Mike Polk knows comedy. As one of the most popular comedians in the region, Polk is responsible for online comedy sketches that have garnered more than 2 million views. The question is: Does Polk know food?
We met up at Luchita's Mexican Restaurant on W. 117 Street to discuss food, drinks and romance in the city he loves.
"I love this place," Polk says after ordering the enchiladas. "It's not pretentious, it is true Cleveland. Plus, I can drink a mug of the mole sauce."
As he devourers his meal, Polk first gives props to his hometown. "Youngstown has great Italian food, rivaled only by its corruption and desperation."
Polk's favorite hometown haunt, though, was Uncle Nick's Greek Fried Chicken. For a short time, Uncle Nick's ran a Lakewood location, but it never really caught on. Seeing the writing on the wall, Polk did what he could to help. "I tried to sustain the business by myself, but it was killing my insides, and I knew it was a fruitless battle."
When he wasn't eating chicken, the then-22-year-old financially struggling comedian worked in a bar. "I believe everyone should work in a restaurant for a year so they know how to treat people and not be an asshole," he says. His socialization period took place at the now-shuttered Johnny Malloy's in Avon Lake, where he worked as a bartender. Stuck with afternoon shifts, Polk knew his place. "Who wants a dude bartender?"
On the occasional busy night, Polk would be paired up with another male bartender. "This guy was a 'flair tender'," Polk scoffs. "Looked just like Steven Segal, complete with the ponytail, vest and a self-proclaimed black belt. The problem was that everyone loved this douche." While Polk hustled to pour drinks, the flair tender would juggle bottles, occasionally trying to incorporate Polk into his act. Standing at the far end of the bar, he would yell, "He would throw the bottle and, of course, it would hit the ground," Polk says. "Everyone would boo, but I just didn't care."
Polk soon landed a gig as the in-game emcee for the Cavs. It wasn't a high-paying job, but it did allow him to sneak into the high-end, members-only Key Private Bank Court Club to eat his fill. "I was never clear on whether I was even allowed in this club," he recalls. "But I ate my ass off. They had killer teriyaki shrimp. I looked forward to stealing that."
Polk's success now precludes him from having to filch food, but that doesn't stop him from sneaking around town. Unfortunately, some of his favorite spots have changed to the point of becoming offensive – like his once-beloved Tina's Nite Club in Detroit Shoreway. Polk says that the out-of-the-way dive bar is now "packed to the gills with d-bags, hipsters and bachelorette parties." Worse, the notoriety is affecting his mealtime. "I knew they had gotten big time when they put a $1.25 sticker over my favorite bag of chips to replace the original 99 cents price."
Polk is not above offering romantic advice, especially when it involves eating and drinking. "Traditional dates with me are transparent, so I don't go to fancy places like the Velvet Tango Room – it's just not me." He prefers Peppers Italian Restaurant in Lakewood and Bruno's Ristorante in Ohio City. "I love the vibe and the food at Peppers; they treat you like family. The only thing to watch out for is the place is so tiny that when you stand up, you will disturb at least three tables," cautions Polk. "I like Bruno's because it always impresses me that in the middle of nowhere this place is successful. Plus, the staff is friendly and the pasta is the best."
When it comes to seafood, says Polk, more is better, even if you have to travel a ways to get it. One regular stop is Pickle Bill's in Grand River, which is known for its all-you-can-eat seafood. "An abundant amount of okay crab legs are much better than a few great crab legs," he rationalizes. Other recommendations include Nauti Mermaid and, uh, Red Lobster. "Say what you will, I am a regular at Shrimp Fest. And I can destroy some cheddar biscuits."
For late night eats, Polk suggests My Friends Deli in Lakewood. "But if you want dinner , then go up the street to Dirty Diana's. You haven't lived until you've watched a transvestite throw up an omelet at 3 a.m."
An avid Browns fan, Polk also loves Bubba's Q in Avon, run by Browns legend Al "Bubba" Baker. But even he admits the genial owner's shtick is growing old. "Now it's like, 'Oh, dammit, it's Bubba Baker. And here he comes saying, 'Let me tell you how I make the ribs. First, I wake up at 5 a.m.' And I'm like, Do we need to start all the way at 5 a.m.?"