Culinary Cleveland: Come for the fun, you'll stay for the food
Great theaters, delicious dining, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and more make this city a mid-west gem. The dilemma you’ll face is where to start.
Start with the food.
We don’t usually begin an article with restaurants but Cleveland has become the center of the Midwest food scene. In fact, start with Polish home-cooking like the locals enjoy at Sokolowski's University Inn. This 3rd generation family owned eatery specializes in American/Polish cuisine served cafeteria style. You’ll call it a taste of the best home-cooking. They make all their own dishes from family recipes refined over decades. The mushroom barley soup was thick with fresh mushrooms, and the stuffed cabbage was a nostalgic delight. Humble sounding cabbage and noodles was excellent and flavorful. I ate, and ate, and ate. Then, when I couldn’t stuff in another morsel, more food came out, and I ate some more. Their signature dishes also include fantastic pierogies, and salisbury steak. Their recipes are available online.
Melt Bar and Grilled in nearby Lakewood is a casual brunch place making monster sized grilled cheese sandwiches. Some of the outstanding offerings include Lake Erie Monster Walleye, Melt’s pierogi (locally produced potato and cheese, pan fried with grilled onions) and Cleveland Cheese steak - grilled flank with portabellos, pepper, onions, and provolone. Fries were delicious and do get the chipotle pepper ketchup for a dipping delight. They offer burgers, too, but their grilled sandwiches are heavenly. Added pleasure: we all had a good time sorting through the menus, printed on back of album covers.
Tommy’s offers a little of everything, with a middle eastern dash. In its previous incarnation, it was a drug store owned by Lebanese man. He would come in with traditional dishes made at home. Folks liked the food and flavors so when Tommy took over the space and made a restaurant, he kept some of the favorites, modified a bit for American tastes. You’ll also notice that many of the dishes on the menu are named after people. Tommy’s lets folks customize menu items, and eventually these dishes became named after the regulars who kept ordering them. Feel free to make up your own dishes although we can’t guarantee Tommy will enshrine them on the menu. Absolutely try one of the fabled shakes – truly old-time delicious.
Cleveland also has vibrant ethnic bakery/cafes. We sampled the Spanish/Cuban eats at Lelolai Bakery in the area known as Tremont. Although its billed as a bakery, don’t let that stop you from having one of their delicious Cuban sandwiches – I prefer the Miami style which was just perfect. Their bread is freshmade. And certainly save room for the traditional Spanish shortbread cookie - Mantecaditos / Polvorones – and their luscious cheesecake.
Koko Bakery has Asian mini meat buns that are surprising light and fluffy with tasty pork fillings. Their cheese cake looks like a pound cake but very light texture, gently flavored with sweet cheese. Scallion pancakes with dipping sauce, bubble tea - mango bubble tea light and fruity with just the right level of sweetness. A high gluten yeast bread that’s a real treat.
Corbo’s Bakery – Italian pastries, need we say more?
Of course, there’s plenty of more formal dining opportunities. Baricelli Inn, built in 1896, is both an inn with comfortable rooms upstairs, and a restaurant known for its food, but especially for its cheeses and tasting dinners. The Baricelli Cheese Co. currently offers 60 varieties of the finest, hand-crafted and properly aged goat, cow and sheep milk cheeses. Guests can go to the cooler and select their cheese and the kitchen will serve them.
The newest buzz is Dante – just outside of Cleveland in Valley View. Upscale and elegant describes both the food and the decor. Even the breads and breadsticks are fabulous. They make their own pasta which is available as a tasting, starter, or main course.
Blue Point Grille, located in Cleveland's Historic Warehouse District, is known for its seafood served in a lovely sophisticated atmosphere. It has a well-deserved reputation for excellence.
Crop Bistro & Bar opened in June, 2007 offering food innovations as well as innovative food. Expect culinary artistry and whimsy combined with food-science expertise. Order off the menu, or try their weekly Tour de Crop, a seven-course tasting menu. What arrives is strictly chef’s choice.
Muse in the Ritz-Carlton features innovative cuisine that feels classic, highlighted by the fresh quality ingredients. The setting is both comfortable and elegant. It’s just a delight.
For more information on visiting Cleveland go to Positively Cleveland