Astoria

Photo from Yelp user Norton W.

Astoria Cafe and Market opened back in December 2016 and has been receiving rave reviews ever since. Astoria is located in a 5,000-square-foot space in Gordon Square across from Minh Ahn. Parking is available along the street, but there is also a lot down the side street next to Astoria. The lot is well-lit. I was still somewhat nervous walking back to my car by myself until I realized the parking lot had a guard sitting in his car and keeping watch.

Astoria is a hot brunch location, but is also known for its octopus and tapas. One of my friends swears by the octopus and the mussels. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The menu changes frequently with the season.  There is a bar-restaurant on one side and a market that specializes in cheeses, meats and Mediterranean imports on the other. Anything you purchase in the market can be eaten in the restaurant, which is why they are also known for their charcuterie and cheese boards. I was finally prompted to check it out when I learned that one of my friends is one of the co-owners’ sister, and he serves the family recipe Dolmades or stuffed grape leaves (spoiler alert: they are amazing).

I knew we had to order the octopus (Octopus alla Karvouna) as an appetizer since it is so popular. It features Spanish octopus poached in white wine, lemon and garlic, then charcoal grilled and topped with extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper and fresh oregano.  It is indeed as good as everyone says. Maybe even better than I expected it to be. It was a single tentacle that was perfectly grilled, and everyone loved it. So much so that we went back a couple of months later to enjoy it again. We also couldn’t get enough of the complementary fresh bread and probably went through three refills of bread and one refill of the dipping oil.

Our first visit was in the winter right before Christmas, and it was a cold, wet and slushy day. I started my meal off with a bowl of Chicken Avgolemono soup. Avgolemono soup is a Greek specialty using egg yolk and lemon juice. This version features poached free-range chicken in a broth featuring dill, parsley, lemon and golden rice. The lemon and fresh herbs gave it a nice bright flavor, and the chicken was nicely shredded. It was hearty yet light enough to whet my appetite for more.

When I saw Quattro Stagioni pizza on the menu I almost started crying. It is rare to find this Italian staple pizza on menus here in the U.S. and when they do they tend to just put all the toppings on the pizza in a jumble. A true Italian Quattro Stagioni features four sections with diverse ingredients, with each section representing one season of the year —traditionally Parma ham or olives (winter), artichoke hearts (spring), tomato & basil (summer), and mushrooms (fall). This pizza was done the right way, even if it was missing the tomato & basil and featured both Prosciutto di Parma and Kalamata olives. At least they tried. I just found the dough a little too thick for my liking.

Another friend ordered the Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) pizza with mozzarella, pecorino romano, herbed ricotta and asiago cheese. He liked it a lot. Since he is a man of few words that is all I can say about that.

He shared that with his wife, who ordered the Veal, Lamb & Ricotta Meatballs. In fact, two of my friends ordered it that visit and both raved about it. The meatballs are served over fusilli pasta. I had a bite and the sauce was a very flavorful sauce. The meatballs were not overpowering. I apologize for the blurry photo.

One of my friends, who is a notoriously picky eater, ordered the duck confit and mac n cheese. She originally ordered it for the mac n cheese, but fell in love with the whole dish. So much so that when we went back to celebrate some friends’ birthdays she ordered it again.

I finished off the night with a slice of Greek cake (Milopita). It was an apply/custardy slice of goodness. Almost like an apple bread pudding. It was really, really nice.

When we went back a few months later I decided to order a bunch of smaller plates for my meal. I started with the dolmades, which were as amazing as I thought they would be. The rice was tender and flavorful, and the grape leaf was not tough and chewy like some others I have had from a Greek restaurant near me. They were also vegetarian with no meat, which I really enjoyed. I love these dolmades and would probably go back just to get them again. We shared the octopus again, but I also ordered a grilled octopus and lump crab meat salad. It was lightly dressed in a mayo and lots of lemon. It was very refreshing. I also ordered a side of herbed golden rice, because I wanted something small but warm to balance my cold plates.

I was lucky enough to try a bit of the chicken souvlaki, which was really great too. It was served over a bed of greens that were lightly dressed in a nice sauce and accompanied by some hummus, tzatziki and pita bread. My friend loved this.

