Did you feel that? Did you notice the change in the air?
In the last few months, Toledo has gone from a very good restaurant city to a great restaurant city. The change was subtle but persistent, like a summer breeze.
This town has long been known among the local culinariscenti for having more than its share of terrific places to eat: The Beirut, Georgio's Café International, the Mancy's places, Fifi's Reprise (until its recent closing), Wei Wei, Mac and Tong's, The Rose & Thistle, and so many others.
But in six short months, these places have been joined by a host of ambitious and successful new dining establishiments.
It began quietly, stealthily, a small part of a much bigger story. After months of anticipation, the new Hollywood Casino opened in May near Rossford. With all the talk about the casino — the jobs it would create, the boost to the economy, the chance to lose a significant amount of money in almost no time at all — the fact that it brought with it four new restaurants was almost an afterthought.
Three of the restaurants are typical: a buffet, an all-night grill, a sports bar. But the fourth is not just an ordinary steakhouse. Final Cut serves up exceptional seafood and meat (the only other place in town that offers prime beef doesn't bother to season it before cooking). It provides impeccable service in an assortment of gorgeous rooms. It is precisely what fine dining should be, and the final bill reflects it.
If you are lucky enough to find success at the roulette wheel, Final Cut is one delicious way for the casino to extract some of its money back from you.
The next to open was Revolution Grille, chef Rob Campbell's first solo venture after impressive stints at Mancy's Bluewater Grille and Ciao! Ristorante. He serves his own version of New American cuisine, with its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients prepared in a variety of innovative ways — lamb meatballs for an appetizer, and Wagyu skirt steak rubbed with guajillo chiles and served with macaroni and cheese.
Just a couple of weeks later came Registry Bistro, an effort to help revitalize downtown through great cuisine. Chef Erika Rapp had made her mark at a couple of restaurants and the Toledo Museum of Art, so she and her mother decided to open their own place in the old Hotel Secor, which is gradually undergoing renovations. She too serves her own terrific version of New American cuisine: rabbit pot pie and pot roast ravioli.
And this clever food is all served in chic surroundings — concrete floor; high, partly exposed ceiling. Few rooms in Toledo are as hip as this.
Most recently, Sylvania saw the opening of Element 112, which takes what Revolution and Registry are doing and makes it more haute. The chef is Chris Nixon, a Sylvania native who previously worked in New York at Craft and as an intern at Thomas Keller's per se. Though the restaurant is still very new, it is turning out absolutely top quality food, including butternut squash soup with a texture almost like pudding and salmon with a sear like the top of crème brulée.
As you would expect, Element 112 is also quite pricey, especially for this part of the country. But if your pocketbook can handle it, it is unquestionably worth the cost.
And so the Toledo area has leaped gracefully into the 21st century. We have moved from an abundance of great restaurants to a superabundance, from a plethora to an embarrassment.
So try the new places, but by all means don't forget your old favorites. It's like the song says about new friends and old: One is silver and the other gold.