Sokolowski’s University Inn: Famous for a reason (Cleveland, OH)

There is an expression that more often than not served the completely opposite purpose than what was intended when people recommended something in South Korea: it is “very famous.” Not, “it’s really good.” Not, “the food is why people go there all the time.” “It is very famous.” Whether a product of poor translation from Korean to English or an actual emphasis on how well known a place is vs. how good it is, most times I was given a recommendation that had been preceded by “it is very famous,” I was left disappointed. It wasn’t that the place was any good… it was very famous.

Fast forward to our brief pass through Cleveland, Ohio, made famous by those lovable losers of the NFL and Drew Carey, Cleveland is a hard-scrabble industrial city that was a bit worn out for a number of years. The city’s fortunes, however, seem to be on the incline. Unfortunately, Jen and I did not allow ourselves enough time to fully explore and confirm whether or not this is fully accurate. But, what little we did see make a very strong case for exploring opportunities there when we finally attempt to find some jobs.

We originally had not planned on visiting Cleveland at all. We slept a comfortable, quiet night in an AirBnB in the Cleveland suburb of North Olmstead and had a long drive to Alfred, NY, ahead. But, we also wanted to find a good place to get lunch before we left the area. Jen recommended Sokolowski’s. So had a lot of folks online. One caveat, however, was that the lines could be very long, sometimes up to an hour. Then, our AirBnB host also recommended the place. He might have noted it, too, was “very famous.” Perhaps we’d need to keep our expectations in check until the food was on our plates.

We arrived a bit early, which afforded us an opportunity to take in the area, clearly in the midst of revitalization. Friendly bicycle cops rode by on the toe path, one of them apologizing for how annoying their horns are. New and old cooperated with each other on the bridges and folks from nearby and far away seemed to be enjoying a lovely sunny day in Cleveland.

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Happy travelers.

A lot of folks nearby also seemed to be waiting for Sokolowski’s 11 a.m. opening.

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On paper, some might wonder why. Opened in the early 1920s, Sokolowski’s is a no-frills family-owned (the oldest in Cleveland, according to their website) Polish restaurant that serves its food cafeteria-style. Meaning, you grab a tray, your silverware and you move along the rails grabbing this or that until you reach one of several really friendly ladies who will ask which main dish you’d like to eat. I went with the stuffed cabbage, while Jen opted for beef stroganoff. Our included sides were sauerkraut and pierogies (among about seven options that day. I could have even opted for two sides of pierogies!), as well as a couple of optional sides of pickled beets and cucumbers in cream.

The food was fantastic. The meat and rice blend in my stuffed cabbage melted as I cut through with a butter knife. Jen’s stroganoff, supported by some buttery noodles, was very easy to eat. Very simply seasoned, as you might expect your babcia (that’s “grandmother” in Polish. Yes, I had to look that up) to make for a hearty Sunday obiad (I also looked it up). This is Eastern European comfort food that sticks to your ribs and fortifies a person for a long, hard day of work or serves as a deserved reward for a long, hard day of work recently completed. While I am not Polish, my family would occasionally make stuffed cabbage for Sunday dinner. They weren’t as massive as this, but that level of comfort definitely felt familiar. I felt like I was at home at Sokolowski’s University Inn.

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And those pierogies. The sauerkraut was tasty, too, but I kind of wish I had done two side orders of those delicious potato-stuffed beauties. Oh well, next time. After all, Cleveland did make a strong case for itself.

Information: Sokolowski’s University Inn

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