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Soul Food

Hungry Hearts will Find Satisfaction in Northeast Ohio’s Unique Comfort Cuisine 


Pierogi at Prosperity Social Club

In Cleveland, comfort food isn’t something you indulge in to alleviate stress. It’s celebratory dishes prepared with equal portions of nostalgia and nourishment. Northeast Oho has a rich heritage of comfort food, rooted in eastern European family fare (kielbasa, stuffed cabbage and pierogi) and blue-collar American pub grub (Polish Boys, perch fish fries and gourmet burgers). Tremont is one of the oldest neighborhoods in northeast Ohio, and it’s an epicenter for Cleveland’s uniquely ethnic, blue-collar comfort food. At its heart sits Prosperity Social Club (www.prosperitysocialclub.com).

“We should probably be called Prosperity Comfort Club instead of Social Club,” smiles owner Bonnie Flinner. “We’re a poster child for comfort food, all of which is made from scratch— Hungarian-style stuffed cabbage, beer battered fish, corned beef Reubens on potato pancakes, pierogi, mile-high killer Gouda burgers. You can’t go wrong.” 

Tremont is a buffet of comfort food traditions. At Grumpy’s Café on West 14 Street (grumpys-cafe.com), customers enjoy a cozy, homespun atmosphere (with ever-changing artwork on the walls, and a leg lamp in the window) while feasting on huge portions of fresh meatloaf, catfish, lasagna, burgers, and awesomely enormous breakfast foods. Only a few blocks away, Lolita (www.lolitarestaurant.com) has become synonymous with gourmet Cleveland cooking, owned by Food Network Iron Chef, author, and local restaurateur Michael Symon. But beneath the swanky gastronome, Lolita’s menu is full of comfort food favorites.

Monte Cristo at Melt

Monte Cristo at Melt

Tremont is just the start. The many boroughs, burgs, and hamlets of Cleveland are filled with famous stops for comfort food. In Little Italy, Guarino’s (www.guarinoscleveland.com) cooks homemade Italian dishes just like grandma used to make. Melt Bar and Grilled (meltbarandgrilled.com) serves up the city’s best grilled cheese with three metro locations in Lakewood, Cleveland Heights and Independence and a fourth on the way. Each Cleveland neighborhood has a distinct restaurant that uses feelings and flavors to fill both stomachs and souls. We suggest you explore them all.

By Keith Gribbins

What’s Good Around Here?

Every culinary tourist knows that traveling to a new city means exploring the dishes that make it special.  Cleveland Plus is no exception with its signature foods ranging from freshwater fish to savory, ethnic dumplings.

Pierogi – Much like that of Italian ravioli, pierogi is a thick semi-circle (and often triangular) dumplings with crimped edges. But unlike its Italian counterpart, pierogi are traditionally stuffed with whipped potatoes and cheese (though some stuff them with more adventurous ingredients like beef, jalapenos, prunes or sauerkraut). Then, the dumplings are boiled, fried, grilled or baked and served slathered with butter and sautéed onions (or sprinkled with sugar if filled with fruit) and often accompanied by sour cream or apple sauce. While the specific Eastern European country of origin is unknown, pierogi can be found at the region’s Polish eateries, Ukrainian churches, Slovakian festivals and even German Oktoberfests.

Find it at Lola, Prosperity Social Club, Great Lakes Brewing Company, the West Side Market’s Pierogi Palace and Sokolowski’s University Inn

Polish Boy – Taking roots from the region’s rich African American culture, the Polish Boy is a truly unique sandwich. It all starts with a grilled Polish kielbasa in a thick, white sausage roll. Next comes a layer of tender, pulled pork followed by a coating of barbeque sauce. The sandwich is then topped with French fries and crowned with a mound of crunchy coleslaw. It goes without saying, but this colossal concoction is best enjoyed with a fork.

Find it at Hot Sauce Williams, Seti’s Food Truck and B Spot Burgers

Ice Wine – This sweet dessert wine is a staple at the region’s many vineyards. Ice wine is the product of allowing wine grapes to freeze while still on the vine to concentrate the natural sugars in the juice. The climate around Lake Erie is ideal for making ice wine as the warm lake protects the vines until the first hard frost, which generally occurs in early December. The grapes are then harvested and pressed immediately, while still frozen.  The result: an incredibly sweet wine with high acidity.

Find it at Chalet Debonne Vineyards, Ferrante Winery & Ristorante, Laurello Vineyards

Walleye and Yellow Perch – Lake Erie, a hub for even the most experienced fishing enthusiasts, is the 12th largest lake in the world and the shallowest, warmest and most biologically productive of all the Great Lakes. These conditions allow the Lake to supply more fish for human consumption than all the other Great Lakes combined. And, while the region boasts an abundance of freshwater fish, walleye and yellow perch stand out as the region’s most popular. Both fish are light tasting and have a delicate texture.

