Ferrara’s Imported Foods

Photo by Sarah Dorn, cleveland.com
Photo by Sarah Dorn, cleveland.com

Ferrara’s has been selling Italian bread, meats, cheese and more to East Side Clevelanders since 1959. You walk in and you definitely feel you are surrounded by Italians. One gentleman even held the door for me.

This place has everything you need – from fresh garlic and tomatoes to espresso makers and huge pasta bowls to serve your family delicious pasta. I wandered the aisles just amazed at the wide variety of itemIMAG4929s they sold. They had canned San Marzano tomatoes, every variety of olive oil and vinegar you could imagine, balsamic vinegar ketchup (!), blood orange soda, fresh pasta in a low-slung refrigerated cooler, dried pastas in every shape and form, as well as prepared foods such as Sicilian pizza, pasta and antipasti salads, and made-to-order submarine sandwiches.

Since my friend who told me about Ferrara’s recommended their sandwiches, I went there with the intention of ordering an Italian sub. The sub was loaded with thick-sliced Italian cold cuts (capicola, (Genoa?) salami and I think ham), IMAG3231provolone cheese and your choice of hot or sweet peppers. I went with the sweet peppers and it was oh so good! They make their bread rolls there, and you can tell at first bite just how fresh the rolls are. I don’t know what they do to the peppers, but they are extremely addictive. Some people also suggest having the top of the bread dipped in hot oil. If you want a different sub than the Italian, you can choose from Italian Beef, turkey, IMAG4931roast beef, veggie, prosciutto, and ham and cheese or you can make your own creation.

They also sell hot subs like sausage sandwiches, meatloaf subs, and meatball subs for $5.50. The sausage sandwich (pictured to the right) comes with peppers and onions and has a nice heat to it. It may not look appetizing in the photo, but it was really delicious.

IMG_20190423_155434.jpgFerrara’s Wedding Soup is one of the best ones I have ever tasted. You can find it in the freezer with the frozen pasta on the wall to the left as you walk into the store. The back wall is all about pizza. You can buy slices at the register, but you can order larger pizzas back in the back. I bought some Sicilian pizza for my Italian translator friend who had lamented about the lack of Sicilian pizza in Cleveland, and she was absolutely thrilled with their pizza and its authenticity. The pizza is not in slices – but thick slabs of dough covered in a thick tomato pasty-like sauce. There is no melted cheese – just some sprinkled Parmesan. It is served at room temperature.

Just be warned that they only accept cash or checks. They have an ATM in case you forget, and from personal experience I can tell you that the fee is lower than most regular bank ATMs. They also have a nice little area for people to eat in if you feel so inclined.

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A small dining area is set off straight ahead as you walk in

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View of the bakery/deli counter from the back

 

Contact info:

Ferrara’s Imported Foods
5750 Mayfield Road
Cleveland, OH 44124
(440) 442-3700

Seti’s Polish Boys

IMAG4771Cleveland’s original food truck has been serving up Polish boys and grilled dogs since 2000. They have been at their current location, the parking lot of Dean Supply on the corner of E. 34th and Woodland Avenue, for the past nine years. Edit: Seti’s has moved to in front of the Thomas F. McCafferty Health Center, on Lorain Avenue near W. 42nd Street. They are parked there Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The truck is equipped with a grill, deep fryer, steam table, 3 prep tables, 2 refrigerators, 4 sinks with hot and cold running water, exhaust system, and serving window. They serve IMAG4774magic. Having been featured on the Food Network and lauded by folks like Michael Symon on The Best Thing I’ve Ever Ate, Rachel Ray and Andrew Zimmer of Bizarre Foods, I knew I had to try it.

The Polish Boy is Cleveland’s iconic sandwich. It IMAG4775features a slow-grilled and then fried jumbo style hot dog and is topped with cole slaw, french fries and BBQ sauce. Seti’s is known for having the best in town, and Food and Wine Magazine said their Polish Boy is one of the best dogs in the United States.

It was a total mess to eat, but it was worth it. I bit in and the hot dog had a great snap. IMAG4809The creaminess of the cole slaw, the perfect buttery french fries and the sweet BBQ sauce melded together to the perfect meal. I used every single one of the four napkins they gave me and then cleaned up with a wet wipe I had brought with me. Next time I’m bringing a new shirt to change into too.

They serve lunch Monday through Friday from 10 to 4. The service is fast and courteous, the price is right and the food is delicious. If you haven’t been there yet what are you waiting for? Just be sure to bring wet wipes.

