Sokol of Greater Cleveland – Bohemian National Hall

May 13, 2017

Cleveland is known for its strong ethnic heritage. Polish, Ukrainian, German, Lithuanian, Slovak and Czech all have strong roots here. Cleveland’s churches are usually at the forefront of keeping the heritage alive. For example, St. Josaphat and Pokrony in Parma are known for their pierogi, and St. Josaphat’s Lenten fish fry is one of my favorites.

Located on Broadway Avenue in the heart of Slavic Village, the cornerstone of the Bohemian National Hall was laid in 1896 as a community hall to accommodate the cultural, social, and educational needs of Czech immigrants in their newly adopted country. The hall continues to serve new generations, houses the many activities of Sokol of Greater Cleveland and showcases  the cultural history and traditions of the Czech and Slovak people. Since my great grandparents were from Slovakia I have a special place in my heart for it.

Ethnic dinners are served throughout the year in the lower level dining room of the Bohemian National Hall. “Sokol Sunday Dinners” are served from 1 pm to 2:30 pm on the last Sunday of every month. The dinner is $14 and includes dinner, dessert and coffee/tea. We went for the pork goulash and bread dumplings (knedliky) a few months ago. We had to salt and pepper the goulash. I think they are used to cooking for older parishioners.

I enjoyed the Czech beer a lot. They have a cash bar to the side that serves soda, beer and wine. I got a bottle of Staropramen and a glass of ginger ale since I know I can get thirsty.

Servers came around to serve the food, give us boxes and serve the dessert (on this evening a very nice cherry cobbler). They were friendly and very helpful – and most likely members and volunteers.

They will be serving roasted duck in July and my friend Nancy was extremely excited to hear about it. For reservations, call Olga at 216-447-0264 by the Monday prior to the dinner. Although to be honest they have plenty of space for walk-ins and should be able to accommodate a few folks walking in. I was able to bring a dozen knedlicky home with me to steam later. I popped them right in my freezer since they were already frozen for the most part (I think they made them ahead and steamed them as needed).

I think it’s important to support local groups like this one. The newer generation isn’t interested in this kind of thing, and they are starting to die out. I would have liked to have seen this place filled with more people.

Contact info:

Sokol of Greater Cleveland at the Historic Bohemian National Hall
4939 Broadway Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44127
(216) 883-0675


Geauga County pancake breakfasts

May 6, 2017

When spring is just around the corner in Cleveland, we know that it’s pancake and local maple season, with Sunday breakfasts being served throughout the area. Geauga County in particular is known for their pancake breakfasts. I had always wanted to go to one, but never got motivated enough. I made it to two this year – on March 19 and on April 2. Most pancake breakfasts are served on Sunday mornings in March, although a couple run into mid-April. Geauga County is known for its maple syrup, and the pancake breakfasts in the area serve genuine Geauga County maple syrup, tapped fresh.

My former neighbors in Solon go every weekend in March, so I joined them for the one in Parkman. It was worth waking up early to meet them and drive out 422 just past Route 528 to the Parkman Community Center. I got to catch up with the patriarch of the family, and we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat feast of sausage and pancakes with beverage (coffee, water and milk) for just $8. I managed to eat three pancakes and three sausage patties. Some of my fellow diners did better than that, but I was happy with my meal. Word of warning: don’t get the water unless you like sulfur-tasting water. Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland warned me about the coffee ahead of time, but since I use lots of cream and sugar anyway it wasn’t an issue. The straight water was. This community fundraiser sponsored the Parkman Chamber of Commerce is a well-oiled machine. You pay as you walk in and get in line. Gingerich Farm sells their maple products, and the Girl Scouts sell their cookies to the waiting hordes that winds their way through the room. The hostess waits until a stretch of table clears before leading the next bunch in. The serpentine table allows diners to sit on one side and the servers to walk in between and serve up the goodness. I loved the fact that they use real plates and silverware and serve local maple syrup in pitchers that sit on the table every couple of seats. I didn’t love the fact that the kid across from me stared at me the whole time. It was unnerving.

