Polpetta

Polpetta is the brain child of restauranteurs Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti: A Social Kitchen fame. I have had some amazing meals from these two chefs. They closed the two popular restaurants to focus on the Polpetta concept, which relies heavily on the theme of “balls.” The decor is heavy on old meat grinders, which are used as the door handle and light fixtures, and artwork with cleverly-hidden balls in them.

They launched the Polpetta concept at Porco when Walter Hyde was cooking in the tiny kitchen there. That was where I had my first taste of Sunday Supper, which I personally think is the best spaghetti and meatballs I have had in Cleveland. Usually restaurant spaghetti and meatballs are bland, but the meatballs here are well-seasoned and paired with a herbaceous pomodoro red sauce. The pasta was al dente and easy to twirl. When I told my server that I think they are the best spaghetti and meatballs in Cleveland he told me about a woman from Little Italy who came in and was vocally critical of everything, but once she had the Sunday Supper she was quiet and said she would be back. He said she’s been back at least seven times. I agree, Nonna.

Porco version

Polpetta version

Once they opened their restaurant on Detroit Road in Rocky River it was on my list of places to try, but it took a while to make my way over there. I finally met a group of friends there for a nice meal, and that night I accidentally ordered what I think is the best thing on the menu, the Spinach and Meatball Dip. It features mini-meatballs in a spinach-parmesan-roasted tomatoes bechamel sauce and fun little pita dippers. This dip is Chef Adam at his best. It is rich and lush, and I could have eaten the whole thing by myself and regretted it. Everyone at the table adored it, and we practically licked the serving plate clean.

I was less impressed by my entree choice that evening. I ordered The Adam, which features chicken meatballs, Thai peanut sauce, and fried rice. I love Adam’s fried rice, which I first enjoyed as spam fried rice at a pop-up at Toast several years ago. It was then included on the menu at Graffiti, and I happily ordered it several times. Unfortunately the Thai peanut sauce was too bitter that night. I was expecting a nice, creamy Thai peanut sauce, and I think it had too much hot sauce in it that night. My friend Nancy loves his Thai peanut sauce, so apparently it was an anomaly. Luckily I had eaten a ton of the appetizer, so I didn’t go away hungry. But I knew they could do better based on past experience.

I left wishing I had ordered the Grandma Bos, which is a chicken paprikash featuring chicken meatballs, paprikash sauce, and herbed spaetzle. When I ordered it the server asked if I wanted sour cream on top. Yes, please. This was a satisfying dish. The chicken meatballs were nicely seasoned, albeit a little denser than I had hoped. Overall the meatballs here are very dense, but at least they won’t fall apart. The herbed spaetzle are not the traditional (i.e., bland) German spätzle I am used to, but I liked the herb flavor profile and the pan-fried crispiness held up well against the paprikash sauce. I would order this again and again. If you like paprikash you will like this dish.

I ordered the Cereal Balls for dessert, which are made from several different cereals molded into rice krispie-like balls served with milk panna cotta and fresh berries and bananas. I first enjoyed Adam’s panna cotta at a grill evening on the Graffiti patio, so I was looking forward to that magic being recreated. He used cereal milk for that one, but the Polpetta panna cotta just uses milk so it was not as magical – even though it was tasty.

The OG Fat Kid

If you want a dessert that will bowl you over, order the Fat Kid 3.0, which features fried cookie dough balls, ice cream, chips, candy and fun. I got to taste the OG Fat Kid at a Graffiti Throw Back dinner at Polpetta a couple of months ago. That one was outrageously good and featured french fries, which was a fun pairing with the ice cream and chocolate and nerds. It is definitely a dessert to share though.

Contact info:

Polpetta
19900 Detroit Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(216) 860-4474

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Astoria

Photo from Yelp user Norton W.

Astoria Cafe and Market opened back in December 2016 and has been receiving rave reviews ever since. Astoria is located in a 5,000-square-foot space in Gordon Square across from Minh Ahn. Parking is available along the street, but there is also a lot down the side street next to Astoria. The lot is well-lit. I was still somewhat nervous walking back to my car by myself until I realized the parking lot had a guard sitting in his car and keeping watch.

