Food & Drink

A Bready Bucket List: The Best Sandwiches in Cleveland

Published On 11/06/2016 Published On 11/06/2016
Fancy Pants BLT at Plum Cafe
Fancy Pants BLT at Plum Cafe | Carissa Russell/Thrillist
Carissa Russell/Thrillist

Chorizo meatball sub

Herb'n Twine Sandwich Co

Address and Info

Ohio City

A newcomer to Cleveland’s sandwich game, Herb’n Twine is doing things no other shop is doing. Owner-manager Brendan Messina worked as a chef in Cleveland for years, including a stint at The Flying Fig, and he puts his culinary experience directly into crafting creative sandwiches. If you are reading this in November, you’re probably too late to try the Porchetta, the magnificently crafted pork loin sandwich that gave the shop its punny name (say it out loud, you’ll get it) but didn’t sell like it should have. Console yourself with a chorizo meatball sub, a once-seasonal sandwich that’s become a menu fixture: tender, spicy chorizo submerged in a complex, rich mole rojo (red, dummies) sauce with lime crema and queso blanco for balance. Also try innovators like the Korean barbecue sandwich or solid takes on traditionals like the smoked turkey.

Hot pastrami

Mister Brisket

Address and Info

Cedar Taylor (Cleveland Heights)

Mister Brisket comes to you with the Michael Symon seal of approval. Described by management as a “plain Jane” establishment, Mister Brisket has been purveying high-quality meat since 1974. It started serving sandwiches 10 years ago, and Cleveland’s lunches are so much the better for it. The star here is the pastrami; it’s sliced thin and served hot and juicy, with just the right amount of spice from its peppercorn coating. Stadium mustard and cheese (and bread, come to think of it) are totally optional, but make nice additions. And if you’re feeling bold, order a Dr. Brown’s celery-flavored soda to go with it -- you’ll be shocked at how well the flavors complement one another.

Carissa Russell/Thrillist

The Dudefather

Melt Bar & Grilled

Address and Info

Lakewood & other locations

The Melt experience -- the beer enthusiast’s dream taps, the Grog Shop rock vibe, the Parma front lawn decor -- is so hyped (rightfully so) that it can be easy to forget how damn good the sandwiches are. The contents -- be they pork belly, fried mac & cheese, or pierogi -- are housed in thick slabs of sourdough grilled on a flat top to a perfect golden-brown. The Dudefather, aside from being a crossover film we’re dying to see, is an off-menu combination item that takes a mozzarella-meatball sandwich named for The Big Lebowski and tops it with a substantial square of lasagna from The Godfather sandwich. The result is a Franken-sandwich that’s tastier than it has any right to be. We’ll definitely take 10 more years of sandwiches like this.

On The Rise Artisan Breads

Banh mi

On the Rise Artisan Breads

Address and Info

Cleveland Heights

Some establishments on this list use bread merely as a vessel for cured meats and cheese. At On the Rise, the bread is nearly the star of the show. It’s difficult to describe great bread without resorting to cliches -- "hearty," "crusty exterior," etc. -- so we’ll just tell you that Michael Symon has also given this little Cleveland Heights establishment a ringing endorsement. Outside of the bread, On the Rise is best known for its commitment to sourcing food from local farmers and for its banh mi. The pork is impossibly tender, the product of eight hours of nightly braising. An explosively flavorful veggie slaw helps cut the pork fat. It’s the best banh mi you can get outside AsiaTown. (Inside AsiaTown, try Superior Pho for a start -- but really, it’s hard to go wrong anywhere in the district.)

The Bogtrotter

Bogtrotters Doorstep

Address and Info

Ohio City

It might be surprising that The Old Angle, an Ohio City pub known for serving some of the best burgers in Cleveland, would open up a spin-off establishment next door, but we are certainly glad it did. Old Angle’s kitchen closes at 11, but Bogtrotters serves its Chicago-style sandwiches 'til 3am. While it could probably get away with serving fast-food-style hot garbage to buzzing Ohio City revelers, Bogtrotters chooses to craft farm-to-table sandwiches for the late-night crowd. The eponymous Bogtrotter is a fork-and-knifer: three kinds of meat, cheese sauce, and the porcini mushroom au jus sauce that makes the shop’s sandwiches so distinct. Order it "wet" -- "soaked," if you’d like your sandwiches to be more like soup -- and add "crunch," supplied by a layer of crushed Lays on top. We can promise you it is just as good sober as it is at closing time.

