Singer Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco.
But I left my waistline in
The Lake Erie Monster at Melt Bar and Grilled is just that: a monster of a sandwich! Beer-battered walleye, jalapeno tartar sauce and melted American cheese on thick-sliced bread just cries out for a doggy bag.
And I loved every morsel of delicious food responsible for that.
Positively Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted four days of practically nothing but eating, eating and more eating. I'm surprised the eight of us on the FAM (familiarization) Tour still fit into the van by the end of the trip.
We ate, drank or sampled at about 19 spots. There was a bit of culture thrown in, as well. We did spend a couple of hours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
To Eat & Drink
Culinary Vegetable Institute
Lelolai Bakery and Cafe
Sokolowski's University Inn
CROP Bistro & Bar
Blue Point Grill
Melt Bar and Grilled
b. a. Sweetie Candy Company
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
West Side Market
Grand River Cellars
Ferrante Winery & Ristorante
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Cleveland Botanical Garden
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Great Lakes Theater Festival
It was heaven. From ethnic fare to haute cuisine to pub grub ... we tasted it all.
Here's a rundown of our eating frenzy.
We started with a wine tasting of Lake County, Ohio, wines, before a hard-hat tour of the newly renovated and about-to-open Hanna Theater.
Representatives from Grand River Cellars and Debonne Vineyards offered tastes of more than a dozen varieties.
Dinner was at Dante, where chef Dante Boccuzzi offered us a five-course tasting menu. Every course was as good as the next, and fois gras - which always makes me happy - was involved.
On the chef's tasting menu for us were: Crab and Kiwi Parfait, Curried Squash Ravioli, Sea Scallops Choux Croute (with sauerkraut, seared mortadella and duck prosciutto), fois gras (with barbecue eel, honey and port glazed figs), duck with peach chutney, Swiss chard and spring onions. Each course was served with the appropriate wine.
A platter with an assortment of desserts was offered to each of us.
Breakfast on Thursday was a beautiful buffet at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef's Garden sustainable farm, with fruits and veggies grown on the premises. We also tasted Madagascar lavender honey and a few other beautiful things, before going on a walking (thank goodness!) tour through the farm.
Lunch followed by way of an ethnic eatery tour on Lolly the Trolley, hosted by food writer/critic Doug
Cleveland has more than 117 different ethnicities, and I think we may have tasted foods from all of them ... well, not quite.
At Lelolai Baker we sampled a Cuban (Miami-style) grilled sandwich, flan and some cookies.
Next, it was on to Sokolowski's University Inn, an Eastern European eatery where I had bites of pierogies (almost everyone's favorite food during the entire four days!), kielbasa, cucumber salad, cabbage and noodles, mushroom soup ... (I felt like a stuffed cabbage!)
Then, we went to AsiaTown where we tasted lots of pastries and steamed buns at Koko Bakery. With all the tasty treats, I had a cup of soy milk, which was delicious.
Next was an Italian bakery in Little Italy, Corbo's Bakery, where we were seated at a large table with a huge platter of cookies, and four big bowls of strawberry cassata cake, made with fresh berries, custard, whipped cream and sponge cake.
Everything - tiramisu, canolli, cookies - and so much more, is all made from scratch. The bakery has been in existence for 50 years, and it's the third generation now involved.
Next it was on to (there's more, you say?) Baricelli Inn.
That was to be a quick stop before heading over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they had prepared such an amazing presentation of cheeses and fruits and wines and crackers and breads, that our tour hosts did not want to rush us through. We all got to relax around a large, square table laden with Italian specialties.
Chef Paul Minnillo, chef-owner since 1985, explained that Baricelli Inn had started out as an inn and fine dining establishment, in the 1896 building.
Minnillo trained in England and New York City learning French cooking. It was "a little gutsy for Little Italy," he noted.
For 15 years he did "high-end, kind of fancy" dining. But he felt as if the restaurant was going to continue to be successful, it needed to go a bit more casual.
One of the focal points of the beautiful restaurant is the cheese cooler, which keeps more than 60 cheeses at perfect temperature. At least 15 cheeses are on the menu at any one time.
Because we skipped the rock hall, we had a couple of hours to relax before dinner.
It was a progressive dinner, which actually meant even more food than a regular dinner!
We started at Crop Bistro & Bar, where we were encouraged to order a drink because the place is known for their specialty beverages.
I ordered a caprese martini, which was delicious.
Like the salad of the same name, it involved fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil. The vodka was infused with the basil, while instead of olives, the drink was garnished with a skewered grape tomato and cheese ball.
We started here with a warm Pacific Rim popcorn salad, which was quite an unusual salad with freshly-popped popcorn.
Next came a platter with a cherry bomb, a cherry tomato stuffed and deep fried; a tiny cup of lobster latte; and a salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, arugula with an orange vinaigrette.
Next was "the Big Mac," Crop-style.
It was seared Hudson Valley fois gras, a seared scallop and "special sauce" on arugula.
Last was a virgin mojito "cropcicle."
Why a virgin? Because it wouldn't freeze if made with alcohol.
Crop, owned by Steve Schimoler and Jackie Shultz, serves as a test kitchen and concept center during the day to support the pair's development and consulting business.
Then, it was on to the main course.
We walked up the street (again, a welcome event) to the Blue Point Grille, in the city's historic warehouse district.
