Sokolowski’s University Inn

Sokolowski’s is a Cleveland institution. My father used to eat there all the time with his co-workers from Richman Brothers, and I grew up hearing about his lunches at Sokolowski’s, Sterle’s and the Hofbräuhaus. I finally got a chance to check it out for myself about ten years ago and have been a fan ever since. I was craving comfort food this afternoon, so I called some friends and we headed out to Sokolowski’s. We got there at around 11:30 to avoid the lunch rush, and got in line just in time because Lolly the Trolley let off a big group there just behind us.

Established in 1923, Sokolowski’s University Inn is one Cleveland’s oldest family owned and operated restaurants. Specializing in Polish and Eastern European cuisine, this Cleveland institution has been feeding its bratwurst, kielbasa (my dad’s favorite), pierogi, stuffed cabbage, cabbage and noodles, chicken paprikash, etc. to its customers for over 87 years.

Food is served cafeteria-style. There is always a crowd, but don’t worry – being cafeteria style the line moves fast. You line up, grab a tray and silverware and work your way down the line. I couldn’t help but start dancing when I grabbed my tray and heard the polka music. The first stop is salads (as well as beet salad and a delicious cucumber-dill salad) served on ice and saran-wrapped pies and cakes, followed by alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages either from bus tubs or the fountain (and they offer several beers on tap – today they had my favorite, Reissdorfer Kölsch on tap for $5 for a pint, but I went with their ‘house’ brand grape soda). After that you are confronted with the hot foods. Every lunch and dinner is served with a roll, so they have a sign telling you to take one. You have to be quick with your order because they move quickly. Hot food is constantly being brought out from the kitchen behind them. All lunches and dinners come with two sides, and they don’t give you a lot of time to think about it. Some of the available sides include pierogi, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, and cabbage and noodles. You can also order soup and/or sandwiches (which come with a pickle and potato salad). Friday lunch and dinner features lots of fish choices – as well as mac and cheese.

Have a heart for those behind you and try to pay in cash if you can. It keeps the line moving. They have a $10.00 limit for credit cards. They have guys waiting at the cash register to carry your tray and escort you to a table. Normally I ask to sit in the room with the piano player. Tom “Mr. T at the Keys” Ballog plays during Wednesday through Saturday hours. It adds a nice ambiance to the meal. Dad also taught me to unload your tray onto the table when you sit down so they can quickly reuse them, but I don’t know if that is necessary anymore.

My choice today was the fresh bratwurst with a side of pierogi and corn. The woman behind the counter gave me corn and green beans. When I corrected her she slapped some pierogis on a plate for me and told me to tell the cashier (who is one of the owners) that it was a mistake. Well, I didn’t have the heart to do that and paid for the pierogis extra. They’re worth it. But you do need to be vigilant at the counter, because they managed to screw up each of our three orders somehow. In the end I was really pleased I had the corn and green beans (if you are a fan of canned green beans you will be thrilled. Yes, yes, when it comes to green beans I have no taste…), because I walked out of there this time not feeling overloaded with carbs. Sokolowski’s can be quite carb-heavy, as my friend who had the pierogi lunch with potato pancakes and mashed potatoes and gravy can attest. He ended up boxing half of his meal and bringing it home.

Since this is a Cleveland food blog, let me just talk about the pierogi for a second. Sokolowski’s pierogi may be small and only come filled with mashed potatoes and cheese, but they pack a flavorful punch. They are served in a pool of melted butter and sautéd onions. I dripped some of the butter on my t-shirt today and can still smell the onion and butter as I type this. About a year ago I did a taste test, going to Babushka’s Kitchen one night and Sokolowski’s for lunch the next day. I ordered the same thing – stuffed cabbage and pierogi. Babushka’s Kitchen’s pierogi are bigger and there are a lot more choices to choose from, but Sokolowski’s won my heart hands down. Babushka’s definitely gives them a run for their money, but you just can’t beat the flavor of Sokolowski’s pierogi. But for the record, Sokolowski’s stuffed cabbage blows Babushka’s away. It isn’t even a contest in my book. It may not be haute cuisine, but it tastes just like my Ukrainian grandma used to make it.

I had enough room for a bite of the coconut cream cake, which is one of my favorite desserts there (if they don’t have the rice pudding). It looks really heavy, but you wouldn’t believe how light and airy it is. It’s like biting into a cloud of moist cake, whipped cream and coconut. I also had a bite of my friend M.’s carrot cake, and it may have replaced the coconut cream cake in my favorites list. Whatever your dessert favorite, be it rice pudding, cherry, apple or blueberry pie (or whatever other flavor they have), chocolate cream pie, coconut cake, or carrot cake, you won’t go wrong grabbing it at the top of the cafeteria line – even if you have to box it up and bring it home with you, which is what I usually do.

