Everybody loves a good clambake

100_1088Clam bakes (or as we in Cleveland spell it – “clambakes”) originated in New England, but Cleveland has taken the clambake and embraced it as its own fall tradition. Many restaurants advertise their clambakes in the Plain Dealer and online, but if you ask me the best clambakes are the ones thrown in someone’s backyard. A clambake is a traditional method of cooking seafood over an open fire pit on the beach. The seafood is often supplemented by sausages, chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn on the cob, etc. The food is layered, with lots of vegetables like celery, parsnips, onions, peppers, corn husks, etc. and herbs as flavoring.

As Wikipedia states:

Clam bakes are more popular in Northeast Ohio than any other region of the United States outside of New England. (Source: October 2008). Visit Cleveland“. Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau.) A typical clam bake in Northeast Ohio includes a dozen clams with a half chicken, sweet potatoes, corn, and other side dishes. Seaweed is not used and the clams, chicken, and sweet potatoes are all steamed together in a large pot.

100_1089My best friend and her family have a clambake every year, and my parents and I really look forward to it. Invitations go out in early September, and payment is due about a week ahead of the clambake (so that they can order the right amount from one of the many Cleveland catering companies that sell clambakes). The company they use is Quality Halls Meat Market in Olmsted Falls, but I have had good experience with Euclid Fish in Mentor as well.

The family works hard the day before rinsing the sand out of the clams and prepare them. Also, the seasoning and vegetables they use really add to the bake.

My friends assign everyone something to bring in the invitation, so it isn’t a financial hardship for them. I usually get asked to bring some German beer, but I was assigned appetizers this year. I made Trader Joe’s Parmesan Pastry Pups, which are essentially pigs in a blanket sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. They were a total hit. My mom made Barefoot Contessa’s Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry, which were also delicious. My pastry pups disappeared, and Mom only had a few puff pastry pieces left over. Most of the salads and side dishes, on the other hand, went untouched because the clambakes were so filling.

100_1091They also offer a “chicken bake” alternative, because several people don’t like the taste of clams and two of the attendees are extremely allergic to shellfish. Since everything is boiled together in a pot, that means everything might be potentially life-threatening. As a result, they grill chicken breasts and make separate corn and sweet potatoes for the “chicken bakes.” It’s a lot more work, but it does work out in the end. They also try hard to keep the chicken bakes and clambakes separate.

100_1092Once it was determined that the pot contents were ready, the pot was removed from the burner and deconstructed. First, the seasoning vegetables were removed and set aside. Then the chickens were removed and browned in a large skillet over the same burner. In the meantime, the sweet potatoes and corn were transferred to serving platters and the clams were kept in the pot to stay warm. Everyone was encouraged to line up and help themselves.

100_0041There is always a bonfire roaring in the backyard, and folks congregate around the fire. There are also rousing games of corn hole and baseball in the backyard – and some years they blow off a cannon.

The family was sick this year, so the rest of us did our best to help and pull everything together. It takes a bit of work to put it all together, but when everyone gets together to enjoy the food and the company, it’s totally worth it. I deliberately selected the smallest chicken and sweet potato and only took a pat of potato salad, leaving the other sides alone, but was still completely stuffed afterward. No one went home hungry, and my dad left with a gallon of clam bouillon, which is his favorite part of the clambake.

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Brasa Grill Steakhouse

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Brasa closed in November 2018. I will miss the delicious skewers of meat and amazing salad bar, but luckily we have Rodizio Grill in Valley View and Texas de Brazil on the east (Woodmere) and west (Crocker Park) sides in case you have a craving for skewers of meat.

brasaI love Brazilian steakhouses. Brazilian steakhouses feature skewered cuts of meat grilled over a wood burning fire and sliced into thin, succulent pieces (churrasco) and served to you continuously at your table from skewers. They also feature an all-you-can-eat salad bar. When you want some meat, you flip the table-side card to green and when you need a break you flip the card to red. My first experience was in Cincinnati at Boi Nai Brasa. As a beginner I had no idea what to expect and filled up on its truly outstanding salad bar and barely had any room for the delicious grilled meats.brasa1

I didn’t make the mistake at The Brasa Grill Steakhouse, which is located in Cleveland’s Warehouse District. Brasa is a truly unique restaurant for Cleveland. For $35 you can eat your choice of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, sausage, and turkey. If you love meat, this is the place for you. You can also pay $25 for just the salad bar, but why would you when brasa2you can eat your fill of prime rib, filet, chicken and lamb? Dinner starts off with a selection of appetizers and a trip to the salad bar. The salad bar features 40 different salads, vegetables, seafood and pastas.

