About a month ago Cleveland SCENE Magazine blessed us with their annual ‘Best Of’ issue. This issue is always a fun read to find the hottest up and coming restaurants, bars and concert venues in the city. And just about every year, surprise, MELT Bar & Grilled wins EVERYTHING. Best Sandwich? MELT. Best Value? MELT. Best Place to Raise a Family? MELT. And if there’s a business on Lorain or West 25th you’re pretty much guaranteed to win some sort of award. Best jawlines & symmetrical faces would probably go to Market Garden Brewery.
I love SCENE Magazine, I really do (and not just because of the bulimic models who appear in the American Apparel Ads on the back page….seriously, when is Liam Neeson going to rescue these girls?!). A couple years ago they were kind enough to write a story on my small business, Laugh Staff, and they also let me write a long overdue best man speech to our fair city. SCENE is a liberal magazine, I get it. All the cool kids either live Downtown, in Tremont, Ohio City or Lakewood. I love these areas! I’m not a regular bar patron but I heard the craft beer scene is quite nice. Any establishment that gets people out of the house, socializing and spending money is a good thing. I’ll count Christie’s and The Executive’s Den in that category too.
So what am I getting at? Well, there’s a little chunk of land called the east side that many Clevelanders either ignore or choose not to acknowledge. It’s hard to get to, it’s far away, the streets are confusing, AND there are these weird people over there called Jews, Italians and black people (most of them don’t bite)! If you look real, real close you MIGHT find a hipster or two… probably on Coventry Road. For many east-siders, Mayfield Road is our 8 Mile.
It’s funny that the east side of Cleveland is considered boring, slow and conservative but actually represents a more diverse population. Pretty much all of my friends in comedy are downtown or west-side dwellers, but there’s a small group of us on the other side of the tracks that love this area.
Cleveland’s east side is a great mix of grit and charm. The grit being the blue-collar, Pabst Blue Ribbon vibe of Downtown Willoughby and the charm being places like Main Street in Chagrin Falls or the community atmosphere of cities like Mentor or Mayfield Village.
I grew up on the east side (Mayfield Heights) but lived in Lakewood for three years and am now back on this side of town in Mayfield Village(the postal code is actually Gates Mills, that’s what I tell people to make them view me as more successful, but for this article I thought I’d stick to the facts).
This is for the questions that I don’t have any answers, the midnight glancers and the topless dancers. Wait, hold on…that was the beginning verse of Kid Rock’s Bawitdaba…never mind.
This is for the east siders who choose to live here and raise families here. I feel like we are like Hugh Grant’s character in Love Actually who is bullied by the American president played by Billy Bob Thornton. We are long overdue in standing up for ourselves. I recruited some special friends to help me articulate the great things our side of town has to offer.
Believe me, I know I left some things out, but hopefully this article paints a picture of what we’re all about. Enjoy!
Best Bar to Prowl for Cougars
If you haven’t been to Downtown Willoughby do yourself a favor and head over. From the swankiness of Ballantine’s to the pub feel of Mullarkey’s, Downtown Willoughby has been a staple for east-siders for decades. Where else can you find hardcore motorcycle guys relaxing in front of an Arabica?!
The establishment that glues it all together is Willoughby Brewing Company. Known for live bands Friday and Saturday night, Willoughby Brewing Company provides great beer and even better people-watching. The cougar scene is ridiculous. They come out of the woodwork anytime The Spazmatics, Disco Inferno or Post Road comes out to play. Most of Lake County’s 40 and over women have made bad choices in their life and Willoughby Brewing Company is your chance to capitalize. The cougars usually run in packs and anytime a local cover band butchers ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me,” the whole place goes into heat. You’ll have to maneuver around the dudes rocking basketball jerseys and gold chains, but we think you’re up for the challenge. -Josh Womack, Mayfield Village, follow him at @joshuawomack82.
Best Festival for Running into People You Never Want to See Again
The Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy may as well be the night before Thanksgiving, only amplified by multiple nights and warmer weather. The event started in 1898 as a sacred tribute for the observance of the Assumption of Mary. The feast still represents that…but with a lot more ‘Tap Out’ shirts in the crowd. Anyone who lives on the east side has that ONE friend who LIVES for the feast. They go every night because they swear, “The hottest chick works at this one cavatelli booth.” So that friend ends up spending $15 every night on four ounces of cavatelli and no phone number. Seen it a million times.
Getting serious though, Little Italy remains one of Cleveland’s best spots for a date night. Its atmosphere and the old people who sit on the sidewalks just enjoying life make you realize how simple times once were.
