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Acquiring a Taste for Cleveland During Gay Games 9

by Sarah  Jaquay
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 12, 2014

As a mildly defensive Northeast Ohio native who travels often, I find myself stating where I'm from, then retorting, "Yes, Cleveland is an acquired taste; but I've got it and savor it every chance I get." And the best time to savor Cleveland is summer.

I wish every GG9 participant could win a medal, but that's not how competitions work. So I want to ensure every athlete takes home a gold medal in the food and drink category from the southern shores of Lake Erie.

A few words about the Great Lakes: America's five Great Lakes compose the earth's largest surface freshwater system, providing 84 percent of America's (and 21 percent of the world's) freshwater. So these lakes aren't like others. The opposite side isn't visible; nor is one end or the other. The other side of four of them is Canada. So think more inland seas. And even though Lake Erie is the smallest, it draws swimmers, boaters and diners like royals draw paparazzi.

Lakefront Dining

Pier W
Perched on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, this venerable eatery might be the best place to take full advantage of water and city skyline views. The exterior evokes the hull of a luxury liner and the minimalist décor shows off the spectacular natural setting. Their focus has always been seafood and Chef Regan Reik, who formerly worked at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York, prepares it elegantly - whether it's flown in from the East Coast or its delicately-battered local perch. Pier W has a nice selection of wines by the glass and an excellent reserve list. Go for 'happy hour' between 4 and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and get select wines for $6 and try the blue cod tacos with avocado, salsa and micro cilantro.

Brennan's Fish House
Located 30 miles east of Cleveland in Grand River, it's where beach mongers refuel after visiting nearby Mentor Headlands State Park or Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park. Brennan's is in a 200-year old building sprinkled with salvage from Great Lakes shipwrecks. There are no reservations and lots of sandy people in line. But most diners think the Lake combo plate, which includes pieces of fresh perch and walleye with crispy French fries and coleslaw, is worth the wait. Wash it down with a Commodore Perry IPA from Great Lakes Brewing Company and you might just start crooning Gordon Lightfoot's legendary ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

Urban Eats

Cleveland has its share of Food Network celebrities, but one of my favorites is humble Chef Zack Bruell. He has five restaurants throughout the city with different themes: Parallax for sushi and seafood; L'Albatros Brasserie for French bistro fare; Ristorante Chinato for Italian; Table 45 for global cuisine and Cowell & Hubbard for modern, Parisian-accented offerings.

If time between events is short, I recommend Parallax for its cozy atmosphere and hip neighborhood (Tremont, which is adjacent to downtown) and L'Albatros in University Circle, which places visitors within walking distance of the stellar Cleveland Museum of Art, the Botanical Garden, Museum of Natural History and other cultural gems around Wade Oval.

Take in a Midwestern Sunset

Spice Kitchen + Bar on the near West Side has an eclectic menu that brims with hyper-local selections from nearby urban farms. Chef/Owner Ben Bebenroth has been bringing city and suburban slickers to small farms, mushroom growers and other sustainable operations since he started his "plated landscape dinners" in 2006. While he's catered in Northeast Ohio for years, he opened Spice with a spacious, inviting patio in 2012. If you've already competed, start with the Bandito Smash: reposado tequila, muddled cucumber & cilantro, ginger liqueur and lemon. Chances are Bebenroth just picked the cucumbers and cilantro down the street and even if you didn't make the podium you'll feel like a winner.

People flock to Fat Cats in Tremont for its globally-suffused American cuisine and funky neighborhood vibe. But they linger for the views. Seated on its intimate patio, guests get a panoramic view of Cleveland's skyline and industrial heritage--complete with retractable bridges over the Cuyahoga River. Sometimes after dusk the bridges blaze with multicolored lights and guests can relish the metallic kaleidoscope while sampling pork tacos with pancit, kimchi slaw, grilled jalapeño and crispy shiitake mushrooms. Some menu items reflect Chef/Owner Ricardo Sandoval's Filipino background and other foreign influences.

Sarah Jaquay is a freelance writer in Shaker Heights who writes about food and travel for AAA Journeys Magazine, Country Living, Currents, TheWineBuzz and many other publications.


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