Everybody loves a good clambake

100_1088Clam bakes (or as we in Cleveland spell it – “clambakes”) originated in New England, but Cleveland has taken the clambake and embraced it as its own fall tradition. Many restaurants advertise their clambakes in the Plain Dealer and online, but if you ask me the best clambakes are the ones thrown in someone’s backyard. A clambake is a traditional method of cooking seafood over an open fire pit on the beach. The seafood is often supplemented by sausages, chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn on the cob, etc. The food is layered, with lots of vegetables like celery, parsnips, onions, peppers, corn husks, etc. and herbs as flavoring.

As Wikipedia states:

Clam bakes are more popular in Northeast Ohio than any other region of the United States outside of New England. (Source: October 2008). Visit Cleveland“. Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau.) A typical clam bake in Northeast Ohio includes a dozen clams with a half chicken, sweet potatoes, corn, and other side dishes. Seaweed is not used and the clams, chicken, and sweet potatoes are all steamed together in a large pot.

100_1089My best friend and her family have a clambake every year, and my parents and I really look forward to it. Invitations go out in early September, and payment is due about a week ahead of the clambake (so that they can order the right amount from one of the many Cleveland catering companies that sell clambakes). The company they use is Quality Halls Meat Market in Olmsted Falls, but I have had good experience with Euclid Fish in Mentor as well.

The family works hard the day before rinsing the sand out of the clams and prepare them. Also, the seasoning and vegetables they use really add to the bake.

My friends assign everyone something to bring in the invitation, so it isn’t a financial hardship for them. I usually get asked to bring some German beer, but I was assigned appetizers this year. I made Trader Joe’s Parmesan Pastry Pups, which are essentially pigs in a blanket sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. They were a total hit. My mom made Barefoot Contessa’s Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry, which were also delicious. My pastry pups disappeared, and Mom only had a few puff pastry pieces left over. Most of the salads and side dishes, on the other hand, went untouched because the clambakes were so filling.

100_1091They also offer a “chicken bake” alternative, because several people don’t like the taste of clams and two of the attendees are extremely allergic to shellfish. Since everything is boiled together in a pot, that means everything might be potentially life-threatening. As a result, they grill chicken breasts and make separate corn and sweet potatoes for the “chicken bakes.” It’s a lot more work, but it does work out in the end. They also try hard to keep the chicken bakes and clambakes separate.

100_1092Once it was determined that the pot contents were ready, the pot was removed from the burner and deconstructed. First, the seasoning vegetables were removed and set aside. Then the chickens were removed and browned in a large skillet over the same burner. In the meantime, the sweet potatoes and corn were transferred to serving platters and the clams were kept in the pot to stay warm. Everyone was encouraged to line up and help themselves.

100_0041There is always a bonfire roaring in the backyard, and folks congregate around the fire. There are also rousing games of corn hole and baseball in the backyard – and some years they blow off a cannon.

The family was sick this year, so the rest of us did our best to help and pull everything together. It takes a bit of work to put it all together, but when everyone gets together to enjoy the food and the company, it’s totally worth it. I deliberately selected the smallest chicken and sweet potato and only took a pat of potato salad, leaving the other sides alone, but was still completely stuffed afterward. No one went home hungry, and my dad left with a gallon of clam bouillon, which is his favorite part of the clambake.

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Brasa Grill Steakhouse

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Brasa closed in November 2018. I will miss the delicious skewers of meat and amazing salad bar, but luckily we have Rodizio Grill in Valley View and Texas de Brazil on the east (Woodmere) and west (Crocker Park) sides in case you have a craving for skewers of meat.

brasaI love Brazilian steakhouses. Brazilian steakhouses feature skewered cuts of meat grilled over a wood burning fire and sliced into thin, succulent pieces (churrasco) and served to you continuously at your table from skewers. They also feature an all-you-can-eat salad bar. When you want some meat, you flip the table-side card to green and when you need a break you flip the card to red. My first experience was in Cincinnati at Boi Nai Brasa. As a beginner I had no idea what to expect and filled up on its truly outstanding salad bar and barely had any room for the delicious grilled meats.brasa1

I didn’t make the mistake at The Brasa Grill Steakhouse, which is located in Cleveland’s Warehouse District. Brasa is a truly unique restaurant for Cleveland. For $35 you can eat your choice of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, sausage, and turkey. If you love meat, this is the place for you. You can also pay $25 for just the salad bar, but why would you when brasa2you can eat your fill of prime rib, filet, chicken and lamb? Dinner starts off with a selection of appetizers and a trip to the salad bar. The salad bar features 40 different salads, vegetables, seafood and pastas.

