Last week, Jim and I flew back to the United States for a surprise retirement party for Jim’s mother (Gail) in Cleveland. She was incredibly surprised. It was wonderful, and we stuck around for a little over a week soaking up beloved (and a little missed) American culture with friends and family which included lots of brunches (Jim misses his American pancakes), lots of beer drinking, and of course some baseball. This was my second trip to Cleveland, and I had a to-do list with me this time. If you find yourself up that way, I hope you’ll find some of our food/drink options handy/helpful (I loved it all).
On our second evening in Cleveland, we met up with Jim’s aunt & uncle from Boston (Bill & June), his brother from Seattle (Matt), and his sister & brother-in-law (Kirsten & Eric) for dinner and beers at Great Lakes Brewery the night before the surprise party. This spot has been on my list for a long time, probably since sometime in the early 2000s when I was first introduced to Burning River and Edmund Fitzgerald (Great Lakes was also the specialty beer at our wedding). So, I was rather excited to drink a few beers there. We both drank tap house specials: a sour beer for me (can’t remember the name) and a nitro stout for Jim. Both were delicious. Makes me miss good beer a lot. Outside of the brewery visit/dinner, I’d say we drank more than our fair share of Great Lakes Beer throughout our stay.
The surprise party, itself, was quite an event. There were folks from all throughout Gail’s life present. Matt, Jim, and I were an extra-special surprise. We’re really glad we were able to make it, and I’m even more excited I was able to meet more of Jim’s extended family there.
I mentioned brunches. We ate lots of pancakes. I’ll wager Jim had pancakes almost every day, if not every day. But, the most impressive pancakes were the Lemon Ricotta pancakes at Inn on Coventry. Jim has been talking up these pancakes for as long as I’ve known him. They were really tasty (though I still think Jim’s are better…he disagrees). Something that surprised me is how none of Jim’s friends that I’ve met have heard of that place. I later learned that’s because it’s on the East side of Cleveland and they’re mostly from the West side and/or Akron area. Regardless, I recommend this spot for breakfast – quick and tasty.
I also attended my first Catholic mass, and we had two deli/diner type breakfasts with Jim’s dad, Roger. Roger’s church – St. Stephen’s Church – was quite beautiful (see here), and reminded me a bit of some of the churches we’ve seen here in Toulouse. I believe it’s a historic site. We also had a tasty breakfast not too far from there at The Big Egg and another day at Jack’s Deli (I was really tempted by the pastrami).
Another place on my “to see in Cleveland” list was the West Side Market. It’s a large market downtown (a block or two from Great Lakes Brewery). It’s a pretty, historic building with lots of food stalls. I found it rather quaint that all the stalls had matching signage. Everything felt a little like a throwback to an earlier time. I almost imagine if the owners of The Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia opened up a large market, this is how they’d design it. I think if we lived there, it’d be fun to buy food there every once in a while. I’d say one of the most interesting (and oddly common) things we saw was Great Lakes Christmas Ale Bacon. We were left wondering how the Christmas Ale makes its way into the bacon. Jim likes to think the pigs are directly fed Christmas Ale. We have no idea, but think we might buy some the next time we’re in Cleveland to give it a try.
After visiting the market we stopped for lunch at a brewery almost next door. To our surprise, Ohio City seems to be the brewery neighborhood, as I think there were at least four, maybe five breweries peppered throughout a five block radius. We picked Market Garden Brewery & Distillery (gotta get the beer while you can). Jim had the Smoked Summer Porter (it was great) and I opted for a Fat Head Bumble berry (I think this rivals Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat Ale for my favorite blueberry beer [don’t worry Jenn & Brad, I also still love the blueberries IN my beer from Boston]. It was so tasty I ordered it again that night at the Winking Lizard when we met up with a number of Jim’s friends from high school). I have to admit, something I’ve really missed (even when we lived in California) was east coast beer. I’m pretty delighted we got to enjoy so much while we were back in the states. We opted to order the tacos (which were tasty), as those don’t really exist here in France.
There’s also some quality ice-cream in Cleveland. There’s a GIANT Mitchell’s Ice Cream in Ohio City with a plexiglass or glass wall behind the servers where you can see folks making the ice-cream along with a cool train that delivers pints up near the ceiling (you can see a tour here). I actually just watched the video myself and was delighted to find out this particular location used to be a Rialto Theatre…makes it seem even cooler. Anyway, we didn’t end up getting ice-cream at this one and instead opted to get some ice-cream with Gail back near her. I ordered Mint Chocolate Chip, and it was legit. Not as good as Graeter’s (few places are), but I’d say it was a VERY close second. Good thing there isn’t one of those down the street from us here, I’d be there at least once/week, easy. Interesting tidbit, Gail is friends with the founders’ mother. What a small world!
Probably my favorite activity, though (aside from the party), was the Indians/Nationals game. It was a fantastic game. Fantastic. In fact, I can’t think of the last time I went to a game with that much 9th inning action (see a recap here). I’m also not sure if I’ve ever seen that much action off of two bunts. Or if I’ve been to a game during the regular season with two teams in first place. I now have a favorite Indians player – Tyler Naquin. And, I’m happy to report my “favorite” Nats (former Phil) – Jayson Werth has still got it (that’s for you, Kate).
To start, it’s a great stadium with a great location (similar to Philadelphia, it’s close to the football stadium and basketball arena). We had seats in the upper deck behind first base. Unfortunately that meant a little evening sun for an hour or so (ok, a lot of sun…it was hot), but Gail got us all new Cleveland hats, which made quite the difference. I completed my summer beer needs with both a standard Leinenkugel Summer Shandy as well as a bonus Leinenkugel Grapefruit Shandy (I’m still always searching for that elusive Cranberry Ginger Shandy). It was the perfect refresher for the game. Nothing really beats a great baseball game with a summer shandy, hotdog, and crackerjacks. That’s is, essentially, how you spell American Summer.
All in all, it was just what I needed in July, and I’m so glad we were able to go.