Sokolowski’s University Inn

Sokolowski’s is a Cleveland institution. My father used to eat there all the time with his co-workers from Richman Brothers, and I grew up hearing about his lunches at Sokolowski’s, Sterle’s and the Hofbräuhaus. I finally got a chance to check it out for myself about ten years ago and have been a fan ever since. I was craving comfort food this afternoon, so I called some friends and we headed out to Sokolowski’s. We got there at around 11:30 to avoid the lunch rush, and got in line just in time because Lolly the Trolley let off a big group there just behind us.

Established in 1923, Sokolowski’s University Inn is one Cleveland’s oldest family owned and operated restaurants. Specializing in Polish and Eastern European cuisine, this Cleveland institution has been feeding its bratwurst, kielbasa (my dad’s favorite), pierogi, stuffed cabbage, cabbage and noodles, chicken paprikash, etc. to its customers for over 87 years.

Food is served cafeteria-style. There is always a crowd, but don’t worry – being cafeteria style the line moves fast. You line up, grab a tray and silverware and work your way down the line. I couldn’t help but start dancing when I grabbed my tray and heard the polka music. The first stop is salads (as well as beet salad and a delicious cucumber-dill salad) served on ice and saran-wrapped pies and cakes, followed by alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages either from bus tubs or the fountain (and they offer several beers on tap – today they had my favorite, Reissdorfer Kölsch on tap for $5 for a pint, but I went with their ‘house’ brand grape soda). After that you are confronted with the hot foods. Every lunch and dinner is served with a roll, so they have a sign telling you to take one. You have to be quick with your order because they move quickly. Hot food is constantly being brought out from the kitchen behind them. All lunches and dinners come with two sides, and they don’t give you a lot of time to think about it. Some of the available sides include pierogi, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, and cabbage and noodles. You can also order soup and/or sandwiches (which come with a pickle and potato salad). Friday lunch and dinner features lots of fish choices – as well as mac and cheese.

Have a heart for those behind you and try to pay in cash if you can. It keeps the line moving. They have a $10.00 limit for credit cards. They have guys waiting at the cash register to carry your tray and escort you to a table. Normally I ask to sit in the room with the piano player. Tom “Mr. T at the Keys” Ballog plays during Wednesday through Saturday hours. It adds a nice ambiance to the meal. Dad also taught me to unload your tray onto the table when you sit down so they can quickly reuse them, but I don’t know if that is necessary anymore.

My choice today was the fresh bratwurst with a side of pierogi and corn. The woman behind the counter gave me corn and green beans. When I corrected her she slapped some pierogis on a plate for me and told me to tell the cashier (who is one of the owners) that it was a mistake. Well, I didn’t have the heart to do that and paid for the pierogis extra. They’re worth it. But you do need to be vigilant at the counter, because they managed to screw up each of our three orders somehow. In the end I was really pleased I had the corn and green beans (if you are a fan of canned green beans you will be thrilled. Yes, yes, when it comes to green beans I have no taste…), because I walked out of there this time not feeling overloaded with carbs. Sokolowski’s can be quite carb-heavy, as my friend who had the pierogi lunch with potato pancakes and mashed potatoes and gravy can attest. He ended up boxing half of his meal and bringing it home.

Since this is a Cleveland food blog, let me just talk about the pierogi for a second. Sokolowski’s pierogi may be small and only come filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, but they pack a flavorful punch. They are served in a pool of melted butter and sautéd onions. I dripped some of the butter on my t-shirt today and can still smell the onion and butter as I type this. About a year ago I did a taste test, going to Babushka’s Kitchen one night and Sokolowski’s for lunch the next day. I ordered the same thing – stuffed cabbage and pierogi. Babushka’s Kitchen’s pierogi are bigger and there are a lot more choices to choose from, but Sokolowski’s won my heart hands down. Babushka’s definitely gives them a run for their money, but you just can’t beat the flavor of Sokolowski’s pierogi. But for the record, Sokolowski’s stuffed cabbage blows Babushka’s away. It isn’t even a contest in my book. It may not be haute cuisine, but it tastes just like my Ukrainian grandma used to make it.

