Cleveland Jam and Old Brooklyn Cheese Company

IMG_20170801_135244Cleveland just keeps getting better and better. Old Brooklyn has two of those reasons with two very cool artisan food shops. I learned about Cleveland Jam on New Day Cleveland and had heard about Old Brooklyn Cheese Company since the day they opened and Bite Buff wrote about it. I combined both of them one day in early March when I needed cheese for a grilled cheese party I was attending and decided to buy Cleveland Jam’s Elliot Ness Fig Apple Jam to bring as well. I’ve been back several times since.

Since it is a start-up, Cleveland Jam is only open in the evenings (Tuesday to Friday) after 5 PM and Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM, but you can also order it online and find it in some local stores (click here for their store locator). Imagine my surprise to find out that the conservatory and retail shop were literally across the street from my grandparents’ home on West Schaaf Road. If I had moved into the house instead of selling it after my uncle passed away a few years ago I would have been aware of them a lot sooner. I’ve always loved that property, with its cool greenhouses and copper roof on the home. Those greenhouses are now housing grape vines, and the property features a retail shop, where owner Jim Conti sells products made with local beer and wine. Conti hopes to eventually turn the greenhouse into a winery. A graduate of viticulture and enology studies at Kent State University, Conti carried on his family’s tradition of winemaking and was looking for a way to reuse the leftover sediment. He came up with the idea of making jams and jellies. He stocks jellies made with white zinfandel, merlot, cabernet, shiraz and chardonnay. That then spun off to using the sediment from Great Lakes Brewing Co. beers to make his Eliot Ness Fig and Apple Jam and Burning River Pepper Jam and from Catawba Island Brewing Company. All of their products are available to sample in the retail store, and they also sell products from Cleveland Popcorn, Bearded Buch, Cleveland Tea Revival, and Randy’s Pickles there.

I have four jars of Cleveland Jam in my refrigerator. His Rock and Roll Merlot is a favorite, but the Bangin Blueberry IPA is my absolute favorite. I use them a lot on toast with or without cream cheese, but you can also cook with them. Their website has quite a few recipes for chicken and meat. I paired the fig and apple jam with brie and candied walnuts from Old Brooklyn Cheese Company at the grilled cheese party I went to that weekend, and everyone loved the combination.

When they heard why I wanted the jam they told me I had to go to the Old Brooklyn Cheese Company. I was pleased to tell them that was my next stop. I hopped in my car and headed down W. Schaaf, took a right on Pearl Road and found parking right in front of the storefront (there is also a parking lot in back). It is located on Pearl just before the bridge. Owner Michael Januska has opened a great little artisan cheese store selling his own cheeses as well as lots of very well-known brands like Cowgirl Creamery and Kokoborrego and area favorites Lake Erie Creamery and Yellow House Cheese. I also bought a pound of raclette since I was having some friends over for raclette that weekend. Januska funded much of his production kitchen for Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. through contributions on Kickstarter, which surpassed its goal. In addition to selling aged cheeses, Januska is making his own products like the Chupacabra in a state-of-the-art production kitchen and aging others on site in one of three cheese caves. Januska has partnered with Hartzler Family Dairy in Wooster to supply its grass-fed, non-GMO, raw milk produced within 50 miles from where it will be transformed into cheese. The staff, which includes Januska’s fiance Angie, really know their stuff here and gladly serve samples so you can taste before you buy. One of their employees, Morgan, makes the most delectable spreads like one with goat cheese and apples or feta and olive. I brought the feta and olive spread to the grilled cheese party, but also bought a tub for my own consumption. They also sell local products like Old City Soda, Hartzler milk, Randy’s Pickles, Cleveland Jam, Montana Girl Mustard, candied walnuts, baguettes from Blackbird Bakery, and handcarved cheese boards shaped like Ohio (to just name a few) as well as Losada Olives (which I have loved since Counter Culture last year), infused oils and vinegars, and other artisan brands.

I started following them on Instagram and when they announced their raclette grill had arrived to make sandwiches I was the first customer to order one. The grill melts the cheese, which is then scraped onto a baguette and served with prosciutto, Randy’s Pickles and my choice of Montana Girl Mustard or a Old Brooklyn Cheese Company mustard. I choose the OBCC mustard. I picked out an Old City soda and waited for my sandwich to be ready. It was very good, if a little salty. I definitely think it is a treat that most people don’t know about, despite it being extremely popular in Switzerland and other European countries.

