Bruno’s Ristorante

August 26, 2014

lasagnaBruno’s is kind of a hidden gem in Cleveland. It bills itself as “the best kept secret in Cleveland.” Reservations are highly recommended, since the dining room only has 10 or 11 tables. Bruno DiSiena was the executive chef at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea before the team moved out of town. It’s famous for its lasagna, but any pasta with red sauce is a good choice here. IMAG0882The food and service is good, and the portion sizes are over the top. Count on taking your meal home and eating it for several days.

Located on the near West Side, the security guard outside made me a bit nervous about the area, but there is nothing to worry about. I parked on the street each time I have been here, but the business across the street allows Bruno’s patrons to park there as well. The guard ensures no one gets their cars broken into.

On my most recent visit I sat on the patio in the back because the dining room was booked for a private party. IMAG0884I actually preferred it, because it was perfect patio weather – not too hot with a nice breeze. My server greeted me and told me the bread was in the oven. He brought me my ice tea and took my order. He brought out a basket of warm bread and a garlic-herb butter. The bread was delicious, and you could tell it was fresh out of the oven. My entree came with a soup or salad. I ordered the house salad and a cup of the wedding soup extra.

The salad was really well dressed and came with a little Farfalle noodle to dress up the plate and add a touch of whimsy. I liked it. The vegetables were fresh and the cucumbers were crisp.

The wedding soup was delicious. Lots of fresh spinach and parmesan cheese. I also really liked the addition of the tiny pasta. I would definitely order it again.IMAG0883

As for my entree, I should know better than order spaghetti and meatballs at an Italian restaurant. I am never happy with the meatballs. This was the case here. The meatballs were too bland and there were only two. Next time I’ll order the bolognese or mushroom sauce. IMAG0885The pasta itself was really good. Cooked perfectly al dente and a nice carrier for the tasty red sauce.

My entree on my first visit was the Vitello Milanese Caprese. The veal cutlet was perfectly fried and topped with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and a balsamic glaze. I enjoyed every single bite – both in the restaurant and later at home.

The lasagna is luscious and creamy and hits the spot. It has just the right ratio of sauce to cheese, and lasagna fans will go home with a big portion to enjoy the next day too. If you are not sure what to order you won’t go wrong ordering the lasagna here.

vitellomilaneseMy friends and I tend to order desserts and share them. We shared the tiramisu and the dreamsicle cake (which is probably similar to the Limoncello Cake being offered now). The tiramisu was delicious, but the clear winner of the evening was the dreamsicle cake. Three layers of moist pound cake with a big splash of orange filling and whipped cream – it was delicious and light with just the right amount of richness.

tiramisu dreamsiclecake

NEO Food Tour of Little Italy

August 22, 2014

IMG_20110601_184738This food tour took place on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. Our host for the evening (in addition to the NEO Food Tour crew) was the owner of La Dolce Vita, Terry Tarantino. Who better to show off the area of Little Italy than one of its most beloved resident? The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for strolling down Murray Hill. We met on the patio in the IMG_20110601_185921back of La Dolce Vita. We were greeted with a glass of chilled white wine and were served a fresh caprese salad and delicious epi and butter. I love the epi (triangular sections of bread in a baguette form) that they serve at La Dolce Vita. It is crispy outside and soft and luscious inside. The caprese salad came with kalamata olives, which was a really nice touch. Terry told us a little bit about the history of Little Italy and La Dolce Vita.IMG_20110601_191945

We then walked down Murray Hill Road, admiring and learning about some of the architecture along the way, to our next stop, the Murray Hill Market. The owner and operator of the Market, Michele Iacobelli Buckholtz, put out an unbelievable spread of assorted charcuterie and had sparkling water chilling on ice and fresh brewed iced tea waiting for us. We were all encouraged to take seconds and thirds, which is typical Italian hospitality. It was hot that day, so I particularly enjoyed the numerous refills of iced tea and sparkling water. We were all completely blown away by the Market and the hospitality they showed us. The Market bills itself as a “contemporary, old-fashioned neighborhood corner store” and is proud to serve the neighborhood and the college students living in the area. IMG_20110601_201500They sell groceries, imported specialties, and freshly prepared delicacies. In addition to some daily specials (check their Facebook page), they serve sandwiches, salads and soups, chili, bisques and chowders. This is one family-run business I enjoy supporting.

