From time to time, this column will visit Cleveland culinary landmarks — places that have stood the test of time and still offer unforgettable meals, unbeatable prices, and unique dining experiences.
A landmark is a place that stands the test of perseverance. Eight years ago, Grumpy's Café was tested when it experienced a horrible fire that ravaged the casual hot spot. The tragedy happened at a time when Tremont was iexperiencing a renaissance in both commercial and residential development.
Staring at the rubble that was her restaurant, Grumpy's owner Kathy Owad had a decision to make. With support from residents, family, and customers, Owad found a gem of a spot on West 14th St., and two years later Grumpy's Café rose from the ashes.
Established in 1976, Grumpy's was a landmark long before the fire. As it happened, founder Scott Lindel (aka "Grumpy") sold the restaurant to longstime employee Owad just six months before the fire. In the new incarnation, Owad designed a very comfortable space reminiscent of a B&B on the coast of Maine. She also embraced the Tremont art scene, hanging works by local artists on her walls.
The laid-back vibe and attention to detail extends to the style of service. Grumpy's waitstaff are more like family than servers. The servers are also walking billboards, as they carry a dry erase board to each table listing the numerous in-house "made from scratch" daily specials.
Oswad's daughter Dani oversees day-to-day operations as Grumpy's general manager. The mother-and-daughter duo also lead a colorful platoon in their kitchen. Grumpy's open kitchen window allows the cooking staff to become part of the show, and to see diners' reactions to their handiwork.
And their handiwork is impressive. Whether it's lunch or brunch, people line up for the Jambalaya omelet, whose flavors kick you right to Bourbon St. The pumpkin pancakes are a crowd-pleaser and a tasty vegetarian option. Grumpy's nachos are seriously kicked up. The chorizo and Texas caviar (spicy 5-bean salad) fire up the dish. And lunch and dinner guests rave about Grumpy's meatloaf, which sells out almost daily.
Be prepared to wait at peak times. Consider it just one more indication that Grumpy's Café is a certified Cleveland landmark.
2621 West 14th St., 216-241-5025, grumpys-cafe.com
George's Kitchen has long been the landmark diner of Cleveland's west side. Its founder is considered the Godfather of the greasy spoon. Everything about this place screams vintage, from the 1980s décor to a menu that offers practically anything you want. The waitresses are proficient, with the playful attitude of "Alice." The Godfather himself watches everything from a table close to the register.
In an age when most people can't remember their cell phone numbers, the cooks fill orders without checks or computers. These greasy-spoon ninjas slice and dice hundreds of menu items daily, with the servers yelling out their orders. That would be a challenge under any conditions, let alone this fast-paced, hot environment. But these cooks are pros. Every time I have been to George's Kitchen, it has never taken longer than eight minutes to receive my meal.
Ask the regulars what their favorites are, and you'll get a lot of different answers. For me, it's the homemade corned beef hash omelet, 1/2 slab of BBQ ribs dinner, broiled Boston scrod dinner, fresh breaded ocean perch dinner, and the homemade lasagna. If that doesn't bring you running in the door, the prices will. Believe it or not, almost all the dinners are priced under $6! In most cases, that includes both soup and salad, and potato and bread. Breakfast will set you back just above $5 for the omelets, which include hash browns and toast.
In an era when everyone is looking to be the coolest cat in town, George's Kitchen is all about slow and sure. This theory has created many family memories throughout the years and is poised to create many more. My only gripe is that George's isn't open 24 hours.
13101 Triskett Rd., 216-671-0430