Byte Cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Contact info:

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

Paczki Crawl 2020

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

Samosky’s paczki

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

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

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

Chuppa’s paczki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact info:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gas station hummus and more

A few years ago all the foodies in town started talking about a gas station that started making outstanding hummus. Five years ago, Muntaha “Mama Mary” Dari started making a few varieties of hummus to sell out of the family’s Sunoco gas station on the corner of Sprague and Columbia Roads in Olmsted Township. The raving about the hummus got so out of hand that it has become a running gag on the local food forums. Well, the food itself is no joke. I had it for the first time at a friend’s game night a few years ago. Some friends brought the Everything Bagel and the Garlic hummus. The flavors were outstanding, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Some of the available flavors include Original, Everything Bagel, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy, Sun-Dried Tomato, Jalapeno, Bacon, Dill Pickle, Cranberry and Pomegranate (at $3.99 a tub, add $1 for pita). Chocolate hummus will be available for Valentine’s Day and other romantic holidays. Popular flavors sell out quickly, and not every flavor is served every day. You can special order hummus in party trays as well. I bought a tub of Everything Bagel and Kalamata Olive hummus for Easter last year. Hummus is always a good choice for my gluten-free/dairy-free family members. My niece, who is gluten-free, decided she would suffer the consequences and ate almost all of the warm pita that had come with it all by herself. It is grilled and seasoned and absolutely delicious. Mama Mary’s Hummus is now available at several other gas stations (that belong to family members), but I have been frequenting the original location regularly since I started teaching German on Saturday mornings in Olmsted Falls.

The gas station serves more than hummus. They have lamb on a spit for lamb gyros and also serve chicken gyros and falafel in addition to subs and various fried side dishes. I adore the gyros. I get them “with everything” – so lettuce, tomato, onions, tzatziki, and seasoning. They are a little pricey at $6.99 or super sized at $9.99, but they are sizable enough to be filling. And are delicious to boot. I’m hooked on the chicken gyro. I’ve ordered it more than once.

The falafel is a good falafel. It’s not Ehab’s falafel from Cafe Falafel in Fairview Hospital, but it is a nice falafel sandwich. Most falafel are too dry for my tastes, but the falafel in the sandwich have enough moisture to satisfy me. The falafel wrap is $5.99 or you can buy 12 falafel for a few dollars more.

They were making party subs one day when I stopped by for a gyro. I remember back in the day when party subs were a must-serve for a football game. Footlongs and multi-footlongs are available, but they make big subs that are cored out and stuffed with filling. I don’t know how much the party subs are, but a regular sub is $7.99 or $8.99 depending on the choice. They are available hot or cold. There is even a corned beef sub available as well as several hot Philly subs and a Buffalo Chicken sub. As a proud Bulldog alum, I wanted to order the Bulldog when I was there, but ended up saying Raider instead. Total brain fart. The Bulldog features turkey and roast beef, and the Raider is roast beef, ham and turkey. It was still great – even if it was two subs in one! I ate one for lunch and the other one later that day for dinner.

They also serve sides like tabbouli, stuffed grape leaves, macaroni salad, potato salad and banana pudding. I love the stuffed grape leaves. They come five to a container, but they are so munchable I end up eating them all in the care on the way home. The macaroni salad is also creamy and delicious and not as heavily spiced as it looks. I think it is just perfect. I haven’t tried the other sides yet.

Contact info:

Mama Mary’s Hummus
Sunoco Cafe
9796 Columbia Road
Olmsted Falls, Ohio 44138
440-235-0351

Ramen at Mason’s Creamery

Mason’s Creamery opened in 2015 on the corner of Bridge Avenue and W. 44th Street in Ohio City, and serves high-quality ice cream in all kinds of adventurous flavors in the warmer months. They started serving ramen a couple times a year as pop-up events, which proved popular. They would run out within an hour or two. Last winter they decided to covert to a ramen shop, and they started serving three kinds of ramen, delicious tea, and soft serve ice cream. They put a sturdy tent around the overhang above, creating temporary seating. There are also about 12 seats available inside along the “bar.”

