Express Deli

Express Deli is a family-owned deli that is making some of the best sandwiches in Cleveland. Express Deli was listed #41 in Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in America in 2018. According to a Yelper, the parents Pierre and Maha bought the place 24 years ago when they moved from Lebanon in 1998, it was more like a Mini Mart. (Note: that explains why I haven’t heard of them until now – I moved to the east side in 1992). They thought it would be a good idea to serve good deli food at the Mini Mart, and have turned it into a true deli over time as it rose in popularity. Located on Smith Road just off I-480 (W. 130th exit) and just past Brookpark Road in Brook Park, it is tucked away at the end of a small, nondescript strip mall. When you walk in you are greeted like a family friend. Head to the back – that’s where the magic happens.

Make sure to tell them if it is your first time. They offer a tasting tour of their three most popular sandwiches – the turkey, the pastrami, and the Reuben. Each features a special sauce. The turkey is served with the house dressing (a delicious herbed oil), the pastrami has a garlic mayo and is topped with a thin pickle slice, and the Reuben is a small bite of Reuben (corned beef, Swiss and kraut) with a mix of their delicious Thousand Island dressing and garlic mayo. They started the samplers about 7 years ago to have people try and love what they ended up purchasing, and maybe get them to try something they normally wouldn’t.

If you are a regular reader, you know I’m not a fan of corned beef. It is a rare place that can make me change my mind. Well, I tried the Reuben bite and liked it so much I actually ordered the Reuben on my first visit! They make their own corned beef on the premises, so maybe I’m just a fan of their corned beef. I guess I like lean corned beef. The sauce and melted cheese made every bite super creamy, and the sauerkraut was not sour at all. I can see why everyone loves this and it’s one of the top sellers.

I had originally decided to order the chicken cordon bleu wrap until I tried the Reuben, so that was my choice on my next visit. Maybe it was an off day, maybe the Reuben has ruined me for all other sandwiches, because I thought it was just okay. The cordon bleu sandwich has a lot of fans. It’s made with chicken, ham, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a honey mustard sauce. I don’t see any tomato, but it still wouldn’t have magically saved it. I’m not a huge fan of wraps; I find the texture of the wrap or pita too dry, which then detracts from the fillings. I’ll try it on a hoagie next time, because it is one of my favorite food pairings.

One of their other most popular sandwiches is the Beirut Chicken. I asked what bread he might recommend for it instead of a pita wrap, but he really urge me to get the pita wrap since there was so much going on in the sandwich. It is made with marinated & sautéed chicken breasts, garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, thin sliced pickles, cole slaw, and sriracha. I was initially only going to eat a few bites and then eat the Reuben I had also ordered, but I soon found that I had eaten half of the sandwich and was ready to finish it. The sandwich was that good! The flavors really complemented each other, and each bite was a delight. I set aside the sandwich to eat half of my Reuben and was pleased that the wrap only got soggy in one spot when I went to eat it later. And for the record the Reuben was perfect the next day – no sogginess to speak of despite all the sauces on it.

I also ordered the chicken noodle soup. Since I wasn’t eating it right away I was okay with it not being heated up. Once I was ready to eat it at home, it heated up nicely, and the noodles were a total treat. The homemade broth will definitely cure what ails you!

They have a huge cooler filled with soft drinks, iced teas, flavored water, hard seltzers, and beer as well as a wall of crunchy snacks (chips, pretzels) to go with your sandwich. I also grabbed a bag of Zappo’s Voodoo Chips and Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips (my two favorite chips) and a bottle of Mountain Dew and a Crush Grape. The chips and beverages are very well-curated. The homemade cookies are also soft and delicious.

The macaroni salad was just okay. Davis Bakery has ruined me for all other macaroni salads. The pasta salad was really tasty. I highly recommend it. It looks like the black bits are olives, but they are beans. I still didn’t hate it. The seafood salad was great. I ate it straight out of the container with a fork, but it was especially good on a toasted slice of croissant bread. I also enjoyed the pickle. I do plan to try the potato salad too. But come here for the sandwiches.

I must be spoiled from all my years in Germany, because the Braunschweiger sandwich just didn’t do it for me. I prefer a softer meat spread. It’s also possible that it was too much of a good thing. I got there close to closing time, and she used up the Braunschweiger on my sandwich. It was very generous, but I prefer thin slices over huge hunks. I won’t get this again, but there are plenty of other delicious-sounding sandwiches to choose from.

There are no tables. It’s takeout only. Eat in your car if you must.

Open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and Saturday from 11 to 4.

Contact info:

Express Deli
5185 Smith Road
Brook Park, OH 44142
(216) 267-7878

Blue Canyon in Twinsburg

Sitting atop a bluff that overlooks I-480 and gorgeous views of wooded rolling landscapes of northeast Ohio, Blue Canyon Restaurant offers an unparalleled rustic, cozy atmosphere. The restaurant’s design was inspired by the grand lodges located throughout the National Parks of the United States. It seriously reminds me of El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, but it’s a little brighter.

Surrounded by hand-hewn cedar logs, soaring cathedral ceilings, and multiple fieldstone fireplaces, you can relax and enjoy the views out the large windows or admire the gigantic antler chandelier. The bar is also rustic, combining wood and glass partitions. Opened in 2004 by Chef/Partner Brandt Evans, Blue Canyon has stayed in business for almost 20 years without ever dropping in quality. The open kitchen specializes in creative American dishes, including wild game options.

The menu has been tweaked over the years, but there are several customer favorites that remain constant. The BC Yukon Gold Potato Chips are a great appetizer to share. The crispy chips are dressed with a Wisconsin Buttermilk Blue Cheese, a blue cheese cream and scallions. Seriously good as a bar snack or an appetizer. The Bacon Wrapped Boursin Stuffed Chicken Breast is also an original item. It is currently served with whipped Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and an apple cider glaze.

