Watami Revolving Sushi Bar

Watami Revolving Sushi Bar is the only conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Ohio as of right now. It is located on Broadview Road near the intersection with Pleasant Valley Road in Parma near the border with Seven Hills. It is in a small strip mall in front of the Giant Eagle and is next to a Dunkin’ Donuts. You need to enter and exit the strip mall at the gas station.

The sushi chef prepares sushi and puts the individual plates on the revolving conveyor belt that circles the dining area. The items on the conveyor are on various colored plates, so the server knows what to charge by counting the plates on your table at the end of your meal. Diners choose which plates they want as they pass by. If you want something that isn’t on the conveyor belt like rmen or udon or a beverage, you can order it from a server. If you have 15 or more plates you can go try your luck to win a capsule toy. The plates with rolls usually have 3-4 pieces (2 for nigiri), so you can try quite a few different rolls in one meal. They also have some appetizers, desserts, and fruit circling as well. Watami Revolving Sushi Bar is a healthy, fun, and delicious dining experience.

The menu is based on traditional Japanese recipes and has about 100 items including sushi (nigiri and rolls), tempura, ramen, and udon. They do not use artificial sweeteners and preservatives or coloring to any of the food. Unfortunately, I think that also applies to the rice wine vinegar that should be added to the sushi rice. It is pretty bland. I heavily season the nigiri and blander rolls with wasabi. Rolls that have extra sauces or toppings have a great flavor and don’t need doctoring.

The first time I went, I went by myself to check it out. It had just opened. I had been anxiously waiting for it to open. The sushi that was going out was pretty good. I grabbed a good selection of nigiri and rolls. I had to ask the waitress for wasabi and ginger as well as things like gyoza or takoyaki, but that’s preferable to something fried sitting on the conveyor belt for too long. The nigiri was well-portioned, but the rice fell apart too easily. It needed something to pack it together. I really enjoyed the Godzilla Roll and Mango Tango Roll because they were so flavorful. Save your money on the obviously canned fruit. The pineapple was just canned pineapple, but the orange slices in visit 2 were refreshing.

The second time I went I met several friends. Instead of sitting in a booth and having one or two people grab items for the others, I chose to sit at the end with seats facing each other. That way everyone was able to grab what they wanted while the other people could enjoy their meal instead of stressing to quickly grab stuff off the belt.

This place definitely isn’t gourmet, but if you want a casual meal of picking a variety of $3 covered plates with four pieces of sushi or two of nigiri or sashimi off of a conveyor belt, you’ll enjoy Watami.

Contact info:

Watami Revolving Sushi Bar
7426 Broadview Road
Parma, OH 44134
(216) 232-1161

Mango Mango

My friends and I are obsessed with Mango Mango, the new Asian dessert shop on Payne Avenue (just down from Wonton Gourmet). Fruity, sweet desserts and drinks are the focus at Mango Mango. The New York-based chain opened its first Ohio location in April of this year. The first location opened in 2013, and it has since expanded to have 30 locations in 13 states. It definitely fills a need that was only being filled by Koko Bakery. It has been packed since it opened.

Some of the most popular items at Mango Mango are, unsurprisingly, mango-focused: mango and sticky rice desserts, mango pancakes, mango mochi and mango Mille crepe cakes are crowd favorites. The menu is formidable, featuring cold and hot desserts, crepes and waffles, cakes, flavored (bubble) teas and smoothies. I am a huge (HUGE) fan of the quintessential Thai dessert mango and sticky rice.

That said, on my first visit I ordered the mango juice and watermelon with rice balls. I figured since it was a seasonal item I would take advantage of the fact that I could order it. I really liked it. The mango juice and watermelon were refreshing, and the rice balls were reminiscent of sticky rice but it wasn’t the same consistency and lacked the condensed milk.

My friend ordered the strawberry mango juice sago and lychee jelly with mango ice cream. I really liked this as well because the lychee jelly was simply heavenly. My friend didn’t really love the mango ice cream, but I felt it added a nice flavor profile to the dessert. I obviously ordered this the second time I visited.

A bunch of my girlfriends gathered here one Saturday evening after dinner at Sichuan Hot Pot. I had been at a luau at the Willoughby Elks Lodge, so I joined them for dessert. We all ordered a dessert each and shared them. I absolutely fell in love with the Matcha Crepe Roll. The crepe, which is soft and tender, is stuffed with a mildly sweet red bean whipped cream. It is super light and airy. Definitely a showstopper.

Cleveland’s very own Andy Ng of Ice or Rice made a video on how to make one and makes it look so easy.

