Xinji Noodle Bar

February 20, 2018

There’s a new ramen place in town that is worth a visit. Xinji opened in October 2017 on Lorain Avenue in Ohio City and is a welcome addition to the Cleveland dining scene. The Cantonese proprietor and chef got his start making sushi and working at Akira Sushi and Hibachi in Solon as well as Momocho and Gingko and the famous Momofuku in New York City. In any event, he is meticulous about sourcing his ingredients, and it shows. Most importantly, the ramen noodles are Sun Noodle ramen noodles – the best one according to my friends in the know.

The parking is mostly street parking, but you don’t need to feed the meters after six p.m. and the parking lot across the street from Xinji doesn’t appear to be patrolled (someone was teaching their girlfriend to drive a stick shift in the parking lot when we were leaving). If I’m wrong please mention it in the comments! I was lucky enough to get a spot on the street across from Xinji.

The restaurant has a modern, industrial look, with plenty of exposed brick walls and duct work along with rather austere metal tables and chairs in steel gray and deep blue. The chairs could be a bit more comfortable. I don’t know why our local ramen places have such uncomfortable chairs. Maybe to make sure diners don’t linger?

The menu is fairly limited, with five ramen choices (unfortunately tonkatsu broth is not one of the choices), two rice bowls, and lots of different appetizers to choose from, including wings, fried chicken, two different dumplings, three different kimchi balls, and three different bao (steam buns – the flat ones, not the round fluffy ones). I ordered the special kimchi ball with peaches and miso ramen with chicken (instead of pork) and a soy egg added to it. I am not a huge fan of pork belly, but next time I’ll suck it up because the extras added up! The kimchi ball was interesting. It was nicely fried and was pretty to look at. Cutting into it, it had a nice kick to it, but was not too heavy. Others at my table ordered the spicy pork dumplings, which were absolutely outstanding (my friend N. still raves about them) and the fried chicken bao. The dumplings are amazing – and not to be missed! The fried chicken in the bao was really nicely fried and had great flavor.

As for my miso ramen, the broth was very dense and rich – almost too much so. It is served with scallion, woodear mushrooms, corn, and bean sprouts. My one criticism is that it was lukewarm and cooled quickly. Ramen is supposed to be eaten quickly, but I would have liked it to be a little hotter. Not hot so you burn your mouth, but a little more warmth would be appreciated. The noodles had a rougher texture and nice bite to them. They weren’t overcooked. The service that first night was really slow. Like glacially slow. I normally don’t complain about service, but I would have liked a second sake at some point. This sake was absolutely delicious. My friend N. ordered the champagne sake, but I preferred my choice. It was light and delicious with just a hint of fruit.

I intend to try a tonkatsu rice bowl on my next visit, which will hopefully be soon. If you haven’t been yet, be sure to give it a try. I know you won’t regret it. They are now serving during lunchtime hours as well, so you have plenty of opportunities.

Contact info:

Xinji Noodle Bar
4211 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 465-2439

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LJ Shanghai

December 21, 2017

There is nothing more satisfying than a dumpling. Just about every culture has dumplings. The most iconic of the Chinese dumpling is the soup dumpling or Xiao Long Bao. The tender pillows of dough are filled with solidified broth or aspic that then liquifies when steamed. Eating a soup dumpling is an art form – put a dumpling carefully on a soup spoon (being careful not to tear it), bite off the top and allow the broth inside to cool for a second before slurping it down and then eating the dumpling. It was not easy to find soup dumplings here in Cleveland. My first experience with them was at Emperor’s Palace, but we had to get there early because they would sell out quickly. I also had them at Bo Loong once, but the soup had seeped out of the dumplings while still on the cart. They were flavorful but had no liquid in them. Well, I am happy to announce that that is no longer the case. Enter LJ Shanghai, which specializes in soup dumplings. It opened in the old Saigon Grille restaurant space, one door over from No. 1 Pho on Superior. They make all their dumplings by hand, but the noodles come from a place in Toronto. They are tender and ethereal. We each got 2, and everyone agreed they would be back for more. The dough was just right, and they were the perfect temperature – no burned mouths to report.

I got together a group of enthusiasts for a visit so we could try their menu – and try the menu we did! We started off with an order of cucumber with garlic and then enjoyed three orders of soup dumplings as well as the veggie and shrimp and pork wonton soups, the Chongqing spicy beef noodle soup, Shanghai Pan Fried Flat Noodles, braised duck in soy sauce, an order of pig ear with chili sauce, and nine Shanghai shrimp & veggie egg rolls (one for each person).

