Gunselman’s Tavern

I’m lucky I don’t live closer to Gunselman’s Tavern or I would be eating here all the time. The restaurants in Cleveland would go under, because I would be eating at Gunselman’s once a week and not exploring all of Cleveland’s restaurants. They are open every day from 11:00 to 2:30 a.m. The menu has a lot to offer, with lots of interesting appetizers, salads, entrees and burgers. They have a rotating daily soup, happy hour is 11-6 p.m. everyday of the week, and they offer Sunday brunch from 11-2 p.m. Gunselman’s has been open as a neighborhood bar since 1920. Opened as the Past Time Cafe in the 1920’s and has a shady history during prohibition. Legend has it that Henry Gunselman was a whiskey salesman that went to collect a bill in 1936. They couldn’t pay so he took over the bar. Gunselman’s had a great neighborhood kitchen until 1956. The new owners re-opened the comfort food kitchen in 2016 with a lot of old school recipes and a great burger. The walls have lots of old-time photos. The bar side is homier than the side room, but if you park in the parking lot you can enter through the side room.

The place is not that large, so during dinner hours it can get quite packed. That particular night had a large party in the side room, and the bar was packed with people. We had to wait for a while for a table to open up, but luckily her son and his girlfriend were running late.

I first heard about Gunselman’s when a friend posted a photo of the December burger of the month – the Christmas Dinner featuring 1/2 lb. burger, shaved prime rib (shaved here meaning nice slabs), house recipe horseradish aioli, rosemary au jus, Muenster cheese, arugula and tomato on a Weck (salted) bun. Every single ingredient was perfectly balanced to complement the others. The horseradish aioli was divine and the rosemary au jus was inspiring. That prime rib was also absolutely perfect. Despite it being fairly chunky it came apart easily

and melted together with the beef. I took a photo of the cross-section because it is a sight to behold. My friend and I split it (and ordered onion rings instead of fries) in addition to ordering a few appetizers for the table to share.

The tabletopper sign said the burger paired well with GLBC Christmas ale, but I ordered a Black & Tan because I could. Anytime Guiness is on draft I order it. Black & Tan is one of my favorite Irish beer or ders – half Guinness and half Harp or other Irish lager. It always hits the spot.

My friend and I also split a dozen chicken wings. Gunselman’s was in the middle of a wing sauce competition, so we ordered some wings with one of the sauces. The wings were well-fried and crisp and the sauce was very flavorful. I’m not a hot/spicy loving person, so it was very sweet BBQ sauce-like, which is my jam. The wings were quite tasty. I went home with a couple of them, and they made a nice lunch the next day.

The kid at the table decided to order chicken tenders after the waitress told him he could get them doused in sauce. Unfortunately for him he chose a sauce that was a little spicier than he was ready for. He should have gotten the sauce on the side like on the menu. He enjoyed the tenders anyway.

I ordered the Reilly’s Corned Beef Pasties, which Reilly’s Irish Bakery makes for them. They are empanada-like meat pies (the Brits call them pasties) filled with corned beef & Swiss, sauerkraut and 1000 Island. This was the surprise hit of the night. We all loved them, and I could see myself ordering them again.

My friend’s son ordered the Ohio City pierogi but I seem to remember that there was something special to them. The normal pierogi are Ohio City Pasta cheddar & red potato pierogi with grilled onions and sour cream. They were a little tougher than I like, but it was a solid pierogi if you like pierogi.

I enjoyed this burger of the month so much that I went back a week later for lunch on my own. It was a big burger. I would have been too full if I had ordered anything else. It was the middle of a snowy day and I felt like spoiling myself, so I ordered an Irish coffee. It did a good job warming me up, and the burger was just as good as I remembered. I went with the hand cut fries, which I enjoyed dunking into the accompanying side of cheese sauce. I’m not usually a cheese sauce girl and prefer ketchup with my fries, but there is something about this pairing of cheese sauce and fries that is a match made in heaven. If I am not mistaken it is the Bertman beer cheese dip featuring cheddar cheese + beer + Bertman’s original ball park mustard and served with pretzel rods as an appetizer. Good stuff! It is without a doubt the best burger I have ever eaten. I was sad to see it go off the menu.

I ordered the chicken paprikash to go for dinner that night. Advertised as “Irish Kevin’s recipe” it was a little overpowering and heavy on actual peppers for me. Not a flavor profile I prefer. I’ll stick with Sokolowski’s or Balaton’s, so give me the ones made with Hungarian paprika. Other people adore it. It’s just not my taste and I’ll happily try more things on the menu instead.

