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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

Don’s Pomeroy House

IMAG5961Don’s Pomeroy House is the first fancy restaurant I ever ate at, and as such it holds a special place in my heart. My parents took us here on Christmas Eve day for brunch, and I had my very first eggs benedict. I have fond memories of the booths lined with books. Don’s Pomeroy House overlooks Strongsville’s town square and has quite a long history, including serving as a stop on the Underground Railroad. IMAG5970The beautifully restored mid-19th century mansion is Cleveland’s south side legendary home of the freshest seafood, steaks and chops and a premier dining spot in Northeast Ohio.

Diners who prefer a more casual setting can eat in The Pub in the basement or on the opatiopatio during the summer months. Having enjoyed evenings at all three I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. They all have their winning points. You can order off both menus on the patio.

My most recent experience was for lunch. We were sat in the library near the fireplace, and it was just very cozy. I ordered a house IMAG5966salad and a lunch duo of the French onion soup and the French dip (pardon the blurry photo). The house salad was fresh, and I enjoyed the poppy seed dressing paired with the fresh greens, mandarin oranges and strawberry slices. The French onion soup was suitably cheesy and was packed with lots of caramelized onions and two slices of dark bread. I was less wowed by the French dip. The “baguette” had a weird texture to it that kind of collapsed when it was dipped in the au jus. I would have preferred a proper IMAG5967baguette to hold the roast beef and provolone cheese.

My dining companion ordered a house salad and the special baked salmon entree with a lemon thyme glaze served over spring pea, asparagus and Asiago risotto. He thoroughly enjoyed every bite, and I enjoyed theIMAG5968 taste of the risotto. It was perfectly cooked and very flavorful.

I can also highly recommend the White Fish sandwich, which when I enjoyed it featured grouper. It is served with steak fries. I have also thoroughly enjoyed the Kobe meatloaf, which is made with pork and Wagyu beef, and is served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and green beans. I unfortunately have no photos for you to enjoy, because I lost them in a computer crash

The table next to us ordered desserts, which were huge. We were too full, so we abstained. But that eclair looks very tempting. I can highly 600_161914792recommend their Bananas Foster if they bring it back on the menu. Also, the chocolate cake was moist and delicious.

I can attest to happy hour both in The Pub and on the patio. My Meetup happy hour group had several events here that were very successful. Everyone enjoyed the food and drink specials. I can also highly recommend the Sunday/Monday surf and turf special. You save $10 on a Maine lobster tail, center cut filet mignon, whipped potato, vegetable. It was quite the popular order the Monday evening one of my dining out groups spent on the patio. Again, no photos but if I ever stumble on them I will update this post.

Photo courtesy of Don's Pomeroy House
Photo of The Pub courtesy of Don’s Pomeroy House

Contact info:

Don’s Pomeroy House
13664 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH 44136
(440) 572-1111

Russo’s Kitchen

outsideRusso’s Kitchen is a unique restaurant that straddles the border of Peninsula and Cuyahoga Falls on State Road (aka Akron-Cleveland Road) near the intersection with Seasons Road (Route 8 is close by). I learned about it from a fellow diner at a wine dinner at The Blue Door. He and his wife raved about the food and said they were there every Saturday. Sure enough, when I went there they were sitting at the bar around the open kitchen. We were sat at the counter and felt lucky. The place was packed so there really weren’t many available tables (it seats 97), but the counter overlooks IMAG3161the open kitchen.

Russo’s has great food and friendly service, but it can be quite loud and hard to hear your dining companions when it is busy. The food theme is Italian/New Orleans fusion, so there is something for everyone. In the mood for seafood? They have some amazing seafood choices like perch and IMAG3160oysters or grouper. Want pasta? How about cavatelli pomodoro with meatballs or meat or spinach and cheese ravioli?

I love New Orleans. It is my favorite city in the U.S., and I’ve been there several times (and going again in September). I went to Russo’s with a friend who used to live in New Orleans, so naturally we focused on the Creole menu.

Of course I had to order a Hurricane. It is my absolute favorite drink,IMAG3164 and this one was made without mixes and syrups. It was absolutely delicious and packed a wallop. It was possibly even better than the Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s.

The bread service is a homemade foccacia with olive oil dip. You could tell it was fresh and was very flavorful. It had a nice consistency to it and was toothsome on the outside and soft on the inside.

My friend started off with the Gumbo Ya-Ya, which was very flavorful. She said it rivaled the gumbo down in NOLA. I had a house salad that featured fresh greens and a delicious White French dressing. The waitress offered fresh cracked black pepper, and I couldn’t resist.

