By most any account, it’s been one hell of a year for Cleveland. Behind the Cavs’ NBA Championship and an almost World Series win for the Indians (almost!), the third most exciting thing might be the city's continuing culinary boom. This year, several exciting new restaurants opened their doors, giving locals plenty of new things to talk about: Cleveland is now a BBQ destination; Cleveland is now a cocktail destination; Cleveland finally has a good, fast Downtown lunch option. Of the excess of new spots that have opened in the past year, we picked the five best and most important new restaurants that have truly made a dent in this city's landscape.
From the adorable name to the sunny floral wallpaper adorning the restaurant walls, Plum Cafe has been charming its way onto every Clevelander's must-try list since opening its doors in April. Luckily, the restaurant’s menu is more salty than its sweet interior may suggest, serving creatively out-there dishes such as “Bone, Slugs & Hominy,” a stew of beef broth, escargot, sausage, hominy, basil, and chili marrow, and “Chickenrones,” puffed chicken skin sprinkled in sea salt and served in a tea cup with hot sauce for dipping on the side. Open Monday-Saturday 11am to 1am, diners have ample opportunity to sink their teeth into some of the hottest and most playful dishes in town.
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Following two decades of cooking for notable Cleveland restaurants such as Lola, Flying Fig, and Black Pig, Chef Jill Vedaa had the opportunity open her own restaurant with her own vision this August. Salt offers original small plates, such as smoked sturgeon with tobiko, French onion mascarpone, bagel chips and pickles, as well as ever-so-thoughtful beverages, like the sweet and savory “Gloria," made of fig infused vodka, ruby port, ginger beer, and rosemary simple syrup. Reservations are not accepted for parties of less than six in this cozy, ambient Lakewood spot, but we can promise the experience is well worth any wait.
Opening your very first restaurant in the same week that a national celebrity chef opens his… 15th? This could be the opening premise of a novel that bodes a recipe for disaster. But like lots of underdog fiction, there's a twist: the little guy succeeds. Considering that The Proper Pig was competing directly with Michael Symon’s Mabel’s by serving the exact same genre of food, the hometown showdown turned Cleveland into the newest barbecue destination nearly overnight. By staying true to their own unique brand of smoked meats, owners Shane Vidovic and Ted Dupaski have successfully found their own place in this city's ever-expanding restaurant scene. Carnivorous-inclined patrons can enjoy all of the barbecue staples, cooked Texas-style, as well as a nice selection of and hearty sides and rotating local brews.
Prior to 2016, Cleveland wasn’t exactly known as a barbecue destination. Luckily, a few restaurants, including the aforementioned Proper Pig, are helping put our town on the slow-smoked map. The most recent venture from Cleveland native and host of ABC’s The Chew, Michael Symon, Mabel’s dishes out generous portions of “Cleveland-style barbecue,” which uses stadium mustard in the sauces, Eastern European spices in the rubs and sausages, and smokes meat over local wood. Not one to forget about the drinks side of things, Symon tapped Lola's general manager Nolan Cleary to oversee a beverage program heavy on bourbons, clever single and batched cocktails, and an extensive beer list that pulls all corners of the Rust Belt and the Old World. Situated along bustling East 4th Street, it's the perfect casual but not too casual pre- or post-downtown event spot.
Public Square received quite the facelift prior to this summer’s RNC. Once the madness left town and we could all breathe a sigh of relief, we were treated to a beautified, more vibrant central spot to gather in the heart of downtown. As part of the enhancements, REBoL opened its doors, inviting customers in for playful, healthful, and flavorful food and drink. From the owner of TownHall, the restaurant mainly purveys “bols” (bowls) such as tuna poke and spiced steak salad. It’s a totally excellent spot to grab a quick bite, plus a drink or two, and watch the world go by during the busy downtown lunch hour.
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This bright all-day cafe in Ohio City presents a vegetarian-friendly, sandwich-driven menu in an airy space with exposed brick, light-bearing French windows, and a spacious dine-in backyard. A comparison between the slow-roasted barbecue pork sandwich and the vegan banh mi with hoisin-braised jack fruit proves that equal flavor is imbued into both meat and meatless choices. Interesting cocktails and craft beers complement the food when things more serious (and less vegetarian) in the evening where dishes like catfish nuggets and smoked duck confit and pork sausage Cleveland Cassoulet reign supreme.
Chef Jill Vedaa’s Salt+ approaches New American without the safety net of a burger on the menu. Her lineup of small plates features combinations like foraged mushroom tapenade with goat cheese, braised octopus with olives and oranges, and duck leg confit with ricotta dumplings. The large, high-ceilinged space is modern with rustic touches, as evidenced by varnished steel plates next to hanging mod lamps and an overall warehouse feel. True to the restaurant’s name, a giant block of salt sits glowing atop a pillar in the lounge area. Just don't lick it.
There's a proper way to do Central Texas barbecue -- salt-and-pepper-rubbed and cooked over an oak wood fire -- and an improper way. You can bet that the meat coming out of Proper Pig Smokehouse falls into the former category. After delighting shoppers from a food truck at the Cleveland Flea, the down-home barbecue specialist set up permanent shop in Lakewood. There are four pillars to the menu: pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, beef brisket, and Texas hot link sausage. Sides like baked beans and mustardy potato salad are available, but don't overcrowd your plate -- enjoy your food the Central Texan way and let the meat shine through.
James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Symon is inventing his own style of barbecue at this Gateway District restaurant. The so-called Cleveland style incorporates Eastern European spices and mixes Ohio’s own Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard into the barbecue sauce. At Mabel’s, Symon is serving up brisket, pork belly, turkey, kielbasa, and ribs -- in sandwiches or with a side of sauerkraut and pickles. The drinks menu is heavy on whiskey and beer, the latter of which includes Midwestern craft brews and special Belgian sours. As for seating, the industrial space is filled with communal tables.
Fast-casual lunch spots in public plazas are nothing novel, but REBol generated an unexpected amount of buzz when it opened its doors in the renovated Public Square. The Asian-Mexican fusion spot specializes in meat, vegetable, and rice "bols" like tuna poke and bulgogi steak. Don't be afraid to go beyond the bowl though: sippable bone broths, pork nachos, and sticky chicken wings are available alongside peanut butter-honey milkshakes or rummy chocolate milk cocktails. A spacious outdoor seating area makes for good people watching.