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Northeast Ohio Adds More Breweries, Expands Familiar Favorites

photo of tacos
Specialty tacos are one of many trends taking off in Northeast Ohio, with new and established restaurants catering to a range of tastes.

There’s one question asked every time a new brewery opens up in Northeast Ohio: Are there too many breweries?

Doug Trattner, who’s been covering the food scene for more than 15 years and now writes for Cleveland Scene magazine, says probably not.

“I’m not doing their books, but I walk into these bars and they’re busy,” Trattner said.

Even bars off the beaten path, like Noble Beast on Lakeside Avenue in Cleveland, are frequently packed. That’s why Trattner isn’t surprised to see established names and new players competing for the region’s enthusiastic bar crowd.

Akron-based Thirsty Dog is opening a Cleveland location in the Flats. The space was previously occupied by the ambitious suite of Crop ventures that went belly up last year. After a rough start, the people behind Barrio Tacos are opening a new brewery in a repurposed church, of all places.

The concept of repurposing old churches into brewpubs is a Rust Belt trend that’s especially taken off in Pittsburgh. According to Trattner, Birdtown Brewing will be one of the first such pubs in Cleveland.

Big taco
Even with a new bar in the works, Barrio’s taco business doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. They will be adding a fifth location to their existing restaurants in Tremont, Lakewood, downtown Cleveland, and Cleveland Heights. When the new Barrio opens in downtown Willoughby, it will replace what used to be an upscale martini bar.

BOMBA Tacos plans to expand its reach within the region’s booming — and perhaps crowded — taco scene. Trattner said BOMBA should appeal to more upscale tastes.

“They do tacos, but they’re kind of chef-driven tacos,” Trattner said. “You’re going to see interesting fillings and interesting ingredients like duck and things you might not see elsewhere.”

Cleveland and Akron swap favorites
Trattner said Canton residents should be especially excited to see Melt Bar and Grilled set up shop at the mall in Belden Village.

“These folks used to drive up to Cleveland to eat these grilled cheeses,” Trattner said.

Local chains like Melt offer customers “the best of both worlds,” according to Trattner. They appeal to people who want to support local businesses but also want the predictability of bigger chains, of which Canton has many.

The Akron-Canton area will also be giving a piece of its culinary scene to Cleveland. Swenson’s plans to open a location in University Heights after not making a move in several years.

“That’s another local regional chain that’s really going to start spreading its wings,” Trattner said. “They got a food truck, and all of a sudden folks up north knew what Swenson’s was for the first time.”

The Year of the Donut
For dessert, the Cleveland suburbs will soon have their pick of donut joints as the niche restaurant trend takes over. After working the Cleveland Flea and pop-up circuit, the beer-donut hybrid concept Brewnuts has opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Detroit Shoreway. Meanwhile, Bigmouth Donut Co. has acquired a storefront in Hingetown, prompting Trattner to declare 2017 as “The Year of the Donut.”

And that’s just fine with Trattner.

“You could literally have one in every neighborhood, and it still won’t be too much,” Trattner said.

“I’m sure we’re bound to get the same question we get when it comes to breweries: ‘When have we reached peak donut?’”

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