One of my friends recommended I go to the Burton American Legion Post for their pancake breakfast, because she felt it was the best one in the area. Burton is well-known for their numerous pancake breakfasts, including the Rotary Club, the Century Village Museum and other groups. Burton has been serving pancakes every spring to over 20,000 guests every March since 1951. The American Legion Post is located just north of the square at 1405 Goodwin Street and serves from 9 am to 1:30 pm, which works well with my not being a morning person. It is a smaller venue, but there are apparently two floors. My friends actually were there about 45 minutes before I was, because T. posted a picture of the bus that had just rolled up. Apparently they come from Pennsylvania just for the pancakes. The guy said they started out with a few people and more and more join them every year. When I got there the bus was still there (they were seated upstairs), but my friends must have just left. I paid my $10 and lined up. They not only served pancakes (blueberry or buttermilk) and sausage, but also had delicious home fried potatoes and scrambled eggs (I didn’t get the eggs since I am allergic). The pancakes were fluffy and delicious, but my favorite was the potatoes. Diners were free to get back in line for more, so I went back a second time for a blueberry pancake and more potatoes. They also had plenty of coffee and orange juice. I drank a couple juices and a couple coffees. I got a kick out of the coffee spill catcher they made out of a two liter bottle. The ladies told me they’ve been using it for years. I wish I had taken a picture. The fresh local syrup was on the tables in squeeze bottles, and the ladies kept walking around to make sure they were full. The tables also had salt, pepper and Heinz ketchup. I sat by myself, but enjoyed chatting with a couple guys near me – and eavesdropping on a table of older diners comparing their flip phones and phone plans.

Be sure to put a pancake breakfast or two on your Must Do list next March. There are a wide variety of pancake breakfasts in the surrounding counties and specifically in Burton to choose from. And if you don’t want to wait a year and want some now, as the Burton website explains, “You can still have unique & delicious pancakes even after the season ends. All year-round many local restaurants, civic organizations and lodging facilities serve pancakes and offer pure maple syrup for your enjoyment!” Just head on out to Burton – I recommend stopping to walk around at LaDue Reservoir, Punderson State Park or in Amish country in Middlefield and the surrounding towns after breakfast.


Joe’s Deli

April 26, 2017

Joe’s Deli is a popular restaurant on the West Side of Cleveland. It is so popular that they built a larger restaurant, and it still has waits. If I lived closer I would be there all the time. As it is, I go when I visit my tax preparer. It seems like no matter when I go I have a wait (and I try to go at non-peak hours to avoid a long wait). They have a large vestibule that is usually packed with people waiting for a table. You go in, get your name on the list with the hostess, and get a flashing beeper-type thing that tells you when your table is ready. In the meantime, you can either sit or stand along the walls or admire the gorgeous cakes in the counter cooler. I have yet to have room to order dessert. Maybe some day, because they look amazing.

You can also glimpse inside their open kitchen, which is spotless, and you can see the kitchen staff working hard. The servers and staff are extremely efficient. The bussers are very polite when removing diners’ dirty plates. My waitresses have been friendly and quickly fill up my ice tea without my having to ask. They masterfully handle large tables and small. The first time I was there I was seated near a loud and obnoxious table of diners, but it has proven to be the exception to the rule. I take my Kindle and enjoy a nice meal in a nice setting.

Joe’s is a Lebanese family-owned restaurant serving up amazing American and Lebanese fare. They are cousins to the Slyman family, so you know it’s going to be good. They also happen to serve the absolute best matzoh ball soup in Cleveland in my opinion. The broth is smooth, the matzoh balls are perfectly cooked, and the soup is chock-full of carrot, celery, onion, chicken and parsley (not typical but still tasty). I order it every single time I go, and then get a bowl to go for later that day. The portions are huge, and I have yet to eat a full sandwich there. I bring it home and eat it later with my bowl of soup.

One of my friends from high school met me in the parking lot to drop something off the other day, and he reminisced about how much his mother used to love their German dumpling soup. I did a little research and discovered that is their soup of the day on Saturdays. According to Yelp the place is packed all day, but it might be worth it to go on a Saturday to try the soup. What I found were rave reviews.

