An interview with Executive Chef Joël Johnson and Sous Chef Kyle McMullen
words and photos by Abby Cymerman
The entire menu at Jilly’s Music Room is gluten-free but you’ll never taste the difference.
Jill Bacon Madden, owner of Jilly’s Music room, is gluten-intolerant and wanted the restaurant at her nightclub to be a place where people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities could order anything off the menu, without fear of consuming gluten or accidental cross-contamination.
Executive Chef Joël Johnson and Sous Chef Kyle McMullen recently shared their experiences in the Jilly’s Music Room kitchen.
Why have a menu that’s entirely gluten-free?
JJ: There are places that offer gluten-free items, but our kitchen is 100-percent gluten-free.
When I was a chef at Goodyear, we did a lot of specialty foods for people who had allergies and different diets. We had a full-time nutritionist on staff, and I worked closely with her to make sure I could identify the allergens.
Having a gluten-free menu here has been attractive to a lot of people. Whether it’s a fad or people have been genuinely diagnosed with gluten-intolerance issues, we’re really careful that there’s nothing in this kitchen that contains gluten. Our vendor is very knowledgeable of our business needs, and we know that the product we’re getting is top-notch.
What is your favorite menu item, and why?
JJ: We’re proud of our food and our presentation. I have no favorite; that’s like saying, ‘Who’s your favorite kid?’
KM: The tacos are my favorite. We give them a variety of tacos — beef, pork and chicken — on the same plate. It’s served with a fire-roasted salsa, and it’s all fresh.
I also like the homemade potato chips with blue cheese and a balsamic drizzle. We give people a big plate of them, and they can just snack on them while listening to the music.
Do you use locally-sourced ingredients?
JJ: Yes, as much as we can, whenever possible. Our domestic cheeses are Amish, and the chicken comes from an Amish company. All of our meat products are sourced from our distributor in Brecksville.
It’s important to support your local economy as much as possible, and in many times and many instances, it’s just a better fresher product.
Do you plan to change the menu seasonally?
JJ: We change the menu every three months, and the menu’s going to change April 1. We’ll keep most of our staple items and introduce some new ones. We have a gluten-free pizza crust that we source from a bakery in Pennsylvania, and we’re going to use that crust to make small flatbread pizzas.
KM: There are going to be a few varieties of pizza: pesto and shrimp, caramelized red onion and mushroom, and fresh tomato and mozzarella.
JJ: We had a call for a sampler platter so people can order a couple of each item. We also had a fried bologna sandwich that we took off the menu for winter, and people have been asking for it so we’re going to bring it back.
KM: We’re also going to have a strawberry bruschetta that’s very summery.
What menu items do you suggest for readers of The Devil Strip?
JJ: It depends on their tastes. We have meatless items and vegan hummus. We have beef, chicken and seafood options. We’re going to put a sushi-grade Ahi tuna on the menu that’s line-caught for kabobs and a slider.
KM: We have wasabi-deviled eggs with sweet pickle, bacon and chives. Once an order of the deviled eggs goes out, we’ll sell three or four more of them.
JJ: Popcorn’s also a big hit. It’s made with a little bit of bacon grease and canola oil, topped with Pecorino Romano, Applewood smoked bacon crumbles and fresh chives.
For dessert, we make Jilly’s Bark with Belgian chocolate, homemade toffee, toasted almonds and a little bit of Mediterranean sea salt sprinkled on it.
With tapas, if you just want a snack or you’re sitting there grazing, you can order one or two items. If you’re hungry, you can order three or four items all at once or, in true tapas fashion, one at a time.