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Yours Truly (Cleveland, OH)

For our actual “Death March” in Cleveland, we started out at Shaker Square on the far East end of town on the border with Shaker Heights. Both the area and Shaker Square itself are pretty interesting: it was one of the United States’ first “Shopping Centers”, designed to mimic Europe’s town squares while integrating some relatively high density housing, transit (trains at the time, now buses), and provide a gateway to the suburbs, and a bit of an open space that serves nicely for the weekend farmers market. Built in a Colonial style, it’s definitely a little dated, but does provide a nice insight into what early 20th century urban planning looked like, and there’s now a theater and a bunch of smaller shops and restaurants around the square. One of these is a joint with a reputation for a good breakfast, Yours Truly, which also served as a nice gathering spot for our hiking crowd.

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Sokolowski’s University Inn (Cleveland, OH)

My regular readers know that once a year, I gather with several of my friends and we do a “Death March” in which we spend an extended weekend at a different metropolitan area exploring the food, drink, and cultural scene, culminating in a ~20 mile walk through the city to explore all the neighborhoods. We’ve done a lot of cities, New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, London… this year was Cleveland. Okay, I can hear a lot of you already asking, “Wait, what? Cleveland?!” But you heard me right. Yeah, Cleveland had some rough years of post-industrialism, burning rivers, and general rust belt blight, but as I learned with many business trips to the area in the ’90s through recent years, Cleveland is actually one of the country’s most underrated cities, having cleaned themselves up quite nicely, and the city has a plethora of great attractions, ranging from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to some great parks, some great breweries, and excellent restaurants both old and new. While much of the culinary coverage of Cleveland focuses on the newer places, we started our visit in the city with a trip to one of the old stalwarts of Cleveland ethnic dining: Sokolowski’s.

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The D.C. Pasta Co. (Strongsville, OH)

For our last dinner in the Cleveland area, we were looking for a lighter dinner (have you seen all hot dogs, steaks, and pork products I consumed in the last few entries?), and as a result, we decided to check out a relative newcomer on the Cleveland scene, D.C. Pasta Co. in Strongsville, OH. First of all, the D.C. Pasta Co. name comes not from our nation’s capital, but from the owners’ initials, D.C. is the combined effort of Ohio chef Dante Boccuzzi (primarily known for his “Dante” and “d.b.a” restaurants), and Carmela del Busso (known for “Oggi”), giving the place it’s initials. D.C., situated in a small strip mall complex in Strongsville, is designed to be a fairly casual Italian place featuring house made pasta.

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Happy Dog (Cleveland, OH)

After we did the Cleveland Museum of Art, it was time for a late lunch. We wanted something interesting, but not something that was going to be heavy enough that we wouldn’t be hungry come dinner. After a little bit of discussion, we decided that it was time to check out Happy Dog on the West Side, known known for their wide variety of hot dog toppings. Okay, I can already feel the skeptical vibe coming from some of my readers. The world has a lot of hot dog places, what makes a place like Happy Dog worth some of your precious stomach sapce? And I’ll be the first to admit, hot dogs as a menu item are often a high-risk item: while there are a lot of really great hot dog places out there (Indeed, I’ve reviewed about 20 on this site), there are a lot of dubious ones as well, and for every lovingly-assembled Gold Coast Chicago Dog, or pepper-relished-covered Blackie’s hot dog I’ve had, I’ve also been served up more than my share of Oscar Mayer 10 per lb hot dogs slapped onto a stale bun with ketchup and mustard to know that hot dogs generally aren’t the sort of thing I get without doing some research first. But I’ll tell you that from my visit, Happy Dog isn’t one of those places, instead, they are a great dive-ish joint that’s serving up some really great hot dogs with some good toppings.

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Becker’s Donuts (Fairview Park, OH)

On our last full day in Cleveland, we wanted to get some breakfast before doing our daily exploring, and, quite frankly, we wanted donuts. The problem is, it’s rather hard to find good donuts these days… sure, there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on damn near ever corner, but those aren’t really good donuts (especially since the vast majority of DD locations don’t bake on-site anymore, just truck in their donuts from a regional bakery). I actually remember a time when there were a lot of independent donut shops selling donuts and coffee, but these days you usually have to do a little bit of research to find the few remaining ones. One of those is Becker’s Donuts.

