For years, it seems, the Larchmere neighborhood that straddles Cleveland and Shaker Heights has been perched a few pounds light of the tipping point. Online and in print, enthusiastic articles have christened the eclectic district "the next hot thing" or "the best-kept secret" or "where to live next." And for good reason: The dense urban community is attractive, walkable and diverse. Residents here have access to affordable real estate, public transportation and a varied roster of commercial amenities that include antiques shops, bars, restaurants and a bookstore, to name a few.
But for each step forward, as the story goes, the neighborhood would take a half step back. Just as one new business would open and begin showing promise, another would fall, halting any significant forward progress. That narrative began to shift in earnest over the past few years as newer independent spots like Batuqui joined long-running institutions like the Academy Tavern, Larchmere Tavern and Big Al's Diner. More recently, the progress has only accelerated, with a trio of fresh food-based businesses building even more momentum.
Since opening a little more than two years ago, the charming Brazilian restaurant Batuqui (12706 Larchmere Blvd., 216-801-0227, batuquicleveland.com) has really settled into a nice groove. On warm evenings, diners sip caipirinhas on the umbrella-dotted front patio while tucking into hearty bowls of feijoada or platters of meaty churrasco. One fan happens to be Barroco owner Juan Vergara, who fell so hard for the neighborhood that he decided to open a second location of his popular Colombian restaurant here.
"It reminds me a lot of what Birdtown is like," says Vergara, referring to the original Barroco's native turf. "A really nicely kept secret neighborhood that just needs a little more love. We just fit."
Since opening the Lakewood spot six years ago, the Vergaras have cultivated an incredible following, one that extends clear across town. But Juan wagered that those eastside customers would frequent a nearby location with more regularity. He was right. Only a few months in, the Larchmere Barroco (12718 Larchmere Blvd., 216-938-9301, barrocoarepabar.com) is jumping with the energy of a more seasoned establishment, one like its neighbor, the lovely Felice Urban Cafe (12502 Larchmere Blvd., 216-791-0918, feliceurbancafe.com), which has represented the western edge of Larchmere's hospitality quarter for nine years.
But that border was nudged closer to the setting sun thanks to the recent addition of two tasty and unique newcomers. Poison Berry Bakery and Cafe (12210 Larchmere Blvd., 440–477–2078, poisonberrybakery.com) is proving to skeptics that "vegan treats" is not an oxymoron. Every delectable cookie, cupcake, muffin and cake is made without milk, butter, eggs or even honey, if you can believe it. Nearly next door, Grey House Pies (12204 Larchmere Blvd., 216-810-6111, grayhousepies.com) absolutely flies through wholesome ingredients like free-range eggs, whole butter, organic whole milk and others while crafting its fresh fruit pies, creamy quiches and gooey brownies. For a real treat, grab a thick slice of Detroit-style pizza or three.
Fans of Big Al's Diner (12600 Larchmere Blvd., 216-791-8550) got a scare earlier this year when it appeared as if their beloved greasy spoon was down for the count. But rise again it did, following a renovation that greatly spiffed up both the interior and exterior, including a dramatic storefront renovation project.
With more than 150 years in service between the pair, the Academy Tavern (12800 Larchmere Blvd., 216-229-1171, academytavern.com) and Larchmere Tavern (13051 Larchmere Blvd., 216-721-1111, thelarchmeretavern.com) continue to attract diners of all stripes thanks to warm-hearted service and comfort-food menus. But relative "newcomer" Flying Cranes Cafe (13006 Larchmere Blvd., 216-795-1033, flyingcranescafe.com) often flies under the radar. For nearly a decade, this cute little cafe quietly has been pleasing neighbors with an eclectic menu that combines Asian rice and noodle dishes with American soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees. Like the neighborhood all around it, the lush secret garden in the rear is a pleasant surprise.