Everyone loved everything – except the pig ear, which everyone was happy to give to the one person in our group who is a pig ear enthusiast. The texture was very off-putting. I had hoped it would be a little crisper. But hey, we at least tried them. Our pig ear enthusiast loved them, so if you like pig ear you’ll be happy.

The duck was okay. Some of us would have preferred it to be a little more crisp. The soy flavor really came out. I unfortunately do not have a photo of it because my shot was too blurry.

I have become a big fan of smashed Chinese cucumbers in the past year or so. This version is more cucumbery than others I have had, with minced garlic clearly visible. The photo shows them with chili sauce, but that wasn’t the case. The cucumbers were fresh, crisp and very lightly pickled, and a nice, refreshing counter to the dumplings and noodles, but I find I prefer to add chili sauce, which can be found on the table along with vinegar (for the soup dumplings) and soy sauce.

I really enjoyed the Shanghai pan fried flat noodles too. They got delivered to the other end of the table, so I wasn’t able to photograph them. They were very simple, but had a great flavor to them.

The soups were a big hit. We passed the bowls around and tried each one. The beef in the spicy beef noodle soup was extremely tender. If you like spicy soup you will love this. I found it a wee too spicy for me, but it slowly grew on me. That said, I fell in love with their wonton soup. The broth is light and has a bright, gingery flavor that I adore. The wonton soups come with 10 handmade wonton dumplings. I preferred the shrimp and pork wonton soup. The filling is densely packed and each one has a full mini-shrimp in it. I’m not sure what the garnish is along with the scallions – it could be seaweed. It doesn’t matter. The whole thing just works together so well. I loved it so much I went back for lunch this week and ordered the cucumbers, shrimp and pork wonton soup and an egg roll. I was tempted to get soup dumplings too, but decided that was too much for one person.

The egg roll is more like a spring roll – it was very thin and crisp with a nice filling. There was no residual oil on the plate, nor did I get any on my fingers when eating it. The soup and egg roll were perfect. I had a few cucumbers and took the rest home for later.

One little side note: I really like their tea cups. They are more substantial than the little finger bowl-sized cups you get at most restaurants and hold more tea. They also have built-in grooves for your fingers to grasp them.

In short, I really enjoyed LJ Shanghai. I am in love with their wonton soup and look forward to eating it all winter. When I went back for lunch the other day on my own I fully planned on bringing half home with me, but I ate all ten dumplings and had to hold myself back from slurping the broth out of the bowl. The gingery flavor of the broth is my new addiction.

Contact info:

LJ Shanghai
3142 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 400-6936


Mason’s Creamery

September 28, 2017

Mason’s Creamery opened in 2015 and has quickly become a favorite ice cream spot for me. They started out making ice cream at local farmer’s markets. Located on Bridge Avenue and W. 44th Street, Mason’s is a small, local business serving high-quality ice cream in all kinds of adventurous flavors. The flavors are constantly changing, so it’s always fun to go and try new things. They are always trying new flavors and are open to suggestions. There are always 16 flavors available, five of which are usually vegan or dairy free. At a place like this it’s worth venturing out of your comfort zone to try the taro, red bean, black sesame, matcha or the chai tea latte ice cream. My absolute favorite so far has been the fried ice cream, but their sorbets are also intriguing (and vegan if you like that sort of thing). They allow you to sample the flavors before you order. They also serve vegan soft serve on Sundays. In addition to scoops in a cup (2 for $4 or 3 for $5.50), you can order your ice cream or sorbet in a waffle cone, with a churro (with or without dipping chocolate), as an iced cream sandwich between warm, fresh cookies or Coquette Patisserie macarons, or nestled in a fluffy egg waffle. They make everything there fresh.

I am usually boring and prefer my ice cream scooped in a cup. It may be austere, but their ice cream is never boring. I’ve enjoyed the Tang sorbet, fried ice cream, Vietnamese coffee, Ceylon Cinnamon, Matcha, Cafe con Leche, Thai iced tea… I could go on. When I had the Tang sorbet I regretted not ordering it with the Thai ice tea because that would have been an amazing dreamsicle-like creation.

