The magazine called it "The Lola Moment." On Sept. 22, 2006, Michael Symon opened his iconic restaurant on East Fourth Street. More than a simple culinary happening, it was special.
We'd already seen the impact on Tremont when Lola debuted in 1997. "The city was ready for a restaurant like that," Symon says.
Lola was a destination, and Tremont was the place to be. Four other Tremont spots — Fahrenheit, Ty Fun Thai Bistro, Dante and Sokolowski's University Inn — made this month's list of the city's 25 Best Restaurants. It easily could have been more.
Lola became the first food-only restaurant on East Fourth when it joined Pickwick and Frolic and the House of Blues. "There was so much going on and so much positive energy in the city at that time," Symon says.
Ten years later, the neighborhood is the symbolic heart of downtown — where you'll find restaurants from Jonathon Sawyer and Zack Bruell, a shop that sells civic pride one T-shirt at a time and the vantage point for ESPN cameras during last year's Cleveland Cavaliers run at an NBA title.
Not too many years from now, we may be talking about this year's Silver Spoon Award winner for best new restaurant in a similar way. Bruell's Alley Cat Oyster Bar anchors the reborn Flats East Bank that includes Steve Schimoler's Crop Sticks and Crop Rocks (see pg. 58), entertainment venues such as Punch Bowl Social and the Big Bang dueling piano bar and a 1,200-foot waterfront boardwalk.
And while Alley Cat drips with a coastal spirit that transforms how we look at riverfront dining, its modern industrial design pays homage to our past.
"I didn't realize when I went down there — these big freighters would come by," Bruell says. "It made you feel proud that you were a Clevelander."
Yes, it does. And unlike even 10 years ago, development in one part of town does not detract from what's happening in the others. Our Best Restaurants touch all parts of the city from Ohio City and University Circle to Moreland Hills and Broadview Heights.
In April, Symon returned to East Fourth with the opening of Mabel's BBQ. He's hoping it's yet another cultural moment.
"I really wanted to do a barbecue place that is inspired by this city that I was raised in," Symon says. "Maybe in 10 or 15 or 20 years, there will be a lot of places doing this style of barbecue in Cleveland, so we have our own little city with its own style."