Sawyer’s

Stepping into Sawyer’s reminded us of The Restaurant, a long-gone spot on the corner of Chagrin Boulevard and SOM Center Road that was constructed to look like a greenhouse. The metal was painted white and it had a wonderful airy feel. At the time, it served clean, fresh foods. Sitting in Sawyer’s, a glass box plunked down on the edge of an open greenspace at the new Van Aken complex, looking out onto the holiday lights and snow covered lawn was relaxing and energizing at the same time. It was a beautiful view contained in a 70’s era interior.

The menu is set up into a handful of interesting options. Dining here could go a number of different ways with Raw Bar, Appetizers, Veggies, Entrees and Wood Fired Pita. Tucked within each category are plenty of vegetarian options. We elected to split the wonderful handmade pita with a hummus and the Tempura Mushrooms. Both were great. The hummus is Jaffe Style. As we understand, that means it is not made with chickpea, but instead a similar, Indian Chana Dal. The result carried a slightly orange-brown tint and a unique flavor. We were just short of scrapping the glaze off the ceramic dish in our attempt to eat more. It was that good. The mushrooms were light and the remoulade dip was a flavorful match. We were off to a great start.

Sawyer’s Brick Chicken over mashed potatoes and asparagus.

Michele ordered the Brick Chicken. It was a very generous entrée, so much so, that Jeff ate the airline wing and she still took some home. She gravitated to this dish because she felt like mashed potatoes and they were also well made. Jeff decided upon the Duck Breast and boy, was that a good idea. This rates as one of his favorite versions in a long time. The breast was prepared perfectly and the parsnips and sauces that accompanied it blend perfectly. A perfectly sized Crème Brûlée and a wonderful meal was complete.

Sawyer’s Duck Breast with parsnips and white chocolate sauce.

Almost immediately, we talked about a return visit. This is yet another new spot in the revitalized Van Aken district. We’ve enjoyed every place we’ve tried there, including Michael’s Genuine Food and especially Brassica. Banter and On the Rise have opened second locations here and we know both of those to be excellent as well. It is reasonably close to home and the spot is inviting. We’re not sure who designed the space, but someone should buy them a cookie. Hopefully, the public is responding. We know we are! This could soon develop into a spot where people drive, not entirely sure of which place they will dine. When the quality is so universally consistent, from fine dining to casual, it is almost sure to be a win.

https://www.sawyers.restaurant/ 3396 Tuttle Road Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-860-1236

https://michaelsgenuine.com/cleveland/ 3427 Tuttle Road Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-230-8022

https://brassicas.com/ 20301 Meade Road Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-848-0450

January 5, 2020 at 3:22 PM Leave a comment

Zhug

Zhug is named after a hot green sauce that started in Yemen and has expanded across the Middle East with a different name in almost every region and country. Zhug is the Israeli moniker. It is also a good example of the different take we both have on this new Cleveland Heights restaurant.

First, it is nice to see a new spot open in Cleveland Heights. Our city used to be the place to go for all the new and exciting foods. That has not been the case recently. Lakewood is hot, as is central Cleveland. It is nice to see that the community is responding. Our EARLY Friday visit allowed us only one seating option, the community table near the door. Every other table was taken in this brand new “no reservation” spot. Ten minutes after we were seated, the nearby receptionist was quoting 45 minute to one hour waits. Thankfully, they will take your number and send a text when a table becomes available, so a quick trip down the street to Parnell’s Pub could be a good way to start your evening. They always have a nice collection of Irish beers and single malts and it is a bar, so Jeff is sure they can make other things, but uncertain why you’d want them!

