The Future of Cleveland’s Dining and Brewery Scene According to the People Who Would Know

What's next?

Tricia McCune
Tricia McCune Photo by Emanuel Wallace

What’s next? It’s a question on the top of everybody’s mind – as it applies to neighborhood development, dining, beer and cocktail trend, even food trucks and catering. We checked in with stakeholders in all those fields to ask them, with all the growth and development their areas have seen in recent years, “What’s around the corner?”

Cindy Barber

Beachland Ballroom

As co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom, the 15-year old music venue and anchor of the Waterloo district, Cindy Barber has seen firsthand the transformation within the North Collinwood neighborhood.

The recent addition of the nearby Millard Filmore Presidential Library and Packy Malley's takeover of the former Waterloo Brew space already are adding to the nightlife, Barber notes.

New dining options, including a farm-to-table bistro from Luxe owner Melissa Cole and a Mexican concept in the former Key Bank Building will help make Waterloo even more of a destination. And of course, Barber has eagerly followed the progress of Citizen Pie, the wood-fired pizza kitchen directly across the street from the Beachland.

"They've been bringing pizzas over to sample as they experiment and get closer to opening," she says.

Small batch coffee roastery Six Shooter is another eagerly anticipated development in Barber's world. Throughout the build out phase of the storefront, owner Peter Brown has been invited to serve and sell his brews during the Beachland's freshly debuted lunchtime service. Naturally, Barber says, it's become a communal location for a growing group of restaurateurs and artisans pushing the neighborhood forward.

"We're seeing those people coming in and gathering and talking to each other," says Barber. "And that's really kind of exciting."

Roberto Rodriguez

Orale! Contemporary Mexican Kitchen

The bustling West 25th strip of Ohio City is very different today than it was in 1999, when Roberto Rodriguez opened his contemporary Mexican restaurant Orale! The lightning fast evolution of his neighborhood is not unlike the one we're currently watching take place in the Flats, which while great for the city, illustrate the cyclical nature of the business, he says.

"We don't have as many people as we used to on 25th," he says. "The restaurants in the Flats are really bringing people, which is good. They're great, awesome chefs. Here, things are slowing down a little bit."

Over his decade and a half in the heart of it all, Rodriguez has witnessed the ebb and flow of Cleveland's dining scene from neighborhood to neighborhood, from the Warehouse District to E. 4th to Tremont to W. 25th. Now, the Flats are back again and, in his opinion, that's a good thing.

"I think they're going to do very well," he says. "It's great food and if you have a good product people are going to follow you no matter what. Eight or nine years ago there wasn't much on W. 25th. That's the nature of the business."

Michael Ruhlman


"There's nothing but goodness and light in the culinary scene in Cleveland," gushes best-selling author Michael Ruhlman, who just hours earlier happened to enjoy a fried chicken sandwich washed down with an IPA at Market Garden Brewery.

"This is stuff you didn't used to see at a brewpub," he says of his lunch. "They can't get by selling these basic cheeseburgers that you used to expect at such a place. You have to have really good food or people won't go there."

That change, he says, was led by chefs in the mid-90s. 20 years later, Ruhlman explains, "We don't have the concentration of restaurants that, say, New York City does, but the caliber of the restaurants is every bit as good as your basic two or three star level."

The aftermath that momentum set in motion is a wave of mid-level restaurants becoming more creative to keep up pace.

"They've definitely upped their game not only because they've had to but because they've wanted to," remarks Ruhlman. "Just walk down W. 25th, it's fabulous."

Will Hollingsworth

The Spotted Owl

"For the first time since we've been open, people are becoming less loyal to a particular liqueur and they're really ordering drinks based on flavor profiles," says Will Hollingsworth, owner of Tremont cocktail bar The Spotted Owl. "That starts with a bartender who knows what they're doing and a customer who's excited to experience something new."

When Hollingsworth and his team of bartenders developed their new drink menu, they designed it with this in mind, with each of its three sections reflecting the viewpoints of leading voices in cocktail culture.

