“Eat at Joe’s” Cleveland Dinner Club

I often say that my hobbies are making food, talking about food and eating food. I’ve found a community of people who are just like me in the Cleveland Dinner Club, a monthly gathering of seriously social foodies, under the tutelage of founder Joe Gramc.

unnamedJoe (bearded, in blue sweater) founded the Cleveland Dinner Club four years ago and 40+ dinners later the monthly gathering is still going strong. “I met a bunch of people at food events, and was following chefs and other people interested in food on Twitter, and I thought this would be a way to get everyone together in person.”

One of the best things about Cleveland Dinner Club is that meals are pre-arranged and a fixed price (generally $40, not always including alcohol pairings) so that a little experimentation is encouraged while also including the restaurant’s signature dishes. The arrangement generally ensures a unique, customized experience for the group of 20 to 40 people per event. Chefs have gone off menu, tried out new dishes and shared unique wine and beer pairings.

In February the Cleveland Dinner Club met up at the Hofbrau House on Fat Tuesday. Our group was served a family style meal upstairs in Hermit Club room, which has a colorful history going back to 1904. The room’s wall murals and beautiful woodwork offered a uniquely “Old World” vibe, perfectly suited for the dining experience.

unnamed-3Our curated menu hit many of the restaurant’s signature items, including Bavarian pretzels and cheese, chicken schnitzel, schweinsbraten with sauerkraut (pork roast), kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) and a selection of sausage with mustard. We washed it all down with a half-liter of one of Hofbrau House’s beers, brewed on site, and finished up our feasting with traditional apple strudel.

During a dinner conversation Joe was quick to remind me that it was the culinary community that started Cleveland’s renaissance. “The chefs were really the first ones to take a chance on the city even during the recession. The growth of the city started when restaurants moved downtown.”

Since that first dinner club in 2010 at Dante, Joe has established relationships with almost every chef in the city. “We purposely schedule these on lighter days for restaurants and they seem to appreciate the opportunity engage with a group of people who are highly interested in the craft, the sourcing, the techniques and the presentation. There’s mutual appreciation.”

unnamed-1The Cleveland Dinner Club is not a group of wannabe critics hell-bent on reviewing a restaurant. That’s not to say every nuance of the meal isn’t discussed. And, this is one of the few places where taking pictures of every course is accepted and encouraged. Food is the common bond, turning strangers into friends with both regulars and new people dropping in each month.

If you are interested in checking out Cleveland Dinner Club, give them a follow on Twitter or get signed up for their email announcements at cledinnerclub@gmail.com. The events tend to fill quickly, so making plans in advance is a must.

— Lisa Sands