unofficial tour guide devises her dream weekend in cleveland

I've lived in Cleveland for almost 20 years (with the exception of time spent in Los Angeles in the late 90s when I lost my mind). During the bulk of my two decades on the North Coast, I've worked downtown, exploring during my free time every little nook and cranny of this great town.

I am a passionate mom, wife, actor, writer and humble home cook. I'm also a huge locavore and food nerd (I don't much care for the term foodie), and I regularly immerse myself in the wonderful gravy that is the local food scene. Thanks to all of the above, I am forever tasked with suggesting to friends things to do, places to go, and restaurants to enjoy.

In preparation for a visit from my Florida-based girlfriend Jen, I have been busy sketching out an itinerary for our weekend together. What follows is my dream weekend in Cleveland.

Friday Afternoon

Thanks to an early arrival on Friday, we've got just enough time to make lunch at Chinato, Zack Bruell's Italian place on East 4th Street. We'll sidle up to the bar to reconnect over glasses of wine and plates of pasta. Chinato serves the best carbonara in Cleveland (with house-made guanciale), while the fusilli topped with slow roasted pork shoulder is utterly sumptuous.

After lunch, we'll cross the street to Erie Island Coffee for a much-needed pick-me-up then head into Dredgers Union next door to browse the unique goods and clothing. I especially love the store's emphasis on made-in-the-USA products and great customer service.

Often overlooked by locals, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is always a must-stop on my local tours. I can't descend the escalator from the main floor without recalling Little Richard seated at a piano, banging away on the keys while singing as he did on opening day. I'll giddily point out to Jen some things most people overlook, such as Charles Manson's letter to Rolling Stone following his cover appearance, hate mail the Rolling Stones received in the band's infancy, Donovan's hand-written lyrics to "Sunshine Superman," and Jim Morrison's childhood report cards.

Friday Evening

After taking a break to catch our breaths and clean up, we will head back to Fourth Street for some pre-theater cocktails and snacks at Lola's gorgeous alabaster bar. Michael Symon's amazing beef cheek pierogies and house-made charcuterie never get old. Then it's off to Flanagan's Wake in PlayhouseSquare, a fun romp showcasing many talented local theater pros.

After the show, we'll join up with friends for a late-night feast at Greenhouse Tavern, where I know things will still be rocking. A quick visit to the downstairs kitchen is a must, as the crew's complex dance is mesmerizing and wildly impressive to witness. I'll order chef Sawyer's whole roasted pig's head with sandwich fixin's, a dish I know will knock everybody's socks off.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon

Ever since a feature on the Food Network spread the word about the terrific offerings at Lucky's in Tremont, it's crucial to get there early to avoid a wait. Heather Haviland's cheddar scallion biscuits topped with scrambled eggs and sausage gravy are "TDF" -- to die for. After breakfast, we'll grab a great cup of coffee from Civilization and wander the streets, taking in sights of the gorgeous churches and funky architecture.

From Tremont, it's a short hop to Ohio City and the West Side Market, with its storied Old World ambiance. We'll make stops at the Juice Garden for a healthy pick-me-up, maybe Frank's bratwurst or Maha's falafel if we still have any room. I will take Jen to the second-floor, where the entire market comes into glorious view.

After schlepping our loot to the car, we'll swing by the fun and funky Glass Bubble Project for unique, beautiful, and one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass gifts.

Little known but wildly informative, the free backstage tours of PlayhouseSquare are an absolute must for stage fans. Departing from the State Theatre lobby, these 90-minute tours are led by volunteer docents ("redcoats") who share the history of the beautiful theatres while offering behind-the-scenes peeks at what goes into making a show.

Saturday Evening

Few neighborhoods have changed as much and as fast as Gordon Square. Depending on our moods, we'll hit the lively XYZ the Tavern or the old-school Happy Dog. XYZ boasts one of the largest whiskey menus in town (not to mention a great jukebox), while the Dog specializes in inventively topped hot dogs and tater tots. Both are uniquely Cleveland and feature friendly bartenders and eclectic crowds.

We'll grab a cup of coffee at Gypsy Beans before heading to Cleveland Public Theatre for their annual Big Box festival, which debuts new plays highlighting local actors, writers and directors. If we have an ounce of energy left post-curtain, we'll stroll down to Stone Mad for a drink, snack and game of indoor bocce.

Sunday Morning

We don't have too much time before Jen boards her flight back to the land of the snowbirds, but that doesn't mean we're sitting still. We will make the short trip to the East Side for a morning spent exploring Coventry Village, kicked off with an amazing breakfast of omelets and pancakes at the Inn on Coventry.

We'll also hit Big Fun for some big fun, Passport to Peru for cool threads, and Mac's Backs for some airplane reading material. And because there's no such thing as too much of a good thing, we'll stop into Tommy's for a round of the world's best milkshakes to go.

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Image 1: Nina at Big Fun
- Images 2 & 3: Chinato
- Images 4 & 5: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Image 6: PlayhouseSquare theaters
- Images 7 & 8: Greenhouse Tavern
- Image 9: Lucky's breakfast
- Image 10: Civilization in Tremont
- Image 11: Glass Bubble Project
- Image 12 Nina at Happy Dog
- Image 13: Gypsy Beans
- Image 14: Cleveland Public Theater
- Images 15 & 16: Nina at the Inn on Coventry
- Images 17 & 18: Nina at Big Fun