Polpetta

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Polpetta is the brain child of restauranteurs Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti: A Social Kitchen fame. I have had some amazing meals from these two chefs. They closed the two popular restaurants to focus on the Polpetta concept, which relies heavily on the theme of “balls.” The decor is heavy on old meat grinders, which are used as the door handle and light fixtures, and artwork with cleverly-hidden balls in them.

They launched the Polpetta concept at Porco when Walter Hyde was cooking in the tiny kitchen there. That was where I had my first taste of Sunday Supper, which I personally think is the best spaghetti and meatballs I have had in Cleveland. Usually restaurant spaghetti and meatballs are bland, but the meatballs here are well-seasoned and paired with a herbaceous pomodoro red sauce. The pasta was al dente and easy to twirl. When I told my server that I think they are the best spaghetti and meatballs in Cleveland he told me about a woman from Little Italy who came in and was vocally critical of everything, but once she had the Sunday Supper she was quiet and said she would be back. He said she’s been back at least seven times. I agree, Nonna.

Porco version

Polpetta version

Once they opened their restaurant on Detroit Road in Rocky River it was on my list of places to try, but it took a while to make my way over there. I finally met a group of friends there for a nice meal, and that night I accidentally ordered what I think is the best thing on the menu, the Spinach and Meatball Dip. It features mini-meatballs in a spinach-parmesan-roasted tomatoes bechamel sauce and fun little pita dippers. This dip is Chef Adam at his best. It is rich and lush, and I could have eaten the whole thing by myself and regretted it. Everyone at the table adored it, and we practically licked the serving plate clean.

I was less impressed by my entree choice that evening. I ordered The Adam, which features chicken meatballs, Thai peanut sauce, and fried rice. I love Adam’s fried rice, which I first enjoyed as spam fried rice at a pop-up at Toast several years ago. It was then included on the menu at Graffiti, and I happily ordered it several times. Unfortunately the Thai peanut sauce was too bitter that night. I was expecting a nice, creamy Thai peanut sauce, and I think it had too much hot sauce in it that night. My friend Nancy loves his Thai peanut sauce, so apparently it was an anomaly. Luckily I had eaten a ton of the appetizer, so I didn’t go away hungry. But I knew they could do better based on past experience.

I left wishing I had ordered the Grandma Bos, which is a chicken paprikash featuring chicken meatballs, paprikash sauce, and herbed spaetzle. When I ordered it the server asked if I wanted sour cream on top. Yes, please. This was a satisfying dish. The chicken meatballs were nicely seasoned, albeit a little denser than I had hoped. Overall the meatballs here are very dense, but at least they won’t fall apart. The herbed spaetzle are not the traditional (i.e., bland) German spätzle I am used to, but I liked the herb flavor profile and the pan-fried crispiness held up well against the paprikash sauce. I would order this again and again. If you like paprikash you will like this dish.

I ordered the Cereal Balls for dessert, which are made from several different cereals molded into rice krispie-like balls served with milk panna cotta and fresh berries and bananas. I first enjoyed Adam’s panna cotta at a grill evening on the Graffiti patio, so I was looking forward to that magic being recreated. He used cereal milk for that one, but the Polpetta panna cotta just uses milk so it was not as magical – even though it was tasty.

The OG Fat Kid

If you want a dessert that will bowl you over, order the Fat Kid 3.0, which features fried cookie dough balls, ice cream, chips, candy and fun. I got to taste the OG Fat Kid at a Graffiti Throw Back dinner at Polpetta a couple of months ago. That one was outrageously good and featured french fries, which was a fun pairing with the ice cream and chocolate and nerds. It is definitely a dessert to share though.

Contact info:

Polpetta
19900 Detroit Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(216) 860-4474

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

Lilly Handmade Chocolates

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Update: Lilly Handmade Chocolates has moved to 2032 W Schaaf Road in Old Brooklyn. The storefront is smaller, with no seating, but they may pair up with another venue with seating for their tastings in the future. They are focusing on making lots of other chocolate delights in addition to their truffles.

