It’s been a hectic summer around here, with wet basements and car problems and doting grandparents visiting their grandson. When a free weekend presented itself we decided to get out of town and head to Cleveland.
But you’ve heard stories. Cleveland is, like, not a great place right? It’s the ‘mistake on the lake’ or some such. And the Browns gonna Browns. Well, I am here to report to you that Cleveland is indeed an excellent place to visit. The city has the museums, architecture, and other cultural amenities befitting what at one time was the fifth largest city in the United States. Also, they filmed several of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe here, so there’s that. We spent an entire afternoon just exploring the historic neighborhood known as Ohio City.
At one point its own town, Ohio City was annexed by Cleveland in the 19th century and has seen its share of rises and falls to match the region. Today, W. 25th Street bustles with an array of enticing restaurants, much of the best beer in the state (and there’s a lot of good beer around here) flows from name brand breweries, and the West Side Market seems to have hardly skipped a beat over the years as people flock to buy meat and produce.
Yes, the Cleveland West Side Market seems a good place to start. Cleveland’s oldest public market has a history dating back to 1840, though the current building opened in 1912. The stalls maintain the European flavor of the families that began the market–the Polish, the Hungarians, the Germans, and so forth. Indeed, some stalls have been passed down through families since the opening of the building itself. The old world charm seeps through the atmosphere by way of vendors haggling with shoppers, by the endless meats and cheeses behind glass, and by the somewhat Byzantine ceiling watching from above. Unlike my beloved North Market in Columbus, the West Side Market is not so much a food hall as it is an actual market where the neighborhood comes to buy actual produce. You can certainly make a meal out of what you find, but you’re more likely going to cobble something together from several stalls rather than buy one meal at one place. This is just fine with me. We enjoyed meandering past the vendors to see what was on offer and ended up patronizing five or six different places. We bought a smorgasbord: a roast beef pasty, a spinach and feta hand pie, German potato salad, lemon and cilantro hummus, pita bread, a pumpkin kibbeh, blueberries, raspberries, and an array of nutty desserts. We bought so much, in fact, that we had plenty to last us for dinner as well. And we really didn’t spend that much money, considering everything we bought. If you’re a nibbler, or noncommittal about lunch choices, the West Side Market is built for you. Outside between the main building and the arcade (where much of the fruit and vegetables are sold), we bullied an older couple into sharing their bench and devoured our culinary trip around the world.
One knock on the market: hardly anyone sells beverages. They’re around, but we kind of sat down without a drink and by the end of our lunch we were ready for something to wash it all down. Lucky for us, Great Lakes Brewing Company is right across the street. A full-service restaurant in its own right, the brewery is one of the most popular in Ohio. A Dortmunder Gold never led anyone astray and can be found in many a bar through the state. We sipped our choices al fresco while a live band played music down the street.
Down the street, a former coworker of mine runs Tabletop Board Game Cafe. When we lived in South Korea teaching English, my wife and I fell in love with a board game cafe in our city of Daegu and wished that more would open in the United States. It was our pleasure to discover that the trend was gaining popularity in the States as well. Tabletop opened around that time. Walking in, we were delighted that some of our favorites were on the shelves along with hundreds we’d never even heard of. The staff is available to help you learn a new game, but we went with a few that we love but haven’t played in a long time. Also, even though we’d already had plenty to eat and drink, we couldn’t say no to some smoothies.
The Boy finished his milk and cookies and became grumpy watching his parents have fun without him, so we called it a day in Ohio City and headed back to our hotel closer to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Like Columbus’ Short North or Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, Ohio City is probably considered the ‘premiere’ neighborhood of the city if you ask tour guides. Unlike those two neighborhoods, however, I never got the sense that Ohio City was putting up a front, that maybe I wasn’t cool enough to walk around its sidewalks because of all the trendy, fashionable shops full of trendy, fashionable people. Instead, everything fell into a working class, come-as-you-are vibe. I really dug it.
There is plenty else to recommend Cleveland besides Ohio City. There’s a world class (and free) art museum. Downtown has some great architecture. They’ll have to wait for another weekend trip and another post. There are also great spots for some fall color hiking.
Bonus picture of The Boy at Edgewater Park’s Cleveland sign, a few miles from Ohio City.