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

Sawyer’s

You’ve probably heard of the implosion of the Sawyer brand. I think it is a real shame, because the man is definitely talented. He just isn’t the best businessman. I hope he lands on his feet, and I thank him for all the delicious meals he has given us. He’s out at Sawyer’s and SeeSaw, but his creative food and concept is still there.

Sawyer’s just opened in the new Van Aken District in Shaker Heights. I met a friend who is moving from Cleveland there on Sunday night. Street parking is a little tricky, but the parking garage is just across the street from the front door. There were not a lot of handicapped parking spaces as far as I could see. I parked on the street around the corner, while my friend parked in the parking garage. Her husband, who has mobility issues, did not join us that night. He is why I always consider parking issues when planning events, but crossing the street is easily doable.

Chef Jonathon Sawyer (James Beard Award winner, 2015 Great Lakes Region) is known for his love of local agriculture and sustainable businesses. I’ve always admired his dedication to reusing and recycling when he built The Greenhouse Tavern, his flagship restaurant that is still open on E. 4th and still has rabid fans. I miss Trentina a lot. I had the pleasure of enjoying the Menu Blanco there once, and it remains a lifetime highlight meal to this day.

“Now, that’s a knife!” steak knife

Sawyer’s newest restaurant, Sawyer’s, is light, bright and contemporary, with a white-washed industrial feel. My main complaint about Noodlecat was the uncomfortable seats. That is not the case here! The blue chairs against the beige-upholstered benches are really comfortable and add a pop of blue. The green plants everywhere are also a great addition and intersperse the white surroundings with pops of green. As the Scene magazine explained in an article before it opened, “Sawyer’s will be a step up in terms of price, polish and presentation – a grown-up version of Greenhouse Tavern.” The menu features “wood-fired cooking” (with several heavy-hitting wood-fired ovens) and offers nods to several of his restaurants.

Once sat we were offered still or sparkling water. I chose sparkling, which my friend who does not like still table water in restaurants happily shared with me. The water is served in recycled glass containers of 5x distilled sparkling or still water.

My friend and I had to get the beef tallow candle and wood-fired pita bread as a starter. That candle was revolutionary to me back when Trentina opened. It was made of aged beef suet, edible 24k gold leaf, honey and crunch saltwhich melted into a dipping sauce for the crusty baguette that was brought out later in the meal. In this version, I doubt it has 24k gold leaf in it, but it was still a delightful beef suet that was perfectly seasoned and melted into a dipping sauce for the wood-fired pita. We shared the one piece of pita, but I also took remains of the candle home to heat up later. I imagine if you have a couple people they would gladly provide enough bread for everyone. Even if you had to pay for the extra bread it would be worth it, the bread was fluffy and puffy and perfect.

I was pleased to see a few other Trentina favorites on the menu, such as the Strangolapreti  (which was served with cabbage sauce, grated egg, smoked bottarga, stinging nettles, bergamot orange, ash and olive oil and was one of my favorite bites of the tasting menu – this appetizer version features stuffed bread gnocchi with robiola cheese and Ohio beef brisket) and Trentina Salad. The menu also has a crispy confit of chicken wings, with wings being the huge favorite on the Greenhouse Tavern menu. There’s also a burger and brick chicken that I seem to remember from the Greenhouse Tavern menu. Obviously with a completely new take on things.

I could not decide between a few oysters off the Raw Bar section or the French onion soup (it was a cold night), so I decided to order both. At $3 each or by the dozen for $30, I could pick and choose however many I wanted. I ordered two – one from the East coast and one from the West. The oysters were pristine and served with a range of add-on sauces, including mignonette sauce (a condiment made of minced shallots, cracked pepper and vinegar), a light hot sauce, and a lemon wedge. I preferred the oyster from the West coast, because it reminded me of the salty, briny Jersey ocean of my childhood summers. The East coast oyster was smaller and lighter in taste, not as “fishy.” I can’t wait to go back and order a plate of them and scheduled a dinner for a couple weeks from now with my dining out group.

When we ordered the French onion soup, our server explained to us that since it is wood-fired it was less soupy and more like a concentrated fork-friendly stew of caramelized onions topped with a round of bread and gruyere cheese. This soup was unbelievably delicious. We both ordered it and were thrilled with it. The flavors were zingy and beefy, yet the dish itself was quite comforting. The cheese wasn’t as gooey as I prefer French onion soup to be (I recently enjoyed one in Palm Springs where the cheese was so thick it was served with a pair of scissors to cut it!), but this wasn’t really a soup so I didn’t mind it. It is hard to describe the soup, but if you like the French onion flavor palate you need to try this.