(For a bit of history on the area and the organized crime that was associated with the area back in the day, pick up Cleveland author Rick Porrello’s Corn, Sugar and Blood: The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia. A great read for anyone looking to get some historical insight on the area). – Josh Womack, Mayfield Village, follow him at @joshuawomack82.
Best Pizza because it’s Closest to My House
Mayfield Village & University Heights
Pizzazz started at the SOM Center location back in 1975 and when you hit the SOM Center and Wilson Mills intersection, you can’t help but smile at the nostalgic Pizzazz sign hanging outside the building. Pizzazz gained a reputation for their awesome pizza, great calzones and of course, their chicken salad. The dressing on the salad is an east-side staple as well, and don’t worry, you can buy it at the restaurant.
This is more of a self-serving mention in the hopes of getting a free calzone. – Josh Womack, Mayfield Village, follow him at @joshuawomack82.
Best Baseball Outside of Progressive Field
You can’t beat the family-friendly experience and warm feeling when you walk into Classic Park. Every game is like a big family reunion. Since opening in 2003, Classic Park has provided affordable professional baseball when you don’t feel like making the trek downtown. With a capacity of just over 6,000, it feels like Major League Baseball Unplugged, stripped down to its purest form.
Progressive Field simply can’t match the intimacy Classic Park offers. Do you want the players to actually hear you, hecklers?? If so, this is the place for you. What’s that sound you hear? It’s baseball’s next big thing. Your chance to say, “I saw that guy play before anyone ever heard of him” is at Classic Park. Sort of like that drunk uncle who brings up the Springsteen Agora show in ’78 EVERY Thanksgiving.
Warm weather, cold brews and baseball. Does anything represent summer better than that? Even better – Classic Park offers Thirsty Thursdays, featuring $.25 cent pre-game happy hours and half price beers during the game. LaBatter up! – Steve Sova, formerly of Mayfield Village, follow him at @SteveSova.
Best Place to See a Movie That Isn’t Regal or Atlas Cinemas
Case Western isn’t just a great university with Indian & Asiana students who are ten times smarter than you that go on to be doctors and lawyers. It’s a place to see great, cheap movies!
Formed on the campus of Case Western Reserve in 1970 and staffed by the students, The Film Society is a great place besides the Cedar-Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights to see classic and cult films on the cheap. Screenings are every semester except summer, on Friday and Saturday nights (three showings a night) and admission is only $4 and sometimes the Saturday screenings are free.
To give you an idea of what they show, March and April of this year saw Donnie Darko, A Clockwork Orange, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Nosferatu, and Hook to name a few. The two-level theater is never full so you don’t have to worry about people talking or using their phones. It’s also one of the only theaters left in town that shows 35mm prints, along with digital. Also when the staff is talking at the beginning you are allowed to throw paper airplanes at them and if you hit them you get free popcorn! And you will never see a cheaper concession stand around; a large popcorn is $2, drink $2, and boxed candy is $1.50. I’ll see you there! – Eric Kazen, Richmond Heights, follow him at @ekazen.
Best Historical Site to Walk Around, Crash Homecoming Photos or Smoke Weed and probably not get caught
North Chagrin Reservation – Willoughby
Built in the 1890’s by former Vice President of Standard Oil Feargus B. Squire, Squire’s Castle has been a fixture of the east side for as long as we can remember. The Cleveland Metroparks bought the property in 1925 and has since been a place for all sorts of activity.
Usually on sunny Saturday afternoons starting in May you can see Lake County’s finest all-stars taking wedding photos or a group of high school students getting prom photos snapped. Yeah I know I can’t believe mothers let their daughters wear these dresses either.
The front lawn of Squire’s Castle will definitely make you smile. You’ll see couples on picnics, kids playing whiffle ball and soccer moms walking the trails nearby. Usually there is a couple motorcycles purring around too, but they’re mostly harmless. – Celina Colombo, Willoughby, follow her at @cctweets09.
Best Place to Worship Food Instead of God
It’s no coincidence that Jack’s Deli anchors the corner of Cedar and Green Road, which I’ve dubbed the “Hebrew-da Triangle”–a junction of the historically Jewish communities of University Heights, South Euclid, and Beachwood. Jack’s has been the keystone of Cleveland’s eastside Jewish gastronomy for 35 years.
