My coworker just sent me this article from today’s Chicago Tribune. In the article, the reporter discusses how Cleveland has surprisingly become a hot spot of great eateries and shops – many of which Chicagoans would be lucky to have. Her Cleveland dining tour is led by Michael Ruhlman, complete with visits to Lola, Lolita, the West Side Market, Flying Fig and the Velvet Tango Room among others.
CLEVELAND – Michael Ruhlman can come off as such a snob.
In his latest book, the world-famous food writer insists that everybody should be using veal stock in their home kitchen. He advises all meat eaters to slaughter and eat their kill once in their lives. And earlier this year, on his influential Web site ruhlman.com, he launched a withering attack on the unsuspecting chicken Caesar salad.
So you might think that this dashing uber-foodie would make his home in a culinary capital such as New York, San Francisco or even Chicago, right?
“What I love about Cleveland is that it is so eccentric,” Ruhlman says between sips of a negroni cocktail in his favorite hometown bar. “There’s no other place like it. People are so quirky.”
One of those quirky people is Ruhlman’s friend and the nation’s newly minted “Iron Chef,” Michael Symon. In a surprising upset a couple of months ago, the born and bred Clevelander Symon beat out New Orleans chef John Besh to claim the national “Iron Chef” title. His two restaurants in town — Lola and Lolita — are busier than ever.
But he’s not the only culinary bright spot in the city.
The national food press — Gourmet, Food & Wine, Esquire and Playboy.com — heaped praise on several Cleveland spots this year for best new restaurant, best steakhouse, best farm-to-table programs and great new neighborhood eateries.
During the last 10 years, Ruhlman says, he has seen food offerings blossom from retail to restaurants.
“Today I can pick up a few baguettes from Adam Gidlow [On the Rise Bakery] that are every bit as satisfying as the best Parisian baguettes,” he says. “I can swing by Paul Minnillo’s Baricelli Inn for some raw milk cheeses and then stop by Bob Fishman’s Grapevine, where Bob picks out some incredible American wines for my under $20 budget. All five minutes from my house. … We couldn’t eat better even if we were in the Dordogne, [France.] This shows the extraordinary product available even to us schmoes in Cleveland.
“And yes, more and more restaurants can do ambitious food because people here now demand it. … What this means is that someone like Dante Boccuzzi — for five years chef de cuisine at Aureole in Manhattan — is happy to move his family back here because he can open a restaurant and serve the kind of food he did in New York.”
Whoa. Is there something going on in that city that I should know about? Had Cleveland quietly become the epicenter of the Midwest food scene.
I’d never been there. Never even considered going except to visit the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame — seriously, I used to cover polka. But suddenly it dawned on me that I might be missing out on some fabulous Cleveland-style chow.
So I called Ruhlman and asked if he’d take me on a eating tour of his hometown.
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