I had enough room for a bite of the coconut cream cake, which is one of my favorite desserts there (if they don’t have the rice pudding). It looks really heavy, but you wouldn’t believe how light and airy it is. It’s like biting into a cloud of moist cake, whipped cream and coconut. I also had a bite of my friend M.’s carrot cake, and it may have replaced the coconut cream cake in my favorites list. Whatever your dessert favorite, be it rice pudding, cherry, apple or blueberry pie (or whatever other flavor they have), chocolate cream pie, coconut cake, or carrot cake, you won’t go wrong grabbing it at the top of the cafeteria line – even if you have to box it up and bring it home with you, which is what I usually do.

Friday nights I can highly recommend the meatloaf. The slice of meatloaf almost hangs over the plate and has a nice tomato-chipotle glaze. One of the best meatloaves I have ever eaten in a restaurant.IMAG0602

The Innerbelt Bridge project has made it a little more difficult to find it, but the long line at 11:30 shows that it hasn’t killed business. Coming from the east, we got off at the Abbey Avenue exit, took a left on Fairfield Avenue, turned onto W. 11th and pulled into the parking lot on Abbey. Luckily there were signs to Sokolowski’s with arrows that we could follow. Sokolowski’s has directions on its website, but they should only serve as a guideline. If you head to Parallax and South Side you’ll find Sokolowski’s. And I promise it’s well worth the extra aggravation.

I had been debating between Slyman’s and Sokolowski’s today, but Slyman’s sandwiches are $11.00-12.00 and my bratwurst lunch with two sides at Sokolowski’s was $8.00. Sure, I paid extra for the cake, drink and side of pierogi, but I was very happy with my decision to eat at Sokolowski’s. Slyman’s will be there another day. Sokolowski’s is open Monday-Friday 11 am – 3 pm and Friday and Saturday from 5 pm – 9 pm and 4 pm – 9 pm respectively.

Contact info:

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

And did I mention that Anthony Bourdain ate here for his show “No Reservations”? The website also features Michael Symon talking about Sokolowski’s pierogi in “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Like I said, it’s an institution…

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Tree Country Bistro on Coventry Road

Tree Country Bistro is just down the street from me, and I had no idea it was there for almost a year. That was a real shame, but I’m making up for lost time. Right in the heart of Coventry, this tiny little restaurant is an Asian food haven. Tree Country Bistro offers a large variety of menu selections ranging from Japanese entrees and sushi to Korean such as Bi Bim Bab and traditional Thai curries. Located so close to Pacific East I never thought to go to Tree Country Bistro for sushi, but their sushi is equally fresh and delicious. When I order sushi for delivery, Tree Country Bistro is my first choice, because they offer a wide selection of sushi and some other warm appetizers like shumai (steamed or fried shrimp dumplings with a soy ginger sauce – I prefer them steamed as in this photo).

You can’t go wrong with the spring rolls (as seen in the top photo behind my melon smoothie) or the gyoza (pork dumplings), but if you want to try something different I highly recommend you try the soft shell crab tempura as an appetizer. The dish features lightly breaded and perfectly fried soft shell crab and vegetables with a light dipping sauce. Wow! Talk about different and delicious!

My favorite roll is their Ebi Mango Maki, which features cooked shrimp, fresh mango, tempura crumbs and a special sauce. The flavor is bright and delicious. The tempura crumbs were a nice contrast to the smoothness of the mango.

If you prefer trying their Korean dishes you will also not be disappointed. Their Bulgogi and Bi BimBap are definite must-tries. Bulgogi is a Korean dish that usually consists of marinated barbecued beef, chicken or pork. It is listed at number 23 on the World’s 50 most delicious foods readers’ poll compiled by CNN Go in 2011. Bulgogi literally means “fire meat” and is made from thin slices of beef. Before cooking, the meat is marinated to enhance its flavor and tenderness with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, pepper and other ingredients such as scallions, onions or mushrooms.

