Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant Bar and Grill

I never would have thought a great little gem of a Mexican restaurant would be hidden in a strip mall on Green Road. Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant Bar and Grill was recommended to me by my massage therapist. He told me many of his clients enjoyed eating there.

Authentic Mexican is hard to find, and I’m certainly not someone who can tell. However, one southern California transplant is a fan and that’s enough for me. She recommends the cheese enchiladas (and several people suggest getting the verde sauce) and fish tacos. And they have tacos and gorditos de lengua (tongue) on special on Saturdays (click on the Specials on the website). You don’t see too many restaurants here that serve tongue. They also serve pozole on Saturdays and menudo on Sundays as well as cheap street tacos (hard shelled for $1, soft shelled for $2) on Taco Tuesday.

I met a girlfriend there for lunch after her massage for our first foray there. I ordered what is probably the most Instagrammable item on the menu, but it is as delicious as it is beautiful. I ordered the pineapple fajitas. I love fajitas because they are hard to screw up, but these fajitas come in a pineapple half on top of the searing hot plate. The chips are fresh and warm, and I enjoyed the salsa. The margarita was great. I ordered a frozen peach margarita the first time, but over time I have determined that I love the fresh margarita the best.

This became my go to place to order from during the coronavirus crisis, because they starting serving their margaritas to go. I got a little emotional when I had a sip of margarita for the first time in months. They serve peach, raspberry, blue raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, mango, pineapple and lime on the rocks or frozen. They are available in glasses, jumbo glasses, half pitchers, and pitchers. I love the raspberry, watermelon and – when I really want to splurge – fresh lime margaritas. They are $14.99 ($18.99 for top shelf). They also have a nice happy hour every day.

My go to order here is the Pollo Adobo. It features grilled, seasoned and marinated chicken strips with grilled mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions covered in queso. It comes served with rice, beans and tortillas. This is my favorite thing in a Mexican restaurant. It isn’t available at every restaurant, so when it is I order it. I love the cheesy dip mixed with the savory chicken and veggies.

My dad likes chile rellenos, so I like to try them when I see them on the menu. I was able to order it in a combination with a spinach enchilada and bean burrito (Vegetarian Combo #7). I thought it was a little bland, and I loved the spinach enchilada the most out of the three. The best thing about it was the cost – $9.99. You can’t beat that when you are pinching pennies during a pandemic.

Growing up we had Chi-Chis, and everyone ordered their fried ice cream. The fried ice cream here actually comes kind of close to the Chi-Chis fried ice cream. My photo doesn’t look very appealing, because it was in a to go container during COVID (and on Cinco de Mayo to boot). They got overwhelmed with orders and I was afraid my ice cream would melt, but it came out perfect and was still cold when I got it home. I highly recommend it if you like the combination of cinnamon and ice cream.

Contact info:

Los Arcos
2175 S Green Road
University Hts, OH 44121
(216) 862-6623

Congin’s

Photo from Yelper Laura S.

I had never heard of Congin’s until I attended a Bordeaux wine dinner by myself at Le Petit Triangle. I was sat at a larger table of strangers, and we were trading favorite food tips (as foodies tend to do). One of the women, who I recognized as a writer for the Cleveland Heights Observer, recommended the pizza at Congin’s. Congin’s Pizza is a family-owned restaurant that has been in business for over 27 years. Apparently there are two locations – Congin’s Pizza in Chardon and Congin’s Italian in Cleveland on Nottingham Road & St. Clair near the Euclid/South Collinwood border). I drove past the Nottingham location, and it took me a second to recognize it. It looks like an unassuming auto body repair shop. One Yelper describes it as “a very unassuming, bare bones building lacking in even a modicum of charm.” I made a point to stop for a pizza (making the mistake of not calling it in – I sat and waited in the austere waiting area for a while). It was worth the wait, and I’ve been frequenting Congin’s Italian ever since. It is a quick drive from Cleveland Heights once I learned the back roads, and it serves what I think is the best old-school, American-style pizza in Cleveland. The crust is delicious, the red sauce is not too sweet and not too acidic, and they are generous with the toppings. I especially like the generous clumps of sausage. I am hooked. In fact, I was driving for Lyft on Valentine’s Day and decided to call it a night when I was near Bedford. I called in a pizza order to Congin’s and drove all the way there to get my pie just before they closed at 10 pm. Driving 271 to 90, I got off at E. 185th, and it was a quick trip until I was there on Nottingham. They have a drive-thru window if you’re lazy and don’t want to get out of car. I can’t usually wait until I get home and dig into the pizza as soon as I can. The melty cheese stretch brings so much satisfaction, and I rush to get the slice in my mouth before the warm toppings slide off. I’ve gotten pretty good at holding it so it all stays together. I order the same pizza every time – the Deluxe, which features pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, green pepper, black olive, and onion. I think about switching it up every once in a while, but why mess with perfection.

