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CLEGourmand: Green Growing, Dining & Drinking is Thriving in Cleveland

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 28, 2010

In October, as a guest of Positively Cleveland, I spent four days eating and drinking from morning to midnight..or later. Great meals were eaten and in the process I met scores of chefs and culinary entrepreneurs. I learned much about the progressive food scene in Cleveland as well as why it works so well and how it is growing so fast. The spirit and enthusiasm of the people I met was impressive and infectious. The spirit that permeates the Cleveland culinary scene can’t be typecast but I will try to describe it.

The first word that comes to mind is pride. Everyone I met was proud of his or her product, their staff and especially their city. Collaboration was a term that came up frequently as well. Chef’s and business owners are competitive by nature but in Cleveland the overriding spirit was who can I partner with to make this dish local, what information can I share that might make this idea work better, what can I do to make this event happen, etc. Clevelanders get that what is good for one business is ultimately good for all of their peers as well. Everyone was focused on using as much local and regional foods and suppliers possible to grow their business and their customer base.

There is a major green movement growing in Cleveland, which may seem counterintuitive for a “rust belt” city but ultimately it makes sense. A green restaurant recycles building materials and sources from products from people they know and trust. The resourcefulness needed to pull this off in a cold weather climate takes a certain character that is inherent to living in Cleveland. It also builds community. Collectively these Cleveland culinarians have a vision that uses their pride and collaborative skills to grow. Ultimately, I think it will be a trademark of their city in years to come.

At each place visited, we would ask the chef and/or owner where they liked to eat in their off hours. They all listed familiar names we heard repeatedly. This sustainable/green movement is working in Cleveland because it has been successful. It will get better because it has the right people pushing it forward. Time and time again, I heard hot shot, globetrotting chefs at all star restaurants state that they grew up in Cleveland and meant to stay to make a mark on their town. Non-natives said they moved to Cleveland by choice so they could have the freedom and financial flexibility to create the food they wanted (and grow a family while growing a business). In the high profile world of celebrity chefs where the notion is you can’t compete if you do not live in New York, LA or London, making a decision to stay in Cleveland might seem crazy. I think it is genius.

Eliminating waste, sourcing local, working hard and repurposing anything and everything were core values of early immigrants to the city over a century ago, now these values are being recycled. So what are these food first folks up to? Almost every restaurant/purveyor was growing some of their own food in small or large spaces. If they were not growing their own food then they were cooking with something from other local supplier. Many of the menus were created with food from within 100 miles of downtown Cleveland. Here are a few examples.

Chef Jonathon Sawyer is a semi-finalist for the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef, a former Michael Symon sous chef and farm to plate fundamentalist. In league with some other Lolita and Lola alumni, he started The Greenhouse Tavern. The restaurant was created to be LEED certified. The menu changes weekly to reflect the tastes and the flavors of the region as well as what is in season. Everything that can be recycled (such as building materials – take a look around when you dine there) is reused in some manner.

The connection to their food is intimate. In addition to listing all of their suppliers (and employees) on the menu, each Friday two cooks are sent to slaughter and process the chickens for use during the week. Farmers are growing for the restaurant’s demands, so no food is wasted that does not have an intended home on the menu. The best quote from our host was “If the food starts out good, you don’t have to dress it up”. Good food tastes better at the Greenhouse Tavern.

The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 East 4th Street

I could be a bit biased about Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC). While I was there, the first batches of their hallowed and stalked Christmas Ale were being poured and cased for shipment. I was able to sample the 2010 batch before the masses. That was a great Christmas present in October. GLBC was the first microbrewery in Ohio (1988) bringing back the brewing heritage of Cleveland. The sustainable focus of the company started early on with everyone exuding a waste not, want not philosophy. An easy to eat example at the brewpub is a serving of pretzels made with spent grain from the brewing rocess (served with Stadium and Bertman’s Ball Park mustards of course). GLBC uses sustainable initiatives to drive their bottom line. The “Fatty Wagon” is the shuttle bus used to take fans to Cleveland Indians games; it is fueled by vegetable oil waste. The brewing and brewpub buildings feature many energy efficient features. Anything that can be recycled, reused or repurposed is utilized – underfilled beer ends up in soups and sauces, spent rewery grains feed livestock, build breads and fertilize GLBC’s Pint Size farm as well as The Ohio City Farm.

Great Lakes Brewing Company
2516 Market Avenue
Ohio City, West Side

Ohio City Farm is sandwiched between the West Side Market, a metropolitan housing complex and lots of urban spaces with Cleveland landmark Terminal Tower in the background. It is the largest urban farm in our nation. Plans are in the works to create a root cellar and other innovations to allow the farm to be sustainable and profitable year round. The farm supports a community kitchen, which provides an incubating workspace for entrepreneurs to prepare, process and package their products for sale. Their Farm Stand at the West Side Market is the only produce stall, which sells exclusively local goods and produce. Displaced migrant farmers help grow vegetables on the farm using the skills from their home countries while they adapt to life in Ohio. To say this farm is progressive…is an understatement.

Ohio City Farm
West 24th and Bridge Ave
Ohio City

A little farther out (as in Cleveland Hopkins Airport) on the sustainable, green friendly field is AMP 150. This newer restaurant is located in the updated Cleveland Airport Marriott. The team of chefs surprise guests in multiple ways. “What is a nice farm to plate restaurant doing in a place like this?” Well, in addition to making a long layover much more palatable, AMP 150 is serving up some incredible food. Everything is hand crafted in house including the pasta and pickles. The list of ingredients and suppliers on the menu reads like a who’s who of the best Ohio artisan food has to offer. In addition, for your final surprise, the kitchen plants, grows and harvests some of their produce in a large garden running the length the rear parking lot. If you dine or fly in, I suggest the pate and the eggplant tater tots.

AMP 150
4277 West 150th Street
(West Park, Southwest)

The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland may be the best hotel I have stayed in (I was not there often due to a rigourous schedule of eating, drinking and researching). Fortunately, for me, the hotel has an award-winning restaurant as well (AAA Four-Diamond Award and the Mobil Travel Guide Four-Star Award for starters). I met the three main “cooks” at Muse: Chef Richard Sören Arnoldi Chef de Cuisine Constantine Vourliotis and Banquet Chef Benjamin Davison. Each chef has honed their craft in kitchens across the world but they chose to plant themselves in Cleveland to make their mark and put on the ritz for rock stars, the rich and famous. Two of these chefs say the best corned beef in the world can be bought at a Hungarian stand at the West Side Market. They each mentioned many other reasons they want to cook and live in Cleveland. Chef Constantine spent some of his childhood exploring the West Side Market with his family. After living elsewhere, he came back to town. Now he and other Muse chefs offer an amazing experience. They will take you (just a few couples at a time) on a personalized tour of the market and then create a meal based on what you liked and what they learned about you in your morning together. The restaurant also offers special Farmers Market fixed price menus and many other great dining options in case you opt to dine in after a day on the town.

(at Ritz Carlton)

1515 West 3rd Street
Cleveland – Downtown

That’s the wrap up of my first Cleveland culinary expedition. Where should I go for round two? (On my shortlist: Lolita, Corky & Lenny’s, Melt, Jack Frost Donuts………)

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