The day we ate there most of my friends ordered the various versions of BimBap, which features chicken or beef. It is made with bulgogi-style meat and deliciously marinated vegetables. Tree Country Bistro serves their traditional BimBap with a cooked egg on top (see photo on left). They also serve Okdol Bi BimBap (on the right), which is served in a sizzling hot stone pot. Everyone loved their choices.

The service was attentive (considering we were a large table and they had quite a few additional tables to take care of at the same time). Drinks were refilled, and the attention to detail in the food was really remarkable. In fact, one of the plates of sushi was served in the shape of a heart, which was a cute touch. The owners brought out a beautifully cut plate of fresh fruit (watermelon, honeydew melon, grapes and orange slices topped with hand-carved carrot butterflies and flowers) for us on the house, which was a lovely surprise. Unfortunately my photo of it was blurry, so I can’t share it. It was the perfect ending to a delicious meal.

The menu is understandably extensive. You can check it out by clicking on the restaurant name under Contact info. I’m confident everyone you dine with will be able to find something to satisfy them.

Contact info:

Tree Country Bistro
1803 Coventry Road
Cleveland Hts. OH 44118
(216) 321-0644

An Ode to Smoked Prime Rib

Now being served in the dining room of Frank Sterle’s on Friday nights.

Oh, smoked prime rib, you complete me… your tender, juicy meat, your marbling, your smoky flavor, your crispy crust…
Served with creamy garlic mashed potatoes and the tenderest, butteriest ear of corn I’ve eaten in a long while…
Walter and Scott from Fat Casual BBQ in Macedona (later Tavern of Solon, now Frank Sterle’s) have outdone themselves – truly…
I don’t think I shall ever forget you.

Luckily I won’t have to, because they are starting to serve it again since the weather is starting to cool. Get your own smoked prime rib by visiting Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia Tavern of Solon Frank Sterle’s Slovenian Country House on Friday nights. The smoked prime rib is ready to serve at 5 and sells out quickly. The day I bought mine it sold out by 6:15. I got mine to go and ate the other half of the prime rib on a crispy baguette from Stone Oven for lunch the next day. If they’ve run out, you won’t go wrong ordering anything off their menu, such as the ribs, the smoked turkey, the brisket, the sweet potato salad, the deep fried potato salad…

Le Petit Triangle in Ohio City

This place is tiny (as in only maybe 8 tables – tops – in the winter and a few more on the sidewalk), but it serves up some heavenly crepes and French bistro fare. This is my go-to place whenever I want to have a leisurely breakfast or lunch featuring a good cafe au lait and feel like I’m back in Europe sitting in a little corner bistro. My first meal here was a memorable fondue dinner featuring the most amazing White Bordeaux back when it was Le Oui Oui Cafe. For such a small place and “limited” menu, the food is simply outstanding. I have never had a bad meal here. They serve a delicious Salad Nicoise (featuring pan-seared salmon filet, redskin potatoes, green beans, olives, tomato, hard boiled egg, and a peppercorn dressing), Croque Monsieur (ham, Gruyere and Bechamel sauce served warm on grilled challah with a side of potatoes), Croque Madame (the same sandwich but topped with a fried egg) and crusty baguette sandwiches. They are also known for their savory and sweet crepes and a delicious and filling French onion soup.

I was craving a baguette sandwich after watching Martha Stewart make one on her show, so I decided to enjoy a late lunch recently. I started with the French Three Onion Soup, which is topped with Gruyere and is vegetarian-based. Life just seems complete when you are eating a nice steaming bowl of French onion soup. Digging through the melty Gruyere cheese, tearing off some of the hunk of bread at the bottom of the bowl and getting the perfect amount of onions and broth is decadence at its best. In fact, I couldn’t wait to let it cool a bit before I dug in and burned my mouth. Do yourself a favor and let it cool just a bit.