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Seti’s various offerings – official photo by Seti on Yelp

Contact info:

Seti’s Polish Boys
E. 34th & Woodland Avenue
At Dean Supply
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 240-0745

Patterson Fruit Farm

IMAG4794Patterson Fruit Farm in Chesterland is great year-round, but it really shines in the fall. Families flock there for the pick-your-own apples, pumpkins, apple cider, doughnuts and apple fritters in a fall wonderland of changing leaves, corn stalks and bales of hay. One of my friends raves about the apple fritters. IMAG4793The place gets packed on the weekends, and they have overflow parking across the street. I made a spontaneous decision to check it out on a Tuesday to see what all the hype is about, and I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed every minute of drive out to Chesterland amid the colorful leaves and crisp air. Driving home through Gates Mills I even got to IMAG4798enjoy the smell of a bonfire. It truly is a quintessential fall experience and is just one more reason that Cleveland Rocks!

There are a ton of pumpkins to choose from outside, along with stands offering fresh kettle corn and lemonade. Inside the barn you can find all kinds of local culinary delights, from apple butter and Amish jams and jellies, pies, IMAG4796doughnuts, apple fritters, dried soup mix, pancake mix, maple syrup, popcorn toppings, and all kinds of cooking implements. The doughnuts, pies and apple fritters are made fresh using the fruit from the farm.

I ended up buying six doughnuts, because I couldn’t choose just one. They all looked amazing IMAG4797I ordered the maple bacon, apple cider, pumpkin roll, Samoa, chocolate glaze and salty caramel. I loved the maple bacon and apple cider doughnuts. The maple bacon doughnut was a nice blend of savory and sweet and the apple cider doughnut had a hint of autumnal spices to it. And the apple fritter is indeed divine – soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and with chunks of apple in the dough.

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Photo by Jaime P from Yelp

But the apples are the star of the show. Refrigerated cases hold apple cider, honey crisp apple cider (apparently only available for a limited time), milk and other refrigerated meats and cheeses. Hot apple cider is also available for purchase. You can buy their apple cider in most grocery stores in Cleveland, but there is just something special about drinking a hot apple cider at the farm.IMAG4804

If you are looking to buy some apples there are a ton of kinds to choose from, ranging from Winesap and Honey Crisp to Macoun and Jonagold and everything in between. They let you sample all of the apples available for purchase. They also offer big bags of seconds, which are great to use for apple sauce. I bought two kinds to make some apple sauce. I was so excited about trying the different kinds I forgot to take photographs. I boughtIMAG4801 winesap and honey crisp apples. I will use the winesap together with my apples from Fresh Fork Market to make the apple sauce. The honey crisp are just because they are my hands-down favorite apple to eat plain.

The orchard allows you to pick your own apples as well and features almost 20 different kinds. Not all varieties are available at once, but there are always several to choose from. They also offer pick your own strawberries and blueberries in season. The pick-your-own location is just down the street from the farm market at 8765 Mulberry Road.

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Contact info:

Patterson Fruit Farm
11414 Caves Road
Chesterland, OH 44026
(440) 729-1964

Geraci’s Restaurant

IMAG4417Geraci’s is family-run restaurant with fresh Italian cooking from scratch. They have been in business since 1956, so they must be doing something right. It is also popular with John Carroll students, and they have a special section on the menu for them (billed as “late night dining” – although they are only open until 9 PM and 10 PM on Fridays and Saturdays). Geraci’s is known for its pizza, so muchIMG_20120830_133307 so that it was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The bread service features crusty and soft Italian bread with a dusting of sesame seeds on the crust and packets of soft butter. The House salad dressing is a good choice if you like red wine vinegar. It’s pretty overwhelming. You can order it with and without grated mozzarella on it.

The only thing I have ordered here that disappointed me was the spaghetti and meatballs. I thought the meatballs and sauce were pretty bland. I’ve learned not to IMG_20120830_133257order spaghetti and meatballs in Italian restaurants around here. However, they offer a lot more than spaghetti and meatballs. They are known for their Geraci’s sauce, which is a red sauce. You can also order spaghetti with fresh mushrooms, meat sauce or marinara and upgrade with a meatball or Italian sausage. They also offer gluten-free pasta and whole wheat pasta for an upcharge.

The spinach ravioli are absolutely fantastic. IMG_20120830_134524The ravioli are large and the sauce is a tomato cream sauce that really complements the cheese ravioli. It is a creamy delight. I didn’t even miss the meat.

Geraci’s also offer veal and chicken entrees. The Chicken a la Tosca was out of this world. I wasn’t expecting such a large portion. It came with three chicken cutlets IMAG4410dipped in egg batter and lightly fried and served over a bed of garlic spinach and diced tomatoes. The chicken was really moist and tender. The heavenly smell as they were frying it permeated the restaurant (I was the only table left after their lunch rush), which made me really anticipate the meal. It was served with a side of spaghetti. I was able to upgrade it to the meat sauce for an extra dollar. I had been wanting IMAG4422spaghetti that day, but didn’t want a huge plate of it. This was perfect – and I was able to bring two of the three cutlets home for later.

