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Uniquely Cleveland/Akron dining for visiting NYC hound?

Hi OH hounds! I'm from the NYC boards, and will visit the in-laws in the CLE/Akron area this weekend/next week. We're looking for things that are Ohio-unique or not to be found in NYC.

From my research here, these jumped out at me:

- Phnom Penh (I don't know of any Cambodian in the city)

- Chinato (yes, tons of great Italian in NYC, but the menu has some pasta dishes I've never seen before, and I'm a pastaholic)

Anything that should replace these on the list? Not sure how often we'll be in Cleveland during our time, since it's an hour away, but we'll definitely be there at least for one day.

Any recs closer to Akron? Thanks!

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  1. Further in my research on this board, I see Crop Bistro popping up a lot for its innovative food, but the menu choices seem pretty standard for NYC - am I missing something? The prices are also standard for NYC "nicer" restaurants, ouch.

    West Side Market: Is there any disadvantage to going there on Monday as opposed to Saturday?

    3 Replies
    1. re: janethepain

      Hi - Saturday is really the best day to visit the west side market because all the vendor stands are open, and they are not all open on the other days, only some of them. Be advised that most of the produce is not local, it's the same as can be found in grocery stores, and most of the meat is CAFO/factory farmed meat similar to the grocery stores. But there are many other specialty stands and stores that sell some really unique and wonderful, as well as some local products, and the market is very cool to visit.

      As to restaurants, I would encourage you to check out Greenhouse Tavern, I think that's very unique for us. You might look into Lolita in Tremont as well. Chinato is a very good choice.

      I don't think Phnom Penh is particularly great or special but it's not bad. JMO. I would also look at SOHO kitchen & bar in Ohio City, Spice in Gordon Square, the Happy Dog, also in Gordon Square (quintessential cleveland atmosphere), Momocho in Ohio City, maybe Balaton in Shaker Heights on Shaker Square for good Hungarian if you don't have that by you. Hodge's just opened a couple of weeks ago, they are downtown Cleveland and also unique/Cleveland style.

      I can't make a lot of specific recs for Akron. I really like Luigi's pizza for both the pizza and the atmosphere (note - cash only!, and you may have to wait in line to get in on a weekend evening) but I'm sure you have plenty of pizza options in the city.

      1. re: rockandroller1

        Thanks for teh reply! Looks like we'll be going to WSM on Sat, hope it's not TOO packed. We're only going for the sights and the actual prepared foods.

        So I stumbled upon Cuisine du Cambodge, which is apparently run by the original owners of Phnom Penh, but possibly in nicer digs and better food, hopefully. Since we don't have Cambodian food in NYC (crazy, i Know), I'm very curious to try it.

        Will check out the other suggestions, thanks!

        1. re: janethepain

          Awesome. Let us know how your trip went! If you live in NYC, you honestly won't think much of anything is "packed" here I think. If you can go to the market before noon, it's very navigable. Last minute deals/specials are often had late in the day so they get more busy after 2:30 or 3 (they close at 4).

    2. "Ohio-unique" doesn't necessarily mean typically chow-ish, especially in Akron, where the iconic local cuisine is hearty middle-class stuff like Barberton chicken (fried in lard, served with "hot rice" on the side at places like Belgrade Gardens and White House), Luigi's (proudly serving non-trendy Italian for more than 50 years) and the drive-in burger duel between Swensons and Sky-Way (all locals must choose a side). I'm partial to the 13 varieties of grilled cheese, kitschy atmosphere and encyclopedic beer selection at Lockview downtown; it's kinda like Melt, which has a national reputation and three locations in the Cleveland area, but their wait times can be insane. Sauerkraut balls are a local delicacy and on many bar menus.

      More chow-ish options in Akron are Crave (funky cuisine near the art museum), the antipasto bar at Tre Belle in Bath Township, Downtown 140 in Hudson. Near downtown is the throwback Diamond Grille, giant hunks of meat and an atmosphere straight out of the Mad Men era; they really have been just like this since midcentury and are not playing it for irony. All the golfers love to eat here when they come in for the Bridgestone tournament.

      If you're going to West Side Market and are a beer fan, go next door to the newish Market Garden brewpub. The brewmaster formerly worked for Dogfish Head and is an Akron native. Across the street is the sister restaurant Bar Cento/Bier Markt, and nearby is Great Lakes Brewing.

      3 Replies
      1. re: barefootgirl

        Thanks! By "chow-ish" I definitely don't think of fine dining, necessarily - in fact, quite the opposite. I was thinking that the fine dining in OH may not be that different than in NY, so my preference is more unique offerings.

        Haha, I've had Swenson's before as hubs and co. are all squarely in that camp.

        Thanks for the recs, maybe we'll stop by Diamond Grille!

