Our annual look at the essential restaurants illuminating the city's dining scene

After joining this list in its first year of operation, Watershed Distillery's on-site restaurant and bar has continued to earn its status as a destination-worthy restaurant. In every category—atmosphere, bar program, service and cuisine—Watershed is playing at a high level. And it looks like they're having fun doing it, especially behind the bar, which continues to highlight Watershed's spirits via complex and downright playful cocktails (with entertaining menus to boot).

On the kitchen side, executive chef Jack Moore's team has created a dinner menu that travels from delicate, seasonal small plates, like an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad to “gut-busting” (his word) mains like the Bacon Steak, a bone-in, bacon-cured pork belly. Simple on paper, the tomato dish was conceived by Moore's new sous-chef Aaron Mercier (formerly of Rooks Tavern). Slightly dehydrating the tomatoes, thus concentrating their flavor, showcases the summer's crop perfectly; heat from Thai chili and a fried lime leaf further elevates the complexity. Meanwhile, the gargantuan Bacon Steak arrives at the table with a thud, but is balanced by pickled veggies and crisp lettuce cups for making pork belly tacos with your tablemates.

Moore says much of the kitchen's success has to do with collaboration. When developing a new menu item, his philosophy can be summed up in three words: cook, discuss, repeat. Over the course of four or five tries, the dish will organically evolve into something new and different. Maybe no better example of Moore's ideal development process is the restaurant's Hay-Smoked Baby Back Ribs, the dish he's most proud of for its sourcing, creative process, taste, presentation and customer reception.

It came together like this: Moore asked his go-to beef and pork guy, Mike Jessee of Dee-Jays Custom Butchering in Fredericktown, Ohio, what product he needed to move. Jessee had a plethora of baby back ribs, so Moore bought 10 pounds and divvied the racks up among his cooks to test and taste in a “rib-off.” The final dish that made the menu was a mashup of each staff member's version. Moore's contribution: the presentation on smoking hay, quite a table conversation starter and, in his mind, that's largely the point.

Did you know?

Chef Jack Moore filmed a pair of Food Network television spots this year. His appearance on Burgers, Brew & 'Que, hosted by Clevelander and celebrity chef Michael Symon, is expected to air this season. Meanwhile, you'll find out if Moore Beat Bobby Flay (I was sworn to secrecy) this year or next, says Moore.