Feb 20, 2018

A commoner dines at DiCillo Tavern, Mayfield Heights, Ohio

I know what you’re thinking.  What would compel a commoner like me to devote a blog entry to a rather unassuming tavern/restaurant tucked away in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, a far east side suburb of Cleveland serviced by Interstate 271.  But frankly, with its history, time-honored traditions, affordable prices and satisfying food, the DiCilloTavern is just the type of place I love to find when I travel. 

Established in 1933 right after Prohibition was repealed, DiCillo Tavern has the distinction of being the oldest business in Mayfield Heights.  Heck, it may be the oldest building in Mayfield Heights.  Even before it was a tavern, it was a family-run business, and that family continues to run DiCillo’s to this day (that’s four generations if you’re counting).  And with each generation, the suburb kind of grew around DiCillo’s, and that’s kind of a shame.  Today, it looks kind of out of sorts in a sea of bland suburban sprawl along Mayfield Road just west of the interstate.  

So, what made me notice DiCillo Tavern?  First – as I alluded to – there’s the small building itself.  It’s obviously from an earlier era, and the strip mall shops and car lots beside it are just horning in on its space.  There’s also a distinctive few parking spots at the front of the building with very little room to maneuver as you veer off the highway. 

Second, check out the classic menu specials advertised in the window that probably haven’t changes in years – the Friday fish fry and breakfast tripe on Saturdays (where else are you going to find that??).  I was unable to take advantage of either weekend special, as my work enabled me to come home every weekend, so I made it a point to visit on a Thursday for $2 off burgers night. 

Just as I imagined, walking into Di Cillo Tavern for the first time was a little like walking into a time capsule.  It was almost immediately apparent that the bartender knew everyone in the tavern side but me.  I also quickly realized they actually still kept running tabs for a few of their most trusted regulars – a tradition almost unheard of these days.  I briefly considered sitting in the separate restaurant area to the side of the bar.  After all, I was clearly the youngest person at the bar (that soon changed as more patrons came in for happy hour after work), but the people watching, the friendliness of the small but growing crowd and the $2 LaBatt Blue drafts kept me there.  

The menu was straight up bar food with a lean toward Italian fare:  burgers; sandwiches; classic appetizers like wings, calamari, eggplant and fried green beans; a few salads; and dinners ranging from the fish to spaghetti or cavatelli with meatballs or sausage, eggplant parmesan and smothered chicken.

The description of the DiCillo Deluxe intrigued me most, and the bartender’s recommendation sold me on it.  And was I ever glad I ordered it.  The burger came topped with grilled peppers and onions, along with slices of grilled salami and gooey good provolone cheese. It was an outstanding Italian take on the classic America burger.  And the one third-pound patty was perfectly seared and super juicy, too.  It was easily the best burger I had while working in the Cleveland area. 

I asked for slaw as a substitute for fries, which was accommodated without hesitation, and the mound of slaw I received turned out to be almost as good as the burger in its own way.  It was great, simple bar food, but of course it’s really not so simple to make it taste as delicious as it was.    

I always lamented not fitting in a return visit to DiCillo’s to explore the menu further before my work assignment in Cleveland ended.  By all accounts, their “Whaler” fish fry on Fridays is among the best in the Cleveland metro area.  Places like the DiCillo Tavern are getting scarcer these days, so if you ever find yourself hungry or thirsty on the eastern outskirts of the Cleveland metro area, seek it out.  You’ll have 85 years of tradition going for you.

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