Contact info:

Cleveland Jam Conservatory
1300 W Schaaf Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(440) 390-1170

Old Brooklyn Cheese Company
4138 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 860-4000


Since I wrote about The Red Chimney in my last post I decided to stay in Slavic Village for the next one as well. Started in 2013, Saucisson’s mission is to provide unique and hard to find products. From hand cured meats to specially spiced sausages, Saucisson supports local farms that are humane and hormone free. The lady butchers at Saucisson, Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend, made a name for themselves selling at the local farmers markets, hustling at pop-ups, and providing their bold rillets and charcuterie for restaurants around town. After working out of the kitchen at the Katz Club Diner, they recently opened a storefront on Fleet Avenue just off I-77. Full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer (“Babs backer”) to help them fund the storefront, and I am really pleased with what they have done. I stopped in on the day they opened on March 16 and have been back several times since. They were serving nachos that day (see photo right). I have been buying their sausages, mortadella and currywursts since before the place opened, but I love seeing their thick and nicely marbled pork chops and strip steaks as well as all the other meats they are butchering there. They made a Canadian bacon that was absolutely perfect a little while ago, and they are known for their tasso ham and beef jerky. The freezers and coolers are stocked with their frozen soups made with their products, rendered lard, ground meat, and soup bones as well as other products from other local vendors like LeCracker, Cleveland Kraut, and Montana Girl Mustard.

They are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11-7 (and processing and prepping in their huge, clean kitchen in back on the other days) and serve a tasty lunch special as well. They also advertise their pop-ups at local restaurants and cafes like brunches at Rising Star or most recently their Memorial Day picnic at Terrestrial Brewing Company. You can follow them on Instagram to find out what they are serving each week and where they will be holding their next pop-up.

When I stopped in for lunch a few weeks ago I enjoyed their BBQ chicken sandwich with pickled pepper and red onion slaw and their homemade smokey sausage navy bean soup. The chicken was moist and delicious, the kraut was not at all overpowering, and the soup had just a hint of smoky spice to it that I loved. They have a few tables where you can sit and enjoy your meal. The place is light and bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows. The neighborhood is excited they are there, and they are talking with some urban farms in the area to sell their products. So be sure to check them out and support them!

Contact info:

5324 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105
(216) 303-9067

Joe’s Deli

Joe’s Deli is a popular restaurant on the West Side of Cleveland. It is so popular that they built a larger restaurant, and it still has waits. If I lived closer I would be there all the time. As it is, I go when I visit my tax preparer. It seems like no matter when I go I have a wait (and I try to go at non-peak hours to avoid a long wait). They have a large vestibule that is usually packed with people waiting for a table. You go in, get your name on the list with the hostess, and get a flashing beeper-type thing that tells you when your table is ready. In the meantime, you can either sit or stand along the walls or admire the gorgeous cakes in the counter cooler. I have yet to have room to order dessert. Maybe some day, because they look amazing.

You can also glimpse inside their open kitchen, which is spotless, and you can see the kitchen staff working hard. The servers and staff are extremely efficient. The bussers are very polite when removing diners’ dirty plates. My waitresses have been friendly and quickly fill up my ice tea without my having to ask. They masterfully handle large tables and small. The first time I was there I was seated near a loud and obnoxious table of diners, but it has proven to be the exception to the rule. I take my Kindle and enjoy a nice meal in a nice setting.

Joe’s is a Lebanese family-owned restaurant serving up amazing American and Lebanese fare. They are cousins to the Slyman family, so you know it’s going to be good. They also happen to serve the absolute best matzoh ball soup in Cleveland in my opinion. The broth is smooth, the matzoh balls are perfectly cooked, and the soup is chock-full of carrot, celery, onion, chicken and parsley (not typical but still tasty). I order it every single time I go, and then get a bowl to go for later that day. The portions are huge, and I have yet to eat a full sandwich there. I bring it home and eat it later with my bowl of soup.

One of my friends from high school met me in the parking lot to drop something off the other day, and he reminisced about how much his mother used to love their German dumpling soup. I did a little research and discovered that is their soup of the day on Saturdays. According to Yelp the place is packed all day, but it might be worth it to go on a Saturday to try the soup. What I found were rave reviews.