I had ordered the Mango and Black Rice dessert, which tasted almost exactly like a mango sticky rice dessert. The black rice had a slightly different texture, but the flavor profile was the same.

Two of my friends recommended the mille crepe cakes and the brown sugar cream puffs. The brown sugar cream puffs were good, but tasted a little burnt. I’ll have to get them again to determine if burnt sugar is the flavor profile they are going for.

The Mango Mille Crepe Cake was also a fan favorite. A mille crepe cake is a cake made up of many crepe layers, with freshly made milk, custard, or sauces sandwiched between each layer. Flour, eggs, sugar, and milk are used to make the crepes themselves. The word mille means “a thousand” in French, and it refers to the crepe cake’s several layers. You can choose between the Mango Mille Crepe Cake, Mustang King Durian or the Green Tea Mille Crepe Cake. It too was very light and not too filling.

Another time I was there I ordered the strawberry and mango dessert with lychee jelly and a Brown Sugar Boba Milk Tea (their signature tea). The milk tea was very refreshing, even if I’m not a huge fan of boba. I definitely enjoyed it to the very end.

Mango Mango is open Monday – Friday from 12pm-9pm and Saturday – Sunday 11am-9pm. The menu is so extensive that I imagine it will take a very long time to try most everything. I’m looking forward to trying some of the hot soups and maybe a waffle when it gets colder. It definitely has something for everyone (inluding dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan choices).

Contact info:

Mango Mango Cleveland
3133 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 417-8833

Marie’s Restaurant

Marie’s Restaurant is a Cleveland institution located at the corner of E. 45th and St. Clair Avenue. The restaurant has been in business for four decades and features Eastern European cuisine – specifically “home cooked authentic Eastern European cooking just like mama would make.” It’s known for its Croatian cooking (see: cevapi). Marie’s has great lunch and dinner specials all week.  You can order in or take it to go, get a full or half portion, lunch or dinner, the choice is yours. The specials run out, so make sure you order early. Marie’s has a comfortable, no-frills dining room, friendly down-to-earth staff, and delicious home cooking.

The bread is soft and fluffy and comes served with prepackaged butter pats, which were nice and soft. No frozen hard butter that makes you tear the bread. I ate several slices before my soup and salad came out (entrees come with choice of soup or salad, but I ordered the salad on the side). The salad dressing is a delicious vinegar-based European dressing. You can’t go wrong with any of their soups, but you will have to add some salt and pepper. They definitely cater to the elderly patrons who are watching their salt intake. I’ve had the clam chowder, the ham and barley, and the chicken noodle soups. All were really tasty.

The first time I went I ordered a Schnitzel and Spaetzle, because I think that is the best test for a European restaurant. The Schnitzel was definitely homemade and hand-pounded. No uniform frozen schnitzels here. It was crisp and delicious. I ordered some goulash gravy to go over the Spätzle, which was perfect, and the green beans were good too (canned but I like that). The beer went down tooo smoothly.

The second time I went I brought my dining out group. I ordered the Schnitzel Cordon Blue and probably won’t ever order anything else. The schnitzel was thinly pounded and wrapped around a generous portion of ham and cheese. Each bite was delicious. I also ordered the spätzle again – and a side of the fried cabbage, which was absolutely delicious. It’s a special side on Wednesdays.

My fellow diners enjoyed the goulash with spätzle and with noodles as well as a schnitzel with homefries, and one diner ordered the pork chop with spätzle. The goulash is authentically Viennese in that it is just meat and sauce. Everyone loved their entrees and sides of choice. Several exclaimed that they would be coming here again.

We split several apple strudels, which was just like the thin layered pastry I enjoyed in Austria. Strudel is supposed to be made with multiple layers of thin dough – not puff pastry. This strudel was perfect.

I look forward to trying the stuffed cabbage and the cevapi before relying on the cordon blue from now on. Judging from the photos, Marie’s Chicken Paprikash is more Balkan than Hungarian. The sauce is creamier and does not use a lot of paprika like the Hungarian version does. Marie’s also has City Chicken on the menu. You can’t get much more Cleveland than that.

Contact info:

Marie’s Restaurant
4502 St. Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103
(216)361-1816

Issho Ni Ramen, Sushi & Hibachi

Issho Ni Ramen, Sushi & Hibachi in Willoughby (not to be confused with Issho Ni Poke in Mentor) is in an unassuming strip mall on Euclid Avenue in Willoughby. Issho Ni is a bit out of the way compared to other options closer to the city proper, but it’s definitely worth the drive out for its great flavor and fresh fish. One of my friends had been suggesting we go for a while, and I decided to give it a go in July because sushi is a great cool dinner.

