Doh! …Donuts!

Cleveland appears to be revealing its inner Homer Simpson lately. In the last months, two new donut shops have opened, following upon a few slightly older spots. We decide to forgo lunch one Saturday and sample a pile of doughy rounds from a number of spots to arrive at culinary conclusion of the question, “Who makes the best donuts?” As can be imagined, it is not that simple.

While Michele still prefers Love, Peace and Little Donuts, Jeff is now inclined to give preference to the newest kid on the block, Bigmouth Donut Company. That said, there are elements in each of the other players that cannot be denied.

No other donut shop in Cleveland emits more memories for Jeff than Jack Frost Donuts. Growing up, much of his family was located in Slavic Village (simply called the “old Polish neighborhood” at that point.) An outlet was located on Broadway between Fleet and Harvard. He still remembers waiting in an unforgiving que for a dozen glazed donuts. After that store was long closed, a friend and he would drive to the Brookpark-Pearl store, order a dozen and have the box empty before making it back to Maple Heights! Still today, he regards these as the BEST glazed donuts on the planet.

Almost as new as Bigmouth, is Daylight Donuts and Coffee. In the recently rehabilitated corner of Mayfield Road and Monticello Boulevard, a bright, clean and effervescent spot has opened. Regardless of the time of visit, the staff is inviting and friendly. This is a place we wanted to enjoy, but unfortunately have found the goods to be simply okay. They are lighter than most and the size is a touch smaller, but after four visits, we just find them average. That is unfortunate. We would love to munch coffee and donuts in this beautiful and welcoming spot…and we still might. It is that nice!

We have been going to Love, Peace and Little Donuts for a number of years. Michele likes these best because as the name suggests, they are small. Little guilt is experienced when the sin is so tiny. Beyond the size, the donut is well made and unlike the others, each is topped “per order” from a wide variety of crazy and delicious options. Don’t like something, or want a wild combination? They will do it, as long as they have the ingredients. The only downside to breakfast at LP&LD, the ventilation in the place is substandard and you walk out smelling like little donuts. Depending on your next stop, that could be a good or bad thing!

When people are sitting around late at night, perhaps a few drinks into a deep conversation about hopes and dreams, it is unlikely that many will express a desire to combine donuts and beer. (Except of course, the aforementioned, Homer Simpson.) But that is exactly what the folks who created Brewnuts imagined. They wanted to combine their three favorite things, beer, donuts and Cleveland and damned if they didn’t do just that. The place feels sooooo Cleveland. Inside folks are eating donuts and drinking beer. Odd? No stranger than Chicken and Waffles or Cayenne Ice Cream. The donuts here are beautifully crafted and the beer imbeds a unique flavor that none of the other places have. Of all that we sampled on this weekend experiment, these are also the largest and most expensive. Since opening, we have found some of the flavors/versions to be better than others, but all of them are well made. This is a place to jump in and experiment; after all, that is what the owners did!

Michele quizzed the clerk at Bigmouth Donut Company on why their donuts are unique and of note. They explained that their dough includes a bit more butter which allows it to develop a crunchier outside and a softer inside during the frying process. While we may not have known the reason why, after one bite, we both looked at each other and said, the crunchy/soft combination is dynamite! It is the reason Jeff has found a new favorite. In addition, the toppings are as interesting as Brewnuts. The Pistachio was killer and the Chocolate-Raspberry proved again why this is such a wonderful duo of flavor. Like the Goldhorn Brewery next door, the space is very post-industrial and located in a corner of Cleveland that has not recently seen much love. With treats such as these (not to mention beer as good as Goldhorn’s) E 55th could be the new W 25th Street!

Eating a half-dozen donuts on a Saturday morning/afternoon may not be the best way to start a weekend, unless you secretly covet a visit to the coronary ward of the Cleveland Clinic, but it is a good way to understand our city and its relationship with these demon treats. Donuts have been around for a long time. They fell out of favor as fast food options replaced family-run bakeries (does anyone remember Nosek’s on St. Clair? WOW!) As younger people begin to establish an appreciation for classic food preparation techniques and artisan careers appeal to a new generation, the fruits are a wider variety of exciting things to eat. In Cleveland, our amazing history of ethnic diversity is allowing us to easily slip back a generation and resurrect something exciting from the past. Boutique pickles, sauerkraut, chocolates and now, donuts are readily available here. Yet another reason we love eating in Cleveland so much!

