Koko’s Cafe

If you’ve paid attention to this blog, you know we really love Koko’s Bakery. Because of that natural connection, when the adjoining storefront in the Payne Avenue strip where they reside opened as a restaurant version of Koko’s, we were there! The short reaction to this new place is positive. As good with a meal as Koko’s is with bakery? While Michele really likes the place, Jeff is less enthusiastic.

Over a number of visits, we tried a variety of dishes and found each one to be good. Like so many restaurants, we occasionally fall into a rut. Michele has centered onto Broccoli Shrimp because of its wide variety of vegetables and “non-spicy” seasoning. Jeff has been all over the menu from Singapore Mai Fun, Fried Rice and even General Tao’s Chicken. Because the tea comes from the Café, it is extra good.

We’re going to continue to run through the menu of this very fairly priced and flexible restaurant that is a welcome addition to the Koko brand.

http://www.kokocafefood.com/ 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7602

https://www.kokosbakery.com/ 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7600

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January 28, 2019 at 9:58 PM Leave a comment

Edwins Butcher Shop

Buying Girl Scout cookies is typically an act of charity. A young girl innocently pleas with doe-like eyes, or the young girls mom brings about a hearty helping of guilt and you quietly fork over a fortune for box of stale snacks. EDWINS could have followed that business model. They didn’t. Because they are not trying to assist prepubescent girls, but instead mature adults who understand the reality of life and need a little support and direction, a different approach is required. These adults understand the world, they know you get nothing for nothing. EDWINS is providing an alternative that comes equipped with a life lesson. If you want return customers, give them a reason to return beyond sympathy. And that is exactly what they have done at the Edwins Butcher Shop.

Lots has already been written about Brandon Chrostowski and his support of adults who have served their debt to society and now want to get on with their life. Unfortunately, America makes it extremely hard for these folks. Chrostowski believes that an undeniable skill, honed around first class surroundings can be the ticket for many of these people, especially in the busy food services industry. Forget about the societal benefits, Edwins Restaurant is one of the finest dining establishments in Cleveland, that keep people coming back. The fact that it is helping someone is icing. The same can now be said for Edwins Butcher Shop. The butchered meats are beautiful and ready to take home. The collection of groceries is carefully cultivated. (I have been searching for a year for Trois Petits Cochons Moutarde de Dijon – the absolute BEST Dijon mustard and they have it!!) Most importantly, their prepared foods are wonderful. Each of these elements will bring people back and in-kind support all of the men and women studying at Edwins.

Michele felt the Roasted Half Chicken was butter-soft and finished the entire half-bird! The mashed potatoes were blended with a cheese that gave it an unexpected tang that she only partially liked, but Jeff eagerly finished. Her Mac-n-Cheese side was also creamy and good. Jeff fully enjoyed the Pulled Pork that seemed much larger than the advertised 6oz. portion. It was tender and packed with flavor. The real surprise was the Baked Beans and the Sweet Potatoes. The sweets were deep brown with a complex flavor and the beans had just the right amount of sweet and salty to allow them to disappear quickly. We shared a Broccoli Cheese Soup and it was also good.

The physical space is beautiful. Beside the gas stations on busy Buckeye Road, this is probably the newest structure in years. While we sat and ate, local neighbors simply walked in, looked around and smiled their approval before exiting. Even though we ate around 4:00, there was a continual parade of patrons. Everyone appeared to have similar reactions to ours. We suspect, the real test will be few months from now when the newness has worn off and there is less PR. That’s where all of us need to step-up our game and remember to visit again and again. Yes, it is off the regular path, but well worth the detour.

https://edwinsrestaurant.org/events/thebutchershop/ 13024 Buckeye Road Cleveland, OH 44120 216-417-1100

https://edwinsrestaurant.org/ 13101 Shaker Square Cleveland, OH 44120 216-921-3333

January 6, 2019 at 7:55 PM Leave a comment

Lox, Stock and Brisket

In general, we are not really “Deli” people. A fair amount of deli-food is sandwich-based and both of us rely on sandwiches for lunch a fair amount of the time. That means, we do not get lured into deli food option very often. While we love (well, Michele likes, Jeff loves) Slyman’s, we only get there about once every other year. We stopped visiting Corky & Lenny’s years ago, once the quality started to slip. The new Larder Deli in Hingetown is getting a buzz from everyone in the city, but we’ve yet to try it. A deli becomes a hard sell for us, so it was with a bit of surprise that we found ourselves at Lox, Stock and Brisket.

Truth be told, this place is about as far away from a classic delicatessen that you’re likely to get. The gargantuan menu is slimmed to a handful of options. They serve only breakfast and lunch and they have restricted their options to brisket (obviously, based on their name) and smoked turkey, with a few other things, most notable, chicken. In addition, the owner/chef is a classically trained cook, unlike so many deli-masters. This alone makes a trip here worthwhile. The menu displays that higher level of food understanding.

