Saturday, August 28, 2010

Culinary Adventures in Cleveland

My friend, Melissa, describes herself as "wife, writer/editor, petmom and with 20 years in newspapers as a homes writer, sportswriter, news reporter, features writer and entertainment writer. I'm a native of Connecticut, a New Englander at heart, living in the Cleveland suburbs with my husband, cat, iguana, and turtle."

I describe her as a sweetheart.  She was kind enough to take time from her own busy life and blog to share with us a Guest Post about restaurants in her area, and a family dinner recently shared at Bar Symon in Cleveland.


One of the things I love about reading blogs like Julie's is discovering the everyday food of a region, the stuff people grab for lunch and the places people go for date night. She brings New Orleans and its food to life in a way no tourist brochure can.

When my husband went to Boston recently, he felt he had to try Union Oyster House since it was a local institution. While the seafood was fine, the experience was a bit disappointing as he realized the place has become a bit of a tourist trap. He was happier at places recommended either by locals or by family and friends who went there frequently.

When my New England family comes out to visit me where I live now, Cleveland, we don't go to the high-end restaurants. We find the good neighborhood places, and hit the markets to find delicious local treats for cooking and enjoying at my house.

Many people would be surprised at how much good eating there is in a city with a lunch-pail, meat-and-potatoes reputation. But local chefs are taking our prosaic comfort foods, our ethnic treasures and our All-American classics and turning them into fine dining.

One of the people leading that movement has become a celebrity chef. Michael Symon has been straddling the worlds of the Food Network and his Cleveland roots since he worked on "Melting Pot."  He's now one of the network's vaunted Iron Chefs.

The foundation for his business remains in Cleveland. While high-end Lola satisfies those seeking a white-tablecloth Dining Experience amid the twinkling lights and bustle of downtown, he keeps his other restaurants accessible and affordable. The east side's B Spot is a burger joint where the beers are cold, the condiments are homemade, and the juices drip down your arm. Lolita, located in the grit-meets-gentrification neighborhood of Tremont, is a neighborhood spot that serves up bistro-style dishes with the flavors of Symon's Mediterranean heritage.

Bar Symon opened in Avon Lake in 2009. The name says it all. Its Symon's take on bar food and pub grub. John and I took my parents and my sister there when they visited last week.

Appetizers are a lot of classic bar/pub snacks kicked up several notches. House-made potato chips come with whipped avocado, bacon and blue cheese. Sliders are a recent culinary trend. Symon does duck confit sliders, with peppery radish and bright cilantro. The duck is so rich and velvety, that one makes a perfect starter. Succulent wings come in either a sriracha hot sauce, or a citrus-cilantro sauce.

Symon puts some quintessential Cleveland foods together for an entree called a Cleveland Classic. It's got all the goodies that my Kowiako ancestors in Cleveland's Warszawa/Slavic Village neighborhood loved: pierogi, kielbasa, cabbage braised in hard cider and some Stadium Mustard on the side.

Fried chicken is a bar food staple. And you can't throw a stone in Northeast Ohio without hitting a perch fry, especially during Lent. Bar Symon has both. The fried chicken is drizzled with honey for a savory-sweet punch. The fish fry, featuring Lake Erie perch in a batter made with Dortmunder Gold beer from Great Lakes Brewing, is an upscale take on fish 'n chips.

Need comfort? Mac and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods. Symon's features goat cheese and rosemary.

Symon is known for his love of pork. The man has a pig tattoo. I don't know where he found the pork shanks he braises with beer and apples, then serves with spaetzle and Brussels sprouts, but mine was the most flavorful pork I've tasted since pork unfortunately became "the other white meat."

Sometimes, you just can't beat a good burger. My mother fell in love with the savory lamb burger, with a sauce featuring feta, dill and cucumber.

As fans of "Iron Chef America" know, host Alton Brown always gets excited when someone fires up the ice cream makers in Kitchen Stadium. Symon used his imagination to fashion a dessert out of a classic bar combination. The beer and pretzel sundae features homemade Guinness ice cream, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and crumbled pretzels. The slightly chocolatey, slightly bitter ice cream blends with the sweet chocolate and caramel, and the salty crunch of the pretzels to wow the tongue.

Hope you've enjoyed this culinary trip up north!


NOJuju August 28, 2010 at 1:52 PM  

I loooove honey on my fried chicken. I didn't know anyone else did that.

Tim August 28, 2010 at 2:30 PM  

I love going to Cleveland, both for the good friends I have in Ohio and for the really good food. I've never had a bad meal at Michael Symon's joints. His sweetbreads were just about the best I've ever had, and I'm fussy.

Queen of Cuisine August 29, 2010 at 7:46 AM  

I just adore Michael Symon. I may have to make a trip to Cleveland- you make it sound so delish! I agree about Union Oyster House- we had the same assessment. Wish I knew you were here- I would have invited you for some Queen's Cuisine.

Unknown August 30, 2010 at 12:47 PM  

Just say when, Queen, and a guest bed will be ready for you!

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