Olesia’s Place

What the heck is Ukrainian food? After a day at the IX Center touring the Home and Garden Show, we tried to find a place that we wouldn’t normally go. We had heard about an Eastern European restaurant in that corner of the county and finally remembered the name after consulting our lists of “places to try.” The fact that it was Ukrainian had eluded us. As we drove west, the question passed the time.

We suspect our answer is a bit too elementary for an expert, but here’s our take. It feels very close to Polish food (Jeff’s heritage is Polish and his family has prepared their fair share of ethnic cuisine.) It also has tinges of Slovenian and Hungarian cooking with just enough Russian to make it interesting. If you’re a Clevelander, you know this food! You’ve eaten this food. It’s part of the backbone of the area. Change this ingredient or that spice and it may have been on your table growing up!

If you like the food of Eastern Europe, you’ll like Olesia’s Place. Jeff ordered the Borscht which boast of containing 57 ingredients! While we could not guarantee experiencing each, it was a complex, red broth filled with flavor, not as thick as a Russian version, but very good. Michele tried the Chicken Paprika Stew which tasted very much like the classic Hungarian staple, with the chicken and dumpling chopped into bit-sized pieces. The same richness and flavors were there, but in a bowl. Both of us felt this was the better soup offering. (No slight to the Borscht intended!)

Michele decided to try the “The Platter” a combination of Stuffed Cabbage, Potato Pierogi and Sausage and Kraut (kielbasa is also an option.) This was clearly the largest Stuffed Cabbage we’d ever seen; it looked like a European version of a Chipotle burrito! As expected this torpedo was filled with flavor. The sausage was a nice sweet Italian version that blended well with the homemade kraut. Jeff has made his mother’s (and grandmother’s) version of Polish Pierogis, but their family tradition never included Potato Pierogi. Mom and Grandma both thought that was “too heavy” and they were right. While they were good, one went a long way and the others went home. Jeff leaned toward the Russian side of the menu and ordered the Beef Stroganoff. This too was rich (notice a theme here?) with a dense sour cream sauce enveloping the short rib meat and noodles. Of course, we didn’t need a dessert, so we ordered the Salted Caramel Torte. A very enjoyable finish and one which we were glad we shared.

North Royalton may as well be in another state. We simply do not think of it from our eastside home. Olesia’s has forced us to rethink that blind spot. With such a large menu and after seeing some of the other meals pass us by as we sat at our table, both of us have a laundry list of things we want to try. We can wait for our next trip west!

http://www.olesiasplace.com/ 11204 Royalton Road North Royalton, OH 44133 440-877-9054

February 12, 2017 at 9:06 PM Leave a comment

Woodstock BBQ

A year ago, we would never have fashioned ourselves as BBQ snobs. In a few short collection of months, Cleveland has been pummeled with new BBQ spots. Prior to this explosion, we had only a minor interest in this food. Perhaps it was the quality, the availability, or the mystique of Carolina, Texas, Kansas, etc. cooking types. Living in Cleveland now and eating at restaurants often has placed us on a crash course. We now feel ready to enter the BBQ fray.

Our exploration started innocently enough. Jeff is often in Dallas, Texas. A local favorite is Dickey’s. Yes, it is a semi-fast food, but the meat is prepare on site at each location and it is good. Jeff suggested a visit to the only location near us (Mentor) and Michele fell in love with the quick Texas BBQ. Many subsequent trips east have followed. Thinking this was our only outlet for barbeque, we almost ignored the oncoming avalanche. We first tried Oak and Ember in Chesterland and this too has become something of a staple for us with (again) many trips down Mayfield Road to follow. While we love Michael Symon’s food, Mabel’s did not force us to return. A little more hype than could be backed with the food. As often said in the south, “Big hat, little head.” The Proper Pig finally opened a storefront and this served as a direct hit on the Texas style we enjoy at Dickey’s. Jeff liked this much better than Dickey’s, but the sides were entirely disappointing. Michele held tight with her opinion of Dickey’s. We tried to get into Barabicu in Parma, but alas, no seating! Too bad, this place smelled remarkable. The people there suggested we keep checking. They might be added soon. Finally, friends suggested we join them for a weekend lunch at yet another new smokehouse, Woodstock. Sure, why not! We’re damn near pros now! That what happens in a year, living in Cleveland!