Then the fun begins. Gauchos walk around the dining room with skewers of meat, announcing which cuts brasa3they are offering. When you would like a piece, they slice off a generous portion and you use your tongs to transfer it to your plate.

Definitely go there hungry. This is not a place for the faint-hearted. Also, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time. The food is best enjoyed in a leisurely fashion.

Contact info:

1300 West 9th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113
(216) 575-0699

Tremont Tap House & Grill

As the Tremont Tap House website explains, “Located on Cleveland’s Southside in the historic Tremont district, The Tremont TapHouse is the city’s first gastropub. The term gastropub is derived from London and depicts a casual pub that serves an upscale cuisine complimented by the assortment of wine and beer the tavern offers.  The TapHouse boasts a meticulous and extensive selection of hand crafted American and European beers. The list consists of 100 plus examples of fine beer, 24 of which are available on draft.”

taphouse1When I told my father I ate at the Tremont Tap House he exclaimed, “That used to be Pukach’s. Your Uncle Barney lived in the house behind it.” You see, my father grew up in the Tremont area and tells me all kinds of interesting stories about when he was a kid. GIs home from World War II used to rent rooms in homes and would hang out at the corner bars because they missed the company. They would also congregate at the Lincoln Park Bath House, because their rooms did not have modern bathing facilities. taphouse3They would sit outside and used to give him a dime to run next door for a pack of smokes and a bucket of beer when he was 8 or so.  This kind of stuff fascinates me, so I am really tempted to take him to the Tremont Tap House with me the next time I go, which will hopefully be soon.

We enjoyed a delightful evening at the Tremont Tap House the other night. The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cool. We sat on the patio under several umbrellas and enjoyed the mood lights once the sun went down. The beer list is quite impressive. I normally don’t take pictures of menus, but I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this one.

taphouse7The food was divine. I had a tough time deciding what to order. I ended up ordering the Salmon BLT on marble rye. It was delicious. The fries that accompanied it were thick and perfectly seasoned (you can see them peeking out from behind the sandwich).

taphouse4Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals. From the macaroni and cheese with dried figs, rosemary and brie (for our vegetarian, but it was so good I will probably order it next time!) to the seared sea scallops with white truffle oil and mushroom risotto or smoked ham and turkey sandwich with brie and cranberry relish served on raisin walnut bread (Thanksgiving in a taphouse11sandwich) and small plates like blackened scallops with red onion jam, blue cheese and walnuts to beer cheese soup and side salads, there was something for everyone. The fried egg burger with Swiss cheese and carmelized onions was a particular hit. The group had a discussion about how to best order the burger to bring out the flavors, with the quote “It is very important to me that it be medium rare.”

taphouse10The service was a little slow, but they had another large party upstairs, which I think overwhelmed them. The mac and cheese, which was ordered after we had all ordered by one of our late-comers, was comped without her asking because she had such a long wait for it. One of the dining out members, who wasn’t able to join us and tried it separately, now claims it is one of his favorite restaurants in Cleveland to bring guests or just relax and watch a game.

Contact info:

2572 Scranton Road
Tremont City, OH 44113
(216) 298-4451

Melt Bar and Grilled

I have been wanting to try Melt for over a year now. I tried to go there a few months ago, but ended up going to Buckeye Beer Engine instead because there was a 1 hour wait at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon.

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The Parmageddon

I had friends come into town last weekend and thought I should give it another shot. We got there at 8 PM on Thursday, fully expecting a wait. Little did I know it would be a 2 hour wait – and then there was a 1 hour wait after we put the order in. So don’t go there hungry. By the time you get your food you will be very hungry and will enjoy it immensely. On the bright side, the beer special that night was Reissdorf Kölsch and my friend was from Cologne (the beer served in Cologne is Kölsch), so we didn’t mind the wait. Lots of beer was consumed during the wait.

