Eating Out in the Time of COVID – L’Albatros

Since the worldwide pandemic took hold of America and “shelter in place” became the watchword of the day, we have been doing just that. While restaurants have shuttered and thousands of owners and workers are trying to exist on unemployment and savings, we have watched and read news reports, helpless. We love eating out and even though we have no skin in the game, we have spent inordinate amounts of time worrying about all the people involved. A part of what makes us whole is now missing.

In its place, we have been cooking, a lot. New recipes, old favorites, simple and complex. Faced with a stack of over-ripe bananas, we even had a banana-nut bread baking contest. (Michele won, but only by a pinch!) We have also done a number of carry-out meals. Because of the problem of cooling, we stuck to places close to home. Gigi’s on Fairmount, Dewey’s Pizza, L’Albatros and the meals that traveled the best even though it is the farthest waay, Map of Thailand. Yes, they were good, but we still missed dressing up and sitting down to a great meal.

Last week, we got a few emails from the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group discussing their approach to cleanliness as they announced the reopening of their restaurants. With the advice of a doctor from the Cleveland Clinic, they developed a plan and discussed how they were going to reimagine what service in a restaurant would look like as the world battles this aggressive disease. Virtually everything would be different.

We wanted to find a way to help as places reopened, but of course, we were apprehensive. Michele spent a career wearing a mask for forty years. Masks are a second skin and she barely knows they are there. Jeff, on the other hand feels constricted and coupled with a slight breathing issue, finds masks difficult and uncomfortable. That aside, Michele felt the measures taken to insure cleanliness were spot-on. She also trusted the Bruell restaurants in general, especially over the teen-employed chains. After about an hour of discussion, we agreed to book a reservation. The first one of the evening. It was a good decision.

As advertised, many of the tables at L’Albatros were missing. We have dined here dozens of times, so we actually noticed the empty spaces. The hostess is located behind a Plexiglas booth. Everyone is wearing masks. Guests are encouraged to download the menu on their phone. The tables are bare. What has not changed is the cordiality of the staff. Everyone was happy to be back at work and trying to reinvent life. As we sat in a restaurant chair for the first time in ten weeks, we probably never felt so at home.

Michele loves the cod at L’Albatos. We did order it to take-out a few times, but she remarked how much better it was fresh from the kitchen without a stop in a carryout box. Jeff felt much the same about his Duck Confit (also taken home once.) Enjoying a glass of wine in a restaurant is so much better than one at the dining room table and we still love to share a dessert, even if it is small as a way to finish a nice evening. Sitting there after we were done, we realized how much dining out means to us. We are so glad the Bruell organization did the research and figured out how to run a restaurant during a pandemic. We’re hoping all of our other favorites are taking a cue from them. Our normal includes restaurant dining. Like restaurants and the workers they employ, we want to get back to a normal life as well.

Michele after a great meal at L’Albatros
Jeff, masking up to leave L’Albatros. 11401 Bellflower Road Cleveland, OH 44106 216-791-7880 3477 Fairmount Boulevard Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-291-7237 2194 Lee Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-321-7355 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-361-2220

May 25, 2020 at 9:39 PM 1 comment

Good Company

Jeff was having a conversation with someone who recently dined at Good Company and she asked a very pointed question. “What do they really do that no one else in Cleveland isn’t already doing?” It was a good point and forced us to rethink our assessment of this recently opened spot.

We went here because the day was miserable and we just wanted something warm and unfussy. Michele ordered the hamburger and really liked it, especially commenting on the poppy seed bun and “Company” sauce, both, according to our server, made in-house. Jeff ordered the Gabagool sandwich made with fried Capicola, cured in-house. Now capicola can be found scattered over multiple restaurant menus all over town, but this is our first recollection where this slightly spicy ham/salume is the featured player, headlining a sandwich. The fries were good, but Jeff ordered his “loaded” and that meant an unconventional white American cheese and ham sprinkled over the top. By the standards established during Jeff’s conversation, Good Company does indeed deserve applause for trying something different.

With almost everything made in-house, more than one vegetarian option and a small, but creative menu, they really are doing simple things with much more complexity. No one gets points for creating the “best” hamburger. It’s just a hamburger. Combine it with a great bun and an intriguing sauce, Michele stated reminds her of Manners, Big Boy, and you have a winner. Load your fries in a different way or feature an unheralded meat, people will take notice. These little variations likely took a lot longer to realize than we might initially suspect. In this case, those little things add up to a very satisfying meal.