Find it at Pier W, Don’s Lighthouse Grill, Melt Bar & Grilled, Flat Iron Café, Brennan’s Fish House

– Lexi Hotchkiss

Go Local Or Go Home

With the West Side Market celebrating 100 years, there is no better time to get in on the hottest trend in the country: locally grown foods. The demand for local, healthy and organic dining options has never been greater. Luckily, Cleveland already has a leg-up. In a 2008 SustainLane ranking of the best cities for Local Food and Agriculture, Cleveland came in at number two. The fact that there are 225 community gardens and 25 for-profit farms within city limits certainly helps make CLE the place to be if you want local.

Cleveland also has an array of world-renowned chefs, such as Jonathan Sawyer (owner of Greenhouse Tavern on East 4 St.), who are championing this “farm-to-table” movement. But this type of fare is not reserved solely for a pro chef. Thanks to organizations like the North Union Farmers Market and places like the West Side Market and Ohio City’s Urban Farm, farm-fresh options are readily available.

The North Union Farmers Market is a nonprofit group that began operating in 1995 with the goal to provide Clevelanders access to healthy, fresh, local produce sold directly by farmers. Currently, the group runs eight farmers markets in the Greater Cleveland area. Through perseverance and dedication, the North Union Farmers Market has became extremely successful, receiving awards in 2009 and 2010 from the American Farmland Trust ranking in the Top 20 large farmer’s markets in the U.S.

All of this food talk got you hungry? Check out the information below and hurry on over to the nearest farmer’s market.

Shaker Square Market
8am – Noon
April 7 – December 22
13209 Shaker Sqaure
Shaker Square Shopping Center, Cleveland

Crocker Park Market
9am – 1pm
April 14 – December 22
189 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake

Cleveland Clinic Main Campus Market
10:30am- 1:30pm
June 6 – October 24
Carnegie Ave. & E. 100th St, Cleveland

Cleveland Clinic Beachwood Market
11am – 2pm
July 25 – September 26
26900 Cedar Rd., Beachwood

Cleveland State University Market
11am- 2pm
June 7- September 27
1930 Euclid Ave., Cleveland (In front of Marshall Law School)

Crocker Park Evening Market
4pm – 7pm
June 14 – August 30
189 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake

Chagrin Falls Market
10am -1pm
June 3 – October 21
Corner of N. Main St and N. Franklin St

For more information on the individual farmers and the process to become a certified vendor visit www.northunionfarmersmarket.org.

- Nate Klein 

Cleveland Insider Perspectives: Michael Ruhlman

Michael Ruhlman is a freelance journalist, author and culinary show judge. 

How did you initially befriend local chefs?

I became well-known in the food world writing books. I worked with some of the best chefs in the country. One of the guys I wrote about was Michael Symon. It was a natural thing. How could I not enjoy the bountiful and thriving food scene here in Cleveland?

Have you been surprised by the amount of attention that Cleveland’s culinary scene has received?

No. I think it’s happening in cities all over the country. I have drawn attention to Cleveland and Michael Symon has drawn attention to it. Attention begets more attention. In 1998, Michael Symon got a Food & Wine Award and people started to look at Cleveland. Then Jonathan Sawyer gets one and one thing feeds another.

How would you describe Cleveland’s food scene? Does it have a distinguishing feature or is it just wildly eclectic?

I would say wildly eclectic. It’s smart and we have a great territory for most of the year to grow stuff. We have a great produce scene and farming community. That makes it easy for chefs to fulfill their ambitions. It would be much harder to do this in say Texas or Arizona where you don’t have the produce we have.

Where’s your favorite place to buy produce?

A farmer’s market is as good as it gets. I go to the North Union Farmer’s Market at Shaker Square on Saturdays and the one at the Cleveland Clinic on Wednesdays throughout the summer.

What’s your favorite new restaurant?

There are so many great restaurants, it’s hard to choose just one. I love the ones that are pushing to do new things and use local ingredients. It’s incredible. It’s a thriving scene here in Cleveland and it’s only going to get better.

What’s your favorite place to hang out that isn’t food related?

My house. I’m a homebody. I don’t like to go out.

You moved back here in 1991. How has the city changed in the time you’ve been back?

Food-wise, it’s night and day. We have any number of restaurants that would be equally successful in New York City or in other major cities. We have the West Side Market that continues to make obscure things available to us, like lamb hearts and fresh portabella. We have great Asian markets. It’s a very good place to be a cook.