The mezze menu consists of smaller plates (definitely, not tiny) with a decidedly Mediterranean/Middle Eastern bend. Many of the dishes, especially those that attracted Michele, also featured some spice. That was her initial problem. She has a problem with hot-spicy foods and can’t digest them, so we started with the Duck Fat Parsnip Pancakes. They were very good and perfect to share. Our only concern was the puddle of residual oil on the plate. The latke was not itself greasy, but a ten second rest on a paper towel would have eliminated this unsightly byproduct. Michele claimed the Cod Cakes to herself. This was probably the smallest dish on the menu. We know that, because we saw large plates of Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts and Squash visit our communal table. She felt they were good, but a tad overpriced, especially due to the size. Jeff shared his Curried Fried Chicken. These were boneless pieces of dark bird, but the meat was a bit tough. Regardless, the flavor was full. He tried some of the zhug that is delivered to each table upon arrival with the chicken. Their zhug has a wonderful, almost grassy initial taste, then the heat comes! If you are a lover of hot spices, zhug could be your new sriracha. The Lemon Cake dessert was delightful and relaxing, a comforting counterpoint to the electric energy in the dining room.

After a second survey of the menu, Michele said she’d come back, but worried that there were only a few options for her that did not say, “chili” or “spicy”. Jeff, on the other hand could basically run the menu. He’s already envisioned three visits.

When the dish of zhug was placed on the table, our server explained what it was and how it serves as a namesake for the restaurant. Its beautiful green color is intoxicating. Michele wanted to jump right in a try it, but knew better. “You’d better see if this is hot.” Right there we knew this place would be a “split decision.” For those of you keeping score at home, that is “Yes” for Jeff, “No” for Michele. Proceed accordingly.

https://zhugcle.com/ 12413 Cedar Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44106 216-862-2508

https://www.facebook.com/parnellspub 12425 Cedar Road Cleveland Heights, OH 216-321-3469

December 23, 2019 at 1:17 PM 1 comment

Tandul

We both like Indian cuisine. As we have indicated before in this blog, that love started many years ago with our first visit to the first Indian restaurant in Cleveland, Saffron Patch at its original location in Solon. The eight or twelve table oasis taught us how to eat this interesting food. Bounce forward to today and there are multiple Indian options available. The quality level of one spot drops and a new place is eager to take its place with a better offering. Tandul arrived a few years ago and we barely noticed. The Turkish place that occupied this small spot had suddenly closed, when it was announced. In the perpetually moving restaurant scene in Cleveland, we simply forgot, or overlooked Tandul, until this weekend. As well as good food, there were a few pleasant surprises inside.

As we grabbed a window seat for two, a basket of complimentary Papadum was delivered to our table. This was the first surprise. We have heard from people in other cities that this is typical, but in Cleveland, Papadum is an appetizer and, while minimal, there is a charge. A duo of tasty chutneys accompanied the treat. They were off to a good start. Jeff wanted to try a familiar dish so he could compare it with those he has had in the past. Michele typically orders her favorite, Palak Paneer, but instead decided to try their Paneer Butter Masala and found it delicious. Combined with the Garlic Cheese Naan, she was in heaven. For Michele, sauced rice and bread is about as comfortable as comfort food gets! She was sold. Jeff was excited to see that the LARGE menu included goat and lamb offerings, but elected to try the vegetarian option of Mattar Paneer, his go-to dish. Because this was a first visit, he wanted to learn if this was a place he could trust with these finicky meats. In general, he was pleased with his meal, but a little concerned that the dish arrived with some separation occurring in the serving bowl. A few stirs with the serving spoon and looked a lot more appetizing. The second surprise was included rice. Most of the other Indian spots in town force the ordering of separate rice. This was a benefit, unless of course you are a person who prefers a specific type of rice with your meal. It appears they do not offer any alternatives. Instead of our typical Gulub Jamun dessert, we decided on Pistachio Kulfi. Kulfi is the denser ice cream popular in Southcentral Asia that, because it is not whipped, contains no air and is therefore thicker, more solid in the bowl. It was a nice change and very good. Michele might actually have a new favorite.