Everyone raves about the pizza, however. I have friends who travel all the way from the far west side for a Geraci’s fix. Reading all the suggestions for the pepperoni pizza on Yelp I felt the need to order one even though I am not a huge pepperoni pizza fan. My friend who loves it suggested I get the large with extra pepperoni, because she feels it is their best one. It was okay, but it didn’t thrill me. The sauce is a little sweeter than most, and the crust is a little stiff (I prefer a little doughier, chewier crust). And it was more burned than I like. I’ll stick with the chicken and pasta here in the future.

Make sure you come with cash though. This is a true Italian restaurant. Cash or check only.

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Contact info:

Geraci’s Restaurant
2266 Warrensville Center Road
University Heights, OH 44118
(216) 371-5643

Eat at Joe’s

IMAG3464I’ve been hearing about Eat at Joe’s for a few years now. Everyone said they serve amazing hash browns. I’m happy to report that the hype is true. Eat at Joe’s is a tiny little place on the side of the CVS at the corner of Mayfield and Green Roads. It is just a solid spot with no frills, good food, and a nice staff. The prices are low, and the hash browns are amazing. The menu is small but covers all the basics. Breakfast is served all day: 3-egg omelets, pancakes, French toast, and your basic variations on eggs/hash browns/breakfast meat/toast. Lunch features some sandwiches, burgers, soup and a couple salads. NIMAG3465othing is over $5.50. As I said, the place is really tiny and from what I hear it is always packed, especially on the weekends. But tables turn over quickly; this is not a place that people tend to linger. Two tips: it is only open until 2 pm, and it is cash only.

On my first visit I knew I wanted the hash browns. I wasn’t sure what else I wanted. I walked in shortly before 10 a.m. on a Friday, stood behind a gentleman, and IMAG3466waited for a seat to open up. He took a small two-top that was vacated, and then I saw there were several seats available at the counter. I grabbed the seat on the end and was immediately greeted by a server who asked what I wanted to drink. I ordered a large orange juice (for $1.50). I then looked at the menu in a little table stand and ordered a standard diner breakfast of two eggs over easy, bacon, hash browns, and rye toast. At some point a young guy came in and sat next to me and was immediately greeted by name and asked if he wanted coffee.IMAG3470 You’ve got to love a place that recognizes its regulars. Some other guy seated at a table by the kitchen, who was also obviously a regular, yelled out for a server who was too far to hear them calling for her to pick up an order. That’s camaraderie. The guy next to me got his cinnamon chip pancakes (a special) and sausage before I got my breakfast. I immediately regretted not ordering the pancakes. They smelled wonderful. Soon after my breakfast was brought out.

The eggs were perfectly cooked (so much so that I ended up wearing a few drops of egg yolk), one strip of bacon was crisp (see the almost burnt piece in the photo) while the others IMAG3514were well cooked without being too crisp, and the rye toast was small but well-buttered. The hash browns were as good as everyone says. They were crisp on one side and soft but not undercooked on the other. I was in heaven. I didn’t even ask for ketchup, which I usually do for breakfast potatoes. My bill came to $6.49. I rounded up to an even $9, because I follow Robert Fulghum’s advice and always overtip my breakfast servers. It was still a bargain.

I went back a few days later for the cinnamon chip pancakes IMAG3518and a side of sausage because it sounded so good. Once again I sat at the counter. The counter seems to be the place to be, because I got to witness an epic obnoxious customer along with my breakfast. She was arguing with the waitress over a $1 brownie because she wanted a middle piece and not an end piece. The waitress told her she couldn’t stipulate what she got, while she demanded that she could because she was the customer. They ended up giving in to her because she wouldn’t let it go. Epic. I almost wished they served popcorn. Meanwhile, the older guy on my left (greeted as a regular) was home from wintering in Florida and on his way to Cape Cod for the summer. Eat at Joe’s attracts all kinds of customers apparently.

IMAG3544In any event, the cinnamon chip pancakes were delicious and went very well with the side of sausage. They were actual cinnamon chips and not chocolate chips with cinnamon mixed in. They were lovely. You can’t see them in the photo because they were on the bottom. I ordered a coffee and a large cranberry juice. The coffee was decent, and they both hit the spot. My bill was $8.65.

I stopped in a third time to grab a quick lunch at 12:30 because I was going to be in the area on an errand. There was ample seating at the counter and a couple tables available. img_20171106_110246The turnover continued as I sat there and people-watched. I ordered an iced tea, a cup of soup, a tuna melt and a side of hash browns. I even got to choose what kind of bread (rye again). The soup that day was yellow split pea. It didn’t wow me, but it was a nice choice for a dreary day. My tuna melt and hash browns were finished super quick before I could finish my soup, and they were amazing. The cheese on the tuna melt was nice and melted, the tuna overflowed onto the plate (and paired well with a dill pickle slice), and the hash obrowns were as crisp as before. My bill was $12.20.

This place is definitely going on my regular rotation, and I’m going to need another tuna melt soon.