Astoria is a hot brunch location, but is also known for its octopus and tapas. One of my friends swears by the octopus and the mussels. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The menu changes frequently with the season.  There is a bar-restaurant on one side and a market that specializes in cheeses, meats and Mediterranean imports on the other. Anything you purchase in the market can be eaten in the restaurant, which is why they are also known for their charcuterie and cheese boards. I was finally prompted to check it out when I learned that one of my friends is one of the co-owners’ sister, and he serves the family recipe Dolmades or stuffed grape leaves (spoiler alert: they are amazing).

I knew we had to order the octopus (Octopus alla Karvouna) as an appetizer since it is so popular. It features Spanish octopus poached in white wine, lemon and garlic, then charcoal grilled and topped with extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper and fresh oregano.  It is indeed as good as everyone says. Maybe even better than I expected it to be. It was a single tentacle that was perfectly grilled, and everyone loved it. So much so that we went back a couple of months later to enjoy it again. We also couldn’t get enough of the complementary fresh bread and probably went through three refills of bread and one refill of the dipping oil.

Our first visit was in the winter right before Christmas, and it was a cold, wet and slushy day. I started my meal off with a bowl of Chicken Avgolemono soup. Avgolemono soup is a Greek specialty using egg yolk and lemon juice. This version features poached free-range chicken in a broth featuring dill, parsley, lemon and golden rice. The lemon and fresh herbs gave it a nice bright flavor, and the chicken was nicely shredded. It was hearty yet light enough to whet my appetite for more.

When I saw Quattro Stagioni pizza on the menu I almost started crying. It is rare to find this Italian staple pizza on menus here in the U.S. and when they do they tend to just put all the toppings on the pizza in a jumble. A true Italian Quattro Stagioni features four sections with diverse ingredients, with each section representing one season of the year —traditionally Parma ham or olives (winter), artichoke hearts (spring), tomato & basil (summer), and mushrooms (fall). This pizza was done the right way, even if it was missing the tomato & basil and featured both Prosciutto di Parma and Kalamata olives. At least they tried. I just found the dough a little too thick for my liking.

Another friend ordered the Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) pizza with mozzarella, pecorino romano, herbed ricotta and asiago cheese. He liked it a lot. Since he is a man of few words that is all I can say about that.

He shared that with his wife, who ordered the Veal, Lamb & Ricotta Meatballs. In fact, two of my friends ordered it that visit and both raved about it. The meatballs are served over fusilli pasta. I had a bite and the sauce was a very flavorful sauce. The meatballs were not overpowering. I apologize for the blurry photo.

One of my friends, who is a notoriously picky eater, ordered the duck confit and mac n cheese. She originally ordered it for the mac n cheese, but fell in love with the whole dish. So much so that when we went back to celebrate some friends’ birthdays she ordered it again.

I finished off the night with a slice of Greek cake (Milopita). It was an apply/custardy slice of goodness. Almost like an apple bread pudding. It was really, really nice.

When we went back a few months later I decided to order a bunch of smaller plates for my meal. I started with the dolmades, which were as amazing as I thought they would be. The rice was tender and flavorful, and the grape leaf was not tough and chewy like some others I have had from a Greek restaurant near me. They were also vegetarian with no meat, which I really enjoyed. I love these dolmades and would probably go back just to get them again. We shared the octopus again, but I also ordered a grilled octopus and lump crab meat salad. It was lightly dressed in a mayo and lots of lemon. It was very refreshing. I also ordered a side of herbed golden rice, because I wanted something small but warm to balance my cold plates.

I was lucky enough to try a bit of the chicken souvlaki, which was really great too. It was served over a bed of greens that were lightly dressed in a nice sauce and accompanied by some hummus, tzatziki and pita bread. My friend loved this.

I finished off the night that time with a trio of cannoli. I am not normally a fan of cannoli, but I would order Astoria’s cannoli again. The mini-cannoli were filled with a pistachio filling a chocolate filling, and a Luxardo cherry filling. They had me at Luxardo, but the other two were amazing as well. I shared them with my dining companions, and they also enjoyed them.

