Salt+ A Restaurant

Again, we found ourselves in Lakewood to sample yet another inventive menu encased in an eclectic surround. Despite the long drive, we are happy to spend the commute time, especially when the reward is this good.

Salt is the new restaurant under the tutelage of Jill Vedda (previously in our backyard at Rockefeller’s.) The thing that flags this restaurant, perhaps most of all is the menu. To quote the Talking Heads, “…This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around!” Virtually every noun and adjective used on the bill of fare means business. The promise is bold. The expectations are dynamic. Most important, the kitchen delivers, not with subtlety, but instead with a full whack in the back of the head. This is food with serious flavor.

The Mussels featured the spunk of kimchi, the Grouper was punched with a smack of Bleu Cheese. Pork Croquettas radiated underlying heat.

The menu also invites sharing like few other “small plates” places in Cleveland. With a third of the offerings in the single-digit price range, one can’t help but order another plate to be shared by the table. Everything else was only a few bucks over that price (when we visited.) With extremely fair prices, how can you pass up one more dish?

We fully enjoyed our evening at Salt+. What we liked perhaps more is a Chef who has resolutely staked a claim aimed at vibrant flavors and the surefootedness to deliver said promise.

http://www.saltcleveland.com/ 17625 Detroit Avenue Lakewood, OH 44107 216-221-4866

May 7, 2017 at 1:21 PM Leave a comment

Sarita

“Why aren’t they opening good restaurants like this on the eastside any longer and why are the few decent eastside places closing?”

Michele posed these questions as we finished our very enjoyable first meal at Sarita. It was of course a bit of an exaggeration, but based on some troubling statistics, especially for a couple of eastside kids like us. Lakewood has enjoyed a rush of new places, while new dining spots east are overshadowed by exits. Gone recently is Crop Kitchen (although that entire empire is unfortunately crumbling) and Rockefeller’s (the Chef opening Salt in guess where…Lakewood!) While not our favorite, the Dynomite hamburger spot of Zack Bruell has also closing. The only sustentative opening in the last few years has been Grove Hill in Chagrin Falls, Citizen Pie in Waterloo and Momo’s Kebabs on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. By contrast, scores of new places have opened in Lakewood alone. There is a trend here that doesn’t seem to be stopping.

Sarita has reimagined the spot formerly held by Players (in the past, one of the FEW real reasons we drove west to eat.) the room is clean and contemporary with a wonderful view of the busy Madison Avenue streetscape. It is an inviting place to dine.

Michele started with a Caesar Salad and Jeff tried the special Beet Salad. Both were very good. Jeff was intrigued by the Chicken Français and the boneless breast was lightly breaded and resting in a nice lemon-butter sauce. Artichokes and Arugala were good sides. Michele opted for the perfectly prepared Salmon with tasty fingerling potatoes and artichokes on the side. A shared Key Lime pie finished an enjoyable evening.

Michele’s Salmon with Potatoes

Jeff’s Chicken Francais with Artichokes and Arugala

Since our visit, Michele has been pressing for a second. Jeff is not objecting. It has been a long time since we fell into a place that has initiated such strong feelings. Yes, we’re going back here and it may be very soon!

https://www.sarita-restaurant.com/ 14523 Madison Avenue Lakewood, OH 44107 216-226-5200

April 23, 2017 at 6:12 PM Leave a comment

Randy’s Pickles

Michele reviews the grilled cucumbers and peppers she’s prepared.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make pickles? After a half-day immersion into the boutique pickle process, neither of us will ever take the glorious brined cucumber for granted again.

Because of Michele’s LOVE for Randy’s Pickles, a Cleveland-based entrepreneur, (recently featured on the LeBron James produced series, Cleveland Hustles) we have been consistently buying his wares for at least two to three years. Over that time period, Michele has enjoyed a fun repartee with “Mr. Randy” as she selects from his growing repertoire of styles. As repeat consumers of his Cleveland Flea fare, we, along with a few other “Pickle Addicts” were afforded a glimpse behind the curtain at what we believe are the best pickles currently available in Cleveland (and a few other select cities…more coming soon!)

