Fish Fry Friday #2: Luchita’s

Luchita’s has been in my awareness since it opened in the 1980s. My father used to work at Richman Brothers with Luchita’s son-in-law, Tedd. He would talk about Luchita and her cooking. I didn’t get a chance to try it for myself until after I moved back from Germany in the early 2000s. Luchita is long retired, but it is still family-run.

From the outside, Luchita’s looks like a dingy corner bar in a working-class neighborhood, but magic happens inside. Luchita’s is one of Cleveland’s best Mexican restaurants.

I learned about Luchita’s fish fry last year in one of my food groups. Since I am a sucker for Mexican street corn I knew this had to be on the list this Lenten season. I got a group of friends to trek to W. 117th in Lakewood to enjoy this delicious and out-of-the-ordinary fish fry. I made a reservation because they want prior notice for tables of 6+.

My one friend and I carpooled together and got there very early because we were expecting heavy traffic on the roads. We arrived 40 minutes before the 6:30 reservation, so we parked ourselves at the bar and had a margarita and dished all things Broadway. The margarita was freshly made, but I was less than impressed with it. It tasted mostly like ice/water. I’ve had good margaritas at Luchita’s before, so I’m going to chalk it up as a one-off oops.

Once two more in our party arrived we were shown to our table in the adjacent dining room, even though we were still before the 6:30 res. We managed to order another round of drinks after we sat, and I decided on a sangria. This was definitely the better choice. One of my dining companions upgraded the tequila and enjoyed her margarita. We fell on the delicious chips and salsa like a bunch of locusts. By the time our other friend arrived the server brought us another salsa and chips. The chips are warm and inviting, and the salsa had a nice kick and flavor to it. I am embarrassed to say I filled up quite a bit on that salsa – and had a couple of bites of a side of delicious and creamy guac one of my dining companions ordered.

We were there for the fish fry, so we did not bother perusing the menu closely. All five of us ordered the fish fry, which made our server’s life easier. The fish fry features beer battered fish, chipotle tartar sauce, Mexican street corn, mac & cheese with salsa verde, and a cucumber-radish-carrot salad that was delicious. The fish was perfectly fried and not too greasy. The Mexican street corn was just a delicious mess. I ended up wearing it down the front of my shirt and had to wash my hands. The mac n cheese was a nice version of noodles covered in a cheese with a bit of a kick to it. The cavatappi were not overcooked, and the noodle to cheese ratio was just right. I have no idea what was in the dressing for the salad/slaw, but we all agreed that it was fantastic. The dinner was $17.95 and worth it.

I couldn’t make up my mind, so I also ordered the lobster and shrimp quesadilla. I figured we could all eat it as an appetizer, not realizing that it was a dinner portion size. I should have known it would be a lot when the waitress was taken aback when I ordered it. It was filled with large chunks of lobster and shrimp, and I really, really loved every bite. Be forewarned: the quesadillas were $18.95. I was surprised when I got the bill, but it truly was worth it with the chunks of seafood.

We rolled out of there with boxes for our leftovers and happy stomachs. If you are looking for a good fish fry and love Mexican definitely check this place out!

Contact info:

Luchita’s Mexican Restaurant
3456 W 117th Street
Cleveland, OH 44111
(216) 252-1169

Fish Fry Friday #1: Arthur Treacher’s

Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips is a fast food seafood restaurant chain. At the peak of its popularity in the late 1970s, it had about 800 stores. Now, there are only four of the original old-style stores left – all in Northeast Ohio. The busiest is on Rockside Road (near the intersection wtih Turney Road) in Garfield Heights. I love going there and reliving my childhood memories of fried fish and that amazing cole slaw. I went a long time without eating there, and just one bite of the cole slaw had me realizing that it was the cole slaw I had been comparing all other cole slaws to. It is a nice, wet, mayo-ey cole slaw, which I prefer.

