The kids may have gone back to school, but summer doesn't officially come to an end for three more weeks. And the warm weather — who knows how long that will last? Now's the time to soak up every last bit of the season by eating, drinking and doing things we can only dream about come winter. The alternative, of course, is waiting a full eight months to give these thrills a ride.
Lunch on E. Fourth Street: If you haven't experienced this slender slip of a street at high noon on a sunny day, you are overlooking one of our city's finest moments. Overflowing with lush and verdant flower boxes, the alleyway is a three-dimensional picture postcard. There are restaurants up and down the block, and every single one of them features patio dining. It would be a crime to not hit at least one of them before it's too late. Hit the delicious Greenhouse Tavern (2038 E. Fourth St., 216.393.4302, thegreenhousetavern.com) for chilled tomato-bread soup and an Ohio beef burger. Lunch at Lola (2058 E. Fourth St., 216.621.5652, lolabistro.com) is a steal, with Michael Symon's haute fried bologna and egg sammy costing $10, including those dreamy duck fat fries. Tacos, rice and refried beans more your style? Say hola to Zocalo Mexican Grill (2071 E. Fourth St., 216.781.0420, zocalocleveland.com), where the vibe is always tropical.
Visit a winery: Wine snobs might turn their noses up at Ohio-made juice, but even they can't deny the region its beauty. A short drive east of Cleveland is wine country, Ohio-style. Ashtabula County seems to be populated with equal parts wineries and covered bridges, turning even the most casual drive into a memorable road trip. On a picture-perfect summer evening it's tough to beat Harpersfield Winery (6387 Rt. 307, Geneva, 440.466.4739, harpersfield.com), where guests sit among apple trees and grape vines while enjoying estate-bottled chardonnay, savory flatbreads and live music. Over at Tarsitano Winery and Café (4871 Hatches Corners Rd., Conneaut, 440.224.2444, tarsitanowinery.com), diners relax in a contemporary barn outfitted with an open kitchen and mix-and-match furniture. Pair the cabernet franc with grilled steak topped with gorgonzola cheese sauce.
Pick a peck of something: Local crop production is in full swing, despite the shorter days and cooler nights. Area farms are heavy with low-hanging fruit, just-picked veggies and too-tall corn. Don't wait to schedule your farm visit unless all you want is a bushel of apples and a jack- o'-lantern. Over at Rosby Berry Farm (42 E. Schaaf Rd., Brooklyn Heights, 216.661.6102, rosbycompanies.com), the canes are covered in ripe red raspberries. Guests can pick their own from morning to night, filling pints and quarts of the fruit for just $3.75 and $6.75 respectively. Out east at Rainbow Farms (2464 Townline Rd., Madison, 440.259.4924, rainbowfarmsonline.com), visitors can pick their own sweet and hot peppers, plum and cherry tomatoes, and juicy blackberries. Everything the Aufdenkampe Farm (3275 North Ridge Rd., Vermilion, 440.984.3844, afamilyfarm.com) sells, they raise themselves. Visiting farmhands can pick their own raspberries and tomatoes, or they can skip the work and purchase pre-picked runner beans, golden beets and pickles by the peck.
Have ice cream outdoors: Ice cream is best when enjoyed alfresco in the waning days of summer. For the ultimate dairy delight, head to the Metroparks' Huntington Reservation and make a bee line for the Honey Hut (28624 Lake Rd., Bay Village, 440.871.7699, honeyhuticecream.com). If timed perfectly, folks can secure a Tin Roof sundae and a seat on the benches before the sun makes its final descent into Lake Erie. While less pastoral, the scene outside La Gelateria (12421 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216.229.2636, lagelateriacleveland.com) is no less amusing. On balmy nights, the stoops surrounding this popular Italian treats shop see more butts than a school bus on field-trip day. The draw here, of course, is the gelato, which comes in flavors ranging from tiramisu to pistachio.
Go to a drive-in diner: Is there anything more American than a burger, fries and shake? Well, yes. How about that meal presented on a tray fastened to the outside of your ride at a drive-in? For 75 years, Swensons Drive-In (multiple locations, swensonsdriveins.com) has been doing just that, and the joy never seems to fade one iota. It's worth it to rent a car just for the pleasure of dining here, where carhops run ridiculously good and cheap double cheeseburgers, onion rings and strawberry milkshakes to your window. The other player in the drive-in game is Skyway Drive-In (multiple locations, skywaydrive-in.com), where the drill is the same and the burgers damn near. Sure, you can dine at the drive-in all year long, but it's painful to watch those carhops negotiate the snow drifts.
Have your last meal on an island: It's not too late to sneak in a trip to the Lake Erie Islands. Boats still shuttle landlubbers from shore to shore nearly hourly, so you don't even have to book a room. Skip rowdy South Bass Island in favor of laid-back Kelley's and head straight to the Village Pump (103 Lakeshore Dr., 419.746.2281, villagepump.com). The historic building once housed the town gas station, but now it dispenses creamy Brandy Alexanders and crispy fried perch dinners. Much closer to home is the Sunset Grille (2800 Whiskey Island, no phone, sunset-grille.net) on Whiskey Island. While technically a peninsula, the location sports the same hedonistic disposition as any bona fide island getaway. Enjoy lake views while sucking back ice-cold Coronas alongside grilled chicken sandwiches and french fries.
Eat standing up: Why do things taste better when consumed standing up? Who knows, but it's a fact. Consider the Polish Boy at Seti's, a sandwich so delicious it requires neither seat nor restaurant to savor. To order this slaw-and-fry-topped sausage, folks first have to chase down the truck. Most days, the white Seti's-mobile is parked outside Dean Supply (3500 Woodland Ave.), where fans line up for chili dogs, cheese fries and those beloved Polish Boys. Though most people know Aladdin's Baking Co. (1301 Carnegie Ave., 216.861.0317, aladdinbaking.com) as the pita king of Cleveland, lunch fans know it as the source for world-class chicken shawarma sandwiches. Cooked on an ever-rotating vertical spit, the meat is shaved off with an electric knife and piled into fresh pita with tomato, onions, pickled turnips and tahini sauce.
Get loaded on Market Avenue: Beer or wine? Wine or beer? No strip makes it as easy to pick a seat as Market Avenue, a brick lane divided down the middle by the invisible Grape-Grain Parallel. Beer drinkers stroll to the north side of the road to grab seats outside Great Lakes Brewing Co. (2516 Market Ave., 216.771.4404, greatlakesbrewing.com). Wine lovers fly south to the alfresco confines of Market Avenue Wine Bar (2526 Market Ave., 216.696.9463, marketavewinebar.com). Those outside the former sip exceptional suds like Grassroots Ale, Eliot Ness Amber Lager and Burning River Pale Ale. Across the street, the liquid fare includes peppery Grüner Veltliners, smoky syrahs and jammy zinfandels. No matter: Everybody gets tipsy; everybody wins!