The Burger of the Month in January was some health-conscious one wrapped in lettuce, so I skipped it. However, February’s Burger of the Month, Coldwater Lobster Love, featured a half pound burger of ground brisket, chuck and short rib (for one damn tender burger patty), smoked bacon, coldwater lobster meat poached in Cajun butter, Muenster cheese, tomato and arugula on your basic burger bun. This burger was decadent AF. I ordered it medium rare and it practically melted in my mouth. It was once again perfectly cooked. I paired it with an El Dudearino, which is Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Kahlua and cream. When I finished that I switched to iced tea because the snow was starting to fly and I wanted to have my wits about me for the drive home.

I can’t wait to see what this place does next.

Contact info:

Gunselman’s Tavern
21490 Lorain Road
Fairview Park, OH 44126
(440) 331-5719

Fish Fry Friday 2020 – St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church

I started the official Fish Fry Fridays this week at St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church. The first Friday was spent at Pacific East celebrating a friend’s birthday.

Dinners here are served from 5 to 7:30 during Lent. They sell pierogi out of the basement on Friday mornings/afternoons. My ideal fish fry has fried fish and homemade pierogi, so a church that sells their own pierogi is fisy fry paradise for me. I was here last year at 5:10. The line and wait was fairly long. We ended up meeting up later this year to accommodate schedules (I was down in Kent that afternoon speaking to translation grad students about our profession, others were working). My friend Kris and I ended up getting there at 6:10, which seemed to be the perfect time. The line had died down and they were able to reserve a table for six for us when we requested it after ordering. The price of the fish fry was also $1 less this year, but you only get one piece of fish instead of two. The price of a dinner includes choice of cole slaw or apple sauce, bread and butter, a dessert and soft drinks, coffee or tea. You can order fried fish, fried shrimp or a pierogi dinner. I ordered the fried fish and 3 pierogi for $12 and a side of mac n cheese for $3, for a total of $15.

They ran out of cabbage and noodles just as we were about to order, then they had run out of baked fish and bread by the time the rest of the group arrived at 6:30.

The room is small and lots of people stake their claim to tables. The line to pay and get the dinners from the kitchen is right as you walk in. If you are taking your food to go you can forego the line and head to the to-go area at the back wall past the kitchen. Otherwise you order at the table and then head to the kitchen window to pick up your dinners. Then you get in line again at the condiments and dessert table on the left and grab your condiments, cole slaw or apple sauce, bread and butter, dessert and coffee or tea. Soft drinks are available at the bar that is built into a cubby in the wall to the left. The bar does not serve alcohol at fish fries – it is manned by young high school boys.

I had a tough time deciding what dessert to choose. There was a wide variety of homemade desserts, from cake, brownies, cookies and chocolate pudding. I chose what looked to me like a pumpkin cake with cream cheese center. It was and I was very pleased with my choice. By the end of the night we were sitting around talking and they had a ton of desserts left, so I grabbed another chocolate pudding.

Everyone was thrilled with their meals. Half of us chose the fried fish, and half chose the fried shrimp. The fish was flaky and moist, the pierogi were plump and delicious, and the apple sauce hit the spot. The mac n cheese was also nice and creamy. One friend went back and ordered another piece of fish because he enjoyed it so much. The only complaint we had were the potato pancakes, which were so greasy they were soggy. Potato pancakes should be crisp and shatter to reveal a creamy center.

We sat around talking until 7:30. We were literally the last table to leave. The volunteers were sitting and enjoying their meals when we ventured into the snow squall. I put on my heated seats, and we headed north for home. It was the perfect, quintessential Cleveland evening.

Contact info:

St. Andrew Ukrainian Catholic Church (Back Hall)
7700 Hoertz Road
Parma, OH
440-843-9149

