Landmark Restaurant on St. Clair

The Landmark Restaurant is a laid-back eatery off of St. Clair Avenue that locals can’t get enough of. You should not confuse it with the Landmark in Lakewood – that is a flashy BBQ place. The Landmark on St. Clair is an old-fashioned ‘mom and pop’ diner-style breakfast and lunch place, which is growing ever rarer on the American landscape. We all love this homestyle cookin’, but these types of businesses are often overshadowed by new destinations with flashy surroundings. I’ve been focusing on diners for the last few months because they give me comfort.

I parked to the left of the building in their small parking lot, but I could have parked along the street as well. The Landmark is open five days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Yes, the website and Google says 5 a.m., but there is a sign in the window when you walk in warning you otherwise. Covid seems to have changed quite a few practices here. I tried to come at around noon or one p.m., but I’ve been told I need to get there earlier if I want the clam chowder. When you walk in you immediately see a counter in front of you and a cash register to your left. They seem to do a lot of carry-out business. The dining room is to the left and you can sit wherever you would like.

Obviously, the first thing I do when I enter a new place is to ask the waitress what are the most popular items. Her response was “the Hungry Man, the Crazy Omelette, and the Fisherman’s Platter.” Since I wasn’t hungry enough for the Hungry Man (three eggs any style, three hotcakes or three slices of french toast, three slices of bacon, and three sausage links), I decided to order “Two eggs any style,” which comes with a short stack of pancakes or two slices of French toast and two slices of bacon, ham or sausage. I decided to go for scrambled eggs, bacon and upgraded the pancakes to blueberry pancakes. It certainly hit the spot. The blueberry pancakes contained a good amount of blueberries, and the scrambled eggs came out topped with cheese, which was a nice surprise. That was a lot of food for only $6. I splurged on a cappuccino and orange juice. The cappuccino was definitely from a packet, but they both hit the spot.

Landmark has the coolest syrup dispensers. I’ve never seen anything quite like them. While some places serve their syrup in syrup bottles with the lid hanging almost off (Diner on 55th) or in metal jugs (Original Pancake House, Mama D’s), the Landmark has this cool plastic dispenser with a hole at the top. There is very little chance of dripping or overflow. And the squeeze bottle fits perfectly in my hand and allowed me to dispense exactly the amount I wanted.

The Crazy Omelette was actually a bit much. I arrived there starving, having looked forward to ordering a Shipwreck at Lucky’s but not wanting/being able to stand and wait 30 minutes, and I got full after eating half of it. The Crazy Omelette contains onions, green peppers, mushrooms, ham, bacon, sausage & cheese. I ordered the home fries and an English muffin. When they say there is an “upcharge” they mean they will charge you for the entire cost of the English muffin or cinnamon swirl toast, so order a normal toast (white, wheat or rye) and then order the English muffin or whatever as a side.

I usually order lunch on my second visit. When I heard they served hot open-faced sandwiches I knew I would be back to order one of them soon (see below), but I wanted to try their clam chowder so I visited on a Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, they only serve clam chowder every other week, so the soup of the day was supposed to be cream of broccoli, which I also enjoy. But they had run out so I was served a chicken and rice soup that was quite tasty instead. I still haven’t been able to try it, but the broccoli soup is also nice.

I asked what came on the Fisherman’s Platter and was told it came with perch, white fish, and fried shrimp. The Fisherman’s Platter is usually $8.50 on the regular menu and comes with soup, choice of potato and choice of vegetable and a roll and butter, but it’s only $8.00 on Friday. The Friday special comes with a cup of soup, mac n cheese, and choice of vegetable. I chose the mac n cheese and corn. I definitely didn’t miss the roll and butter.

It was a TON of food for $8.00 – two planks of perch, a square of whitefish, and a bunch of fried shrimp. It was served with a side of tartar sauce and a side of cocktail sauce. I could tell it was food service fish, but most church fish fries also serve food service fish and I’m okay with that. With the special and an iced tea, my bill came to $9.99. I walked out of there absolutely stuffed and didn’t forget my leftovers!