I looked at Yelp photos and the menu first to get an idea what to expect. Yelp showed me that Issho Ni was serving things like Ikura with quail egg or nigiri with scoring and sauces that I had only seen at Kura (the conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Troy, Michigan). I was completely intrigued by the Sunshine Roll. My home computer and wifi network is called Sunshine, so I like the name. I was intrigued by the fact that they top it with lemon and honey. The Sunshine Roll features crabmeat, cucumber and avocado topped with fresh salmon, lemon slices, tomato, bell pepper, sesame seeds, and a honey wasabi sauce. My roll came out without tomatoes, but I certainly didn’t notice. The roll was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the entire table agreed that it was the best choice of the night.

I also ordered a California Roll (bottom of photo with black sesame seeds) and the Rock n Roll (top of photo), which is essentially a Philly roll (minus the avocado) deep-fried in tempura. The California Roll also comes deep-fried as an option, but I thought the cream cheese roll would be tasty with a little heat. The California Roll was your basic crabmeat, cucumber and avocado roll, but I don’t remember any avocado and barely noticed the cucumber. The Rock n Roll had smoked salmon and cream cheese inside and was topped with scallions, masago, sesame seeds and eel sauce. My friends were teasing me because I was liberally applying the wasabi to them, but I just found both of them pretty bland. I had ordered an expensive Seared Toro Nigiri (fatty tuna), but the server never brought it. I was full enough from the rolls, so I told him not to bother. I honestly think he had forgotten it. I don’t know many servers who would forget a $17.50 item, but it was easier on my wallet in the long run.

My one friend ordered the Albacore Lover Roll and a seaweed salad. The seaweed salad came out first, and it had a great flavor. I can see myself ordering it the next time I am there. The sesame oil was liberally and perfectly used. I won’t even mind that it sticks in between my teeth. Note to self: only order it when dining alone – LOL.

My friend has a shellfish allergy, so she was thrilled to hear that the crabmeat was imitation crab because she was able to try all of our rolls. Her Albacore Lover Roll was also tasty. It contains spicy tuna and cucumber topped with albacore, fried onions, scallions, and ponzu sauce. I enjoyed the crunch of the fried onions, and the flavors came together really well.

My other friend ordered the Issho Ni Roll, which features crabmeat, avocado, and cucumber topped with spicy tuna and deep-fried eel tempura, spicy mayo and eel sauce, masago, scallions and sesame seeds, and the House Roll, which features crabmeat, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber, avocado and a sweet mustard sauce. They were both good, but the House Roll was really awkward to eat. It was sliced very thin and was very tall.

We were given our checks without asking if we wanted dessert, which we did. Two of us ordered the matcha tiramisu, and one ordered the sweet pudding. All three came out partially frozen. The server was appalled by the look of the pudding and took it away, saying he couldn’t charge her for it. We enjoyed the matcha tiramisu because it was so refreshing semi-frozen.

It also would have been nice if he hadn’t started to wipe a table and mop the floor immediately adjacent to us while we were still eating. The overpowering detergent smell did not lend itself to the enjoyment of the dessert.

I went back to try the Yakisoba on a Sunday afternoon. I ordered the Scottish Salmon nigiri as a starter, which was just delicious. The rice fell apart a little too much, but the fish was perfect.

The server then brought out my Yakisoba and thanked me for my patience. I told her there was no patience needed because I had only ordered it minutes ago. The kitchen was super quick. I really liked the flavor of the Yakisoba. It had a basic sweetness to it that I liked, and the light vegetables added to it were great – cabbage and some scallions. I ordered the chicken yakisoba and debated adding shrimp for a second, but decided to just stick with chicken. It was a nice choice.

I also ordered the Sunshine Roll again and the Volcano Roll. They were out of the seafood mayo topping for the Volcano Roll, so the server suggested another roll that was similar called the Firecracker Roll, which features spicy tuna, cucumber, avocado, crab stick that is deep fried and then topped with shrimp tempura, habanero and scallops. Once I figured out what was making it so spicy (habanero) and removed it, I enjoyed the roll much more. I ended up taking half of everything and another Sunshine Roll home as leftovers.