IMAG3168I decided to order the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp appetizer to save room for dessert. The appetizer was filling all on its own. The BBQ sauce was thick, silky, and absolutely delicious with a peppery bite and a hint of sweetness. It had a great flavor to it and was not too spicy. The shrimp were a decent size and perfectly cooked. I also really liked the grilled foccacia garlic bread they served with it to sop up the sauce. I would order it again in a heartbeat.

IMAG3169In fact, my friend enjoyed the meal so much she went back a week or so later and ordered a variation on the same meal, this time lake perch and scallops with smokey baked 3-cheese macaroni, grilled seasonal vegetables, and chipotle tartar sauce.

We splurged on dessert and ordered the bread pudding. It was deliciously creamy and luscious. I would order this one again too, but I also hear the peanut butter pie is delicious.

In addition to the main restaurant there is also a more casual IMAG3170eatery with 60 seats called Bacchus in the back. It serves pizza, fried chicken and burgers as well as a few Creole and Italian choices. It is open for lunch and dinner, unlike the main restaurant which is only open for dinner service. Bacchus has a happy hour Tuesday through Friday from 3-6 PM. They have some drink specials (including some $5 cocktails) and select food choices ranging $3 for a slider to $6 for wings with hot pepper relish.

My only word of advice is to not go here if you are in a hurry. Service is also very southern, and they give personal but slow service. It didn’t bother us because we had made a special trip there, but if you are stopping there on your way to Blossom plan to get there really early and plan for maybe 1 1/2-2 hours depending on how many courses you order.

Contact info:

Russo’s Kitchen
4895 State Rd
Peninsula, OH 44264
(330) 923-2665

Counter Culture

IMAG5821I attended a two-day event for cheesemongers and sellers this past Sunday and Monday. I learned about it in late March from one of the food forums I belong to. It was sponsored by Culture magazine. Two six hour days learning about cheese, free samples, lunch and two free drinking events for $0. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, and I am so glad I did!

I arrived at Market Garden Brewery on Sunday morning unsure of myself, because I was not “industry.” I never mentioned that I was a local food blogger and was not approached by them in any way to write about this event. I signed up through Eventbrite when I heard about it in March. I checked in and grabbed a seat with a bunch of cheesemongers from Heinen’s. They were a fun bunch to sit with, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Another one of the women at the table works for the Cleveland Clinic and IMAG5824makes her own cheese on the side. I was definitely in my element. I soaked up the information like a sponge, as translators often do. I figure if I can translate a coffee table book on Bordeaux wines and vineyards someone might conceivably contact me to translate about cheese. Hey, a girl can dream.

This event was amazing. They had a tasting table available all day both days featuring the different cheeses and products. We were able to go to the tasting table during the breaks throughout the IMAG5823day to load up on lots of different cheeses, jams, jellies, honeys, crackers, charcuterie, dried fruit, cornichon, and Bacon Mousse and Truffle Mousse. The lemon curd was particularly divine, and I unfortunately forgot to note the name. There was so much food I didn’t have room for the boxed lunch provided by Market Garden Brewery. I ended up taking it home on day one and foregoing it on day two, running out for a small scoop of Mitchell’s in the sunshine for lunch instead.

The first day started off with an hour presentation on Cheese Science and Styles presented by Lassa Skinner from Culture magazine. We learned about the various rinds (you are supposed to eat the rinds – it was a revelation) as well as the different types of cheeses and how they are made. It seemed like most of IMG_20160417_101303the cheeses were sheep and goat milk cheeses, which I appreciated since I often have an allergic reaction to cow’s milk.

The first cheesemaker to present was Rob from our very own Mackenzie Creamery (see top of photo on the right). I was already familiar with Mackenzie as a Fresh Fork subscriber and frequent farmer’s market attendee. I love their Pumpkin Chèvre and Sweet Fire and Apricot Ginger chèvres already. They offered us three samples to try – the garlic and chive, cognac fig, and sour cherry and bourbon chèvres. The sour cherry and bourbon chèvre is made with Jack Daniel’s and is IMAG5830fantastic. It is reminiscent of a Manhattan, which was the inspiration for the chèvre. They will be launching it very shortly. I was also really impressed by the garlic and chive chèvre. I am going to start buying this regularly. It was just a delightful soft cheese. The creamery gave a very good impression. Rob explained how it was a family affair, started by his mother, “JeannieGoat” when she tookIMAG5829 a cheesemaking course in 2007. Rob joined her in 2010 and has never looked back. It made me want to drive out to Hiram to check out their creamery.

