Defying Convention

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions will bring excitement, attention, and yes, a little chaos, to the cities of Cleveland and Philadelphia this summer.
The Republican and Democratic National Conventions will bring excitement, attention, and yes, a little chaos, to the cities of Cleveland and Philadelphia this summer. Image Used with Permission

As Republicans and Democrats converge on Cleveland and Philadelphia for their national conventions, the cities’ restaurants will have a chance to impress national audiences on all fronts. From pubs built in the 1800s to James Beard–winning venues, FSR compiled an eclectic list of restaurants with notable food and beverage programs.

How long has it really been since the madness began?

Speaking in late February, Jude Feyedelem thought it might be 18 months, although that felt like a distant and understated calculation. “It’s been insane. I can’t even believe it’s almost coming,” says Feyedelem, the director of fine dining at Michael Symon Restaurants. “I feel like I’ve been working on it my whole life.”

Even before the Republican National Committee officially announced it was bringing its party to the Quicken Loans Arena from July 18 to 21, the collective culinary heartbeat of Cleveland began to plan. Over the past few years, Feyedelem says there’s been a taste-driven rebirth of sorts in the Sixth City. Consider that, in 1997, a decade before Symon would win his first “Iron Chef” competition, the megawatt luminary was simply a popular cook scouting for a location in the trendy Tremont neighborhood. Lola Bistro, named after Chef Symon’s aunt, placed one of the first Cleveland pins in food maps across the nation. And as the chef-driven culture has blossomed, things haven’t slowed down.

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“I really do think [the Republican National Convention] is going to be a time to showcase the whole city,” Feyedelem says. “You hear people when they come to visit now say things like, ‘We didn’t know there was this much to do here. We’re going to come back. Look at all these great restaurants right in one area.’ The global spotlight is going to be on us, and many people are going to have that same lightbulb go off.”

Symon relocated Lola to the East Fourth Street area in 2005, which signaled the beginning of his Greek and Mediterranean concept, Lolita, in the former space. Manning the kitchen was Jonathon Sawyer, who just last year joined Symon as the only chefs from Cleveland to win the James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes Award. By this point, Sawyer was the owner and visionary behind The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat, Trentina, and two stadium venues. The victory came in a Great Lakes category that—outside of Sawyer—was exclusively composed of chefs with Chicago ties.

Like Feyedelem, Chef Sawyer sees his city’s spot at the table rapidly growing. “I think when we opened The Greenhouse Tavern [in 2009], it was at the height of the most recent economic recession here in America,” Sawyer says. “I think, over time, and with a great national speaker for our city like Michael Symon, it was inevitable that the scene caught up with the rest of the country. I think it’s been pretty cool to see where it’s gone over the past 10 years.” The community has also developed a tightknit personality, he adds. “When you’re talking about who Cleveland is going to root for, it’s going to be guys that they know from Cleveland, or guys and girls they know from the Rust Belt,” Sawyer explains. “There’s commonality in all these old industrial cities where we all share this brothers-in-arms attitude.”

The Greenhouse Tavern has been booked for the convention by social media mogul Twitter for “a long time,” Sawyer reports. Feyedelem says Lola is reserved solid for a week—a process that began nearly two years ago—and he expects the momentum to remain constant from anticipation to afterglow. “As the convention ends, we’re hoping we don’t see a mass exodus to the airport,” he says. “We hope some people stick around. I have to believe this will lead to, more than likely, one of the busiest summers that the city of Cleveland has seen in some time.”


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