I had been wanting to try the egg waffle and I am so glad I finally did, because it is absolutely delicious. It is a great accompaniment to the creamier flavors, and you can imagine my surprise when I was then asked if I wanted regular whipped cream, peanut butter whipped cream or Nutella whipped cream. What? My friends also ordered egg waffles and raved about them. One went with the French toast and is now a HUGE fan, and the other ordered the salted caramel and loved it. I opted for Ceylon Cinnamon and Thai ice tea with Nutella whipped cream. Go big or go home, right?

Pay attention to your spoon. It changes color when it hits the ice cream (you can see it in the photo of the sorbet above). My friend freaked out tonight when I pointed it out and his boring white spoon then turned pink. I love that.

If that isn’t enough, they occasionally do Ramen Nights where they make big pots of ramen and serve it to long lines of ramen enthusiasts until they run out. I have yet to make it to one, but it is on my list of things to do.

Contact info:

Mason’s Creamery
4401 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
216) 245-8942


Mister Brisket

September 17, 2017

Mr. Brisket is the place to go in the Heights for all things meat. This butcher shop and deli is located on Taylor Road just south of Cedar Road and has been around since 1973. It is known among those in the know as one of the best butcher shops and delis around. They sell high-end USDA prime beef, veal, lamb, pork, poultry and seafood as well as some outstanding deli meats and sandwiches. They are particularly known for their pastrami, corned beef, and (obviously) brisket as well as their Jewish delicacies like chopped liver, knishes, and potato pancakes. Some consider the pastrami to be the best in the city.

The place has zero ambiance and no seating. It’s carry-out only. Don’t let its looks deceive you. Everyone raves that the corned beef sandwiches are better than Jack’s Deli or Corky and Lenny’s.

When I am in the mood for a sandwich I pop down to Mister Brisket. If I’m lucky I can get a parking space on the street, but most of the time I have to park across the street at the shopping center and cross the street. I’ve had several of their sandwiches. The sandwiches are loaded with meat and come with a pickle. You can also purchase sides of cole slaw, macaroni or potato salad, chips, cookies, brownies, and cans of soda. You can buy single sandwiches or a boxed lunch. The large boxed lunch features a large sandwich, potato salad or cole slaw, cookie, pickle spear, napkin, beverage and utensils for $12.95. The smaller boxed lunch comes with a smaller sandwich, chips, cookie, pickle spear, napkin, beverage and utensils for $9.95. It’s a good deal and is usually what I choose and a large side of potato salad or mac salad.

My first time I had to order the Reuben even though I don’t like corned beef. The meat was moist and lean. Not grisly or salty. They were light on the Swiss, as a proper Reuben should be. The Thousand Island dressing was a creamy accompaniment. The bread was nothing to write home about, but it was very tasty and soft. It was a proper rye bread – none of that marbled stuff. They also have great pickle spears that accompany the sandwiches.

All of the sandwiches can be toasted upon request. They offer a choice of Swiss, American, provolone or pepper jack, Stadium, yellow or spicy mustard, mayo, a spicy mayo called Tiger Sauce, horseradish, Thousand Island, BBQ sauce and hot sauce. You can choose rye, wheat or a bun.

I love the look of the Charles Barr, which features corned beef and pastrami on rye with Swiss and yellow mustard, but since I’m not a huge fan of either meat I stick with the brisket, turkey and roast beef. The Duke is even more impressive, with layers of corned beef, turkey, salami and brisket with Swiss cheese. It’s over one pound of sandwich. The photo of the Duke (below left) is from the Mister Brisket web site, since there is no way I could eat one when I usually can only eat half a sandwich and save the other half for later.

The only thing I haven’t enjoyed from there was their matzo ball soup. The broth and matzo balls come frozen, and that does them no favors. The broth was extremely salty and tasted like it was straight chicken stock (no carrots, no parsley, etc.). The matzo balls were mealy. It might have been a fluke, but I won’t be buying it again. I ended up throwing it all out, which about killed me because I love matzo ball soup.

You can also order special order cuts of meat. I deliver Meals on Wheels, and the volunteer appreciation dinner serves Mister Brisket BBQ brisket. You can bring it back to the store after you’ve prepared it and they’ll even slice it for you (properly – against the grain for brisket). It’s all part of the service. One of my Jewish friends is ordering her fish and brisket here for Rosh Hashanah next week. The store also carries special products like roasted turkey and roasted chicken for people to purchase for the holidays.

