My plan was to get a burger.
Instead, I ended up eating one of the most impressive meals I’ve ever had.
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When I sat down at the bar at Cordelia on East 4th Street, I asked my server what he recommended and he pointed me right towards the Bellie Up tasting menu, with the premise that it lets you “try a little bit of everything. Let the kitchen show you a good time, and feed you like grandma does.” Well, when in Rome! Let the (nine-course) games begin.
[note: this whole experience happened so quickly and each dish warranted an in-depth explanation by the sous chef, so I didn’t catch every single detail and might be wrong on some things. But rest assured that my feelings about each course are completely accurate!]
I embarked on my odyssey with a Cucumber Slumber: blanco tequila, rye whiskey, cucumber chamomile lime oleo, thyme & sage simple syrup, and pomegranate. It was herbaceous, refreshing, and certainly potent – I could tell it was strong so unless I was trying to get nuts this was a sipper, not a chugger.
The first course was the Tomato Toast, Japanese milk bread topped with tomato mayo and fresh tomatoes. Wow! This took everything I love about the timeless southern staple of the tomato and mayo sandwich but elevated it to absurd heights. The cloud-like texture and sweetness of the bread were beautiful and the tomato mayo and perfectly-salted tomatoes made every single bite something remarkable.
The next course was Honey Za’atar Chicharrones with Pimento Cheese. Damn! The za’atar honey dust was fantastic and unlike any seasoning I’ve ever had, spicy and sweet but still subtle. I loved the crunch of the chicharron and how it contrasts the pimento cheese. The chives on top also brought a nice element to the party.
Next up was compressed pork belly with pear chow chow. Whoa! (I’ll stop with these exclamations, but I definitely had an outburst with each new plate) I wasn’t expecting it to be served cold, like spam or tartare. The pork belly had great texture and cool flavor, from being “cured in a weird way,” according to my guide. The chow chow was sour and sweet and a fabulous sidekick to the pork belly.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure exactly what this next dish was, but I know it was a salad with beets and carrots and a fermented kimchi mustard vinaigrette with herbed cream cheese. The veg actually comes from their usual garlic farmer who’s now diversifying and growing other things like…beets and carrots! This dish was a trip: creamy and salty and fresh and summery and wintery and sweet and everything in between. I don’t even like beets and was devouring these. Even the tops of carrots were amazing, and the globs of herbed cream cheese took things to the next level. As if this couldn’t get any better, it was topped with Chinese crispy fried garlic. What a flavor bomb!
The next dish was their insane take on a Big Mac with fries: “Golden Arches Tartare”. It’s beef tartare with relish, the iconic Stadium Mustard, yolk jam, and fricco and topped with salt & vinegar chips. It tastes eerily like a Big Mac but only the best parts and with added complexity and freshness. The house-made salt and vinegar chips, however, stole the show, rocking my world with each bite.
Next up were some corn fritters, essentially fried polenta atop pesto and a roasted tomato sauce with parmesan. The fritters were light and very corn-forward, like meatballs except made of corn. The pesto was also spicy and garlicky, adding a pleasant dimension to the dish.
At this point, I was starting to slow down but everything was just so tasty that I couldn’t resist.
Next up was fried levain bread topped with farmer’s cheese (or maybe herb cream cheese?) and a garlic and balsamic blueberry jam. It’s all happening so fast! The bread had a hearty bite, ripe with seeds and whatnot.
Even as I’m filling up, I can’t help but note how perfectly spaced out this meal has been. The final few courses were about to come in hot and take my gluttony over the edge.
Wings are my all-time favorite food so what a treat it was that they brought these out next. These were confit wings tossed in hot sauce served with some frites, all drowning in parmesan cheese, along with their creamy French dressing for dipping. The wings and fries both had a smoky aftertaste and the wing sauce was fantastic. Every tasting menu should have wings and fries somewhere in the equation.
For the grand savory finale, they busted out the tried-and-true Burger Box. It’s “1921 style” (which I understand to be a reference to White Castle sliders and the year the chain was founded) with smoked cheddar, Kool Aid pickles, onion, and “our sauce” on everything-seasoned buns. After watching so many of these being made on the flat top, they didn’t disappoint. The meat is flavorful and crispy, the veg adds a crisp freshness, the cheese “skirt” (resulting from sprinkling cheese to the side of the meat then scraping it off and folding it on top) is crispy and salty, and the everything bun is absolutely nuts.
I was so, so full at this point so I could only eat one of the two sliders, but I wish I could have eaten this four courses ago to give it the respect it deserves.
Finally, it was dessert time, which meant I’d miraculously make room for one more dish. And this one was worth it: the Slush Float, ice cream meets slushie. This “Cordelia classic” is house-made basil mint ice cream with blueberry jam, a rosé bubble granita, and topped with crispy meringue. This was super fruity and super tart and got better with each bite as the soft serve and the granita each melted and mingled with the other.
To summarize the Bellie Up experience…wow.
My server said he’d gained thirty pounds since he started working here a year ago; I felt like I’d gained thirty pounds since sitting down 90 minutes earlier. Every dish was unique but down-to-earth and downright delicious. The service was impeccable, down to the employee who saw me wandering around in search of the restroom. This was simply one of the best meals I’ve had, and it was less than $100 in total.
My one complaint is that it’s just so much food and I couldn’t say no to any of it, so the rest of my night was spent groaning and rubbing my tummy while looking back and cherishing each and every bite I had. It’s a struggle I would relive each and every opportunity I could.
If you’re ever even remotely near downtown Cleveland, sprint to Cordelia.