Eatin’ in New York 8

Another year, another set of trips to New York for Jeff. As with almost every trip to New York, he found some great new places and unfortunately experienced a major disappointment. Because the highs completely outshined the lows, it was a net positive.

Determining his favorite new place has become more and more difficult as time proceeds, but after continual internal arguments, the edge must be given to Don Angie. Honestly, it could because Jeff shared a dinner with his niece and they decided to split almost everything, so he was able to sample a very large portion of the menu. It could also be much simpler, the food was just damn good. They split two salads, one better than the next. The Chrysanthemum Salad was sharp, like a dandelion, but could as easily have been due to the garlic. The parmesan quietly tempered the hard edges. Similarly edgy, the Chicory, Pistachio Freekea Salad was an amazing combination. Chicory was all over New York this season (read on!) probably because of its tangy-peppery flavor. In this combo, the freekea (a grain that feels like a mash-up of bulgur, rice and couscous) became the settling agent. Course Two, the Garganelli Giganti. First, smash a giant meatball and cover it with a sheet of pasta. Dress it with bits of Guanciale and try to stop eating! Yikes was this good! Jeff loves Octopus in New York and their Octopus Puttanesca drops you in the Mediterranean with some tomatoes and croutons. Was it better than the Veal Da Pepi? Opinions changed with each mouthful. The veal delivered elements of salt and tart. Thin slices of Speck (a lighter version of Prosciutto) and mustard seeds heaped on the flavor. Could the dessert maintain this pace? Black Cocoa Tiramisu is all that you need to say! Imagine a traditional version of tiramisu with cocoa ladyfingers. Take all of this and combine it with a stellar staff and it is easy to understand why Don Angie is the place Jeff will recommend to anyone traveling to New York.

So close. So very close. Empellon is, without question the runner-up favorite restaurant for this trip. The reason it is not first is probably because of the Octopus Taco. Because Jeff has elevated New York Octopus to god-like status, he is VERY critical. The Don Angie octopus was perfect. The Empellon taco was good, but the taco accessories dominated the fragile flavor of the grilled octopus. The salsa was perhaps too fiery. The cilantro was too aggressive. For whatever reason, it just did not measure up. Nothing else Jeff sampled fell from grace and he would not hesitate a recommendation under any circumstances, if for no other reason than the Sticky Rice Tamal. The leaf-wrapped rice was opened at the table and the waiter dropped a spunky Red Chili Duck ragu over the top. To make it last, smaller and smaller bites are consumed. Eventually, it is gone and you ask yourself, “Would I be considered a glutton if I ordered another?” No need. The roasted Prawn is coming. Ordered individually, Jeff had but one and secretly wished more were requested. In this instance, the core protein was the star. A simple garlic-chili paste dressed the flawlessly prepared crustacean. It was perfect. After the dessert arrived, Jeff chatted with the waiter. The Avocado Mousse he ordered was apparently the most Instagram-reported dish in New York and for good reason. Today, days after the visit, he still talks about this dessert. Visually, upon delivery to the table, the dessert looks absolutely like a sliced half of an avocado. What did I order? A dip into the piece and you realize, you’re not in Kansas any longer! The avocado meat has been blended with Greek yogurt and re-molded into the shape of a half-avocado. That half has been placed onto a bed of shaved lime-flavored ice meant to resemble snow. Trompe l’oeil desserts? Only in New York!

What place is next in the ranking? Picking three and four is almost as difficult as one verse two. Honestly, L’Artusi and Loring Place are not only close alphabetically, but delivery as well. Jeff learned of L’Artusi while dining at King (below) While discussing restaurant he liked in New York with a restaurant publicist at the next bar stool, she told him to check out L’Artusi. She also warned him to keep the recommendation quiet. It was becoming increasingly difficult to secure a reservation there and the more people knew about it, it would be harder and harder in the future. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the cat is out of the bag. Reservations at L’Artusi are damn near impossible. They do, however have bar seating and Jeff snagged a seat, without waiting, moments after stepping into the door. (He is alone, so one seat is almost always easy!) It was worth the uncertainty. He had a fabulous meal there! It started with a flavorful amuse bouche of Butternut Squash soup. As indicated earlier, Chicory Salads are emerging as a “thing” in New York and Jeff loves the biting flavor, tempered by the finely grated Pecorino and this time a very complimentary anchovy dressing. He ordered the Tagliatelle with White Ragu and was treated to a Kale stuffed Ravioli, complements of the Chef. Both of the pastas could not have been better and it sure was nice to try two. Dessert was a Strawberry Crostata and it completed a beautiful meal at a hot spot. Shhhhhhhh! Don’t tell anyone about L’Artusi!

