Gourmet Guide: Cleveland

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Ohio-born Adrienne Katz Kennedy reveals the next big food destination you’ve never heard of…Cleveland


I’ve been in Cleveland for 24 hours. I’ve already had a heavily-seeded Mish Mash bagel from Bialy’s – a tiny mom and pop shop that’s been around since I was a kid – following it shortly after with a thin-yet-stretchy pizza, topped with salty, fennel-infused, crumbly sausage and earthy chestnut mushrooms from my favourite old-school pizza joint Geraci’s. All washed down by locally-made Dortmunder Gold lager from Great Lakes Brewery.  I’m also planning to visit The West Side Market, Cleveland’s century-old public market in Ohio City, which sits on one of the coolest streets in downtown Cleveland, surrounded by hip breweries, an ice-cream factory, and a slew of restaurants featuring unique farm-to-table dishes.

I make plans to meet friends for brunch at Doug Katz’s restaurant Fire, for its peppery pastrami hash covered in gooey Gruyère cheese. Also on the visit list is On the Rise bakery; a business whose original shop was once the size of my London kitchen, now recently expanded into a neighbourhood favourite supplying restaurants all over the city with its breads and baked goods.

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Last but not least, jetlag be damned, I’ve planned two date nights with my husband. The first is at Best New Restaurant winner Spice Kitchen. The second is at Nighttown; a New York-style jazz club that started in the 1960s and is now a Cleveland institution for both its menu (seasonal but still classic), its wonderfully heavy-handed bartenders, and its eclectic live music venue.  At this rate, I’m going to need an extra seat on the plane home.

West Side Market

Born and raised in Cleveland, I am no stranger to the gems this underrated city has to offer. I cut my food-loving teeth on doorstop-size wedges of salt beef sandwiches and half-done dill pickles from Jack’s Deli. Growing up, dark and tangy Ball Park mustard (a Cleveland original I always stuff in my case after a visit) was the only  option for a hot dog, and freshly-made doughnuts at 4am from Prestis Bakery in Little Italy were the standard. But during this time, Cleveland remained one of the best eating cities no one had ever heard of.

In the last decade, the food scene in Cleveland has become one of America’s newly dubbed ‘foodie destination cities’ by publications including The New York Times and Bon Appetit. Brendan Ring, owner of Nighttown, describes it as a ‘tsunami of restaurants opening up’ sweeping in and giving all existing establishments serious competition.  For a city previously known for its poor-performing football team, a river that caught fire in the 1970s, and its general underdog mentality, Cleveland is shedding its outdated reputation.


On the culinary map


When Cleveland-raised restaurateur Michael Symon won American Iron Chef in 2007, Cleveland was pulled, perhaps unwillingly at first, into the national spotlight. This sudden interest helped the city itself respond by adding both value and funds into the local food scene, making it possible for well-trained, innovative chefs to open their own restaurants, raising the culinary level across Cleveland’s distinct East and West sides. Doug Katz, Jeremy Umansky, Zack Bruell, Jonathon Sawyer to name a few, each bring their own unique perspective to the city’s dining scene, encouraging East-siders to venture westward and vice versa.

Greenhouse Tavern

Above all, Clevelanders pride themselves in being an integral part of their community. Those restaurants that have experienced the biggest successes, in the face of competition against the bigger named chefs, have all dedicated themselves to being places that not only serve great food, but are entrenched in the lives of their customers. They are places that Cleveland natives cannot help but return to because, no matter how long we’ve been away, they still feel a little bit like home.


Why Cleveland was always destined for greatness


Cleveland’s culinary journey really began when it established the West Side Market in 1912. With over 100 vendors selling everything under the sun, from fresh vegetables to smoked meats to perogies, it is located on West 25th, a street now teaming with bars, beer markets, breweries and restaurants.

Lola - East 4th

Even the newly-renovated Cleveland Museum of Art has benefitted from the city’s new love affair with food. Its Provenance café menu has been elevated to chef-respected level, serving some of the most innovative museum cafeteria-style dishes I’ve ever experienced – kimchi noodle salads, meat from the tandoori oven and beetroot crema-topped veggie burgers are the perfect accompaniments to its recently redesigned atrium and interactive Studio Play room.

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