A Steak on the Lake: The Culinary Experience in Cleveland, Ohio
January 1, 1970
by Lauren Simcic
With the upcoming Republican National Convention this July 2016 attracting visitors from across the nation and my own planned homecoming the following month, Cleveland Ohio is the perfect unlikely locale to put the spotlight on. Today we’ll delve into three of the best spots to quell your appetite, quench your thirst and satisfy your human need to wander.
A Little History
Established in 1796 along the tributary of the Cuyahoga River, Cleveland’s longtime bedrock was manufacturing. During its hay day, the city thrived off of its steel production, supplying the world over. Cleveland was truly viewed as a cradle of innovation like Silicon Valley in modern times. During World War II the mills had steady work and a beautiful Midwestern city, my hometown, was built around it.
In the 1960’s Cleveland ran into hard times with technological advancements and lower wages abroad driving down the cost of foreign steel imports. With the relevancy of it’s core industry swept away, the city found itself plopped in the middle of a map of commiserators belonging to the same undesired geographic club, the “Rust Belt.” The territory of previous prosperity from Buffalo to Chicago would carry this nickname for it’s rusted and decrepit steel mills and factories, marks of the siege caused by economic decline, population loss, and urban decay.
The Source of My Pride
The result of these tough times comes a certain spirit passed down to new generations in Cleveland best described as ‘pride.’ In my first 20 years living there, the city had by no means reached full recovery, but it was certainly seen by Clevelanders as a comeback kid fighting an uphill battle against developers and naysayers who continued to disavow it’s ability to rebirth itself. They even went so far as to call it “The Mistake on the Lake.” Word to the wise: think twice before uttering these words to a Clevelander.
By my fourteenth birthday I’d finally gained some perspective as to Cleveland’s place on the map and how it’s vitality stood up to other cities on our map. Given the opportunity to do a ‘Service Trip’ through my high school to Ecuador, Appalachia or Cleveland, I chose my own hometown. Growing up in the city proper, I knew Cleveland; but as it goes, just my teenage bubble.
I yearned to know more about the real Cleveland experience, it’s triumphs, struggles and it’s current state of moving on via the people who know it best. During this week with my peers, hosted by a monastery in the west side’s Ohio city, we got a taste of blue-collar life. Visiting the well-loved West Side Market and it’s vendors, the homeless in it’s ‘tent city’ and a slew of urban innovators striving to maintain Cleveland as a place for authentic experience untinged by it’s reputation. By the end of the experience I had a deeper understanding of where Clevelanders get their fight from and more importantly what my part was as an individual to keep it alive.
Though it is certainly not the first city on everyone’s lips when choosing travel destinations, Cleveland is a mid-sized city with a lot to offer. Against all odds, record stores have kept their doors open, mom and pop diners have continued serving their regulars, and the art scene is alive and well. In the middle of its second renaissance, funky cafes and conceptual gastropubs announce their openings on a regular basis. With that said, I can’t wait to give you more tips and tricks to an amazing getaway to the city with the perfect amount of history, grit, and innovation — Cleveland, Ohio. Today’s spotlight is on food, drink, and some of my favorite must-see spots.
Where to Go for Lovers of Food and Drink
The West Side Market
Cleveland is a haven for foodies. Here I’ll share a few city-shaping classics and some new kids on the block. To ensure that you experience a bit of both, head to W. 25th Street in Ohio City, easily accessible by public transit, somewhat unintuitively nicknamed “the Rapid.”
The first stop of you day should be the West Side Market, open year around but closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays since it’s opening in 1912. It’s best to go here at midday with the sun still up for optimal lighting—photogs love this place!
Here you can browse around on the main floor checking out local produce vendors or prepared goods for your very own picnic, pick up Cleveland classic Polish pierogies and sausage (mmmmm!) or grab a prepped meal and take it upstairs to have a bite on the balcony overlooking the bustle of the market below. This place is second-to-none for travelers on a hunt for the local experience.
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
The next mandatory Ohio City stop is Great Lakes Brewing Co. situated across the street from the West Side Market. Home of Cleveland’s most delicious home-brewed beers, GLBC is a must-visit.
Instantly surrounded by charm upon entrance, this is the place to sit back, take in the nostalgic decor and enjoy some suds whilst mingling with the locals. With the Edmond Fitzgerald, Burning River, and Burning River among it’s heady classics, Great Lakes keeps pushing the envelope with pub exclusives and new unique brews like the Chillwave Double IPA that’s sure to send your taste buds off on a wave to a previously unknown euphoria. Their constantly evolving menu feels like a modern spin on the family’s collection of recipe cards and always finds a way to hit the spot. This microbrewery, in reality, is not so micro, offering free brewery tours and community events like “Geeks Who Drink Trivia,” so be sure to check their event schedule!
New Kid on the Block: Mabel’s BBQ
Mabel’s BBQ is the latest addition to the Cleveland culinary scene- a gift bestowed upon us by renowned chef Michael Symon. Located on E. 4th, this one is about a 10 minute cab ride from Ohio City, who’s main drag will have hopefully explored. The atmosphere here is laid back with communal seating reminiscent of a picnic making it a great place to gather groups. Boasting the use of European spices and home smoked meats, this place’s popularity has taken on like fire and is exactly the kind of cuisine the United States is known for around the globe. A big proponent of eating more meat, this upscale barbecue joint has mastered the recipes and allows each of us to exploit our carnivorous sides.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this installation of my Cleveland Guides and will join us again for more finds for art lovers, music junkies, and more. Don’t hesitate to contact me should you want more recommendations on my hometown favorites!
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