On my third visit, I wasn’t sure if I wanted breakfast or lunch, but decided the siren call of a hot open-faced roast beef sandwich was too tempting to ignore. It isn’t as good as Jack’s Deli’s open-faced brisket, but it is a good roast beef sandwich. I’m not sure what I think of the mashed potatoes. I don’t think they were real mashers. But the sandwich and mashed potatoes hit the Comfort spot.

They don’t serve soda from a fountain, they sell it by the can. I ordered two cans of ginger ale because that’s how I roll, and I sipped the second one on my drive home. The cabbage soup that was the soup of the day that Monday also hit the spot. I love navy bean, cabbage soup, and stuffed pepper soup, so I would have been happy with any of them. But I have recently been on a cabbage kick, so the soup was really tasty.

Contact info:

Landmark Restaurant
5380 St Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103
(216) 881-5372 and 216-971-1318

The Original Pancake House

The Original Pancake House was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1953 by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke. It may be a chain of pancake houses across the United States, but it isn’t a large one that is so homogenized that the quality lacks. I don’t really even consider this a chain, because the food is so outstanding. We only have two locations in the Cleveland area – in Woodmere and Fairview Park. The OPH batters are all made from scratch, every day, and are carefully prepared and blended by hand using only the very freshest and finest quality ingredients available. Their original (and extensive!) menu of authentic national and ethnic pancake recipes has gained national acclaim and remains unchanged to this day. In 1999, the Original Pancake House received the James Beard Award in the category of “America’s Regional Classic Award”.

There is always a wait, so plan ahead. Bring snacks and diversions for the kids. Expect at least a half hour wait during breakfast hours – even during the week. The wait may be longer if it is a weekend. If you are a group you better make sure everyone shows up on time, because they will not seat you until everyone has arrived. I try to get there after the rush hours during the week. I don’t have the patience to deal with the weekend crowds.

The food is excellent, and the portions are huge. The focus is pancakes and crepes. The Original Pancake House’s specialties include the Dutch Baby (a fluffy German pancake topped with melted butter and powdered sugar) and the Apple Pancake. They use only the highest quality ingredients such as 93 score butter, pure whipping cream, fresh Grade AA eggs, hardwheat unbleached flour and their own sourdough yeast. The ham and Canadian Bacon are naturally hickory smoked, and the smoked bacon is sliced extra thick. Seriously, it is some of the best bacon I have ever eaten.

Their coffee blend is specially roasted just for the restaurants and served in their own specially designed mugs. I don’t know what it is about the mugs, but they definitely appeal to me. The swooped handle and the cup shape with its larger bottom and tapered top just make me want to keep drinking coffee. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had done psychological studies and knew that. I like that I can also order cranberry juice here.

I also love their seasonal fruit salad. The fruit varies with the season, but when I ordered it in late January the fruits were cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, bananas and grapes. The fruit salad is served with a little metal pitcher of Tropical Syrup. I can’t quite place what fruits are in it, but it is citrusy with a hint of bitterness to the sweet, which I enjoyed since it wasn’t so cloyingly sweet. A discussion on Reddit revealed that it is made with day old orange juice and some pineapple juice and corn starch (1 8 oz can pineapple chunks, 2 6 oz cans pine-banana-orange juice and 1 Tbsp corn starch – boil together and then pour over the pineapple chunks, slices of 1 orange, 1 c seedless grapes and 1 banana).

The first time I ate here was with my Meetup Brunch Group. We managed to get a table together – or rather a couple tables close together. This was pre-COVID. Now they don’t allow groups of 7 or more. I remember taking forever to decide what I wanted, because everything sounded so good. I knew I wanted some kind of pancake and was in the mood for sausage, so I ended up ordering the Pigs in a Blanket. The Pigs in a Blanket are three regular-sized sausages wrapped up in their own individual pancake. The pancakes are a little too sweet for my taste. I would have preferred a more savory pancake to match the savory sausages. Then again, I do tend to prefer savory breakfasts over sweet.

