Long before Drew Carey made this near west side landmark famous in the opening of The Drew Carey Show, diners of all walks of life have been chowing down chili dogs 24 hours a day at Steve's Lunch. Suits, hipsters, cops, neighbors and the occasional prostitute call this joint home whether it is 2 p.m. or 2 a.m.
Opened in 1953 by Greek immigrant Steve Spanakis, Steve's Lunch appealed to all thanks to its affordable dining options, served up in classic diner fashion. Fast forward 60 years and not much has changed within these four walls. The neon sign reading "Steve's Hot Dog Lunch" acts as a beacon, while the interior seems a snapshot in time of the long and early struggles of this hardened neighborhood. Two vintage countertop jukeboxes entertain diners at the tightly packed eight-seat counter. A hand-written sign announces to guests that no, "We cannot charge your phone."
The appeal of Steve's Lunch is in fact universal. Celebrity visitors like Bill Cosby, George Clooney, and a who's who of Cleveland professional athletes all belly up to the counter for addictive and cheap hot dogs, which are cooked old-school on a griddle in the front window.
Three items have made Steve's famous: the Works Dog is an all-beef weenie topped with onions, yellow mustard and house-made chili — a 60-year-old family recipe; the Slaw Dog is a Works Dog capped off with cool and crunchy house-made coleslaw; the chili cheese fries are piping-hot fries crowned with shredded cheddar cheese and that famous chili, which melts the cheese into the fries. Also available at Steve's are breakfast items served all day, polish boys, burgers and a dozen other comfort foods. Prices, too, seem stuck in a time warp, with complete meals going for less than $5.
Serving up those classic platters is Angela Spanakis, Steve's daughter-in-law, who has worked behind the counter for 34 years. At the age of 22, she immigrated to the United States from Crete, an island of Greece, and wed Steve's son in an arranged marriage. She literally learned English behind the counter.
"I am in the opening of The Drew Carey Show," Spanakis happily reports.
When Steve's Lunch sold 10 years ago to partners Ed Salsburg and Don Straw, they hardly changed a thing, including the chili and Angela.
"She is such an incredible story," explains Salsburg. "Customers love her just as much as they love our chili."
Happy 60th birthday to a true Cleveland legend.
5004 Lorain Ave.