New Cleveland Restaurant Larder Up For James Beard Award

Black and white cookies, brownies and babka on display at Larder Deli and Bakery in Ohio City, a contender for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant 2019 award. [@larderdb on Twitter]
Black and white cookies, brownies and babka on display at Larder Deli and Bakery in Ohio City, a contender for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant 2019 award. [@larderdb on Twitter]
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Update: The Food Oscar nominees are set, and none of the Ohio chefs and restaurants up for awards made the final cut.  For the second year in a row, local chef Jill Vedaa of Salt was passed over by the James Beard Foundation for its Best Chef Great Lakes category.  So was Jose Salazar of Mita's in Cincinnati.   All of finalists in the category were from Chicago, where the awards gala will be held on May 6th.  Ohio City newcomer Larder Delicatessen and Bakery was one of 30 semifinalists for Best New Restaurant, but it did not advance.  The finalists are Angler, San Francisco; Atomix, New York City; Bavel, Los Angeles; Frenchette, New York City; Major Domo, Los Angeles. Here's our story about Larder before it learned its fate.

Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, a newfangled type of Jewish deli that opened last April in Ohio City, will learn today whether it is a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best New Restaurant award. That's Best New Restaurant in the country.  Puerto Rico, too.  The distinction would no doubt heighten the popularity of Larder, which has fans on Yelp bragging that they scored one of its fried chicken sandwiches "just in time" and praising its chocolate babka.  Chef and co-owner Jeremy Umansky told me during a recent visit that the reception by Clevelanders has been fantastic.  But he said he was still caught off guard when he learned last February that Larder was among 30 semifinalists for the coveted Beard Award.

"Like, when it first hits, it's like, wait, no, this can't be right.  You know?''s it," he said.

Describe what you're doing here at Larder.

At the simplest, we're an Eastern European delicatessen, akin to a Jewish delicatessen.  We make pastrami here, we make fried chicken sandwich, we make all sorts of pickles and cured meats.  One of the things we're doing here that we felt was missing from current deli culture was, we're making, literally, everything here.  So our pastrami, we start with raw beef, we put it through the curing process and we serve it to you.  We make all our own breads for all our sandwiches.  We make all our pastry here.  We even make our own vinegar that we then make our own mustard with.

 What's on your board today?

We always have a pastrami and a fried chicken sandwich every day.  But everything else changes daily.  Today, for example, our daily catch is a fried gefilte fish sandwich.  So it's gefilte fish that we make with carp and white bass and perch, all out of the Great Lakes.  We bread them in matzo meal and fry it and it's served on a bun with horseradish sauce.  It's really, really  good.  We also have a chicken paprikash.  We call it "chicken squared" because it has chicken meat and it also has a mushroom called chicken of the woods.  So, that's in the paprikash and we serve it over an acorn spaetzle.  So, we're always trying to tell these little stories, right?  So you have an acorn spaetzle, a noodle made with acorn flour, served alongside with a mushroom that tends to grow on oak trees and are both direction foods from Cuyahoga County.  We're able to tell this story of Eastern European heritage and food and about the people that settled in this area, and the biodiversity here that we find in the wild and on our farms and put it all together on one plate that you can get for $11.

How do you get nominated for a James Beard award?

For something like this, essentially think of a Secret Shopper experience.  People associated witht he Foundation, whether they're past award-winners or people on the board, from what we gather, have been coming in here since we opened this past April.  And that's how you end up on a list like this. 

So you had no idea?

No clue.

This wasn't like an Oscar campaign, where you're trying to win an award for Best Picture.

No, this isn't — kinda bringing up the Oscars, this is the Oscars of the food world.  Outside a few select cities outside the United States that get Michelin ratings, the highest honor a chef in the United States or a culinary can get is a James Beard award.

What are you most proud of?

Probagbly the thing I'm most proud of is how well our team works and how well everyone works together.  Having a fantastic crew with two fantastic business partners, one in my wife, Allie and one in Kenny Scott; we're all chef-owner here, it's all our baby.  And then all our extended employees who are here every day. We're a small team, we're just seven people total.  Everybody wants to be here, they're excited to be here, they love what they're doing here. Then, on the flip side, when people come in, they tell us all the time they love being here, they love coming here.  It's just really fantastic to hear.

A lot of times you  have restaurants that are really chef-driven.  You'll here, "Oh, that's a chef's chef."  They're cooking food for well-intentioned foodies and culinary professionals. So, for us to kinda take a little bit of that approach and cook the food we wanna cook in the ways we wanna cook it, but put it out in an approachable manner, has just been fantastic.

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