Fish Fry Friday #4 – Sokolowski’s University Inn

March 18, 2018

In keeping with the idea of alternating between church fish fries and restaurant fish fries, this week we went to Sokolowski’s University Inn. Sokolowski’s is an institution here in Cleveland. As their website touts, “Located in the heart of Tremont, Sokolowski’s University Inn has been serving delicious Polish and Eastern European cuisine since 1923. Overlooking the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland skyline, this James Beard Foundation “American Classics” Award-winning restaurant is a must-visit for locals and visitors alike. As Cleveland’s oldest owned and family operated restaurant, loyal customers line up time and time again to eat their favorite homemade dishes.”

And line up they do. We got there at 5:30 and the line extended all the way to the back of the building. Luckily I figured it would be bad and we entered using the door where the line started (the door is in the center of the above photo – it kind of looks like a chimney from here). My friend and I chatted with each other and with the folks around us. One older lady (she must have been 80 years old) was a total hoot, talking about marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and trying to convince me to give Dyngus Day a visit. Her husband, who she had been with for 60 years, is a die-hard Indians fan and was flying to Arizona the next day to watch them train.

We finally found ourselves under the Smacznego sign at 6:15. We grabbed silverware, napkins and a tray and started sliding down the line. The desserts were tempting, but I knew I wouldn’t have room. I grabbed a Sprecher’s Orange Dream soda from the bin and continued on my way to the steam trays. My friend and I decided to get a Lake Erie perch dinner and a grilled rainbow trout and were going to share them. Once we got to the steam trays and saw the gorgeous beer battered cod we quickly changed our mind. We quickly had to decide which one not to order. I ordered the cod, and when they brought out fresh fried perch the decision was made really quickly. I grabbed a dinner roll and my plate of food (beer battered cod with pierogi and corn), loaded up on butter and sour cream, and paid my bill at the cash register. We told the guy carrying our trays how many people would be in our party, and he accompanied us to a table. My friend headed to the bar for a beer, while I headed to the salad bar.

After eating at Sokolowski’s so often I know my limits. I enjoyed my dinner roll, a salad loaded with fresh vegetables, cucumber salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw, and half of my meal. I packed up the other half to enjoy later. I had one piece of perch and one piece of cod. Both were moist and flaky. Absolutely fried to perfection. I can say without a doubt they were the best pieces of fish I’ve had all season. The pierogi were soft and pillowy potato goodness swimming in butter and onions. They were also the reason we were there. One of my friends had never had pierogi until Lent last year at Prosperity Social Club, and he was not that impressed with pierogi. I told him he had to try Sokolowski’s since they were probably the best in the city. He had one from his wife’s plates and enjoyed it more than the one last year. He had ordered the salmon as well as sweet potato mash, which he declared was “too sweet,” and roasted potatoes. He appeared to enjoy the salmon and roasted potatoes a lot, but left the sweet potato. His wife had the perch and pierogi. It was their first time at Sokolowski’s, and they were heading out to Pittsburgh for the weekend so they didn’t linger. Her verdict was “The pierogies were worth the trip!”

My friend who ordered the perch with me also enjoyed both the perch and cod. She loaded both up with lots of lemon juice. She peppered up the mashed potatoes and also thoroughly enjoyed the pierogi. We both knew what to expect and enjoyed our meals.

Two more of my fellow diners arrived late and were seated with us after I explained by text where we were sitting. They had never been there before either and didn’t know what to expect. They were surprised to see such a long line, but they took it in stride. In addition to giving her a few dining recommendations, one of guys in line with them recommended she get the Salisbury steak, so she did. It did look pretty amazing, and even though she had made meatloaf the day before she enjoyed it very much. She got the full-on carb experience – Salisbury steak, pierogi, cabbage and noodles and rice pudding. Right on! Apparently the rice pudding was a mix of rice and bread? Her friend ordered the lamb chops, which the food runner called “little steaks” along with the pierogi. She said they were good. We got a chuckle out of the mint jelly, which I had thought was green Jell-o. They both got boxes as well – and my one friend got a meal to go for her son – complete with a to go box for the salad bar for him (which you can see in the photo to the right).

