The Chew: Have a Bite at Swensons

Michael Symon featured local favorite Swensons on The Chew today. Chef Symon said Swensons is “a little piece of his childhood.” I myself became a Swensons fan while at grad school in Kent. I agree with the King of the Cleveland Burger. The Galley Boy does happen to be a fantastic burger. No one knows the secret ingredient that makes the patty so sweet. Some say it’s brown sugar, others say it’s hash. All I know is it’s so good! If you haven’t had a burger at Swensons you need to rectify that as soon as possible. Swensons has been voted Akron’s best burger for the past 10 years and has several locations in the Akron/Canton area – as well as a location at 7635 Broadview Road in Parma/Seven Hills. There are currently seven locations, but the clip on The Chew filmed at the original location at West Market and Hawkins in Akron, which has been in business since 1934. I recommend ordering a strawberry phosphate, but most people swear by their milkshakes. Thanks for sharing one of our best-kept secrets, Chef Symon! Hope it ensures Swensons stays in business for many years to come!

Tom at Exploring Food My Way did a good review of Swensons and the Galley Boy back in 2009 here. Be sure to check it out.

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Noodlecat

My friends and I ate at Noodlecat last night, and I can honestly say that I don’t know what has taken me so long to eat there. My only excuse is that I don’t usually eat downtown, and was reminded of why when I had to pay almost $10 to park since House of Blues was having some special event that night. Yes, I am a spoiled suburbanite (if Cleveland Heights can be considered the suburbs – but I gladly pay a couple quarters at their meters…). That said, I do occasionally eat in the Warehouse District, but generally can find a cheap spot on the street or cough up $5 for a spot in the parking lot. It’s not that I mind paying to park, but when there are so many other options that don’t necessitate paying half to one-fourth of the cost of the meal… Unfortunately there were no available spots on Prospect or Euclid, so I valeted it on E. 4th.

Noodlecat is unpretentious and casual, using recycled materials in the same way as The Greenhouse Tavern. Being an environmentalist from way back (since the 1980s) I love that. My only complaint about the decor is that the chair started becoming uncomfortable after an hour and a half. In short, my butt hurt from sitting on the little metal chair, and my fellow diners told me the wood bench wasn’t much better.

Kim Chee salad

Those are the only two negatives I have to report. In short, the food was simply amazing, and I take it as a good sign that I am craving the food the next day. If you are a fan of pho or ramen you will be quite pleased with what they serve. It was a happy accident that I scheduled our dinner for 6:30, which was at the tail end of their happy hour. All the ramen was $5 and the steam buns were just $2. I walked away paying just $20 including tip.

I started off by ordering a sparkling sake, which was on draft and only $4. Win! The sake was just what I wanted/needed. It was light and just a little sweet. Choosing an entree was a difficult decision. I was tempted to order Roscoe’s Fried Chicken & Ramen with fried chicken, butter, hot sauce, maple syrup, greens and fried chicken broth, but changed my mind when I heard the chicken was bone-in. Three of my fellow diners ordered it and loved it. They did, however, have trouble getting the meat off the bone with only chopsticks and an Asian-style soup spoon.

Chicken yakitori steam bun

One of my fellow diners ordered the Kim Chee Salad with Napa cabbage, sweet pureed kim chee, cashews, peanuts and pickled melon. Not being a fan of kim chee but willing to keep an open mind I was able to try several bites. The salad was flavorful and had a subtle heat that snuck up on you. Another friend ordered the “Super” Salad with adzuki beans, local greens, dry blueberry, savory green tea granola and ancient grains. He loved it and even pointed out to the waiter that there wasn’t a drop left.

Pork miso ramen

I decided to go with a chicken yakitori steam bun with pickled carrots, miso mayo and cilantro, which I enjoyed. However, as luck would have it our waiter had accidentally ordered two Tonkatsu buns that featured a crispy fried pork cutlet and smoked egg sauce. I told him I would be happy to pay for one of them, and I am so glad I did because it was my favorite part of the meal (and that is saying a lot). It was a taste explosion of goodness.

