Only in CLE: A Fresh Focus

March 15, 2016
Only in CLE: A Fresh Focus

Cleveland restaurants raise urban plots and family farms for local ingredients

Nicole Delamotte

You can build failures into fortunes. We’ve had practice. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River can catch fire. Our Browns can fumble away wins. Cities across America can put tongues firmly in cheeks when mentioning Cleveland, and we’ll just take those lemons and turn them into lemon chiffon pie. Then, we’ll pass out slices at the 2016 Republican National Convention (July 18-21 in Cleveland). We’ll use CLE Iron Chef Michael Symon’s secret recipe, and we’ll save that big piece for the globe’s greatest baller, our very own LeBron James. We invite you to grab a slice too. Put away past perceptions, snag a fork, and let us show you the people and places redefining Cleveland as a success today through our "Only in Cleveland" article series. Just be warned: This pie will not be humble.

Cleveland’s farm-to-table movement is getting up early this spring and summer, so you don’t have to. Health- and eco-focused chefs and restaurants all over northeast Ohio are breaking dawn to tend urban plots, visit small family farms, and hand-pick the freshest local ingredients for their menus. From ramp season to tomato months, here’s your must-eat-and-drink list from the freshest kitchens in all of CLE.

Spice things up
Heirloom veggies, fresh pork, and herbs don’t have to travel far to find Spice Kitchen. The west side bistro’s seasonal menu is plucked straight from its very own 13-acre Spice Acres in Brecksville’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The fleeting foraged ramps season screams spring, and Chef Josh Woo has put the wild garlic on a flatbread with eggs, bacon, and salted herbs.

Nice and toasty
It doesn’t get much more earth-to-table than right outside your doorstep. At Toast, the menu is prepared around the chickens, hoop house, and raised bed garden that sit smack dab in the middle of bustling Gordon Square Arts District. Go the small plate route with their tempura-fried broccoli, which is tossed in buffalo sauce and served with bleu cheese. Wash it all down with one of their eclectic and adventurous wine selections.

In the green
You thought The Greenhouse Tavern was all gravy frites and pig heads, right? Well, James Beard award-winning chef Jonathan Sawyer’s East 4th Street mainstay has also long trumpeted the local food movement, including sourcing plenty of its bounty right from the Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. The farm’s stash of community-supported agriculture guarantees fresh pastas and salads with micro-veggies and seasonal favorites like rhubarb and radishes.

Chef’s discretion
Michael Symon sings the praises of the Chef’s Garden too — loud enough that its cauliflower became one of the secret ingredients on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. There’s no surprise you can find Chef’s Garden farmer Lee Jones’ produce popping up all over the menu of Symon’s East 4th gem Lola. In fact, the roasted seasonal vegetarian entrees are built straight from the Chef’s Garden bounty and can easily be tweaked to be made vegan.

Bumper crop
As their name suggests, Crop Bistro is obsessed with what’s fresh. The roots of its inventive dishes are firmly planted in Ohio, calling on regional farmers to bring local flavor to its dazzling dishes and digs. The stars of their perennial favorite steakhouse wedge salad, for example, are Green City Growers Bibb lettuce and oven-roasted Green Field Farms heirloom tomatoes. It’s all served with smoked bleu cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and smoked bacon.

It figures
The cozy, energetic Flying Fig is known for its creative touches on traditional faves, and it’s also a big time supporter of local ingredients like strawberries from Woolf Farms and goat cheese from Mackenzie Creamery. Try their paillard with chicken from Tea Hills Farms served over a salad of Ohio City Farm arugula with spring radishes, asparagus, and ramps.

Get lucky
Brunch tastes best farm fresh. Just visit Lucky's Cafe. This all-day breakfast café is anything but your average pancake joint — but you can bet they do that well, too. Earthy Killbuck Valley Mushrooms and meat from Dee Jay’s Custom Butchering add savory flair to their offerings. Crunch on their granola made with Snowville Creamery yogurt, Ohio honey, and grains from Stutzman Farm.

An urban picnic
Don’t let the concrete fool you. Pura Vida may be at the heart of Public Square, but what’s on the plates of this stylish downtown destination is straight from the earth, like Green City Growers' lettuce and Mackenzie Creamery goat cheese. Try the spring pea and ricotta ravioli with Killbuck Valley mushrooms, roasted carrot puree, and pickled ramps.

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