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trending: how the paleo crowd is grazing the north coast













Mention the phrase "Paleolithic diet" and many will conjure the image of Fred Flintstone gnawing on a giant dinosaur leg. Nothing could be further from the truth, say adherents. In reality, you'll find the paleo set noshing on bacon-wrapped Medjool dates at Flying Fig or chile deviled eggs at Crop Bistro. The movement is thoughtful, green, increasingly healthy and spreading like wildfire across Northeast Ohio.
 
Many within the paleo movement dislike the caveman association and even the name "Paleolithic diet," which is loosely based on what humans ate some 15,000 years ago, with as many modifications and exceptions as there are followers. The standard paleo diet eschews all grain products, refined salt and sugar, beans, dairy and potatoes.
 
So, what do they eat?
 
"We eat real food that's naturally grown and humanely raised, pasture-fed animal products," says paleo convert Blayne Murray. "We don't eat artificial, factory produced junk." The Cleveland Heights resident also keeps backyard chickens and grows organic produce, which she sells at the Coit Road Farmers Market.
 
Nearly two years ago, Murray got into the scene on a fluke, thinking she'd try eating paleo for 30 days as a way to cleanse her body. "I had no intention of sticking with it," she says. "After a month, things were going so well and I was feeling so good that I just stuck with it." That was two years and 40 pounds ago. She's also said goodbye to rosacea, joint pain and migraines. "I never looked back."
 
Renata Jenkins' story is a bit more dramatic." It started two and a half years ago," she says. "My husband dropped dead from a heart attack. He was 47. We were both extremely overweight. After that, I said I'm not going to live like this anymore. I found paleo and dropped 155 pounds. It changed my entire life."
 
Both women wanted to share the paleo magic with friends and neighbors. Murray founded the Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Paleo Community. "It started with a couple of people. Then it just picked up." The highly active group now boasts nearly 120 members.
 
Jenkins also wanted to spread the word. And what better way to promote a better way of eating than, well, meeting and eating? She started the Cleveland Area Paleo Lifestyle meetup group last October. Eight people attended the first event, a coffee date at Starbucks. Then 16 members enjoyed a paleo-friendly feast at Fahrenheit in January, and more than 20 trekked to The Peppermill in Brecksville earlier this month for bacon-wrapped chicken and eggplant caponata and lively discussions about all things paleo. The group now boasts 56 members. "We're always looking for a new venue," says Jenkins.
 
So, Where Does One go to Eat Paleo?
 
"I love Dante," says Brian Doyle, chef at the Beachland Ballroom and owner of SowFood catering. He also suggests Spice, Crop Bistro, Fahrenheit, Flying Fig and Toast for their locally sourced, paleo-friendly menus and chefs who are willing to work with different dietary needs.
 
"Call ahead and say, 'Hey, I eat paleo, can you work with me?'" says Doyle. "Give them a little reminder of what that means to you because it probably means something different for everyone."
 
For casual fare, Aladdin's Eatery is a popular choice. Even chains can cater to the paleo set. Curtis Ewing, who's lost 111 pounds in two years eating paleo, likes a Chipotle bowl, "without beans and rice, of course." Health and wellness coach Phillip Williams, who also cofounded HooftyMatch, which connects consumers to locally sourced food, will enjoy a quick lunch from Panera. "One of my favorites is the Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey Salad." He also recommends Jammy Buggers for a great grass-fed beef burger. Nearly everyone interviewed for this article enthusiastically suggested El Carnicero.
 
For those interested in letting someone else do the cooking while still eating at home, there's Paleo to Me. "We cook and deliver clean paleo meals each week to 15 CrossFit gyms from Akron to Cleveland," says owner Kait Tisler. "You don't have to be a member of the gym to pick up your meals there."
 
Doyle also runs a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that caters to an array of customers, including paleo eaters. "This week we had meat sauce and pasta," says Doyle. "For the paleo folks, I just swapped out the pasta for spaghetti squash."
 
On the Home Front
 
While the paleos love to dine out, many are consummate DIY foodies. They muse over the finest olive oils and cookware and where to buy the best ingredients. Without fail, a paleo's first shopping suggestion is the local farmers market.
 
Coit Road (where Blayne Murray "loves the spirit") and North Union Farmers Market are oft-noted favorites. With the latter and the Countryside Farmers Market both open in the colder seasons, farmers market shopping is now a year-round event in Cleveland. In the fairer months, of course, options abound.
 
"Throughout the summer," notes Doyle, "there's a market open every day somewhere."
 
For mainstream shopping, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Earth Fair carry nice selections of organic produce and natural foods. Locally owned businesses ideal for paleos include Heinen's, Mustard Seed Market, Nature's Bin and Krieger's Market. For top-notch cured meats and sausages, the paleos love Fresh and Saucisson, which is the brainchild of Melissa Khoury, former executive chef for Washington Place Bistro. Currently, she sells her much sought-after terrines, smoked tasso ham and chorizo (among other offerings) at farmers markets, but she hopes to land a storefront location in the future.
 
When it comes to meat, the paleo crowd is very serious indeed. Message boards are dotted with posts about purchasing a whole, half or quarter animal. They talk about who raises the meat, who processes it and hang times (dry aging after slaughter). Newbies quickly learn that there are droves of Ohio farmers who raise grass-fed beef, free-range chickens and highfalutin hogs.
 
Most of the paleos agree that grass-fed beef tastes better than grain-fed. Those who pay careful attention to their beef will tell you that proper animal husbandry and care is evident in an animal's demeanor. Farm visits go with the territory.
 
Phillip Washington recalls a visit to Manna Farms, where he perused the paddocks with owner Dominic Marchese. "These animals are the most relaxed animals you've ever seen in your life," he noted. "You would have thought they were his pets." And for a bull, that's saying something.
 
The Best Laid Plan
 
Everyone agrees that the first month is the toughest -- but well worth the pay off.
 
"A lot of things in life are about winning the day," says paleo enthusiast Jack Zugay. "Food is an interesting thing. You have to win the meal battle. You win that, you try to win the next one." But where does a beginner start? What's okay to eat and what's off limits? How much?
 
Chef Doyle suggests starting with a structured plan, such as the Whole30 program or the 21-Day Sugar Detox. "Basically, they map out your entire month or 21 days" with recipes, tips and guidelines. "The number one resource for beginners," adds Doyle, is "Your Personal Paleo Code" by Chris Kresser. "He's a big proponent of figuring out your own version of the diet that works for you. No one diet works for all people." He also recommends Sean Croxton's Underground Wellness podcast for ongoing support and inspiration.
 
The most astonishing thing about the paleo crowd is how comfortable they are with the lifestyle. They don't think about trying to find a paleo substitute for pizza; they just don't eat it. And if they fall off the wagon and indulge in a slice of double cheese? So be it. (Although frankly, that doesn't seem to happen often.)
 
"It is awfully silly to keep eating stuff that made me feel crappy," says Blayne Murray.
 
"Every time I eat [pizza], it makes me feel like garbage," adds Doyle, who doesn't waste energy focusing on the negative.
 
"I've found so many good things to eat, I never think in terms of what I can't have. I always think in terms of: look at all this stuff I can have. That's the key to any lifestyle change."
 

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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