The first time I went I got the Matchmaker – a bowl soup paired with a half portion of any of their house salads. It also came with a muffin. I ordered the Joe’s Chef Salad, which features fresh tossed greens topped with turkey, ham, Monterrey Jack and cheddar cheeses, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and black olives. The ingredients were extremely fresh and crisp. It was beautifully plated, and I ordered the hot bacon dressing and loved every bite. The muffin that day was a strawberry muffin. It was moist and delicious. I ended up taking half of the muffin home for later. It was a lot of food.

On my second visit I ordered a simple tuna sandwich and a bowl of matzoh ball soup, thinking it would not be as much food. It was, but oh so good. The tuna was fresh, the bread was perfect, and I loved the pickle. Their pickles are firm and have a really nice crunch to them. Of course I still ended up taking half of the sandwich home.

On my third visit I ordered the Chicken Philly sandwich and a cup of matzo ball soup (trying to save room – it didn’t help). I wasn’t as in love with the Chicken Philly as I was with the other things. The bread was a little tough from the broiler, and the filling just seemed kind of bland. The peppers were definitely fresh, but they didn’t have much flavor. Maybe they were off-season. They have an aioli mayo that they serve on the side that jazzed it up a bit, but I don’t think I’d order it again. The French fries are good, but nothing to get truly excited about.

I had a cup of matzoh ball soup and the California Chicken Club on my most recent visit. It was wonderfully prepared with a thin grilled chicken breast, a hunk of fresh avocado, fresh lettuce (almost too much – it seemed like 1/4 of a head of lettuce and I had to remove some) and mayo. They served an herby sauce on the side, which I slathered on the sandwich as well. The juices dripped down my hand. It was an absolutely delicious mess. I nibbled on the fries and took half of the sandwich home for later (leaving most of the fries).

As busy as they are in the restaurant, they also do a booming take-out business. They have two dedicated cash registers just for carry out. The phone is ringing constantly with new orders. This photo is of their Dawali (stuffed grape leaves). I wanted to try them, but knew I couldn’t eat a whole portion and a sandwich. so I got them to go. It was a good decision. The pickled veggies, feta cheese and cucumbers accompanying the grape leaves were super fresh.

They are open Monday through Wednesday from 7 to 9 PM and until 10 PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They are closed on Sunday.

Contact info:

Joe’s Deli
19215 Hilliard Blvd
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 333-7890

Fish Fry Friday #2 – St. Gabriel’s

My favorite fish fry in the Cleveland area is without a doubt St. Gabriel’s in Mentor. It runs from 5:15 to 7:30 every Friday during Lent. Located in its school building on Johnnycake Road near the Concord border, it is a bit of a hike, but it is so worth it. There is a sign indicating the entrance. Plan to walk far from and to your car, but there is plenty of parking (even with douchebags taking up two parking spots). It is run by over 100 volunteers each night, including adorable tykes in Boy Scout uniforms manning the roving garbage cans, and all proceeds benefit the St. Gabriel’s Day School Tuition Assistance Program.

It is extremely popular, so you need to get there early to ensure you get served and can enjoy all the goodness. Some friends went last week at 7 PM and were turned away because they had run out of food. This all-you-can-eat feast will run you $14. They also offer take-out and ala carte items. Click on the link below under “Contact info” for the Fish Fry page on the church website. There are two dining rooms – the main dining room has a shorter line between the cash table and the food, so we chose that one this year. We got there at 6 PM and were in line for about 20 minutes until we were sitting down with our plates. I needed to save six seats, so I jumped out of line to reserve them right after six together cleared and were cleaned off. The gymnasium has no line for the cash table, but the line for the food circles the room. We waited in line for 45 minutes last year. There is more seating, but also more people.

There is a lot of food to choose from, so I was extra judicious this year. I eschewed most of the carbs and saved room for the fish and mussels. Let me see if I can remember everything on offer… starting with salad, cole slaw, applesauce and rolls and butter (which I somehow overlooked), then moving on there were baked potatoes, french fries, mac n cheese, cheese ravioli, fresh green beans in butter, pizza (always popular with the kids), hush puppies, and cheese pierogi, fish choices included baked tilapia, fried cod, baked cod, butter crumb baked cod, mussels, breaded cocktail shrimp and peel-and-eat shrimp and at the end was a pot of seafood chowder that ran out just as I got there. I tried to keep an eye out for when it came back out, but they ran out of it fairly early. They always do. There was a small table in the corner with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. They ran out of tartar sauce several times. Beverages were along another wall, including tea and coffee and unsweetened ice tea, lemonade or ice water. Dessert (on the same table as the beverages) was chocolate or white cake, which ran out by the time I went back for some. Grab it when you can! They eventually brought out a tray of brownies, which were excellent, and when that ran out they brought out orange slices right at the end. I don’t know who makes the food, but every single item is great.