Lilly Handmade Chocolates is worth mentioning here, because it is a great Cleveland destination. When I was at the last event the woman sitting across from me was here from Detroit for a weekend trip on her own to explore. A Google search led her to Lilly’s bubbles and chocolate tasting. Lilly Handmade Chocolates offers great handmade chocolates and does amazing pairings with its chocolates and beer, wine, champagne or cheese. They bill themselves as “chocolatiers that specialize in pairing craft beer & fine wine with our delicious hand made chocolates, both sweet and savory inspired!”

The chocolates here are expensive, but they are handcrafted and so worth it. You will savor every bite. You will pay $2.25 each for a piece of chocolate and can buy a box of 6 for $13 and 12 for $25. Each one packs a tasty wallop, whether it’s rich Valrhona chocolate or fine Swiss white chocolate featuring cinnamon, lime, hazelnut, bourbon or passion fruit. I am not normally a fan of white chocolates, but the Frou-Frou and Maui Wowie truffles are among my absolute favorites. You can buy their chocolate in truffle, bar, bark and seasonal forms. The truffles are gorgeous – each with a distinctive hand-painted decoration. Some of the truffles are mainstays, but some change at whim or with the season. When it comes to seasonal chocolate, their Dreamsicle Bark is the stuff of dreams in the summer and their drinking chocolate has a spicy kick to it that will warm you up in the winter.

They also have a liquor license now, so they can offer cocktails with their chocolates. I can recommend the Fruit Cocktail. It tastes just like a fruit cup. And who doesn’t enjoy a boozy ice cream float even in the winter? You can check out their cocktail menu here.

I started coming here to buy the chocolates, but I am now the Mayor on Swarm because of their special events. Amanda and Josh and all of their employees are super friendly and welcoming, and Amanda has one of the best palates I have ever seen in action. She can bring out flavors in beer or wine that pair perfectly with her amazing chocolates or mousse. OMG, the mousse! I have been there for the beer and mousse tasting, beer and chocolate pairings during Beer Week, beer, cheese and chocolate pairings, deep dark chocolates and deep dark reds pairing, and their anniversary mousse. I have never left disappointed or unhappy.

The wine or beer distributors are sometimes here to explain their product, and sometimes Amanda announces what we are about to eat and drink and why she chose what she did. She always explains that you should take a sip of the beverage and then nibble the chocolate to experience the pairing taste sensation. The products are usually available for purchase after the event. I have been turned on to some great wines and beers because of these events.

I usually can find a parking spot in front of the store, but if no spots are available there is a big parking lot behind the building. So whether you are looking for a special gift or a special night out, be sure to keep Lilly Handmade Chocolates in mind!

Contact info:

Lilly Handmade Chocolates
2032 W Schaaf Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(Old Brooklyn)
(216) 771-3333

Zoss the Swiss Baker

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Alas, Zoss the Swiss Baker closed on March 31, 2019, but you can enjoy his creations at EDWINS Bakery, where they will live on through his students there. Be sure to check it out on Buckeye!

IMAG4073Zoss the Swiss Baker is a high quality European bakery in Cleveland Heights. It does not serve beverages. It does not have seating. Instead, it has the most delicious European breads and pastries. Real, honest to goodness European pastries. It’s enough to make me cry.

They use quality ingredients here – real butter, chocolate, flours, etc. You can taste the quality in the first bite. The pastries IMAG4818are light and flaky, while the bread is as dense and crusty as it should be.

The Krustenkrone alone has assured my patronage for as long as they are in business. I have never seen it offered here, despite being a staple at parties in Germany. The Krustenkrone consists of small bread rollsIMAG4074 that are shaped in a ring. You pull apart the Krustenkrone and get a crusty crust with a tender inside. The ones I am familiar with from Germany have a variety of different toppings, like sesame seed, poppy seed, parmesan, etc. I’m sure if asked they could make it that way as a special order for a party.

Zoss is located in an unassuming brick building on Cedar Road, tucked away just past Nighttown. Even though it faces out to IMAG4075Cedar Road, it is in an easy to miss location. They have their own parking lot with free parking, which is a plus in Cleveland Heights. I go here when I know On The Rise will be crazy busy with nary a parking space in sight.

Kurt and Barbara Zoss have been in Cleveland for nearly two decades, now Apfel im Schlafrockmanaging four employees and making ten bread assortments and various pastries, baked goods and tarts every day.

