The Best Things I Ate in Cleveland in 2019

Friday, January 3, 2020

Since I started writing dining reviews for Cleveland Magazine in the spring, I've been lucky enough to eat some of Cleveland's best & most delicious foods. Add that to Mike's & my existing penchant for exploring the city's food scene, & you've got... well, a lot of really damn good meals.

It's a nearly impossible task to think, in retrospect, about what I liked best (I'll start keeping an ongoing list in 2020!), but to the best of my memory, here are the dishes that stand out most.

Yes, it's a long list. Just trust me, OK?

Starters, Apps, & Sides

Twice-Baked Potato Skins (Good Company)
These may look like standard bar fare, but they’re actually a Cleveland-inspired mashup - pierogies presented as potato skins! They're topped with crumbled bratwurst, griddled onions, and caramelized cabbage - a far cry from the heavy, oily version you'll find in dive bars. (Read my review of Good Company.)

Phat Beets (Beet Jar)
This is probably - OK, definitely - the healthiest thing to make it onto this list, & I love it extra because I never feel overstuffed after indulging in it. It's a blend of beets, strawberries, bananas, chia seeds, dates, cashews - so it's thick & creamy & chock full o' good stuff.

Loaded Lobster Tots (Thyme Table)
This rich, decadent app could certainly stand alone as an entree - but, like, should it? There's a lot goin' on in this decked-out dish, standard tater tots cooked to perfection and topped with chunks of whole claw meat, crispy bacon, scallions, & ooey-gooey cheese sauce. (Read my review of Thyme Table.)

Crispy Hominy (Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Schwartz created this popular dish after reading about a food critic’s review of a New York City restaurant. Individual kernels of fried maize are dusted with chili powder and served steaming hot, like... like a cross between hush puppies and deep-fried popcorn. (Read my review of Michael's.)

Sriracha Peanut Fries (Punch Bowl Social)
I ordered these as an entree. I feel like that's all you need to know. I can barely look at this photo without wanting to run back there & stuff my face, like, now

Potstickers (Wild Mango)
These potstickers exceeded all potsticker expectations. They were pan-seared just right, the perfect amount of crispy & soft & salty & savory. They weren't too greasy. They didn't fall apart when you bit in them or picked them up with chopsticks. They were divine. (Read my review of Wild Mango.)

Flying W Terrine Board (Osso)
I love a good charcuterie board as much as the next gal, but that word doesn't seem to be enough for this massive, table-sized shareable served on a large wooden slab bearing enough food to qualify as an entire meal. Chef Maggie Demko's handmade terrines rotate regularly, as do the accouterments, like rosemary crackers, marinated confit tomatoes, red pepper jelly, & local cheeses. (Read my review of Osso.)

Grilled Peaches (Soho Chicken + Whiskey)
I only had these once, on special, during an a la carte happy hour, but believe me when I tell you I dream about them. Prosciutto, a little bit of blue cheese, a drizzle of... something sweet, I don't remember what - all set off by that sweet, smoky taste. Man, this dish was delicious, & it makes me pine for summer. I kind of hate summer, so you know these were good.

Loaded Baked Potato Pizza (Sauced Taproom)
This slice is actually a tiny pizza of its own, square of crispy, house-made dough topped however you like it. Particularly delicious is the loaded baked potato pizza ($3 per slice, $20 half-sheet), heaped with bacon, green onions, two cheeses, diced French fries and a hearty drizzle of ranch dressing. (Read my review of Sauced.)

Sandwiches & Other Entrees 

Bee's Knees Pizza (Saucy Brew Works)
This thin-crust pizza is a perpetual fave, topped with spicy capicola & drizzled with local honey. It's a little sweet, a little salty, a little spicy... man, it is just everything I want in a pizza, with not too much sauce (just the way I like it). Bonus? Saucy serves some hella-good beer to drink along with it.

Tangy Malaysian Chicken (Rood Food & Pie)
RFP gets my "best new restaurant of the year" award, were such an award a real thing; it's become my go-to recommendation for people looking for someplace fun & interesting. I'm not a huge chicken person, but this pomelo-infused version is something special - a somehow-posh hybrid of traditional chicken l’orange,  great Chinese takeout, and kids’ menu chicken tenders. (Read my review of RFP.)

Flautas (El Carnicero)
This dish is vegetarian, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's healthy. it's extremely fdried - but also extremely delicious, three crispy flautas stuffed with creamy butternut squash & goat cheese, topped with red chile & chocolate mole sauces, & topped with Brussels sprouts & hibiscus pickled shallots. Yes, it's as amazing as it sounds. Maybe more amazing, actually.