I finished off the night that time with a trio of cannoli. I am not normally a fan of cannoli, but I would order Astoria’s cannoli again. The mini-cannoli were filled with a pistachio filling a chocolate filling, and a Luxardo cherry filling. They had me at Luxardo, but the other two were amazing as well. I shared them with my dining companions, and they also enjoyed them.

Contact info:

Astoria Cafe & Market
5417 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 266-0834

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Blue Habanero

Blue Habanero opened in the old Arcadian location on Detroit Road in the heart of Gordon Square. My friends and I decided to check it out to lift our spirits from this dismal, rainy “spring” weather. Since we were going to be a larger group, I made a reservation even though it was a Monday. I’m glad I did, because the place was pretty full. They did a good job accommodating everyone though. In addition to the first floor, it appears they also have seating on the second floor as well, as numerous patrons were led upstairs.

My friend who was driving and I recognized one of our friends in the public parking lot by the Capitol Theater despite her huddling under the hood of her raincoat, and we walked to Blue Habanero together. After being greeted as we walked in, the first order of business was ordering a beverage. I couldn’t decide between a margarita and a sangria, so I ordered one of their featured drinks that contains both, the Octopus. It was stunning to look at as well as delicious and deadly. I was glad I wasn’t driving, because I happily ordered a second one. I probably wouldn’t have if I had been driving, because I was already feeling the effects after one. My friends also enjoyed their margaritas—one ginger (be sure to stir it up) and the Cadillac. We then took some time to look over the menu.

Once we realized three of our party weren’t coming we apologized and notified the staff to take one of the tables away in case they needed it and then ordered. I decided I needed to come here when I saw a photo of the queso. I ordered a sampler for the table, which features queso, guacamole and salsa. The salsa had a nice kick to it, and the queso and guac were fresh and creamy. One of our friends ordered an order of queso with chorizo, and I have to say it was my favorite thing on our table all night. I couldn’t get enough of the flavorful creaminess. I am now a fan of chorizo too, which wasn’t the case before. The queso with chorizo was like a warm hug, which was welcome that chilly, dreary evening.

The tuna ceviche appetizer was also a nice choice. It wasn’t the traditional tuna chopped into smaller pieces of tuna and mixed with avocado and onion, but rather nice slabs of sushi grade tuna plated interspersed with slices of avocado and drizzled with the lime dressing that causes the chemical reaction to “cook” the fish. We all enjoyed sharing it around the table, and my friend who was craving avocado was quite pleased with the generous slices.

I ordered the Pollo a la Crema y Espinaca, which is grilled chicken breast with sauteed spinach and corn and roasted peppers in a lightly spicy cream sauce. It was delicious. It was served with cilantro white rice. I would definitely order this again. It hit all the right notes. I am a big fan of spinach and chicken, and didn’t find the cream sauce spicy at all. The leftovers also heated up well the next day.

One of my friends wanted to try mine, so I got to try a bite of her dish as well. We would normally split the entrees, but neither of us wanted to part with what we ordered. She ordered the Seafood al Ajillo, which is a shrimp and scallop dish that roasts the shrimp and scallops with onion, garlic and serves it with avocado, pico de gallo and cilantro white rice. It was light with a bright flavor of roasted/grilled seafood. She liked it so much that she finished the whole thing. I could also see myself ordering it next time we go – because there will definitely be a next time.

My other friends were very pleased with their tacos and rice bowls. The waitress had recommend the Tacos al Pastor, which are spice rubbed pork, pineapple, cilantro and onions in a tomatillo sauce, so two of my friends chose that. One with the Mexican rice and one with the black beans as their side dish. My other friends ordered rice bowls – one with steak and one with shrimp. The rice bowls have a mix of greens, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and sour cream. One chose the cilantro white rice and the other asked to swap the white rice for Mexican rice, which was easily accommodated. They both finished their bowls.

I saved room for dessert and ordered fried ice cream. Save your money. It was not only visually unappealing, the cornflake crust tasted mostly of fry oil and had a weird consistency. Most of my friends had one bite and passed it on. No one wanted a second bite. I ended up eating the ice cream around the crust and left a lot of it on the plate. I keep hoping to find a fried ice cream that is as delicious as the old Chi-Chi’s version, but it seems I may have to just stop ordering it to avoid being disappointed. I’ve learned the secret is the cinnamon sugar mixture, so maybe I’ll try to make them myself one day. If you do order dessert, be sure to order the Tres Leches cake. It was moist and delicious. Everyone at the table thoroughly enjoyed it.