I need to rave about the Dutch Baby for a second. I always shied away from ordering it because it looked so plain. It tastes anything but plain! More like custardy goodness! A Dutch baby pancake is like a hybrid (or a love child, if you will) of a pancake, a crepe, and a popover — all in a 9 or 10 inch skillet. I’ve started making them at home because they are not hard. Mix the ingredients (flour, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and salt) together in a blender or food processor and let it rest for 20-25 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid. The skillet should be screaming hot and preheated in a 425 degree oven. Melt butter in the skillet, swirl to evenly distribute the butter, add the batter and pop back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Top with melted butter, powdered sugar, maple syrup, jam, Nutella, peanut butter, fresh fruit, etc. One Dutch Baby can feed two people – or one person who wants to bring home leftovers for the next day. The OPH Dutch Baby is served topped with butter and powdered sugar with more on the side along with a lemon wedge.

Their omelettes are not omelette-shaped. They are round – as if finished off in the pan and not flipped or folded. This photo of the Irish omelette is from my friend Jane. This fluffy omelette is filled with OPH’s own corned beef hash, onions, and provolone cheese. She definitely enjoyed it. I try to avoid omelettes due to my egg allergy, which is why I am using her photo.

I was in the mood for a waffle one morning, and their Cherry Kijafa Waffle did not disappoint. It is a Belgium waffle topped with Montmorency cherries that are simmered in homemade Danish Cherry Kijafa sauce then dusted with powdered sugar. I loved the Kijafa sauce. According to the OPH in Denver, Cherry Kijafa is a type of fortified 16% ABV cherry fruit wine that is produced in Denmark from cherries with added natural flavors. Because Montmorency cherries are naturally tart, the sweet wine sauce balances the flavors so you have a lovely cherry flavor that is not too sweet and not too tart. The sauce also paired well with the sausage links.

During my most recent visit I ordered everything ala carte. From a small fruit salad to two scrambled eggs, 4 slices of delicious, thick-cut bacon and one perfect Continental crepe. I didn’t want a full order of crepes, so this was a good solution. The Continental crepes are stuffed with sour cream tempered with Triple Sec and served with hot tropical syrup (I still had mine left from the fruit salad). I wanted to take some bacon home, but it was just too good. I sat there drinking my coffee and nibbling on the bacon

The omelettes and egg specialties (not the sausage though) are gluten-free. Gluten-free pancakes and crepes are also available.

Contact info:

The Original Pancake House
Woodmere location

28700 Chagrin Boulevard
Woodmere, OH 44122
216-292-7777

Fairview Park location

3000 Westgate
Fairview Park, OH 44126
440-333-5515

The Diner on 55th

You can’t miss the Diner on 55th. Just look for the shiny, old-timey diner car at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair (pro tip: enter from E. 55th once you cross St. Clair – the driveway on St. Clair is exit only). It’s right off the E. 55th exit on I-90. If the sun is shining you may need sunglasses, but you definitely can’t miss it!

Since it opened in 2001, the Diner on 55th has been the epitome of a “classic small town diner,” but in the big city. If you’re a fan of old-school dining and comfort food, you’re sure to fall in love with this classically-inspired 1950s-style diner with checkerboard tablecloths. They specialize in all-American comforts like breakfast foods, chili, burgers, and onion rings. The Diner on 55th is open 6 days a week from 6 am to 3 pm (Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm). It is closed on Mondays and holidays.

The diner car is surprisingly roomy inside. Booths line the windows and walls, and tables are lined up down the middle to be fit together as needed. There is a counter down the middle with comfortable-looking stools as well. The clientele was a mix of regulars and first-timers. I don’t know our local athletes, but one particularly tall gentleman may or may not play for the Cavs. He had to duck his head when he left. Being 5’2″ I didn’t have that problem. Whether they were regulars or a newbie like me, everyone was cheerfully greeted and treated well. The servers were very friendly and accommodating.

