getting back to basics: q & a with dominic cerino

If you would have told me back in January that I would be anticipating my next visit to Carrie Cerino’s, I probably would have laughed. Not only have I converted into a supporter from a culinary standpoint, but am now a believer in its future and have grown to embrace its past.

I was fortunate to spend over three hours with Dominic Cerino, Carrie’s grandson. We talked food, Mario, family roots, Cleveland issues, Alan Greenspan, ghosts, history and current challenges/issues that keep Dominic up at night. Dominic, I learned, is an extremely interesting man (he once worked as a chef in Antarctica) full of obvious passion and love for his roots, a remarkable palate and good business sense. He has a very interesting story to tell. In fact, he has several, which is one of his challenges: trying to tell too many stories instead of conveying one constant message. It’s a story he eagerly wants to share and have his customers, regulars and new (especially regulars) embrace. But it’s the fear that the message will have the regulars abandoning ship in droves that aids to his sleepless nights. I get the sense that he is trying to make everyone happy – but I wonder if he is happy in the process.

This cannot possibly be told in one post. Instead, it will be a series of sorts focusing on the traditional Q & A, the restaurant’s history (speakeasy, hauntings), vision (Norcia, Italy) and future (think small) and of course, our meal (I swear I’m still full).

Top 5 spices: red chili, black pepper, fennel, cinnamon and nutmeg

Favorite restaurant: Lolita and Baricelli when we have something special to celebrate

What restaurant do you miss: I don’t know. I don’t eat out that often to miss something.

Hidden café/restaurant Clevelanders have yet to discover: The Sausage Shoppe. This is a Cleveland treasure that should have national recognition. Norm (the owner) knew my father-in-law back in Germany. Norm is the real McCoy. The business will die with Norm because of the city and rezoning. He can’t leave it to his children. It’s a rotten shame. This will be lost and it shouldn’t. The city doesn’t realize what they are doing and what a huge loss this will be.

If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be: My father passed away in 2001. I would love to cook for him and cook the lentils and food we are trying to cook now. He so loved food and would have loved what we are trying to do here.

Most unusual food you have ever tried: Roe/fish eggs. I don’t really care for them and the texture.

What do you like and dislike about Cleveland: One of my greatest loves is the month of October. This month makes it worth living here.

I dislike the complacency of the people to keep accepting incompetence. I’m not sure when it started, but look at Rockefeller and the tax passed on him, which made him move to New York. What if Cleveland had not passed that special tax on him and he and his billions stayed here and he built Rockefeller Center in Cleveland instead of New York? And it keeps happening over and over. And they are going to raise taxes again? Before you are a major league city, how about having major league schools?

Take the tax dollars and build a refinery. It makes a lot of sense to go back to refining. John Rockefeller’s stuff is still here and we have the greatest ports. This would create jobs and better lives for this city and its people. The city keeps making the same mistakes over and over. The infrastructure is not here. We want to build a convention center but our bridges are crumbling and schools failing? Where are your priorities? There is the technology to build this stuff and we can rebuild our infrastructure. Then we can build all the mega stuff. We have the ability to build really good ships if we wanted to. You can make stuff like this work if you have vision.

Look at Tim Hagan. The first thing he does is raise taxes. How can you possibly attract new businesses here and keep the ones we have? How do we keep people from moving on after school for better jobs? They need to find a way to create long-lasting jobs. We need to work together for a long-term solution. So, let’s build a refinery and give it to Exxon. So what if they profit, it will still be good for Cleveland and it will create enough revenue for stadiums, convention centers and whatever else the city thinks is worthwhile.

I hate politics, but I want to stay in business and I want to stay in Cleveland. I don’t want my sons to leave Cleveland for work. I want people to stay here. This is our home. We are fortunate to have a lot of great things in this city, but how long before the city can no longer hold onto the symphony? We already lost the ballet. Thank God for the Clinic and UH.

5 Comments

  1. rockandroller
    Posted September 26, 2007 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    As you know, I’m SO glad that you’ve returned to CCs to finally get what they’re all about and how wonderful they are. Straddling the fence between the traditional customers, who largely are an aging population but are still very regular, and the push to draw in new business through the menu innovations is very much a challenge and everyone who knows Dominic admires him for what he’s done. I admit that I have lived here for almost 15 years and only discovered CCs within the last 1-2 years or so, when all these new “foodie” things started becoming more public. And I’ll further admit I’m as likely to order their traditional dishes as I am the newer additions. I’m excited to learn of your long chat with Dom and look forward to the subsequent posts about your discussions with him.

  2. Grrg
    Posted September 27, 2007 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    So, are we to understand that Mr Cerino thinks caviar is a very unusual food? And he seems only to have had it once? This makes me… somehow sad.

  3. bgfalcon
    Posted September 27, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    nice article. domenic is my hero :-)

  4. cydc3
    Posted September 30, 2007 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Concerning roe, I have had the opportunity on many occasions to taste roe, and many different kinds. The salmon roe I tasted in Alaska was so fresh it felt like the fish it came from was watching me. I know I am supposed to like it because it is so coveted but every time it passes my lips I keep saying to myself….the king has no clothes.

    And, to further explain my “economic ideas”. I have never been able to justify taxing the public to build mega public work projects such as stadiums and convention centers. There are over 8700 hours in each year and these works sit idle for over 90% of that time. If our tax dollars are to build anything they should build factories, refining is one example because this country has not built a state of the art refinery in over 30 years. We have a great port that could easily take in products to be refined from around the world and we could rival New Orleans and the Henry Hub for business because we have no threat of hurricanes to stop production. True, the ports are closed for a few months in the winter, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from stockpiling products before the lake freezes and what may seem like a departure from the norm; shut them down for a 4 to 6 weeks to clean them up, repair and maintain so that we make sure to protect our environment that surrounds it. The nay sayers will say that the super tankers of today can’t make it through the St Lawrence Seaway, but from Cleveland to Toledo there used to be a huge industry in shipbuilding. Build custom made tankers that fit, that will create even more jobs.

    And, if not a refinery how about building a state of the art display factory using Nano technology and give that to Sharp or somebody.

    In essence what I am saying is that these mega public works projects are built on the backs of the taxpayer yet they provide no long term jobs that family’s can depend upon to support them for a generation or two. Jobs for the blue color workers of the 21st century so that we can re-obtain and support the middle class which has been the backbone of North East Ohio for over a century.

    And, yes, build the factory or the refinery with tax payer dollars and just give it to the company that can run it efficiently and profitably but, with conditions. They have to pay property tax, 90% of the people working there have to be native to North East Ohio, which means that while it is being built they start training and educating people to work the jobs they need to be done.

    Creating and attracting new business in new or existing industries will fill the treasuries of the city and the county. Rebuild the schools, rebuild the infrastructure and even more industry will come, more tax dollars generated and then the tax revenue on its own would allow mega public works like stadiums or convention centers to be built.

    Our past and current leadership has never had the vision to show the leadership or the cogliones to carry it forward, to turn vision into reality. They keep putting the cart before the horse and once you’re sat down all nice and comfortable in that cart all you have staring you in the face is the horse’s ass and you’re not going anywhere.

    We need some real leaders in North East Ohio, in the cities, in the county, in the State and the Federal jobs that we elect them to. None have surfaced; it is just the same old stuff from the same old mind set.

    Maybe one day.

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