Puerto Rican Pleasures

Ohio City boasts a new Caribbean getaway.

Series 7: The Contenders
The Ohio City neighborhood around the West Side Market -- already a mecca for ethnic eats -- has gotten tastier with the addition of Lelolai Bakery and Café (1889 West 25th Street; 216-771-9956). The bright, cheerful little storefront is jam-packed with wonderful things to eat, made with pride by the effervescent Maria Sapia, businesswoman turned baker extraordinaire, who gets assistance from her sister and brother-in-law, Alma and Francisco Alfonso. The Hispanic bakery's name comes from a little Puerto Rican tune signifying pleasure and abundance, and it couldn't be more apt. The indefatigable Sapia arrives early each morning to prepare what is likely the city's largest assortment of flan (our favorite is the cheese . . . or is it the almond?) and cheesecake (try the coconut . . . or maybe the mango); then she rounds out the selection by whipping up delicious puff pastries, turnovers, breads, and mallorcas -- buttery yeast rolls, at their best when freshly toasted, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and paired with a steaming mug of Costa Rican coffee. For more hearty fare, grab a seat at one of the handful of tidy tables and enjoy a warm pressed sandwich, with a choice of ham or turkey with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and a heady fresh garlic sauce (around $4), washed down with a freshly brewed espresso or cappuccino. As for the flan and the cheesecake, they are available by the slice ($2/$2.50) or whole (around $15) to take home. And look for individual servings of Sapia's vanilla flan to start showing up on some area restaurant menus. The bakery is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

It's only natural

Not so long ago, Northeast Ohioans had to either hang out in college-town caf´s or cook at home if they hoped to dine on wholesome, organically grown vegetables and hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. Now, environmentally concerned chefs like Steve Parris at the Fulton Bar and Grill (1835 Fulton Road, 216-694-2122) are helping usher in a whole new era in local restaurant fare, with frisky menus based on additive-free products and healthy, homegrown foods. While Parris, himself the very model of vitality, has long relied on local organic farmers for the mushrooms, greens, and veggies that find their way into his jazzy compositions, he has recently turned his attention to procuring organic and/or sustainably farmed meats. Soon, his menu will feature such items as succulent pork chops from Niman Ranch in northern California ("So good, I've even seen vegetarians eat them," Parris marvels), strip and sirloin steaks from Montana Natural Meats, and fresh-scented, delicately flavored ground beef from Ohio Farm Direct, near Columbus. "The taste," says the chef, "is unbelievable, and I'm convinced that it's better for our bodies."

Keen on quinoa

Parris also recently put on what he hopes is the first in a series of vegan feasts at the Fulton, with the help of folks from Westlake's Web of Life Natural Foods Market (25923 Detroit Road, 440-899-2882) and members of EarthSave Cleveland. The $35 Sunday evening dinner -- with dishes like mango rice-paper rolls, tropical quinoa salad, roasted asparagus, garlic ravioli, and a nontraditional tofu stir-fry in a fiery sauce of citrus, chiles, soy, and tamarind -- was a sellout, and Parris plans to host more. While nothing is scheduled yet, you can get a heads-up by stopping by the market or calling sometime later this month.

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