This year I asked for extra mussels and stuck to the battered and baked cod and the shrimp. Like I said, I skipped most of the carbs, but I did get some ravioli and pierogi (because it isn’t a fish fry in Cleveland without pierogi). The pierogi were extra cheesy and well-cooked. The dough was moist and nicely steamed. They had some sauteed onions as an accompaniment. I also really enjoyed the green beans.

From last year:

From 2014:

Contact info:

St. Gabriel’s
9925 Johnnycake Ridge Road
Concord Township, OH 44060
(440) 352-8282

Citizen Pie – Waterloo

copy_imag0533Sorry for the lack of posts here. I have not been going out very much lately, and when I have I have been going to places I have already posted about. Money has been somewhat tight with some travel and a very expensive vet bill. I’ll try to be better, but I can’t promise anything.

I have been a fan of Vytauras Sasnaukas’ pizza for a while. I had been hearing about his pizzas back when my friends would gather on the patio at Americano for pizza night. When Americano closed and before Citizen Pie was born, he did some pop-up pizza nights in a gas-fired pizza oven at The Velvet Tango Room, where he started conceiving plans with Claudia Young imag3197and Paulius Nasvytis. He got his start making pizzas when he was growing up in Lithuania (his story is really interesting and worth a read) and has been experimenting with various fermented doughs for a while now. His dough really makes his pizzas stand out from the crowd! He bought a wood-fired brick oven and opened Citizen Pie in the Waterloo District across from the Beachland Ballroom. Citizen Pie makes napolitano pizzas and is definitely one of the best pizza places in Cleveland. The pizzas come out fast and hot. They aren’t laden with toppings. There is just the perfect balance for a taste explosion.

I recently met some folks at Citizen Pie to try their Summer pizza special, which featured sweet Ohio corn and poblano cream, Andouille sausage, cherry tomatoes, and green onion finished with a spicy honey drizzle. This pizza was absolutely out of this world. The thing I like most about the pie was the corn cream balanced with the honey drizzle. It was just a great pizza.

My second favorite was the Cacio e Pepe pizza, which is topped with mozzarella, pecorino and straciatella cheese, garlic, black pepper and basil. It is a very simple pizza, but it explodes with flavor. I can’t wait to have it again.

I had been wanting to try the Americano pizza for a while as well. Named after V’s Bratenahl restaurant Americano, the Americano features mozzarella, pistachio cream, Italian sausage, red and green onion and Calabrian chiles. It has a bit of a kick to it, but I love the idea of pistachio cream and it goes really well with the sausage.

The mushroom pizza is also a crowd-pleasure. It is topped with mozzarella, brie, porcini duxelles, bacon, red onion and truffle oil. I love mushrooms and brie, and the truffle oil was not as off-putting as I usually find it. Again, it is just a well-balanced pie. I took a piece of this one home to enjoy later that night.

One of the group ordered a Tartufo, which I was familiar with from the Italian restaurants in Germany. It is a ball of frozen dark chocolate with rum and amarena cherry. As you can imagine, it is delicious. We passed it around the table, and everyone swooned. Claudia is also known for her Migliaccio, which is a ricotta cheesecake with lemon, orange and vanilla. She worked hard to come up with the perfect cheesecake, which Michael Ruhlman has raved about.

I was also extremely excited to see that they serve Stiegl beer here. Stiegl is brewed in Salzburg, Austria and the monks have been brewing it there since 1492. It is a nice smooth lager and goes very nicely with the pizza. I was also pleased to see San Pellegrino, Illy espresso drinks and cane sugar Coca Cola. It’s the little touches like that that just impress me.

Chef V is constantly coming up with new and exciting pizza ideas, like a recent eggs benedict pizza. So if you like good pizza be sure to make a trip to Citizen Pie. They will be opening a second location in Ohio City in the near future – bringing Pizza to the People.