After saying arrivederci to the Market, we continued walking down Murray Hill Road to my favorite restaurant in Little Italy, Michaelangelo’s. We were seated at a long table set for us, given a glass of wine, and served two small portions of their pasta – Three Cheese Tortellini with Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and peas and Gnocchi served with the house Bolognese. Both were the perfect portion after the IMG_20110601_205907feast at the Market. I was so excited to see the tortellini portion, because that is one of my favorite pastas that I used to eat at the local Italian restaurant when I lived in Germany. The proscuitto and peas cut the creaminess of the sauce and just creates a delicious pasta dish. I have been getting this regularly both in-house and as take-out. It never disappoints. The gnocchi and Bolognese was also a delicious treat. I love a good Bolognese, and this did not disappoint. The gnocchi were also perfectly cooked and not at all dense.

IMG_20110601_210435We headed back down Murray Hill for the final stop on the tour, Trattoria on the Hill. They seated us on the back patio and served us two crostinis (eggplant melonzini and white bean tuna) and a lemon sorbet with a raspberry sauce and a dash of sparkling wine. The crostini had a nice crunch, and I would be hard pressed to name my favorite one. Of course my absolute favorite was the lemon sorbet. It was refreshing and delicious. I wish they served this on their regular dessert menu. I would order it all the time!

Our takeaway from the tour was a bag with several small cannoli from Corbo’s. Because no visit to Little Italy is complete without something sweet from Corbo’s.



NEO Food Tour of Shaker Square

August 12, 2014

IMG_20110817_182745I miss the NEO Food Tours. It shut its doors last year when Todd started working for the Beachland Ballroom. Those tours were really great opportunities to get to know several restaurants at once. Since I have been posting more (not to mention the fact I am going on a hard core diet for the next two months and won’t be going out to eat very often), I think I should also document the two other tours I have gone on. After all, the Shaker Square restaurants deserve some recognition – even though two of the featured restaurants are no longer in business. I attended the tour on Wednesday, August 17, 2011. This tour write-up is bittersweet, because we started our tour off at Sergio’s Sarava, IMG_20110817_190648which is now closed and houses Zanzibar. Sergio, you are missed, but not forgotten.

We started off at Sarava being greeted with a Caipirinha and little nibbles. The bartender then showed us how they made a caipirinha, and they served us their Shrimp Corness, feature fresh Gulf shrimp, Ohio sweet corn and chive butter with a bit of heat from locally grown peppers. IMG_20110817_193428The shrimp and corn complemented each other nicely and could not have been any fresher. The Caipirinha has long been one of my favorite drinks, and it paired well with the Shrimp Corness, cooling off the bit of heat quite nicely.

We then walked around the Square to meet at SASA Matsu. Along the way Todd explained the history of Shaker Square (history copied from the Shaker Square website)

Construction of Moreland Courts and what was then Moreland Circle began at Shaker Boulevard in 1921, on land acquired by Josiah Kirby from the “Vans” — real estate developers Mantis James and Oris Paxton Van Sweringen. Architect Alfred Harris planned an ambitious series of apartments, with commercial buildings, including a theater and market, surrounding the Circle. Only a portion of the plan was carried out when Kirby’s company went bankrupt. The Van Sweringens reacquired the property and enlisted architects Philip Small and Charles Rowley to complete Moreland Courts and develop plans for what would become Shaker Square. The Vans saw Shaker Square as a focal point and gateway to their suburb to the east, Shaker Heights. Integral to their vision of “Shaker Village” and the development of Shaker Square was the creation of a rapid transit (light rail) connection to downtown Cleveland.