Things have not changed much at Arthur Treacher’s. The decor is firmly from the 1970s – as is the carpet. The food is still served on trays, and the condiments are pumped into little paper cups. You have your choice of ketchup, tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. I wish they wouldn’t use so much styrofoam, but understand their business model hasn’t changed since the 1970s so why wouldn’t they.

I made the mistake of going there on Good Friday once. That is probably their busiest day of the year. The line was almost out the door and didn’t let up the whole time I was there. Business had slowed down until the Cleveland.com article in 2016 and then news of its existence also hit social media, so they are happy to report they are doing well. It’s apparently become somewhat of a tourist attraction, with people traveling there from far away to experience it again.

Chicken dinner with cole slaw

The food still stood up to my memories. It isn’t gourmet, but childhood memories rarely are. I ordered the chowder, a fish and chip combo and a side of cole slaw. I can never finish the meal here and always bring half of it home. The fish is better than some of the fish I’ve had at other fish fries – flaky with a light batter. The chips are satisfying and made my British friend happy and “more at home” than most chips. And I usually save a hush puppy as my last bite. I really enjoy the sweet flavor yet savory texture of the perfectly fried hush puppies.

Seafood combo dinner – fish, shrimp and clam strips – and a cole slaw

I ordered the fish and chicken dinner here once, and although it was okay I will continue to order the fish. It was too jarring for me. Chicken doesn’t seem to belong with all the seafood, but I guess folks who don’t like fish or seafood have to eat too. I like the fried shrimp. They are plump and well fried without drying out. I am less enamored with the clam strips. They tend to get dried out and are a little too chewy for my tastes.

I can also recommend the seafood chowder. The first time I ordered it I don’t know what happened but it had an overwhelmingly metallic taste. I gave it a second chance the other day and enjoyed it. I’m a sucker for a decent chowder.

Contact info:

Cleveland area:
12585 Rockside Road
Garfield Heights, OH
216-662-6067

Akron area:
926 E. Waterloo Road
Akron, OH
330-724-9990

1833 State Road
Cuyahoga Falls, OH
330-923-8900

Niles:
2 Youngstown Warren Road
Pinetree Square
Niles, OH
330-505-2625

Nighttown

Nighttown celebrated its 50th birthday on February 3, 2015. It is truly a Cleveland institution. Its owner, Brendan Ring, has been the bartender, general manager, and proprietor for 22 years. The food is really good, but you should definitely go when there is live music to really enjoy it.

Photo by Yelp user Steve F.

The restaurant/nightclub at the top of Cedar Hill in Cleveland Heights has been voted the #1 Jazz and Blues club in Cleveland for many years now. I’ve seen several top names here, including Manhattan Transfer, Basia, Diane Schuur, and Jane Monheit. I’ve also heard that some famous jazz folks like Wynton Marsalis and musicians like Stevie Wonder have stopped here after nearby performances for an impromptu jam session. I can’t even imagine how awesome that was. If you come here for a performance be sure to come early, because seating is first come, first served. The room is small and there really aren’t any bad seats in the place, but it allows you to relax and enjoy your meal beforehand so you can focus on the performance. If you are claustrophobic, the sound carries into the dining rooms.

Pro tip: You can take advantage of the valet parking, but there is also a parking lot behind the building with parking meters. You can access the lot from Euclid Heights Boulevard. The kitchen is open until 2 a.m. if you are looking for late night eats in the area.

The first time I went here I ordered the Private Eye Reuben, which is named after Milan Jacovich, the fictional investigator from the Les Roberts mystery series. The Reuben is only available on the lunch or brunch menus. Nighttown is mentioned in several of the books (Milan lives at what I assume is Cedar and Fairmount and often walks to Nighttown for dinner), so I was excited to check it out. I ordered it with turkey, and it came with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and thousand island dressing and was served with French fries. If you do get it with corned beef, you should know that they make the corned beef in-house, and it is not too fatty.

Photo from Yelp user Jodi L.

I usually start my meal here with soup. Both Neal’s Famous Clam Chowder and the French Onion Soup are great choices, although I had to add salt to the clam chowder the last time I ordered it. They always come out piping hot. The Italian wedding soup was also quite lovely during my most recent visit. And I also don’t know too many restaurants that serve steamed whole artichokes. It’s served with drawn butter and lemon.

IMAG5783My absolute favorite thing on their menu is the Dublin Lawyer, which consists of lobster meat over a wild rice pilaf in a heavy cayenne butter cream sauce with mushrooms, scallions, and Irish whiskey. When I treated my parents to see Diane Schuur I suggested my father order it, and he loved it as well. Since this is my ‘happy meal’ I rarely order anything else. In fact, I have even ordered it through Delivermefood when I was in the wheelchair for a month a few years back. The lobster is always perfectly poached, and the whiskey cream sauce is a delight. Paired with a salad you have a great meal.

The Veal Meatloaf is fantastic and a great value. It comes with crème fraiche mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables and Madeira mushroom gravy. The last time I had it the veggies were green beans. The meatloaf was very rich from the addition of veal, and I saved half of it for a sandwich the next day. I loved the mashed potatoes and gravy together too.

Their Grilled Delmonico is topped with foie gras butter, served with cider braised kale and roasted fingerling potatoes and is a great choice for those of you who are gluten-free. My mother enjoyed hers without the foie gras butter since she also can’t eat dairy.

My best friend is a vegetarian. She loves the Grilled Halloumi Kebobs, which feature skewered Cyprian sheep & goat’s milk cheese, served with citrus couscous, steamed asparagus and chive oil. They also have a stuffed squash on their winter menu that she adores as well.

I’ve also been here for a private brunch for a celebration for a friend who graduated from grad school. I’ve always heard good things about their brunch, and was not disappointed. On a recent visit I got to enjoy it on the patio/”three season room.” I ordered the Brioche French Toast, which is dipped in Grand Marnier batter and served with Canadian bacon. I enjoyed it a lot. The coffee mugs crack me up. They also have a Lobster Benedict that looks good. Several of my friends IMAG5784ordered it. I only wish I had taken a picture of it. You can order the Dublin Lawyer and several other entrees at brunch as well.

The Banoffee pie is a popular dessert. I was not sure what to expect, but I had recently learned about it online and wanted to try it. It features a graham cracker crust with bananas and toffee sauce. It is drizzled with dolce de leche and has a generous dollop of banana whipped cream on top. It was so sweet and filling that I was only able to eat a few bites of it and took the other half home for later.

Contact info:

Nighttown
12387 Cedar Road
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 795-0550

Luigi’s in Akron

Akron isn’t necessarily Cleveland, but if it’s good enough for Akron native LeBron James to be from “Cleveland,” then I can certainly feature a restaurant in Akron here. Luigi’s is an institution and has been an Akron tradition since 1949. It is open 7 days a week for lunch or dinner and is open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (they recently changed to a 2 a.m. close time instead of 3 a.m.). Beer and wine is served until 1 a.m. Reservations are not accepted, and they only accept cash or “local checks.” I’m not sure if they consider Cleveland local. In any event, I first started coming here when I was in grad school at Kent State University. Luigi’s is about as old school Italian as it gets. It was also the inspiration for Montoni’s Pizza in the Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft comic strips, including the bandbox over the front door. Cartoonist Tom Batiuk was born in Akron and attended Kent State. Luigi’s is not gourmet, but it is good, solid, stick-to-your-bones fare. It’s extremely traditional. The tabletops are melamine, the menus are checked, the walls are fresco paintings, and the wood is dark. Most nights there is a line for a table out the door, so I tend to go during the lunch hour or off hours. They have great lunch specials until 3 p.m. But if you do find yourself in a line you will not be waiting for hours. The line moves quickly with several dining rooms available.

