Eat Outside Tonight

It happens each spring: an imperceptible shift in our thinking.

We start ordering iced coffee from Art, the Starbucks barista. We linger in the offices of our co-workers fortunate enough to have a window. They start turning on the air conditioning when we’re not looking. And outside, the patios start blooming.
At first it’s just the bravest, hardiest patios, cheekily flaunting their newfound outdoor status in the face of the elements. We seek them out on evenings still cool with chills leftover from February. We order warm foods, hot drinks, ask about their supply of outdoor heaters. Our frozen Cleveland souls are slowly cracking out of the ice.

But by June, patio season is firmly established. Suddenly, we’ve got options — four months (if we’re lucky) to enjoy your favorite patio. We sure couldn’t decide on ours; good reasons abound. Because you can see the stars from Blue Canyon’s patio. Because you can hear the fireworks at Jacobs Field from Great Lakes Brewing Co. Because there’s something about jazz music on a summer evening that makes our East Side patios even more appealing.

The Gathering Place
Market Avenue, Cleveland;

In the space of a short Ohio City block, four patios enjoy a harmonious coexistence, and it’s a rare Saturday evening that doesn’t find Market Avenue packed with diners and drinkers. The sun sets between the buildings that flank the west end of the street, so each patio is bathed in evening light. It makes for a mellow atmosphere with a communal vibe, one that’s enhanced by the variety of options.

Wine lovers typically choose Market Avenue Wine Bar. Its prime spot on the northwest corner, close to the parking lot and the intersection of Market Avenue and West 26th Street, makes it chatter central — dog-walkers and young couples with strollers are always stopping to say hi to friends they haven’t seen since last summer.

Across the street, The Flying Fig and Talkies Film & Coffee Bar cater to the refined set — the Fig’s prices ensure the clientele stays classy, while the independent, funky atmosphere at Talkies sets the stage for chess players, deep conversations and lots of laptops (free Wi-Fi).

But the true gathering place is Great Lakes Brewing Co.. With a new, semi-enclosed section, a beer garden and a large dining area, GLBC appears committed to creating a place where every patron is comfortable — we can only imagine what they’ll come up with for next summer.

The view
: We could people-watch all day. Another Dortmunder, please!

The comfort level: Typical plastic furniture at Talkies and some sections of GLBC; the Fig and the wine bar get fancy with metal chairs. Market Avenue adds chair pads for comfort, while the Fig keeps the outdoor dining posh with candles and silverware rolled in linen napkins.

The extras: All four patios keep it pretty simple: There are no outdoor bars, TVs or fireplaces. GLBC occasionally hosts bands.
Order up: Take advantage of the Fig’s weekday happy hour from 5-7 p.m. for cheaper food. Then, do the circuit: Start with a fancy cocktail; share a bottle of wine; argue over which GLBC draft beer is the best; sober up with a strong coffee.

Know before you go: Great Lakes is closed on Sundays (unless they change their minds). If you choose the Talkies patio, know that you’re the first line of defense between the panhandlers and the rest of the street. Market Avenue Wine Bar’s food selection is pretty limited. Entrées at the Fig run in the $18 to $25 range.
— Amber Matheson
The Magician
8803 Brecksvill Road, Brecksville;
(440) 546-0555

It’s a cool illusion. It’s just far enough away from state Route 82 that you can’t hear the steady stream of traffic. And you surely can’t see it thanks to the tall, full trees that lean in toward the elevated patio at Eddie’s Creekside in Brecksville. The wood-plank terrace overhanging a ravine will make you forget you’re grabbing a bite in the center of town near the intersection of two busy roads. All you’ll be thinking about are the trees, birds and hearty dose of peace and quiet.

The view: Trees, trees and … did we mention the trees? With Chippewa Creek below, you’ll feel like you’re dining in the treetops.
The comfort level: Heavy-duty plastic chairs with armrests and tables that don’t show a hint of wobble.

The extras: Tables are located along the railing and against the exterior back wall of the restaurant (an aisle runs in between). Ask for a seat along the patio’s outer edge.