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be in the gym for the next 14 hours!

http://www.jackfrostdonutsusa.com/home.html 4960 Pearl Road Cleveland, OH 44109 216-351-3638

http://www.daylightdonuts.com/ 3077 Mayfield Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-371-0466

https://www.peaceloveandlittledonuts.com/ 3786 Rocky River Road Cleveland, OH 44111 216-862-9806

https://www.brewnutscleveland.com/ 6501 Detroit Avenue Cleveland, OH 44102 216-600-9579

https://www.bigmouthdonut.com/ 1361 E 55th Street Cleveland, OH 44103 216-264-0250

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March 31, 2018 at 8:56 PM Leave a comment

Friday Fish Fry

Michele loves fish. When we dine at restaurants, she is more likely than not to order a fish dinner. As the Lent season approaches, she eagerly plans Friday dinner when Jeff is away, or otherwise engaged. Why during Jeff’s absence? Jeff is very picky with fish. While he occasionally orders it, the decision is made after VERY careful consideration and much consternation. Without Jeff’s negative vibe, Michele is free to enjoy this waterborne delight.

This year, as Ash Wednesday approached, the Plain Dealer published a list of scores of seasonal fish fries. Michele edited the list to find those that offered something other than fish, so Jeff could also enjoy the yearly events. The goal was to find the best fish and also the best non-fish. We were half successful in this challenge.

Slovenian National Home Dessert – A slice with each order!

Slovenian National Home Fish – Three big pieces with home fries and slaw.

Slovenian National Home – Pierogi dinner with home fries and slaw.

Slovenian National Home – Clam Chowder

We started at the Slovenian National Home on St. Clair Avenue. Michele enjoyed the fish here. The inside was flaky and flavorful and not a drip of leftover oil on the plate. Jeff found the potato and cheese pierogi acceptable. Each meal included Clam Chowder and dessert. The hall featured a full bar, so Jeff enjoyed a good Slovenian draught beer. A couple things to note about this place. To enter, you must join the Slovenian National Home for $2 per person. The entrance is not on St. Clair, but instead around the back. A large parking lot is adjacent to the hidden rear door. Follow the crowd!

On our way home, we stopped on the corner of St. Clair and East 65th where the Pastry Chef/Proprietor offered Krofi (Slovenian Donuts) and handmade pretzels. Of course we took some of the delights home!

The fish fry at the Prosperity Social Club was less successful. Michele found the haddock greasy and unappealing. Jeff enjoyed the Potato Pancakes more, but this is not a place we’re likely to return, despite the crowds and admiration.

Donauschwaben – Fish dinner, caught just before it was gone! Baked potato and a corner of the apple tart in the upper right.

Donauschwaben Hall – decorated for the event! Note the crowd, only thirty-minutes after opening!!

The Donauschwaben German-American Cultural Center was built to celebrate the Danube Swabian sect of Germans who populated the Danube River Valley from Hungary to Romania. Dinner orders are taken at the door and you then move into the nicely decorated reception hall where you are seated at communal tables and a waiter brings your meal. This was perhaps the most professional atmosphere and most “restaurant-like” of all the volunteer events. No foam plates and plastic forks here! Again, the Cod was nicely fried with moist meat inside. A nice option was the baked potato side, rather than the standard fries (also available.) Cole Slaw here is a vinegar-base and very crunchy and flavorful. The apple dessert appears to have been homemade. Jeff’s Chicken Schnitzel was a breaded cutlet that was reasonably tasty. Thank goodness the bar featured a variety of draught beers, including the wonderful Hefeweizen Jeff quickly finished. The side-order of mini Potato Pancakes were very good. Don’t forget the sour cream!

Saint Constantine & Helen massive Walleye with Rice Pilaf and a salad. Note the boxes of dessert above!

Despite her gallant attempt, Michele could not find a fish fry better than the one less than a mile from our home. The fried Walleye at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral remains her standard-bearer. This is a massive piece of fish that overtakes the plate. The full flavor of this popular North coast fish dominates and the preparation adds no unwelcome cooking residue. Coupled with an intoxicating array of sides and homemade pastry, it is easy to rack-up a hefty tab here. This is by far, the most expensive spot we tried. For Jeff, beside the dessert, the pickins’ are slim. He’s tried the shrimp (boxed) and the Calamari (greasy). The beer is so-so and served in a plastic cup. Next time, he’s ordering a six-pack of Greek pastry and a cup of coffee and he’ll wait for August when they have their Greek Festival and they sell tender, slow-cooked glorious Lamb Shanks! (Michele is thumbing her nose already!)

