Beyond Nashville: Cleveland, Lexington and Louisville

Last summer, I began planning several road trips for the fall. A few – okay, most – revolved around college football with one glaring exception: Ohio. But there was a force as strong as college football beckoning me to the Buckeye state and that force’s name is Beyoncé. Yes, I made a pilgrimage to see Queen Bey’s exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Luckily I was armed with a restaurant-heavy “to do” list to help this first-timer navigate the rest of Cleveland.

Mushroom Flatbread from Butcher and the Brewer

Since we pulled into town so late, our options were limited but I would pick the Butcher and the Brewer all over again. A brand new brewpub located in a quaint pedestrian area of downtown known as East 4th Street, I was enthralled with this place as soon as we walked in. The TVs above the long bar were all running in black and white, casting a cool, speakeasy vibe over the industrial-chic interior. Our incredibly friendly server helped us land on a round of brews followed by homemade chorizo tacos with pickled corn relish and a local goat cheese, four cheese mac and cheese topped with brown butter bread crumbs and a shiitake and oyster mushroom flatbread with goat cheese, leeks, fontina, and thyme. Maybe it was the brown butter bread crumbs, maybe it’s because I was starving, but I wanted to crawl into that pot of mac and cheese and live there forever. I was also ready to order a second set of the tacos because that chorizo was so great but fiancé suggested the flatbread and I’m glad he did. The mushrooms were delicious and tasted a little like bacon.

Mac and cheese from Butcher and the Brewer

Chorizo Tacos

Chorizo tacos from Butcher and the Brewer

We hit the Rock Hall on Friday morning before taking in a late lunch at Market Garden Brewery. Fact: we were blown away to the point of jealousy with the quality of the brewpubs in Cleveland, especially this one. After settling on our respective brews, we split beer cheese soup topped with BBQ popcorn, pulled chicken tacos and potato and cheddar perogies with caramelized apples, brussels sprouts, radish, chives and creme fraiche. I meant to ask if those came straight from the market next door but I was too busy gobbling them up to do so. Not only did this spot earn top brewery in our books, the beer cheese soup earned top food on fiancé’s scorecard. I just wish it had been a tad warmer so we could have enjoyed the ample patio that was beckoning us outdoors.

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Cheddar and potato perogies

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Beer cheese soup with BBQ popcorn croutons

We ventured next door to the historic West Side Market, where delicious smells sunk in as quickly as the regret of realizing I didn’t have a cooler to take home some of the fresh meat, cheese, pasta and other goodies. We “settled” (using that term sarcastically) on some delicious freshly made cannoli from Theresa’s, while taking in the market from a viewing ledge overlooking the hustle and bustle of it all.

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Four fresh cannolis, each about 4″ long, from Theresa’s in West Side Market

Afterward, we walked across the street afterward for you guessed it, yet another beer, this time from Great Lakes Brewing Company. Fiancé especially loved this place for the beers and the old basement we sat in. (Note: I know I am doing a disservice by glossing over all the beer we drank, but I’m not great at describing or distinguishing between beers like our dear Carrie. I lean toward dark beer and everything I tried, I loved!)

To kill time, we followed our lists and our noses to Little Italy, which was a really cute part of town. We took advantage of an early happy hour at Vino Veritas and chatted with the chef, who was also tending bar while we were there. He poured us some of the housemade wine and before too long, served up a sample of his fresh marinara sauce which was delightful. If we had planned to stay any longer in Cleveland, we would have made sure to enjoy a meal from Little Italy, either at Vino Veritas or one of the other many restaurants, including nearby Presti’s bakery!

That evening, we were unable to get a table at one of Michael Symon’s restaurants but did visit the popular Lola for a drink. I was sad to miss out since he had recently wowed Nashvillians at the Music City Food and Wine Festival, but we were glad to soak in the ambiance for a bit. The friendly bartender told us how Lola was one of the anchors in revitalizing the East 4th Street area we had enjoyed so much during our stay. We chose to have dinner at nearby Greenhouse Tavern, which was eclectic, but great. I had heard great things about their patio but we chose to sit inside again due to the chill in the air. I wanted to love Greenhouse Tavern but I wouldn’t race back to Cleveland for it. We split a burger with frites and gnocchi and while all were delicious, I was more intrigued by the art installation, the walls of VHS tapes and Grease playing above the bar than I was with my meal.

We left Cleveland bright and early on Saturday and headed south for a spin on the bourbon trail. Lunch in Lexington at County Club proved to be a smart decision: this unassuming if not for the Garden and Gun recommendation restaurant was a gem. We split a pimento cheese sandwich and a pork sandwich and a side of double cooked fries, which were so simple but oh so perfect.

The bourbon trail took us to Louisville, where we enjoyed brunch on Sunday at Proof on Main. Levon Wallace was another name I recognized from reading up on the MCFW, so I had high hopes and was not disappointed (note: since our visit, Chef Wallace has left Louisville and will be taking up residence right here in Nashville as chef at Cochon Butcher, opening later this summer). I thoroughly enjoyed my french toast casserole topped with nutella, hazelnuts, lemon and toasted marshmallow, while across the table, the shrimp and grits were getting rave reviews.

French toast casserole: the standard by which all brunches shall be measured

French toast casserole: the standard by which all brunches shall be measured

Shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits

My takeaway: Cleveland definitely has the brewpub thing down. While Nashville is not short at all on great breweries, I would love to see more spots like Blackstone and the dearly departed Bosco’s pop up in town. After all, a great beer deserves a great bite! I also want to visit Louisville again soon, as we didn’t get to eat at all the places I wanted spend much time there as I’d have preferred.

I’d like to thank Tom Noe for permission to use his fantastic photos from Butcher and the Brewer in this post.

Events and catering professional with a writing background. Alabama native with an Auburn soul. Beyoncé enthusiast in a country music world. Make friends with what you are.