Loring Place could be the quintessential urban renewal project. The inside is fully modernized and frankly, just beautiful. From the street, you’d almost never know what was waiting for you inside. Like L’Artusi, this place has a buzz and without reservations, Jeff nabbed a bar seat for an early Sunday dinner. Many people were meeting others and the bar was a parade of people looking for other people. In the middle of the hubbub, Jeff enjoyed a tempura battered Crispy Cauliflower served with a lemon curd jam. The lemon added that little extra needed to spark up the vegetable. Bowtie Pasta was served with Shrimp. What made this interesting was the addition of heat. The butter sauce tempered the heat and what could have been plain, turned out to be anything but! Can you imagine a “light” Bread Pudding? The dessert was Grapefruit Bread Pudding and it was a nice light way to end a nice meal in a light and airy space.

Jeff needed a quick midday snack and the Nomad Bar at the Nomad Hotel was the answer. A cold cup of Pea Soup and a grilled Prosciutto and Gruyere sandwich and he was on his way. This place is hidden away in the back of the first floor, but plenty of folks found it for after-work drinks. We’ve heard good things about their dining room and look forward to trying this on another visit.

There are some mixed feelings about King, a hopping little spot in Greenwich Village. Not because of the menu or the creativity, but because of the raw material. Jeff had a huge Pork Chop that was flavorful and interesting, but the cut was less than stellar, thereby delivering more grain and grizzle than should have been. With a better piece of meat, this would have been a much better dinner, especially since the red wine cabbage and bean side was very interesting. The Gnudi appetizer was however, flawless. They were “melt in your mouth” delicious with shaved Spinach and Parmesan. He can still taste them! There are lots of great places to eat in this area of New York. With a touch more attention to raw ingredients, this could be a standout.

It seems, each trip to New York has to have one disappointment. We have never been to Balthazar. Over the years, it has counted up scores of accolades, so it must be good, right? Perhaps, not. Perhaps, it was a bad day. Maybe they are simple overextended. Jeff thought he was off to a good start. The Onion and Goat Cheese Tart was light and quite delicious, the side scoop of tapenade lending the right amount of tartness to combat the richness of the cheese and pastry. The Lamb Pappardelle was unfortunately a disappointment. It appeared hurriedly put together and the lamb was filled with fat and grizzle. A quick look at this place and it is easy to understand how something like this happens. Balthazar is a large place, tables are crushed together and scores of people are running around seating, serving, busing and cleaning. With a dining room that looks like this, you know the kitchen is likewise hectic. If the prices were more in line with this type of fast-food atmosphere, some of these flaws could be excused, but this might have been one of Jeff’s pricier dinners. With that, it is inexcusable. As can be said about New York dining time and again, if you can’t execute, someone else can and will. There are plenty of places in SOHO and the Lower Eastside. Don’t waste your time here.

If we’re in New York and we’re not at the theater, than we’re eating. If Jeff is not working, than he is likewise eating or at the theater or an art gallery. Life can be very simple here. Choices can however be VERY hard with so many great options. Securing reservation can also be a challenge (he is on two years trying to get into one restaurant!) If you’re planning on leaving Cleveland for a trip to the Big Apple, then remember to plan ahead, or allow yourself some adventure time and explore the bar-seating option. Either way, you’re sure to get some good food. 103 Greenwich Avenue New York, NY 10014 212-889-8884 510 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10022 211-858-9365 228 W 10th Street New York, NY 10014 212-255-5757 21 W 8th Street New York, NY 10011 212-388-1831 1170 Broadway Avenue New York, NY 10001 212-796-1500 18 King Street New York, NY 10014 917-825-1618 80 Spring Street New York, NY 10012 212-965-1414


June 9, 2018 at 9:51 PM Leave a comment

Eatin’ in Chicago 3

Over the last twelve months, Jeff has visited Chicago four times. During each of those visits, he has tried to sample a wide variety of the great food being produced in the Windy City. As we may have said here before, we believe Chicago, not New York or San Francisco should be considered the food capital of the United States. Many, if not most of the trends that spread across the country begin in Chicago and while this is not necessarily a good thing, food prices in Chicago continually establish new highs that are not often met elsewhere. Securing reservations, or seats in hot Chicago restaurants is unquestionably the most challenging task (LA and NY buzz-worthy spots excepted). For all of these reasons, when work calls Jeff to Chicago, at least a part of him is happy…dinner time!