I first learned about Zoss at the North Union Farmer’s Market on Shaker Square. They were selling a pastry called Apfel im Schlafrock (apple in a nightgown), which caught my eye. The marzipan flavor when I bit into it won my heart.IMAG4077 This pastry is amazing. The pastry dough is buttery, tender and flaky and the apple filling is creamy and delicious.

I love their ham and Swiss croissants and German Bretzel (pretzel) as well. Since the tastes skew more European than American, the baked goods are not as sweet as you might expect, and that is a good thing! Everyone raves about their Chocolate Papillon, with good reason. It is a light, delicate and airy pastry brimming with quality IMAG4817chocolate goodness. It is absolute perfection.

They sell a wide variety of breads. I always have a hard time deciding. I narrowed it down to the Country Sourdough or the Rustic Italian this time and asked the woman behind the counter which she recommended. She recommended the Rustic Italian and then asked if I wanted it sliced. I prefer slicing my own bread, but I appreciated having the choice all the same. Their Semmli also make me smile. These little balls of goodness are smaller than the Semmel or Brötchen IMG_20150917_122454I am used to from Austria and Germany, respectively, but they are a nice choice for a small variety of open-faced sandwiches that European breakfasts are known for.

Their IMAG4504_1savory tarts are quite lovely as well. I bought a spinach and onion tart and was not able to eat it until the following day. I didn’t even heat it up. I simply ate it at room temperature. It was just as delicious if it had been fresh. The tart was packed with lots of spinach and it had a nice oniony/garlicky flavor to it. It was almost quiche-like. I would definitely recommend giving their tarts a try.

They run out of baked goods fairly quickly, so get there early if you want to get their best stuff. They are closed on Sundays and Mondays. Also, they have a $10 minimum for credit cards, so bring cash if you can.

Contact info:

Zoss the Swiss Baker
12397 Cedar Rd
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 368-4055

Marta’s European-American Food in Euclid

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Marta’s is a tiny hole in the wall serving up good, homemade Czech food as well as Czech beer on tap since 1995. When I say tiny I mean tiny. There are maybe eight or ten tables in here and one wall is taken up by the bar. This is a local tavern in addition to serving up some great food.

The menu features some American sandwiches as well as most Czech standards with your choice of the traditionalbar bread dumplings or (more typically Austrian or Hungarian) Spaetzle. Other Eastern European favorites such as Wiener Schnitzel, pierogis, beef goulash, and chicken paprikash are standouts as well. All of the Czech dinners come with dinner rolls and your choice of tossed salad or soup. If you like tripe soup you can order it here. Marta’s also serves hamburgers, salads and sandwiches, and I’m sure they are very good as well. I just can’t bring myself to ordesvickovar anything but Czech food when I come here.

If you are very lucky Svíčková will be offered as a special that day. Svíčková, or svíčková na smetaně (beef sirloin in cream sauce), is a typical and popular Czech dish. It is marinated sirloin prepared with vegetables (carrots, parsley root, celeriac and onion), spiced with black pepper, allspice, bay leaf and thyme, and boiled with double cream. It is generally served with houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings) and cranberry sauce. I LOVE Svíčková. If you like creamy dishes, ochick_papnce you try it I guarantee you will be hooked.

Marta’s chicken paprikash is also equally delicious. The chicken is tender and falls apart with your fork. The paprikash sauce is delicious. My date loved it. He ordered the spaetzle instead of the bread dumplings. The spaetzle were obviously homemade based on their irregular, inconsistent shape. They were perfectly schnitzcooked and light.

The Wiener Schnitzel was a very popular choice with several of my dining companions. The Schnitzel was pounded thin and lightly fried. A squeeze of the accompanying lemon slice is all you need to enjoy this authentic Wiener Schnitzel.

stuffcab_kartoffelpuffer_specialAnother friend ordered the stuffed cabbage and potato pancakes, which were also a special that night. You can barely see the stuffed cabbage peaking out from behind the potato pancakes. The stuffed cabbage was a hit and the potato pancakes were not overly greasy. They soaked up the stuffed cabbage sauce nicely.

