|To be a Clevelander is to love both food and where you’re from, even if it doesn’t match your current address. This city has always been a comfort-food town, perhaps even its capital. Eastern European immigrants brought sausages and pierogies, and we couldn’t imagine the West Side Market without them. The Irish brought their food and culture to The Flats before it moved on to our tables, our taps and our hearts. But it was an Italian-born chef named Hector Boiardi who made us top tomato when it comes to comfort food. When he and his wife, Helen, opened Giardino d’Italia in 1924 at East Ninth Street and Woodland Avenue, they created a second-floor kitchen to produce takeout portions of his famous sauce and spaghetti, packaged so customers could enjoy his food in the comfort of their own homes. (Heck, until Food Network came along, Chef Boyardee was the only culinarian most of us knew by name.)
Today, more of us are seeking fixes of the familiar in public places rather than our homes, whether it’s buying our morning coffee by the cup or going out for a “homemade dinner.” Some might say we are in the midst of a comfort-food revolution. Really, what we have is dining evolution. In the past year, the near West Side has seen the opening of two paeans of American comfort food with Melt Bar & Grilled, Lakewood’s purveyor of grilled cheese, and Cheddar’s, where macaroni and cheese is prepared to each diner’s tastes. We appear to have truly become a dining public, moving farther away from family meals held around weathered kitchen tables and toward a present where people are willing to pay $7 for a cheese sandwich they could make at home for 40 cents.
Yet food, especially comfort food, is about bringing people together and connecting them across time and cultural barriers. We no longer eat to survive. We eat to live. We are hungry for a sense of belonging in a world that seems to move faster with each passing year. Comfort food, whether enjoyed in our homes or at a local restaurant, provides us that anchor in time and space — a moment to relax, laugh and appreciate what makes this city such a great place to eat.