By Dave Zuchowski with photos by Bill Rockwell
While I’ve dined in some very fine restaurants in Cleveland over the years, I missed some of the city’s most popular foods and culinary go-to’s. With the help of Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism bureau, I was able to hit some of Cleveland’s foodie hot spots favored by locals that may be overlooked by visitors.
Cleveland Food Tours
I started off at the West Side Market where I met up with Susan Chapo, owner of Relish Food Tours. Chapo really knows her way around not only the market but the city’s rich culinary scene.
The market, built in 1912, is easy to spot because its 137-foot-tall clock tower is hard to miss. With Chapo as my guide we explored the massive structure with more than 100 booths offering fresh produce, meats and dairy products, baked goods, ethnic foods, spices and international delicacies.
First stop – Frank’s Bratwurst, operated by three generations of the Ratschki family since 1970 when it sold chopped brats on a plate for 45 cents. Using an old family recipe, Frank’s sells its brats “Cleveland style,” with local Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard, kraut and horseradish.
At Czuchraj Meats, another long-time market vendor (68 years), we sampled jerky, done in a variety of styles, and looked over their inventory of fresh sausages and smoked meats.
At Narrin’s Asian Spices and Sauce, we were amazed by the lineup of bottled hot sauces, the largest collection in the city. The vendor also stocks a large selection of spices and specialty foods like dried seaweed, preserved radish, canned Asian fruits, chia seeds, noodles and much more.
Ohio City Farm
Just a short walk outside, Ohio City Farm, one of the nation’s largest urban farms, is a 6-acre enclave where garden vegetables of all sorts are hand grown and sold to the public Saturday mornings at a stand just outside the gate.
Chapo ended our tour on a sweet note at Mitchell’s Ice Cream, 1867 W. 25th St., where we sat on the second floor overlooking the production kitchen and spooned up flavors like caramel fudge brownie, wildberry chunk and coffee chocolate chunk.
Ohio’s first craft brewery
Lunch took us to Great Lakes Brewing Company, Ohio’s first craft brewery, where you’ll find beer as one of the ingredients in some of its dishes in its menu of Midwest comfort food.
Three dining areas include the dog-friendly tree lined patio, the cozy beer cellar and the lively beer garden, where we spotted a small flag above the bar. It marks the spot where a bullet shot at Eliot Ness missed while he sat enjoying a beer while serving as director of public safety.
At any one time, the brewing company serves as many as 12 different draft beers, which might include Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Oktoberfest and Christmas Ale. Location: 2516 Market Ave.
Cleveland Trust Rotunda Building
After checking into the dog-friendly Kimpton Schofield Hotel, we strolled across the street to the gorgeous Cleveland Trust Rotunda Building, once a bank where John D. Rockefeller kept his funds for safe keeping. The 1908 building features a 61-foot-diameter, 85-foot-high rotunda, topped with a Tiffany-style stained glass dome.
In 2015, Heinen’s upscale grocery opened in the space and, instead of teller windows, visitors will find some of the most top-quality meat, fish, produce and prepared food around. Be sure to check out the self-serve wine tasting area on the second floor.
Another amazing architecture gem, the 1890 Victorian Arcade, is the nation’s first shopping mall. The gorgeous building is actually two nine-story buildings joined by a 5-story arcade covered by a glass skylight. Currently, the Arcade is now home to a hotel and independent shops, including food stores and eateries. Location 401 Euclid Avenue.
Something you might want to visit at night is Playhouse Square, the largest performing arts center in the U.S. outside New York. Hovering over the street in front of the square is the nation’s largest outdoor chandelier. Find Playhouse Square at 1501 Euclid Ave.
Dinner that evening took us to Betts, short for Elizabeth, wife of architect Levi Schofield, who designed the 1902 building (now the Kimpton Schofield Hotel) that houses the restaurant.
Casual yet upscale, the restaurant serves classic American dishes with an emphasis on freshness and whole foods. We had a difficult time deciding whether to dine in or on the patio overlooking 9th St. but decided to stay indoors in air-conditioned comfort and enjoy our crab cake appetizer and our pork tenderloin and squid ink entrees. Location 2000 E. 9th St.
Check out Bill Rockwell’s video of our visit to Cleveland: Cleveland A Food Tour – YouTube
More Cleveland Eats
Heck’s Café, 2927 Bridge Ave., reputedly offers one of Cleveland’s best gourmet burgers in a 120-year-old brick townhouse in the middle of Ohio City with indoor garden seating.
For pierogis, The South Side in the historic Tremont district, has some of the best in the city. 2207 W. 14th St. Or try the Pierogi Palace in the West Side Market, which serves both traditional pierogis and exotics like buffalo pork, spicy cabbage and BBQ chicken.
While in the Tremont neighborhood, you might want to explore the Farmer’s Market where, among the fresh produce, baked goods, honey, jams, hand-crafted foods and art from local farmers, producers and artists. I discovered La Mar pies, small individual unique pies, some of which like vinegar and white bean, I never before heard of let alone tasted.
For one of Cleveland’s signature food creations, you have to try a Polish boy, a kielbasa sandwich topped with French Fries, cole slaw and BBQ sauce. Destination Cleveland has an entire web page listing places that serve them.
Like BBQ? Mabel’s is a creation of celebrity chef Michael Symon, who assembled a BBQ style Cleveland can call its own. Among its ingredients are Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard and Eastern European spices slathered over meat smoked over local fruitwood. I stopped in before a Guardian’s baseball game just a short walk away and savored an ultra-tender and tasty brisket platter.
Relish warm and buttery biscuits? Shawnda Moye started Cleveland Biscuit Heads which offers deliciousness in the form of unrivaled biscuit Sammies along with a variety of pastries and lunch sandwiches.
Cleveland visitors can travel the world without leaving the city, thanks to the new InternationalRestaurant Passport. The virtual passport combines Clevelanders’ love of food and community while highlighting the rich cultures and heritages that make up the city’s diverse population.
The virtual passport offers exclusive deals at 17 of the city’s international eateries. The passport and full list of participating restaurants are available online.
I used the passport to find a place for lunch and decided on Map of Thailand in AsiaTown. Just next door, I bought some pastries (Bolo Bao) to go at Koko Bakery before leaving for home.
For more information on Cleveland’s food scene, contact Susan Capo of Relish Food Tours. Capo and staff lead several walking food tours and is a trove of information on the city’s food scene. She can offer advice on everything from where to get the best pizza, ethnic food, pasta and more and plan a customized food itinerary. Phone 440-622-4465 or www.relishcle.com
For more information on Cleveland, phone 216-875-6600 or www.thisiscleveland.com.
For a Place to Stay, the Kimpton Schofield, 2000E. Ninth St. Conveniently located downtown in a beautiful 1902 brick building within walking distance to Playhouse Square and Progressive Field, home to the Guardians baseball team.
In 2016, the Kimpton Schofield opened after an extensive renovation that kept many of the Victorian elements intact.
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants recently announced an exclusive partnership with Wag!, a mobile-first platform that connects pet parents with professional pet caregivers for pet boarding, sitting and walking. Kimpton is the first major hotel brand to offer on-property and at-home walks and drop-ins through a pet service provider like Wag! for guests staying at any of their 65+ properties in the US. This new partnership complements Kimpton’s current pet-friendly amenities by providing guests with access to new priority pet services.
Phone 216-357-2377 or www.theschofieldhotel.com