As for the food, it was by far one of the best breakfasts I have enjoyed in a long time!!! I ordered the Full Belly Breakfast, which comes with two eggs, two pancakes or two slices of French toast, and home fries or grits (or half and half). You can also order it with your choice of bacon, sausage, ham steak, or “ranch steak”, so I ordered bacon. When the server put the plate in front of me I was taken aback by how good it smelled. Well, it tasted even better. I don’t know what they put in the pancakes, but they were delicious. I think I only left a couple bites behind. As good as the pancakes were, the star of the show were the scrambled eggs. They were firm yet fluffy and every bite was a buttery delight. I savored every single eggy bite. The bacon was perfectly crisp. I walked out of here happy and looking forward to my next visit.

An omelet hit the spot one early Saturday morning. I decided to give it a chance even though it was 11 o’clock, and I was surprised that there were still a few tables available as well as the counter. People used the counter to sit until a table could be cleared. Once I sat down I ordered coffee and the Lorraine omelet, a three-egg omelet made with bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. I chose the home fries instead of grits and rye toast. There was a big table that had spun the kitchen into the weeds, but I was in no hurry. I had a book on my phone and was happy to chill and drink some coffee.

Since I have really enjoyed the breakfasts I ordered another Full Belly Breakfast, but this time I was in the mood for French toast. I figured I would be taking half home with me, but it was so good I cleaned the plate. The French toast was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They are generous with the butter. The scrambled eggs were once again delicious, the home fries featured some crispy bits and soft potato bits, and the bacon was perfectly crisp. I ordered coffee and two orange juices because I was thirsty. Since I know how to deal with the sugar dispenser now, the coffee was perfect.

Once it came out and I managed to wrangle up some jelly, ketchup, and an ice water, my breakfast was complete. I savored every bite of my breakfast – from the buttery omelet with chunks of bacon and mushroom and a pillow of Swiss and home fries with a liberal dousing of ketchup to the jelly-slathered and generously buttered rye toast. I walked out of there full and happy, which is how you want to be when you leave a diner.

Both breakfast and lunch are served all day. I saw stuffed cabbage on special one day and headed out (after digging my car out from a snowstorm). I got there shortly after one and they had unfortunately run out. When I asked the waitress when they usually start running out of things she suggested I get there a little before noon next time. So keep that in mind. I ordered the Roast Beef and Cheddar on a Bun off the Specials Board. She explained that they make the roast beef there, shave it and top it with cheddar cheese. In fact, from listening to the talk between the servers and the regulars at the counter they make just about everything (including the salad dressings) there.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the sandwich itself. Once I removed a couple pieces with gristle I enjoyed it more, but I was blown away by the onion rings. The special sandwich came with my choice of side, and when I asked her she recommended the onion rings. Talk about a great choice! They are definitely made there. The breading is light and crisp, and the entire thing is just tasty. One of the best orders of onion rings I’ve ever enjoyed. They don’t serve a lot of them, but it’s definitely quality over quantity. If you want more, order a second side.

The Lunch Specials also come with a complimentary soup. The soup of the day that day was Manhattan Clam Chowder (see above). I did notice a few clams in it, but honestly, it was more of a tasty tomato-based vegetable soup. I really didn’t miss the clams at all. On another visit, the soup of the day was cream of asparagus. I loved it. It was a lighter soup with not much cream and had some rice to give it some bulk. The soup was also brightened up by lemon juice. It was definitely a Greek take on asparagus soup combined with avgolemono soup (Greek chicken soup prepared with eggs and lemon and a bit of rice).

I ordered a Patty Melt with onion rings during a recent visit. The waitress, unfortunately, wrote it down wrong, but immediately rectified it by returning the plate to the kitchen and asking for onion rings. She then brought the burger back to me, and I enjoyed the perfectly medium rare burger while waiting for the onion rings, which were once again absolute perfection. The waitresses have also started greeting me like a regular.

Club sandwiches are also a great way to judge a diner. I also ordered the Diner Club sandwich to go. It was also perfection – a triple layer of white bread layered with ham, turkey (that are seasoned with what may be caraway?), bacon, cheese lettuce, and tomato. I asked for a side of 1000 Island dressing to slather on it. My perfect addition. I learned of this hack when I worked at Bakers Square. It was a bit difficult to eat, because it is so tall and fell apart pretty easily. But it sure was tasty! I ate the second half the next day, and it stayed together much better because it had all chilled together overnight.

