You'll wish you had more time here.
Cleveland has more going for it than its Rust Belt reputation and a football team that can bring grown men to tears. It has a fantastic food culture that's growing faster than its residents can gobble up, thanks to star chefs like Michael Symon and local ingénues, including the seemingly unstoppable Zach Bruell, owner of 12 restaurants, and Jonathan Sawyer, a 2010 Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chef who's got four restaurants. With their help—and that of many other talented chefs and restaurateurs—Cleveland has become a veritable smorgasbord of food and beverage excellence. But with all that edible goodness to choose from, where is a person—especially an outsider in town for, say, one weekend—supposed to start?
Just come to the city hungry. With this 48-hour guide, we've got the rest covered.
You've landed at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport—and that puny bag of so-called pretzels the airline served you didn't exactly do it for you. Satiate your hunger at Ohio City's Momocho (1835 Fulton Rd., 216-694-2122), the mod Mexican restaurant of chef Eric Williams that will titillate your senses as well as your taste buds. (The restaurant is decorated with colorful luchardor masks and dimly lit with candles.) You'll want to start with a margarita: order from the menu, or ask the bartender to mix two flavors—we like the way hibiscus and pineapple blend together—for a very unique drink. Follow that up with the goat cheese, tomato, and poblano guacamole and the pepita and pecan-crusted trout served with pickled jalapeño-mustard crema and sofito green beans and fennel for your main meal.
If you're still hungry—which, if you are, you didn't do Momocho right—drive five minutes further west to the Gordon Square district and walk into Happy Dog (5801 Detroit Rd., 216-651-9474) . The bar, which often features live music, does one thing and they do it well: hot dogs. Here, you can top your dog with anything from bourbon pork and beans to chunky peanut butter, Brazilian chimichurri sauce, a sunny-side up fried egg, or everything bagel cream cheese. In all, there are 50 toppings to choose from, so the possibilities of a hot dog here are almost endless.
Cap off the evening with a beer at the intimate Nano Brew (1859 W 25th St., 216-862-6631), where you can choose from 24 craft beers—many of them brewed at Nano's sister bar down the street. The local draft list changes daily, so you may find that you want to come back a couple times over the course of the weekend.
You've still got some 30-hours to go, and today, you're going to pack in a lot of food. Start the day right at Lucky's Café (777 Starkweather Ave., 216-622-7773) in Tremont, where the menu is built entirely from the crops and meats produced by Ohio farmers. Pass through its funky-and-eclectic dining room to the outdoor patio, take a seat at a wooden picnic table and order a housemade sweet lemonade or a Lucky's Fizzy—a blend of housemade coulis, soda water, and dollop of fresh whipped cream. Then dig into its cheddar scallion biscuits topped with sausage gravy and scrambled eggs, or a Shipwreck—a baked mix of hash browns, eggs, seasonal vegetables, bacon, and cheddar cheese.
For lunch, drive into The Flats, a once derelict part of downtown that in recent years has become a hub of waterfront entertainment and fine and casual dining. At Alley Cat (1056 Old River Rd., 216-574-9999), one of Zach Bruell's newest ventures, you can sit inside the loft-like restaurant while taking in stunning views of the Cuyahoga River. Order up shrimp-stuffed peppers with spicy mayo, queso fresco, and soy sauce to start. Then choose from a decadent wild stripe bass with orzo, oven-roasted tomatoes, broccoli, herbs, and beurre fondue, or Bruell's fish sandwich—made with beer battered cod, housemade pickles, fontina, house-grain mustard, and fries.
Walk off all that food with a stroll to Collision Bend Brewery (1250 Old River Rd., 216-273-7879) located a stone's throw from Alley Cat along the water. The brewery recently took over the city's Hausheer Building, an 1863 spot that once served as a chandlery used by Civil-War era-merchant ships to stockpiled supplies before setting sail onto Lake Erie. With renovated building, the brewery makes more than a dozen beers, each named in some way for the city. Take Saison de Bruell, named for—you guessed it—Zach Bruell, or the Lake Eerie Sunset, which locals know is sight to behold.
For dinner, choose between Michael Symon's Lola Bistro (2058 E 4th St., 216-621-5652) and Jonathan Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern (2038 E 4th St., 216-443-0511)—because, quite frankly, we can't. Both restaurants are that good. Lola Bistro boasts an elegant atmosphere and surprising dishes that give a nod to Cleveland's history. Its beef cheek pierogi honors Cleveland's Polish roots. And its braised lamb shank with tzatziki, grilled rapini, and crispy alliums could bring you to tears. But one door down, Greenhouse Tavern is heavy with wooden décor and iron details, with a menu to match. There's a pig's head on the menu, and we mean a literal pig's head. Why, you ask? Sawyer doesn't believe in wasting anything—including the head of a hog he's purchased for more traditional dishes. So its head is served up with barbeque sauce, a raw vegetable salad, brioche, and lettuce cups. But if a head isn't your idea of dinner, try the beef tartare, a dish of hand-ground filet of beef, stadium mustard, three-minute-egg, aioli, and fermented pickle relish.
For an after-dinner cocktail, walk across the street to Society Lounge (2063 E 4th St., 216-781-9050), a basement bar designed to evoke the best of the 1920s, with glamorous décor—think: velvet sofas and brocade wallpaper—and an atmosphere that discourages socializing via social media—read: put your phone down here. You can sip on classic cocktails, or select a Society Lounge original, such as the El Chapo, a blend of pink peppercorn vodka, guava syrup, ginger, and lime juice, or the Chargarita, a smoked cocktail of Blanco tequila, house-smoked curacao, lime juice, chili lime shrub, and bonfire smoked sea salt.
You've got maybe 10 hours until you have to leave town, or at least leave this little dining adventure. Make it count with a stop to Corbo's Bakery (12210 Mayfield Rd., 216-421-8181)in Cleveland's Little Italy, where you can order a selection of pastries to eat-on-the-go for a walk through this charming section of town. Its Buckeyes—chocolates filled with peanut butter—are an Ohio staple, while cake balls—in flavors like red velvet, Ho-Ho, brownie, and peanut better—really can't be missed. (Bonus: they're easy to eat on a walk.)
For lunch head to the West Side Market (1979 W 25th St., 216-664-3387)—a beautifully restored brick building complete with a 44-foot high Guastavino tile vaulted ceiling and a 137-foot-tall clock tower—and walk through stalls of fresh pasta from Ohio City Pasta, locally grown suckling pigs from Sebastian's Meats and breads that were baked on stone hearths from Mediterra Bakehouse, before coming to Steve's Gyros. You'll know you've reached this stall, at the back of the 241-foot-by-124-foot market because of the line. The long line. (The average wait time is one hour, the stall says.) But we promise it's worth the it.
It's French food for dinner today. You'll head to EDWINS (13101 Shaker Square, 216-921-3333), where ex-cons run the kitchen and the dining room, working as head chefs, servers, and bus boys. EDWINS is part of a statewide program to help rehabilitate felons—and lower recidivism rates—by giving them skills they can use in restaurants and especially at EDWINS. (You can read more about the program here.) You'll be impressed with more than just the staff here: the menu features many French favorites such as salad nicoise and foie gras poêlé, with peach compote and black raspberry coulis. But the desserts here really shine: try the citron soufflé, which takes 25 minutes to prepare fresh from the kitchen, or the pyramide du chocolate, made with Grand Marnier macerated strawberries. The cherries jubilee is also worth an order—it's prepared tableside.