The beef goulash is as quintessentially eastern European goulash as you can get. IMG_20190325_192527.jpgSlavic peasants created this stew using three basic ingredients: equal parts beef and onions, and a healthy dose of paprika. There are no veggies in this goulash apart from the onions, which have melted down. It is also not the American goulash/beef and macaroni version people grew up with. This is the goulash I was served in Austria when I studied abroad. My best friend made an amazing version of it. It features melt-in-your mouth, tender chunks of beef, slowly cooked in an incredibly rich paprika gravy.

Marta’s Fish Fry on Fridays is also quite popular. She serves the Fish Fry every day during the Lenten season. Marta’s is open for business Monday to Thursday from 4 pm to 9 pm, Friday 4 pm to 10 pm and Saturday 4 pm to 10 pm.palacinka

For dessert I highly recommend ordering the Palacinka, which is a crepe with fresh fruit filling and whipped cream. It is a light and perfect ending to a heavy meal. It is also a nice dessert to share, so save your forks. Marta’s also serves apple, cherry or cheese strudel and vanilla ice cream. One of these days I am going to see if they would be willing to combine the offerings and make my all-time favorite dessert – Eispalatschinken, which is palacinka filled with vanilla ice cream instead of fruit filling. I ate this for the first time in Austria 25 years ago and went back to the restaurant 10 years later and enjoyed it again.

Contact info:

Marta’s European-American Food
800 East 222nd Street
Euclid, Ohio 44123
216-731-9596

Lopez Southwest Kitchen

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IMAG2863Lopez began in 1979 as Lopez y Gonzalez, which was conceived as a multi-international chain of cutting edge Mexican restaurants. The only cities where the owners succeeded are Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, Mexico City, and Cleveland Heights. Celebrity chef Rick Bayless opened the restaurant as its first chef in 1980. Lopez has been turning out southwestern food and drinks since 1979. Lopez y Gonzalez was located at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Lee Road and closed in 1998. Lopez on Lee opened in 2001.

I hadn’t been back after an unfortunate incident with chipssalsaa bartender in 2009, but decided I needed to check it out again. We went on a Monday night when they don’t offer valet parking, so I parked in its small parking lot. But valet parking is only $3, which is a small price to pay if the heavens are threatening to open up that night. I arrived a few minutes late to find my friends there, water glasses filled and chips and salsa waiting for me. It was a nice beginning to the evening.

I have been bloodorangemargon a blood orange kick lately, so I ordered a tall blood orange margarita. It was during happy hour, so I got it for $6 instead of $12! It was delicious. Not too sweet, not too bitter and not too potent. It definitely tasted as if they used fresh blood orange juice. I sucked down two that evening. They were that good.

I’ve had their shrimp ‘n’ grits before and was seriously tempted to order it again. It features corn, chiles, smoked gouda, roasted peppers and scallion. It has a nice heat to it thanks the jalapenos and chiles in the grits and sauce IMG_20120828_184052and is outrageously good. The photo here is just a sample portion from when I was on the NEO Food Tour of the Cedar-Lee district.

Instead I ordered the guacamole trio for the table to start. My favorite was a blue cheese and bacon guac. I learned later it is the Iron Chef guac created by Michael Symon with blue cheese, sage and house-cured bacon chunks. Yeah. Big fan. The cheese and bacon complemented each other well and were a good guactriomatch for the fresh creamy and chunky avocado. The other two flavors (lobster guac with salmon caviar and the traditional) were also really good.