Contact info:

Blue Habanero Street Tacos and Tequila
6416 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 465-1818

Rumi’s Market and Deli

I drive down Carnegie Avenue all the time, so I was curious about the metal and glass building that went up just down from the Cleveland Clinic at the E. 82nd Street intersection. One of my friends raved about her visit to the place on Facebook, so I knew I had to check it out. I’m glad I did. I’ve been a regular shopper ever IMAG0072since.

Rumi’s has a cafeteria-style deli that offers hot entrees, beef and chicken kebabs, sandwiches, a fresh salad bar and most intriguingly an olive bar. The choices the most recent time I was there included spaghetti with cheese and meat, fried chicken and a spicy Chinese stir fry. They also had several soups. The kebabs are on spits just like I am familiar with from Germany. The meat is roasted on the spit and shaved off when you order. They then heat it on the flat top grill, which I find a IMAG0073bit odd since it should be hot from the spit. But it isn’t dried out, so I am not going to question it.

Being a fan of kebabs, I have yet to venture far from that choice. They offer the kebab as a sandwich with pita or as an entree with 2 sides for $10.95. There are four different sides to choose from. My first time was extremely orange. I chose the mac n IMAG0074cheese and the saffron rice to go with the chicken kebab. The meat was tender and not dried out at all. The mac n cheese was a little bland, but it was certainly palatable. The rice was moist and delicious. They also offer Afghani Pulao (pilau), Indian Biryani, korma, rotisserie chicken with a pomegranate glaze, and lots of other choices. The restaurant is open from 10 to 2 on Sunday and Monday and 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

IMAG1587We wandered around the market, which had just opened, and were very pleased to see the variety of Turkish, Middle Eastern and Indian foods available. The shelves were much more stocked on my second visit, and I picked up a lot of fun things like pickled mango (chutney?), Mango Tang, mint tea, orange and cinnamon herbal tea, stuffed eggplant and stuffed pepper in a plastic, ready-to-eat tub, and some juices. Most intriguing was a Basil Seed Drink with White Grape flavor. It was really, really good. The IMAG1589texture of the basil seed reminded me of a really tiny bubble tea, and the white grape flavor was heavenly. I can see myself going back and buying lots of these next time. Now that the place has been open a while I keep an eye on the expiration dates, which sometimes have expired. I buy boxes of baklava, produce, frozen entrees and appetizers, and various teas here as well. I do chuckle when I notice the Aldi brand small appliances for sale.

IMAG1584On my second visit I tried the chicken kebab with the saffron rice and sauteed vegetables. The chicken kebab was even better than the beef kebab. The chicken kebab was moist and paired really well with bites of rice and veggies. I was most surprised by how much I loved the sauteed vegetables. I have never been a huge fan of celery, but the sauteed celery really dominated the mix and was quite flavorful. The other vegetables included broccoli, onion and yellow and red peppers. I really enjoyed it a lot, and felt like my meal was quite healthy (if you don’t count the Mountain Dew from the soda fountain).

My friends and I also met here for their Ramadan buffet last year. I have several friends who are Muslim, so I wanted to share their holiday with them. The buffet was very plentiful, and the food is weighed. It is open before sunset as well, so we got there a little earlier than sunset to avoid the crowd. We piled our plates with lots of good food, and much of it was quite spicy.

They serve American deli sandwiches, chicken, turkey, and burgers to IMAG0075cater to the Clinic crowd who don’t necessarily want Persian food, but want a quick and affordable lunch option. Their fried chicken also appears to be quite popular.

A word of warning: don’t think the red sauce on the salad bar is French dressing. It’s hot sauce. I smothered my beautiful salad with it, only to find it was too hot to eat. I ate around the sauce, but at around $5.40 a pound I was upset that I wasted a lot of it.

Contact info:

Rumi’s Market and Deli
8225 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland OH 44103

Gallucci’s Italian Foods

Gust Gallucci founded Gallucci’s Italian Foods in 1912 after he came to Cleveland in the early 1900’s and discovered a large Italian population who longed for products from their homeland. The store was originally run from a cart on the west side of Cleveland and changed locations several times until it found a home on Euclid Avenue and East 66th Street near downtown Cleveland in 1988. It celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 with a big centenary event, which included a dedication to the black granite monument you see at the front door. It is still family-owned and operated, now by the third and fourth generation of Galluccis.

