Foodie Road Trip: Cleveland Rocks!


My poutine!

When I was younger, I was a big fan of the Drew Carey Show. It was based in Cleveland, Ohio and was on around the same time they built the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was my personal Mecca.

But sadly, as I got older, there was less and less reason to go to Cleveland — what was there to do in Cleveland of all places? If I went anywhere metropolitan it was to destinations with more chic reputations — DC, New York, or Savannah, and never anywhere in the Mid-West.

Hang on Sloopy

Then love entered the picture.

I recently started dating the nicest mid-western boy and he wanted to introduce me to his hometown of…Cleveland! So off we went.

We drove up to Akron, Ohio when I got off work on a recent Saturday night, arrived at his friend’s house around 5 am, and promptly went to sleep.

The next day was my introduction to all things in the heartland.

We sped off to breakfast in a new Dodge Charger and ended up at a fabulously local greasy spoon diner, Frank’s Place. It was chock full of local characters and had the greatest home fries ever!

We then took a short tour through Akron, aka Rubber City, which is distinctly like Roanoke in its architecture. Afterwards we watched a Cleveland Browns game, in which the Browns suffered a loss, which is apparently what happens every time the  Browns play. This was all experienced over pizza and bread sticks and a home-brewed lager.

Post-game had us meeting up with some more friends on the opposite side of Akron where we then went to a cool local grocery called Mustard Seed with an amazingly modern and California-feeling upper level café. We enjoyed a vegetarian meal in front of a roaring fireplace on a luxurious couch with kind people.

Life in the Metropolis of the Western Reserve

On Monday we got up early and drove the 45 minutes into Cleveland. We took the long way through Shaker and Cleveland Heights, which were amazingly beautiful, with huge and ornate houses.

Now it was time for culture of a different sort as we headed to the Cleveland Museum of Art and walked around the pond in front. Much to our disappointment, like most museums, it was closed on Monday (why didn’t I remember that?!)

Plan B took us to Coventry Village, across town. In this neat little area we found the best coffee shop I’ve ever experienced. Phoenix Coffee had a cool vibe, great cookies, and the most flavorful and delicious latte on record — lavender and bergamot tea latte. It was heavenly!

After strolling around and checking out the cool stores in the area we lunched at Tommy’s Diner. It was packed, and with good reason: Lunch was hearty and delicious. I had a spinach and potato pie and he had a corned beef sandwich. We split a pumpkin malted milkshake, which was unique and wonderful!

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Onward to the the Rock and Roll Capital of the World

At last we were ready for the big pilgrimage: over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! I was so very excited!

The Hall of Fame was everything I thought it would be — expensive, huge, full of guitars and costumes, and old people. I LOVED it.

There was an amazing photography exhibit that opened this year — The Rock Portraits — by the bold and iconoclastic artist Herb Ritts. He took so many famous photos that I was really surprised I didn’t recognize his name immediately — I’m a secret photography buff.

I also loved the Jimi Hendrix exhibit.

They inducted Joan Jett this year and her Jaguar, her first car, was on display. The original Pink Floyd Wall was there as well. The whole museum building overlooked Lake Erie and was a geometric dream. It was fun, exciting, and made me feel like a teenager with a renewed love for rock and roll and its forefathers.

Serious Eats

We trekked downtown and went to Greenhouse Tavern, the flagship restaurant of James Beard award-winner Jonathan Sawyer. I had my first taste of poutine, which was about as artery-clogging as you imagine it would be. We sat outside and enjoyed a lovely cocktail in the shadow of Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians.

We headed back to Akron and had dinner with our hosts at Larry’s Main Entrance, a cool restaurant that seemed like it was straight from a Rat Pack movie. With a very classic menu, high backed wooden booths, perfect martinis, and old movies on the screen above the bar, this was my type of restaurant. The best part about it was that it wasn’t forced. This place had been like this since the 60s and just saw no need to improve a good concept.

We got up early the next morning and headed back home, stopping very briefly at Ravens Glenn Vineyard. I did a tasting and quickly realized why Ohio isn’t really known for its wine culture. (Sorry, Buckeyes!)

Our drive back was uneventful. It was much better than the midnight run up there as we could see the scenery, which is really quite lovely. All in all, I was so surprised by how much I loved Cleveland. It was cool and progressive — really unlike the boring little town I thought it would be. I can’t wait to go back!

— Mary Beth Harris, Proprietress, AVA Restaurant and Wine Bar

Mary Beth Harris About Mary Beth Harris

Mary Beth Harris is the proprietress of AVA Restaurant and Wine Bar. She's been in the restaurant business for 12 years and is the former owner of The Darjeeling Cafe.