Best of Cleveland 2011: Food & Drink

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Best Pierogi & Best Polish Soul Food

Sokolowski's University Inn

Starch, filled with starch, soaking in a bath of fat: Sokolowski's big, tender, homemade pierogi have fueled Cleveland's, um, expansion since 1923. According to no less of an authority than Michael Symon, a taste for these yummy potato-and-cheddar-filled dumplings is present in Clevelanders from birth. This likely is so. But more important than heredity is this singular fact: They go down great with beer.

1201 University Rd.; 216-771-9236; sokolowskis.com

Best Caterer

Brennan's Catering & Banquet Center

Weddings, reunions, or your famous annual clambake, this West Side caterer dishes up everything you need — from forks, knives, and napkins to gourmet cookie trays. Better still for the busy host or hostess, online ordering is a snap, and delivery is available even to such far-flung outposts as Avon, Bratenahl, and Valley View.

13000 Triskett Rd.; 216-251-2131;

brennanscatering.com

Best Burritos

Ohio City Burritos

A locally grown alternative to the national-known chain, OCB serves up similarly humongous burritos and all the fixin's — including homemade salsas and guacamole — in a funky, welcoming setting.

1844 West 25th St.; 216-664-0908; ohiocityburrito.com

Best Seafood

Blue Point Grille

The flagship for locally based Hospitality Restaurants, Blue Point Grille anchors the Warehouse District with a boatload of charm, along with consistent quality and perennial crowd-pleasers like lump crab cakes, Nag's Head grouper, and filet mignon Oscar.

700 West St. Clair Ave.; 216-875-7827; hrcleveland.com/bluepoint

Best Dim Sum

Li Wah

New Yorkers love their weekend bagels and lox; Clevelanders love their weekend dim sum — especially when it comes from this expansive Chinese restaurant in Asiatown. The parade of stainless-steel carts bearing goodies like steamed buns, lotus-leaf-wrapped sticky rice, and the better-than-you-might-imagine duck feet seems to be never-ending; and with per-item prices enticingly low, sharing around the table is both cost-effective and companionable.

2999 Payne Ave.; 216-696-6556;

liwahrestaurant.com

Best Place to Get a Classy Drink

Velvet Tango Room

For years, the VTR was scarcely more than a legend, its obscure, unmarked, and unlikely location transmitted among the foodie elite amid whispers and blood vows to secrecy. Thankfully, that has changed, and these days debonair owner Paulius Nasvytis even has a website, complete with address, phone number, and a link to Google maps. Still, the air of discernment and mystery lingers: in the expansive menu of classic cocktails, the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into every gin ricky, lime fizz, and Manhattan, and the tear that stains your mixologist's cheek when you order that Appletini.

2095 Columbus Rd.; 216-241-8869;

velvettangoroom.com

Best Green Chef

Jonathon Sawyer

A member of Food & Wine's 2010 class of "Best New Chefs," Jonathon Sawyer is also rightfully regarded as one of the nation's most environmentally attuned toques, with a commitment to sourcing local foods, supporting local farmers, and creating a restaurant — his tellingly named Greenhouse Tavern — where sustainability and environmentally sound practices are a top priority. As a result, the Greenhouse Tavern became the state's first nationally certified Green Restaurant, and Sawyer became Cleveland's greenest chef.

2038 East Fourth St.; 216-443-0511; thegreenhousetavern.com

Best Sushi

Pacific East

Clevelanders have been getting a raw deal at this Coventry Road restaurant for nearly a decade — and loving every minute of it. Pacific East's sushi is a hit for many reasons, including its freshness and outstanding variety. But it is attention to the details that sets this sushi apart, including the use of premium short-grain rice, top-quality nori, and fresh, never frozen, tuna.

Various locations including 1763 Coventry Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-320-2302; pacificeastcoventry.com

Best Fast Food

Swensons Drive In

There's something special about chucking the drive-through window in favor of the drive-in parking lot at Swensons. Maybe it's the retro vibe, as good-looking servers dash from car to car; or maybe it's the funny little tray they hook onto your window. But most likely, it's the food: fresh, delicious, and a fave in these parts since 1934, with items like the signature Galley Boy (a double cheeseburger with two special sauces), crunchy fried mushrooms, and thick chocolate malts that beat the pants off of anything from the national chains.