Gas station hummus and more

A few years ago all the foodies in town started talking about a gas station that started making outstanding hummus. Five years ago, Muntaha “Mama Mary” Dari started making a few varieties of hummus to sell out of the family’s Sunoco gas station on the corner of Sprague and Columbia Roads in Olmsted Township. The raving about the hummus got so out of hand that it has become a running gag on the local food forums. Well, the food itself is no joke. I had it for the first time at a friend’s game night a few years ago. Some friends brought the Everything Bagel and the Garlic hummus. The flavors were outstanding, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Some of the available flavors include Original, Everything Bagel, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy, Sun-Dried Tomato, Jalapeno, Bacon, Dill Pickle, Cranberry and Pomegranate (at $3.99 a tub, add $1 for pita). Chocolate hummus will be available for Valentine’s Day and other romantic holidays. Popular flavors sell out quickly, and not every flavor is served every day. You can special order hummus in party trays as well. I bought a tub of Everything Bagel and Kalamata Olive hummus for Easter last year. Hummus is always a good choice for my gluten-free/dairy-free family members. My niece, who is gluten-free, decided she would suffer the consequences and ate almost all of the warm pita that had come with it all by herself. It is grilled and seasoned and absolutely delicious. Mama Mary’s Hummus is now available at several other gas stations (that belong to family members), but I have been frequenting the original location regularly since I started teaching German on Saturday mornings in Olmsted Falls.

The gas station serves more than hummus. They have lamb on a spit for lamb gyros and also serve chicken gyros and falafel in addition to subs and various fried side dishes. I adore the gyros. I get them “with everything” – so lettuce, tomato, onions, tzatziki, and seasoning. They are a little pricey at $6.99 or super sized at $9.99, but they are sizable enough to be filling. And are delicious to boot. I’m hooked on the chicken gyro. I’ve ordered it more than once.

The falafel is a good falafel. It’s not Ehab’s falafel from Cafe Falafel in Fairview Hospital, but it is a nice falafel sandwich. Most falafel are too dry for my tastes, but the falafel in the sandwich have enough moisture to satisfy me. The falafel wrap is $5.99 or you can buy 12 falafel for a few dollars more.

They were making party subs one day when I stopped by for a gyro. I remember back in the day when party subs were a must-serve for a football game. Footlongs and multi-footlongs are available, but they make big subs that are cored out and stuffed with filling. I don’t know how much the party subs are, but a regular sub is $7.99 or $8.99 depending on the choice. They are available hot or cold. There is even a corned beef sub available as well as several hot Philly subs and a Buffalo Chicken sub. As a proud Bulldog alum, I wanted to order the Bulldog when I was there, but ended up saying Raider instead. Total brain fart. The Bulldog features turkey and roast beef, and the Raider is roast beef, ham and turkey. It was still great – even if it was two subs in one! I ate one for lunch and the other one later that day for dinner.

They also serve sides like tabbouli, stuffed grape leaves, macaroni salad, potato salad and banana pudding. I love the stuffed grape leaves. They come five to a container, but they are so munchable I end up eating them all in the care on the way home. The macaroni salad is also creamy and delicious and not as heavily spiced as it looks. I think it is just perfect. I haven’t tried the other sides yet.

Contact info:

Mama Mary’s Hummus
Sunoco Cafe
9796 Columbia Road
Olmsted Falls, Ohio 44138
440-235-0351

The Best Bites of 2019

I wrote a Best Bites of 2018 last year, but by the time I finished it it was so late into the new year that I deleted it. I’m making sure I don’t procrastinate this year.

I continued cooking at home more and learned how to make stuffed cabbage in the electric pressure cooker. That was a game changer. Stuffed cabbage always seemed so intimidating – so I’d just go to Sokolowski’s and get one when I had a craving. Now I can make a big batch and freeze them to enjoy over a few months whenever I want. Jeffrey from Pressure Luck Cooking shared his Grandma Lil’s stuffed cabbage recipe, and I made them for the first time last January for my parents’ birthday party. Stuffed cabbage is my father’s favorite thing in the world. I fed the entire family of 7 and sent some home with him. I brought him some last week again when we had hot dogs roasted in the fireplace. If you follow Jeffrey’s recipe, I recommend using half of the tomato juice (one 46 oz can instead of two) and halving the other sauce ingredients. I’ve found it is too much sauce for the 8 quart pressure cooker, and I threw a bunch of it out the first time. Half the amount is perfect and still plenty saucy.

I’ve been enjoying a variety of soups every month at the Cleveland Soup and Bread Experiment at the BottleHouse in Cleveland Heights. Every month about six to eight volunteers make a batch of soup each and bring it the BottleHouse. There is always a good variety of soups, including vegan and vegetarian options. Any possible allergens are noted on the soup signs. On The Rise donates a variety of bread and baked goods. The proceeds go to a different charity every month. This month’s Soup and Bread Experiment is on Wednesday the 15th (it tends to be on the third Wednesday of the month) from 6:30-8:30 and will be benefiting the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. I haven’t decided what I’ll be making, but I’ve made autumn lentil and pumpkin soup, split pea and ham, zuppa toscana, straciatella, beef barley and Italian wedding soup in the past. Some of my favorites from other soup makers include Judi Strauss’ grandmother’s mushroom soup, Mulligatawny soup, and tortellini and kielbasa soup.

