In the past few years, my perceptions of Cleveland, our neighbor to the north, have become increasingly more positive. What used to be – in my mind – the city of expensive bars (the flats), a contrived museum (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and the morgue (my cousin works for the Cuyahoga County Morgue; it’s an association thing) has now become a city of diverse culinary treats, professional entertainment and a historical and cultural playground.
In short, for me, Cleveland has become a tourist destination instead of a duty, and I blame three things. For one, I’m getting older and my interests have changed. Two, there’s a glimmer of hope that there will be passenger rail from my city to theirs; I’ve – dangerously – allowed myself to imagine myself using said rail. And finally, one of my favorite National Public Radio programs, Marketplace, has featured Cleveland’s restaurant scene not once, but twice. If Marketplace loves Cleveland, than surely I can, as well.
The two-day trip was not a gastro-tour, but more like a well-rounded array of some of Cleveland’s highlights, her Greatest Hits. Even so, our trip started with the West Side Market in Ohio City, minutes away from our bed and breakfast. Cleveland is unique in Ohio as being (be ready to be impressed as I throw out my grocery store knowledge) the only city where independent markets and locally own chains do better than their national grocery counterparts. With a giant ominous bell tower, West Side Market seems to say, “Giant Eagle Beware: I will crush you.”
I suspect – without much research – that part of the success of the independents in Cleveland has to do with the diverse ethnic makeup of the city. It’s easier for the manager of a local chain to choose products for a changing demographic, than, say, some executive in Texas, Florida or even Pennsylvania. Walking through West Side Market – and seeing the products that are popular – reminded me of just how homogeneous chain offerings are.
At the risk of being presumptuous, the pride of West Side Market is the produce terminal. Cramped with dozens of stands, the building adjacent to the main market is loud and lively, as bold potato and peas people shout out their deals, competing for the sale.
The increased competition creates beautiful displays of fruits and veggies, as well as an overwhelming desire to buy bunches and bunches of radishes.
Of course, we didn’t come to shop. Our mission was to find lunch, and to do it quickly. It’s difficult not to compare Cleveland’s West Side Market to Columbus’ North Market, and while the former excels in actual groceries, the latter wins the award for prepared foods. (With limited seating at West Side Market, I assume it’s part of the design; why provide lunch if there’s nowhere to eat it?) After sizing up our options, we chose crepes from Crêpes De Luxe, something that was relatively quick and could be consumed on-the-go. (We had a film to catch at the Cleveland Museum of Art.)
The stand offered an endless array of sweet and savory crepes, made by hand in front of us, and although our first choices were off-limits (they’d run out of the beef brisket I’d coveted and the shallots that Baseball Boy wanted) it was easy to find runners-up.
I chose a spinach, egg and Gruyere crepe, while BB chose mushroom, asparagus (instead of shallots – a trade up, maybe) and Emmenthaler. Both crepes could have used a little kick: hot sauce, or mustard, maybe.
My recommendation for those who brave the line? They offer condiments; use them. This kid certainly did.
By the way, Cleveland, I will be back. I will come up again and try all the restaurants suggested to me on Twitter and beyond. And I will eat you.
West Side Market
1979 West 25th Street
Crêpes De Luxe
1979 West 25th Street, STE c2
216.916.9336 (ext 2)