Contact info:

Astoria Cafe & Market
5417 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 266-0834

b.a. Sweetie Candy Company

It may not be a restaurant, but it hits all the right notes when it comes to food and nostalgia. Cleveland’s candy superstore sells more than 4,500+ classic & contemporary items and has a soda and ice cream shop. b.a. Sweetie is the largest candy store in the country. The store itself is over 20,000 square foot stacked to the ceilings with over 400,000 pounds of candy. It also has a huge selection of novelty pop/sodas and sells Charles Chip potato chips in bags as well as the metal cans we used in Girl Scouts to make “sit-upons” forty years ago. The entrance is tucked around to the right side of the building. You walk in and are greeted with whimsical candy statues.

They have an entire aisle of soda cans and bottles, ranging from gross flavors like dirt, Buffalo wing, and Ranch dressing to Jolly Rancher soda and Squirt to fine soda like Italian cream soda, chocolate soda and gourmet root beers. I am partial to the Caruso sodas. You can mix and match or buy a case, a four-pack or single bottles. There is a cooler at the end with some chilled bottles for immediate gratification.

You can spend hours just roving the aisles, looking at all the various candies. They do a pretty good job grouping like things together. The Pez dispensers are displayed on a huge wall, the electronic lollipops are grouped together, as is the bulk candies in bags as well as bins so you can buy as little or as much as you like. All the Pop Rock flavors you can think of! Boxes of Hershey brand chocolate bars are against the far wall. Lindt, Godiva, Dove, Hershey, Ritter Sport, Milka – they are all represented. There is a huge display of Haribo gummie candies and another area just lined with bulk Jelly Bellies. It is an OCD candy lover’s dream.

Once you know where everything is, it is easy to pop in and just grab what you need. I hit it after Easter to get some Easter bunnies at 50% off as well as some bulk Frooties and fruit discs. I also grabbed a soda to quench my thirst on the drive home.

In addition to being an awesome candy store it also features Sweeties Soda Shop, where you can get ice cream and soda treats with just about every candy and soda flavor they sell. The soda shop features over 200 soda flavors, 36 ice cream flavors and lots of different toppings. Some of the toppings include Sweeties Signature Hot Fudge, Sweeties Signature Chocolate Syrup, Butterscotch, Peanut Butter, crushed pineapple, sugar-free chocolate syrup, caramel, marshmallow, Spanish peanuts, chopped nuts, Rainbow Sprinkles, Heath® Pieces, Butterfinger® Pieces, Reese’s Pieces®, crushed Oreo®, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups®, M&M’s® and Nerds®. They have a self-serve station with vanilla, chocolate or twist custard, vanilla yogurt or a flavor of the week. Lots of varieties of treats are available – including cones, sundaes, parfaits, “Syclones,” milkshakes, malts, soda pop floats, or signature sundaes. Some premium sundaes are made with Ghiradelli® chocolate. They even have the “spaghetti” ice cream that is so popular in Germany – vanilla ice cream, strawberry marinara sauce and shredded white chocolate cheese, but they also added chocolate meatballs to it. The kid’s menu has a couple other fun ice cream treats like an ice cream hot dog or a clown sundae. One even comes as a NASA treat with a parachute man toy.

I made a parfait when I stopped there with mini Reese’s pieces and butterscotch sauce. It was almost too sweet, and I couldn’t finish it. But I bet kids, who (let’s face it) have a huge sugar taste bud, would love every bite. No visit is complete without a quick stop at the soda shop.

If you want to work off the calories from your ice cream and candy treats, they also have a putt-putt golf course.

So stop into b.a. Sweetie candy shop, where you too can be a kid in a candy store and relive your childhood.