Update: I went there and ordered lunch choices – a bacon cheeseburger and veggie beef soup. Stick with the breakfasts. The burger was served on ciabatta bread, which I hate, even though a breakfast sandwich is served on a Kaiser roll. The burger was well done, something was burnt to a crisp on the edges, and the soup was just okay.

Contact info:

1473 South Green Road
South Euclid, OH 44121

Angie’s Soul Cafe

IMAG3033Angie’s has moved to its new digs in the old Hot Sauce Williams building on Carnegie.

As the website explains, “Angie started laying the foundation for down-home Soul food around the late 70’s, when she cooked in the Carnegie Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. Within the confines of that kitchen she concocted recipes that she brought with here from Santuck (Union), South Carolina. Emphasizing on preparing everything from scratch and blending the perfect seasonings, she started to build a following around the city that supports Angie’s still today.”

Photo from Angie's Soul Cafe's Facebook page
Photo from Angie’s Soul Cafe’s Facebook page

Angie’s Soul Cafe is a local chain of soul food restaurants with a location on St. Clair Avenue, one on Harvard Avenue, and one at Emory and Green Roads. They must be doing something right. Angie’s brand has expanded to include Angie’s Kitchen, Angie’s Soul Food, Angie’s Chicken & Waffle, Angie’s Mobile Service, Stonetown on Prospect, and the more upscale Zanzibar Soul Fusion. They also have a food truck. I go to the Midtown location on St. Clair because it is close to me. I can’t speak for any of the other locations.

IMAG3038The focus here is on the food. The St. Clair location is a fairly utilitarian space. The restaurant itself was pretty bare. The tables are not adorned and the chairs are pretty basic. Specials are written on a chalkboard behind the counter. The counter has chafing dishes of freshly prepared food, which they go through quickly, but they also make certain things when you order it. Customers don’t linger either, they order their food at the counter, wait for it to be prepared, then leave. I usually grab the deliciouIMAG1949s home-cooked food and take it home, but I have seen several people eating in their car. A lot of the customers were greeted by name, and it was nice to see that personal touch. Customers who eat in the dining room have their food brought out to them on trays when it is ready.

The first time I went, I stuck with my usual “KFC order” of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans. It was way better than KFC. The fried chicken was perfect. I ordered the white meat meal, and the breast was juicy and the wing was not dried out at all. The mashed potatoes were not instant flakes. You could tell they were real potatoes. The gravy was a little meager, but it was enough to have some with each bite of mashed potato. The green beans were also really good. Every IMAG1948dinner comes with a moist corn muffin.

Everyone on Yelp was raving about the tilapia, so I knew I needed to try it. I ordered the tilapia dinner with sides of yams and collard greens. I swear to god I heard the angels sing when I bit into the yams. I have never been a big fan of yams. Until now. Those IMAG3039yams alone are enough to keep me coming back. The collard greens were a bit too bitter for my taste. I make them with a light vinegar and ham hocks. These greens were vegetarian-friendly and I missed the smoothness of the ham flavor. The tilapia itself was lightly breaded and perfectly fried. I couldn’t have been happier with my meal.

They are known for their smothered chicken and pork chops, so I had to try the smothered chicken. I ordered it with mashed potatoes (because that smothered gravy begs for mashed potatoes in my mind) and the collard greens because I wanted to be somewhat healthy. Hah, please let me live with my delusion. The IMAG3040smothered chicken came with three pieces of breaded chicken in a thick, rich, delicious chicken-based gravy. The gravy had huge pieces of onion in it as well that were soft as could be and was generously served over both the chicken and the mashed potatoes.

They also have a cooler of mason jars behind the register filled with bright colored Kool-Aid. I asked the cashier which one was her favorite and she told me it was Green, so green it was. The Kool-Aid was really good, but really sweet. They serve it with a lot of ice, which waters it down, in the restaurant. At home I cut it with a LOT of water (think half and half), so it went a long way. It was only after I ordered that I saw that IMAG1950they also serve the Sunset (lemonade & iced tea), the Sunrise (lemonade & red Kool-Aid), and my favorite the Purple Rain (lemonade & grape Kool-Aid). I ordered the Purple Rain the next time I went (see photo), but I think they misunderstood me and gave me Purple (grape). No big deal, because it’s my favorite flavor from childhood. It lasted several days served over ice and cut with water.

The dessert choices in the refrigerated counter looked really good, featuring peach cobbler or chef’s choice cobbler, sweet potato pie, and various cakes. I was there on a Sunday when it is on special, so I ordered the banana pudding. It was really creamy and good, and the portion was generous (unlike, say, Old Carolina’s banana pudding, which is pretty small). It had lots of decent chunks of banana and vanilla wafers. Just a good southern banana pudding.

Angie must be doing something right to have so many offshoots here in the Cleveland area. Be sure to check her out – and get the candied yams. You can thank me later.