The owner (a cute little older Greek guy named “Jimmy”) was either at the register or sitting/standing at the counter (the guy in the plaid shirt in the photo with the counter) the whole time I was there. He warmly cashes people out and thanks them for coming. On my first visit, I wondered how soon is too soon to return. Turns out every couple of days is just fine.

Contact info:

The Diner on 55th
1328 East 55th Street (at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair Ave.)
Cleveland, Ohio
(216) 417-8001

Charlie’s Dog House Diner

I have been fascinated with Charlie’s Dog House Diner my entire life. The building sparked my imagination for years. To my young eyes, it looked like a little fairy tale diner guarded by two snoopy dogs. My grandparents lived on W. Schaaf off Broadview in Old Brooklyn, so we would frequently pass the diner, which marks the border between Cleveland and Parma. The kitschy roadside attraction has been in the exact same spot since 1952, when it began life as the Dog House, part of a national chain of shops that offered walk-up service to customers who ordered hot dogs and hamburgers through a window. When my father heard I ate here he made fun of me. Apparently, it was never quite taken seriously by him and his friends. Their loss.

The menu was expanded to include breakfast and lunch when a new owner took over 10 years ago, but they “updated” it during the pandemic (June 2020). It still contains all of the breakfast and lunch favorites. There is not a lot of seating. If you time it right, you can walk right in and grab a seat at one of the twelve red-topped stools at the L-shaped counter. It is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which means I have to get motivated to make it there.

The building features a doghouse-like façade and two painted hound dogs that look out in either direction from the front door, just beneath a classic Coca-Cola sign, neon lights promising Chicago-style Vienna hot dogs and Charlie’s original waffles, and a marquee that reads “Charlie’s Restaurant.” It can seat 12 people. Obviously, I can’t say how busy it is in the morning. I would imagine it is busy enough that it is still in business all these years later.

These days, the clientele is still solidly working class, the burgers and pancakes still sizzle on the flat top and, though heavily remodeled throughout the decades, the space still features numerous retro throwbacks. Children’s artwork, a Specials board, lotto scratch-off dispensers, and photos of Liam Neeson (see below) decorate the area behind the counter. The operation still runs much like it would have back in the 1950s, with the owner on the grill and one of the employees tending the counter. Everything is made to order. You can still get full for less than $10.

The eggs Benedicts and breakfast burritos are well-loved. A list of skillets and omelets, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches, and, of course, those famous hot dogs are also on the menu; however, most people here are regulars and just ask for “the usual.” Since I am not a regular, I chose to go with one of their “specialty omelets” – the Dog House Omelet – along with hash browns and rye toast. The Dog House Omelet is stuffed with bacon, sausage, onions, mushrooms, and cheese. It was almost too much. A good omelet has two or three ingredients. This one seemed like it was trying too hard. As you can see by the photo it was more mix-in than egg.

also wanted to try their waffle but knew it was a lot of food. The waitress suggested I order half a waffle (yes, it’s possible!), so I splurged and added strawberry and blueberry toppings to it. The waffle was light and crispy and luscious inside. Adding the fruit toppings was an inspired choice. I really enjoyed the fruit with the carby goodness of the waffle. I ate half of everything and then took the leftovers home. I made the day of a guy begging at the side of the exit ramp onto Carnegie when I gave him my leftovers.

I heard the Ashlee Burrito is not to be missed, so I ordered that the next time I was there. Talk about filling! The tortilla wrap is stuffed with eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and cheddar cheese and topped with sausage gravy. They also drop a bottle of hot sauce, so you can spice it up. It is a little bland, so the hot sauce was a nice added bonus. I obviously could only eat half, and saved half for the next day’s breakfast. I know I already said it, but “Talk about filling!”

