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Great food crosses political divides

Food traditions run deep in convention host cities

With the Republic National Convention underway in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention taking place July 25-28 in Philadelphia, there’s no shortage of flavor to choose from. Pierogis to pretzels, we’re game.

Cleveland, which boasts a large Polish population, is where you’ll find a hefty sandwich of griddled kielbasa sausage on a hoagie roll, topped with coleslaw and french fries. It’s called the Polish Boy, and it’s often served with barbecue sauce.

Clevelander and “The Chew” co-host Michael Symon prefers to use ShaSha Sauce, a mustardy banana pepper relish from a longtime family recipe named for his mother-in-law.

Philadelphians love their liquid refreshments, as soda pop, ice cream soda and the first commercially sold root beer – Hires – are all purported to have originated there. Any Philly-themed party naturally cries out for a DIY soda bar, at the very least.

Fish fries are an important part of the Cleveland food landscape, according to chef and Cleveland local Matt Fish. “We’ve got a huge Catholic population,” he says. “I can remember going with my grandparents to a fish fry every Friday night.”

As the owner of Melt Bar & Grilled, a chain of seven restaurants with a focus on grilled cheese, Fish wanted to re-create the fried fish sandwiches he loved as a kid, featuring Great Lakes catches such as walleye and perch. He came up with the Lake Erie Monster, a mash-up of grilled cheese and batter-fried fillets slathered with a jalapeño-spiked tartar sauce. “I wanted to step it up a notch,” says Fish. “It really resonates with Clevelanders.”

For Philadelphia native Coleen Hill, a food blogger and graphic designer who will be volunteering at the Dems’ convention, her city’s cuisine has its own stories to tell.

Consider the ubiquitous Philly cheesesteak sandwich: “To me, it represents Philly’s attitude,” she says. “It’s not a healthy food, and we don’t care.”

But ask her what food is distinctively Philadelphia, and Hill will immediately point to the tomato pie, puffy and pizzalike, that routinely turns up at parties because it’s served at room temperature and can be made in advance. “Philadelphia Tomato Pie is special, because it’s a truly unique-to-Philadelphia food,” she says. “Even just 40 miles north of Philadelphia, ‘tomato pie’ means something completely different. On special occasions, like Super Bowl Sunday, you’d better order ahead, because you won’t be able to get it on the day of.”

Forget the gridiron routine. This year’s political conventions will probably provide a lot more excitement. They deserve a taste of something beyond wings and beer.

The Lake Erie Monster

Servings: 4

Notes: This is chef Matt Fish’s homage to the fish fries he went to on Friday nights with his grandparents while growing up in Cleveland. Although combining cheese and fish generally is considered a no-no in culinary circles, the Lake Erie Monster is like an elevated Filet-O-Fish, sandwiching crispy beer-battered fish with gooey cheese and a spicy jalapeño-spiked tartar sauce.

The sauce recipe calls for seeding the jalapeños, but you can amp up the flavor by adding some seeds back into the sauce for an additional hit of heat.

Although the chef likes to make the sandwich with local Great Lakes seafood such as walleye or perch, when available, he typically makes it with cod at his Cleveland area restaurants; other options could include tilapia or snapper.

You’ll need an instant-read thermometer for monitoring the fish-frying oil.

MAKE AHEAD: The jalapeño tartar sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

For the sauce:

½ cup pickle chips

¼ cup coarsely chopped onion

2 tablespoons drained capers

½ teaspoon chopped garlic

2 cups regular or low-fat mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Scant teaspoon finely grated zest plus 1½ teaspoons juice from 1 lemon

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried dill

½ teaspoon sugar

2 medium jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (½ cup; see headnote)

For the sandwiches:

¾ cup flour, plus ½ cup for coating the fillets

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon baking powder

3 large eggs

½ cup Guinness stout

¼ cup whole or low-fat buttermilk

Oil, for frying (about 3 cups)

Four 4-to-6-ounce cod fillets (or other firm white-fleshed fish)

8 slices thick white bread, such as Texas toast, lightly toasted

16 slices American cheese

For the sauce:

Combine the pickle chips, onion, capers and garlic in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped, then drain off any excess liquid. Transfer the chopped ingredients to a mixing bowl.