Sichuan Hot Pot continues to be a draw for my friends and me. We get a nice-sized group together (6 or 8), and everyone orders one thing for the table to share. My favorites include the crispy fish hot & spicy, garlic shrimp, and their roasted eggplant with garlic sauce (we’ve learned to ask for the sauce on the side so the eggplant stays crisp). The shredded pork with pickled cabbage (pictured here) was an early favorite, as were the crispy spare ribs. We have only had one or two dishes that did not thrill us.

Shredded pork with pickled cabbage

Roasted eggplant

Crispy fish hot & spicy

I went on a queso kick for a while this summer and learned I enjoyed chorizo – especially if it is combined with queso. I always thought it was too spicy for me. My friend Dale ordered this queso and chorizo at Blue Habanero, and I ignored the combo app platter I ordered for the table to help inhale his. No other queso has exceeded the excellence of this one, and the tortilla chips have some good flavor to them as well. Paired with an octopus (margarita and sangria) I was a very happy girl that night.

Polpetta is my favorite place to go for special dinners. They did a Throwback Dinner honoring all the great things from Graffiti: a Social Kitchen. The Graffiti Artist featured the chorizo potato skin, French onion soup egg roll and a pb&j wing. The second course was an ancient grain salad. The third course was salmon on a delectable cauliflower puree with fried Brussels, and the fourth course was the Deconstructed Monte Cristo (my fave). Rounded off with the O.G. Fat Kid. We all loved it. We enjoyed Adam Bostwick’s whimsy so much that I was the first person to reserve a table (for 8 people) for their Christmas Dinner, which featured courses inspired by Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (a potato croquette with a red, The Grinch (“Roast Beast”), A Christmas Story (duck over coconut rice), and the most unusual dish but biggest hit, Chocolate Spaghetti inspired by the movie Elf. Adam said it was the weirdest thing he’d ever made, and he was nervous about how it would be received. Well, we’re still talking about it – in a good way.

My sister’s family lives in Medina, so when I attend an orchestra concert, softball game, or swim meet there I am usually hungry when I head home. I do enjoy eating at Sérénité or 111 Bistro, but lately Santosuosso has been my later-in-the-night stop. I enjoy their Meatball and Sausage Casserole a lot, but the side salad that comes with the meal is the main draw for me. I order it with the Italian house salad dressing, and it comes with the perfect balance of dressing, lettuce, cheese and side veggies (cucumber, tomato and chickpeas). For some reason it tastes better than any other side salad I’ve been served.

One of my friends discovered Mama Marie’s Ukrainian Kitchen in Parma, and we have all been checking it out. It is located next to State Meats on Ridge, and is super-tiny. There are three booths where only two of them can be occupied at the same time as well as two small two-tops. Most of their business is carry out. I enjoyed the most delicious and humongous Kielbasa Sandwich there. It is served on a perfectly soft bun on a bed of sauerkraut. I enjoyed every single bite. The pierogis were quite good too!

We said goodbye to Marta’s in Euclid in September 2019. I was unable to order my favorite Svickova then, but I got to enjoy it in March. The Wienerschnitzel and Czech bread dumplings were a great second choice in September. I’m going to miss those bread dumplings!

2019 was the year I fell in love with Mama Catena Vino e Cucina (also in Euclid). I found it after searching for somewhere close to eat after an event at the public library. They were vote Best Sinful Dessert in 2018, and I recognized the dining room from the video as soon as I stepped into the restaurant. The amazing cannoli cake features two layers of vanilla cake, one layer of chocolate cake, and tons of cannoli filling and crushed cannoli shells. I ordered it for a friend’s birthday when the dining group had dinner there. Everyone loved it – including me and I don’t like usually like cannolis. In fact, I loved it so much that I then ordered it to bring to my birthday party at Corleone’s in August. It was a HUGE hit. You have to pre-order it, but you can pre-order single servings if you are dining there and can plan ahead. I also recommend their Sunday Sauce, which is served with a meatball, slice of sausage and pork that is falling apart because it’s been simmering in marinara sauce for hours! This family-run business treated me like family after the second time I walked in. It has turned into one of my favorite restaurants in town.