So much for the interesting history. Onto the food tour…IMG_20110817_194843

Chef Kim came out and greeted us at SASA with sparkling Niogri sake. The sake was refreshing, and in a fun twist of fate one of the women with whom I was sitting was married to the sake distributor, so I got to learn more about sake than was presented. We also were treated to a second glass of sake (the little white cups in photo of lamb slider) The sake paired well with SASA’s lamb sliders and unbelievably addictive SASA fries. The lamb sliders (or “mini burgers”) were served on homemade sesame buns. They were the perfect two-bite course. And I have waxed about the SASA fries before.

IMG_20110817_204050The next stop on the tour was Fire, Food, and Drink. We were seated in their private room and greeted by Chef Katz. We were given our choice of red or white wine and served 4 ounces of Fire’s Tandoor roasted hanger steak with leek bread pudding, crumbled bleu cheese, sauteed spinach and porcino jus. This was by far my most favorite course. It was extremely delicious. I was starting to hit the wall here, but thoroughly enjoyed the few bites of steak I could manage to eat. The leek bread pudding and sauteed spinach were also absolutely divine!

IMG_20110817_215602Our final stop of the evening was at Grotto Wine Bar (now housing EDWINS). The dessert course featured two choices: a grilled peach with mascarpone paired with Presdial Thunevin White Bordeaux Blend or a cheese plate with candied walnuts and berries paired with Duckpond Syrah. Since I am a HUGE fan of white Bordeaux I went with the grilled peach. I did not regret my choice. It was perfectly grilled.

Our takeaway gift from the tour was a Caipirinha muddle and pestle featuring a SKYY Vodka logo. I have used it several times since, and it makes good Caipirinhas.

This was an outstanding food tour, and each stop was delicious as well as unique. Definitely one of the highlights of my summer that year. You might consider doing your own little Shaker Square tour. I suggest drinks at Zanzibar (I love their Purple Rain – lemonade with grape Koolaid), appetizers at SASA, dinner at Fire, and dessert at EDWINS (I recommend the bananas foster, but any of their desserts will blow your mind). If European food is more your style, Balaton has great schnitzel, paprikash and strudel. Whatever you decide, you should definitely plan on a lovely evening at Shaker Square soon.

Fragapane’s Bakery & Deli

August 3, 2014

IMAG0978When I want the best potato salad in Cleveland I drive to Fragapane’s Bakery & Deli on Lorain Road in North Olmsted. The location in Bay Village is their flagship store. The family bakery, which began in 1971 when brothers Nick and John Fragapane opened their doors in Bay Village. They also used to have a storefront in Olmsted Falls, but it closed. This family-owned bakery and deli is a West Side staple. IMAG0979Every birthday and graduation party I attended growing up had a big bowl of Fragapane potato salad. Their paczki sell out on Fat Tuesday and are ordered weeks in advance (they make them one day a year).

I drive from Cleveland Heights to buy a pound or two of potato salad. In fact, this is the ONLY place we will buy potato salad or I make my own, using my mother’s recipe of half sour cream/half mayo. IMAG0982Fragapane’s potato salad features slivers of carrot, onion and celery, and is a mayo-based potato salad. It’s not too sweet and is very smooth. It is simply delicious and very addictive. I have learned that if I need this for an event I need to call and order it ahead of time to ensure they have set some aside for me. I have driven over several times only to be disappointed that they have sold out.

Their deli subs and sandwiches are amazing. One-meat subs are $4.49, and 3-meat subs are $4.99. They come with mayo, mustard, lettuce and your choice of cheese. ThIMAG0989e subs are made with Boars Head meats, which are all natural and one of the best lunch meats out there. These suckers are stuffed full. My favorite is the Fragabomb (to the right), which features ham, turkey and spicy capicola and provolone cheese. The photo at the bottom is half of a roast beef sub with Swiss cheese as well as a healthy portion of potato salad and a smaller portion of the pasta salad at the top of the plate.

I also buy the mayo-based pasta salad, but (word of warning) it is a very sweet pasta salad. It is made with mini shell pasta and also contains carrots, onion and celery. I usually toss in a can of tuna and some frozen peas and make a light summer pasta salad with it. Others swear by the pizza slices, smokies, tuna salad, crab salad, antipasti salad, etc. They feature a daily IMAG0984lunch special that sells out quickly. This place is very popular with local workers.