Then the fun begins. Gauchos walk around the dining room with skewers of meat, announcing which cuts brasa3they are offering. When you would like a piece, they slice off a generous portion and you use your tongs to transfer it to your plate.

Definitely go there hungry. This is not a place for the faint-hearted. Also, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time. The food is best enjoyed in a leisurely fashion.

Contact info:

1300 West 9th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113
(216) 575-0699

Tremont Tap House & Grill

As the Tremont Tap House website explains, “Located on Cleveland’s Southside in the historic Tremont district, The Tremont TapHouse is the city’s first gastropub. The term gastropub is derived from London and depicts a casual pub that serves an upscale cuisine complimented by the assortment of wine and beer the tavern offers.  The TapHouse boasts a meticulous and extensive selection of hand crafted American and European beers. The list consists of 100 plus examples of fine beer, 24 of which are available on draft.”

taphouse1When I told my father I ate at the Tremont Tap House he exclaimed, “That used to be Pukach’s. Your Uncle Barney lived in the house behind it.” You see, my father grew up in the Tremont area and tells me all kinds of interesting stories about when he was a kid. GIs home from World War II used to rent rooms in homes and would hang out at the corner bars because they missed the company. They would also congregate at the Lincoln Park Bath House, because their rooms did not have modern bathing facilities. taphouse3They would sit outside and used to give him a dime to run next door for a pack of smokes and a bucket of beer when he was 8 or so.  This kind of stuff fascinates me, so I am really tempted to take him to the Tremont Tap House with me the next time I go, which will hopefully be soon.

We enjoyed a delightful evening at the Tremont Tap House the other night. The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cool. We sat on the patio under several umbrellas and enjoyed the mood lights once the sun went down. The beer list is quite impressive. I normally don’t take pictures of menus, but I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this one.

taphouse7The food was divine. I had a tough time deciding what to order. I ended up ordering the Salmon BLT on marble rye. It was delicious. The fries that accompanied it were thick and perfectly seasoned (you can see them peeking out from behind the sandwich).

taphouse4Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals. From the macaroni and cheese with dried figs, rosemary and brie (for our vegetarian, but it was so good I will probably order it next time!) to the seared sea scallops with white truffle oil and mushroom risotto or smoked ham and turkey sandwich with brie and cranberry relish served on raisin walnut bread (Thanksgiving in a taphouse11sandwich) and small plates like blackened scallops with red onion jam, blue cheese and walnuts to beer cheese soup and side salads, there was something for everyone. The fried egg burger with Swiss cheese and carmelized onions was a particular hit. The group had a discussion about how to best order the burger to bring out the flavors, with the quote “It is very important to me that it be medium rare.”

taphouse10The service was a little slow, but they had another large party upstairs, which I think overwhelmed them. The mac and cheese, which was ordered after we had all ordered by one of our late-comers, was comped without her asking because she had such a long wait for it. One of the dining out members, who wasn’t able to join us and tried it separately, now claims it is one of his favorite restaurants in Cleveland to bring guests or just relax and watch a game.

Contact info:

2572 Scranton Road
Tremont City, OH 44113
(216) 298-4451

Stone Mad Pub

stonemad2If you are looking for a place to spend an enjoyable evening, give the Stone Mad Pub a try. The restaurant is just off Detroit Avenue on W. 65th Street. They have put a lot of work into the place and have two photo albums depicting all the work that went into transforming the typical Cleveland row house into the impressive stonework and cobblestone masterpiece it is today. The owners tore the house down to the raw frame, and everything is new but purposely has an aged look.

stonemad3The first thing you notice when you park the car is all the stonework. This is not a place to wear stiletto heels, and I am glad I warned my dining out group about it. The driveway / parking lot to the right of the building is nothing but stone. The stonework patio (as seen in the photo) seems like a great place to while away an evening. Unfortunately when we were there a summer storm was looming, so we ended up seated inside.

stonemad5The inside of the restaurant is also quite impressive. It features shiny dark wood, stained glass, and a cozy fireplace. The back of the house is bright and airy, with light wood, lots of windows and a bocce ball court.

