A three-day culinary visit to Cleveland quickly teaches you one thing – we are going to need more time! Often overlooked and labeled as a ‘fly-over zone’, Cleveland is rapidly becoming a major player throughout the top Midwestern cities. To be perfectly clear, I am not referring to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or their recent rise in the public eye thanks to their exuberant sports teams…I am actually talking about their food and drink scene as well as their dedication to art and culture.
Let’s take a stab at some of the top spots for food first. Cleveland is the home of many notable chefs. With seven restaurants, 3 consulting projects and his freshly launched retail brand, Zack Bruell is known as a leader throughout the city’s culinary scene. This restauranteur is ardently dedicated to his kitchens, the quality of the product and the happiness of his staff. Restaurant burn out and staff turnover for Bruell are issues to be faced up front on a daily basis and his track record across the city of Cleveland is a testament to his efforts. Alley Cat Oyster Bar for one is a great, lakeside spot for seafood and his fine dining French restaurant, L’Abatros is renowned for its wine and cheese program. His partnership with executive chef Maxime Kien at the newly opened The Burnham at the Hilton Hotel’s showcases his dedication to Cleveland’s culinary diversity. Must-eats at The Burnham include their savory French toast with spicy pulled chicken, the braised oxtail and their ode to the South – shrimp and grits.
Any visit to Cleveland would be remiss without a stop at one of Michael Symon’s restaurants. Lola Bistro on West 4th street is a solid bet. The interior is a perfect size, not too small, so reservations are made possible and not so large that you feel you are just another number on their table-turner count. The bar offers a warm and welcoming glow and the impressive wine cellar looms large right behind it. The beef cheek pierogi is a classic order, along with pretty much anything else that comes out of the kitchen.
From these two chefs comes a strong stream of culinary talent dispersed throughout Cleveland. Over in Ohio City, an authentic hipster vibe sends diners to Townhall for sweet potato hotcakes and a design-your-own crepe station. Michael Nowak at The Black Pig presents a rustic, head to tail expression of local Cleveland dining; your dish will likely have a locally-foraged component and most definitely a strong affiliation with local food purveyors like On The Rise Bakery. Jonathan Sawyer formerly of Bar Cento and now of Trentina (among others) holds up shop in University Circle, where you can also find the highest concentration of art museums…oh and Coquette Patisserie.
Should you feel like something mind blowing yet understated, head to The Plum Café and Kitchen where Brett and his team churn out exquisite dishes ranging from caviar and pumpkin puree atop a lightly fried roselle leaf to the tastiest chicken feet you will likely ever eat. Platform Brewhouse is conveniently located right beside Plum, wash down those tasty eats with any one of brewmaster and Platform owner, Paul’s, fantastic and fleeting brews. Apart from a few classics, each brew is unique and on draft only.
Other notable spots include authentic (and that’s coming from a Canadian!) Quebec-style poutine at Banter – a restaurant and wine/beer store. Graffiti: A Social Kitchen, owned by two brother in laws, elevates bar food with sass and a great cocktail program while Mason’s Creamery ice cream churns out locally made batches of just about any flavor imaginable.
One of the best times to visit Cleveland is on the first weekend of any month…and this is because their alternative arts neighborhood in Waterloo has all of its local artists open and out late. Peruse the different galleries, challenge your perceptions and of course…reward yourself with a pie from Citizen Pie and an espresso from Ceramic studio/coffee house Six Shooter Coffee at the end of the street.
Whether you are in Cleveland for a weekend, or a week, the sense of enthusiasm resonates throughout each individual and is contagious. From the food scene to the dedication of supporting local goods and local artists, Cleveland has the recipes for continued growth and success. And the best part? This is only the beginning.