Adventures in Hipster Dining, With The Kids

2014-04-11T10:52:51-04:00March 25, 2014|

By Sharon Holbrook

When you’re thinking of all the things you love about Cleveland’s edgy-cool restaurant scene, I’m guessing that dining with children is not on your list. But it’s definitely on mine.

Yes, we just might be the people at the next table who brought the kids. And I’m going to venture that they belong there, and that maybe they’re even helping shape that hip local food scene we grown-ups love so much.

[blocktext align=”left”]Healthy neighborhoods have an organic mix of real people of all ages doing ordinary things throughout the day and week — that is, living.[/blocktext]Look, we go out regularly without the little ones, who are now 3, 6, and 8. And on our dates and concert nights and dinners with friends, we won’t impose them on you and yours. There are plenty of restaurants, and hours of the day, that just aren’t the best for little people or anyone who wants to eat peacefully in their vicinity. So, no, we’re not clueless or rude.

But, especially given Cleveland’s deliciously unpretentious food scene, there’s more than enough room for kids. Mighty as they are, twentysomething hipsters alone cannot make (or remake) a neighborhood. Certainly government-funded stadiums and oh-so-corporate Crocker Parks cannot. Healthy neighborhoods have an organic mix of real people of all ages doing ordinary things throughout the day and week—that is, living.

When, almost a decade ago, my family started its tradition of eating in Ohio City on Friday evenings, West 25th was notably sleepier. Just imagine—you could still easily park on the street in the evening without skirting the “no stopping before 6:30 pm” rules or, as I can’t believe I now need to add in boomtime 2014, using a valet.

There weren’t that many choices—Johnny Mango, The Old Angle, Phnom Penh and, a little later, Bar Cento. Our eldest was a baby and if the restaurant owned a high chair, we considered it fair game. (On one occasion, a very kind restaurant host even ran across the street to borrow a high chair from another restaurant. Now that is what you do if you want loyal customers.) We always went early in the evening, before the date crowds, brought finger food “appetizers” and small (quiet) toys, and hoped for the best.

[blocktext align=”left”]But there’s something about the presence of children that says, “This place is alive. This place is safe.” And I’m guessing every neighborhood on the edge could use a bit of that message.[/blocktext]Remarkably, we were warmly welcomed. The staff at our favorite restaurants began to remember us—we were a novelty at the time, of course, and so that made our little family a bit more memorable. We began to be spontaneously offered crayons and kid selections, even off-menu, and no one once gave us any issues when a hungry baby had to be nursed or food crumbs landed everywhere.

The welcome extended, as it does to this day, to the street too. Young couples and weary-looking bus stop folk alike still always give a smile to our kids running and skipping happily down the sidewalks of Ohio City before or after dinner. When we started coming to the neighborhood, enormous potential and considerable charm aside, it was a pretty darn hard-luck stretch. But there’s something about the presence of children that says, “This place is alive. This place is safe.” And I’m guessing every neighborhood on the edge could use a bit of that message.

Ohio City is, of course, different now. We can hardly keep up with all the shiny new restaurants and storefronts. We see more and more families, and more and more people of every description, filling our favorite haunts and every new addition. Staffs have turned over, and there aren’t as many people who remember us as regulars from the time when our babies were small, and who would notice when a new one was born, and who even (amazingly) remembered our elder daughter’s food allergies.

We can let ourselves imagine that, for a time, we had a special kinship with the neighborhood. But even if that was so, maybe it’s outgrown us a bit. Our loyalty and our children’s bubbling spirits aren’t as noteworthy on West 25th anymore. But we are more than happy to let our little bit of family energy yield to the neighborhood’s own kinesthetic vibe.

Collinwood, we’re coming for you.

Sharon Holbrook writes and lives with her family in Shaker Heights. She can be found on Twitter @216Sharon.


  1. Cornfedwarrior March 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    The author needs to bring this party to Tremont and turn those monsters loose on Lincoln Park for an hour or two. After that hit up Prosperity Social Club, and watch the kids have a potato pancake eating contest with dad. Then finish things off at Churned or Tremont Scoops(shameless plug) for some ice cream! W25th has better casual dinning, but I have to keep my kids in a lasso because of the homeless and the traffic. 2¢.

    • 216Sharon March 28, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Party on its way! Thanks, Cornfed. We love Tremont. and have been meaning to try Prosperity. Kids have been to Barrio, Crust, Lucky’s (and of course Lilly’s), and Southside. (p.s. It’s OK for kids to see homeless people. They learn to treat them with dignity like everyone else and we talk about how we can help.)

      • Mudcat March 29, 2014 at 8:31 am

        Looking for my “like” button – that is a good point about making something into a teaching moment.

      • Ellen July 20, 2015 at 7:14 pm

        Try lakewood too!! We are probably out-pacing tremont and Ohio city at this point. I think the only thing lakewood is missing now is Korean and Ethiopian.

  2. Mudcat March 29, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Fun article! Inspiration for all us parents of young ones who may be gems on one outing and lose their bearings on another. But it all accrues for good over time – not to mention the great memory making thru the dining out tradition.

  3. Kimwhite104 March 29, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I love this!! It’s so refreshing to see little ones dining @ our favorite restaurants (besides our own); it truly does evoke a lively, safe feeling! Not to mention a valuable cultural experience for the kids.

  4. Colin Lively March 30, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    i am one of those persons who cringes when i am in a restaurant and someone walks in with a child, and it runs stone cold when i see multiple children..
    but having said that, i have sat next to many children who know how to be well mannered when in a public place.
    far too many parents seem to think it is the other people’s issues with children if we don’t offer a welcoming smile .
    i have never been a parent, but i have certainly been a child, with two parents who first taught me how to behave at the family dinner table, because we actually sat at the family dinner table ,and before i ever went to a public restaurant i already knew table manners.. we behaved, during the dinner hour, the same as if we were at Marie Schreiber’s ( giving my age away) .

    there are reasons why we cringe at the sight of children on airplanes and in restaurants.. far too many are allowed to do as they please,.. and also perhaps it’s my years of living in outspoken NYC, that i will ask , first, for the parents to control the behavior of the child , or i will ask to be moved to a different table, and if that doesnt work, i will ask for a check …

    but i agree that teaching children about local restaurants and in new neighborhoods is a very good thing, and that alone sounds like responsible parenting …

    seems to me, you can sit next to me any time…

    thank you for this post ..

    • 216Sharon March 31, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Colin – thank you! And you make a fine point which this essay necessarily skirted. Children in any restaurant must be expected to behave appropriately. My children know that there is no crying in restaurants and that they will be removed if they are causing any kind of disruption. They know they must stay in their chairs and they must order their food politely. I wish they behaved half as well at dinner at home, but that’s a battle being fought slowly. (And not in public.)

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