Carissa Russell/Thrillist

The Sammy Kay

Corky & Lenny’s

Address and Info

Woodmere

If you step into Corky & Lenny’s for lunch, you are liable to bring the median customer age down by 30 years or more. Consider it an endorsement: Senior citizens know how to spot a great Jewish deli, and Corky & Lenny’s is the great Jewish deli of Cleveland. Turn to the "Overstuffed" section of the menu and order yourself a Sammy Kay, a behemoth that takes corned beef and tops it off with an inch or so of hot pastrami, a knife's spread of Thousand Island, and a couple slices of Muenster between rye. Take out the lettuce (let’s not kid ourselves here) and you have a nearly perfect sandwich.

Southwestern sub

La Bodega

Address and Info

Tremont

La Bodega has been the little corner sandwich shop in Tremont for the past 15 years -- truly in the neighborhood before it was cool. Funny thing is, there’s nothing particularly trendy or hip about the place. It’s a pretty old-school sandwich establishment: You order sandwiches by number, and they’re brought to you on French bread bearing the light grill marks of a quick spell in the panini press. The Southwest turkey sub, with its bell peppers, Cajun mayo, and perfectly crispy bacon, has been a longtime favorite. But don’t ignore the number of specials -- including a couple of creative vegetarian options like the eggplant -- that have joined the menu as permanent fixtures in the last decade and a half.

Maple bacon chicken

The Market at The Flying Fig

Address and Info

Ohio City

You can expect from The Market what you’ve come to expect from its parent establishment next door: quality food that’s seasonal and local without being flashy or too trendy. The standard menu is small but strong, featuring some inventive options for vegetarians and vegans. We particularly enjoyed the maple bacon chicken, served on buttery focaccia with candied bacon and local (duh) greens -- basically, a chicken salad sandwich that’s not boring. The standards are assembled in front of you in the market, but the rotating specials come from the Fig’s kitchen. This past summer, it served an ingenious PLT -- yes, peach-lettuce-tomato --with blue cheese crumbles that drew rave reviews. Keep an eye out for whatever innovations the season brings.

Smoked turkey

Merchant Street Provisions and Eatery

Address and Info

Tremont

Merchant Street is exactly what you’d imagine of a "Tremont sandwich shop." It's a bare-bones but worldly market with a small but high-quality menu. We don’t want to harp on the East Side beef, West Side turkey thing, but you really have to try the turkey here. It’s served with cranberry mostarda (don’t worry, we had to look it up too), a sweet-and-savory topping that nicely balances the smokiness of the bacon. Vegetarians and beet lovers should check out the roasted eggplant sandwich. For dessert, order one of the apricot hand pies, house-made with dough that’s indecently flaky and sweet. Be sure to stop back by for dinner in November when the restaurant portion opens up next door.

Courtesy of Byte Cafe

The Green Goddess

Byte Cafe

Address and Info

St. Clair Superior

If you don’t have the pleasure of working in Tyler Village (the building whose exterior provides the hosting ground for the Cleveland Flea), you probably haven’t eaten at Byte Cafe. We at Thrillist would like to change that. The Green Goddess won us over for taking some of the best parts of meatless eating -- avocados, walnuts, balsamic reduction, and goat cheese -- and putting them into one sandwich. Byte doesn’t offer much in the way of dine-in seating at present, but with the former executive offices of the Tyler Elevator Company available for use, we expect to see some cool seating options open up in the next year or so. And should you find your energy flagging after housing your sandwich, order the espresso, a roast so creamy and rich that we regret not putting Byte on our best coffee list.

Apple Porkling

Gourmand's Deli & Coffee

Address and Info

Valley View

You might not expect to find a cool sandwich shop like Gourmand’s tucked away in a Valley View industrial park. But then again, maybe an industrial park is exactly the place for a great Cleveland sandwich shop: gourmet food, no pretension, Indians paraphernalia or Ghoulardi memorabilia on just about every wall. With Rising Star Coffee, craft soda guns, and five boards filled with sandwiches, Gourmand’s has all your breakfast and lunch needs covered -- and with its wine, beer, and cigar selection, it's got a whole manner of after-dinner vices covered too. Our favorite was the Apple Porkling, a wonderfully sweet-and-savory mix that lays thinly sliced Granny Smith apples on top of house-smoked pork with smokey, dijon-flavored barbecue sauce.