Contact info:

Angie’s Soul Cafe
3400 St. Clair Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
(216) 426-8890

16906 Harvard Ave
Cleveland, OH
(216) 295-7685

23041 Emery Rd
Cleveland, OH
(216) 896-7200

Frank Sterle’s Slovenian Country House

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IMAG3034Frank Sterle, an immigrant from Slovenia, founded his Slovenian Country House in 1954 with a small building on East 55th Street, a few picnic tables, and only one waitress. The small menu featured traditional eastern European fare such as wiener schnitzel, chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage, sausage and sauerkraut. After Frank’s death in 1986, the restaurant was taken over by Mike Longo and Margot Glinski, both immigrants — from Italy and Germany, respectively. When Mike died 25 years later Margot retired and Rick Semersky

Photo by Edsel L.
Photo by Edsel L.

purchased Sterle’s in 2012. Chef Jeff Jarrett has accepted the position as Executive Chef and GM of Semersky’s entire portfolio of properties and is breathing new life into the old chestnut (as well as the neighborhood). This includes a health-focused Café 55, followed by Goldhorn Brewery led by a Great Lakes Brewing Co. veteran as well as The Market, an evolving weekly incubator market with local foods and crafts, and a “signature restaurant” in the former St. Clair Cleveland Public Library and Lakeshore Banking and 600_4297106Trust building. Jarrett’s first order of business was to bring in Walter Hyde and Scott Slagle to run the smoker and beer garden at Sterle’s. Their smoked meats, particularly their smoked prime rib, are legendary. I’m not kidding when I say the smoked prime rib is probably one of the best things I have ever eaten. They’ll be serving it IMAG1399up at Sterle’s every Friday.

Sterle’s is one of Cleveland’s “big S” institutions (my nickname) – Slyman’s, Sokolowski’s, and Sterle’s. I’ve been hearing about Sterle’s since I was a kid. My father worked just down the street at Richman Brothers for 25 years, and that was my first job as well (doing inventory counting bolts of cloth and cut pieces during Christmas break). He and his coworkers met monthly at Sterle’s for another 20 years after it closed. The building is massive. The beer hall is flanked by IMAG1398a huge mural to the left and the bar to the right. The two areas are separated by the area where the polka band sets up and the dance floor.

The food is plentiful, but don’t go there expecting great service (but that could change with Jarrett at the helm). And the menu is much smaller than it used to be. The menu got overhauled in 2012, but the old favorites are still there. Unfortunately the food also suffered. I’m confident that will change under Chef Jarrett. The chicken paprikash is always a good bet and has some good chunks of pepper. Dad’s favorite, the Slovenian sausage, is no longer IMAG2839on the menu, but they do still have sausage on the menu. Even before Walter and Scott came on board they made awesome sausage. The waitresses aren’t in dirndls anymore. They are wearing black t-shirts instead. A polka band is still playing most nights, and some brave souls do venture out onto the dance floor. The beer selection has greatly improved. There are some great beers available on tap as well as other imports like Lasko – and they serve my favorite beer, Stiegl (a beer brewed in Salzburg, Austria) in bottle. Stiegl brings me back to my junior year abroad in Salzburg in college when I could get various Stiegl choices out IMAG1400of the vending machine in the dorm.

To start, the server brings you a loaf of white bread to snack on while waiting for the meals. The bread was soft, but good lathered in soft butter. You also get salad for the whole table to share. You can add Sterle’s Chicken Soup for $1.50. That recipe hasn’t changed for 50 years. It’s not fancy, but is a decent chicken soup.

I love ordering the Family Style Meal. You get a choice of three entrees, one side, a vegetable and dessert for $20 a person. The choices include Wienerschnitzel, pork schnitzel, pierogi, chicken paprikash, sausage or roast pork. The side choices are dumplings (spaetzle), sauerkraut or potato (mashed, home fries, french fries). The schnitzel was good, if a little dry. The pierogi are not dripping in butter and onions like at Sokolowski’s, but they are still tender and delicious. The chicken paprikash was the stand out for me. The chicken is tender, the dumplings are toothful, and it has chunks of peppers in the sauce.

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Stuffed cabbage isn’t one of the entree choices, but you can order it as a side. The cabbage is so tender it falls apart, and the stuffing is this wonderful, solid mix of meat. Not tomato-based, but still good.

We were given dessert, but I forgot to take a picture of it and don’t even remember what it was. IMAG3204It certainly wasn’t strudel though. I would have remembered that!

The beer garden opened last year and is a great addition. Tonight just happens to be its opening night for the summer 2015 season. It is quite the space – with lots of wood picnic tables and a bar outside. It’s a great place to sit outside in the summer and share a pitcher of good beer with friends.

