Tuesday, September 25, 2012 / 4:05 PM
You’d have to try—really try—to have a bad meal at Cleveland-Heath, the remarkable eatery that, by itself, has elevated Edwardsville as a dining destination. We haven’t been able to manage it yet. We gave it another try on a pleasant September afternoon, because a friend wanted to go there for her birthday and how many times can does one get to celebrate a 57th birthday? (In her case it’s three and counting.)
Of course, when it was our birthday, we sensibly chose dinner at Popeye’s (which, like Cleveland-Heath, also doesn’t take reservations). But her? Oh, no, we have to drive all the way to Edwardsville and plan dinner for about the time of evening preferred by nine out of ten retirees in The Villages because the wait at Cleveland-Heath on a Saturday night can make the line at the DMV seem as irrelevant as the front seats on the Screamin’ Eagle.
And then, once we get there, the harridan on the GPS is whining at us because we’re not following her directions. Which we’re not doing because several of the streets of downtown Edwardsville have been barricaded and we eventually just have to park and wind our way to the restaurant on foot.
We discover the reason for the barricades from our waitress, once we’re seated. It’s Edwardsville’s bicentennial. They’re having a parade to celebrate. And we, because we’ve arrived so early, if we time it just right, we’ll be finished with dinner just in time to have front row seats for the festivities.
If you haven’t been yet to Cleveland-Heath, it should be high, very high on your list—even if there isn’t a parade scheduled that night. The pair running things, Cleveland and Heath, both put in time working at restaurants in Napa Valley, one being The French Laundry, arguably the most famous eatery in the United States. Apparently, their game plan went something like this:
One: Find a beautiful, vintage storefront in a happy little town far enough away from a major city to make it seem like a drive into the country for dinner, close enough to be able to draw upon a sizably profitable urban audience.
Two: Come up with a limited menu with not a single offering that doesn’t have your mouth watering just reading the descriptions.
Three: Send portions out to the tables that are absurdly, laughably enormous. Appetizers that are the size of main courses, main courses that should be served in the takeout boxes for leftovers just to save time.
Every dish on the menu this evening is worth the drive to Edwardsville. The lamb’s tongue (below), though: that is probably worth walking to Edwardsville. The whole tongue, pan-roasted and sliced thick, sitting on warm chickpeas and chopped tomatoes, with lumps of feta, slivered mint, and fresh chilies, with a succulent, smoky dressing. Lamb’s tongue prepared this way is fabulously tender, the surface barely caramelized to bring out all the flavor. Exquisite. The chickpeas have just enough texture to give under one’s bite; the feta plays off the lamb perfectly.
A BLT the size of a phone book (left) arrives with a quilt of thick, meaty bacon weaved across it, oven-roasted tomatoes, lettuce, just to make it legit, and a spectacular house-made mayo that brings it all together. Yeah, it’s white bread on top and bottom. It’s a couple of slices of Pullman bread that makes Texas toast look puny by comparison. When you can finish this sandwich in a single sitting, along with the haystack of russet and sweet potato fries, then you can dismiss this white bread as “white bread.”
And of course there are those incredible flaky, crusty biscuits, with melted cheddar cheese threaded through them (below left). And deviled eggs, the filling laced with a touch of piquant hot sauce.
We also discovered that, on a visit made way back in March, the one where we were reviewing the place (see here), our mission may have been at least suspected. One of our regular review crew has a sister who’s a friend of the aunt of one of Cleveland-Heath’s two owners (if you can follow that), Jenny Cleveland. After we’d eaten and paid the check, our friend spoke to Ms. Cleveland, introduced herself, and mentioned one of the reviews hanging on the wall was written by the guy sitting at the table beside her—who was at the time pushing his not inconsiderable limits by downing the last of the those deviled eggs.
“Yeah,” Ms. Cleveland said, “When you were in here, were you by any chance sitting at that table back there?”
Why yes, we had been, we said, and we were surprised she remembered.
“We wondered if something was up,” she told us. “The waiter came into the kitchen and said, ‘They ordered all this food—and there’s only four of them!’”
It was nice to be remembered for such a thing. Modestly, we did not mention we order that much food even when we’re not reviewing.
So we’re done and we waddle out of Cleveland-Heath and have our perfect parade position, right on the corner of Vandalia St. and Main. And the squeal of bagpipes wafting over the soft, early autumn air of the evening could have meant only two things: either they were filming a sequel to Braveheart there in downtown Edwardsville, or the parade was about to commence.
A ZZ Top-inspired bearded guy driving a vintage John Deere tractor.
War of 1812 re-enactors.
The Roxana High School marching band. Shriners on motorcycles (below).
Every pol in the area, it seemed, cruising in the procession in classic cars, tossing candy and beads to the crowd, which encouraged kids to a) run out into the street to gather the goods and b) take candy from strangers. (The best catch of the evening were the Tootsie Pops flung by the—we’re totally not kidding—Madison County Coroner. And apologies to that kid we head-butted, but hey, it was a cherry-flavored Tootsie Pop.)
The Madison County Rescue Unit along with the county’s mobile command post for Homeland Security. And given their imposing presence and the brain-melting shriek of their sirens, any Taliban who might have been casing the place for a possible attack are probably thinking there might be easier targets than Madison County.
There were little kids in costume, a baton twirling troupe, more bagpipes, and leading the whole shebang, veterans, their rifles at shoulder arms, their held at an angle as flags perfectly straight as their shoulders.
If you have never attended a small town parade, you have missed a very great and very important part of what has made this country the unique place it is. If you have never attended a small town parade after dining on roasted lamb’s tongue, well, we heard Edwardsville sponsors a terrific parade at Hallowe’en. We’re thinking of going back for it. And for that lamb’s tongue. So if you go, and you should, but unless you’re early, plan on waiting for a table. We’ll be at the one with all the food.
106 N. Main
To learn more about Cleveland and Heath, check out SLM's Kitchen Q&A here.
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