We liked Tandul and will likely return. If you decide to go, this is a crowded little corner of Tremont. You might want to ask about reservations and give yourself ample time to find parking on these slender streets. Once inside, you will find a restful oasis with a wonderful aroma wafting through the air.

http://tandulintremont.com/ 2505 Professor Avenue Cleveland, OH 44113 216-860-4530

December 7, 2019 at 10:11 PM 2 comments

Marie’s Restaurant

We have been looking for a replacement for Fanny’s Restaurant almost since the day the Waterloo landmark closed in 2007. We’ve tried a number of spots and many people have recommended their favorite. None have really filled the void. It’s not that Fanny’s was the best restaurant in Cleveland, but it did have that homey feeling with good, honest, home cooking at a more than fair price. After a visit to Marie’s Restaurant, we’re thinking we may have finally found what we are missing. Honest, tasty home cooking.

Michele was immediately pleased with the menu because it offered a “lunch” and “dinner” option for each of the entrées. Any place that offers two sizes gets extra points in her book. She ordered the Weiner schnitzel with home fries and found it to be a very good version with almost no residual oils. After a quick review of the menu, Jeff found Cevapi, a favorite Balkan sausage, theirs made with ground veal, pork and lamb. It was great to have this again. Michele had the Cherry Pie ala mode and Jeff tried the Apple Strudel. Both were great. We really had a wonderful time enjoying these inviting foods. On a second visit, Michele loved the fish fry and Jeff enjoyed the Beef Goulash. We’re sure the rest of the menu is equally interesting.

Marie’s Restaurant – Fish Fry

Purists will argue that Marie’s is Croatian and Fanny’s was Slovenian and they are right. While a border separates the two countries, folks from both spots have been a crucial part of Cleveland for years. There are many common threads and a couple of wonderful differences. The important similarity is warmth, home cooking and a friendly atmosphere. Marie’s has that in spades!

http://www.mariesrestaurant.net/ 4502 St. Clair Road Cleveland, OH 44103 216-361-1816

Marie’s Restaurant- Beef Goulash with Dumplings

November 23, 2019 at 4:33 PM Leave a comment

Dagu Rice Noodle

Almost as quickly as Koko’s Café opened on Payne Avenue next to the famed Koko’s Bakery, it closed and was replaced with signs advertising the coming of “Renown Chinese Brand” Dagu Rice Noodle, “With Global Operations!”  An unusual ad campaign to be sure, but Cleveland could certainly use a good Chinese Noodle shop. Spots like this are all over America and a place in Cleveland was inevitable.

We have mixed thoughts about Dagu. The broth on both of the bowls we ordered was full-bodied with tons of flavor. Slurping a bowl of either would have almost been enough. The rice noodles, too were excellent. Michele ordered a bowl with shrimp and found them to be tender and enjoyable. Jeff’s beef slices were good, but the ham did not fare as well. It was somewhat dried-out and bland. Most of the other ingredients in the full bowls were good.

The bowls arrive at the table boiling. This helps facilitate the cooking of the goodies inside, but it sure delays one’s ability to sup the soup. The noodles here are thicker than those you may have had in Vietnamese restaurants. That means for people with moderate chop-stick skills, wrestling with the noodles can be a bit more complex and will take some practice. Michele felt the whole effort was just not worth the trouble. She felt like she should have worn a bib. An arthritic joint in Jeff’s hand became enflamed after the unfamiliar chop stick action. Finally, there is the inevitable comparison with Vietnamese Pho and in Jeff’s case, the noodle soup lunches he enjoyed in China while working there years ago. If you really love that slightly sweet and cinnamon flavor and can more easily handle the vermicelli, Dagu might not be the place for you. If the more savory broths of China are your passion, Dagu could be your answer.