My Friday nights and Saturday mornings in Lent were booked with fish fries and pancake breakfasts. The fish fries and pancake breakfasts were hit or miss. You can read all about them in the blog. My favorite fish fry was at St. Andrew’s in Parma, and my favorite pancake breakfast was in Burton at the high school (they served omelettes along with the AYCE pancakes). Some girlfriends and I did a paczki crawl one Sunday after a bad pancake breakfast on the West Side. We started by comparing Biagio’s and Seven Roses’, which I had bought the day before, then stopped at Becker’s (unfortunately there were no paczki that day), Chuppa’s, and Colozza’s. Chuppa’s had a banana custard paczki that I adored; however, my favorite paczkis remain Michael Angelo’s and Rudy’s Strudel. Rudy’s Hough Bakery paczki is absolutely amazing, and just FYI Rudy’s also serves savory paczki – I heated mine up in my air fryer at 360 for 5 minutes.

A must for me is Sokolowski’s clam bake in October. Every Saturday in October from 4-9 they serve a clam bake with either a 1/2 chicken or 12 oz strip steak as well as a ton of other really tempting menu choices. Since it was a spontaneous decision and I hadn’t preordered I was afraid they would run out by the time I made it to the counter because the line was long (it started outside the back door and threaded its way through the dining room), but luckily they had one. (Plan B would have been to just cobble something together from the chowder, appetizer order of clams, and a kielbasa meal.) Their New England Clam Chowder was my favorite part of the meal this year. It was creamy and delicious with lots of chopped clams and big chunks of bacon. The red-skin potatoes were creamy and perfectly cooked as well. I need to get back here to enjoy the chowder again soon. I hope they don’t just serve this during the clam bake season. But I have to mention that normally I ignore the clam broth at clam bakes. I am so glad I didn’t ignore the clam broth here. It was buttery and flavorful, and it was my second favorite part of the meal – and that’s saying something since I ordered a strip steak and clams!

Gunselman’s Tavern serves a burger of the month. December’s burger was the Christmas Dinner, featuring a 1/2 lb burger patty from the West Side Market, shaved (thick shaved!) prime rib, horseradish aioli, rosemary au jus, arugula and tomato on a weck bun. My friend and I split one the first time I went (with onion rings instead of fries), and I went back a week later for lunch to enjoy it again. It is without a doubt the best burger I have ever eaten, edging out the burger at Annie’s Island Fresh Burgers on Mamalahoa Hwy. in Kealakekua, Hawaii.

Le Petit Triangle’s Raspberry and Mango French toast made with challah was not only a feast for the eyes – it was also a feast for the tummy. I can’t even begin to describe had delectable this was. I enjoyed every single bite. I went to brunch there with a friend, and she ordered this and gave me a taste. I went back a couple days later to order my own and enjoyed it on the patio with a good book. In fact, this might have been the best thing I’ve eaten all year.

P.S. It isn’t in Cleveland, but deserves a mention because it ranks as one of my favorite French onion soups of all-time. I was in Palm Springs for a conference in October and enjoyed a French onion soup at Pomme Frite French & Belgian Cuisine that was covered in so much melty cheese that it was served with a pair of scissors. Now *that* is my kind of soup! If you find yourself in Palm Springs be sure to check it out!

I look forward to what 2020 will bring! Happy New Year!

Sawyer’s

You’ve probably heard of the implosion of the Sawyer brand. I think it is a real shame, because the man is definitely talented. He just isn’t the best businessman. I hope he lands on his feet, and I thank him for all the delicious meals he has given us. He’s out at Sawyer’s and SeeSaw, but his creative food and concept is still there.

Sawyer’s just opened in the new Van Aken District in Shaker Heights. I met a friend who is moving from Cleveland there on Sunday night. Street parking is a little tricky, but the parking garage is just across the street from the front door. There were not a lot of handicapped parking spaces as far as I could see. I parked on the street around the corner, while my friend parked in the parking garage. Her husband, who has mobility issues, did not join us that night. He is why I always consider parking issues when planning events, but crossing the street is easily doable.

Chef Jonathon Sawyer (James Beard Award winner, 2015 Great Lakes Region) is known for his love of local agriculture and sustainable businesses. I’ve always admired his dedication to reusing and recycling when he built The Greenhouse Tavern, his flagship restaurant that is still open on E. 4th and still has rabid fans. I miss Trentina a lot. I had the pleasure of enjoying the Menu Blanco there once, and it remains a lifetime highlight meal to this day.

