Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Park It

Since word was that Cropicana was attracting huge crowds from Day 1, I was waiting for some of the hubbub to die down before making my maiden visit. From what I was hearing, that’s an exercise in futility: Unless it’s cold and raining, the place is pretty much packed every night. So I got myself down there recently for a look see with a few of my favorite beer swillers, margarita sippers and onion ring enthusiasts.

There’s an outdoor kitchen, equipped with a big smoker, and bar, plus another bar and small dining area indoors. We were lucky and snagged seats under the canopy. Those who didn’t filled picnic tables scattered around the grass adjacent to the dock. There were lots of folks in team-ware, on their way to and from volleyball games. Others came armed with Frisbees. Dogs, lots of them but all on leashes, greeted one another with friendly sniffs, seemingly absorbing the friendly, relaxed, be-and-let-be vibe of this spot. Kids scampered off to play on the slide. The soundtrack was either too loud or get-down perfect depending on your personal point of view. (Live music on the weekends: Check website for schedule.) We had a nice breeze, a glorious sunset over the lake and a few hours of highly entertaining people watching.

Steve and Jackie Schimoler are managing the seasonal county-owned Wendy Park venue at Whiskey Island Marina for the summer while the second iteration of their Warehouse District restaurant, Crop, is under construction in Ohio City. It’s definitely a step away from what they usually do. Food comes in paper-lined plastic baskets, and you eat it with plastic tableware. But they’ve clearly figured out how to make guests happy and make the casual, mostly self-serve waterside restaurant a destination.

The menu has the usual options for this kind of beach scene without any fancy flourishes, which is just how most folks like their hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries. But the Schimoler style shows up in other choices and daily specials such as chile lime popcorn, lamb tacos, smoked wings and cherry chipotle ribs.

The whole experience is more funky Caribbean island than Cleveland lakefront, a sort of tiki bar meets Camp O-Hi-O. The Schimolers' formula is proving so successful that there’s talk of building a pedestrian bridge that will make it easier to get there from Ohio City and the West Bank of the Flats. But that’s a story for another year. Right now, unless you have a boat, a car’s your best bet. Take the Shoreway, follow the signs for Whiskey Island, and wind along the access road until you arrive at what looks like a big party in progress.

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