Blue Habanero

The question we so often ask is, “When will this taco craze cease?” “How many taco joints are needed in a city?” “Have we exceeded the commensurate number of taco purveyors per capita?” You get the point. Tacos have become the new hamburger and it seems a new place opens almost daily. In Cleveland, this craziness likely started with Rose Angel, one of the many predecessors located in the spot now occupied by Spice. At the time they offered the previously unheard of menu consisting of an assortment of tacos, filled with a variety of goodies. It was a great addition to the Cleveland food scene, but alas, a bit ahead of its time. Flash forward to today and there are scores of spots that stuff discs of corn meal with heaps of stuffing.

Blue Habanero is located in the spot formerly occupied by Arcadian, the now infamous restaurant with the mayfly lifespan. “Blue” benefits from the beautiful structure and avant-garde interior that was created for what was to be a benchmark spot for Clevelanders. Interestingly, it serves a progressive taco-peddler well. They are fortunate to occupy this progressive interior.

To switch it up, we started with the Queso Chorizo appetizer. The warm, melted cheese was mixed with a mildly spicy pork for a nice alternative to guacamole or salsa. Unlike other spots that specialize in tacos, Blue Habanero offers a plate of three of the same type tacos. Initially, we thought this was bad idea. After ordering, we realized, that the longer span of consuming food afforded us a better opportunity to assess the value. With one taco, the flavor is fleeting. With three, the impact can be ingrained in the taste buds and it makes more of an impact.

The Tacos Vallarta (for Michele) and the Corner Tacos (for Jeff) did just that. The shrimp held its own against a Pico mix of sweeter spices. The chorizo-potato mix hit the spot for Jeff. Our Flan dessert (Michele’s favorite!) did it for both of us.

Whether it is Barrio, Coastal, Bakersfield or Cilantro, tacos are here to stay. If you have a hankering for them, there are lots of options, Blue Habanero is a good place to start. 6416 Detroit Avenue Cleveland, OH 44102 216-465-1818 00001


May 4, 2019 at 9:33 PM Leave a comment


We never went to the Clifton Diner. It always looked unappetizing and just a touch on the run-down side. We know there are scores of people in Cleveland that bemoan the day it closed. We are not part of that faction, but we are now part of a chorus of patrons who are glad about the new tenant. The inside of the space has been completely redesigned and presents itself as a modern-industrial haven. When you arrive, a staff member greets you at the door and explains that orders are taken at the counter and then delivered to your seat. The menu is filled with easy, comfortable offerings, some sandwiches, bowls and salads. A handful of dinner are available after 5:00PM. There is also a breakfast menu for early day eating.

We arrived late in the afternoon, so the dinners were not yet available. Michele elected to try the Turkey Rueben. We are already fans of Cleveland Kraut, so she knew at least half of it would be great! The combination of Russian dressing and Swiss cheese immediately felt familiar, but also fresh and interesting. Jeff tried the California Bowl. This was a nice mix of rice, avocado, bleu cheese, candied walnuts and grilled chicken. The dish was light and summer, especially important on the cold winter day.

This was a successful meal and convinced us that we need to arrive a touch later next time to try one of the dinner plates. Based on this first visit, we can’t wait to return. 11637 Clifton Boulevard Cleveland, OH 44102 216-230-4040

April 20, 2019 at 3:30 PM Leave a comment


In many respects, Larder is “just a deli.” The typical menu elements are there, Matzo Ball Soup, Pastrami Sandwiches, Potato Salad and a score of other somewhat familiar items. The secret to Larder is digging deeper into what is on the plate.

Michele challenged Jeff during our fabulous lunch with a decidedly simple question. “Why is this place good?” Perhaps more so than any other place we’ve visited recently, we had a long conversation dissecting everything we ate. By doing so, we were able to answer her question and provide an understanding on how to prepare food and how to prepare food that gets people talking, a lot.

As we did during our visit, we can start the conversation on Matzo Ball Soup. Usually this is a lifeless mass of matzo meal is a liquid bath that hints of poultry. The Larder version featured a rosy broth, the result of red cabbage and red onions that gave it a touch of tang that is not normal. The “ball” was rich with flavor as well.

