Food Fanatic Road Trip: Cleveland

Our resident expert takes you on a tour of Cleveland’s culinary landscape.

Clevelanders are tough. Talk trash about the “mistake on the lake” and make all the derisive remarks you want. None of it registers.

That’s because we’ve got food and culture down and bragging rights to an NBA championship.

Before native son Michael Symon hit the big time with his distinctive laugh and ear-to-ear grin on ABC’s “The Chew,” he was part of the growing culinary scene.

His first restaurant, Lola, in the Tremont neighborhood (now located downtown) got the attention of Food & Wine magazine, making Symon the first guy from Cleveland to win Best New Chef in the late ’90s. The recognition put the city on the dining map. And the city’s reputation only continued to grow as he launched more restaurants including burger chain B Spot and the recently opened Mabel’s BBQ. And he’s not done yet. Symon will open Sherla’s Chicken and Oysters in the space formerly occupied by his restaurant Lolita’s, but don’t expect the same menu. Sherla’s promises to deliver on its name with crispy chicken and oysters, both raw and cooked, as well as plenty of lighter fare.

Fantastic food isn’t the only thing to come out of Symon’s kitchens. His restaurants have also introduced new culinary talent like Chef Jonathon Sawyer, who has made a mark with Noodlecat and his locally sourced, sustainable-food focused concept, The Greenhouse Tavern

Long before Symon and celebrity chefs hit the city’s dining scene, Zack Bruell imprinted Cleveland with his interpretation of California cuisine in the ’80s. Today his influence can be found all over the city at any of his nine restaurants—from his downtown fast-casual burger joint, Dinomite, to the Alley Cat Oyster Bar in the revitalized Flats industrial district.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the city on Wednesday at lunchtime, don’t miss the food truck scene downtown by Reserve Square, where you’ll find up to 30 options. 

Though the city’s always making room for new ventures, old school still rules. Clevelanders can’t get enough of the hearty, reminds-me-of-home Polish food that Sokolowski’s University Inn has been serving cafeteria-style since 1923.

Old-timers are also the standard-bearers for big—like the colossal pastrami sandwiches at Slyman’s Restaurant. That’s why no one’s batting an eye at the size of the double-fisted sandwiches at Herb’n Twine Sandwich Co. in the Ohio City neighborhood.

A few meals in, you’ll start to notice Clevelanders dig hearty food, big portions and beer, perhaps in that order. Get ready for serious eats, and cap it all off at Honey Hut Ice Cream, where Frank and Marianne Page have been making some of best ice cream in the Midwest since 1974. No joke. 

FoodFanaticRoadTrip-Cleveland2

THE HIGHLIGHTS

Banter Beer and Wine

Part retail store, part restaurant, it’s ultimately the vision of three things Matthew Stipe and his partners love: an incredible selection of local and global beers, housemade sausage and poutine. Just be in the moment, and don’t ask questions.

Ginko

Skip Dante Boccuzzi’s eponymous restaurant, and head downstairs to what he calls a Tokyo-in-Cleveland dining experience. Need a reason other than the fish flown in from Tokyo’s Tskiji market? Try the flowing river sushi bar.

Melt Bar & Grilled

Any place that turns everyday entrees into a grilled cheese sandwich deserves your money.

West Side Market

Authenticity is the word here. True to Cleveland’s Eastern European roots, you’ll find a mind- boggling array of meat, cheese, seafood and produce. It’s a must-see.

Pura Vida

Chef-owner Brandt Evans’ restaurant proves that some Clevelanders want more than meat and potatoes. Here you’ll find the seasons celebrated, as well as several vegan options.

Crop Rocks

It's only fitting that the home of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also offers a restaurant with the same name. Rock Hall inductees can be found on the jukebox, as well as on the menu. Choose from comfort food favorites including the Hotel California Cobb, Kung-Fu Fighting, I Would Do Anything For Loaf, and Bone Thugs and Hominy.

Mabel’s BBQ

If anyone can create a barbecue style that Cleveland can call its own, it’s Michael Symon. His winning combination: the city’s beloved Bertman ballpark mustard and Eastern European spices slathered on his  favorite protein. Do we even have to say pork?

Chris Quinn is a Food Fanatics Chef for US Foods from Cleveland who works out the flow of a concept before allowing his creativity to run wild. He’s a self-proclaimed “big picture” guy.