Parachute is a tiny little spot run by a husband with Ukrainian heritage and a wife whose family is Korean. The result of their food is what they call “Korean American.” For the rest of us with little regard for labels, the food is GOOD! Plates are interesting and flavors are varied. Consider trying the starchy, Bing Bread with addictive sour cream butter. Jeff also enjoyed the Pork Belly and Mung Bean Pancakes, Pork Loin and the dynamic Pavlova dessert that opens to revel yummy treats inside. Perhaps it is the Ukrainian influence, but Jeff has now changed his mind on Korean food.

Off the southern coast of China, very close to Hong Kong is the island of Macau. Like Hong Kong, it too was beholden for years to a European administration, this one Portugal. Shortly after the British exit of Hong Kong, the Portuguese left Macau, but what remained was a remarkable mash-up of Cantonese and Portuguese cuisine. The folks at Fat Rice have brought that food to Chicago and the restaurant name is based on their celebrated national dish, Arroz Gordo. There are a host of amazing things on the menu. Jeff invited a few friends to join him and because of that, experienced a wide variety of remarkable food. We all agreed the Shredded Lamb was our favorite, but would not have returned a dish! There is good reason why Fat Rice has just been awarded a regional James Beard award. It is that good.

On a blasé street, filled with nondescript storefronts, Entente has created an oasis, both architecturally and culinary. The “Wedge” was salad that needed a grander name because the salad was so good. A nest of greens was decorated with yellow cherry tomatoes, boutique bacon, Cambozola cheese (a soft Bleu) and the center was filled with a Green Goddess dressing! Beautiful to look at and great to eat. The Rabbit Cappelletti featured a ground rabbit interior with pecorino, fava beans and sweet pea pods in a citric broth. It was amazing. The Korean BBQ Short Ribs were not what was envisioned when ordered, but the result was special. Nicely spiced beef, turnips, greens and an unusual popcorn-like rice. Dessert was locally sourced honey made into a gelato and a mousse with caramelized white chocolate spikes. Entente is probably Jeff’s favorite place this trip.

Jeff hoped to visit another new place Roister, but upon arrival, found that the place was closed. This could have been easily avoided, but because the place must think it is chic, they do not have a phone! Under normal circumstances, Jeff would have called and asked about the availability of walk-in, bar seating. No phone, no call. Their website made no mention of the closed date and even invited walk-ins. Foolish Jeff. A decade ago, unlisted restaurant phone numbers and unmarked doors and address was cute, but today, extremely passé. We think it is time to avoid restaurants who pull these stunts.

Roister’s stupidity was Jeff’s good fortune. A few doors down the street was The Publican, Chef Paul Kahan’s more casual meat-centric dining room (and butcher shop, next door.) Kahan is our favorite Chicago Chef (Blackbird, Avec) but we have missed Publican since opening. The menu here is large, but the one thing to avoid missing is the Aged Ham. I guess it would be simple to call this American Prosciutto, or Jamon, but these may be as complex and as different as the Spain and Italy versions. The smoky variety Jeff enjoyed may not be there as they do rotate, but combined with the goat butter and bread, it was a real treat. Also good was the Avocado Salad with Jalapeño laced dressing. So was the Duck Confit. The Baba au Rum dessert was an interesting rum cake-custard mash-up. Not planned, but this Chicago restaurant stop was certainly memorable.

Located in the Logan Square neighborhood, Mi Tocaya Antojeria is a fun neighborhood spot with a pile of great foods. Over time, Guacamole has become somewhat predictable. Not here. Tocaya’s version featured a touch more heat via “Chili Ash” (which looked like roasted and powdered chili.) This addition was enough to liven the creamy avocado mash and make it Jeff’s favorite part of the meal. Almost as successful was the Campechano Taco, essentially a 3-meat blend of Cochinita (slow-roasted pork) Chorizo (spiced sausage) and Carne Asada (grilled beef.) While Jeff ordered one, he could have had a few and probably would Have preferred it to the less successful Pierna de Pato (duck leg, slow-roasted, carnitas-style.) The small misfire should not prevent a visit here, if only to join in the festival-like fun.