I stopped several times last winter and tried both the pork tonkatsu and chicken shio. Both were very flavorful. I am not a huge fan of pork belly or fat, so the pork wasn’t my favorite. I enjoyed the chicken a lot. However, I was there recently and had the vegetarian ramen, featuring several kinds of mushrooms and found my favorite. The bowls of ramen are $13 and come loaded with noodles and garnished with assorted toppings like seaweed, corn, mushrooms and a soft-boiled, soy-cured egg. There are vegan and gluten-free options, too. I remembered to ask them to not add the egg to my vegetarian ramen (I’m allergic). I really loved the broth and toppings in the vegetarian ramen. The broth had a really rich, umami taste to it. The other broths are also flavorful, but the veggie/mushroom broth is truly outstanding. I’ll be back for it.

As much as I love the ramen, I love the fruit-based tea they serve here more. It is a generous 1 liter serving, and you can get a lid to take the bottle home with you. In fact, they do not reuse the bottles. I’ve enjoyed a pineapple, passion fruit and raspberry tea, mandaquat (mandarin orange and kumquat), and the latest version was passion fruit and guava.

They also serve two flavors of soft serve every day. I couldn’t resist getting the matcha and chocolate swirl. The chocolate had a deep chocolate flavor, and the matcha was perfect – green tea flavor and not too sweet. The two flavors really complemented each other.

Starting in early December, Mason’s is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 4-9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 4-10 p.m. for ramen. The plan is to convert back to an ice cream shop in late March or early April.

We were a larger group than they can normally accommodate. They won’t allow groups to sit until everyone is there. Initially there were four of us. If one of your friends is pokey or running late you’re out of luck. I thought we were going to be five and then two more of my friends showed up at the last minute without warning, making us 6. We waited for one of the two tables of four to clear, while the cashier kept taking other orders from walk-ins. Once a table finally cleared, I sent my friend there to reserve it, only to get chastised by the cashier that you can’t sit until you’ve ordered and paid. I ordered for both of us and headed out into the tent. That did not leave a warm feeling in my heart. We had been standing there waiting for ten minutes already. The seventh person walked in just as we all sat down and were being served. The seven of us managed to cram around a table for four, but luckily ramen doesn’t take up a lot of room. We gladly doled out cups of water to the other diners since we were in the way. Three of my friends had never had ramen before. It was fun teaching them how to eat it – taste the broth with the spoon, slurp the noodles from the chopsticks, it’s okay to drink the broth from the bowl. Everyone enjoyed themselves in the end, so I must have been the only one stressing out. The joys of being an organizer.

Do yourself a favor and do not come with a group. But definitely check it out. Come with a friend or two or be like me and come alone and enjoy the ramen while you can. I truly think it’s the best ramen in Cleveland and worth the aggravation.

Contact info:

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

Boss ChickNBeer

Located on Front Street in Berea, this women-owned restaurant features fried chicken wings and tenders and locally brewed beer. I imagine it fits quite well into the Baldwin Wallace college culture.

Boss ChickNBeer is a unique restaurant – everything that is fried is gluten-free, as they use rice flour and soybean oil for their deep-fried and battered chicken. All the products that are in the fryers are all gluten free, and there is no cross contamination. The pasta and some buns are the only non-GF items. This is one of those places that picks one thing to do and does it well. Like the name says, it focuses on chicken and beer. If you don’t want beer you can help yourself to the free sweet or unsweetened iced tea and water in the dispensers in the back.

The storefront itself is rather small. It features bar seating and a few tables along the wall. There is no table service. You can order at the bar or if it is busy you order at the cash register near the entrance (although there is an entrance in the back as well from a small parking lot).