I had trouble deciding on an entree. I ended up ordering the Bistro Steak Frites, which featured a picanha strip loin and Sawyer’s amazing duck fat fries. He got his start here in Cleveland at Bar Cento, and the man can still make a delicious, tantalizing rosemary-infused duck fat fry. I didn’t need a dipping sauce for them because they were that delicious, but it would have been a nice little plus. The beef was served on a bed of pureed root vegetable and topped with a chimichurri sauce. I would order it again in a heartbeat. You can also get a Filet for $50 or a 48 oz dry aged Porterhouse for $101. Both entrees sounded amazing. Life goals.

However, my friend’s lamb special, which was roasted lamb served with hummus and black and green olives, was even better than my entree (which I didn’t think was possible). The lamb was roasted perfectly and had such an amazing flavor. I savored my two bites she gave me. And am tempted to go back before my dining group’s dinner to enjoy it again.

I usually like to visit a restaurant twice to allow for any missteps – especially if a restaurant has just recently opened. Sawyer’s had its soft opening the last week of October. But Sawyer’s knocked it out of the park on this visit and deserves praise for this one visit alone. It is worth the drive to Shaker Heights. Trust me.

Edit: Went again tonight. I had the Fifth Quarter, which tonight was a pappardelle with venison and mushrooms. It was good, but the pappardelle were undercooked. The fried chicken and “pork chop” were both amazing. We also ordered desserts – I highly recommend the s’more. The banana bread pudding and maple bacon creme brulee were also quite nice. Save your money on the apple tartlet.

But be sure to make a reservation. (https://www.opentable.com/r/sawyers-shaker-heights) Right now Sawyer’s is dinner-only Wednesday through Sunday. Weekend brunch and weekday lunch will be added down the road. The restaurant seats 90 and they could accommodate us as walk-ins on Sunday night, but I can’t imagine the place not being packed most nights.

Contact info:

Sawyer’s Restaurant
3396 Tuttle Road
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122
(216) 860-1236

Let’s talk about paczki

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

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

Michael Angelo’s makes my favorite

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

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

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

IMG_20190206_150744.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Sérénite in Medina

I am a huge fan of EDWINS on Shaker Square, so I knew I wanted to support Brandon Chrostowski and his latest culinary institute in Medina. I organized a dinner with a bunch of my foodie friends shortly after it opened, and we trekked down to Medina looking forward to a good meal. We were not disappointed. The restaurant is located at the old Medina Steakhouse & Saloon. They have done a nice job paring the decor down to match the sophisticated French menu. There was ample parking and two main rooms to seat diners. There are even a few tables on the front porch for those who enjoy dining al fresco.

Despite my attempt to get there early I was the last to arrive due to heavy traffic. When I arrived the entire table was enjoying their French 75s. Who was I to buck the trend? The French 75 is one of my favorite drinks, but it can suffer from a heavy hand. Luckily the person behind the bar makes a perfect French 75. It was delightfully refreshing. There was some furor in Medina about whether Sérénite should be awarded a liquor license since the restaurant is a training ground for people in addiction recovery. I am glad good sense prevailed, and the restaurant was given a license. Their employees need to learn how to work around it without giving into the temptation, and if they do fail they are in a supportive environment that will catch them as they fall and quickly set them back on the path. I wish them all the best of luck! They also offer a non-alcoholic menu for those who prefer one. Since we were there in the early days our server was understandably nervous, but when something went awry she quickly and efficiently took care of it. Things go wrong when you dine out, especially in the first few weeks. It’s all how the service staff handle things, and they did a great job taking care of us. That said, for a table of 7 only one of us had a major issue, which was immediately rectified (one of my friend’s mac n cheese was lukewarm, but they whisked it away and quickly rectified the problem). Everyone else was delighted with their meals. She was too once the mac n cheese was hotter.

I ate here twice in the first two weeks of opening, once with a small group and then with a friend to enjoy a quick drink and nibble before my nieces’ middle school orchestra concert. Unfortunately I’ve been swamped with work and haven’t had the chance to write about it until now. As a result of my visits, I was able to sample about half the menu. Although Sérénite is similar to EDWINS it does not have an identical menu, which allowed me to try some new things. The biggest surprises were the frog legs and the artichokes. More on those later.

