Eight Great Recession Busters in Cleveland

Our economy may be stagnant, but our stomachs are growing. Cleveland is in the midst of a decade-long foodie boom that has convinced some coastal folk to make a stop on their flyover. Our town is littered with affordable dining options; here are a few of the best.

The artisanal breads at On the Rise bakery, left, and thin-crust pizzas at Bar Cento, right, won’t put a hole in your wallet.


1. Prix-Fixe Dinner at Light Bistro

Chef Matt Mathlage is tapping into two trends at his new restaurant: the locavore movement and the depressed economy. Mathlage offers a nightly prix-fixe for $25—three courses, all sized and plated perfectly. He buys only from local farmers, so the menu reflects the seasons. A recent meal showed off Ohio-raised quail, bacon-fueled collard greens, and berry cobbler. 2801 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, OH (216-771-7130; lightbistro.com)

2. Scone and Coffee at On the Rise

No hyperbole here: The artisanal breads and pastries at On the Rise bakery are among the best this side of the Atlantic. Owner Adam Gidlow bakes olive loaves as soft as they are flavorful, cinnamon raisin bread with a yeasty sweetness, and baguettes that have just the right crunch. The scones, I am convinced, are sprinkled with a secret ingredient that compels you to return the next day. Buy one of those ($1.75) and a coffee (also $1.75) and sit at the large wooden communal table to chat with the regulars. 3471 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland, OH (216-320-9923)

3. Kobe Beef Burger at Lolita’s Happy Hour

By 5:15 on a weeknight, Lolita’s is packed. Some diners are hoping to glimpse the newest Iron Chef, Michael Symon, who often strides through this, his first eatery, laughing and greeting customers. Others are there for the incredible $5 Happy Hour burger: Kobe beef, bacon, and a fried egg on a homemade English muffin bun. A glass of “Lolita’s Choice” wine is $4 and worth more. Add a side of mac and cheese with chicken, goat cheese, and rosemary. 900 Literary Rd., Cleveland, OH (216-771-5652; lolabistro.com)

4. Lunch at Nate’s Deli and Restaurant

Old-school Middle Eastern fare is a popular choice for the students, businessmen, and families who crowd into Nate’s for lunch. The prices are double-take low. Try the fatoosh salad ($4.25) or the unassailable hummus ($4.75). The waitress will slap a plastic bag of serviceable pita bread on the table. Remember your number—it sits on top your table in red plastic—to tell the guy at the cash register when he rings you up. Cash only. 1923 W. 25th St. Cleveland, OH (216-696-7529)

5. Dinner at Bar Cento

Cleveland’s newest foodie shrine is Bar Cento, where chef Jonathon Sawyer serves up Roman-style fare. The pizzas are thin and flavorful—you can stay traditional and order a Margherita or go for the decadent modern options, including liver and onion. Sawyer buys locally, and he cooks his chicken under a brick, transforming a boring-sounding entrée into a crunchy and moist delicacy. The wine list is extensive and, like the food, wallet-friendly. Open until 2 A.M. seven days a week. 1948 W. 25th St, Cleveland, OH (216-344-9944; barcento.com)

6. Brisket Platter from Mr. Brisket

Cleveland’s East Side, with its sizeable Jewish population, offers lots of great food options: Bialy’s Bagels, Jack’s Deli, and Corky and Lenny’s all serve up Eastern European Jewish comfort food. For decades, Sanford Herskovitz, a former stockbroker with a PhD in psychology, has been selling brisket, pastrami, and sausages from his easy-to-miss storefront in Cleveland Heights. One pan of prepared, sliced brisket serves 15—perfect for your Rosh Hashanah meal—and sets you back only $70. 2156 S. Taylor Rd., Cleveland Heights, OH (216-932-8620; misterbrisket.com)

7. Breakfast at Big Al’s

This classic diner is always full, but there’s never a long wait. The fried green tomatoes are crispy and tangy; the sausage gravy has just the right velvety texture; and the pancakes, thankfully, are robust and cakey, not the horrid flat, chewy variety often found in breakfast spots. At Al’s, specials, which range from $6.75 to $10.75, are called the 1, 5, or 9, nothing cutesy like homages to places or people. You can get eggs, sausage links, or homefries on top of any dish for a couple more quarters. 12600 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights, OH (216-791-8550)

8. Local Produce at North Union Farmers Market

Ohio should be better known for its peaches, which surprise out-of-staters with their juiciness. Our corn rivals those from other Midwestern states, and the blueberry season is long enough to keep you baking all summer. Some of these crops are raised organically now, and the pure products of our soil can be had for pocket change at the largest farmers market in the area. Shaker Square, Saturdays 8:00-12:00 (northunionfarmersmarket.org)

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