We started with chilled lobster gazpacho, followed by portabello mushroom carpaccio and a poached egg; ahi tuna with a melted tomato and kalamata olive puree and feta cheese (sort of a deconstructed tuna nicoise salad.)
Then it was back to the Ritz-Carlton where some of our group were staying. We had dessert at Muse, a cozy little space inside the hotel.
Dessert consisted of a pre-dessert of Pave of Chocolate and Spice with white chocolate mousse, topped with liquid gold and spices.
Then we had an ice cream float made with Great Lakes Brewery Black Stout and chocolate ice cream. Beer? Ice cream? Chocolate? Well, it all added up to "yum."
Lemon beignets accompanied the float.
And still, another day and a half of eating to go.
Alarm rings. Oh, no, not another meal!
But, yes, it was time to get up and get ready for breakfast. At Tommy's.
Tommy's is located in the Coventry neighborhood of Cleveland, which used to be "hippie heaven," but now is home to cute shops, restaurants and music clubs.
Tommy's is a health-conscious eatery that has fed vegans and meat-eaters for more than 30 years.
The decor and the menu is eclectic. Many of the menu items are named for the person who first ordered the creation. Items are categorized as vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic and/or gluten-free.
Here is a sampling of some of the menu items:
The John Z. Omelette is filled with falafel, ham, cheese, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and tomatoes.
Emily's Golden Granola (vegan, macrobiotic and gluten-free) is puffed whole grain brown rice, crisped whole grain brown rice, golden raisins, brown rice syrup and maple syrup.
The peanut butter toast is slathered with homemade peanut butter, which is made without sugar or salt.
There is a selection of falafel, made about 12 different ways, hummus and baba ghanoush.
There are roast beef, corned beef, turkey and chicken sandwiches, as well as meat pies, hamburgers, hot dogs, spinach pies, toasted cheese (11 ways!!) sandwiches ... and I could go on and on and on.
Also on the menu are about 22 salads, 29 soups, tofu and tempeh, a few wraps, pizza by the slice, milkshakes (yogurt, Toffutti, regular), floats, sundaes, frappe. ... Shall I continue?
We had a quick respite from food next door to Tommy's with a stop at Big Fun, a toy store full of vintage toys. It was big fun, for sure!
Then onto the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a quick walk through before ... yep, you guessed it, lunch.
Lunch was at Melt Bar and Grilled, (yes, grilled is correct) where the menu is printed on the backs of album covers and the sandwiches are as big as the Cuyahoga River.
Cheese is the main ingredient in the sandwiches at Melt. You can try the Kindergarten, on fresh baked bread with your favorite cheese; the North Coast Shores with handmade crab cakes, wilted garlic spinach, roasted red pepper and herbed cream cheese; the Parmageddon, with potato and cheese pierogies, fresh napa vodka kraut, onions and cheddar; the Lake Erie Monster with beer-battered walleye, jalapeno tartar sauce and American cheese.
And beer. They've got lots and lots and lots of interesting bottled and draft beer.
For dessert there's cheese cake, as well as fried Twinkies.
I do believe we all skipped dessert, and then headed to b.a. Sweetie Candy Company. All your favorites you remember from childhood can be found here: PEZ dispensers, Fizzies, Pixie Stix, wax lips, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes and more fun stuff!
Next stop: Great Lakes Brewing Company.
We took a tour, then tasted about 10 different brews. Great Lakes beer is available at just about every bar in Cleveland, but there are three specialty beers only available at the pub nearby the brewery.
They brew about five varieties year-round with about four to five seasonal varieties. They introduce a couple of new ones a year, just to keep things interesting, according to our tour guide.
My personal favorite that day was the Nosferatu, named after a vampire, which was described as "highly hopped stock ale rich with flavor, yet remarkably balanced."
Grasshoppers were on the menu at Momocho, the modern Mexican restaurant where we dined.
I passed on that, but did try about five of the six different kinds of guacamole. And the blood orange margarita was quite tasty.
Saturday's food adventure was a bit like a treasure hunt. We started off with coffee, muffins and croissants at The Ritz-Carlton where we were introduced to their bright, young chef, Timothy Maxin, who took us on a tour of West Side Market that has about any food you can imagine: fresh meats, pasta, pastries, cold cuts, crepes, breads, olives, spices, candy, popcorn, fruits and vegetables ....
West Side Market is the oldest publicly owned market in the city with more than 180 vendors.
The chef bought a fresh fig for us to taste and some olives. And he had the falafel maker put together some of the best I've ever tasted. We bought some fresh bread from Mediterra Bakehouse, which is based in Pittsburgh.
Chef Maxin bought some fresh "honey corn" - that was as sweet as honey - which he used to create lunch for the group when we returned to the Ritz.
This is what he whipped up:
Our first course was Heirloom Tomato and Cucamelon Salad with pearlini mozzarella and a balsamic drizzle. The vegetables came from the Chef's Garden, that we visited Thursday.
The second course included crisp Lake Erie walleye with fingerling potatoes, tiny vegetable ragout, sweet corn puree and wild flower honey.
Our third course was a trio of the pastry chef's desserts prepared by pastry chef Roger Smith.
As we drove away from Cleveland on our way home, I thought I'd never want to eat again.
But, then it was dinnertime and my husband cooked up a beautiful meal using some of our veggies we were given at the Chef's Garden ...
Now, where is my the waistline again?