This place has been crazy busy since opening. The relatively new strip center where it is located is now full. Four food spots now fill it. We love Koko’s and have said so multiple times in multiple posts. Map of Thailand continues to deliver the some of the best Thai food in the city. Han Chinese Kabob had connected with the growing desire for Northern Chinese kabobs and remains popular today. Now, with the addition of Dagu, this is a powerhouse section of town with an option to fit almost anyone’s culinary needs.

http://www.dagu-usa.com/ 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-862-8090

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

Map of Thailand 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-361-2220

https://www.hanchinesecleveland.com/ 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-769-8745

October 27, 2019 at 12:34 PM Leave a comment

Michael Angelo’s Winery

Is this any way to run a railroad?

The food at Michael Angelo’s Winery was good, but we are never returning.

Why would we state that? Michael Angelo’s is the most Rube Goldberg of restaurant concepts we have ever experienced in over forty-five years of dining out in Cleveland. Let us explain.

As we stated in the beginning, the food was good. We enjoyed a nicely prepared Caesar Salad with a pungent dressing and fresh greens. The fettuccini with crab and truffle cream sauce was excellent. The pasta must be house-made. The oil-butter dipping for the bread was also good. We even sampled portions of the food friends ordered and the Caprese Pizza was enjoyable, while they quickly polished off their gnocchi. All the desserts were equally appreciated. Jeff also liked the wine he eventually drank. In addition, the building is wonderful. In the middle of a cornfield in Richfield, this chalet has been planted with an acre of concrete and asphalt to accommodate the patrons.

The problem with this restaurant is EVERYTHING else. Food is ordered at a counter, a number is assigned and you are given that number on a metal stand. That sounds simple enough, but right there we have introduced a parade of problems that a patron will soon discover.

First, when FOOD is ordered, that means that ALL the food is ordered and ALL the food is delivered at one time. If you are hoping to enjoy the salad and bread over a glass of wine while the main course is being prepared, you are sadly mistaken. BOTH arrive at the same time. While you eat your salad (or any of the other appetizers) your main dish is chilling in the frigid air.

Second, you want wine? Guess what? Stand in a second line! Unfortunately, this line is manned by a single person. At 5:00PM on a busy Saturday, ONE person is servicing this function. At 8:00, when we left, with a dozen people in line ONE person was taking orders, pouring and deliver the wine. No one will ever get inebriated here! Want dessert? BACK IN LINE! This time, with the people who are just now ordering their dinner!!!

Third. You want to sit down? HA! That is your misfortune. A money-making scheme here could be selling your table to the marauding throngs who hover over the too-few tables in the ding room. Want to relax and chat with friends, as we did that evening? Don’t count on it, because you are interrupted by the constant query of people asking if, “You are about to leave?”

Forth, part of your responsibility as a patron of Michael Angelo’s Winery is to move tables, carry furniture and buss your own table. You have already eaten the appetizer, balanced atop the entrée plate, because they are too small to hold most of the food you just ordered. To communicate with your tablemates, you must talk at maximum levels to rise above the din of the room. Eating at Michael Angelo’s is exhausting.

Yes, the draw of no tips is likely a reason for the massive throngs of people. Our suggestions to improve this place are as follows:

-Raise the prices a quarter and hire a person to seat patrons. Finding a seat in a restaurant should not be a snipe hunt.

-Make the table large enough to actually hold the food you’ve ordered, not just a wine glass and a share plate.

-Allow the ordering of wine at the same place as food, or at the very least, put more people at the wine ordering station, so a line does not snake around the already crowded dining room floor.

-Is it possible to order an appetizer plate that arrives FIRST and before the entrée? If not, eliminate the option, because something is going to be consumed at the wrong temperature.

-Perhaps a dessert-only line is in order? Just sayin’!

There is SO much wrong with this place our overall negative response is inevitable. Yes, Michael Angelo’s is busy now, but how long will that continue? For how long will people accept that dinners will be constantly interrupted with new trips to a line for additional food and drinks? This seems like a place that will tire quickly.

