Review: Decadent Eats at Willow Bistro

Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. I’ve driven past Willow Bistro easily hundreds of times but, put off by its location in a shabby shopping plaza on 30th Street NW, never thought to check it out. That’s on me. Willow was a pleasant surprise and a place I’d be more than happy to revisit.

4/5 stars
Taste: 4.5/5. With a few small tweaks, it would be perfection.
Service: 4/5. Don’t expect a quick bite.
Ambiance: 3.5/5. Upscale, cozy and far too loud to be romantic.
Concept: 4/5. Delicious, fresh food with a menu that seems to draw inspiration from everywhere.
Pricing: 4/5. Not a cheap date but the quality is worth the price.

Jessica Holbrook taste-tests the pork chop, a side of Mediterranean rice, Willow pasta with blackened chicken, the Grecian salad, spicy stuffed hot peppers, the grilled shrimp appetizer and chocolate cake at Willow Bistro.

Sometimes, looks can be deceiving.

I’ve driven past Willow Bistro easily hundreds of times but, put off by its location in a shabby shopping plaza on 30th Street NW, never thought to check it out.

That’s on me. Willow was a pleasant surprise and a place I’d be more than happy to revisit.

What the restaurant lacks in parking lot ambiance, it makes up inside. The entry way is bright, with white and pink accents that reminded me of a cute cafe. A few steps further into the restaurant that French floral vibe is replaced by dark wood, mural-sized paintings and a long marble-topped bar. A trio of TVs gave us a great view of the Indians game.

The decor feels both high-end and comfortable, though the tonal shift is a bit confusing.

We stopped by for dinner on a Monday night and were quickly seated, but the restaurant was crowded by the time we left. I’d make reservations next time.

It’s also a very loud eatery—though the crowd may have been more lively than usual—so don’t anticipate any quiet conversations.

Our server was friendly and helpful, but service itself was slow. I understand fresh, made-to-order food taking a bit longer than typical, but our entire evening, from ordering to receiving a check, just dragged.

Luckily, the food is worth the wait.

We started with Spicy Stuffed Hot Peppers ($12), a delicious combination of hot peppers, crumbled sausage, ricotta and marinara. The dish was perfectly seasoned—I loved the obvious bits of fennel in the sausage—and had a nice kick of heat.

The Grilled Shrimp ($13) was some of the best I’ve ever had with huge butterflied shrimp and a beautiful buttery beurre blanc—that was decadent without being heavy—and juicy blistered cherry tomatoes. We opted for scampi style but it’s also available with drawn butter.

Both appetizers paired perfectly with the soft, crusty complimentary bread.

Dave declared the Frenched Pork Chop ($23/$18 on Monday) nearly perfect. The 12 oz. center-cut chop was juicy and flavorful. It would have been even better had the fat cap been rendered a bit more. His side of Mediterranean rice was well seasoned and tasty.

I enjoyed the Willow Pasta ($19), especially the juicy blackened chicken and heirloom tomatoes, but the roasted red pepper cream sauce was dull compared to the rest of our meal. I expected a bigger punch of flavor though I enjoyed the sauce’s creamy texture.

I upgraded my side salad to a Greek Salad ($2 upcharge or $9/$12). I loved the crisp greens, tomatoes and red onion paired with a generous amount of salty feta and delicious made-to-order Grecian dressing. It’s well worth the extra few dollars.

Stuffed from dinner but tempted by our server’s description of dessert, we took home a slice of chocolate cake ($6). The sponge was light, the frosting rich and chocolatey and the size perfect to share while watching Netflix.

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass