Boss ChickNBeer

Located on Front Street in Berea, this women-owned restaurant features fried chicken wings and tenders and locally brewed beer. I imagine it fits quite well into the Baldwin Wallace college culture.

Boss ChickNBeer is a unique restaurant – everything that is fried is gluten-free, as they use rice flour and soybean oil for their deep-fried and battered chicken. All the products that are in the fryers are all gluten free, and there is no cross contamination. The pasta and some buns are the only non-GF items. This is one of those places that picks one thing to do and does it well. Like the name says, it focuses on chicken and beer. If you don’t want beer you can help yourself to the free sweet or unsweetened iced tea and water in the dispensers in the back.

The storefront itself is rather small. It features bar seating and a few tables along the wall. There is no table service. You can order at the bar or if it is busy you order at the cash register near the entrance (although there is an entrance in the back as well from a small parking lot).

My first visit was right after it opened, so the menu was a little more limited than it is now. I couldn’t decide if I wanted wings or tenders, so I ordered both in the WingN Tender combo, which comes with 1 lb of wings, 3 tenders, 2 sides and 2 sauces for $20. I ordered the New Cleveland Gold and Citrus BBQ sauces. Both sauces were great, but I preferred the New Cleveland Gold. The wings were a little saltier than I expected, but they were absolutely delicious. I enjoyed the seasoning they use. The wings do not come coated in sauce, nor do they need to be. In fact, the menu specifies they can coat the wings in sauce for $100. The chicken tenders were perfectly fried, very tender – no pun intended – and quite juicy. I ordered the onion rings and fried brussels sprouts as sides. The onion rings were massive. They were thinly sliced, which I didn’t think was possible. The flavor was completely on point. The brussels sprouts were an absolute delight. They were roasted to within an inch of their life and absolutely delicious. I also ordered a Platform beer, because beer just goes well with wings. It was a lot of food and I enjoyed it the next day (hint: use an air fryer to reheat it and your leftovers will be perfect).

Vegan wings – photo from Boss ChickNBeer

My friends got the wings and the vegan wings (battered cauliflower & smoked tofu). The vegan wings weren’t bad. I imagine if I were a vegetarian I would come order this quite often. One of my friends ordered the salt roasted sweet potato as her side. It was massive and very tasty. They also got a sample taste of the queso mac n cheese, which was delicious. I brought date nut cupcakes from Dick’s Bakery down the street for dessert, because you can’t beat the date nut cake.

On my second visit I met a friend in the dog days of summer. The place was packed, and there was a line to order. I held our table while she ordered a WingN Tender combo for the two of us (it was perfect for two people). I let her choose the sides, and she chose the hand-cut fries and superfood slaw. I once again thoroughly enjoyed the wings and tenders. I can’t decide which I prefer, because they are both good in their own way. The handcut fries were perfectly fried, and the superfood slaw was delightfully fresh with lots of small julienned superfood veggies. I don’t know if I would have ordered the slaw, but it was a nice healthy choice.

The latest version of the menu features Boss-Tastic Mac with the mac n cheese topped with chicken tenders, gold sauce, boss sauce, green onion and bacon. The Veggie Mac is topped with the vegan wings instead of the chicken and bacon. Holy hell is it good. The queso has a bit of a kick to it, but you can lessen the spice by getting a bite with some barbecue sauce as well. The curly macaroni noodles are a great vehicle delivery for the soupy cheese.

They also offer four different sandwiches – the Hott Chick, the Hott Vegan Chick, the Jersey Shore Chick and the Vegan Shore Chick – for $10. The Hott Chick and Hott Vegan Chick features their jalapeno buffalo sauce and jalapeno pickles over tenders or vegan wings, while the Jersey Shore and Vegan Shore uses peppers, mozzarella, tomatoes and marinara sauce. You can choose between a gluten-free pretzel bun or a tortilla wrap. They had a sandwich featuring a glazed donut, but surprisingly that didn’t go over that well and was taken off the menu.

Contact info:

Boss ChickNBeer
120 Front Street
Berea, OH 44017
(440) 532-7660 b

Clambakes 2019

Fall’s arrival means that it’s officially clambake season in Cleveland—at restaurants, at special events, and in friends’ backyards. The photo to the left is from the Willoughby Elks’ Annual Clambake a few years ago. I missed their clambake this year, because I was out of town. It’s always a good meal.

An Ohio clambake is a little different than a typical New England Clambake. An Ohio clambake steams everything together in one big pot, and the clams are not local—they are shipped in from the east coast. A typical clambake usually includes a dozen clams, perhaps a half-chicken or steak or lobster, ears of corn, and white, red or sweet potatoes. Served with clam chowder and/or clam broth, fresh rolls slathered with butter and a side of creamy coleslaw. My best friend from high school and her family used to put one on every year. You can read more about clambakes and hers in particular in one of my first blog posts from 2009 here.

If I ever get married, I will be married in October and have a clambake for the reception or rehearsal dinner. Clambakes are just a great time to get together. You can go to a restaurant for a clambake or put together your own. Some restaurants serve clambakes every Friday and Saturday night in October, some have a clambake on one specific day, and some only serve it one weekend night through the month.

This season I treated myself to two special clambakes in restaurants, and a friend had me over for a clambake she purchased from SweetBerry Fresh Market in Wickcliffe. You need to preorder them. The SweetBerry clambake was $14.99 per person and included a dozen clams, 1/2 a chicken, a huge sweet potato, an ear of corn, cole slaw and a dinner roll. You can also order 100 medium-neck clams for $49. She did not boil everything together, but instead prepared everything separately in her kitchen. I’m not usually a fan of chicken with a clambake, but I tore into the white meal of the chicken and loved every bite. I shared some of my dark meat with my dog. I managed to eat everything but the sweet potato, and she had made a pear cake for dessert. We sat around the table and caught up. It was a nice way to spend a Friday evening.

I chose The Lobster Pot in Willoughby Hills for my first clambake of the season in a restaurant. I was craving seafood and headed up there on a Friday night. It was later in the evening (just past the dinner hour rush), but I still had to wait about ten minutes for a table. I upgraded my $25 clambake to add a whole lobster for another $25. The clambake came with a cup of chowder (which was a little too heavy with the flavor of celery but still tasty), a dozen clams, red skin potatoes, an ear of corn, and cole slaw. I paired it with a nice chardonnay and enjoyed the entire meal very much. The lobster was awesome. They precracked it in several spots to make it easier to eat, but I did use the provided cracker as well on a couple of the joints. Even though the red skin potatoes were simple they were delicious and hit the spot. I only had one clam that didn’t open. The corn was perfectly cooked, and the cole slaw was creamy and only needed a dash of pepper to make it perfect. It definitely hit the spot.

I treated myself to a clambake at Sokolowski’s, which is the one I recommend, last Saturday. Sokolowski’s serves their clambake every Saturday in October and do not advertise it on their social media. They don’t have to. I got there at 5:15 and the line was out the back door and into the parking lot. We stood in line for a little over an hour and slowly made our way through the restaurant. I witnessed one old couple make their way through the restaurant and jump to the front of the line. Don’t be that person—even if you have reserved a clambake (which Sokolowski’s recommends) you still have to stand in line with the rest of the plebians. There were a lot of delicious choices being offered that night – including grilled red snapper, mussels in a cream sauce, grilled trout, battered cod or perch as well as the usual kielbasa, meatloaf, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. I decided if they were out of clambakes by the time I reached the steam pans I would get a dozen clams, a bowl of clam chowder and a kielbasa dinner to go (so I could eat the side salad there). Luckily they still had clambakes by the time I ordered at around 6:30.

I obviously quickly ordered the clambake ($40) and chose the 12 oz NY strip steak instead of the 1/2 chicken, candied yams instead of red skin potatoes, and sweet corn instead of green beans. The clambake also apparently came with garlic toast (but I never was offered that and grabbed a dinner roll instead) and a slice of pumpkin or apple pie for dessert. I chose a Fat Heads Bumble Berry Ale to top it off. I started with the clams, because they get cold quickly. I dipped the tender clams in the melted butter and didn’t have a single closed clam indicating a bad one. The clam chowder is the best clam chowder I have ever eaten – with chunks of chopped clam that are clearly not from a can, perfectly cooked red skin potatoes and lots and lots of delicious flavor. I managed to eat half of the steak, yams and ear of corn. I even loved the clam broth here, which I normally don’t bother with. Once stuffed, I got a box for the steak, yams and corn, grabbed my pumpkin pie (which was wrapped on a plastic plate I could just bring home with me) and headed home, looking forward to lunch or dinner the next day.