Contact info:

Citizen Pie
15710 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, OH 44110

Porco Lounge and Tiki Room

2016-08-05-05_43_25I love a good cocktail, and I tried to get here for several years. Plans would be made and then fall through. Finally I got a chance to go there for happy hour with some friends, and I fell in love with the place. The drinks are strong, the music is from the 1980s and the ambiance is top notch. The ambiance is also dark, so I had to use the flash to get the photos to be halfway decent.

We ventured our way right before the Republican National Convention hit Cleveland because we heard the “Love Trumps Hate” billboard was nearby. IMAG6356In fact, it was on the left side of the bridge heading south just before you reach Porco. As far as I know it is still there. Whether Mr. Trump or his campaign staff saw it is doubtful.

All of the drinks here are hand-crafted and incredibly tasty. My first choice was the Planet of the Apes, which features banana, pineapple and orange flavors and three rums. I loved it. I’m all about fruity drinks, and if they are garnished with a plastic mermaid all the IMAG6348better! My friend ordered a Gin Mai Tai off the happy hour menu. We all loved it so much we ordered it for our second round. It was super refreshing. Since the drinks are so potent and I was driving I ordered a non-alcoholic tiki drink for my third drink. The waitress had them make up some kind of fruity drink that was heavy on coconut and pineapple flavors. I left a very happy camper.

Photo by my friend Edsel because mine was too dark

I was hungry, so I wanted to order something to nibble on. I decided to order the Closing Time Nachos, which are advertised as having pretty much everything in the kitchen on them. This includes tortilla chips, black beans, jalapenos, pork rinds, melted cheese, BBQ sauce, chorizo, salsa and pulled pork. I ordered them with “no meat” and they came without the chorizo and pulled pork, but with those lovely pork rinds. Our vegetarian just didn’t eat those. More for us! The nachos were IMAG6353absolutely magical. I loved the addition of BBQ sauce, which gave it a hint of sweetness. I was craving them the next day.

We soon went back for another happy hour at Porco a few weeks later. The nachos weren’t as magical because I ordered them “vegetarian” this time. Everyone agreed that something wasn’t the same. I think it was the lack of pork rinds and the light hand with the BBQ sauce. They also appear to have added pico de gallo. We weren’t as hungry as we were IMAG6543the first time, and there were only two of us. Luckily my friend’s boyfriend showed up and was drunk and hungry, so he ate half of them for us.

This time I ordered Heart of Darkness, which features passion fruit, honey and citrus with some alcohol. I love me some passion fruit. My second drink was a Limon Dee, which they bill as tasting like a key lime pie. It did not disappoint and came in a fake coconut, which I was particularly thrilled about.

I can’t wait to try the Fogg Cutter, complete with dry ice.

Pro tip: go early, if you can. We try to arrive between 4:30 and 5:00 and have managed to park in their small parking lot and get seats in the air-conditioned main room. It has been too hot to enjoy the patio, but once the weather cooled we enjoyed a lovely night on the patio as well.

This has quickly become my favorite bar in Cleveland.

Contact info:

Porco Lounge and Tiki Room
2527 W 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113

Bialy’s Bagels

IMAG5986Bialy’s Bagels is a little circle of NYC heaven right here in Cleveland. Located in an unassuming strip mall on the corner of Silsby and Warrensville Heights Roads in University Heights, Bialy’s has been pumping out bagels and bialys for over 30 years. It is a grab and go place. Go in, buy a half dozen or dozen bagels, and head home to stuff your face with carby goodness. There are no tables. There are IMAG5985no cutesy bagel sandwiches. There are no schmears. Just bagels. If you need cream cheese or smoked salmon they have it in coolers, but bring your own knife to assemble it in your car.

The bagels are available in a variety of flavors, from plain, egg, poppy seed to Mish Mosh (everything) and everything in between. I think I remember seeing IMAG5983cinnamon and blueberry as well. Obviously the fresher the better, but they just keep making bagels all day so they are fresh no matter what. If you are lucky you’ll catch a batch right as they come out. When that happens they have a warm outer crust with a chewy inside. You won’t be able to not eat one in the car. Even when they are warm the bagels are nice and chewy – just as a bagel should be. There is some debate as to whether a bagel should be toasted. New Yorkers say only bad bagels should be toasted. IMG_20160513_183628These bagels are great untoasted.

If you are wondering what the difference between a bialy and a bagel is, bialys are round with a depressed middle filled with cooked onions and sometimes poppy seeds and then baked. The outside of a bialy is therefore matte, not shiny. Bagels are boiled, then baked. The bialys are only available in onion, garlic, and mish mosh flavors. They also sell longer salt sticks, but I usually stick with my mish mosh and sesame seed bagels.