        1. re: janethepain

          You could also take the hipster recommendations of our coolest alumni -- they are also in the Swensons camp!


        2. re: barefootgirl

          Yesterday I ate at Crave and LOVED it! I posted a detailed report in the discussion at www.chow.com/topics/896323#8103013

        3. If it's not too late, two dessert recommendations: Jeni's ice cream in Chagrin Falls for delicious "fancy" ice cream and Taggarts in Canton (nearish Akron) for old-school deliciousness.

          2 Replies
          1. re: stgrove

            Looked up Jeni's ice cream flavors, sounds AMAZING!!! I'd looooove to try the Magnolia Mochi flavor, among about a dozen others. Turns out I've tried the Ugandan Vanilla flavor before at home in NYC - someone had shipped some to my brother's office and he brought some home, we didn't know what Jeni's was.

            Since we won't be near their locations, I'll see if we can score a pint at a retailer.

            1. re: janethepain

              At least some of the Heinen's and Whole Foods locations around the various Cleveland suburbs carry Jeni's, but the advantage of actually going to Jeni's is that you can taste a bunch without actually buying a pint. They also ship, if you are willing to pay the price.

          2. Thanks for all suggestions! Quick trip report so far.

            Lunch: Hartville Kitchen. What a scene. Huge portions of home cooking, though I just had a salad, so can't really comment. Great pies!! We shared a fresh strawberry pie, which was not too sweet and hit the spot. Great crust, almost like shortbread - my favorite part.

            We took home a banana pie and ate half of it in one sitting. Very light banana cream (or is it custard? Not a pie expert) topped with even fluffier meringue. Would love to try some other flavors, may go back.

            Dinner: Chowder House.
            Ugh, where to begin. MIL made this reservation, but I was looking forward to it from another CH thread that recommended it as the "best cooking in Akron" at the moment. If that's the case, I'd stay home.

            The much-lauded lobster bisque had no real lobster flavor (or any lobster bits for that matter, except for a fragment of one mushy claw), and worst of all, had the cream clumps that you get when you don't fully mix a condensed soup with the can of water. Wtf? And it came with half a thin slice of baguette. Are wheat prices that high these days?

            My seafood pasta diablo was amateur hour - seriously. I am a relatively new home cook, and I make much better pastas. Upon seeing a STEAMING hot bowl, my worst fears were confirmed: overcooked pasta, rubbery shrimp. The mussels were absolutely tiny. At the bottom of the bowl, a pool of oil, not so much tomato sauce.

            Took two bites of hubs' pulled pork from the Three Pigs dish. First bite: wow, this is salty. Second bite: oh god, there must have been a salt chunk. The bacon-wrapped pork was fine, slightly past where I would eat it.

            MIL's cheesy mashed potatoes: so this is what people mean when they say "gluey." The special of the day, baked walleye, had no real seasoning.

            Tomorrow night's dinner will be at Bricco (MIL reservation again).

            Going to Cleveland today, hope the eating is better there.

            1 Reply
            1. re: janethepain

              Sorry you haven't had good experiences so far. I haven't been to Chowder House but have been to its sister restaurant, Sugo, and was kinda disappointed in the food after having heard similar raves. I've eaten at other places where the chef has cooked over the years (he bounced around a lot before opening CH and later Sugo) and they were always great, so I'm not sure what's happened. Now that he's the owner, maybe he's not doing so much of the cooking anymore.

              Bricco is OK, nothing wildly innovative but food is decent and the wine list is pretty adventurous for Akron. Popular spot for business lunches. Cilantro next door gets good reviews for its Thai so maybe you can stop there for an appetizer beforehand?

            2. So, I know very little about food in Akron, but Cleveland has a number of very good places. I'd recommend visiting Little Italy and asking for recommendations there for places with good pasta. There is also a cake called "Cassata Cake" that you can get at Corbo's bakery in Little Italy. It's not the same as a traditional cassata cake, but it's very good, and doesn't exist outside of Cleveland.

              The chocolate buckeye is a distinctively Ohioan candy, and it's very, very tasty. If you see any around that look handmade, get one. They taste like an infinitely superior version of Reese's cups. You can make them at home easily enough if you are ever so inclined though (and don't mind massive weight gain...).

              If you want to try some very good Hungarian pastries, go to Lucy's Sweet Surrender. It's not in a great part of the city, so don't leave any valuables in the car when you go, but it's absolutely divine. Their strudel is particularly well loved, but it's wonderful overall. They're in the process of moving to a better location, which is very, very good.

              Most people are pretty fond of Michael Symon's restaurants (Lola, Lolita, and the B-spot). I've only been to the B-spot, but I'm not exactly the fondest of burgers, so I wasn't as interested in it as other people. The flavors were good, but I think I'd prefer something other than a burger. I do want to try Lolita though.

