Eat this! Clevelanders dish on their top local eats

East, west, north and south: The culinary choices bestowed upon Cleveland foodies are dizzying, to say the least. But everybody has his or her favorite -- that one dish that inflates them with joy while feeding the heart, body and soul. Fresh Water contributor Erin O'Brien caught up with a crop of Cleveland movers and shakers and asked each of them to dish up the skinny on their top local nosh in their own home-cooked words.

Surf plus turf equals "deeply satisfying"
Who: Michael Ruhlman
Nationally acclaimed food writer and chef
What: Foie gras steamed clams
Where: The Greenhouse Tavern
The deliciousness of this dish is immediate and deeply satisfying. All the flavors are just beautiful. You've got the briny, salty clam juice and the fresh clean taste of the sea combined with the richness of the earth in the buttery foie gras. There's the chewiness of the clam. Then you've got that crusty bread that you can dip in the sauce. It just all comes together in your mouth like heaven.
Sip: I like this dish with a nice Côtes du Rhône.
A beautiful stack of Mexican goodness
Who: Michelle Venorsky, aka Cleveland Foodie
What: Smoked trout and crab chilaquiles
Where: Momocho
This is one beautifully stacked plate of modern Mexican goodness. The layers of smoked trout and crab are loaded with black beans and tons of cotija cheese. Then it has this fried egg on top. When you break that yolk and it comes streaming down, it is incorporated into every bite. There are little mini tortillas and tomatilla verde, so it's almost like a Mexican lasagna. It is just so, so unbelievably good.
Whenever I eat it, it always tastes as good as the first time I had it three years ago. The best part is I can only get through half. I can't wait to dig into my breakfast -- the leftovers -- the next morning.
It's kind of like a meat French fry
Who: Michael Heaton, aka Plain Dealer's Minister of Culture
What: Crispy veal sweetbreads
Where: Lola
They call it sweetbreads, but it couldn't be any further from bread or a sweet. It's a thymus gland -- I believe from a cow. It's bizarre, but it tastes wonderful. It's kind of like a meat French fry. It's salty and savory and YEAH-MO. It's so unique and weird, really hard to describe. What do you compare a thymus gland to? I've never had a pineal gland. Talk about using every part of the cow but the moo...
I don't even know what a thymus gland does. It doesn't matter. I don’t care what it does. It tastes damn good. I'm in the club now.
I mean, come on. What's not to love?
Who: Denise Dufala, 19 Action News Anchor
What: Shish tawook
Where: Joe's Deli
The shish tawook at Joe's Deli is just out of this world. Their chicken tenderloins are the best. And the garlic mayonnaise? I mean, come on. What's not to love? The food is so good there you can't even get in the place. There's not a bad meal there. Everything there is great.
It's got a kick to it
Who: Connie Schutlz
Freelance writer for Creators Syndicate and Parade Magazine
What: Halloumi kebabs
Where: Nighttown
There's really not a lot of stuff in this dish -- onions, peppers, mushrooms. You feel so noble because you're eating all these vegetables. However, you're also eating these big chunks of cheese. It's not a hard cheese and it's not a creamy cheese. Because it's charred, it's harder on the outside. It's got a really good bite to it. It's got a kick to it. It's got a lot of flavor--a real pungent flavor to it. It is just so good.
But frankly, you can't talk about Nighttown without talking about why you love being there. It's such a throwback -- in all the good ways. I've gotten this dish so many times while sitting across from someone I love. If I'm at Nighttown I'm having fun. It feels like home to me.

A smorgasbord on one single plate
Who: Chris Ronayne
President, University Circle Inc.
What: Roasted cod
Where:  L'Albatros
I had this one cod dish on my honeymoon in Portugal that I never thought I'd approximate again. I come home, a few years go by, and Zack Bruell turns up with this roasted cod. You don't necessarily think of cod as the thing that keeps you coming back, but this just melts in your mouth. There's a cream sauce and a garlic spaetzle that tastes like a dumpling or something. Somehow he weaves in sauerkraut, which you wouldn't traditionally marry up with cod, but it's fantastic.
It’s a smorgasbord on one single plate. I keep coming back. I'm addicted.
It's healthy and gooey and perfect
Who: Cindy Barber
Owner, Beachland Ballroom
What: Hummus
Where: Nate's Deli (1923 W 25th St., 216-696-7529)
It is like the smoothest most perfect food on the planet, full of garlic and lemon. I believe it's been made with loving care. They give you pita -- often a little warm -- and you just scoop it up. You really don't need anything extra with it because it's just delightful in and of itself. But if you're eating it in-house, you get those wonderful pickled turnips that they serve on the side. I just scoop the hummus up and top it off with the turnip.
It's healthy and gooey and perfect, especially in the summer.

It's the best thing I ever ate
Who: Dan Moulthrop
Curator of Conversation, Civic Commons
What: Hot Stone Bibimbap
Where: Ha Anh (3030 Superior Ave., 216-664-1152)
On a cold Cleveland day, this is possibly some of the best comfort food you can find, particularly if you're looking for comfort food that's not too bad for you. It comes in this sizzling hot stone bowl, so it's not just a visual and olfactory experience. It's auditory as well.
It's filled with a variety of vegetables and a small amount of chopped beef. Then there's a fried egg on top of it all.
You squeeze some sweet/hot sauce on there, let it sizzle up and break that fried egg. Yolk goes everywhere. The rice gets all crispy and caramelized. It's just incredible.
It's the best thing I ever ate.

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Images 1 - 3: Plain Dealer's Minister of Culture, Michael Heaton
- Image 4: Lola's 
Crispy veal sweetbreads
- Images 5 - 7: Denise Dufala, 19 Action News Anchor
- Image 8: Shish tawook at Joe's Deli
- Images 9-11: Michelle Venorsky, Cleveland Foodie
- Image 12: Smoked trout and crab chilaquiles at Momocho

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 for complete profile information.
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