The Blue Door in Cuyahoga Falls

IMG_20120405_122249The Blue Door Cafe and Bakery in Cuyahoga Falls began as a micro-bakery in 2009. They then bought the restaurant they were working out of and now consistently produce some of the most delicious food you will ever eat. The folks at The Blue Door pride themselves on using local and healthy ingredients and having a seasonal menu that changes specials frequently. In addition to the standard breakfast and lunch menu the specials are created based on what delicious and special ingredients they are able to purchase that week, using carefully chosen shrimp, salmon, bison, etc. IMG_20120405_122225They are closed on Monday and Tuesday, but open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday from 7 AM to 3 PM. They recently started expanding to include dinner service on the weekend. Dinner is served Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 9 PM. Reservations are recommended. The dinner service feature four entrees, and each includes freshly baked breads and rolls and specially created non-alcoholic cocktails that utilize fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables.

I love the fact that the Blue Door has a more European atmosphere. In fact, IMAG0756news of a German breakfast week was the first meal to tempt me to drive down to Cuyahoga Falls. The fact that they had made my favorite German cake, Bienenstich or Bee Sting Cake, into a French toast convinced me that I needed to get down there right away. It was divine, featuring custard and honey with their Challah bread. I couldn’t decide and also felt the need to have a typical German Frühstück too, so I also ordered the bread roll with various cheeses and jams as well as fresh fruit. I don’t know where they get their fresh fruit, but it is amazing and consistently perfectly ripe.

I then started following them on Facebook, where they frequently IMAG4498post their specials for the week. My friend Tom is completely hooked and lives closer, so when he posted one day that the special was a Nutella and Chantilly Cream French toast I called my friend M. and picked her up within 15 minutes to make the drive down there. She had the egg sandwich on one of their house-made croissants (I dare you to have one and not want to take several home with you!). We shared both entrees. Her sandwich was good, but my French toast was exquisite. Funnily enough that day the person sat at the table next to us was one of my good friends and a fellow German translator (who lives in Kent), so we pulled the tables together. Then IMAG4502_1about 20 minutes later another translator colleague (who lives in Pepper Pike) walked in. I guess we translators know where the good places to eat are!

The two photos with the paper were recent to-go orders – a lobster ragout crepe and a New York bagel with lox, house-made cream cheese and capers. Both were fantastic!

IMAG0817This is not an easy place to go on the weekend for breakfast, because it is so popular. Expect a wait. I tend to go during the week instead. I met a dining group from Meetup.com here for brunch last month. We were told the wait would be an hour and a half. It ended up being shorter, because several of our members managed to get their own tables and the group managed to snag the seats at the counter. Not the most comfortable place for a group breakfast, but everyone was happy with their meals. The service was great, and the coffee was flowing. They also have fresh squeezed orange juice that is just delicious. I ordered a bison burger on this day. It was perfectly cooked, and the leftovers were just as good IMAG2143later for dinner. The homemade cole slaw really convinced me to order it, and the slice of tomato was extremely fresh. You can see the potato croquette behind the burger in the photo. I love a good croquette, but was expecting something a little more delicate. This was more a potato fritter. Even though this wasn’t quite what I was expecting it was still quite delicious.

As I said, they recently started serving dinner service. He managedIMAG2144 to win over the chef from Dante’s Akron restaurant, Torsten Schulz. Another German! (Did I mention the owner speaks German fluently?) The two photos of small bites (smoked trout with horseradish cream and Maultaschen – a veal stuffed dough pocket in broth) were from a recent German wine dinner that was simply outstanding. Be sure to check out Tom’s Flickr feed to see the weekly creations. His photos do the food much better justice than mine do, so be sure to click on the links below.

To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with the regular dinner service as I wanted to be. The Ohio Strawberry non-alcoholic cocktail was divine. I enjoyed IMAG0841the first course, the Avocado Puree, very much. The avocado puree paired really well with the grapefruit slices. My grass-fed beef was good, but it had a little too much fat. I liked that there were two variations and couldn’t decide which I liked better. The potato and spinach sides were really small, which was disappointing because I love mixing a bite of spinach with steak. The vegetarian entree (Variations of Ohio broccoli) had a high price point that my vegetarian friends did not feel was warranted. They used four different kinds of broccoli and pureed them together, serving them withIMAG0843 Japanese rice, almonds and a lemon vinaigrette. The dessert, the Marillenknodel (apricot dumpling), was very good. It is a take on a standard Austrian dessert that I love, featuring a Viennese dumpling, vanilla sauce and pistachios. The souffle (see photostream) looked super-inviting as well.

Although dinner was a nice change and I hope they are successful, I think I’m going to stick with their breakfast and lunch service, since that is my favorite meal of the day anyway. However, if you are looking for a restaurant for a special occasion, consider trying The Blue Door.

