Sides for Barbecue
You may have heard of Claude Booker, but it's less likely you've tried his Southern-style food. The Northfield Center restaurateur and South Carolina native has made a lot of headlines over the years while launching his specialty of barbecue and side dishes for special markets.
He's sold at military bases across the world, in supermarkets, in a food cart program (still in development) and at Progressive Field during this summer's Republican National Convention.
As of late November, though, Booker will be more accessible. He's opening Sides to Go BBQ, just off I-271 and Ohio 82 in Macedonia.
Why the bricks and mortar?
"I want to be able to get more directly to the consumer, " he said. Mass-production and long transport can dilute the strength of any food product, he said. A restaurant, meanwhile, can serve what was cooked that day, getting a jump on fresher flavors.
Sides to Go BBQ will have a cafeteria-like setting where customers can select their own combinations on sight while the staff plates it up for them.
"It would be great if we could have the speed of Chipotle, the charm of Cracker Barrel and the variety of Boston Market, " he said. "I think I can pull it off. I also think I'm a sucker for risk-taking."
Booker is, with his sunny enthusiasm and playful drawl, someone who knows Greater Cleveland has a large contingent of Great Migration descendants, especially African-Americans, who grew up on southern fare such as barbecue, black-eyed peas and greens. They consider such foods a homecoming.
"The cuisine never left them, " he said. "I've had people say, 'Wow. You've got tomatoes with okra. I haven't had that in years.' It's not just about great food, but the experiences, the memory."
Booker, as he likes to be called, is augmenting his brisket, ribs and chicken with Brunswick stew, crawfish etouffee, vegan pulled "pork, " smoked turkey ribs and more, plus a long list of accompaniments that includes those beans and greens plus sweet carrots, fried green tomatoes, sweet potato casserole, salad, fried okra, fruit salad and mac and cheese.
He hopes to mimic the "meat and three" concept of successful Southern cafes such as Wade's Family Restaurant in Spartanburg, Niki's West in Birmingham, Arnold's Country Kitchen in Nashville and Bertha's Kitchen in Charleston, complete with the diner-style lingo of called-out orders.
"I read that New York City has it's first meat-and-three, " he said. "That's pretty exciting. And who better to bring it to Cleveland but a country boy like me?"
IF YOU GO:
What: Sides to Go BBQ featuring a cafeteria-style choice of three or more meats and up to a dozen side dishes.
Where: 9828 Valley View Road, Macedonia, 44056. From I-271, head east on Ohio 82 (Aurora Road) and south on Valley View.
Prices: Meat and one side, $9.99; meat and two sides, $10.99; meat and three sides, $11.99; two meats and two sides, $14.99; three veggies or sides, $5.99; four veggies or sides, $6.99. Also, sandwiches, $4.99-$10.99.