Birthdays only come around once a year, and so I take celebrating mine pretty seriously. Typically we even go as far as making time for a getaway, but this year, we kept our celebrations close to home. Our schedule that day had availability for a lunch out and somehow I was out of ideas. My husband was full of them and I went with his first suggestion: Mabel’s BBQ.
In case you live outside of Northeastern Ohio, Chef Michael Symon opening Mabel’s BBQ this year was a pretty big to-do. It is a “Cleveland-style” barbecue joint located on East Fourth Street, in the heart of downtown Cleveland. What makes his food “Cleveland-style” barbecue? “By incorporating Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard into the barbecue sauce, using Eastern European spices and smoking meat over local fruitwood.” (from the restaurant’s website) Considering I’m pretty familiar with the first two of those three things, I knew we were in for some flavorful bites.
Pro tip: the restaurant does not take reservations, so arriving early wouldn’t be a waste of anyone’s time. We showed up a moment or so before the restaurant’s opening at 11:30am to find a dozen people already creating a line outside the front door. But soon enough, we’d be welcomed in and quickly sat at a corner table.
Settling in, we took note of the menu and the decor. Again, the restaurant’s own description of it hits the nail on the head: “The space’s arched ceilings, industrial lighting and exposed brick are reminiscent of Cleveland landmark West Side Market, evoking the feeling of a rustic smokehouse with a laid back vibe.” (source) I just couldn’t get enough of the portrait of Symon’s dog made out of matchsticks! (Located just outside the restrooms, FYI.)
Normally, day drinking would be approved for any birthday celebration. That’s not in the cards for me this year (my short list of #pregnancyproblems), so I simply sniffed Hans’ Old Forester Bourbon as we finalized our lunch orders.
Those swizzle sticks tho!
That lunch order included a Half Slab of Lamb Ribs as ordered by Hans:
…and the Big Pig (chopped pork, coleslaw and cracklin’ all on a roll) and a side of the Spaetzle & Spicy Cabbage, ordered by my mom.
As for me, I couldn’t decide, so I went for all the sides — also known in my social circles as going the “Boston Market side item sampler” route:
My tray came out with the following, starting at the top right going clockwise:
- Hot Greens with Chopped Pork & Vinegar
- Smoked Beets with Horseradish & Scallions
- J.W. Potatoes Mabel’s Style
- Baked Beans with Chopped Brisket & Jalapeños
- Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream, Red Onion & Dill
Our thoughts on the food? Chef Symon’s on to something with this Cleveland BBQ thing. The best thing about coordinating your meal with your fellow diners is getting to taste a bit of everything. My mom’s sandwich was large, so big that Hans and I ended up getting half of it to enjoy. Everyone dug into the six side dishes we had on the table, each deciding their favorites. Mom claimed the greens as her favorite, as Hans leaned toward the heartily fried potatoes… which, BTW, doused in Mabel’s BBQ sauce & their Aardvark hot sauce made my spicy-loving heart happy. Me? Believe it or not, but I’m still dreaming about that cucumber salad — but I’m a sucker for cucumbers, dill and sour cream on a summer’s day.
What about the meat?! The lamb ribs weren’t the most meaty cut any of us have ever had, but their bold flavor stood out among everything on the table and made them worth the order. The Big Pig sandwich has a lot going for it: between the juicy pork overflowing from it and the crackin’ on top, I selfishly was so happy my mom ordered it! But what I loved most was the surprise bits of meat in the sides. The chunks of brisket in the baked beans make that side dish worth ordering every meal.
Even with a few minor service hiccups (which I’m racking up to the restaurant being new-ish), we walked out with a few containers of leftovers to enjoy over the holiday weekend and plans to return soon after. (This baby has me craving a turkey sandwich, so you know what I’ll be ordering next round!) If you’re looking for a flavorful meal, presented in a familiar yet slightly elevated way, it’s time you too made plans to visit Mabel’s. Just remember: there’s no need to wait for your birthday to celebrate this food and our very own Cleveland-style BBQ.