Contact info:

The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery
1970 State Road
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223
(330) 926-9774

NEO Food Tour of Little Italy

IMG_20110601_184738This food tour took place on Wednesday, June 1, 2011. Our host for the evening (in addition to the NEO Food Tour crew) was the owner of La Dolce Vita, Terry Tarantino. Who better to show off the area of Little Italy than one of its most beloved resident? The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for strolling down Murray Hill. We met on the patio in the IMG_20110601_185921back of La Dolce Vita. We were greeted with a glass of chilled white wine and were served a fresh caprese salad and delicious epi and butter. I love the epi (triangular sections of bread in a baguette form) that they serve at La Dolce Vita. It is crispy outside and soft and luscious inside. The caprese salad came with kalamata olives, which was a really nice touch. Terry told us a little bit about the history of Little Italy and La Dolce Vita.IMG_20110601_191945

We then walked down Murray Hill Road, admiring and learning about some of the architecture along the way, to our next stop, the Murray Hill Market. The owner and operator of the Market, Michele Iacobelli Buckholtz, put out an unbelievable spread of assorted charcuterie and had sparkling water chilling on ice and fresh brewed iced tea waiting for us. We were all encouraged to take seconds and thirds, which is typical Italian hospitality. It was hot that day, so I particularly enjoyed the numerous refills of iced tea and sparkling water. We were all completely blown away by the Market and the hospitality they showed us. The Market bills itself as a “contemporary, old-fashioned neighborhood corner store” and is proud to serve the neighborhood and the college students living in the area. IMG_20110601_201500They sell groceries, imported specialties, and freshly prepared delicacies. In addition to some daily specials (check their Facebook page), they serve sandwiches, salads and soups, chili, bisques and chowders. This is one family-run business I enjoy supporting.

After saying arrivederci to the Market, we continued walking down Murray Hill Road to my favorite restaurant in Little Italy, Michaelangelo’s. We were seated at a long table set for us, given a glass of wine, and served two small portions of their pasta – Three Cheese Tortellini with Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and peas and Gnocchi served with the house Bolognese. Both were the perfect portion after the IMG_20110601_205907feast at the Market. I was so excited to see the tortellini portion, because that is one of my favorite pastas that I used to eat at the local Italian restaurant when I lived in Germany. The proscuitto and peas cut the creaminess of the sauce and just creates a delicious pasta dish. I have been getting this regularly both in-house and as take-out. It never disappoints. The gnocchi and Bolognese was also a delicious treat. I love a good Bolognese, and this did not disappoint. The gnocchi were also perfectly cooked and not at all dense.

IMG_20110601_210435We headed back down Murray Hill for the final stop on the tour, Trattoria on the Hill. They seated us on the back patio and served us two crostinis (eggplant melonzini and white bean tuna) and a lemon sorbet with a raspberry sauce and a dash of sparkling wine. The crostini had a nice crunch, and I would be hard pressed to name my favorite one. Of course my absolute favorite was the lemon sorbet. It was refreshing and delicious. I wish they served this on their regular dessert menu. I would order it all the time!

Our takeaway from the tour was a bag with several small cannoli from Corbo’s. Because no visit to Little Italy is complete without something sweet from Corbo’s.

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NEO Food Tour of Shaker Square

IMG_20110817_182745I miss the NEO Food Tours. It shut its doors last year when Todd started working for the Beachland Ballroom. Those tours were really great opportunities to get to know several restaurants at once. Since I have been posting more (not to mention the fact I am going on a hard core diet for the next two months and won’t be going out to eat very often), I think I should also document the two other tours I have gone on. After all, the Shaker Square restaurants deserve some recognition – even though two of the featured restaurants are no longer in business. I attended the tour on Wednesday, August 17, 2011. This tour write-up is bittersweet, because we started our tour off at Sergio’s Sarava, IMG_20110817_190648which is now closed and houses Zanzibar. Sergio, you are missed, but not forgotten.

We started off at Sarava being greeted with a Caipirinha and little nibbles. The bartender then showed us how they made a caipirinha, and they served us their Shrimp Corness, feature fresh Gulf shrimp, Ohio sweet corn and chive butter with a bit of heat from locally grown peppers. IMG_20110817_193428The shrimp and corn complemented each other nicely and could not have been any fresher. The Caipirinha has long been one of my favorite drinks, and it paired well with the Shrimp Corness, cooling off the bit of heat quite nicely.

We then walked around the Square to meet at SASA Matsu. Along the way Todd explained the history of Shaker Square (history copied from the Shaker Square website)

Construction of Moreland Courts and what was then Moreland Circle began at Shaker Boulevard in 1921, on land acquired by Josiah Kirby from the “Vans” — real estate developers Mantis James and Oris Paxton Van Sweringen. Architect Alfred Harris planned an ambitious series of apartments, with commercial buildings, including a theater and market, surrounding the Circle. Only a portion of the plan was carried out when Kirby’s company went bankrupt. The Van Sweringens reacquired the property and enlisted architects Philip Small and Charles Rowley to complete Moreland Courts and develop plans for what would become Shaker Square. The Vans saw Shaker Square as a focal point and gateway to their suburb to the east, Shaker Heights. Integral to their vision of “Shaker Village” and the development of Shaker Square was the creation of a rapid transit (light rail) connection to downtown Cleveland.