In one corner, he says, some purists like "Imbibe" author David Wondrich argue that drinks developed in the post-Prohibition era should be ignored completely. In another corner are bartenders like Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who favor reinvestigating the "cult classics," as Hollingsworth refers to them on his menu. Think Blue Hawaiians, Amaretto Sours and Long Island Ice Teas. Their third section, "modern classics," is for cocktail enthusiasts willing to try new drinks, such as those created with olive oil or even charcoal.

"Whether a bartender is making super progressive cocktails or pouring shots of Jack Daniels, the thing you do as a bartender is the same," says Hollingsworth. "You see drunk people cry sometimes and you tell them jokes to cheer them up. That's the job."

Tricia McCune

Wok n Roll

"The big challenge for food trucks right now is that competition is getting stiffer and the amount of trucks is growing faster than the customer base," reports Tricia McCune of Asian mobile operation Wok n Roll. "Trucks are going to have to work harder, get smarter, and keep improving their food to survive."

It seems like every week a new food truck rolls into the regular rotation. The solution to finding a way to stand out, says McCune, could be found in the boom of new evening events cropping up around town, fests like Edgewater Live, Night Market Cleveland and the like.

"I see a future of more of a nighttime food truck culture on the rise," McCune says. "Getting more creative and finding ways to branch out rather your standard lunch event is really going to be necessary."

There's also opportunity to be had as more and more bars without kitchens call on food trucks to feed swelling crowds, she says. The result is often more experimental options from chefs who are able to step outside their comfort zones.

"Events at night are more relaxed and give us a chance to play with our menu," she says. "We don't have to worry about the speed of serving people on their hour lunchbreaks, so it gives us that freedom."

Karl Spiesman

Brick and Barrel Brewery

IPAs are here to stay, says Spiesman, head brewer at Flats-based Brick and Barrel. But while beer trends come and go, the true craft explosion is going nowhere thanks to a mounting demand for locally brewed beer. It's what has allowed Brick and Barrel to find its footing.

"I think with the direction we're going, the community is getting craft savvy and they're really learning about beer styles," he explains. "I think you'll be seeing a lot more craft beer bars that will be holding more local beers. The small breweries like us will have a lot more showcasing because they have the opportunity to get out there in the market."

Even larger, more established breweries have been monumental is supporting new ventures in the name of raising interest in local brews. This summer, Great Lakes Brewing Company invited Brick and Barrel to their home to help host a Brewmaster's Dinner. It's a harmonious competition, says Spiesman, and that's only going to grow.

"There are a lot of small breweries opening up that maybe back in the day wouldn't be able to compete because of the size," Spiesman say. "But now the market just wants good beer and if that means just six to eight brews on tap, they're happy."

And as enthusiasts are trying more and more beers out of their comfort zone, it opens the doors for brewers to toy with new ideas too.

"It's fun to see the community taste beers that are kind of unusual and just love them," he says.

Joan Rosenthal

Marigold Catering

For the last decade and a half, Joan Rosenthal and the crew behind her Marigold Catering have been responsible for hosting some of the finest bashes in town. So when it comes to knowing the latest party pleasers, Marigold has always been on the bleeding edge.

These days, Rosenthal says, it's all about small plates. What's typically done on a traditional large buffet is being crafted into smaller individual entrees, each with a starch, a protein and a vegetable. The trend is in high demand for any occasion that isn't a sit-down affair but where there's still requires robust fare, especially cocktail parties.

"They're chef-attended and people love the action station feel of it," she adds. "It's a great way to serve a heavy appetizer or dinner menu."

On the other end of the spectrum is the growing interest in grand family-style dinners, which often come with requests for comfort foods like cheesy grits topped with short ribs and fried onions.

"If people want to have a communal feeling with the dinner, we'll oftentimes do a centerpiece that's all food so people can jump on that simultaneously," she says of the sprawling set-up that makes for conversation-sparking shareables. "If they're at a long, rectangle table, instead of doing flowers, we'll do breads and tapenades and cheeses and skewers. It creates that warm, co-existing dining feel."

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