chicago recognizes cleveland as a dining destination

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?

Nope.

Cleveland.

“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.

Click here for the rest.

4 Comments

  1. Alexa
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Go cleveland!!!!!

  2. Heidi
    Posted January 18, 2008 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “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…. All five minutes from my house. …”

    These incredible artisans, producers and vendors of whom Mr. Ruhlman writes are located five minutes from Mr. Ruhlman’s home.

    Frustratingly, in order for me to procure the finest bread, cheese, etc. in Cleveland takes a minimum of 20-25 minutes driving time from an eastern suburb (and not in the boonies), and allows precious little time for spontaneity. The stellar On The Rise is the single bakery in all of Cleveland producing breads and pastry of their craft and caliber- nothing remotely compares. I’ve purchased Baricelli cheeses at locations closer to my home where the cheeses suffer at the hands of the novice seller as they are not treated with the same doting TLC given at Baricelli.

    Cleveland holds pockets of culinary treasures here and there, but by no means is this the norm – why is that?! For me, to eat well locally and frequently requires careful planning ahead and plenty of gas and mileage. “Destination” is clearly the operating word here for those living out of the Heights area.

  3. michelle v
    Posted January 18, 2008 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Heidi – Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts, you make some good points. Michael is lucky to have those vendors so close to his home (especially the cheese!). And when I lived in Cleveland Heights, I took advantage of the same things – and then some. When I lived in the Heights as well as downtown, I shopped religiously at the WSM, was a regular in Little Italy, bought a lot of presents and what not from the stores in Ohio City, etc. Now that I am an eastsider like you, I get to these paces maybe once a month. But I have discovered the great treats that are close to my home. While it may not be right out of Paul’s fridge, I do like the cheese selection at Mile’s Market, and they offer some pretty tasty whole grain breads and a great wine selection for example (so does Cuff’s in Chagrin Falls, Western Reserve and Pat O’Brien’s). I also like Alesci’s for certain things, among other places. To me, while certain cities may not boast the quantity the Heights has, each has something unique to offer, it’s just a matter of discovering it.

    Right before the holidays, I made my first trip to Chef’s Choice Meats in Berea – now talk about a haul! But it was so worth it and I’d happily go back. But knowing I wouldn’t be back for some time, I made sure to stock up. Yes, it can take time and some planning to get certain ingredients, but I think regardless, we’re lucky to have what we have here – and it seems like it will continue to expand. To me anyway, a quick drive for good quality is well worth it.

    But to be honest, if it were up to me I’d still be living in Cleveland Heights – but my husband wouldn’t even consider it. So while they may have great vendors for us foodies, they lack easy access and a freeway. And to him, that is a must-have and trumps a short walk to Presti’s any day.

  4. Heidi
    Posted January 18, 2008 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    A trip out to Chef’s Choice has been on my radar for months but I never seem to make it any farther than the WSM for many reasons. One reason being time restrictions. Also, while at WSM I can always multi-shop and grab my favorite coffee beans from Civilization (out of it now and was forced to buy from Caribou until my next trek – see what I mean by frustrating!).

    Buying cheese at MM has been hit or miss for me. Many are not aged properly, and sometimes the pre-cut and plastic wrapped selections are past their prime and have become ammoniated – yuk – and this means saving my receipt and driving back to the store again for a refund or a swap – PITA. The bread selections are okay, I guess, but when you’ve been to the mountain…I’m sure you can relate as I am every bit as discriminating about what I eat as you are. If I’m wanting a baguette, I get myself to OTR. Happily, finding a good bottle of wine is an easier proposition.

    We are indeed lucky to have the small handful of supreme choices that we do, but I’d like to be even luckier and have more selections become widely available.

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