I don’t necessarily go there for their baked goods, so I can’t really say anything about them. I had a custard-filled doughnut there once. It was jammed with custard and very heavy to lift. Unfortunately it also seemed a little undercooked. The eclairs there are always favorites for dessert trays. I’ve seen mixed reviews online. I did, however, pick up a couple cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes and tomato sauce to make some unstuffed cabbage rolls tonight. They have several small rows of Italian staples like pasta, pickled vegetables, olives, etc. It saved me a trip to the grocery store!

The staff there is always friendly and helpful. One time when they were out of potato salad the woman waiting on me called the Bay Village store to see if they had any left. Unfortunately they did not, but I appreciated that she made an effort to find out for me.


Contact info:

Fragapane Bakery & Deli
28625 Lorain Road
North Olmsted, OH
(440) 779-6050

Fragapane Bakery & Deli
626 Dover Center Road
Bay Village, OH 44140
(440) 871-6340

Malley’s Chocolates & Ice Cream Parlors

July 27, 2014

IMAG0973Most Clevelanders know about Malley’s Chocolates. Malley’s Chocolates is a Cleveland-based chain of 23 chocolate and candy stores that was founded in 1935. Their chocolate covered treats are the stuff of legends. Chocolate covered strawberries, grapes, raspberries, tortilla chips, bacon, etc. are treats on holidays. The chocolate covered Oreos, pretzels, potato chips (a personal addiction), almonds, etc. are available throughout the year. I am such a hardcore fan of Malley’s chocolate covered strawberries that a few years ago I drove out in a blizzard on Valentine’s IMAG0977Day to buy some and crashed my car on the retaining wall going back up my driveway. That was the most expensive Valentine’s Day ever.

Four of the chocolate and candy stores include ice cream parlors year-round (Bay Village, Lakewood, North Olmsted, and Mentor). The store at Aurora Farms Premium Outlets does not offer seating and only serves ice cream in the summer months. The one in North Olmsted features a slow-moving carousel (see photo to the right), and the flagship store in Lakewood has an Alice in Wonderland theme (see photo to the left). I haven’t been to the Bay or Mentor stores, so I can’t tell you anything about them.IMAG0967

If you go to one of the stores with seating, it is usually “seat yourself.” They greet you with a glass of water and a bowl of pretzels. I taught my nieces to use the pretzels to scoop out vanilla ice cream. Others love scrape up the leftover hot fudge sauce with the pretzels. Yum. There are over fifty ice cream concoctions to choose from. Whether it’s an ice cream soda, shake or malt, banana split or their trademark Hot Fudge Sundae, Malley’s has a rich, creamy, cold treat for everyone’s taste. The ice cream is pretty basic with solid flavor choices. This is not a hipster hangout. There are no organic ingredients, and I don’t know how locally sourced it is (although I’ve heard rumors that the ice creams come from Pierre’s). However, the sundaes are inventive and, best of all, very affordable. We’re talking a couple bucks for a sundae, and the serving sizes are generous. Kid’s sundaes are around $3-4, and more complex ones are $4-6. I don’t know a kid growing up who hasn’t ever had a Puppy Love, Malley Clown or Mickey Malley sundae. They are just tons of fun for kids.

IMAG0969Their most popular sundae is their signature Malley’s Hot Fudge Sundae. It is really good if you add Spanish peanuts to it – sweet and salty together is just a great combination. If you buy a fundraiser chocolate bar from a local school kid or the public library there is usually a buy one get one free coupon on the back for the hot fudge sundaes.

Growing up, a trip to Malley’s in North Olmsted was a huge treat. It later became a great date night location. One’s tastes tend to be formed in childhood, and my two favorites are the Coconut Royale (vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, coconut shavings and whipped cream) and the Pink Elephant (peppermint stick ice cream, Spanish peanuts, hot fudge, and whipped cream).

