Last summer, Victor Morenz and Emily Gilbert closed their popular Chicago restaurant Home Bistro, which was a Boystown neighborhood staple for nearly 15 years. But Chicago’s loss will be Cleveland’s gain as the owners attempt to recreate the charm and personality of that beloved spot back home. They recently got the keys to the old Gusto space in Little Italy and hope to open Home Bistro sometime this spring. For the past few years Gusto did not operate as a restaurant, but rather a once-a-year pop-up during the Feast.
“Little Italy was always my first choice,” says Morenz, who grew up in Mentor. “We looked in all the other neighborhoods that you would expect, but we persisted and got a space.”
Home Bistro has a somewhat unique backstory. The restaurant was opened in 2005 by Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, aka The Hearty Boys, who were season one winners of the Food Network show “Next Food Network Star.” The restaurant was passed on to longtime chef Joncarl Lachman, who later sold it to Morenz, who worked with Lachman for years.
Reading past reviews of the place, it’s clear that the bistro earned a special spot in the esteem of its neighborhood, enduring ownership changes because the ethos, if not the food, held steady.
“When you go to a restaurant, it’s a given that the food should be good,” explains Morenz. “But what makes a difference is how you’re treated and how you feel while you’re there. That’s where the ‘home’ aspect comes in. Hospitality is the key word.”
Described broadly as a New American bistro, Home serves gutsy, ingredient-driven fare with roots in American, Italian and even Dutch cooking. The menu changes frequently, sometimes three or four times within a season, notes the chef.
“We’re a neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “That way, you keep people coming back because they know that they can always try something new when the return.”
Popular pasta dishes include bacon-wrapped, almond-stuffed dates, artichoke and Edam cheese fritters, crispy fried oysters with creamy grits, corn-off-the-cobb salad, beer-steamed mussels, rabbit and spaetzle, and rainbow trout with pickled cabbage and a fried egg.
The two-room space will be reworked to accommodate a bar/lounge on one side and dining room on the other. Morenz estimates a total occupancy of 80 seats, not counting outdoor seating.
When it opens sometime this spring, Home Bistro will serve dinner and weekend brunch.