Seeing Cleveland the Rachael Ray Way

I recently spent two days in Cleveland, Ohio, where I visited several of Rachael Ray’s restaurant picks from her Food Network show $40 a Day. Rachael featured Cleveland on both $40 a Day and Tasty Travels, but I only visited her $40 a Day picks (I am cheap, okay?).

Now, I am pretty sure that Rachael must have a friend there or was “hosted” by the Cleveland Tourism Board, because (please don’t yell at me) I was not very impressed by Cleveland. More specifically, I was not impressed by Downtown Cleveland. I understand that it is a city in transition and I read that it has improved a ton in recent years, but many stores on major streets in the downtown area were abandoned and boarded up. And the streets themselves were a disaster. They were either in disrepair or under construction. The place just was not very visitor-friendly.

But, that being said, I definitely recommend Rachael’s picks. They inspired us to venture out into areas we otherwise might not have visited. And the outlying areas were much nicer than Downtown Cleveland.

Our first Rachael Ray stop was in the Little Italy area of town, to the East of Downtown Cleveland. It was about a 20 minute drive (construction delays) that leads you past the lovely University Circle neighborhood (at least the parts I saw were lovely). We went to lunch at the Trattoria on the Hill (or Trattoria Roman Gardens, depending on which sign you read). The place was outstanding! The interior felt like a San Francisco restaurant to me, with dim lighting and a sort of blast from the past feel. And the food was to die for. We ordered linguine with white clam sauce and three cheese and spinach ravioli. We just don’t get Italian food this good at home, so we savored every single bite. The total cost, including a soda (I guess they would call it pop) and tax was $25.99 for two.

Next, we went to dinner at the Great Lakes Brewing Company in the Ohio City neighborhood, located across the Quahog River from Downtown. It was a very cute revitalized neighborhood. In my travels, I have constantly found that breweries with great beer usually have less than average food. Such is not the case with this restaurant/brewery. We sat down next to a group of people playing Irish music around a table. Nice way to start, huh? There were a confusing number of options for places to sit: in the bar, in the pub, in the beer garden and in the dining room. I just looked at the server and said I wanted to eat outside. She said that was the Beer Garden. I smiled and nodded.

Rachael only had a beer sampler at Great Lakes and she missed out! Although, the beer was fabulous, too. After taking on the task of trying several beers (somebody had to do it) we preferred the Holy Moses and the IPA. For our first entr�©e, we chose the Pretzel Chicken. The dark sauce was mustardy and spicy and the pretzels made the skin just a bit crispy. It was simply amazing. Next, we tried the Bratwurst and Pierogi after it was suggested by our server. Luckily, we decided to share, because each dish was outstanding in its own right. Although, if pressed to choose between the two, I would order the Bratwurst instead of the Chicken. Our total bill was around 50 bucks, but that included three beers and the entr�©es. I would definitely go back.

After all that heavy food (and a stop at White Castle) we decided to end our trip in Cleveland at Tommy’s. Located in the Coventry neighborhood even further East of Downtown than Little Italy, this was our favorite of all of Rachael’s picks.

We loved Tommy’s in part because we NEVER would have found it but for Rachael’s recommendation. And the food was both healthy and cheap, which can be a tough combination to find while traveling. I ordered the Zeke (only after resisting the temptation to order the Rachael omelet). It was a toasted pita bread sandwich, with scrambled eggs, green bell peppers and onions inside. We also ordered the Tee-Jay, which was the same except it had ham and cheese instead of peppers and onions. They give you two individual pitas on each plate, so we traded and were able to sample both. The ingredients were noticeably fresh and prepared to perfection. With our pita sammies and two coffees, the total was only $13.18 with tax and before tip.

So, despite my disappointment in Downtown Cleveland, I had no disappointment regarding Rachael’s picks. They allowed us to really get a feel for the whole City rather than just the Downtown area.

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