Bearden’s is back, baby!

Bearden’s in Rocky River is a Cleveland institution. Opened in 1948, Bearden’s is known for its bear logo, steakburgers and shakes. It closed a couple years ago when construction on Lake Road caused business to dry up. It reopened this past October. Most West Siders have a story about Bearden’s. I remember going to Bearden’s with my high school boyfriend on our first date. There was some discussion the night I went as to whether it was the original location. My friend and I remember it being much darker than it is now. I seem to remember wood paneling, and my friend Suzanne insists it was at the end of her grandmother’s street. Maybe there were two locations at one time. Who knows. In any case, the new Bearden’s is much brighter, but the iconic train with its stuffed bear conductor is still circling the dining area. Bearden’s is not fancy dining by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my fellow diners weren’t that impressed with the fare. If you are used to burgers at B Spot, Greenhouse Tavern or Whitey’s this place may not be for you. However, if you like Steak and Shake you’ll feel right at home. Kids adore it and it is good for a stroll down memory lane, eliciting the old 1950s diner vibe.

When I mentioned on Facebook that I would be dining at Bearden’s several of my friends mentioned the peanutburger, so of course I had to try it. I would have never thought creamy peanut butter spread on a burger would be tasty, but it wasn’t bad. If I were to go there again I would definitely order bacon with the burger. The chocolate milkshake was definitely a nice accompaniment to the peanutburger for this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan. Everyone at our table shared sides of golden fries and thick onion rings. My fries were quite tasty, with just the right amount of salt. The onion rings are fresh and not frozen. One side of fries or onion rings can easily be shared by two or three people.

The Plain Dealer’s Friday! magazine recently reviewed Bearden’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was there the night after we were. I distinctly remember the valentines on the windows too.

I was particularly thrilled to see that they offer birch beer on tap in the self-serve soda fountain. It’s one of my all-time favorite drinks from childhood, and you can’t find it everywhere.

Contact info:

Bearden’s
19985 Lake Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 331-7850

Empress Taytu

I could start the post with an ignorant joke about Ethiopian food, but I have become such a fan that the idea frankly offends me. If you haven’t eaten at Cleveland’s sole Ethiopian restaurant you have been missing out. I have eaten at Empress Taytu quite a few times in the last year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite IMAG5762restaurants. Not to mention the fact that it is truly unique!

To quote Wikipedia, “Ethiopian cuisine and Eritrean cuisine characteristically consists of spicy vegetable and meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. Ethiopians eat with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. No utensils are used.” Guests are encouraged to share, and the combination platters easily accommodate several people.

Located in a rather dicey part of town, Empress Taytu offers ample parking in a gated area or in front of the restaurant, so there is really no need to be afraid to dine here. Once you walk inside you feel like you’ve entered another world. Empress Taytu features several thatched huts and comfortable carved wooden chairs sets around a mesob, which is a traditional table that is curved to accommodate the tray containing the food. Before the food is served you are given a warm towel to wash your hands. As I said earlier, the food is ladled on top of the injera (and additional injera is served on a separate plate). You then tear off pieces of injera and wrap it around a mouthful of your food.

101_0503To be honest, the first time I ate here I wasn’t a fan, but from the second time on I was hooked. You just have to know what to order. You can’t go wrong with the sambusas or any of the other appetizers. My favorite entree at Empress Taytu is by far the tibs, which is sauteed meat or vegetables (see photo above). I prefer the chicken or shrimp tibs, which is shrimp or chicken sauteed with peppers, onions and various seasonings. It is served on the bread with a small, lightly dressed salad and one of the vegetarian entrees. I always order the tikil gomen (a stew featuring cabbage and carrots). This entree is so good I usually can’t stop eating it – even after I am full.

IMG_20110208_195435One of Empress Taytu’s most popular dishes is Dorowat, a spicy stew made of chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs. Ethiopian food can be very spicy, and Dorowat is one of the spicier dishes. Those of you new to Ethiopian food may want to order a combination platter to try the various entrees that are available. Empress Taytu offers meat (right) and vegetarian (above left) platters.

One thing you should be aware of – it is very easy to get full. The portions may not look very large when the food comes out, but you will be very surprised how quickly you become full. I used to split the vegetarian combination platter with my boyfriend, and we wouldn’t finish it.