For my baguette sandwich, I was torn between the Pan Bagna, which features Swiss cheese, ham, tomato, artichokes, spinach, olive tapenade on a baguette and served with a side of couscous-lentil salade, or the Caprese (fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato, spinach with pesto on a baguette). The server (who also happened to be the owner) recommended the Pan Bagna, so I went with her recommendation. Wow, it was great! The olive tapenade really made the sandwich shine. As you can see from the side shot of the sandwich it was just packed with cheese, ham and veggies. And have I mentioned the olive tapenade? Soooo good!

If you still have room, I highly recommend ordering one of their sweet crepes. They are absolutely divine.

They are open Monday and Thursday from 10 am-10 pm, Friday and Saturday from 10 am-11 pm and Sunday from 10 am-9 pm.

Contact info:

Le Petit Triangle
1881 Fulton Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 281-1881

Hot Sauce Williams

Edit: Hot Sauce Williams on Carnegie (pictured below) has closed, but the restaurant on Lee Road is still open. The restaurant on Superior is now called Hot Sauce Legacy Barbecue.

Photo from the Cleveland Scene

Hot Sauce Williams is a Cleveland institution. I drive past it all the time and had heard so many good things about it that I finally decided I needed to try it. If you love fried food that is slathered in hot sauce, then this is your place. We went to the main restaurant on Carnegie, but they have additional locations on Lee Road and Superior Avenue. The restaurant has a “divey” feel to it, which I always enjoy (I still miss the old Suds Maguire in Olmsted Township). The tables are covered in plastic and the place looks somewhat run-down. Just don’t come here expecting fast or friendly service.  In fact, the major negative about our visit to Hot Sauce Williams was that the service was slower than molasses and was not particularly friendly, but we quickly forgot about that after digging into the food. But if you go in knowing it’s a bit of a dive and that the food makes it worth the trip you’ll be ok. One thing I can say is that you get a massive amount of food for a great price. It just took an hour to get it. If you don’t want to wait that long, order whatever is in the warmers behind the counter.

Hot Sauce Williams’ fried chicken was highly recommended as being amazingly good, so I went there intent on fried chicken. I ordered the 2 piece fried chicken breast dinner and received two massive bone-in chicken breasts. They needed to make it in the back and took their good old sweet time doing so. It came out so hot it melted the styrofoam. I could barely finish one breast and took the rest home. It came with cole slaw and French fries and slices of white or wheat bread and cost a whopping $5.99.

The wing dinner was $5.00 and also came with French fries and coleslaw, white or wheat bread. My friend upgraded and ordered three different sides, which she absolutely raved about – mac and cheese, collard greens and candied yams. True Southern comfort food!

Another friend ordered a full slab rib dinner for $19.50 (it also comes with French fries, cole slaw and white or wheat bread). He let me try a couple bones while I waited for my food and watched everyone eat. They don’t fall off the bone, but they are nicely smoked and slathered in an absolutely delicious sauce. After all, Hot Sauce Williams is known for the BBQ sauce.

They gave our group a mess of French fries for free to compensate for our wait. We got an industrial restaurant aluminum pan brimming full of fries (you can see it at the top of the photo in the center of the table). The fries are actually store-bought Ore-Ida brand fries, but they were good – especially drenched in the hot sauce, which wasn’t all that hot (as in spicy).

We weren’t all that impressed with the desserts though (I was so unimpressed that I didn’t even take photos of it), so unless something really tickles your fancy just keep gorging yourself on the dinners. No one walked out of here hungry. In fact, we all left with lots of leftovers.

