Northern Ohio - between Lorain and Sandusky
I'll be stopping for the first night of my cross-country trip somewhere in this area. Can you recommend a few restaurants within a five-minute drive off of I-80? I'll be looking for somewhere that I would not be out of place in jeans and a tee-shirt.
If you could suggest a nice hotel/motel adjacent to the interstate that would also be helpful.
if i were you....off the turnpike in that area i would go right up to lake erie, its ohio's vacationland. there are several very nice places around port clinton/marblehead peninsula like MON AMI and CATAWBA ISLAND CLUB. why not look for somewhere that serves the local specialties of walleye and lake erie perch? (they say port clinton is the walleye fishing capital of the world, i wouldn't argue it myself). i always liked the JOLLY ROGER, but there are many other places there. just ask around.
as for hotel thats easy. you are staying at the old island house hotel in port clinton. or if it's open yet and you can get a room in the historic lakeside hotel on marblehead by all means do that -- on the grounds of one of america's few remaining chataqua's its the most charming setting in ohio. great place to wake up and enjoy the morning!
oh i know and neither are any of the other suggestions given, but i'm sure he can mapquest and decide for himself. i thought he also said he's driving across the country so why focus on trying to save him 10 minutes and put him up in a sandusky/lorain highway travelodge next to a mcdonalds? -- lol! so that's why i said, "if i were you..." as its a zip to get up there from the tp (or down to oberlin or to any of these other suggestions). all are more than worth the minor detours on the start of a journey like that.
in fact if he happens take my advice i'd also suggest he drive west on rt 2 along lake erie to the toledo tp interchanges before getting back on the highway, the birds and wildlife would be active at crane creek/magee marsh in the early morning and he could take a little walk around stretch his legs -- a much more pleasant way to get started again before he hits a thousand miles of corn fields.
Are you traveling east or west on I-80? That makes a big difference in suggesting places that are closer to Cleveland/Lorain/Sandusky or closer to the Sandusky/Toledo area.
As Stuart mentioned, there are some great places in that area, but most are closer to I-90 or I-480, which really doesn't take you too much out of your way. But it would be helpful to know in which direction you're heading.
The first thing that came to mind was Oberlin. There are a couple options: The Feve and Black River Cafe. They're both casual, local and highly reputed. But to be entirely honest they may be 7-8 minutes from I-80.
Going through Cleveland or at least closer to it won't add that much time to your trip. Considering these options would vastly expand your options.
The stretch of 80 that passes underneath Cleveland takes about 37 minutes:
Into Cleveland, to a (great) restaurant and then back to 80 on the far side of Cleveland takes about 62 minutes. That's the equivalent of travelling 12-13 minutes out of your way which is, roundtrip, only about 10 minutes more than the Oberlin detour.
The compromise path (taking 480, South of Cleveland but North of 80) takes only 54 minutes including the detour to the (also great) restaurant. That works out to be equivalnt to only an 8-9 minute detour which is only minutes longer than the Oberlin detour. If that.
Thank you for your suggestions, but I will have driven 500+ miles by the time I get to my first leg of the cross-country trip with a cranky wife and an antsy cat (or vice-versa), and another 20 minutes in the car would be an ordeal. I was hoping against hope for a nugget in the rough. It appears I am doomed to MickeyD's and a Motel 6!
That's a mostly rural stretch, without a lot of places to choose from. One restaurant worth going to in that stretch is a jacket-and-tie place (Chez Francois in Vermilion, www.chezfrancois.com ); it's excellent, IMHO, but jeans and a t-shirt rules that out.
You'll open yourself up to a lot more choices for both restaurants and hotels if you stop in the Cleveland area, basically anywhere in the 40-mile stretch from Lorain east, or if you can make your stop 40 miles west of Sandusky, where there's plenty to choose from in Toledo.