Randy’s Pickles and Cleveland Kraut

By all accounts, pickled foods should be an integral part of a normal diet. According to dietary experts, fermented foods can provide a host of physiological benefits. That being a fact, we should live to be 110 years old! Two recent food acquaintances drive us to this conclusion. Both as a result of the ever-popular Cleveland Flea.

Randy’s Pickles have become an addiction for Michele. Prior to Randy, she had never really eaten a lot of pickles. Since sampling his ware a few years ago, Michele has become a pickle acolyte. Each and every Flea, Michele MUST have her Randy’s! And for good reason. Randy (Andrew Rainey) has developed an intoxicating recipe that adds flavor to the simple cucumber, but maintains the quintessential crunch so crucial to a great pickle. We have had a jar in our refrigerator every month for the last two years and we see no end in sight for this practice. This is one damn, fine pickle!

Perhaps no foodstuff is more indicative of Cleveland than Sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is an essential element of cooking for virtually every Eastern European ethnicity that relocated in Cleveland. Unfortunately, sauerkraut has been diminished to a caricature of its original self. Cans of soggy, flavorless “kraut” now litter the shelves of grocery stores belying the true beauty of this remarkable food and flavor. Enter Cleveland Kraut.

Like so many young start-ups, Cleveland Kraut realized that (in this case) sauerkraut could be better. Jeff was raised in a Polish-German household. No squeamish flavors were permitted! Dinner was filled with bold taste and hearty ingredients. When he saw the Cleveland Kraut booth at the Cleveland Flea for the first time, he immediately started to think about kielbasa and kraut. After one taste of their intoxicating blend, he realized that mixing it would reduce the value of what they had created. Since our first purchase, we have eaten this remarkable kraut, raw. It is that good! Eventually, Jeff is going to cook a batch with a fine smoked kielbasa. Until that happens, grab a fork and dig into some of the best pickled cabbage the gods have placed on the planet.

The Cleveland Flea is a remarkable event that mashes together food, arts, antiques and culture thereby creating a uniquely Cleveland experience. We love it, for among many reasons, because of its introduction to Randy’s Pickles and Cleveland Kraut, two of Cleveland’s finest.

http://randyspickles.com/

https://clevelandkraut.com/

http://www.theclevelandflea.com/ Tyler Village 3615 Superior Avenue Cleveland, OH (Second Saturday of each month, April through October)

August 26, 2016 at 8:45 PM Leave a comment

Somewhere in the Middle

There is a new breed of cat in the restaurant world. For years, there was only restaurants and fast-food. A while ago, the concept of “fast-casual” popped-up. This category has been dominated by Panera, Five Guys and Chipotle type locations. The food here is generally better than a strict fast food shop and it demands a slightly higher price for that fare. However make no mistake, they are decidedly corporate chain-food establishments where everything down to the placement of the nametag on the employee is dictated. In Cleveland (and most likely other locations) independent fast-casual spots are starting to appear. We’ve always had casual restaurants, independently owned and operated. These spots will never win a James Beard Award, but many serve honest, good food. The new wrinkle takes these casual restaurants, removes the table service, ceramic plates and metal utensils and reduces the cost. Good food, fair prices and locally owned. Over the last year, we’ve become very attached to a handful of these places, Choolaah Indian BBQ, Pacific Grill and recently, Simply Greek.

Choolaah is located on Chagrin Boulevard in half of a former Saturn dealership. The design is decidedly contemporary, the kitchen is open exposing the commercial-sized clay (tandoor) ovens and the menu borrows the Chipotle concept of, “Step1, Step 2, etc.” Since they’ve opened, we’ve likely tried everything on the menu and most everything is well made and quickly delivered. (After ordering, you’re given a “buzzer” to notify when your order is ready. This occurs in a matter of minutes.) Of course we have our favorites. Michele is addicted to the Paneer (Indian non-dairy cheese) Plate and the Lentil soup. Jeff truly enjoys the Lamb Tikka Masala bowl. Both of us feel their Nan (flat bread cooked on the side of the tandoor pots) is as good as in a traditional Indian restaurant. Even the drinks are fun. Michele orders the Choolaah Chai, a nice chai tea with milk and Jeff likes the cooling taste of the yogurt-based, Mango Lassi. The only thing missing is some fast version of Gulab Jamun or Paneer Rasmalai dessert. This is the best of the breed right now in Cleveland.