Carissa Russell

Corned beef

Slyman's Restaurant

Address and Info

Downtown

There is almost nothing left to say about Slyman’s nationally renowned corned beef sandwich at this point. Esquire wrote about it. Dubya came to Cleveland to eat it. So did Rachael Ray. It’s a sandwich beautiful in its simplicity: two slices of rye, substantial enough only to be vessels for meat. A mountain of salt-kissed beef. Your appetite doesn’t stand a chance. There must be people in the world who can house an entire sandwich in one go, but be reasonable and allow yourself the joy of two meals from your order. You’ll want to sing its praises -- perhaps literally. The Barenaked Ladies did.

Laura Watilo Blake

The Bravocado

Beet Jar

Address and Info

Ohio City

Here’s a sandwich that’s inspired more T-shirts and posters than a local rock band. It is the only sandwich -- indeed, the only solid food item -- at vegan stronghold Beet Jar, and it doesn’t really need any others. Something like a vegan take on the avocado BLT, the Bravocado features mayo made from cashews (the finest nut) and a heaping portion of coconut flakes at its center. They are smoked, which gives them a slightly more savory flavor and a pleasing crisp texture that will have you scooping up the hundreds that fall from your sandwich. Thick Sicilian bread provides additional crunch, ripe avocados deliver creamy texture, red onions supply welcome bite. Order it with a freshly juiced concoction and you, like Liz Lemon, will be BM-ing like a rock star.

Hot Grumster

Grum's Sub Shoppe

Address and Info

Coventry

Grum’s opened its doors in ‘77 and not much has changed since then. The original menu items are still sold daily, and the wood-panel decor -- it looks something like from your dad’s dorm room -- is largely untouched by time. With no seating options and a vending machine as its only drink dispenser, Grum’s is the definition of a dine-out sandwich shop. But once you get to where you’re going and unwrap your sub or hoagie, you’ll see why this place has been around for nearly 40 years, despite competition from two fast-sub giants on the same block. The Hot Grumster is nothing fancy -- just roast beef, mushrooms, LTO. Provolone provides light smokiness and horseradish delivers just the right amount of kick.

The LBJ

The Fix Bistro

Address and Info

Cedar Lee

The Fix Bistro is a kind of scaled-up version of Black Box Fix, a popular Cedar Lee sandwich shop that closed its doors in July. The most popular items found their way onto the Fix’s menu, chief among them the LBJ. A sandwich named for Lebron James (not, as your correspondent mistakenly thought, for Lyndon Baines Johnson) has to be worthy of a champion. This one delivers. The LBJ gives you the surf & turf plate in a sandwich: Creole-seared jumbo shrimp sit atop moist, tender filet and chopped peppers. Light crab mayo adds richness to a sandwich already near-bursting with flavor. If you balk at the fancy price on this one, you’ll won’t leave hungry -- the OMG Philly, chef Eric Rogers’ take on the cheesesteak with chicken and creole shrimp as the proteins on brioche, is a crowd-pleaser as well. Go on a weekend for live music, and save some room for the Parmesan garlic fries.

Carissa Russell/Thrillist

Cubano

Moncho's Bar & Grill

Address and Info

Brooklyn Centre

An underrated restaurant in an underrated neighborhood, Moncho’s is a Colombian restaurant that’s received some righteous buzz for its tacos, arepas, and absurdly generous margarita sizes. What’s receiving some of that love this time is the Cubano, star of its bocadillo (sandwich, which we definitely did not have to look up) menu. Like most establishments on our list, Moncho's didn’t mess with near-perfection on this one: take lettuce, tomato, ham, and pork shoulder that’s at pitmaster levels of tenderness, then flat-press them into an object of compressed beauty. Instead of mustard, Moncho’s uses a tangy garlic-wine mayo, and oh my. Stop into Caribe Bakery in nearby Clark-Fulton for another winning version of the sandwich.

Carissa Russell/Thrillist

Fancy Pants BLT

Plum Cafe & Kitchen

Address and Info

Ohio City

A not-fast-food sandwich for $5, you say? Absurd! Not at the Plum Cafe it’s not. Served on pleasingly soft buttertop bread, the Plum gives the BLT a slight facelift with melted Swiss cheese and a lardon aioli rendered from bacon fat. It’s available only at happy hour, so pair it with a stupidly cheap domestic beer (a buck fifty) or one of its eminently sippable cocktails for another $5. If you’re there before 3pm, try one of the adventurous-but-approachable sandwiches -- the apple-cured turkey is the most popular item.