Jeff tried the Brisket. It arrived in slices, but a few quick slashes with the fork and knife and it was chopped to a delightful pile of very tasty beef. Michele had the pulled Pork and felt it a touch dry for her liking, forcing the use of additional sauce. Our friends have been experimenting with dry rub options on their backyard grill and declared the Woodstock version of the dry rub ribs, excellent. They looked luscious, too! The sides were all acceptable with the Greens properly tangy and salty, creamy Mac-n-Cheese and pretty good Cornbread.

So, where do we rank Woodstock in the grand scheme of Cleveland Barbeque? Right in the middle. Better than some, not as good as others.

Jeff’s Ranking

  1. Oak and Ember
  2. Proper Pig (no sides, please!!)

Michele’s Ranking

  1. Dickey’s
  2. Oak and Ember

By no means, take this as definitive. By this time next year, there could easily be five or ten new BBQ spot. Perhaps one of them will be the definitive mix of excellent meat and well done sides.

https://www.facebook.com/woodstockbbq 13362 Madison Avenue Lakewood, OH 44107 216-226-8828

http://www.oakandemberstavern.com/ 8003 Mayfield Road Chesterland, OH 44026 440-729-4030

http://www.properpigsmokehouse.com/ 17100 Detroit Road Lakewood, OH 44107 440-665-3768

http://www.mabelsbbq.com/ 2050 E 4th Street Cleveland, OH 44115 216-417-8823

http://barabicubbq.wixsite.com/smokehouse 5767 Ridge Road Parma, OH 44129 440-481-3057

https://www.dickeys.com/ 9434 Mentor Avenue Mentor, OH 44060 440-809-8483

January 28, 2017 at 11:58 PM Leave a comment

Hansa Brewery

It seems like an eternity since Hansa Imports started construction of a brewery and restaurant alongside their fabulous import store. Shopping at Hansa inevitably results in a little too much of this and an extra that. All of it excellent, so of course we couldn’t wait to try the restaurant (and the brewery!)

The new Hansa Restaurant is very enjoyable, specifically if you enjoy the foods of Germany and an assortment of nearby Eastern Europe nations. There are a diminishing number of these placing in Cleveland, where once they appeared in scores of neighborhoods. It is nice to have a new place featuring these foods.

We started with an order of Potato Pancakes. These might be our favorite menu item and easily the best now available in Cleveland. Light, delicate and full of “potato-ey” flavor. The house-made accompanying applesauce was equally enjoyably with subtle sweetness, rather than the abject sugar and cinnamon so often experienced. It was so good to taste this often maligned staple. The house salad was a simple blend of spinach, onions and croutons. The Chicken Soup was a very typical European version. A little less salt was used, pepper was reduced, offal flavor was ever-present and parsley was key. Jeff liked the definitive version, Michele wanted more pepper and secretly expected additional salt.

Michele always enjoys Slovenian sausage. The Sausage Platter featured an excellent version along with tender, flavorful Bratwurst. The “wiener” might have been confused with a simple “hot dog” but it displayed a deeper flavor and higher quality of meat. Served with fries, she secretly wanted mashed potatoes. Jeff enjoyed the Pork Schnitzel served over oil-tossed spätzle. The surprise here is that wienerschnitzel (veal) is not offered. It seems so much a natural for this place. Because the prices are all so fair, that may be the reason. Veal would naturally be of a higher cost. For dessert, we ordered the Napoléon, We expected they might be from across the street at Farkas Bakery and they wisely did just that. If your Napoléon benchmark is Farkas, (and it should be!) all the more reason to dine here!