Green tea pot de creme

For my entree I ordered a bowl of the pork miso ramen, which features roasted Ohio pork, miso, scallions and greens. The noodles and roasted pork were perfectly cooked, and the broth was so flavorful and delicious that I drank up every last drop.

I ended my meal with the green tea pot de creme. I love green tea ice cream, and the pot de creme was absolutely perfect. The consistency was firm and not runny, and the flavor was light and balanced. The shaved chocolate on top was a nice complement to the green tea pot de creme. The waiter informed us that the chef had spent two weeks working to perfect it. I say thumbs up!

Several of us headed over to the Chocolate Bar for a night cap afterward. Since the temperature had dropped 40 degrees in a day I was chilled and chose the caramel and sea salt hot chocolate. It was creamy and delicious. The perfect ending to a perfect meal.

Contact info:

Noodlecat
234 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
(216) 589-0007

An old favorite: Hunan of Solon

Before moving to Cleveland Heights in May 2010 I lived in Solon for eight years. Solon has a lot of chain restaurants, but there are a few independent gems. One of my favorite restaurants there is Hunan of Solon. I would get take-out or eat in the restaurant at least every couple of weeks. So when Groupon offered a deal there last March I jumped at it. It was set to expire soon, so I grabbed a friend and took a night off from my juice fast (more on that another time) to enjoy some much-needed protein.

Hunan of Solon is located in an unassuming strip mall on a dead end street leading to the Solon Regal Cinemas. According to Scene Magazine, it is operated by the same people who run Hunan by the Falls in Chagrin Falls. They won Cleveland Magazine’s 2008 Silver Spoon Award for Best Chinese for their salty prawns. It offers an “eclectic and ambitious menu” including Korean beef rib strips, shrimp tempura, garlic shrimp, Cantonese lobster, basil chicken, moo shu duck, and pad Thai and Thai curries. Their lobster dishes are prepared from fresh live-tanked lobster (word of warning – if you order lobster they simply chop it up and you will have to remove the shells yourself, which can get quite messy and isn’t attractive when dining with others – but most especially on a date!). They also serve bubble tea smoothies. According to Wikipedia, bubble tea contains a tea base mixed with fruit (or fruit syrup) and/or milk. Ice-blended versions of the drinks, similar to slushies, are also available, usually in fruit flavors. I ordered the honey dew bubble tea smoothie, which was rather sweeter than I expected, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I probably would have been better sticking to the green tea bubble tea smoothie.

I dined there with my friend G., who is Chinese American. Once seated, our server quickly greeted us, asking G. if she was Chinese and then bringing her the Chinese menu. In all the times I have eaten here I had no idea they had a separate Chinese menu featuring more authentic dishes for Chinese palates. Looking at the website now I see that the “Authentic Chineses [sic] Menu” is featured there now. Having an Americanized palate and having anticipated the meal for at least a week, I knew exactly what I wanted already so I stuck with my tried and true favorites.

We started off with a cup of wonton soup each. Hunan of Solon is known for their wonton soup. G. even admitted that it was better than her mother’s, which I consider to be high praise seeing as her parents are currently living in Beijing. The broth is flavorful, and the wontons are dense and tasty (I apologize for the reflection off the broth in the photo). We both enjoyed every last drop.

My absolute favorite thing on the Hunan of Solon menu are the spinach pot stickers. I ordered these on a whim one day and did not regret it. After that my meal wasn’t complete without an order of spinach pot stickers. The pot sticker dough has spinach in it, and it is stuffed with a mixture of spinach and cream cheese. The pot stickers are pan fried to have a nice crisp base, but you can still really sink your teeth into these doughly little pillows of heaven. It is served with a dipping sauce that most likely features soy sauce but is not overly salty. If you are a fan of spinach or cream cheese you simply must try them. I guarantee you will order them every time afterward.

I could have been happy with just the soup and the pot stickers, but I was also looking forward to ordering my favorite curry on their menu, the Panang curry. The Panang curry is the mildest of their curries. It is a sweet and spicy dry curry, featuring dried chili peppers, coconut milk, butternut squash, yellow squash, snow pea pods, cherry tomatoes, onions, and green beans. I am not a big fan of heat – in fact I order it mild, a fact I overlooked when I ordered this time. However, it didn’t detract from the meal. I love biting down on the cherry tomato and having it burst with flavor in my mouth. I ordered the seafood curry, which included lobster, scallops and shrimp. I only had to remove lobster shell from one piece of lobster. The seafood was perfectly cooked, and the coconut milk, seafood and vegetables all blended together for a delicious meal that I have missed in the last two years.