Change is good, but there is a fine line to walk to keep your loyal regulars happy while attracting new customers. As one Yelp reviewer aptly stated: “As the older generation dies off and the gentrification of the inner-ring suburbs continues, places like Sterle’s risk being lost forever. Sure, Sterle’s is a bit rough around the edges, stale perhaps. They could use a bit of an update. Sterle’s is also a piece of my city that I don’t want to lose and a IMAG3207piece of our heritage that deserves to be preserved.” I think Chef Jarrett can do it, and I’m excited to see what they do with the place. As of now the plan is to keep with the current menu and introduce BBQ items as specials on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As I said before, Friday will be smoked prime rib night. I was invited there during Walter and Scott’s first week for a special dinner they prepared and was blown away by several things they are toying with. They served us some delicious creations: polka fries (spiral-cut potatoes with cheese sauce, bacon, and jalapeno), smoked lardons over cheesy grits with a maple syrup, humongous beef ribs (aka Flintstone ribs), and smoked pork with sweet potato salad and sauerkraut. I’m not posting the photos here since I am not sure they will be on the menu all the time, but be sure to click the link and check out the photos. I wish them lots of luck. That area really could use some revitalization. This is an exciting prospect.

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Contact info:

Frank Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
1401 E 55th Street
Cleveland, OH 44103
(216) 881-4181

The Velvet Tango Room

vtrThe Velvet Tango Room (or VTR) was just named one of the ‘Best 150 bars in America‘ (hint: it’s no. 90) – and for good reason. I love the VTR. Proprietor Paulius Nasvytis is just coolness personified, and the bartenders there really know how to shake a cocktail. The VTR opened in 1996 in a building that was once a speakeasy. It is located on Columbus Road on Duck Island, just a block or two from the West Side Market and the RTA station in Ohio City.

There are more than 80 cocktails on the menu. They serve classics like Manhattans, the Flip, Tom Collins, Sazerac, the Highball, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Old Fashioned, and sours like the Pisco Sour and the Amaretto di SaronnaIMAG1751 as well as their own house creations like the India Lime Fizz (which Michael Symon talked about on the Food Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Drank), the Lady in White, the Apricot Lady, the Cleveland Rose, and the Rust Belt. There is a drink to match every taste and mood. Every cocktail is completely fresh and made from scratch. Each cocktail uses the finest ingredients, the juice is squeezed as they make your drink, and mixers like bitters are made in-house. The ice cubes are made in a special 100_0395machine to be 1.25″ square and are frozen at -30 degrees, so that they stay cold longer and dilute the cocktail less. The cherries are imported from Italy. Once you taste them you will never eat maraschino cherries again. They’re delicious!

My favorites include the Lady in Red (vodka blended with the Tango Room’s own red wine reduction and adorned with marinated grapes), the India Lime Fizz (a rich, creamy, and powerful cocktail that combines gin, rum, flora India limes, vanilla, and a whole egg), the Moscow Mule (in the metal cup of course), and the Pisco muleSour.

Even if you are a hater of eggnog, their version will change your mind. It is the third drink photo here. It is so dense it casts a shadow on the cocktail napkin. Paulius whips it up during the holidays with fresh cream and eggs, brandy and dark rum. I had it during the holidays, when Paulius makes gallons of it and runs out, but they are happy to make it for you any time.

If IMAG1753you can’t decide they offer cocktail flights. As the menu explains, the “flights are groupings of three signature cocktails designed to create a harmonious progression of flavor experiences. Each cocktail’s flavor profile and finish, gently introduces and compliments the next one in the series. The opening cocktail is full-sized, followed by a slightly smaller tasting size cocktail before the final coup-de-grace, another full-size cocktail.” It’s a great way to try several at once. I’ve had the White, Light and Spicy (Lady in White, Rangpur Gimlet, and Dark ‘n’ Stormy) and the Fruits, Herbs and Spices (Lady in Red, Lady in White, and Bourbon Daisy).

The joint is classy 1929284_89667701349_7751357_nfrom start to finish, but it isn’t pretentious. There is a dress code (no shorts, t-shirts, or anything disreputable), but as you can see in the photo to the right they don’t ban jeans. The customers are friendly and not at all pretentious.

The ceiling has bullet holes from its speakeasy days. The bar and back bar are made of refinished mahogany. There is a sitting room with a grand piano where live jazz musicians play. The back room is tucked away in a hallway and to get to it you have to walk through a mirrored door in the coatroom. lastwordYou need reservations for the back room, and there is a two drink minimum. The backroom has buttery soft leather chairs and sofas and a fireplace for the winter months and a great patio for the summer months. There is another baby grand piano in the back room for special events. You can check out the photos on their website.

The food is limited, but high quality. You can order savories like Warm Olives and Almonds, Speck on Rye (which I highly recommend), an Artisanal Cheese board, Swine and Cheese (local goat cheese with Courvoisier fig sauce IMAG1598and a mound of prosciutto and crackers), or a Charcuterie plate or sweets like gelato, chocolate truffles, chocolate fondue, and Bananas Foster. We were lucky enough to be treated by Paulius to his Crepe Suzette, flambeed table side. It was a treat for the eyes and the taste buds.

