We live on the East Coast. Over the years, we have traveled to the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Gold Coast of Florida. But there is another coast, the North Coast, which is the area bordering Lake Erie and Ontario. The heart of the North Coast is Cleveland—yes, Cleveland. Recently, Nancy and I visited family in the Cleveland area and found Cleveland to be a great foodie town with an ethnic bent. There are Italian, Eastern, and Central European, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Irish, and more communities within Cleveland. It is truly a “melting pot” of food.
Michael Symon, “The Iron Chef,” has several restaurants in the Cleveland area. We visited his “B spot” to sample his approach to burgers. “B spot” stands for burgers, bologna, bratwurst, beer, and bourbon. That’s it. B Spot has been voted the best burger in America at the SOBE Burger Bash four times in the last five years.
His burgers are big (8oz.), juicy, and cooked to perfection. Nancy tried the Atomic Burger. This burger is made with ghost chili, pickled jalapenos, cilantro, red onion, pepper jack cheese, and habañero sauce. It’s a great burger to have on a chilly day. I tried the Old School Bologna Sandwich. The Bologna was cut about 1 inch thick. It was served with dill pickles, yellow mustard and American cheese. It has been since my childhood that I have tasted a German Bologna that tasted this good. The Brats were well made and were seasoned nicely, and the beer selection was expansive. Over 40 were one the menu. They ranged from PBR to Monk’s Café—a Flemish sour ale. The bourbons had some familiar names and many that were new to me. B Spot even had one that was as high as 125.6 proof—now that is sipping bourbon.
Michael Symon is a successful chef, but he also has a strong support of Cleveland and charitable causes. He has contributed his time and money to support work on a cure for autism. Coincidentally, April is Autism Awareness Month.
When we travel, we like to visit public markets in order to gain an insight into the community. Cleveland has one of the most impressive public markets in the country. The West Side Market has been in operation for over 100 years. There are 180 vendors providing everything from fresh fish to produce, a variety of baked goods, meats, sausages, teas, and coffees. Every ethnic group has food for sale in the market. If you want a whole pig or goat to roast—no problem. One stand had at least 10 different types of what we call Polish Sausage. From fresh and smoked Polish Sausage, there were Slovakian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and many more. Kate’s provided fresh seafood and one of the best selections you could ask for outside of New York, Chicago, or Seattle. When visiting Cleveland this is one place that you have to experience.
A short walk from the West Side Market is a unique restaurant, Crop, housed in an old bank building. Cleveland had the foresight to save many of their historic buildings and convert them into new, functional uses for the community. Crop is a large, open restaurant that has a 30-foot original mural depicting the West Side Market painted in the 1920s. The building is very impressive as is the food served to its customers.
We tried an appetizer called cherry bombs. This is a Roma tomato stuffed with chorizo and pepper jack cheese, wrapped in a won ton wrapper, deep fry and served on a smoked black bean and bacon sauce. It was outstanding! For lunch, Nancy had the Pan Seared Salmon with Asian blended rice, green curry, and Asian pear crudo. I enjoyed the black bean base for the cherry bomb, so I ordered the house Cropicana Bowl. This consists of the smoky black beans and bacon, jack cheese, cilantro rice, lettuce, salsa, sour cream and shredded chicken. It was wonderful.
The General Manager was kind enough to show us their large kitchens where they have a table that can be reserved by guests. We also saw the bank vault, which could hold a cocktail party for 150 people. At each end of the vault room, there were two doors, each weighting 90,000 pounds. On the same floor, there was a director’s dining room that has a capacity for 20-30 people for dinner. Crop is a great restaurant that has within it four separate areas for dining.
In downtown Cleveland, there is a stately building that was the home of Cleveland Bank and Trust. The building was saved and turned into an upscale supermarket by Heinen’s. As you enter, there is a three-story dome with food displays on the first floor and a tasting room on the second floor. Our first impression of the room was a flash back to our last visit to Harrods’s Food Court in London. Under the dome, there were areas for seafood, meat, bakery, and flowers. What a wonderful way to shop if you live in an urban downtown area.
Cleveland has several first class seafood restaurants. The number one seafood restaurant, and a perennial favorite with locals, is the Blue Point Grille. Located in the old warehouse district of Cleveland, this upscale seafood restaurant offers an elegant, multilevel setting for dining and its towering windows provide a view of the heart of Cleveland. Each year, the Blue Point Grille serves over 75,000 oysters and a large variety of fresh and salt-water fish. One of their specialties is the Chilled Seafood Tower. This consists of 6 Blue Point oysters, 6 shrimp cocktails, 6 Jonah crab claws, lobster and crab salad, smoked mussels, King Crab leg and side accompaniments.
Nancy chose to have their variation of bouillabaisse. The dish was beautifully presented with Maine lobster tail, shrimp, mussels, and white fish, served in a saffron broth. It was delicious and could serve two people. I chose to have the lobster Bolognese properly prepared with penne pasta, fresh Maine lobster, spinach, and a brandy lobster cream sauce. It was wonderful.
While in Cleveland, take time to visit the Arcade. Built in 1890, you will experience stunning historical architecture. The Arcade will remind you of the architecture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and of the Gallery of Milan. The Arcade has sweeping backlit staircases, balconies with dramatic views, and an 85-foot-high skylight spanning an area of over 300 feet.
In the downtown area is Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. I was told that Cleveland is second only to New York City for the number of active stage plays. However, what adds to the character of the square is the largest outdoor chandelier in America. A local citizen donated the one million dollar crystal chandelier in support of the arts in Cleveland. It is beautiful.
While in Cleveland, also visit the Cleveland Clinic for lunch or dinner. The Cleveland Clinic is over 168 acres and houses more than 44 buildings. Sky bridges that allow you to travel from one building to another without going outside connect most of the buildings. In the center of this complex are the Inter-Continental Hotel and its five star restaurant Table 45. Table 45 serves dishes inspired by the people who come to Cleveland for medical services.
So, if your company needs a volunteer to travel to Cleveland, raise your hand nobly and say, “I’ll do it for the company.” Then prepare yourself for a wonderful experience from food, ethnic traditions, architecture, and culture on the North Coast.