Also, please note that they don’t take credit cards, so be sure to bring cash with you. That said, your order won’t break the bank. Plan on about $1 a bagel.

Contact info:

Bialy’s Bagels
2267 Warrensville Center Road
University Heights, OH 44118
(216) 371-1088


Don’s Pomeroy House

IMAG5961Don’s Pomeroy House is the first fancy restaurant I ever ate at, and as such it holds a special place in my heart. My parents took us here on Christmas Eve day for brunch, and I had my very first eggs benedict. I have fond memories of the booths lined with books. Don’s Pomeroy House overlooks Strongsville’s town square and has quite a long history, including serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad. IMAG5970The beautifully restored mid-19th century mansion is Cleveland’s south side legendary home of the freshest seafood, steaks and chops and a premier dining spot in Northeast Ohio.

Diners who prefer a more casual setting can eat in The Pub in the basement or on the opatiopatio during the summer months. Having enjoyed evenings at all three I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. They all have their winning points. You can order off both menus on the patio.

My most recent experience was for lunch. We were sat in the library near the fireplace, and it was just very cozy. I ordered a house IMAG5966salad and a lunch duo of the French onion soup and the French dip (pardon the blurry photo). The house salad was fresh, and I enjoyed the poppy seed dressing paired with the fresh greens, mandarin oranges and strawberry slices. The French onion soup was suitably cheesy and was packed with lots of caramelized onions and two slices of dark bread. I was less wowed by the French dip. The “baguette” had a weird texture to it that kind of collapsed when it was dipped in the au jus. I would have preferred a proper IMAG5967baguette to hold the roast beef and provolone cheese.

My dining companion ordered a house salad and the special baked salmon entree with a lemon thyme glaze served over spring pea, asparagus and Asiago risotto. He thoroughly enjoyed every bite, and I enjoyed theIMAG5968 taste of the risotto. It was perfectly cooked and very flavorful.

I can also highly recommend the White Fish sandwich, which when I enjoyed it featured grouper. It is served with steak fries. I have also thoroughly enjoyed the Kobe meatloaf, which is made with pork and Wagyu beef, and is served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and green beans. I unfortunately have no photos for you to enjoy, because I lost them in a computer crash

The table next to us ordered desserts, which were huge. We were too full, so we abstained. But that eclair looks very tempting. I can highly 600_161914792recommend their Bananas Foster if they bring it back on the menu. Also, the chocolate cake was moist and delicious.

I can attest to happy hour both in The Pub and on the patio. My Meetup happy hour group had several events here that were very successful. Everyone enjoyed the food and drink specials. I can also highly recommend the Sunday/Monday surf and turf special. You save $10 on a Maine lobster tail, center cut filet mignon, whipped potato, vegetable. It was quite the popular order the Monday evening one of my dining out groups spent on the patio. Again, no photos but if I ever stumble on them I will update this post.

Photo courtesy of Don's Pomeroy House
Photo of The Pub courtesy of Don’s Pomeroy House

Contact info:

Don’s Pomeroy House
13664 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH 44136
(440) 572-1111

Nam Wah in Berea

IMAG2865Growing up we never went out to eat. We couldn’t afford it, and it also wasn’t as common to dine out as it is now. We would go out to eat every six weeks to celebrate our good grades on our report cards, and my sister and I usually chose The Ground Round or Nam Wah. I don’t remember if they had Vietnamese food on the menu, but they served Chinese food. American-Chinese food (obviously). It was nothing spectacular, but most restaurants weren’t back in the 70s/80s (shhh! let’s let my age be our little secret). Back then, Nam Wah was a tiny little hole in the wall in the strip mall behind McDonald’s on Bagley Road. I remember it being dark with a lot of Asian flair. Over the years they expanded the space, making the restaurant industrial and no longer cozy, and the quality declined. I am happy to report the IMAG2868restaurant is under new management, and they have expanded the menu to include a lot of Vietnamese choices. There is still not a lot of ambiance (there are booths lining the wall to the right behind a little partition), but the food is definitely much improved. The new owners appear to be a couple young guys who are really friendly and enthusiastic.