Everyone left fat and happy, having enjoyed their meals. I don’t know if I would go for dinner again on a Friday during Lent (because they serve their fish specials every Friday throughout the year), but the line moved slow enough that there were always a few empty tables available. When we left around 7:30 the line had died down considerably (extending up the stairs but not through the dining room) and there were more available tables. They had run out of scrod by 6:30 though, so it pays to get there earlier rather than later.

Contact info:

Sokolowski’s University Inn
1201 University Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-9236


Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar

March 14, 2018

If you are a regular reader you might have noticed that I enjoy Ethiopian food. I think it’s super fun and has great flavor. A third Ethiopian restaurant just opened in Cleveland – this time on the west side in Old Brooklyn. My friends and I decided to check it out. We were so excited that we didn’t let something like a winter weather advisory stop us. We had planned on meeting at 6:30 but pushed it up a half hour to get a jump on the snow that was supposed to arrive starting at 7 p.m. It was a good thing we did, because driving home several traffic lights were out and power was out at my home from midnight until 11:30 a.m. the next day. Luckily I had kept my leftovers on the back porch.

I arrived after battling rush hour traffic and exploring new-to-me side roads between Cleveland Heights and Old Brooklyn. What would normally take me 20 minutes took me 45. Several of my friends were already there and had ordered beverages. I parked in the large parking lot behind the building and walked around to the front entrance. Don’t be me. There is a door in the back up a couple of stairs. It’s much more convenient.

The place is a little odd. It’s part neighborhood bar and part Ethiopian restaurant. When entering from the front, the neighborhood bar is on the right and the dining room is on the left. If you aren’t greeted right away feel free to seat yourself. They had no Ethiopian beer yet, but had several crappy beers (Budweiser, MGD, Miller, Heineken,

Lega Tibs, cabbage, and cottage cheese with a berbere dipping sauce

Corona, etc.) to choose from. Pass. Hopefully that changes. E. had ordered a large Yuengling. My other friend had a large vodka and tonic. They also serve Ethiopian honey wine, but I decided to stick with soda since the drive home would be treacherous. Also worth noting: this is the only Ethiopian restaurant that I’ve ever seen with a kids menu and chicken tenders, wings, grilled cheese, and burgers. Guess they are trying to still keep the locals frequenting the bar happy. It’s a shame if the locals don’t try being adventurous, because the Ethiopian food was really good.

We ordered five orders of sambusa to start. We were a little unsure of what we were going to get, because there were two kinds listed on the various menus – one vegetarian with potato, onion, peas and lentils and one with ground beef. Happily we were served the vegetarian ones, because our friend who was running later than me had been craving them

Beef combo – Kaywat (middle), tibs, yellow split peas, collard greens, salad, cottage cheese, and carrot afosolia

and specifically asked us to order it for her. Lucy’s sambusa uses a different dough than I am used to. They were a little lighter and flakier than the ones I have had in the past, and they were huge. Everyone but me finished both of theirs. I took my second one home for later and reheated it for lunch.

If you’ve read my other Ethiopian restaurant posts here you know that I love tikil gomen, which is the cabbage, carrot and potato dish on their menu they call Alicha Alkilt. I wanted to try one of their tibs, and the Lega Tibs was the only one that served tikil gomen as its side. The others had salad. Lega Tibs are billed as “cubes of lean beef marinated with green pepper, seasoned

Vegetarian combo

butter, exotic spices, onion, rosemary, garlic and fresh cut tomatoes,” but I would swear that it was lamb. The meat was a little tough and gristly. I enjoyed the flavor, and loved the tikil gomen. The seasoning was great in both dishes. I also ordered a side of their homemade cottage cheese. Ethiopian cottage cheese is not as creamy as American cottage cheese, but it does a nice job cutting down on the heat of some dishes.

