For this issue’s food review, the PressureLife crew visited Zhug in Cleveland Heights. While small plates have become more popular, Chef Doug Katz’s newest venture opened late in 2019 to bring shareable Middle Eastern and Mediterranean to the Cedar-Fairmount district. Will the PressureLife diners find Zhug to be a mecca for magnificent mastication or will they share a sense of disappointment? Find out what our fearsome foursome thought of their experience.
Jim – Best brussel sprouts I’ve ever had in my life – okay, I wanted to get that out of the way. I have a love-hate relationship with Zhug – my taste buds loved it, but my stomach left empty. My favorites were the pastrami short rib, lamb hummus, and brussels. My problem with the hummus is they gave you a pretty big bowl and two pitas for five people. When we asked for more pita, they gave us one at a time. Who has time for that? The shareable concept is becoming more popular these days and I love it. However, shareables need to be large enough to share with your friends right? Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. If you have a large wallet, small hands, and a mouth, this is the place for you. 3.5/5
Alex – Pro tip for people going to Zhug for the first time – don’t be afraid to order that extra dish. Dropping an eight-item order for a five-person table may feel excessive, but the more plates the merrier at this establishment. Yes, certain orders are on the slight side – I’m looking at you, smoked octopus – there were several dishes I’d order again in a heartbeat. The pastrami short rib was divine, although that’s probably best to split between two or three people instead of our ravenous quintet. As Jim said, the sprouts were tremendous. If only six-year-old me knew how much he’d come to love those tiny cabbages. In addition, the hummus and the labneh were wonderful, even if the aforementioned lack of available pita delayed some of the satisfaction. The shareable plates may not be everyone’s favorite format, but Zhug has some damn fine dishes that are well worth the trip. 4/5
Hannah – If you are looking for a great-tasting restaurant that forces you to adhere to your diet — Zhug is the place for you. It’s pretty much impossible to blow all of your Weight Watcher’s points, because, well, there just isn’t nearly enough food to do so. Which actually works out to be pretty great because the flavors of just about everything were impeccable — I’d have eaten enough to have made myself sick. The labneh, the brussels sprouts, the short rib, and the Zhug no. 6 cocktail are all worth a special shout out. And the lamb and apricot hummus sounds like a concoction of things that I’d mix together and ingest to stay home from school with the stomach flu, but god, does it work. At one point I was eating it with a friggin’ spoon. And that is because there was only two pieces of pita bread for four people. And with three dishes that required bread. Asking for more got pretty weird after the second time, so try to push your luck if you’re in the mood for some fun. Overall, really beautifully done place with exceptional food; it just make sure you understand that “shareable” means you’ll be fist fighting for each bite. 4.5/5
Dave – Occupying a very large, perfectly-lit space, I wasn’t sure if I had under dressed for this dining experience. However, it’s winter in Cleveland and our server was wearing a Metallica shirt, so I think I was fine. The $14 cocktail I ordered (zhug no. 6) was rye whisky based with hints of honey and amaro – no complaints, no letters written home. We did our usual ordering of most of the menu and there were a few killers in the bunch. The lamb hummus was phenomenal and I would highly recommend it. The Brussels sprouts were a standout, especially because we get those everywhere we go. These were probably the best in show. The pastrami was pretty delicious but, like everything, was portioned very sparsely. For your picky eater buddies, the fried chicken is just chicken fingers, and for your culinary badass friend who had a subscription to Food & Wine, the smoked octopus was the most interesting. I don’t want to out anyone here, but I went out with Hannah afterward and she ordered more food, so make this part of your night not the final show. The best way to experience this restaurant would be with two or three people and everyone orders two things – and everyone asks for extra pita. The check came out to about 35 dollars a person and we all had one drink. Not crazy, not cheap. I’ll fill up on hummus before my next Grog Shop or Cedar Lee experience. 3/5