We started the day in the new two-month old facility with a tour and a quick explanation of the current business. Randy explained that they simply outgrew the co-op site they used at the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen that serves as an incubator for many start-up food concerns. They found a spot with room to grow adjoining a space used by Erie Bone Broth (a locally produced foodstuff that deserves its own blog post – look for that in the future!) It was then time to work!

The small army of Randy’s Pickles enthusiasts washed, trimmed and cut the fresh cucumbers, asparagus and peppers. We learned how to make brine, grill the cukes (for Randy’s outstanding “Sideburns” varietal) spice the jar, pack the pickles and process the batch for pasteurization. Along the way, we learned that pickling is tough work and each and every one of us is grateful that Randy has dedicated his life to making this great snack.

Michele and Randy’s Pickles CPO (Chief Pickling Officer) “Mr. Randy”

Michele and Mr. Randy talk prior to the pickles entering the hot water bath.

Randy recounted the history of his business. He was fascinated by how pickles were made and asked his Grandmother to help him learn the process. Together they developed the core of his existing recipe. When he was ready to “go pro” he and his mother created batches with subtle variations to hone in on the perfect blend. Using those core principles, he has been able to develop alternatives to the initial Dill recipe. Growing in popularity are the grilled “Sideburns” (each cucumber half is individually grilled over on open flame to achieve the distinct blackened mark and taste) and the spicy-hot “Mustache on Fire” flavored by a combination of hot peppers. Some of the classmates are addicted to the seasonal Asparagus, so much so that they plan yearly consumption based on availability! These are hard-core eaters. We were also lucky enough to try some of his future best sellers and provide feedback. We won’t drop any secrets, but some of them were outstanding!! We can only say, if you see a new varietal of Randy’s, give it a try, you will not be disappointed. A lot of prep went into the new versions.

While we were busily at work making our semi-professional versions of his VERY professional product, Randy confessed that he always asks himself and his crew, during the entire process of pickling, “Would I spend money to buy this jar?” He is fully aware that there are cheaper, or more expensive, or better known, or highly regarded pickled products available on the market. He wants to be the pickle of choice in Cleveland, but also, well beyond those borders. With his well-honed sense of flavor and taste along with his skill for marketing and a wonderfully welcoming personality, it would be difficult to bet against Mr. Randy. We expect only great thing to come to his future.

Jeff capping our day’s work.

The result of everyone’s work. Boy, that is a LOT of pickles!!

…and by the way, if you have not yet purchased a jar, what are you waiting for? These are the most addictive pickles either of us has eaten in our combine 125 years of existence. You need to try these pickles NOW!! Remember, you can get them at the upcoming Cleveland Flea! 

https://randyspickles.com/

https://eriebonebroth.com/

http://www.theclevelandflea.com/

April 13, 2017 at 8:24 PM Leave a comment

Stonetown

First, let’s get the irritating things about Stonetown out of the way.

  • Sticky tables
  • Distinct “fish” smell in the air
  • A scattered (but very friendly) staff

With those things covered, we can now talk about the food which we found particularly enjoyable. Michele was very partial to the fried Catfish. There wasn’t a drop of cooking oil remaining on the cornmeal crust, yet the inside was luscious and moist. It was served over a bed of “low country” grits, also very good. After an order passed our table, she couldn’t resist ordering a side of Mac-n-Cheese and found it very tasty and not too overly rich, or cheesy. Jeff tried the tender Turkey Chops, slices of turkey (with bone) served over rice, then “smothered” with onions and gravy. The side of Fried Okra was nicely spiced and also free of oils. These folks know how to fry! Overall, we really enjoyed our meal here. That was not, however our expected outcome. With the smell that hit us as we entered, the “sticky” that met us at the table and the Keystone Kops staff interaction, we thought we were in for a train wreck. Thank goodness someone in the back knows how to cook.