Perhaps our favorite place for Sushi is Pacific East. The folks behind that Coventry favorite have opened Pacific Grill in the Cedar Center shopping plaza. The menu spans the pan-pacific area with an ample supply of cross-pollination. If a descriptor is required, use “Asian” food and hope no one asks for details! Again, this food is of solid quality and ample quantity. There is so much food in each order, we’ve started sharing an entrée and appetizer. We are slowing working ourselves through the menu, but a couple of stand-outs include the Split Pea Fritter appetizer. The marble-sized fritters are so easy to eat, before you know it, they are gone. Think about tonkatsu in a Japanese and replace the pork with chicken. Chicken Katsu comes with rice and salad. The “Katsu” sauce is workmanlike, but we enjoy this dish. The Coconut Shrimp featured the same sides and was a touch salty, but it was unique and enjoyable. The curry chicken rice bowl was also good. There is a lot on the menu here, but we’re going back. Eventually, our favorite will arise, although Michele is pretty set on the Chicken Katsu!

The newest place on the list is Simply Greek in the exploding “Uptown” section of Euclid Avenue. A score of new places have begun to fill the many storefronts. Some are very good (Crop Kitchen, Mitchell’s Ice Cream,) some are chains (Chipotle, Potbelly’s) and some still need a little work (ABC Tavern, Dyn-o-mite) After one visit, we’re tempted to place Simply Greek in the “good” category. Since the Parthenon opened in downtown Cleveland in the 70’s, we’ve loved Gyro sandwiches. Not realizing the size difference, Jeff ordered the “Titan”. It was, as The Donald says, HUGE. The flavor was very nice, the thin slices of meat could have been charred on the edges a bit to add some flavor and texture variation, but this was a solid sandwich. Next time, he’s ordering the regular size! The Titan is restricted to those with mammoth appetites. Michele tried the Chicken Souvlaki, marinated meat served in a pit, much like the Gyros. After one bite, she promised to return and she has now fallen in love with Tzaziki sauce! The added benefit of this place is there filling in the much overlooked Greek cuisine in Cleveland. It is a nice addition.

We are sure that the goal of these places is to be the next Boston Market. Perhaps that will happen, maybe not. Our goal is to eat good food. Right now, these places are providing an excellent, lower priced option and as long as they do so, we will frequent their establishments. You should, as well.

http://choolaah.com/ 27100 Chagrin Boulevard Orange Village, OH 44122 800-459-8860

Pacific Grill 13911 Cedar Avenue South Euclid, OH 44118 216-320-9008

http://www.simplygreekfood.com/files/111768907.pdf 11454 Uptown Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-4976

August 19, 2016 at 3:40 PM 2 comments

Crumb and Spigot

What happens when you mash traditional comfort food with a wicked sense of culinary adventure? After our initial visit to Crumb and Spigot, this restaurant!

We decided to sample the fare at C&S because friends recommended it as an interesting option in the “far-eastern” suburbs. We ventured there to confirm whether it was a fluke or reality. Basically, we believe C&S is the real deal with an honest, interesting menu.

Jeff ordered the Shrimp and Grits. Normally, this is Michele’s pick, but C&S promised spicy pepper grits. Jeff is far more comfortable with hotter spices and found the entrée “mild”. His only issue being the prep on the “fried egg” atop the meal. Had the egg feature a soft center, when diced by Jeff, the luscious yellow yoke would have drizzled over the grits and shrimp. Instead, diced, semi-hard yoke tried valiantly to do the same and unfortunately failed. Michele was more fortunate. She fully enjoyed the luscious roast “beer can” chicken. The meat was so-so tender and moist. Only bones were left.

Normally, Jeff pushes desert. This time Michele had a hankering for sweets and the peach crumble was the ticket. Warm, the ice cream melted into a creamy soup of goodness.