The next presentation was Central Formaggi, which is based in Sardinia. They focus on sheep’s milk cheese, as they have sheep in the mountains. They brought one of the handwoven baskets that they use to store the cheese (see podium above), which was a really great touch. The company started in the second half of the eighteenth century and modernized in 1974 to become 100% Sardinian. They centralized the many small dairies scattered all over the area into one large production center in Nureci and now produce more than 50 different cheeses (primarily pecorinos) using 15 million liters of milk. We tasted four cheeses. IMAG5833Their most popular is the Molitano, which is hard or semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese. I was particularly impressed by their softer cheeses, including the Montefiore (?) and a beautiful cheese with an herb-coated rind that they have not yet released. The herb-coated cheese stuck with my palate a long time in a good way.

Lunch was either a vegetarian caprese sandwich on ciabatta or a turkey sandwich on rye. It was nice, but it was hard to eat without silverware. I IMAG5834poured the blue cheese dressing onto a lettuce leaf and used it as a kind of wrap. As I said before, I was also so full I took most of it home. I went out for a small pho for dinner to counter all the cheese.

The afternoon after the lunch break featured olives and olive oil distributed by Philosophy Foods. We tasted three fresh cured Losada olives from Seville, Spain, each with their own special features and flavors. I love olives, so I really enjoyed them. There was a large green cured Gordal olive with a fine pungent flavor and firm, meaty texture. The smaller olives were a Zorzaleña and a Cornicabra. The Cornicabra is a pale pink to dark purple color and is oval-shaped with a small horn on one side, which IMG_20160417_135737gives the name to this variety: Corni-cabra meaning “the goat’s horn.” The speaker called it a “gateway olive,” which had me laughing so hard I snorted. My favorite was the Zorzaleña, which grows wild on the side of the road in Spain. It has a firm flesh and a buttery flavor to it. I may or may not have taken more than my share of the Zorzaleña. The Zorzaleña is packed in O-Med olive oil. O-Med is a family-owned company. The olive grove and oil mill are in Acula (Granada) in southern Spain.  O-Med harvests and processes their olives for their finest olive oil in one day, which I found to be very impressive. We learned how to IMAG5839taste test olive oil by warming the cup of olive oil in our hands and then smelling it three times. It was a very flavorful olive oil, and I could see myself using it as a dipping or finishing oil.

The presentations finished with Forever Cheese, which is a distributor that sells cheese from Spain, Italy, Portugal and Croatia. Day one they focused on their Spanish cheese. My favorite cheese was the Leonora, which is a special goat’s milk cheese made by a small farmhouse producer who has only been exporting to the US for the past several years. It is lush, lemony and delicious. My second favorite was the Garrotxa, which is an artisanally produced goat’s milk cheese that is aged 55 days. It is the most famous Catalan cheese and I intend to try it shaved on a salad as the presenter suggested. It is distinguished from other cheeses, usually, by IMAG5853the mold growth on its rind. I cannot remember the other two, one may have been the Ombra. I enjoyed pairing them with the Spanish olives.

I skipped the Meet the Maker beer and cheese event, because I needed to feed my critters and didn’t want to brave the crazy traffic again from the Cavs playoff game, Indians game, West Side Market and just Ohio City in general on a gorgeous sunny Sunday. I also figured it was best to leave it to the pros to talk shop.

Day two started a little later (thank goodness) on Monday. I was very IMG_20160418_110332excited about this one because we started off learning about The Art of Mongering. I learned to keep cheese in special cheese paper or special cheese bags (by Formaticum) and not in plastic wrap! Washed rind cheeses, which are usually moist and tacky, should be kept separate from other cheeses and wrapped in paper. Cheese needs to breathe, and it is okay to let it age. “It lasts as long as it tastes good.” A little mold is good, just clean it off with either a knife or a toothbrush and you are good to go. A vinegar and water rinse works to get rid of the mold (on full cheese wheels only). It was fun hearing IMAG5843all the cheese sellers from Heinen’s, Whole Foods, and the West Side Market exchange tips and ideas.

The first cheesemaker presentation was Sartori Cheese out of Wisconsin. I liked their Montamoré cheese the best, but they also had a nice pungent Parmesan. The Montamoré is a sweet, creamy and fruity cow’s milk cheese that begins with a deliciously inviting appearance and finishes with a playful, tangy bite. They have several seasonal washed rind cheeses that sound IMAG5844fantastic, including the Pastorale Blend, which is a blend of cow’s and sheep’s milk that is hand-dusted with paprika, and a Cognac Bellavitano that is aged for 18 months and steeped in Rémy Martin Cognac for 7 to 10 days. The Pastorale Blend is available now and will stop being produced in May. The Cognac Bellavitano is a cheese available during the holidays.