Contact info:

b.a. Sweetie Candy Shop / Soda Shoppe / Golfland Park
6770 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, OH 44129
(216) 739-2244

Cleveland Bagel Company

The Cleveland Bagel Company got its start vending at The Cleveland Flea and farmer’s markets. I remember trying their bagels then. They bill their bagels as a “Cleveland-style bagel”- “Not too dough-y, not too sweet, Cleveland Bagel Co. bagels are smaller, full of flavor,  chewy, with a crisp exterior.” They graduated from owner Dan Herbst’s apartment to a spot in the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen then to space at Ohio City Pasta. After getting some funding from Cleveland Hustles, they opened their first brick and mortar store on Detroit Avenue. It was always a little too far for me and I am perfectly happy with Bialy’s Bagels, so I never made the trek. Well, they have now opened a shop on the East Side on Carnegie and E. 77th. They are open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day but Sunday, which means if I do get there I am usually strolling in between noon and 1. They get most of their business earlier in the morning from the Cleveland Clinic traffic. The location is going to be a hot one soon, with Fresh Fork Market’s plans to open a big facility there. Up to now the only draw there has been The Souper Market. There is a small parking lot across from E. 77th right next to the old Lancer Motel.

Sesame with brie honey walnut schmear

You can buy the bagels individually ($2) or buy a half-dozen ($8) or dozen ($14). There are seven varieties to choose from – plain, sea salt, everything, rosemary with sea salt, poppyseed, sesame seed, and cinnamon cranberry. The schmears are available in plain cream cheese, brie honey walnut, cheddar chive, thyme black peppercorn horseradish, chorizo chipotle, and a seasonal schmear. Bagel sandwiches are also available. The order gets sent to the kitchen for the sandwiches, while the regular bagel orders are toasted and schmeared behind the front counter. Single bagels are $2, while a bagel with a schmear is $4. They are generous with the schmear, which is a good thing. You can also get a toasted bagel with butter or peanut butter. There are also a few beverages to choose from – including brewed coffee, nitro coffee, bottled cold brew coffee, iced tea, orange juice, and sparkling water.

I decided to start out with your typical Classic Lox bagel ($9.50). With house-made lox, plain “schmear,” red onion and capers, it was a good rendition of a classic. I took it up a notch by adding the horseradish schmear instead of the plain cream cheese. It was good, but I recommend sticking to the plain because it doesn’t overpower the lox. The consistency of the bagel allows you to bite into it with minimal ooze of cream cheese out the sides. It was a solid choice.

Poppyseed with cheddar chive schmear

I love a good sesame seed bagel, so I paired the sesame seed bagel with their brie honey walnut schmear. Wow, that is a great flavor for a cream cheese. So much so that I bought a tub to use at home. I love a good brie, which is probably one of my favorite cheeses. Paired with honey and walnut it just takes the cream cheese spread up a notch. Definitely a favorite.

Cheddar chive is their best selling schmear, and I can see why. I paired it with a poppyseed bagel and it was a hugely popular photo on my Instagram. I liked it so much I ordered it again the other day. Definitely a tried and true go to for me.

Poppyseed with thyme black peppercorn horseradish schmear

This most recent visit also had me trying the thyme black peppercorn horseradish schmear. I paired it with the poppyseed bagel again, and it was once again a winner. I love horseradish. I took it apart and added a slice of Boar’s Head rare roast beef to each half for a very lovely lunch.

There is no seating. You can stand at the standing bar along the window to eat quickly or wait while they make your order. This tends to be a grab and go neighborhood, so that is fine with me. The Souper Market is also grab and go. I for one am happy the Cleveland Bagel Company is on the east side. I hope they can make a go of it here, because I like to support companies that value their employees enough to pay $15 an hour. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Contact info:

Cleveland Bagel Company
7501 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103

Blue Habanero

Blue Habanero opened in the old Arcadian location on Detroit Road in the heart of Gordon Square. My friends and I decided to check it out to lift our spirits from this dismal, rainy “spring” weather. Since we were going to be a larger group, I made a reservation even though it was a Monday. I’m glad I did, because the place was pretty full. They did a good job accommodating everyone though. In addition to the first floor, it appears they also have seating on the second floor as well, as numerous patrons were led upstairs.

My friend who was driving and I recognized one of our friends in the public parking lot by the Capitol Theater despite her huddling under the hood of her raincoat, and we walked to Blue Habanero together. After being greeted as we walked in, the first order of business was ordering a beverage. I couldn’t decide between a margarita and a sangria, so I ordered one of their featured drinks that contains both, the Octopus. It was stunning to look at as well as delicious and deadly. I was glad I wasn’t driving, because I happily ordered a second one. I probably wouldn’t have if I had been driving, because I was already feeling the effects after one. My friends also enjoyed their margaritas—one ginger (be sure to stir it up) and the Cadillac. We then took some time to look over the menu.