The food was pretty decent. Most of us ordered the hamburgers. I ordered the Stone Mad Burger with Swiss cheese and mushrooms. It was nice and juicy and was piled high with mushrooms. I stonemad7wasn’t as impressed with the hash browns, which I had to order separately. They were bland and not very well seasoned. I ate them with a lot of ketchup.

Other choices include various burger variations, pasta, an Iceberg wedge, and an Italian salad (Iceberg lettuce, cheese and Italian cold cuts – see below). I found the menu to be rather limited, particularly if you have vegetarians in your group. If the cook were to be a little more adventurous and upscale to stonemad11match the decor, this could definitely be a place to frequent regularly. If you want a good burger, this is the place to get one.

One thing I highly recommend is saving room for dessert and ordering the bocce ball. It was absolutely delicious and was the hit of the night. Dark chocolate cake nestled in a pillow of whipped cream and garnished with fresh blueberries. This photo is of it after it was cut up to be passed around and shared by everyone, and unfortunately does not do it justice. You have to taste it to believe it.

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Contact info:

Stone Mad Pub, Restaurant and Bocce Court
1306 W 65th St
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 281-6500

Julia Child

juliachildIf you’ve read my About page, you know that my mother is a huge fan of Julia Child. As a young wife, she taught herself to cook with her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and by watching her series The French Chef. I had no idea that she had her cookbooks autographed by Julia and Paul Child. We were sitting around talking about the new movie, Julie & Julia, the other weekend, and she told us a really cool story. Apparently Julia Child was autographing her newest cookbook release back in 1971, and Mom had brought her well-loved cookbooks with her as well. Julia’s husband, Paul, was so impressed at how well-used they were that he pointed them out to Julia. The result is that Mom has all three of her Julia Child cookbooks autographed by Julia and Paul Child. How cool is that?

Melt Bar and Grilled

I have been wanting to try Melt for over a year now. I tried to go there a few months ago, but ended up going to Buckeye Beer Engine instead because there was a 1 hour wait at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon.

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The Parmageddon

I had friends come into town last weekend and thought I should give it another shot. We got there at 8 PM on Thursday, fully expecting a wait. Little did I know it would be a 2 hour wait – and then there was a 1 hour wait after we put the order in. So don’t go there hungry. By the time you get your food you will be very hungry and will enjoy it immensely. On the bright side, the beer special that night was Reissdorf Kölsch and my friend was from Cologne (the beer served in Cologne is Kölsch), so we didn’t mind the wait. Lots of beer was consumed during the wait.

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Westside Monte Cristo

I ordered the sandwich that everyone talks about, the Parmageddon. It was absolutely delicious. The Parmageddon features potato and cheese pierogis with napa vodka kraut, onions and cheddar on Texas toast.

My friend, S., ordered the Westside Monte Cristo, which features honey ham, smoked turkey, and Swiss and American cheese dipped in batter and served with mixed berry preserves. She gave me a taste, and it was absolutely delicious.

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Mushroom Melt

Her husband, C., ordered the Mushroom Melt and actually moaned after his first bite. I think I need to order this the next time I am there. The Mushroom Melt has grilled portabella mushrooms, caramel port onions and provolone cheese. Simplistic, yet delicious.

C. finished his sandwich, fries and sweet slaw (which really impressed our waitress), but S. and I had lots of fries and slaw left over. I had also wanted to order a fried Twinkie to split, but we were so full…

So, in summary, Melt Bar and Grilled rocks, but expect a long wait and don’t go there hungry. I can’t wait until the new place opens on the East Side. I hope there is more seating and a bigger kitchen in it. I’ll be there all the time!