A review of Hansa would not be complete without a few comments about their house-brewed beer. Jeff does enjoy beer and matched with this food type, it can be magical. To experience the vivre of the brewhouse, he tried a flight. The FemDom Kolsch was a really rich “light” bier. A lot more flavor than this beer typically demonstrates. The Wild Card German may have been Jeff’s favorite, were it not for the seasonal Cuyahoga Common, an IPA that had been tempered with eastern European beer softness. The Black Flag Schwarz Bier was unique. After a taste, Michele (not a beer drinker) declared, she could drink this beer and truly enjoyed it! Sweeter and lighter in color than most dark beers. BFS was a unique taste. In general, Hansa is brewing some good beer! Order one!

All said, Hansa is a nice addition to the West 25th area restaurant scene. It is also a boon to folks who love al fresco dining (NOT in January!) The window lined dining room is wrapped in a veranda that invited languid afternoons and a second (third?) round of drinks. Consider Hansa. We can’t image you’ll be disappointed.

http://hansabrewery.com/ 2717 Lorain Road Cleveland, OH 44113 216-631-6585

January 15, 2017 at 12:34 PM Leave a comment

Cafe 4250

Café 4250? Perhaps the best held secret in Cuyahoga County is Café 4250. This is part of Cuyahoga County Community College School of Hospitality Management. For approximately 14 weeks each semester, the dining room is open for a lunch featuring a rotating menu of student prepared and served foods in a student-run space. At the end of every eight week period an expansive buffet is offered for breakfast and then lunch.

Michele discovered this place while attending some classes at Tri-C East. She regularly visit because of the very fair cost. Because it is a school, no tipping is allowed but a surcharge is assessed for the students. Of course, some things are better than others and select dishes are in-fact excellent. Because of the moderate prices, the experiments are OK. We’ve enjoyed the Gruyere and roasted red pepper bread pudding, grilled cheese sandwiches featuring a multitude of different cheeses blended together, Pork Pot Pie and the weekly Chef’s Special which includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert for a mere $10!

One of things that makes a visit here challenging is their on-off schedule. The menu changes often and the doors are closed at the end of the fall and spring semester. Still, during their open hours from 11:15AM to 12:30PM, there is a good likelihood that you’ll enjoy yourself. Don’t expect the quality of EDWIN on Shaker Square. That is not their goal. These students will be well prepared to start a career, learn a craft and make some money with a good baseline of skills. You may as well enjoy a fair priced meal along their journey.

http://www.tri-c.edu/programs/hospitality-management/student-staffed-dining-experience.html Cuyahoga Community College Eastern Campus EEC Room 180F 4250 Richmond Road 180F Highland Heights, OH 44122 216-987-2496

January 1, 2017 at 12:30 AM Leave a comment

Jammy Buggar

Because of the beautiful weekend weather, we decided to drive a longer distance for dinner. We heard about the new BBQ place in Parma called Barabicu. After opening the door, we were both excited and disheartened. The smell of the smoked meat was amazing. Unfortunately, no seating was available. Barabicu is take-out only. By the time we got this back home it would be cold and funky. We tearfully walked away. Perhaps someday in the future they will add seats and we’ll be able to add a taste to the incredible scent.

Not to be stopped in our quest for food far, far away from the Heights, we headed to Lakewood. Over the last few years, Lakewood has been breeding dining establishments at a rapid pace and we’ve had a difficult time keeping up. One we’ve missed is Jammy Buggar.

Jammy Buggar looks like a typical beer-n-burger place in Lakewood. The vibe is young, televisions blare sporting events and the wait staff is hip and cool. The menu has a collection of salads, sandwiches and some interesting appetizers with a few entrées tossed in for good measure. The net result was, not bad.