Back then, I was addicted to their shrimp with lobster sauce. I never got anything else. I thought I was being so fancy ordering shrimp and lobster. I would get the combo platter with fried rice and an egg roll. I loved mixing the rice with the sauce. My sister stuck with chicken chow mein or chop suey. We weren’t that adventurous back thenIMAG5498. Chow mein at home meant opening cans of water chestnuts and chow mein noodles and mixing it with celery and a meat. Tasteless and bland. It was different here, more flavorful.

I ordered my shrimp with lobster sauce for old times sake the other day despite the fact that I am allergic to egg and no longer like lobster sauce. It turns out I don’t like other restaurants’ lobster sauce, but the one at Nam Wah is still as good as I remember. It isn’t spicy and can be a little bland, but you can always add mustard sauce or sriracha if you like it spicy.IMAG2871 I still love it anyway. I enjoyed making a perfect bite by mixing the pork fried rice and the sauce. The egg roll was nothing to write home about. It was pretty bland and mostly filled with cabbage.

My first visit back in probably twenty years or so was on a cold and rainy night for a bowl of pho. I am happy to report that the pho is delicious. IMAG2872The broth had a good flavor to it, and the meat was plentiful and a little thicker than at other pho places. I think it is even better than Superior Pho, because the broth is just deeper and richer. I could taste the cinnamon, Chinese 5 spice, and star anise in the broth. They serve the pho with the accompanying plate of add-ins, but the add-ins include an herb called culantro, which is a kind of cilantro, in addition to Thai basil. That was definitely unique. No other place I know in Cleveland serves it like that. This is definitely a great bowl of pho. I will definitely be going back and ordering this again.

They serve four different kinds of bahn mi (deli sandwich, grilled chicken, IMAG5579grilled pork and grilled beef) – and it comes with or without a fried egg on it. Do yourself a favor and make sure to break the egg yolk before you bite into it. Otherwise it will come shooting out and drip down your shirt and your hands. I was a mess, but it was worth every bite. The creaminess of the egg mixed with the grilled pork and fresh vegetables. All of the bahn mi include carrot, cilantro, cucumber, daikon, homemade pate, and jalapeno. The bun was soft, and the flavors melded well together. The next time I go I will be ordering the pho and the bahn mi again. I want to try their one of their Dac Biets, which I hear are fantastic.

IMAG5496On my Chinese-focused visit I ordered a cup of wonton soup with my shrimp and lobster sauce to warm me up, and it came served with a side of very flavorful shrimp chips. I had completely forgot about the shrimp chips we used to eat as kids. It was always served like  bread or chips and salsa – as a taste teaser. The wonton soup was good. The noodles were more noodle than filling, but the shredded pork and green onions are nice additions to the broth.

I can recommend their unsweetened iced tea. I believe it is made from jasmine tea and is quite delicious. If you want soda it comes in a can. The hot tea is strong and flavorful as well and is served in metal teapots like you find at most Chinese restaurants.IMAG5501I’m just thrilled that folks on the West Side of Cleveland have access to a good Vietnamese restaurant. I hope they take advantage of it.

Contact info:

Nam Wah
392 W Bagley Road
Berea, OH 44017
(440) 243-8181

Buckeye Beer Engine

IMAG5549Buckeye Beer Engine has to be one of my favorite places in Cleveland. I’m shocked I haven’t written about it. It opened in 2007 and is located in Lakewood on Madison Avenue. It is a locally owned, neighborhood brew pub that prides itself on gourmet burgers and gourmet, award-winning beer from Buckeye Brewing Company. If you are looking for a place to explore specialty craft beers, this is one of the better places in Cleveland to do it. In addition to 27 premium draft beers, Beer Engine also features two authentic cask conditioned ales, and 100+ bottles to choose from. I like that the draft beer list tells you what glass the beer will be served in. IMAG5554Not enough places do this, and the shape of the beer glass really does play a role in the enjoyment of a beer. Belgian beers should be served in round glasses, pilsners in long, tall, thin glasses, etc. There is nothing I love more than a good Belgian beer. This one was the “EPIC Brainless on Peaches,” which is a Belgian blonde ale aged in French Chardonnay casks on peaches. With just a hint of peach underlying the delicious blonde ale, I was a very happy camper and savored every drop. And with an ABV of 10.80, I walked out of lunch with a very slight buzz, so be forewarned. Or be prepared to call Uber.