I ordered a breakfast bagel sandwich to go just to see what it was like. For $3.99 I got a deliciously soft bagel filled with bacon, a well-fried egg (no yolk splooge on me this time), cheese and hash browns. It was a decent breakfast sandwich and was a total bargain. I can’t wait to try the croissant sandwiches, but I would definitely get this one again too.

They have several hot dogs on the menu. Since we aren’t in Chicago I decided not to order the Chicago Dog. I just can’t picture any place in Cleveland doing it right. Instead, I ordered the Cleveland Dog, because that is the way God intended hot dogs to be served 🙂 . It is a delicious Vienna hot dog, so it had some heft to it. They topped it with chopped onions and Stadium mustard. Absolutely divine. Someone ordered a trio of dogs the other day when I was there. It looked amazing.

I’ve tried to order a Patty Melt from every diner I have eaten at recently to compare them. This was definitely a decent Patty Melt. First off, they used rye bread, so bonus points. The burger was cooked medium and the cheese was perfectly melted to hold in the grilled onions. A squirt of yellow mustard made it complete. The onion rings were also decent. The onion stayed inside the batter when I bit into it. They stood up nicely to the ketchup.

I look forward to continuing to explore the menu. Maybe I’ll have a Monte Cristo, Charlie’s Mess or one of the benedicts next. This place definitely deserves our love. Did you know it was featured in a recent movie with Liam Neeson called The Marksman? Apparently, Charlie’s is a steakhouse in Arizona. 🙂

Photo of Charlie's Restaurant - Cleveland, OH, United States
How could a kid not be fascinated by this? Photo from Yelp user Chas M.

Contact info:

Charlie’s Dog House Diner
2102 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, OH 44134
216-661-4873

Big Al’s Diner

Big Al’s is about as “greasy spoon diner” as it gets. The 25-year-old diner is not flashy, it’s not fancy, it’s not big, it’s just a small diner. The staff is friendly, hard-working, and attentive. You walk in, sit where you want, and one of the servers will come ask you if you want coffee and take your order. The bill is dropped with your meal, and when you are done they cash you out or you pay the bill at the register. The diner is open Wednesday thru Sunday from 7:00 am to 1:30 pm, and breakfast is served the entire time.

It’s not a place to come if you are watching calories. The portions are big, and the food is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, you will be taking food home with you. The home fries are available with pepper and onions, and the prices are affordable. It has all the comforting favorites, like fluffy eggs, large, buttery pancakes and waffles, several kinds of sausage, sausage gravy to die for, thick, steaming soups, homemade mashed potatoes with gravy, burgers, and layer cake for dessert. But the corned beef hash is the star of the show – it was featured on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate by Michael Symon.

Obviously, I had to order breakfast the first time I visited. Since I am not a fan of corned beef I left the hash for the fans. I chose #8 – “On the Lighter Side Combo” – 2 eggs, 1 pancake or 1/2 a French toast, and bacon, ham or sausage. I added fresh blueberries to the pancake for an additional 50 cents. It was the perfect amount of food. The eggs were scrambled just as I like it and I could add cheese to them, the bacon was crisp and the blueberry pancake hit the spot. And best of all, my coffee cup was never empty for long.

I usually visit diners during the week to avoid crowds and waitings for a table. However, craving diner food on a recent rainy Sunday morning I headed to Big Al’s for a waffle. I had to wait about 5-10 minutes for a table at 12:45 (they close at 1:30). The two tables in front of me got seated right away, so it was just bad timing on my part. They seated one table after me and took the phone off the hook to cut off to-go orders. The #10 hit the spot – a waffle, 2 eggs, and choice of bacon, ham or sausage. I opted for scrambled and sausage (patties or links? turkey or pork?) patties. I ordered a large orange juice ($3.25) that was worth every penny because the serving was large. Most of the time you order a large orange juice and you are lucky to get a medium juice glass as the “large.” I wasn’t quite able to finish it, but I didn’t have enough to warrant a box. I left sated and happy at 1:35 pm.