The first time I went I got the Matchmaker – a bowl soup paired with a half portion of any of their house salads. It also came with a muffin. I ordered the Joe’s Chef Salad, which features fresh tossed greens topped with turkey, ham, Monterrey Jack and cheddar cheeses, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and black olives. The ingredients were extremely fresh and crisp. It was beautifully plated, and I ordered the hot bacon dressing and loved every bite. The muffin that day was a strawberry muffin. It was moist and delicious. I ended up taking half of the muffin home for later. It was a lot of food.

On my second visit I ordered a simple tuna sandwich and a bowl of matzoh ball soup, thinking it would not be as much food. It was, but oh so good. The tuna was fresh, the bread was perfect, and I loved the pickle. Their pickles are firm and have a really nice crunch to them. Of course I still ended up taking half of the sandwich home.

On my third visit I ordered the Chicken Philly sandwich and a cup of matzo ball soup (trying to save room – it didn’t help). I wasn’t as in love with the Chicken Philly as I was with the other things. The bread was a little tough from the broiler, and the filling just seemed kind of bland. The peppers were definitely fresh, but they didn’t have much flavor. Maybe they were off-season. They have an aioli mayo that they serve on the side that jazzed it up a bit, but I don’t think I’d order it again. The French fries are good, but nothing to get truly excited about.

I had a cup of matzoh ball soup and the California Chicken Club on my most recent visit. It was wonderfully prepared with a thin grilled chicken breast, a hunk of fresh avocado, fresh lettuce (almost too much – it seemed like 1/4 of a head of lettuce and I had to remove some) and mayo. They served an herby sauce on the side, which I slathered on the sandwich as well. The juices dripped down my hand. It was an absolutely delicious mess. I nibbled on the fries and took half of the sandwich home for later (leaving most of the fries).

As busy as they are in the restaurant, they also do a booming take-out business. They have two dedicated cash registers just for carry out. The phone is ringing constantly with new orders. This photo is of their Dawali (stuffed grape leaves). I wanted to try them, but knew I couldn’t eat a whole portion and a sandwich. so I got them to go. It was a good decision. The pickled veggies, feta cheese and cucumbers accompanying the grape leaves were super fresh.

They are open Monday through Wednesday from 7 to 9 PM and until 10 PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They are closed on Sunday.

Contact info:

Joe’s Deli
19215 Hilliard Blvd
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 333-7890


Algebra Tea House

April 13, 2017

Algebra Tea House is an eclectic tea shop in Little Italy that serves beverages such as tea, coffee, smoothies and shakes, plus Middle Eastern cuisine (the owner was born in Pakistan and his family lived in Syria, Kuwait, Tripoli and Libya – he also lived in Austria for a while). The cafe is also very vegan friendly and has a large assortment of healthy menu options. Owner Ayman Alkayali is an artist and a businessman, and he created all of the eclectic cups in the shop. He also appears to enjoy woodworking and hates straight lines if the door and the shelving units are anything to go by. The front door, tables and shelves were hand-crafted by Ayman, and his paintings cover the walls. He put a lot of work into creating the shop from a bike shop with no gas or electricity. Algebra Tea House opened its doors in August 2001. It was the first non-Italian establishment in the Little Italy neighborhood.

Algebra is opened everyday from 9am – 11pm. They serve breakfast specials on Saturday and Sunday alongside the regular menu from 9 am – 1 pm. Even though he is Muslim you can smell the bacon in the air on the weekends. The smell of Middle Eastern spices also blends with citrus from the orange peel resting atop a wood burning stove.

Do not come here if you are in a hurry. Most of the time, there is only one employee working and they can only do so much. This is a place to linger and relax. There is even Bedoun seating around a low table. My knee would never cooperate with that, so I was also happy to see higher tables and chairs (there’s even a large couch). He designed Algebra to be a place for people to commune together. There is a selection of games in the back to play with and a book exchange library on the front right wall.

The first time I was here was in 2010 or 2011. I met a group of tea drinkers here and had a wonderful afternoon getting to know a lot of interesting ladies. In fact, I met a lifelong friend that day (Hi, G!).

