Saturday, July 04, 2009

Cleveland Ethnic the Book

I’ve seen the book Cleveland Ethnic Eats on the rack before. I’ve even picked it up, flipped through a few pages only to put it back on the shelf declaring, “I’m from Cleveland, what do I need a ‘guide’ for.” Well, as it turns out in its 8th edition, there is plenty to learn from Cleveland EE, even for a home grown foodie like myself. With over 350 entries, almost 60 of them new since the last edition, I have a whole new perspective on the vast landscape of ethnic eats in my own backyard.

You don’t have to go far into the book to find a great explanation of why this guide is so good. On page XI of the Introduction a section labeled, “How the restaurants and market were chosen” explains things clearly, and includes all the points that make this book a great reference. First, all the restaurants are chosen because they exemplify a discernable ethnic character that is authentic and appreciated by its local following. Just because it’s popular or new in town, you are not going to find it in this guide. Ethnicities are not twisted or manipulated to find space for the newest, hottest burger joint by calling it German either. Sticking to this strict idea keeps the guide focused on why we picked it up in the first place.

In a similar statement, the book lacks acknowledgment of national chains, and ‘fusion cuisine.’ This guide is about Cleveland, by Cleveland, for Cleveland and leaving out the big chains encourages all of us to support our local restaurant scene. Without saying anything bad concerning major chain restaurants the guide stays focused and what we want to know about the local scene. We already have the chain restaurant national catch phrase hammered into our head all day long through commercials. Turn off the TV, and pick up this book!

With the exemption of one specific paragraph in the Introduction the word “I” is almost never used in this guide. It’s much appreciated. The summary of every restaurant is written in a very honest way, but lacks any form of judgment or rating. There are clear descriptions of the food, service, and décor of every restaurant. Examples of menu items are given, some items seem to be suggested as what the restaurant has best to offer, but never is anything negative said. Certainly every restaurant has its ups and downs, and a lot of times these are a matter of perspective. What the guide lacks in comparing and contrasting restaurants is an objective statement about the restaurants atmosphere, pricing, and neighborhood. If you read this into the full description you can get a good feel for the type of place you’re headed into.

The first time I took a good look at Cleveland EE I missed a lot, the second time around this is what I found most interesting….. The Introduction is worth reading. I usually skip over this part as it’s a sappy story about the author’s family or experiences writing the book, but not in this case. Very important issues like described above, as well as a section called “Using this book” will help clear up any confusion about how many money signs means what or why pilo is spelled phyllo. Also, a nice little map puts all the neighborhoods and major streets into perspective. Ideas of ‘near east’ or ‘farther south’ are kind of arbitrary. From a guy living on Lake Road in Lakewood, Lorain road in Cleveland is South, Parma is far, and Akron is almost a day trip…fortunately a map is provided in the guide so we are all on the same page, and not my page as it goes.

So you have a short attention span, don’t want to read a bunch of reviews, or maybe you know exactly what you want? The Index of Cleveland EE is great. Restaurants are segregated by name first, then a list by area, then by ethnicity, then into themes, such as romantic or al fresco, lastly by street, yes street since a lot of ethnic restaurants are grouped together entrenched in a few block radius of specific ethnic area. This Index far exceeds my expectations, and is quite useful in and of itself.

One unique quirk in all the descriptions of the restaurants is a quick synopsis of the storefront and parking situation. Not that this would sway my decision to go to any specific place, but to know there is plenty of parking around the corner, or the storefront is set off the street behind a sign, down a dark alley just helps me get there.

I suggest before you go searching for parking at your local ethnic restaurant you park yourself on the couch and take a long hard look at the ethnic Cleveland you’ve seen, but have yet to really look into via Cleveland Ethnic Eats.


Cleveland Ethnic Eats is authored by Laura Taxel who has her finger on the pulse of Cleveland’s dining scene. Her book is published by Gray & Company which is one place you might find it available for purchase as well as and many local retail bookstores, at quite a reasonable price I might add.


1 comment:

Laura Taxel said...

Thanks for positive and complementary comments about my book Cleveland Ethnic Eats. What makes me especially happy is that you really connected with what I'm trying to do- more so than many reviewers and food writing professionals. Your thoughful insights are an affirmation for all the work I've put into keeping this thing going since the first edition was published in 1995.

Now I have a blog too, where
I'm posting updates, news,and info from other ethnic eaters about where they go and what they discover.