If you have a lot of time (and can handle strong coffee in the evening), the coffee service is also a must. It is designed to slow things down and provide time for you and your fellow guests to talk. The server pan-roasts green Ethiopian coffee beans over a low fire until they browned and began to ooze oil. After the beans begin to smoke, she passes them around (or places them close to you) so that everyone can enjoy the aroma. Incense is also lit and carried around the room. The beans are then ground with a mortar and pestle and placed in a tall clay pot (see photo – and you can see some smoking incense in the background). We had ordered it as a group for a recent annual meeting of my translators group (we had the place to ourselves), so those of us who wanted coffee were asked to sit in a circle of low wooden chairs once the coffee was brewed and elaborately poured the coffee into cups.

Just don’t go here if you are in a hurry. You are definitely in a different world. Service is very slow, so consider yourselves forewarned. Just plan accordingly, allowing for several hours to dine before embarking on any other evening plans.

Contact info:

Empress Taytu
6125 Saint Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103-1627
(216) 391-9400

AMP 150 is off the chain!

My dining out group went to AMP 150 last Thursday night and had such an enjoyable experience. My assistant organizer had been tweeting about his excitement in going there, so they were fully aware we were coming. Since he had tweeted his disappointment about his meal at Chinato the weekend before, Ellis (the executive chef) was particularly careful informing the waitstaff. The service was quite good with one exception, but the size of our group probably threw them off a bit. Lisa, our server, did a wonderful job waiting on us and had no problem giving us separate checks.

Chef Ellis greeted us before the meal and came out afterward to answer any questions.

AMP 150 is located in the Cleveland Airport Marriott hotel. It has to be the best “hotel restaurant” I have ever eaten at. My only complaint is that the front parking lot was filled with cars (most likely guests’ cars), and most of us had to park at the back of the hotel and walk around the hotel in the freezing weather. Valet parking would have been extremely appreciated, and I for one would have gladly paid for it. Especially since a single woman walking by herself in a parking lot in West Park can get a little nervous…

Glazed Chesapeake Bay Cod with bok choy, broken shrimp, edamame, and smoked onion broth
Braised lamb special with Chorizo and white beans

AMP 150 features local Northern Ohio “farming and culinary artisanship” so the menu changes regularly. They had two special “secret fan” meals on offer that night – a Facebook special with Velvet Mushroom soup, Glazed Chesapeake Bay Cod with bok choy, broken shrimp, edamame, and smoked onion broth and the warm chocolate cake and the Twitter special with the Velvet Mushroom soup, braised lamb with Chorizo and white beans, and a Lemongrass Crème Brulee.

We started the meal by ordering an order of the sweet soy and peanut chicken wings with house-made kim chee and the spicy chicken wings. I was expecting more peanut flavor from the chicken wings, but they were indeed delicious. The housemade kim chee was not overpowering like kim chee usually is. I used to work at a Korean printing company in Germany and the smell of kim chee usually permeated the building since they worked and lived there. I enjoyed this version of kim chee.

Sweet soy and peanut chicken wings with house-made kim chee
Fried apple pie with Jeni's honey vanilla ice cream

AMP 150 offers small plates and entrees, so there are enough choices to fit everyone’s budget and palate. I had a really hard time deciding. I ended up choosing the Facebook special. The Velvet Mushroom soup was creamy and delicious with a slight hint of smoke. I would order it again on its own if given the choice. The Glazed Chesapeake Bay Cod with bok choy, broken shrimp, edamame, and smoked onion broth was a good choice for a low-fat meal (I’m on Nutrisystem, so I need to be good most of the week). The cod was flaky and the broth and vegetables were hot and delicious. The warm chocolate cake was served with a scoop of Jeni’s Double CoCo ice cream. Anyone who has ever tried Jeni’s Ice Cream would know that it is simply divine. The double coco could become a new favorite. It was rich and creamy and oh so chocolatey.

Milk chocolate pana cotta with salted caramel ice cream and malted hazelnut shake

The chef also sent out several items for us to try, including the braised lamb with farro risotto and celery root and the Fried Apple Pie with Jeni’s Honey Vanilla Ice Cream. Both were divine. The braised lamb had sold out by the time we ordered, but they had saved a portion for us to try. Ellis explained to us that he serves a cut from the neck of the lamb, so it was flavorful and moist due to the ribbons of fat. The fried apple pie was amazing. I think I might have liked it better than my warm chocolate cake.

Chicken Paillard Sandwich with mixed greens, lemon herb vinaigrette, Brie cheese, and white truffle aioli

However, the real star of the night was the Milk Chocolate Pana Cotta with Jeni’s Salted Caramel ice cream and Malted Hazelnut Shake. I have eaten desserts in Europe and the U.S. and have never had such a delicious dessert. It was creamy and chocolatey, but not too overpowering. Simply divine! I cannot wait to go back and order it again.

