Fish fry #3 – St. Dominic

When it is snowing I really have to motivate myself to venture out. I was very tempted to blow it off and stay in tonight, but I am so glad I didn’t. Several of my friends were feeling under the weather today, so instead of six we were three. The decision had been made to go to St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights. It has a good reputation, apparently being voted by Sun News readers to be “the best in the Heights and Hillcrest areas in an online poll that saw the parish receiving 44 percent of the roughly 400 ballots cast.” Unlike other fish fries, St. Dominic also accepts reservations for parties of 10 or more. They offer 36 tables as well as a private dining room for groups looking to enjoy a more intimate dining experience. That said, it was not crowded like some of the more popular fish fries I’ve been to, and we easily found seats together.

I got there tonight at 6:30. It was a whopping 15 minute drive from my home, so a little snow did not scare me off. I pulled into the parking lot, but was unable to find a spot. So I pulled out and circled back around and parked in one of the snowed-over RTA parking lots on the other side of the street. As I was walking up to the church a car slowed down next to me asking if I was walking to my car. I had to disappoint him and he probably also ended up parking on the street.

There was not much of a line to pay. I was behind two small groups. They have a table to the left for credit cards and to the right for cash payments. My meal totaled $18 – $12 for the dinner, $4 for clam chowder and $2 for 2 cans of soda. The man who waited on me was running out of ones, but I happily gave him a twenty, a five and three ones in exchange for a ten.

My friend and I waited in the lobby for our other friends (resisting the siren calls of the Girl Scout cookie table – a valiant effort if you ask me). Once our third friend arrived and the fourth texted back saying she was still waiting for her daughter, we got into what we thought was the food line. We stood for about 5 minutes chatting until someone realized we were holding dine-in receipts and directed us from the take-out line to the dine-in line. Oops. We queued for our food and grabbed a cafeteria tray in the cafeteria window decorated with fancy fish made of hearts, markers and glitter. A table was set up in front of it with dessert choices. I chose the (food service) eclairs, because I love a good cream puff with custard. The efficient person behind the window organized my food and I was on my way. She explained that the condiments and plastic ware were on the table. I set my food down and headed to the beverage table. One of my other friends grabbed some tea from the tea and coffee table (it came with the dinner). I was totally tickled when I noticed that the bread rolls were German bread rolls. I had a Vollkornbrotchen, my friend directly to my right had a round Austrian Semmel, and my third friend had a German Brotchen. I suspect Zoss the Swiss Baker had a hand in the bread offerings.

My friends and I tucked into our meals and chatted for a bit. We also enjoyed the musical stylings of a high school barbershop quartet that was entertaining the room. I had ordered the fish and shrimp combo. I very much enjoyed the shrimp. The fish had a crispy, golden-brown exterior and soft, moist interior (as you can see below). My fries were very crunchy, which is not my preference, so I ended up leaving most of them on my plate at the end of my meal. The coleslaw was definitely homemade and was nice.

My friends raved about the sweet potato. Not too many fish fries offer sweet potato. One of my friends had never been to a fish fry before because she doesn’t like fish and has a food intolerance to potatoes. The shrimp and sweet potato convinced her to join us, and I’m fairly certain she had a good time.

The thing I love about Cleveland and local fish fries is sometimes you run into people you know. Not only did I run into someone I knew from Meetup in the lobby as she and her family were leaving, but I ran into a friend from my undergraduate days at BGSU. Her best friend was my residence hall adviser and all-around cool chick. I was thrilled when she sat down at our table with her husband and mother. I hadn’t seen her since we graduated in 1992. We had a good time catching up, and I added her and her husband to my dining out group so I look forward to catching up more in the future.

All in all, this was a decent fish fry and a wonderful evening out. We closed the place down and left shortly before 8 PM. We bused our trays and headed out into the night.

The St. Dominic fish fry will continue from 5-8 p.m. through Lent.

Contact info:

St. Dominic Church
19000 Van Aken Boulevard
Shaker Heights, OH
(216) 561-4400

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Fish fry #2 – Ridgewood Inn

I missed last week because I was sick, so even though it says fish fry #2 it is week 3 already – we’re already halfway finished with Lenten fish fry season.

They say old-time neighborhood holes-in-the-wall serve the best burgers and fried fish. They would be right when it comes to the Ridgewood Inn. It has a lot of old-time ambiance. Dark red walls and wood. They were screening old Charlie Chaplin movies (including The Great Dictator) on one TV while playing tunes from the 1950s over the speakers. The place exudes “dive” from the worn chairs to the paper placemats.