Three of my friends ordered combination platters – vegetarian, beef, and chicken, respectively, so I was able to try a lot of different things. I absolutely loved the flavor of the Kaywat from the beef combination platter. It was ground beef (not cubes as billed) that were stewed with red hot pepper (berbere – a very typical Ethiopian flavor profile) and flavored with onion, garlic, ginger and seasoned butter. I had a couple bites of that and would definitely order it again in the future.

Chicken combo – Dorowat (center – with the egg), cottage cheese, salad, cabbage, collard greens, kitfo, and mild lentils

The vegetarian combination platter features red hot lentils, mild lentils, yellow split peas, shiro, collard greens, cabbage and salad. My friend, who is new to Cleveland and was on a quest to try all of the Ethiopian restaurants in DC before her husband was transferred here, also ordered a Timatim Fit for the table. Timatim Fit is a salad that uses chopped tomatoes, green peppers, lemon, onion and olive oil mixed with pieces of injera. It was a nice version of it.

My other friend ordered the chicken combination platter just to try the Kitfo, which isn’t chicken. Kitfo is Ethiopian steak tartar made with lean chopped beef, seasoned with spiced butter, cardamom and mitmita (a powdered seasoning mix that is orange-red in color and contains ground African bird’s eye chili peppers, cardamom seed, cloves, and salt). They serve the kitfo either raw, rare, or medium, so don’t let the tartar of it all scare you off. It came out medium on the combination platter. It was very tender and flavorful. The fifth person in our intrepid band loves raw Kitfo, so I knew he would be ordering that. He enjoyed it and had no leftovers either.

Dorowat can be quite spicy, but it is one of the most popular and well-known Ethiopian dishes. The different lentil dishes have different spices and flavor profiles. The red lentils can be quite spicy. The collard greens are tender and have a nice flavor. The cabbage, carrot and potato (tikil gomen) is not spicy at all and has a lot of tumeric. I make it at home sometimes.

Everyone really enjoyed their meals. Ethiopian can be deceiving, because when you get the food put in front of you it doesn’t look like it would be filling. However, the injera you use to eat the food with expands and fills you up. My ex-boyfriend and I used to split a vegetarian combo between the two of us at Empress Taytu, so I was prepared to bring home leftovers to enjoy the next day. Most of us did. I was very impressed that my friend with the beef combination platter finished hers. She said it was just so good she couldn’t stop eating it.

I’ve hopefully intrigued you enough to give it a try if you haven’t yet. The service was a little slow, but they were very friendly and kept coming out to update us on the status of our orders. We were enjoying ourselves, so it didn’t really bother us. When we ventured out into the snowy tundra she came running after us because one of us had forgotten their leftovers. We were cleaning off our cars, so none of us had left yet. The drive home was a bit harrowing, but we all made it home safe and had full bellies.

Contact info:

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant and Bar
2218 Broadview Rd
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 417-2550

Fish fry #3 – St. Dominic

March 10, 2018

When it is snowing I really have to motivate myself to venture out. I was very tempted to blow it off and stay in tonight, but I am so glad I didn’t. Several of my friends were feeling under the weather today, so instead of six we were three. The decision had been made to go to St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights. It has a good reputation, apparently being voted by Sun News readers to be “the best in the Heights and Hillcrest areas in an online poll that saw the parish receiving 44 percent of the roughly 400 ballots cast.” Unlike other fish fries, St. Dominic also accepts reservations for parties of 10 or more. They offer 36 tables as well as a private dining room for groups looking to enjoy a more intimate dining experience. That said, it was not crowded like some of the more popular fish fries I’ve been to, and we easily found seats together.

I got there tonight at 6:30. It was a whopping 15 minute drive from my home, so a little snow did not scare me off. I pulled into the parking lot, but was unable to find a spot. So I pulled out and circled back around and parked in one of the snowed-over RTA parking lots on the other side of the street. As I was walking up to the church a car slowed down next to me asking if I was walking to my car. I had to disappoint him and he probably also ended up parking on the street.

