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(Report) Lola Bistro - Cleveland


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(Report) Lola Bistro - Cleveland

Hobsons Choice | Nov 23, 2008 03:34 PM

Let me introduce myself. I am an LA Chowhound who had the pleasure of spending a few days in Cleveland for business a few weeks back. I will be putting together a few posts on my meals in Cleveland over the next few days (starting with Lola). I want to thank all of you for your Cleveland dining suggestions. I had some great meals on my trip.

Right now, the chef getting the most attention in Cleveland is Michael Symon. Most people only recently came to know Symon after he won his place on the Food Network's Iron Chef America and took over the helm of Dinner Impossible. But long time food fans know him from his earlier rotation on Food Network's Melting Pot and as a subject of Michael Ruhlman's second book, "Soul of a Chef."

Before all that, however, Clevelanders got to know Symon through his cooking at Lola Bistro, which opened in the city's Tremont neighborhood in 1997. His "meat-centric" cooking was an immediate hit and earned him a "Best New Chef" award from Food & Wine magazine in 1998 (also winning that year - Lee Hefter of Spago Beverly Hills/Cut and Laurent Tourondel of BLT fame).

Over the years, Lola outgrew its space. And in 2005, Symon moved Lola to East 4th Street in downtown Cleveland and opened the more casual Lolita in the former Lola space. During the Summer and early Fall, East 4th is a great little pedestrian mall filled with restaurants and seems a perfect fit for the more upscale version of Lola.

Despite the fact that I was there October, it was a beautiful sunny day in Cleveland and I took advantage of the weather by grabbing a seat on the sidewalk out in front of the restaurant. It was just my luck too, as I heard the host telling another customer that the city was winterizing the street and opening it to automobiles the following week.

When the waitress came looking for my drink order, I went straight for the local special - Great Lakes Brewing Company's Oktoberfest. This amber lager is 6.5% ABV with rich malt flavor balanced by fragrant noble hops. It took the Silver Medal at the 2007 World Beer Championships.

As I looked over the menu, I knew wanted to stick to the house specials. It was my first time dining at Lola in the 10 years it had been open and I didn't know when I would have a chance to get back. Of the appetizers, which included a house cured tuna, Greek chopped salad, oysters and a haloumi and melon salad, I went with the beef cheek pierogie with horseradish creme fraiche and sauteed wild mushrooms ($9).

This to me is classic Michael Symon. He succeeds by taking an all too often overlooked cut of meat - the beef cheek - and braises it into deliciousness. He then stuffs the cheeks into what is a traditional Eastern European dumpling, elevating the pierogi to fine dining with the addition of horseradish creme fraiche and wild mushrooms. The dish was rich and hearty and unctuous and something I wish I was 2300 miles closer to home.

I wasn't sure how filling the pierogis would be so I asked my waitress if I could wait to order my entree until after I had finished my appetizer. She quickly obliged. When it came time to finally make the decision, I was having a hard time choosing between the pork schnitzel with lemon, frisee and roasted potatoes and the hanger steak with chickpea salad and salsa verde. In the end, I chose neither. Instead, my waitress convinced me to go with something a little more original - the house made fried bologna sandwich with pickles, cheddar cheese and fried egg.

Come on. How often do nice restaurants in LA make its own bologna? Never. Shook and Detolo make their own bacon at Animal. Gino Angelini makes his own guanciale at Angelini Osteria. But nobody makes their own bologna (as far as I know). No nice restaurant would even dare having bologna on the menu. But there it is on Lola's lunch menu. And the waitress convinced me that I would be making a mistake if I didn't order it.

She was right. It was great. Of course, there weren't any original flavor combinations or unusual cooking techniques, but the sandwich delivered as advertised. The bologna was salty and porky with just a touch of sweetness from the caramelization. The runny yolk in the perfectly fried egg added a nice creaminess . And the briny pickles cut through the richness. Not bad for $10 when you through in some tasty fries.

I didn't have dessert that day. Partly because I don't think Symon is big on desserts. From what understand, his new cookbook (coming out soon) isn't even going to have a dessert section. Instead, I ordered another beer and enjoyed the last of the sun.

There is a lot of hype surrounding Michael Symon these days. Food Network is trying to turn him into a money making brand. The chef himself even seems a little taken back by the new found fame. I was happy to see that his flagship restaurant is still turning out great food. I look forward to coming back soon.

For photos of my meal, click here:

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