My favorite dish on the menu is the Pretzel Crusted Trout. I have been enjoying it for almost 20 years. I very rarely deviate, because it’s just so good. You can order a large order (two filets) or a small order (one filet). It is currently served with whipped Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, garlic green beans, and a mustard caper butter. Since I’m not the biggest green bean fan they gladly substituted broccoli for green beans. The mustard caper butter is good I would bathe in it if I could. It is a nice accompaniment to the trout. Paired with a cup of sherry-forward lobster bisque, this was my birthday dinner this year. When given the choice of dessert, I chose the Strawberry Pretzel dessert. The creme brulee and chocolate mousse bomb were also phenomenal.

My birthday dinner (not pictured: a Hurricane)

My friends and family members at the dinner ordered the trout, the salmon, or the pork chops. The Cedar Plank Salmon is also available as a large and small order, which my friend really appreciated. It was also accompanied by whipped mashed potatoes, garlic green beans, and a lemon herb butter sauce, but my friend appreciated that she could substitute a corn side for the mashed potatoes.

The Pork Chop was served with farro risotto, pickled red cabbage, and bacon and pear mustards. My mother is a pork chop fan and enjoyed this dish a lot. They were able to work with her to accommodate her dairy and gluten allergies. She had no problems the next day, which is always appreciated after going out to dinner.

The Dinner Menu is just one of the menus available on the website. They offer a Beverage Menu, a Dessert Menu, a Date Night Menu, a Weekly Family Dining Menu, a monthly Brunch Menu, and currently a Holiday Celebratory Luncheons Menu, a Restaurant Week Menu, and a Thanksgiving Takeout Menu.

Obviously, I enjoyed the Clambake here this year (see here), but I also recently enjoyed their Oktoberfest Brunch in September (to be continued, see next post). Blue Canyon is worth the drive for a special night out with friends or a date night. The bar and dining rooms are cozy, and you just want to sink into the chairs. There are choices for every price point – from a burger to a steak or scallops.

Contact info:

Blue Canyon Kitchen & Tavern
8960 Wilcox Drive
Twinsburg, Ohio 44087
(330) 486-2583

Mango Mango

My friends and I are obsessed with Mango Mango, the new Asian dessert shop on Payne Avenue (just down from Wonton Gourmet). Fruity, sweet desserts and drinks are the focus at Mango Mango. The New York-based chain opened its first Ohio location in April of this year. The first location opened in 2013, and it has since expanded to have 30 locations in 13 states. It definitely fills a need that was only being filled by Koko Bakery. It has been packed since it opened.

Some of the most popular items at Mango Mango are, unsurprisingly, mango-focused: mango and sticky rice desserts, mango pancakes, mango mochi and mango Mille crepe cakes are crowd favorites. The menu is formidable, featuring cold and hot desserts, crepes and waffles, cakes, flavored (bubble) teas and smoothies. I am a huge (HUGE) fan of the quintessential Thai dessert mango and sticky rice.

That said, on my first visit I ordered the mango juice and watermelon with rice balls. I figured since it was a seasonal item I would take advantage of the fact that I could order it. I really liked it. The mango juice and watermelon were refreshing, and the rice balls were reminiscent of sticky rice but it wasn’t the same consistency and lacked the condensed milk.

My friend ordered the strawberry mango juice sago and lychee jelly with mango ice cream. I really liked this as well because the lychee jelly was simply heavenly. My friend didn’t really love the mango ice cream, but I felt it added a nice flavor profile to the dessert. I obviously ordered this the second time I visited.

A bunch of my girlfriends gathered here one Saturday evening after dinner at Sichuan Hot Pot. I had been at a luau at the Willoughby Elks Lodge, so I joined them for dessert. We all ordered a dessert each and shared them. I absolutely fell in love with the Matcha Crepe Roll. The crepe, which is soft and tender, is stuffed with a mildly sweet red bean whipped cream. It is super light and airy. Definitely a showstopper.

Cleveland’s very own Andy Ng of Ice or Rice made a video on how to make one and makes it look so easy.

I had ordered the Mango and Black Rice dessert, which tasted almost exactly like a mango sticky rice dessert. The black rice had a slightly different texture, but the flavor profile was the same.

Two of my friends recommended the mille crepe cakes and the brown sugar cream puffs. The brown sugar cream puffs were good, but tasted a little burnt. I’ll have to get them again to determine if burnt sugar is the flavor profile they are going for.

The Mango Mille Crepe Cake was also a fan favorite. A mille crepe cake is a cake made up of many crepe layers, with freshly made milk, custard, or sauces sandwiched between each layer. Flour, eggs, sugar, and milk are used to make the crepes themselves. The word mille means “a thousand” in French, and it refers to the crepe cake’s several layers. You can choose between the Mango Mille Crepe Cake, Mustang King Durian or the Green Tea Mille Crepe Cake. It too was very light and not too filling.

Another time I was there I ordered the strawberry and mango dessert with lychee jelly and a Brown Sugar Boba Milk Tea (their signature tea). The milk tea was very refreshing, even if I’m not a huge fan of boba. I definitely enjoyed it to the very end.

Mango Mango is open Monday – Friday from 12pm-9pm and Saturday – Sunday 11am-9pm. The menu is so extensive that I imagine it will take a very long time to try most everything. I’m looking forward to trying some of the hot soups and maybe a waffle when it gets colder. It definitely has something for everyone (inluding dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan choices).

