Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Greens in Cleveland: From the Botanical Gardens to a Salad at Tommy's

I've been thinking a lot about greens. From driving through the metroparks to experimenting with lettuces, I'm filling my end of summer days with greens. And with autumn - and it's promise of crisp weather and crisper apples - on the way, perhaps my all my green thoughts are a sign of wanting what I can't have. A little, grass is greener on the other side if you will. (Okay, even I'll admit that was pretty bad.) 

You wouldn't think green is a word I would - or could - use much in Cleveland. It's a real steel mill city. A real meat and potatoes (or, okay, pork and pierogies) kind of town. "Greens" are certainly not invited guests here. At least not A-list guests.

But I know your secret, Cleveland. I've been reading up, exploring, and yes, eating. And though you may hide it, seems there is room in this town for a one girl green machine.

Cleveland Botanical Gardens

Reopening in July of 2003, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens sits in the center of University Circle. There are two plant galleries in the towering glass structure: a southwestern type scape, teeming with nonnative plants that range from prickly cacti to striking desert flowers, and an Amazonian hothouse filled with butterflies. Outside, the theme gardens spanned from expected offerings such as a rose garden and imitation Japanese landscaping to the completely unique "Blues Garden", that is, topiaries peppered with actual brass instruments. If I had to make one definitive summation about the Gardens, it's this: if you're given the time, there's probably no finer, more relaxing, way to spend an afternoon in this city.

While I didn't eat at the Garden Cafe, I did notice a large sign indicating much of the food there was bought locally. It's an ecological push to lower a diner's carbon footprint, and while not really related to gluten at all, I'm always appreciative of thinking outside the food box.

All of that nature made us thirsty. And we were oh so close to Cleveland's Little Italy, so...

Yes, I went to a bakery. I know. Maybe the day was more about wanting what I couldn't have than I realized. But while my eyes did sweep over the freshly baked loaves, the beautiful cookies and cakes, and the pizza and calzones, I didn't really feel deprived. I wasn't there for lunch, and besides, if I really wanted to eat, I could've enjoyed some of the Italian ices or gelato. I was there for one reason, an iced mocha. 

I almost didn't go, thinking what's a celiac like me doing in a place like this. But that's not a good reason not to go anywhere. Especially not the sunny corner of a Little Italy bakery on a gorgeous end of summer day. Gluten free living shouldn't limit where you go and what you do, and we all need reminding of that from time to time. The coffee was a fine bonus, though.

Tommy's

It was only a matter of time, right?

Tommy's is known city wide - actually nation wide, since Rachel Ray visited it on her $40 a day program - for being the place for vegetarian/vegan eating. It's cheap, too. Located in Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights, I've been going to Tommy's for as long as I can remember. It's a place toasted cheese sandwiches, the best milkshakes ever created, and the only restaurant anyone in Cleveland is not only willing, but expected, to wait at least an hour for a table.

While being gluten free bars me from my old favorites, the Tommy's menu actually offers quite few options. But more than that, some of the menu is annotated "gluten free". There's chili, soups, tamales, and then, there are the salads. Readers will know being relegated to salad for dinner is a pet peeve of mine. But the Tommy's salads are good, a real meal with annotated GF salad dressings to boot. My favorite has become the Marina - a spinach salad with a healthy scoop of humus AND baba ghanoush - and I was all set to order it when something else caught my eye....

Falafel. Crispy, crunchy falafel. Falafel is usually not safe, as its often dusted with flour, but I had this feeling. A falafel feeling. And, hey, it never hurts to ask. My waitress was not only knowledgeable about what gluten was, but she even asked the cook (in front of me!) if the falafel could be guaranteed to be gluten free. Oh, it was and I was pretty thrilled. I choose the Dale - a tossed salad comprised of lettuce, celery, carrots, tomatoes, cheese, falafel and pickles (my add on!) and oil and vinegar dressing. You could probably get anything you wanted on your salad, but larger, more complicated falafel salads exist as well.

Between botanical gardens and vegetarian eating, I think I got my green urges fulfilled. I'm not really ready for the summer sunlight to go away, but the fall does promise gorgeous foliage and pumpkin spice everything. ...Something tells me I'm going to start thinking in orange.

Tommy's on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Gluten free living shouldn't limit where you go and what you do, and we all need reminding of that from time to time."

I almost teared up at this line, until I reminded myself that, not being a celiac, gluten free living DOESN'T actually limit where I go.


The point is, your blog is so well written, that I look forward to reading it despite not being limited by the same food allergies as you. But it definitely inspires me to get out and try different foods/restaurants in my home town!

Keep it up!

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This is perfect because they have totally other concept in their restaurant, the owner had told me a bit a bout his projects, and finally he's taking advantage of the great ideas he had.

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