We sampled the Matzo Ball Soup which had a nice simple taste with VERY fresh carrots and celery. The Reuben uses a combination of smoked and cured brisket with the requisite Swiss, kraut and Russian dressing and it was good. The star of what we ordered, however was the Buttermilk Chicken Schnitzel sandwich. The meat had a wonderful breading, topped with a flavorful slaw and a spark of interest with the aioli hot sauce. Despite its hardy size, Michele finished the entire thing! Sides were a fresh, non-creamy coleslaw or a dense redskin potato salad. We had hoped for a bit more seasoning in both of these. Working on the sides would be a real plus here and certainly convince us to try them again.

Urging us to return, will not, however be an issue. We want to try one of a number of smoked turkey options and Michele is still eyeing up the smoked fish. With their storefront location and compact menu, at Lox, Stock and Brisket, good things do indeed come in small packages.

https://www.loxstockandbrisket.com/ 13892 Cedar Road University Heights, OH 44118 216-471-8175

http://www.slymans.com/ 3106 St. Clair Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-621-3760

https://larderdb.com/ 1455 W 29th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-912-8203

December 23, 2018 at 8:34 PM Leave a comment

An Updated List

Periodically, we update our list here at “Jeff & Michele Eat Cleveland.” For some reason, it is difficult to add and subtract lines in the current format, so we need to upload the entire list and reinsert the hyperlinks. If we were more skilled with computers, we’re sure there is a solution. When faced with an overhaul however, it gives us a good opportunity to see what needs to be eliminated and also remind us of the places we need to revisit, or visit for the first time. Here are a few “New List” observations.

Sorry to see you go.

This year, two wonderful spots decided to shutter. Cork & Cleaver and Grove Hill. Both were a distance from our Cleveland Heights home, but regardless, we happily traveled there. C & C was an especially enchanting draw and we found ourselves in suburban Broadview Heights more than at any other time, probably in our life! We are going to miss both spots.

Boy, we haven’t been here for a long time!

As we reviewed the list with fresh eyes, it became apparent that a few old favorites have inadvertently been overlooked for longer than we thought. We are going to do our best to visit the following in 2019. Beach Club Bistro, Fahrenheit, Lola, Minh Anh, Osteria di Valerio & Al, Russo’s and Red, the Steakhouse.

Wait, we have never been here? Really?

New places come, followed by more new places and before you know it, we never get to a place that was initially, so hot. How does that happen? Life goes on; the buzz dissipates; we get a hankering for another spot. We won’t guarantee it, but we are going to try and sample at least a few of these recently (sort of!) opened spots we’ve missed. We stopped into Barabicu shortly after opening and it smelled SO good, but alas, no seats. They told us, they’re coming. We never checked back. Gigi’s on Fairmont sounds great to Jeff, but Michele is leery of wine bars. Couple that with a miniscule food menu and many specials. We’ve called, but that day’s special didn’t appeal. Jeff has a business dinner at Luca, but it was an event menu and Michele wasn’t there. But their just sandwiches. Thus our failure to respect Larder Deli has resulted in our failure to try the place. The Marble Room Steaks looks like a magnificent place and if you had ever been in this banking hall, as we have, you understand the grandeur. Unfortunately, we are just not steak people, so the place never pops up on our radar. Maybe 2019. The Schofield Building is another fabulous structure. Because of that, we have always meant to visit Parkers Downtown, almost for as long as we have wanted to check out The Burnham at the new downtown Hilton. Excessive parking costs have kept us away. Maybe this year we’ll have a better chance. Michele is not really crazy about Injera, the Ethiopian centerpiece bread, so a visit to Zoma is not likely in the cards, but perhaps Jeff will have an opportunity.

The moral here is that Cleveland has a huge variety of eating options. Sure, some places close, but more open each week. Even though we dine out more than the average person, we still miss a few. What we like to do is sample as many places as possible and find new favorites and revisit past greats. A list of the best in the city is simply an opinion at the exact moment it is posted. Next week, something might happen causing a spot to disappear, a new place may open that demands that opening. All of this transition is good and only possible because we live in the very vibrant Cleveland with a host of amazing Chefs and Cooks. Enjoy.

November 24, 2018 at 12:13 AM Leave a comment

Balaton

The first time we dined at Balaton, it was at some point in the 1980’s. At the time, Cleveland Magazine named about six places in the city they felt worthy of being called, “The Best of the Year.” Those of you who are of a certain age will likely remember Pan Asia, Au Provence, Earth by April and our beloved, Middle East. Balaton was among those so honored. At that point, the place was located on Buckeye Avenue in an old storefront. The interior was paneled, tables and chairs were less than trendy and menu specials were tacked to the wall. It was a very collegial place, but we were always made to feel welcome.

