But it is Symon’s recently-opened Mabel’s BBQ, right next to Lola, that brings everything into focus. Neither Kansas City barbecue, Carolina, nor exactly Texas barbecue, what Symon did with Mabel’s was create a uniquely Cleveland barbecue. At Mabel’s, Symon slings food influenced by Texas but also draws liberally from the food traditions, ethnic and otherwise, of Cleveland. Kielbasa makes a prominent appearance on the menu, as does smoked pork belly (in the place of pulled pork) and a “Polish Girl” sandwich.
To understand the Cleveland food scene, you have to take the high and low and view them in the same glance. Mabel’s isn’t the only place where Symon’s food is grounded in Cleveland’s “lower” traditions. That terrific beef cheek pierogi at Lola’s is Sokolowski’s potato and cheese pierogi refined. Sawyer’s roasted pig’s head at Greenhouse Tavern does much of the same. At the “low” end, there are restaurant-inspired innovations and variations on classic themes unique to Northeast Ohio. The “high” end, meanwhile, still has strong foundations in Cleveland's ethnic and working class traditions.