Contact info:

Mango Mango Cleveland
3133 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 417-8833

Clambakes 2021

I maxed out on clambakes in 2022, so 2021 was a little lighter. I only attended three. There were a number of reasons – the first being that my annual translators’ conference occupied the last prime clambake weekend. I was also less than mobile due to my knee problems, and we lost Walter Hyde that month. The joy kind of disappeared.

Stancato’s

I met my friend Dale to enjoy the clambake at Stancato’s on October 2nd to start the season off right. Like Bruno’s, Stancato’s also serves a very Italiano clambake. They bring out round bread rolls with a lovely Tuscan herb blend on top of them along with a small ramekin of marinara for dipping or drizzling. The rolls are delicious, but I prefer butter over marinara on bread. They then bring out a cup of tasty New England clam chowder. Then my favorite part – the linguini in white clam sauce. Delicious! The third course features a dozen middle neck clams with broth and drawn butter. Again, very tasty and tender. The roasted portion of the meal includes a marinated and roasted chicken, sausage and peppers, roasted parsley red skin potatoes, and buttered corn on the cob. I ate everything that wouldn’t reheat well (chowder, linguini, clams, and corn) and took the rest home for lunch the next day. Delicious!

Stancato’s clambake

The Leather Stallion Saloon

I skipped the next weekend to prep for a vendor event I was working at on Saturday. But that next weekend, on the 15th, I enjoyed a clambake at a most unusual venue – at a Leather & Bear Bar that has been serving the Cleveland gay community since 1970. It was one of the tastiest clambakes I’ve ever enjoyed. The Leather Stallion Saloon on St. Clair Avenue has/had a phenomenal chef. The entrance is down the alleyway, and we ate outside on the enclosed patio at the very end of the alley. My friends had preordered the tickets. We enjoyed martinis and cosmos from the patio bar and then feasted on lobster bisque and clam chowder, clams and mussels, and a half chicken or steak. We walked to the cooking area to get each course. There weren’t many people this year, so the chef didn’t care if we came up and had seconds (obviously not on the steak). I was able to enjoy both the chowder and the bisque. I think the bisque was my favorite. It had a nice amount of sherry and corn in it. The chef also brought a big bowl of mussels to the table “just because.” The dinner itself included choice of soup, clams, potato, coleslaw, corn, rolls and butter, and choice of dessert. Of course, we were able to enjoy several desserts. I particularly enjoyed the pumpkin cheesecake, although the carrot cake was also pretty phenomenal. and my bite of one of my friend’s tiramisu was also great.

Leather Stallion clambake

Gunselman’s Tavern

This year I ended up meeting two friends at the clambake at Gunselman’s Tavern. There was unfortunately a glitch with my ticket. I ordered it the day it went live on the website, but something happened and they had no record of me when I showed up. I had to pay for another ticket that day and come back with my credit card statements to get refunded for the first charge. We were seated on the patio and enjoyed the beautiful weather. The food prep was in the parking lot. Same as last year, the Gunselman’s clambake includes clam broth, New England clam chowder, a dozen clams, sweet potato and roasted potatoes, coleslaw, corn on the cob, and 1/2 chicken. I once again ordered the Steak Bake, so I got a 12 oz strip steak instead of chicken. I ordered a Blue Moon this year, which was refreshing. I wasn’t able to walk very well, so luckily one of the younger helpers (maybe 12 years old) was willing to go through the buffet line for me. I tipped him and he was thrilled. Once again it was a fun time.

Contact info:

Stancato’s
7380 State Road
Parma, OH 44134
(440) 886-6242

Leather Stallion
2205 St Clair Ave NE
Cleveland, OH 44114

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

Grum’s

Established in 1977, Grum’s is legendary when it comes to CWRU students and their favorite subs. You can get a foot-long (whole) sandwich for $13, which is enough for two meals. Grum’s is always recommended when folks on food forums ask for good subs. Unlike many sub shops in Cleveland, Grum’s has one location – Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. I live within walking distance, which makes me the envy of a lot of people. One of my friends drives here twice a year from the west side and enjoys their Grum’s in Lake View Cemetery.

It doesn’t wow me, but they make a good sub and they have their die-hard fans. The bread is fresh, the meats and cheeses are plentiful, and the combination of flavors are well-paired. At the moment they only carry Italian bread. There is a supply problem with wheat. They have a sign on the door. They have chips and soda in vending machines to the right of the ordering counter. They used to serve them from behind the counter. I do not like the addition of the vending machines. It seems cheap and not very customer-friendly to me. I don’t know too many people who are willing to pay for a sub and then willingly plug money in a machine for a bag of chips and then another machine for a can or bottle of soda. But maybe that’s just me.

Grum’s is best known for the Turkey Ridge. It is made with roasted turkey breast, lettuce, tomato, onions, provolone cheese, Grum’s (secret) spices and mayo. It’s definitely a tasty sub. The spices complement the turkey sub, and I like the fact that the lettuce and onion are thinly shredded.

I usually order the Grumsteer, which is made with thinly sliced roast beef, oil, lettuce, tomato, onions, provolone cheese, Grum’s horseradish sauce and Grum’s spices. I really like the roast beef and tangy horseradish sauce. It can be ordered hot or cold, but I prefer it cold, because I felt the consistency and taste of the roast beef changed when it was heated and I was not a fan. As you can see from this side view there is a lot of roast beef in the sub. They also offer something called a Grumsting, which is a roast beef sandwich with barbecue sauce (thinly sliced roast beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeño pepper rings, provolone cheese, BBQ sauce , and Grum’s spices, to be exact). I prefer horseradish with my roast beef, but if you like barbecue sauce you might enjoy the Grumsting. It’s only available as a hot sub.

