(Cleveland) – When my Chicago friends informed me that they were going to Cleveland for a volleyball tournament, I was not very excited. “What is in Cleveland?” I asked inquisitively. I was more interested in the place, rather than the tournament. Yes, I don’t play the game but I always tag along with my friends as a supporter in disguise. My real agenda was to see what’s around and taste what's being served in local restaurants.
Cleveland is about 6 hours away from Chicago, if you follow all the speed limits in the freeways. On the way there, I was googling using my iPhone to get myself acquainted with the place. I was pretty amazed with the results of my search. Cleveland is the home to celebrity chef Michael Symon and he has a few restaurants in the area. With my expectations slowly building up, I continued searching, reading and listing down top restaurants to visit. There must be some great stuffs out there awaiting this wondering tourist.
We arrived late in the afternoon and quickly checked in our downtown hotel. Thanks to our Indianapolis friend, Ate Miriam, for getting us a discounted hotel rate. We got to be frugal nowadays. We headed out, walked around and tried to get a good first impression of the place. Like most of the downtown areas in US cities, the area was quiet and almost dead when work days are over. It’s hard not to compare this place to Chicago which is alive and kicking all the time. But we’re here already and we’re extremely hungry. The restaurant list that I made on the way here was useless because those places were light-years away from the city.
I can’t be too picky anymore. I just asked my friends if we could go for whatever restaurant with the most decent looking signage. A few more glances around, we found our place. Mallorca is the name. It is a Spanish restaurant with outstanding tapas, generous paella and invigorating sangria. Beyond the food, I think I just met the most entertaining and most accommodating waiter in the whole of America. His name is Alejandro. It was a great dinner. I think Cleveland just introduced itself to us.
The next day, while the tournament has not started yet, my friend and I drove out of downtown to have a quick brunch at Lucky Cafe in the artsy area of Tremonto. Guy Fieri of Food Network featured this place in his show and the hotel concierge guy was raving about this restaurant. I now know why. This restaurant just served me the best mac and cheese ever.
The city has a lot more to offer in terms of food but I don’t have much time. I was planning to have Sunday brunch at the famous Symon restaurant, Lola. When I called to make a reservation, the answering machine informed me that they only serve dinner on Sundays but we were leaving already in the afternoon. What a disappointment! Nonetheless, I took a picture of the place and enjoyed walking around the restaurant alleys of Cleveland.
Overall, I think Cleveland delivered. If to other people, first impression lasts; to me, my unfounded negative first impression of Cleveland shattered after the first dinner. I might be back here soon to explore the food scene some more.
Lesson for this trip: Don’t judge the book by its cover.