Sunday, April 20, 2014

Culinary Adventures in Cleveland


Photo by OHventures - A view of Cleveland from Whiskey Island

The following is a post written especially for OHventures by freelance tourism writer Susie Holt

While many visitors to Cleveland come to experience the nostalgia of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, foodies including myself know that this vibrant city’s rock may not have anything to do with the likes of the Rolling Stones but rather with the lobster roll found at the Hodge Podge truck. A city’s local cuisine offers a peek into the heart and soul that makes each city tick and Cleveland is no exception. As a die-hard foodie myself, I could not wait to dive deep into the heart of Cleveland’s culinary scene.

With an exciting array of adventures to satisfy any palette, Cleveland is as rich in tastes as it is in culinary activities. On my recent trip to this culinary capital, I began my adventure following in the footsteps of some of my favorite Food Network shows.

Photo by OHventures - Melt Bar & Grilled!

Melt Bar & Grilled
Melt Bar & Grilled is as worth its weight in gold as it is its weight in cheese. The restaurant was featured on the Food Network program, Man vs. Food for its “Massive Melt Challenge.” Indeed, it is a challenge but the question remains whether it is a greater challenge for the restaurant to prepare this massive sandwich or for the diner to consume it. Being a cheese addict, I could not wait to dive into this monster grilled cheese sandwich that boasts 13 different cheeses sandwiched in between three slices of bread, accompanied by fries and coleslaw. Don’t expect to dance out of here without gaining weight. This monster meal rings in at just over 5 pounds. Admittedly, I had to share it but it was worth every last taste accompanied by one of the restaurant’s selection of more than 150 beers.

Photo by OHventures - Gorging at Melt!

The Hodge Podge Truck
My next stop was to visit the star of the second season of The Great Food Truck Race, the Hodge Podge Truck. The truck is owned by one of Cleveland’s culinary stars, Chef Chris Hodge, who pioneered Cleveland’s food truck revolution when he launched the “Dim and Den Sum” truck. As for the Hodge Podge, it offers a seasonal menu of fresh, local ingredients to make a number of popular local favorites such as truffle mac-n-cheese and that sumptuous lobster roll I mentioned at the beginning. If you are after something specific, make sure you time your visit properly as the menu changes constantly based on seasonal availability of ingredients.

West Side Market
After completing my Food Network pilgrimage, I headed to some of the local spots that had topped the Cleveland foodie blogs. Located across the Cuyahoga River, West Side Market is a Cleveland institution. The market itself is over 100 years old and beneath its arched ceiling you will find countless locals piling up their generously buttered perogies and their sinful strudels. Keeping in line with the pilgrimage theme, I would definitely have to describe this as Cleveland’s culinary mecca. You can find an array of international meals along with seafood, produce, spreads, and cheeses. I headed over to Sebastian’s Meats to pick up their famous maple cured smokies. But if you don’t have access to a kitchen at your hotel, stop in at Steve’s Gyro stall where you can enjoy large portions and intense flavours for cheap.

Sokolowski’s University Inn
One of Cleveland’s family favorites is Sokolowski’s University Inn that pays tribute to the city’s rich immigration history as it attracted immigrants from all over Eastern Europe. Self-proclaimed as “Cleveland’s Oldest Family Owned Restaurant,” Sokolowski ‘s is famous for its comfort foods featuring Polish and Eastern European cuisine. The experience is completely casual where patrons literally line up as one would in a university cafeteria. But you can be assured of a hearty lunch with Polish favourites such as cabbage rolls, perogies, and kielbasa.



Where to Stay
Being a city of its stature, Cleveland offers a range of branded and boutique accommodations to suit all styles and budgets. Those seeking a change of scenery from your typical hotel can opt for a local Bed & Breakfast or a vacation property. If you would like a taste of nostalgia, stepping back into 1930s Cleveland, the Tudor Arms Hotel offers just that being a former prestigious men’s club. The building has been entirely refurbished complete with breathtaking murals, a baronial ballroom, and ornate chandeliers. For those that are planning to bar-hop along West 25th, Clifford House Bed & Breakfast offers a short crawl back from the city’s bars. The Tuscan-style property features four cozy bedrooms. But if you really want to live the high life, book in at Cleveland’s Ritz Carlton that sits attached to the Tower City Shopping Centre. There are countless shops featuring designer brands, cinemas, and even a Hard Rock Café. In addition, every room features a beautiful view of the city or Lake Erie.

Where to Play
No visit to Cleveland would be complete without complementing a culinary adventure with the city’s “hopping” brew scene. Cleveland is filled with countless breweries that each have their own unique brews. My personal favorite is the honey-cinnamon-ginger Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewing, the city’s first microbrewery. The holiday ale is a winner of four gold medals at the World Beer Championships. But if you’re not feeling the Christmas spirit, there are plenty of other watering holes to choose from including Thirsty Dog Brewing, Market Garden Brewery, and Chardon BrewWorks & Eatery.
If you’re looking for “wow factor,” look beyond the Museum of Art or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland has a hot culinary scene that is quickly emerging as the city’s top attraction. Whether you embark on your own adventure, take a culinary tour, or try out one of the city’s culinary schools, Cleveland has got just the right amount of tastes to satisfy any appetite.

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