I won’t be in town for the last clambake weekend of the season, but I think I did the season justice. I wanted to post this in case one of you wanted to grab a clambake before the season ends.

Contact info:

SweetBerry Fresh Market
30022 Euclid Avenue
Wickliffe, OH 44092
(440) 569-1042

The Lobster Pot
2749 SOM Center Road
Willoughby Hills, OH 44094
(440) 569-1634

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

Omizu Sushi

Omizu Sushi on Ridge Road – not to be confused with Mizu Sushi on Brookpark Road – has earned its spot on my short list of favorite sushi places in Cleveland. It is tucked away in an unassuming strip mall with a Save-A-Lot and a Master Pizza. This place should be more packed than it is. It seems people flock to Mizu on Brookpark Road for their happy hour, but they are seriously missing out on some artistic and delicious sushi at Omizu. Omizu has a happy hour too. It just isn’t as well known.

I stumbled on it when I was looking for a place close to the Parma-Snow library to grab a bite after an author book talk and signing. I love the wall of water and fake fish that divides the dining area from the bar and sushi bar. I saw a lychee martini on the menu and haven’t looked back. The lychee martini is really nice and refreshing, with a lychee garnish.

I decided to order a miso soup and a couple of sushi rolls. The miso soup was decent. It’s nothing to write home about, but the broth is flavorful and they don’t cheap out on the tofu chunks. I just wish there was more seaweed in it.

I ordered two specialty rolls and a couple nigiri. The salmon and tuna nigiri were a delight. The fish was fresh, and the rice was perfect. It didn’t fall apart and had a nice flavor to it. I was not all that impressed with the “Yummy Roll.” It was supposed to have mango in it, but there wasn’t enough to notice. On the other hand, the Monkey Roll was out of this world. The Monkey Roll is topped with tempura banana. I was a little nervous ordering it, but it ended up being my favorite thing. The sweetness of the banana played off the fish and eel sauce nicely. It may not sound that great, but if you like banana trust me. You will love it. I suggest ordering it closer to the end of the meal as a dessert roll.

The next time I went I met a group of people for dinner. We all ordered a roll or two and passed them around, so we got to try a little of everything. Some of us also ordered some appetizers. I ordered the sushi appetizer, and my friend ordered the soft shell crab. Another friend ordered the pickled mackerel, which pairs well with a martini. I loved the soft shell crab the best and would order it again. My friends make fun of me for my unintentionally phallic photos. They ribbed me once again for the sushi appetizer. My friend had posted a photo to Facebook, and they automatically asked if that appetizer was mine. No fair! I chose the Snow Mountain Roll that night in addition to the Monkey Roll. I loved the Snow Mountain Roll, so keep that in mind if you are trying to choose. But the entree that blew us all away that time was the sushimi boat for two. Since one of my friends is diabetic he tends to stay away from rice if he can. The sushimi boat was absolutely stunning. They really do a great job with presentation here.

The third time it was just me and a book. I was craving sushi and made a special drive to Omizu. I changed things up a bit and ordered the Mango Martini, which was also light and refreshing. Usually mango drinks can taste too unnatural. Not this one. I loved it. I was really hungry, so I ordered a vegetable tempura appetizer and a sushi and sashimi platter. The tempura vegetables were not too greasy and actually had a nice taste to them.  I usually find tempura to be too bland. The sashimi and nigiri were pristine, and the California roll was rolled tightly. I took half of everything home and had a nice breakfast the next day.

I hope Omizu is around for a long time so we can keep enjoying its delicious offerings. They have a ton of interesting-sounding rolls to choose from as well as tempura, hibachi and other Japanese entrees. I also look forward to trying their ramen. They have a huge range of choices.

