Meaty Issues

I really wanted to write about something meaty this month: Maybe the inexplicable demise of the Steelyard Commons project and its proposed 1,800 jobs, maybe something in praise of the new Body Worlds 2 exhibit at the Great Lakes Science Center or maybe 21 reasons to push for casino gambling in Ohio.

These topics are all important, worthy of coverage and something for a columnist to chew on. But then I went to lunch at Slyman's Restaurant and the only thing meaty I could ponder was corned beef.

Step out of the car almost half a block away and the air is infused with the bouquet of brisket. At a few ticks past noon, a line of customers waiting to order at the deli counter already stretches out the door and along three squares of sidewalk. But the action is inside and there's rarely a wait for a front-row seat.

The surroundings are cozy — which is a kind way of saying that the tables are packed so tight you can barely fit a slice of rye between them, not to mention one of Slyman's beer-belly bloated sandwiches. The décor is sparse, though the interior designer's taste is impeccable: several awards from Cleveland Magazine have prominent placement on the walls (our waitress says there are more stashed away :"I keep saying they should bring 'em out," she offers) along with two recent covers of Esquire.

You see, Cleveland's native son and Esquire writer-at-large Scott Raab pens occasional odes to this place: "I've noshed deli across the globe, and no corned-beef sandwich anywhere knuckles up to this. Size matters, of course. So does taste, warmth, fresh rye, price, and ambiance. Slyman's is short-sleeved, cans-of-pop-in-the cooler, breakfast-and-lunch-only simple. Where a New York City Reuben is an open-faced insult eaten with knife and fork, here it's a two-fisted, seven-buck colossus."

Can I get an amen? Hell, yes. Amen!

After a single bite, the Homer Simpson side of my brain has consumed every last one of my nerve endings and I succumb to the heaping mound of bovine bliss. Everything else melts away. Except one lingering thought: How could I have waited this long for my first taste of Slyman's?

Oh, the time I have wasted! What a fraudulent life I have led, calling myself a Clevelander without ever partaking in its beefy bounty. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned • and please pass the mustard.

And don't forget to ask for an extra slice of bread (or two). It's a sign of weakness, I know, but better to divide and devour than admit defeat and wrap up what's left in a brown paper bag.

This is my kind of place. A working man's spot like the ones my dad and I would visit for lunch: The Hot Dog Shoppe in Warren for the best chili-cheese fries and dogs I've ever tasted and Teenie's Tavern in Youngstown for pierogies made by church ladies in the back room.

None of these would be considered fine dining, to be sure. But that doesn't mean the food wasn't darn good.

No doubt our area's culinary palate has expanded to include more than the simplicities found at such eateries.

A quick look at our Best New Restaurants offers the lodge-inspired Blue Canyon, the '70s-fondue-fabulous Melting Pot and the fusion of Spanish, Creole and Asian elements at boulevard blue. Some of our other Silver Spoon Award winners make my personal list of favorites, including Three Birds, Lockkeepers and Nuevo Acapulco.

But no matter where you go, a memorable meal should be on the menu. That's why this year's restaurant issue also includes some secrets to making eating out as easy as beef on bread. Whether you've always wondered what to tip on an $80 bottle of Chardonnay or how to slip into your favorite hot spot without a reservation, we've got the answers.

And that's something we can all sink our teeth into.

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