Upon arriving, a bowl of addictive house made spiced potatoes chips is planted on the table. They were gone in a flash and Michele asked for another. We shared mozzarella balls accompanied by rather tame marinara. Jeff has ordered a pork burger in the past and wanted confirmation on his opinion. Jammy Buggar’s Better Bacon Burger was likewise dryer than beef, likely because of the added cooking required. It was not his favorite. Michele fared better with the monthly sandwich special. Sliced Turkey, Sausage Gravy and even a cranberry sauce made for a meal she really loved. Both of us felt the French Fries were excellent. A number of dipping sauces added to their flavor.

There are scores of burger bars around the county. Jammy Buggar is a bit better than most. Give it a try if you, too are looking for a restaurant far from home. Not bad if it’s close by, either!

http://www.jammybuggars.com/ 15625 Detroit Road Lakewood, OH 44107 216-767-5922

December 10, 2016 at 10:50 PM 1 comment

Plum Cafe and Kitchen

The building in which Plum Café and Kitchen is housed is old. Based on the brick size and placement (and even the surrounding neighborhood) we suspect it to be over 100 years old. So, why does this place look so fresh and clean?

Two doors, side by side lead into a single space. No doubt, a wall originally separated two original businesses. That wall is gone, as is the ceiling/second floor in the rear. Also gone are the original plaster walls and everything else covering up the yeoman-like vintage architecture. One hundred years of grim, sweat and use have been exfoliated to reveal a new life, a new beginning, a new chapter in a building on the edge of a neighborhood in transition. A transition that is bringing people back to an urban environment; exactly where people are supposed to thrive.

Jeff was immediately enchanted with the architecture, Michele was unquestionably connected to the interior cleanliness, both of us found the fare inviting.

We joined the Plum for a late Saturday lunch. A handful of folks were at the bar, another pile of people were in the dining area. A single server effortlessly manned the room. The stark contemporary furniture (it must have been made locally!) and the warm vintage brick invited relaxation. Sit back. Michele, enjoy this Apple-Cured Turkey sandwich on a crunchy baguette with grilled cheese. Jeff, try the Prosciutto and Mortadella sandwich with the secret ingredient, Nduja, a spreadable pork salume mixed with red peppers. Both of you, share the Curried Cauliflower & Potato Salad. You have nowhere to go, so relax.

A few weeks later we met some family for an early dinner with the same results. House salads and the Cioppino was well received. The wonderfully named, Bone, Slug & Hominy featured escargot and sausage in a beef broth with hominy and marrow. What a unique treat! It begs the question, what can they do with, “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and “Notorious Thugs?” We see a future marrow appetizer and a sea urchin entrée in their future!

We liked this place. The lunch sandwiches had the creativity one would expect from a seasoned professional. We almost immediately planned the follow-up visit for dinner. Perhaps the spirit of the building has touched this young business with the wisdom of the ages and informed the occupants of timeless hospitality. With such strong bones, provenance is easy to comprehend. In today’s world, we should quickly take advantage of this blend of new and old. It is a recipe for success that cannot be questioned.

http://www.theplumcafeandkitchen.com/ 4133 Lorain Avenue Cleveland, OH 44113 216-938-8711

November 25, 2016 at 12:57 PM Leave a comment

Eatin’ in New Orleans 4

This trip to New Orleans was different. We did not visit any of our favorites. Instead we concentrated on new places that have been well received, We couldn’t have been happier. Sure, we do miss the old favorites, but this is how new favs emerge.

Occasionally and oh, so rarely a new restaurant stuns you. Everything just plain works. The greeting is warm, the atmosphere is inviting, the staff is beyond prepared and the food, from the bread to the last spoonful of dessert is flawless. That was our experience at Sac-A-Lait. This place has almost immediately risen to “single-digit” status in our favorite places in NOLA. It was that good.

