Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Clevelander's Guide to Dining in Cleveland


No one can dispute that Cleveland is a real food town. And our food scene is hot right now: you can hardly go anywhere without hearing about Michael Symon, Melt, the Greenhouse Tavern, brunch at Lucky's, and local and sustainable this, that and the other thing.

Before the venerable Bookstore on West 25th closed last year, I had the good fortune to pick up A Clevelander's Guide to Dining in Cleveland (Eat Your Heart Out, Inc., 1983). This collection of more than 225 Cleveland-area restaurant menus provides a tremendous insight into the food trends of the early 1980s.

Which, to be honest, make me glad to be a Clevelander in 2010! Just leafing through this book makes me marvel at how much what we eat has changed over the past generation or so. The 1980s were apparently not a good time to be a vegetarian, either: menus are dominated by veal, chateaubriand, something called Coquille St. Jacques, strip steak, and clams casino. As for side dishes, iceberg lettuce and sherried mushrooms, anyone? Or perhaps a nice Old Fashioned or glass of Lambrusco, which you could get for 90 cents at Teddi's.

There are a few restaurants in the Guide that are still with us, such as Heck's, Mama Santa's, Yours Truly, and the Mad Greek. But lots of venerable restaurants in the Guide have gone to that great dining room in the sky. (Unfortunately, my favorite defunct Cleveland restaurant, Miller's, is not one of them.) For example, the Port Brittany Restaurant at the Airport Sheraton, Mr. Z's on West 117 (which, you may remember, got moved lock, stock, and barrel to Toledo ca.1998), It's It Deli, G.R. Pott's on Superior, Top of the Town at Erieview (where you could treat that special someone to Steak Diane flambe and bananas au rhum), and the New York Spaghetti House (which is closed as a restaurant, but you can still buy their sauces around town.)

Further evidence of how things have changed: the guide is heavily skewed toward the East Side, whereas today, one might point to the West Side neighborhoods of Tremont and Ohio City as the epicenter of Cleveland's trendy food scene. (Although the fact that the publishers, Dennis Papp, Sherry Blackman, and Alex Russo, lived in Shaker Heights and Chagrin Falls, might also have something to do with it).

The book, unfortunately, seems pretty hard to come by, although there appears to be a reference copy in the Special Collections department at Cleveland State (and a followup edition dated 1984, as well). In my opinion, this is just the sort of thing you should always pick up when you find it -- these are the little bits and pieces of history that often get forgotten, that may not seem very important, but which breathe life into history's people.

8 comments:

  1. Does the book include actual images of the menus? Those would be really cool to look at. One of the things I like about looking through old issues of Cleveland Magazine and the like is seeing an ad or review and realizing that the restaurant was in the same location as someplace I frequent currently.

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  2. Yes! That is the real beauty of this collection. I will scan and post some of them over the coming weeks. Not all at once, of course - no one wants Steak Tartare fatigue. :)

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  3. I recall seeing copies not infrequently at the Two Dollar Rare Book Store. I've always passed it over, thinking it was yet another dated advertising tool. I'll have to take a look the next time I see a copy.

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  4. Dated advertising tools are awesome! They tell the story of what the city was trying to push during various historic periods. I bought a couple at the art museum book sale in 2008 - there was one from the 1940s that basically said, "you know what Cleveland should do? Increase public access to the waterfront."

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  5. there was one from the 1940s that basically said, "you know what Cleveland should do? Increase public access to the waterfront."

    I'd love to hear more about this book, too.

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  6. I picked this book up at a library book sale a few years ago. I scanned a few pages and put them up in a blog post. There scans include their "cuisine listing" which sounds like an index. I think it includes all of the restaurants represented in the book. There are a few scans of individual menus, too:

    http://stuartblog2.blogspot.com/2005/11/menu-draft.html

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  7. ahh, I have lived through meals at many of these places, both still present and now gone. Eating mostly as a vegetarian for nearly all of this time has been a challenge, especially on this particular list (although I stretch to seafood which made/makes eating out more possible). We are way better off now in terms of dining- I would never want to live in dining-out past!

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