After dining at Bob Niemojewski’s fine establishment in Avon, you’d never guess he didn’t grow up around talented cooks. His passion for food was born at the age of 17, when Niemojewski got a job busing tables at Strongsville’s Portofino Ristorante. When a cook quit, he was sent to the kitchen never to return to serving again.
“No one in my family cooked a lot, so it was intriguing for me to see people actually making really, really good food,” says the now thirty something. “That’s what caught the passion for me. I was good at it.”
Self-taught Niemojewski is the chef, owner and founder of Nemo Grille, which seats about 80 and specializes in globally influenced American cuisine. Even in tough economic conditions, the restaurant packs diners in on weekend nights. It is such a success that he plans to expand to create a larger space for parties of up to 40.
Niemojewski opened the fine-dining establishment in 2001 as an Italian-inspired hot spot. He gave new life to an abandoned building on the corner of Detroit Road and Colorado Avenue with a complete renovation of the 1850s-era former residence. He says he was attracted to the historic Alten House because it was broken up into intimate dining rooms, as opposed to today’s more common open spaces. He then added a cozy, dimly lit L-shaped bar for patrons looking for a more casual experience.
Based on customer demand and seasonal inspirations, the menu has evolved to include more American favorites, such as Angus steak, Colorado lamb chops and gourmet, grilled flatbreads, along with its signature pastas and fresh seafood. Niemojewski and his chefs test new creations and cooking techniques to update the menu seasonally.
“We focus on our wine and food by paying more attention to the quality than quantity,” he adds.
It shows in both the presentation and flavor of his dishes. While dining there on a fall Friday evening, I started with the pear salad ($7), mixed with fresh greens, dried cranberries, caramelized pecans, Gorgonzola cheese, topped with julienne Bosc pears and dressed in a port wine vinaigrette. The subtle sweetness of the pears and pecans, pinned against the sharpness of the Gorgonzola and bitter greens, made for a delectable start to my meal.
For my main course, I tried the Chilean sea bass ($32), served over a bed of grilled asparagus and drenched in Marcona almond butter sauce, alongside truffle cheese sacchetti pasta pillows. The sea bass was cooked perfectly with a thin crust and topped with slivered almonds to add a crunchy bite. My fellow diner enjoyed the 12 oz. Angus New York strip ($28) off the Butcher Block menu. It was served medium rare, as requested, under a disc of horseradish-chive compound butter for an additional $2. However, the meat itself was so juicy and cooked to perfection, it could stand on its own.
The atmosphere is elegant, with dim lighting and modern décor. It boasts a cozy and comfortable environment. But Niemojewski credits his large core of regulars for the restaurant’s growth and ability to weather the economic storm. He says the real secret to success is ensuring no one leaves disappointed.
“I think the service is equally important as the food,” he says. “When I first opened, it was all about the food. I’ve come to understand that service is such a huge part of the experience.”