Order up: Good old-fashioned I’m-hungry food with a twist: The 7-ounce Eddie’s Burger topped with grilled onions, mushroom, bacon and sour cream ($8.95, served with fries and a side of coleslaw or baked beans); smoked tomato bisque with a swirl of pesto on top ($4.50/bowl).

Know before you go: It can be tough to get a patio seat on the weekend, so stop in for a weekday special: $5 burgers on Mondays, kids eat free on Tuesdays, 25-cent wings on Wednesdays,  and buy one pizza, get one for $5 on Thursdays. 
— Jim Vickers

The Irishman
139 Crocker Park Blvd; Westlake
(440) 250-8680,

Irish pubs are happy places. Step onto the expansive patio at Claddagh Irish Pub in Westlake’s Crocker Park and just try to keep from smiling. The tempting smorgasbord of brews, scotches and whiskies helps, but so does the atmosphere. There are shoppers who’d rather find the perfect pour than the perfect pair of shoes. There are guys raising their glasses in cheer … again. There’s the cadre of happy-hour goers who are just, well, very happy to be here. It’s a back-slapping, joke-telling, sitting-in-the-sun good time — that’s almost as good as jumping the pond.

The view: Because it’s off the main drag and hidden by trees, there’s a sense of privacy here that you won’t find at too many other patios in Crocker Park. Kick back and spy on the fun-loving crowd.

The comfort level: There’s stone everywhere, but that’s just for ambiance. Park yourself in a woven chair and choose between rounded tables in the sun or shaded by a large umbrella.

The extras: Stone-encased fire pits and a fireplace make this a sure-fire place to get cozy after dark.

Order up: Guinness, of course. Try it mixed with an assortment of beers — or, if you want to get crazy, with champagne!

Know before you go: Go hungry. The menu is chock full of hearty Irish fare, including tender corned beef and cabbage ($13.95). But don’t forget to leave room for Bailey’s crepes ($5.95) … and some more Guinness ($4.50 for a 16-ounce pour).  
— Jen Bowen

The Don
13664 Pearl Road.; Strongsville
(440) 572-1111

This is what I knew about Don’s Pomeroy House: It’s been around a long time and, along with the White Oaks in Westlake, it’s one of my mother’s two favorite restaurants.

What I didn’t know is that it has a very pretty patio — brick pavers, lots of trees. But perhaps the best part about the outdoor eating area is that the main patio (which seats up to about 120) gives you the chance to dine on Don Pomeroy’s famously good food, but in a much more casual (and less expensive way) than inside the 160-year-old house. If it’s a big night, though, you can still opt for white-tablecloth service on the smaller patio (only a handful of tables) by the front of the house.

The view: Green. A canopy of trees, dominated by a horse chestnut almost as old as the house.

The comfort level: Chairs are either metal or a comfy plastic. Heaters take the chill out of the air.

The extras: Forgot your sweater? No problem. Just ask for one of the fleece wraps they keep on hand for freeze-babies like you.

Order up: The stuffed mushroom appetizer ($8) lured us with its blend of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and asiago cheese. Owned by the same folks who run Don’s Lighthouse in Cleveland, the Pomeroy House offers a nice seafood selection.

Know before you go: Have a super-special occasion? There is a third patio, sheltered by trees, that has just one table — a totally private outdoor dining room.         
— Colleen Mytnick
The Dubliner
12387 Cedar Road.; Cleveland Heights
(216) 795-0550

It’s not an Irish bar, it’s a Dublin restaurant. Nighttown’s patio makes that clear with its mural of red, olive and orange row houses lining the Irish capital’s River Liffey. The patio even has its own name, Stephen’s Green, after a city park.

The only green on the patio is the faux ivy, intertwined with white holiday lights, dangling from a glass canopy. Instead, trellises and a waterfall chattering down a brick wall give this 100-seat patio its cozy European garden feel. On a sunny Sunday, the waterfall drowns out Cedar Road’s traffic noise and a pleasant conversational buzz fills the half-full Green, though we’re told it can get pretty loud when all the tables are full.

The view: Other diners — the fenced-in patio keeps the cars out and the conversation in.
The comfort level: The chairs are made of bamboo and plastic mesh or wood with soft cushions, depending on which marble-topped table you’re at.

