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Quintessential Cleveland Meals

October 4, 2011

On the west side of Cleveland, near a brand-new shopping center carved out in the middle of abandoned factories, in the same part of town where the Christmas Story House is not so famously located and right in the thick of the contradiction that is Cleveland–

Just outside the aptly named "Steelyard" shopping center

with its boutique book store/wine bars and its foreclosed homes–two area institutions reside within mere feet of each other, daring in-the-know tourists and locals alike to ignore either one.

The West Side Market, a Cleveland landmark since 1840, has recently experienced the kind of national notoriety that legendary local joints may not enjoy, thanks to exposure on both the Travel Channel and the Food Network (the latter’s magazine named the market the best in the country for food lovers in 2010). And while it remains a place that many Clevelanders go for groceries, it also houses places like Steve’s Gyros–a tiny booth inside the market, nestled in a cluster of equally fantastic vendors, which was pegged by Maxim Magazine as possessing the best Gyro in America. As a result of all this, I felt like a tourist in my own town while in line at Steve’s, risking a parking ticket due to the average hour-long wait. Still, the fact remained that in all my years living in the Cleveland area, I hadn’t tried the gyro, and what kind of local could I therefore claim to be?

The thing was magnificent in every sense of the word; a truly monumental tribute to local food and all that it implies. The gyro was one of the few examples of over-sized food I can remember not being pissed about–it was too big, but in all the best ways. I can’t even imagine what the “jumbo,” the only other offering at Steve’s besides drinks, would have been like.

Horrendous photo of the best gyro I've ever had

Many words have been spoken on this gyro already, so I’ll attempt to be brief. It begins with a pillow-soft and infinitely chewy pita, warmed on a griddle before it is loaded up with lettuce, three tomato slices, and slivers of onion. On top of this goes a heaping scoop of a spicy mayo based sauce, and piles of glorious, freshly shaved lamb. Clearly, the meat is the star here. Bursting with juice, the whole of the gyro encompasses all textures (from crispy outer edges to buttery insides) and cuts (including paper thin slices and hefty, meatball-esque chunks). The meat spills out over the top of the pita no matter what you do…it will be difficult to understand from this crappy cell-phone shot, hastily taken in between bites, just how much meat there is. It is no exaggeration to say that I am fine having this be the one gyro I ever eat again.

Perpendicular to the market, one cross-walk away, resides Cleveland’s most famous brewery–a company as revered for its lineup of award-winners as for its sustainable environmental practices. The brewpub at Great Lakes has pretty great food, a basement beer cellar, and pub-exclusive drafts available to only a lucky handful.

One such beer was the “Big Black Smoke,” a rich and smooth porter that differed from other smoky beers I’ve had (Stone Smoked being the obvious example) in that it reminded me of a smoked food, rather than the drier smoke itself. (I later learned that it was made with chipotle peppers.) This was easily one of my favorite beers of the last six months. Also of note was the bread pudding: though there was about nine gallons too much of the sauce on the plate, the pudding itself was hot, ethereal, and buttery to its core.

Steve's in the market

The West Side Market

Big Black Smoke at GLBC Brewpub. Shoutout to Akshai (pictured), who suggested the bread pudding. All good things should indeed be shared.

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