November 1, 2011
My plane did not land until nine at night, and I was expecting a hungry evening. What a surprise, then, to walk out of my hotel, near ten o’clock, and find East Fourth Street packed with people, the restaurants jammed, the air alive with excitement. This was not the vision I’d had.
I turned into Lola, a dark, sexy little place, for a perfectly lovely dinner. Crisp oysters. Plump pirogi filled with beef cheeks. Tender slices of tongue on suave slices of mushroom. A rare ribeye ringed with smoked onions and accented with blue cheese. Hearty fare – but wonderful – and served with one terrific wine after another.
But it was the Greenhouse Tavern, the following day, that really blew me away. Jonathon Sawyer has created a fascinating menu, totally his own, and three days later I’m still thinking about some of his dishes. He steams clams in butter and foie gras, then tosses in a hit of vinegar. The result is an entirely original version of surf and turf, clams in a velvet sauce that will haunt my dreams until the next time that I have it.
He serves pasta in softly melted squash with crisp little bits of duck skin skittering across the top. He offers up a pouch of paper and then stabs it with a knife until fragrant steam comes pouring out. Inside: plump chunks of porcini and silken slices of matsutake tangled into fregola with lots of butter.
His hominy is fried into crisp little bits and mixed with pickled red onion and lime juice; it’s a kind of magic trick, turning a drab vegetable into spicy stoner food. Jonathan’s pork chop is fantastic, and he’s got a way with beets. The food went on and on, ending with a deconstructed caramel apple that turned a sad American classic into a delicately delicious dessert.
Afterward I wandered through the West Side Market a Guastavino-tiled hall that has been serving Cleveland for 99 years. It’s a vibrant place that reminded me more of the great markets of Europe than anyplace I’ve seen in America. Some of the purveyors have been there since the start, and they’re still turning out old-time, hand-made smoked meats and charcuterie that’s hard to find anywhere else. I arrived home with a suitcase filled with obscure German and Hungarian sausages – a fine way to remember Cleveland.
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