A sundae will run you between $3.50 and $5.50. If you are with a bunch of people and are feeling adventurous try the Ultimate Sundae. It comes with (to quote one Yelp reviewer) “10 scoops of ice cream, 4 different toppings, 4 types of nuts, and a crap ton of sprinkles and cherries.”IMAG0665

With its pastel walls, gaudy mirrors, vintage ice cream bowls and paper doilies, Malley’s reflects an old-fashioned ice cream parlor from way back when. The simple charms of Malley’s draw local Clevelanders, young and old, for life. This is the kind of place parents bring their kids and then those kids bring their kids and so on… I for one hope it never changes.

Grovewood Tavern and Wine Bar

July 21, 2014

101_0683The Grovewood Tavern and Wine Bar is hidden away in a North Collinwood neighborhood. In fact, your first thought when you are looking for it will be “Am I in the right place?” Tucked in the middle of a residential neighborhood just off I-90 (Hint: it’s best to get off at E. 182nd street), the Grovewood has been consistently serving outstanding food and drinks. This is probably one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland and only 17 minutes from me by car, but I don’t think to go here as often as I should.

group1I first discovered the Grovewood in 2009, back when I was still running a dining out group through Someone had recommended it, and we enjoyed an outstanding meal. Every subsequent visit I have made, whether I’m sitting on the patio or in the dining room, has been outstanding.

When you walk up to and into the restaurant, you can see the chefs cooking through the front window. There is a small, cozy bar area behind the hostess station, and the dining room is to the right. The inside feels like a comfy little neighborhood joint, with white Christmas “fairy” lights and quirky lamps hanging down from the ceiling and interesting pictures on the walls.101_0681

They have an outstanding selection of wine and cocktails as well as a changing menu of beers on tap. The servers are very knowledgeable about the food, wine and beer.

Several friends and I met for dinner recently and enjoyed another fantastic meal. Several of my friends are vegetarians, so they were thrilled that the Grovewood has really expanded its offerings for vegetarians and vegans. The first time we were there they only had IMAG0935one or two entrees to choose from. C. raved about the Curried Butternut Pasta featuring roasted cubes of butternut squash with coconut milk, cilantro and lime over pasta, while R. loved the Vegan Beanburger, featuring a huge herb-scented, mixed bean patty, fried crispy and served with arugula, fresh cucumbers, tomato, and Monterey Jack cheese, with house-cut Yukon fries and herbed mayo.

As for me, I ordered the Grilled Mini Brie and Pear Salad and the Grovewood Chicken Sandwich topped with sliced, grilled apples; caramelized onions; Brie and toasted almonds, accompanied by house-cut Yukon fries and herbed mayo. I could have done without the toasted almonds, but this sandwich was delicious. The house-cut fries were delicious as well, especially dipped in the herbed mayo and the house-made ketchup (nicely spicy but not too spicy – no Heinz served here!). I will definitely order it again.LobsterRav

This time around we shared the Belgian Chocolate Lava Cake and the Caramel Pecan Cake. Both were paired with vanilla ice cream, and were delectable. My dining companions dove into these so fast I was unable to get pictures. However, I have to say my absolutely favorite dessert in Cleveland is served here – Burnin’ Down the House, a chocolate swan filled with fresh berries and flambéed table side (for two), with two dishes of vanilla ice cream. It is one impressive dessert!BigTuna

You really can’t go wrong ordering anything off the menu here. From the Yakitori to the Seared Tuna Loin (pictured here) to the Ohio City Pasta and gnocchi to the burger, everything I have had here has been outstanding.

