On Monday morning, I found myself bumped from my flight to San Francisco, with about 10 hours to spare in Cleveland. I had only been to Cleveland once before, but only for a day, and since the visit was unexpected, I hadn't done any research on where to eat. I decided to set out and do some exploring, and found that Cleveland is actually a pretty awesome chow-city for a layover!
I bought a train and bus pass for four dollars that was good all day - great deal since I ended up getting on and off the trains several times. It was easy to catch the train toward downtown. As I was riding the red line toward the city, I called up a fellow chowhound in SF and asked her to look up some eating suggestions for me. Just in time, she told me to head to West Side Market, so I got off the train there and headed on in to explore. Overall, I thought the market was great. Nice selection of fruits and vegetables, lots of great looking butchers, bakeries and other specialty food stores. I bought some great beef jerky at one of the stands, and then started talking to a woman at the spice stand about the best places to eat. She recommended two restaurants and I ended up eating at both! By 10:30 AM, I left the market and headed over (suitcase pulled behind me) to Sokolowski's University Inn Restaurant. Meanwhile, my chowhound friend had texted again and told me to go there as well....seemed like all signs pointed to Polish food.
I arrived at Sokolowski's exactly at 11 AM, which is when they open. I wasn't the first one there, and by the time I left at 11:40, about 50 people were there. An older man who seemed to be a regular advised me to try the stuffed cabbage and pierogi, so I did! I haven't eaten much Polish food, but everything on my plate was really really good. The pierogi were my favorite - soft, light and covered in sauteed onions. The stuffed cabbage was huge, the filling a mix of meat and rice - no strong flavors, but it tasted like something my grandma (or someone else's grandma) would make. The tomato sauce wasn't overly sweet. I also had mashed potatoes (very good, although there was one huge chunk of undercooked potato in it, which by the end of the meal was the only thing left on my plate). The potatoes were topped with gravy - this came from another dish and was dark brown and rich. My entire plate of food cost only 8 dollars. A great bargain and really comforting. I didn't have any dessert, but they also looked amazing, especially the pies (chocolate cream, lemon?, etc.). Everything is served cafeteria style, and apparently this is quite the Cleveland institution, though I had never heard of it before Monday.
Next on the agenda was a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - very nice, didn't eat anything there. By 4:30 PM I was back in the West Side Market neighborhood (Ohio City?) and ready to eat Cambodian food at Phnom Penh. I was the only one in the restaurant, and enjoyed two dishes. The first was a shrimp salad - poached shrimp w/ cabbage, onion, bean sprouts in a light dressing (fish sauce, sugar) with crushed peanuts. Simple and good. Next I had Kuy Teav Chha Kreoung Tek Trey Phem - vermicelli with springrolls in a spicy coconut curry. This was also very good. Total bill before tip was 14 dollars for more than enough food.
After Cambodian food, it was time to head back to the airport, where I spent my meal vouchers (unused of course, until this point) on some nuts for the plane and a smoothie. I had a very nice day eating in Cleveland, and from what I could tell, there's plenty more to explore. So given a) ease of public transportation and b) variety of food/cuisine available, Cleveland is a great place for a chowhound to be stranded for the day!
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