Zhug, including the before times…

Remember the before times when we could go out to eat in a crowded restaurant?  Indoors?  With no masks?  And little fear beyond a bad but high priced meal or a long wait for a table?

Oh, those were the pre-2020 days…

We’re at now at the end of 2020, and the before times seem so long ago.  It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, Doug Katz, at the time owner of Shaker Square’s acclaimed Fire Food and Drink, opened a new Mediterranean/Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant right here in Cleveland Heights named Zhug.  Was that memory just a story passed down from past generations?  No.  It was real.  And we were there…(Figure 1).

Figure 1. A birthday at Zhug, complete with Zhug #6 (2019).

Zhug hit all the our sweet spots for upscale yet casual dining.  It was in the ‘hood and it offered a variety of small plates perfect for noshing with friends and family.  Zhug also offered a variety of vegetarian, dairy-free, and meat-centric dishes (Figures 2-5).  Oh, and have I mentioned their collection of cocktails yet?  The Zhug #6 is a must.  And if you saved room for dessert, try the Tahini ice cream.  We ate all of it before we could take a picture.  It was that good.

Figure 2.  A Zhug small plate for sharing (2019).  I haven’t mastered the menu names yet.  This could be the lutenitsa.  Ask your server when in doubt.

Figure 3.  Zhug small plate of octopus with potatoes and saffron aioli (2019).  I know…I feel a little guilty enjoying this plate.

Figure 4. Zhug beef Kofta small plate, for the carnivores in us (2019).

Figure 5. Brussel sprouts in the background and pita in the foreground.  Zhug small plates (2019).











All of this was, of course, during the before times.  Zhug actually marked the very end of the before times for us.  We had our last “normal” meal out with friends Will and Candice the day Ohio announced the closing of restaurants and bars in March 2020.  Sigh…those were the days…

Since Zhug’s closure to indoor dining, Doug Katz and crew have converted the small plates restaurant into a take-out experience.  Zhug in fact was quick to adopt a very slick no-touch service.  Once you place the order by phone or on-line, you just drive up to the curb when the food is ready and Zhug employees will bring it out to you (be aware you might have to jockey for a parking position with people coming to pick up their Vero take-out pizza).  Many favorites are still on the menu, including cocktails to-go such as our favorite Zhug #6.  Zhug also offers special take-out menus for the holidays and regularly rotates seasonal small plates into the mix.

I like others dearly miss indoor dining experiences, whether just for two or with a group of family and friends.  Even though I pine for these days of past and I fear for the viability of my favorite eateries, I know the closures were and continue to be necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 until the vast majority of the population is vaccinated.  For now, we’ll continue to enjoy whatever local take-out we can get our frequently-washed hands on and we’ll count our fortunes instead of logging complaints (Figure 6).

Figure 6.  Upon further reflection, my birthday in 2019 wasn’t so bad after all…

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Dana Crawford

Professor of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences and Associate Director of the Cleveland Institute for Computational Biology, with interest in pharmacogenomics, electronic health records, and diverse populations. Also, an avid foodie!