Archive for October, 2011
It has been years. LONG, painful, unappeasable years since Jeff has had GOOD Chicken and Waffles. Of course, every now and again, a restaurant came along and promised the dish. Jeff didn’t budge. He knew, only Phil knew how to blend ultra-fluffy waffles, brilliantly fried chicken, perfectly mixed syrup and spunky hot sauce into a taste tempting treat. So he waited…and waited…and waited until Phil finally came back.
Phil the Fire is not only a story of good food (we’ll get to that) but it is also a story of a guy who reached for the stars, was punched down only to rise again, better than before.
Phil the Fire was first a wildly popular Sunday Brunch in the Heights, then a marvelous tiny restaurant at Shaker Square, so popular, it was almost impossible to get a table, an expanded bistro near Jacob’s Field and then a famous flop because of some nefarious characters that took advantage of the young restaurateur. To his credit, Phil righted the wrongs brought upon him by these guys and opened a new Phil the Fire in Beachwood. You’ve got to love a guy who so enjoys food he is willing to weather this type of storm.
We first heard that Phil was again going to open a restaurant in spring of 2011. While Michele fully adored the Catfish, it was Jeff who was obsessed by his Chicken and Waffles. He tried others. NONE came even close. Nobody had as fluffy a waffle. None features the perfectly fried chicken. The hot sauce and syrup were always substandard. The unique combination has NEVER reached the heights that Phil defined.
So we waited.
Once Phil opened again, we waited further. We tried relentlessly to again sample Phil’s fare, but the legend had grown too big. We could not get in! 45 minute, 90 minute, two hour waits were quoted. Finally, on this visit, they promised 20 minutes and we could finally sample Phil’s food.
It was worth the wait. Michele reported that the catfish was perfect and as she remembered. Next time she plans on ordering two pieces! (A one or two piece entrée are available.) Jeff quickly sliced up the breast, scattered it over the waffle, drizzled the syrup and hot sauce across the top and dug in. It was as if we had not eaten in a week. The food was gone in an instant. The waiter commented that Jeff ate the dish as Phil defined in the menu. “Of course!” he said. “Phil taught me how to eat this dish YEARS ago!”
Dessert was a forgone conclusion. In the original Shaker Square location, we once sat next to an elderly couple. The woman told us that the Red Velvet Cake at Phil the Fire was just like her mother made. We never knew this lady. The connection to food was visceral. The result was as we expected. Perfect.
So we have finally returned to Phil the Fire and Phil the Fire has returned to us. Let’s celebrate the event and glory in the results. This is food that appeals to everyone and everyone is apparently coming. Phil the Fire is a crowded place, proudly stand in line and wait to enjoy to bounty that is Phil.
http://www.philthefire.com/wp/ 3750 Orange Place Beachwood, OH 44122 216-831-3473
Jeff was back in Phoenix and since his last visit, a few new places popped onto the radar. Michele did not join him, but his trusty co-worker was willing to try what we had unearthed.
The temperature in October is much more humane and people were out and taking advantage of alfresco dining. The Greenhouse is located in Kierland Commons, an outdoor shopping plaza with a number of upscale retailers and some national chain restaurants. The Greenhouse is part of the Fox Restaurant Concepts group that runs a number of nicer eateries in the area. As Jeff and his co-worker drove around the somewhat confusing plaza, we asked some shoppers for directions. “You’re not going to eat their, are you?” one of them asked. “You should look at the menu before you go in. Some of the food is weird.” After a few glances at the exciting menu, both Jeff and his friend agreed to go in. Clearly these Phoenicians were of the McDonald’s or Applebee’s variety because the offerings were very exciting.
Jeff had expected to order the bacon-wrapped Pork Tenderloin, but the waitress mentioned the short ribs were remarkable and his mind was changed in an instance. Good thing, because they were indeed fabulous. This is not a dish Jeff orders often, but when prepared well, it is great. Served over whipped potatoes with caramelized onions, it was perfect meal for a perfect evening. His dinner companion ordered the pasta with spinach, tomato and shrimp and raved about it for two days. Yes, we are going to eat there and perhaps again, if back in Phoenix.
The real treat of the trip, however was Barrio Café. This was some of the best Mexican food Jeff has had the pleasure to eat. Guacamole is prepared tableside with pomegranate, cilantro, onions and other goodies, mashed into fresh avocados and served with hand made tortilla chips. It was excellent. Jeff then had the Posole Verde soup, not because he needed it, but because it sounded so darned good and guess what? It was! Pork, tomatillio and hominy were topped with fresh cabbage, radishes and onions. This was a remarkable version of this classic Central American soup. Finally, for an entrée, Jeff could not resist the Cochinita Pibil, slow-roasted pork with a collection of Mexican spices, sour orange and salsa. The pork melted in your mouth and the spices and salsa were added in a way that turned the dish into a sensation. Despite being WAY too full, Jeff scraped every dish and washed it down with his favorite Mexican food accompaniment, Negra Modelo beer.