There was not much of a line to pay. I was behind two small groups. They have a table to the left for credit cards and to the right for cash payments. My meal totaled $18 – $12 for the dinner, $4 for clam chowder and $2 for 2 cans of soda. The man who waited on me was running out of ones, but I happily gave him a twenty, a five and three ones in exchange for a ten.

My friend and I waited in the lobby for our other friends (resisting the siren calls of the Girl Scout cookie table – a valiant effort if you ask me). Once our third friend arrived and the fourth texted back saying she was still waiting for her daughter, we got into what we thought was the food line. We stood for about 5 minutes chatting until someone realized we were holding dine-in receipts and directed us from the take-out line to the dine-in line. Oops. We queued for our food and grabbed a cafeteria tray in the cafeteria window decorated with fancy fish made of hearts, markers and glitter. A table was set up in front of it with dessert choices. I chose the (food service) eclairs, because I love a good cream puff with custard. The efficient person behind the window organized my food and I was on my way. She explained that the condiments and plastic ware were on the table. I set my food down and headed to the beverage table. One of my other friends grabbed some tea from the tea and coffee table (it came with the dinner). I was totally tickled when I noticed that the bread rolls were German bread rolls. I had a Vollkornbrotchen, my friend directly to my right had a round Austrian Semmel, and my third friend had a German Brotchen. I suspect Zoss the Swiss Baker had a hand in the bread offerings.

My friends and I tucked into our meals and chatted for a bit. We also enjoyed the musical stylings of a high school barbershop quartet that was entertaining the room. I had ordered the fish and shrimp combo. I very much enjoyed the shrimp. The fish had a crispy, golden-brown exterior and soft, moist interior (as you can see below). My fries were very crunchy, which is not my preference, so I ended up leaving most of them on my plate at the end of my meal. The coleslaw was definitely homemade and was nice.

My friends raved about the sweet potato. Not too many fish fries offer sweet potato. One of my friends had never been to a fish fry before because she doesn’t like fish and has a food intolerance to potatoes. The shrimp and sweet potato convinced her to join us, and I’m fairly certain she had a good time.

The thing I love about Cleveland and local fish fries is sometimes you run into people you know. Not only did I run into someone I knew from Meetup in the lobby as she and her family were leaving, but I ran into a friend from my undergraduate days at BGSU. Her best friend was my residence hall adviser and all-around cool chick. I was thrilled when she sat down at our table with her husband and mother. I hadn’t seen her since we graduated in 1992. We had a good time catching up, and I added her and her husband to my dining out group so I look forward to catching up more in the future.

All in all, this was a decent fish fry and a wonderful evening out. We closed the place down and left shortly before 8 PM. We bused our trays and headed out into the night.

The St. Dominic fish fry will continue from 5-8 p.m. through Lent.

Contact info:

St. Dominic Church
19000 Van Aken Boulevard
Shaker Heights, OH
(216) 561-4400

Fish fry #2 – Ridgewood Inn

March 3, 2018

I missed last week because I was sick, so even though it says fish fry #2 it is week 3 already – we’re already halfway finished with Lenten fish fry season.

They say old-time neighborhood holes-in-the-wall serve the best burgers and fried fish. They would be right when it comes to the Ridgewood Inn. It has a lot of old-time ambiance. Dark red walls and wood. They were screening old Charlie Chaplin movies (including The Great Dictator) on one TV while playing tunes from the 1950s over the speakers. The place exudes “dive” from the worn chairs to the paper placemats.

Located on Ridge Road just north of Snow Road, it was easy to get to from the Heights taking I-176 and I-480. Parking is easy. The lot behind the building was full, but there was a sign directing us across the street behind Barabicu Smokehouse. I entered through the front, but there is a back door from the parking lot. The staff was friendly. Our server has worked there for 17 years and it showed in her no-nonsense service. They make the food as they go and it seems as if the kitchen is small. We were not in a hurry and weren’t offended when half the table were served their food and the other had to wait for the next batch. During Lent they serve a limited menu – all seafood – from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. We went at 1 for lunch to make sure they didn’t run out of anything. It was easy to hear everyone at that time, but I’ve heard of lines for dinner during Lent. If you want cheap classic beer and drinks and want pierogi that will fill you up and then some, all for a great price then this is the place for you.

