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Saturday, June 20, 2015

A New Clean, Well-lighted Place

Hemingway had his clean, well-lighted place; a small cozy bistro tucked away in post-WWI Paris. He wrote at length extolling the coziness, the quaintness, and the inspirational merits of the café.

(If the reader is not familiar with “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” of Hemingway’s I would suggest borrowing it from the library or purchasing from a bookstore (you know, those buildings with all the books inside), and acquainting one’s self with Ernest and his times.)

However, my Lovely Bride and I have discovered a far cleaner, well-lighted and affable place in post Great Recession Cleveland. Tucked away in the former warehouse district, on a bluff above the gritty Cuyahoga River is one of our favorite places.

A warm spring evening finds the restaurant/café bustling with activity, nearly every table filled with diners although it was close to 9 o’clock.

It was quite by accident we stumbled upon this jewel one Saturday. We had spent the better part of the afternoon traveling back in time at the Western Reserve Historical Society museum, another bright spot of Northeast Ohio.

Upon leaving, we were desirous of having dinner. While there is certainly no end to excellent local dining places in and around the University Circle area, LB had a yearning for some Greek food.

We set off on a tour of the newly revamped Euclid Avenue, past some not-so-great areas, through the CSU campus, and toward Public Square. As for myself, my stomach was not quite as discriminating as LB’s, and was ready to take a stab at the BB-Q joints, burger places, and soul food emporiums we cruised past.

Undeterred in her quest, she was following the Apostle Paul’s advice, pressing onward toward the mark. Albeit, he was illustrating a far more lofty quest than a dinner of moussaka. 

We wended our way around a Public Square under renovation, past the Society for Savings bank building, tipped our figurative hats to the Old Stone Church, and found the corner which once was home to John Q’s Public House was now vacant.

With that uniquely American bent, we continued onward; Westward, ever Westward. I was beginning to become anxious, as the Great Divide of the Cuyahoga River was fast approaching. Neither of us had passports or visas with us. The Point of No Return loomed.

For those not familiar with the Greater Cleveland area, it is unique in many, many ways. Unique in its founding, not as a trading post done good, not as a strategic military location which kept on growing, nor a spot where a broken down prospector, withdrawing his pick from the soil, spots a glitter, shouts “Eureka!” and overnight, a flood of treasure seekers has arrived.

No, Cleveland was begun as a profit making real-estate venture. Moses Cleaveland, the founder and namesake of the city, had been hired by the Connecticut Land Company to map and plat the lands of the Western Reserve.

The Western Reserve was land set-aside for the survivors of England’s scorched earth policy in Connecticut during our Revolutionary War; giving those families who had lost their farms, businesses, homes, etc  the opportunity for a fresh start in the newly opened Ohio Territory.

The Connecticut Land Company was established for the purpose of selling tracts of land to those people who were not entitled to a land-grant.

A natural barrier between the two sides of Cleveland (in fact, the west bank was called Ohio City, a name which lives in describing the area which had long ago been annexed) is the Cuyahoga. Although bridges now span its width, the river (or The River, as it is referred to) is a cultural and psychological barrier as well.  The old stigma of being “a Westsider” or an “Eastsider” has begun to fade, although vestiges still remain.

Hence, one can now appreciate my anxiety. In desperation, we turned down a narrow little street, popping out on West Ninth Street. We spot an eatery on a corner, and resignedly opt to go there. I was at the point of considering boiling the seat-belt for nourishment.  Then, with a shaft of light streaming from the heavens, the haunting tones of an angelic chorus, we saw IT.

A sign,  high above: “Santorini  Greek Taverna”.

We entered into one of the best kept secrets in town. Greeted by a cheerful young lady, we were shown to our table.  A plate of olives and pita was placed before us. We were treated like family who had not been seen for some time. Explaining to Alexis, our server that I am Irish, so I need some help with anything beyond potatoes, she gladly described the many wonderful selections.

The fragrances from the open kitchen area filled the place. With a shout of “Oompa!” a near-by table was enthralled with the presentation of Saganaki, a flaming Greek cheese appetizer.  Trays of youvetsi,  pork souvlaki, and so much more were carried past; invoking an “Ooo, what is that?” reaction.

Finally, we settled upon our meal; which I cannot recall the exact constituents. It was excellent, however.  
We also were treated to their version of baklava, the classic Greek dessert. Typically, I am not a huge fan of this sticky, gooey, flaky pastry. However, the spin (not going to tell you, you have to check it out for yourself) put on by Santorini’s is outstanding!

We departed, feeling quite pleased.

So it was, we found ourselves on a warm spring evening (see The Schmooze, May, 2013) entering the door of our new favorite place. Being a busy Friday, we thought we would simply meld into the background; just another couple at a two-top table.

We were wrong as the greeter remembered us, Alexis greeted us with a smile (actually LB got a hug); we were astounded. As we were enjoying our light repast, Gus Karakostas, the owner spotted us. Making a bee-line for our table, we were warmly greeted. Again, LB received a hug (what is up with that?) and I received a hardy hand-shake, which was fine with me… that whole guys-hugging-thing… a generational thing…you know.

Finally, we made our departure, Gus joining us at the door.  Stepping onto the sidewalk, the alfresco café tables filled, the happy sounds of conversation and laughter filling our ears; we knew we would be back.
So, Ernest, you can have your clean, well-lighted place. I am sure it is quite nice. But, give me Santorini’s in tough, won’t-stay-down Cleveland any day.

*NOTE: the writer of this column has received NO remuneration or consideration in any form. I do believe in sharing some of the positive experiences LB and I have.*

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