Because there is only six weeks in Lent and hundreds of fish-fry options, here is our quick overview:

  • Best Fish: Fried Walleye – Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral
  • Best Atmosphere – Donauschwaben German-American Cultural Center
  • Best Dessert – Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral
  • Friendliest Spot – Slovenian National Home
  • Most Expensive – Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral
  • Best Beer – Donauschwaben German-American Cultural Center
  • Best Non-Fish Option – None of the Above – If you’re going to a fish fry, eat the fish!!

Clearly, Friday Fish Fries are not Jeff’s cup of tea. He knows, however that he is in the minority. If you, like Michele and thousands of other Clevelanders LOVE fish and the Lenten tradition of a Catholic area, perhaps these observations will give you a place to start. Just remember to stick with the fish…and dessert…and beer. Forget the alternative!

http://www.slovenianhome.com/ 6409 St. Clair Avenue Cleveland, OH 44103 216-261-5115

http://prosperitysocialclub.com/ 1109 Starkweather Avenue Cleveland, OH 44113 216-937-1938

http://www.donauschwabencleveland.com/ 7370 Columbia Road Olmstead Township. OH 44138 440-235-2646

http://stsconstantine.com/ 3352 Mayfield Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-932-3300

March 11, 2018 at 5:17 PM Leave a comment

Abo’s Grill

During the construction of Abo’s Grill, a reasonably new independent restaurant located on a bustling portion on Mayfield Road, we often asked each other, what this new business could be. There are scores of buildings and even more businesses in the area. From the shape of the structure, it was not immediately clear that a dining establishment was planned. Near the end of the building process, a sign was erected announcing the coming of Abo’s Grill. That actually help very little. Michele predicated an outdoor gas grill retailer. Jeff assumed a food operation, but with a name like Abo, he assumed Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fare. Both of us were stunned when it was finally revealed to be an Italian restaurant. Label us surprised.

The confusion we felt during construction was repeated once we started to eat our first meal. We both ordered salads to start and we instantly glanced at each other midway through the second bite. Both were VERY average versions. Michele felt her Caesar was bland and Jeff was sure the Bleu Cheese dressing on his wedge was from a bottle, or was an extremely close duplication. If you’ve ever eaten bottle Bleu Cheese dressing, you know what we mean.

Then, our entrées arrived. It was if they appeared from some place totally different than the location of the salad creations. They were stunning. The Veal Marsala was a revelation. It may be one of Jeff’s favorite versions. The cloying sweetness that so often accompanies this dish was gone. It was accompanied by a fabulous Corn Polenta. Michele adored the crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside Chicken Parmigiana. She wanted a bit more from the Marinara, but overall, it was satisfied.

We were back to the Middle Eastern Grill retailer for dessert. Michele asked if the desserts were made in-house and our server told us they were not, but she insisted they were very good. We tried a Chocolate Torte and it tasted exactly like we expected. Boxed.

Since eating at Abo’s the first time, we have had endless conversations about how to approach this place on our second visit. Clearly, when the Chef touches ingredients, miracles happen. For that reason, we planned our second visit around “cooked” foods only. The result was as we expected, excellent.

On our second visit we fully enjoyed the Arancini. The mixture of rice and Parmesan was perfect and the breading was light and crisp. Sitting in a pool of Marinara, this was a very good appetizer. Michele LOVED her Nonna’s Lasagna. Our server told us that Grandma comes in and makes it. The noodles are impossibly thin and the whole construction is shorter than most, but this is fine lasagna. We’re still arguing if Nonna adds some balsamic or some liquor (or both) to get her unique flavor. Jeff fully enjoyed his Chicken Picatta server over sliced rounds of fingerling potatoes and kale. It was just the right amount of tart and just the right amount of buttery. As promised, we politely refused dessert and found ourselves raving about the meal, all the way home.

Trying a restaurant under these conditions is new for us, but we have never been to a place that had drawn so clear a line in the culinary sand. By simply playing to the kitchen’s strengths, we insured a fabulous meal and added a much needed, close-by Italian spot to our repertoire.

http://www.abosgrill.com/ 5288 Mayfield Road Lyndhurst, OH 44124 440-409-7000

February 24, 2018 at 7:42 PM Leave a comment

Dessert, Dessert

Last year at some point, Michele started to ask our servers about the provenance of the dessert being offered by the restaurant we were visiting. We have always enjoyed a sweet ending to a dining experience. We have, however noticed a lack of creativity and a factory-like timbre to a number of menu items in more than a few places.