G. ordered #50 off the authentic Chinese menu – lamb with cilantro and scallion. She was debating between three things on the menu, and the waiter recommended it. I got to try a bite, and it was very flavorful. She had ordered it with a medium heat, and this dish packed some heat that snuck up on you. The fresh cilantro and scallions complemented the lamb very well.

Without the Groupon our meal came out to $56. G. picked up the tab after the Groupon was deducted, and I plunked down the cash tip. We enjoyed catching up with each other and hearing each others’ plans for the summer. There was no need to dress up for Hunan. The restaurant was populated with young and old and several tables of regulars, including numerous tables of Chinese families enjoying authentic meals. All in all, it was a delightful and relaxed way to spend a St. Patrick’s Day evening.

Contact info:

Hunan of Solon
6050 Enterprise Parkway
Solon, OH 44139
(440) 248-8836

Inn on Coventry

The Inn on Coventry has been in business since 1981. This “mom-and-mom restaurant” has been feeding hungry college students and locals ever since. The matriarch died in 2010 (she was 96), and there is commemorative plaque hanging above the cash register. Word to the wise: since it is so popular it is always crowded on the weekends. Expect a wait. Also, they won’t seat you until everyone in your party is there. Despite what the website claims it is not open on Friday evening. I walked there for dinner last Friday, looking forward to trying their fish fry, and was sadly disappointed. I asked my waitress this morning, and she told me they haven’t been open for dinner for about two years. I suggested they update their website.

I first came here before I lived in Cleveland Heights (invited by local friends who were in the know), and it is one of my favorite breakfast and lunch places in the area. I ordered the Swedish eggs, which are eggs scrambled with lox and cream cheese, and fell in love.  I treated myself to breakfast this morning and indulged in this favorite. The saltiness of the lox is balanced by the creamy chunks of cream cheese. I make this at home now, but I add chopped spinach. The dish is served with your choice of grits or home fries and toast. I chose the home fries and Jewish rye (not like the marbled rye some places serve). There is no better comfort for me than starting the day off with buttered rye toast and jelly.

My second favorite breakfast offering here is the Fresh Banana Walnut French Toast. The thick slices of French toast are topped with ricottafresh sliced bananas. The flavors meld together really well, and it is simply a flavor explosion. It doesn’t get much better than this. I had a similar French toast at Deagan’s the other day, and although it was good it simply didn’t compare to Inn on Coventry’s. I ordered a side of bacon for good measure, because everything’s better with bacon.

sisterhoodInn on Coventry is also known for their Eggs Benedict and Eggs Mando – and they also offer a Veggie Mando topped with avocado instead of Canadian bacon for the vegetarians). The lemon ricotta pancakes are also divine (or any of the pancakes really… although I haven’t had the nerve to order IMG_20160303_133410the Reese Cup pancakes). If you do order the pancakes stick with one at first. The pancakes are huge and, as you can see, span the whole plate.

Although I usually order breakfast, I can also personally vouch for the sloppy joe, the Coventry Burger, and the California Club sandwich. And I am usually critical of sloppy joes that aren’t my mother’s “white trash” version that consists of a pound of ground beef, a half bottle of chili sauce bloodyand 4 oz of Velveeta (try it – you’ll love it). All of their items are made fresh and are just like Mom used to make. I intend to try as many items on their menu as I can, but it is hard when such delicious favorites are available.

They offer a full service bar if you want a mimosa or Bloody Mary. Also, one thing that simply must be mentioned is that Inn on Coventry has delicious coffee. It is a Kona blend that simply can’t be described. It is very smooth and not at all bitter. Plus, the waitresses are constantly coming around to ensure your cup is full. Come for the food, stay for the service. And don’t forget to always overtip your breakfast waitresses!

Contact info:

Inn on Coventry
2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 371-1811

Open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sat/Sun) to 2:45 p.m.

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.