Next week, arguably the most surreal presidential election in American history will intensify when the Republican National Convention unfolds at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. While most of the attention at this mammoth four-day gathering of delegates will be focused on the Elephant party’s controversial presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, the event provides an opportunity to put the spotlight on “the CLE.”
Like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, Cleveland is a one-time industrial mecca, a “Rust Belt” city making a robust comeback through redevelopment, particularly through an intriguing culinary scene. Powerhouse chefs Michael Symon and Jonathon Sawyer, for instance, have helped resuscitate downtown with such restaurants as Lola and the Greenhouse Tavern. One of the most recent additions to this pulsating landscape is the Burnham, inside the new silver LEED-certified Hilton Cleveland Downtown.
Its name is an ode to architect Daniel Burnham, best known for the “White City”—the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition—as well as the Flatiron Building in New York. Together with John Carrère and Arnold Brunner, he also dreamed up the Cleveland Mall, a public park dotted with Beaux Arts buildings. The 600-room steel-and-glass Hilton, courtesy of architects Cooper Carry and designers Anderson/Miller, is a striking modern contrast. Directly linked to the Huntington Convention Center, its highlight is a $1.5 million contemporary art collection commissioned by Cuyahoga County.
Some of these pieces grace the walls of the Burnham, including a buzzard painted onto a drumhead by Michael Cartellone, native son and drummer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Prolific chef-restaurateur Zack Bruell, who is behind such Cleveland favorites as Parallax, Table 45, and Alley Cat, is overseeing the Burnham, which features an open kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven. Kitchen staff—which includes executive chef Maxime Kien and chef de cuisine Ryan Beck—partook in a gastronomic tour of New Orleans, Charleston, and Austin before opening, and the menu reflects that Southern and Cajun spirit by showcasing the likes of seafood gravy–dressed shrimp and grits, caramelized onion beignets, and jambalaya-stuffed trout. There are also plenty of global nods in the forms of pulled pork posole, kimchi-topped fried brown rice, and sautéed shiitake pierogies accompanied by local sauerkraut.
A clean-lined space filled with natural light, the Burnham pairs a soothing gray-blue-cream palette with wood panels and deep-seated textured cloth booths. But it's at the bar where you can best feel the aura of bygone Cleveland. Sip, say, a quenching Smoked & Spiced (Del Maguey Vida mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, grapefruit, simple syrup, Cayenne-basil sea salt) underneath the industrial black-and-white light fixture, and you can't help but toast to the city's gritty roots.
The Burnham is located at 100 Lakeside Ave. E; 216-413-5120; theburnhamrestaurant.com.
Photo: Courtesy Hilton Cleveland Downtown