A (Dining) Room With a View
“It’s spring, thankfully.”
That’s what most Buckeye diners say after another long, cold, Midwestern winter. The solution to their winter blues? Taking up near-permanent residence at any number of restaurant patios, plazas and decks. With cocktails in hand and summery meals taken beneath giant sunshades, winter can feel a million years away.
These fine establishments have pushed vista dining — either through double-pane windows or open-air breezeways — to new, luxurious heights.
A recent $3 million renovation at Pier W (12700 Lake Ave., 216-228-2250) channels the luxury cruise ship aesthetic on Lakewood’s Gold Coast. Pairing stunning views of Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline with upscale seafood and one of Northeast Ohio’s best Sunday brunches, the Zagat-rated hotspot aims to please. Executive Chef Regan Reik has modernized the menu to match the updated décor, embracing Lakewood’s vegetarian contingent while cementing his eatery’s reputation for stellar seafood. Of that storied view, manager Kliment Stevoff says, “It’s a gorgeous view just about all the time. The sunsets here are amazing; boats decorate the lake in the summertime; and even thunderstorms are breathtaking. It couldn’t be any more romantic for couples, honestly.”
Tucked into six acres of Southern Ohio countryside The White House Inn (494 Muhlhauser Rd., Hamilton, 513-860-1110) pairs southern hospitality with a Russian River Valley aesthetic. Built in 1938, the farmhouse was restored into seven dining rooms replete with cozy country charm. The surrounding grounds are equally grand and green, graced with herb gardens, two outdoor patios, a gazebo, and breathtaking valley views. Hard as it is to believe, this rustic retreat is only three minutes off I-75. Manager Mike Lindner says that many come for the scenery and return for the sumptuous, “homespun” seasonal menu. “In the summer, our pork chop with gouda mash and baked cherry relish is very popular,” he notes. “And when you’re enjoying a dish like that, and not staring at the back of another building like you are on some patios, that gives our diners an experience that is truly special.
More Kennebunkport than Key West, The Dock (250 W. Main St., 937-864-5011) channels New England seaside charm in what owner Patty Schumann calls “land-locked” Enon, Ohio. Weathered wood and nautical vibes lend a Mainer feel to the wicked-good crop of fresh seafood, hand-cut steaks and grilled prime rib, slow-roasted on the outdoor grill. “We’re out in the country a bit, but we have a little bit more atmosphere than most big cities,” says Schumann. “Our diners can stroll our gardens with cocktails, enjoy live entertainment in the open air, and our award-winning crab cakes topped with lobster sauce.” With a boathouse that offers diners ambiance and a panoramic view,” Schumann said she’s used to hearing diners say, “We didn’t go to Bar Harbor or Key West this year — we came here!”
Tantalizing Tastes Among the Timber
Nestled into the grandeur that is the Hocking Hills, the Inn at Cedar Falls (21190 OH-374, Logan, 800-653-2557) is a nature lover’s dream. Equal parts Zen, adventure and gastronomic bliss, this stop combines a gorgeous menagerie of sights with equally gorgeous food. Apple wood-smoked duck with wild mushrooms, cherry-balsamic vinaigrette and creme fraiche, and lavender-brandy pound cake with dark chocolate ganache are but two menu options that send diners taste buds to tree-top heights. “It’s a warm and inviting atmosphere we have,” innkeeper Ellen Grinsfelder says modestly. “We make everything from scratch and with local produce, but with the hospitality matching the grandeur of the surroundings — with fragrant flowers and trees all around — and being within nature inside or outside, we aim for a wholly fulfilling experience.”
Cheeseburger in Paradise
If Jimmy Buffett, Jack Johnson and Kenny Chesney opened a restaurant in the Buckeye State, it’s pretty likely that the result would be Cabana on the River (7445 Forbes Rd., Cincinnati, 513-941-7442). This Tiki Bar-inspired restaurant features frozen specialty drinks, a huge beer list, and an All-American menu of classics like cheeseburgers, steaks and pulled pork. What’s more, Cabana offers a Key West-style view of the Ohio River so glorious, diners might forget they’re on Cinci’s west side. Cabana manager Adam Henschen takes pride in the escapism offered at this 22-year-old institution. “It’s a getaway vacation without leaving home, with a breezy seat along the river,” he says. “Our food tends to make people very happy, but atmosphere like this during the summer months most definitely helps.”
A Terrace in Tuscany
It’s Italy meets Lake Cumberland: part Tuscany and all-Ohio, and for casual waterfront dining, one can settle into Bel-Lago Bistro (170 N. Sunbury Rd., Westerville, 614-891-0200) and lose themselves in waterfront elegance. With a seaside vibe that plays up amazing views of Hoover Reservoir, Bel-Lago is as welcoming as a Sunday supper. To wit, Italian fare, steaks, chops and seafood are the call of the day. All dishes are flushed out with veggies and herbs from the restaurant’s onsite gardens. Manager Nicole Davis thrills at the suspension of disbelief Bel-Lago offers diners. “We like that once you’re here it doesn’t feel like you’re in Ohio at all,” she says. “And we’re expanding, so more people will be able to experience our fun elegance. You have to see it to believe it.” And with awnings on the rooftop bar, diners can linger for hours without baking like the salmon special they just enjoyed.
Ahead by a Century
Built in 1870 and in business over 140 years, the Olde Harbor Inn (562 Portage Lakes Dr., Akron, 330-644-1664) is equal parts Caribbean soul, Florida lighthouse, sandbar and banquet facility. The much-traveled lake-level Lighthouse Bar and Grill is but one of many dining zones here, where fine and casual dining collide with fresh seafood specials, great pub food, summery cocktails and waterfront views. It’s East Coast Slow and Midwest Charm, and owner Steve Burroughs chalks up the spot’s success to “classy American fare and service with flair” and to new Executive Chef Michael Ferris, who has taken the menu and dockside dining to new and great heights.
Northeast Ohio’s wine country is loaded with small estate wineries arranged around Geneva’s Grand River Valley. Among the favorites is Harpersfield Vineyard (6387 OH-307, Geneva, 440-466-4739), a crown jewel of the region. Harpersfield mixes Old World wine-making charm with the lush green-and-gorgeous vineyards and wine room. The surroundings are as unexpected as the menu, which features a host of casual Italian gems like pizzas that pair well with wine. Strolling the nearby gardens and vineyards with wine glass in tow conjures images of Northern California on a crisp and clear summer day.
No self-respecting list of outdoor gems could ignore Andy Troutman’s celebrated Summit County summer stop, the Winery at Wolf Creek (2637 S. Cleveland Massillon Rd., Norton, 800-436-0426). Literally BYOF (“bring your own food”), the winery encourages guests to pack a picnic or order a pizza and have it delivered. Other than snack foods and wine, of course, the winery offers little in the way of sustenance. Bring along some grub, a blanket for the lawn, and some cherished friends and family, and enjoy beautiful views of the Ohio Valley.