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1. Herb'n Twine Sandwich Co 4309 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113 (Ohio City)

This grab-and-go sandwich shop serves a creative roster of sandwiches that are a step above ordinary. The highlight of Herb'n Twine is the seasonal specials, like the pork loin Porchetta and the chorizo meatball sub, but fixtures like the fried chicken sandwich with Korean barbecue sauce are just as rewarding. Though the meat sandwiches are the heartiest (and messiest), vegan and vegetarian lunch options are available too.

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2. Mister Brisket 2156 S Taylor Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 (Cleveland Heights)

Even though this little family-owned takeout deli is called Mister Brisket, locals can’t get enough of the Corned Beef sandwich. Before you commit to a stacked option you can try the meat first, but you wont want to miss the loaded Hot Roasted Brisket sandwich with mustard or the favorite corned beef in a Reuben with melted swiss, sauerkraut, and tangy thousand island. If you’re truly starving there’s always The Duke, but you can’t say we didn’t warn you … over a pound of turkey, salami, corned beef, and brisket, plus your choice of cheese and condiments (we suggest the creamy horseradish). While you wait, you can peruse the prime cuts of lamb, veal, beef, poultry, pork, and even seafood in the butcher shop.

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3. Melt Bar & Grilled 14718 Detroit Ave, Lakewood, OH 44107 (Lakewood)

True to its name, Melt Bar & Grilled started as a craft beer hangout and evolved into a spacious gourmet grilled cheese restaurant that has a great beer list. Like the more than 30 different sandwiches, the Parmageddon, named after the Polish heritage of the Parma neighborhood, is made with thick pieces of grilled toast, 4 ounces of cheddar cheese, and then then filled with cheddar pirogies, cabbage, and grilled onions that are sautéed with vodka and apple cider vinegar. It gets put into a “meltification machine” for a few minutes to achieve the perfect ratio of crunch in the bread to gooey cheesiness (Guy Fieri tested and approved). One more thing: if you get a Melt tattoo, you get a 25% discount for life.

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4. On The Rise Artisan Breads 3471 Fairmount Blvd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 (Cleveland Heights)

Although everything about this quant shop from flour footprints on the hardwood floor to shelves brimming with bread, On the Rise doesn’t just bake Cleveland’s favorite breads. On the Rise bakes a host of locally-sourced pastries and goodies like chocolate raspberry tarts, cranberry currant scones, and apricot pecan squares as well as providing a creative lunch menu centered around their artisan loaves—bread isn’t just a vehicle for ham, you know. Locals can’t stop raving about the flavorful Bahn Mi sandwich made with tender braised pork, Vietnamese pate, tart pickled vegetables, and jalapeño cilantro on a fresh, crisp baguette. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy then the Miller’s Pulled Beef sandwich made with tangy BBQ beef, creamy aioli, and sesame maple slaw will.

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5. Bogtrotters Doorstep 1848 W 25th St, Cleveland, OH 44113

You don't have to crush potato chips on top of your nighttime sandwiches in secret anymore: Bogstrotters Doorstep will add "crunch" to any order, regularly until 3am. The late-night kitchen is an extension of Ohio City all-star The Old Angle pub next-door. It looks like a strategic partnership, as their namesake sandwich seems designed for those stumbling out of the bar: a three-meat monstrosity, which you can order “wet” or “soaked” with liquid cheese and porcini mushroom sauce.

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6. Corky & Lenny's 27091 Chagrin Blvd, Woodmere, OH 44122

Corky & Lenny’s has been a bustling, Woodmere neighborhood favorite for over 60 years, and the shabby diner-style Jewish Deli is still stacking sandwiches high and over-stuffing Clevelanders’ bellies. From its expansive menu, you have the choice of eggy breakfast items, specialty salads, hot soups for cold Cleveland days, burgers, or giant sandwiches like the Sammy Kay (made with pastrami, corned beef, muenster cheese, and thousand island dressing on toasted rye). Did we mention the crunchy dill pickles and sweet, creamy cole slaw? If you’re feeling more adventurous you could try a stuffed tomato or the savory Beef & Latkas (corned beef piled on crispy potato pancakes and served with applesauce or sour cream). Corky and Lenny’s sandwiches have even graced the stomachs of NBC’s Today Show hosts … that’s some peerless pastrami.

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7. La Bodega 869 Jefferson Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113 (Tremont)

Longtime sandwich slinger La Bodega called Tremont home before it was trendy. Lucky for them, sandwiches never go out of style, especially classics like their lauded Southwest turkey sub, served thick with bell peppers, Cajun mayo and bacon. Ten breads host dozens of specialties in the brick-walled space (we're talking five types of chicken salad and 16 vegetarian options, including honey-banana-peanut butter). Grab a pasta or potato salad side and commune on the picnic tables out front.