Another visit had me trying the sausage gravy. Since I didn’t want a huge portion of sausage gravy I chose the country fried steak combo (#13) with two eggs, home fries, country fried steak, and toast. I chose over easy eggs so that I could mix the yolks in with the loaded home fries (always get them loaded with grilled onions and green peppers) and rye toast. Everything was very tasty, but the sausage gravy-covered country fried steak was exceptional. Screw the corned beef hash – get the sausage gravy! It was a filling breakfast, and I ended up taking half the home fries and steak home with me for a light supper. I ordered cranberry juice and coffee this time around, and the medium cranberry juice was perfect in addition to ice water.

I, of course, had to try their lunch items as well and decided on the Patty Melt. This was a great Patty Melt. The cheese was melty, the onions were nicely grilled and caramelized, and the burger was cooked to my specification (medium rare). The hand cut fries were delicious.

They are doing a booming carry-out business in the time of COVID, but they also clean and sterilize the tables before seating diners, the booths and tables in the middle of the room are separated by plastic partitions, and there is a bottle of hand sanitizer on each table. Silverware is rolled and sealed with a band.

Contact info:

Big Al’s Diner
12600 Larchmere Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 791-8550

Mama D’s Diner

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and one of my greatest pleasures is enjoying it in a small diner. I’ve discovered Mama D’s Diner in the past year. I noticed it in a small strip mall on Mayfield Road. I asked my Facebook food forum about it, but no one could tell me anything about it, so I decided to check it out for myself. I am so glad I did! It’s a definite find!

It’s a small space with four booths, one booth in the front window, and a couple chairs along the counter. Once COVID hit they hung plastic panels between the booths and discourage sitting at the counter. Silverware comes served in an envelope. There have been two people working whenever I have been there – Mama D and the kitchen cook. They greet and joke with their regulars. They were teasing a retiree because he arrived after 3 the last time I was there, and I got into a nice discussion with a fellow diner about the weather and my car as she was leaving. I usually bring a book to entertain myself, but an occasional brief conversation is always welcome.

My first visit was after noon, but they serve breakfast all day. I had had enough coffee by then, so I ordered a Mountain Dew instead. I decided to order Rob’s Famous Breakfast Bowl, which was featured on the chalkboard. It features loaded homefries topped with two eggs, 2 bacon strips, 2 sausage patties, and a slice of Texas toast. I chose scrambled eggs, and the loaded homefries were an absolute home run! They contained grilled onions and peppers. It was really tasty.

The second time I came in Mama D recognized me and asked if I wanted a Mountain Dew. I was stunned she remembered me. I felt so welcomed. Since it was earlier in the day I instead chose coffee and a sweet breakfast. I was intrigued by the Chunky Monkey French Toast. Chunky Monkey is a great Ben & Jerry’s flavor, and this French toast also does the name justice. It features three slices of French toast topped with maple syrup bananas and chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, and vanilla whipped topping. It was a work of art and delicious as well!

Another breakfast favorite I ordered Mama D’s Philly Egg Sandwich, which features shaved prime rib with peppers & onions, two eggs, and cheese on a toasted hoagie. It was a little too much bread, but the prime rib, egg and cheese combo was great. I tore off the excess bread and gave it a good shake of A1 sauce. A side of thick-cut bacon was the perfect accompaniment.

Now I love Eat at Joe’s, but I haven’t been as enthused by the lunch options as I am about the breakfasts there. I can’t say that here. The soups here are great. I ordered a cup of chili with the Philly Egg Sandwich. I know it’s a weird dichotomy, but I had a craving. It’s a good chili. It has a bit of heat to it, but it also has a nice balance of meat and tomatoes with just a few kidney beans (I’m not the biggest fan of kidney beans, so I appreciated it). I’ve also enjoyed the clam chowder and beef noodle soup. The clam chowder had a nice flavor to it and lots of good bites of clam and potato. The noodles in the beef noodle soup were intact, which isn’t always the case in noodle soups that sit. I can tell they add the noodles just before serving. A nice detail that is appreciated.

