After a recent visit to Cleveland, I’m convinced that the locals are trying to keep the best restaurants to themselves. The city is polishing up its downtown, but I found most of the best food in Tremont and Ohio City, two quieter, tree-lined neighborhoods on the other side of the Cuyahoga River.
In now-hip Tremont, for example, F&W Best New Chef 1998 Michael Symon has launched a cozy spot called Lolita serving European-inspired comfort food like an incredible gnocchi Bolognese made with house-cured meat. Symon was a pioneer in Tremont when he opened his restaurant Lola there 11 years ago; he recently moved Lola downtown and installed Lolita in its old space.
I picked up a perfectly spiced ginger cookie at Lucky’s Café in Tremont, where pastry chef and owner Heather Haviland just added a bakery and garden for her weekend brunches.
Over in historic Ohio City, chef Matthew Mathlage at the new Light Bistro admits he’s trying to expand Cleveland’s culinary repertoire with his Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired dishes, like a fantastic lemongrass-chile pickled shrimp.
Although I focused mostly on new food spots, local experts insisted I check out two of the city’s more established restaurants. At Fire, in the affluent Shaker Heights suburb, I loved everything that came out of chef Doug Katz’s tandoor oven, especially the luscious pork crêpes topped with pepper relish and a fried egg. And I almost changed my flight to stay for dinner at Ohio City’s nine-year-old Flying Fig after trying chef Karen Small’s crackly-crisp tempura-fried green beans with a peppery curried yogurt. Small says she is happy to remain under the radar, and I bet her fiercely loyal regulars prefer it that way, too.