Luigi’s is known for its salads, because it has a ton of whole milk mozzarella cheese with a little iceberg lettuce, black olive and sliced radish underneath. Paired with their House Italian dressing, it is a nice balance to the heartier pizza and pasta they serve. The antipasto salad features salami, pepperoncini, olives, tomatoes, radishes, and mozzarella cheese. You can also add pepperoni, tuna or anchovies for an extra price. The complimentary bread is a really nice Italian bread, with a nice crust yet chewy center, served with packs of butter.

One of the best lunch specials around is the “slice and salad” combination. You get a small salad and a slice of pepperoni or cheese pizza for $4.35. Not bad for such a low price.

I have always loved their pasta. Spaghetti, rigatoni, ravioli – it’s all good to me. My go-to order has always been the Baked Pasta Combo (but be sure to emphasize the Pasta because you might find yourself served a Baked Combo Casserole, which is a baked meatball and sausage combo with no pasta in sight). It is a nice choice when you can’t decide if you want rigatoni or cheese ravioli. The pasta comes either with marinara or meat sauce. It is then covered in cheese and baked. The sauce is not spicy, but it is very good.

I recently ordered the Baked Florentine Ravioli on a whim and fell in love. It’s a spinach ravioli with a filling that is somewhat reminiscent of the Stouffer’s spinach souffle. The ravioli are not jammed with filling, but there is enough that it is a tasty ravioli. I ordered it with the meat sauce and loved every bite. I will be ordering this again.

The pizza also comes in two sizes – small (4 slices) or large (8 slices). The large is not as large as you might think, but it’s enough for a couple slices per person. The pizza is fairly unique. I think the pizza is fairly reminiscent of a Detroit style pizza, in that it is a flat pan pizza with a high rising crust. The crust has a nice crunch to it and yet it is sufficiently doughy for this thick crust lovin’ gal. I prefer the red sauce pizzas with a little meat instead of the Bianco or plain cheese pizzas. The meat and toppings balance out the tomato of the sauce. The cheese pizzas tend to overwhelm the sauce too much. If you prefer to take your meal to go, they offer parbaked pizzas that you can bake in your oven at home for 10 minutes.

Most people complain about the fact that you have to pay cash (although they do have an ATM). As long as you are aware of it ahead of time and bring cash with you you’ll be fine. The prices are so low that you won’t be shelling out a ton of money on your meal. I recently ordered a dinner sized baked pasta, small tossed salad and two small pizzas (to go), which easily fed two people and another meal besides, and my bill was $37.45.

Contact info:

Luigi’s Restaurant
105 N Main Street
Akron, OH 44308
(330) 253-2999

Fish Fry Friday #4 – Sokolowski’s University Inn

In keeping with the idea of alternating between church fish fries and restaurant fish fries, this week we went to Sokolowski’s University Inn. Sokolowski’s is an institution here in Cleveland. As their website touts, “Located in the heart of Tremont, Sokolowski’s University Inn has been serving delicious Polish and Eastern European cuisine since 1923. Overlooking the Cuyahoga River and Cleveland skyline, this James Beard Foundation “American Classics” Award-winning restaurant is a must-visit for locals and visitors alike. As Cleveland’s oldest owned and family operated restaurant, loyal customers line up time and time again to eat their favorite homemade dishes.”

And line up they do. We got there at 5:30 and the line extended all the way to the back of the building. Luckily I figured it would be bad and we entered using the door where the line started (the door is in the center of the above photo – it kind of looks like a chimney from here). My friend and I chatted with each other and with the folks around us. One older lady (she must have been 80 years old) was a total hoot, talking about marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and trying to convince me to give Dyngus Day a visit. Her husband, who she had been with for 60 years, is a die-hard Indians fan and was flying to Arizona the next day to watch them train.