We enjoyed this place and next time we are traveling in the eastern hinterlands, we are sure to visit. If this place is closer to your home, by all means, go. We think you’ll enjoy the food and the hospitality.

http://www.crumbandspigot.com/ 16783 Chillicothe Road Chagrin Falls, OH 44023 440-384-3035

August 6, 2016 at 10:37 PM Leave a comment

Forage

What the heck is going on in Lakewood? It seem that most every week, a new restaurant is opening and we are traveling there to sample some very interesting food. Recently, we discovered Chow Chow, a small storefront serving food with lots of southern flavor. The Proper Pig just settled in a storefront there to provide some Texas BBQ to this west-side suburb, Sarita is on our “must go” list and coming soon is Salt, Jill Vedda’s 1st chef-owned restaurant. It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of the Shoreway!

Add to this list, Forage, from the folks who brought you The Oak Barrel (a place we like a lot) in Valley View. We slipped into this comfortable spot for a late lunch and fully enjoyed everything. Michele, always up for tomato soup (in most any fashion) loved the rich Roasted Tomato Bisque. Thick and flavorful with a nice collection of spices, she was in heaven. Jeff couldn’t decide from the wide variety of starters. Michele reached over his menu and blindly pointed. “Order that!” and Jeff did just that. The Bavarian Pretzel Sticks were freshly baked, warm and served with a taleggio dip and large grain mustard. (Rub off some of the salt. You’ll enjoy them more!) Jeff now knows why he should always listens to his wife! The Yellow Perch Tacos and Grilled chicken Club were excellent entrees. The Key Lime Tart was made unique with candied citrus.

Lakewood appears to be in the midst of a food revolution. For years, you could count on great bar food, but little else. Players was one of the few places that pulled us west for years. Now, we find we love Deagan’s, Barroco, the original Melt and there are more waiting for us to sample. At a recent dining event, Michele asked some other folks who love to eat-out if this Lakewood trend was real or just her imagination. They all agreed, Lakewood is the place to be, if you’re looking for new food. Do we change the name of this blog to, “Jeff and Michele Eat Lakewood?”

http://foragepublichouse.com/ 14600 Detroit Avenue Lakewood, OH 44107 216-226-2000

July 23, 2016 at 11:58 PM Leave a comment

The Proper Pig

For years in Cleveland, you couldn’t find decent barbeque food. Some people claimed to enjoy Hot Sauce Williams. Maybe in its heyday, but their fare always seemed to be more hype than flavor, especially the older it got. For a few years, Styx in Bainbridge forced Clevelanders to travel 45 minutes East and it was worth the trip, until the talented owners got bored and sold it to less talented practitioners. It closed soon thereafter. At home, Jeff has toyed with a signature barbeque sauce for outdoor grilling of chicken, but we have never really developed a solid history connected to this popular foodstuff. It seems Jeff and Michele and Cleveland have been in BBQ sync…up until now.

Barbeque has experienced a recent awakening in the Cleveland area. We, however stepped gingerly into this feud-starting food. The Texas fast-food chain Dickie’s served as a reintroduction a few years ago. Jeff visits Dallas often and despite the “chain” association, it is not bad.  It whet our appetites. Our real appreciation may have re-peaked once we started visiting the Oak and Embers Tavern in Chesterland. Of the newly emerged BBQ spots, this remains our favorite. Michael Symon stepped into the fray and developed “Cleveland-Style BBQ” and unfortunately, his efforts only partially succeed. None of our “food-friends” have yet to hardily endorse Mabel’s BBQ. Now, The Proper Pig has opened a tiny storefront in Lakewood, after a successful stint in the food-truck wars. Time to reload!

The Proper Pig promises Texas barbeque and the results are, in general, favorable, with some core provisos. To really judge their offering, we sampled almost everything they sold (except the ribs, which neither of us really favor. Respectively, we suggest you read elsewhere for rib critique. We just don’t know enough to judge.) Jeff ordered the Proper Slopper, a sandwich (well, sort of a sandwich) stuffed with Brisket, Pork, Texas Hot Links and Maple Bacon. Impossible to actually pick-up, it offered a wonderful sampling of the kitchen’s efforts. Michele ordered the 2-meat plate with Pork and Smoked Turkey. The surprise here was the Smoked Turkey. Rich, flavorful and tender, it was a real treat. The pork featured lots of “oh-so-desirable” caramelized blackened crust spots that challenged the strength of the plastic knife, but warmed the taste buds. While not “hot” the Texas Hot Links were likewise full-flavored. The one meat that fell short was the brisket, unfortunately a bit drier than expected.

