Review: Cleveland-Heath in Edwardsville

106 N. Main St., Edwardsville, 618.307.4830,

Magic Carpet Ride was filtering through the speakers as I tucked into a dish of Brussels sprouts at Cleveland-Heath, the eponymously named restaurant by the girlfriend-boyfriend team of Jennifer Cleveland and Eric Heath in downtown Edwardsville. The obvious reaction as a food writer would be to overplay the coincidence, to blather on about what a magical ride it was to eat Brussels sprouts deep-fried to such tenderness, how the salinity of the capers and gentle sweetness of the shallots was a magical combination, how tossing it all with a tart lemon vinaigrette and topping it with shreds of Parmesan was some sort of magical inspiration.

But really, it was just Steppenwolf and some damn good Brussels sprouts. Though the fact that “classic” rock was playing and that those leafy, green, mini cabbages were so simply prepared yet so notably delicious said a lot about the attitude and approach of Cleveland and Heath. Despite the digs – once home to the fancy, pricey and very good Fond – there is nothing chi-chi about C-H: terra cotta colors offset with neutral-colored walls; a copper-topped bar and lots of dark wood accents; plain brown fastener file folders holding the menus; affordable prices; knowledgeable, well-trained, jean-clad servers bobbing-and-weaving around tables. The relaxed nature is not to be confused with insouciance, however. There is no indifference here, no slacker mentality.

The menu is compact, the quality of ingredients above reproach and the attention to detail so focused that when I requested half-and-half for my cup of Goshen coffee, the server made it to order with heavy cream and milk. The closest local comparison is Home Wine Kitchen – in philosophy, prowess and partnership (What is it about couples owning a restaurant together that always seems to pay off with such delicous dividends?). But when you attend The Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, as the couple did, and cut your culinary teeth at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Ad Hoc restaurants, as well as at the highly rated JoLe and Farmstead restaurants, opening your own place is a natural progression for funneling all that experience. Not bad for a couple who met while working in a Salt Lake City brewpub.

Kale may be the green of the moment, but C-H’s Facebook-famous kale salad is a fine way to explore the simple and sublime: a chiffonade of tender, raw greens tossed with garlic, a lemon vinaigrette, salt, red pepper flakes and Parmesan chips for a little crunch. I paired the salad with an order of cheddar-ham sliders and “chicken-fried” quail, two of several appetizers available at the time. The sliders arrived three to an order as cheddar cheese drop biscuits stuffed with shaved prosciutto. They were already addictive without the smear of house-made cherry jam that finished off this salty, tart, cheesy, slightly sweet decadence. These addictive biscuits are also available as a side; caution is advised. The quail – plump and whole, lightly breaded and pan-fried – was nestled on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and topped with spicy bacon gravy, soaking the bird’s crispy skin and making a luscious mess of a sauce; a standout not to be missed.

A bit Southern, a bit Mexican, a little Californian and predominately local: There is rich culinary soil here.

A bowl of posole (or pozole), robust and piquant with house-made pork broth and red chiles, is as beautiful in the bowl as it is delicious on the lips, with marble-sized hominy and braised pork topped with crunchy red cabbage, a dollop of spicy aioli and a burst of citrusy lime. There are sandwiches, four of them, most notably a pulled pork ’wich so hefty that it served as lunch a few days later. Heft is one thing; flavor, quality and pure satisfaction are quite another. C-H braises pork from Chad Rensing’s nearby farm, piles it high on a Companion pretzel bun with four house-made pickles, slathers on a spicy barbecue sauce made in-house, then, in true Southern style, heaps on blue-cheese coleslaw for another drippy, delicious mess. Even without the accompanying fries – a mix of thinly sliced sweet and russet potatoes – this sandwich is worth the drive.

There is more of Rensing’s pork, too, this time as a “porterhouse” chop (read: big, about 12 ounces and 1 to 1½ inches thick), cooked juicy and pale pink, and served on a bed of sharp-cheddar-spiked jalapeño bread pudding and seared green beans with capers and shallots. The dish alone redefines the standard protein-starch-vegetable combination. Top it with a sunny-side-up egg, and you either luxuriate in the decadent creaminess of yolk and juices marrying with the piquant, salty, onion-y flavors of the capers and shallots, or you find the whole thing too rich. I was in the former camp. Beef comes from R&K, another central Illinois meat producer, and the cut changes depending on availabilty. During one visit, it was (thankfully) rib-eye: a generous cut cooked medium-rare and, like the pork, served on a starch and vegetable bed. This time it was potato purée and gorgeous Broccolini that soaked up the juices and, rather than egg yolk, the melting creaminess of bacon butter.

Rabbit is a great dish to see on menus lately. C-H’s is a ragout of braised, shredded rabbit meat, carrots, celery and onions (mirepoix), mixed with fusilli pasta, topped with gremolada, and baked and served in a casserole dish. The long braise brought out the meat’s dark richness, while the sweetness of the carrots contrasted beautifully with its peppery seasoning.

Desserts should not be missed, either. An order of brioche beignets, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, come four to a plate with sides of chocolate sauce and Kahlua whipped cream for dipping, making them the perfect shared sweet. Old Fashioned Cherry Pie is actually rather newfangled: a ramekin of tart cherries baked with a flaky, butter-topped crust and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. It’s far better than old-fashioned. At some point while savoring that pie, We Will Rock You was on the playlist, a fitting leitmotif for a restaurant that will do just that.

Cleveland-Heath, 106 N. Main St., Edwardsville, 618.307.4830,

Berkshire Pork Porterhouse, Pulled Pork Sandwhich, Cheddar Ham Sliders

Low-key with enough panache to make it interesting. High decibles when crowded, which is often. Reservations not accepted.

$9 to $28

Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sat. – 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Bar open until midnight Mon. to Thu., until 1 a.m. Fri. and Sat.