So much for the interesting history. Onto the food tour…IMG_20110817_194843

Chef Kim came out and greeted us at SASA with sparkling Niogri sake. The sake was refreshing, and in a fun twist of fate one of the women with whom I was sitting was married to the sake distributor, so I got to learn more about sake than was presented. We also were treated to a second glass of sake (the little white cups in photo of lamb slider) The sake paired well with SASA’s lamb sliders and unbelievably addictive SASA fries. The lamb sliders (or “mini burgers”) were served on homemade sesame buns. They were the perfect two-bite course. And I have waxed about the SASA fries before.

IMG_20110817_204050The next stop on the tour was Fire, Food, and Drink. We were seated in their private room and greeted by Chef Katz. We were given our choice of red or white wine and served 4 ounces of Fire’s Tandoor roasted hanger steak with leek bread pudding, crumbled bleu cheese, sauteed spinach and porcino jus. This was by far my most favorite course. It was extremely delicious. I was starting to hit the wall here, but thoroughly enjoyed the few bites of steak I could manage to eat. The leek bread pudding and sauteed spinach were also absolutely divine!

IMG_20110817_215602Our final stop of the evening was at Grotto Wine Bar (now housing EDWINS). The dessert course featured two choices: a grilled peach with mascarpone paired with Presdial Thunevin White Bordeaux Blend or a cheese plate with candied walnuts and berries paired with Duckpond Syrah. Since I am a HUGE fan of white Bordeaux I went with the grilled peach. I did not regret my choice. It was perfectly grilled.

Our takeaway gift from the tour was a Caipirinha muddle and pestle featuring a SKYY Vodka logo. I have used it several times since, and it makes good Caipirinhas.

This was an outstanding food tour, and each stop was delicious as well as unique. Definitely one of the highlights of my summer that year. You might consider doing your own little Shaker Square tour. I suggest drinks at Zanzibar (I love their Purple Rain – lemonade with grape Koolaid), appetizers at SASA, dinner at Fire, and dessert at EDWINS (I recommend the bananas foster, but any of their desserts will blow your mind). If European food is more your style, Balaton has great schnitzel, paprikash and strudel. Whatever you decide, you should definitely plan on a lovely evening at Shaker Square soon.

Grovewood Tavern and Wine Bar

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The Grovewood 101_0683Tavern and Wine Bar is hidden away in a North Collinwood neighborhood. In fact, your first thought when you are looking for it will be “Am I in the right place?” Tucked in the middle of a residential neighborhood just off I-90 (Hint: it’s best to get off at E. 182nd street), the Grovewood has been consistently serving outstanding food and drinks. This is probably one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland and only 17 minutes from me by car, but I don’t think to go here as often as I should.

group1I first discovered the Grovewood in 2009, back when I was still running a dining out group through Meetup.com. Someone had recommended it, and we enjoyed an outstanding meal. Every subsequent visit I have made, whether I’m sitting on the patio or in the dining room, has been outstanding.

When you walk up to and into the restaurant, you can see the chefs cooking through the front window. There is a small, cozy bar area behind the hostess station, and the dining room is to the right. The inside feels like a comfy little neighborhood joint, with white Christmas “fairy” lights and quirky lamps hanging down from the ceiling and interesting pictures on the walls.101_0681

They have an outstanding selection of wine and cocktails as well as a changing menu of beers on tap. The servers are very knowledgeable about the food, wine and beer.

Several friends and I met for dinner recently and enjoyed another fantastic meal. Several of my friends are vegetarians, so they were thrilled that the Grovewood has really expanded its offerings for vegetarians and vegans. The first time we were there they only had IMAG0935one or two entrees to choose from. C. raved about the Curried Butternut Pasta featuring roasted cubes of butternut squash with coconut milk, cilantro and lime over pasta, while R. loved the Vegan Beanburger, featuring a huge herb-scented, mixed bean patty, fried crispy and served with arugula, fresh cucumbers, tomato, and Monterey Jack cheese, with house-cut Yukon fries and herbed mayo.

As for me, I ordered the Grilled Mini Brie and Pear Salad and the Grovewood Chicken Sandwich topped with sliced, grilled apples; caramelized onions; Brie and toasted almonds, accompanied by house-cut Yukon fries and herbed mayo. I could have done without the toasted almonds, but this sandwich was delicious. The house-cut fries were delicious as well, especially dipped in the herbed mayo and the house-made ketchup (nicely spicy but not too spicy – no Heinz served here!). I will definitely order it again.LobsterRav

This time around we shared the Belgian Chocolate Lava Cake and the Caramel Pecan Cake. Both were paired with vanilla ice cream, and were delectable. My dining companions dove into these so fast I was unable to get pictures. However, I have to say my absolutely favorite dessert in Cleveland is served here – Burnin’ Down the House, a chocolate swan filled with fresh berries and flambéed table side (for two), with two dishes of vanilla ice cream. It is one impressive dessert!BigTuna

You really can’t go wrong ordering anything off the menu here. From the Yakitori to the Seared Tuna Loin (pictured here) to the Ohio City Pasta and gnocchi to the burger, everything I have had here has been outstanding.