I’ve also tried several other things off the menu. I ordered the Congin’s sub on my second visit, because ordering the sub named for the restaurant seemed like a no-brainer. I enjoyed the sub a lot. The Congin features turkey, ham, roast beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mustard, & Miracle Whip. Even though I prefer mayonnaise I didn’t hate the Miracle Whip. I think it gave it a more unique flavor. The tomato was surprisingly fresh and perfect for a tomato in January. It was a nice surprise. I loved the fact that the lettuce they used was a spring mix featuring arugula. They have a meatball sub, Italian sausage sub, chicken and eggplant parmagiana subs, and hot buttered steak sub that sound good – as well as something called a Bundo Burger, which is apparently very similar to a Romanburger. Ah, Cleveland, never change!

Their pasta dinners come with a dinner salad and a bread roll. You can order a half order, but it doesn’t come with the salad or roll. I ordered the spaghetti with meat sauce my first time around. I always order spaghetti at a new place, but have learned not to order meatballs because I tend to be disappointed. The spaghetti was good and the meat sauce was quite generous. I will be trying other pastas off the menu in the future.

The wings were weird. People raved about them on Yelp. I was not expecting to receive breaded wings with the sauce on the side. They were large, meaty wings, but I prefer unbreaded wings. Breading makes the sauce soak in and is just unnecessary in my opinion.

Contact info:

Congin’s Italian
18812 Nottingham Rd
Cleveland, OH 44110
(216) 481-4585

Congin’s Pizza
104 South Street
Chardon, OH
(440) 286-1260

Gunselman’s Tavern

I’m lucky I don’t live closer to Gunselman’s Tavern or I would be eating here all the time. The restaurants in Cleveland would go under, because I would be eating at Gunselman’s once a week and not exploring all of Cleveland’s restaurants. They are open every day from 11:00 to 2:30 a.m. The menu has a lot to offer, with lots of interesting appetizers, salads, entrees and burgers. They have a rotating daily soup, happy hour is 11-6 p.m. everyday of the week, and they offer Sunday brunch from 11-2 p.m. Gunselman’s has been open as a neighborhood bar since 1920. Opened as the Past Time Cafe in the 1920’s and has a shady history during prohibition. Legend has it that Henry Gunselman was a whiskey salesman that went to collect a bill in 1936. They couldn’t pay so he took over the bar. Gunselman’s had a great neighborhood kitchen until 1956. The new owners re-opened the comfort food kitchen in 2016 with a lot of old school recipes and a great burger. The walls have lots of old-time photos. The bar side is homier than the side room, but if you park in the parking lot you can enter through the side room.

The place is not that large, so during dinner hours it can get quite packed. That particular night had a large party in the side room, and the bar was packed with people. We had to wait for a while for a table to open up, but luckily her son and his girlfriend were running late.

I first heard about Gunselman’s when a friend posted a photo of the December burger of the month – the Christmas Dinner featuring 1/2 lb. burger, shaved prime rib (shaved here meaning nice slabs), house recipe horseradish aioli, rosemary au jus, Muenster cheese, arugula and tomato on a Weck (salted) bun. Every single ingredient was perfectly balanced to complement the others. The horseradish aioli was divine and the rosemary au jus was inspiring. That prime rib was also absolutely perfect. Despite it being fairly chunky it came apart easily

and melted together with the beef. I took a photo of the cross-section because it is a sight to behold. My friend and I split it (and ordered onion rings instead of fries) in addition to ordering a few appetizers for the table to share.

The tabletopper sign said the burger paired well with GLBC Christmas ale, but I ordered a Black & Tan because I could. Anytime Guiness is on draft I order it. Black & Tan is one of my favorite Irish beer or ders – half Guinness and half Harp or other Irish lager. It always hits the spot.

