The 2013 Year in (Food) Review: We Came, We Ate, We Were Happy

With another year of dining out in the books, it's time we take the obligatory look back at some of the most notable happenings in the local dining scene. As the Cleveland restaurant landscape continues to mature, we're seeing increased competition by way of some pretty heavy hitters. When Red, the Steakhouse and EDWINS open within days of each other, you know shit's getting real.

Notable Newcomers

A decade in the making, EDWINS landed at Shaker Square with a bang. Visionary Brandon Chrostowski's training facility disguised as a fine Parisian bistro is at the top of the list of Cleveland's best new restaurants.

With Red, downtown landed the brassy modern American steakhouse it deserves. The attractive restaurant is serving up some of the best steaks and sides in town, all a short double dribble from the Q. On the east side of the city, ML Tavern also is griling up some mighty fine meat.

For proof of just how confident restaurateurs are in the local dining community, consider the near-simultaneous opening of three ambitious new restaurants — in the Flats, no less. Thanks to Willeyville, Lago and Ken Stewart's East Bank, a mini dining district sprouted where the sidewalk ends.

Though it technically opened at the tail end of 2012, we're still just getting to know (and love) Provenance at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Pretty as a painting, this serene little dining room is an oasis in an atrium.

Call them what you will, but gastropubs continue to gain ground thanks to an unassailable concept that revolves around great food and drink in a casual tavern-like setting. That's the formula at Oak Barrel in Valley View, Cork & Cleaver in Broadview Heights and the Standard in North Collinwood

Dynomite, Zack Bruell's burger take-away joint, and District, a bistro adored by theatergoers, joined the growing dining scene in Playhouse Square. Downtown also saw the arrival of Luca, Stonetown, Barroco Grill and Cleveland Chop.

Beer is dear but wine is fine, and wine bars like Toast in Detroit Shoreway, Humble in Lakewood and Press, which opened in Tremont at the end of last year, are proof history's oldest alcoholic beverage still draws crowds.

Breakfast time got a lot more interesting thanks to the arrival of Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights and Jack Flaps in Ohio City.

Cleveland diners are an adventurous lot, supporting ethnic eateries of all stripes. New to the scene are El Carnicero in Lakewood, Ninh Kieu in AsiaTown, Pho & Rice on Coventry, Callaloo Café; on Waterloo and Arepazo y Pupuseria in Fairview Park.

Best Dishes

By my best estimation, I hit 50 different restaurants and sampled more than 250 dishes over the course of the past 12 months. Here are 10 that managed to make a lasting impression.

The chicken a la king at Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights is like a free-form chicken pot pie, with the creamy filling ladled over fluffy waffles instead of baked into a crust.

Bone-in lamb chops, pounded, cheese encrusted and pan fried into lush lamb lollipops at Johnny's Bar on Fulton.

La Banana Frita's addictive fried plantains, paired with a cold Sterle's beer, at the Cleveland Flea in St. Clair Superior.

Porchetta, a delicious roulade of crackling-crisp pork skin, succulent pork belly and moist pork loin at Flour in Moreland Hills.

Reuben Ribs, bone-in corned pork ribs with Thousand Island slaw, grated gruyere and a dash of rye salt at Cork & Cleaver in Broadview Heights.

The intensely flavored al pastor tamales at El Carnicero in Lakewood– topped with a runny egg, natch.

Uni sushi at Ginko — perfection on rice.

EDWINS' rabbit pie is a woodsy, savory tart in a flaky Parmesan crust that belongs on every table.

Two fingers-thick USDA Prime ribeye, seasoned with little more than salt and pepper and cooked to perfection, at Red downtown.

Ma po tofu at Szechuan Gourmet in AsiaTown is a very complex marriage of silken tofu, finely ground pork and a steady drumbeat of heat.

Coming Soon

As if all that weren't enough, Cleveland chefs still have more than a few exciting projects in the works for the coming weeks and months.

This spring, the Tremont Taphouse guys will open the Butcher & the Brewer, a restaurant, brewery and full-service butcher shop in the former Dredger's Union space on East Fourth Street.

Cory Hess will open the Arcadian in the former City Grill space in Detroit Shoreway in late winter or early spring.

Steve Schimoler will debut his music-focused Crop Rocks project in North Collinwood. Down the street, Alan Glazen and his team will open a bar, bocce and brewery in the Slovenian Workman's Home.

The Hofbräuhaus, a beer hall and restaurant with ties to the historic Munich original, is on the drawing board for a summer 2014 opening in Playhouse Square.

Eric Williams, Sean Kilbane and Sean Watterson will open an eastside version of Happy Dog in the historic Euclid Tavern in University Circle.

Michelin-starred chef Dante Boccuzzi will open Next Door, next door to Dante in Tremont within the next few weeks.

Zack Bruell hopes to reinvent the traditional cafeteria concept with Kafeteria, which will take over the third floor of 200 Public Square.

Jonathon Sawyer will open his long-planned Italian eatery Trentina on the east side of town.

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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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