I tried the signature sub, the Grum, just to report on it. It is a decent Italian-style sub, featuring smoked ham, pepperoni, genoa salami, oil, lettuce, tomato, onion, hot banana pepper rings, provolone cheese, and Grum’s spices. Me being me, I picked out the hot banana pepper rings, but there was enough residual juice left behind to give it a bit of zing. The pepperoni and salami obviously overwhelmed any taste of ham, but it is a good sub if you like Italian cold cuts.

Grum’s tuna fish sub, the Seagrum, is made with Grum’s tuna salad, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and provolone cheese. I am not a fan of crunchy stuff like celery in my sub, so I really enjoyed the softness of the sub bun and the tuna. But if you prefer a sturdier sandwich you might want to order something else. The tuna flavor was not too overwhelming or “tuna-ee”. It wasn’t the best tuna sandwich I’ve had, but it also wasn’t the worst. It was a decent tuna sub.

I was going to order a hot sub, but I wasn’t able to order a half Hamshire in their online ordering system. Maybe another time. I’ve also had their pizza sub, which I enjoyed, but I don’t have a photo of that either. Two things you can order on the online ordering system is a side of potato salad and a half or a whole pickle, so I did. The potato salad was a decent potato salad. It’s not Fragapane’s or my mom’s, but I would order it again. It had a nice mayo base. It could use a little more seasoning than the paprika dashed on top of it. The whole pickle was great. Cut into four spears, it was sturdy and not too floppy and had a good dill flavor.

They also have three salads and a hot dog on their menu. The salads look like they are all iceberg lettuce, but the toppings appear to be plentiful. The salads are also all under $10. I would have really like to order soup, but maybe that is too much. There is chili listed in the ordering system, but several people on Yelp complained that they don’t have it despite it being listed. The online ordering system also allows you to order a soda, but they don’t specify what kinds and I wonder how that works with the vending machine.

The vending machines were there even before the COVID renovations (see the new menu boards in second photo)

Grum’s isn’t my go-to choice for subs, but it certainly has its fans. I prefer a sturdier bread. Maybe I would have become a fan if I was a CWRU student in the 1990s instead of BGSU. Instead, my heart belongs to DiBennedetto’s, which was across the street from my dorm and is unfortunately is no longer in business.

Contact info:

Grum’s Sub Shoppe
1776 Coventry Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 321-4781

Issho Ni Ramen, Sushi & Hibachi

Issho Ni Ramen, Sushi & Hibachi in Willoughby (not to be confused with Issho Ni Poke in Mentor) is in an unassuming strip mall on Euclid Avenue in Willoughby. Issho Ni is a bit out of the way compared to other options closer to the city proper, but it’s definitely worth the drive out for its great flavor and fresh fish. One of my friends had been suggesting we go for a while, and I decided to give it a go in July because sushi is a great cool dinner.

I looked at Yelp photos and the menu first to get an idea what to expect. Yelp showed me that Issho Ni was serving things like Ikura with quail egg or nigiri with scoring and sauces that I had only seen at Kura (the conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Troy, Michigan). I was completely intrigued by the Sunshine Roll. My home computer and wifi network is called Sunshine, so I like the name. I was intrigued by the fact that they top it with lemon and honey. The Sunshine Roll features crabmeat, cucumber and avocado topped with fresh salmon, lemon slices, tomato, bell pepper, sesame seeds, and a honey wasabi sauce. My roll came out without tomatoes, but I certainly didn’t notice. The roll was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the entire table agreed that it was the best choice of the night.

I also ordered a California Roll (bottom of photo with black sesame seeds) and the Rock n Roll (top of photo), which is essentially a Philly roll (minus the avocado) deep-fried in tempura. The California Roll also comes deep-fried as an option, but I thought the cream cheese roll would be tasty with a little heat. The California Roll was your basic crabmeat, cucumber and avocado roll, but I don’t remember any avocado and barely noticed the cucumber. The Rock n Roll had smoked salmon and cream cheese inside and was topped with scallions, masago, sesame seeds and eel sauce. My friends were teasing me because I was liberally applying the wasabi to them, but I just found both of them pretty bland. I had ordered an expensive Seared Toro Nigiri (fatty tuna), but the server never brought it. I was full enough from the rolls, so I told him not to bother. I honestly think he had forgotten it. I don’t know many servers who would forget a $17.50 item, but it was easier on my wallet in the long run.

My one friend ordered the Albacore Lover Roll and a seaweed salad. The seaweed salad came out first, and it had a great flavor. I can see myself ordering it the next time I am there. The sesame oil was liberally and perfectly used. I won’t even mind that it sticks in between my teeth. Note to self: only order it when dining alone – LOL.

My friend has a shellfish allergy, so she was thrilled to hear that the crabmeat was imitation crab because she was able to try all of our rolls. Her Albacore Lover Roll was also tasty. It contains spicy tuna and cucumber topped with albacore, fried onions, scallions, and ponzu sauce. I enjoyed the crunch of the fried onions, and the flavors came together really well.

My other friend ordered the Issho Ni Roll, which features crabmeat, avocado, and cucumber topped with spicy tuna and deep-fried eel tempura, spicy mayo and eel sauce, masago, scallions and sesame seeds, and the House Roll, which features crabmeat, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber, avocado and a sweet mustard sauce. They were both good, but the House Roll was really awkward to eat. It was sliced very thin and was very tall.

We were given our checks without asking if we wanted dessert, which we did. Two of us ordered the matcha tiramisu, and one ordered the sweet pudding. All three came out partially frozen. The server was appalled by the look of the pudding and took it away, saying he couldn’t charge her for it. We enjoyed the matcha tiramisu because it was so refreshing semi-frozen.