Gallucci’s is the place to go when you are looking for specialty Italian canned foods and treats. When you walk in you see the cash registers to your left and the deli and refrigerated and freezer cases to your right. The cases are filled with cheeses, salami and assorted charcuterie, butter, all the fixings for homemade pizza including dough, sauce, crumbled sausage, pepperoni slices and shredded and shredded cheese. The freezers hold all kinds of frozen Gallucci pastas and seafood that you won’t find anywhere else as well as frozen soup, frozen meatballs (for wedding soup and for pasta dinners), and homemade gelato. The grocery aisles are filled with boxed pasta, canned tomatoes, jars of sauce, olive oils, canned sardines, boxed cookies, Italian coffee, tons of bulk spices, espresso makers, and a good selection of wine. They also have fresh pasta and their canned sauce for an easy and quick home-cooked meal. The store carries multiples of the same product at different prices, to appeal to a range of customers.

Their deli counter has all the specialties, whether it be prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, soppressata, fresh mozzarella, burrata, guanciale, braciole, olives or anything else you may need for an authentic recipe. One recent Yelper warns about their practice of switching out cheaper brands for their brand though, so keep an eye out.

The bakery counter is next to the deli counter against the right wall on the way to the Hot Lunch Counter. The bakery counter has all kinds of Italian cookies and cakes as well as a cooler full of prepared submarine sandwiches (you need to get here early because they run out). I have been known to stock up on prepared subs if a snow storm is predicted.

The olive bar is between the bakery counter and the cooler of sandwiches. You can get stuffed olives for $7.99 a pound, a mix of olives for $6.99 a pound and various other nibbles like pepperocini, giardiniera, etc.

You can also have a sub sandwich made to order at the Hot Lunch Counter against the back wall of the store. The Hot Lunch Counter is open from 11 to 2 one weekdays and offers a lot of prepared carry-out foods for a quick lunch, like their daily lunch specials, a “sangweech”of the day, Italian sausage and meatballs for subs, salads, hot pizza slices, calzones, paninis, and several different pasta specials (lasagna and pasta and meatballs are usually two of them). The pasta comes with choice of salad (tossed, potato or macaroni salad) and garlic bread. I just wish the containers didn’t leak. I damaged a library book when I accidentally pricked the styrofoam container and Italian dressing seeped out, and my shopping bag had a small island of sauce on the bottom when I got home today with my bow tie chicken pasta (see below). It had kind of congealed, so I know butter was in the sauce and it was delicious.

You can also get Gallucci’s amazing Italian wedding soup by the bowl or the quart. It contains lots of meatballs and escarole – as well as lots of flavor. Gallucci’s also offers a daily lunch special (“Coke Special”) during the week. You can get a sub sandwich, a 12 ounce pop and a bag of chips for $6.99. Make sure the sandwich looks fresh though. The last one I got was pretty dried out.

They offer frequent deals like Two Dollar Dog days during lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in honor of the Indians Home Opener on April 1st (and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke).

Did you also know that Gallucci’s offers hosted dinners with Chef Chuck Masterpaul? I didn’t know until I checked out their website. The next scheduled one is April 24th. The hosted dinners include exclusive access to the store, wine pairing and product suggestions, and consultations with Chef Masterpaul. The cost is $50 per person.

You can subscribe to their various email lists (including the daily lunch specials) here.

Contact info:

Gallucci’s Italian Foods
6610 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44103
(216) 881-0045

Koko Cafe

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Alas, Koko Cafe has closed. We hardly knew ye. Koko Bakery is still open.

I have been a big fan of Koko Bakery on Payne Avenue for a while now. I would go there for their multitude of hot and room temperature savory and sweet buns (and to buy frozen steam buns to make at home), bubble tea, smoothies, shaved ice, and gorgeous desserts, but never really got around to ordering their hot entrees, which seemed like an afterthought in the small place with maybe 9 tables in the place. When the news broke that they were expanding next door to offer hot food in a larger sit-down restaurant that seats 40 I was excited.