My friend and I also split a dozen chicken wings. Gunselman’s was in the middle of a wing sauce competition, so we ordered some wings with one of the sauces. The wings were well-fried and crisp and the sauce was very flavorful. I’m not a hot/spicy loving person, so it was very sweet BBQ sauce-like, which is my jam. The wings were quite tasty. I went home with a couple of them, and they made a nice lunch the next day.

The kid at the table decided to order chicken tenders after the waitress told him he could get them doused in sauce. Unfortunately for him he chose a sauce that was a little spicier than he was ready for. He should have gotten the sauce on the side like on the menu. He enjoyed the tenders anyway.

I ordered the Reilly’s Corned Beef Pasties, which Reilly’s Irish Bakery makes for them. They are empanada-like meat pies (the Brits call them pasties) filled with corned beef & Swiss, sauerkraut and 1000 Island. This was the surprise hit of the night. We all loved them, and I could see myself ordering them again.

My friend’s son ordered the Ohio City pierogi but I seem to remember that there was something special to them. The normal pierogi are Ohio City Pasta cheddar & red potato pierogi with grilled onions and sour cream. They were a little tougher than I like, but it was a solid pierogi if you like pierogi.

I enjoyed this burger of the month so much that I went back a week later for lunch on my own. It was a big burger. I would have been too full if I had ordered anything else. It was the middle of a snowy day and I felt like spoiling myself, so I ordered an Irish coffee. It did a good job warming me up, and the burger was just as good as I remembered. I went with the hand cut fries, which I enjoyed dunking into the accompanying side of cheese sauce. I’m not usually a cheese sauce girl and prefer ketchup with my fries, but there is something about this pairing of cheese sauce and fries that is a match made in heaven. If I am not mistaken it is the Bertman beer cheese dip featuring cheddar cheese + beer + Bertman’s original ball park mustard and served with pretzel rods as an appetizer. Good stuff! It is without a doubt the best burger I have ever eaten. I was sad to see it go off the menu.

I ordered the chicken paprikash to go for dinner that night. Advertised as “Irish Kevin’s recipe” it was a little overpowering and heavy on actual peppers for me. Not a flavor profile I prefer. I’ll stick with Sokolowski’s or Balaton’s, so give me the ones made with Hungarian paprika. Other people adore it. It’s just not my taste and I’ll happily try more things on the menu instead.

The Burger of the Month in January was some health-conscious one wrapped in lettuce, so I skipped it. However, February’s Burger of the Month, Coldwater Lobster Love, featured a half pound burger of ground brisket, chuck and short rib (for one damn tender burger patty), smoked bacon, coldwater lobster meat poached in Cajun butter, Muenster cheese, tomato and arugula on your basic burger bun. This burger was decadent AF. I ordered it medium rare and it practically melted in my mouth. It was once again perfectly cooked. I paired it with an El Dudearino, which is Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Kahlua and cream. When I finished that I switched to iced tea because the snow was starting to fly and I wanted to have my wits about me for the drive home.

I can’t wait to see what this place does next.

Contact info:

Gunselman’s Tavern
21490 Lorain Road
Fairview Park, OH 44126
(440) 331-5719

Byte Cafe

Two years ago during Lent I joined a fun little thing called “40 Days of Sandwiches.” I was introduced to it by my friend Nina whose friend Mitch started it. They are still doing it this year if you want to join them. Just post your photo to Instagram and use the hashtag #40daysofsandwiches. I’m toying with the idea of doing it again, but it is really hard to eat some kind of sandwich every day. Maybe every other day. It was a fun way to explore new restaurants and sandwiches.

When planning my sandwich schedule, I stumbled on a Thrillist list of the best sandwiches in Cleveland, which included the Green Goddess by Byte Cafe. I live close to the Byte Cafe and had no idea it was even there. You probably aren’t even aware of it. It is a little coffee and sandwich counter on the ground floor of the Tyler Building on Superior Avenue. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

The Byte Cafe is an unassuming little place at the end of the ground floor hallway with a fun little eating area with leaded glass windows. It gets crowded during the lunch rush when all of the business people in the building head down for lunch. I go after lunch rush hours and before they close. And get it to go.

The first time I went there was for the Green Goddess. It features fresh avocado, goat cheese, basil pesto, arugula, balsamic reduction, roasted walnuts, and salt&pepper on multigrain bread. It was by far the favorite and most unique sandwich I ate during the 40 Days of Sandwiches. It was refreshingly light yet super creamy and flavorful.