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8. Market at the Fig 2523 Market Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113 (Ohio City)

Ohio City landmark for New American fine dining The Flying Fig hosts an adjacent market where the sandwiches are to die for, with specials that evolve with the crop hauls of the growing season (much like the menu of The Fig itself). The menu standbys have cult followings: get the maple-bacon chicken, a jazzy reinvention of the standard deli chicken salad with herby feta and pickled chilis on ciabatta. The Market is a nice, casual stop-in for a glass of wine and a cheese plate when lines at the restaurant next door feel daunting.

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9. Merchant Street Provisions and Eatery 2391 W 11th St, Cleveland, OH 44113 (Tremont)

Tremont's Merchant Street Provisions delivers on low key, homey feels with gourmet goods to eat in the 50-seat restaurant or take away from the adjoined food market. Made-to-oder sandwiches draw lines, and the turkey-smoked bacon spiked with white cheddar and cranberry mostarda stands out for carnivores, while a roasted eggplant number appeases plant-eaters. Hand pies, which are like fruity empanadas, are made in-house and shouldn’t be skipped; neither should the charcuterie plates.

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10. Byte Cafe 3615 Superior Ave E, Cleveland, OH 44114 (Downtown)

The service isn’t the only thing fast-casual about this small Tyler Village sandwich shop: the internet is, too. You can take a bite of the mammoth Desperado (a glorified turkey club) while downloading your fill of bytes. Soups of the day, featuring warming classics like French Onion and lobster bisque, are served with hunks of crusty bread. Old City Soda, which is right down the street, furnishes local fizz.

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11. Gourmand's 5345 Canal Rd, Valley View, OH 44125 (Valley View)

Chalkboards overflowing with sandwich and snack lists line a wall amid sports paraphernalia at this pretension-free sandwich hotspot housed in a Valley View industrial park. The options are plentiful, much like the sandwiches: pastrami is piled high on rye and drenched in molten cheese, turkey sandwiches are triple-stacked with slaw and towering, thick slabs on baloney are pressed on the griddle and covered in fried onions. A pickle pairs with every order, and feel free to pick up a six pack or cigar on your way out.

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12. Slyman's Restaurant 3106 Saint Clair Ave NE, Cleveland, OH 44114

Open since 1963, Slyman's is living proof that old-school New York-style delis exist -- and are doing more than fine -- beyond the confines of the Eastern seaboard. Salt-smacked corned beef is stacked 6in high on two slices of rye on a sandwich that would give the cats at Katz's pause, while hot brisket makes a similar tower, though we'd be lying if we didn't say it somehow becomes better when given the Reuben treatment. And yes, the pastrami would make a New Yorker's knees buckle.

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13. Beet Jar Juice Bar 1432 W. 29th St, Cleveland, OH 44113

Specializing in raw foods and cold pressed juices, this cozy Hingetown all-organic and all-vegan cafe prepares most everything using fresh produce that co-owner Joseph Joseph picks up in the mornings. This includes everything from fresh nut milks and desserts, to a famous sandwich knows as the Bravocado, composed of avocado, coconut, red onion, greens, and creamy cashew spread.

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14. Grum's Sub Shoppe 1776 Coventry Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 (Coventry)

A tribute to the holy grail of big sandwiches, the gut-busting sub, is found at longstanding Coventry favorite Grum’s. The place, presided over by a mounted buck head, is like the sandwiches themselves: no-frills, time-tested, certainly not fancy. Some like ‘em hot, some like ‘em cold, but at whatever temperature there’s little not to like about their take on the classic Italian, The Grum, with salami, ham, capicolla, provolone, peppers, lettuce, tomato and onion on a long roll covered in an oregano-based spice mix.

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15. The Fix Bistro 2195 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

The Fix Bistro, an expanded reimagining of the defunct Cedar Lee sandwich shop Black Box Fix, keeps the theme going in a larger, more comfortable space where most everything gets a kiss of Creole flavor. You can taste it in the OMG Philly sandwich, as grilled chicken and mushrooms are married with jumbo Creole shrimp; or in the turkey reuben, with leg meat and cabbage bathed in Creole remoulade mayo. Fish and chicken entrees are no exception, and can be sampled on weekends as live jazz plays in the dining room.

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16. The Plum Cafe & Kitchen 4133 Lorain Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113 (Ohio City)

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.