Before our meal started to arrive, the amuse-bouche did exactly what this opening act should. It prepares you for the meal to come. Buffalo Chicken Feet. While Michele politely passed, Jeff dug into the “unusual” food. Lots of bone, orange sauce covered fingers and flavor for days. Sac-A-Lait works with local Louisiana farmers and fishermen and uses EVERY conceivable part of the animal. If you’ve had any Cajun food, there are a lot of unusual “pieces and part” on a Cajun menu. Our Chicken Feet Amuse Bouche established a benchmark that the remainder of the evening achieved and even exceeded.

Even the bread and butter was noteworthy. The bread was a nice mild grain biscuit and the butter was goat-milk that provide a grassiness not found in typical butter. We shared an appetizer. A bowl of steamed oysters was topped with fries covered with truffle honey aioli. It took a second to realize the fried were dusted with black sea salt. The broth was rich and scooping up a spoonful (or four) was derigueur. Boy, was that good! Michele completely devoured the Whole Stuffed Flounder. With a gentle citrus topping and Oysters Rockefeller stuffing, how could she have left a morsel on the plate? Jeff ordered the seared Grouper served over a duck egg carbonara. Not typically a “fish guy” he couldn’t have been happier. After a Cane Sugar Cake (blessed with a hint of lime) dessert that equaled the entrées, a walk back to the Quarter was certainly in order!

After enjoying the Krewe of Boo Halloween Parade, Michele in costume and Jeff, still in his work suit had a late dinner at Angeline. Not to worry, personal oddities, even if it is dress are generously tolerated in New Orleans! Angeline is located in the former home of Stella! One of the New Orleans restaurants that managed to bridge the pre and post Katrina city. The chef comes from Sylvain, a non-touristy French Quarter haven. The provenance has afforded it an excellent foot forward and they delivered completely.

We shared the Crispy Cauliflower appetizer. The veggie was seared and combined with sheep’s milk cheese, served over a tapenade base. Crunchy and nutty, it was a nice reprieve from the obligatory roasted cauliflower found EVERYWHERE. After almost thirty years of traveling to New Orleans, Michele has become a “shrimp Snob.” She insists that no shrimp is the same as fresh gulf shrimp and the shrimp in New Orleans is both. She ordered the Gulf Shrimp and Country Ham and could not have been happier. Served over butter-beans, it was everything a shrimp-lovin’ gal could want! Jeff always knows rabbit in New Orleans is going to be special. The Mississippi Rabbit Milanese was no exception. The leg meat was extremely tender, served over collards, bacon and a remarkable tomato-carrot gravy, each mouthful was an event. On the side was a luscious spoon bread (something us “northerners” really experience far too little.)

Angeline was the perfect end to a “typical” parade day in New Orleans. Crazy people, crazy costumes, great food!

Michele needed to leave New Orleans before Jeff completed his work assignment. Because of this turn of events, Jeff of course orchestrated an evening of food for his coworkers. They decided to dine at Trinity. Trinity is on the Far East end of Decatur, not typically linked to fine dining, albeit a few places were opening there in the early 2000’s (pre Katrina). To begin, Jeff ordered a trio of Smoked Oyster Deviled Eggs. A decadent deviled egg was topped with a smoke oysters, and it was good!

While his coworkers enjoyed a plate of raw, fresh oysters, Jeff decided to try the Crayfish, Fontina Beignet. Likely a mistake. The beignet was pasty. Jeff had hoped for a gougere like consistency and instead got a heavy doughnut (yes, the menu did say beignet!) Perhaps this was his fault.

Dinner was better. The Lamb Chops featured a nice seared exterior and baby-tender, pink insides. It was SO good. His coworkers both ordered and appreciated the Gulf Coast Fruitte de Mare.

In our opinion, New Orleans is one of the top four restaurant cities in the United States (Chicago #1, New York and San Francisco) Each time we visit, the bar is raised farther up and up. With Sac-A-Lait especially, New Orleans only gets higher on the list.

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

http://www.angelinenola.com/ 1032 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70116 504-308-3106

http://www.trinityrestaurantneworleans.com/ 1117 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70116 504-325-5789

November 19, 2016 at 11:50 PM Leave a comment

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