First things first, we ordered drinks, and the server brought out a plate of soft rye bread and semi-soft butter pats. I had two slices of bread slathered with butter and had to refrain from eating more. I was the only one of my group that ordered a beer, but I figured it would go nicely with the fish. I also ordered a ginger ale to make sure I didn’t drink my beer to fast.

They serve a nice selection of fish – Sauger pike, beer battered cod, yellow perch, and baked scrod. I ordered the yellow perch, which wasn’t on the printed menu but was on offer if you knew to ask for it. I got five pieces of perch, two pierogi (one sauerkraut, one potato – fried instead of boiled), and coleslaw for $16.50. A little ramekin of sour cream was 35 cents. The perch were nicely fried and were not greasy. The pierogi were deep-fried to perfection with lots of butter and caramelized onion. The sauerkraut pierogi was indicated with the little yellow sword. I think I liked it better than the potato pierogi, which is saying something. The sauerkraut was nicely caramelized and sweet, not sour. The coleslaw was a nice, creamy version that I enjoyed a lot.

I was very tempted to order the fried scallops, because you rarely see fried scallops on a menu anywhere. The choice of fried scallops, fried clam strips or fried shrimp. My friend ordered the fried scallops with two potato pierogi (boiled) for I think around $13.50. I ordered one to go for later with the boiled pierogi and enjoyed the sweet, deep-fried nuggets a lot. Some of my friends were not that impressed with the pierogi, which were rather large and a little tough. I think the deep-fried pierogi were better than the boiled. They seemed a bit more tender. All of the pierogi were obviously handmade. But if you ask me any pierogi is a good pierogi (except maybe Mrs. T’s).

They also serve half orders of their fish dinners available as well that come with half the fish (2 1/2 or so), one pierogi and coleslaw. One of my other friends ordered that because she was hard-core and meeting friends with her husband that night for another fish fry. One of my friends ordered the large cabbage and noodles ($4) to share, and it was a really nice, tender, flavorful version with well-cooked cabbage and noodles.

The server was really good and reminded me not to forget my fried scallops to go. She kept our drinks refilled and was on top of anything we needed. We were able to get an extra plastic bottle of tartar sauce for our table, and she even brought us a plate of lemons when someone asked for them.

Everyone enjoyed their fish fry lunch today and hitting some of the spots in the area like Barabicu, Rudy’s and Chuppa’s afterwards. I went home to take a nap since my power went out at midnight the night before and had just come on when I left to meet them for lunch at 12:30. My verdict: it wasn’t the best fish fry I’ve ever had, but it was a nice solid choice.

Contact info:

Ridgewood Inn
5759 Ridge Rd
Cleveland, OH 44129
(440) 884-0310

Xinji Noodle Bar

February 20, 2018

There’s a new ramen place in town that is worth a visit. Xinji opened in October 2017 on Lorain Avenue in Ohio City and is a welcome addition to the Cleveland dining scene. The Cantonese proprietor and chef got his start making sushi and working at Akira Sushi and Hibachi in Solon as well as Momocho and Gingko and the famous Momofuku in New York City. In any event, he is meticulous about sourcing his ingredients, and it shows. Most importantly, the ramen noodles are Sun Noodle ramen noodles – the best one according to my friends in the know.

The parking is mostly street parking, but you don’t need to feed the meters after six p.m. and the parking lot across the street from Xinji doesn’t appear to be patrolled (someone was teaching their girlfriend to drive a stick shift in the parking lot when we were leaving). If I’m wrong please mention it in the comments! I was lucky enough to get a spot on the street across from Xinji.

