Monday, February 8, 2010

The Primal Urge for Simple Food: B Spot Transports

If you live in the Cleveland area and haven’t heard of chef extraordinaire Michael Symon, then you either don’t watch tv, don’t eat or don’t have friends who do either. Currently working the media circuit to support his new book “Live to Cook,” Symon is everywhere and his physical presence in this town has expanded, once again.

Michael recently opened B Spot, a burger and beer place in Eton Center, on Cleveland’s East Side. A very different restaurant concept from East 4th Street’s Lola or Tremont’s Lolita, B Spot caters to the Midwesterner’s hearty appetite for simple food – food that requires no explanation because our evolved gastronomical palettes sometimes crave the delicious and satisfying basics that we consumed as children.

I met television chef Anthony Bourdain at a conference I attended in South Beach a few years ago. According to Anthony, “The tipping point in the American palette was when Americans wanted to eat sushi…Suddenly a white fried fillet was not the only acceptable way to eat fish.” Over the past twenty years, our insatiable and often competitive craving for the exotic has overarched our love for the Great American Meal: burgers and fries. And today, when life is complicated, the primal urge for simple food seems, well, almost evolutionary.

My friend Sara and I made plans to meet at Eton at 1:30, on December 26, the day after Christmas - a day that’s not immune to its own cyclical chaos. As I pulled into the parking lot, around 1:15, I spotted Sara pulling out, so I honked my horn. She saw me, rolled down the window and said she would park on the other side of Chagrin, as the lot was packed. Given current economic times, a packed shopping center in Northeast Ohio is an excellent sign. Lucky for me, relying on my Chicago parking skills, I found a spot, right in front of B Spot.

We met inside the restaurant, which, at 1:20 on a Saturday afternoon was quite crowded - another excellent consumer spending sign. We put our names down and were told by the courteous staff, all wearing B Spot t-shirts, that the wait would be 40 – 45 minutes. Sara and I left, perused the mall – the indoor shops and the ones with outdoor entrances, also all jammed with consumers looking for deals - and then returned to be seated at the available table.

B Spot décor is comprised of dark colors – browns, blacks, grays and metallics – and there’s a hustle-and-bustle energy amongst the crew. The atmosphere, including the open kitchen, is informal, and the details create a unique garage-like feel: imagine an industrial lodge during a busy ski season. There’s definitely “green” attention given to the place and the mixed use of metals and woods throughout the restaurant provides a distinct canvas to everything including the silver painted antler chandelier, the closed garage door stretching from the roof to the window wall and the disassembled, re-adhered and monochromed Harley motorcycle suspended right above B Spot’s cozy bar. Symon’s personal stamp is present everywhere.

A few minutes after Sara and I sat down, the server came over to our table, brought the menus and entered our drink selections into an efficient PDA device, one more green step in the ever-changing restaurant scene. The menu’s basic category offerings – Bar Snacks and Sides, Big Salads, Burgers, Bologna and Other, Bratwurst and Bad **s Milkshakes - helped calm the decision–making skills our brains use with far more complex choices at the local coffee place. However, it’s the beer menu that requires deep hops knowledge: it lists approximately 50 different options. Chances are, if beer is your thing, you will find something here.

Sara, a vegetarian, opted for the Tomato Blue Cheese Soup ($4) and for The Simple Salad ($4). I went basic: cheeseburger ($6), medium, with American cheese and an order of Lola Fries ($3), which, like many of menu items, are cooked in lard; they are not for vegans, vegetarians nor those who adhere to strict/religious dietary laws. Sara and I also ordered chocolate milkshakes ($5), which came out quickly and, sipped or gulped through the thick straw, immediately take you back to some happy childhood experience. Milkshakes are Pavlovian and the rich flavor and thick consistency of the B Spot shakes make all of life’s troubles, even if briefly, magically disappear.

There are other small details in this new East Side restaurant that make things just a little more special: in the middle of the crowded space is a condiment bar, thus, if you crave more pickles, take as many as you want. For the napkin-o-holics needing a frequent fix, a vertical metal pipe stands on each table, holding a roll of eco-friendly brown paper towels. And, speaking of fixings, a metal tray containing eight different bottled sauces, from regular ketchup and stadium mustard to Lola’s Ketchup and even Coffee BBQ Sauce are also provided to customize your meal to your liking.

As evident by the crowd on a late weekend afternoon, people like B Spot a lot. Luckily, there’s seating expansion into the inside mall and, in kinder climate, the garage door will open to an outdoor deck. Personally, I can’t wait for that summer outing where, sitting outside on a sunny warm Cleveland afternoon, I’ll be sipping my milkshake, eating my burger and enjoying adult escapism, all at the B Spot.

For location and hours:

Reprinted with permission from

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