If Entente is not Jeff’s favorite newer place in Chicago, then Elske certainly is (he’s still arguing about that choice!) With Danish roots, the menu is a treat of unexpected delights. Jeff was blown away by the Maitake (sort of Hen in the Woods) Mushrooms that were flash-fried and served over a porridge of cooked Farro. Fava beans and shards of garlic greens added a splash of color and a zing of flavor. It was GREAT. Always a sucker for Sweetbreads, theirs were roasted with rhubarb and served with sunchokes, sliced raw strawberries and toasted yeast. Sunflower Seed Parfait! How can you avoid ordering that dessert? It was dynamite. Topped with sour honey, I couldn’t imagine a better ending, except every other one of the desserts offered, each a combination of ingredients and flavors that were at once unusual and intriguing. Next time, how about a five course meal of Elske desserts?! To compliment the foods, the dining room is an unencumbered and clean visual treat, perfect as an ending to a busy week in a busy city.

But first, NO visit to Chicago is complete without a visit to Portillo’s. Other cities have hamburgers, chili and BBQ. Chicago makes the best hot dogs (Jeff’s junk food of choice) and no one does them better than Portillo’s.

Whether you are spending a fortune on food or a couple bucks for a Jumbo Chili Cheese Dog, Chicago is the place that does both exceedingly well. If you travel there, you can be assured of one thing; you’ll eat well! 3500 N Elston Avenue Chicago, IL 60618 773-654-1460 2957 West Diversey Avenue Chicago, IL 60647 773-661-9170 3056 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60657 872-206-8553 837 W Fulton Market Chicago, IL 60607 312-733-9555 2500 W. Logan Boulevard Chicago, IL 60647 872-315-3947 1350 W Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607 312-733-1314 Multiple locations.

May 26, 2018 at 11:22 PM Leave a comment

Blue Point Grille

We were downtown and decided to try the new restaurant in the Hilton Convention Center, Burnham’s for lunch. Unfortunately, the parking fees scared us away. $15 (plus tip) simply seemed a bit outrages. We quickly drove away and then were faced with the dreaded question, “Where else can we go?” There are lots of places downtown for lunch, but we don’t often find ourselves in the neighborhood at that time. That meant, Jeff would start to cruise the Warehouse District while Michele searched Yelp for some nearby places we might have forgotten. We thought we had glommed onto a spot when Michele noticed Blue Point. “Hey, we haven’t been there for a long time! What do you think?” A few quarters dropped into a nearby parking meter and we found ourselves inside this classic Cleveland restaurant.

At the table next to us, a group of tourists, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shopping bags in tow, were being welcomed by their waiter. He explained that the Lobster Bisque has become something of a Cleveland classic and the Nag’s Head Grouper has been on the menu since opening. With that introduction to history, we started to reminisce about all of our previous visits to Blue Point Grille. The space has an air of elegance and the business commands a certain amount of reverence. It is that kind of place.

Jeff remains a picky fish eater. Because of a lot of BAD fish consumed during his childhood (a childhood otherwise filled with remarkable and almost always well prepared alternatives) he treads lightly. Michele, just the opposite with fish, has helped him hone in on a palette of preference. One of his “go to” options is Grouper. It avoids the traits he most dislikes (fishy-fish smell) and features those he prefers (meaty texture over flaky.) The Blue Point version is served with their (again) signature Lobster Mashed Potatoes. (Yes, we know EVERYONE does this now, but when they introduced this option, it was quite the trend and very unique.) Of course, a cup of Lobster Bisque was required to start!

Michele went farther away from tradition and likely ended up with the better of the two meals. She ordered the lunch combo and enjoyed a Lobster Bisque, as well, but her Cornmeal crusted Catfish and Caesar Salad looked substantially more nouveau. The catfish was light and flaky (for her, a good thing!) and the salad boldly presented full fillets of anchovy draped across the lettuce. Not restricted by history, the Chef created a clean, appetizing lunch.

Therein lies the rub for Blue Point. Everyone talks about the Bisque and the Grouper and they are forced to keep it on the menu. The kitchen staff simply becomes a Xerox machine, pumping out multiple copies of the same, day after day. Newbies, like our neighbors at the next table, may have been drawn to the history of the place and ordered the Grouper, a dish that is unfortunately showing its age. They are likely to walk away with the idea that Blue Point is overrated. Jeff fell into the trap, but for a slightly different reason. Michele, during her nth visit simply searched for a fish dish that sounded fabulous and the kitchen was all too happy to create, “not the Grouper, again.” She wins. Jeff and the tourists are sucked into the vortex of sameness.