My friend B. is a huge taco fan, so it was obvious what we were all going to order.The tacos are pricy, but the flavors are inventive, the ingredients are upscale, and they are actually quite filling. I had a tough time deciding which I wanted and how many I wanted (there is a minimum order of two). I ordered a trio and ended up taking half of each one home with me. Next time I will just order two. I knew I wanted to order the Buttery Lobster Taco, and that was in fact my favorite taco out of the three Ilobstercatfishtrout chose. It features butter-poached lobster, bacon, arugula, smoked tomato and guacamole. The lobster was fresh and tender, and the flavor of the smoked tomato really came out when it popped in my mouth. My second favorite was the Smoked Trout Taco. It comes with jicama slaw and a habanero corn mustard crema. The server told me the cream was a little spicy, so I ordered it on the side just to be safe. After dipping my fork to test it I quickly troutcarnitasslathered the entire portion on the taco. The crema was delicious and not spicy at all. I chose the Ancho Battered Catfish with jicama slaw and a gaucho crema for my third taco. The catfish was a good portion of fish and it was perfectly fried. It was good, but just couldn’t compare with the other two tacos. I was extremely pleased with my meal, as were my dining companions who both ordered the trout, but one ordered the Smoked Brisket Tops taco and the other ordered the Mole Dusted Seared troutshrimpTuna and the Spicy Grilled Shrimp. The two of us who ordered 3 tacos ended up with small to-go boxes.

None of us had room for dessert. I plan on going back soon to try the lobster enchiladas, the fajitas, and the garlic and spinach stuffed trout (not necessarily in that order). Now that the weather is getting nicer I plan on enjoying some more blood orange margaritas on their inviting patio. They take reservations through Open Table.

Contact info:

Lopez on Lee
2196 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-9000

Frank Sterle’s Slovenian Country House

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

Photo by Edsel L.
Photo by Edsel L.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contact info:

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

Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern

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The Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern lasted four years at this location. The Happy Dog on Detroit is still open if you are craving hot dogs and tots with crazy toppings.

IMAG1359I am so thrilled that the Happy Dog, which I already loved in the Gordon Square district, has opened on the East Side at the Euclid Tavern in the new hip and happening Uptown district. It is now less than a mile from my home, which means I will be there a lot. After obsessively checking their Facebook page and website several times a day for weeks until they opened, I was there the night it opened and was thrilled to see what they’ve done with the place. IMAG1429I’ve been back several times since.

The Happy Dog offers lots of seating choices in addition to the extensive main room and bar, including seating in the back room near the kitchen as well as in the basement. There should hopefully be no problems finding a seat here. Parking is available on side roads as well across the street in a metered lot just past the Cleveland Institute of Art building where the old Cleveland Food Co-op used to be (I believe it is E. 112th).

IMAG1718They offer some toppings that are different from the one in Gordon Square. The basics haven’t changed though: quarter-pound all-beef franks or veggie Italian sausages topped with your choice of up to 50 toppings and fries or tater tots with 20 dips and 10 or 11 different toppings. Experience has shown me that it is best to only choose three or four toppings, since it is hard to eat a dog that has too many toppings.IMAG1371

I ordered my first dog here topped with bacon-spiked southern style greens, Everything Bagel cream cheese, and “Chix-Fil-A” cole slaw. I almost wept with joy when I bit into it. I think this is my favorite Happy Dog hot dog to date. The creaminess of the cream cheese and the cole slaw with the greens just worked together perfectly.

IMAG1428My second dog was not as successful, but still good. I tried a variation of Michael Symon’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” (since the ingredients are somewhat different). His version features alien pickle relish, Sriracha hot sauce, chunky peanut butter and a fried egg. I decided to order it with the curried peanut butter and alien pickle relish and topped with bacon and potato stix instead of a fried egg (because I’m allergic to egg). I could barely taste the peanut butter or alien pickle relish, but I did like the crunch of the potato stix.

IMAG1721My most recent dog featured the bacon-spiked southern-style greens, Applewood smoked bacon, French brie, sauteed mushrooms, “Chix-Fil-A” coleslaw, and Japanese Yum Yum sauce. Yet another delicious dog that totally hit the spot.

The tater tots can be ordered with your choice of 20 dips and/or $1 toppings like refried beans, sloppy joe, spaghetti-Os, etc.. They have a curried Dijon mustard dip here that goes with the tots quite nicely. A ketchup, a mustard and some cheese is all you need for nirvana here or order a whole mess of dips to share with the tIMAG1723able. The top secret fry sauce, Yum Yum sauce, and roasted garlic aioli are my personal favorites. Experiment to find yours.

They have done a great job honoring the history of the Euclid Tavern while making the place their own. The autographed wall just highlights the history of the place, and the bar greets you as you walk in.IMAG1365

They are also now open for lunch, which is good news for me because I usually go out for lunch more often than for dinner. The Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern is open from 11 a.m.-1 a.m., and Happy Hour runs from 4-7. I was there shortly after 4 the other day, and I was the only person in the place  besides the employees. My tater tots were piping hot that day!

