Food for Thought
Cleveland's dining scene has most of the ingredients for success. Now it just needs a healthy helping of respect.
I am everything that’s wrong with our dining community.
Don’t get me wrong: I love to eat. And if I could try a different restaurant every night, I’d be happier than those cows at Chick-fil-A. But that’s also the last place I went “out to dinner.” (Hey, they have one of those glassed-in play areas for the kids.)
My culinary crimes read like a list of ingredients from today’s Kraft EasyMac lunch. (Sure, glyceryl monostearate is also used in cosmetics, but my mac ’n’ cheese is ready in just 3 1/2 minutes!)
I don’t dine out much, frequent chain restaurants when I do, love comfort food and tote along three little kids. But here’s the worst of it.
When we asked local chefs what Cleveland’s dining scene lacks (See “90 Reasons We Love Eating in Cleveland,” page 126), my likeness is their crime-scene sketch.
“What Cleveland doesn’t have is the customer base that goes out to dinner three nights a week like the big cities do,” offers Jonathan Bennett of Moxie. “Fortunately, people are staying at home with their families. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the best restaurant scene in Cleveland.”
True, as a family we probably eat out once a week. More than half that number includes ordering pizza, usually from one of the great little neighborhood places right around the corner. (Try Bella Pizza if you’re in the West Park neighborhood.)
Our last big night out? Valentine’s Day. At the Cheesecake Factory. With the kids. I ordered meat loaf. I’m sorry.
“There needs to be more self-awareness about supporting the independents, whether it’s a restaurant or a drugstore or a hardware store,” adds Dominic Cerino of Carrie Cerino’s.
Thanks, I get it. It’s not like I’m completely unaware of my issues. I’d prefer margaritas and carnitas taquitos at Momocho or beef short rib nachos from the happy hour menu at The Flying Fig. But that requires extra work (someone to watch the kids and some planning). And to be honest, I’m a touch lazy.
Now, I watch the Food Network, and I consider myself fairly adventurous in my food choices. My problem is that once I find something I like, I stick with it.
In fact, I’ve never ordered anything but the bun bo hue (spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup) at #1 Pho. A few fiery spoonfuls in every bowl have me struggling to regain my breath. But it doesn’t stop me from adding hot peppers.
At the handful of lunch spots near our Playhouse Square offices, I have a favorite and almost never waver: a tuna melt and fries from the Hanna Deli (it reminds me of my Grandma Ferrick’s tuna-noodle casserole);
Hunan Renaissance’s Hunan beef with hot-and-sour soup (the spicy, red-tinged broth is the best in the city); the Southwestern chicken chorizo wrap at Juniper Grille; seafood pasta at Acapella (after a disappointing version of the dish elsewhere, I visited three times in two weeks for mussels and shrimp tossed in a tomato pesto cream sauce); and a shwarma roll with a side of tabouli from Juji’s (don’t overlook the side of pickled turnips).
It doesn’t take Alton Brown’s flair for the science of cooking to figure out that our 90 reasons for loving to eat in Cleveland is just an appetizer. Even a non-foodie like me can rattle off a pretty good list.
Which means maybe Blue Canyon’s Brandt Evans isn’t that far off when he says what Cleveland’s food scene really lacks is “national respect.”