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Westside Monte Cristo

I ordered the sandwich that everyone talks about, the Parmageddon. It was absolutely delicious. The Parmageddon features potato and cheese pierogis with napa vodka kraut, onions and cheddar on Texas toast.

My friend, S., ordered the Westside Monte Cristo, which features honey ham, smoked turkey, and Swiss and American cheese dipped in batter and served with mixed berry preserves. She gave me a taste, and it was absolutely delicious.

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Mushroom Melt

Her husband, C., ordered the Mushroom Melt and actually moaned after his first bite. I think I need to order this the next time I am there. The Mushroom Melt has grilled portabella mushrooms, caramel port onions and provolone cheese. Simplistic, yet delicious.

C. finished his sandwich, fries and sweet slaw (which really impressed our waitress), but S. and I had lots of fries and slaw left over. I had also wanted to order a fried Twinkie to split, but we were so full…

So, in summary, Melt Bar and Grilled rocks, but expect a long wait and don’t go there hungry. I can’t wait until the new place opens on the East Side. I hope there is more seating and a bigger kitchen in it. I’ll be there all the time!

Contact info:

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-3699

Shooters on the Water

shooters_21Shooters on the Water opened in June of 1987. I celebrated my 21st birthday there back then, but don’t remember much about that night. I don’t know if it was because it was so long ago or because I enjoyed finally being legal. Shooters is located on the Cuyahoga River in on the West Bank of the Cleveland Flats and was one of the forerunners of the Flats. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s the Flats were the place to be and I mourn what it used to be – not what it turned into. Although the Flats are essentially no more, Shooters is still around. I had not been back since I turned 21, and I hadn’t gone there for the food that night. I was curious as to how it would be.

shooters_1When the weather is nice I love dining outside and especially on the water, so I thought it would be an interesting place for my Dining Out group to meet. Unfortunately seating on the water is first come, first served and because we were a big group we were seated inside the restaurant. The service was pretty attentive, all things considered, and despite putting everything on one check they were willing to break it down and allow us to pay for our meals separately. We just had to tell them how much our share was.

shooters_3My friend Lenore and I could not decide what to order, so we ordered two entrees and split them. We chose the chopped salad (crisp greens, vine-ripe tomatoes, diced turkey breast, chopped egg, cucumbers, red onion, applewood smoked bacon, shredded provolone cheese and choice of dressing on the side) and the Philly Steak and Cheese shooters_4(shaved prime rib, caramelized onions and mushrooms, stuffed in a toasted hoagie roll with melted mozzarella and a side of au jus). We both really enjoyed the salad, but Lenore was not impressed with the sandwich. She found it too dry. I figure you can’t expect too much from a Philly cheese steak in Cleveland. Plus, she’s from New York and is used to good bread, which this hoagie bun was not. One of our other friends ordered the Philly Steak sandwich with onion rings, which were quite delicious. Next time I’m going to order some seafood though.

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Everyone seemed pleased with their meals, from the Chicken Quesadilla and Calamari Dibattista (lightly breaded, sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, banana peppers and roasted red peppers) to the Rasta Pasta (roasted garlic-asiago Alfredo, spinach, fresh diced tomatoes, mushrooms, linguini pasta and shaved parmesan) and Rajun Cajun chicken breast sandwich.

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As has become a tradition, several of us ordered dessert and shared it by passing it around the table. The New York Style Cheesecake and Death by Chocolate were enjoyed by all.

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Contact info:

1148 Main Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861-6900

Brunch at Lucky’s Cafe

I have a new favorite brunch place in Cleveland. It’s Lucky’s Cafe in Tremont. (FYI, The Vine and Bean Cafe on Larchmere apparently has the same menu.) I learned to appreciate brunch while living in Germany. My friends and I would wake up late after a late night out, go out to a buffet of breakfast and lunch items and enjoy ourselves for hours. Lucky’s doesn’t have a buffet, but their brunch items are so delicious that quality wins out luckys_cafeaulaitover quantity. I love that they serve their coffee in cafe au lait mugs (what one of my friends lovingly calls a “bowl of coffee”). I miss my cafe au lait and love when I find a place that offers a good one!