The extras: Garage doors are pulled down in bad weather, and heaters keep the two sections covered by glass ceilings open for private parties into the winter. Brazilian guitarist Moises Borja performs a couple of times a week.

Order up: A cheese-heavy French onion soup ($4.50) and the Café Ulysses ($5.75) for a variation on Irish coffee.
Know before you go: If Indian summer brightens your October, call before dashing over: You could collide with a Cleveland Orchestra crowd that turns the place into a madhouse.    
— Erick Trickey

The Secret Garden
18151 Detroit Road; Lakewood
(216) 221-3500

On the bustling thoroughfare of Detroit Road in Lakewood near the Rocky River border, cars and people whiz by — time seems to move at warp speed. But tucked between two brick buildings sits Three Birds’ very private patio and garden, where time slows down and lets you catch your breath.

The smell of hyacinth in full bloom envelops the tables, while birds chirp above. The combination makes this hidden gem seem almost too good to be true. You can stroll through the garden or lounge back in your seat and take it all in. There is no rush.

This place is classy and romantic — guys hold doors open and push in girls’ chairs. But it’s still perfect for unwinding with co-workers or friends. The service is quick and invisible, leaving you more time to take in the beauty.

The view: Flowers, fountains and plenty of green space remind you why sun is good for the soul.

The comfort level: With about 10 tables, the patio is intimate and warm. The wrought-iron furniture manages to be comfortable.
The extras: Patio heaters, valet parking

Order up: The patio is smoke-free, but you can get your nicotine fix with the Nicotini (a mix of vodka, Kahlua and Stoli Vanilla topped with a piece of Nicorette gum, $10).

Know before you go: There’s free valet parking on Detroit Road, or turn down Riverside Drive for ample parking behind the restaurant.                          
— Kim Schneider

The Jazz Act
11401 Belflower Road; Cleveland
(216) 231-4469

Tucked into a peaceful corner of the Case Western campus, the stone patio at That Place on Bellflower feels like the secluded backyard of a country manor. The patio itself is accessible through the small, cozy bar at That Place, which occupies the remnants of another era: a wood-frame carriage house. A fence separating this backyard oasis from the real world is cobbled with every shape of wood scrap to form a stylish, cohesive whole, almost the physical embodiment of the jazz music wafting in the air. The patio mood is relaxed, perfect for an off-campus burger done right, a sophisticated happy hour after a day at the University Circle museums or the beef Wellington before a night at Severance Hall. The upscale menu is filled with French-influenced classics, but watch for perfectly prepared New World dishes such as salmon steamed in a banana leaf.

The view: Birds, treetops, that one-of-a-kind wooden fence, the fairy-tale façade of the restaurant and the faintest glimpse at the historic buildings dotting the fringes of University Circle.

The comfort level: Classic metal patio furniture and a candle on every table.

The extras: Live music on weekends and piped-outdoors jazz on weekdays sets the mood.

Order up: Anything sumptuous off the dessert cart ($6). Yes, the waiter will bring his tray with irresistible examples of the night’s offerings as far out as the patio.

Know before you go: While you’re in the neighborhood, stop across the street to check out Hessler Court, the city’s only remaining wooden road.
— Monica Arjev

The Gamer
320450 Detroit Road; Avon
(440) 937-7612

If it were a drink, the Avon Winking Lizard would be a mint julep mixed with Red Bull. A mint julep because it occupies a more than 100-year-old building with a wide front porch that sprawls across a lovely patch of wooded land. But you’ve got to add the Red Bull because, just when you’re enjoying the charm of the white-picket fence, you notice the ubiquitous TVs. As the restaurant’s Web site states: “As in all Winking Lizard locations, there isn’t a seat in the house where a ball game can’t be seen.”

The view: The outdoor area is so large, you’re mostly looking at other diners, as well as plenty of trees.

The comfort level: The wide front porch, with aluminum-frame sling chairs and glass-topped tables, gets lots of sun during the day; the back bar area is shaded by a grove of pines, oaks and maples (tables and chairs here are a heavy-duty plastic composite).

The extras: More than a dozen outdoor TVs; even during peak weekend hours, it’s a comfortable place for families.