Contact info:

Omizu Japanese Restaurant
6843 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 340-0888

Polpetta

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

Cleveland Bagel Company

The Cleveland Bagel Company got its start vending at The Cleveland Flea and farmer’s markets. I remember trying their bagels then. They bill their bagels as a “Cleveland-style bagel”- “Not too dough-y, not too sweet, Cleveland Bagel Co. bagels are smaller, full of flavor,  chewy, with a crisp exterior.” They graduated from owner Dan Herbst’s apartment to a spot in the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen then to space at Ohio City Pasta. After getting some funding from Cleveland Hustles, they opened their first brick and mortar store on Detroit Avenue. It was always a little too far for me and I am perfectly happy with Bialy’s Bagels, so I never made the trek. Well, they have now opened a shop on the East Side on Carnegie and E. 77th. They are open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day but Sunday, which means if I do get there I am usually strolling in between noon and 1. They get most of their business earlier in the morning from the Cleveland Clinic traffic. The location is going to be a hot one soon, with Fresh Fork Market’s plans to open a big facility there. Up to now the only draw there has been The Souper Market. There is a small parking lot across from E. 77th right next to the old Lancer Motel.

Sesame with brie honey walnut schmear

You can buy the bagels individually ($2) or buy a half-dozen ($8) or dozen ($14). There are seven varieties to choose from – plain, sea salt, everything, rosemary with sea salt, poppyseed, sesame seed, and cinnamon cranberry. The schmears are available in plain cream cheese, brie honey walnut, cheddar chive, thyme black peppercorn horseradish, chorizo chipotle, and a seasonal schmear. Bagel sandwiches are also available. The order gets sent to the kitchen for the sandwiches, while the regular bagel orders are toasted and schmeared behind the front counter. Single bagels are $2, while a bagel with a schmear is $4. They are generous with the schmear, which is a good thing. You can also get a toasted bagel with butter or peanut butter. There are also a few beverages to choose from – including brewed coffee, nitro coffee, bottled cold brew coffee, iced tea, orange juice, and sparkling water.

I decided to start out with your typical Classic Lox bagel ($9.50). With house-made lox, plain “schmear,” red onion and capers, it was a good rendition of a classic. I took it up a notch by adding the horseradish schmear instead of the plain cream cheese. It was good, but I recommend sticking to the plain because it doesn’t overpower the lox. The consistency of the bagel allows you to bite into it with minimal ooze of cream cheese out the sides. It was a solid choice.

Poppyseed with cheddar chive schmear

I love a good sesame seed bagel, so I paired the sesame seed bagel with their brie honey walnut schmear. Wow, that is a great flavor for a cream cheese. So much so that I bought a tub to use at home. I love a good brie, which is probably one of my favorite cheeses. Paired with honey and walnut it just takes the cream cheese spread up a notch. Definitely a favorite.

Cheddar chive is their best selling schmear, and I can see why. I paired it with a poppyseed bagel and it was a hugely popular photo on my Instagram. I liked it so much I ordered it again the other day. Definitely a tried and true go to for me.

Poppyseed with thyme black peppercorn horseradish schmear

This most recent visit also had me trying the thyme black peppercorn horseradish schmear. I paired it with the poppyseed bagel again, and it was once again a winner. I love horseradish. I took it apart and added a slice of Boar’s Head rare roast beef to each half for a very lovely lunch.

There is no seating. You can stand at the standing bar along the window to eat quickly or wait while they make your order. This tends to be a grab and go neighborhood, so that is fine with me. The Souper Market is also grab and go. I for one am happy the Cleveland Bagel Company is on the east side. I hope they can make a go of it here, because I like to support companies that value their employees enough to pay $15 an hour. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Contact info:

Cleveland Bagel Company
7501 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103

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

Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina

I live at the top of the hill into Little Italy, but I gladly drive to Euclid to eat at Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina. I discovered it recently while at the Euclid Library for an event. I left hungry and searched for some place nearby. I am so glad I chose it. As soon as I walked in I remembered having seen a video of them receiving an award for Best Sinful Dessert in Cleveland, so I immediately knew I was going to be in good hands. Established in 1989, it was closed for a while after a mechanical fire and has recently reopened.

This family-owned and operated gem has a lot going for it. Everything is homemade – from the bread to the pasta. The bread is an adaptation of the pizza dough and is fired as a flatbread that is cut in half and topped with a light garlic butter and pepper. I actually wish the bread was more substantial, but it is at least plentiful. They are willing to keep bringing out more and more.

I first want to note that I love their presentations. The wood planks that serve the bread and the funky, off-kilter bowls that the soup, salad and pasta come in are just whimsical and fun.

