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CLEGourmand: Tommy’s & the Community of Coventry

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 17, 2010

I have eaten at many of the finest dining establishments in Cleveland including Greenhouse Tavern, Muse, Amp 150, Moxie and more. All of these places must step aside for local legend Tommy’s in Coventry. Why is Tommy’s the place where you must eat in Cleveland and the best meal you will have?

I will build my case with a quote from a tweet I made at the time of my dine: Listening to Tommy tell tales about his restaurant is inspiring. He is so passionate and loves what he does & his community. Tommy’s has always been a business that cares about it’s customers and community. In the eyes of most residents of this part of town, Tommy’s is the heart of Coventry. There is something for everyone – vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, omnivore, locavore, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, and gluten-free eaters have plenty to choose from here. The decision to have such a varied menu is explained in a very matter of fact way by Tommy. He shared that he keeps adding to the menu because he customers want to eat these things and as long as he can make something they will like, he will try it. Health concerns, profit margins, ecological reasons or trends are all peripheral in the food world of Tommy’s. The customer comes first. The food comes a close second with anything else considered bonus points. This is not something that can be taught at CIA or Johnson & Wales, it is not something you can learn on The Food Network. Either you get and give it or you don’t. Tommy Fello cares deeply about his restaurant, employees, customers, community and anything within this sphere. To have anything other than the best for anyone is unfathomable. Love is the magic ingredient at Tommy’s and it is infused into every aspect of the menu.

Mention Tommy’s to a Clevelander and you will hear the word milkshake within five to ten seconds. Not long after Tommy’s opened in 1972, Rolling Stone anointed Tommy’s as having the best Milkshake east of the Mississippi. There has been no evidence to dispute this in almost forty years. Here are some of the secrets to the magic of Tommy’s milkshakes. The ice cream comes from local ice cream maker Pierre’s. The milk comes from Hartzler Dairy (an organic cow farm in Wooster). The milkshakes are shaken and mixed in old milkshake machines. The thump-thump of a shake poured from the steel mixing cup to a glass is music to my ears. I proclaimed the Chocolate Peanut Butter milkshake the true Breakfast of Champions. In addition to all of the diary goodness I have mentioned, Tommy’s makes their own peanut butter, which is the star of another dish I devoured.

Readers that follow me know that breakfast is not my meal of choice. I am happy to eat breakfast at Tommy’s anytime. In part, because both the restaurant and I count a milkshake as a valid breakfast selection. I ordered Elise’s combo. This is not named after the forgotten Borden Dairy cow but after the first customer that ordered this creation (most of the selections on the menu get their names from customers/creators). The combo is a toasted triple decker sandwich with two eggs, bacon, mayonnaise, American cheese and homemade peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. It is really good – decadent, satisfying and wholesome at the same time. I could be wrong on my opinion of Elise’s greatness but the thousands of other customers that choose this as their breakfast are clearly correct.

The menu is gigantic so I will just mention a few more highlights from the selections. The mention of Tommy’s often brings up another word – falafel. Tommy learned the recipe for falafel from his first boss (the guy he bought the original Tommy’s from). Many people say this is the best falafel ever. It is definitely served in the most varieties anywhere. There are over a dozen falafel sandwich and meal selections on the menu with additions including BBQ sauce, sesame sauce and a variety of vegetables.

Here are some random facts that might make you feel good about Tommy’s: The drinking water is filtered, fry oil is non-hydrogenated, soups are made every day, their canola oil waste is given to biodiesel folks, there is a backdoor garden and Tommy’s is the largest consumer of Muenster cheese in northeast Ohio slicing, shredding and serving 680 pounds or more per week.

Would you like some more reasons? Attached to the restaurant is a great bookstore called Mac’s Backs so you can read or browse while you wait to graze. Everything is made from scratch tofu, tempeh, stocks, cookies, etc. The Italian sauce recipes are handed down from Tommy’s mommy. Tommy’s may have the best vegetarian French Onion soup in the world made from a base of Shitake mushrooms and chickpea drippings.

Are you hungry yet? Do you have the keys for your car? What time are you picking me up? Yes, this is a place to feel excited about going to. If you have to wait for a table or if you need to burn off calories after your meals, you will find much to hold your interest in Coventry. The neighborhood created itself during the counterculture of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Coventry community spirit remains today in a very big way. If you run into a resident of Coventry Village (which is just a few streets) you will hear many stories about Tommy – how he used to plow the sidewalks in the winter or other actions he took to support local business. If you ask Tommy he will say the same about his neighbors, he knows them all. The first person he mentions is Steve (the unofficial ambassador of Coventry) at the store Big Fun just a few sidewalk segments from the front door of Tommy’s

Big Fun is FUN. It is packed with nostalgic toys, comics, vintage video game systems, wacky t-shirts and more. If it was something that made you happy as a kid, then Big Fun probably has it or will someday. Every trip in offers something new, different or forgotten. A current Big Fun T-shirt creation is “Cleveland, You’ve Got To Be Tough.” This shirt was seen on Anthony Bourdain while he was roaming around a jungle in South America. You will see a lot of “tough” Clevelanders roaming around with and without these shirts. They have taken some hits and they keep going. In Coventry, they are tough too. A group of people created and sustained a community with tenacity and a lot of kindness to each other. They are still at it every day – serving food and fun to neighbors and visitors alike.

Tommy’s Restaurant
1824 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights
(aka Coventry Village, East Side)

Mac’s Backs
Big Fun
Coventry Village

Tommy's on Urbanspoon

7 Responses to “CLEGourmand: Tommy’s & the Community of Coventry”

  1. amber said

    ha! as soon as i saw the title of the post i thought, “milkshakes!”

  2. Milkshakes for sure and so much more. And, you hit the nail on the head with your opinion of the community. Great post! Thanks for sharing, everyone should know about Tommy’s!

  3. Al said

    With all due respect to the chocolate peanut butter shake, it CAN’T be better than a chocolate banana shake (real banana mixed in, not banana ice cream). Haven’t been to Tommy’s in a while, unfortunately, but I can never skip the chocolate banana shake when I’m there.

    CMH G reply: How about a compromise and go with a chocolate peanut butter banana shake and call in the Shakin’ Elvis.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to visit us and write such a wonderful article. Your kind words are very much appreciated, and we look forward to seeing you the next time you return to Cleveland!


    Your Friends at Tommy’s

  5. Susie Sharp said

    Every time I need to meet someone for lunch, I always try to make it at Tommy’s. Best malted and best falafel in town. Love the location, the atmosphere… you’re never rushed… then afterwards I have to stop and visit Steve Presser at Big Fun and Larry Collins at City Buddha across the street. Coventry is one of my favorite areas in Cleveland.

  6. Tom Weber said

    Great article – I FB’d it and have others sharing their Tommy’s love ….

    And I’m sure you’ve heard — but even you have to be impressed by the shear quantity …. but I didn’t notice your thank you post

  7. […] more about Jim's visit to Coventry in his post, CLEGourmand: Tommy’s & the Community of Coventry. In the interest of full disclosure I must warn you that reading it may make you hungry […]

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