Located on Ridge Road just north of Snow Road, it was easy to get to from the Heights taking I-176 and I-480. Parking is easy. The lot behind the building was full, but there was a sign directing us across the street behind Barabicu Smokehouse. I entered through the front, but there is a back door from the parking lot. The staff was friendly. Our server has worked there for 17 years and it showed in her no-nonsense service. They make the food as they go and it seems as if the kitchen is small. We were not in a hurry and weren’t offended when half the table were served their food and the other had to wait for the next batch. During Lent they serve a limited menu – all seafood – from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. We went at 1 for lunch to make sure they didn’t run out of anything. It was easy to hear everyone at that time, but I’ve heard of lines for dinner during Lent. If you want cheap classic beer and drinks and want pierogi that will fill you up and then some, all for a great price then this is the place for you.

First things first, we ordered drinks, and the server brought out a plate of soft rye bread and semi-soft butter pats. I had two slices of bread slathered with butter and had to refrain from eating more. I was the only one of my group that ordered a beer, but I figured it would go nicely with the fish. I also ordered a ginger ale to make sure I didn’t drink my beer to fast.

They serve a nice selection of fish – Sauger pike, beer battered cod, yellow perch, and baked scrod. I ordered the yellow perch, which wasn’t on the printed menu but was on offer if you knew to ask for it. I got five pieces of perch, two pierogi (one sauerkraut, one potato – fried instead of boiled), and coleslaw for $16.50. A little ramekin of sour cream was 35 cents. The perch were nicely fried and were not greasy. The pierogi were deep-fried to perfection with lots of butter and caramelized onion. The sauerkraut pierogi was indicated with the little yellow sword. I think I liked it better than the potato pierogi, which is saying something. The sauerkraut was nicely caramelized and sweet, not sour. The coleslaw was a nice, creamy version that I enjoyed a lot.

I was very tempted to order the fried scallops, because you rarely see fried scallops on a menu anywhere. The choice of fried scallops, fried clam strips or fried shrimp. My friend ordered the fried scallops with two potato pierogi (boiled) for I think around $13.50. I ordered one to go for later with the boiled pierogi and enjoyed the sweet, deep-fried nuggets a lot. Some of my friends were not that impressed with the pierogi, which were rather large and a little tough. I think the deep-fried pierogi were better than the boiled. They seemed a bit more tender. All of the pierogi were obviously handmade. But if you ask me any pierogi is a good pierogi (except maybe Mrs. T’s).

They also serve half orders of their fish dinners available as well that come with half the fish (2 1/2 or so), one pierogi and coleslaw. One of my other friends ordered that because she was hard-core and meeting friends with her husband that night for another fish fry. One of my friends ordered the large cabbage and noodles ($4) to share, and it was a really nice, tender, flavorful version with well-cooked cabbage and noodles.

The server was really good and reminded me not to forget my fried scallops to go. She kept our drinks refilled and was on top of anything we needed. We were able to get an extra plastic bottle of tartar sauce for our table, and she even brought us a plate of lemons when someone asked for them.

Everyone enjoyed their fish fry lunch today and hitting some of the spots in the area like Barabicu, Rudy’s and Chuppa’s afterwards. I went home to take a nap since my power went out at midnight the night before and had just come on when I left to meet them for lunch at 12:30. My verdict: it wasn’t the best fish fry I’ve ever had, but it was a nice solid choice.

Contact info:

Ridgewood Inn
5759 Ridge Rd
Cleveland, OH 44129
(440) 884-0310

LJ Shanghai

There is nothing more satisfying than a dumpling. Just about every culture has dumplings. The most iconic of the Chinese dumpling is the soup dumpling or Xiao Long Bao. The tender pillows of dough are filled with solidified broth or aspic that then liquifies when steamed. Eating a soup dumpling is an art form – put a dumpling carefully on a soup spoon (being careful not to tear it), bite off the top and allow the broth inside to cool for a second before slurping it down and then eating the dumpling. It was not easy to find soup dumplings here in Cleveland. My first experience with them was at Emperor’s Palace, but we had to get there early because they would sell out quickly. I also had them at Bo Loong once, but the soup had seeped out of the dumplings while still on the cart. They were flavorful but had no liquid in them. Well, I am happy to announce that that is no longer the case. Enter LJ Shanghai, which specializes in soup dumplings. It opened in the old Saigon Grille restaurant space, one door over from No. 1 Pho on Superior. They make all their dumplings by hand, but the noodles come from a place in Toronto. They are tender and ethereal. We each got 2, and everyone agreed they would be back for more. The dough was just right, and they were the perfect temperature – no burned mouths to report.