The house soup is their lasagna soup. I haven’t had a chance to try it, because I don’t want to overload on tomato sauce when I’m there but I will soon. I have tried one of their soups of the day. The soup that day was “chicken soup,” and it was a delightful soup that was reminiscent of Italian wedding without the meatballs and tons of escarole. There were some greens and tiny pasta balls. I had to add just a bit of salt and pepper to it to liven it up to my liking, but I happily finished it.

The side salad with house Italian dressing always hits the spot. It is dressed with the perfect amount of dressing – not too little, not too much – and topped with shredded cheese, cherry tomato halves, cucumber slices and a couple pepperoni. I got to have my vegetarian friends’ pepperoni last time. So if you are a vegetarian, be forewarned to order with no pepperoni.

They have house pasta specialties such as lasagna, involtini, and pepe e cacio, various meat and vegetarian entrees, focaccia stuffed sandwiches, pizza and calzones as well as Pasta Your Way. Regular pasta (spaghettini, capellini, penne, rigatoni, ziti tagliati, and fettuccini) is a base rate of $10, cavatelli and gnocchi are $11, stuffed pasta (meat, cheese or spinach ravioli and stuffed shells) is $12, bucatini, spaghetti chitarra and and “gigli toscana” are $12.50, and whole wheat pasta and gluten-free penne are $14. Pappadelle, burrata ravioli, and lobster ravioli are $14. They offer twelve different pasta sauces – marinara, carbonara, meat sauce, pomodoro, alfredo, “rosella” (a blend of their marinara and alfredo), piccata (lemon butter), marsala, aglio e olio, pesto, putanesca, and salsa a vongoli (baby clams slow cooked in either creamy alfredo, marinara, or oil and garlic). The pesto, carbonara, putanesca, pomodoro, alfredo, rosella, salsa a vongoli have an upcharge of $3 and the other sauces (except marinara) have an upcharge of $2. You can also add on various meats, seafood and veggies for  $2.50-$3.50 depending on the addition.

I had a bite of my friend’s gnocchi in the rosella sauce, and it was right up there with Trattoria’s gnocchi, which has been my gold star standard for years. The gnocchi were light, and the rosella sauce complemented it well. Another friend ordered the gnocchi with the putanesca sauce. She was also very pleased with her selection.

The first time I ate here the Sunday Sauce called to me, and I simply can’t break away from ordering it. Sunday Sauce is what every Italian I know makes – call it sauce or gravy, it is simmered for a long time with pork neck and/or back, sausage and meatballs or even braciole. I order it every time I go and just vary the pasta. The Sunday Sauce is a delicious tomato sauce that comes with an Italian sausage, a meatball and some pork. For $20 it is generous enough for leftovers every time.

Unfortunately another friend was less thrilled with her spaghetti and meatballs and sent it back. The noodles were overcooked, and she didn’t like the sauce at all (I think she had ordered the pomodoro sauce). We were a big table and it took forever to get our meals that night, so it might have been a blip. Although, she is Italian, so why she didn’t order the Sunday Sauce is beyond me.

They are known for their Involtini pasta, which is ricotta cheese-filled pasta rolled into a log then cut into large pin wheels. I ordered it the second time I ate here – with the Sunday Sauce. It was almost too rich and decadent.

The pizza at the table next to me the other day looked delicious, and I was almost tempted to order one. One of the employees walked the little boy who enjoyed the pizza into the back to see the pizza oven. It’s a nice, family-friendly touch. Because when you are here you are treated like part of the family. I’m not even kidding.

We celebrated one of my friend’s birthdays here and I knew we had to order the cannoli cake. It is two layers of vanilla cake, a layer of chocolate cake and tons of layers of cannoli filling, coffee liqueur, as well as crushed cannoli shells that are dipped in chocolate and a chocolate ganache. This cake is the BOMB. I am not exaggerating that it is probably the best dessert I have ever had – and I don’t like cannoli! It is light and ethereal – not dense at all. Simply heavenly. A small cake runs $40 and easily fed eight of us and yielded eight generous slices to take home as well. You can also order this cake for one person – just call ahead and order it.

They have an excellent wine list, and I can recommend the limoncello cocktail and Venetian Spritz!

Contact info:

Mama Catena Vino e’ Cucina
711 Babbitt Road
Euclid, OH 44123
(216) 261-1168