I decided to stick with a classic appetizer-entree-dessert on my first visit, so I tried not to fill up too much on any of the courses. I ordered the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were plump and juice and averaged out to $3 a shrimp. The cocktail sauce had the perfect amount of horseradish bite to it. The presentation was also flawless.

I was able to try a frog leg, which was absolutely delicious and perfectly prepared. They are pan-fried in butter and garlic. The meat fell from the tiny bones and were a huge hit with my friends who ordered them. The serving size is generous, so I could imagine ordering them to share or even as an entree.

After spending the afternoon studying the online menu deciding what to order I was surprised to see a range of other choices available, including several steaks. To see page two click on the arrow at the bottom of the online menu that appears when you hover over it. Don’t be a noob like me. That said, the restaurant may want to change their format if they want older, less savvy diners to be aware of page two.

I had decided on the Steak Frites (hanger steak with fries and Bérnaise sauce), but when I arrived and saw the other choices I was torn. After consulting with the server and my fellow diners I decided to order a steak along with a couple of sides. The ‘Le Boeuf’ steaks do not come with sides. You have to order them a la carte. I ordered the artichokes from the appetizer section and the risotto from the sides. I decided to order a New York prime strip steak, but could have also ordered the filet mignon or a bone-in ribeye. The steaks come with a sauce of your choice. I chose the Bordelaise sauce and could not have been more pleased. Bordelaise is a red wine demi-glace with shallots and butter. It was flavorful without overpowering the flavor of the steak. I was also able to taste the au poivre (cognac cream sauce with demi-glace and green peppercorns) and Béarnaise (rich butter sauce with tarragon vinegar and shallots) sauces. The other sauce is a Diane sauce featuring demi-glace, mushrooms, shallots, brandy and cream), which I knew I loved but decided to order something I don’t make myself. For those of you who are wondering what demi-glace is, it is a combination of espagnole sauce and a rich brown stock. The strip steak was extremely flavorful and tender, just as it should be. I loved the Bordelaise sauce as well. The braised artichokes were tender, and the white wine butter sauce delicious. The risotto features mushrooms, which is what made me decide to order it over the frites. The rice was al dente, and the flavor was phenomenal. I took half of everything home and enjoyed the meal again the next day for lunch. After all, I needed to save room for dessert.

I am a huge fan of EDWINS’ creme brulee. I think it is the best I have ever had. So I wanted to order it, but then learned that they also offer Bananas Foster, which is prepared tableside. Luckily, one of my friends and I decided to share both. The creme brulee was just as delicious as I remembered, creamy with a nice crust of caramelized sugar that broke with a tap of the spoon and complemented the custard. The surprise for me was that I adored the Bananas Foster even more. The tableside preparation was enjoyable, even though I have seen it prepared before in New Orleans. The chef did a great job with it. The bananas were perfectly flambeed and were a great complement to the creamy vanilla ice cream. I would definitely go back just for the Bananas Foster!

And go back I did within the week. I learned that my oldest niece was going to be the concertmaster of her middle school orchestra, so I decided to go down early and enjoy a quick bite with my friend who I had shared the desserts with. We sat at the bar this time and both ordered two appetizers. I chose the lobster bisque (I love French onion soup, but did not want to drip it) and the escargot. The lobster bisque was delightful – creamy and a nice underlying sherry base. But the star of the meal was the escargot. The Burgundy snails came out bubbling in the butter and garlic, and I enjoyed sopping up the sauce with Sérénite’s great homemade bread. I paid my bill and rushed out to go to the concert and was able to greet another friend who was taking her parents out for a nice meal as they walked in.

I wish I lived closer, because the Bananas Foster alone is worth the trip. Your meal can be fairly cheap if you stick with a few of the lower end items on the menu, but it can also be a perfect ‘special night’ venue if you are willing to splurge a little. I highly recommend you check them out as well and support their worthy cause.

Contact info:

Sérénite Restaurant & Culinary Institute
538 W Liberty St
Medina, OH 44256
(330) 952-2611

Donutfest

Note: I use the spellings doughnut and donut interchangeably here. It is deliberate. Usually based on the name of vendor.

