FLEA EATS- By Tony Winn (Secret Food Critic)
All photos by Julianna Arendash Photography.
Any time you spill BBQ sauce on your shirt, it’s usually time for self-loathing and symphony of curse words; however, when you spill BBQ sauce on your shirt at the flea, it’s a badge of honor.
At least that’s what I tell myself.
Hi – my name’s Tony, and I’m the guy with the messy shirt.
This April marked the beginning of Flea season – you know The Cleveland Flea, Cleveland’s very own, nationally televised flea market. Seriously, you need to get off your ass and come here – you’re probably gonna have a good time. Besides finding the hidden gems that can only be unearthed at a Flea Market, The Cleveland Flea has become known for being a foodie attraction.
What I’m saying is, come hungry and leave happy.
I started the day clean shirted and ended my day BBQ stained, lost, drunk-on- pork and high-on- sweets; it was messy. As I became sober, I paused to reflect on the fabulous finds at the flea. Read on to learn what you should game plan for. Let the salivating commence.
The Proper Pig – As you can see, we took this photo in front of a forklift because The Proper Slopper does work. Seriously, you need to hire this sandwich for your next move – he’s anti-union and won’t ask for a raise. All kidding aside, This fan-named, two-handed sandwich is piled to the sky with pulled pork, Texas hot link sausage, beef brisket, slaw and BBQ sauce. You’ll need a napkin or twelve. Try not to eat the screen.
The Square Scullery – Akron’s badass mother truckers return to the Flea with some new hardware. The 2017 Hotlist winner of Akron – Canton’s best food truck, are known for their locally sourced food and their made from scratch tastes. We tried their chorizo & sweet potato frittata along with their pork belly mac and cheese. Can you say Holy &$%k&#g bacon? I mean can you see the size of this slab? The Square Scullery offers a unique menu and first-rate tastes.
Randy’s Pickles – Of all the pickles, of all the patches Randy sure knows how to pick the winners. Bar- none, I’d stake my reputation that this company bottles the best pickles you’ve never had. A bonafide success, you can now find the jars being sold at Giant Eagle, Heinens and Whole Foods. Come to the flea and pickle a winner; it’s a sweet dill.
Cleveland Jam - Unbeknownst to you, the entire time I’ve been writing this blog post I’ve been snacking on Cleveland Jam’s raspberry jalapeno jam on crackers - It’s super addicting! My keyboard looks like a tornado hit it – if any word is misspelled, please know it’s because I have jam in my keys. That said – let me claim that your peanut butter and jelly sandwich just got an upgrade. This company makes wine and beer infused jams that taste better than your mother’s favorite jam. (Not that I know your mother) A commercial success, peep their website to find their nearest store that sells their jam. (Hint – most Cleveland area Targets carry them) Two thumbs way up; this is by far the best jam I’ve ever had.
Wholly Frijoles – It’ a trap people, it’s a trap! Please be careful because if you snack on one nacho, you’re going to end up devouring the entire batch. They’re that magnetizing. I sampled their build-your- own-nachos with all the fixings and a day later, I’m still smiling. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s some of the best nachos I’ve had. I’ll shut up now and let you admire the pretty picture.
Burning River Bagels – Everything tastes better on a bagel; I repeat, everything tastes better on a bagel. If you got a speeding ticket – it would probably taste better on a bagel. (But what do I know? Don’t try that) By the time I made my way to Burning River Bagels, I estimate that I had eaten an entire pig. One would think that I would have been full, but when they let me grab my hooves around The Oinker, my hunger suddenly dissipated. This pulled pork sandwich is one for the memories. The pork is smoked for 14 hours and the BBQ sauce is a secret recipe. Who doesn’t love secrets? Two thumbs way up.
Backattack Snacks – True story, we were getting ready to order some beef jerky when we heard this: “You can put a 12 oz steak in your pocket and not feel weird about it.” Well said sir. The funny part is, he’s right! I’ll keep this one simple: BEST. JERKY. EVER. (For those that can’t read in between the lines, the 12 oz steak is the beef jerky)
Bloom Artisan Bakery & Café - So I don’t know if any of you out there in the in-ter- webz are nerdy kids like me, but you know how medieval fares have feasts with artful, please-give- me-some, circular bread the size of pillows? My friends, this is what Bloom Artisan Bakery reminds me of. They make happy bread; really, it’s beautiful. Fresh baked, all natural, no preservatives - you can’t go wrong.
