Sokolowski’s University Inn (1201 University Rd. Cleveland, OH 44113) is pretty much the definition of a Cleveland classic. The restaurant opened in 1923 and was Cleveland’s oldest family-owned and -operated restaurant. However, that run might be over soon. Due to a combination of personal issues and the threat of Covid, the third-generation owners decided now was the right time to get out of the business, and the building is now for sale. Tremont, the neighborhood where Sokolowski’s sits, is rapidly gentrifying, so the land alone would surely earn a pretty penny.
We visited Sokolowski’s right before we left for Chicago for the year, and we are glad we got to experience this stalwart in its full glory before it closed, pre-Covid. Sokolowski’s bread and butter was its cafeteria line, at which you could grab classic Polish and Eastern European dishes to make yourself a tasty and reasonably-priced meal. Typical fare included kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi, and chicken paprikash. Other American (meatloaf, Salisbury steak) and Italian (chicken piccata, eggplant parm) dishes were also on offer, along with a smattering of veggies and desserts. The restaurant itself was something of time capsule, filled with dark wood, knickknacks, and religious paraphernalia. The restaurant also boasted an enviable view of Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River from high atop a hill.
Going to Sokolowski’s is a right of passage for every Clevelander, and it even won a James Beard award as an “American Classic” in 2014. Sokolowski’s definitely represented the Cleveland of another era, and was one of the last of the old-style Eastern European restaurants hanging on. With the recent(ish) closure of the Slovenian restaurant Searle’s Country House in 2017, the closing of Sokolowski’s marks the end of a culinary era for Cleveland.