Even prior to its delayed opening, much was written about Michael and Liz Symon’s big move to East Fourth Street. Its opening was the biggest piece of restaurant news that this city has possibly ever seen. And the hype, including Symon’s nomination for a 2007 James Beard Foundation Award, is well deserved. Here are 10 reasons why we (and everyone else) love Lola. 2058 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, (216) 621-5652
1. Familiar faces. Part of Lola’s charm has always been in how guests are welcomed by servers, bartenders, cooks and owners who seem to have been there since day one (most of them have) 10 years ago. For many of us familiar with the cozy confines of Tremont, it’s great to see the friendly faces of Frank, Frank, Doug, Doug, Michael, Liz, Tony, and countless others in a new and, dare we say, better place.
2. New blood. The food at Lola isthe best it has ever been. The environsof the restaurant and the foodhave both matured and achieved agreater level of refinement. Dishesacross the menu are better executedwith crisper lines and more conciseplate structure. Michael creditsLola’s sous chef Nate Seig and chefde cuisine Derek Clayton. The experiencedhands of these out-oftownershave helped Michael andexecutive chef Frank Rogers achievethe level of sophistication found oneach plate.
3. Dessert. Pastry chef Cory Barrettmelds his own formidable patisserieskills with Symon’s overall culinaryvision. A veteran of Wynn in Las Vegasand Tribute in Detroit, Barretthas captured Cleveland’s sensibilitieswith awesome closers like the 6 a.m.Special, featuring French toast, maple-bacon ice cream and caramelizedapple, and Cold Day in Cleveland,wherein warm chocolate cake,raspberry mint sorbet, hot chocolateand sangria raspberries hope to offersome comfort for those who remember John Elway and The Drive.
4. The bar. The first thing you noticeupon entering Lola is the fieryorange alabaster bar and impressiveelevated wine room at its foreground.Boasting plenty of glassfor an uber-metropolitan feel, the2,500-bottle wine storage area servesas a fantastic backdrop for what’s alreadybecome the place to see andbe seen downtown. Oh, and there’sno more cold wind at your back.
5. Coo-Coo-ca-Choo. If the oldLola was the hottest girl in yourhometown, the new Lola — sexier,more cosmopolitan, and even morefascinating to look at — is Mrs.Robinson (or Stifler’s Mom, dependingon your generation). Thespace pays excellent homage to thefeel of its predecessor by utilizing asimilar color palette and the samesense of fun, shabby urban chic.Lola 2.0, however, shines with a sophisticationforged from glass, expensivematerials and more luxuriousappointments. She looks like amillion bucks ... actually, make thata reported $1.8 million.
6. Lolita. To love Lola is to love herlittle sister, Lolita. Comfortable inLola’s former Tremont space, Lolitaoffers a familiar setting and evenmore of Symon’s fantastic food. Underthe deft hand of Lola alumnusMatt Harlan, Lolita cranks out someof the best charcuterie in the city,along with classic Lola dishes suchas the warm spinach salad, mac andcheese, Lola burger and Fred Flintstonerib chop. Now, don’t you forgetthe old neighborhood!
7. Pork ... the only white meat.There’s bacon in the ice creamat dessert; braised bacon with apoached egg, frisée and mushroomson the appetizer list; bacon in thesmoked walleye chowder; and atruly incredible smoked Berkshirepork chop among the entrees. Andwe’re probably missing something.Symon is a man who loves the pig,and we love him for it.
8. The woman behind the manbehind the laugh. Who knows whatLiz Shanahan thought 15-plus yearsago when she met a young chefnamed Michael at the original Players.His star was beginning to rise atthe Caxton Cafe and his food wasthe talk of the town, but somethingwas missing. As it turns out, he wasmissing a wife and business partner.Today, it would be hard to imagineLola without Liz Symon’s fabulouseye for design, excellent knowledgeof wine and curious taste in men.
9. Lunch! Symon and crew are handlinga chef’s second most irritatingmeal of the day (breakfast is way outin first place) with the same creativitythat accompanies every dish atLola. A natural meeting place forthe downtown business crowd, Lolashines as brightly in the sunlight asunder the neon glow of East FourthStreet at night. The menu features araw bar, less expensive plates of eveningentrées, and a fried bolognasandwich that brings honor back toan old-fashioned favorite.
10. It’s in Cleveland. If youhaven’t yet set foot in Lola, butyou’re sitting at home jealouslywatching some food programhost blather on about great restaurantsin other cities, shame on you.Lola stands shoulder-to-shoulderwith the finest dining destinationsin this land, if not above them. Formore than a decade, Michael Symonhas been making Cleveland a betterplace to eat and bringing the largerculinary world into our own backyard.