Jonathon Sawyer, the chef behind award-winning restaurants The Greenhouse Tavern, Trentina and Noodlecat, has spent the past decade raising the bar (and profile) of Cleveland's dining scene. With a vested interest in local ingredients and a deep loyalty to his home city, Sawyer is the poster child for Cleveland pride. So, naturally, it made sense to ask him for his five favorite Cleveland food institutions, from the city's oldest running public market to a members-only steak-and-schvitz clubhouse he can't tell us too much about.
Lolita: "It seems like a modern restaurant, because it's Michael Symon's, but for close to a decade, it's been the most consistent place to have dinner in the city. It's not necessarily an ever-changing menu, but the execution is tip-top all the time. And everything, from the service to the room to the neighborhood, is just the gold standard. Get the chicken liver."
Hot Sauce Williams: "It's a soul food restaurant known for its buffet, but the fried chicken and ribs are where it's at. On big holidays like Fourth of July or Labor Day, they pull out extra grills, smokers and deep fryers and get to work. Place an order to pick up 20 pieces of chicken and two slabs of ribs, and you're guaranteed to be the king of your party. The chicken can take a while, though, so the real move is to eat the ribs in the parking lot while you wait."
Superior Pho: "This is my favorite get-away-from-everyone spot. It's been there forever. I can go in, eat by myself, get some work done and not see anybody except for Manh Nguyen, the owner. They make a stunning bowl of pho—I typically just do the rare beef, but you can get brisket, tripe, meatballs and what have you, too. My cooks love it; it's a good hangover killer."
The Schvitz: "I can't tell you where it is, but it's in a neighborhood you wouldn't think to go to—and a rite of passage for the men of Cleveland. It dates back to the 30s, when it was a place for the men of the city to have a smoke and a cocktail and wash up before going home. Now, it's a cash-only, semisecret men's club that you have to be friendly with the owners to get into. You can still get a massage, take a steam and jump in the cold pool . . . then eat a giant steak while you sit in a towel. The steaks are great—with or without garlic, plus rye bread and full and half sour pickles for the table, and a BYO drink situation. If you know a Clevelander who goes, ask him to take you there."
West Side Market: "It's a uniquely Cleveland experience and the kind of place where everybody can go and find something they want. It's a blend of food that's local and organic and foraged only by moonlight alongside commercial goods from families who've been there for three generations. There's some prepared and cooked food that you can snack on while you shop, and a lot of the vendors are Eastern European, including my favorite, Dohar Meats, which makes amazing old country-style Hungarian and German sausages. The market has been open for 103 years in a building with classic Byzantine architecture in a neighborhood that's now filled with a lot of cool restaurants and shops, so it's definitely worth a stop."
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.