Pretty much anyone born after 1950, and the children they raised while playing rock ‘n’ roll music in the car and family room, will likely enjoy letting it roll on down the highway to Cleveland for a musical get-away road trip that also features impressive foodie offerings.
Cleveland? Yes, Cleveland. Only five hours of easy driving from London, it is the home of the very impressive Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, It is also the home of a century old indoor market, of Iron Chef Michael Symon (who has several restaurants in Cleveland and the surrounding area) and a vibrant cultural/university neighbourhood. Cleveland surprised positively in so many ways that it is on the radar to return with our young adult children for more music and food experiences.
The easiest way to get there from London is to cross into Michigan at Sarnia/Port Huron, by-pass Detroit while listening to some Motown music and make your first pit-stop in Toledo, Ohio. True rock and roll fans know what it is to crave munchies and they won’t want to miss getting a hot dog at Tony Paco’s, just off the 1-75. This neighbourhood eatery has been serving up Hungarian style food since 1932, including crunchy sweet and hot pickles, deep fried pickles, chili, cabbage rolls and its famous hot dogs. This is the place made famous by M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr a.k.a. Klinger (a native Toledoan) who mentioned Tony Paco’s hot dogs in several episodes of the 1970’s TV sit-com. Now, Jamie Farr’s autograph is on a cased hot dog bun in the café — along with hundreds of other celebrity autographed buns on the walls. From musicians like Billy Joel to American presidents and Hollywood stars, the café has captured popular history in this unique manner. “It’s fun to work here,” says Shannon Brzezowski. “You never know who will walk in the doors!” If you are really hungry, opt for the MOAD: Mother Of All Dogs which is the equivalent of four dogs, topped with chili. Washed down with Tony Paco’s Anniversary Ale, it is just the ticket for a classic American café experience.
Once in Cleveland, plan to give yourself at least half a day at the Rock Hall. Situated downtown near the shores of Lake Erie, the Rock Hall has six levels that tell the story of rock and roll music from the early influences to hip-hop. There are special displays on Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, the Who, the Supremes, Beyoncé, Chuck Berry, Pink Floyd. Theatres show films on the history of rock and also present multi-media highlight presentations on inductees. Special exhibits into 2015 include a first-person narrative of the personal story of Paul Simon’s life, which is not to be missed.
To put the popularity of the Rock Hall into perspective: 400,000 people visit it annually according to Carl Harp, the Hall’s communications co-ordinator. In 2015 they expect to welcome their 10 millionth guest. Yet, because of the spacious layout, it doesn’t seem crowded.
To fuel your visit to Cleveland, a trip to the historic West Side Market is a must. Operating since 1840, this is the home to everything from delicious warm, soft pita sandwiches at Steve’s Gyros to classic cannoli at Theresa’s. One entire hall sells produce while a second, larger hall, offers meats, cheeses, noodles, baked goods, coffee, perogies, olive oils, popcorn, Scottish pastries and so much more.
Perhaps this market is the inspiration for internationally recognized restaurant owner Chef Michael Symon. The Iron Chef of the Food Network operates Lola downtown and Lolita in funky Tremont. The modern Mediterranean bistro with an open kitchen and wood-burning oven serves spectacular plates including house cured meat trays of salami, chorizo, pickled veggies and quail eggs. Symon prides himself on sourcing local ingredients. Even in early winter he had beets from a garden program in Tremont called Refugee Response. Modern Italian takes on quail were delicious and diners are encouraged to eat with their hands. This sleek and fun spot is not to be missed and worth the drive from downtown.
Culture lovers will flock to Cleveland’s Museum of Art near Case Western Reserve University. The museum has free admission and is located in the University Circle area, where the Cleveland Orchestra makes its home in Severance Hall. Nearby are some interesting restaurants including L’Albatros Brasserie + Bar. This French restaurant, operated by Chef Zack Bruell, offers contemporary takes on cassoulets, fish, chicken and more. The
barley with seasonal vegetables was a nice change of pace and very flavourful.
If it’s not music, food or culture that brings you to Cleveland it very likely will be professional sports entertainment. The city streets are lined with stadiums and arenas, where the uber-loyal fans of the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association, the Browns of the National Football League and the Indians of Major League Baseball come to support their teams.
Yes, Cleveland! What a blast! A very worthwhile rockin’ road trip to beat the blahs!
Jane Antoniak is a culinary road tripper for eatdrink magazine by weekend and the Manager, Communications & Media Relations at King’s University College, London.
Bruce Fyfe is a regular contributing photographer for eatdrink magazine and Librarian at Weldon Library, Western University, London.