Once we realized three of our party weren’t coming we apologized and notified the staff to take one of the tables away in case they needed it and then ordered. I decided I needed to come here when I saw a photo of the queso. I ordered a sampler for the table, which features queso, guacamole and salsa. The salsa had a nice kick to it, and the queso and guac were fresh and creamy. One of our friends ordered an order of queso with chorizo, and I have to say it was my favorite thing on our table all night. I couldn’t get enough of the flavorful creaminess. I am now a fan of chorizo too, which wasn’t the case before. The queso with chorizo was like a warm hug, which was welcome that chilly, dreary evening.

The tuna ceviche appetizer was also a nice choice. It wasn’t the traditional tuna chopped into smaller pieces of tuna and mixed with avocado and onion, but rather nice slabs of sushi grade tuna plated interspersed with slices of avocado and drizzled with the lime dressing that causes the chemical reaction to “cook” the fish. We all enjoyed sharing it around the table, and my friend who was craving avocado was quite pleased with the generous slices.

I ordered the Pollo a la Crema y Espinaca, which is grilled chicken breast with sauteed spinach and corn and roasted peppers in a lightly spicy cream sauce. It was delicious. It was served with cilantro white rice. I would definitely order this again. It hit all the right notes. I am a big fan of spinach and chicken, and didn’t find the cream sauce spicy at all. The leftovers also heated up well the next day.

One of my friends wanted to try mine, so I got to try a bite of her dish as well. We would normally split the entrees, but neither of us wanted to part with what we ordered. She ordered the Seafood al Ajillo, which is a shrimp and scallop dish that roasts the shrimp and scallops with onion, garlic and serves it with avocado, pico de gallo and cilantro white rice. It was light with a bright flavor of roasted/grilled seafood. She liked it so much that she finished the whole thing. I could also see myself ordering it next time we go – because there will definitely be a next time.

My other friends were very pleased with their tacos and rice bowls. The waitress had recommend the Tacos al Pastor, which are spice rubbed pork, pineapple, cilantro and onions in a tomatillo sauce, so two of my friends chose that. One with the Mexican rice and one with the black beans as their side dish. My other friends ordered rice bowls – one with steak and one with shrimp. The rice bowls have a mix of greens, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and sour cream. One chose the cilantro white rice and the other asked to swap the white rice for Mexican rice, which was easily accommodated. They both finished their bowls.

I saved room for dessert and ordered fried ice cream. Save your money. It was not only visually unappealing, the cornflake crust tasted mostly of fry oil and had a weird consistency. Most of my friends had one bite and passed it on. No one wanted a second bite. I ended up eating the ice cream around the crust and left a lot of it on the plate. I keep hoping to find a fried ice cream that is as delicious as the old Chi-Chi’s version, but it seems I may have to just stop ordering it to avoid being disappointed. I’ve learned the secret is the cinnamon sugar mixture, so maybe I’ll try to make them myself one day. If you do order dessert, be sure to order the Tres Leches cake. It was moist and delicious. Everyone at the table thoroughly enjoyed it.

Contact info:

Blue Habanero Street Tacos and Tequila
6416 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 465-1818

Rumi’s Market and Deli

I drive down Carnegie Avenue all the time, so I was curious about the metal and glass building that went up just down from the Cleveland Clinic at the E. 82nd Street intersection. One of my friends raved about her visit to the place on Facebook, so I knew I had to check it out. I’m glad I did. I’ve been a regular shopper ever IMAG0072since.

Rumi’s has a cafeteria-style deli that offers hot entrees, beef and chicken kebabs, sandwiches, a fresh salad bar and most intriguingly an olive bar. The choices the most recent time I was there included spaghetti with cheese and meat, fried chicken and a spicy Chinese stir fry. They also had several soups. The kebabs are on spits just like I am familiar with from Germany. The meat is roasted on the spit and shaved off when you order. They then heat it on the flat top grill, which I find a IMAG0073bit odd since it should be hot from the spit. But it isn’t dried out, so I am not going to question it.