Hot Sauce Williams has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Man vs. Food. The menu item that was featured on Man vs. Food was the Polish Boy IMG_20170625_193149sandwich. It is a whopping $3.50. According to Man vs. Food, the Polish Boy is Cleveland’s signature menu item. I must not be a true Clevelander (although I was born in Parma and grew up in Olmsted Falls), because I have never had a Polish Boy. Pierogis? Yes. Kielbasa? Yes. But a Polish Boy? I had never heard of one until a few years ago. The Polish Boy at Hot Sauce Williams is made up of an all beef kielbasa, French fries, cole slaw, bbq pork shoulder, and hot sauce on a bun. I’ll be sure to get one next time.

Contact info:

Hot Sauce Williams
3770 Lee Road
Cleveland, OH 44128
(216) 921-4704

12310 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216)249-0710

Corky & Lenny’s

Corky & Lenny’s has earned itself quite a reputation in the deli business, having served Clevelanders for over 55 years. The menu is massive and features all kinds of kosher and non-kosher goodies, including massive, overstuffed pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, various entrees featuring lox (smoked salmon), kishkas and knishes, burgers, and other treasures. I always make sure to bring my father a knish when I go to Corky & Lenny’s.

You stand in line by the deli counter and are seated by the hostess. A small counter is also available for solo diners. Once you are seated your waitress will come over with fresh pickles. Oh, the pickles! Dill, garlic, and other kosher deli pickles. To be honest, sometimes I just come for the pickles. They are the perfect compliment to a sandwich – and do a great job of taking the edge off your hunger while you are waiting.

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One of my favorite things at Corky & Lenny’s is the Mish Mash soup – chicken soup packed with a matzoh ball, kreplach, noodles and rice. Perfect if you can’t decide which doughy goodness you want, because you get them all. It’s only available in the large bowl size. I have been known to get it to go to eat over several days. It’s the perfect antidote for a wintery day or when you are sick. The broth isn’t as rich as Jack’s Deli’s and the matzoh ball is not very dense, but it hits the spot when you’re in the mood.

Corky & Lenny’s is of course known for its sandwiches, which IMG_20180703_132937.jpgare ENORMOUS.  I usually only eat half and then take the rest home. An hour or so later I then realize I’m kidding myself and scarf the rest down. They are known for their overstuffed corned beef, pastrami, roast beef and turkey breast – and tongue, which I can’t bring myself to try. The deli sandwiches are available in the regular size and the king size. You can also order a half a sandwich and soup (pictured to the right – I asked them to make a tuna and Swiss sandwich, which isn’t listed as a sandwich choice but they happily made for me).

Some of my favorite sandwiches on the menu include the Clevelander or The East Sider, which features sliced turkey breast or roast beef, respectively, topped with cole slaw and Thousand Island Dressing on rye bread. If you prefer hot sandwiches, you can’t go wrong with one of their Reubens (turkey or corned beef) or the Beef & Latkas (pictured here above), which feature corned beef on potato pancakes (latkas).

One of my all-time favorites, which is frequently overlooked in such a packed menu, is the Challah Grill (pictured to the right), which comes with your choice of turkey breast, beef brisket or chicken with Muenster cheese grilled on challah bread with honey mustard sauce. Yum!

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I also sometimes get a craving for a hot turkey or roast beef sandwich and mashed potatoes in the winter. They have a decent hot turkey sandwich here – the bread is nice and soft and the gravy is flavorful. Although I have to say Jack’s mashed potatoes are better – with lumps.

They have a really large menu IMG_20181228_132714.jpgfeaturing breakfast, lunch and dinner, so there is something for everyone’s taste. I love that they serve Arizona Mandarin Green Tea, so that is always a draw for me. They are also known for their chocolate phosphate.

Whatever you decide to order, you won’t be disappointed. Once you are finished simply bring your bill to the register at the front of the deli and try not to take home a bag of bagels, some bread, or something from the deli or bakery counters. I dare you, because it simply isn’t possible.