Order up: The miniburger basket ($7.29) is new this year — good for sharing.

Know before you go: Inside, it’s really nothing special. So definitely make this a nice-weather destination.        
— CM

The Last Resort
1148 Main Ave.; Cleveland
(216) 861-6900

It’s pure Florida: water lapping the railings, boaters stopping off for a bite, the vertical lift bridge ascending for a massive ore boat. … OK, it’s not exactly Florida. But after a couple daiquiris on the long wooden deck at Shooters, does it really matter?

Like most smart Floridian venues, the Shooters patio is an able chameleon, transitioning from a sedate lunch crowd to striped-shirt and short-skirt cherry bombers every night of the week. The late-night scene is legendary (for the cheese factor as well as the electric party atmosphere) and shows no signs of slowing down despite being one of the last Flats holdouts.

The view: The mighty Cuyahoga, and the not-so-mighty East Bank of the Flats.

The comfort level: Heavy-duty plastic slingback chairs with armrests; the round, faux-granite tables are shaded by plenty of umbrellas.

The extras: Tables near the outdoor bar give way to a dance floor for the live bands that take the stage most weekend nights.
Order up: Better-than-the-usual spinach and artichoke dip ($8.95) and a round of shots.

Know before you go: If you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of a lazy day on the water, come at lunch. Happy hour starts at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.             
— AM

The Woodsman
8960 Wilcox Drive, Twinsburg
(330) 486-BLUE

A rustic vibe mixed with a pinch of class makes the patio at Blue Canyon Kitchen & Tavern in Twinsburg feel like a retreat to the mountains without the bug bites and bear scares. From the outdoor kitchen and special patio menu to rope-and-torch accents, the folks at Blue Canyon went all-out in creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a souped-up camping trip.

If you’re on the prowl, this is the place to be on the weekend: Plenty of singles chat and mingle on the horseshoe-shaped benches. But don’t get us wrong, it’s more than a pick-up joint — couples canoodle while taking in the stars above, families end their evening with s’mores and nobody thinks about calamine lotion.

The view: The eastern skyline above the pine trees is amazing, except for an occasional glimpse of the bright green Interstate 480 highway sign.

The comfort level: Don’t want to sit in the dining area? Comfy wicker sofas and chairs flank the middle of the patio.

The extras: A bar with a huge plasma TV (even mountain men need to know the score of the Indians game).

Order up: Blue Canyon chips ($8.25), freshly sliced potatoes fried, then topped with blue cheese sauce and blue cheese crumbles.
Know before you go: Weekends and Friday nights can leave you waiting for a table for hours. They don’t take reservations so show up early.
— KS

The Italian

12309 Mayfield Road; Cleveland
(216) 231-3100

Guarino’s brick-paved couryard is like a secret garden behind the 89-year-old Little
Italy stronghold. But even more enticing, this one has a story behind it.

When Vincenzo Guarino left Sicily for America in 1898, he pocketed some seeds from home, then planted them in the backyard of the tavern he opened on Mayfield Road. The seeds, and the immigrant, took root. Vincenzo married, and classic southern Italian fare prepared by his wife replaced the Prohibition-era hooch as the big attraction. The grapevines and trumpet flowers from the Old Country flourished and still bloom, offering shade and an eyeful of greenery. Paired with a burbling fountain and tinkling wind chimes, it makes the perfect backdrop for saltimbocca under the stars. A 2002 expansion created more space, including a rooftop deck with six tables.

The view: A snug, secluded square with its own quirky charm, enclosed by lush foliage and a wooden fence. Tables on the roof deck offer a University Circle panorama.

The comfort level: Lightweight plastic tables get an upgrade from pastel linens. Ask for one on the porch or under the pavilion if rain threatens. Seating for about 100 on three levels makes it crowded in a fun, join-the-party kind of way.

The extras: In season, guests can pluck the tomatoes and basil for their caprese

Order up: Artichoke & eggplant salad ($12), a meal in itself, and lemony chicken piccata ($16).
Know before you go: Unlike most Little Italy restaurants, this one has its own parking lot.            
— Laura Taxel

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