Since she started this line of questioning, we have begun to see a pattern. (Remember, in our restaurant visits, Michele is the primary inquisitor. Answers she exhumes result in much of the content we publish here.) There are three responses to this simple query.

  1. Yes! – This is by far the most favorable. When we hear this answer, there is no question we are having dessert. The results may be good or mediocre, but at least we know who to blame or praise.
  2. No. – This is the easiest. We simply refuse dessert. We are polite in this action. We peruse the offering, glance knowingly over the menu card to each other and when the server returns, we fain fullness and head home or the nearest Mitchell’s Ice Cream Shoppe.
  3. Something in the middle – This is the tough one. Careful listening and on the part of Michele, carefully worded cross-examination. Some servers make our decision easy with very clear information. “The [fill-in-the-blank] is made in-house by our Chef. Everything else is brought in.” Nine times out of ten, we order the [fill-in-the-blank]. We recently heard this one. “Yes. But it is made outside. But it is very good. We’ve had good comments.” Michele can smell this one a mile away. Salted Caramel, here we come! The final variant is the trickiest for us. “No, our desserts are crafted by [fill-in-the-name-of-a-good-local-pastry shop].” Why is this tough? Now we are faced with a two-part question. Do we like [fill-in-the-name-of-a-good-local-pastry shop]? If we like them, do they produce the same goods we enjoy, with the same quality in their export products? Will this restaurateur present the pastry in the same way and with the same honor as the Pastry Chef? Will this be a cut-rate version of what they do? This response is almost too much to take after a full meal. Most likely, we’ll bite. Sometimes we’re disappointed. This is the proverbial “slippery slope!”

We understand that employing a Pastry Chef or a Bakery Chef is a financial commitment that demands a commensurate financial return. With patrons claiming “diet-violation” after having consumed a pound of cow, it is easy to understand why a restaurant would forgo this expense. For those of us who know how to pace a meal without over-indulgence, it only means a missing leg on a three-legged stool. There is no-way the evening is complete. Dessert is an integral part of a wonderful dining experience. It can only be truly enjoyed if the same effort employed to create the main course was also used in the development of the coda. To insure that, remember to ask good questions…and follow-up questions, should the response be murky!

February 10, 2018 at 10:16 PM Leave a comment

Goldhorn Brewery

If you’re going to open a brewery in an emerging, but not yet mature neighborhood, you’d better staff the place with good people and what you offer should be worth the journey. For the most part, Goldhorn has done just that. The young man behind the bar was at once welcoming upon our arrival. He helped us choose our food and worked with Jeff as he created his flight of beers. Well into our evening, he stopped by our table and checked to see if everything was okay. We don’t know if this guy has a vested interest in Goldhorn, but he sure performs his job as if he does.

Without question, the best beer at Goldhorn was a Pilsner. This surprised Jeff. While he likes all types of beer, he generally leans toward IPA’s. More surprising (to Jeff) was that the IPA was his least favorite! They also features a Hefeweizen, a wheat beer that showed undertones of Belgian beer and was a beautiful version. Almost as good was the Imperial Pale Ale, a richer denser hop beer. Using the sampled flight as an example, this is certainly a place that Jeff would visit again.

Where they are less successful is with food. Happily, Michele selected the Frank’s Brat. If you’ve ever been to the Westside Market, you’ve no doubt seen Frank’s, tucked into a corner followed by a line wrapping around the vendor stalls. Goldhorn is bringing in Frank’s Brats and of course, she was happy! This is sausage that diners from around the world crave and is readily available to us Clevelanders, almost at a moment’s notice. Jeff ordered the Burger and it was “OK”. Our friendly staffer told us that the beef was from Ohio and the spent malts, from the brewing process are used as feed for the cattle, who are then slaughtered for use in the kitchen. A very “zen” circle of life, but unfortunately, not enough to help Jeff fully enjoy the burger. With just a bit more effort, it could have been as good as the beer.

Her lies the rub with the Brewpubs. These folks want to make good beer. They stress and fret and worry and commiserate about every nuance that impact every droplet of beer. Each brew is poured into the olfactory-sensitive glass and served at the perfect temperature. Then they open a kitchen and dish out some food on paper plates with plastic forks and condiments in plastic squeeze bottle. Why do they fail to attract a more serious clientele? We’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count!