Add the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon zest and juice, black pepper, dill and sugar; whisk until well incorporated, then fold in the jalapeños. The yield is 2 cups. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use (up to 2 weeks).

For the sandwiches:

Combine the ¾ cup of flour, the salt, pepper, chili powder and baking powder in a mixing bowl, whisking until combined.

Whisk together the eggs, stout and buttermilk in a liquid measuring cup, then add to flour mixture, whisking to form a smooth batter.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels, then seat a wire cooling rack on top.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat to 350 F.

Rinse the fish fillets in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Spread the remaining ½ cup of flour on a plate.

Coat the fillets with the flour on both sides, shaking off any excess. Working with a few at a time, dip the floured fillets into the batter so they are fully coated, then immediately lay them in the oil. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side or until the batter has browned and the fish is opaque and cooked through. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the fillets to the rack. Discard any remaining batter.

Meanwhile, place the toasted bread slices on a baking sheet. Lay two slices of the cheese on top of each piece of bread, overlapping as needed. Bake for about 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Place a fried fillet on four of the toast slices, then spoon on a generous dollop of the jalapeño tartar sauce. Top with the remaining cheesy toast slices. Serve right away.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.

From Fish, chef-owner of Melt Bar & Grilled in Cleveland.

Polish Boy

Servings: 4

Notes: Like an Eastern European version of a sausage-and-pepper sandwich, the Polish Boy – a pairing of kielbasa with coleslaw and french fries that’s typically topped with barbecue sauce – is found across the Cleveland area.

MAKE AHEAD: The ShaSha sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.

For the sauce:

12 jarred hot banana peppers, stemmed

4 cloves garlic

1 cup yellow mustard

1 cup white wine vinegar

¾ cup sugar

1/3 cup flour

½ cup water

For the sandwiches:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 kielbasa sausages (1½ pounds total)

4 hoagie rolls

1 pound coleslaw, preferably thinly sliced

1 pound cooked shoestring french fries

For the sauce:

Combine the peppers, garlic, mustard and vinegar in a food processor; puree until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 30 minutes.

Whisk together the flour and water in a medium bowl to make a smooth paste. Whisk the paste into the pepper mixture; cook for 20 minutes, stirring regularly, to form a thick sauce. Transfer to a container and let cool completely. The yield is 3 cups. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 4 weeks).

For the sandwiches:

Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the kielbasa and cook until lightly browned all over, turning the sausages as needed.

Place one sausage in each hoagie roll, then cover the kielbasa with generous spoonfuls of coleslaw. Top with a handful of fries, then top the fries with 2 or 3 spoonfuls of the sauce. Serve right away.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.

From chef Symon, chef-owner of Lola Bistro in Cleveland and a co-host of ABC’s “The Chew.”

Root Beer Float Ice Cream

Servings: 12 (makes 1½ quarts)

Notes: This flavored ice cream captures all the best parts of an ice cream soda: It’s creamy and not overly sweet, with a subtle root beer flavor.

Soda pop is said to have been invented in Philadelphia in 1807, followed by the ice cream soda in 1874, and pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires created the first commercially produced root beer for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, proving that the City of Brotherly Love seems to have an affinity for fizzy drinks.

MAKE AHEAD: The root beer syrup needs about 2 hours to reduce. The custard base needs to chill for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. The ice cream can be frozen for up to 1 month.


Four 12-ounce bottles of root beer (48 ounces total; do not use diet root beer)

1 cup whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

3 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste


Pour 36 ounces (3 bottles) of the root beer into a pan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium; cook gently until very thick and reduced to ½ cup; this can take up to 2 hours. Let cool.

Combine the milk, heavy cream and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat; once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks in a large liquid measuring cup, then whisk in ¼ cup of the hot milk mixture. Add the tempered egg yolks to the saucepan with the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly over medium heat until the mixture has thickened into a custard that can coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, discarding any solids, then add the vanilla bean paste, the ½ cup of reduced root beer and the remaining 12 ounces of root beer, stirring to incorporate.

Set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice water and stir the custard well to promote quick cooling. Pour the custard into a container with a tight-fitting lid; seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

Once the custard is thoroughly chilled, process it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a freezer-safe container; seal and freeze for up to a month.

Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories, 2 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 19 g sugar.

Adapted from a recipe by Lauren Reynolds, who blogs at huffingtonpost.com/dough-mamma.

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