The Cleveland Browns offensive lineman and six-time pro bowler is as comfortable in one of the city's fine-dining establishments as he is in the woods hunting for his dinner or in his backyard grilling his favorite wild-game entree: bacon-wrapped venison backstrap with a black cherry demi-glace. His ideal restaurant meal is a classic beef-and-cake feast with an Asian twist.
CROP BISTRO & BAR'S CHERRY BOMB, $10
"I love tomatoes, and the tomatoes they always use are wonderfully ripe and delicious," Thomas says of the plum tomatoes stuffed with chorizo sausage and Monterey Jack cheese, wrapped in wonton and deep-fried. "The chorizo sausage adds a little bit of a bite."
FAHRENHEIT'S KOBE BEEF SHORT RIBS, $31
"I love the soy-apple glaze that they use," he says. "Usually, you don't get something that's that tender with a beef rib."
FAHRENHEIT'S CHOCOLATE LAVA CAKE, $8
"[It's] just the moistness, the fluffiness of the cake, just the way that everything's perfectly portioned. It's a great balance between the ice cream and the chocolate," he says. "Even though I'm not a dessert person, it makes you walk out of the restaurant feeling very happy."
Dee Perry has received an enviable culinary education. As senior host and producer for WCPN 90.3's Around Noon and WVIZ's Applause, she has interviewed the best local and national chefs, which motivates her to sample new items in area restaurants. Her favorite courses combine the down-home cuisine of her parents' and grandparents' native South with downtown sophistication.
ZANZIBAR SOUL FUSION'S SOUL ROLLS, $8.95
"It's this perfect mixture of crispy, melty, spicy, salty and sweet," Perry says of the egg rolls stuffed with chicken, greens, black beans and roasted corn. "When you think of an egg roll, you might think of a heavy, battered thing. But they somehow manage to put all of that stuff in there and still make it light and airy."
ZANZIBAR SOUL FUSION'S CATFISH FINGERS, $7.95
"The batter isn't heavy, so you can peel it off," she says. "It's just a light dusting [of corn flour] so that there's a really subtle crunch. You can have them grilled, but I like them deep-fried because it's home. That's the way my mom made fish. That's the way my grandmother made fish."
COWELL & HUBBARD'S MOCHA POT DE CREME, $7
"It's perfect after a meal," Perry says. "It's not enough to make you feel like, Oh, I've overdone it. But it's just enough to make you think, Oh, man, I could do that again!"
The Cleveland Museum of Art's director knows a masterpiece, whether it's framed or plated. As a graduate student at London's prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art, Franklin lived in Florence, Italy, working on his dissertation and eating in local cafes. Both educations paid off. His ultimate Cleveland dining experience is an eclectic mix of culinary works from University Circle and East Fourth Street eateries.
ACCENT'S ROBATA GRILLED SQUID, $12
"I really like seafood when you add sausage or a meat element," Franklin says of the dish served with Chinese sausage in a Szchewan sauce. "It's somewhat unpredictable, but I always find it delicious."
THE GREENHOUSE TAVERN'S ROASTED PIG HEAD, $31
"As someone who studies Renaissance and Baroque art, I love the medieval quality of that dish," he says. "There's so much talk about healthy food — and that's great. But it's nice occasionally to go back in time. The cheeks of the pig are so delicate!"
PROVENANCE'S PUMPKIN BRULEE, $8
"You've got that sugary amber surface, and then you've got the rich, orangey brown of the pumpkin," he says. "It looks beautiful. And the combination of that crispness with the softness is just very satisfying. It makes your teeth sing."