Contact info:

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-3699

Shooters on the Water

shooters_21Shooters on the Water opened in June of 1987. I celebrated my 21st birthday there back then, but don’t remember much about that night. I don’t know if it was because it was so long ago or because I enjoyed finally being legal. Shooters is located on the Cuyahoga River in on the West Bank of the Cleveland Flats and was one of the forerunners of the Flats. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s the Flats were the place to be and I mourn what it used to be – not what it turned into. Although the Flats are essentially no more, Shooters is still around. I had not been back since I turned 21, and I hadn’t gone there for the food that night. I was curious as to how it would be.

shooters_1When the weather is nice I love dining outside and especially on the water, so I thought it would be an interesting place for my Dining Out group to meet. Unfortunately seating on the water is first come, first served and because we were a big group we were seated inside the restaurant. The service was pretty attentive, all things considered, and despite putting everything on one check they were willing to break it down and allow us to pay for our meals separately. We just had to tell them how much our share was.

shooters_3My friend Lenore and I could not decide what to order, so we ordered two entrees and split them. We chose the chopped salad (crisp greens, vine-ripe tomatoes, diced turkey breast, chopped egg, cucumbers, red onion, applewood smoked bacon, shredded provolone cheese and choice of dressing on the side) and the Philly Steak and Cheese shooters_4(shaved prime rib, caramelized onions and mushrooms, stuffed in a toasted hoagie roll with melted mozzarella and a side of au jus). We both really enjoyed the salad, but Lenore was not impressed with the sandwich. She found it too dry. I figure you can’t expect too much from a Philly cheese steak in Cleveland. Plus, she’s from New York and is used to good bread, which this hoagie bun was not. One of our other friends ordered the Philly Steak sandwich with onion rings, which were quite delicious. Next time I’m going to order some seafood though.

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Everyone seemed pleased with their meals, from the Chicken Quesadilla and Calamari Dibattista (lightly breaded, sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, banana peppers and roasted red peppers) to the Rasta Pasta (roasted garlic-asiago Alfredo, spinach, fresh diced tomatoes, mushrooms, linguini pasta and shaved parmesan) and Rajun Cajun chicken breast sandwich.

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As has become a tradition, several of us ordered dessert and shared it by passing it around the table. The New York Style Cheesecake and Death by Chocolate were enjoyed by all.

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Contact info:

1148 Main Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861-6900

Romanini’s in Aurora

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I’ve heard good things about Romanini’s in Aurora and figured I should see for myself. The original plan was to meet friends there for dinner to carb up the night before the Cleveland 3-Day a few weeks ago, but life got in the way and we agreed on a raincheck. The night we were there was probably one of the best nights to sit outside we’ve had all year. Not too hot, not too cool – but just right.

First of all, valet parking is mandatory and complementary. It is also a necessity, because Romanini’s does not have many parking spaces and there aren’t many parking options in the immediate area. Be sure to plan accordingly to have money to tip the valet after your meal.

Romanini’s menu reflects the wide range of cuisines – the small plates and entree sections are broken down into Asian, Southwestern and Italian. It was hard to decide from such diverse choices. I’m going to have to try the mussels the next time I’m there. I just have to decide which ones to try. There are three options…

100_0969My friends were seated at the bar, enjoying a stemless glass of wine, when I arrived. Since the evening was so beautiful we chose to sit on the outside patio. The patio overlooks a body of water, and there were kayakers cruising back and forth on the water that night. It was very peaceful.

The first order of business for me was a cocktail. I tried the Romaninitini and then followed it with the New Age Martini, which the table next to us was enjoying, and it very refreshing. Both cocktails were very light and fruity. The New Age Martini relied on sparking white wine and fruit, but it was not too sweet. It was quite nice.

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Romaninintini

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New Age Martini

Gretchen and I split the vegetable tempura and sushi appetizer. I’m not a fan of tempura (I find it generally too greasy and not very savory), but the sushi 100_0970was delicious. I only wish there were several more pieces of it. The tempura was batter-dipped vegetable slices of eggplant, carrot, and zucchini and a shrimp, which we divided in two to try each one.

One of the servers suggested ordering several small plates, but we decided to order entrees. The entrees come with a choice of three salads and the vegetable of the day. Jon and I chose the Caesar salad with roasted red peppers, which was delicious, while Gretchen ordered the house salad.

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Caesar salad with roasted red peppers

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House garden salad

100_0974I had chosen Romanini’s for the spaghetti and meatballs, but once I saw trout on the menu I had to order it. This trout was rainbow trout stuffed with crab and wrapped with pancetta. It was served with sauteed yellow and green zucchini. It was delicious – and just as good the next day.