The first time I went to check it out shortly after it opened I was supposed to meet a friend who forgot, so I ordered some dumplings and an entree to enjoy by myself. I loved the dumplings and wasn’t too excited by the entree. I love the dumplings so much that I keep ordering them. I was intrigued by the idea of pork and leek, and I really enjoy the combination so I keep ordering it. I prefer dumplings pan-fried over steamed, because I like a bit of toothsome bite to them. My entree that day was the Triple Mushrooms with Chicken. On paper it sounds awesome, and it would be without the American-style frozen vegetables they use. I was extremely off-put by the corn kernels, peas and carrots of it all. I am not used to Asian food with vegetables I grew up eating in TV dinners.

I then organized a dinner for my foodie friends, which allowed me to try a lot more from the menu. Needless to say I am now a fan.

They offer some interesting dim sum options, such as rice noodle rolls and steam buns. I am not a fan of rice noodle rolls. You either really like them or really dislike them. I don’t like the texture and find them bland; however, my friends who are huge fans of rice noodle rolls raved about them. They tried the shrimp and the dried radish rice noodle rolls and enjoyed them a lot.

Dried radish rice roll noodles

Cucumbers with chili sauce is always a must

Shrimp rice roll noodles

Steam buns

That was the day I ordered what has become my favorite dish there – the Singaporean Style Fried Vermicelli. It has a nice curry flavor that is not overpowering, and the vermicelli is a great consistency. They have a wide range of fried noodle and fried rice dishes on the menu that go beyond the usual chicken and shrimp offerings – including a Barbecue Pork Fried Rice, which sounds intriguing. If you like salted fish there is a Salted Fish & Chicken Fried Rice as well.

Koko Bakery is especially known for its bubble tea, so I suggested my Meetup tea group meet at the Cafe for bubble tea and a meal. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in the 1980s. Recipes contain tea of some kind, flavors (milk and non-milk, fruit and non-fruit) and sugar. Toppings, such as chewy tapioca balls, popping boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, agar jelly, and puddings are often added.

Thai Iced Tea Bubble Tea

Iced Hong Kong Milk Tea

My go-to bubble tea is melon with fruit jellies instead of boba

This might be mango – I love the contrast of black boba and yellow tea

We had a range of diners – from a very picky/non-Asian food fan to someone with some major dietary issues/needs. Both were happy with their choices. The picky eater ordered the Sesame Chicken and was very pleased with it. She raved about how moist and flavorful the chicken was. She shared a bite with me, and I liked it so much I ordered it the next time I went. The vegan/no-oil diner ordered a soup and was absolutely thrilled with the quality and the variety of vegetables in the soup. Everyone else enjoyed their meals as well. I just didn’t know them well enough to ask to photograph their food :-).

Special order vegetable soup – no noodles, no oil

Sesame chicken

They have a great online ordering system as well. I was craving several different entrees at once one night, so I ordered online and drove to pick it up. My meal was waiting for me as I walked in, and I was able to turn around and drive home. Most gratifying was the fact that nothing had been left out – including all the accoutrements that I had specified they could leave out when I ordered it (soy, mustard and duck sauce packets for the egg rolls).

Koko Cafe is a welcome addition to the Asia Town neighborhood. There is something here for everyone – from basic Chinese-American dishes to more intriguing choices we haven’t seen anywhere else. It is also super-affordable. The soups, congees and dumplings are all around $8, the rice noodle rolls are $3, steam buns are $3.50, and most entrees range between $10-13.

I just wish someone would create a separate Yelp page for the Cafe, because the cafe reviews/photos co-mingle with the bakery.

Contact info:

Koko Cafe
3710 Payne Avenue, # 104
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 881-7602

Let’s talk about paczki

Pączki (pronounced PUUNCH-ki) are filled doughnuts that are typical for Polish cuisine. Paczki have been made in Poland since the Middle Ages. Germans call them Berliner. They are deep-fried dough balls that are filled with a filling and covered with powdered sugar. Traditional fillings include prune and poppyseed. Many bakeries also feature modern fillings such as chocolate mousse, marshmallow and (my favorite) custard. They are served on Fat Tuesday and most recently are now also served during the month leading up to Lent. Clevelanders hear a lot about paczki during this time, and most bakeries hold huge events on Fat Tuesday where you can pick up your paczki for the office, friends or just general consumption. I’m not a huge fan of crowds so I have avoided the hoopla surrounding Fat Tuesday paczki celebrations, but I might venture out to Rudy’s this year just to see what it’s like.