Upon entering, Jeff’s friend and co-worker read the introduction in the menu. It indicated that for the last two years, Barrio Café has been a James Beard award finalist and Phoenix Magazine has awarded it “Best Mexican Restaurant” in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. He wondered out loud what happened to 2010 and 2011 and then noted the copyright of the menu was 2009. Without question, this has to be the best Mexican food in any year.
“You’re not going to eat their, are you?” Yes ladies and we hope may others sample the Greenhouse and Barrio Café. Unlike those pedestrian ladies in the parking lot, we enjoy good food and think anyone with functioning taste buds will enjoy this food. We’re sure you will.
http://www.foxrc.com/the_greene_house.html15024 North Scottsdale Boulevard #100 Scottsdale, AZ 85254 480-889-9494
http://barriocafe.com/ 2814 North 16th Street Phoenix, AZ 85006 602-636-0240
In the last few months, three different people have asked us, “Have you tried Bruno’s!” Then, the Plain Dealer names Bruno’s as one of their 100 “A-List” restaurants. In a flash, this place jumped to the top of our “must visit” list.
How have we never heard of this place? After Jeff returned from a business trip, we planned on doing the West Clinton/Gordon Square Halloween Historic Haunts Walking Tour. This is a fun, annual fundraiser for the West 65th Street neighborhoods consisting of a bit of Cleveland Westside history and some ghoulish hijinks tossed in for effect. Prior to the tour, we thought this may be the perfect time to finally visit Bruno.
First, just a navigational note. West 41st is a one-way road heading north. Start from Clark Avenue and head north and you won’t recreate the Westside neighborhood merry-go-round that we did, attempting to get there! Upon entering, we were immediately made to feel welcome. Despite our first visit, it was as if we were old friends. Michele immediately took advantage of the opportunity and discussed her culinary options with our very amiable waiter. She decided (with his gentle prodding) to try the Sea Bass special. She was not disappointed. The fish was remarkably tender and flaky. The bake potato was perfectly prepared and the asparagus bed was large, but each stalk was tender, not a stringy piece to be had.
Jeff likes Veal Saltimbocca. This was different than any other he has had or cooked himself. The cutlets were sautéed with the prosciutto in a garlic-white wine sauce, but gone was the spinach bed. Not a problem. Each slice was tender, perfect and delectable. Both entrées came with a side of linguini marinara that was really superfluous. They both went home in a to-go container. VERY GOOD, but perfect to enjoy another day.
For dessert, we could have had the Tiramisu, but instead selected the “Ho-Ho” cake special dessert. It was a massive slice of cake using the classic lunchbox, cellophane-wrapped treat as a baseline. Dark chocolate and white “filling”, this was a very interesting treat.
The mystery was killing us. We finally asked the waiter how long they had been there. When he told us 13 years (10, as a full service restaurant,) we were about to turn in our badges as Cleveland food junkies! How had we not heard of this place? Where were we? So goes the joy of eating in Cleveland. Each and every day, wonderful food is popping up and saying, “Try me!” Neighborhood standbys are reaching the masses after years of trial. Boy, we love eating in Cleveland and Bruno’s is representative of the reason. If you want to understand what “Jeff and Michele Eat Cleveland” is all about, go north on West 41st Street to Bruno’s.
http://www.brunosristorante.org/ 2644 West 41st Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-961-7087
In the last year, Jeff has been to Denver three times. During the first trip he enjoyed dinner at Rioja and TAG, almost next-door neighbors on Larimer Street. A few months later he was back in the city and had the opportunity to try Cho Lon a remarkable Asian fusion restaurant that serves some of the most inventive Chinese/Asian food he’s ever had. This trip, Jeff went back to some favorites and tried a new place. Again, he was amazed at the creativity found in the mile-high city.
Upon arrival, Jeff wanted a quick-small meal. The flight was on time, but sat on the runway for an extra ½ hour. After check-in, he ran down to TAG and ordered a glass of Lebanese wine (yes, wine from Lebanon!) and the pork tenderloin dinner. This was a beautifully grilled section accompanied by a stuffed chili filled with corn, bacon and snap peas that exploded over the pork and onto the wonderfully pungent Guajillo (chili) sauce. A perfect, quick, reasonably light meal.
