Sure, we’ll easily claim pierogies and Polish Boys as iconic Cleveland foods. But there’s another dish that local chefs have been putting their spin on lately.
Devils on horseback — dates commonly wrapped in bacon and stuffed with goat cheese — have galloped onto menus across town. Traditionally an English snack, the stuffed dates are the epitome of sweet and salty.
So how did a dish you won’t find in many American cities make its way across the pond to Cleveland?
Chef Demetrios Atheneos thinks he may be responsible for Clevelanders’ love of the appetizer. Ten years ago, Atheneos was researching English pub food while creating the menu for Deagan’s Kitchen & Bar in Lakewood. He learned about the Brits’ love of devils on horseback and their counterpart, bacon-wrapped oysters called angels on horseback. He’d never seen either dish on a Cleveland menu, so he added the former to Deagan’s offerings — and soon noticed them on menus throughout the city.
“They’ve become a fan favorite,” Atheneos says. “They’re highly copied, which is kind of flattering.”
Indeed, devils on horseback appear on more than a dozen local menus. At Tremont’s Fahrenheit, owned by chef Rocco Whalen, a Spanish tapas-inspired version is finished with roasted tomato aioli.
“It’s a signature dish for us, and it always will be,” Whalen says. “It makes people happy.”
At the Flying Fig in Ohio City, they’re stuffed with chorizo and topped with manchego cheese, while Hingetown’s Jukebox makes a broccoli version wrapped in bacon and accompanied with fire-roasted pepper and a honey-walnut crema. The Pompadour in Fairport Harbor features cocoa-almond dates.
Atheneos, for his part, serves variations of the appetizer in all three of the restaurants he now owns. At Bold Food & Drink in the Flats East Bank, they’re a happy hour item. At Forage Public House in Lakewood and the Oak Barrel in Valley View, they’re on the menu full time. The most popular of the three is Forage’s version: juicy medjool dates stuffed with house-made toulouse sausage, wrapped in thick-cut bacon and drizzled with a chimichurri sauce and a spicy Sriracha. “It’s a fun appetizer,” says Atheneos. “It’s an easy one for people to adore because it has that umami flavor — salty, sweet and spicy, all in one bite.”
Chris Johnson, corporate chef with Driftwood Restaurant Group who makes maple syrup as a hobby, tops his with a maple-soy glaze. On the menu at Hodge’s downtown, as well as Bin 216 and the RJF President’s Club at Playhouse Square, they’re an especially popular hors d’oeuvre at catered events.
“There is no better canape, little one-bites,” Johnson says. “Everybody loves them.”