Today was Cleveland’s second annual Donutfest. I didn’t hear about it until it took place last year, and it had sold out way ahead of then – in fact it sold out in 3 hours. So this year my friends and I marked the sale date on the calendar. Tickets were $35 for General Admission and $50 for VIP. VIP times ran 9 – 11 a.m. (let’s face it – I am not a morning person, so there was no way in hell I would be attending the VIP session). There were two hour GA sessions beginning at 11. 11 was a stretch for me, but I made it. GA tickets included 11 doughnut tastings, three coffee tickets, and a goodie bag. VIP tickets included early entry and a mug as well.

This was way better than Cheese Fest, but considering the bar on that is so dreadfully low that isn’t saying much. The lines were manageable, and breaking it up into two GA sessions definitely helped. There were only two long lines – for Brewnuts and for the four tables on the right-hand wall. I think the idea of tickets definitely slowed things down. A punch card might be easier to deal with. I didn’t follow the numerical order, so I had a few loose tickets in my hand at one point. I gave the wrong ticket to one competitor, and they handed it back so I could correct it. I understand the need to control that people don’t act like vultures, but it took folks a while to tear their tickets while at the table. Just a suggestion if one of the organizers ever reads this.

I had to park on Rockwell, because parking closer to the event was non-existent. If I had known I could park in one of the empty lots I would have. Trudging through unshoveled snow on the sidewalks on Rockwell and E. 24th was no picnic, but they had shoveled and put salt down in front of Red Space so yay. Winters in Cleveland, man. While crossing the street I saw Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland as she was leaving. She gave me the pro tip of buying a box for $1, which I happily took. The money went to the Cleveland Food Bank. They also had hats and t-shirts to buy with proceeds going to the Food Bank. I was also impressed that a couple of people dressed for the occasion. One girl wore these stylish doughnut socks, while a dudebro had a doughnut baseball cap on backwards. One woman wore an OSU onesie, and I applaud her bravery because it got pretty darn hot in the space.

Once I got inside I was confronted by a huge line. It turns out this was for four tables at once (including crowd favorite Jack Frost), so I headed for the less congested tables first. I eventually collected my 11 doughnuts, and my friends and I grabbed a table. I took one bite out of each of the doughnuts and chose my favorite. It was sometimes hard to remember which doughnut belonged to which vendor.

The competitors this year were Holey Toledough; Brewnuts; Madsen Donuts; Peace, Love & Little Donuts; Jack Frost; The Vegan Doughnut Company; Urban Farmer; Fiona’s Coffee Bar & Bakery; City Girl Donuts; Mary Ann Donuts; and Jubilee Donuts. Bigmouth Donuts was at the Kurentovanje Party on E. 55th, which makes sense since that is where they were located. I’ll have to try their dossants another time. I had also hoped Biagio’s would be there, because I have heard good things about their doughnuts. Or Spudnuts? Maybe next year? This was a great opportunity for doughnut shops to get their names out there, because I was unfamiliar with most of them. Unfortunately, some of them are not exactly local, which explains why they were unknowns.

Holy Toledough offered a carrot cake fritter or a peanut butter & jelly doughnut. I went with the PB&J, which was a fun little doughnut. But they are in Toledo, so I don’t see myself ever having them again. There were a couple of competitors from Norton and Canton, which are closer than Toledo. I think Mary Ann Donuts (with five locations to the south of us) might have been the one offering a cherry cream stick or a chocolate cream stick. I chose the cherry, because it was different.

It’s all about preference, and everyone has different taste. I prefer a yeast doughnut over a cake doughnut. Others prefer cake over yeast. It’s all subjective. Most of the competitors offered several choices to allow people to choose their favorite. For example, one competitor offered a key lime doughnut, a birthday cake doughnut, and an espresso crunch doughnut (I went with the espresso crunch). Some had boxes of doughnuts that they would cut and restock. Others were putting the finishing touches to keep up with the demand. For example, Peace, Love & Little Donuts were dipping their doughnuts fresh. I very much enjoyed their M&M donut. It was soft and fresh, and the M&Ms were a nice crunchy topping.

Circles on the Square in Medina won Judge’s Choice for their Caramel Apple Pie doughnut. It was a cake doughnut so it wasn’t my favorite, but it had a nice flavor and caramel apple is always a good choice.

Jack Frost is obviously a fan favorite because they were the only table handing out almost-full-sized doughnuts instead of quarters, halves or small tastes. They won Crowd Choice last year along with Peace, Love & Little Donuts. They had lots of their popular flavors, including maple bacon, chocolate custard, and plain glazed. Because I have already had most of those choices I chose the strawberry shortcake doughnut, which I very much enjoyed, but I did not enjoy the shower of powdered sugar down the front of my brown t-shirt.