Throughout the years, Jack’s has undergone a handful of facelifts, remodels, and even a relocation within the shopping plaza. For instance, there was a time when Jack’s walls were adorned with a framed movie poster for Whoopi Goldberg’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. This isn’t the Goldberg you’d expect to see at a Jewish deli, and ultimately the mistake was rectified. And despite all of Jack’s cosmetic changes, this well-oiled deli machine has continued to consistently churn out sandwiches that rival anything I’ve eaten at our country’s most lauded deli institutions.
Just try to walk past Jack’s unassuming storefront without being lured inside by the savory siren of corned beef aroma. After you’ve entered, your friends and family will need to send a search party once you’ve inevitably vanished between slices of rye bread. Trust me, I know. My temple was just across the street from Jack’s. A few of my fellow Sunday school classmates and I would regularly play hooky from studying prayer books in favor of studying Jack’s menu. We figured if God really was omniscient, he’d understand our choice. – Jordan Likover, formerly of Mayfield Heights now residing in Los Angeles, follow him at @likover.
Best Place to Catch the Cleveland Sunset & a Whiff of Urban Fisherman:
Recently renovated and catering to families and lonely fisherman, the Pier at Sims Park in Euclid is one of the best places to see a Lake Erie sunset east of the Cleveland. The stench of fish and squawking of angry seagulls will complete the ambience. The huge boulders that make up the break walls add interesting texture to your photos for Instagram, in addition to guaranteeing that if you drop your smartphone over the pier, it will be smashed to bits before you can retrieve it. Not that I recommend entering the waters of Lake Erie. One should only do so by boat or armed with some kind of barrier that prevents the water and discarded McDonald’s cups from touching your skin directly. . – Shay Hazen, Euclid, follower her at @SHAYZEN.
Best Place to be Reminded of How Poor You Are & How Plebian your Dessert Tastes Are:
It’s always nice to see how the other half lives. When I want to remember how much I can’t afford at the age of 32, I head over to Chagrin Falls. I look through the windows of custom furniture boutiques where an end table costs as much as my last vacation. Then I remember how my last actual vacation was more than a decade ago and need some comfort food. Two options at this point – the awesome Popcorn Shop, where you can’t go wrong with the simple options and old world charm. I can’t make a sarcastic remark about that place, I love it and its proximity to the view of the Falls.
If you’re in more of an ice cream mood and enjoy feeling intimidated when making dairy decisions, you can venture to the other end of the Main Street bridge and visit Jeni’s; it is Splendid indeed and their flavors are as unorthodox as the spelling of their name. Flavors like Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry and Wheatgrass Pear Vinho Verde Sorbet may make you break out into a cold sweat if you’re not an adventurous eater. If they don’t though, the Queen City Cayenne (Chocolate with an afterburn) is sure to get you feeling all hot & bothered. Grab a spoon and enjoy, even if it’s not silver. . – Shay Hazen, Euclid, follower her at @SHAYZEN.
Best Place to Relive the Good Ol’ Days & Rethink the Actual Value of Family-time:
Are you one of those people who lives in past? Well knock it off, your constant complaining and stories about “how great life used to be” annoys pretty much everyone around you. But, if you want to enjoy the retro-wonderful-ness of the 50’s without irritating everyone within ear shot, pack the family uncomfortably tight into that minivan and head east on Rt. 90 for a daytrip. The former vacation mecca of Geneva-on-the-Lake is your destination… complete with defunct cabins, overpriced knick knacks and more biker bars than your little heart could fathom! My folks and I usually make the hour-plus journey a couple times each summer. The more people we involve in the trip, the more chaotic it becomes, so it’s actually possible to experience the anxiety of a weeklong lakeside family excursion in only a few short hours on a Saturday. Ohio is amazing like that.
The best part of the strip is Eddie’s Grill – you’ll feel like you stepped onto the set of Happy Days. There is a Jukebox, simple menu with hamburgers, hot dogs and fries, as well as indoor and outdoor seating. Afterwards, walk down towards all the fun of makeshift kiddie rides, the oldest Putt-Putt golf course in America, outdoor karaoke that will make you question why you can’t stop listening to the terrible and Grumpy’s Lemonade stand – run by the adorable namesake himself and the best fresh-squeezed, hand-shaken lemonade in the nation. Don’t forget to order a cone at Katie’s Korner for that last sugar rush on your way out and pick up Madsen donuts to have with your coffee on Sunday morning. You won’t regret it.
*Word to the wise, check the annual calendar and avoid Wine Weekend (unless you’re on the prowl for a cougar) and Biker Weekend (unless you are a biker). They are fun in their own right, but not the most family-friendly weekends of the season.