I decided to switch it up and try Lou’s Patty Melt. Mama D’s serves an excellent Patty Melt. I need to keep trying new things, but the Patty Melt keeps calling to me. I’ve enjoyed it with the housemade potato chips and dip as well as house-cut fries. And you can tell they are cut in-house because I have never, ever seen fries cut like this before.

The Sloppy Joe was on special the last time I was there. It is probably one of the best sloppy joes I have ever eaten. It didn’t have any discernible peppers or onions, but it was a great tasting sandwich all the same. I knew better than to eat it with my hands. I would have ended up wearing it. If you see it on the menu, order it. I’m wondering if the specials are the same every day. I’ll have to stop by again next Thursday and see. But then again I may order the Beef Stew, which also sounded good.

There are plenty of other things on the menu that I want to try, like the various breakfast sandwiches and one of the smashburgers. It’s a small menu, so the goal of trying everything is definitely a doable one. And I will continue to be a regular there – although I try to go during off-hours when they aren’t as busy. Mama D’s is open Wednesday to Sunday from 8 am to 4 pm.

Contact info:

Mama D’s Diner
5416 Mayfield Road
Lyndhurst, OH 44124
440-421-9500

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

Inn on Coventry

The Inn on Coventry has been in business since 1981. This “mom-and-mom restaurant” has been feeding hungry college students and locals ever since. The matriarch died in 2010 (she was 96), and there is commemorative plaque hanging above the cash register. Word to the wise: since it is so popular it is always crowded on the weekends. Expect a wait. Also, they won’t seat you until everyone in your party is there. Despite what the website claims it is not open on Friday evening. I walked there for dinner last Friday, looking forward to trying their fish fry, and was sadly disappointed. I asked my waitress this morning, and she told me they haven’t been open for dinner for about two years. I suggested they update their website.

I first came here before I lived in Cleveland Heights (invited by local friends who were in the know), and it is one of my favorite breakfast and lunch places in the area. I ordered the Swedish eggs, which are eggs scrambled with lox and cream cheese, and fell in love.  I treated myself to breakfast this morning and indulged in this favorite. The saltiness of the lox is balanced by the creamy chunks of cream cheese. I make this at home now, but I add chopped spinach. The dish is served with your choice of grits or home fries and toast. I chose the home fries and Jewish rye (not like the marbled rye some places serve). There is no better comfort for me than starting the day off with buttered rye toast and jelly.

My second favorite breakfast offering here is the Fresh Banana Walnut French Toast. The thick slices of French toast are topped with ricottafresh sliced bananas. The flavors meld together really well, and it is simply a flavor explosion. It doesn’t get much better than this. I had a similar French toast at Deagan’s the other day, and although it was good it simply didn’t compare to Inn on Coventry’s. I ordered a side of bacon for good measure, because everything’s better with bacon.

sisterhoodInn on Coventry is also known for their Eggs Benedict and Eggs Mando – and they also offer a Veggie Mando topped with avocado instead of Canadian bacon for the vegetarians). The lemon ricotta pancakes are also divine (or any of the pancakes really… although I haven’t had the nerve to order IMG_20160303_133410the Reese Cup pancakes). If you do order the pancakes stick with one at first. The pancakes are huge and, as you can see, span the whole plate.

Although I usually order breakfast, I can also personally vouch for the sloppy joe, the Coventry Burger, and the California Club sandwich. And I am usually critical of sloppy joes that aren’t my mother’s “white trash” version that consists of a pound of ground beef, a half bottle of chili sauce bloodyand 4 oz of Velveeta (try it – you’ll love it). All of their items are made fresh and are just like Mom used to make. I intend to try as many items on their menu as I can, but it is hard when such delicious favorites are available.

They offer a full service bar if you want a mimosa or Bloody Mary. Also, one thing that simply must be mentioned is that Inn on Coventry has delicious coffee. It is a Kona blend that simply can’t be described. It is very smooth and not at all bitter. Plus, the waitresses are constantly coming around to ensure your cup is full. Come for the food, stay for the service. And don’t forget to always overtip your breakfast waitresses!

Contact info:

Inn on Coventry
2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 371-1811

Open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sat/Sun) to 2:45 p.m.

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