The next presentation was by the owner of Vermont Creamery, and I have to say I fell in love with the creamery on day one at the tasting table and on day two when I learned that they have a solar-powered barn and dairy and their cheeses are rBST and GMO-free. The cheese was also absolutely luscious. They use both cow’s and goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is more expensive because goats produce less milk per goat and still IMAG5849require the same care. She gave a fantastic presentation that really went into the technical side of their cheesemaking with temperatures, aging conditions, wash conditions, the automatic bags to separate the curds from the whey, etc. It was very, very impressive. The products were divine. She had us first taste their Cultured Butter, and I could have kept eating it right off the spoon. It is made with creme fraiche and just had a delicious taste to it. I’m going to run right out and buy some. I can just imagine it smeared on some good On The Rise or Zoss the Swiss Baker bread. Their cheeses also blew me away, but my favorites were the Bonne Bouche, which is a goat’s milk cheese, and the Cremont. Bonne Bouche is the flagship of Vermont Creamery’s signature geotrichum-rinded aged goat cheeses, and its rind looks kind of like a brain. The curd is carefully hand ladled, lightly sprinkled with ash,IMAG5852 and aged just long enough to develop a rind. After about ten days, the cheeses are packaged in their individual crates and sent to market where they will continue to age up to eighty days. It has a pleasant yeast flavored rind and a creamy interior that becomes softer and more piquant as it ages. The Cremont is a mixed-milk cheese that combines local fresh cows’ milk, goats’ milk and a hint of Vermont cream. Its rind is not as pronounced, but it is also somewhat wrinkly. Both were absolutely spectacular cheeses. The back of her hoodie as she finished made me chuckle – “No Goats, No Glory.”

The afternoon featured Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese, which I was already familiar with through Fresh Fork. The owner was a bit intimated to follow IMAG5854Sartori and Vermont Creamery, but he did a great job showcasing his smaller farmstead creamery. He talked quite a bit about their trials and errors finding the perfect cows. A fifth generation farmer, he started producing cheese when his son expressed interest in cheesemaking. The son is now studying abroad, and it is up to the parents to continue the cheesemaking. If someone has a passion for cheesemaking they are looking for a good worker, as they had their best worker recently leave to join the Coast Guard. They are in Defiance, and their cheeses get their distinctive taste from the clay ground there. The cheese is crafted on the farm where the IMAG5857milk is produced from cows that are pasture raised there, so it is small and the definition of artisan. Their Charloe has won several awards. It is aged 2 months. It starts off with sweet cream and butter flavors it finishes with a toasted peanut essence. We also tasted the Wabash Erie Canal, Flat Rock and Black Swamp Gouda. The sales and marketing guy was blown away by the cheese (I saw him mouth “Wow, this is delicious”) and Culture magazine’s Lassa, who ran the event, was almost moved to tears by his presentation. They are just a great little local creamery producing amazing cheese.

The final presentation was by Forever Cheese, which took us to Italy. I was IMAG5861particularly impressed by the Lou Bergier Pinchin, which is a deliciously creamy cheese made from raw cow’s milk from Piemonte, Italy. I really enjoyed the flavor and will be keeping an eye out for it. In addition to a nutty pecorino romano, we also tried a Sottocenere al Tartufe from the northern Italy area of Veneto. Aged in a coat of nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, licorice, cloves, and fennel, the Semi-Soft paste is laced throughout with slivers of black truffle. One comment on the slide is that it is great on toast and in egg dishes. A little truffle goes a long way, but this is not as overpowering as most truffle products. It was quite nice. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed the Quadrello® di Bufala, which is made in Lombardia from water buffalo milk. It is a Taleggio, with a soft, ivory-pink washed rind with a deliciously creamy interior.

I again skipped the free beer happy hour to feed my critters, but could IMAG5863not wait to unpack my goodie bag. Check out all the loot! A copy of Culture magazine, several brochures, an apron from Central Formaggi, a baseball cap from Vermont Creamery, a cute little goat magnet, Bee’s Knees Szechuan Peanuts, Losada olives, Millefiori Honey, Effie’s Oatcakes, Rustic Bakery Meyer Lemon shortbread cookies, a Two Brothers dark chocolate bar, a cheese log, a mmetal cheese knife from Mackenzie creamery and the most adorable little cheese shaver. I am most excited about the cheese storage bags and the serving utensils. Not bad for an event that didn’t cost me a cent. I was completely blown away by this event and can’t wait until they return to Cleveland. Industry folks from out of town were very impressed by the West Side Market right next door and I told Lassa about EDWINS and L’Albatros’ cheese boards, so hopefully they will be back soon.

I can’t wait to subscribe to Culture magazine. The sisters behind the magazine and their staff were very impressive, and the magazine has lots of good articles, information and recipes. I will also be taking a trip to Heinen’s to find some of my favorite cheeses. What a great event!

I apologize for the weird lighting. The lighting in Market Garden Brewery’s basement is not conducive to photographing.