“Now, that’s a knife!” steak knife

Sawyer’s newest restaurant, Sawyer’s, is light, bright and contemporary, with a white-washed industrial feel. My main complaint about Noodlecat was the uncomfortable seats. That is not the case here! The blue chairs against the beige-upholstered benches are really comfortable and add a pop of blue. The green plants everywhere are also a great addition and intersperse the white surroundings with pops of green. As the Scene magazine explained in an article before it opened, “Sawyer’s will be a step up in terms of price, polish and presentation – a grown-up version of Greenhouse Tavern.” The menu features “wood-fired cooking” (with several heavy-hitting wood-fired ovens) and offers nods to several of his restaurants.

Once sat we were offered still or sparkling water. I chose sparkling, which my friend who does not like still table water in restaurants happily shared with me. The water is served in recycled glass containers of 5x distilled sparkling or still water.

My friend and I had to get the beef tallow candle and wood-fired pita bread as a starter. That candle was revolutionary to me back when Trentina opened. It was made of aged beef suet, edible 24k gold leaf, honey and crunch saltwhich melted into a dipping sauce for the crusty baguette that was brought out later in the meal. In this version, I doubt it has 24k gold leaf in it, but it was still a delightful beef suet that was perfectly seasoned and melted into a dipping sauce for the wood-fired pita. We shared the one piece of pita, but I also took remains of the candle home to heat up later. I imagine if you have a couple people they would gladly provide enough bread for everyone. Even if you had to pay for the extra bread it would be worth it, the bread was fluffy and puffy and perfect.

I was pleased to see a few other Trentina favorites on the menu, such as the Strangolapreti  (which was served with cabbage sauce, grated egg, smoked bottarga, stinging nettles, bergamot orange, ash and olive oil and was one of my favorite bites of the tasting menu – this appetizer version features stuffed bread gnocchi with robiola cheese and Ohio beef brisket) and Trentina Salad. The menu also has a crispy confit of chicken wings, with wings being the huge favorite on the Greenhouse Tavern menu. There’s also a burger and brick chicken that I seem to remember from the Greenhouse Tavern menu. Obviously with a completely new take on things.

I could not decide between a few oysters off the Raw Bar section or the French onion soup (it was a cold night), so I decided to order both. At $3 each or by the dozen for $30, I could pick and choose however many I wanted. I ordered two – one from the East coast and one from the West. The oysters were pristine and served with a range of add-on sauces, including mignonette sauce (a condiment made of minced shallots, cracked pepper and vinegar), a light hot sauce, and a lemon wedge. I preferred the oyster from the West coast, because it reminded me of the salty, briny Jersey ocean of my childhood summers. The East coast oyster was smaller and lighter in taste, not as “fishy.” I can’t wait to go back and order a plate of them and scheduled a dinner for a couple weeks from now with my dining out group.

When we ordered the French onion soup, our server explained to us that since it is wood-fired it was less soupy and more like a concentrated fork-friendly stew of caramelized onions topped with a round of bread and gruyere cheese. This soup was unbelievably delicious. We both ordered it and were thrilled with it. The flavors were zingy and beefy, yet the dish itself was quite comforting. The cheese wasn’t as gooey as I prefer French onion soup to be (I recently enjoyed one in Palm Springs where the cheese was so thick it was served with a pair of scissors to cut it!), but this wasn’t really a soup so I didn’t mind it. It is hard to describe the soup, but if you like the French onion flavor palate you need to try this.

I had trouble deciding on an entree. I ended up ordering the Bistro Steak Frites, which featured a picanha strip loin and Sawyer’s amazing duck fat fries. He got his start here in Cleveland at Bar Cento, and the man can still make a delicious, tantalizing rosemary-infused duck fat fry. I didn’t need a dipping sauce for them because they were that delicious, but it would have been a nice little plus. The beef was served on a bed of pureed root vegetable and topped with a chimichurri sauce. I would order it again in a heartbeat. You can also get a Filet for $50 or a 48 oz dry aged Porterhouse for $101. Both entrees sounded amazing. Life goals.

However, my friend’s lamb special, which was roasted lamb served with hummus and black and green olives, was even better than my entree (which I didn’t think was possible). The lamb was roasted perfectly and had such an amazing flavor. I savored my two bites she gave me. And am tempted to go back before my dining group’s dinner to enjoy it again.