The next day, Jeff hoped to return to Cho Lon. The memory of the Gruyere dumplings and stir-fry Brussels sprouts was calling. Unfortunately, he could not get a reservation. Just in case, he showed up at the front desk hoping to squeeze in a kitchen-bar seat to enjoy the show. No luck. The reason no seat was available is that this was their one-year anniversary and they were having a special multi-course extravaganza for $150. The place was packed. If Michele was along, we may have done it (?) but not after a full day of work. Instead, he ran over to Rioja and grabbed a bar seat for an enjoyable dinner. The fig tart was a perfect starter and based on recommendation, he had the Kurobuto pork chop. It was decadently tender with a fabulous black truffle crème fraiche and smoked bacon vinaigrette surrounding the chop and cheddar “tatter tots”. After ordering dessert and tasting one bit, it all seemed familiar. He had again ordered the Lemon Sabayon Tart, just as the first visit and the meal (and dessert) were as delicious as the first time.
During both previous visits, Fruition was fully booked. Determined not to miss what is generally regarded as the best restaurant in Denver, Jeff made reservations a month in advance. The wait and the planning were worth it. This was food at its best.
Jeff started with the Potato-Wrapped Oysters Rockefeller. An impossibly thin potato slice was wrapped around the oyster before frying. The potato become something like a potato-chip and the oyster inside was succulent and perfect. The tangy spinach bedding added a second layer of complexity to the meal with the parmesan-leek emulsion the topper. Jeff tried to stretch out every bite to make this amazing dish last. These were probably the best cooked oysters Jeff has ever had. Ever.
It must be pork month in Denver. For an entrée, Jeff honed in on the pork chop and the duck. After a consult with the waitress, it became clear that he would have a pork dish three days in a row. Regardless of how good the others were (and as indicated, they were good!) this was the paragon. The chop was extra thick, but cut like a slice of Irish butter and possessed that same buttery taste. It sat upon a goat cheese and corn pancake that was surrounded by a grilled vegetable succotash and tomato vinaigrette. Like the appetizer, Jeff slowly enjoyed each morsel.
Desserts all looked good, but the Gorgonzola Dolce sounded the most interesting and it was. A slice of creamy Gorgonzola cheese was surrounded by sliced figs, die-sized pieces of Olive Oil cake and pickled red onion marmalade. Three collections graced the rectangular plate. This was a genius combination and one which Jeff will not soon forget, just like the entire Fruition experience.
A year ago, Jeff had never in his life been to Denver and now he has had the opportunity to sample some of the best food the city has to offer. Isn’t life interesting? Isn’t food grand?
http://www.riojadenver.com/ 1431 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202 303-825-2588
http://tag-restaurant.com/ 1441 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202 303-996-9985
http://www.cholon.com/denver/ 1555 Blake Street Denver, CO 80202 303-353-5223
http://fruitionrestaurant.com/ 1313 East 6th Avenue Denver, CO 80218 303-831-1962
There are a ton of new restaurants opening in Cleveland and over the past few months, a number of very good places have recently opened. So where do Jeff and Michele go for dinner Friday? Classic, old, Der Bräumeister!
Friday was a damp, cold and dreary day. Hearty German fare seemed like a perfect antidote. It has also been a while since we traveled west for some very authentic food and a perfectly drawn German draft beer.
First, the beer is a treat here. There seems to always be something new and something “you never had,” some with names that do not easily roll off the tongue. That’s OK, the wait staff understands and in moments a luscious draft is delivered. They also have a HUGE assortment of unusual bottles. Try something new. Jeff always does.
Now the food. The menu is filled with European favorites and German staples. Of course, they make Weiner Schnitzel. Their Austrian version is incredibly thin with flavorful and crunchy breading. Michele ordered the “ala Holstein” version with a poached egg, anchovies and capers on top. She was in heaven. Jeff ordered the Sauerbraten because few, if any restaurants serve this marinated beef dish. With a side of spaetzle and red cabbage he felt it was a real treat. We started with German potato soup and a few crisp, not greasy, potato pancakes. For dessert a piece of Bavarian Cream Torte was gone in a flash.
One of the great things about living in Cleveland is the wide variety of old ethnic restaurants scattered all around the city. Der Bräumeister has been here since 1983 and before that Herzog’s occupied the same location since 1929. Of course the prices have gone up, but the quaint charm of the wooded interior remains very much the same. Michele grew up in this Westside neighborhood and she remembers her parents regarding a trip to Herzog’s as a real treat. Likewise a visit to Der Bräumeister, as upon our exit, we realized that every table in the place was occupied. Apparently, others agree.
http://www.derbraumeister.com/13046 Lorain Avenue Cleveland, OH 44111 216-476-9994