The real shortcomings here were the sides. The coleslaw was the crisper, drier (there’s that word again!) vinegar based version. It was great atop the Proper Slopper, but alone left us wanting. (Collectively, we do prefer creamy coleslaw. If you like this crisper version, get to Lakewood!) Jeff liked the CLE Potato Salad, but Michele defined it as boring and demanding more spice. Like Symon’s BBQ sauce, Stadium Mustard has taken a southern standard and flipped it North-coast. (Is Stadium Mustard the only Cleveland-based condiment?)

Clearly, Lakewood loves The Proper Pig. We arrived five minutes after opening and waited in line. While we ate at one of the handful of tables inside, a parade of locals stopped-in for a BBQ fix. Regardless of whether you are a local or driving fifteen miles west, the Proper Pig is doing some nice barbeque in a city that has not traditionally welcomed this favored food. All things are of course changing!

17100 Detroit Road Lakewood, OH 44107 440-665-3768

July 2, 2016 at 10:42 PM Leave a comment

Eatin’ in New York 6

One of the highlights of Jeff’s travels continues to be his Spring, back-to-back trips to New York. Of course, days are filled with work, but in the evening he is free to experiment with almost any of the MANY restaurants in the city. Prior to leaving, he reviews a number of sources that talk about new eateries and exciting food options. Through the year, he also collects articles and comments about food. Before leaving Cleveland, he has a good idea where he wants to go and which places sound the most promising. Depending on his schedule, he can then slot in the most obvious choice from the list. On this latest trip, Jeff was fortunate to try five new places.

First, among equals this year was Hearth. Dining with his niece, a resident of the city they ate late. Despite the penultimate reservation time, everything was flawless. Starts were two vegetable dishes, a Fava Bean Salad laced with Pecorino over toast and Roasted Vegetables (pea pods, peas, seed humus with a lemony tinge.) Both were wonderful. We shared a bowl of Polenta so good, so buttery, so rich, so cheesy, crimes might be promised for an encore! The only negative was the excessive Rosemary on top. The flavor was welcome, but not to this extreme. Entrees were Cod and Hominy Crusted Pork Chops. Jeff’s niece enjoyed the Cod, but Jeff was blown away with the chop. Hominy? Really? Served with sausage and carrots it still makes his mouth water! For dessert the Chocolate Tasting was selected. This consists of a flight of dessert wines and a variety of chocolates from different locales and varying cacao percentages. While the name of the dessert might be deceiving, it sure made for a fun conversation about both elements. Jeff is already planning (plotting?) a return!

Equally tantalizing, in a totally different way was Gabriel Kreuther. The restaurant promises an Alsace experience, but Jeff felt it bent a bit more toward the German side, than French. That is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, too few restaurants share the wonderful foods of Germany. Many accompany elements on this menu were pickled and the German wine pairings seemed to be just a touch more meaningful than the others. He still can’t forget the Sauerkraut Tart, featuring a light mousseline hiding smoked sturgeon underneath. The Veloute was rich and creamy. The Duck was served in a unique way as shards of pink accompanied by a sausage and red cabbage. A tropical fruit dessert perfectly balanced the tart overtones of the meal. With a remarkably competent staff to guide you, this place is ready to help you experience a very unique meal.

When the guy behind the bar recommends the Roast Chicken in a city full of remarkable foods and brilliant chefs, you might just hesitate. Don’t make that mistake at Charlie Bird. It really is worth it. Their version is boneless and separated white and dark. Each “half” is then accompanied by a side that adds to the enjoyment of the basic cut. White meat has a rich pate alongside to add some depth to the traditionally drier breast. The fuller flavored leg meat is complimented with wonderful croutons. With just a touch less salt, this might be one of the best roast chickens Jeff has ever experienced. To get Jeff into the right mood for the bird, the salad was also unique. Green chickpeas (cici) were tossed with Pecorino, mint and a delightfully brilliant lemon vinaigrette. Dessert was a Budino unlike any other. Think of a “fresh from the oven” brownie, dripped with chocolate and topped with caramelized Rice Krispies. From the outside Charlie Bird looks like any other New York restaurant. Just wait until you get inside!