I usually like to visit a restaurant twice to allow for any missteps – especially if a restaurant has just recently opened. Sawyer’s had its soft opening the last week of October. But Sawyer’s knocked it out of the park on this visit and deserves praise for this one visit alone. It is worth the drive to Shaker Heights. Trust me.

Edit: Went again tonight. I had the Fifth Quarter, which tonight was a pappardelle with venison and mushrooms. It was good, but the pappardelle were undercooked. The fried chicken and “pork chop” were both amazing. We also ordered desserts – I highly recommend the s’more. The banana bread pudding and maple bacon creme brulee were also quite nice. Save your money on the apple tartlet.

But be sure to make a reservation. (https://www.opentable.com/r/sawyers-shaker-heights) Right now Sawyer’s is dinner-only Wednesday through Sunday. Weekend brunch and weekday lunch will be added down the road. The restaurant seats 90 and they could accommodate us as walk-ins on Sunday night, but I can’t imagine the place not being packed most nights.

Contact info:

Sawyer’s Restaurant
3396 Tuttle Road
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122
(216) 860-1236

Omizu Sushi

Omizu Sushi on Ridge Road – not to be confused with Mizu Sushi on Brookpark Road – has earned its spot on my short list of favorite sushi places in Cleveland. It is tucked away in an unassuming strip mall with a Save-A-Lot and a Master Pizza. This place should be more packed than it is. It seems people flock to Mizu on Brookpark Road for their happy hour, but they are seriously missing out on some artistic and delicious sushi at Omizu. Omizu has a happy hour too. It just isn’t as well known.

I stumbled on it when I was looking for a place close to the Parma-Snow library to grab a bite after an author book talk and signing. I love the wall of water and fake fish that divides the dining area from the bar and sushi bar. I saw a lychee martini on the menu and haven’t looked back. The lychee martini is really nice and refreshing, with a lychee garnish.

I decided to order a miso soup and a couple of sushi rolls. The miso soup was decent. It’s nothing to write home about, but the broth is flavorful and they don’t cheap out on the tofu chunks. I just wish there was more seaweed in it.

I ordered two specialty rolls and a couple nigiri. The salmon and tuna nigiri were a delight. The fish was fresh, and the rice was perfect. It didn’t fall apart and had a nice flavor to it. I was not all that impressed with the “Yummy Roll.” It was supposed to have mango in it, but there wasn’t enough to notice. On the other hand, the Monkey Roll was out of this world. The Monkey Roll is topped with tempura banana. I was a little nervous ordering it, but it ended up being my favorite thing. The sweetness of the banana played off the fish and eel sauce nicely. It may not sound that great, but if you like banana trust me. You will love it. I suggest ordering it closer to the end of the meal as a dessert roll.

The next time I went I met a group of people for dinner. We all ordered a roll or two and passed them around, so we got to try a little of everything. Some of us also ordered some appetizers. I ordered the sushi appetizer, and my friend ordered the soft shell crab. Another friend ordered the pickled mackerel, which pairs well with a martini. I loved the soft shell crab the best and would order it again. My friends make fun of me for my unintentionally phallic photos. They ribbed me once again for the sushi appetizer. My friend had posted a photo to Facebook, and they automatically asked if that appetizer was mine. No fair! I chose the Snow Mountain Roll that night in addition to the Monkey Roll. I loved the Snow Mountain Roll, so keep that in mind if you are trying to choose. But the entree that blew us all away that time was the sushimi boat for two. Since one of my friends is diabetic he tends to stay away from rice if he can. The sushimi boat was absolutely stunning. They really do a great job with presentation here.

The third time it was just me and a book. I was craving sushi and made a special drive to Omizu. I changed things up a bit and ordered the Mango Martini, which was also light and refreshing. Usually mango drinks can taste too unnatural. Not this one. I loved it. I was really hungry, so I ordered a vegetable tempura appetizer and a sushi and sashimi platter. The tempura vegetables were not too greasy and actually had a nice taste to them.  I usually find tempura to be too bland. The sashimi and nigiri were pristine, and the California roll was rolled tightly. I took half of everything home and had a nice breakfast the next day.

I hope Omizu is around for a long time so we can keep enjoying its delicious offerings. They have a ton of interesting-sounding rolls to choose from as well as tempura, hibachi and other Japanese entrees. I also look forward to trying their ramen. They have a huge range of choices.

Contact info:

Omizu Japanese Restaurant
6843 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 340-0888

Astoria

Photo from Yelp user Norton W.

