Peruse fine arts and crafts at Pennello Gallery, then eat your way through Cleveland’s Little Italy. (Photo: Courtesy Pennello Gallery)
There’s art. And then there’s the art of dining well. Put them together and you have reached the pulse point of Cleveland’s Little Italy, where Italian cuisine and fine art galleries seamlessly intersect to send both food and culture hearts aflutter. Sure, the aroma of fresh garlic wafting from the kitchens is intoxicating. And the lure of a sidewalk table offering prime people watching while sipping a double shot espresso is stronger than a house made grappa. But know that when you venture to this historic district near Cleveland’s University Circle, be prepared to spend plenty of time eating, meandering and possibly picking up something new to hang on the wall.
For those who claim that nobody makes “gravy” like their Nana, there are plenty of traditional options to put family allegiances to the test. And then there’s Guarino’s, established in 1918 as a speakeasy and officially recognized as Cleveland’s oldest restaurant. Sicilian specialties highlight this pasta and pizza heavy no frills menu, where no entrée is over $20. And yet, this nearly 100-year old establishment acknowledges how the times they are a changing: patrons seeking gluten-free and whole wheat pasta will find it here.
For the the anything-but-red-sauce crowd, what better way to present an artful culinary experience than to name a restaurant after one of the world’s most iconic artists? Michaelangelo’s offers a menu of exquisite Piedmontese cuisine, served in an elegant carriage house, complete with a fireplace and wine bar. Roasted duck fragranted with sage and accompanied by blueberry farro and Grand Marnier reduction is almost too beautiful to eat. But you will. The chef’s whimsy dictates the daily risotto offering. And the hand made pastas are offered in both secondi and entrée portions. Finish up with dessert or a digestivo but if you need to move to make room …
Leave the Guilt, Grab the Cannoli
… stroll through the neighborhood, while checking out the more than 20 art galleries, boutiques and specialty stores until you are good and ready to indulge some more. The options to luxuriate in cannoli, tiramisu and gelato are plentiful, but Presti’s and Corbo’s bakeries are the go to maestros for an immersion into Italian sweets. Forget counting the carbs and just count on the hope that the lines won’t be too long. It’s well worth it.
Be Part of the Famiglia
While you’re out and about on a Saturday, don’t be surprised to see a bride being escorted by family and an Italian band as they walk down Murray Hill to Holy Rosary Church, the center of neighborhood life in Little Italy. It is also the site of the Feast of the Assumption festival held in August. The festival starts with a solemn procession throughout the neighborhood. But once it returns to the church the party kicks into full gear, where for four days, Italian foods, live music and rides for young children take over the blocked off streets. And with nearly 100,000 revelers expected every year, it’s like celebrating with one big extended family.