The only thing I am not a fan of is the bread service. The bread is very flavorful, but somewhat dry. They serve it with a dipping sauce with olive oil, roasted garlic cloves and balsamic vinegar that just doesn’t work. The sauce doesn’t blend well, and you can’t really taste the balsamic. But on the bright side that just leaves more room for the rest of the food.IMAG0933

I attended a Mad Men Spirit Dinner here back in 2010 that I still remember fondly. People dressed in reminiscent dress, which was a lot of fun. The spirit dinner was hosted by North American Spirits and featured nostalgic cocktails such as a Manhattan made with bacon-infused bourbon (not the most stellar cocktail of the evening, but certainly the most unique) or a pear mule paired with complementary courses. It was outstanding from start to finish. In fact, I made the grilled brie salad with pear vinaigrette for Christmas that year (they gave us some recipes to take home with us). It received rave reviews from my family. If you get a chance to attend one of the spirit, beer or wine dinners you should definitely do it! Reservations are a must, and they tend to sell out quickly.Swan Aflame

Contact info:

Grovewood Tavern and Wine Bar
17105 Grovewood Ave
Cleveland, OH 44110
(216) 531-4900

Coquette Patisserie

July 15, 2014

IMAG0898Coquette Patisserie is a bakery & wine bar in Cleveland that specializes in French pastries, macarons, cakes, savory small plates, killer charcuterie and cheese platters and French champagne and craft beer. It is located on Euclid Avenue in the new Uptown district.

I first learned about Coquette Patisserie on the NEO Food Tour of the Cedar-Lee district, when Britt was still operating out of her home. They gave us a little takeaway box of delicate little morsels. The Queen of Sheba (left) is an almond paste chocolate cake with a layer of spicy Mexican chocolate ganache. The center pastry is a Pixie Bar, which is a pistachio florentina atop almond paste cake, a layer of lingonberry compote, and a pâte sucrée crust and my clear favorite. Britt is most known for her macarons. IMG_20120831_151827The Blueberry Macaron in the photo (right) is an almond flour meringue shell filled with blueberry buttercream and gluten-free.

The macarons come in a variety of flavors (such as Mango, Peanut Butter Banana, Black Walnut Banana, Cantaloupe-paprika, Guiness float, etc.), are $2 and 5.5 cm. You can have them dipped in dark chocolate for an additional $0.25 per macaron. My creamsicle macaron was divine!IMAG0594

My introduction to the brick and mortar location was with a fellow foodie after a Chinese New Year lunch. We stopped by to check it out, and I was immediately drawn to the French press coffee and Le Bonbon. They give you a sand timer to let you know when your coffee is ready to press and drink, ensuring perfect coffee. Coffee brewed with a French press is richer and more full-bodied – and meant to be drunk in one sitting. IMAG0900You can choose which size you prefer. I went with the smaller press. It was perfect. As for the pastry, Le Bonbon features “chocolate mousse triple layered with chocolate meringue and coated in chocolate. All topped with a chocolate ribbon.” This chocolate bomb of goodness is indescribable. If you are a chocoholic you simply must try it for yourself.

IMAG0901The pastries vary with the season, but the Opera Cake and Tart Citron are always a good choice. Just perusing the choices on the website will make your mouth water. I can’t wait to try the Frambois pastry.

The storefront is small, but charming. We were there on a dreary, snowy February afternoon and yet the large windows ensured lots of natural lighting. The tables feature large photos of Cleveland and fresh flowers. Small glass-enclosed lights and a chandelier hang from the ceiling. There is a small table with sugar and cream and a glass cold beverage jar for those who are thirsty tucked against a wall. Very inviting.

It is also a good choice when you just want to enjoy a glass of champagne or draught beer. They just put in a patio, which is always occupied in the summer evenings. We stopped by here the other night after getting ice cream at Piccadilly Artisan Creamery, and I enjoyed a nice glass of champagne and a sparkling water. I ordered the champagne from Reims, which was perfect. It was light and fruity, yet dry enough to not be overly sweet. We watched the sunset and enjoyed the company. The patio is also dog-friendly.

Folks who want something more savory are also in for a treat. One Friday recently they featured Thaxton’s Organic Garlic & Kokoborrego Owl Creek Tomme Brioche. Those who like oysters won’t go wrong here. Be sure to follow them on Facebook to hear all about the daily treats. I can’t wait to order the charcuterie platter the next time I am there. I hear it is fantastic.

Contact info:

Coquette Patisserie
11607 Euclid Avenue (corner of E. 115th and Euclid)
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 331-2841


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