              My sister is very fond of Melt and Tommy's.

              There are a lot of places I would recommend as tasty around Cleveland, but not as unique to the area.

              1 Reply
              1. re: celesul

                FYI - Lucy's has relocated to the former Chandler & Rudd building at Warrensville Road and Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights.

              2. Again, I'd like to thank everyone for their recs. Unfortunately, I didn't get to try most of them due to limited time in Cleveland and existing reservations (all made by MIL, groan). But I'll certainly be back, and hope to hit up your recommendations.

                Summary trip report:

                Breakfast at Tip Top Inn (not sure where, Stow?): very interesting place. Ordered eggs with hash browns, biscuits, and sausage gravy. The eggs were definitely cooked in (a lot) of butter. Hash browns were plentiful with lots of browned bits, but some parts were soggy. Not a place I'd go back for sure, but lots of people watching.

                Our one day in Cleveland.

                West Side Market: pretty cool, not as big as I thought. Ate LOTS of free samples from Campbell's popcorn, very cool flavors. Also had a brat sausage sandwich from the place right near the corner entrance - eh, nothing noteworthy, pretty mild, actually. Saw a huge line for gyros, but there are lots of gyros in NY.

                Great Lakes Brewery: stopped here for two rounds. I'm not a big beer drinker myself, so partook in the make-your-own bloody bar, which was cool. Very busy.

                Cuisine du Cambodge: ate dinner here, BYOB. I don't think I've had Cambodian food before, but the flavors overlap with Thai and Vietnamese (saw some bo luc lac and pad thai on the menu, not sure if that kind of thing is actually served in Cambodia or they're just there to appease Westerners). Can't even tell you what I had, but I had asked the young waitress (HS-age daughter of owners) what she recommended for typical Cambodian food. It was a combo of beef, chicken, and pork in a sauce with green peppers and a giant serving of steamed rice.

                So these were the original owners of Phnom Penh, who took a hiatus (leaving the restaurant to their partner), and then came back and broke off. The waitress was bubbly and we talked about Cambodian food, where there are lots of Cambodians in the US (California and Massachusetts, of all places), and spicing levels for non-Asian folks. I told her to come to NY where there would be a big audience for her mom's cooking - the restaurant was pretty empty, and I imagine the pad thai is the top seller there. If I lived in Ohio, I'd come back here and check out more of the menu.

                Akron/outer areas:

                Bricco: Ugh. Lots of points for a huge, varied, and ridiculously affordable wine list (we were there on a Sunday), but the food was blech. I ordered the duck breast of the day, which came with a corn "guacamole" (not sure why they call it that, it was basically a corn salad) on tortilla strips, which of course got soggy.

                For a restaurant that has duck on its menu daily, they could stand to learn to cook it right. What I got looked like seared tuna - cooked on the outsides, but completely raw in the middle. I love rare and even raw meats, but this was ridiculous. It looked gray and raw when I got it, and tasted like it.

                Hubs got a four cheese pizza. So basically a greasy circular bread with tons of cheese thrown on top. This is what I imagine frozen pizzas to taste like.

                Person next to me got the daily special of cajun (?) cod baked in breading, told me it had absolutely no flavor.

                Bistro on Main: At least this place doesn't seem to try so hard to be trendy and then fall miserably flat. I got a pear and hazelnut salad with chicken on top, which was fine. Hubs got a grilled cheese with rosemary fries, which was good. It was $5 burger day, so the joint was packed.

                Cracker Barrel: haha, I actually liked this - standard, HUGE, breakfasts cooked properly.

                Hartville Kitchen (part 2): got creamed chicken over biscuits and mashed potatoes, which I guess is comfort food. No flavor, just mush, which is what people like, I suppose. Biscuits weren't good though, which was surprising. I wouldn't order this again though, would probably stick to salad or sandwiches.

                Swenson's vs Skyway: had this taste test en route to airport. The double cheeseburger with all trimmings was really good at Skyway. Fries were a bit soggy and bad. Botched the experiment by getting just the regular cheeseburger at Swenson's. Hubs said they were basically identical, I preferred Skyway's double. Interesting fried mushrooms at Swenson's.

                Lessons learned: seems like trendy or wannabe-fancy dining in Akron (don't know about Cleveland, though I harbor some suspicion) is a no-go, esp if you come from a city with killer dining. The best strategy might be to stick with the country cooking in Ohio. And pies. I ate a whole banana cream pie from Hartville kitchen by myself, not to mention the slices of pie from our two meals there.

