Michael Symon’s cadre of restaurants are some of the larger jewels in Cleveland’s restaurant crown. So it hasn’t been active avoidance that’s kept me from dining there, more timing and opportunity. That was until this past Friday when my friend Kate and I took a drive to Tremont for night nosh at Lolita’s Happy Hour part II.
Lolita wisely re-offers the chance at food and drink specials starting again at 10:30pm and we were lucky enough to snag the last two seats at the bar—specials are available at the bar, only. In addition to Lolita’s modest but powerful dinner menu we received the Happy Hour specials list which offers a few delicious bites for $5 as well as a heads up on what drinks are on the cheap that night. We ordered a round of $2 Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and poured over the menus.
Yeah, $2 Sierra Nevada Pale Ales. Most joints you’re lucky to get $2 Miller Lights at happy hour, but Lolita offers up one of the finest mass market brews at an unbeatable price.
Picking from Lolita’s menu would be hard enough on its own, but coupled with a selection of amazing $5 choices made the picking all the harder. Kate was the first to make any sort of decision, stating that we must get the crispy chicken livers from the appetizer menu. I countered this with roasted bone marrow, something I’ve wanted to eat for a while, but had yet to find it on a menu or in my price range. $8 seemed like a fair price for an experiment. While the whole $5 menu was piquing our interest, with two apps ordered we selected only the fried Brussels sprouts. Needing to round out our faux tapas meal with something of substance we agreed on the duck prosciutto pizza.
Business was booming for 10:30-11:00 on a Friday so we sipped Sierra Nevadas and caught up. I’m not entirely sure how much time had passed but was pleasantly surprised when our food arrived. Everything looked and smelled amazing and there was little hesitation before diving in. Having had a long standing issue with the consumption of offal I decided to dive in headfirst with some chicken liver. I’ve tried fowl liver in the past and never had anything pleasant to report about it. With one bite this dish changed my mind. With their outsides perfectly fried and crispy I was surprised when the insides all but melted in my mouth. The last time I tried liver I remember it tasting extremely metallic, but these were robust and meaty, a strong flavor that was certainly chicken at heart but approached beefiness in its power and weight. The livers were served on a bed of some of the creamiest, delicate polenta I’ve ever crossed fork with and garnished with bacon and mushrooms. Easily one of the best things I’ll eat this year.
Next we moved on to the marrow. I’ve long been intrigued by the consumption of marrow. It always seemed like a very primal, animalistic thing to eat. That only lions and bears and Vikings and other beasts of their ilk would crack open the bones of another animal and suck the rich, fatty substance from therein. But apparently it’s for fancy pantses, too. We received 3 stout bones that had been sawed open to expose the marrow and make for easier scooping. The marrow had been roasted with a simple salsa verde and was served with pickled onions and toasted bread for spreading. I scraped out the contents of half a bone and spread it on the bread. I could almost tell as the bread and marrow entered my mouth that this was going to be amazing. Marrow, if you’ve never had it, is the essence of beef flavor. Like bacon its flavor is fatty in the best possible way, and the marrow’s concentrated beefiness is like getting punched in the mouth with a steak filled with hamburgers. It’s beef to the highest degree and should be experienced at least once. I’m so happy to have tried this and can’t wait to have it again!
With the wild cards successfully played we moved onto the fried Brussels sprouts. Ranging from slightly charred to perfectly cooked, these sprouts offer a variety of tastes and textures on their own. They are then tossed with anchovies and capers for some salt and walnuts for extra crunch. There was also the perfect hint of sweetness throughout the dish which my taste parts noted as balsamic vinegar or a reduction, but it’s not listed on the menu so I can’t say with 100% certainty. Arguably as good as Melt’s sprouts in cherry lambic glaze, Lolita’s sprouts number amongst my favorite preparations of these tiny cabbages for both taste and approach. Finally we came to the pizza. Topped with a couple of soft cooked eggs, parmesan, rosemary, and gorgeous flakes of duck prosciutto this simple little pizza was the perfect marriage of sweet, salty, fatty, cheesy, and carbs. As fantastic as it was, a solid “B” for sure, in light of the three other “A” plates it just felt a little flat. Accompanied by less ambitious sides I’m sure it would’ve shined, but with the livers and the marrow on the table, few things would have seemed as bold and flavorful.
Full and more than satisfied we hung around to finish our beers before making our way to Edison’s Pub for a night cap. We were lucky enough to find Stone’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale on tap and had a few. The Bourbon Barrel ale is golden in color and produces a modest head with little lacing. It smells primarily of malt with hints of oak and maple. Its primary flavor is malt mingling with the woodiness of the barrel aging, with hints of vanilla and maple from the residual bourbon. A wonderful, hearty “dessert” beer if ever there was one. The Stone offering is on the completely opposite end of the spectrum. Classified as an American black ale and clocking in at 8.7 ABV the Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale is not to be trifled with. Its nearly pitch black in a glass with a small head and modest lacing. Its faint aroma is a mixture of hops and dark malts, both of which are subtle. With such an subtle fragrance I was surprised by how much depth of flavor this beer has—it’s from Stone so I shouldn’t have been. There’s a quick jab of malty-ness at first which I quickly overwhelmed by the dueling flavors of dark roasted malt and a heavy dose of pine-then-citrus hops. All together an amazing, flavorful, powerful but balanced beer, and proof contrary to my long held belief that black IPAs are generally unsatisfying. I realize that this isn’t technically a black IPA, but it does prove that dark beers can be made hoppy successfully.