Another sandwich that is highly recommended here is the Desperado, which is a turkey sandwich that is topped with has bacon, avocado, arugula, tomato and apricot honey mustard. I really enjoyed the apricot honey mustard. It gave it a nice little flavor kick.

All of their soups are homemade and change every week. So far I have enjoyed their cream of potato, clam chowder and French onion. The soups taste homemade with sizable chunks of ingredients, which makes it filling. The soup comes served with a nice hunk of bread as well. The French onion soup had the croutons and cheese in separate containers to add at home/in the office.

I haven’t ordered any salads, but the Ancient Grains and Green Goddess ones sound amazing. They also offer the option to order a half sandwich if you have a smaller appetite.

My most recent lunch featured the aforementioned French onion soup and The Alaskan. The Alaskan features smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, red onions and a vinaigrette on a ciabatta bun. I’m not the biggest fan of ciabatta, so I would probably order a different bread choice next time. I always try the default before switching it up.

 

I usually get here after the lunch rush and don’t drink coffee after 2:30 or 3:00, so I have not ordered a coffee here yet. It’s next on the list!

Contact info:

Byte Cafe
3615 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 835-7073

Paczki Crawl 2020

It’s paczki (pronounced poonch-key) season here in Cleveland. What used to be a one-day tradition has grown to weeks of sweet treats and polka parties in Cleveland, culminating on Fat Tuesday, the day of feasting before the Christian fast known as Lent (February 25 this year). Paczki are Polish doughnuts filled with jelly or some other kind of sweet filling, traditionally served prior to Lent and are a mainstay in most Catholic cultures. The Germans call them Berliner. The jelly doughnuts happened because people would clear their kitchens of milk and butter in preparation for Lent and would make doughnuts. The paczki dough recipe is similar to German, Jewish, and Italian filled doughnuts, but traditional paczki contain a splash of Polish vodka called Spiritus in addition to the flour, eggs, milk, sugar, yeast, and sometimes butter that make up the dough. We hit two Polish and two Italian bakeries on our crawl.

Samosky’s paczki

I am not a huge fan of crowds. I do not do well standing in long lines and being crushed by people, so I avoid Fat Tuesday, which is the day most bakeries are having their celebrations and selling out of their paczki. I have been buying paczkis here and there in the run-up, so I had a solid plan for the paczki crawl. We did a spontaneous one last year after a particularly bad pancake breakfast, hitting a bunch of bakeries. This year my friend wanted to do it again and met me at the Donauschwaben German-American Club, where I teach on Saturdays until noon. I had wanted to drive to Kiedrowski’s in Amherst, but she requested we start at Becker’s in Fairview Park. The goal of the afternoon was to just see where it took us and enjoy being out and about.

The actual first stop was McDonald’s to get a large iced coffee. It hit the spot and was quite fortifying for the day. And they are currently selling any sized iced coffee for $1.50. Bonus.

Becker’s only sell paczki on Fat Tuesday. We ended up buying a couple of their doughnuts anyway, a glazed and a Boston cream for me. My friend bought a couple Russian tea cakes and a glazed doughnut. We didn’t eat them there. We ended up just stopping and buying doughnuts along the way. I really enjoyed the glazed doughnut when I did eat it. It was very light and melted in my mouth. I spent $6 and change here.

Chuppa’s paczki

The next stop was Samosky’s, which some people on All Things Food in Cleveland recommended. Not to be confused with Samosky’s Pizza in Valley City, it’s located in Parma on Pearl Road. I had stopped there last week, but they only had one or two paczki left in the afternoon when I got there. This time we had a bit of a selection. The paczki from Samosky’s are a much lighter dough that was more like cake than doughnut. They are split halfway through, filled with filling and lightly dusted with powdered sugar. I chose two toasted coconut Bavarian cream, a choco cream and a raspberry. I also bought two giant kolachke (one apricot and one cheese) – seriously these guys are almost as big as a spoon) and a loaf of bread. I spent $19.25 here.