We finally found ourselves under the Smacznego sign at 6:15. We grabbed silverware, napkins and a tray and started sliding down the line. The desserts were tempting, but I knew I wouldn’t have room. I grabbed a Sprecher’s Orange Dream soda from the bin and continued on my way to the steam trays. My friend and I decided to get a Lake Erie perch dinner and a grilled rainbow trout and were going to share them. Once we got to the steam trays and saw the gorgeous beer battered cod we quickly changed our mind. We quickly had to decide which one not to order. I ordered the cod, and when they brought out fresh fried perch the decision was made really quickly. I grabbed a dinner roll and my plate of food (beer battered cod with pierogi and corn), loaded up on butter and sour cream, and paid my bill at the cash register. We told the guy carrying our trays how many people would be in our party, and he accompanied us to a table. My friend headed to the bar for a beer, while I headed to the salad bar.

After eating at Sokolowski’s so often I know my limits. I enjoyed my dinner roll, a salad loaded with fresh vegetables, cucumber salad, macaroni salad and cole slaw, and half of my meal. I packed up the other half to enjoy later. I had one piece of perch and one piece of cod. Both were moist and flaky. Absolutely fried to perfection. I can say without a doubt they were the best pieces of fish I’ve had all season. The pierogi were soft and pillowy potato goodness swimming in butter and onions. They were also the reason we were there. One of my friends had never had pierogi until Lent last year at Prosperity Social Club, and he was not that impressed with pierogi. I told him he had to try Sokolowski’s since they were probably the best in the city. He had one from his wife’s plates and enjoyed it more than the one last year. He had ordered the salmon as well as sweet potato mash, which he declared was “too sweet,” and roasted potatoes. He appeared to enjoy the salmon and roasted potatoes a lot, but left the sweet potato. His wife had the perch and pierogi. It was their first time at Sokolowski’s, and they were heading out to Pittsburgh for the weekend so they didn’t linger. Her verdict was “The pierogies were worth the trip!”

My friend who ordered the perch with me also enjoyed both the perch and cod. She loaded both up with lots of lemon juice. She peppered up the mashed potatoes and also thoroughly enjoyed the pierogi. We both knew what to expect and enjoyed our meals.

Two more of my fellow diners arrived late and were seated with us after I explained by text where we were sitting. They had never been there before either and didn’t know what to expect. They were surprised to see such a long line, but they took it in stride. In addition to giving her a few dining recommendations, one of guys in line with them recommended she get the Salisbury steak, so she did. It did look pretty amazing, and even though she had made meatloaf the day before she enjoyed it very much. She got the full-on carb experience – Salisbury steak, pierogi, cabbage and noodles and rice pudding. Right on! Apparently the rice pudding was a mix of rice and bread? Her friend ordered the lamb chops, which the food runner called “little steaks” along with the pierogi. She said they were good. We got a chuckle out of the mint jelly, which I had thought was green Jell-o. They both got boxes as well – and my one friend got a meal to go for her son – complete with a to go box for the salad bar for him (which you can see in the photo to the right).

Everyone left fat and happy, having enjoyed their meals. I don’t know if I would go for dinner again on a Friday during Lent (because they serve their fish specials every Friday throughout the year), but the line moved slow enough that there were always a few empty tables available. When we left around 7:30 the line had died down considerably (extending up the stairs but not through the dining room) and there were more available tables. They had run out of scrod by 6:30 though, so it pays to get there earlier rather than later.

Contact info:

Sokolowski’s University Inn
1201 University Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-9236

Fish fry #2 – Ridgewood Inn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact info:

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

Mister Brisket

Mr. Brisket is the place to go in the Heights for all things meat. This butcher shop and deli is located on Taylor Road just south of Cedar Road and has been around since 1973. It is known among those in the know as one of the best butcher shops and delis around. They sell high-end USDA prime beef, veal, lamb, pork, poultry and seafood as well as some outstanding deli meats and sandwiches. They are particularly known for their pastrami, corned beef, and (obviously) brisket as well as their Jewish delicacies like chopped liver, knishes, and potato pancakes. Some consider the pastrami to be the best in the city.