During the renovation of Shaker Square, Balaton decided to relocate into a featured corner of the historic center, while still retaining an “old-world” motif, the look created was definitely a step-up. Today, many years later, it remains warm and inviting, just like the food.

Michele ordered the Chicken Noodle Soup and it was the perfect antidote to the chilly late fall weather. Large chunks of white meat and handmade noodles, the broth is not too salty, always a good thing. Jeff hadn’t had Potato Pancakes for a while and our friends wanted to taste them as well, so we ordered the appetizer, which consisted of two massive pancakes. Balaton’s version features more garlic and a wider variety of spices than either Jeff’s mom’s version, or our friends, grandmother’s preparation. For a strangely simple food, there are scores of ways to prepare it and most are wonderful. Balaton’s is no exception. A salad comes with the entrée and it was serviceable. The slightly sweet Hungarian vinaigrette was good, but certainly not a reason to dine here.

Dinner arrived and the four of us each ordered something different. Our friends enjoyed their Chicken Paprikas and Hungarian Lecso, the Lecso being of particular interest as neither Michele of Jeff have ever tried this. Smoked Hungarian sausage was mixed with a stew of peppers, onions and rice. They felt it was excellent and it was the only dish that did not go home as a leftover! Jeff has always loved their Veal Paprikas and it remains a challenge to order anything else. The veal tips are tender beyond belief, mushrooms remain crisp and the rich sour cream-paprika sauce, while a bit thin this visit, has terrific flavor. The accompanying Hungarian speatzel comes alive after a dip in this sauce. Michele likewise has a hard time straying from the Chicken Schnitzel. Pounded ridiculously thin and breaded with a flavorful mix, the plate is enveloped with the poultry. Even after passing a slice to everyone at the table, a large amount went home. Portions are sized that way here. Both sides of the table shared a slice of Dobosh Torte, the classic 8-layer Hungarian treat. It was very good, but the caramel topping was a bit thick and did not “snap” when popped with a fork. Our friends took home a Napoleon for later. All four of us were stuffed!

It has been a while since we have visited this “new” upscale Balaton. We probably ate at the old storefront more than the new place. That is our mistake. After this visit, we are going to make a concerted effort to get here again soon. There is lots to like about this restaurant and over 50 years in business proves that they certainly do it well.

http://www.balaton-restaurant.com/home.html 13133 Shaker Square Cleveland, OH 44120 216-921-9691

November 11, 2018 at 8:18 PM 2 comments

El Rinconcito Chapin

A little while ago Scene Magazine published an article, “The 30 Essential Cleveland Restaurants.” As is always the case, the usual suspects are listed that virtually anyone who pays attention to food in Cleveland regard as the “best” of the city. L’Albatros, Fire, The Black Pig, Salt, Greenhouse Tavern, Spice, Momocho, Soho, Flying Fig, Nora, Ginko, you know the parade. A few ringers are also tossed in to tickle some conversation and contreversy. “Does [fill-in the blank] really belong on this list?” Finally, no list published in a major local media is complete without the confusing and unknown. As we reviewed the list of 30, two places popped out. (More on the other one at a later date.) Is someone really cooking Guatemalan food in Cleveland and we are unaware? How did we miss this place? As we began to investigate, we learned that the owner had previously worked at Picolo Mondo, one of our favorite closed establishments. We had to go.

We started with the Dobladitas, incredible light fried masa stuffed with shredded chicken and topped with beautifully flavored cabbage. While this was listed as an appetizer, Michele immediately stated that she would have loved to order this as a main entrée. It was so good, we couldn’t wait for our food. Michele had the fried chicken. It was pounded flat and spiced perfectly. Unable to eat beans, she asked them to double up on their fabulous flavored rice. Despite arriving after Jeff’s meal, she was done before him. It was that good. Jeff asked the server for advice and she pointed him to the Hilachas, shredded beef stewed in a flavorful sauce and served with carrots and potatoes. The same rice and some sautéed plantains accompanied the dish. He too scrapped the plate clean! Our dessert was the, oh so remarkable South American treat, Tres Leches. Chapin’s version is a single layer of milk-soaked cake. The only negative was the “Cool Whip” topping as opposed to real whipped cream. They also used chocolate sauce and we can’t remember that feature before. Guatemalan, or just the Chef’s preference? Regardless, it was great.