As a writer, what about the city do you find inspiring?

It’s a quirky city and I’ve always loved that about it. It seems to encourage eccentricity rather than sameness. I love the neighborhoods and the different landscapes, from rural to gritty city. I love everything about it.

What’s the city’s best-kept secret?

Why would I want to make that public?

Q+A with Jeff Niesel

As Seen On TV

Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola on E. 4th Street

The culinary scene in the Cleveland Plus region has won more than just ten minutes of fame through numerous features on national television shows and networks. Celebrity Iron Chef Michael Symon, who owns two major restaurants and a burger chain throughout the region, helped propel culinary Cleveland towards stardom. Now the spotlight shines brightly on the chefs forging the region’s starlight status on shows such as the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives, the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food and even more.

Hot Sauce Williams
The Travel Channel hosts Adam Richman and Anthony Bourdain each visited Hot Sauce Williams for its legendary BBQ delicacies such as ribs, fried chicken and of course, the Polish Boy. This kielbasa sausage is buried by fries and coleslaw, stuffed in a bun, and drenched in Hot Sauce Williams’ famous spicy barbecue sauce. 216.391.2230

Trattoria on the Hill
This quaint family-owned restaurant located in Little Italy was featured on Rachel Ray’s $40 a Day. In addition to their homemade sauce, the Gnocchi Al Burro and lasagna dishes consistently claim the title as the best Italian meals around. 216.421.2700, www.trattoriaromangarden.com

Geraci’s Restaurant
The original owners, who opened Cleveland’s Geraci’s Restaurant in 1956, have kept the business under the same family ownership ensuring the quality of the meal is never compromised. The menu features everything visitors would expect from a decades-old Italian restaurant with everything from specialty pizzas to homemade Italian sausages and meatballs, all of which was recently featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. 216.371.5643, www.geracisrestaurant.net


J+J Czuchraj Meats
Michael Symon raves about J&J Czuchraj Meats in the “Salty Goodness” episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network. For more than 50 years, the small stand in the West Side Market has been providing simply craveable homemade fresh and smoked meats such as kielbasas, chorizo, jerky and much more. 216.696.7083, http://stores.jandjmeats.com/StoreFront.bok

Cleveland’s Iron Chef Michael Symon opened this trendy Mediterranean bistro when he moved his original restaurant, Lola to the East 4th street entertainment district downtown. With an original menu using fresh and local ingredients, Lolita receives the attention of Anthony Bourdain and Michael Rulhman, as well as numerous reviewers’ with mouth-watering house cured meats and other dishes full of Mediterranean flair and flavors. 216.771.5652, www.lolitarestaurant.com

Lopez Southwest Kitchen
Lobster enchiladas, smoked gouda-jalapeño grits and mushroom-goat cheese quesadillas are just a few of the simply divine dishes created by Lopez. And the bar pours fifteen different types of margaritas and more than ten types of aged-tequilas. Located in Cleveland Heights, the restaurant strives for innovative interpretations on traditional southwestern dishes which received rave reviews on the “Totally Unexpected” episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network. 216.932.9000, www.lopezonlee.com

Recently featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Momocho is a modern Mexican joint located in Ohio City. A cucumber margarita compliments anything on the menu which includes six different kinds of guacamole (one is made with goat cheese and poblano chiles) and chilaquiles with smoked trout, crab and a fried egg. 216.694.2122, www.momocho.com

Slyman's Deli

Seti’s Polish Boys
Seti’s puts a unique spin on the traditional Polish Boy by adding chili and cheese to the top of the sandwich. This is just one of the reasons Michael Symon labels the east side restaurant as the best thing “Between Bread” on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

Sausage Shoppe
Anthony Bourdain has No Reservations about visiting the westside’s Sausage Shoppe. He gets a firsthand look at the sausage-making craft, perfected since 1938. The hams, kielbasas and sausages continuously win awards for the best meats in the state and from the American Association of Meat Processors. 216.351.5213, www.sausageshoppe.com

Sokolowski’s University Inn
Run by the third generation of Sokolowski family members, the University Inn is recognized on numerous culinary shows for its Polish menu featuring pierogi, bratwurst, cabbage and noodles. 216.771.8967, www.sokolowskis.com

Slyman’s Deli
While certainly not the “haute couture” of upscale culinary, the highly coveted Slyman’s Deli has been serving Cleveland’s best corned beef sandwiches for countless generations. Rachel Ray takes her bite of the legend on $40 a Day. 216.621.3760, www.slymans.com

Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
Guy Fieri makes a visit to Sterle’s, located on East 55th Street in Cleveland on Diners, Drive-In and Dives. The Slovenian Country House serves Slovenian dishes in an Alpine-style atmosphere. On Friday and Saturday nights entrees such as the veal and Wienerschnitzel are just an appetizer of an evening of dancing the polka and the waltz with live musicians and accordionists. 216.881.4181, www.sterlescountryhouse.com

Jonathan Sawyer at Greenhouse Tavern (c)ScottMeivogel

Steve’s Gyros
For more than 21 years, Steve’s Gyros has been perfecting the Greek dish at a stand inside the West Side Market. In 2007, their gryo stuffed with juicy meat, wrapped in a warm and buttery pita and topped with homemade tzatziki sauce was named the best in the country by Maxim Magazine. It also was recently featured on Man vs. Food with Adam Richman. 216.566.9825

The Greenhouse Tavern
While most of the publicity about The Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th street features their sustainable operating practices and farm-to-table initiatives, it is also important to observe the French-inspired menu options and techniques. Many variations of frites (the gravy frites come highly recommended), and foie gras steamed clams are great starters, while duck, fish and egg-based entrees make it a “Guilty Pleasure” on The Food Network’s, The Best Thing I Ever Ate. 216.393.4302, www.thegreenhousetavern.com

Viewers should tune in to the current season of the Food Network’s the Great Food Truck Race to catch local food truck sensation Chris Hodgson and his Hodge Podge truck race across the country and compete to win the grand prize of $100,000. And stay tuned for Restaurant Impossible’s stunning makeover of the Mad Cactus, located in the suburb of Strongsville. Other local favorites spotlighted on the silver screen include Big Al’s Diner (The Best Thing I Ever Ate), Great Lakes Brewing Company ($40 a day), Lola (No Reservations, The Best Thing I Ever Ate), Lucky’s Café (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, The Best Thing I Ever Ate), Melt Bar and Grilled (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Man vs. Food),Tommy’s Restaurant ($40 a day) and the Velvet Tango Room (The Best Thing I Ever Ate).  – AI

Culinary Commandos

The kitchens of Northeast Ohio have produced an elite crew of cooking professionals. “Clevelandhas a lot of talented chefs,” says Chef Jonathon Sawyer, owner of The Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th Street. “I would say a lot of our local chefs are very unique and inventive, but there is always room for more.”

The craft of fine cooking has been the passion of Sawyer since he was a Cleveland kid of 13. Today The Greenhouse Tavern (thegreenhousetavern.com) is one of downtown’s great independent restaurants — a French/American-fusion bistro that focuses on delicious, locally-sourced, farm-to-table dishes — the first certified green eatery in Ohio.

Before The Greenhouse Tavern, Sawyer actually worked with arguably Cleveland’s most famous indie cook, Michael Symon. As a Food Network Iron Chef, national author, and local restaurateur, Symon’s name has become synonymous with gourmet Cleveland cooking, at both of his food boutiques — Lola downtown and Lolita in Tremont (www.lolabistro.com).

Of course imaginative recipes are not just the work of TV kitchen celebrities. Matt Fish loved grilled cheese so much he opened Lakewood’s Melt Bar and Grilled in 2006 (www.meltbarandgrilled.com), serving up the tastiest, two-fisted sandwiches in Cleveland. Serving 600 Melt sandwiches on a typical Friday night, the tattooedClevelandcooking veteran decided to open a second location onCedar RoadinCleveland Heights.

Northeast Ohio is brimming with similarly-gifted chefs. Chef Sergio Abramof has been creating award-winning menus in Cleveland for over 16 years at his cross-cultural and Brazilian bistros, Sergio’s in University Circle and Sergio’s Saravá in Shaker Square (www.sergioscleveland.com) respectively, but uniquely Cleveland dining destinations like his flourish because of the patronage of local and visiting foodies.

“Great independent restaurants will continue to thrive as long as there is strong, continued, and active community frequenting them,” says Abramof. “That’s why my wife and son often enjoy a Saturday lunch at Nate’s Deli. Or on a night off, I often find myself eating delicious sushi and tempura at Shuhei Restaurant in Beachwood, or you might catch me atPearlof the Orient inShaker Heights, getting the chicken corn soup, with some fresh shrimp chips to go.”

– Submitted by Keith Gribbins, guest blogger

Insider’s Perspective: Greenhouse Tavern Chef/Owner Jonathan Sawyer

EDITOR’S NOTE: We talked to a few notable Clevelanders and asked them what they liked about Northeast Ohio. Here’s Jonathan Sawyer, celeb chef and chef/owner of The Greenhouse Tavern, Ohio’s first green-certified restaurant.