We called 2017, the year of the Brewpub in Cleveland. No question, the “brew” part is down pat. Now, Cleveland brewers need to master the “pub” part. Spend more time and care with the food. You’ve got Jeff, now woo Michele. Once you’ve done that, the world is your oyster! …oh, also, make sure you hire a guy like the guy behind the bar at Goldhorn. This is a person who could make you a star!

1361 E 55th Street Cleveland, OH 44103 216-465-1352

http://www.franksbratwurst.com/ 1979 West 25th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-344-2180

January 14, 2018 at 4:39 PM Leave a comment

Collision Bend Brewing Company

There are legions of Cleveland diners who will wax philosophically about the Watermark on Old River Road, the long shuttered restaurant formerly located in the Collision Bend space. Because of the wonderful view and the million-dollar location in the heart of the Flats, people tend to forget the substandard food and crappy service. We both still talk about the seafood chowder Michele sent back to the kitchen on one (of our two) visits. Before explaining to the clueless waiter that the “soup” was a congealed mess, she stuck the soup spoon vertically into the center of the bowl to illustrate the problem. Both of us watched the bowl, on the waiter’s tray travel back to the kitchen, the upstanding spoon never moving from its erect stance!

Issues like this do not appear to be likely with the new tenant. Zack Bruell appears to be back on track with his latest venture. Located down the river from Alley Cats, he appears to also be a million miles away from that troubled spot. The staff is sharp, the food is good and the floors are clean! All traits that still seem to escape Alley Cats. In addition, he has added yet another wrinkle to this place, a brewery operation. A lot could go wrong here, but amazingly, it doesn’t.

Jeff has tried a number of the beers here and they are very good. Not at the level of Hansa House, but good. The Saison De Bruell features those definitive Belgian flavors and the Sixth City Ale was a very warm and wonderful Amber. After a couple of visits, we have enjoyed a number of foods. The Bibb lettuce salad and Beet Salad were both fresh and crisp. The Arancini was delightful snack. The Fish Taco was a favorite of Michele and Jeff enjoyed the Asian Stuffed Chicken leg. The kitchen is a touch heavy-handed with the shaved red cabbage, but overall, pretty good.

There is a lot going on in the Flats now. Scores of places are competing for your dining dollar.  While we’re not fans of Bruell’s Alley Cats, we do believe he has a place worth your time and money just down the street at Collision Bend.

http://www.collisionbendbrewery.com/ 1250 Old River Road Cleveland, OH 44113 216-273-7879

http://www.alleycatoysterbar.com/ 1056 Old River Road Cleveland, OH 44113 216-574-9999

December 30, 2017 at 9:10 PM Leave a comment

Pizza Fire

The concept of fast-food pizza is confusing to us. Corporate pizza is only marginally less expensive than local places, but substantially wanting in quality. There appears to be minimal convenience attached to BIG pizza and recipes are pretty typical, neither are benchmarks of creativity.

There have been some changes that led to the growth of chain pizza. When Jeff was growing up in Maple Heights, he could walk to four local, family-owned pizza shops. Another half-dozen were available via a five-minute car ride. Michele did not really partake in pizza until her early twenties. Even at that time, it was with local establishments. Many of those ultimately closed, as retirement loomed, opening the door to fast food replacements, such as Pizza Hut.

Enter Pizza Fire. While not as lowly as the soggy, greasy, mass-produced variety found in every suburban strip center and nowhere near the excellence delivered by the boutique pizza purveyors, such as Crostata’s and Citizen’s Pie, they have created a mid-tier option. Reasonably fresh ingredients, a viable tomato sauce and a thin-crust version that allows for QUICK delivery, thanks to an 800˚ gas-driven oven.

The real question is whether this is a needed option. We suspect if your baseline pie is Domino’s or Little Caesar’s, Pizza Fire will be considered a step-up and a welcome change. If you regularly consume some of the fine wares created by local artisans, Pizza Fire will be a bland and uneventful alternative. That is the place we find ourselves. It was OK. But, what’s the point?

http://www.pizzafire.com/ Multiple locations in the northeast Ohio area

http://www.crostatas.com/ 558 Bishop Road Highland Heights, OH 44143 440-449-7800

https://www.citizenpie.com/ 15710 Waterloo Road Cleveland, OH 44110 216-417-2742

December 17, 2017 at 8:07 PM Leave a comment

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