It also would have been nice if he hadn’t started to wipe a table and mop the floor immediately adjacent to us while we were still eating. The overpowering detergent smell did not lend itself to the enjoyment of the dessert.

I went back to try the Yakisoba on a Sunday afternoon. I ordered the Scottish Salmon nigiri as a starter, which was just delicious. The rice fell apart a little too much, but the fish was perfect.

The server then brought out my Yakisoba and thanked me for my patience. I told her there was no patience needed because I had only ordered it minutes ago. The kitchen was super quick. I really liked the flavor of the Yakisoba. It had a basic sweetness to it that I liked, and the light vegetables added to it were great – cabbage and some scallions. I ordered the chicken yakisoba and debated adding shrimp for a second, but decided to just stick with chicken. It was a nice choice.

I also ordered the Sunshine Roll again and the Volcano Roll. They were out of the seafood mayo topping for the Volcano Roll, so the server suggested another roll that was similar called the Firecracker Roll, which features spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, crab stick that is deep fried and then topped with shrimp tempura, habanero and scallops. Once I figured out what was making it so spicy (habanero) and removed it, I enjoyed the roll much more. I ended up taking half of everything and another Sunshine Roll home as leftovers.

Contact info:

Issho Ni Ramen Sushi and Hibachi
34302 Euclid Ave Unit 1-2
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 306-8020
Closed Mon. & Tues., open Wed-Sun from 11 am to 9/9:30 pm

Dave’s Cosmic Subs

Established in 1997, Cosmic Dave’s™ has become a legend here in Northeast Ohio.  A legend that is spreading at “Cosmic” speed across the state and beyond.  What started out as a humble sub shop in Chagrin Falls is now revolutionizing the sub world with a franchise with stores currently in four states and looking to expand into more.

Cosmic Dave’s™ is known for its crispy bread and tasty and generous toppings – and Dave’s Cosmic Sub Sauce™ (I have a bottle of it in my fridge right now). Dave’s Cosmic Sub Sauce™ is kind of like a creamy Italian, but better. The Original Dave’s Cosmic Sauce TM is all-natural, vegan, and sold in all of the Dave’s Cosmic Sub shops as well as select local stores. After leaving the family business in Cleveland (Seaway Wholesale Cash n Carry on Woodland Avenue) and moving to California for ten years, where he gigged as an actor, musician with his own band (they opened for Huey Lewis and the News and Steppenwolf), and playwright, he moved back to Cleveland and decided to mix the memory of sharing great sandwiches late at night with his dad and the music of the decade that shaped him. Dave knew what to look for in the right kind of bread, sauces, and combinations of the highest quality ingredients to create the “ultimate sub that rocked.”

Their first and most popular sub is #1 – The Original Dave’s Cosmic Sub™ (also referred to as the OG), which is made with pepperoni, Genoa salami, prosciutto, lettuce, tomatoes, sliced banana peppers, onions, fresh garlic, herbs, Provolone cheese – smothered with Dave’s Cosmic Sauce™.

The Crazy Dave – photo from the Dave’s Cosmic Subs website (bottle of Dave’s Cosmic Sauce in the background)

#8 – The Crazy Dave™ (prosciutto, capicola, hot peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, fresh garlic, Provolone cheese, sprinkled with crushed red peppers, herbs, and Dave’s Cosmic Sauce) was voted best sandwich in Cleveland. I’m not a fan of hot peppers or red pepper flakes, so I’ve never tried it. I probably should some day.

I like Dave’s subs because they are tasty. All of their subs are served on vegan, kosher Italian or whole wheat bread baked fresh in their ovens throughout the day. Gluten-free bread is now available.

The Incredible Dave before I picked off the banana peppers

My favorites are the #9 – The Incredible Dave™ or # 5 – Dave’s All American™. The Incredible Dave is made with “two generous layers of juicy chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sliced banana peppers, lots of Swiss and Cheddar cheeses, herbs, smothered with Dave’s Cosmic Sauce.” I always leave off the banana peppers. The combination of the chicken, cheese and herbs with the sauce just satisfies something in me deep down inside. As for the Dave’s All American, it is his roast beef sandwich with “delicious tender roast beef, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, American and Swiss cheeses, herbs, and Dave’s 1000 Island Dressing.” It’s like a Reuben but with roast beef and cold. I prefer my roast beef cold, so I love this. Roast beef changes flavor and texture when you heat it.

Slap some cole slaw on the All American and heat it up, and you have the #19 – Hey Dave™. The Hey Dave features “delicious tender roast beef, Dave’s Famous Horseradish Sauce, Swiss cheese, with Dave’s homemade cole slaw piled a mile high, topped with sliced banana peppers and herbs.” It is only available as a Regular Size sub.

#2 – Dave’s World Famous™ combines chicken and roast beef and features their horseradish. I love horseradish, and it is a good accompaniment to roast beef as well as chicken and roast beef. The World Famous is made with “delicious tender roast beef, succulent chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, sliced banana peppers, Swiss cheese, herbs, and a generous portion of Dave’s Famous Horseradish Sauce.

The Grateful Dave

Two other favorites of mine are #25 – Dave’s Famous Bleu™ (turkey, Dave’s Cosmic Sauce, mayo, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, Cheddar cheese, hot peppers, topped with Dave’s Bleu Cheese Dressing) and #27 – The Grateful Dave™ (turkey, tomatoes, red onions, mayo, Dave’s Cosmic Sauce, avocado, alfalfa sprouts, and hot pepper juice). I’m a sucker for avocado and alfalfa sprouts. Not enough sandwich shops serve them.