When I do go back (and it will be soon – my assistant organizer went back the next night!) I may just have to order the Chicken Paillard Sandwich with mixed greens, lemon herb vinaigrette, Brie cheese, and white truffle aioli or one of their delicious-sounding burgers to ensure I have room for the Pana Cotta. I can’t recommend AMP 150 enough, and I really hope you give it a try soon.

Contact info:

Amp 150 Restaurant & Bar
4277 W. 150th Street
Cleveland, OH 44135
(216) 651-9474

Disclaimer: the really great, close-ups were taken by my assistant organizer. The other (lamer) photos were taken by me. I will be buying a Canon as well soon, so expect to see better, more artistic photos here very soon.

A whole lot of happiness at the Happy Dog

My dining out group recently ate at a great little place called the Happy Dog. I had heard about it from other food bloggers, and definitely wanted to give it a try. It seemed like a cheap and fun place to eat, so I scheduled our dinner in early January after the holidays when money is tight for most people.

There are only three things on the menu at the Happy Dog – a quarter pound hot dog ($5), tater tots ($2.50) and french fries ($2.50). They also offer vegetarian options, including a vegetarian hot dog, for the vegetarians in the group. The thing that makes it fun is that they offer 50 toppings to top your food with, from vodka sauerkraut, blue cheese cole slaw, kim chee, Bourbon baked beans, Cheese Whiz, pineapple-ginger-currant chutney, and homemade ketchup to rainbow sprinkles and chunky peanut butter. There are also a ton of toppings and dipping sauces available for the tots and fries. You select your toppings on a check list using a putt-putt pencil (I don’t know the technical term for it) and the sky’s the limit. There is no extra price for each topping. The servers were very attentive and brought out lots of sauces for us to try.

One of my friends went old-school, choosing just mustard and onion on his dog. I went for the blue cheese cole slaw, stone ground mustard, homemade ketchup, and dill pickle. Yet another of my friends loaded his hot dog up with 7 toppings. I don’t know how he ate it, but it was definitely a feat. I think a knife and fork were IMAG5754involved. I know I used a knife and a fork for mine and I only had 4 toppings.

The dogs were delicious and the tater tots were just as awesome as I thought they would be. The hot dog had a nice bite to it, and the various toppings allowed everyone to customize their dog as they wanted. Only one person was unhappy with her meal, but we suspect she was not given what she ordered. With all the toppings it was hard to tell…

And the best part was the price tag. Dinner for two (a hot dog, a veggie dog and two orders of tots plus 3 Czech lagers and a raspberry martini) ran us $37.76. We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back. I hear they have a Polka Happy Hour on Friday nights…

Contact info:

The Happy Dog
5801 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 651-9474

Mike’s Place in Kent

When I was in grad school at Kent State University Mike’s Place quickly became a favorite haunt. Mike’s Place opened at 6 am on September 5, 1987 and has become an institution. People either love it or hate it. I love it, because you can’t help but love a place that features off-the-wall humor on the menu (click here to check out the menu in all its glory), quirky decorating and a fighter plane.

I was in Kent the other day to visit my dentist (no cavities) and decided to go to Mike’s Place for an early lunch. I was there at 11 a.m., and apart from a couple hung over co-eds the place was populated with an older crowd than I was used to seeing.

My favorite sandwiches at Mike’s Place include Samuri Mike’s Teriyaki Terror (a hamburger with teriyaki sauce and onion rings), Josh’s Chicken Meltdown (fried chicken tenders, sautéed onions, American & Swiss cheese on 2 slices of grilled rye) and Lutz Lavishous Lust (pictured here – grilled chicken breast, bacon, 1000 island dressing, tomatoes & pineapple topped with shredded cheese), but there is a sandwich for just about every taste under the sun. You will need at least ten minutes to peruse the menu and narrow down your choices. I never managed to order a dinner entree, because I never managed to work my way through the sandwich menu!IMAG5792

Mike’s also serves breakfast all day, which was really appreciated when I was in grad school. They also feature lots of affordable specials. Mike’s hours of operation are 6 am – 11pm Monday through Thursday and 6 am to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 7 am to 10 pm on Sundays.

And if your sandwich is too sloppy, there is always a roll of paper towels on the table.