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Jon ordered the Meza Rigatoni Bolognese and offered me a taste, which was good. However, it isn’t like any Bolognese I’ve ever seen/enjoyed. It features beef short ribs and hot Italian sausage in the sauce, but most Bolognese I have enjoyed are usually piled with meat. But I’m not ripping on this version, because it was delicious. The fresh chopped basil was a nice touch.

100_0976Gretchen wanted the halibut, but they were out. She ordered another fish (I think it was haddock?) with a sweet mushroom sauce. She was surprised by the sweetness of the sauce, but said it complemented the fish very nicely.

We were too full for dessert, but the choices were so tempting that Gretchen ordered a cannoli for the three of us. It was a nice way to round out the evening, but I would have probably ordered the Derby Pie.

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Contact info:

Romanini’s
238 Garfield Route 82
Aurora, OH 44202
330-562-1205

Brunch at Lucky’s Cafe

I have a new favorite brunch place in Cleveland. It’s Lucky’s Cafe in Tremont. (FYI, The Vine and Bean Cafe on Larchmere apparently has the same menu.) I learned to appreciate brunch while living in Germany. My friends and I would wake up late after a late night out, go out to a buffet of breakfast and lunch items and enjoy ourselves for hours. Lucky’s doesn’t have a buffet, but their brunch items are so delicious that quality wins out luckys_cafeaulaitover quantity. I love that they serve their coffee in cafe au lait mugs (what one of my friends lovingly calls a “bowl of coffee”). I miss my cafe au lait and love when I find a place that offers a good one!

I met my Meetup.com brunch group at Lucky’s the other day. We got there early to ensure we got a table for our large group. Lucky’s tends to fill up at around 11, but the picnic tables in the garden doubles the available seating space in the summer. Lucky’s grows a lot of the ingredients in that garden and prides itself on relying on locally grown produce.

luckys_waffleThey are best known for their waffles and something called a Shipwreck. It was a tough choice, but I decided to opt for the vanilla bean waffles with roasted peaches and honey whipped cream. They were absolutely divine!

The Shipwreck is a mix  of hash browns, eggs, veggies, bacon and cheddar cheese, served with house baked como toast and fresh fruit. I can’t wait to order this next time. It just luckys_shipwrecklooks amazing. Lucky’s also serves a vegetarian version of the Shipwreck called the Canoewreck. The Canoewreck features curried tofu, hash browns, seasonal veggies, and brewers yeast, served with Como toast and fresh fruit. I got to try my friend’s, and it was delicious.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals – from the biscuits and gravy (cheddar scallion biscuits topped with soft scrambled eggs and sausage gravy) to the Shipwreck and the omelette (spinach, mushrooms, zucchini and white cheddar cheese, served w/ hash browns & banana bread). I leave you with this final picture, which hopefully will make you smile.

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Contact info:

Lucky’s Cafe
777 Starkweather
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-622-7773

A&W Drive-In in Kent

100_0978I had a craving for a root beer float this afternoon after taking my dog to Bow Wow Beach in Stow. I haven’t had a root beer float in about twenty years and really enjoyed it. I was hoping it would be served in the big glass mug the root beer is served in, but unfortunately it came in a “to go” cup.

Who doesn’t love root beer? My German friends can’t understand the appeal, but anyone who has grown up in the U.S. surely has fond memories of it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of a root beer float,  it is traditionally made by pairing root beer with vanilla ice cream. A&W serves soft serve ice cream, but floats can also be served with scoops of ice cream.

I love A&W, because it features old-fashioned car hops. The root beer is mixed fresh on site every day. I think the A&W in Kent must have been built in the late 1960s, but that just adds to its charm. I wanted to get there before they closed down for the season.

100_0979Feeling a little peckish, I decided to try something different and tried their Mozza Burger, which features mozzarella cheese, bacon and a Thousand Island dressing. The patties were a little overcooked, but the mozzarella cheese and bacon really went well together. I’m going to have to try to recreate this burger at home. The crinkle fries were perfectly done, and my dog enjoyed her plain beef hotdog. It was a pleasant afternoon, and I was sad that I had finished my root beer float so quickly.

Contact info:

A&W Restaurant
1124 Main Street
Kent, OH 44240
330-673-6912