The News Herald (Willoughby, OH)
Pompadour astounds diners in Fairport
Pompadour, in former Fairport Harbor dive bar, astounds diners with creative tapas
Necessity has been the mother of invention in Rusty Phillips’ tiny kitchen at Pompadour, in a onetime dive bar on the main drag in Fairport Harbor.
Word of his bold, innovative food has spread to Cleveland’s West Side, Erie, Pennsylvania, and beyond, luring diners to seek out his tapas-style dishes in the restaurant borrowing its name from the beauty shop that once occupied the space.
Tapas, which originated in Spain, are small dishes with lots of flavor. The menu is designed to encourage ordering and sharing of several dishes, with prices for each ranging from $5 to $14. The size of the dishes is in keeping with the size of the miniscule 7-by-15-foot kitchen space.
The restaurant has just 23 tables, plus 18 seats at the bar and 20 tables outside on the patio.
Simple and straightforward defines the approach Phillips and his sous chef, Josh Stettler, bring to sometimes-offbeat taste combos, such as the peach caprese salad special this summer.
“Here in Ohio, it’s hard to get great tomatoes until late summer,” he said. “But we can get great peaches earlier.”
So he layers juicy peach slices with basil leaves and freshly made mozzarella and naps it with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction placed atop a dollop of extra-virgin olive oil. Illustrating Phillips’ attention to detail are the crunch of Cyprus black sea salt and slight scallion flavor in the oil, combining to elevate the peach caprese salad far above its simple ingredients.
“Cyprus black sea salt crystals are triangular, not flat, so (they) keep their crunch and bring a subtle mineral flavor to the dish,” he explained. “And fresh scallions are marinated in the oil and then strained out. The resulting flavors work in concert.”
A few dishes — such as the warm citrus-marinated olives — have become menu staples since the beginning, but other dishes cycle out with the seasons.
Creating dishes is a collaboration process, but the laboratory is often the Phillips’ home kitchen a few blocks
away in Fairport Harbor. The olives, simple as they seem, often take a month or more to make.
“We start with a country olive mix, strain, put them in a big bowl adding fresh thyme, garlic and zest of lemon, lime and orange, plus fresh juices. They marinate for three days to a month and are warmed in a pan before serving,” he said. “The longer they marinate, the better they are.”
Another staple that’s become a customer favorite are the cocoa almondstuffed dates with added flavors from sauteed Spanish chorizo, goat cheese and scallion.
“That was a special we created on the fly,” he said. “It’s one of the dishes we do ahead.
“It would be a nightmare in this small kitchen to do them any other way.”
For that dish, cocoadusted almonds replace the date pits and julienned chorizo is cooked in butter, which creates its own sauce. Goat cheese and scallions complete the creation.
Many of the specials evolve into menu items, being tweaked as they go. But some things, such as the marinated roasted mushroom with whole grain mustard crema, shredded cabbage, queso fresco and pickled red onion, have been
around from the beginning. That dish had its origins on the MotorMouth Food Truck, which Phillips operated before establishing Pompadour.
“People have their favorites, and they sometimes complain when I take things off the menu,” he said. “But it’s important to me to continually get better.
“I want to try new flavors and to always have something new.”
Soon ending, for instance, will be the burger and fries now available only Tuesday through Thursday.
“It’s a good burger, but people can get a burger anywhere,” he said. “And they take up a lot of valuable space to provision and prepare. It’s the same with sandwiches. We don’t want to be a sandwich place.”
Coming soon will be a roasted quail special made from poultry flown in from New York by D’artagnan, a premium meat distributor.
Phillips spends much time online researching provisions he can get and shopping for them himself.
“Because we’re so small, it’s difficult to get area growers to deliver here,” he said.
As a boy in a Sicilian Armenian family, Phillips cooked alongside his granddad since he was a child.
“As a kid, I wanted to go to culinary school,” he recalled.
But high school sports, college and other elements of life got in the way, he said. He ended up in Las Vegas and then Los Angeles for several years, doing camera work for a film company.
“When I got back here, I worked construction, cooked at bars and did some catering.”
A gig to help in the kitchen during the holidays at Bistro 70 in Painesville ended up lasting two years.
“This was before the food scene around here really got going, but I saw my first food truck then and figured I could build one,” he said.
He found the truck he would customize into MotorMouth and operated it around the area for about five years, before longing to settle in to his own brickand-mortar restaurant.
By then he’d married Lianne Mantione, an environmental attorney. The pair found the Harbor Town Bar and Grill for sale at 320 High St. and worked to transform it into Pompadour.
“Lianne works downtown all day and then comes here to wait on tables, bartend and greet people who come in,” Phillips said. “I couldn’t do this without her.”
He’s also proud of bartender Mike Stewart, who takes a chef’s approach to create his craft cocktails.
“I think he’s the best bartender in Cleveland,” he said.
Pompadour takes reservations online but keeps barstool space free for walk-ins.
The kitchen opened two years ago. The food truck is idle, although it’s available for sale.