They also feature live performances some nights with varying cover charges, and I am confident they will start offering interesting discussions and features like the Happy Dog in Gordon Square does. The fact that the Cleveland Orchestra could literally walk to the Euclid Tavern makes me think this dream will probably be a reality. So be sure to pop into the “Euc” and see what they’ve done with the place! This place truly does make Cleveland Rock.

IMAG1719

Contact info:

Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern
11625 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH
(216) 231-5400

Carrie Cerino’s Ristorante and Party Center in North Royalton


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some other photos from our delicious meal:

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

Contact info:

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

Jack Flaps

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IMAG0839Jack Flaps opened in Ohio City back in December, billed as an “urban breakfast shoppe.” The restaurant is a 40-seat eatery serving pancakes, waffles and other breakfast creations to the masses in Ohio City. It is a joint venture between Chef Eric Williams and Randy Carter of Momocho. I had heard so many good things about this place since it opened, but I never managed to make it here until one morning I read on my Facebook feed that their Breakfast Bahn Mi had just been named best IMAG0835breakfast sandwich from the Best Sandwiches in America for 2014. I was convinced that it was high time to try the place and headed out within a half an hour.

This place did not disappointed. The coffee is a City Roast blend, the juice hits the spot, and they serve Yoohoo. How quirky is that? The coffee is served in a to go cup, and they offer to fill you up before you leave. That is a nice perk.

IMAG0836As for the food, I have been back several times. I keep intending to order something sweet, but the savory side of the menu appeals to me more when I am actually there.

The Breakfast Bahn Mi is a serious pleasure for the mouth. It is a twist on a banh mi with a fried egg, kim chi, and housemade Vietnamese sausage patty. The egg was perfectly runny. The kim chi was not too spicy, not too bland, but juuuuust right. I ADORED the Everything Bagel cream cheese that came with the sandwich. I could seriously just be blissfully happy with the cream cheese and a piece of toast. It is so good! I posted a photo of the sandwich IMAG0837on my Facebook wall, and one of my friends in Chicago who was visiting me within the next few months said he wanted to go there and try it. He loved it just as much as I did.

I paired the Bahn Mi with the root vegetable hash. Wow, it is seriously good. Kind of like fried potatoes, but better because it is made of root vegetables. It had a nice spicy kick to it and was crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.IMAG0997

On my next visit I was craving the Everything Bagel cream cheese, so I ordered the Happy Jack waffle, which has an all-beef hot dog chopped up inside the waffle and is topped with garlicky greens and the EB cream cheese. Good God almighty that cream cheese is good. The waffle itself was a little dry with just the cream cheese alone on it, and I would have really appreciated some syrup to go with it. But it was a good waffle, and I left happy.

When my friend came to visit I had just started my diet, so IMAG1204I stuck with The Old Standard – two eggs to order (scrambled), choice of breakfast meat (I went with the Mexican Coke-glazed pork belly), the root vegetable hash, and toast. The toast was made from homemade bread and was delicious. It was a crime to just eat the one piece and leave the other uneaten. IMAG1205Jack Flaps’ toast gives Lucky’s Cafe’s Como toast a run for its money in my heart. I would be hard pressed to choose between the two. The eggs were well scrambled just like I asked. As for the pork belly, it was good. I have friends who adore it. Me? I’ve come to the conclusion recently that I just donIMAG0838‘t love pork belly. I love bacon, but I really don’t like all the fat in pork belly. I think it’s a Virgo thing. I ordered the pork belly because I had already had the Vietnamese sausage. I should have stuck with the sausage because it is awesome.

I can’t wait to try the S.O.S. and the Deviled Egg Benedict (hopefully they will carry it again next spring or summer). The Fall pancake, waffle and eggy bread choices also sound appealing. Maybe next time I’ll actually order from the Sweet side of the menu.

Contact info:

Jack Flaps
3900 Lorain Ave
Cleveland (Ohio City), OH 44113
(216) 961-5199