Good Company is located in a very industrial space with tall ceilings and exposed structural elements. There are televisions delivering a number of sporting events, but they do not appear to be overwhelming, although, we were not there during a contentious competitive rivalry. What we see is a sports bar that serves sandwiches. What we experienced was a nice restaurant, with a casual atmosphere and an amply sized bar featuring some nice local brews. Expectations and reality are blurred here. With food, that is a good thing. 1200 W 76th Street Cleveland, OH 44102 216-331-0318

March 8, 2020 at 9:41 AM 1 comment

Edwins Bakery

Could this place be anything less than great? Edwins remains one of the best fine restaurants in Cleveland. Edwins Butcher Shop has some difficult to find grocery items and wonderful prepared foods. To top it off, the spots are designed to train the next generation of food-service workers from and underused pool of candidates. Because of the later, a charitable response might be anticipated, but Brandon Chrostowski knows that charity only goes so far. If you want return and consistent customers, you’d better provide a great product. Why do we go back? The food is good! Period.

A few days after their Bakery opened, Michele asked about a visit. We stopped in on a crowded Saturday morning and were greeted with a parade of tasty treats. The Chocolate Papillon, croissant dough folded into a pretzel-like shape was fabulous. The Almond Square consisted of slivers of almond stacked over a crust-base. The Coconut Macaroon featured a chocolate base and was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. We liked everything we tried so much, we took home a salted pretzel, formed into a croissant-shape and a Lemon Square. It was a wonderful breakfast.

A few days later, we decided to try their prepared breakfast. The menu drew us in during our first visit. The Edwins Omelet is stuffed with chorizo, gruyere and red peppers. It was an unusually “flat” omelet, but full of flavor. The pancake was fluffy and tasty, as expected. The Hash Browns are a combination of softer and well crisped potatoes. It was a nice breakfast. Of course, it also afforded us an additional trip to the pastry counter and dessert for that evening went home with us!

Edwins might be doing a great service to the community. That is good, but what we like is that the food they sell is tasty. Everything else is frosting! 13106 Buckeye Road Cleveland, OH 44120

February 23, 2020 at 12:48 PM 1 comment

Thyme Table

It was a beautiful, sunny winter day and we did not want to stay home. We decided upon a ride west. We forwent the freeway and cruised at a slow pace ever westward. After a stop to allow Michele to buy something she needed, Jeff started to search for a restaurant. After a few quick searches and a review of his Twitter feed, a name popped-up. When Michele returned to the car, Jeff asked if she’d ever heard of Thyme Table. She hadn’t, but it was definitely her type of place. They open at 4:00PM for dinner! We were uncertain where to go, so a quick review of the GPS and we found ourselves in the parking lot as the doors were opening. We were no alone. A handful of diners eagerly awaited the unlocking.

This is a cute little place with an energetic and enthusiastic staff. Because we had never been there before, we had lots of questions and they had helpful answers. The early time also meant we could enjoy some real bargains. Each day, they have a Happy Hour priced red and white wine and Jeff took advantage of a nice bargain. We also shared an appetizer from the list. The Lobster Tater Tots takes the simple staple we all remember from our youth and mixes them with chunks of lobster and tops it with a great cheese sauce. The rather large bowl disappeared in quick order! They were excellent.

Thyme Table – Black Pasta with Shrimp and Peas in a Cream Sauce

Jeff had the Black Pasta, which of course sent both of us down Memory Lane. The first time we had black pasta was at The Café, a wonderful place on Lee Road in the 1980’s that taught us a lot about eating in a restaurant. There was a constant flow of new and different ways to prepare food there and we made it “our place” for almost its entire existence. Thyme Table’s version featured nicely sized shrimp with peas in a cream sauce. The pasta was the perfect bite and must have been made in house. After the tots, Michele felt like something a little smaller and ordered the Sunny Side F. C. S. (Fried Chicken Sandwich) It was not small and she ended up taking half home. It was however good. The sandwich was crunchy, topped with a fried egg over a buttermilk biscuit. The accompanying fried had a nice flavor and avoided the curse of lifelessness, so often found with these potato staples.

Thyme Table – F.C.S. (Fried Chicken Sandwich) served on a buttermilk biscuit and topped with a fried egg.