If you are lucky you can get your favorite flavors when you just stop in, but most bakeries prefer you order ahead of time for Fat Tuesday or just to ensure you get the flavors you want. Some flavors sell out quicker than others.

Michael Angelo’s makes my favorite

Debates rage about who has the best paczki. A couple years ago I decided to try a bunch and decide for myself who has the best. My heart lies with Michael Angelo’s Bakery on Broadview Road in Broadview Heights. I love the soft, yeasty dough of the paczki as well as their variety of flavors, and the dough is almost bursting with filling (as you can see on the right). I started getting my paczki fix from here last weekend. They announce when they start selling paczki on their social media pages and continue until Fat Tuesday. Flavors include their famous marshmallow, custard, raspberry, apple, apricot, Bavarian maple, lemon, chocolate mousse, strawberry mousse, peanut butter and prune. Flavors vary with availability. The are $1.95 each and $17 per dozen.

Colozza’s Bakery on Ridge Road in Parma wins the award for most unique flavors. The classic Italian bakery takes on a Polish accent in February. Colozza’s mixes in new and traditional flavors in their dozen annual paczki offerings, from lemon and apricot to peanut butter banana fudge, butterscotch, and cannoli. They discontinued prune and poppyseed, but might be able to make them if ordered. The minute I heard they had a butterscotch paczki I headed there. The paczki were good, but not as good as Michael Angelo’s. The dough was a little drier, and as you can see in the photo to the right it wasn’t as filled with filling. But hey, butterscotch…

Seven Roses Polish Deli on Fleet Avenue in Slavic Village serves paczki year-round. It is basically just a jelly doughnut, but a little rounder and denser. The bakery serves old world favorites such as prune, poppyseed and the classic rose jam paczki on the Monday and Tuesday before Lent (Rosenmontag and Fat Tuesday). Last year there was even a Paczki Parade, so check their Facebook page or keep your eyes out on Cleveland.com. All paczki orders must be placed ahead of time.

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Rudy’s Strudel on Ridge Road in Parma is considered Paczki Central in Parma. They expect to sell more than 65,000 by the end of Fat Tuesday. Last year they paired up with Barabicu Smokehouse to feature their hand-smoked brisket in a savory paczki. IMG_20190206_134735.jpgThis year they are pairing with Sweet Moses for a Hot Chocolate paczki. Call ahead to order this one. They had run out when I stopped in. This photo on the left shows the variety of flavors they offer – both sweet and savory. Rudy’s hosts their annual Paczki Day Party starting at 5 a.m. on Fat Tuesday with live accordion music, eating contests, babushkas and more. Flavors include savory and sweet treats, such as Murray Hill (Italian sausage and peppers), Parma (potato and cheese), and Polish Village (potato & IMG_20190206_135659cheese, kraut & kielbasa) or chocolate butter cream, pina colada, mocha, poppyseed, prune and rose petal jelly paczki (to name just a few).

Cleveland’s favorite donut shop, Jack Frost on Pearl Road in Cleveland, wouldn’t miss paczki day. For one day only, Jack Frost goes Polish with poppyseed, raspberry, apple, pineapple, lemon, cream cheese, Boston cream, cinnamon-caramel and a special chocolate and peanut butter Buckeye option. Orders taken during the month before Lent and can be picked up in a tent outside the shop beginning at 6 a.m. on Fat Tuesday. They’re pricey – $4.25 each and $28.95 a dozen, but as anyone who has had Jack Frost donuts knows, they are well worth it.

I plan to try Samosky’s and Buettner’s this year. If I am in the Northfield area I will also try Stan’s Northfield Bakery, because the idea of a grape paczki is tempting.

My friend Judi from The Charmed Kitchen used to make homemade paczki every year on Fat Tuesday. Click the link for her recipe for tiramisu paczki. She made the doughnuts and offered a bunch of different fillings, so you can fill your own with whatever you prefer and however much you prefer. You might consider making your own paczki and having a paczki party of your own. Cleveland is all about the paczki.

What’s your favorite place for paczki? You have a month to discover which one you prefer so you can get your order in for Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday this year is March 5.

Sichuan Hot Pot

Cleveland’s got a new Szechuan restaurant in town, and it’s become my friends’ new obsession. Sichuan Hot Pot quietly opened in April 2018 on Rockwell Avenue in the building that houses Emperor’s Palace. The storefront seems rather quiet and unassuming. You walk in and have to go through another door to the right. Make sure the door shuts behind you properly, because it forms a wind tunnel.