There is no other place in Cleveland serving fine cocktails like the VTR. They serve cocktails and only cocktails, so check out the menu before you go to make sure you like what they are selling. There is no beer, shots or wine served here. The drinks are pricey ($18 for one drink), but they are only $10 during Happy Hour. The Happy Hour at the VTR runs from 4:30-7 pm on weeknights (my friends usually meet there on Fridays). There are no reservations in the front. It’s first come, first served. There are sometimes free nibbles put out during happy hour, but don’t count on them. As one Yelper said, “It doesn’t have to be a “special occasion” for a stop at VTR. VTR is its own occasion and can make any day better.”collage-2015-05-01

Contact info:

The Velvet Tango Room
2095 Columbus Road
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 241-8869

Slyman’s Restaurant

IMAG1875Is there anything more quintessentially Cleveland than Slyman’s? Would you believe that I (a native Clevelander) had never been here until a couple months ago? Whenever people talk about “musts” in Cleveland a corned beef sandwich at Slyman’s is always on the list. The sandwiches are monstrous. There is a reason they offer a side of bread on the menu – to make another sandwich with whatever falls off the monster you are currently eating. The carry out line is usually longer than the IMAG1869dining in line, with downtown workers grabbing their food to go eat at their desks. The place is tiny and cramped, but service is exceptionally quick. They have their service down to a science – a very efficient science.

This place is a family-run institution. They celebrated 50 years in 2013. Joe and Mae Slyman opened the restaurant in 1963, and now their sons are working behind the counter, slicing the meat and grilling the sandwiches. Slyman’s is located on St. Clair Avenue at E. 31st Street. You can park along St. Clair and E. 31st, but there is also a parking lot across the street off E. 31st.

One reason I had never managed to make it here before are the limited hours and the talk of long lines. They are only IMAG1870open during the week until 2:30 and on Saturdays until 1:00. They aren’t open on Sundays. I finally made it here for the first time on the Saturday afternoon after Christmas. I figure it would not be as crowded as it normally is, and I was right. There was still a line, but it moved quickly. They were able to seat our table of 3 quickly in the small dining room to the right of the door. Once we ordered our food, service was even quicker. I don’t think more than 5 minutes passed before our food was brought to the table.

Since Slyman’s is known for their corned beef, I had to get a corned beef sandwich on my first outing. I ordered a Reuben. IMAG1872The Slyman’s Reuben is not like any other Reuben I have ever had. It is 99% corned beef with just a bit of sauerkraut and one slice of Swiss cheese on the top and bottom. That said, it was pretty damn delicious. The corned beef is not too salty and is shaved very thin and piled high. If you are not a fan of sauerkraut never fear. It doesn’t overwhelm, and I can’t see it in the sandwich. I think there might be a thin layer at the bottom with the cheese. The rye bread is buttery and crisp from the grill. They don’t put condiments on the sandwich. The ketchup, mustard, horseradish, hot sauce and Thousand Island dressing are on the table, which allows you to doctor it up just how you like it.

I ordered a Sprite and a side of potato salad to go with it. The Sprite came in a can along with a small glass of ice. Order two right off the bat if IMAG1873you are particularly thirsty that day. And since corned beef tends to be somewhat salty you might need it. The potato salad was out of this world. It was creamy and had small shavings of carrot and onion. It was not overwhelmingly mustardy if you like that kind of thing. If you do, just add a splash from the table condiments. It was just a good, solid potato salad that I would happily order again.

My dining companions ordered the french fries, and they were really good for IMAG1874food service fries. The serving size was plentiful, and the crinkle cut fries were crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

On my second visit I was craving a Tuna Melt. I had heard good things about the tuna melt, and the tips did not steer me wrong. This was a delicious tuna melt. I ordered it on the requisite rye bread with Swiss cheese. I wanted to have soup, but the choice that day was beef barley, which isn’t necessarily the best accompaniment. Potato salad it is! The tuna melt and potato salad were delivered within one minute of ordering (I kid you not). I also can’t believe IMAG2247I ate the whole thing! I didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

You can also order roast beef, pastrami, turkey, ham, egg salad, salami, BBQ beef, a hamburger or cheeseburger, hot dog, patty melt, grilled cheese and several salads. If you really want a challenge, their hot turkey (below), hot roast beef or hot BBQ sandwiches are served closed face along with home fries or french fries and come smothered in gravy.

If you come here and know you won’t be able to finish your sandwich, you might want to bring some kind of container with you. They bring you parchment paper to wrap up your sandwich, but it doesn’t work real well if you have a wet item like potato salad, cole slaw or tuna fish.

