I’m going to tell you a secret.
I used to be terrified of eating alone. So terrified that I absolutely wouldn’t do it. In fact, I once spent an entire college May term eating meals alone in my dorm room. All of my suite-mates and best friends traveled to New York City and left me solo. The thought of walking into a cafeteria looking for somewhere to sit by myself made me panic so badly I just couldn’t do it.
Now, I enjoy dining and traveling solo from time to time. It took me a while to get here, though. Walking into a party, solo, though; I’d rather die.
Last week I felt like treating myself on one of my days off. So, I did. I was in the mood for another miniature road trip. This time I headed to Edwardsville, Illinois to eat lunch at Cleveland-Heath.
Edwardsville is home to Southern Illinois University and located about 40-minutes from our home. I’ve seen and heard many good things about Jennifer Cleveland and Eric Heath’s restaurant since moving to St. Louis. Eric Heath was nominated as a 2016 James Beard semi-finalist for the Midwest region.
This past year, I read Ellen Stimson’s memoir Mud Season about her experiences moving from St. Louis to rural Vermont. At one point, she lived in Edwardsville, describing it as cozy. She painted a picture I felt very curious to see, of suppers on her front porch with a big swing, community band concerts, and a lake in the middle of a city park.
The drive into Edwardsville was indeed picturesque. Once I passed the big sign for Southern Illinois University, I drove along a little residential road towards the main street. Each side was lined with mature trees and grand, old houses. I felt like I was driving through a Norman Rockwell painting. I paused for a moment at this chapel set amidst the rolling hills of Woodlawn Cemetery.
Cleveland-Heath is located at the corner of a busy Main Street intersection. Despite the hustle and bustle, I had no problem finding street parking. The restaurant was calm when I arrived for an early lunch. I chose a seat at the bar where I was warmly greeted and provided with a menu.
I ordered plenty of food with the intention of taking some home for Jake to try. The bartender sold me on one of the daily specials, a banh mi-inspired sandwich. He sold me with the mention of a liver pate. I added an order of salt and pepper chicken wings.
In my mind, I had envisioned the type of salt and pepper foods we’ve found at Chinese restaurants; where meat or seafood is fried in some sort of crispy crunchy coating seasoned with salt, chili peppers, garlic, and other seasonings I can’t identify but crave. These salt and pepper wings were fried until crispy and literally seasoned with salt and black pepper. Not quite what I had imagined, but cooked very well.
The skin was shatteringly crisp while the meat remained moist. Next time I’d order a hot sauced version. The wings still satisfied and the blue cheese dressing tasted homemade. I can sniff out the stuff that comes in big jars in a second. This was not it and I took the rest home.
The pate and pork sandwich also tasted delicious. It really did. The toasted bread made the sandwich richer than a traditional banh mi, but included the right amount of pickled veggies, cilantro, and shaved jalapeno to balance everything out.
I opted for a side salad instead of fries, which arrived delightfully composed, dressed, and seasoned. The chef speckled the greens with shaved radish and some kind of crunchy, toasted bits.
Overall, a memorably good meal in a hospitable atmosphere.
When I home, I saw my friend @SocialSara612’s reply to my tweet that I was snarfing chicken wings, solo, at a bar. She said something along the lines of how I was living my best life. I chuckled. Because she might be kind of right.