I got together a group of enthusiasts for a visit so we could try their menu – and try the menu we did! We started off with an order of cucumber with garlic and then enjoyed three orders of soup dumplings as well as the veggie and shrimp and pork wonton soups, the Chongqing spicy beef noodle soup, Shanghai Pan Fried Flat Noodles, braised duck in soy sauce, an order of pig ear with chili sauce, and nine Shanghai shrimp & veggie egg rolls (one for each person).

Everyone loved everything – except the pig ear, which everyone was happy to give to the one person in our group who is a pig ear enthusiast. The texture was very off-putting. I had hoped it would be a little crisper. But hey, we at least tried them. Our pig ear enthusiast loved them, so if you like pig ear you’ll be happy.

The duck was okay. Some of us would have preferred it to be a little more crisp. The soy flavor really came out. I unfortunately do not have a photo of it because my shot was too blurry.

I have become a big fan of smashed Chinese cucumbers in the past year or so. This version is more cucumbery than others I have had, with minced garlic clearly visible. The photo shows them with chili sauce, but that wasn’t the case. The cucumbers were fresh, crisp and very lightly pickled, and a nice, refreshing counter to the dumplings and noodles, but I find I prefer to add chili sauce, which can be found on the table along with vinegar (for the soup dumplings) and soy sauce.

I really enjoyed the Shanghai pan fried flat noodles too. They got delivered to the other end of the table, so I wasn’t able to photograph them. They were very simple, but had a great flavor to them.

The soups were a big hit. We passed the bowls around and tried each one. The beef in the spicy beef noodle soup was extremely tender. If you like spicy soup you will love this. I found it a wee too spicy for me, but it slowly grew on me. That said, I fell in love with their wonton soup. The broth is light and has a bright, gingery flavor that I adore. The wonton soups come with 10 handmade wonton dumplings. I preferred the shrimp and pork wonton soup. The filling is densely packed and each one has a full mini-shrimp in it. I’m not sure what the garnish is along with the scallions – it could be seaweed. It doesn’t matter. The whole thing just works together so well. I loved it so much I went back for lunch this week and ordered the cucumbers, shrimp and pork wonton soup and an egg roll. I was tempted to get soup dumplings too, but decided that was too much for one person.

The egg roll is more like a spring roll – it was very thin and crisp with a nice filling. There was no residual oil on the plate, nor did I get any on my fingers when eating it. The soup and egg roll were perfect. I had a few cucumbers and took the rest home for later.

One little side note: I really like their tea cups. They are more substantial than the little finger bowl-sized cups you get at most restaurants and hold more tea. They also have built-in grooves for your fingers to grasp them.

In short, I really enjoyed LJ Shanghai. I am in love with their wonton soup and look forward to eating it all winter. When I went back for lunch the other day on my own I fully planned on bringing half home with me, but I ate all ten dumplings and had to hold myself back from slurping the broth out of the bowl. The gingery flavor of the broth is my new addiction.

Contact info:

LJ Shanghai
3142 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 400-6936

Mason’s Creamery

Mason’s Creamery opened in 2015 and has quickly become a favorite ice cream spot for me. They started out making ice cream at local farmer’s markets. Located on Bridge Avenue and W. 44th Street, Mason’s is a small, local business serving high-quality ice cream in all kinds of adventurous flavors. The flavors are constantly changing, so it’s always fun to go and try new things. They are always trying new flavors and are open to suggestions. There are always 16 flavors available, five of which are usually vegan or dairy free. At a place like this it’s worth venturing out of your comfort zone to try the taro, red bean, black sesame, matcha or the chai tea latte ice cream. My absolute favorite so far has been the fried ice cream, but their sorbets are also intriguing (and vegan if you like that sort of thing). They allow you to sample the flavors before you order. They also serve vegan soft serve on Sundays. In addition to scoops in a cup (2 for $4 or 3 for $5.50), you can order your ice cream or sorbet in a waffle cone, with a churro (with or without dipping chocolate), as an iced cream sandwich between warm, fresh cookies or Coquette Patisserie macarons, or nestled in a fluffy egg waffle. They make everything there fresh.

I am usually boring and prefer my ice cream scooped in a cup. It may be austere, but their ice cream is never boring. I’ve enjoyed the Tang sorbet, fried ice cream, Vietnamese coffee, Ceylon Cinnamon, Matcha, Cafe con Leche, Thai iced tea… I could go on. When I had the Tang sorbet I regretted not ordering it with the Thai ice tea because that would have been an amazing dreamsicle-like creation.