The restaurant has a modern, industrial look, with plenty of exposed brick walls and duct work along with rather austere metal tables and chairs in steel gray and deep blue. The chairs could be a bit more comfortable. I don’t know why our local ramen places have such uncomfortable chairs. Maybe to make sure diners don’t linger?

The menu is fairly limited, with five ramen choices (unfortunately tonkatsu broth is not one of the choices), two rice bowls, and lots of different appetizers to choose from, including wings, fried chicken, two different dumplings, three different kimchi balls, and three different bao (steam buns – the flat ones, not the round fluffy ones). I ordered the special kimchi ball with peaches and miso ramen with chicken (instead of pork) and a soy egg added to it. I am not a huge fan of pork belly, but next time I’ll suck it up because the extras added up! The kimchi ball was interesting. It was nicely fried and was pretty to look at. Cutting into it, it had a nice kick to it, but was not too heavy. Others at my table ordered the spicy pork dumplings, which were absolutely outstanding (my friend N. still raves about them) and the fried chicken bao. The dumplings are amazing – and not to be missed! The fried chicken in the bao was really nicely fried and had great flavor.

As for my miso ramen, the broth was very dense and rich – almost too much so. It is served with scallion, woodear mushrooms, corn, and bean sprouts. My one criticism is that it was lukewarm and cooled quickly. Ramen is supposed to be eaten quickly, but I would have liked it to be a little hotter. Not hot so you burn your mouth, but a little more warmth would be appreciated. The noodles had a rougher texture and nice bite to them. They weren’t overcooked. The service that first night was really slow. Like glacially slow. I normally don’t complain about service, but I would have liked a second sake at some point. This sake was absolutely delicious. My friend N. ordered the champagne sake, but I preferred my choice. It was light and delicious with just a hint of fruit.

I intend to try a tonkatsu rice bowl on my next visit, which will hopefully be soon. If you haven’t been yet, be sure to give it a try. I know you won’t regret it. They are now serving during lunchtime hours as well, so you have plenty of opportunities.

Contact info:

Xinji Noodle Bar
4211 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 465-2439

Fish Fry Friday #1 – Sts. Helen and Constantine

February 16, 2018

Hang onto your hats, kids. This one is going to be a bumpy review. I just got back from my first fish fry of the year. I decided to get take-out from Sts. Helen and Constantine, because I’ve been sick and wanted to stay close to home.

The fish fry runs every Friday during Lent from 5-8 PM. Enter the fish fry from the back door off the parking lot (the far-right door was the only one that was unlocked).

I got there right at 5 o’clock when they opened, because it is easier to find parking in the lot and the wait shouldn’t be as long. I got in line for the take-outs. As you can see, there were not that many people in front of me. I left the building 25 minutes later. The cashier was GLACIAL. There were two cashiers for the other line, which was much longer. One guy even tried to jump in line in front of me after he got his food, and I firmly informed him that we had all been waiting.

I have gone to Sts. Helen and Constantine in the past and ordered what I thought was the whitefish. Turns out it was the walleye, because once again it was so salty that it was not edible. So if you do go, order the whitefish, calamari or the fried shrimp. Also, the advertised “rice pilaf” was white rice. I ordered a side of rice pudding for $3 and an order of spanakopita for $3. The cashier charged me $23. $23 for rice pudding, 2 pieces of spanakopita, 1 piece of inedible fish, white rice and a dinner roll. I went online to look up the prices, and they range from $9 to $13.50. No way was my fish dinner $17. The money they raise from the fish fry does not go toward boosting the church’s coffers, but instead is used strictly to benefit the less fortunate, so I’m going to consider my dinner a mitzvah as I throw it out. At least the rice pudding and spanakopita are delicious.

All of these tables will be filled by 7 PM.

Contact info:

Sts. Helen and Constantine
3352 Mayfield Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-3300


February 11, 2018

Note: I use the spellings doughnut and donut interchangeably here. It is deliberate. Usually based on the name of vendor.