They are closed on Sundays and Mondays, and offer a special on Tuesdays featuring $1 off any large sandwich. They are only open until 4:00 Tuesday through Thursday, 5:00 on Friday, and 3:00 on Saturdays.

They are good people. They also takes donations to send kosher salamis to the troops. The store charges $20 for a shipment of salami to the troops, and it can be sent virtually anywhere, even to service members who are posted on aircraft carriers and other ships. They also accept donations to the cause. This is the kind of place I like to support.

Contact info:

Mister Brisket
2156 South Taylor Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-8620


Crust

August 15, 2017

Crust Midtown has great pizza and subs and is the perfect lunch-time stop. I haven’t been to the one in Tremont, but the one in Midtown is perfect when I get a craving for crusty bread or pizza. Do two locations make it a “local chain”? I’m categorizing it as one. The Tremont location just opened and has expanded including a liquor license. It’s also open until 9 PM every day except Sunday. The Midtown location offers more seating with all the businesses nearby, and is only open until 2:30 Monday through Friday. In addition to a nice range of seating options they also have a few tables for al fresco dining, which don’t see a lot of use in the winter. I tend to go at off-lunch hours, so I’ve always had very quick service.

The ovens are not wood-fired, but they turn out a good pizza at 550 degrees. Everything is made from scratch, and the dough is hand-tossed. The pizza slices are huge. One slice fills up a small carryout box. The crust is delicious, and they have a variety of toppings to choose from. They also have pre-made pies to choose from that don’t require a wait. I ordered a slice of the Margherita, which is my go-to order at a new pizza place. The crust was chewy and had a nice crumb to it. The tomatoes and basil were very fresh, which was great. The Lemon Rosemary Chicken smelled wonderful, and I will have to try that sometime soon.

As good as the pizza is, I really like their subs. Like the pizza, the subs are also quite substantial. The first sub I tried was the Ultimate Club , which features slab bacon, turkey, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and basil mayo. My sub came out of the oven a little charred, but I really enjoyed the flavor of it. The meats were delicious and fresh, and I just really enjoyed every bite. The subs are very filling (at least for me). I was only able to eat half and took the other half home for later.

One of my friends swears by their meatball sub, so I met her a few weeks later to try it. The meatballs were soft, the cheese was perfectly melty, and it had the perfect ratio of meat, sauce and cheese. The photo here is just half of the meatball sub, so they have four substantial meatballs in the sub. I enjoyed the sub a lot and would probably get it again if I were craving a meatball sub.

If you are looking for a solid slice of pizza or tasty sub be sure to check out Crust.

Contact info:

Crust Midtown
3000 St Clair Avenue,
Cleveland, OH
216-589-9711

Crust Tremont
2258 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH
216-583-0257

You can find the menus for both locations here.


Saucisson

June 10, 2017

Since I wrote about The Red Chimney in my last post I decided to stay in Slavic Village for the next one as well. Started in 2013, Saucisson’s mission is to provide unique and hard to find products. From hand cured meats to specially spiced sausages, Saucisson supports local farms that are humane and hormone free. The lady butchers at Saucisson, Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend, made a name for themselves selling at the local farmers markets, hustling at pop-ups, and providing their bold rillets and charcuterie for restaurants around town. After working out of the kitchen at the Katz Club Diner, they recently opened a storefront on Fleet Avenue just off I-77. Full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer (“Babs backer”) to help them fund the storefront, and I am really pleased with what they have done. I stopped in on the day they opened on March 16 and have been back several times since. They were serving nachos that day (see photo right). I have been buying their sausages, mortadella and currywursts since before the place opened, but I love seeing their thick and nicely marbled pork chops and strip steaks as well as all the other meats they are butchering there. They made a Canadian bacon that was absolutely perfect a little while ago, and they are known for their tasso ham and beef jerky. The freezers and coolers are stocked with their frozen soups made with their products, rendered lard, ground meat, and soup bones as well as other products from other local vendors like LeCracker, Cleveland Kraut, and Montana Girl Mustard.

They are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11-7 (and processing and prepping in their huge, clean kitchen in back on the other days) and serve a tasty lunch special as well. They also advertise their pop-ups at local restaurants and cafes like brunches at Rising Star or most recently their Memorial Day picnic at Terrestrial Brewing Company. You can follow them on Instagram to find out what they are serving each week and where they will be holding their next pop-up.