Friday nights I can highly recommend the meatloaf. The slice of meatloaf almost hangs over the plate and has a nice tomato-chipotle glaze. One of the best meatloaves I have ever eaten in a restaurant.IMAG0602

The Innerbelt Bridge project has made it a little more difficult to find it, but the long line at 11:30 shows that it hasn’t killed business. Coming from the east, we got off at the Abbey Avenue exit, took a left on Fairfield Avenue, turned onto W. 11th and pulled into the parking lot on Abbey. Luckily there were signs to Sokolowski’s with arrows that we could follow. Sokolowski’s has directions on its website, but they should only serve as a guideline. If you head to Parallax and South Side you’ll find Sokolowski’s. And I promise it’s well worth the extra aggravation.

I had been debating between Slyman’s and Sokolowski’s today, but Slyman’s sandwiches are $11.00-12.00 and my bratwurst lunch with two sides at Sokolowski’s was $8.00. Sure, I paid extra for the cake, drink and side of pierogi, but I was very happy with my decision to eat at Sokolowski’s. Slyman’s will be there another day. Sokolowski’s is open Monday-Friday 11 am – 3 pm and Friday and Saturday from 5 pm – 9 pm and 4 pm – 9 pm respectively.

Contact info:

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

And did I mention that Anthony Bourdain ate here for his show “No Reservations”? The website also features Michael Symon talking about Sokolowski’s pierogi in “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Like I said, it’s an institution…

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Hot Sauce Williams

Photo from the Cleveland Scene

Hot Sauce Williams is a Cleveland institution. I drive past it all the time and had heard so many good things about it that I finally decided I needed to try it. If you love fried food that is slathered in hot sauce, then this is your place. We went to the main restaurant on Carnegie, but they have additional locations on Lee Road and Superior Avenue. The restaurant has a “divey” feel to it, which I always enjoy (I still miss the old Suds Maguire in Olmsted Township). The tables are covered in plastic and the place looks somewhat run-down. Just don’t come here expecting fast or friendly service.  In fact, the major negative about our visit to Hot Sauce Williams was that the service was slower than molasses and was not particularly friendly, but we quickly forgot about that after digging into the food. But if you go in knowing it’s a bit of a dive and that the food makes it worth the trip you’ll be ok. One thing I can say is that you get a massive amount of food for a great price. It just took an hour to get it. If you don’t want to wait that long, order whatever is in the warmers behind the counter.

Hot Sauce Williams’ fried chicken was highly recommended as being amazingly good, so I went there intent on fried chicken. I ordered the 2 piece fried chicken breast dinner and received two massive bone-in chicken breasts. They needed to make it in the back and took their good old sweet time doing so. It came out so hot it melted the styrofoam. I could barely finish one breast and took the rest home. It came with cole slaw and French fries and slices of white or wheat bread and cost a whopping $5.99.

The wing dinner was $5.00 and also came with French fries and coleslaw, white or wheat bread. My friend upgraded and ordered three different sides, which she absolutely raved about – mac and cheese, collard greens and candied yams. True Southern comfort food!

Another friend ordered a full slab rib dinner for $19.50 (it also comes with French fries, cole slaw and white or wheat bread). He let me try a couple bones while I waited for my food and watched everyone eat. They don’t fall off the bone, but they are nicely smoked and slathered in an absolutely delicious sauce. After all, Hot Sauce Williams is known for the BBQ sauce.

They gave our group a mess of French fries for free to compensate for our wait. We got an industrial restaurant aluminum pan brimming full of fries (you can see it at the top of the photo in the center of the table). The fries are actually store-bought Ore-Ida brand fries, but they were good – especially drenched in the hot sauce, which wasn’t all that hot (as in spicy).

We weren’t all that impressed with the desserts though (I was so unimpressed that I didn’t even take photos of it), so unless something really tickles your fancy just keep gorging yourself on the dinners. No one walked out of here hungry. In fact, we all left with lots of leftovers.

Hot Sauce Williams has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Man vs. Food. The menu item that was featured on Man vs. Food was the Polish Boy IMG_20170625_193149sandwich. It is a whopping $3.50. According to Man vs. Food, the Polish Boy is Cleveland’s signature menu item. I must not be a true Clevelander (although I was born in Parma and grew up in Olmsted Falls), because I have never had a Polish Boy. Pierogis? Yes. Kielbasa? Yes. But a Polish Boy? I had never heard of one until a few years ago. The Polish Boy at Hot Sauce Williams is made up of an all beef kielbasa, French fries, cole slaw, bbq pork shoulder, and hot sauce on a bun. I’ll be sure to get one next time.