Today was Cleveland’s second annual Donutfest. I didn’t hear about it until it took place last year, and it had sold out way ahead of then – in fact it sold out in 3 hours. So this year my friends and I marked the sale date on the calendar. Tickets were $35 for General Admission and $50 for VIP. VIP times ran 9 – 11 a.m. (let’s face it – I am not a morning person, so there was no way in hell I would be attending the VIP session). There were two hour GA sessions beginning at 11. 11 was a stretch for me, but I made it. GA tickets included 11 doughnut tastings, three coffee tickets, and a goodie bag. VIP tickets included early entry and a mug as well.

This was way better than Cheese Fest, but considering the bar on that is so dreadfully low that isn’t saying much. The lines were manageable, and breaking it up into two GA sessions definitely helped. There were only two long lines – for Brewnuts and for the four tables on the right-hand wall. I think the idea of tickets definitely slowed things down. A punch card might be easier to deal with. I didn’t follow the numerical order, so I had a few loose tickets in my hand at one point. I gave the wrong ticket to one competitor, and they handed it back so I could correct it. I understand the need to control that people don’t act like vultures, but it took folks a while to tear their tickets while at the table. Just a suggestion if one of the organizers ever reads this.

I had to park on Rockwell, because parking closer to the event was non-existent. If I had known I could park in one of the empty lots I would have. Trudging through unshoveled snow on the sidewalks on Rockwell and E. 24th was no picnic, but they had shoveled and put salt down in front of Red Space so yay. Winters in Cleveland, man. While crossing the street I saw Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland as she was leaving. She gave me the pro tip of buying a box for $1, which I happily took. The money went to the Cleveland Food Bank. They also had hats and t-shirts to buy with proceeds going to the Food Bank. I was also impressed that a couple of people dressed for the occasion. One girl wore these stylish doughnut socks, while a dudebro had a doughnut baseball cap on backwards. One woman wore an OSU onesie, and I applaud her bravery because it got pretty darn hot in the space.

Once I got inside I was confronted by a huge line. It turns out this was for four tables at once (including crowd favorite Jack Frost), so I headed for the less congested tables first. I eventually collected my 11 doughnuts, and my friends and I grabbed a table. I took one bite out of each of the doughnuts and chose my favorite. It was sometimes hard to remember which doughnut belonged to which vendor.

The competitors this year were Holey Toledough; Brewnuts; Madsen Donuts; Peace, Love & Little Donuts; Jack Frost; The Vegan Doughnut Company; Urban Farmer; Fiona’s Coffee Bar & Bakery; City Girl Donuts; Mary Ann Donuts; and Jubilee Donuts. Bigmouth Donuts was at the Kurentovanje Party on E. 55th, which makes sense since that is where they were located. I’ll have to try their dossants another time. I had also hoped Biagio’s would be there, because I have heard good things about their doughnuts. Or Spudnuts? Maybe next year? This was a great opportunity for doughnut shops to get their names out there, because I was unfamiliar with most of them. Unfortunately, some of them are not exactly local, which explains why they were unknowns.

Holy Toledough offered a carrot cake fritter or a peanut butter & jelly doughnut. I went with the PB&J, which was a fun little doughnut. But they are in Toledo, so I don’t see myself ever having them again. There were a couple of competitors from Norton and Canton, which are closer than Toledo. I think Mary Ann Donuts (with five locations to the south of us) might have been the one offering a cherry cream stick or a chocolate cream stick. I chose the cherry, because it was different.

It’s all about preference, and everyone has different taste. I prefer a yeast doughnut over a cake doughnut. Others prefer cake over yeast. It’s all subjective. Most of the competitors offered several choices to allow people to choose their favorite. For example, one competitor offered a key lime doughnut, a birthday cake doughnut, and an espresso crunch doughnut (I went with the espresso crunch). Some had boxes of doughnuts that they would cut and restock. Others were putting the finishing touches to keep up with the demand. For example, Peace, Love & Little Donuts were dipping their doughnuts fresh. I very much enjoyed their M&M donut. It was soft and fresh, and the M&Ms were a nice crunchy topping.