I was last here on a Saturday, and it took an hour and a half to get the tea and kebab I ordered. I have to admit that was a little frustrating, because it shouldn’t take an hour and a half to make a tea. I probably would have ordered a second or third one to go with my food if they hadn’t waited to serve the tea with my food. The server did offer the table half a House Smoothie (a vegan smoothie with mango, strawberry and banana blended with rosewater), which I grabbed since they had all been served their food at that point. It was very refreshing! I’d definitely order it next time. They had three people behind the counter (one just doing the dishes) and were obviously in the weeds, so I do plan on giving them a third chance during the week some time. You order at the counter, and they (eventually) bring your drinks and food to the table. You pay when you leave.

I was there that Saturday with my tea group, so I was feeling more adventurous than ordering a straight Darjeeling or Orange Pekoe tea. The menu had a very wide selection of black, green, white, and ethnic teas as well as chais and “comfort blends” (basically spiced milks). Where else will you find hot chocolate made with chocolate, steamed milk, and rosewater? They also have a large selection of house roasted coffees. I decided to get the Friday Market Libyan Tea, which features black tea, roasted peanuts, mint and brown sugar. I was intrigued. It was the wildest yet one of the most delicious teas I have ever enjoyed. The mint was floating on the surface along with a good amount of roasted peanuts. The brown sugar meant I didn’t need to add any sugar. It was perfect just as it is. I also had the Moroccan Mint because my friend ordered me the wrong tea, but it was also lovely with fresh mint leaves. I had wanted to try their special tea that day, a green tea with mint cinnamon, but she must have misunderstood me when I asked.

I also ordered the Iraqi kebab, which is made of ground beef and lamb mixed with garlic, parsley, sumac and Palestinian spices and wrapped with fresh vegetables, hummus, harissa and a yogurt mint sauce in a homemade pita. I really enjoyed it. It was obviously fresh and was very flavorful. It definitely hit the spot.

Other choices include numerous salads and a falafal sandwich, shawarma sandwich, hummus sandwich, “Zoho gyro,” Cajun chicken sandwich, smoked turkey sandwich with zattar, and bagel sandwich. There are also various “plates” featuring fool madams, falafal, hummus, eggplant, labneh, sardines, or Syrian tomatoes as well as several “all day breakfast choices” that include shakshuka (Shak-shooka), a Saudi breakfast of carmelized onions, sauteed tomatoes and scrambled eggs with a side of warm pita. I’m familiar with the Israeli version. Another fellow diner had the spinach pie plate and loved it. The prices are affordable to appeal to the college crowd.

One of the people in the group who was a regular ordered the red lentil soup, and it came out piping hot in one of the coolest bowls I have ever seen. It’s round shape was intriguing, and the metal probably kept it hot for longer than a regular bowl would. The soup had fresh spinach floating on top and looked delicious. He enjoyed the soup very much.

Algebra is known for its hummus. The owner soaks large amounts of chickpeas overnight and makes big batches in an industrial-sized food processor. I know because I watched him grab the food processor from the shelf next to where I was sitting and pile in chick peas until they were almost overflowing out of the container. The hummus is smooth and creamy, drizzled with olive oil and dollops of what looks like a red pepper tapenade (but it could also be harissa), garnished with cucumber and tomato, and sprinkled with a mixture of spices on top.

The desserts also sound amazing. The Banana Algebra, featuring sauteéd fruit with rosewater, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, served over ice cream, sounds amazing. As does the Chocolate Chip Deli, homemade chocolate chip cookies topped with wildberry ice cream, bananas, whipped cream, cherry and nutmeg. The desserts all feature some kind of fruit and/or ice cream and sound healthy in addition to delicious.

In short, this place features lots of Middle Eastern treats that appear to be all homemade. They have a wide choice of beverages and lots of vegan-friendly items. You can also buy loose leaf tea to make at home as well as a variety of grocery items.

Contact info:

Algebra Tea House
2136 Murray Hill Road
Cleveland, OH 44106


Fish Fry Friday #6 – Academy Tavern

April 7, 2017

I didn’t feel like venturing too far from home tonight, so I went by myself to Academy Tavern on Larchmere Boulevard for their fish fry. Recently featured as one of the oldest bars in Cleveland, Academy Tavern has been in business since 1939 and has been doing a fish fry most of that time. It runs from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Fridays.

This place definitely has character – both in the decor and the patrons. I can picture the bar full of hard-working men drinking after work. And apparently it was spruced up recently and the menu was updated.