IMAG5555The food is always good. With a small kitchen they limit their menu to items that are primarily grilled or fried. And let’s face it, if you are drinking beer you don’t really care about calories. They offer lots of appetizers that are perfect for sharing, like fried pretzel sticks and beer cheese and mustard dips, wings, “beer caps” (deep fried jalapenos), battered Andouille sausage bites, mac n cheese bites. etc. They feature 20 half-pound burgers as well as sandwiches, salads, platters, many appetizers, and weekly specials. All of the burgers can be easily switched to a Portobello mushroom cap, grilled chicken breast, or homemade spicy black bean patty that makes my vegetarian friends very happy. They feature a burger of the month, a monthly “wildly improbable burger,” and frequent specials.

IMG_20170307_122839They also have a pretty wide selection of entrees that aren’t listed on the website, such as beer cheesy cheesesteak, meatloaf, a sausage platter, a schnitzel platter, a gouda pork & gravy fries (similar to poutine), and salads. For example, for the entire Lent season they are offering New England clam chowder, conch and crab hushpuppies, linguini frutti di mare (after 5 PM),IMAG0961 a beer battered cod hoagie, beer battered fish and chips and drunken mussels. I also saw a sign for a salmon burger.

The first time I came here I ordered the Kobe beef hot dog in a pretzel-bread bun. It’s no longer on the menu, but I loved the fact that they served Kobe beef hot dogs. They now serve Angus beef, but kudos for going for quality from the starting gate.

My absolute favorite burger is the West Side Burger, featuring caramelized onions, sour cream, cheddar cheese and one cheddar potato pierogi on top of a juicy half-pound patty. If I am in the mood for a great burger this is my go-to. The onions are always perfect and the IMAG5556pierogi is just such a fun addition to a burger. The burgers are served with chips, but you can upgrade to a side salad, sweet potato fries, tater tots, or other choices for a couple bucks more. The chips are light and crisp and perfectly salted, so I highly recommend trying them first before you start upgrading. Every burger is also served with a fried dill pickle spear, which is a whimsical little addition.

Their everyday soup is the Chicken Cheddar Ale soup. It is a homemade soup made with chicken-ale broth loaded with cheddar cheese, roasted chicken, red peppers, and onions and topped with crumbled bacon, scallions, cheddar cheese, and served withIMAG5558 mini pretzel sticks. I had a bite of it the other day when they mistakenly gave it to me instead of the clam chowder. The soup is surprisingly thick and very flavorful. The roasted chicken is shredded, and the soup is loaded with it.

The New England clam chowder is a total winner, and I was glad that I didn’t just keep the cheddar ale soup. It is in the white chowder base and has lots of clams and small potatoes. I was delighted with the flavor, which was almost buttery to my palate. I almost regretted ordering just a cup and was tempted to order a bowl to go. If you love clam chowder be sure to give this one a try. I have to say it is one of the best chowders I have enjoyed in a restaurant. They comped my chowder due to the IMAG5560mix-up, but I would have happily paid for it. Mistakes happen, and they more than made up for it.

I could not resist the house-made conch and crab hushpuppies when I saw them on the Lent Specials menu. I told my waitress I would probably be taking them to go. She gave me a to go box before they came out, and served the dipping sauce with its lid. That’s service! The hushpuppies were perfectly fried, not too oily and with a crisp coating. The inside was soft and delicious and loaded with seafood. The filling was a mix of crab and conch meat, corn, and scallion. It was served with the Beer Engine whole IMAG5562grain mustard aioli, but I was perfectly happy eating them straight without the aioli. I had one and boxed up the rest.

My most recent burger was the Bob’z Big Boyz Burger, which was a nod to the Big Boy. It was a burger of the month, but is now on the regular menu. It is a 1/3 pound burger topped with American cheese, crinkle cut dill pickle slices, and their homemade Bob’z sauce on a sesame seed bun. It also seems as if it was topped with a lot of chopped up lettuce mixed in the sauce. It was a fun burger and probably better than a Big Boy is nowadays. With the soup and a hushpuppy I got full quickly and took half of my burger home for dinner. The eyes IMAG5561are always bigger than the stomach.

Beer Engine is open every day of the year from 11AM to 2:30AM. I hear they have a great Sunday brunch too. They have a great little patio that is very much in demand in the warmer months. I spent one lovely summer evening on the patio enjoying a West Side Burger and a couple brews with friends. I’m glad that I live so far away from it, because I would be here all the time.


Contact info:

Buckeye Beer Engine
15315 Madison Avenue
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-2337