December 15, 2016

The 14 Best Things We Ate in Cleveland in 2016

As I look back over my soup-stained notes from the past 12 months of eating my way through Cleveland, these are the items that stand out the most. When it comes to "last meal" dishes, any of these will do for me, thanks. -- Doug Trattner

 

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The Handful at Boiling Seafood:
Messy, delicious fun really is the name of the game at Boiling Seafood, an eastside shop modeled after similar concepts down South and out West. Seafood like crawfish, shrimp and clams are boiled in a flavorful broth, tossed in an aggressively seasoned spice mixture, and delivered to the table in clear plastic bags. What happens next might not be pretty, but it's awesome. (Photo courtesy of Emanuel Wallace)
The Handful at Boiling Seafood: Messy, delicious fun really is the name of the game at Boiling Seafood, an eastside shop modeled after similar concepts down South and out West. Seafood like crawfish, shrimp and clams are boiled in a flavorful broth, tossed in an aggressively seasoned spice mixture, and delivered to the table in clear plastic bags. What happens next might not be pretty, but it's awesome. (Photo courtesy of Emanuel Wallace)
Blood Sausage at Caribe Bake Shop:
Whenever you see the term "acquired taste," you can bet that whatever follows is anything but mainstream. That's certainly the case with blood sausage, a blood-based sausage with scores of ethnic and cultural interpretations. The best among them is the Spanish morcilla, a mix of pork blood, fat, onions and cooked rice, which gives the sausage a surprising buoyancy. The best I ever tried is at Caribe Bake Shop, where the sinister looking pistons pack a mineral hit followed by a significant creeper heat. For a real treat, take some home and pan fry them in a little olive oil. (Photo courtesy of Caribe Bake Shop/Facebook)
Blood Sausage at Caribe Bake Shop: Whenever you see the term "acquired taste," you can bet that whatever follows is anything but mainstream. That's certainly the case with blood sausage, a blood-based sausage with scores of ethnic and cultural interpretations. The best among them is the Spanish morcilla, a mix of pork blood, fat, onions and cooked rice, which gives the sausage a surprising buoyancy. The best I ever tried is at Caribe Bake Shop, where the sinister looking pistons pack a mineral hit followed by a significant creeper heat. For a real treat, take some home and pan fry them in a little olive oil. (Photo courtesy of Caribe Bake Shop/Facebook)
Fried Cheese Curds at Banter:
I could easily have topped this list with any of Banter's dreamy poutine dishes – as a traditionalist I tend to go with the classic stack of frites, gravy and cheese curds. But something magical happens when you take fresh white cheddar curds, beer batter (the Banter boys opt for Colt 45 Malt Liquor, naturally), deep-fry them until hot and crisp, and serve them up with tomato puree and remoulade for dipping. These are no bland, rubbery fried mozz stix, I assure you. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Fried Cheese Curds at Banter: I could easily have topped this list with any of Banter's dreamy poutine dishes – as a traditionalist I tend to go with the classic stack of frites, gravy and cheese curds. But something magical happens when you take fresh white cheddar curds, beer batter (the Banter boys opt for Colt 45 Malt Liquor, naturally), deep-fry them until hot and crisp, and serve them up with tomato puree and remoulade for dipping. These are no bland, rubbery fried mozz stix, I assure you. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Garnachas at El Rinconcito Chapin: 
Imagine a plate of nachos that swaps the thin and crispy chips for thick, corny tortillas and you begin to get a sense of the joy that comes with every order. Each dense and sturdy base is topped with a spoonful of seasoned ground beef, a dollop of bright salsa, raw red onion and a sprinkling of salty cheese. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Garnachas at El Rinconcito Chapin: Imagine a plate of nachos that swaps the thin and crispy chips for thick, corny tortillas and you begin to get a sense of the joy that comes with every order. Each dense and sturdy base is topped with a spoonful of seasoned ground beef, a dollop of bright salsa, raw red onion and a sprinkling of salty cheese. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Giant Beef Rib at Mabel's BBQ:
I'll never forget my first "giant beef rib" at Mabel's. The 2-pound, bone-in beast landed on the table with a thud, the meat so tender that it jiggled like Jell-O. Slow-smoked until it was tender enough to eat with a spoon, the juicy, beefy meat is rich, satisfying and worth the splurge. Split by two, three, even four people, the rib (only available at dinner) is king of the 'cue. (Photo courtesy of Emanuel Wallace)
