Eating on the Fly: Cleveland

Our contributor defends this town’s surprising food scene

Facebook/Lolita
Facebook/Lolita
Cleveland has a lively and emerging food scene.

Cleveland has an impressive food scene. Although the "Mistake on the Lake" is often misunderstood, there are some notable restaurants and chefs in this lakeside city.  Michael Symon and Zack Bruell are the two most notable. I lived in Cleveland for about a year when I was at our flight attendant base there, so it’s only fair that I share some of my favorite places to eat in a city that doesn’t get all the credit it deserves. 

First, there is Crop Bistro. A former bank situated across the street from the West Side Market, this dining experience is exquisite. The grandeur makes this venue very special. It looks like Grand Central Station. There are colorful murals, vaulted, sculpted ceilings, and large mirrors adorning the walls. The mirrors give the illusion that this space is exponentially larger than it really is. And it is quite large already.

The food is pretty special, too. I had the pork chop with cheese grits and wilted greens. Perfect. Just what I had in mind. I ate every last bite. Unfortunately I didn't have dessert, but here are some of the offerings:

  • Pretzel Unlogic: chocolate custard, pretzel crust, malted whip, salted caramel, chocolate-dipped pretzel
  • Basked Alaska: rich chocolate cake, Mitchell’s coffee ice cream, toasted Italian meringue, dark chocolate sauce
  • Caramel Apple Waffle: fall spice waffle, cider baked apples, brown butter caramel, maple custard, sugar cage garnish

The cocktail I tried was comprised of fig-infused Bulleit bourbon, sweet vermouth, rhubarb bitters, and brûléed bacon. Any beverage that has bacon in any form calls (read: screams) my name. 

The service is fantastic and I can’t sing enough praises.

The best pork chop I've ever had in my life was at Michael Symon’s Lolita. (In case you haven’t noticed, I have an affection for pork.) Lola gets all the acclaim, but Lolita was there first. And this venue is situated in the very cute neighborhood of Tremont, which is a Polish neighborhood on the south side of Cleveland, which is strikingly similar to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood.  

At Lolita, I also enjoyed the best Brussels sprouts that have ever graced my palate. They were adorned with capers, anchovies, and walnuts. I would go here every day if I could and just eat the Brussels sprouts. For appetizers we tried the crispy pig tails and ears appetizer, which were delectable, and also the venison carpaccio, with pomegranate, orange, juniper, parsnip, and agrumato. What can I say, except for the fact that it was out of this world.

This is one of the best dining experiences I've had in ages. Fortunately my friend and I had been eating all day, so we were full enough to take home left-overs. The next morning I made the world's tastiest omelette from the left-over pork chop and Brussels sprouts. It was just as good as it had been the night before, if not better. 

The lighting is perfect. Romantic ambiance. I had been to Lola about a year and a half ago with a former love (but with whom I am still close friends), so I called him to tell him how Lolita measured up. We had loved Lola, and Lolita was a great runner-up. Lolita, ooh la la!

My third favorite Cleveland dining adventure is L’Albatros. A friend and I went during Zack Bruell's restaurant week.  Although I usually don't always like the restaurant week menu, and would rather try traditional menu offerings, I found my arm being very twisted to try the prix fixe menu.  Our server was very talented at making each entrée sound yummy and delicious, and you know what? He was spot on.  

I started with the winter garden salad with blood orange vinaigrette and pistachios. Perfect.  A wonderful mix. Each flavor complemented the next and they went very well together. Course two: I selected the farro, winter vegetables, and braised greens. I was very satisfied with this mix. It was a hearty grain mixture, and although I usually enjoy a hefty meat, I opted for this since I had veal and pork the night before. I was not displeased. It was flavored absolutely perfectly. For dessert I tried crème caramel. What a delight to the palate! My friend always guesses which drink I'll order, because she knows I love bourbon. I opted for a cocktail with bourbon and orange bitters, called "Fashionably Late." The original dessert we had sought out on the menu was a soufflé made with Grand Marnier, but they had changed the menu, so my friend opted for the cheesecake instead. It proved to be a good second choice.  I would absolutely return here again and perhaps try the short ribs. I saw them on the table of the couple next to me and they looked phenomenal. This being my second restaurant in the Zack Bruell group that I heavily enjoyed, (the first was Cowell and Hubbard, which was a former jewelry store) I would have to say, Bruell is pretty awesome.

Cleveland is top-notch in my book. I don’t care what the people say — this city is superb. I would come here again and again for work (and for pleasure). Sometimes after all of this eating on my layovers, I am surprised the plane is still able to take off with me on it!


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