I had been wanting to try the egg waffle and I am so glad I finally did, because it is absolutely delicious. It is a great accompaniment to the creamier flavors, and you can imagine my surprise when I was then asked if I wanted regular whipped cream, peanut butter whipped cream or Nutella whipped cream. What? My friends also ordered egg waffles and raved about them. One went with the French toast and is now a HUGE fan, and the other ordered the salted caramel and loved it. I opted for Ceylon Cinnamon and Thai ice tea with IMG_20180318_141949Nutella whipped cream. Go big or go home, right?

Pay attention to your spoon. It changes color when it hits the ice cream (you can see it in the photo of the sorbet above). My friend freaked out tonight when I pointed it out and his boring white spoon then turned pink. I love that.

If that isn’t enough, they occasionally do Ramen Nights where they make big pots of ramen and serve it to long lines of ramen enthusiasts until they run out. I have yet to make it to one, but it is on my list of things to do.

Contact info:

Mason’s Creamery
4401 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
216) 245-8942

Crust

Crust Midtown has great pizza and subs and is the perfect lunch-time stop. I haven’t been to the one in Tremont, but the one in Midtown is perfect when I get a craving for crusty bread or pizza. Do two locations make it a “local chain”? I’m categorizing it as one. The Tremont location just opened and has expanded including a liquor license. It’s also open until 9 PM every day except Sunday. The Midtown location offers more seating with all the businesses nearby, and is only open until 2:30 Monday through Friday. In addition to a nice range of seating options they also have a few tables for al fresco dining, which don’t see a lot of use in the winter. I tend to go at off-lunch hours, so I’ve always had very quick service.

The ovens are not wood-fired, but they turn out a good pizza at 550 degrees. Everything is made from scratch, and the dough is hand-tossed. The pizza slices are huge. One slice fills up a small carryout box. The crust is delicious, and they have a variety of toppings to choose from. They also have pre-made pies to choose from that don’t require a wait. I ordered a slice of the Margherita, which is my go-to order at a new pizza place. The crust was chewy and had a nice crumb to it. The tomatoes and basil were very fresh, which was great. The Lemon Rosemary Chicken smelled wonderful, and I will have to try that sometime soon.

As good as the pizza is, I really like their subs. Like the pizza, the subs are also quite substantial. The first sub I tried was the Ultimate Club , which features slab bacon, turkey, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and basil mayo. My sub came out of the oven a little charred, but I really enjoyed the flavor of it. The meats were delicious and fresh, and I just really enjoyed every bite. The subs are very filling (at least for me). I was only able to eat half and took the other half home for later.

One of my friends swears by their meatball sub, so I met her a few weeks later to try it. The meatballs were soft, the cheese was perfectly melty, and it had the perfect ratio of meat, sauce and cheese. The photo here is just half of the meatball sub, so they have four substantial meatballs in the sub. I enjoyed the sub a lot and would probably get it again if I were craving a meatball sub.

If you are looking for a solid slice of pizza or tasty sub be sure to check out Crust.

Contact info:

Crust Midtown
3000 St Clair Avenue,
Cleveland, OH
216-589-9711

Crust Tremont
2258 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH
216-583-0257

You can find the menus for both locations here.

The Red Chimney

The Red Chimney on Fleet Avenue in Slavic Village (or as it’s called by the residents “Warzawa”) is hard to describe. It is a Slavic Village institution that has been in business since the 1970s. It’s like your typical Americana diner with a Polish influence, and the decor hasn’t been updated since the 1970s. The food is heavily Eastern European and pure comfort, ranging from cheap breakfasts served all day to sandwiches and burgers and entrees like stuffed cabbage, pierogi, kielbasi, wiener schnitzel and city chicken. The food is very affordable. I think the most expensive thing on the menu is twenty-five chicken wings for $16.99, but most dinners are under $10. On weekdays before 11 a.m. you can get two eggs, ham, sausage or bacon, potatoes, and toast for just $3. The service is quick and efficient, and the majority of the customers are all over the board, from a table of police officers, a table of businessmen holding a meeting to a table of young people trying to get rid of their hangovers with a nice greasy breakfast.

I keep coming back for their chicken noodle soup, which is probably one of the best soups I have had in a long time. Chock full of homemade noodles, chunks of fresh carrot and celery, and shredded chicken in a tasty broth, I can’t get enough of it.