Stonetown is part of a group that own Angie’s Soul Food (with outposts in multiple locations) and Zanzibar on Shaker Square. While we have not visited any of the Angie’s, we often dine at Zanzibar and enjoy it. This is a similar menu. Stonetown should consider a visit uptown to learn the art of table cleaning and ventilation and they could quickly up the value with minimal effort. If neither of these scare you (and they are minor) jump on in for some fine southern foods!

http://www.stonetownusa.com/home.aspx 627 Prospect Avenue Cleveland, OH 44115 216-862-5772

March 25, 2017 at 8:14 PM Leave a comment

Bon Chon

Michele has very clear rules when it comes to hot-spicy foods. She simply doesn’t indulge. Jeff is a little more liberal on the topic. He does like a touch of kick, but nothing that deadens the nerve endings and prohibits the taste buds from functioning. On occasion, restaurants will misrepresent their level of heat. Sometimes a server will be equipped with a leather tongue and possess unrealistic methods of translating the “burn-ocity” of the food. We’re not sure what happened here, because the server was otherwise excellent, but Jeff experienced a total mouth meltdown at Bon Chon. Let’s get into the details.

We started off well. The Shrimp Shumai is a deep fried dumpling filled with chopped/ground shrimp served over a bed of cabbage and drizzled with a honey-Dijon sauce. The dumplings were bite-sized and very flavorful. Good start. Michele decide on the Korean Tacos, making it very clear that the chicken could not be spicy. She fully enjoyed the tender pieces of chicken surrounded by cabbage and a mildly spicy mayo (ordered on the side, like a properly conservative eater!) Because the place is advertised as having “The best fried chicken in America” Jeff decided to try the Wings. He ordered half and half, 5 Soy & Garlic and 5 Spicy. Unfortunately, he grabbed a spicy version first and it was indeed SPICY! So spicy, in fact that he has no idea if the Soy and Garlic wings were good or bad. Michele tried that version, she felt they were nicely flavored. Jeff’s mouth was for all intent and purpose, placed out of commission. The meat was tender, the wings were meaty, but beyond HOT comments cannot be made. He hoped the side of Pickled Radishes would cool down his mouth. They didn’t. Chugging a pint of Brew Kettle draught didn’t help either. Water neither! He was finished.

We ordered Carrot Cake dessert. Michele confirmed it was average at best. We should have saved our money and went down the street for a DQ, where Jeff could drop a scoop of ice cream into his mouth and keep it there for 30 minutes. Unfortunately, we thought of that too late!

Despite this rough episode, we’re likely to return to Bon Chon. Michele fully enjoyed everything she ate (sans dessert) and the half Jeff tried before the apocalypse, was good. In addition to the food, the building and interior are beautifully designed. The front of the dining room features glass garage doors that are sure to be opened in the summer. It is almost an unexpected treat in Seven Hills, where very little looks new and exciting. I’m sure this is a big-deal for local residents.

A simple lesson can be learned from Jeff’s Bon Chon experience. Ask, and even pre-taste the kitchens “hot” before ordering, or do what Michele does, avoid the heat completely! It works for her!

https://bonchon.com/korean-fried-chicken-seven-hills-oh/ 7581 Broadview Road Seven Hills, OH 44131 216-236-6969

March 11, 2017 at 10:52 PM 2 comments

Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles

“Welcome to our home!” We’re not sure we have ever been greeted in a restaurant with a warmer, more heartfelt overture. What’s more, the timbre of the message resonates with the establishment, perhaps even more so than they realize. While the place is beautiful, with a full open window looking onto Prospect Avenue, inviting bar, modern seating and contemporary lighting overhead, there are elements of Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles that certainly make you feel like you are “at home.” The tables are a bit too close together, the tableware is a bit pedestrian, an occasional order gets mixed-up and the wait staff surely reminds one of a friend, relative or close associate eagerly catering to you in their home. Any more cozy and we might have kicked-off our shoes!