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The Black Pig (Cleveland, OH)

One of the reasons that we decided to stop over in Cleveland on the way home is that it’s a surprisingly good food destination in itself. In addition to one of the better public markets in the US (their famous West Side Market) and a surprisingly vibrant Asian community, Cleveland has a rather impressive assortment of top-notch dining establishments (including such places as AMP 150, Greenhouse Tavern, and Lola). But one chef I’ve been particularly interested in following is Mike Nowak. I first met Mike via a mutual friend when he was a chef at Bar Cento, and more recently enjoyed some of his work at Market Garden, and continue to enjoy both of those establishments (indeed, I visited both on this trip). So when I heard earlier this year that he was opening up his own restaurant, Black Pig, down the block (in the spot previously occupied by Dragonfly, which I had been to in the past), I was intrigued and made it a point to visit next time I was in town.

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Bogtrotter’s Doorstep (Cleveland, OH)

After our trip to Michigan, on the way back home we again stopped in Cleveland, primarily so that I could introduce Carol to some of my Cleveland favorites (Greenhouse Tavern and Bar Cento/Bier Markt, primarily), as well as check out a new place (Black Pig). All-in-all, however, we spent a rather substantial part of our time exploring Ohio City, the Cleveland neighborhood west of the Hope Memorial Bridge, and home of Great Lakes Brewery. But while walking alking through Ohio City, we came across this interesting little place attached to the back of the Old Angle Bar: Bogtrotter’s Doorstep, which specializes in Au Jus Sandwiches, and it looked like the exact sort of place we should stop in for lunch.

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Emperor’s Palace (Cleveland, OH)

Our US-based route from New Hampshire to Detroit also had us passing through Cleveland at lunchtime. While we were coming back to Cleveland for three days later in the trip, I figured this would be a good opportunity to check out someplace towards the East side of town, perhaps towards China Town. In fact, we had both been craving dim sum for a while, and Cleveland has more than a few dim sum joints, so I figured I’d give one a try. However, from past experience, I know that they vary greatly in quantity, price, and authenticity, so I decided to check out my friend Nancy’s blog, Fun Playing With Food, and see if she had any recommendations. And upon reading her recent review of Emperor’s Palace, it sounded like it was worth checking out.

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Thurman Cafe (Columbus, OH)

You know, sometimes I’ll have to admit that I just don’t know when to say when. Despite having four solid days of eating and drinking my way through Chicago on the Death March, and being mere days away from the planned Austin BBQ bender, events related to my travel schedule conspired to leave me with a few spare hours in Columbus, Ohio. While I rather enjoyed my visit to Tommy’s Diner the last time I found myself in this situation, I wanted to try something different, so I put out a call for recommendations on Facebook. Several people I know, most of whom live in or near Columbus, responded with the same place, the Thurman Cafe in Colombus’ German Village neighborhood.

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Jeet India (Fairborn, OH)

And no rest for the weary. Coming back from Chicago, I immediately turned around and left on a work trip to Dayton. Dayton’s not a bad place. I particularly like the National Museum of the United States Air Force, since nothing like a few hours of looking at airplans like SR-71s to cheer you up (at least if you are an engineer like me). But, to be honest, Dayton is always a bit of a challenging culinary destination for me, primarily since I mostly seem to end up staying in suburbs like Beavercreek, and I’m really not into places like The Olive Garden. But it’s also not a culinary wasteland. I actually rather like The Pine Club, which is one of those olde schoole steak houses that still seems to be stuck at some point in the 1960s. And, as I mentioned before in my review of Maharajah of Dayton, thriving Indian community (primarily Punjabi), and as a result, quite a few decent Indian restaurants, although most of them seem to focus on buffets. But a few of them do indeed have some rather good food, and from two visits there, I can say that Jeet is one of the better ones.

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