My little brother, or rather my younger brother- he is a generous 10 inches taller than me- has been trying to get me to visit Cleveland for over a year. He moved there from San Francisco and had tried to convince me that it was even more charming than The City by the Bay. Really? I had my doubts. But that is not the reason we had postponed a trip there. It was purely logistical- I promise! Finally, we found a long weekend and decided to make the 8 hour drive from Philadelphia to see what my brother was talking about.
We arrived late on Friday night- around 9:30pm, and we were shocked to see downtown Cleveland as busy as it was. Restaurants were bopping. For some reason, I had imagined this sleepy little Midwestern town that went to bed at 9pm. Silly me.
My brother and his fiance snagged us a table at Michael Symon's Lola, which my fiance and I had been super-excited to try (we're not-so-secret Michael Symon fans). The verdict: awesome. I wish I had taken pictures, but we were ravenous when we got there and a bit discombobulated after the long drive. We opted for some signature cocktails and the pierogi and sweetbreads for shared appetizers. Being in Polish country, I had high expectations for the potato dumpling and it was even better than I could have imagined. I ordered halibut and one snazzy peanut butter chocolate dessert and took tastes of the amazing hangar steak and sturgeon dishes. The winning dish was the hangar steak. Michael Symon, you rock.
We had a bit of a late start to Saturday but still managed to fit in a visit to the West Side Market which houses local producers and vendors. My brother and his fiance took us to their favorite crepe stall- Crepes de Luxe, and while they waited in line, we ventured around to check out all of the goods. We were surrounded by Polish sausages, pastries, seafood, cheese, and spice stalls. And the building was beautiful. Just take a look at the ceiling!
I loved watching the crepemakers. They were like culinary artists managing the enormous crepe griddles. My goat cheese, spinach, and tomato crepe was the perfect late morning breakfast.
What was most wonderful about our trip to the market was that we noticed how polite and friendly people were. We love Philadelphia, but there's a bit of a toughness to the people there, and stressful situations like Saturdays at the farmers' market only accentuate that grit. In Cleveland, I accidentally walked into someone and found them apologizing to me for being in the way! These people are amazingly nice.
The girls and guys split up for a bit- the girls to do girly things like look at wedding dresses and the guys played basketball. We met up for lunch at this little taco dive bar in Tremont called Barrio where everyone gets a little notepad to fill out their taco orders. We ordered their special goat cheese and peach guacamole to start- yum!- and I designed my own chicken tacos. This is a fun place to check out if you're in the neighborhood.
Next off was the golf course! After nearly a two year hiatus from the links, I was excited to get back on. And honesty, a wee bit proud of my younger brother for being so grown up and being a member of a country club. My brother and I spent our summers on the golf course in North Carolina, serving as each other's caddies, ball finders, and cheerleaders, so it was nice to get that back- if only for an afternoon.
I thought we would clean up for dinner, after all, I had brought a little summer dress to wear, but Clevelanders are the casual type. My brother picked this farm-to-table wine bar called Toast for dinner, and we sat on the porch for a beautiful evening out. Our waitress obviously loved her job and shared all of her favorites from the menu with us. We opted for the cheese plate and local charcuterie to share. I ordered the kale salad with blueberries and corn and split the tomato risotto and flank steak with smashed potatoes with my fiance. The kale salad was good, but the real star was the tomato risotto made with tomato stock, tomato pieces, and tomato compound butter. It had very much earned the right to be called tomato risotto. It was easily one of the best risottos I have ever had. Even my brother- a bit of the carnivore- ordered it over the steak. The entrees came and were devoured before the cameras made it out, so unfortunately no photos of those dishes.
Next stop was a highlight of the trip, not just because of the deliciousness of the drinks, but because they really nailed it with ambiance and customer service. My brother had made us reservations at The Velvet Tango Room, a famous speakeasy, and we spent a few evening hours on their patio. If you go to Cleveland, reservations are a must here because that is the way you get access to their private little area in the back which has intimate sitting areas and a putting green- yes, a putting green!
The servers and bartenders here are passionate about their craft. They are cocktail nerds who are more than willing and able to tell you about each an every cocktail on their extensive menu. The drinks have bewildering little names and curious stories associated with them, and many of them are made with house-made bitters, syrups, tonics. Expect the real deal here. The first drink I ordered, the Royal Fizz, had a whole egg- white AND yolk- and a hint of vanilla. For the next drink, I enlisted the waitress's help because I was overwhelmed with indecision. After a series of crazy questions, one of which included "Would I prefer a convertible or a sedan?" or something along those lines, the server disappeared promising the perfect fit, and I ended up with a Martinez- essentially a gin-vermouth number that was really delicious and powerful.
We all agreed a late night bite was in order, so we stopped by their apartment to pick up their adorable German Shepherd, Ember, and headed to the local late-night pizza place, Edison's. It is a far cry from the gourmet wood-fried thin-crust pizza bistro and wine bar that you would probably venture to for dinner or a date night. It is more like dive bar meets Pizza Hut, and it fills that craving for doughy, cheesy pizza. Just check out their Yelp page. And it is dog-friendly which is even more awesome.
We stayed a while and with full bellies, eventually made it back to the apartment and crawled into bed. Needless to say, Sunday started off a bit late. We packed up, grabbed food at their favorite local Vietnamese spot, Pho Thang Cafe, and ventured to see their beautiful wedding venue. They are getting married next May at a gorgeous spot on Lake Erie, and we cannot wait to celebrate with them there.
We hit the road back to Philadelphia and back to reality. I wish our visit could have been longer, but now we have an excuse to go back! We also have to check out Cleveland's amazing museums, maybe catch a Cav's basketball game, and of course check out more of their restaurant scene. The Cleveland people really are stellar, and I now understand why my brother loves it so much. Good people and good food- what more could you ask for?