#29 – Dave’s Peace Steak™ is another hot sub that I enjoy, which is surprising because I prefer cold subs. It is made with premium steak, mayo, green peppers, tomatoes, crisp onions, mushrooms, Dave’s Cosmic Sauce, and topped with Provolone cheese.

#20 – Dave’s Cordon Bleu™ (juicy chicken, ham, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, Dave’s Bleu Cheese Dressing, Dave’s Cosmic Sauce and a slice of Swiss cheese and herbs) is one unique sandwich. Obviously you have to like bleu cheese to appreciate it.

I would be remiss to leave out Dave’s meatball sub (#17). Called “Dave’s Best Meatball Ever™ (And We’re Not Kidding!),” it features three large meatballs, Dave’s Cosmic Sauce, fresh garlic, tasty tomato sauce, topped with Provolone and Romano cheese, sprinkled with herbs and crushed red peppers and is served Hot. I went through a phase where I tried meatball subs everywhere, and this was my favorite next to Crust’s meatball sub. And #18 – Dave’s Famous Italian Sausage™ sandwich is also awesome. It’s topped with pretty much the same things and is a little easier to get your mouth around than the meatballs.

I live within walking distance of the Dave’s on Coventry, so I treat myself occasionally. I’ve also been to the original shop in Chagrin Falls as well as in Hudson and University Heights. I haven’t made it to the Dave’s in the old Barking Spider location on Juniper yet, but I want to check it out. I usually grab a soda and a bag of chips when I am there. I loved that they served Arizona Mandarin Orange Green Tea. It was the only place I could find it, but now they don’t sell it anymore. The chips they serve now are made locally and cooked in peanut oil. The flavors include Maui Onion Chips, Sea Salt and Vinegar, Cracked Pepper and Sea Salt, Funk Fusion, Mesquite BBQ, Sea Salted, Sour Cream and Onion, Jalapeño, and Sriracha Honey. The Maui Onion is fantastic. If you’ve had the Hawaii Five-Oh at Gourmand’s that is the chip they use to top it. They also offer soup, but they microwave it. I can do that at home.

Contact info:

Dave’s Cosmic Subs

Click to find a location near you

The Diner on 55th

You can’t miss the Diner on 55th. Just look for the shiny, old-timey diner car at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair (pro tip: enter from E. 55th once you cross St. Clair – the driveway on St. Clair is exit only). It’s right off the E. 55th exit on I-90. If the sun is shining you may need sunglasses, but you definitely can’t miss it!

Since it opened in 2001, the Diner on 55th has been the epitome of a “classic small town diner,” but in the big city. If you’re a fan of old-school dining and comfort food, you’re sure to fall in love with this classically-inspired 1950s-style diner with checkerboard tablecloths. They specialize in all-American comforts like breakfast foods, chili, burgers, and onion rings. The Diner on 55th is open 6 days a week from 6 am to 3 pm (Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm). It is closed on Mondays and holidays.

The diner car is surprisingly roomy inside. Booths line the windows and walls, and tables are lined up down the middle to be fit together as needed. There is a counter down the middle with comfortable-looking stools as well. The clientele was a mix of regulars and first-timers. I don’t know our local athletes, but one particularly tall gentleman may or may not play for the Cavs. He had to duck his head when he left. Being 5’2″ I didn’t have that problem. Whether they were regulars or a newbie like me, everyone was cheerfully greeted and treated well. The servers were very friendly and accommodating.

As for the food, it was by far one of the best breakfasts I have enjoyed in a long time!!! I ordered the Full Belly Breakfast, which comes with two eggs, two pancakes or two slices of French toast, and home fries or grits (or half and half). You can also order it with your choice of bacon, sausage, ham steak, or “ranch steak”, so I ordered bacon. When the server put the plate in front of me I was taken aback by how good it smelled. Well, it tasted even better. I don’t know what they put in the pancakes, but they were delicious. I think I only left a couple bites behind. As good as the pancakes were, the star of the show were the scrambled eggs. They were firm yet fluffy and every bite was a buttery delight. I savored every single eggy bite. The bacon was perfectly crisp. I walked out of here happy and looking forward to my next visit.

An omelet hit the spot one early Saturday morning. I decided to give it a chance even though it was 11 o’clock, and I was surprised that there were still a few tables available as well as the counter. People used the counter to sit until a table could be cleared. Once I sat down I ordered coffee and the Lorraine omelet, a three-egg omelet made with bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. I chose the home fries instead of grits and rye toast. There was a big table that had spun the kitchen into the weeds, but I was in no hurry. I had a book on my phone and was happy to chill and drink some coffee.

Since I have really enjoyed the breakfasts I ordered another Full Belly Breakfast, but this time I was in the mood for French toast. I figured I would be taking half home with me, but it was so good I cleaned the plate. The French toast was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They are generous with the butter. The scrambled eggs were once again delicious, the home fries featured some crispy bits and soft potato bits, and the bacon was perfectly crisp. I ordered coffee and two orange juices because I was thirsty. Since I know how to deal with the sugar dispenser now, the coffee was perfect.

Once it came out and I managed to wrangle up some jelly, ketchup, and an ice water, my breakfast was complete. I savored every bite of my breakfast – from the buttery omelet with chunks of bacon and mushroom and a pillow of Swiss and home fries with a liberal dousing of ketchup to the jelly-slathered and generously buttered rye toast. I walked out of there full and happy, which is how you want to be when you leave a diner.