The only thing I am not a fan of is the bread service. The bread is very flavorful, but somewhat dry. They serve it with a dipping sauce with olive oil, roasted garlic cloves and balsamic vinegar that just doesn’t work. The sauce doesn’t blend well, and you can’t really taste the balsamic. But on the bright side that just leaves more room for the rest of the food.IMAG0933

I attended a Mad Men Spirit Dinner here back in 2010 that I still remember fondly. People dressed in reminiscent dress, which was a lot of fun. The spirit dinner was hosted by North American Spirits and featured nostalgic cocktails such as a Manhattan made with bacon-infused bourbon (not the most stellar cocktail of the evening, but certainly the most unique) or a pear mule paired with complementary courses. It was outstanding from start to finish. In fact, I made the grilled brie salad with pear vinaigrette for Christmas that year (they gave us some recipes to take home with us). It received rave reviews from my family. If you get a chance to attend one of the spirit, beer or wine dinners you should definitely do it! Reservations are a must, and they tend to sell out quickly.Swan Aflame

Contact info:

Grovewood Tavern and Wine Bar
17105 Grovewood Ave
Cleveland, OH 44110
(216) 531-4900

Coquette Patisserie

IMAG0898Coquette Patisserie is a bakery & wine bar in Cleveland that specializes in French pastries, macarons, cakes, savory small plates, killer charcuterie and cheese platters and French champagne and craft beer. It is located on Euclid Avenue in the new Uptown district.

I first learned about Coquette Patisserie on the NEO Food Tour of the Cedar-Lee district, when Britt was still operating out of her home. They gave us a little takeaway box of delicate little morsels. The Queen of Sheba (left) is an almond paste chocolate cake with a layer of spicy Mexican chocolate ganache. The center pastry is a Pixie Bar, whichIMG_20120831_151827 is a pistachio florentina atop almond paste cake, a layer of lingonberry compote, and a pâte sucrée crust and my clear favorite. Britt is most known for her macarons. The Blueberry Macaron in the photo (right) is an almond flour meringue shell filled with blueberry buttercream and gluten-free.

The macarons come in a variety of flavors (such as Mango, Peanut Butter Banana, IMAG0594Black Walnut Banana, Cantaloupe-paprika, Guiness float, etc.), are $2 and 5.5 cm. You can have them dipped in dark chocolate for an additional $0.25 per macaron. My creamsicle macaron was divine!

My introduction to the brick and mortar location was with a fellow foodie after a Chinese New Year lunch. We stopped by to check it out, and I was immediately drawn to the French press coffee and Le Bonbon. They give you a sand timer to let you know when your coffee is ready to press and drink, ensuring perfect coffee. Coffee brewed with a French press is richer and more full-bodied – and meant to be drunk in one sitting.IMAG0900 You can choose which size you prefer. I went with the smaller press. It was perfect. As for the pastry, Le Bonbon features “chocolate mousse triple layered with chocolate meringue and coated in chocolate. All topped with a chocolate ribbon.” This chocolate bomb of goodness is indescribable. If you are a chocoholic you simply must try it for yourself.

The pastries vary with the season, IMAG0901but the Opera Cake and Tart Citron are always a good choice. Just perusing the choices on the website will make your mouth water. I can’t wait to try the Frambois pastry.

The storefront is small, but charming. We were there on a dreary, snowy February afternoon and yet the large windows ensured lots of natural lighting. The tables feature large IMAG1636photos of Cleveland and fresh flowers. Small glass-enclosed lights and a chandelier hang from the ceiling. There is a small table with sugar and cream and a glass cold beverage jar for those who are thirsty tucked against a wall. Very inviting.

It is also a good choice when you just want to enjoy a glass of champagne or draught beer. They just put in a patio, which is always occupied in the summer evenings. We stopped by here the other night after getting ice cream at Piccadilly Artisan Creamery, IMAG1639and I enjoyed a nice glass of champagne and a sparkling water. I ordered the champagne from Reims, which was perfect. It was light and fruity, yet dry enough to not be overly sweet. We watched the sunset and enjoyed the company. The patio is also dog-friendly.

Folks who want something more savory are also in for a treat. One Friday recently they featured Thaxton’s Organic Garlic & Kokoborrego Owl Creek Tomme Brioche. Those who like oysters won’t go wrong here. Be sure to follow them on Facebook to hear all about the daily treats. I can’t wait to order the charcuterie platter the next time I am there. I hear it is fantastic.