Contact info:

Corky & Lenny’s
27091 Chagrin Boulevard
Woodmere Village, Ohio 44122
(216) 464-3838

Dim sum in Cleveland (Bo Loong and Li Wah)

IMAG2001Everyone has their favorite restaurant when it comes to dim sum, whether it be Bo Loong or Li Wah. I’ve tried them both – and both are very good – but I have to say my personal favorite is the dim sum at Li Wah. The crust on the egg tart is just a little flakier, and I prefer the atmosphere at Li Wah more. IMAG2004Plus, you never have a problem getting a table at Li Wah because it is so large. Bo Loong, on the other hand, also has plenty of seating and was deemed Cleveland’s best dim sum restaurant by the Plain Dealer. Both restaurants are usually packed with Chinese diners, which is a testament to the quality of both places. You really can’t go wrong at either place.IMAG0586

Dim sum refers to a style of Chinese food prepared as small, bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates. Most people think of various steamed or pan-fried dumplings and stuffed steamed or baked buns when it comes to dim sum. My favorites include the turnip cake, sui mai (or sao mai depending on the restaurant), sticky rice, and shrimp dumplings. It’s a chance to be adventurous and try new things. I always try to order Chinese broccoli or some other vegetables to balance out all the carbs.IMG_20160127_130233

Dim sum is served in most Chinese restaurants on carts. The fully cooked and ready-to-serve dim sum dishes are wheeled around the restaurant for customers to choose their orders while seated at their tables. The most unusual dishes can be ordered from the servers and are made to order in the kitchen. The dishes are tallied on a bill that is left on the table, and are priced according to size. The recent cost of dim sum at Bo Loong for 8 people was $62.55, which came out to about $10 a person after tax and a generous tip.

Dim sum is traditionally served with tea. In fact, the drinking of tea is just as important to dim sum as the food. More traditional dim sum restaurants typically serve dim sum until mid-afternoon.

Dim sum is a great choice when you dine with several people, and it’s a fun thing to do on a Saturday or Sunday morning. The first time I went to Li Wah we had a nice-sized group and sat at a round table with a lazy susan in the middle. We could select the dishes and rotate the lazy susan to get what we wanted.

I usually meet my friend G. for dim sum during the week. G. speaks Chinese, so it is always a treat for me to listen to IMG_20160127_130310her order in Chinese. We have similar tastes, so I generally rely on whatever she wants to order. We order a bunch of steamed goodies like pork and shrimp siu mai, pork or shrimp dumplings, turnip cakes, char siu baau (steamed BBQ pork buns), or sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves (so good!) and then order some egg tarts, jin deui (a chewy dough filled with red bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and deep fried) or steamed buns for dessert.IMAG5403

The check is then divided by however many people are in attendance. It is always a surprise how stuffed we are and how little we spend in the end. You can sit there for hours and walk away paying less than $20.

The most important thing about enjoying dim sum is to go in there with an open mind and just try as many dishes as you can. Once you have learned what you like and don’t like you can then start being choosier. For example, I cannot and will not eat chicken feet, even though they are a dim sum IMAG0591delicacy. But I at least tried them.

Both restaurants are also great places to celebrate Chinese New Year. I have been to Li Wah for two years in a row, and the Lion Dance is just a cool thing to see: The way the guys gyrate the lion’s body to the infectious drumbeat. The fascination of the children watching the lion work the room. The coin-shaped foods and red envelopes diners stick in the lion’s mouth as he dances. The climbing for the cabbage for luck. It’s just a neat experience.

Update: there’s a new place that serves dim sum: Emperor’s Palace. That gets my vote every time now. Bo Loong and Li Wah still serve dim sum off carts, while Emperor’s Palace brings them fresh from the kitchen.

Contact info:

Li Wah
2999 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 589-9552
Open Mon-Thu, Sun from 10 am – 12 am and Fri from 10 am – 1 am

Bo Loong
3922 St Clair Ave NE
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 391-3113
Open Mon-Thu, Sun 10 am – 2 am and Fri-Sat 10 am – 3 am