The place has zero ambiance and no seating. It’s carry-out only. Don’t let its looks deceive you. Everyone raves that the corned beef sandwiches are better than Jack’s Deli or Corky and Lenny’s.

When I am in the mood for a sandwich I pop down to Mister Brisket. If I’m lucky I can get a parking space on the street, but most of the time I have to park across the street at the shopping center and cross the street. I’ve had several of their sandwiches. The sandwiches are loaded with meat and come with a pickle. You can also purchase sides of cole slaw, macaroni or potato salad, chips, cookies, brownies, and cans of soda. You can buy single sandwiches or a boxed lunch. The large boxed lunch features a large sandwich, potato salad or cole slaw, cookie, pickle spear, napkin, beverage and utensils for $12.95. The smaller boxed lunch comes with a smaller sandwich, chips, cookie, pickle spear, napkin, beverage and utensils for $9.95. It’s a good deal and is usually what I choose and a large side of potato salad or mac salad.

My first time I had to order the Reuben even though I don’t like corned beef. The meat was moist and lean. Not grisly or salty. They were light on the Swiss, as a proper Reuben should be. The Thousand Island dressing was a creamy accompaniment. The bread was nothing to write home about, but it was very tasty and soft. It was a proper rye bread – none of that marbled stuff. They also have great pickle spears that accompany the sandwiches.

All of the sandwiches can be toasted upon request. They offer a choice of Swiss, American, provolone or pepper jack, Stadium, yellow or spicy mustard, mayo, a spicy mayo called Tiger Sauce, horseradish, Thousand Island, BBQ sauce and hot sauce. You can choose rye, wheat or a bun.

I love the look of the Charles Barr, which features corned beef and pastrami on rye with Swiss and yellow mustard, but since I’m not a huge fan of either meat I stick with the brisket, turkey and roast beef. The Duke is even more impressive, with layers of corned beef, turkey, salami and brisket with Swiss cheese. It’s over one pound of sandwich. The photo of the Duke (below left) is from the Mister Brisket web site, since there is no way I could eat one when I usually can only eat half a sandwich and save the other half for later.

The only thing I haven’t enjoyed from there was their matzo ball soup. The broth and matzo balls come frozen, and that does them no favors. The broth was extremely salty and tasted like it was straight chicken stock (no carrots, no parsley, etc.). The matzo balls were mealy. It might have been a fluke, but I won’t be buying it again. I ended up throwing it all out, which about killed me because I love matzo ball soup.

You can also order special order cuts of meat. I deliver Meals on Wheels, and the volunteer appreciation dinner serves Mister Brisket BBQ brisket. You can bring it back to the store after you’ve prepared it and they’ll even slice it for you (properly – against the grain for brisket). It’s all part of the service. One of my Jewish friends is ordering her fish and brisket here for Rosh Hashanah next week. The store also carries special products like roasted turkey and roasted chicken for people to purchase for the holidays.

They are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and offer a special on Tuesdays featuring $1 off any large sandwich. They are only open until 4:00 Tuesday through Thursday, 5:00 on Friday, and 3:00 on Saturdays.

They are good people. They also takes donations to send kosher salamis to the troops. The store charges $20 for a shipment of salami to the troops, and it can be sent virtually anywhere, even to service members who are posted on aircraft carriers and other ships. They also accept donations to the cause. This is the kind of place I like to support.

Contact info:

Mister Brisket
2156 South Taylor Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-8620

The Red Chimney

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

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

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

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

The Red Chimney is also one of the few places that serve City Chicken. Sokolowski’s being one of the other places. City chicken is a Polish-American dish that is now unique to Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It got its start in the Depression era, when chicken was scarce and more expensive. City chicken is made with cubed pork, veal, or a combination of the two, threaded onto skewers, breaded in flour and breadcrumbs to create a drumstick-like shape and either deep-fried or pan-fried before placing them in a hot oven and cooking them for 60 to 90 minutes. Brown gravy is an optional topping.