The food too, reminds us of home cooked fare. One look at the menu and we knew we could not possibly try everything we wanted to try. If it was good (and we later learned, it was) we’d need to plan additional trips. Michele honed in on the Catfish dinner, not only because of the menu, but after sight of a few orders whizzing by our table. Jeff had committed to Chicken and Waffles, even before he entered the car to drive downtown. Michele fully enjoyed the catfish. The breading was light and the frying did not imbed too great a portion of oil, keeping the fish tender and the breading crisp. The Collard Greens side was remarkably flavorful and exciting. Mashed sweet yams were also very good! The Mac-n-Cheese side however fell flat, displaying an uneventful cheese blend and bland noodles. Next time, she’s getting a double order of greens! Jeff has always measured Chicken and Waffles on the “Phil the Fire Standard.” (The late-great Shaker Square eatery that introduced Clevelanders to Chicken and Waffles.) He has never had better before and since. While the Chicago’s Home version of fried chicken was excellent, with a nice crispy breading, large breast and flavorful meat inside, the waffle was a touch spongy. Jeff likes to top the waffle with syrup, then add meat, then dribble the hot sauce and eat it all in once bite. Cutting though the waffle was a bit of a challenge. It had some nice flavors, but the texture was odd. Not a deal breaker, but again, sadly, not Phil the Fire. Dessert was Peach Cobbler ala mode and it was home-style good.

It should be noted that the catfish is available on the menu in a number of iterations. Chicken and waffles are likewise offered in countless versions. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are featured and available constantly. This is a place that requires actually READING the menu to order exactly what you want. There are lots of options and lots of variations. Make sure you order correctly, or ask!

From the moment you open the door to the second it closes behind you, Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles will cater to your every need. That is surely a welcome way to run a business and a nice environment in which to dine.

http://chicagoschickenandwaffles.com/ 1144 Prospect Avenue Cleveland, OH 44115 216-600-8600

February 25, 2017 at 10:48 AM 2 comments

Olesia’s Place

What the heck is Ukrainian food? After a day at the IX Center touring the Home and Garden Show, we tried to find a place that we wouldn’t normally go. We had heard about an Eastern European restaurant in that corner of the county and finally remembered the name after consulting our lists of “places to try.” The fact that it was Ukrainian had eluded us. As we drove west, the question passed the time.

We suspect our answer is a bit too elementary for an expert, but here’s our take. It feels very close to Polish food (Jeff’s heritage is Polish and his family has prepared their fair share of ethnic cuisine.) It also has tinges of Slovenian and Hungarian cooking with just enough Russian to make it interesting. If you’re a Clevelander, you know this food! You’ve eaten this food. It’s part of the backbone of the area. Change this ingredient or that spice and it may have been on your table growing up!

If you like the food of Eastern Europe, you’ll like Olesia’s Place. Jeff ordered the Borscht which boast of containing 57 ingredients! While we could not guarantee experiencing each, it was a complex, red broth filled with flavor, not as thick as a Russian version, but very good. Michele tried the Chicken Paprika Stew which tasted very much like the classic Hungarian staple, with the chicken and dumpling chopped into bit-sized pieces. The same richness and flavors were there, but in a bowl. Both of us felt this was the better soup offering. (No slight to the Borscht intended!)

Michele decided to try the “The Platter” a combination of Stuffed Cabbage, Potato Pierogi and Sausage and Kraut (kielbasa is also an option.) This was clearly the largest Stuffed Cabbage we’d ever seen; it looked like a European version of a Chipotle burrito! As expected this torpedo was filled with flavor. The sausage was a nice sweet Italian version that blended well with the homemade kraut. Jeff has made his mother’s (and grandmother’s) version of Polish Pierogis, but their family tradition never included Potato Pierogi. Mom and Grandma both thought that was “too heavy” and they were right. While they were good, one went a long way and the others went home. Jeff leaned toward the Russian side of the menu and ordered the Beef Stroganoff. This too was rich (notice a theme here?) with a dense sour cream sauce enveloping the short rib meat and noodles. Of course, we didn’t need a dessert, so we ordered the Salted Caramel Torte. A very enjoyable finish and one which we were glad we shared.

North Royalton may as well be in another state. We simply do not think of it from our eastside home. Olesia’s has forced us to rethink that blind spot. With such a large menu and after seeing some of the other meals pass us by as we sat at our table, both of us have a laundry list of things we want to try. We can wait for our next trip west!

http://www.olesiasplace.com/ 11204 Royalton Road North Royalton, OH 44133 440-877-9054

February 12, 2017 at 9:06 PM Leave a comment

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