2021. Over the past year and changes, the menu, which Ruthsatz calls Murphy’s “greatest hits”, has undergone some seasonal evolutions to add fresh vegetables and new ideas. Still, some originals have become regular favorites, like tortellini emiliano ($22), a homemade pasta filled with wagyu beef and parmesan cheese in a spicy arrabbiata sauce.
While a concise theme drove Rood 1.0, the expansion defines the restaurant’s new phase.
Free-spirited exploration touches on a myriad of cultural influences but rarely merges them — a trend we also noticed at The Last Page at Pinecrest in Orange, which Cleveland Magazine readers just voted Best New Restaurant and of which Logan Abbe just edged out Murphy as the chief town favorite.
Still, sometimes I wasn’t sure what Murphy’s menu wanted to be. The southern flavor of the Cajun shrimp and grits ($22) was solid but odd next to the arancini ($12), a bland risotto ball and stringy fresh mozzarella in an arrabbiata sauce that didn’t impress. Despite Murphy’s time in Italy, we haven’t fallen as in love with the beloved tortellini as others. The zucchini and corn cakes ($12) were downright boring.
“I think the fact that our menu is so diverse and eclectic draws people in,” Murphy says.
For me, however, it’s the eclecticism, not the diversity, that keeps me coming back again and again.
The more you steer your ship toward plates that push the boundaries with unfamiliar, seasonal ingredients — like seared pork snapper ($36) or asparagus salad ($14) with creamy tarragon vinaigrette, tender asparagus, a marinated hard-boiled egg and a shaved egg yolk curing – the more exciting the Rood experience becomes.
I’m almost as big on fun in the dining experience as deviled eggs, so things started off great with the deviled fried eggs ($13). Bacon drippings are whipped into the egg yolk before the salty yolk batter is pressed into a container of fried egg white and served with Oaxaca chili aioli.
From there we moved on to a salad that I can’t stop talking about. A text on a roasted beet salad ($14) would usually alarm my friends and family of a hostage situation. Until they tried the crispy, creamy, spicy and sweet and sour combination of smoked whipped mascarpone, marinated oyster mushrooms, red onion, fennel, crispy quinoa and fresno vinaigrette, all elegantly plated and modern with a half bare trim. The beautiful variety of colors and textures stuck with me for weeks.
Unlike the two mind-altering salads, which stun by singing particular songs, many entrees excel in cleverly disguising new flavors in familiar packaging — a subtle nod to Murphy’s roots in that northern state. Presented similarly to a bone-in short rib, Fig Bourbon-Braised Oxtail ($30), a more common protein in Caribbean cuisine, conjures up fork-melting clichés. mouth which are quite accurate. Murphy breaks down whole tails into fist-sized pieces and braises them for five hours before serving them with smoked cheddar grits, fig-bourbon balsamic reduction and crispy parsnips.
Meanwhile, the spring onion gnocchi ($22) was just as exciting as the beet salad thanks to the handmade gnocchi and seasonal vegetables. A creamy eggplant sauce, candied green onions, shredded asparagus salad, oyster mushrooms, candied walnut crumbs, grated parmesan and fried eggplant all add up to a surprising spring mix with a little weight for that breeze. cold from Cleveland.
“It’s sort of taking Italian as a base,” she says, “But forget everything you know about Italian pasta.”
This is, in my opinion, where Murphy thrives. Fortunately, when the summer menu comes out in mid-June, diners can expect more experimental gnocchi and celebratory dishes.
such as fiddleheads, ramps, morels, halibut and monkfish, sometimes called “poor man’s lobster”.
“We play with things that are
hyper-local and hyper-seasonal,” says Murphy. “We want to give the best ingredients we can get.”
OG Rood fans are probably wondering about these pies. Don’t worry, there’s a full dessert menu left, including the salt and honey pie ($7.25 a slice; $34 a whole pie), served with a vial of bee pollen. In fact, Ruthsatz plans to
expand the hours around its pie offerings with a daytime Cafe Rood and the late-night Pie Bar with ‘coffee boujee cocktails’.
But don’t expect a return to sliders. Much like the impossibility of a new normal, we have come too far to turn back. We’ve read the books and mastered the hobbies – and hopefully shaved off the moustache. God willing, we’re better off.
Rood certainly is. Once highly conceptual, Lakewood Restaurant is now a playground for budding culinary creation with an operating partner who
rewards unbridled creative expression. Though she’s still finding her voice — and at 23, who can blame her — Murphy has already solidified herself as one of Cleveland’s most exciting young leaders. We look forward to each of his future menus.
How’s that for evolution?
“You always have to look forward,” says Ruthsatz. “You can’t look back.”