Contact info:

Issho Ni Ramen Sushi and Hibachi
34302 Euclid Ave Unit 1-2
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 306-8020
Closed Mon. & Tues., open Wed-Sun from 11 am to 9/9:30 pm

Urban Kitchen & Deli

Urban Kitchen opened in the Innova building on Chester across from the Cleveland Clinic main entrance on Euclid Avenue. I noticed it because it is right next to Fluffy Duck Cafe, but I didn’t know enough about it to want to eat there. Plus, there was some confusion in my mind with Urban Farmer downtown. Well, once I heard that Urban Kitchen served Egyptian food my curiosity was piqued.

Urban Kitchen bills itself as “an American style kitchen and deli. Serving local specialties with only the finest ingredients sourced locally. At Urban Kitchen we believe in natural, wholesome, and healthy cooking.” It’s the same boilerplate farm to table blah blah most restaurants push. They do serve some deli sandwiches and burgers, but their Egyptian and Middle Eastern food really shines.

There’s plenty of parking in the back (use the phone app), and there is an entrance in the back as well. Enter off Chester, follow the drive under the building, and park in the lot. The entrance is in the corner near the Kindercare entrace.

I got some friends who are equally adventurous together to check them out. I was really intrigued by the Kushery. Kushery is a vegetarian dish made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce, and garlic vinegar; garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. It looks like a total mess on a plate, but it is delicious. I ordered it for everyone to try, and everyone really enjoyed it. It even heats up well the next day.

I also ordered the Mousakaa, which is similar to the Greek moussaka, but not quite the same. It features a seasoned ground meat mixture between two layers of fried eggplant oven-baked to perfection and served with vermicelli rice. I really enjoyed the flavor of this. I have really become a fan of eggplant in the past few years. Unfortunately, one of my friends has a nightshade allergy and couldn’t try it, but another friend liked it so much that he went back to Urban Kitchen a week later and ordered it for himself.

My friend with the nightshade allergy ordered the Mashawi, which is a platter of grilled meats consisting of Kofta (ground lamb kabob), Tawook (marinated chicken breast) served with Persian fava and dill rice, grilled veggies and garlic sauce. She really enjoyed it, even if it is very similar to some dishes at Aladdin’s and other Mediterranean restaurants. It looks so fresh and healthy that I want to order it the next time I visit.

Another friend ordered several of the phyllo dough desserts for us to share. Both the baklava and the sweet goulash (turnover) featured honey and pistachios, but the sweet goulash also had a nice sweet custard and English cream filling. I particularly enjoyed the sweet goulash. I tried to order it the next time I visited for dinner, but they had run out of it.

I ordered a slice of banana cream cheesecake to share. It was phenomenal. The creamy consistency was very comforting, and the banana cream flavor really shined. I would order it again if they have it, but their offerings tend to vary from day to day.

The stuffed grape leaves are also very good (see top of the photo below). They are not too stuffed, and the rice filling is not too overwhelming. I’d rank them just below Astoria’s stuffed grape leaves featuring its “golden rice.”

I have also ordered the California Chicken sandwich, which is a grilled chicken breast topped with avocado, bacon, Swiss, spinach, onion, and tomato on a grilled brioche roll. The onion was thick rings of red onion that were very pungent. A little red onion goes a long way. It got better once I removed most of the onion and broke it into tiny pieces that I distributed over the lettuce. They must have been out of avocado that night, but it took me a while to realize it, so I didn’t miss it much. It was a very flavorful sandwich. The spinach, onion, and tomato were very fresh. The bacon was tasty but looked a little weird. Turns out it is turkey bacon. The fresh-cut fries were a nice side, and I enjoyed them.

Another thing Urban Kitchen does well is breakfast. I have had the Breakfast Slammer sandwich two times now and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. It features two slices of French toast stuffed with sausage, eggs and bacon, served with whipped butter and drizzled with hot maple syrup. It’s got everything the perfect breakfast calls for.

They also serve great pancakes. My friend who returned for the mousakka ordered the chocolate chip pancakes to go and loved them so much he ordered them again. I’m intrigued by the Lotus Dream Pancakes, which are layered and drizzled with Biscoff cookie butter and topped with Biscoff cookie crumbles, red sanding sugar, and fresh whipped cream. If you love cookie butter, you will love these pancakes. The server asked if I wanted syrup, but they were perfect with just the cookie butter. I had forgotten how weird the bacon is. I ordered it to cut the sweetness of the pancakes.

The customer service is pretty informal and prompt. I was able to get refills of my iced tea from one server, while a server on another visit never offered. The flavored iced teas are nice. I’ve had the raspberry and peach. The cocktails are also nice. My coffee was refilled several times during breakfast/brunch hours.

I will probably be criticized for mentioning this, but they have a bidet installed on the toilet in the bathroom. If you want to experience a bidet, be sure to check it out. It’s a treat.