Both breakfast and lunch are served all day. I saw stuffed cabbage on special one day and headed out (after digging my car out from a snowstorm). I got there shortly after one and they had unfortunately run out. When I asked the waitress when they usually start running out of things she suggested I get there a little before noon next time. So keep that in mind. I ordered the Roast Beef and Cheddar on a Bun off the Specials Board. She explained that they make the roast beef there, shave it and top it with cheddar cheese. In fact, from listening to the talk between the servers and the regulars at the counter they make just about everything (including the salad dressings) there.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the sandwich itself. Once I removed a couple pieces with gristle I enjoyed it more, but I was blown away by the onion rings. The special sandwich came with my choice of side, and when I asked her she recommended the onion rings. Talk about a great choice! They are definitely made there. The breading is light and crisp, and the entire thing is just tasty. One of the best orders of onion rings I’ve ever enjoyed. They don’t serve a lot of them, but it’s definitely quality over quantity. If you want more, order a second side.

The Lunch Specials also come with a complimentary soup. The soup of the day that day was Manhattan Clam Chowder (see above). I did notice a few clams in it, but honestly, it was more of a tasty tomato-based vegetable soup. I really didn’t miss the clams at all. On another visit, the soup of the day was cream of asparagus. I loved it. It was a lighter soup with not much cream and had some rice to give it some bulk. The soup was also brightened up by lemon juice. It was definitely a Greek take on asparagus soup combined with avgolemono soup (Greek chicken soup prepared with eggs and lemon and a bit of rice).

I ordered a Patty Melt with onion rings during a recent visit. The waitress, unfortunately, wrote it down wrong, but immediately rectified it by returning the plate to the kitchen and asking for onion rings. She then brought the burger back to me, and I enjoyed the perfectly medium rare burger while waiting for the onion rings, which were once again absolute perfection. The waitresses have also started greeting me like a regular.

Club sandwiches are also a great way to judge a diner. I also ordered the Diner Club sandwich to go. It was also perfection – a triple layer of white bread layered with ham, turkey (that are seasoned with what may be caraway?), bacon, cheese lettuce, and tomato. I asked for a side of 1000 Island dressing to slather on it. My perfect addition. I learned of this hack when I worked at Bakers Square. It was a bit difficult to eat, because it is so tall and fell apart pretty easily. But it sure was tasty! I ate the second half the next day, and it stayed together much better because it had all chilled together overnight.

The owner (a cute little older Greek guy named “Jimmy”) was either at the register or sitting/standing at the counter (the guy in the plaid shirt in the photo with the counter) the whole time I was there. He warmly cashes people out and thanks them for coming. On my first visit, I wondered how soon is too soon to return. Turns out every couple of days is just fine.

Contact info:

The Diner on 55th
1328 East 55th Street (at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair Ave.)
Cleveland, Ohio
(216) 417-8001

Zhug

Zhug is a new concept by chef Douglas Katz that offers “Middle Eastern Mezze” in a casual, high energy urban space at Cedar Fairmount. Low tables with pillows surround the space filled with tables. There is no hint of its past as a Liquid Planet. The kitchen is tucked in the back right corner. Esquire magazine named it one of 23 Best New Restaurants in America in 2020. Michael Symon visited town a few months ago for the birth of his new grandson and praised it on Instagram as insanely good .. one of the best and most thoughtful restaurants in the country right now IMHO. The praise, combined with a serious lack of parking and the fact that they don’t take reservations, made the restaurant pretty difficult to visit (even though I live very close).

The pandemic changed that for me. Doug wanted to keep the restaurant operating, so he decided to switch to takeout – with curbside pickup and delivery. Doug himself delivered the meals and waved to me on his way back for the next delivery order as I sat in my car waiting for my order. This allowed me to try the delicious choices in the comfort of my own home. I went a little crazy that night – as you can see in the photo below. I ordered the hummus, curry fried chicken, buttered shrimp, crispy brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus, and a cocktail to go (in that cute little jam jar). The cocktail was a lot of fun, and I have reused the jam jar several times to store leftovers. I must have a type of favorite cocktail, because I ordered it when we sat down to eat in the restaurant.

The location doesn’t have the best parking or wait-for-a-table options, but Parnell’s Pub, Starbucks, and Appletree Books are neighbors and allow folks to chill and wait for a table. The dining area is somewhat austere and industrial, with benches piled with pillows lining the walls. The servers are super friendly and knowledgeable, and Doug tends to make the rounds in his restaurants, greeting diners and making them feel like friends.

I adore the Yemenite curry fried chicken (gluten-free). I could eat it every day. Hunks of tender chicken are coated in a curry fried chicken batter and drizzled with harissa honey. It is super flavorful and one of the best chicken dishes in Cleveland at the moment if you ask me. The dipping sauce is also ridiculously delicious.

I also ordered the butter roasted shrimp (see above). I was less impressed with that one. Don’t get me wrong – it was very tasty. It is made with garlic and pil biber chili and is served with toast points. I think I got 5 shrimp for the $18 price tag. Yes, that is fairly normal, but I can just as easily roast shrimp in butter and spices myself. There is no way I could recreate the blissfulness of the fried chicken.

Zhug is also known for its hummus. It serves two kinds of hummus – curried lamb and apricot hummus and nigella seed and burnt onion hummus. I chose the curried lamb and apricot for my first venture and loved it. The hummus is creamy, the curried lamb was fork-tender and I loved the pairing of lamb and apricot. When I met some girlfriends at zhug when things opened up this spring we ordered both. I still preferred the lamb and apricot hummus, but the nigella seed and burnt onion hummus was also a very interesting choice and some of my girlfriends preferred it over the lamb hummus.

One mezze that we went nuts for was the leeks and feta. It is such a simple dish, but is executed so well that I adore it. The leeks are prepared in a scallion-pistachio pistou with roasted shallots and drizzled over a block of feta. I love, love, love it, as did my other friends.

