Once considered a laughing stock of the culinary world, Midwest cuisine has experienced a complete turnaround over the past decade and a half. In addition to cities like St. Louis and Minneapolis, much of this transformation can be attributed to the gradual rise of Cleveland, Ohio, where a formidable cadre of award-winning chefs and personalities are bringing national attention to this Rust Belt city.
“Just because there isn’t a Hoppin’ John recipe of Ohio doesn’t mean there’s not a tradition of being gardeners and frugal Americans who really understand food,” said Sawyer, who is quick to extols the virtues of Ohio’s raw materials and deep legacy of farm-to-table dining.
Sawyer’s mentor Michael Symon, who made waves in the ’90s with his fine-dining outfit Lola, couldn’t agree more—which is perhaps why the James Beard Award-winning chef took it upon himself to create a Cleveland-style barbecue, featuring pork and the city’s signature ballpark mustard.
All this excitement can take its toll on the the city’s kitchens. That’s why when they are off the clock, the Cleveland’s hard-working chefs just want to find solace in spicy Indian grub or a comforting bowl of chili. Here is where five of them like to kick back when their thoughts aren’t focused on twice-cooked carrots and chicken liver rigatoni.
Chef/Owner at Fahrenheit, Rosie & Rocco’s, and Rocco’s at the Q
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Thai Kitchen (12210 Madison Ave, Lakewood; 216-226-4450, thaikitchencleveland.com)
Whalen says: “It’s owned by a mother-daughter team, and they don’t have a menu—they simply cook for you. Typically, I order any noodle-based soup. It’s quick, fragrant, and warming in our cold climate that lasts eight months.” (Photo: Yelp/Vincent G.)
Chef/Owner at Spice Kitchen + Bar
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Whitey’s Booze N’ Burgers (3600 Brecksville Rd, Ridgefield; 330-659-3600, whiteyschili.com)
Bebenroth says: “Whitey’s is all about the experience. Our kids request a Whitey’s dinner every year on their birthdays. We order a chili sampler while they go play in the game room or watch the volleyball games out on the patio. They have great burgers with many different condiment combos. I get the Beer Joint with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, along with fried mushrooms and jalapeno chili.” (Photo: Facebook/Whitey’s)
Chef/Owner at Fire Food and Drink, Provenance, Provenance Café, and Katz Club Diner
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Nate’s Deli (1923 W 25th St; 216-696-7529, natesohiocity.com)
Katz says: “I love the people and the local neighborhood feel. There is true authenticity in the experience. I order the hummus and tabbouleh. Their pickled turnips are amazing, too.” (Photos: Amy Viny, Yelp/Olwen C.)
Chef/Owner at The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat, and Trentina
Favorite under-the-radar spot: Taste of Kerala (5850 Mayfield Rd, Mayfield Heights; 440-461-9212, tasteofkeralam.com)
Sawyer says: “It’s a family-run place. You order from the brother who shouts back to his mom and sister in the kitchen. I like the goat biryani. They have you choose the heat level of your dish on a scale from one to ten. When I said ten, they asked me how hot I wanted it: ‘Like Indian hot?’ I love it. They thought I couldn’t handle it.” (Photo: Yelp/Mark L.)
Bower says: “It may not be fancy, but it is by far the best sub shop in Cleveland. There are a ton of great options, and I go in with the intention of ordering other stuff, but always end up with the Turkey Ridge, which consists of turkey, mayonnaise, lettuce, onion, provolone, and Italian seasonings on a light sub roll. The half is enough, but after a long night you definitely need a whole.” (Photo: Facebook/Grum’s)