Contact info:

Urban Kitchen & Deli
9751 Chester Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106-1604
(216) 471-8956
Closed on Sundays

Davis Bakery

Brothers Ben, Julius and Carl established Davis Bakery in 1939, opening their first location on South Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights. They were also the first bakery to incorporate delicatessens into their retail outlets. They currently have two locations – one in Woodmere and one in Warrensville Heights. The Woodmere location is open 365 days a year, while the Warrensville Heights location is open Monday-Friday 9 am – 4 pm. Known for Jewish rye bread (made with a 75 year old starter), Russian tea biscuits, coconut bars, and chocolate chip cookies, they also offer sandwiches featuring hot corned beef, a turkey off the bone, and the self-proclaimed best tuna salad in Cleveland. The bread is always fresh and delicious, the meat is fresh, lean and tasty, and the baked goods are great.

When you walk in, the first thing you see is a wall of bags of chips – snack-sized and regular-sized. The right side is dedicated to the deli, while the left side is filled with display cases of baked goods, whether they are fresh loaves and rolls of bread, cookies, pastries, and biscuits. The center divider contains small cookie plates, rolls, t-shirts and condiments.

The first time I went, I pored over the menu and decided to order a grilled roast beef and Swiss sandwich. You can get a “King sized” sandwich for $3 more. I can’t even imagine what a King sized sandwich looks like. Each sandwich gets a pickle and a cookie. The chocolate chip cookie was so moist, and I’m a sucker for a good dill pickle. I also ordered the Matzo ball soup (which is served every day in addition to a soup du jour) and a side of macaroni salad. I loved every bite of everything. The Matzo ball soup was comforting, and the macaroni salad became my official favorite macaroni salad in Cleveland. It was perfect in my mind – not too sweet, yet really creamy.

I also love their soda fountain. It isn’t filled with the typical Pepsi or Coke products (except Diet Coke). It features natural cane sugar flavors like Root Beer, Lemonade, Southern Sweet Tea, Ginger Ale, Black Cherry, Cream Soda, and Cola. I like mixing the flavors for a unique soda.

On the next visit I splurged and ordered the Cavs specialty sandwich. It is my perfect sandwich. It features hot roast beef, melted Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and a special Bistro sauce on grilled rye bread. I have a hard time going there and not ordering it again and again, because I love it so much. The coleslaw is creamy and just goes so well with the crispy bread. I love that they name some of their sandwiches after our sports teams (note: the Tribe is still the Tribe, which features hot corned beef, pastrami, Swiss, coleslaw, and Thousand Island dressing. Shhh! Don’t tell them.).

On my most recent visit, I ordered the Tuna Melt (I obviously had to try the best tuna in Cleveland). It came with the requisite pickle and cookie, but I had to get Dr. Brown’s soda in a can because the soda fountain was out of order. I also ordered a side of potato salad and a side of macaroni salad in addition to some egg salad to take home and eat later. The deli worker told me he would deliver my choices to the dining area while I chose my drinks and paid at the register.

I got my Dr. Brown Black Cherry and Cream Soda sodas in cans. They also have Faygo soda, Arizona green tea, juices, and lots of other choices. I also ordered an Apricot French stick (I think that is what they were called – made using puffed pastry, it is kind of like a snoogle or bear claw). The Tuna Melt was indeed fantastic. It seemed to be made with Swiss instead of American cheese, which was just fine by me since I love Swiss. The potato salad was a decent potato salad for a deli potato salad. I prefer a tangier, less creamy potato salad, but I would not complain if served this at a party. The macaroni salad was just as divine as always. The chocolate chip cookie literally melted in my hand – and not just because it was 88 degrees outside.

I volunteered to bring a dessert to my niece’s high school graduation party last month. I decided a cookie and bar platter would be perfect. I made Rice Krispy Treats with Sweet Vanilla Matcha for my gluten-free relatives and then hit Davis Bakery for the good stuff. I had fun picking out several different cookies, bars, and brownies as well as a large selection of kolache. My family members are hard-core and picky kolache connoisseurs, because my maternal grandmother used to make them from scratch for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Needless to say, the dessert tray was a huge hit.

Contact info:

Davis Bakery
28700 Chagrin Boulevard
Woodmere, OH 44122
(216) 292-3060

Warrensville Heights location:
4572 Renaissance Parkway
Cleveland, OH 44128
(216) 464-5533

Fish Fry Friday 2022 #2 – Greater Sokol Cleveland

Sokol Greater Cleveland hosted two fish fries this year – on March 4 and March 11. The dinners are served in the basement of the historic Bohemian National Hall. Park in the parking lot in the back, walk down the hall and follow the voices to the ticket table. After you have your ticket and number stand, walk down the hall to the stairs or take the elevator to the basement. I took the elevator down with the evening’s musical entertainment, Anthony Culkar. Nice guy. He started playing at 5:30.