Walking down Greenwich Avenue, you might mistake Quality Eats for an old-style New York butcher shop. The sight gag is a crossed-out, letter “M” in front of the word “eats”. While the menu is indeed meat-centric, Jeff veered more toward the sea. With the successes of this meal, it might just demand another visit to sample the “land” portion of the menu. The Rock Shrimp Chowder was so buttery, Jeff was half expecting to scoop-up a ¼ stick of Land-O-Lake, but that richness was balanced with citrus and peppered spice. Jeff loves Octopus in New York. It is so fresh, so full flavored he can’t resist. When the waiter asks, uninvited, “Do you like octopus?” Jeff knows what he’ll be eating! This was a nice size piece, perfectly prepared and served over the top of a lentil and white bean mix. The banana ice cream dessert completed an excellent meal.

While dining at Upland, Jeff could not get out of his head how much this place resembled a plethora of places scattered all over America. It never felt like a “New York Restaurant.” He thought he was in Indianapolis, or Des Moines. It just has that “look.” Regardless, there were some interesting things here, none more so than the Hen in the Wood Mushroom appetizer. It was certainly unique, flash-fried version of these tasty treats. The lamb neck was also different. This is a meat not often found in a restaurant. Because of little use, it is most likely cheaper than most, but in the care of a quality chef, it can be transformed into a delectable meal. The Upland version was excellent, as was the entire experience. It just feels like this place should be in Schenectady…and by the way, even though the address is Park Avenue, the restaurant is really located on 26th. Perhaps Upland is suffering from some sort of identity crisis.

Eating in New York is always a joy. Many thing offered are seldom available in Cleveland, or simply not as good (read octopus) and the level of professionalism in the restaurant is always at a very high level. The argument about which city in America is really the capitol of food ALWAYS includes New York in the mix. For that reason, sampling New York dining is important to anyone who has a passion for food. From our first visit to the city with dinner at La Grenouille to this quintet, we have enjoy them all (well, almost all.)

http://www.restauranthearth.com/ 403 E 12th Street New York City, NY 10009 646-602-1300

http://www.gknyc.com/ 41 W 42nd Street New York City, NY 10036 212-257-5826

http://www.charliebirdnyc.com/ 5 King Street New York City, NY 10012 212-235-7133

http://www.qualityeats.com/ 19 Greenwich Avenue New York City, NY 10014 212-337-9988

http://www.uplandnyc.com/ 345 Park Avenue New York City, NY 10010 211-686-1006

June 21, 2016 at 10:17 AM Leave a comment

Chow Chow Kitchen

Some restaurants need fine linens, polished sterling and a flawless wait staff to finalize the statement created by the kitchen. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Chow Chow Kitchen, which forces the onus exclusively on the skill of the kitchen. Yes, the staff is extremely helpful, but service in a Styrofoam box with plastic utensils might immediately signal disaster. Only a few places in Cleveland can truly pull this off. Happily, Chow Chow now joins this rank.

This is a jam-pack menu. If you were wagering on success, the mass quantity of dishes might certainly influence your bet. Can they really make everything well? It all sounded so damned good, we were almost tempted to try everything in one sitting! Sadly, we could not achieve that feat, but we made a good dent in the menu! We ordered the buttermilk fried chicken (not the Hot Chicken) and it was dense and flavorful breading, keeping the white meat inside very moist. The Mac & Cheese was rich and creamy. Fried Catfish was paper thin, flash fried to keep the fish tender, surrounded by a beautiful crunch. The Gumbo was dark, thick and full of heat, too much for Michele, but acceptable for Jeff. Who the heck thinks of Chicken-frying sausage? Chow Chow! The result, like the rest of the meal was flawless, the only issue being biting the ring in half, usually resulting in separating the breading from the sausage. Despite the table full of food, we each have a laundry list of things we want to try during our next visit.

We don’t use carry-out food very often. We either cook at home, or eat at a restaurant. Chow Chow is clearly geared for the client who picks up a meal and goes, but they do have a half-dozen table that were unused during our late lunch. True to expectation, a parade of patrons picked up order after order. Clearly the word had gotten-out. If you’re a Lakewood resident, this place is a must. If you are traveling a distance, grab a table, crack open the non-biodegradable white box and ENJOY! We’re likely to be at the next table.

14201 Madison Avenue Lakewood, OH 44107 216-712-4126

June 1, 2016 at 9:23 PM Leave a comment

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