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Contact info:

Coquette Patisserie
11607 Euclid Avenue (corner of E. 115th and Euclid)
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 331-2841

Michaelangelo’s in Little Italy

IMG_20110601_195331I cannot believe I haven’t written about Michaelangelo’s. Off the beaten track on Murray Hill Road, this hidden gem is worth raving about. It is without a doubt my favorite restaurant in Little Italy – hands down! Since it is off the main drag and tucked away behind a brick wall, the atmosphere is more subdued, and they have a large parking lot.

IMAG0100This is not your spaghetti and meatballs and gnocchi kind of Italian restaurant. Whenever anyone asks me what to order here my answer is the arugula salad with limoncello reduction (Insalata di Rucola con Limoncello) and the Sacchetti al Tartufo. My father teases me about being so passionate about a salad, but it is THAT GOOD. And OMG, the sacchetti! But I am getting ahead of myself.

The starters are divine. On a recent trip my friend ordered the layered eggplant terrine (Terrina di Melanzane), and it IMAG0103turned out to be the most delightful eggplant parmesan and was surprisingly large. I will be ordering this the next time I go! I ordered the caprese salad, which featured hunks of fresh mozzarella and tomato (they were still in season at the time) and was topped with fresh basil and just some olive oil, salt and pepper.

OK, onto the pasta. The pasta here is all handmade and IMAG0104perfectly prepared. You can order half portions of the pasta, and I suggest you do to try several at once. The aforementioned Sacchetti al Tartufo are little pillows of heaven stuffed with ricotta and black truffle and served in a black truffle cream sauce. Words cannot do this dish justice. You simply must order it. I was hooked from the first bite. Vegetarians will be happy with the potato gnocchi with hazelnut pesto (Gnocchi con Pesto di Nocciola) and the ricotta cavatelli with wild mushrooms in a rosemary fontina cream sauce (Cavatelli con Funghi e Fontina). I personally am also a huge fan of the veal-stuffed tortellini with prosciutto di Parma, green peas and Parmesan Reggiano (Tortellini di Vitello con Prosciutto e Piselli) – not pictured. IMAG0105I got hooked on this particular pasta dish while living in Germany, and their version is delicious. The Pappardelle alla Bolognese (also not pictured) is also savory and delicious. I got to try it on the NEO Food Tour of Little Italy.

The desserts also do not disappoint. The tiramisu was fresh and creamy with just a hint of espresso and cocoa, and I seem to order the chocolate mousse cups every single time I go. They are four individual morsels of light and fluffy mousse in chocolate cups that are easy to pop in your mouth and savor.

This place – particularly the bar – is also extremely inviting in the winter, because it has a roaring fireplace. It is just tough to get one of the easy chairs in front of the fire because they are so popular.

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Contact info:

Michaelangelo’s
2198 Murray Hill Road,
Cleveland, OH 44106
216-721-0300

EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute

Photo from the EDWINS website
Photo from the EDWINS website

EDWINS is a unique restaurant. The brain child of restauranteur Brandon Chrostowski, it is billed as “a hospitality center training ground for individuals seeking successful re-entry into the professional world.” Formerly-incarcerated students looking to learn how to work in the hospitality industry spend six months learning the ins and outs of the trade. Successful graduates are now working at top restaurants in Cleveland as well as other cities. It is a non-profit 501c3 organization (and as such does not have a tip line on the bill, but a “charitable donation”).

Salad Niçoise
Salad Niçoise

EDWINS’ restaurant sales subsidize the nonprofit’s mission. I prefer to think of it as a delicious upscale French restaurant. This is a wonderful mission and well worth supporting. And a HUGE step up from the previous restaurant that occupied the space, the old Grotto wine bar. This is a welcome addition to Shaker Square.

Chef Gilbert Brenot runs the kitchen. I have known about Gilbert since he had his own restaurant (Bistro 82) in Twinsburg and my sister waitressed for him back in college. The man can definitely cook. Everything that comes out of the kitchen is flawless. The restaurant focuses on fine French dining.

IMAG0630On the first visit I had a very small appetite, so I ordered a number of appetizers and small plates. I started my meal with a Parisian Mule, which features Tito’s Vodka, Creme de Cassis de Dijon, Fresh Lime, Fever Tree Ginger Bee. It was just as light and refreshing as I expected. I had heard wonderful things about the rabbit pie, so that was a must. The official description is Tarte de lapin au Parmesan et jambon en croûte (rabbit pie with Parmesan and prosciutto crust). IMAG0631The crust was flaky and definitely had a salty Parmesan and prosciutto flavor. Although a little drier than I expected, the filling was extremely flavorful and delicious. Everyone who had a bite of my pie enjoyed it. I accompanied the rabbit pie with the Artichauts barigoule (artichokes braised in white wine, olive oil and butter). They were perfectly cooked and were a nice complement to the rabbit pie. I split the Salade Niçoise (a fresh salad with Ortiz tuna, haricot verts, egg, potato, anchovy, tomato, red onion, Niçoise olives and red wine vinaigrette), and they split the salad on two plates for us. This was light and fresh and featured perfectly cooked tuna steaks. The size is small, but it is a nice side salad to pair with an entree.IMAG0790