Michele ordered the ½ smoked chicken and boy was it great. Michele does enjoy smoked meats, Jeff, not typically, because the “smoke” is usually overwhelming. That was not the case here with a nicely balanced, non-cloying smokiness. The chicken meat was moist and tender and the seasoned skin added a nice flavor. Jeff tried the Pastrami Sandwich, but again, not like a typical deli version. Larder’s pastrami was butter soft but with a snap of flavor. The meat was covered with a red cabbage layer and heavy grain mustard. Each bite was a burst of wonderful.

Larder Deli – Matzo Ball Soup – Note the rosy color
Larder Deli – Potato Salad on the left, half of the Pastrami Sandwich on the right

We have been complaining about potato salad recently. So many spots simply slap overcooked potatoes in some mayonnaise and they’re done. The Larder version finally figured out that flavor and spice CAN help this classic side dish. Dill, celery, horseradish and grain mustard elevated this staple so much so that we found ourselves scrapping the little paper dish with vigor.

Jeff cannot remember the last time he had a Chocolate Phosphate. Ten, fifteen years ago? This peculiar drink was always a favorite as a kid (who wouldn’t like a chocolate fountain drink?) and it carried into adulthood. Like so many youthful things, it started to disappear until he was no longer able to find it or order it, until Larder. Before he told the clerk his sandwich order and side, he ordered the phosphate. Were they always this good, or is the Larder version that much better? The timespan between this passion is too long, the short answer is, Jeff will never go to Larder without ordering a chocolate phosphate.

So what is our final verdict on Larder? Michele says, “It’s just a deli, but the food is good.” Jeff says, “Yes, it a deli, but the food is on a different plain from most other delis.” There you go. Clear as a chocolate phosphate! 1455 W 29th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-912-8203

March 30, 2019 at 5:53 PM Leave a comment


We’ll get to the chase right away. Go to this restaurant and eat.

OK, now that our intent is out of the way, a reason is probably in order. Actually, a whole number of reasons is likely required and is our pleasure to provide. We really liked this place, almost as soon as we walked in the door.

It was a cold evening and the inside was cozy and warm. We were seated next to the window, but a nearby register was pushing comfortable warm air across our feet. An exceptionally friendly and helpful server walked through the menu and provided us comments and helpful tips. The menu consists of “small plates”. In almost every other city in America, “small plates” is radically popular. Not so much in Cleveland. If you happen to be a typical Clevelander and you have an aversion to “small plates” this is the place for you. After receiving our first dish, a remarkable Airline Chicken, Michele remarked, “This isn’t a very small, small plate, is it?” The breast was plump, juicy and very flavorful. The bed of hominy grits was different and the tart rapini was a nice flavor variant. Michele was less interested in the tamarind jus, but Jeff found it a great foil to the chicken. The Dublin Prawn was huge, but never got rubbery. It was placed on rice with a whiskey sauce. Jeff needed to try the venison and our server insured him that while he doesn’t often eat venison, this one has changed his mind. Jeff loved it. Two wonderfully tender fillets were surrounded by mushrooms and celery roots. Finally, the Roasted Squash arrived. The menu stated it has a BBQ rub, but don’t think of it as slathering liquid, but more of a dry rub with a much more prominent vinaigrette note. These crisp half-rings were so good. If we have one “issue” here, it was with the bread basket. There was nothing wrong with the bread or the perfect spreads (honey, apple butter and stracciatella) It simply arrived a minute before the chicken and we barely had time to enjoy this intro treat. A touch better timing and we couldn’t have found a thing wrong with our entire evening.

One of the reasons we jumped right into a recommendation at the beginning of this post is because of our almost immediately realization that we had popped into a very special addition to Cleveland dining. A couple of bites in and we started planning our next visit, then our next. We know from history that this is a good sign. We’re going back and wanted to make sure the dining room was filled with happy diners, just like us. Won’t you join us? 2661 W 14th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-952-7035

February 24, 2019 at 12:36 AM Leave a comment

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. 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7602 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7600

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. 13024 Buckeye Road Cleveland, OH 44120 216-417-1100 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. 13892 Cedar Road University Heights, OH 44118 216-471-8175 3106 St. Clair Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-621-3760 1455 W 29th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-912-8203

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

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