This also provides a lesson for diners. Sure, restaurants gain a level of note because of some dish or another. That benchmark becomes a draw and guests feel compelled to order it. Diners might consider an alternate path. Of course the “X” is good. Noted. Let’s now understand what else they offer. How good is the Chef and what new and exciting thing we can consume? Restaurateurs should also be mindful when it is time to retire a dish that has over extended its welcome, thus allowing creativity to flourish in the kitchen. With that newfound freedom, patronage will continue and customer satisfaction can only rise. Next time you go the Blue Point, don’t order the Bisque and Grouper. See what else they have and give that alternative a try. You may find you’ll enjoy it more and the restaurant will grow because of your change. 700 West St. Clair Avenue Cleveland, OH 44113 216-875-7827

May 12, 2018 at 10:43 PM Leave a comment

Dubrovnik Gardens Restaurant

Sometimes, you just gotta’ have some Eastern European food. Yes, it can be heavy and typically, the plates are filled beyond full, but still, it meets a need like no other foodstuff. For a long time, we’ve satiated this passion with a meal (and a half!) from Kuhar’s in Richmond Heights. Unfortunately, it closed about a year ago (although a carryout branch remains open in Mentor.) Since that time, we’ve been on the prowl for a replacement. We think we’ve finally found it in Eastlake. Not exactly convenient, but a reasonably easy drive East on I90.

Dubrovnik Gardens serves food that hails from Croatia, a country situated almost parallel across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. To its North, is Slovenia, then Austria. Hungary is to the Northeast. With this simple geography lesson, it is easy to imagine the food. Of course Stuffed Cabbage, Sausage and Wienerschnitzel are on the menu, but a few exciting Croatian surprises can also be found and those proved to be the real find.

Jeff had just returned from a business trip to Germany. While there, he decided to concentrate on Schnitzel. He sampled a nice variety and wanted to extend that research one meal further. The Dubrovnik Veal Schnitzel was tender, flat and beautifully breaded. It was in every way equal to the German varieties. The Home Fried potatoes were also an excellent version. Michele decide to order the Villa Croatia Platter, which included a Pork Schnitzel, similarly breaded, but equally enjoyable. Dubrovnik’s version of stuffed cabbage was substantially more mild and meek than most of the other versions we have tried. Michele, the real fan of this dish was not impressed. Jeff will be eating these leftovers. The real platter treats were the heretofore unknown Croatian dishes, Cevapcici and Raznjici. On these we split, but not by much! Jeff LOVED the Cevapcici. This is a mix of ground pork, beef and lamb, rolled into a cigar shape and grilled. The definitive pork flavors jumped out most prominently, but the other meats provide a unique flavor to a unique dish. Michele quickly gobbled up the Raznjici, a skewered grilled pork that turned the slices, buttery tender. The mixed vegetable side was only as serviceable as the side salad appetizer. Best to save yourself for the wonderful desserts! We shared a Chocolate and Walnut Palacinke (Crepe) and it was fabulous!

We arrived early, but made a reservation. A few tables were taken. As the evening progressed and nearby church services ended, the crowd started to pour in. While there is a sign on the lot entry gate, no sign appears on the exterior door. We walked into a very large Croatian community center and the restaurant is off to the left side. With limited advertisement and little street visibility, this place sure attracts a crowd. Join in the fun and try a different version of some very familiar foods. Just remember to bring an empty stomach or a larger belt! 34900 Lakeshore Boulevard Eastlake, OH 44095 440-946-3366

April 21, 2018 at 7:29 PM Leave a comment

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! 4960 Pearl Road Cleveland, OH 44109 216-351-3638 3077 Mayfield Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-371-0466 3786 Rocky River Road Cleveland, OH 44111 216-862-9806 6501 Detroit Avenue Cleveland, OH 44102 216-600-9579 1361 E 55th Street Cleveland, OH 44103 216-264-0250

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! 6409 St. Clair Avenue Cleveland, OH 44103 216-261-5115 1109 Starkweather Avenue Cleveland, OH 44113 216-937-1938 7370 Columbia Road Olmstead Township. OH 44138 440-235-2646 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. 5288 Mayfield Road Lyndhurst, OH 44124 440-409-7000

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

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