This year’s Crowd Choice, Brewnuts, had the long line to prove it. They had three or four choices to choose from. I chose the Fruity Pebbles Brewnut, because come on, fruity pebbles! The doughnut had a nice crunch from the Fruity Pebbles and the doughnut itself. It also had a hint of ale to it. Because Brewnuts. They are craft beer-based doughnuts, and everyone loves them. I will definitely be seeking them out in the future.

I also enjoyed Madsen Donuts’ (from Geneva on the Lake) marshmallow filled eclair-type doughnut, and was pleased with the Vegan Doughnut Company’s choice. They served a creamy doughnut hole. I didn’t even miss the dairy.

Overall, I enjoyed all of the doughnuts but one. Urban Farmer, I love you, but putting up a foie gras doughnut against all those conventional (mostly sweet) doughnuts was super jarring. I was in the long line for the last four doughnuts, and the guy behind me warned of the “strange flavor of the filling” in that doughnut. It didn’t help that I had thought I had chosen the butterscotch doughnut, but alas I had not. I’m sure it would work well as an appetizer in the restaurant, but up against all the other sweeter choices (and less adventurous attendees) it just didn’t work.

Out of all 11 doughnuts I tried, my favorite doughnut was a lemon goat cheese doughnut with blueberry topping from City Girl Donuts. It was also an almost-full-sized doughnut. The doughnut really packed a flavorful punch that wowed my taste buds. I have heard good things about City Girl Donuts, which opened in September 2017 and has been a huge hit in Rocky River. I’ll definitely be seeking them out again.

At some point I also grabbed some coffee (one pour-over from Heartwood coffee and one cold brewed iced coffee from Solstice Coffee Roasters) and happily sampled the Hartzler milk samples while in the long line for four different doughnut vendors. Love their chocolate milk – especially with coffee!

And the winners were:

Judge’s Choice: Circles On The Square
Judge’s Choice runner-up: Peace, Love & Little Donuts
Judge’s Choice 2nd runner-up: Holey Toledough

Crowd Choice: Brewnuts
Crowd Choice runner-up: Fiona’s Coffee Bar & Bakery
Crowd Choice 2nd runner-up: Madsen Donuts

Best Cake: Circle On The Square
Best-raised: Jack Frost Donuts
Best filling: Jack Frost Donuts
Best Classic Donut: Mary Ann Donuts
Most Creative Donut: Holey Toledough

I’ve been all about the paczki in the last couple of weeks, so I think it is fair to say that I am officially doughnuted out for a while. I may or may not attend next year’s Donutfest. The space was really cool, and it was good venue for this event. It was a lot of fun and wasn’t nearly as crowded as Cheese Fest. The doughnuts were all fantastic. But $35 is a lot of money for 11 small doughnuts and a couple coffee samples. If you haven’t done it I can recommend it. Would I do it again? I’m not sure, but I didn’t hate it or regret getting up so early after a late night out at a cooking class at Kitchen 216 and nightcap at Coquette Patisserie.

Disclosure: I bought my own ticket and was not compensated in any way, shape or form for attending.

Contact info:

Donut Fest
Tickets go on sale in early January

Tableside service at EDWINS

My friends and I met at EDWINS on Shaker Square for dinner last week. We took advantage of the amazing weather and chose to sit outside on their patio. It was 65 degrees and sunny with a light breeze. The night was practically perfect.

When we sat down we were asked if we wanted still or sparkling water, and they kept our glasses topped off the whole night. I enjoyed my Hemingway Daiquiri, but was less enamored with the French 75, which was made with gin instead of champagne as I am used to. The service was exceptional from start to finish. The staff is trained here for six months, three months front of house and three months back of house. EDWINS just does a great job preparing them for the food service industry. We are lucky to have it here. A little birdie told us September’s Dinner in the Dark will be at EDWINS, and they will be inviting some of their graduates to come cook for us. Nancy said the last time they did it it was exceptional.

I had decided to treat myself to Le Burger, which is prepared tableside, but was waivering between the burger and the steak. Our server insisted Le Burger was the right choice, no matter what. Le Burger features hand ground beef, bacon, mushrooms, fried garlic and sauce Diane. Not just any beef, but filet ground right at the table with herbs then added in. Our tableside preparer had trouble with the grinder (some part wasn’t moving properly), but once it was fixed it worked perfectly.