                8 Replies
                1. re: janethepain

                  Jane - I can't say much about Akron, but please don't lump Cleveland's finer dining in with it! It doesn't look like you got to try any of the more food-forward options in Cleveland. As a re-located New Yorker, let me assure you that Cleveland has some amazing, cutting edge food, as identified by the posters above. Places like Lola, Lolita, Dante, Crop, and Greenhouse Tavern can hold their own against anything you can get in NY, and offer a number of things you won't see there at all.

                  BTW - NYC does have one Cambodian restaurants - Kampuchea http://kampucheanyc.com/, which I have tried and liked, but not as much as Cleveland's Phnom Penh.

                  1. re: NancyH

                    Ahh, thanks for that! I've even heard of Kampuchea, guess I didn't remember it.

                    Next time, I'd love to try Crop and Greenhouse Tavern. I've looked at the menus of a lot of the recommended places but they seemed too ordinary for a special trip (for example, Lola's menu doesn't excite me at all, and the reports of it being overrated don't help). I didn't realize MIL lived so far from the actual city :(

                    1. re: janethepain

                      I've dined at Lola a number of times and I have never been disappointed. But there are many other great culinary options in Cleveland, as noted above. I hope you get to try some of them!

                      1. re: janethepain

                        Sorry I just read your thread when you finished your trip. I am very familiar with restaurants in Cleveland, both through business and pleasure and i love to eat out. We do have many fine restaurants (Dante, Lola, Lolita, etc., but they are similar, if less costly than what you have experienced. What I enjoy is finding small casual places that have unique fcuisine or are an outstanding value with excellent food.
                        I think you did find one of those in Phnom Penh, the cambodian place, although Pad Thai is not tyheir specialty and i like Thai Pad Thai better than the Cambodian version. Ask the owners what some of the great dishes are and try those. This place is really excellent and very reasonably priced.
                        A place that I don't particularly like, but is very acclaimed for Polish food is Sokelowski's (sp). It has stuffed cabbage, pierogis, etc., which is probably not very available in most cities. I'm not a big Eastern European eater, but many people love it and it is true Cleveland food.
                        Another very interesting place is Hunan East, a plain storefron located in the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland. Although they serve the standard American/Chinese/Hunan food, they have another menu, written only in Mandaran, which features food from the owner's home region, Shanghai. They now have a "picture book" which shows those items for non Chinese readers. The food is just great, the prices are ridiculous (18 large shrimp in a dish costing $13.99!) and the portions are so large that you cab almost make two meals out of them.
                        Chinato, Dante and Greenhouse are intereting choices in a higher dollar catagory. Deagen's, Amp 150 and Bodega all specialize in tasty small plates and are pretty reasonable and Bodega has some good Moroccan food as well.

                        Happy Eating!

                        1. re: andym

                          Bruce Springsteen himself had dinner from Sokolowsky's after last night's show.


                          1. re: andym

                            Thank you! I wish I had more meals to eat in Cleveland proper (outside Cleveland, all dining choices were made by MIL), but I will definitely reference this thread in the future. It's already a mega-guide to Cleveland, and I'm sure it's helpful to many.

                        2. re: NancyH

                          I agree with Nancy, it doesn't look like you got to some of our better restaurants while here. I would not refer people to Great Lakes Brewery for anything but beer, but the nearby Flying Fig and SOHO have great food. And I'd have referred you to B spot for burgers over Swensons or Skyway. We have so many great restaurants in NE Ohio and it doesn't look like you made it to most of them.

                        3. re: janethepain

                          I would never steer anyone to Tip Top for breakfast or any meal for that matter, and I live in Stow (yes, that's where it's located). A better breakfast choice would have been Sweet Pea Cafe, though it's over in the western Akron 'burbs, in Fairlawn. The menu is more varied (not your standard eggs n' bfast meat plates) and the food itself is better quality. I like it for lunch, too.

                          Good to know about Hartville Kitchen. I'll have to make a trip out there sometime. Sounds like it just may be worth it.

                          A better burger option than Swenson's (IMO the only thing they do a decent job with is milkshakes) or Skyway is FlipSide in Hudson. I've not been there yet, but friends have recommended it and I keep meaning to stop in. Perhaps your MIL thought the novelty of a drive-in would be fun, and it certainly is unique to this area, but I'd pick better quality food any day. :) JMO

                        4. for next time -- two things that are uniquely chowish to the suburban akron area are, as someone mentioned, barberton fried chicken, which is serbian in origin and amish food. maybe you can try to steer that new mil towards these when she doesnt wanted to stray far from home ;)

                          i didnt really get the observation that the wsm seemed small since its bigger and more diverse than anything like it in nyc?? otherwise, good reviews - oh except i better not hear anymore about your steering our ethnic cle restauranteers to nyc on your visits or i will hunt you down lol!