Eating Ohio – Cleveland, specifically
I grew up on the Canadian side of Lake Erie so it’s strange to look north across its greatness.
Yet there I was, on Easter, surrounded by 1,000s of other Canadians, in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Blue Jays’ opening series against the Indians.
My wife, two good friends, their eight-month old baby and me - took in the Saturday game – a 12-inning Jays win against Cleveland’s cursed team.
My hometown, St. Thomas, more familiarly known to folks from Toronto as the destination of our metropolis’ trash, is 150 clicks northeast of Cleveland, about 90 or so miles as the crow flies.
I watched Double Dare, contests I wasn’t eligible for, and the American Dream unfold on its Fox station. I swam in the same lake as its citizens, ate the very perch it deep-fried and like many of its teenagers, got drunk had bonfires, and lost a friend or two at its shores.
Until three weeks ago, however, none of our party of five had ever been to the world’s rock ‘n’ roll capital. We had been affected by its broadcast culture, but had no connection with its citizens.
While I ostensibly drove 10 hours roundtrip to watch America’s past-time, the idea of greasy, over-sized, well-priced grub also served as a compelling reason for the trip.
I might have taken this latter idea with an inappropriate amount of tenacity, bringing with me, a 12 page folder of restaurant listings and maps culled from the infallible inter-web - reviewed and amended, I must add, by a local chef.
We were prepared, we were receptive and we gorged. Yet, for the most part, our respective palettes left Canada’s pants underwhelmed.
We also decided that we don’t know where the myth of Canadian politeness comes from because compared to Americans, we’re jerks.
Americans are far more welcoming than us Canadians
While we might more suavely dot the I’s and cross the T’s of polite company, sincere interactions are more common in the States.
Americans are so much more trusting, gregarious and open in their relationships than Canadians that it’s easy to see how much more guarded, distant and formal us Canucks really are.
By and large.
The notable exception to our food disappointment was a trip to a place called Melt Bar & Grilled. I had the Parmageddon – two “potato & cheese pierogi, fresh napa vodka kraut, grilled onions” and cheddar for $10.50.
Sandra had the Westside Monte Cristo – “honey ham, smoked turkey, Swiss, American, crispy beer battered and deep fried” with mixed berry preserves for $11.
For Sandra`s meal, they actually forget to say that it was also topped with icing sugar and like my Polish-themed sandwich came with an unnecessarily hearty side of fries.
We could only finish half of our sandwiches, but they were both suitably ridiculous and only outmatched by the incredible beer selection (and service).
Each sandwich was greasy and good and appropriately American. In the morning, after a night stored in our rental car’s trunk, Sandra’s deep fried sensation was like an oily sponge. We attacked it in the parking lot, unapologetically and with abandon, it was gluttonous and good.
The beer I had with my grilled cheese was brewed specifically for the first day of the Indians’ season. As a Blue Jays fan, even unadorned, I took special glee in drinking the Great Lakes Rally Drum Red because, as it turned out, it was the best of at 12 different beers I sampled while on vacation, and because the BJs won the game that night in 16 innings and I was surrounded by morose Cleveland Indians’ fans.
I`ll leave you with these two specific pieces of advice.
If you can get it for the same 109 bones I did, the Hyatt, which is basically an indoor street and an architectural triumph, is a bloody steal. Our room had 16 foot ceilings and overlooked the Cleveland Public Library. The hotel itself needs a renovation within the next few years, but it was truly a grandiose place.
As for Jays` tickets – don`t skimp. The Jake is a fantastic venue for baseball and is very affordable. We started the game about 20 rows behind home plate and finished two behind the Jays` dugout.