I splurged on my second visit. I started with an an Aviation cocktail (Boodles gin, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and fresh lemon) and the Bisque de homard (lobster bisque). It was very smooth and not overly creamy with fresh lobster meat served in the middle and decorated with a swoop of crème fraiche. My second course was the Tournedos de saumon gratiné au raifort et sa sauce aux concombres et crème fraîche (horseradish encrusted salmon with cucumbers and crème fraîche), and I paired it with a glass of California Chardonnay. I have to say that this is probably my favorite thing on the menu. Our server asked how I wanted the salmon cooked, and I left it up to the chef to prepare it as he saw fit. It was perfectly cooked (not too dry and not too moist), and the crème fraîche sauce with dill was the perfect accompaniment. I even used some bread to sop up someIMAG0791 of the sauce when I had finished the salmon.

Also worth noting is the Ratatouille avec tofu et pistou (Ratatouille with tofu and pistou sauce). The pistou sauce is a tomato-based sauce that was absolutely delicious. One of my friends ordered this and allowed me to taste it. I am not normally a huge fan of ratatouille, but this one has definitely won me over. It is absolutely delicious!

IMAG0798Everyone raves about the cheese service, which is very impressive, but for me the star of the restaurant is the Bananas Foster prepared table side. It is a delight to watch – from the melting of the butter, to the caramelizing of the brown sugar, addition of the banana and flambeing with liquors – and even more delicious and delightful to eat afterwards. One of my tablemates ordered it, and I have every intention of coming back just for the bananas foster! IMAG0799The gentleman preparing the dessert was a little nervous and had someone whispering what to do in his ear, but he explained afterwards that it was his first time preparing it. He did a wonderful job for a first-timer, and we made sure to complement him to the manager.

IMAG0633The créme brulée and soufflé are also outstanding choices. I have been lucky enough to try bites from my dinner companions. The sugar on the créme brulée was perfectly caramelized, and the custard was deliciously creamy. The soufflé was as light and delicious as you would expect. Be sure to order it with your meal, because it takes 25 minutes to make. You won’t go wrong ordering any of the desserts. Even the poached pear is delicious.

The service is impeccable – almost too much at times, with several people coming by to ask how everything was. Our water glasses were always full, bread was always replenished, and every tiny request was quickly fulfilled. They definitely get an A++ for service.

Contact info:

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

Pickle Bill’s in Grand River

101_0832Now that the weather is getting nicer Clevelanders start heading outside to enjoy it. One great place to enjoy the warmer temperatures is Pickle Bill’s in Grand River. It is a bit of a drive from Cleveland, but it is well worth it. If you try to find it using Mapquest or GPS you might not get there. The best way to do it is head to Mentor Headlands Beach. Pickle Bill’s is right off Route 44. There is a big sign. You can’t miss it. The restaurant is aware of the problem, so they offer detailed directions on their website for people coming from the north, south, east and west. They are closed on Mondays, open Tuesday-Friday from 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m. Be sure to call for Barge and Rooftop bar hours, as they are weather-dependent.

101_0834According to the Pickle Bill’s website, the name Pickle Bill’s was conceived back in 1967. Its first location was on Old River Road in the Cleveland Flats. It was in business for 11 years and had a fairly limited menu. In 1982, Pickle Bill’s relocated to River Street in Grand River. There was a fire in 1998 and it was a total loss. The restaurant rebuilt and reopened in January 2000. There is no mention of the Lakewood location (which is now Deagan’s) on the website, but I remember eating there several times in the 1990s.

101_0843Pickle Bill’s can be enjoyed year round, but there is nothing better than sitting outside on their patio or on the Dock or the Barge, which features the carousel-like round bar, in the middle of the Grand River. There is also a Fireplace Room, Rooftop bar and Cantina bar. This is my go-to place for seafood and frozen adult beverages. I have been eating at Pickle Bill’s since it was in Lakewood. I never made it to the location in the Flats.

The decorations are whimsical and reminiscent of a seafood house full of kitschy ocean- and seafaring-inspired decorations. The fun decor somehow makes you relax and enjoy yourself.

101_0840This place is not fine dining, but the quality is good. It bills itself as “casual waterfront dining.” I have yet to have a bad meal here. All of the entrees are served with choice of mixed greens, Caesar salad or cole slaw, one side dish, and their fried dough and cinnamon honey butter. The choice of sides include mixed vegetables, spicy red beans & rice, French fries, corn on the cob or baked potato.

Let’s talk about the rolls for a second. Like Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits, the Pickle Bill’s fried dough and cinnamon honey butter are extremely addictive. It is easy to fill up on the fried dough. It is that good. Light as air and slathered with their 101_0851cinnamon honey butter, these things are the bomb. You can see from the photo how much cinnamon is in the butter from the darker color. It’s almost worth the trip just for the fried dough, but luckily they have lobster, crab legs, shrimp, various sampler platters and all kinds of all-you-can-eat specials.

