Good things came in threes this year for Jill Vedaa, Co-Owner/Executive Chef at Salt+ in Lakewood, Ohio: In addition to seeing her acclaimed bistro make the cut for Cleveland Magazine’s “25 Best Restaurants” list in May, Vedaa was named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes by the James Beard Foundation and emerged victorious on an April episode of the Food Networks’ Guy’s Grocery Games. “I had no idea about James Beard since I kind of keep my head down, so that was kind of a shocker and an awesome experience,” Vedaa says.
After entering the industry as a barback at 19, Vedaa instantly fell in love with food and the fast-paced nature of the business, sparking a career trajectory that included a stint at Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro. “That started my path of aligning myself with chefs I respected in the area and people I thought I could learn from,” Vedaa says.
She partnered with fellow industry vet Jessica Parkison in 2016 to open Salt+, where their shared vision for a family atmosphere in which people could share small plates free from distraction addressed “a niche that definitely needed to be filled” in the Cleveland area. “People are pleasantly surprised by the end of the meal that they can have two or three plates and be full,” Vedaa says of the Midwestern “meat-and-potatoes” diners who try Salt+ for the first time. “Just because it’s small plates doesn’t mean we have small food. I’ve been surprised at how well it’s been taking off and that I’ve been able to convert some people into eating this way.”
The menu at Salt+ changes every ten weeks—including its cocktail and wine list—but three dishes and three cocktails remain consistent; the white bean puree with mashed olives, calamari with coriander coconut glaze and cilantro, and chicken liver pate with toasted rye and pickles are permanent fixtures on the menu. Seeing those familiar dishes gives people something to “ease them into the new menu process” while preventing the transition period from being “overly daunting” for the kitchen staff, Vedaa says. The three mainstay cocktails, meanwhile, aim to honor the “important women in [their] lives”: the Poppy with Vim & Petal Gin and the Gigi with OYO Bourbon Whiskey are named for Parkison’s grandmothers, while the Evelyn with Watershed Distillery Four Peel Gin is inspired by Vedaa’s mother.
After spending decades immersed in Cleveland’s food scene, Vedaa says her work has been bolstered by diners “becoming more tuned into their food choices.” “I think Cleveland is becoming more of a food scene because people are demanding it,” she adds. “For me that was a struggle over the years, because I don’t think people were exposed to good food. But I think people are finally getting it, and it helps make independent restaurants a lot more successful.”