Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities: Cleveland and Charlotte

by Xani

Recently I've been on the road again and my latest trip took me to visit my dear friend Hayley in Cleveland, then on to Charlotte, NC for a conference. Plenty of good times and good eats in both places. Beginning with:

Cleveland gets a bad rap. The winters are interminable, the local economy sucks, and every summer the city gets invaded by "Mayflies" or "midges" which may sound like something cute but actually they are disgusting little pests that land all over your body! Gross!!

Um, anyway, Cleveland may have its issues but thanks to Hayley I always have an awesome time when I visit. And we ALWAYS enjoy plenty of tasty treats.

My first night we hit Momocho, a funky little joint that bills itself as "mod mex." We arrived in time for happy hour and enjoyed 1/2 price margaritas, including this trio of flavors: cucumber, blood orange, and... something else that now escapes me. Cucumber was the best!

Then we worked our way through LOTS of guacamole (and more margaritas). Another trio, this sampler included: traditional guacamole, guacamole with pineapple, jicama, habanero, and mint, and guacamole with blue crab, corn , and chipotle. Interesting combinations... not the BEST guacamole I have ever had, but I never met an avocado I didn't like!

Mmmmm.... Guac
Our Guardian Angel
Margaritas getting to us...

Next we moved onto the main courses, which were, sadly, a little forgettable (also, my pictures suck and therefore will not be posted). I did like the remolacha (roasted beets + spinach / spiced peanuts / chihuahua cheese), an interesting vegetarian dish, and the queso fundito (house made chorizo sausage / rajitas / corn tortillas). We also had a special with... boar? elk? It's all lost in a margarita haze at this point. The food was solid, just nothing mind-blowing. Great atmosphere and great margaritas (obvi)!

The next night we had a truly fantastic meal at a place I'd wanted to try for a long time: Lolita. Lolita is the more casual counterpart to Lola, Iron Chef Michael Symon's fine dining establishment in Cleveland. The menu includes lots of delicious meat (especially pork) products that Symon is famous for. But, of course, we began with cocktails:

This was a lime and vodka concoction that went down smooth

Then, the parade of food started. We began with these lovely roasted dates with almonds, chiles, pancetta and parsley.

And pure decadence on a plate: roasted bone marrow with grilled bread, scallions and salsa verde. Heavenly.

The "Big Board" included generous servings of a selection of their house-cured meats and tasty accompaniments including soppresata, proscuitto, cured duck breast, and so on. Look at all this gorgeous MEAT!

We finished up with an excellent wood-fired pizza with housemade pork sausage (more pork!), garlic, olive oil, rapini, chiles and fresh mozzarella, and a side of crispy fried brussels sprouts with anchovies, capers, walnuts and chiles-- delicious!

Excellent pizza-- and the leftovers made killer breakfast

What a meal!! Iron Chef Symon (and the hardworking cooks in the open kitchen) did NOT disappoint. I would definitely go back and try some of the other tantalizing dishes (crispy chicken livers? bucatini carbonara with pork belly?? yes, please!)

When it was time to leave Cleveland (sad-- was having so much fun with Hayley and did NOT want to leave. Can't wait til she visits Baltimore in August!) I headed directly to Charlotte, NC, a place I had never been before. With no rental car it was a little challenging to get out and about to interesting eateries, but one night some coworkers and I hijacked (not really) the Charlotte Fire Department shuttle and hitched a ride over to Mac's Speedshop (tag line: Beers. Bikes. BBQ.). What a scene-- apparently we were there on "Euro night" which meant every bike in the lot was a BMW or Ducati. It was crowded with people so we enjoyed a few frosty beverages while waiting. Once we were seated, we ordered a variety of BBQ-- some folks got a platter of pulled pork or brisket, but others (including myself) got the "Little bit of everything" so I could see what all this BBQ was about. A few moments later, my "little bit" arrived. The platter, which was $15 and came with two sides was one of the most ENORMOUS servings of food I have ever seen. It was obscene. One whole giant platter covered with ribs, brisket, pulled pork and quarter of a chicken, and the sides on another giant plate. I'm embarrassed to say I barely made a dent in the food (but would be more embarrassed to report I had eaten it all!). My pictures don't do it justice:

pics are waaaay dark, but if you can make our two plates, I can promised you they were both LOADED with food
meat mayhem

It was a meat masterpiece! But waaay too much food and as tasty as it was, I had to leave most of it there (no fridge in the hotel room, although I'm sure it would have made great leftovers). The only person at our table who was able to finish his whole plate was Mike. Mike, if you are reading this, my hats off to you. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

What a trip. It was heavy on meat, and extra-heavy on fun! Where will work/play take me next?? Stay tuned to find out!



  1. It was a GREAT trip to Cleveland...and I am happy to report that the mayflies are gone! See you soon in Baltimore!!!

  2. I just made my computer short out from all the drooling I was doing over Lolita!! Almost as good as the book, eh?? ;) Glad you had fun - can't wait to see what kind of trouble you and Hayley get into in August!

  3. I would have housed that BBQ plate. I don't think that comes as a great surprise.

  4. The last time we were in Cleveland we went to Lola for lunch and it was awesome. But I wasn't eating as much meat them as I am now so I bet I would have a better time if I went back....

  5. So what was your take on the BBQ other than the quantity?

  6. I have read it, I appreciate the shout out, and I should note that I felt awful for the duration of the trip (but oh so worth it). Next time in Cleveland you should check out Dollar Dog night at the Jake. Now that is good eatin.

  7. Next time you head to Cleveland, go to Melt in Lakewood. You will not be disappointed.

  8. By using CarRental8 you can get affordable car rentals from over 50000 international locations.


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