Were you born in Cleveland?

I was raised in Cleveland but I was born in Chicago. Both sides of my family have lived in Cleveland. My grandparents lived in Maple Heights and Bedford Heights, so my roots are here.

What neighborhood do you live in now?

I live in Shaker Heights. I grew up in Strongsville and met my wife in Strongsville.

What’s the best thing about living in Shaker?

The school district. That and my house, which is almost 200 years old. I really like old things and my house was built in 1855. It’s a really cool old farmhouse. There’s a lot that we could do to it to make it more livable and modern, but I’m okay with the way it is. The way that the houses were built back then, it had a coal cellar, a root vegetable cellar, and a regular cellar all fully-enclosed in giant layers of brick. I use one for my wine cellar and all the vinegar we use in the restaurant is made in my basement. It has an 83-case production capacity.

Why do you think the restaurant scene in Cleveland has taken off like it has?

Cleveland, for a city as small as it is, really has a phenomenal food culture and chef culture. Thanks to people like Michael Symon, we started getting the national spotlight even though we had chefs pushing the envelope and doing incredible things well before that. It was through the national media paying attention to him that people started paying attention to chefs like Zack Bruell and me. Without Mike and what he brought to the scene, we probably wouldn’t be getting as much attention. We owe him a huge thank you for that. One of the most interesting things is that it’s much easier for us to compare ourselves to the Pacific Northwest. We don’t have the mass, but man do we have the product. I think that’s one of the most interesting things: how fertile the Cuyahoga Valley is. We’re so lucky to have the products we have in such close proximity. We’re weights and pounds ahead of other cities. No offense to Colorado, but their tomatoes suck. No offense to Florida, but they can’t grow corn.

Read More…

2010 Cleveland Culinary Challenge

Attention foodies who look at chefs like rock stars, people who want to see the state-of-the art teaching and demonstration facilities at Tri-C’s new downtown Hospitality Management Center and/or anyone interested in a fun night out, The Spirit of Cleveland, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting local hospitality education and Cuyahoga Community College invite you to the second Cleveland Culinary Challenge.

This exciting event centers on a 45-minute food challenge not unlike those you see on the Food Network. Competing for the title are Tri-C students teamed up with talented area chefs like Doug Katz of fire food and drink and Karen Small of Flying Fig. The friendly competition will be evaluated by restaurant critic, editor and guidebook author Douglas Trattner; author, journalist and Next Iron Chef judge Michael Ruhlman; and Cleveland Foodie blogger, Michelle Venorsky. The Alton Browns of the challenge, giving a play by play in the kitchen, are Maureen Kyle of WKYC TV-3 and Andrea Vecchio of WKYC TV-3′s “Good Company.”

The event also features flair bartending, ice sculpting, pastry making, holiday table setting, floral arrangement demonstrations and a silent auction. Guests may also participate in tastings from Chef Brandt Evans’ new Pura Vida restaurant on Public Square along with other delicacies at food stations throughout the venue.

The Cleveland Culinary Challenge takes place Wednesday, November 3, 2010 5:30-9pm at Tri C’s newly completed Hospitality Management Center at Public Square. Tickets are $75 (get yours here) and all attendees receive a FREE ticket to Friday night of the Fabulous Food Show (November 12). Valet parking is available for an additional $8.

Come celebrate the Cleveland culinary scene and help raise money to support one of the biggest industries in northeast Ohio with some of the hottest foodies in town.

For more information, please contact Tamara Dyer at tdyer@positivelycleveland.com or 216.875.6609.

– Submitted by C.A.

One Place That’s Really Cookin’

Trust me, it tasted way better than it may look in this picture.

Lobster mac-and-cheese . . . trust me, it tasted way better than it may look in this picture.

A few days before Father’s Day I did one of my favorite Cleveland things with one of my favorite people—I took a cooking class with my dad at the Loretta Paganini Cooking School in Chesterland (about 25 miles east of downtown Cleveland).
This is the fourth class I’ve taken at LPCS . . . the third with my dad. With a name like “Sizzlin’ Seafood” I knew we were in for a fabulous feast. Turns out, feast is an understatement for what we experienced.

The way it works is this: When you check in at registration you’re handed a copy of all the recipes being cooked during class. Then you head to the kitchen, take a seat at one of the three long tables available and start munching on the fresh bread waiting for you.  The instructor (in this case it was “THE” Loretta Paganini herself)gives cooking tips and tells entertaining stories while a variety of concoctions bubble and sizzle on the stove and a bevy of smells fill the air.

Read More…


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