We also very much enjoyed the smoked octopus. It was made with purple potatoes and olives in a tomato-based sauce and decorated with dabs of saffron aioli. My friends and I also chose a simple tomato salad as well. It featured cherry tomatoes cut in half and served with shaved parmesan and torn basil. I’m sure Doug put his own spin to it somehow, but it came across as simple yet delicious.

We ordered all of the desserts and shared them. They were all fantastic. I was skeptical about the tahini sundae, but the flavor blew me away. Topped with pistachios and chocolate sauce, the ice cream itself tasted like a mix between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The mango sorbet just tasted like a fresh mango, which was so refreshing after our big meal. And although the spiced apples looked kind of dry, it was like spiced apple crisp and was not dry at all. It is made with lebnah, oat streusel, orange blossom and citrus zest. I’d be very hard pressed to pick a favorite; they were all really, really delicious. A really tasty end to a delicious meal.

zhug went back to curbside service during the Omnicron surge, but reopened for in-house dining again on the 1st. I’m really proud of how Doug responded to the pandemic. He was one of the first restaurant owners to go to curbside service, because he was already doing pop-ups and running a ghost kitchen (Chimi) from the diner on Lee. He ended up closing Fire on Shaker Square, which I miss, but he seemed to be keeping his head above water during the pandemic with a second ghost kitchen, Amba, which will soon be turned into a brick and mortar  Indian-fusion restaurant in Hingetown. For now, he is focusing on zhug and Amba.

Contact info:

zhug
12413 Cedar Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 862-2508

The Rowley Inn

Open since 1906, The Rowley Inn is a neighborhood pub with great food, craft beers, reasonably priced drinks, and good service. Whenever I am here I picture my grandfather eating and drinking here way back then (my dad grew up in Tremont). It has a casual neighborhood vibe and a Cleveland-focused menu of comfort food and drinks. After all, it is located across the street from the Christmas Story House, so it gets a lot of tourists as well as locals. The Rowley also serves a great brunch. I just wish it were bigger because getting a table can sometimes be difficult.

The first time I came here I had seen a video of the grilled cheese pull on social media and decided I needed one asap. I was hooked from the moment I walked inside. I grabbed a little table to myself and ordered Cleveland’s Best Grilled Cheese with fries and a hard orange soda. It was a grown-up version of a beloved childhood meal. The grilled cheese features smoked gouda, mozzarella and provolone with a touch of mayo on grilled sourdough. I had never had mayo on grilled cheese before, but I am now a fan. The fries may not have looked like much, but they were some of the tastiest fries I have had in a while. I don’t know what kind of seasoning salt they use, but it makes the fries delectable. The hard orange soda made me chuckle. I felt like I was being so decadent.

The second visit I decided to try something completely different and ordered the Loco Moski. I loved the Loco Moco in Hawaii, and this is a decidedly Cleveland take on the Hawaiian rice, burger patty, gravy, and fried egg. It features pierogi instead of rice that are topped with a burger patty, fried onions, eggs and pepper gravy. It was a lot of food piled up, and I struggled to finish it. It was definitely a very unique choice – and quite a delicious one. I paired it with a Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine, which is made with Pinnacle whipped cream vodka, Kahlua, cream and ovaltine. I very much enjoyed the creamy drink, which was reminiscent of a mudslide and/or White Russian.

I was with my dining out group on the second visit, so we were able to try a few things and share them. We ordered the fried pickle spears, the pretzel bites, the kielbasa corndogs (no longer on the menu). Everyone really enjoyed them. Most everyone went with a burger.

Obviously, on my next solo visit I had to try the Rowley’s version of a Patty Melt. The Rowley Melt features a burger (it came out a perfect medium rare) topped with Swiss, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and an egg on grilled rye. I ordered mine without an egg, because I need to limit my egg intake and I had overdone it the day before. It came with it anyway, but I just removed it. No big deal. The fries were once again a highlight. I ordered a Paloma (Espolon, lime, simple syrup, and sparkling grapefruit) to go with it. Refreshing!

I was lucky to get a seat at the bar one Taco Tuesday. I ordered a couple tacos, which were actually pretty good (I’m not the biggest taco fan), and a margarita, and then a Meatloaf Sandwich (one of these days I will order Randy’s Meatloaf Dinner and try eating it Randy-style for a free t-shirt. But I will have to have a designated driver in order to loosen up enough to do it.) The meatloaf sandwich was really, really good. I loved the glaze on it. The tomato slices were a little weird, but I got over it. When I make a meatloaf sandwich it is usually just a slab of meatloaf and ketchup – no tomatoes, no lettuce, no fried onions.

Finally, brunch at the Rowley is amazing. One of my friends made a reservation for our large group – and it was a good thing he did. People were enjoying Bloody Marys and coffee. I ordered a mimosa and the Everything But The Bagel Breakfast, which features 3 pierogi, kielbasa, cheddar cheese, Everything Bagel seasoning and is topped with sausage gravy & 2 over easy eggs. It was quite tasty and very filling. What’s not to like about pierogi and kielbasa?

My neighbor ordered the Corned Beef Hash and enjoyed it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals as well, which ranged from a caesar salad, avocado toast to a breakfast burger. We split an order of beignets. Since the kitchen is small they brought the food out as it was finished, which meant that everything was fresh and piping hot. One thing to note is that a 20% gratuity is added to the checks for parties of 5 or more. I have no problem with this practice at all. I only wish our waitress had reminded us of it when we cashed out. She got a 43% gratuity out of me. It was her lucky day.

Contact info:

The Rowley Inn
1104 Rowley Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 795-5345