Reservations are recommended for big groups, but I was only one person. They were serving from 5-8 and I got there at 5:10. It was easy to find a seat at a table that didn’t have the chairs up indicating they were reserved. They serve fried or baked fish dinners, shrimp dinners, and pierogi dinners, either dine-in or take-out. The fish, shrimp and combo dinners are $12. The half fish and pierogi dinners are $8. The dinners come with tater tots, cole slaw, a slice of bread, coffee and dessert. I also got a small serving of apple sauce. It might have come with the pierogi. You also pay a $1 temporary membership at the door for the Full Cash Bar. My total came to $17 – $12 plus $4 for two pierogi and the membership.

I chose my seat and shared the table with a nice group of three. I sat for a bit to get my bearings and as I decided to get up to go to the bar my food arrived. My tablemates weren’t as lucky. They were served shortly before I left. There was an advantage to only being one person. Anyway, I hit the cash bar and ordered a Primator Premium Lager (a Czech beer) and a ginger ale ($6 total).

I arranged my meal and drinks and enjoyed m Combination Dinner, which had fried fish and fried shrimp, and two add-on pierogi with sauteed onions. I somehow got two pieces of fish instead of one. It was palatable, but I especially enjoyed the fried shrimp. If I had known butter and ketchup were available if I asked I would have probably enjoyed the tater tots and slice of bread more. In the end, I just left them unfinished. The cole slaw and apple sauce were a nice little treat, and the pierogi were delectable. I took my dessert (choice of yellow or chocolate cake) home in a small to-go box and hobbled back into the snowy night with a full belly. I was going to go grocery shopping, but decided to do it tomorrow instead. I just wanted to go home, put on some comfy pajamas and cuddle up with a book and a cup of tea in this weather.

BTW, they also serve a Sunday Supper from 1-2:30 on the last Sunday of every other month. The next one is chicken paprikash and dumplings on April 24th. Reservations are required by the Wednesday beforehand. The dumplings are usually the flat Czech dumplings, so it’s a total treat. Happy Lent, everyone! Where did you go?

Contact info:

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

Fish Fry Friday 2022 #1 – Twisted Taino

Photo by Twisted Taino from Yelp

It’s Lent season in Cleveland, and we all know what that means—fish fries and pancake breakfasts. And 40 days of sandwiches (or as close as I can get to it). Twisted Taino has been advertising on All Things Food in Cleveland. My friend S. ate here recently and raved about the Cubano. So when they posted two photos of their fish that are only available on Fridays during Lent I knew we had to go. Twisted Taino originally opened in Ohio City, but recently moved to Parma.

I figured all of the Ukrainian fish fries would be packed, so this was a good first choice. It’s located down the street from Das Schnitzel Haus – directly across from Chuppa’s Market – in an old Lawson’s location. One of my friends got there early and grabbed a table for us. There were six of us, but there are only five tables inside. They have a patio set up outside that looks promising for nicer weather. We stood in line to place our order and were given a little buzzer that went off when it was ready.

My friend K. ordered the Escabeche Fish Fry, and it was finished first. Escabeche consists of marinated fish, meat or vegetables, cooked in an acidic sauce (usually with vinegar), and colored with paprika, citrus, and other spices. This version featured king fish on a bed of (cerviche-like) seafood salad topped with pickled onions served with coconut shrimp & tostones. She used to live in Japan and loves the pickledness of the fish. She makes it herself, so was looking forward to it. She enjoyed it a lot, particularly the coconut shrimp. She lamented that it wasn’t on the regular menu. I tried a bite of the fish and seafood salad and enjoyed both of them. The fish was very dense and heavy, but the pickling made it a little lighter.

I ordered the Chillo Frito (Caribbean Red Snapper). This thing was a thing of beauty. It was so large it filled a whole foil container that is usually used for family-sized mac n cheese or something like that. The fish was fried perfectly. I carefully opened it up at the filet line and removed the backbone and just pulled the meat off with my hands. I only had a few tiny bones, but for the most part, they lifted clean out with the backbone. I comes with a side salad with a lovely dressing and ordered the arroz mampostea’ (Puerto Rican dish of rice and stewed red beans, sweet plantains, and bacon – a vegan version is also available) as my side dish. I almost ordered the yuca fries, but the arroz was calling me. It was delicious. My friend D. finished his snapper, but I ended up taking it home to eat as leftovers.

