Of Corned Beef and Kings

In Cleveland, Ohio for the majority of the twentieth century a decent corned beef sandwich was as easy to locate as a politician with his hand extended in an outward fashion. I remember one such juxtaposition at the old Flat Iron Cafe in downtown Cleveland’s flats in the early 1970’s. The Flat Iron Cafe at this time was owned by the fine old Cleveland Chambers family.

On any given lunch hour the joint was swarming with all manner of citizenry, many ironworkers, dockworkers, and laborers, along with downtown office workers, and the likes of us regular Cleveland long- haired freaks. The inclusion of politicians in the Flat Iron mix usually meant that an election was at hand and the politico at hand possessed an agenda.

George Voinovich and his rather gargantuan front man Ed Richards were working the lunch hour crowd one autumn Wednesday afternoon… Having walked downtown with some friends from the area of West 65Th and Detroit, we were hungry and thirsty. Beer was our balm and Wednesday was also the day when corned beef and cabbage or corned beef sandwiches were the daily special. The Flat Iron cafe at that time was more steeped in the nineteenth century than the twentieth.

Upon entering the smoky, large dining room, the gambit was to get in line and send your pals to grab a table after taking their order. You also shared a place at one of the long tables with whoever decided to sit next to you at any given time — an empty spot at a table was game for any chow hound to plop into to get his grits down his gullet. A lost tradition this notion of shared seating, though a perfect position for a politician to ambush you from.

Food was ordered and served from the back of the room by white- aproned elderly women. These matronly women took your order, only a few simple delicious choices so no head scratchin’ allowed, and handed back through a large open French-doored kitchen, your tray heaped with whatever you ordered.

Friday fish fries here were among the best in the city. Ditto the corned beef sandwiches piled high with meat on crusty New Heights Bakery rye bread, and a large serving of cole slaw and hand cut french fried potatoes to go with them. Serving hundreds of lunches to many blue collar and other time clock workers meant quick service and hot food, which was always a winner.

So we had grabbed our corned beef sandwich platters, started to glug our long necked Strohs from the bottle, when the far door opened and this giant of a man Ed Richards, in a thick black overcoat, entered with a dapper, diminutive, and youthful George Voinovich decked out in a trendy modish green suit following him, raincoat slung over his arm.

That day in the Flat Iron forty-some years ago with Big Ed leading the youthfully long haired, burning proud with his “full Cleveland look ” flying way out. George was dressed complete with a multi-colored ultra-wide tie, loud lime pastel green suit with wide lapels and yellow and purplish highlights in stripes. Buffed and polished to a gleam white shoes finished off his look. The whole strange magilla. More likely than not Diamond Brothers or Robert Hall clothing off the rack. Which any of us locals recognized as thrifty rags and identified with the perceived frugal nature of George Voinovich. Walking around pumpin’ on paws, not seemingly affected by some real nasty mitts in the crowd . While his handler introduced him as “George is looking for your vote” was the only time I ever encountered him about Cleveland, Ohio.

Voinovich was running for Cuyahoga County Auditor, and Richards was going up and down the line at all the tables introducing himself and handing off a political flyer. Big Ed and little George made a rather odd Mutt and Jeff routine at any event.

The Flat Iron was a frequent watering hole for West and East side politicians alike, and this sort of campaigning was business as usual. Voinovich to his credit introduced himself, shook hands, not minding the errant horseradish or stadium mustard stains of our collective mitts, asked for our votes, and worked his way down the line.

His handler “Big Ed,” much later got in to some type of trouble, though I do not remember it reflecting on Voinovich in a direct fashion. Mister Voinovich now lives in Washington, District of Columbia , and is as most of you realize a multiple term United States Senator.

I often think of those afternoons now… the large steaming fragrant kettles of corned beef giving off a strong pickling spice whiff, mixed with the yeasty odor of better than a centuries worth of fresh beer… the constant whirring of a mechanical slicer, run with exacting care by a white-aproned biped with a steady set of hands. No such places still exist in a city that was once filled with unique old restaurants that were frozen in time and busy taking their deserved hallowed place in the local myth called “history.”

Otto Moser’s , and the Rathskeller both formerly located on the west side of East Fourth Street between Euclid and Prospect are still in business today at other downtown locations, though with changes of address–they left the better part of their histories behind.

People about town tell me of the great corned beef at Slyman’s restaurant on Saint Clair in downtown Cleveland. Though I have enjoy their corned beef it strikes me best served with eggs or grits. Thus removed from the disgraceful soft rye bread it is served on in it’s ubiquitous sandwich form. Ditto all of the other downtown sandwich shops, Slyman’s cousins at Danny’s Deli down the block on Saint Clair, or the Superior Restaurant a few blocks away.

Counter joints that peddle corned beef on rye are very common throughout the inner city of Cleveland’s east side. Every last one serves quality meats on spongy Orlando Bakery restaurant rye bread. Better no bread than this pasty crustless rye… Slyman’s may serve all forms of politicians and celebrities when they visit Cleveland, though politicians and those that seek attention are drawn by the crowds , not the bread. Slyman’s knows from corned beef and crowds, not from sandwiches.

I once observed Al Gore while he was vice president eat a absurd Cleveland version of a Pittsburg style sandwich made famous by Primanti’s in the strip district off Penn Avenue. Gore ate the whole mess , french fries cole slaw and all. Al Gore survived long enough to lose the Presidential election, though eating in public in an incessant fashion cannot promote good health.

To really find a true satisfying corned beef sandwich in Cleveland today it is necessary to leave Cleveland and travel east up Cedar Road to Jack’s Deli and restaurant, at the corner of Cedar and Green, or head southeast to Corky and Lenny’s Deli and Restaurant at Chagrin Road and the intersection of interstate 271.

Jack’s and Corky’s both know their corned beef. Their sandwiches are served on crusty slightly-sour, hand-formed, seeded rye loaves. Corky’s bakes their own. Jack’s buys theirs half baked from the nearby Pinkus bakery and finish baking the loaves on site . Both Corky’s and Jack’s also have chopped liver on their menus as well, for a great complement on your next corned beef or pastrami sandwich. Upon entering these delis a bowl of pickled peppers, cukes, and sour tomatoes are placed in front of you along with bread or rolls and butter. Orlando’s bakery to their credit does bake a number of crusty Italian loaves, sold mostly on weekends, and they are fine and without fault.


Politicians like bread , and so do most of us bipeds. most of us prefer the green paper script “bread” used to purchase the ingredients to make the yeast risen edible bread. So be it bread. If you care to get a rise out of life while, “loafing around,” you might consider a purchase of Ursel Norman’s A BASKET OF HOMEMADE BREAD.

Most of us have little enough time these days to bake our own bread, and prefer to let others do it for us. If you have a strong desire for a loaf or two of your own consider this tome as a guide to your rise in baking.[Chuckle and drum roll rim shot].

I will throw in a sure fire and pug simple winter season corned beef brisket recipe for kicks tomorrow. As for bread, pickled meats, and politicians use your own judgement. Mix these ingredients in a word jumble and see what ya’ get? Pickled politicians tossing meat while taking bread. Hmmmmm? I suppose that might describe the variety that are caught with their pants down in all form of fashion depraved and otherwise. Not to forget to mention the other type of politician who tosses bread around to pickled wholesale meats inspectors for a messy profit.


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