Breakfast is served from 6 am to 11 am on the weekdays. I have a friend from high school who raves about their corned beef hash. I’m tempted, but let’s be honest – I am likely to never make it here for breakfast. If you do be sure to order the corned beef!IMAG2975

There is a reason they bring your food so quickly. With space at such a premium you are not encouraged to linger. Order, eat, and get out to make room for the next person. Don’t take it personally. People are clamoring to get in here.

They just opened a Slyman’s Tavern on Rockside Road in Independence, and it seats 150. It is open every day from 11 am to midnight. Maybe it will decrease the crowds downtown, but I doubt it. If anything it will satisfy all the cravings of all business folks in Independence.

Contact info:

Slyman’s Restaurant
3106 St. Clair Avenue NE
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 621-3760

Carrie Cerino’s Ristorante and Party Center in North Royalton


Photo by Tom Noe of Exploring Food My Way
Photo by Tom Noe of Exploring Food My Way

Carrie Cerino’s is an institution on the southwest side of town in North Royalton. The place is huge, and the decor is “old school.” People come here for the food and not necessarily for the ambiance. The dining room we ate in was cozy, but rather dated. They also offer party rooms for weddings, reunions and other larger celebrations.

Carrie Cerino opened a bakery in Maple Heights in 1945 with $3,000 bank loan. She branched into catering in 1955 and bought the location where the restaurant is in 1962. They kept adding extensions to the property, 600_21693669and it truly is a family business. Four generations work at Cerino restaurants, and her grandson Eddie Cerino has branched out to open pizzerias in Parma and Lakewood. I regret I never had the chance to try Dominic Cerino III’s cooking and the Blue Egg Ravioli. Dominic is missed by many foodies, may he rest in peace. As for the Blue Egg Ravioli, you had to call and order it ahead of time, but they stopped serving it several years ago.

This is not a hip place, but it also does not contend to be. It’s all about the food. The food and menu is very traditional: bread, soup or salad, and pasta come with every meal. The pasta is homemade and delicious.

The bread came out warm, and the butter was nice and soft. There is nothing I hate more than cold, rock-hard butter. saladThere were two choices of bread – one plain and one with an herb mix and sun-dried tomatoes. Each dish comes with your choice of a soup or salad.

I ordered the soup as my side and then ordered a side salad for an additional $1.95. The salad was pretty decent and was topped with some cucumbers, chickpeas, tomatoes, shredded cheese and a couple small slices of salami. The dressing was a bright Italian.

I am a huge fanweddingsoup of Italian wedding soup, so my choice was easy. The Italian wedding soup which was very flavorful and an interesting twist to a traditional recipe. There was one big meatball in the middle and some fresh spinach leaves and little bits of chicken throughout the broth. It was a very good soup.

One of my fellow diners ordered the French Onion Soup and was extremely pleased with it. I love a good French onion soup, and this one had scads of cheese, which is a bonus. I’ll be sure to order it myself some time.IMG_0945

I had heard great things about their chicken parmesan and white sauce, so my choice was an easy one. The chicken parmesan is a sauteed boneless, skinless breast of chicken finished in the oven with sliced tomato, prosciuttini and mozzarella. The chicken was well-seasoned and moist. It came with housemade spaghetti with a choice of sauce. I of course ordered the white sauce because it is fairly unique. I have no idea what is in the white sauce, but it wasn’t overpowering at all. It was, in fact, quite subtle and not at all cheesy or too creamy. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, and the sauce was delicious. It was a really nice accompaniment to the chicken.

Most of my fellow diners ordered some version of the chicken parm. One friend ordered the Parmesan Crusted Tilapia and was extremely pleased with it. It was tender, flaky and perfectly broiled.chickenparm_whitesauce

The desserts there were nothing but amazing. The two standouts were the chocolate bomb and the tiramisu, but the cassata cake was also really well executed.

There is a reason Carrie Cerino’s has such a large location – it draws the crowds because they consistently turn out great food at a reasonable price.

They are open for lunch Tuesday – Friday from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm and dinner Tuesday – Thursday from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Friday and Saturday they are open from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and on Sunday from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. They are also open on Mondays in December.

Here are some other photos from our delicious meal:

Eggplant Parmesan and side of spaghetti
Eggplant Parmesan and side of spaghetti
Eggplant Parmesan and side of risotto
Eggplant Parmesan and side of risotto
Chicken Parmesan with spaghetti
Chicken Parmesan with spaghetti
Not sure - this could be chicken or veal.
I believe this is the Veal Parmesan.
Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
Tuscan Chicken and Risotto
Tuscan Chicken and Risotto
Cassata cake
Cassata cake
Chocolate Bomb
Chocolate Bomb
Tiramisu
Tiramisu

Contact info:

Carrie Cerino’s Ristorante & Party Center
8922 Ridge Road
North Royalton, OH 44133
(440) 237-3434