Being a fan of kebabs, I have yet to venture far from that choice. They offer the kebab as a sandwich with pita or as an entree with 2 sides for $10.95. There are four different sides to choose from. My first time was extremely orange. I chose the mac n IMAG0074cheese and the saffron rice to go with the chicken kebab. The meat was tender and not dried out at all. The mac n cheese was a little bland, but it was certainly palatable. The rice was moist and delicious. They also offer Afghani Pulao (pilau), Indian Biryani, korma, rotisserie chicken with a pomegranate glaze, and lots of other choices. The restaurant is open from 10 to 2 on Sunday and Monday and 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

IMAG1587We wandered around the market, which had just opened, and were very pleased to see the variety of Turkish, Middle Eastern and Indian foods available. The shelves were much more stocked on my second visit, and I picked up a lot of fun things like pickled mango (chutney?), Mango Tang, mint tea, orange and cinnamon herbal tea, stuffed eggplant and stuffed pepper in a plastic, ready-to-eat tub, and some juices. Most intriguing was a Basil Seed Drink with White Grape flavor. It was really, really good. The IMAG1589texture of the basil seed reminded me of a really tiny bubble tea, and the white grape flavor was heavenly. I can see myself going back and buying lots of these next time. Now that the place has been open a while I keep an eye on the expiration dates, which sometimes have expired. I buy boxes of baklava, produce, frozen entrees and appetizers, and various teas here as well. I do chuckle when I notice the Aldi brand small appliances for sale.

IMAG1584On my second visit I tried the chicken kebab with the saffron rice and sauteed vegetables. The chicken kebab was even better than the beef kebab. The chicken kebab was moist and paired really well with bites of rice and veggies. I was most surprised by how much I loved the sauteed vegetables. I have never been a huge fan of celery, but the sauteed celery really dominated the mix and was quite flavorful. The other vegetables included broccoli, onion and yellow and red peppers. I really enjoyed it a lot, and felt like my meal was quite healthy (if you don’t count the Mountain Dew from the soda fountain).

My friends and I also met here for their Ramadan buffet last year. I have several friends who are Muslim, so I wanted to share their holiday with them. The buffet was very plentiful, and the food is weighed. It is open before sunset as well, so we got there a little earlier than sunset to avoid the crowd. We piled our plates with lots of good food, and much of it was quite spicy.

They serve American deli sandwiches, chicken, turkey, and burgers to IMAG0075cater to the Clinic crowd who don’t necessarily want Persian food, but want a quick and affordable lunch option. Their fried chicken also appears to be quite popular.

A word of warning: don’t think the red sauce on the salad bar is French dressing. It’s hot sauce. I smothered my beautiful salad with it, only to find it was too hot to eat. I ate around the sauce, but at around $5.40 a pound I was upset that I wasted a lot of it.

Contact info:

Rumi’s Market and Deli
8225 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland OH 44103

Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina

I live at the top of the hill into Little Italy, but I gladly drive to Euclid to eat at Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina. I discovered it recently while at the Euclid Library for an event. I left hungry and searched for some place nearby. I am so glad I chose it. As soon as I walked in I remembered having seen a video of them receiving an award for Best Sinful Dessert in Cleveland, so I immediately knew I was going to be in good hands. Established in 1989, it was closed for a while after a mechanical fire and has recently reopened.

This family-owned and operated gem has a lot going for it. Everything is homemade – from the bread to the pasta. The bread is an adaptation of the pizza dough and is fired as a flatbread that is cut in half and topped with a light garlic butter and pepper. I actually wish the bread was more substantial, but it is at least plentiful. They are willing to keep bringing out more and more.

I first want to note that I love their presentations. The wood planks that serve the bread and the funky, off-kilter bowls that the soup, salad and pasta come in are just whimsical and fun.