I met my Meetup.com brunch group at Lucky’s the other day. We got there early to ensure we got a table for our large group. Lucky’s tends to fill up at around 11, but the picnic tables in the garden doubles the available seating space in the summer. Lucky’s grows a lot of the ingredients in that garden and prides itself on relying on locally grown produce.

luckys_waffleThey are best known for their waffles and something called a Shipwreck. It was a tough choice, but I decided to opt for the vanilla bean waffles with roasted peaches and honey whipped cream. They were absolutely divine!

The Shipwreck is a mix  of hash browns, eggs, veggies, bacon and cheddar cheese, served with house baked como toast and fresh fruit. I can’t wait to order this next time. It just luckys_shipwrecklooks amazing. Lucky’s also serves a vegetarian version of the Shipwreck called the Canoewreck. The Canoewreck features curried tofu, hash browns, seasonal veggies, and brewers yeast, served with Como toast and fresh fruit. I got to try my friend’s, and it was delicious.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals – from the biscuits and gravy (cheddar scallion biscuits topped with soft scrambled eggs and sausage gravy) to the Shipwreck and the omelette (spinach, mushrooms, zucchini and white cheddar cheese, served w/ hash browns & banana bread). I leave you with this final picture, which hopefully will make you smile.

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Contact info:

Lucky’s Cafe
777 Starkweather
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-622-7773

An evening at Blossom with the Orchestra

100_0733Probably the thing I was most looking forward to when I moved back to Cleveland after living in Germany for six years was spending the evening at Blossom Music Center listening to the world famous Cleveland Orchestra or the Blossom Festival Orchestra.

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Appetizers - crab dip, whole grain crackers and soppressata

There is simply nothing like listening to the world-renowned orchestra while listening to birds chirp under a blue – and later starry – sky. Unlike other concerts at Blossom, chairs, umbrellas, blankets and alcohol are allowed.

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Lobster roll, cole slaw and sea salt potato chips

I grew up enjoying the Cleveland Orchestra with my parents, and they taught me how to do it right. Mom would make some elaborate picnic dinner involving some kind of shellfish or other picnic-friendly meal. We would lay out a blanket, grab a glass of wine, and enjoy an orchestra that is consistently ranked one of the top ten in the world. Now I have a wheeled cooler packed and ready to go with plates, silverware, cloth napkins, plastic wine glasses, wine stakes, binoculars, a cutting board and knife, Off, and a citronella candle and lighter.

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KFC 2 piece grilled chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans

Everything goes on the lawn. You can high-brow it or low-brow it. You see folks with tables, candles, and elaborate spreads to buckets of KFC and family servings of mashed potatoes, cole slaw and green beans. No one will judge you, but if you have something especially yummy you may see folks coveting your food.

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Wine stakes in action - both the bottle and the glass stakes

We usually have a three course meal – with appetizers and the main meal before the performance and then dessert at intermission. The photos here are our meals last weekend. My mother and father had the lobster rolls, chips and cole slaw served on paper plates, while I purchased KFC on the way to Blossom and ate off my melamine plate.

One must-have are wine stakes. Since the lawn is sloped wine stakes allow you to keep your wine glass and wine bottle upright while sitting next to you. Most people use blankets or lawn chairs (people with tall lawn chairs have to sit closer to the back). The most popular chairs are beach chairs or sand chairs. They allow you to sit close to the ground and yet not impair the view of those on blankets behind you.

Lawn tickets will only set you back $19-21 depending on the show. Individual pavilion tickets range from $19 to $42 a piece. You can also buy a book of tickets for the season. However, if there isn’t a chance of rain I suggest you try sitting on the lawn for a little ambiance. If you choose to sit in the pavilion you will have to leave your picnic dinner and wine at the entrance to the pavilion for the concert. Contact the ticket office at 216.231.1111 or just visit http://www.clevelandorchestra.com.

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The Cleveland Orchestra viewed from the lawn