It was the best of times. It was the worst of times . . . it all depends on whom you're asking. This was the year that saw seemingly popular and well-established restaurants like OZ (Tremont), MacLaren's Cuisine (Twinsburg), and Napa Valley Grille (Beachwood) go down with the faltering economy. Other smaller but worthy dining rooms like the Yorkville Café (Cleveland Heights), Old Brooklyn Soup Company (Brooklyn Heights), and Zelda (Euclid) also hit the bricks. And while we didn't cry too hard, we bid adieu in 2001 to Hickerson's at the Hanna and Ciao!, both in Playhouse Square, and Fado in the Flats.
But lest the ledger look lopsided, consider all we've gained. There's Erie Bleu, Viva Barcelona, and Mosaica on the West Side, and Fire, Sushi on the Square, and Zin in the east. Lelolai Bakery and Café in Ohio City came into the heartland bearing exotic flans and superlative Cuban sandwiches, and Rachel's Caribbean Cuisine sent good vibrations into South Euclid. Downtown, we've added 1890, Osteria di Valerio and Al, and the Little Bar (short on niceties, perhaps, but long on good food). Dreary Ciao! has been replaced by Gary Lucarelli's shiny Star (and try getting in there without reservations), and while we'll miss the Yorkville, we can't wait to visit Craig Sumers and Brad Friedlander's Lopez, in the same space.
The industry's brightest moment came in response to September 11, when restaurateurs in Cleveland and throughout the nation joined together to raise funds for the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, to aid families of restaurant workers who died in the WTC. Not only did scores of area restaurants donate more than $35,000 to the fund from sales on October 11, but the community also threw a bittersweet dinner party at Circo-Zibibbo on October 17 that raised an additional $24,825 and found chefs, servers, and suppliers from all over the region donating time, talent, and wares.
As for the future, 2002 already looks promising. We're excited, for example, about upcoming changes at Parker's in Ohio City, which will find the respected restaurant closing after the holidays and reopening in February with a less expensive, bistro-style menu; and about Lockkeeper's Inn's late-January move to new $5 million digs on the other side of the Towpath Trail, in Valley View.
As always, the tables of Cleveland are filled with good things to eat. Let's raise a fork to a bounteous new year.