When I stopped in for lunch a few weeks ago I enjoyed their BBQ chicken sandwich with pickled pepper and red onion slaw and their homemade smokey sausage navy bean soup. The chicken was moist and delicious, the kraut was not at all overpowering, and the soup had just a hint of smoky spice to it that I loved. They have a few tables where you can sit and enjoy your meal. The place is light and bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows. The neighborhood is excited they are there, and they are talking with some urban farms in the area to sell their products. So be sure to check them out and support them!

Contact info:

Saucisson
5324 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105
(216) 303-9067


Geauga County pancake breakfasts

May 6, 2017

When spring is just around the corner in Cleveland, we know that it’s pancake and local maple season, with Sunday breakfasts being served throughout the area. Geauga County in particular is known for their pancake breakfasts. I had always wanted to go to one, but never got motivated enough. I made it to two this year – on March 19 and on April 2. Most pancake breakfasts are served on Sunday mornings in March, although a couple run into mid-April. Geauga County is known for its maple syrup, and the pancake breakfasts in the area serve genuine Geauga County maple syrup, tapped fresh.

My former neighbors in Solon go every weekend in March, so I joined them for the one in Parkman. It was worth waking up early to meet them and drive out 422 just past Route 528 to the Parkman Community Center. I got to catch up with the patriarch of the family, and we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat feast of sausage and pancakes with beverage (coffee, water and milk) for just $8. I managed to eat three pancakes and three sausage patties. Some of my fellow diners did better than that, but I was happy with my meal. Word of warning: don’t get the water unless you like sulfur-tasting water. Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland warned me about the coffee ahead of time, but since I use lots of cream and sugar anyway it wasn’t an issue. The straight water was. This community fundraiser sponsored the Parkman Chamber of Commerce is a well-oiled machine. You pay as you walk in and get in line. Gingerich Farm sells their maple products, and the Girl Scouts sell their cookies to the waiting hordes that winds their way through the room. The hostess waits until a stretch of table clears before leading the next bunch in. The serpentine table allows diners to sit on one side and the servers to walk in between and serve up the goodness. I loved the fact that they use real plates and silverware and serve local maple syrup in pitchers that sit on the table every couple of seats. I didn’t love the fact that the kid across from me stared at me the whole time. It was unnerving.

One of my friends recommended I go to the Burton American Legion Post for their pancake breakfast, because she felt it was the best one in the area. Burton is well-known for their numerous pancake breakfasts, including the Rotary Club, the Century Village Museum and other groups. Burton has been serving pancakes every spring to over 20,000 guests every March since 1951. The American Legion Post is located just north of the square at 1405 Goodwin Street and serves from 9 am to 1:30 pm, which works well with my not being a morning person. It is a smaller venue, but there are apparently two floors. My friends actually were there about 45 minutes before I was, because T. posted a picture of the bus that had just rolled up. Apparently they come from Pennsylvania just for the pancakes. The guy said they started out with a few people and more and more join them every year. When I got there the bus was still there (they were seated upstairs), but my friends must have just left. I paid my $10 and lined up. They not only served pancakes (blueberry or buttermilk) and sausage, but also had delicious home fried potatoes and scrambled eggs (I didn’t get the eggs since I am allergic). The pancakes were fluffy and delicious, but my favorite was the potatoes. Diners were free to get back in line for more, so I went back a second time for a blueberry pancake and more potatoes. They also had plenty of coffee and orange juice. I drank a couple juices and a couple coffees. I got a kick out of the coffee spill catcher they made out of a two liter bottle. The ladies told me they’ve been using it for years. I wish I had taken a picture. The fresh local syrup was on the tables in squeeze bottles, and the ladies kept walking around to make sure they were full. The tables also had salt, pepper and Heinz ketchup. I sat by myself, but enjoyed chatting with a couple guys near me – and eavesdropping on a table of older diners comparing their flip phones and phone plans.

Be sure to put a pancake breakfast or two on your Must Do list next March. There are a wide variety of pancake breakfasts in the surrounding counties and specifically in Burton to choose from. And if you don’t want to wait a year and want some now, as the Burton website explains, “You can still have unique & delicious pancakes even after the season ends. All year-round many local restaurants, civic organizations and lodging facilities serve pancakes and offer pure maple syrup for your enjoyment!” Just head on out to Burton – I recommend stopping to walk around at LaDue Reservoir, Punderson State Park or in Amish country in Middlefield and the surrounding towns after breakfast.