Rinconcito translates to “little corner” and can also be said to mean “my little corner of the world.” In Cleveland, where Eastern European food is abundant and Mexican food almost ubiquitous, finding a spot that served the more mildly spiced Guatemalan cusine is in fact, “a small corner.” Don’t let the smallness prevent you from trying this delightful treasure. Try El Rinconcito Chapin. It is indeed one of the 30 essential restaurants of Cleveland.

https://www.facebook.com/elrinconcitochapinCLE/ 3330 Broadview Road Cleveland, OH 44109 216-795-5776

October 28, 2018 at 12:14 PM Leave a comment

Eatin’ in New Orleans 5

Breakfast of Champions! Café au Lait and Beignets at Café du Monde.

This was a quicker than normal trip to New Orleans We arrived late on the first day and departed early on the fourth. This left us just enough time to catch a quick late-night snack at Kingfish, a place where we have twice had only a snack, but never sat down for a “bread to dessert” meal and we should. It has always been good. We also indulged twice at Café du Monde for our beloved beignet and chicory-infused Café au Lait before Jeff started work. Michele also snagged a solo lunch while Jeff worked one day. That left us with only two complete dinners at two new, never sampled places. We are happy to report that New Orleans food is alive and still able to surprise!

Snapper Escovich at Compere Lapin

Curried Goat with Gnocchi at Compere Lapin

The last time we were in New Orleans, we were blown away by Sac-a-Lait. It was our unquestionable favorite and we have been evangelizing on their behalf since. Our new religion is Compère Lapin. “Brother Rabbit” (in French) is run by a Chef from St. Lucia and she has combined the flavors of the Caribbean with the excitement of New Orleans cooking. It is a match made in heaven. We knew it would be good upon delivery of the biscuits. Warm, light and fluffy, they were served with two types of flavored butters, apparently different each day. We shared the Conch Fritters appetizer, but unlike the quiet versions typically served, these had a fiery snap that was cooled by the Remoulade dipping sauce. The Cobia appetizer reminded Jeff of crudo, this one prepared with passion fruit and grapefruit acids and of course, the perfect amount of spice. If you are in a restaurant run by someone who hails from the Islands, you must have goat. The Curried Goat was flawless. The sweet potato gnocchi that accompanied it was inspired and we believe helps to understand the level of sophistication you’ll find here. It also fully defines the Chef multifaceted culinary life that runs from the Caribbean, to French cooking school, into work at an Italian restaurant, culminating in the unique food of New Orleans. Michele normally does not eat Snapper, but the Escovitch version they offered was too tantalizing to pass-up. Escovitch could be described as a warm version of ceviche, where vinegar and spices are added to the fried preparation of fish. Served with a Beurre Blanc sauce, it was heaven on a plate. The Banana Zeppole was like a beignet stuffed with Nutella and served with a caramel-rum dipping sauce. From the factory chic interior to the energetic servers and especially to the food, Compère Lapin should be the place you visit on your next trip to NOLA.

Michele did not have an appetizer at Compère Lapin because she snuck away for a quick lunch at Muriel’s. Tucked into the northeast corner of Jackson Square, Muriel’s is a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of touristy New Orleans. We often stop here, if for nothing other than a cold Abita beer at the bar tuck WAY in the back corner. A quick bowl of Seafood Gumbo and a few minutes off her feet and Michele was ready to conquer the city again.

Our final new adventure for this trip was Coquette. Located west of the French Quarter along trendy Magazine Street, this is spot that has taken the wonder of area cooking and combined it with classic French cooking sensibilities. The result is fabulous food. To start, we had the massive Gulf Shrimp served on a bed of horseradish-based remoulade. Michele has been spoiled by New Orleans gulf shrimp, almost since our first trip and this is the reason. They taste like no other, even with this ultra-simple preparation. Likewise, she could not say enough about her Gulf Seafood Stew. When you are that close to fresh seafood, it is almost impossible to mess-up. Combine that with Chorizo and okra and you’ve got a real winner. Jeff could not believe the tenderness he found in the Smoked Short Ribs. It was also full of flavor, but the green mole added an extra element that mixed so well with the beef. The crispy rice upped the meal with extra texture and the pumpkin seeds scattered across the top finished it nicely. Basil semifreddo? What an inventive and refreshing finish. Coquette is a small place, but with food this good, it packs a big punch.

A lot has changed in New Orleans since our first visit in 1990, but the one thing that remains the same is the quality and uniqueness of the food. There is a New Orleans flavor that is unmistakable and indicative of the area. For that reason, we expect to return for at least the next twenty-five years!

https://kingfishneworleans.com/ 337 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-598-5005

http://www.cafedumonde.com/ 800 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-525-4544

http://www.sac-a-laitrestaurant.com/ 1051 Annunciation Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-324-3658

http://comperelapin.com/ 535 Tchoupitoulas Street (at the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery) New Orleans, LA 70130 504-599-2119

http://muriels.com/ 801 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70116 504-568-1885

https://www.coquettenola.com/ 2800 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70115 504-265-0421

October 7, 2018 at 7:35 PM Leave a comment

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