From the Senior Editor: Food’s Revival Role

Can food help revive a city — and a region? It certainly can play a part.

Here’s an example. We sat outside this week for a birthday dinner at a lively bistro. Near our table, a brazier burned brightly as well-dressed guests chatted in the warm evening air.

The wine list featured a variety of intelligent choices, from crisp chilled rose to warm reds and sparkling whites. The special was pork belly, the raw bar included a choice of east coast or west coast oysters, and the frites looked fantastic.

We were not in Paris, or New York, or Chicago. We were at Zinc, on Euclid Avenue, in downtown Cleveland. Zinc, set a historic building, is one of the most recent editions to the city’s growing culinary scene, which is centered around the corner on Fourth Street. Here’s a piece that Dan Bobkoff recently did for our partner ideastream on Cleveland’s new restaurants.

I’m convinced that good food is essential not just to a city’s spirit, but to a city’s revival. Restaurant wise, Cleveland already rocks — and so can the Great Lakes region.

At Changing Gears, we’re going to spend time the next few years talking about chefs, food purveyors, farmers and others in the business as they work to make the region as well known for food as it is for industry.

Keep an eye on our site, because we’ll soon be featuring Reinvention Recipes from around the area – new twists on familiar classics. The first participants are sending in their dishes now.

(Food folks: if you’d like to participate in Reinvention Recipes, send an email to changinggears (at) umich.edu. We’ll provide more details.)

Cleveland’s food scene is getting a growing amount of attention. Anthony Bourdain set a segment of his No Reservations program on the Travel Channel here last year, which is how I discovered the amazing West Side Market.

The city’s culinary star is undoubtedly Michael Symon, who is among the ranks of the Iron Chefs on the Food Network program. His flagship restaurant, Lola, has become a stop for any foodie who comes to town. It was full by 12:30 p.m. on the day I had lunch there with staff from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, itself instrumental in Cleveland’s downtown revival.

Chef Symon also has branched out in the region by opening Roast in Detroit’s Book-Cadillac hotel, which stood empty for years before reopening in a multi-million dollar renovation in 2009.

If Cleveland has a food sage, it’s clearly Michael Ruhlman, the author of numerous books, including his newest, Ratio. Michael has a terrific Web site, and was always helpful to me when I was writing food stories for The New York Times, like this one about Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.

Of course, Cleveland faces the same economic issues that are challenging the rest of the Manufacturing Belt, and Changing Gears will be exploring those in great detail.

But good meals and a rich entertainment scene can change the perception of a city, too. After all, visitors like me are going to be spreading the word. And we foodies love to discover new places.

Do you have some favorite spots in Cleveland? How about the rest of the Manufacturing Belt? Tell us about them.

Leave a Reply