West Side Market, Cleveland

As if you didn’t have enough reasons to visit Cleveland by now, here is one more:
 West Side Market – the oldest publicly owned market in Cleveland. AKA: A farmer’s market the likes of which I have rarely seen. And filled with items I have rarely seen…
 Smokies. Everywhere, there were lots and lots of these gourmet Slim Jims. They were spicy, slightly chewy, salty, and addictive.
 Bratwurst sandwiches. At 7 AM. With sauerkraut. The amount of joy I feel at that is indescribable.
 Didn’t eat this…but I have to say that I love that it is a thing. 
 The Greenhouse Tavern does a roasted pig’s head…I will never forgive my sister for not letting us order it.
 These were some of the best olives I have ever had – meaty, soft, salty, with sharp and spicy cheese inside. Rita’s has some amazing olives – be sure to try the wasabi blue cheese stuffed olives, too.
 Everywhere, there was incredible bread. 
This pepperoni-Asiago loaf was especially delicious – like a stromboli made with sourdough bread. 
 Locally raised pork already stuffed with fresh cornbread stuffing.
 Every kind of pirogi on the face of the planet. Cheese, potato, sauerkraut, even apricot…
which tasted like a very thick blintz!
 You can buy any part of the animal you so desire…
or you can go vegetarian for the day.
Of course, if you go vegetarian, you might as well do it with these sauerkraut balls – crisply fried balls of sauerkraut and cheese.
In conclusion, Cleveland is really a town for food and people who love it. The town’s motto seems to be this:
And that’s kind of my motto, too.

Greenhouse Tavern – One of the Best Meals in America

Well, here is a statement I never thought I would write:
One of the best meals I have had in America was in Cleveland, OH. 
Greenhouse Tavern is run by Chef Jonathan Sawyer, a James Beard Award nominee, a supporter of the Slow Foods Movement, and the man who made Greenhouse Tavern the first certified green restaurant in Ohio. The restaurant’s principles, according the the website, are “the idea that the proximity of the farm and soil to a restaurant correlates to the quality of its food and that environmentally conscious or green business practices are fundamental.”
And red meat. I’m pretty sure red meat is a major tenet of this restaurant.

The restaurant is extremely large – two levels, in fact – in a warehouse-like space. Eclectic and quite casual, I felt comfortable there in jeans, but I would also feel at home there in a little black dress. It manages to be relaxed and special occasion all at once.

We all opted to order the chef’s tasting menu. Four courses for $44. That’s four full sized courses. Including ingredients like foie gras, truffles, and prime beef with very few upcharges. This would NEVER happen in New York. I mean, at a McDonald’s, let alone at a James Beard nominee’s restaurant. 
But I digress:

Bread with Pork Rillettes

jules cleveland 019

Sourdough bread with airy holes and a light, creamy pork pate. Child’s play compared to what was coming up.

Sloppy Jo Nut: Savory Donut with Coffee and Coca Cola Braised Beef and BBQ Sauce

Yeasty bread filled with beef that melted on the tongue without being mushy. Slightly sweet with the subtle, pleasantly bitter taste of coffee sharpening the edges of the thick, rich dish.

Crispy Potato and Sauerkraut Latke with Smoked Fish, Creme Fraiche, Cornichons, and Herbs

 I thought I made great latkes, and I do…but I might have to make these next year. Creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside, with more than a hint of sourness from the sauerkraut.  This was perfect with the delicate house smoked salmon, fresh herbs, and cool creme fraiche. The pickles could have been a bit more tart, but other than that, the dish was spot on.

Foie Gras Steamed Clams with Butter, Red Onion Brulee, Late Harvest Viognier Vinegar, and Grilled Bread

Who the hell could imagine such great clams in the Midwest?! Tender and sweet, more meaty than briny. The broth was so rich, it took me by surprise. Not just from the butter or the sweet onions, but from the pervasive taste of the foie gras, which was apparent all the way through the bite. An unmissable dish.

Crispy Hominy with Pork Skin Cracklins, Pickled Red Onion, and Lime Juice

This was a slap in the face after so much heavy, fat-forward food. Yes, this was fried, but it was lighter than air. The large grains of hominy crunched beneath my teeth and there was no grease whatsoever. The hominy gave off a subtle sweet corny flavor that mingled with sour lime, spicy jalapenos, tangy red onions, and shards of intensely porky cracklins. It was Asian inspired in every way – fiery, salty, sweet, spicy, sour, light, umami…it was a symphony of flavors that was harmonious and exciting. 

Duck Meatball Soup with Fregola Sardo, Aged Pecorino, Greens, and Beef Brodetto

A revelation. I have NEVER had such tender, light duck. Not gamey or fatty – these meatballs were like little dumplings that disappeared upon contact with my tongue, leaving behind only the memory of some soft, light meat. Sure, the pasta, cheese, and greens were nice, but the real magic here was the marriage between the delicate duck meatballs and the strong, rounded beef broth. That broth could really cure what ails you.

Crispy Chicken Wings Confit with Roasted Jalapenos, Lemon Juice, Scallions, and Garlic

The best wings I have ever had in my life. That simple, that down to earth, that perfect. Perfectly butchered wings, with meat that was incredibly juicy-I have never had plumper, more meaty wings. Tossed in a spicy, herby, garlicky concoction that was sticky and delicious. There must have been 18 wings there and we ate them all.
And licked the bowl.