Unless you are a bottomless pit or all-you-can-eat pro you might be better off just ordering dinners off the menu. My sister and I ordered the all-you-can-eat snow crab legs (currently $42.95) back when they were still in Lakewood. The waitress felt bad for us because we were full after just one bucket and changed our bill to the 1 lb. dinners (currently $22.95). And we had limited ourselves to one piece of fried dough! The snow crab legs IMG_20120829_203716are a lot of work, but worth it once you fish the succulent chunks of crab meat out of the shell.

One of my friend’s favorite choices is the Appetizer Dinner. You can choose two appetizers (under $11.95), either a Caesar or mixed green salad and one side dish for $19.95. It is a great value.

My go-to meal is the Fine Kettle of Fish, which features a 1 lb. whole Maine lobster (or a 5 oz. lobster tail), snow crab legs, clams, mussels and corn on the cob for $35.95. You can also upgrade to a 1 1/4 lb. lobster for $40.95 or 1 1/2 lb. for $44.95. I have ordered it numerous times, and the seafood always comes out perfectly cooked. Even the corn on the cob is not overcooked!

101_0847The fish dinners serve huge filets of fish that extend over the sides of the plates. Two of my friends who are vegetarian but eat fish and chips loved their fish dinners here. One ordered it with the chips (aka French fries – pictured), while the other ordered the corn on the cob. Both pieces of fish extended over the sides of the plates. I am fairly certain the fish in the photo on the right is the panko-crusted walleye, but they also offer perch, tilapia, salmon and cod fish dinners.IMG_20120829_203628

They also serve Whiskey Island Chicken, ribs, prime rib and a (cheese)burger for those of you who are allergic or don’t like seafood but are married or dating a seafood lover. My one friend who ordered the ribs enjoyed them a lot.

Be prepared for lots of food and lots of plates. I once ordered the lobster dinner and added on an order of snow crab legs. The lobster, the snow crab legs, the corn and the mashed potatoes were all served on their own separate plate. In fact, the photo of the snow crab legs is from that meal.

I have celebrated my birthday here two times. They sang for me (not too obnoxious like in other restaurants) and gave us a small birthday cake! The cake is nothing to write home about, but it’s free and they wrap it up for you to take home. If you actually have room for dessert, everyone in my group who tasted it raved about the key lime pie.

Ladies, be sure to visit the ladies’ room and lift the leaf loincloth of the guy in the mural. An angel will get its wings.

Contact info:

Pickle Bill’s
101 River Street
Grand River, OH 44045
(440) 352-6343

Medieval Feast at Trinity Cathedral

IMAG0576One of the most unique dining events in Cleveland is the Medieval Feast at Trinity Cathedral. It used to span two nights, but has now been limited to just one night in January. Tickets sell out fast, so I quickly booked a ticket. The ticket price of $70 benefits Trinity’s Music and Arts program. Many attendees were in period (and not-so-period) attire, but it wasn’t a must. It was definitely a fun night, and I’m glad I braved the bad weather this year (this year it was held on Friday, January 25th). The Feast was held during a huge snowstorm and I had initially turned back home, IMAG0553but my friend called assuring me the roads were not as bad as I thought. It was slow going, but not impossible. There were numerous empty seats, however, because some people decided not to brave the weather.

Doors opened at 7 PM, and the Cathedral opened for dinner at 8 PM. The foyer hosted mulled cider and hot apple cider as well as a table of cheese and crackers. By the time I arrived the cheese and crackers were pretty much decimated. Service of the courses was slow (it’s hard to feed 300 people at once), so we didn’t leave until almost 11. I can’t imagine how late they were there breaking down the tables and preparing for the Sunday service the next morning.

IMAG0557We walked into the Cathedral in a procession of bagpipes. I love the Cathedral, so I can’t imagine a more lovely venue to have a meal. We quickly found our seats at our assigned table and tucked into the pickled beets, cauliflower, onions and cucumbers as well as loaves of bread from Breadsmith. Dinner was unfortunately not served on trenchers of bread, but rather in salad bowls. We ate with our hands. Luckily I was aware of this ahead of time and brought the hand sanitizer. IMAG0563Some previous attendees brought their own silverware, but if you ask me that is cheating and detracts from the experience (those same people also brought plastic bags for leftovers, so…).

The tables were set with pitchers of water and large bottles of burgundy and chablis wine, and the servers came around with two choices of beer – Stella Artois Belgian lager or Honey Brown Ale. They kept refilling when asked. I went with the Stella. It was refreshing and paired quite nicely with the first two courses (I switched to water after that since the roads were treacherous).

IMAG0566The first course was chicken breasts stuffed with Stilton cheese and honey glazed carrots. We sat with the guy who had stuffed the chicken breasts, so it was fun hearing some behind-the-scenes-prep stories. The chicken was amazing. They were lightly breaded, and the Stilton was an excellent pairing. The honey glazed carrots were also delicious. I hadn’t yet found my groove for photographing the food, and had trouble photographing this course.IMAG0578

The second course was a plate of assorted sausages and dried fruit. There were four different sausages, ranging from a kielbasi to what might have been a blood sausage. They were very moist and delicious. The dried fruits were dates, figs and apricots.