I have to rave about the beverages as well – not something I usually do. I tend to be really thirsty when I’m out to dinner. Drinking a couple glasses of water is normal for me, because I don’t drink enough fluids during the day. Well, that is not a problem here. I was able to order a 32 oz. ginger ale and a 32 oz. passionfruit lemonade. They were the perfect amount of liquid for me – and the passionfruit lemonade was divine!! Twisted Taino is very proud of its lemonades, frappes, and frappucinos. There offer five lemonades in a 32 oz “tub” in original lemonade, tamarind, strawberry, mango, and passionfruit. The frappes (but not the toppings) are lactose- and gluten-free and completely over the top with cookies and other toppings.

One of my friends ordered the Beef Empanada Trio and enjoyed it (photo missing one of the empanadas and picturing one of the tostones). Her partner enjoyed the escabeche. One of my other friends ordered the pork tacos (pernil) and a pound of seafood salad (which she took home with her). I think she will be going back regularly for it. I can’t wait to go back and try one of the many Mofongo choices.

Contact info:

Twisted Taino
5633 Pearl Road
Parma, OH 44129
(216) 310-5880

Zhug

Zhug is a new concept by chef Douglas Katz that offers “Middle Eastern Mezze” in a casual, high energy urban space at Cedar Fairmount. Low tables with pillows surround the space filled with tables. There is no hint of its past as a Liquid Planet. The kitchen is tucked in the back right corner. Esquire magazine named it one of 23 Best New Restaurants in America in 2020. Michael Symon visited town a few months ago for the birth of his new grandson and praised it on Instagram as insanely good .. one of the best and most thoughtful restaurants in the country right now IMHO. The praise, combined with a serious lack of parking and the fact that they don’t take reservations, made the restaurant pretty difficult to visit (even though I live very close).

The pandemic changed that for me. Doug wanted to keep the restaurant operating, so he decided to switch to takeout – with curbside pickup and delivery. Doug himself delivered the meals and waved to me on his way back for the next delivery order as I sat in my car waiting for my order. This allowed me to try the delicious choices in the comfort of my own home. I went a little crazy that night – as you can see in the photo below. I ordered the hummus, curry fried chicken, buttered shrimp, crispy brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus, and a cocktail to go (in that cute little jam jar). The cocktail was a lot of fun, and I have reused the jam jar several times to store leftovers. I must have a type of favorite cocktail, because I ordered it when we sat down to eat in the restaurant.

The location doesn’t have the best parking or wait-for-a-table options, but Parnell’s Pub, Starbucks, and Appletree Books are neighbors and allow folks to chill and wait for a table. The dining area is somewhat austere and industrial, with benches piled with pillows lining the walls. The servers are super friendly and knowledgeable, and Doug tends to make the rounds in his restaurants, greeting diners and making them feel like friends.

I adore the Yemenite curry fried chicken (gluten-free). I could eat it every day. Hunks of tender chicken are coated in a curry fried chicken batter and drizzled with harissa honey. It is super flavorful and one of the best chicken dishes in Cleveland at the moment if you ask me. The dipping sauce is also ridiculously delicious.

I also ordered the butter roasted shrimp (see above). I was less impressed with that one. Don’t get me wrong – it was very tasty. It is made with garlic and pil biber chili and is served with toast points. I think I got 5 shrimp for the $18 price tag. Yes, that is fairly normal, but I can just as easily roast shrimp in butter and spices myself. There is no way I could recreate the blissfulness of the fried chicken.

Zhug is also known for its hummus. It serves two kinds of hummus – curried lamb and apricot hummus and nigella seed and burnt onion hummus. I chose the curried lamb and apricot for my first venture and loved it. The hummus is creamy, the curried lamb was fork-tender and I loved the pairing of lamb and apricot. When I met some girlfriends at zhug when things opened up this spring we ordered both. I still preferred the lamb and apricot hummus, but the nigella seed and burnt onion hummus was also a very interesting choice and some of my girlfriends preferred it over the lamb hummus.

One mezze that we went nuts for was the leeks and feta. It is such a simple dish, but is executed so well that I adore it. The leeks are prepared in a scallion-pistachio pistou with roasted shallots and drizzled over a block of feta. I love, love, love it, as did my other friends.

