Cleveland Magazine credited chef and restaurateur Zachary Bruell with breaking down the barriers of traditional restaurants in Cleveland and introducing the area to emerging West Coast trends of bistro dining and fusion cuisine.
Bruell’s Z Contemporary Cuisine laid the groundwork for most of the trendy, white-tablecloth eateries in Cleveland today, the magazine declared. And shortly after Bruell sold his landmark restaurant in 1995, similar bistros throughout the city began to emerge, dotting fashionable Cleveland neighborhoods such as Tremont and Ohio City.
With his strong influence on the region’s cuisine, it’s surprising that restaurants have not always been in Bruell’s roots. Having attended the prestigious Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, Bruell was slated to take over his father’s builders’ hardware business. Instead, he found himself drawn to Philadelphia’s food renaissance in the mid 1970s. It was here that Bruell began his culinary career as a student of The Restaurant School in Philadelphia.
From there, Bruell and business partner Lewis Bolno opened Philadelphia’s 20th Street Café – a plain white space where Bruell set the tone for his culinary future, pairing unusual ingredients and establishing the notion that better restaurants were like theater.
Their success drew attention nationwide, most notably from famed chef Michael McCarty of one of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants, Michael’s in Santa Monica, California.
Bruell moved cross country to work for McCarty. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he and other chefs at Michael’s, including Jonathan Waxman, Nancy Silverton, Gordon Naccarato and Roy Yamaguchi, were credited with forever changing North American dining and pioneering French techniques in California nouvelle cuisine.
By 1982, their success had created new opportunities, and Bruell began to see Cleveland a viable market for his trademark fusion cooking. He accepted a lucrative offer to move to Cleveland to run The Garland at Landerhaven. But after some time, Bruell decided he wanted a place of his own. He opened the now legendary Z Contemporary Cuisine in Shaker Heights in 1985. Northern Ohio Live called it the “bellwether against which the competition must be measured.”
With Z, Bruell had set a new standard for a generation of Ohio restaurants that would eventually replace the formality of old. Dining in Cleveland became fashion, as Z won top accolades from a variety of national publications including The New York Times, USA Today, Food & Wine, Art Culinaire and Nation’s Restaurant News.
After 10 years building a loyal following, Bruell sold his restaurant to spend more time with his family, taking the top chef’s job at Ken Stewart’s in Akron, Ohio. Meanwhile, his fusion concept caught fire throughout the area, and by 2004, Bruell wanted back in the game.
Not to be outdone by Cleveland’s new generation of restaurants, he quietly opened the unassuming Parallax Restaurant and Lounge, a modest eatery in the Tremont neighborhood, just down the street from many of the look-alikes that he had spawned 20 years earlier. Wine Spectator magazine called it “the big hit of the year.”
After just two years in Tremont, The InterContinental Hotels and the Cleveland Clinic saw Bruell as an obvious choice to reinvent the space of their Classics restaurant – a traditional five diamond establishment that had run its course. In April 2007, Bruell opened Table 45, where he again plans to push the culinary envelope with a new concept he calls World Cuisine, an idea that stems from his tendency to blend a variety of tastes and cultures with ingredients from around the world.
In 2008, Bruell opened the Neo-French L’Albatros Brasserie + Bar which took over the location formerly known as That Place on Bellflower in University Circle, the cultural hub of Cleveland, and transformed the old carriage house into a contemporary eatery.
In 2010, Bruell opened his fourth restaurant in six years. This restaurant, Chinato, is his interpretation of Italian cuisine. Chinato is located on Cleveland’s hottest culinary block, East Fourth Street.
In January 2012, Cowell & Hubbard’s opening marked the fifth active Bruell restaurant in Cleveland, reviving the stretch of Euclid Avenue near Playhouse Square.
For more information on Zack and his restaurant concepts, visit zackbruell.com.