On my first visit I ordered the stuffed cabbage dinner. It is served with soup or salad, sauerkraut, your choice of potato and rye bread or dinner rolls. I went with the mashed potato and couldn’t decide on the bread so the waitress brought me one of each. They were both delicious. The rye bread was soft and flavorful, and the dinner roll was yeasty and delicious. So good! I’m not sure if I enjoyed the somewhat blander tomato sauce they used, but I’m sure most people would love it. I prefer dousing my stuffed cabbage with ketchup to give it a kick (I know, I’m a heathen, but I’ve been eating it that way since I grew up eating my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage). Next time I’ll just order ketchup on the side without any shame. The meat and rice filling is tightly packed and flavorful, and the serving was enormous. I brought half of my meal home (one whole cabbage roll and half the mashed potatoes) and thoroughly enjoyed it the next day.

I came back just a few days later for the soup again. This time I decided to order a club sandwich to go with my soup. The meat and fixings in the club sandwich were super fresh. In fact, the tomato kept falling out of the bread, and I ended up wearing a lot of it. I learned to order a side of Thousand Island Dressing with club sandwiches back in my Bakers Square days, and my request was accommodated without any questions. I chose the french fries as my side, but they also throw in a couple onion rings, which were really delicious. The fries themselves were nothing special, but I nibbled on them because they were there. It also came with a small side of coleslaw, which was fresh and creamy and overflowed onto the side plate it was served on. Again, I ended up taking half of my meal home for later.

The place is clean, friendly, and about as old-school as they come. The servers are friendly and efficient, the portions are huge, and the soup overflows the bowl. Every time. And every time I am tempted to drink the last drops directly from the bowl, but decide manners are more important.

It is worth mentioning that they do not accept credit cards. It’s a cash only restaurant, so be prepared. There is plenty of parking along the side and in back as well as across the street, and there is a door off Fleet Avenue as well as off the back parking lot. Slavic Village has gotten a bad reputation, but the people in the neighborhood are working hard to counteract that and it was recently voted the winning host neighborhood for Cleveland Chain Reaction. Cleveland Chain Reaction is a concept backed by LeBron James called “Cleveland Hustles,” with local business owners hustling to get their idea off the ground. Hopefully Slavic Village will once again become an up-and-coming neighborhood with the total economic boost to the neighborhood predicted to exceed $1 million.

Contact info:

The Red Chimney
6501 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105
(216) 441-0053

Sokol of Greater Cleveland – Bohemian National Hall

Cleveland is known for its strong ethnic heritage. Polish, Ukrainian, German, Lithuanian, Slovak and Czech all have strong roots here. Cleveland’s churches are usually at the forefront of keeping the heritage alive. For example, St. Josaphat and Pokrony in Parma are known for their pierogi, and St. Josaphat’s Lenten fish fry is one of my favorites.

Located on Broadway Avenue in the heart of Slavic Village, the cornerstone of the Bohemian National Hall was laid in 1896 as a community hall to accommodate the cultural, social, and educational needs of Czech immigrants in their newly adopted country. The hall continues to serve new generations, houses the many activities of Sokol of Greater Cleveland and showcases  the cultural history and traditions of the Czech and Slovak people. Since my great grandparents were from Slovakia I have a special place in my heart for it.

Ethnic dinners are served throughout the year in the lower level dining room of the Bohemian National Hall. “Sokol Sunday Dinners” are served from 1 pm to 2:30 pm on the last Sunday of every month. The dinner is $14 and includes dinner, dessert and coffee/tea. We went for the pork goulash and bread dumplings (knedliky) a few months ago. We had to salt and pepper the goulash. I think they are used to cooking for older parishioners.

I enjoyed the Czech beer a lot. They have a cash bar to the side that serves soda, beer and wine. I got a bottle of Staropramen and a glass of ginger ale since I know I can get thirsty.

Servers came around to serve the food, give us boxes and serve the dessert (on this evening a very nice cherry cobbler). They were friendly and very helpful – and most likely members and volunteers.

They will be serving roasted duck in July and my friend Nancy was extremely excited to hear about it. For reservations, call Olga at 216-447-0264 by the Monday prior to the dinner. Although to be honest they have plenty of space for walk-ins and should be able to accommodate a few folks walking in. I was able to bring a dozen knedlicky home with me to steam later. I popped them right in my freezer since they were already frozen for the most part (I think they made them ahead and steamed them as needed).

I think it’s important to support local groups like this one. The newer generation isn’t interested in this kind of thing, and they are starting to die out. I would have liked to have seen this place filled with more people.

Contact info:

Sokol of Greater Cleveland at the Historic Bohemian National Hall
4939 Broadway Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44127
(216) 883-0675