For those of you who follow us on the social media outlets (and if you don’t, you should!), you know that I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio yesterday. As usual the city welcomed me with open arms:
Er, well. Kind of.
Despite the fact that northern Ohio is trying very hard to imitate the Arctic, I am glad for the trip. I grew up in Cleveland, and even though I haven’t lived here in ten years, it still provides a certain sense of homecoming. Plus, I’m here celebrating the wedding of two of my oldest friends, so it’s totally worth braving the land of ice and snow.
But there’s another reason why I’m excited to be in Cleveland.
If you’ve been to Italy, you may be familiar with this dessert. The Sicilian version is full of citrus fruits and almond marzipan. I’m sure it’s delicious, but I’ve never had it. What I have had is the Cleveland version of a cassata cake.
While not the Italian original, Cleveland’s Little Italy has claimed this delicacy for itself, and is by far my favorite dessert. Gooey, creamy ricotta filling, strawberries, and fluffy yellow sponge cake all combine to make something so delicious it should probably be illegal.
So, naturally, my first stop upon landing in Cleveland was Little Italy.
Little Italy is one of several small, culturally distinct neighborhoods in Cleveland. The Cleve is a big immigrant town, and carries an especially strong Southern and Eastern European flavor (a ton of refugees from Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia settled here during the war in the 90s).
As with any neighborhood of cultural importance, Little Italy places a special emphasis on food. There are a ton of diners, bakeries, and upscale restaurants. On this particularly frigid Cleveland afternoon I wasn’t looking for anything ritzy. I found the first indication of my prize at a humble cafeteria-style deli and bakery:
Emboldened, my companions and I entered the deli. Warmth! And the delicious smell of Italian food!
We decided to take care of lunch before dessert (because sometimes we at least pretend that we’re adults). I ordered a vegetable stromboli, paired with a ridiculously foamy cappuccino.
It was delicious, and the price was definitely right at $7.50. The stromboli alone was only $3.50 and more than enough food!
Lunch conquered, I returned to the counter to claim my prize.
“Can I help you?” The woman at the counter was, in classic Cleveland style, friendly but hurried.
“Could I have a slice of cassata cake, please?” I asked, containing my eagerness as much as possible.
“Sure, hold on.” The woman moved over to the pastry display. Then, frowning, she returned. “Hang on, I think they might be making it now.” She disappeared into the back room, leaving me waiting anxiously.
When she finally returned, my stomach sank.
“I’m sorry, we only just got the strawberries in. It won’t be available for a few more hours.”
Cringing with defeat, I thanked the woman and slunk back to my table, delivering the sad news to my companions.
Of course, we promptly decided that we couldn’t give up the hunt. Who knew when I would be back in Cleveland?
And so, gathering our courage (and our coats), we headed back out into the icy depths of winter.
Luckily, Little Italy is not a large place. Shivering and shaking, we tried three relatively near restaurants before we finally stumbled upon Corbo’s Bakery, which claims to have some of the best cassata cake in Cleveland. As soon as I stepped inside the familiar scent of strawberries wafted near, and I knew we had succeeded.
I ordered the cake ($3.00 for a slice) and eagerly took my reward. Sloppy, goopy, and not at all pretty, every bite was a victory.
Interested in knowing what goes into this gooey goodness? Check out this awesome cassata cake recipe. I’ve made it myself, and while it’s a bit time consuming, it’s totally worth it.
Do you have a favorite hometown food? Or, when you travel, what local food do you most look forward to? Let us know in the comments!