Fried Chicken Biscuits (Sauce the City)
Local restaurateur Vice Searcy is killin' it, generally, when it comes to his new fried chicken spot at Ohio City Galley & now at The Q. Everything I've had there is good, but this brunch dish - juicy, spicy chicken on tiny, handmade biscuits - really stands out. Chik-Fil-A wishes its breakfast menu looked like this.

Mochiko Chicken (Rice Shop)
RIP Rice Shop, which closed abruptly this fall, meaning I can never again eat this delicious, Asian-inspired chicken bowl. It was so spicy, just the way I like it, but it was also sweet from the Thai chili sauce, crunchy to the point of being almost blackened, & suuuuper peanutty. I'm mourning the loss of this one, guys.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potato Tacos (Paladar)
I was initially worried that these veggie-only tacos would be boring, & when they arrived to the table, I remained worried. Would they be bland?! No, they wouldn't be. These may be the most flavorful tacos I've ever had, topped with goat cheese, candied pumpkin seeds, & pickled red onions, with just a liiiiitle bit of garlic aioli. Perfecto.

Montreal Smoked Meat (Landmark)
I'd long wanted to try Montreal smoked meat, a peppery, dry-rubbed version of its spicier cousin, pastrami - & this whopper of a meal did not disappoint. A self-taught local meat-smoking duo got insight into the process when one of them chatted up the owner of Schwartz’s Deli, one of Canada’s oldest delis, to learn how to perfect their local delicacy. (Read my review of Landmark.)

Dog in a Sweater (Banter)
Enjoy a good corndog? Like brunch food? Then you'll love this breakfasty version of the state fair classic, a cornmeal pancake wrapped around an all-beef hot dog then topped with bacon maple syrup & blueberry mustard. What a weird little delight.

Polish Boy (The Rowley Inn)
Sure, plenty of places in Cleveland make a good Polish boy, but in my opinion, nobody makes 'em like The Rowley Inn, a third-shift dive bar with a killer menu, located across the street from the A Christmas Story house. A thick kielbasa, vinegar-based slaw, peach BBQ sauce, crispy fries, & a grilled hoagie - simple but high-quality.

Curried Chicken Salad Sandwich (Lucky's)
This is easily my favorite sandwich of the year, low-key enough to be a regular lunchtime go-to but decadent enough to feel, well, a little bit decadent. It's got just enough curry taste, plus green onions & almonds for crunch & cranberries for zing, served on house-made multigrain with crunchy chips. My number-one favorite lunch!

Lincoln Park (Lox Stock and Brisket)
I'm not the only one who loves this fried chicken sandwich, which Cleveland Magazine named the best in the city. It is, truly, peerless in its quality, simplicity, & overall deliciousness, a big, juicy chicken breast battered to crispy-crunchy & served with house-made bread-&-butter pickles. It's well worth the cross-town drive. (Read my write-up of this award-winning sandwich.)


Rugelach (Larder)
Larder is a modern, Jewish-style delicatessen with an old-world Eastern European vibe, & their rugelach - traditional Ashkenazi Jewish pastries - are the best in town. They're available in various flavors dependent on the day & the season, but I've yet to try one I didn't love as much as the last. (Read my profile of the chef/owner.)

Heaven Pudding (Element 41)
I would drive back out to Chardon just to eat this gooey bread pudding, modeled off the popular South African dessert malva pudding. It tastes like the love child of a caramel-dipped bread pudding and a decadent oatmeal cookie — with a bit of maple syrup added for good measure. (Read my review of Element 41.)

Salt + Honey Pie (Rood Food & Pie)
I barely like pie - but let me tell you, there are very few foods in the world that I like more than I like this particular pie. A thick, custardy concoction inspired by a Brooklyn bakery, it's sweetened with wildflower honey & served with a tiny glass vial of bee pollen to sprinkle on top.

This is the only photo in the post that isn't mind. From @roodfoodpie.

Key Lime Pie (Lindey's Lake House)
This key lime pie puts all other key lime pie to shame. It's light & tangy, sweet & sour, with a perfectly crumbly graham cracker crust & an airy dollop of whipped cream on top. This pie makes me wish summer were coming around again soon. (Read my review of Lindey's.)

Nanaimo (Thyme Table)
This fancy interpretation of a traditional Canadian dessert bar has a cookie crust, a layer of Bavarian cream, & a coating of chocolate ganache - like an artisanal MoonPie. (Read my review of Thyme Table.)

And there you have it - a really long, still-not-even-comprehensive list. Clearly I ate pretty well (if not always, you know, healthfully) in 2019. What will 2020 bring? Only my next meals out will tell!

What's the best or most memorable thing you've eaten lately? Got any good Cleveland recs for me?

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