Various locations including 7635 Broadview Rd., Seven Hills; 216-986-1934; swensonsdriveins.com

Best Stadium Food

B Spot at the Q

Forget LeBron. There's another hometown hero playing at Quicken Loans Arena: Michael "Iron Chef" Symon's B Spot, with a tasty lineup of gourmet burgers, fat brats, and craft beer. Win or lose, you'll find them off the main concourse near the Cavaliers Team Shop. Dig in: We are all witnesses.

One Center Court, 888-894-9424;

theqarena.com

Best Thai

Ty Fun

The name pretty much says it all: Great Thai food and a fun time are what draw Clevelanders to Ty Fun time and time again. Beautifully plated and bursting with freshness, dishes like massaman curry, classic pad Thai, and the signature red snapper served with a choice of zesty sauces are the mouthwatering reasons this Tremont restaurant is Cleveland's favorite Thai.

815 Jefferson Ave.; 216-664-1000;

tyfunthaibistro.com

Best Corned Beef

Slyman's Deli

There's an art to the perfect corned beef sandwich, which must be neither too fatty nor too lean, too small nor too expensive, and too salty nor too bland. If the lunchtime lines are any indication, it's an art that the sandwich makers at Slyman's have mastered. Warm, rosy, slow-cooked beef, sliced to order and folded into a pocket of tender rye until it threatens to tumble from its own vast heft: The resulting sandwich is a sort of culinary sculpture, a masterpiece as daunting as it is delicious.

3106 St. Clair Ave.; 216-621-3760; slymans.com

Best Desserts

Luxe

Chef-owner Marlin Kaplan's cool little haute spot in the Gordon Square Arts District is a great destination for dinner and drinks. But Clevelanders love Luxe just as much for its homey desserts: the perfect endings to an evening of gallery-hopping or theater-going. Among the seasonal lineup, pastry chef Jill Wolf turns out yummies like Chocolate Ho-Ho Cake (layers of devil's food cake and white chocolate mousse inside a creamy chocolate-ganache coating) and caramel bread pudding. Hey, isn't that why you go to the gym?

6605 Detroit Ave.; 216-920-0600; luxecleveland.com

Best Cupcakes

A Cookie and a Cupcake

Like tiny works of edible art, the plump little cupcakes coming out of this Tremont bakery have stolen Cleveland's heart. Twelve daily flavors include carrot, apple, red velvet, and chocolate-peanut butter, each topped with a fat swirl of rich buttercream frosting. Owners SynDee Klingenberg and Wendy Thompson have a combined 20 years experience in the hospitality industry, and their talent shines through in every delicious crumb.

2173 Professor Ave.; 216-344-9433; acookieandacupcake.com

Best Urban Farm

Ohio City Farm

Located in the heart of Ohio City, just north of the West Side Market, is the largest contiguous urban farm in America, with six acres of land tended by the farmers of the Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program. Designed to nourish the community with local food and empower resettled refugees through employment, education, and training, the farm was co-developed by the nearby Great Lakes Brewing Company and is supported by local chefs including Dante Boccuzzi (Dante, Tremont) and Karen Small (Flying Fig, Ohio City), making it a community project in the truest sense of the word.

West 24th St. and Bridge Ave.;

ohiocityfarm.com

Best Burger

B Spot

With one B-Spot in Woodmere and others slated for Crocker Park and Strongsville, this irreverent gourmet burger joint from Michael "Iron Chef" Symon soon will have the region awash in naturally raised beef from legendary N.Y.C. purveyor Pat La-Frieda. Not that that's a bad thing. But it's what Symon does with his juicy meat that really counts, and here things get all kinds of crazy, with add-ons and toppings that include bologna, pastrami, chili, pulled pork, and even a fried egg.

28699 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere;

216-292-5567; bspotburgers.com

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