I recently accompanied Josephine part way on her trip east, spending a couple days in Cleveland. The city has been getting a lot attention recently for its newer spots such as Lola and Velvet Tango Room but I suspect it's been a good place to eat for a long time. I'd love to dine at Lola one day (reservations are impossible on short notice) but I was more than happy eating at some Cleveland classics. Our eating focused on three of Cleveland's strong areas: corned beef, Hungarian specialties and Polish Boys.
Cleveland is a surprisingly good city for corned beef. Getting off the highway, we unexpectedly passed Corky & Lenny's, an old Cleveland deli, so of course we had to visit. As soon as you walk in you know these guys are serious. Smoked fish, knishes, pickles etc fill the long deli case by the door.
Beef and latkas (see this discussion of the Heebarito
) was on the menu so there was no question about ordering it. Good corned beef, good potato pancakes but I'm afraid I don't find it an inspired combination.
Corky & Lenny's Reuben is a pleasing version, well balanced, with a nice grilled crust.
This single visit suggests that Corky & Lenny's is carrying on deli traditions more faithfully than anywhere in Chicago.
When talking about corned beef in Cleveland, the name Slyman's always comes up. The place is wildly popular and sells sandwiches as fast as they can make them. It's quite a scene, certainly not the place for a quiet relaxing lunch.
Slyman's is more of a sandwich shop than a full-scale deli like Corky & Lenny's but the menu has plenty to choose from. The portions are enormous, bordering on ridiculous but prices are low and quality high so I'm not complaining. The proportions of the Reuben (in foreground) are completely out of whack though. Corned beef completely dominates the bit of sauerkraut and slice of cheese. I'd just stick with a basic corned beef.
My third taste of corned beef came from Mister Brisket. It's a meat market not a restaurant but they sell very good sandwiches to take away. What more needs to be said about a butcher that inspires young girls to send valentines?
This was yet another high quality corned beef sandwich. From this brief visit, I'd say Cleveland outclasses Chicago in this category.
The West Side Market is without question the premier culinary destination in Cleveland, and near the top in the US. It's a fantastic place, a intriguing blend of gritty working market and friendly gourmet shops. An absolutely essential stop.
There are about a hundred vendors at the market but I'll focus on a single one. Dohar Meats sells Hungarian sausage and smoked meat in maybe a dozen varieties.
One of their specialties is szalonna, a bacon traditionally served after cooking over an open fire.
Hurka is a traditional rice-based sausage, a cousin of kishka. To the left of the hurka is fris paprikash kolbász, uncured Hungarian sausage seasoned with paprika. A gentleman I sat next to at Great Lakes Brewpub told me how his mother would take her great iron skillet and coil this sausage around the hurka.
We had hurka for breakfast, served with scrambled eggs and some apple pastries from Farkas. A real feast.
Two blocks from the market is Farkas Pastry. Mike G has written lovingly
of the place and I can only enthusiastically second all he said. Even though I'm not a huge pastry fan, I found these Hungarian specialties to be truly special and Mr Farkas a pleasure to chat with.
Also very close to the market is Great Lakes Brewing, a fine spot to sample their topnotch beers. At least on the Saturday afternoon I was there it held an excellent mix of drinkers—from suburbanites fresh from their weekly shopping to butchers relaxing after a long day at the market—unlike the homogeneous crowds at many brewpubs. Sampling all their seasonal beers rarely seen Chicago was a pleasure.
Friday night we headed to St Margaret of Hungary, an old Cleveland parish from the old Hungarian neighborhood of Buckeye Avenue but now in the suburbs, for their Lenten fish fry.
I enjoyed the fish's spicy coating fragrant with paprika and the side of noodles and cabbage. Live music, played on a century-old cimbalom, was an unexpected pleasure.
The Polish Boy is a Cleveland treat that's been getting a lot of attention recently (No Reservations
, Plain Dealer
). This barbecue-house specialty consists of a kielbasa in a hot dog bun, dressed with a pile of cole slaw, a handful of fries, then smothered in barbecue sauce. Minutes after leaving Slyman's we stopped at Freddie's to sample their version.
Freddie's is an old-school barbecue house with a cool-looking ancient pit behind the counter.
In addition to many barbecue standards, the menu includes pigs feet (they were out) and house made Delta-style tamales. The tamales, with their cornmeal shell and highly spiced filling, were excellent specimens.
The Polish Boy is a horrifying mess but it's quite tasty. The terrific freshly made fries helped a lot. Even immediately after a Slyman's sandwich the Polish Boy was surprisingly good but I think one of these masterpieces would be best appreciated after the bars close.
The next day we stopped at Hot Sauce Williams for another take on this delicacy.
They used a pre-boiled Polish and old fries, both from the steam table, nondescript slaw and overly sweet sauce. It tasted exactly like the sum of its parts: not very good. I never watched Bourdain's No Reservations
but I understand he went to Hot Sauce Williams for a Polish Boy. It's a shame he didn't get to Freddie's.
I'd like to give Hot Sauce Williams another try for pork shoulder, their specialty. We saw it being cooked out back and it looks like they take it seriously.
Many thanks to Diana and Mike for their wonderful hospitality.
Corky & Lenny's
27091 Chagrin Blvd
Woodmere Village OH
3106 St Clair Av
2156 S Taylor St
Cleveland Heights OH
Tue-Fri 9am-5pm, Mon & Sat 9am-3pm
West Side Market
W 25th & Lorain
Mon & Wed 7am-4pm, Fri & Sat 7am-6pm
Farkas Pastry Shoppe
2700 Lorain Av
Wed-Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 9am-2pm
Great Lakes Brewing Company
2516 Market Av
Bar hours: Mon-Thu 11:30am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11:30am-1am
St Margaret of Hungary Church
4680 Lander Rd
Chagrin Falls OH
Fish fry: Fri 5pm-7pm
Hot Sauce Williams
7815 Carnegie Av
Mon-Thu 6am-11pm, Fri-Sat 6am-3:30am
Freddie's Rib House
1430 St Clair Av