I didn’t feel like eating pierogi today, so I stuck with a bowl of clam chowder and the fish fry.

I went before the dinner rush, so the waitress told me to sit wherever I wanted. I chose a seat towards the back, and she came right over and took my order. She was soon back with my clam chowder.

The clam chowder was loaded with clams and obviously freshly made. It was very heavy on the dill, so if you don’t like dill be forewarned. It was very good and very filling. I definitely can recommend it.

The fish fry offers you your choice between perch or pike. Both come with fries and slaw and fetch $15. I went with the perch, although I was very tempted to order the Pineapple Pepper Trout, which is a special this month. I’m a sucker for rainbow trout. But it is Fish Fry Friday, so fried fish it is. The fish was perfectly fried as well as flaky and tender. The tartar sauce tasted homemade, and I really enjoyed it. The coleslaw was creamy and delicious, and the fries were a nice accompaniment. I ended up taking half of my dinner home (I’m sensing a pattern here…). It will be great as a sandwich tomorrow.

I’m on the fence whether I will go to a fish fry on Good Friday. To be honest, I’m kind of fished out at the moment. For many of the church fish fries this is the last day of their season. I guess I’ll just see how I feel on Good Friday, although to be honest that is actually the only day that Lutherans aren’t supposed to eat meat. If I plan to go to a fish fry maybe I’ll be sure to stick to it. Or I might just go get some sushi.

In any event, I hope you all enjoyed this little series. I know I did.

Contact info:

Academy Tavern
12800 Larchmere Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44120


Fish Fry Friday #5 – Prosperity Social Club

April 1, 2017

Prosperity Social Club has a special place in my heart. My father grew up in Tremont and would be sent there when it was Dempsey’s to buy a bucket of beer and a pack of smokes for the World War II GIs hanging out at the Lincoln Bathhouse next door when he was 8 years old. Prosperity Social Club celebrated its 10 Year Anniversary on October 22, 2015. Before that, the business had been Dempsey’s Oasis from 1938­-2005. Lots of history here.

Prosperity was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Delicious Destinations” show last November. The place has been packed in the past for their fish fries, but now things are crazy. I drove past last week at 7 PM and people were standing outside on the sidewalk. I hoped the rain and cold temps today would keep people home, but I still got there at 6 PM to reserve a table of 8 for my friends and me. I was told it would be a 1 1/2 to 2 hour wait. At 6:45 several of my friends showed up and several didn’t, so we were able to lower our seating count to 4. We were seated pretty soon after that (a little after 7). Pro tip: despite what the Plain Dealer article says, they take reservations all the way until 2 a.m. I had read “first come, first served,” but that only applies to seats at the bar.

Once we sat down, we were given water, silverware, and blue fish fry menus advertising their Great Haddock Lenten Fish Fry as well as a couple pages featuring the normal menu and cocktails, beer and wines. Our waitress was efficient and had no problems breaking our table down into separate checks using our first names. It was refreshing and a huge relief considering how crazy busy they were. She took our drink orders and food orders at the same time since we were ready to order. Again, efficient. Due to fish fry volume, some regular fried menu items (like french fries and onion rings) are not available on Fridays. There are also no substitutions, but you are welcome to add things like pierogi or chowder onto your order.

I chose the home-cooked “Gotta Haddock” classic fry, which features flaky beer-battered haddock along with a cup of New England clam chowder, two pierogi with caramelized onions, creamy old-school mac and cheese with shell pasta, and homemade coleslaw. The zesty house tartar sauce and sour cream came out with the meals in little containers. I loved that tartar sauce! Also, the clam chowder was really good. It was nice and creamy and had lots of chunks of potato and clam. I could also taste a hint of the sherry they used, which was a really nice touch. The haddock was perfectly fried and nice and flaky. The pierogi were a little overcooked (slightly burnt), but were still good. One of my fellow diners, who is new to Cleveland, had never had pierogi until tonight. The waitress quipped that he will be spoiled for life. I think he’ll be okay. We’re taking him to Sokolowski’s next time.

The Big Fish dinnerEveryone really enjoyed their meals, and I enjoyed ordering alcohol with my meal. Being a fan of blood orange, I was going to order one of the beer cocktails with blood orange, but my friend pointed out that the Sol Rojo also had blood orange juice. It was so refreshing and delicious I ended up having two.