IMAG0579Our third course was billed as roast loin of boar with wild mushroom sauce and green beans, but I honestly think it was pork. The wild mushroom sauce was DIVINE! The pork was perfectly seasoned and cooked and was not at all dry.

The dessert course was amazing – andIMAG0571 had been touted as being their best dessert they have ever had at the Feast. It was a cranberry walnut bread pudding with a hard vanilla sauce. I was stuffed at this point, but the dessert was so good I had several (small) handfuls.

They offered entertainment to keep us occupied during the breaks between courses. In addition to fencers and jugglers, they had actors portraying the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Maid Marion, which carried on throughout the evening. They had tucked away playtime coins under the bowls that we were to give to Robin Hood or his henchmen when they came by. They had a group of madrigal singers, which were quite talented. Todd Wilson played the organ for a sing-a-long. And last but not least they had a fire breather for entertainment as well. It was definitely an experience that should not be missed – and the money goes to a good cause! The funds raised from the Feast allow Music and Art to produce its free Brownbag Concert series, which are every Wednesday at noon and is a great lunch break. Tickets for the Feast go on sale in mid-December here.

Lucky’s Cafe in Tremont

IMAG0250When people ask me what my favorite brunch place in Cleveland is I don’t even have to think about it. My answer is always Lucky’s. The quirky little cafe is tucked away on the one-way portion of Starkweather just before it meets Professor (look for the brick building on the right with some weird metal sculpture on it because if you don’t I guarantee you will drive right past it). The restaurant prides itself on the quality of its ingredients, which are locally sourced or straight from the garden outside (you can actually see them go out and pick the IMAG0247fresh veggies and herbs). Everything here – from the bread to the condiments – is made from scratch.

Owner Heather Haviland is particularly proud of their Reuben, which is made entirely in-house, from the corned beef and sauerkraut to the bread to the Thousand Island Dressing. It was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Michael Symon is a fan of her biscuits and gravy.

The place is usually packed with a long line on the 600_10770444weekends, so I try to go here on off-hours. I showed up at 1 p.m. today and was told this was the slowest they had been since 9 a.m. During the summer you can eat in their garden right outside of the restaurant, which helps the lines somewhat but not entirely. This photo of the garden is older. Guests now sit under a wooden enclosure instead of a tent.

600_9760415Since the restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients, Lucky’s has a tendency to run out of certain dishes. When I decided to order a cup of their corn and bacon chowder today I was informed that they had just run out. Drat!

My favorite item on the menu is the Shipwreck. As one Yelp reviewer states, “The shipwreck is a gigantic pile of awesome on a plate.” It is a scramble of home fries, eggs, seasonal veggies, bacon and cheese together and serves it with four diagonal slices of buttered como toast and a little side of fresh fruit. I always feel healthy eating it, but if you want to be evenIMG_20110704_131723 healthier choose the Canoewreck, which features curried tofu, home fries, seasonal veggies and brewer’s yeast. I was craving the como toast today, so I made the trek. The server was able to get me some jam, but once I tasted the buttered como toast on its own I stopped using the jam.

One of my best friends, who is a mac n cheese addict, loves their baked mac-n-cheese. It is rich and creamy with several different kinds of cheeses, plus extra cream. Definitely worth a splurge! 600_9760413I also highly recommend the waffle (the gingerbread waffle with fresh whipped cream is divine)

I love Lucky’s because it offers 20 oz. mugs of coffee served in cafe au lait mugs (one of my friends refers to them as “bowls of coffee”). The Papa Mocha (chocolate, cream, milk and espresso) is one of my favorites. I splurged today and ordered a 16 oz. Caramel Créme Breve and Sunshine Cocktail (orange Pellegrino mixed with fresh squeezed oj over 600_9760414ice). The coffee was as smooth and delicious as always, and the sunshine cocktail was refreshing. I was full and happy for the rest of the day.

Ordering and paying is a little different here. Your server will give you a little table topper with a letter on it when you order. After the meal, you then go to the register with the table topper, and a person behind the counter will ring everything up based off of the waitress ticket. I calculated the cost in my head when I ordered, IMAG0251so there were no surprises and I already had an idea of the tip I was going to leave.

Just a word of warning: they don’t do substitutions or special orders here, and the food can be a bit pricey. If you want an omelette “your way”, go to IHOP or Bob Evans. Plus, you should be prepared to pay a little extra for the quality and fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Expect to pay $12-15 per person for your entree and extra for drinks. My bill today was around $21.50. I couldn’t afford to eat here every day, but it is great for the occasional splurge or birthday brunch.

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Contact info:

Lucky’s Cafe
777 Starkweather Avenue
Tremont, OH 44113
(216) 622-7773