Chuppa’s was next on our list. I had been thinking about the banana paczki from last year, and they didn’t have them out when I stopped last week. You could order them, but they weren’t being sold in the store at that point. I figured they would be available on a Saturday, and I was right. I learned the banana paczki was last year’s special paczki. This year’s is a mix of blueberry and raspberry and Cool Whip – and had already sold out for the day. They get the dough from a bakery in Middleburg Heights and fill them at the market. Or should I say overfill. They also split them halfway through, and the filling bulges out of them. I bought a cream cheese (because it looked amazing), blueberry, strawberry and something called Poppy Butter. I better not have to take a drug test in the next week or so (poppy can be a false positive), but it was an interesting filling. We tried the filling itself in the car. I can’t report on how much I spent here because I also went grocery shopping and bought some soups, produce and other finds. The paczki were $2.49 a piece here.

Next stop was Rudy’s. My friend wasn’t too thrilled because she’s not a fan (she finds them too greasy) but went along with it. I’m glad we went just to see the organized chaos of it all. It was pretty busy, but they hadn’t run out of anything. They have order sheets scattered everywhere in the foyer. You place your order on the sheets. One thing that irritated me was the advertised “2019 Paczkis” on their website – until I realized they were also doing it in the store. And had the same special flavor – Sweet Moses’ Hot Chocolate – as last year. I left with five sweet and four savory – hot chocolate, two custards, a chocolate butter cream, and a “Hough Bakery” (kind of like a lemon icebox cake) and the chicken paprikash, Little Italy (Italian sausage with peppers and onions), potato and cheese, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. The savory ones are slightly more than the sweet one. I spent $20.90 here. The paprikash one upset my stomach that night, but I enjoyed the custard paczki. I can see why my friend feels they are too greasy. I would agree with her on that point. I took an antacid that night and had a good night’s sleep.

The “last” stop (because at this point my back seat was filled with our purchases) was my favorite, Michael Angelo’s. My friend was not familiar with the bakery, and I was anxious to show her. The line was almost out the door and got even longer once we got closer to the register. My friend had lamented that she needed coffee, and Michael Angelo’s has a great selection. She bought a breakfast blend, and they were able to grind it for her, which made her happy. I purchased three paczki – a custard, a peanut butter and an apricot. I’ve not seen the peanut butter there before, so I am curious how it is. I love Michael Angelo’s paczki – the dough is soft and I love sinking my teeth into the dough that is stuffed with delicious filling. My friend had ordered a paczki and had to wait while they made her a fresh one, as the woman in front of me in line bought the last ones in the case. It wasn’t a problem for them.

We took the opportunity to pop into Molisano’s Italian Foods next door to Michael Angelo’s. We planned to have lunch at Nam Wah, but the sandwiches were certainly tempting. I’m going to have to come back and check it out. They sell Boar’s Head lunch meats and have some nice prepared salads in the case. I bought a couple noodle varieties I had never seen before, which I will be using in upcoming Bread and Soup Experiments.

As we meandered our way home we drove past a sign for a church selling pierogi. We both wondered aloud if we should stop and then laughed at ourselves because we had plenty to keep us for the week. It was fun to just be spontaneous. We finished our day with lunch at Nam Wah, where I introduced her to what I say is the best pho and bahn mi in town. She agrees wholeheartedly with me. We popped down to Mama Mary’s at the gas station on Columbia and Sprague so that she could try the gas station hummus. Her observation is that they leave the skins on the chickpeas so it isn’t as creamy as Ferris, which she prefers. But the seasoning was on point. Fair enough.

All in all a fun day. On the list for next year – Stan’s and Kiedrowsky’s. One that won’t be on my list again is Seven Roses. I’ve tried it two years in a row, and I am not a fan. This time I bought some at the Polish-American Cultural Center’s Fat Thursday celebration. They had run out of the custard by the time I got there, so I got one of each remaining flavor-prune, blueberry, raspberry and lemon. All but the lemon dried my mouth out. And they barely contained any filling. At $2.50 a piece. I’ll stick to the buffet in the restaurant.

Contact info:

Becker’s Donuts, Bakery and Cakes
22088 Lorain Road
Fairview Park, Ohio 44126
(440) 734-9856
(and a location in North Royalton)

Samosky’s Home Bakery
6379 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44130
(440) 845-3377

Chuppa’s Market
5640 Pearl Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 885-5000

Rudy’s Strudel and Bakery
5580 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 886-4430

Michael Angelo’s Bakery
8035 Broadview Road
Broadview Heights, OH 44147
(440) 526-0499

Nam Wah Chinese & Vietnamese Cuisine
392 W Bagley Road
Berea, OH 44017
(440) 243-8181

Seven Roses Polish Delicatessan
6301 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105
(216) 641-5789

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

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