We keep meaning to order the hot pot, but we are enjoying discovering all the various entrees too much. It’s best enjoying everything as a group. When it comes to Chinese food we are a bunch of sharers, so everyone orders a different dish and we dig in. We then get the bill, add a 20% tip, and divide the total by however many people are in the group. I have a handy app for that, so it is really easy. The bill never comes out to more than $20 per person (it’s usually between $12-18).

The first time I ate at Sichuan Hot Pot (just before Christmas) there were 7 of us. We were the only non-Asian table in the place. We ordered 8 different dishes (one person ordered two because they were vegetarian items and cheap). We had the Dan Dan Noodles, Chongqing Noodles, Lamb Kebabs served with crinkle cut French fries (what??), Shredded Pork with Pickled Cabbage Noodles, Ma Po Tofu, Sour & Spicy Cucumbers, and a Roasted Eggplant appetizer with what looked like a green chili pesto on it. I chose the Crispy Ribs with Garlic Sauce (S7), which was delicious. The ribs were perfectly fried (popcorn chicken-sized) and served along with fried onions and fresh green scallions. I was very happy I ordered it and would happily order it again. However, the absolute standouts for me were the Shredded Pork and Pickled Cabbage Noodles and the Dan Dan Noodles. I have never been a fan of Dan Dan Noodles, but I really like their version. The Shredded Pork was the huge hit at the table. We ordered it on a whim, and I will never go there and not order it ever. It has a delicate flavor and has a soup-like consistency. Ordering small bowls for everyone to enjoy it would not be a bad idea. The Chongqing Noodles were also lovely. Apart from the eggplant, which everyone was saying was very hot so I avoided it, I didn’t find anything so spicy hot that I couldn’t eat it. Szechuan cooking has a nice heat to it, but if I can tolerate it anyone can. We were served a complementary Tofu fa with a smoky sauce and sesame seeds for dessert.

Spicy & Sour Cucumbers

Dan Dan Noodles

Chongqing Noodles

Shredded Pork with Pickled Cabbage Noodles

Lamb Kebabs

Crispy Ribs with Garlic Sauce (S7)

Roasted Eggplant (C5)
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Mid-meal

The second time I was with a different group, with only three of us having been there already. There were six of us this time. This time we were the only table in the place, but I hear it gets busy on the weekends and at night. A few tables joined us by the time we were finishing up – including a friend of one of my friends, which was a hoot. We were there on a Tuesday for lunch. I made sure to order the Shredded Pork and Pickled Cabbage Noodle again. Two of our group had already gotten there and ordered the Dan Dan Noodles because they were hungry. We also ordered Dried Beef with Spicy Sauce (C12 – which I found to be just okay, but my friend D. loves it), “Chicken with Special Sauce” (word of warning – it’s a cold poached chicken and celery dish with bones – I wasn’t a fan), Crispy Big Ribs with Garlic Sauce (S15 – whole ribs on a bed of cabbage – quite tasty if a little dry), Sour & Spicy Cucumbers, and Sliced Potatoes with Scallions (which was too American if you ask me – basically warm parsley potatoes). The Sliced Potato dish was good, so it would be a good choice for kids or less adventurous diners. I certainly didn’t expect it at an Asian restaurant. The standout dish for me this time was a different version of eggplant – the Eggplant with Garlic Sauce (M19). I could not stop eating it, and I look forward to enjoying it again this coming Friday.

Dan Dan Noodles – after mixing

Spicy & Sour Cucumbers

Dried Beef with Spicy Sauce (C12)

Eggplant with Garlic Sauce (M19)

Crispy Big Ribs (S17) on a bed of Napa cabbage

Chicken with Special Sauce

Sliced Potatoes with Scallions (not shredded!! – that’s a completely different dish with green peppers)

Complementary Tofu Fa
Mid-meal

Like I said, I am going back there for lunch on Friday with some of the folks from the previous meals and a couple new people we are introducing the place to. I look forward to trying some new dishes as well as the favorites. I’m tempted by the Crispy Fish Hot & Spicy.

Crispy Fish Hot & Spicy – highly recommend!

Shrimp in hot garlic sauce – delicious
Mid-meal

Contact info:

Sichuan Hot Pot
2162 Rockwell Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 523-1188