Fat T’s Cookie - I can’t say for certain that I know what the Cookie Monster dreams about, but I like to think that he’s dreaming about Fat T’s cookies. In their own words: Big. Fat. Chewy. Quarter. Pound. Cookies. What more needs to be said? They hit all the feels.
The Little Piggy- A food truck named after how I felt that day – well not really. Let me begin by saying, I grew up in a house where BBQ sauce was debated upon like Facebook politics. My father prided himself on his sauce and for the longest time, I thought his BBQ sauce was the best in all the land – you could say I was lost in the sauce. Well, everything done changed. The Little Piggy in my opinion has the best sweet BBQ sauce in the game. Period. They let me try their overnight smoked pulled pork quesadilla – this honestly ended being my favorite meal of the day. I highly recommend it – the flavors are balanced, and the quality is great.
Molly’s Crafted – Summer found its new best friend. If you’re looking for a creative way to spice up your next cocktail party, consider grabbing a bottle of Molly’s Crafted shrubs. They’re sweet, they’re flavorful and they make your lips say, “Thank you”. I personally recommend trying their apple ginger shrub AKA apple pie in a bottle. Your taste buds will appreciate it.
Six Shooter Coffee – Do you know who the most popular person is at 9:30 in the morning? It’s the person who’s selling coffee. End-of- story. Ok I lied, I’ve got a few more sentences left in these fingers. Six Shooter Coffee is a Cleveland proud, micro-roaster that focuses solely on quality. What you’ll find is their attention to detail shows up in each sip which encourages you to come back for some more. Start your flea off right with a cup of the good stuff.
Vegan Doughnuts – Arguably one of the most popular vendors at the Flea, there’s a reason why people line up. Quality, quality, quality. The doughnuts are light, and the flavor is strong. As the son of a tremendous doughnut eater, I often feel obligated to stuff my face with their doughnuts. Just look at the picture, just look at it!
Donut Lab – Sure, you could work in a lab that solves the mysteries of science, but if you’re anything like me, you’d rather work in a lab that solves the mysteries of hunger. Am I Right? The donut lab specializes in mini bite sized doughnuts with dippin’ sauce. Need I say more? Treat yourself.
Cleveland Kraut – In case you’ve been living under a rock, (which if true, I doubt you’d even be reading this) I’ll have you know that Cleveland Kraut has been a huge hit in the Cleveland area. This is the sauerkraut you wish you had as a kid; this is the sauerkraut that will make you fall in love with sauerkraut over and over again. Known for their cool jars and great taste – I encourage you to peep their website to see if your local grocery store carries their product.
Smooth Rider LLC – For those that live on the healthier side of the train tracks, (Kudos to you, please teach me your ways) may I recommend that you pull up to Smooth Rider. Smooth rider does what few do – they balance taste and quality, which in my opinion, is pretty damn hard to do. These are happy smoothies, what I’m saying is my self-esteem felt great about having one. I tried their Dragon Berry with
Mango smoothie - It tasted like spring in my mouth – fresh and new. Like I’ve said before, you’ll be happy to know that some of their smoothies are dairy free, vegan, soy-free, gluten free, using non-GMO all-natural organic yogurt made with organic coconut milk with probiotics. It’s healthy and it’s good, period.
Manna Food Truck – By the time we made our way to the Manna Food Truck, we have had one vegan meal too many and were scratching ourselves to get our hands on some meat. What we decided on was BBQ pork rinds. For those that like pork rinds (how you doing friends?!) let me say you need to try these. They are popping fresh, crunchy and come out hot – just the way I like them. On the real, Manna Food Truck is an example of the humanitarian spirit as they employ the less fortunate to give them work. They’re a food truck you can feel great about.