A week ago we visited the new exhibition of Michelangelo’s preparatory work for his frescos at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In it, we were witness to the careful craftsmanship with which the artist developed the intricately shaped and positioned bodies. Bone structure, muscles and position were carefully studied to ultimately end with the flawless artwork we now love. Michael Angelo would do well to emulate Michelangelo. He has the building, the wine and the food. He now needs to complete the composition with a better system to deliver it.

https://www.michaelangelosbakery.com/ 5515 Broadview Road Richfield, OH 44286 440-552-2815

September 30, 2019 at 7:14 PM 2 comments

Alere

A few years ago, we wrote about a great lunchtime option located at Cuyahoga Community College Eastern Campus. Tri-C offers comprehensive training in hospitality management and culinary arts. At the time, Café 4250 was the dining room at the Eastern campus and the Metro campus was in the middle of some transition, landing at various spots, in and around the downtown area. Now, the eastern campus is closed, with reopening possible at some point in the future. The Metro campus has now established their dining room in The Jerry Sue Thornton building on East 22nd. What remains is the high quality lunch and presumably breakfast. (We have not had the pleasure of their early morning offering.) Yes, these are students and it is student run, but the product they deliver is of excellent quality and almost as important, extremely well priced. In addition, there are watchful staff members in the kitchen and dining room to assure your experience is topnotch.

Alere at Cuyahoga Community College Jerry Sue Thornton Center – Salted Cod Fritters
Alere at Cuyahoga Community College Jerry Sue Thornton Center – Stuffed Mushrooms

We have dined at the metro campus, Alere dining room multiple times over the past few years. Each semester, a full menu is created. Each day, a three-course special is also offered. Between the two options, at every visit we enjoyed remarkable food and have chatted with energized students ready to conquer the culinary world.

Alere at Cuyahoga Community College Jerry Sue Thornton Center – Lamb Chops, Fondant Potatoes and Grape Tomatoes
Alere at Cuyahoga Community College Jerry Sue Thornton Center – Tilapia Po’ Boy, Fries, Slaw and Remoulade

The new semester has just started and if our last meal was any indication of what is to come, we are going to need a “frequent flyers” number at Alere! The special during our last visit was lamb chops. Imagine, Lamp Chops and boy were they good! Jeff could not believe the perfect blend of charred exterior and tender center. They were served with blistered grape tomatoes and fondant potatoes. This acidic and calming accompaniment was just right. Michele, of course does not eat lamb, but her Tilapia Po’ Boy was equally enjoyable. She especially liked the remoulade for the spark it added to the white fish. The Salted Cod Fritters that accompanied the lamb were shared by both of us. You don’t think Michele is going to miss out on more fish, do you? We also split a Stuffed Mushroom appetizer that was unexpectedly served cool with a turkey sausage, spinach and cream cheese blend. Overall, the caramel dessert was good, but the pastry/cookie base was a bit flat and pasty. That minor flaw was overcome with a delightful crème, chocolate and caramel.

Alere at Cuyahoga Community College Jerry Sue Thornton Center – Dessert!

There are a few important things to remember about Alere. First, it is a student-run experience. You might occasionally stumble on something that was “less-than.” Don’t let that discourage you. Trust us. 90% of what we’ve eaten here is great. Comment cards are provided to help understand where the experience might have been substandard. Remember to fill them out. Secondly, remember that the servers are also learning the restaurant business. They may be a bit less polished than in a more formal establishment. Many might never actually end up serving you in the future, instead they’ll be preparing the food. They all have interesting stories and visionary futures that are starting here. Finally, there is a tip jar at the cash register. While not required because this is an educational institution, we’re sure it is appreciated and the money will be put to good use.

Need a great, low-cost breakfast or lunch in the downtown area? We urge you to give this place a try. You won’t be disappointed!

https://www.tri-c.edu/programs/hospitality-management/student-staffed-dining-experience.html The Jerry Sue Thornton Center 2500 East 22nd Street Cleveland, OH 44115 216-987-4080 or email Deanna.manners@tri-c.edu for reservations

September 15, 2019 at 9:05 AM Leave a comment

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