In my opinion, if there one restaurant in Cleveland that sums up the city in one meal, it would have to be Sokolowski’s University Inn. And while I’m ashamed to say that it took me more than a year to get there, I finally made it, and I can finally justify my role as an “official” food blogger in Cleveland. (Though in my defense they are only open for lunch during the week, and dinner on Friday and Saturday…)
Sokolowski’s is technically in Tremont and across the Abbey bridge from Ohio City, right at the corner of arguably the two trendiest areas in Cleveland. But despite the growing “trendiness” of the area, Sokolowski’s holds staunchly to the tradition that makes it an institution. The restaurant itself is full of brick and wood paneling adorned with photos of all the people that have dined within its walls. The tables and chairs are straight out of the 1970s. And the generations of customers easily ranged from the 1940s to the 2000s.
When you walk into Skolowski’s, you aren’t greeted by a hostess waiting to seat you; instead you see a line of people snaking through the restaurant many of them holding a beer, most of them in conversation as the shuffle along. The line conveniently snakes past the bar where we were able to get a beer to enjoy as we pondered what to have for dinner, and continues to the cafeteria style service, complete with the plastic lunch tray.
At the beginning is the desserts…a creative ploy to ensure that the hungry person doesn’t make the decision to skip dessert. With no other food in sight, who passes on it? Not this guy as a piece of cherry pie on the white plate with the plastic wrap somehow found its way on to my tray. Next up was the drinks including bottled beer. Since I was almost empty by this time, I had to make sure I got a refill. And finally after a small doorway we see the entrees and the main courses. But unlike some cafeteria service, Skolowski’s only puts out the types of food that benefit from slow cooking. Things like stuffed cabbage and pierogies and kielbasa and meatloaf. For the things that are a little more delicate like the grilled items of fish and steak, they cook them to order, making sure they are fresh and delicious. And finally at the end, you get a salad play for the smallest salad bar I’ve ever seen…one area that really isn’t a staple in the average Sokolowski’s customer’s dinner.
The menu was definitely full of interesting choices and the food options offered tantalizing sites and aromas, despite being served cafeteria style. But I felt like I had to go classic; pierogies and stuffed cabbage. I threw some green beans and a little bit of salad in there as well. Had to have some filler after all, and I needed something to snack on while waiting for Ashley’s grilled to order salmon to make its way out. Finally when her fish arrived, I dove in to my dinner. The sweet tomato sauce danced across my tongue and melded wonderfully with the tender beef and cabbage. It was savory and sweet and delicious. And then the pierogies…potatoey and buttery and melt in your mouth with a little dollop of sour cream to provide the cool, tart balance. I only had three which was a good thing. Not because they weren’t fantastic, but because I would have continued eating them until I rolled out the door.
For us, Sokolowski’s is definitely one of those special occasion, just go to town and not even worry type of dinners. It was rich and filling and hearty. The food was great, the ambiance was great, the couple that was in line behind us and let us try some of their dinner were great, and the night was great. The only thing that didn’t qualify in great was the veggies, but let’s be honest, you don’t go tot Sokolowski’s for the veggies. It’s definitely the type of place I would take people that visit (if anyone visits) to show them Cleveland. Of course then I’d have to take them to some place like Lolita or Greenhouse or DANTE to show the hidden gems of the underrated
Final Verdict – 4.5 Stars