Despite the full meal, it was time for dessert and our server promised everything was made in-house. Regardless of how full she is, if it is made on premise, Michele is ready for a dessert. We tried the Nanaimo. Nanaimo is a city on Vancouver Island in Canada and the Nanaimo Bar is a popular “cookie” named after the city. The menu indicates that this is a tribute to his Grandmother. Tribute, or no, this was a wonderful mix of chocolate, walnuts, coconuts and crème.

Sure, this place is a bit farther from our home that we might typically travel, but not out of reach. For food this tasty, we would gladly travel to Bay Village from Cleveland Heights. If you live closer, you are very lucky. 583 Dover Center Road Bay Village, OH 44140 440-617-6964

February 9, 2020 at 10:56 AM Leave a comment

Blu, the Restaurant

This doesn’t happen very often, but Michele returned a dish at Blu, the new seafood restaurant that has taken the place of Moxie, the long-lived spot in Beachwood.

After sitting down in a very spacious banquette facing the kitchen, we ordered some drinks and started to review the menu. While the prices here are higher than most Cleveland spots, the menu had a number of interesting options. We were soon to realize that this spot still needs some polishing before it is ready to charge these higher figures.

Michele ordered the Caesar Salad. They had fresh anchovies, so she asked that they be included. A handful of the silvery fish topped a mound of green. From Jeff’s perspective, it looked good, but after a few bites, Michele stated this was the most boring Caesar she’s had in a really long time. It tasted as if the washed salad was not “dried,” the familiar tang and tart of a Caesar was missing, garlic was absent and even the fresh anchovies could not do enough to rescue it. When our server asked about the first course, Michele told her about the bland salad and explained that this was not an $11 salad, but something more akin to a $3 fast food version. Jeff, on the other hand felt his Clam Chowder was excellent. We both shared the bowl as a parade of staff members stopped by our table to apologize for the salad.

We fared better with the entrées, but those did not arrive without incident either. Jeff ordered the Black Grouper Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a middle-east dish where a tomato base is topped with an egg and the egg cooks in the hot citric base. Their version simply placed the soft-boiled egg over the top of the dense tomato broth. The menu promised the tomato, but there was no mention of large lima beans that were included. The promised cilantro tasted a lot more like spinach.  The grouper was well made, but at almost $40, certainly on the high-side of the price range for this dish in Cleveland. Michele’s Salmon was good and a relief after the salad debacle, but fish entrées come with no sides. We ordered some very good smashed fingerling potatoes. Again $29 plus $11 for a $40 main course.

We have never had a problem with spending money in a restaurant. We have been doing it for over forty years, so the amount of disposable income we have spent in restaurants in that time would be astronomical, if we ever cared to calculate. Just the week before, we spent something close to these amounts and never discussed it, because there was an apparent value to our experience. When everything is perfect, the higher price is acceptable. When the cost is high and the return is marginal, that is where problems occur and that is our issue with Blu. We finished our meal with a remarkable Baked Chocolate dessert. If we had walked into Blu, ordered the Clam Chowder, Fingerling Potatoes and a Baked Chocolate dessert, the timbre of this review would have been different. Each of those dishes returned commensurate value to cost. The others simply did not make the cut.

Blu, the Restaurant Baked Chocolate dessert

When considering a visit here, we’d suggest waiting a few months. They still need to work out some bugs before they are ready for the crowds that populated Moxie. We’d also recommend a careful analysis of cost vs. return. If things do not reach your expectations, make sure the place knows it. This need reminds us of the classic cartoon featuring a kangaroo at a bar. Behind the bartender was a very highly-priced drink menu. The waiter is show saying, “We don’t get many kangaroos in here!” The kangaroo responds, “At these prices, I’m not surprised!” 3355 Richmond Road Beachwood, OH 44122 216-831-5599

January 26, 2020 at 7:13 PM 2 comments


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. 3396 Tuttle Road Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-860-1236 3427 Tuttle Road Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-230-8022 20301 Meade Road Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-848-0450

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


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. 12413 Cedar Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44106 216-862-2508 12425 Cedar Road Cleveland Heights, OH 216-321-3469

December 23, 2019 at 1:17 PM 1 comment


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. 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! 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. 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-862-8090 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7600

Map of Thailand 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-361-2220 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-769-8745

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

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