The formed burger patty was then taken inside to grill while the preparer makes the sauce Diane. He started with goose fat, then added butter, bacon, mushrooms, shallots, Worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard and garlic. He then added brandy and flambéed it up. It was quite a sight to see.

Then he added cream to the sauce and let it thicken until the plated patties were brought back out to be finished. The patties were generously topped with the sauce and arugula and served with a side of goose fat fried potatoes, which were absolutely luscious.

The burger was tender and cooked to my specifications. My friend Nancy also thoroughly enjoyed her burger, while her husband loved the steak and asparagus.

I also ordered a side of the Broccolini Polonaise to get some veggies in. The broccolini were perfectly cooked and served with brown butter, breadcrumbs and grated hard-boiled egg. I thoroughly enjoyed it that night as well as with the other half of my burger the next day.

I continued the tableside theme by ordering cherries jubilee. I had never had cherries jubilee and had always wanted to try it. They used to prepare bananas foster tableside, but now they serve it as a french toast dessert. I had a different preparer for this course. The melted butter, cherries and sugar were heated in the skillet along with some lemon juice. Once the cherries softened and reduced down a bit he added some alcohol (if I remember correctly rum and Grand Marnier) and flambéed it up.

It was served with some housemade vanilla ice cream. The cherry sauce had thickened and hardened a bit, so I had some bites that were a toffee-like consistency and some that were creamy. The deep red of the cherries looks amazing against the white of the vanilla ice cream, and the flavor is even more amazing than how it looks.

I enjoyed it a lot, but the real star for me was the Creme Brulee. My friend let me have a couple bites of hers, and it was just about the best I’ve ever had. The sugar was thin and flaky, and the eggy custard was amazingly delicious. I will be going back for that again soon!

Sitting outside on the patio and enjoying the tableside service was truly amazing, but they also offer the service inside all year round. The preparers both agreed it was a little trickier outside than inside, but the flames did not go out so I consider it a success.

Apart from one friend who didn’t like her eggplant (but enjoyed her Chocolate Pyramid dessert and was pleased with how the staff handled her not liking the eggplant) we all went home very happy with our experience at EDWINS.

Contact info:

EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute
13101 Shaker Square
Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 921-3333

Lunch buffet on the Nautica Queen

When the weather is beautiful there is nothing better than taking a river or lake cruise in Cleveland. Whether it’s the Goodtime III or the Nautica Queen it is definitely something special that always makes me happy.

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I recently went on an afternoon cruise on the Nautica Queen with my local translators group. The dock is located next to the Powerhouse and Cleveland Aquarium. We shared the boat with several groups, including a wedding party and a family reunion. For $24.95 we were treated to some great views of the Flats, the lake and the Cleveland skyline as well as a buffet lunch and gratuity. Tea, coffee and iced tea were included with the price. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were extra. They did not have any bottled water.

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The food isn’t going to win any awards, but it was pretty good. We were ushered to the buffet by table and after filling our salad plates with some rather fresh salad fixings the plates were taken from us and deposited at our seats, freeing our hands up for the larger plate. The salad bar was actually pretty good. I managed to make a very nice salad from the mixed greens and side salads, including a pasta salad and an antipasta salad. The dressing choices included ranch, poppyseed and I believe a vinaigrette of some sort.

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The choices that day included roast beef, chicken breast, fish and a rigatoni pasta with tomato sauce as well as mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes. I’m told the entrees and sides can vary. I particularly enjoyed the fish and the mashed potatoes. The roast beef was a little fatty, but it was moist and tender. The pasta and chicken breast were a little dry, but I don’t expect anything less from a buffet like this.

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After clearing our plates the waitress brought us a lemon cake with raspberry drizzle. It was a little dry but palatable.

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After we ate we watched the newlyweds dance their first dance (she sang to him the whole time – it was very touching), and then went up a level to the roof to enjoy the skyline and the sunshine. We left the dock at 11 and returned at 1. It was an enjoyable two hours spent on the lake. If you are looking for a fun thing to do with guests I can recommend this. The price doesn’t break the bank, and it is a relaxing couple of hours spent on our beautiful waterways. They also offer a dinner buffet, which I have been told is better than the lunch buffet, as well as a brunch buffet.

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They also cater wedding receptions, because I attended a wedding reception on the Nautica Queen about 12 or 13 years ago. I remember enjoying the dancing and the nighttime view of the Cleveland skyline.

Contact info:

Nautica Queen
1153 Main Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 696-8888