Haunted House Restaurant in Cleveland Heights succeeds in its campy-fun, perpetual-Halloween mission

The Haunted House Restaurant opened in the summer on a prominent corner of Cleveland Heights that formerly was home to a location of Melt Bar and Grilled. Restauranteur Andre Scott says he and his partners fell in love with it right away but didn’t want to open just another eatery.

“I believe concepts win,” he says during a phone call. “I don’t believe you just open something without a purpose.”

He says he called one of his partners, Ryan Gullatt, who has a real gift for that sort of thing. About 15 minutes later, Gullatt called back Scott and, the latter says, they’ve been executing his vision ever since.

The name may suggest a blood-curdling dining experience, but the idea is to pay homage to the classic, often campy horror movies of the 1980s and ‘90s. Creating a family-friendly atmosphere was a top priority.

But while The Haunted House Restaurant aims to offer Halloween fun all year — Scott says he believes people would visit haunted houses 12 months of the year if they stayed open — I really wanted to check it out in October. Normally, we’d give a place a bit more time before reviewing it, but was I really going to want to go, say, around Easter?

I’m happy to report that not only did my friend Cassandra and I enjoy our recent Friday-night visit, we saw no signs of an operation still figuring things out. Things ran spooky-smoothe, and we ate very well and had a few laughs.

I certainly wasn’t the only one with the bright idea to visit this place in advance of Halloween. When I tried to make an online reservation, a little more than a week in advance, there were no open slots that would work for us.

With a backup restaurant in mind, we decided to show up and see if we could get lucky and grab two seats at the bar, and that plan worked frighteningly well. The tables were packed, and a few people were waiting in a lobby made to feel like a movie theater’s box office, complete with a colorful-but-horror-themed mural featuring, among other familiar faces, Slimer from “Ghostbusters” and Pennywise from “It.”

Speaking of the latter, it wasn’t the last we’d see of Stephen King’s murderous clown; a statuette of him sat on the bar just a little to the left of my stool. Sure, THAT’S what you want watching you eat.

We powered through, starting with drinks.

As you’d guess, The Haunted House Restaurant uses mostly themed names for items throughout its menu. The notable exception is the Handcrafted Cocktails section, which offers merely standard fare. They do offer cleverly themed 51-ounce Haunted Portion Bowls ($34.99), but we could agree on one. I would have gone in on the Candyman, featuring grape vodka and cherry vodka, or maybe The Thing — Vodka, gin, rum, tequila and more — but it did sound like a lot for two people.

We both settled on a Good Old Fashioned ($8). Cassandra thought hers was good, not great, but I found it too sweet.

We pretty easily came together on a couple of appetizers: the sloppy-but-delicious Nightmare on Elm Street Corn ($6.99 for the smaller Preview, $9.99 for the full-size Final Destination) and the Nashville Massacre ($13.99). Knowing how hot Nashville-hot tends to be, I figured I’d be left to devour most of this app consisting of fried hot shrimp with avocado mouse and braised pineapple salsa. My nefarious planned failed, though, as Cassandra enjoyed this zesty mix of madness as much as I did. The crunchy, fiery shrimp paired really well with some onion and what I think were small, round peppers. The complex little number was my favorite choice of the evening.

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The Entree menu selections include The Lurch Burger W/Fries ($13.99); The Grudge (market price), an intriguing salmon dish with Korean barbecue sauce; and the tantalizing Jerk Silence of the Lamb Pops (market price) — jerk lollipops with roasted potatoes and charred carrots.

For vegetarians and vegans, options include the meatless Ecto Burger ($14.99) and the Bang Bang Cauliflower ($12.99).

Cassandra fell hard for one of the four bad boys in the Brinner (breakfast-meets-dinner) section, the Pennywise ($15.99), named for the aforementioned sewer-dwelling clown. However, the red waffle sandwich packed with fried chicken breast portions, medium eggs, pepper jack cheese and candied bacon — and finished with “haunted maple heat sauce” — proved to be a rich-and-tasty dream.

I knew I’d have food to take home when I landed on Jaws (27.99), one of two pizzas offered. While The Jigsaw ($19.99) is a more standard pepperoni-and-mozzarella affair, Jaws swims to shore with seafood cream sauce, an unidentified cheese, caramelized onion, spinach, roasted red peppers and, more importantly, salmon, jumbo shrimp and even lobster tail.

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I knew the pies were large when I’d spotted a couple of pizza boxes earlier, but I wasn’t prepared for it to not be able to sit perfectly on the bar due to its circumference. While I suspected a restaurant with a haunted theme probably wasn’t the first place you could go for a fancy seafood pizza, I was pretty pleased with this oceanic offering. It was a bit of a pain to eat, though, as the tails had to be removed from the shrimp and the lobster meat pulled from its tale.

Ultimately, of course, food isn’t the main reason you’d plan a trip to The Haunted House restaurant even if Darnell “SuperChef” Ferguson is doing some interesting things. You go for the experience, and it did feel like a bit of a party that night thanks to an emcee organizing trivia contests and fun staff dances. (The highlight for me was when they played audio from a “Purge” movie announcing that the annual Purge was about to begin.)

Again, the whole vibe, from the music to the decor to the popcorn machine is more campy than scary. There was a “Halloween” movie playing among others on televisions above the bar, but the sound was off. Scott says they plan to have costumed movie characters walking around the dining space in the future.

And to encourage guests to dress up on weekends, they’re going to start offering prizes this weekend.

There was just a lot to take in, from some of the staff in scary makeup to a cool fog effect implemented at the bar via a mystery potion that made my pizza all but disappear. Hey, hey — making the pizza vanish is my job, fog.

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It’s all a fun enough time that you could imagine going whenever.

Eh, who knows? Maybe we’ll return around Easter.

Reviews are based on one anonymous visit to a restaurant.

The Haunted House Restaurant

13463 Cedar Road

Cleveland Heights

216-862-5585

TheHauntedHouseRestaurant.com

Location: Northwest corner of Cedar and South Taylor roads.

Type of restaurant: Horror movie-themed.

Hours: 9 to 2 p.m. (breakfast) and 4 to 11 p.m. (dinner) Tuesday through Sunday.

Liquor and wine: Full bar.

Cuisine: Eclectic.

Vegetarian: A few vegan-friendly options.

Reservations: Via OpenTable.

Outdoor dining: No.

KId-friendliness: Kids’ menu including chicken fingers, waffles, cheeseburger.

Dress code: Casual (or costumed).

Wi-Fi: No.

Prices: Mostly moderate, with many meal choices between $10 and $20 and kids’ items at $7.

Value: Decent.

Ratings (of five):

Food: 3.5.

Atmosphere: 4.5.

Service: 4.