The last time I was in Cleveland I had a spectacular meal at Michael Symon's Lola. This time I tried the sister restaurant Lolita.
Located in the historic Tremont neighborhood on the edge of downtown, Lolita is more casual and less expensive than Lola. For a martini, a glass of wine, two courses, and a tip I got out of there for under $50. And if you want to dine on the cheap, the happy hour menu has food and drinks for next to nothing.
I got there right at the 5:00 opening and discovered the bar was almost full and all tables had been reserved. I squeezed into a spot at the bar wedged behind the hostess and next to the wine rack. Got to talk to my fellow diners, who were grabbing a bite to eat before The Tribe faced Oakland. Lolita has a much more casual and neighborhood feel than Lola, which is more of a fine dining experience. Symon was in the restaurant that night and aside from a quick hello I didn't spend any time speaking to him. Lolita has a partially open kitchen and he was in and out of the prep area looking over things.
I started out with the aforementioned martini (Tanqueray and a twist) and the roasted dates. The dates were cooked in olive oil with pancetta and almonds. Really delicious without being overly sweet. Also, they managed to serve these just slightly below the temperature that burns your tongue. Amazing.
For the main course I had the hanger steak and ramps with a glass of 2006 Maggio Vini Nero D’Avola. I loved this Sicilian grape the last time I had it and was glad to see it offered by the glass. This was the first time I'd ever had ramps, the wild vegetable that's somewhere between a leek, a green onion, and garlic with edible greens on top. The ramps were sautéed with peas and assorted seasonings. Great combination of sweet and astringent onion flavors.
As for the hanger steak, it was my first time trying this cut of beef and I'm now officially in love. It hangs off the diaphragm of the cow and rests on the kidneys, which give it a deeper, earthier flavor that you normally find in organ meats, but with the texture and appearance of sirloin.
Tremont is an interesting neighborhood. You've got houses and churches and bars and schools and jammed cheek to jowl. In one direction you've got the tall buildings of downtown, and in the other a bunch of smokestacks from factories and mills. A couple of blocks away from Lolita is the St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church, with beautiful onion domes. It was built in 1911 and featured in the 1978 film The Deer Hunter.
Cleveland's got a bunch of remarkable architecture, but you're rarely able to get a shot without a bunch of powerlines in the way. At least the minivan provides a sense of scale.