Hand Ground Beef Tartare with Pommes Frites, Three Minute Egg, Salted Fresno Peppers, and Condiments

The best steak tartare I have had in America. The reason was the beef – hand cut, so there was still some texture and pleasant chew. The beef was not sweet or mild. It was deep and strong, like a well aged steak. It was the difference between eating a bone in steak and eating a sloppy joe: there was just no comparison. The three minute egg, spicy peppers, chopped onion, and tangy mustard completed the dish. I can only say that if you like steak tartare, you must get this dish. If you don’t like it, get this dish. Just get this freakin dish.

Grilled Ohio Lamb Burger with Stinky Cheese Fondue, Champagne Shallots, Olive Oil Dusted Pommes Frites and Tangy Yogurt

Once again, the strength and flavor of the meat astounded me here. This lamb was so strong, so amazingly lamb-y that it almost electrified me. It was juicy and cooked a perfect medium, with a funky cheese and acidic shallot topping that re-emphasized the strong lamb-y flavor. Served on a soft bun with a side of tangy spiced mayonnaise, this was the most incredible burger I have had in ages.

I can’t overemphasize how incredible the meat was. It really showed me that when you buy locally, your products are just that much better.

And now…the raison d’etre…

Animal Fries with Bacon, Fried Eggs, Mustard, Mozzerella, and Gravy

Poutine x 1,000. And the best poutine I have ever had – and I have had it in Montreal! Freshly cut fries, some crisp, some delightfully soggy underneath the onslaught of peppery gravy, stretchy mozzarella cheese, salty nuggets of thick bacon, and two fried eggs, bright yellow yolks spilling richness all over the glorious mess. The small puddle of mustard was pungent and sharp, delightful when mixed with the other decadent flavors and textures. Delicious. Indulgent. Ridiculous. You won’t make a dent in it. Don’t let that stop you from ordering it.

Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme with Caramel and Sea Salt
Lighter than mousse, richer than creme brulee. I didn’t taste the popcorn, but I did taste clean cream and sweet butter. The caramel was just barely burnt, adding depth to the rich dessert, and the salt brought out the caramel’s sweetness. This was an incredible ending to an incredible meal.

As we finished this eating extravaganza, we opted to buy the kitchen staff a round of beers (an awesome option on the menu that I would love more restaurants to offer). When we went downstairs, ringing a bell, to announce that we had bought the beers, the staff was so jovial, so appreciative, and so obviously happy to be at work that it reinforced what I had felt all night – that Chef Sawyer must be an AWESOME guy. Though I didn’t personally meet him, anyone with this much passion, creativity, dedication to local and sustainable food, and with an enthusiastic front and back of house staff, simply has to be a wonderful person.

This is the kind of restaurant you WANT to patronize. It supports local farmers, responsibly raised livestock, and the kind of man whose staff (seemingly) genuinely looks forward to going to work. I have never had a meal like this. So meat-centric, so locally sourced, all products that I have had before, but never in these combinations. The prices are SO fair and the food is SO good.
Cleveland blew so many New York restaurants away with this meal.
And it certainly blew this food blogger away.

Skyline Chili – A Love Story

Some stories are best told with no words at all.
Such is the tale of my first visit to the fabled Skyline Chili:
If you don’t like feeling happy, don’t eat here.
Just more chili dogs and chili on spaghetti (4 way – with cheese and onions) for the rest of us.

Pura Vida – Purely Cool in Cleveland

I took a roadtrip to Cleveland recently for a wedding. Never having been to the Midwest, I was expecting cornfields, shopping malls, and nice people.
I had no idea that the food would be exceptional.
Pura Vidais a sophisticated restaurant in the heart of Cleveland. It is the brainchild of Brandt Evans, a native of Ohio, who uses Ohio-produced ingredients in inventive ways.

The decor is modern and a little bit club-like, with sexy music, colored lights, and a hip vibe. This would be a great spot for girls night out.

Source

Nachos with Smoked Duck Confit, Wisconsin Cheddar Queso, Pickled Chili, and Scallions
These were so delicious. Crispy corn chips topped with sweet, barely smoky duck confit. It was so delicate in flavor that it tasted almost like pork. The cheese was sharp, the chilies were spicy and tangy, and the fresh scallions provided respite from the heaviness of the rest of the dish. It was a perfect bite.
Well, luckily there were enough chips to make it a perfect 3 bites.

Lamb Sliders with Taleggio and Fig Jam

So THIS is what lamb is supposed to taste like! Not the lean, mild meat I have so often had. This burger was robust, grassy, and incredibly moist. It was crispy on the outside and so juicy within that it required two napkins. The fig jam, which would have been overly sweet with the anemic lamb I have been eating my whole life, tamed the strong, earthy flavor of the lamb and contrasted with the funky taleggio. On a soft bun, it was fantastic.

Crispy Pig Ears with Smoked Blue Cheese and Sriracha Buffalo Sauce

These pig’s ears were among the best I have ever had. Thin slices of chips were crispy but not hard, softened a bit by the spicy, garlicky Sriracha buffalo sauce. The sauce had that unmistakably vinegary tang of sriracha, but was much richer and rounder, probably by the addition of butter. The blue cheese was mild on the funk, but high on the smoke, giving the delicate pig ears a bacon-y taste. The blue cheese with the acidic sauce was really a winner, and I ended up using bread to sop up the remaining sauce long after the ears were devoured. The ears were crispy in some parts and chewy in others, with no fat or gristle. If you like bacon, you will really like pig’s ears.This was a great meal for an AMAZINGLY reasonable price. Food this caliber would be at least 3 times as much in NYC. And who would think I could find this food in Cleveland?! It was sophisticated and delicious, and the atmosphere was great. If you visit Cleveland, you must hit up Pura Vida.