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
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.