We also very much enjoyed the smoked octopus. It was made with purple potatoes and olives in a tomato-based sauce and decorated with dabs of saffron aioli. My friends and I also chose a simple tomato salad as well. It featured cherry tomatoes cut in half and served with shaved parmesan and torn basil. I’m sure Doug put his own spin to it somehow, but it came across as simple yet delicious.

We ordered all of the desserts and shared them. They were all fantastic. I was skeptical about the tahini sundae, but the flavor blew me away. Topped with pistachios and chocolate sauce, the ice cream itself tasted like a mix between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The mango sorbet just tasted like a fresh mango, which was so refreshing after our big meal. And although the spiced apples looked kind of dry, it was like spiced apple crisp and was not dry at all. It is made with lebnah, oat streusel, orange blossom and citrus zest. I’d be very hard pressed to pick a favorite; they were all really, really delicious. A really tasty end to a delicious meal.

zhug went back to curbside service during the Omnicron surge, but reopened for in-house dining again on the 1st. I’m really proud of how Doug responded to the pandemic. He was one of the first restaurant owners to go to curbside service, because he was already doing pop-ups and running a ghost kitchen (Chimi) from the diner on Lee. He ended up closing Fire on Shaker Square, which I miss, but he seemed to be keeping his head above water during the pandemic with a second ghost kitchen, Amba, which will soon be turned into a brick and mortar  Indian-fusion restaurant in Hingetown. For now, he is focusing on zhug and Amba.

Contact info:

zhug
12413 Cedar Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 862-2508

Poké Fresh

Poké Fresh is a small local chain with locations in Akron (N. Hawkins Ave.), Cuyahoga Falls (Portage Trail), and Highland Heights (Wilson Mills near the entrance to I-271). I fell in love with poké in Hawaii a few years ago and love sushi, so I was excited to find this place. I discovered it when I was picking up my peaches from The Peach Truck. I’ve been back several times already.

My friends and I enjoyed the poké at the 2nd and High Poke House + Bar, but the volcano started erupting on Hawaii and the chef had to fly home to help his family and it closed. We also ate at Corner 11 Bowl & Wrap in Tremont, but as much as I enjoyed it I never think to eat there. This is the first poké that is in my neck of the woods.

​The word Poké (pronounced “PO-kay”) is Hawaiian for “to slice or cut”. Having been served on the islands since the early 1970’s, this delicious dish has finally made its way to the mainland! It is set up like a Chipotle, Piada, or any other fast casual food place. You can order one of their suggested bowls (there’s a vegan one and a cooked chicken one) or you can make your own. You start by choosing your rice base (white jasmine and brown available) or a bed of Ohio grown organic greens. Then you pick your protein. The choices include ahi tuna*, salmon*, shrimp, chicken, tofu, crabstick and more (*raw). You then choose your toppings. You can choose from edamame, furikake, corn, cucumber, pickled ginger, sweet onion, and more. I really like the pineapple. Seaweed salad, avocado, and masago are a dollar more. Lastly, load up with one of their signature sauces and top it off with something a little crunchy! Halé sauce is their house sauce, similar to a soy sauce.

The first time I went I ordered the ahi tuna and have them put every topping on it but jalapeno, edamame, and masago. I topped it with the Halé sauce and citrus ponzu and toasted sesame seeds. I enjoyed the cucumber, seaweed salad, pineapple, cilantro and avocado a lot. The portion was very large, and I ended up quitting with just a couple bites to go.

I loved it and was back two days later with a friend to whom I had raved about it. The guy behind the counter remembered me and suggested I get a loyalty card (and gave me two punches). The second time I asked for half ahi tuna and half spicy salmon. I once again had the same toppings on it and topped it with just Halé sauce. We sat inside and there was only one other table occupied. She enjoyed it a lot and took the menu since she lives in the Akron area.

The last time I was there I ordered for curbside pickup and discovered the popping boba in their bubble tea. I was a little more discerning with the toppings this time. I went with ahi tuna and added crabstick. I left out the seaweed salad and pickled ginger as well and only had the green onions, carrots, cilantro, sweet onion, cucumber, pineapple, fire roasted corn, and avocado. My sauces were the Halé sauce, citrus ponzu and wasabi aioli with sesame seeds and furikake as toppings. I especially liked the kick of the wasabi aioli. I was finally able to finish the entire portion.

I ordered the Honeydew Boba Tea with popping blueberry boba. The blueberry added a nice flavor kick, but after a little while they just deflated and moldered at the bottom of the cup. That said, the honeydew boba tea was very refreshing.

Contact info:

Poké Fresh
6319 Wilson Mills Road
Highland Heights, OH 44143
(440) 421-9121