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

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

Contact info:

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

Sokol of Greater Cleveland – Bohemian National Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact info:

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

Geauga County pancake breakfasts

When spring is just around the corner in Cleveland, we know that it’s pancake and local maple season, with Sunday breakfasts being served throughout the area. Geauga County in particular is known for their pancake breakfasts. I had always wanted to go to one, but never got motivated enough. I made it to two this year – on March 19 and on April 2. Most pancake breakfasts are served on Sunday mornings in March, although a couple run into mid-April. Geauga County is known for its maple syrup, and the pancake breakfasts in the area serve genuine Geauga County maple syrup, tapped fresh.

My former neighbors in Solon go every weekend in March, so I joined them for the one in Parkman. It was worth waking up early to meet them and drive out 422 just past Route 528 to the Parkman Community Center. I got to catch up with the patriarch of the family, and we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat feast of sausage and pancakes with beverage (coffee, water and milk) for just $8. I managed to eat three pancakes and three sausage patties. Some of my fellow diners did better than that, but I was happy with my meal. Word of warning: don’t get the water unless you like sulfur-tasting water. Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland warned me about the coffee ahead of time, but since I use lots of cream and sugar anyway it wasn’t an issue. The straight water was. This community fundraiser sponsored the Parkman Chamber of Commerce is a well-oiled machine. You pay as you walk in and get in line. Gingerich Farm sells their maple products, and the Girl Scouts sell their cookies to the waiting hordes that winds their way through the room. The hostess waits until a stretch of table clears before leading the next bunch in. The serpentine table allows diners to sit on one side and the servers to walk in between and serve up the goodness. I loved the fact that they use real plates and silverware and serve local maple syrup in pitchers that sit on the table every couple of seats. I didn’t love the fact that the kid across from me stared at me the whole time. It was unnerving.

One of my friends recommended I go to the Burton American Legion Post for their pancake breakfast, because she felt it was the best one in the area. Burton is well-known for their numerous pancake breakfasts, including the Rotary Club, the Century Village Museum and other groups. Burton has been serving pancakes every spring to over 20,000 guests every March since 1951. The American Legion Post is located just north of the square at 1405 Goodwin Street and serves from 9 am to 1:30 pm, which works well with my not being a morning person. It is a smaller venue, but there are apparently two floors. My friends actually were there about 45 minutes before I was, because T. posted a picture of the bus that had just rolled up. Apparently they come from Pennsylvania just for the pancakes. The guy said they started out with a few people and more and more join them every year. When I got there the bus was still there (they were seated upstairs), but my friends must have just left. I paid my $10 and lined up. They not only served pancakes (blueberry or buttermilk) and sausage, but also had delicious home fried potatoes and scrambled eggs (I didn’t get the eggs since I am allergic). The pancakes were fluffy and delicious, but my favorite was the potatoes. Diners were free to get back in line for more, so I went back a second time for a blueberry pancake and more potatoes. They also had plenty of coffee and orange juice. I drank a couple juices and a couple coffees. I got a kick out of the coffee spill catcher they made out of a two liter bottle. The ladies told me they’ve been using it for years. I wish I had taken a picture. The fresh local syrup was on the tables in squeeze bottles, and the ladies kept walking around to make sure they were full. The tables also had salt, pepper and Heinz ketchup. I sat by myself, but enjoyed chatting with a couple guys near me – and eavesdropping on a table of older diners comparing their flip phones and phone plans.

Be sure to put a pancake breakfast or two on your Must Do list next March. There are a wide variety of pancake breakfasts in the surrounding counties and specifically in Burton to choose from. And if you don’t want to wait a year and want some now, as the Burton website explains, “You can still have unique & delicious pancakes even after the season ends. All year-round many local restaurants, civic organizations and lodging facilities serve pancakes and offer pure maple syrup for your enjoyment!” Just head on out to Burton – I recommend stopping to walk around at LaDue Reservoir, Punderson State Park or in Amish country in Middlefield and the surrounding towns after breakfast.