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
Frank and Charles Menches from Akron, Ohio are credited with inventing the hamburger when they ran out of pork for sausage patties they were selling at the 1885 Erie County Fair and decided to spice up some beef (with coffee, brown sugar and other ingredients) and hawk them as “hamburgers,” so named for Hamburg, NY, where the fair was held. Later, they went on to open Menches Bros. Restaurant, which is still family owned and operated in Akron, where their legendary burgers are served.
So, as the birthplace of the hamburger, it should come as no surprise that Cleveland Plus offers up an inspired array of burgers.
In addition to the location in Avon, another Chef Symon location opened in Woodmere on the east side of town. The restaurant features Symon’s famous burgers, brats, bologna, craft beers and the renowned “Fat Doug” burger (beef patty topped with pastrami, Swiss cheese and coleslaw on a brioche bun) winner of the 2010 South Beach Wine and Food Festival’s Burger Bash.
Wood booths and an old-fashioned neighborhood appeal await you at Brennan’s Colony. Once you’ve quit playing the Ms. Pacman arcade game, refuel with one of the bar-inspired burgers Brennan’s offers. Try the juicy “All World Burger” for one of the best burgers in town.
Buckeye Beer Engine
This place really celebrates beer by specializing in hard-to-find quality drafts with nearly 30 exceptional local and microbrews on tap. And, the burger list is off the charts. Try the West Side burger, equipped with caramelized onions, sour cream, and a cheddar potato pierogi or take a stab at the Fatty Melt, with a patty placed between two grilled cheese sandwiches, topped with bacon and tomato. If beef isn’t your preference, you can also substitute a multitude of different patty options, including a Portobello mushroom cap or chicken breast.
Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery
Casual elegance of the ‘40s-inspired specializing in delicious steaks, chops, BURGERS, white cheddar mashed potatoes and handcrafted beers.
Fire Food & Drink
This eatery, tucked away in historic Shaker Square, offers a sophisticated menu with an interesting burger surprise. The Miller Farm grass fed beef cheeseburger uses naturally raised beef to create a more organic burger experience. This burger is supplied by the nearby Miller Farm and is garnished with cheddar, tomato relish, mustard aioli and garlic fries.
Johnny’s Little Bar
Considered a true hidden gem, Johnny’s Little Bar offers what many rate as the best burgers in the city and a plentiful beer list. Located behind the ultra-upscale Johnny’s Downtown, Little Bar offers up a cool, casual atmosphere in a (you guessed it) very little bar.
Metro Bar + Kitchen
The recently opened Metro Bar + Kitchen is a dynamic, hip, energetic restaurant featuring a mouthwatering menu chocked full of American classics and a bar serving more than 15 craft and microbrews. Entering the emerging “burger bar” scene, Metro brings its own version of this American pastime to the forefront.
Owned by legendary NFL coach Don Shula, Shula’s 2 is part sports bar and part casual dining. The menu features steaks and burgers with a focus on “The Shula Cut” and premium black angus beef. A great place to enjoy televised sports.
Wesley T. “Pop” Swenson opened the first original Swenson’s restaurant in 1934. This quintessential American drive-in restaurant features burgers with a secret sauce that’s been in the family since its inception. (Veg-heads, there’s a veggie burger on the menu too!)
Grab an interesting veggie burger or a juicy Curtburger at a Cleveland landmark, Tommy’s. This veggie-focused eatery offers a wide variety of healthy dishes as well as ones catered to the carnivorous. The winner of numerous “best casual meal” awards, Tommy’s is a restaurant worth trying.
Check out these other great burger restaurant suggestions submitted by Twitter users following @PositivelyCleve:
Academy Tavern: 216.229.1171
The Greenhouse Tavern: 216.443.0511, www.thegreenhousetavern.com
Cedar Lee Pub and Grill: 216.371.1713
56 West: 216.226.0056, www.fiftysixwest.com
Heck’s Café: 216.861.5464, www.heckscafe.com
Parkview Nite Club: 216.961.1341, www.parkviewniteclub.com
Rocky River Brewing Co: 440.895.2739, www.rockyriverbrewco.com
–Submitted by ML, CA and SF.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have a favorite Northeast Ohio burger not listed here, please comment below so we can add it to the list.
I went to celeb chef/restaurateur Michael Symon’s B Spot Burgers on Saturday, and let me tell you it was a throwback comfort food moment. When I looked at the menu and saw fried bologna sandwiches and real milk shakes, I knew that a salad was not an option.
As someone who seems to be perpetually on a diet, there is usually nothing that can shake my resolve when I am on a mission to shed a few. That was until I saw the burger- laden baskets and savored the smells at this very comfortable, down-to-earth restaurant. B Spot is located at ETON: Chagrin Boulevard, one of the most upscale boutique malls in the area. This is a nice addition to the diverse mix of restaurants currently located at ETON. B Spot has excellent food where you can come in and watch a game at the bar or bring your family in to have a burger and fries.
Yes, Symon does have his signature Lola fries on the menu. My husband ordered some and of course I couldn’t let him eat those all by himself. My daughter had a regular cheeseburger and a chocolate milk shake. It was a real milk shake, and I know, because of course I couldn’t let her drink that all by herself. It was delicious. So chocolaty! ( Is that a word? If not, it should be.) I had the Thin Lizzy, well done, which when you read “Symon Says” will let you know what they think about people like me. It was seasoned so nicely that I practically inhaled it. It came with caramelized onions, cheddar, mayo and pickles. My husband had the Shroomage, with portabella mushrooms, blue cheese and Lola steak sauce.
They have a nice beer menu. The wine list is short, but I still found something to my liking. It was a pleasant time out with the family and I got to do some shopping too. – Submitted by SSM
Award-winning Cleveland chef Michael Symon is taking things to the court. Symon, in partnership with the Cleveland Cavaliers and ARAMARK, recently put the finishing touches on two new dining hot spots at Quicken Loans Arena just in time for the start of the 2009-2010 CAVS season. This creative partnership provides Symon the opportunity to serve up his signature dishes at basketball games as well as most other arena events.
The B Spot, named after Symon’s soon-to-be opened restaurant in Woodmere, Ohio is located off the Quicken Loans Arena main concourse near the Cavs team shop. The B Spot features Symon’s well-known burgers, brats and craft beers. Bar Symon at The Q, located on the arena’s Huntington Bank Club Level, offers an abbreviated menu from the recently opened Bar Symon restaurant in Avon Lake, Ohio. Menu items include Symon’s often raved about mac & cheese made with rosemary, goat cheese and roasted tomatoes as well as some snackier options like chips & dip and Uptown Popcorn.
The B Spot and Bar Symon at The Q aren’t the only upgrades you’ll notice this year. ARAMARK (a partner with the Cavs since 1994) promises other food and service enhancements including more variety, quality and freshness. New this season is NJ’s Soft Pretzels, a gluten-free option. Easy-to-read digital menu boards, state-of-the-art point of sale systems to speed things up and updated decor at Bridges, the Q’s fine dining restaurant, will also add to new flavor at The Q. –Submitted by CA