The house soup is their lasagna soup. I haven’t had a chance to try it, because I don’t want to overload on tomato sauce when I’m there but I will soon. I have tried one of their soups of the day. The soup that day was “chicken soup,” and it was a delightful soup that was reminiscent of Italian wedding without the meatballs and tons of escarole. There were some greens and tiny pasta balls. I had to add just a bit of salt and pepper to it to liven it up to my liking, but I happily finished it.

The side salad with house Italian dressing always hits the spot. It is dressed with the perfect amount of dressing – not too little, not too much – and topped with shredded cheese, cherry tomato halves, cucumber slices and a couple pepperoni. I got to have my vegetarian friends’ pepperoni last time. So if you are a vegetarian, be forewarned to order with no pepperoni.

They have house pasta specialties such as lasagna, involtini, and pepe e cacio, various meat and vegetarian entrees, focaccia stuffed sandwiches, pizza and calzones as well as Pasta Your Way. Regular pasta (spaghettini, capellini, penne, rigatoni, ziti tagliati, and fettuccini) is a base rate of $10, cavatelli and gnocchi are $11, stuffed pasta (meat, cheese or spinach ravioli and stuffed shells) is $12, bucatini, spaghetti chitarra and and “gigli toscana” are $12.50, and whole wheat pasta and gluten-free penne are $14. Pappadelle, burrata ravioli, and lobster ravioli are $14. They offer twelve different pasta sauces – marinara, carbonara, meat sauce, pomodoro, alfredo, “rosella” (a blend of their marinara and alfredo), piccata (lemon butter), marsala, aglio e olio, pesto, putanesca, and salsa a vongoli (baby clams slow cooked in either creamy alfredo, marinara, or oil and garlic). The pesto, carbonara, putanesca, pomodoro, alfredo, rosella, salsa a vongoli have an upcharge of $3 and the other sauces (except marinara) have an upcharge of $2. You can also add on various meats, seafood and veggies for  $2.50-$3.50 depending on the addition.

I had a bite of my friend’s gnocchi in the rosella sauce, and it was right up there with Trattoria’s gnocchi, which has been my gold star standard for years. The gnocchi were light, and the rosella sauce complemented it well. Another friend ordered the gnocchi with the putanesca sauce. She was also very pleased with her selection.

The first time I ate here the Sunday Sauce called to me, and I simply can’t break away from ordering it. Sunday Sauce is what every Italian I know makes – call it sauce or gravy, it is simmered for a long time with pork neck and/or back, sausage and meatballs or even braciole. I order it every time I go and just vary the pasta. The Sunday Sauce is a delicious tomato sauce that comes with an Italian sausage, a meatball and some pork. For $20 it is generous enough for leftovers every time.

Unfortunately another friend was less thrilled with her spaghetti and meatballs and sent it back. The noodles were overcooked, and she didn’t like the sauce at all (I think she had ordered the pomodoro sauce). We were a big table and it took forever to get our meals that night, so it might have been a blip. Although, she is Italian, so why she didn’t order the Sunday Sauce is beyond me.

They are known for their Involtini pasta, which is ricotta cheese-filled pasta rolled into a log then cut into large pin wheels. I ordered it the second time I ate here – with the Sunday Sauce. It was almost too rich and decadent.

The pizza at the table next to me the other day looked delicious, and I was almost tempted to order one. One of the employees walked the little boy who enjoyed the pizza into the back to see the pizza oven. It’s a nice, family-friendly touch. Because when you are here you are treated like part of the family. I’m not even kidding.

We celebrated one of my friend’s birthdays here and I knew we had to order the cannoli cake. It is two layers of vanilla cake, a layer of chocolate cake and tons of layers of cannoli filling, coffee liqueur, as well as crushed cannoli shells that are dipped in chocolate and a chocolate ganache. This cake is the BOMB. I am not exaggerating that it is probably the best dessert I have ever had – and I don’t like cannoli! It is light and ethereal – not dense at all. Simply heavenly. A small cake runs $40 and easily fed eight of us and yielded eight generous slices to take home as well. You can also order this cake for one person – just call ahead and order it.

They have an excellent wine list, and I can recommend the limoncello cocktail and Venetian Spritz!

Contact info:

Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina
711 Babbitt Road
Euclid, OH 44123
(216) 261-1168