Once we were sat at a table the service was super-fast. I was not quite done with my cup of chowder as the entrees came out. Tables are at a premium, so there is a sign asking diners not to linger more than an hour and a half on Fish Fry Fridays. We were out the door at quarter past eight.

I would definitely go back to try some other things on the menu (like the shrimp picatta pasta), but I will be sure to make a reservation next time. I did enjoy chatting with my friends as we stood by the door (I didn’t mind the cold since it was so packed) waiting for our table (and it allowed us to talk a bit before things got crazy and we were busy eating), but being whisked to a table as soon as you walk in sure did look nice. I took exactly half of my dinner home and looked forward to having it for lunch. It was even better the next day.

Contact info:

Prosperity Social Club
109 Starkweather Avenue
Cleveland, OH
(216) 937-1938


Fish Fry Friday #4 – St. Josaphat’s

March 25, 2017

St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Parma is probably one of my favorite fish fries in Cleveland. They have a wide variety of choices, including borscht (Ukrainian beet soup) and salmon, baked fish, baked cod, fried cod, or fried shrimp dinners served with their heavenly homemade pierogies, French fries, cabbage and noodles, or potato pancakes. You also have the choice between coleslaw and applesauce, but get there early or you will only have applesauce. They also offer pizza for the kids. All dinners also come with a dessert and beverages such as coffee or tea, cola, ginger ale, 7-up and water.

It is in the rotunda behind the church buildings. There is plenty of parking. Pull in where the sign says Enter.

The fish fry is a well-run machine. You tell the greeters which dinner you want, along with any extras, and they mark it on a piece of paper, which you then bring to the cashier. They only take cash or checks. Dinners range from $8.00 – $14.00. After you have paid, you take your stamped paper and queue up in line for the food. The line is long, but it moves fairly quickly. There aren’t a lot of stations where you need to think and consider a choice, which tends to slow things down. Once you get to the food table you are given a tray with a plate and plasticware, and the greeter tells you which steam tray contains the food you ordered (in my case #3). You then work your way down the line picking up your side, a roll and butter, and containers of coleslaw or applesauce, cocktail sauce, sour cream, and tartar sauce. You follow the circular path of the rotunda wall as you go along. Walk past the take-out station to choose from a variety of desserts on another table. The drinks are on tables after the desserts. I grabbed two because I was thirsty.

I really should just give in and just order the pierogi dinner here, although the salmon and baked fish also seemed very popular. The fried fish seems like food service since the filets were shaped so uniformly, but they weren’t overcooked or fried beyond recognition so points there. The fish here is just okay. On the other hand, the pierogi here are amazing, and I suspect my grandmother used to buy her pierogi here instead of making them herself. This was, after all, her home church back in the day. The pierogi are cheese and potato, and the dough is perfect and moist. They are sitting in butter and minced onions in the steam tray. You get three pierogi with every fish or shrimp dinner, but you can order more.

Like most church fish fries you shouldn’t count on the food lasting to the end. I wasn’t hungry right at 4:00 (plus I didn’t want to deal with the traffic on E. 55th and the Jennings Freeway, so I rolled up to St. Josaphat at around 6:40. They had already run out of coleslaw, and the desserts were looking mighty meager and picked over. On the bright side, there was plenty of available seats. The rotunda is filled with long tables and some round tables on the opposite side of the food service. Volunteers take your trays to bring them back to the front of the line during the peak dinner time. In any case, they shut down at 7. I felt badly for the cars driving in as I left, as the place had pretty much cleared out by then. I hope they were driving there to pick up their spouses.

The volunteers were all very friendly, and a nice volunteer who was cleaning the tables off even brought me a box so I could bring half of my meal home. All told, I spent $12 and had two pieces of fish, three pierogi, applesauce, a roll, a piece of lemon cake and two soft drinks. I will enjoy my one piece of fish and one pierogi, half my applesauce, and half a roll for lunch tomorrow. And I really should have bought a dozen pierogi to go.

This was the view of the church (I admitted I zoomed in a bit) as I walking out as the sun was setting:

Contact info:

St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral
5720 State Road
Parma, OH