Being the kind of person who, having eaten, basically can't wait to eat again anyway, I immediately recognized my only real challenge in revisiting last year's tour-de-tongue of Cleveland's culinary scene was limiting myself to 13 choices.
The swath of tasty delights is extensive, but I weeded out any dish that included a seasonal component and limited myself to those available every day of the year.
Which left me with this list below, ranked in no priority -- I crave each one equally.
1. Bac – Kim Chi Noodles – Main Course
Move over Pad Thai, you're now in second place in the all-important Asian noodle comfort-food category. This eye-pleasing, tummy-warming entrée is my new fave. This satisfying dish is prepared with potato noodles, spicy napa cabbage, snow peas, red bell pepper, onion, scallion and sesame with a spicy tamarind sauce. My preference is to add shrimp, but you may prefer chicken, pork, tofu or beef instead.
2. Biga Woods – Smokey Blue Pizza – Main Course
I've been on the lookout for good Neopolitan-style pizza in this area for a long time. We're West-Parkers, but we never feel the drive to Kirtland is extreme as long as the pizza is worthy, and this pizza is. Plus, Kirtland is much closer than the Italian Strip on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor, Ontario – the establishment that featured the most authentic 'Napalitan'-style pie we'd ever tasted before trying the pies in Kirtland. Biga Woods' oven was imported from Naples and it renders a crust that has a perfect "bite and chew." All their pizzas are great, but the Smokey Blue Pizza, with wild mushrooms, handcrafted prosciutto, smoked blue and mozzarella cheeses, is tops.
3. Deagan's – Polenta Croutons – Appetizer/Side
Corn's version of frites: fried cubes that are crispy outside and full of creamy goodness inside. The mushrooms, shaved sheets of Parmesan, and parsley hit all the right flavor notes to make this dish sing.It's a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous pomme frites.
4. L'Albatros – Boullaibaise for Two – Main Course
In a perfect world, I would have this dish once a week. There's no chance of growing tired of rich, tender chunks of seafood and half of a lobster tail in a light yet flavorful broth that warmed me through and through. Limiting myself to one dish here was extremely difficult – they have some of my favorite dishes this town has to offer. Their frisee and bacon lardoons with poached egg salad is as pleasing to the eye as it is to eat; the succulent skate wing, the comforting, deconstructed cassoulet ... and don't get me started on the select artisanal cheeses. They say chicken soup is good for the soul. I declare: Zack's Boullaibaise is better.
5. Lion on Lorain – The Ex – Sandwich
These guys had some fun creating this menu. Here, you'll find some clever sandwich names: fatboy, the sportster, lambretta and The Sheen. It's fun, extensive bar offerings are creatively executed. The Ex is a hot chick(en) – yep, they're having more fun – sandwich; Cajun fried, with jalapeno-bacon jam, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato and avocado sour cream. I always say that I'm only going to eat half, and then eat the entire sandwich.
6. Lolita – Roasted Bone Marrow – Appetizer
I have to admit thinking that there was something cannibalistic when my parents would enjoy eating bone marrow when I was a child. I never tried it then. When Michael Symon offered it for the first time, I gave it a shot. Glad I did. In hindsight, I now wish I had enjoyed with my parents. This magnificently rich appetizer has won its way to my heart, and considering how long it's been on the menu, I'm proud to know that I'm not alone in my fondness for this dish.
7. Market at the Fig - Smoked Turkey Sandwich -- Main Course
The best deli-style sandwich this town offers. I'm standing by that statement with confidence since everyone I've suggested it to has immediately -- and by immediately I mean within bites of tasting the sandwich -- made the same proclamation. It all has to do with the exquisite quality of the ingredients Karen Small selects. She's a stickler for details, and one of them she's obsessive about is using the best local ingredients whenever possible. Smoked turkey, bacon, aioli, sweet pickles, gruyere cheese and arugula on focaccia. Try it and tell me I'm wrong.
8. Momocho – Dos Equis Braised Beef Short Rib Tamales – Main Course
This entrée has only been on their menu since early fall, yet there have been several times since my first bite that I've found myself heading to Momocho with the express intent of ordering this dish. The rich meat sans rib luxuriously rests across polenta-stuffed cornhusks. Not a meat and potatoes dish, but close enough and every bit as soothing. Salsa divorciadas makes me hope for a reconciliation, but I'm not arguing with the flavor in this tomatillo pipian verde and oaxacan red chile and chocolate mole. Glad they could at least come together for this dish
9. Moxie – Burger – Main Course
The Moxie Burger could be a contender for best burger in town, but we'll save that debate for a later date. This mouth-watering burger comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, Adams Reserve Cheddar and frites. It also passed my rigorous standard for what constitutes a good burger: the meat is flavorful enough to enjoy without bacon or cheese. I'm not judging bacon and cheese lovers, but those two items often make a lesser-quality burger taste better than it is.
10. SOHO Kitchen & Bar – Oysters Rockefeller – Appetizer
I've been to SOHO many times and I can't remember a time I didn't order this dish. I always feel like I'm on to something when I see Parker Bosley -- chef/owner of the defunct Parker's (Light Bistro now) -- come in from time to time and request a double order of these bad boys. The ingredients are straightforward enough – wilted watercress, roasted garlic and absinthe, topped with toasted Parmesan crumbs – but I've never quite been able to find SOHO's match.
11. Spice Kitchen & Bar - Porkstrami Sandwich – Main Course
A towering mess of a sandwich that eats like a meal. Layers of six-week kraut, gruyere, and mustard aioli served with sea salt chips. Meaty, cheesy richness co-mingling with tangy and tart kraut and mustard, it's a sandwich that doesn't aim to simply please -- it hits every comfort zone known to man. And, if for some reason you find yourself wanting, the chickpea fries are perfect as an appetizer or side.
12. The Black Pig - Roasted Duck Breast – Main Course
Nowak's plating of this dish is quite enticing, slices of juicy duck breast fallen on a plate in a domino formation. A dish I fell for from the outset. The breast comes with a confit crépinette. Crépinettes are flat sausage patties that are characteristically wrapped in caul fat. The sides vary with the seasons. For now, it's being served with sweet potato and apple.
13. Wonton Gourmet – Chive Dumplings – Appetizer
I can't remember eating a dumpling I haven't liked, but Wonton Gourmet's chive dumplings are not to be missed. These delicate dumplings with pork and shrimp are pan-fried and served with a side of vinegar-based dipping sauce for perfect texture and flavor. There are those who would argue for the turnip cake, but I rank this as their most unique offering.