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Keeping Up With Maury
Classic Cleveland restaurants
in Little Italy and beyond
by Maury Feren

I was thinking of how things used to be. If you were out of town or even in the city, you could always find a low priced restaurant that filled your ethnic needs. Not necessarily ethnic, but good homemade style cooking.

There would be Rosie's, Marie's, or John's Diner or any such local family style restaurant that you could find somewhere along the way.

Just 20-25 years ago when I was doing my T.V. program, Maury's Market, I ran into a little family restaurant called Marie's Restaurant on St. Clair Avenue, somewhere around 60th to 75th. It was as clean as a pin and the menu was very classic. Just homemade food, Slovenian style, I guess. Interestingly, since I was a restaurant critic at that time, I would recommend it to my friends over at the JCC Men's Club. They took my advice and stopped there. They loved it and dined there many times after that.

It was just one of a hundred places you could go for an easy lunch or dinner. You could have steak, roast beef, ham and cheese, homemade soup, you name it. Every one of these restaurants had a niche. Fannie's was a very popular restaurant of that time as well, sort of a working men's dining spot. And the prices were always good.

I could probably name a dozen or more Italian restaurants that specialized in Pastas, Meatballs, and Spaghetti, as well as a dozen favorite homemade lasagnas and veal scaloppini. Oh, those times were so different. I'm just thinking back to my own experiences in Little Italy.

During my wholesale produce days, Murray Hill Little Italy only had 6 or 8 restaurants. All of these were run by Mama. There was Minnillo's, the Golden Bowl, and Roman Gardens. The Greenhouse, Theresa's and Mama Santo's came later, as well as a couple that I have forgotten. All of these restaurants were run by young Italian entrepreneurs. It was one of the few ethnic places where you could get truly home style Northern and Southern Italian food.

Guarino's was the best restaurant of that time. It was famous for its authentic Italian food. All of the highly celebrated opera and musical stars of the theater would visit this restaurant regularly whenever they came to Cleveland. The Golden Bowl was elegant and the food would match the best. Of course, Mama was the cook. Hank, the son, was only there for his good looks. The ambience was like Italian renaissance - very bold, artistic, and strong. Nobody could do a veal bone steak like the Roman Gardens nor beat his veal scaloppini.

You have to remember that Minnillo's started out serving Italian foods to the college kids at Case Western Reserve. It later evolved into bigger things; finally reaching its pinnacle with its hotel restaurant that later became the famous Washington Place. Paul, one of the sons, has become a world class chef, a consultant, and owner of Flour at the corner of 91 and Chagrin Boulevard. It has since become one of the local favorites. You might say it's one of the best proponents of cosmopolitan restaurants in this area and it has great ambience.

I was in contact with all of these restaurateurs through my business. I got to know each of them personally. I ate in Mama Guarino's kitchen many times. Her cooking was the best.

I don't want to overlook the White House in Lake County owned by the Quagliatos. This restaurant had great style and wonderful food. It has since evolved into the five star Giovanni's Restaurant with another brother offering good Italian food at moderate prices located on Wilson Mills at the Holiday Inn called Alfredo. This is a separate operation.

I can't forget the original pizza restaurant that opened up at the bottom of Murray Hill. He was the first chef I ever saw that threw the raw pizza up in the air so professionally. He served the college crowd with great aplomb.

Italian food had not reached its peak. It was not as popular as it has become, now that it dominates all of the ethnic foods including French cuisine.

The New York Spaghetti House at East 9th Street and Bolivar was famous for its brown sauce and Yugoslav waiters. It developed a regular cadre of clientele who came there regularly including me. I would stop there before attending my night classes at Cleveland State.

I'm going to have to tell you that Trattoria replaced Roman Gardens and served the best Italian food around when they first opened. Those recipes were so good, you could never forget them. But they disappeared because of the cost factor.

Later on, Little Italy became the home of 20-25 restaurants in that same area that once held only 6-8 restaurants. Today, it is a haven with Corbo's famous bakery, Presti's Family Restaurant, Maxi's, Nedo's, Valentino's, and a host of others. That little area still thrives and you can never find a parking space unless there is a valet or you must walk for a block. I guess we love it that way.

Oh, to go back and enjoy the great food at Guarino's! What a joy that was! But, that's over now.

I know I missed many other good restaurants, but I've got them in my head and one day they will come out.

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