Contact info:

Mike’s Place
1700 S. Water Street (corner of SR 43 & SR 261)
Kent, Ohio 44240
330-673-6501

Apple turnovers at Blue Jaye Farm

I am not a big fan of baked goods (despite the fact that I worked at Baker’s Square for five years in high school and college). I usually leave the crust on pies and just eat the filling, and scones make me gag because I find them too dry. 100_1139But I stopped at Blue Jaye Farm on Liberty Road in Twinsburg (edit: the place has since closed – now working out of Heritage Farm in Peninsula) the other day to pick up some apple cider and was hungry, so I grabbed an apple turnover. Oh my goodness was it delicious. The turnover was flaky and delicious with just a hint of creamy vanilla goodness. I went back today and bought some more. I asked her what her secret ingredient was (making a joke that it was crack), and she told me she makes them two ways – plain and with cream cheese. I was lucky enough to buy one that uses cream cheese, although I bought a plain apple turnover too for the trip home and that was just as flaky and delicious. The apple turnovers made with cream cheese are slightly larger than the regular apple turnovers. Both are available for $1.50 each.

100_1140She sells lots of baked goods there, including chocolate chip cookies, rice krispie treats, fudge and homemade pies (I saw pumpkin, apple walnut, mixed berry and blueberry when I was there), as well as apple cider, apples, homemade jelly and preserves, pumpkins, and several kinds of candy for the kids. Not to mention the homemade wreaths, crafts, decorative corn stalks, and gourds. The pumpkins are gorgeous and are available in all sizes and colors (I’d never heard or seen cotton candy white pumpkins before). The variety is amazing.

Blue Jaye Farm also offers hayrides on the weekend. Be sure to check the site, because it is only open until October 31st. However, you can buy her baked goods, gift baskets, wreaths, centerpieces, etc. at Heritage Farms at 6050 Riverview Rd. in Peninsula. You can also find them in July and August at the Farmer’s Market in Middlefield.

Contact info:

6050 Riverview Road
Peninsula, Ohio
(330) 657-2330

Melt Bar and Grilled, Part Two

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Westside Monte Cristo

My love affair with Melt continues. My brunch group met there on a Saturday morning in September. We got there a half hour before it opened because the organizer got the times mixed up, so we were the first folks in the restaurant and the first table to be seated. The place quickly filled up, and every seat was soon full.

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Porky Cheese (honey ham, crisp bacon and Swiss cheese)

I wish I had thought to take a photo of the menus. They are cleverly printed on the backs of old album covers. The Muppet Christmas Album and Kenny Rogers menus were particularly comical. The album covers span many different genres from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Since we were a large group (and the kitchen is probably fairly small) our sandwiches came out in batches. It didn’t matter. We were enjoying each other’s company.

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Chorizo & Potato

Being a large group, we were able to order a lot of different sandwiches. Knowing how filling the sandwiches were, I planned on eating half of my sandwich and taking the other half home. The woman to my left commented that she thought I was a wimp when I told her my plan, but then she ended up doing the same thing with her very filling chorizo and potato grilled cheese.

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Soul Vegetarian

Several of our members are vegetarians, so they were looking forward to the sandwich of the month, the Soul Vegetarian, which featured fried green tomatoes, collard greens, black-eyed pea puree, and pepper jack cheese jalapeno cornbread. I was able to taste it, and it truly was a taste sensation. The collard greens were simmered in garlic, and that took it to the next level!

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The Kindergarten

I had been looking forward to trying the Mushroom Melt, but it seemed too early in the morning to be eating caramelized onions. So I ended up ordering The Kindergarten and added spinach, tomatoes and bacon. It was absolutely delicious.

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Breakfast Burger

With the focus on the grilled cheese the fact that Melt also serves grilled cheese burgers sometimes gets overlooked. Since it was brunch, the lone burger at the table was the Breakfast Burger, which features two Amish farmed fried eggs, crisp bacon, and American cheese. It is my friend’s favorite thing on their menu, and he loves it medium rare. It is cut in half here in the photo, because he cut it to make sure it was medium rare. The burger came out just to his specifications, and he loved it.

As has become our custom, we also ordered several desserts and passed them around the table. I had looked forward to the fried Twinkies, which are served with mixed berry preserves, but was most taken with the pumpkin cheesecake. It was creamy and delicious. I leave you with photos of the mouthwatering desserts.

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Fried Twinkies
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Bread Pudding
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Pumpkin Cheesecake

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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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.

parmageddon
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.

montecristo
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.

mushroom
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

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