15 Sep 2014
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Bites Nearby: From The Rail to Your Plate

Local burger joint puts emphasis on local flavor, freshness.

Bites Nearby: From The Rail to Your Plate Bites Nearby: From The Rail to Your Plate

Chef Mike Mariola must know a thing or two about beef. The owner of South Market Bistro and the City Square Steakhouse in Wooster recently opened The Rail, a 75-seat restaurant at Summit Mall that is all about the moo.

Local, local local

The Rail features source-verified local beef – ground at Cleveland’s Blue Ribbon Meats – and vanilla ice cream from Smith’s Dairy as well as other local products.

The Rail is serious about its beef, but also has a sense of humor. The motto on its website: “From the butcher’s rail to our grill to your plate, The Rail burgers are as honest and fresh as the cows you pass grazing Ohio’s farm country … just a little less active.” (The butcher’s rail is the overhead rail that holds slaughtered livestock awaiting the butcher – thus the name of the restaurant.)

A recent Saturday evening visit found the one-room bar and dining area bustling and lively. A long table in the middle of the room with stationary stools can accommodate a large group (or several smaller groups), and there are more-traditional seating arrangements elsewhere in the room.

A full-service bar features Ohio draft beers from Thirsty Dog (Akron), Great Lakes (Cleveland), Lagerheads (Medina) and The Brew Kettle (Strongsville), along with a few other higher-end beers: Stella Artois, Blue Moon and Guinness Stout (more on that later). No Bud or Miller Lite on tap.

Inventive specials and sides

The Rail offers a number of specials and signature burgers including the Local Yokel (Swiss cheese, Ohio thick-cut bacon, fried local egg); the Twinsburger (double burger, aged Cheddar,  barbecue sauce, tobacco onions); 7th Heaven (Ohio thick-cut bacon, truffle butter, red onion jam; and Crouching Burger (Hidden Bacon)  (Ohio thick-cut bacon, pork shoulder, crispy won-ton, Rail sauce).

I opted for the “classic” Rail burger with pepper jack cheese ($7.50) loaded and a side of skinny fries ($1.75). If you like your fries crispy, be sure to ask that they be done crispy. Bartender Diana Luangrath was happy to accommodate my request. (Disclosure: Diana is a friend – visiting The Rail was Local Editor Kymberli Hagelberg’s suggestion before I mentioned this.)

Available embellishments include grilled mushrooms and caramelized onions, along with speciality condiments such as the popular thick-cut bacon, avocado spread and sunflower-basil pesto. Prices range from 50 cents to $1.50.

Sides include skinny fries, housemade chips ($2.50), a side salad ($3.50), onion rings ($3.50) and truffle fries ($8.75 – truffles aren’t cheap).

The medium-rare burger came out quickly in a paper-lined metal basket overflowing with crispy, thin-cut fries. In this case, medium-rare was on the rare-ish side – which was fine by me – but if you’re not prepared for a fair amount of “moo” still happening, you might opt for medium or medium-well. Don’t get well-done: That’s just a crime against beef.

The burger was juicy. The bun was fresh and fairly absorbent, but it was still a bit overwhelmed. Our server wisely provided extra napkins, and we still needed more. With so many condiments (Dijon, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickles, red onion, spinach, mustard) the pepper jack cheese kind of got lost in the crowd. Maybe Cheddar next time.

The fries were crispy as requested, with a hint of garlic seasoning, which I embellished with salt and pepper. Somehow, against my better judgment, I ate nearly all of them. Very good.

One quibble: Cutting the red onion would have been helpful. Rings of onion slid out of the burger and ended up on the fries, upsetting the delicate balance of juicy burger being segregated from crisp fries. I suppose intact rings of red onion make for a prettier presentation; but when it comes to burgers, gimme practicality over presentation. Still, just a quibble.  

Our crafty bartender/server Diana presented a small sample glass with some ice cream swimming in a tannish liquid without telling me what it was. At first taste, and second, I thought perhaps it was Bailey’s Irish Cream. No. It was Guinness. The sweet creaminess of the vanilla ice cream offsets the bitterness of the Guinness. And there it is on the menu, one of several “Spiked Treats,” Guinness Stout Float ($7.50). Delicious.

Alternative moo and desserts

I am not much of a dessert person (which is probably why I didn't see it in the menu earlier), but this is one dessert I’d give serious consideration.

For vegetarians or just non-beef fans, there are alternatives such as the Hippie Pita (cucumber, mozzarella, hummus spread, $7.50) and a kids’ menu with those trusty standbys sloppy joe, grilled cheese and PB&J, and more ($3.50-$4.50). Salads  include a Wedge (iceberg, hard-cooked egg, bacon, blue cheese dressing. $7.50), Grilled Caesar ($7.50) and Caprese (mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil, sea salt $7.50). Unspiked desserts include root beer floats, sundaes and shakes featuring Smith’s vanilla ice cream ($3.50-$6).  

The prices aren’t the cheapest in the land (there’s always the dollar menu at your favorite fast-food place), but they’re certainly reasonable. You can get a burger, fries and a beer for under $15 (plus tip, of course).

Maybe the world didn’t really need another burger place, but local ownership (more or less) and the emphasis on local beef and other farm and brewery products, fun atmosphere and well-prepared dishes make The Rail a worthy addition to the local dining scene. That Guinness float was an unexpected bonus.

The Rail -- Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Summit Mall, 3265 West Market, (330) 864-7245.

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