Alescis – One of my personal favorite Eastside lunch spots, I was very pleased to see Alesics make an appearance at the Flea. Known for their family flare, imported-from- Italy tastes, and authentic recipes; this institution gives you a slice of the old country. If you love pepperoni bread, stop reading after this paragraph. Your quest for finding the finest pepperoni bread is over – you’re welcome. Trust me, you’ll want to stop at Alescis to satisfy all things pepperoni. This Flea they debuted with a build your own risotto bowl – let the creativity begin!
The Pierogi Lady – Everyone’s favorite pierogi lady returns to the Flea to share her prized pierogies with the world! Let’s be clear – Clevelanders love pierogis! Like – a lot. In fact, some may say Cleveland runs on pierogis! - not coffee. You’ll be pleased to know that there is a frozen take home menu, so you can satisfy your pierogi craving any day of the week. My personal favorite is the potato cheddar jalapeno; spice up your Tuesdays.
The Little Kitchen – It’s not The Little Toaster, it’s The Little Kitchen. Our new friends from Columbus, OH– IO drove up and made a huge splash. They made us a lick-the- spoon cake batter milkshake. I repeat they have a cake batter milkshake. Do you realize that the game changed? Bar none – this is easily my favorite milkshake I’ve ever had. At night I think about this milkshake – it’s that good and I’m that hungry.
Mason Jar Lemonade – So you know how you saw scores of people carrying mason jars drinking ready-for-the- gram lemonade? This is where they came from. Bar none – this is likely the prettiest lemonade you’ve ever seen. Made with fresh fruit, this lemonade gives you the taste of summer. The best part, you can keep the jar. Score.
Happy Camper Bar Car – The party behind the Flea is served up at the Happy Camper Bar Car. These mixologists are responsible for putting the pep in my step and the twinkle in my eye every flea – at least that’s what my buzz is telling me. May I recommend their Moscow mule – as easily put, it tastes like From Russia With Love. With enough of these, I tell myself that I feel like James Bond.
Ice Cream Joy – Seven Words. Ice. Cream. Nacho. Bowl. Drop. The. Mic. This place is personally responsible for fulfilling my middle school dessert fantasy. You get the choice of four scoops (might I recommend espresso shortbread ice cream) and your choice of chip (winners get chocolate chip). This is the ice cream experience you’ve always wanted. There’s nothing more to say, just look at the pics.
Cleveland Field Kitchen – I love my mother’s grilled cheese more than any man should. It’s warm, it’s comforting and it’s there when I need it – much like my mom. However, I must admit that the Cleveland Field Kitchen has the best grilled cheese sandwich in the game. Sorry mom. Bittersweet admission aside– their grilled cheese sandwich is typically my go-to when I’m at the Flea – just saying. This Flea they let me try their braised pork Sammy. It’s pork, cilantro pesto, candied jalapeno, pickled red onion and greens on a beget. Everything needs candied jalapeno – I repeat, everything needs candied jalapeno.
Ohio City Soup Co – You know, I’m sympathetic to the soup people because I’m a soup person - we’re good people. This past flea was a brisk day aka the perfect soup day. Ohio City Soup serves up made from scratch, vegan, gluten free soups. Embrace your inner soup person, embrace it.
Raw Trainer – The most excited I’ve seen my friend was when we found out we could buy lactose free nacho cheese. Seriously it was a big moment, because it’s damn hard to find. Raw Trainer, our nacho cheese hero, offers 100% plant-based meals. They are non GMO, dairy free, gluten free, organic and raw. What’s cool is that they are a meal delivery service; they deliver prepared meals straight to your doorstep, which is a huge time saver. For those that are healthy minded you should really consider checking out Raw Trainer as they meal prep for you.
Betty’s Bomb-Ass Burgers – Easily the coolest named food truck, Betty’s Bomb-Ass Burgers was a personal favorite of my mine last year. The truth is, they do live up to their name, their burgers are bomb. They return this year with a new bomb-ass menu. Try the Ikraus - raclette cheese, exotic mushroom blend, crispy shallots, and truffle aioli or the Boeing Fortress - chunky peanut butter, habanero jelly, sliced foie gras, and cheddar cheese.