Contact info:

Hot Sauce Williams
7815 Carnegie Road
Cleveland, OH 44103
(216) 391-2230

3770 Lee Road
Cleveland, OH 44128
(216) 921-4704

12310 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216)249-0710

Bearden’s is back, baby!

Bearden’s in Rocky River is a Cleveland institution. Opened in 1948, Bearden’s is known for its bear logo, steakburgers and shakes. It closed a couple years ago when construction on Lake Road caused business to dry up. It reopened this past October. Most West Siders have a story about Bearden’s. I remember going to Bearden’s with my high school boyfriend on our first date. There was some discussion the night I went as to whether it was the original location. My friend and I remember it being much darker than it is now. I seem to remember wood paneling, and my friend Suzanne insists it was at the end of her grandmother’s street. Maybe there were two locations at one time. Who knows. In any case, the new Bearden’s is much brighter, but the iconic train with its stuffed bear conductor is still circling the dining area. Bearden’s is not fancy dining by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my fellow diners weren’t that impressed with the fare. If you are used to burgers at B Spot, Greenhouse Tavern or Whitey’s this place may not be for you. However, if you like Steak and Shake you’ll feel right at home. Kids adore it and it is good for a stroll down memory lane, eliciting the old 1950s diner vibe.

When I mentioned on Facebook that I would be dining at Bearden’s several of my friends mentioned the peanutburger, so of course I had to try it. I would have never thought creamy peanut butter spread on a burger would be tasty, but it wasn’t bad. If I were to go there again I would definitely order bacon with the burger. The chocolate milkshake was definitely a nice accompaniment to the peanutburger for this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan. Everyone at our table shared sides of golden fries and thick onion rings. My fries were quite tasty, with just the right amount of salt. The onion rings are fresh and not frozen. One side of fries or onion rings can easily be shared by two or three people.

The Plain Dealer’s Friday! magazine recently reviewed Bearden’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was there the night after we were. I distinctly remember the valentines on the windows too.

I was particularly thrilled to see that they offer birch beer on tap in the self-serve soda fountain. It’s one of my all-time favorite drinks from childhood, and you can’t find it everywhere.

Contact info:

Bearden’s
19985 Lake Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 331-7850

Balaton at Shaker Square

Balaton is a Hungarian restaurant on Shaker Square. It has been in business since 1964 and is known for its Wiener Schnitzel and Chicken Paprikash. For 000_0008those who are not familiar with Austro-Hungarian cuisine, Wiener Schnitzel is a veal cutlet pounded flat and battered and fried to a golden brown. It is traditionally served with spaetzel (delicate dumplings made of flour, eggs and water) and applesauce.

My German group met there recently and enjoyed a delightful dinner on a Friday 000_0010night. We were a fairly large group and the restaurant was full, but we had no problems with the service. They seated us at an L-shaped table by the window.

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Wiener Schnitzel with spaetzel

The salad was swimming in dressing, but it was a light European oil and vinegar blend. It was just your typical iceberg lettuce salad, but it was good – as was the bread, which I unfortunately did not take a picture of.

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Hungarian Platter with spaetzel

I had the Wiener Schnitzel and spaetzel, which was delicious. The first time I was there I ordered the Hungarian platter, which features the schnitzel, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. I enjoyed it too, but the stuffed cabbage was not like my grandmother’s. But then again, her stuffed cabbage was Ukrainian and tough to beat. If you are there for the first time though I highly recommend getting the Hungarian platter to try all three of their specialties.

Everyone there really enjoyed their meals. We ordered just about everything off the menu, from the Hungarian Lecso (a summer stew of

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Chicken paprikash and mashed potatoes

yellow bell pepper and tomato) to the various combinations of paprikash (veal or chicken) and goulash (beef or pork).

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Hungarian Lecso

Most of us were too full for dessert, but I can highly recommend the strudel and (my personal favorite here) the Napoleon. I am also a sucker for Palacsinta, which are crepes with apricot, walnut, sweet cottage cheese, or poppy seed fillings, but I haven’t had Balaton’s yet. I remember a delicious Eispalatschicken in Austria, which was a crepe filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce and Grand Marnier that was then lit on fire. I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was twenty years ago. It was that divine. If Balaton were to add that to the menu I would eat here at least once a month.

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Napoleon
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Cherry strudel

Contact info:

Balaton Restaurant
13133 Shaker Square
Cleveland, Ohio 44120
216-921-9691