Astoria Cafe and Market opened back in December 2016 and has been receiving rave reviews ever since. Astoria is located in a 5,000-square-foot space in Gordon Square across from Minh Ahn. Parking is available along the street, but there is also a lot down the side street next to Astoria. The lot is well-lit. I was still somewhat nervous walking back to my car by myself until I realized the parking lot had a guard sitting in his car and keeping watch.

Astoria is a hot brunch location, but is also known for its octopus and tapas. One of my friends swears by the octopus and the mussels. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The menu changes frequently with the season.  There is a bar-restaurant on one side and a market that specializes in cheeses, meats and Mediterranean imports on the other. Anything you purchase in the market can be eaten in the restaurant, which is why they are also known for their charcuterie and cheese boards. I was finally prompted to check it out when I learned that one of my friends is one of the co-owners’ sister, and he serves the family recipe Dolmades or stuffed grape leaves (spoiler alert: they are amazing).

I knew we had to order the octopus (Octopus alla Karvouna) as an appetizer since it is so popular. It features Spanish octopus poached in white wine, lemon and garlic, then charcoal grilled and topped with extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper and fresh oregano.  It is indeed as good as everyone says. Maybe even better than I expected it to be. It was a single tentacle that was perfectly grilled, and everyone loved it. So much so that we went back a couple of months later to enjoy it again. We also couldn’t get enough of the complementary fresh bread and probably went through three refills of bread and one refill of the dipping oil.

Our first visit was in the winter right before Christmas, and it was a cold, wet and slushy day. I started my meal off with a bowl of Chicken Avgolemono soup. Avgolemono soup is a Greek specialty using egg yolk and lemon juice. This version features poached free-range chicken in a broth featuring dill, parsley, lemon and golden rice. The lemon and fresh herbs gave it a nice bright flavor, and the chicken was nicely shredded. It was hearty yet light enough to whet my appetite for more.

When I saw Quattro Stagioni pizza on the menu I almost started crying. It is rare to find this Italian staple pizza on menus here in the U.S. and when they do they tend to just put all the toppings on the pizza in a jumble. A true Italian Quattro Stagioni features four sections with diverse ingredients, with each section representing one season of the year —traditionally Parma ham or olives (winter), artichoke hearts (spring), tomato & basil (summer), and mushrooms (fall). This pizza was done the right way, even if it was missing the tomato & basil and featured both Prosciutto di Parma and Kalamata olives. At least they tried. I just found the dough a little too thick for my liking.

Another friend ordered the Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) pizza with mozzarella, pecorino romano, herbed ricotta and asiago cheese. He liked it a lot. Since he is a man of few words that is all I can say about that.

He shared that with his wife, who ordered the Veal, Lamb & Ricotta Meatballs. In fact, two of my friends ordered it that visit and both raved about it. The meatballs are served over fusilli pasta. I had a bite and the sauce was a very flavorful sauce. The meatballs were not overpowering. I apologize for the blurry photo.

One of my friends, who is a notoriously picky eater, ordered the duck confit and mac n cheese. She originally ordered it for the mac n cheese, but fell in love with the whole dish. So much so that when we went back to celebrate some friends’ birthdays she ordered it again.

I finished off the night with a slice of Greek cake (Milopita). It was an apply/custardy slice of goodness. Almost like an apple bread pudding. It was really, really nice.

When we went back a few months later I decided to order a bunch of smaller plates for my meal. I started with the dolmades, which were as amazing as I thought they would be. The rice was tender and flavorful, and the grape leaf was not tough and chewy like some others I have had from a Greek restaurant near me. They were also vegetarian with no meat, which I really enjoyed. I love these dolmades and would probably go back just to get them again. We shared the octopus again, but I also ordered a grilled octopus and lump crab meat salad. It was lightly dressed in a mayo and lots of lemon. It was very refreshing. I also ordered a side of herbed golden rice, because I wanted something small but warm to balance my cold plates.

I was lucky enough to try a bit of the chicken souvlaki, which was really great too. It was served over a bed of greens that were lightly dressed in a nice sauce and accompanied by some hummus, tzatziki and pita bread. My friend loved this.

I finished off the night that time with a trio of cannoli. I am not normally a fan of cannoli, but I would order Astoria’s cannoli again. The mini-cannoli were filled with a pistachio filling a chocolate filling, and a Luxardo cherry filling. They had me at Luxardo, but the other two were amazing as well. I shared them with my dining companions, and they also enjoyed them.

Contact info:

Astoria Cafe & Market
5417 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 266-0834