Friday, November 9, 2007

Best Happy Hour in Cleveland?


Enough Symon v. Besh, what about Symon v. Small?* (I don't have cable, but I follow The Next Iron Chef here.) There's a different battle here in Cleveland, one that pits two restaurants in adjacent neighborhoods against each other. Symon's Lolita in Tremont (the website is shared with Lola) versus Small's Flying Fig in Ohio City. As a person who recently transitioned to a lower pay fewer hours job and lifestyle, I benefit from happy hour deals, and am able to take advantage of happy hour hours. Good thing too, because as you'll see in the scoring (or already know),
you need to get out of work pretty early to enjoy Lolita's happy hour, at least their early one. Just about all the food is $5, so price isn't much of a factor.
Here's the breakdown:
Lolita (this is complicated) - Tues. through Thurs. 5-6:30 & 9-close; Fri. and Sat., same early time, but 9:30 to close on the back end; and Sunday 4-6:30.
Fig - Tues. through Fri. 5-7:30. Not sure about the weekend.
Winner - Fig by a hair. I appreciate the late and Sunday happy hours at Lolita, but for a daily thing it's nice to be able to get a good dinner on the cheap up until 7:30 at the Fig.
Lolita - Menu is online. I've tried the burger and seen the mac & cheese. The burger was excellent, and the half portion mac & cheese (a version of which I've tried at Lola) looked okay. No fries with the burger, no bread or other type of snack on the table. Really, great burger (comes with bacon and a perfectly fried egg), especially for the price. Also, while not on the happy hour menu, the Big Board for Two is no joke, and the La Quercia meats are as good or better than anything imported that I've tried.
Fig - Menu is not online, but it's a great little menu. Mussels, tempura green beans (I think they're still on there), nachos (it's a far cry from Taco Bell), and a blue cheese burger (comes with bacon and fries), and some more. Chips and a nice dipping sauce were on the bar last time I was there--the sauce was addictive. All the food I saw looked tasty and prepared with care.
Winner - Tie. Lolita has the edge as far as pure burger quality goes, but the inclusion of fries helps with the Fig burger. I'm looking forward to comparing the mussels dishes at each place soon (both include sausage, chorizo I think--suspicious). If I had to choose, and I'm glad I don't, I'd probably settle on Lolita in this category. This may be revisited post-mussels.
Both places have wine, beer, and cocktail options. Fig seems a bit more flexible on the cocktail end, with the always affable Dave Hridel behind the bar--he'd be a hard guy not to like. But Lolita offers a higher shelf mixed drink. As for beers, at last visit Fig had a $2 and $3 option, both pretty nice. Lolita went with the always safe $2 Sierra Nevada.
Winner - Fig. While I like Lolita's cocktail options, I like to eat during happy hour (when appropriate), and the food at both places is beer friendly. Fig does a better job with the beer options, I just wish they'd give Great Lakes more of a chance.
Bar area/Intangibles
Lolita has the open kitchen right by the bar, while at Fig you can get a view of Market Street. I like both Tremont and Ohio City, with no real preference for either. Both restaurants are great--Lolita a little cozier, but the Fig feels more relaxed, and there's no hint of being rushed (More of a factor at Lolita because of the 6:30 last call, the servers at both places are very good.). Both have ample bars close by, and great menus if you're looking for something more.
Winner - Tie. Even though they're both relatively small and fit the stylistic mold for newer good food restaurants, it's still apples and oranges to compare the two in this category.

Whose happy hour reigns supreme? Tough call, depends on the mood, time, and where you find yourself. If it's just about the food, I'd have to go with Lolita. For a general super relaxed traditional happy hour, with really good food, I'd pick Fig. How's that for hedging?

*The Symon picture is from the Food Network (cheer up Michael, you usually look so happy), Ms. Small's from the Cleveland Scene.

Also, if I'm missing another contender in Cleveland or the immediately surrounding area, please chime in.

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