Sep 20, 2016

Brew X 2 on Cleveland’s near west side

My work requires extensive travel.  But it also requires hunkering down at the same location for weeks to months per assignment. As you can imagine, even a travel-obsessed commoner can find it challenging to prevent the weekly routine from getting monotonous.  Fortunately, in Cleveland there were good co-workers and good beer -- and one co-worker who made beer and brewpubs his passion.  
With that in mind, it didn’t take long for us to discover Cleveland’s historic Ohio City neighborhood for after-hours exploring.  Ohio City just happens to contain Cleveland’s largest portion of its seemingly ever-growing number of craft breweries.  And when you think about Cleveland’s blue collar image, it really should be a beer loving town.  We began our sampling of the city’s craft brewpubs with the oldest -- and possibly still the best of the bunch -- Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Since it started in 1988, Great Lakes Brewing Company has grown into a symbol of the resurgence of the trendy Ohio City neighborhood it anchors.  You can find their beers practically everywhere in the city (there are even brewpub outposts at the Cleveland and Akron airports), but wouldn’t you rather go straight to the source?

That source is connected to this rather well-kept and slightly innocuous looking brick building on Market Street, less than a block off the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare of 25th Street.  

You really can’t miss it.  Use the historic West Side Market as your landmark.

Once inside, you get a better appreciation of the history that permeates throughout the building.  The brewpub winds through several levels, including the basement, but the centerpiece has to be this mahogany bar that dates back to the 1860s.  Rumor has it Eliot Ness liked to drink here -- when it was legal, of course.

On both sides you’ll find a list of what’s on tap for the day.   A first timer should first and foremost try the brewery’s signature Dortmunder Gold Lager.  It works quite well as the company’s standard bearer.  The Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Eliot Ness Amber Lager are just as enjoyable, but based on my experience, I’d also recommend Conway’s Irish Red Ale (a spring seasonal) and the Burning River Pale Ale -- if only for the name which pays tribute to the city that once had its river catch on fire from pollution.

Great Lakes’ brewpub has a decent menu with items that are a step above standard bar fare while catering to Cleveland tastes:  sausages, pretzels, pierogies, a stilton cheese soup (!) and excellent hearty burgers (I recommend the Old World Burger).

The second brewpub we visited (don’t worry, it was a separate trip) was Nanobrew, just about a block away from Great Lakes on 25th Street.  

I initially didn’t expect much from Nanobrew, unfairly comparing it to Great Lakes and not really impressed with the storefront, but I changed my tune quickly once we got inside.  

Nanobrew doesn’t feature many beers of its own; however, it has an extensive menu of other craft beers, including many from the Market Garden Brewery located next to the West Side Market.  Nanobrew doesn’t seem to be afraid of the competition.  Instead, it seems to encourage it.

Still, since I was at Nanobrew, it would be a shame to not sample the “home” product -- in this case, a flight of four Nano-beers:  the Namber Amber Ale, the Icebreaker IPA, the Tandem Cruiser Lemon Radler (my personal favorite) and the Tettnang Pale Ale.  

Nanobrew also features a spacious wooden bar as the brewpub’s centerpiece, with plenty of seating to people watch, share conversation or simply soak in the ambiance between the bare brick walls.  

Or, you could just hang out with this guy.

Nanobrew’s pub menu seems to focus on a few specialties, brunch items in particular, as well as an inventive selection of burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.  They also feature rotating daily specials … you can always check them out on the chalkboard at the end of the bar, which also provides a view into the kitchen.

Far out, man!!
Having scoped out the menu beforehand, though, I couldn’t resist ordering the Acid Trip -- a nice-sized burger topped with cheddar cheese and topped with a tangy combination of pickled onions, cole slaw and spicy mayonnaise.  It’s a good sweet and sour kick that complements the basic burger very well.  It was also voted “Most Unique Burger in Cleveland” so you don’t have to just take my word for it.  

Ohio City is a fun part of Cleveland to visit if you’re looking for good food, good drink and a lively atmosphere.  If you go, I suggest putting Great Lakes Brewing Company and Nanobrew on your go-to list.  

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