Circles on the Square in Medina won Judge’s Choice for their Caramel Apple Pie doughnut. It was a cake doughnut so it wasn’t my favorite, but it had a nice flavor and caramel apple is always a good choice.

Jack Frost is obviously a fan favorite because they were the only table handing out almost-full-sized doughnuts instead of quarters, halves or small tastes. They won Crowd Choice last year along with Peace, Love & Little Donuts. They had lots of their popular flavors, including maple bacon, chocolate custard, and plain glazed. Because I have already had most of those choices I chose the strawberry shortcake doughnut, which I very much enjoyed, but I did not enjoy the shower of powdered sugar down the front of my brown t-shirt.

This year’s Crowd Choice, Brewnuts, had the long line to prove it. They had three or four choices to choose from. I chose the Fruity Pebbles Brewnut, because come on, fruity pebbles! The doughnut had a nice crunch from the Fruity Pebbles and the doughnut itself. It also had a hint of ale to it. Because Brewnuts. They are craft beer-based doughnuts, and everyone loves them. I will definitely be seeking them out in the future.

I also enjoyed Madsen Donuts’ (from Geneva on the Lake) marshmallow filled eclair-type doughnut, and was pleased with the Vegan Doughnut Company’s choice. They served a creamy doughnut hole. I didn’t even miss the dairy.

Overall, I enjoyed all of the doughnuts but one. Urban Farmer, I love you, but putting up a foie gras doughnut against all those conventional (mostly sweet) doughnuts was super jarring. I was in the long line for the last four doughnuts, and the guy behind me warned of the “strange flavor of the filling” in that doughnut. It didn’t help that I had thought I had chosen the butterscotch doughnut, but alas I had not. I’m sure it would work well as an appetizer in the restaurant, but up against all the other sweeter choices (and less adventurous attendees) it just didn’t work.

Out of all 11 doughnuts I tried, my favorite doughnut was a lemon goat cheese doughnut with blueberry topping from City Girl Donuts. It was also an almost-full-sized doughnut. The doughnut really packed a flavorful punch that wowed my taste buds. I have heard good things about City Girl Donuts, which opened in September 2017 and has been a huge hit in Rocky River. I’ll definitely be seeking them out again.

At some point I also grabbed some coffee (one pour-over from Heartwood coffee and one cold brewed iced coffee from Solstice Coffee Roasters) and happily sampled the Hartzler milk samples while in the long line for four different doughnut vendors. Love their chocolate milk – especially with coffee!

And the winners were:

Judge’s Choice: Circles On The Square
Judge’s Choice runner-up: Peace, Love & Little Donuts
Judge’s Choice 2nd runner-up: Holey Toledough

Crowd Choice: Brewnuts
Crowd Choice runner-up: Fiona’s Coffee Bar & Bakery
Crowd Choice 2nd runner-up: Madsen Donuts

Best Cake: Circle On The Square
Best-raised: Jack Frost Donuts
Best filling: Jack Frost Donuts
Best Classic Donut: Mary Ann Donuts
Most Creative Donut: Holey Toledough

I’ve been all about the paczki in the last couple of weeks, so I think it is fair to say that I am officially doughnuted out for a while. I may or may not attend next year’s Donutfest. The space was really cool, and it was good venue for this event. It was a lot of fun and wasn’t nearly as crowded as Cheese Fest. The doughnuts were all fantastic. But $35 is a lot of money for 11 small doughnuts and a couple coffee samples. If you haven’t done it I can recommend it. Would I do it again? I’m not sure, but I didn’t hate it or regret getting up so early after a late night out at a cooking class at Kitchen 216 and nightcap at Coquette Patisserie.

Disclosure: I bought my own ticket and was not compensated in any way, shape or form for attending.

Contact info:

Donut Fest
Tickets go on sale in early January