Giant Beef Rib at Mabel's BBQ: I'll never forget my first "giant beef rib" at Mabel's. The 2-pound, bone-in beast landed on the table with a thud, the meat so tender that it jiggled like Jell-O. Slow-smoked until it was tender enough to eat with a spoon, the juicy, beefy meat is rich, satisfying and worth the splurge. Split by two, three, even four people, the rib (only available at dinner) is king of the 'cue. (Photo courtesy of Emanuel Wallace)
Grilled Octopus at Bold Food and Drink:
This is one of the best octopus dishes in town. It starts with firm but not chewy meat kissed by the grill with glorious charred bits. Those warm pieces of flesh are tossed into a cool Mediterranean salad with tomatoes, cucumber, hearts of palm and a wee bit of feta. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Grilled Octopus at Bold Food and Drink: This is one of the best octopus dishes in town. It starts with firm but not chewy meat kissed by the grill with glorious charred bits. Those warm pieces of flesh are tossed into a cool Mediterranean salad with tomatoes, cucumber, hearts of palm and a wee bit of feta. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Lamb Carpaccio at Salt:
Throughout her 20-year career, chef Jill Vedaa has been on the bloody forefront of the small-plate crusade, a slow-moving campaign if ever there was one. But thanks to dishes like the lamb carpaccio at Salt, diners are beginning to see the light. The lamb loin is flash-seared, leaving the meat essentially raw. It is sliced whisper-thin, revealing a rosy-red flesh that is butter-soft. The slices are set against the cool crunch of shaved red cabbage and gilded with a punchy Moroccan-spiced yogurt sauce laced with cumin, cilantro, garlic and lemon. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Lamb Carpaccio at Salt: Throughout her 20-year career, chef Jill Vedaa has been on the bloody forefront of the small-plate crusade, a slow-moving campaign if ever there was one. But thanks to dishes like the lamb carpaccio at Salt, diners are beginning to see the light. The lamb loin is flash-seared, leaving the meat essentially raw. It is sliced whisper-thin, revealing a rosy-red flesh that is butter-soft. The slices are set against the cool crunch of shaved red cabbage and gilded with a punchy Moroccan-spiced yogurt sauce laced with cumin, cilantro, garlic and lemon. (Photo courtesy of Yelp)
Coconut Curry Noodle Soup at Thai Kitchen:
At Thai Kitchen, they manage to improve upon the classic Thai hot and sour soup by elevating it to entree status. They do so by supplementing the coconut milk-infused broth with chewy egg noodles, crisp-tender cauliflower and broccoli, and a heaping dose of red curry. Select shrimp, chicken, pork, beef or tofu and savor the sweet and spicy brilliance. (Photo courtesy of Thai Kitchen/Facebook)
Coconut Curry Noodle Soup at Thai Kitchen: At Thai Kitchen, they manage to improve upon the classic Thai hot and sour soup by elevating it to entree status. They do so by supplementing the coconut milk-infused broth with chewy egg noodles, crisp-tender cauliflower and broccoli, and a heaping dose of red curry. Select shrimp, chicken, pork, beef or tofu and savor the sweet and spicy brilliance. (Photo courtesy of Thai Kitchen/Facebook)
Chickenrones at the Plum:
I adore pork rinds, but many modern preparations leave them so light and fluffy that you forget they even came from an animal. Not so with the chickenrones served at the Plum. These crispy, crunchy morsels still taste like chicken skin, arguably the best part of the yardbird. A sprinkle of sea salt, a dip in hot sauce, and you're in snack heaven. (Photo courtesy of Emanuel Wallace)
Chickenrones at the Plum: I adore pork rinds, but many modern preparations leave them so light and fluffy that you forget they even came from an animal. Not so with the chickenrones served at the Plum. These crispy, crunchy morsels still taste like chicken skin, arguably the best part of the yardbird. A sprinkle of sea salt, a dip in hot sauce, and you're in snack heaven. (Photo courtesy of Emanuel Wallace)
Tonkotsu Ramen at Mason's Creamery:
There might be nothing crazier than ordering tonkotsu ramen at an ice cream shop, but people who have attended one of these ramen pop-ups know it's worth the wait in line (even with the risk that they'll run out before you get to the front). The bowls of rich, fatty pork broth, chashu (pork belly), soy-marinated soft-cooked eggs, enoki mushrooms and ramen are so good, these guys just might open up a ramen shop. (Photo courtesy of Mason's Creamery)
Tonkotsu Ramen at Mason's Creamery: There might be nothing crazier than ordering tonkotsu ramen at an ice cream shop, but people who have attended one of these ramen pop-ups know it's worth the wait in line (even with the risk that they'll run out before you get to the front). The bowls of rich, fatty pork broth, chashu (pork belly), soy-marinated soft-cooked eggs, enoki mushrooms and ramen are so good, these guys just might open up a ramen shop. (Photo courtesy of Mason's Creamery)