My first visit was right after it opened, so the menu was a little more limited than it is now. I couldn’t decide if I wanted wings or tenders, so I ordered both in the WingN Tender combo, which comes with 1 lb of wings, 3 tenders, 2 sides and 2 sauces for $20. I ordered the New Cleveland Gold and Citrus BBQ sauces. Both sauces were great, but I preferred the New Cleveland Gold. The wings were a little saltier than I expected, but they were absolutely delicious. I enjoyed the seasoning they use. The wings do not come coated in sauce, nor do they need to be. In fact, the menu specifies they can coat the wings in sauce for $100. The chicken tenders were perfectly fried, very tender – no pun intended – and quite juicy. I ordered the onion rings and fried brussels sprouts as sides. The onion rings were massive. They were thinly sliced, which I didn’t think was possible. The flavor was completely on point. The brussels sprouts were an absolute delight. They were roasted to within an inch of their life and absolutely delicious. I also ordered a Platform beer, because beer just goes well with wings. It was a lot of food and I enjoyed it the next day (hint: use an air fryer to reheat it and your leftovers will be perfect).

Vegan wings – photo from Boss ChickNBeer

My friends got the wings and the vegan wings (battered cauliflower & smoked tofu). The vegan wings weren’t bad. I imagine if I were a vegetarian I would come order this quite often. One of my friends ordered the salt roasted sweet potato as her side. It was massive and very tasty. They also got a sample taste of the queso mac n cheese, which was delicious. I brought date nut cupcakes from Dick’s Bakery down the street for dessert, because you can’t beat the date nut cake.

On my second visit I met a friend in the dog days of summer. The place was packed, and there was a line to order. I held our table while she ordered a WingN Tender combo for the two of us (it was perfect for two people). I let her choose the sides, and she chose the hand-cut fries and superfood slaw. I once again thoroughly enjoyed the wings and tenders. I can’t decide which I prefer, because they are both good in their own way. The handcut fries were perfectly fried, and the superfood slaw was delightfully fresh with lots of small julienned superfood veggies. I don’t know if I would have ordered the slaw, but it was a nice healthy choice.

The latest version of the menu features Boss-Tastic Mac with the mac n cheese topped with chicken tenders, gold sauce, boss sauce, green onion and bacon. The Veggie Mac is topped with the vegan wings instead of the chicken and bacon. Holy hell is it good. The queso has a bit of a kick to it, but you can lessen the spice by getting a bite with some barbecue sauce as well. The curly macaroni noodles are a great vehicle delivery for the soupy cheese.

They also offer four different sandwiches – the Hott Chick, the Hott Vegan Chick, the Jersey Shore Chick and the Vegan Shore Chick – for $10. The Hott Chick and Hott Vegan Chick features their jalapeno buffalo sauce and jalapeno pickles over tenders or vegan wings, while the Jersey Shore and Vegan Shore uses peppers, mozzarella, tomatoes and marinara sauce. You can choose between a gluten-free pretzel bun or a tortilla wrap. They had a sandwich featuring a glazed donut, but surprisingly that didn’t go over that well and was taken off the menu.

Contact info:

Boss ChickNBeer
120 Front Street
Berea, OH 44017
(440) 532-7660 b

The Best Bites of 2019

I wrote a Best Bites of 2018 last year, but by the time I finished it it was so late into the new year that I deleted it. I’m making sure I don’t procrastinate this year.

I continued cooking at home more and learned how to make stuffed cabbage in the electric pressure cooker. That was a game changer. Stuffed cabbage always seemed so intimidating – so I’d just go to Sokolowski’s and get one when I had a craving. Now I can make a big batch and freeze them to enjoy over a few months whenever I want. Jeffrey from Pressure Luck Cooking shared his Grandma Lil’s stuffed cabbage recipe, and I made them for the first time last January for my parents’ birthday party. Stuffed cabbage is my father’s favorite thing in the world. I fed the entire family of 7 and sent some home with him. I brought him some last week again when we had hot dogs roasted in the fireplace. If you follow Jeffrey’s recipe, I recommend using half of the tomato juice (one 46 oz can instead of two) and halving the other sauce ingredients. I’ve found it is too much sauce for the 8 quart pressure cooker, and I threw a bunch of it out the first time. Half the amount is perfect and still plenty saucy.

I’ve been enjoying a variety of soups every month at the Cleveland Soup and Bread Experiment at the BottleHouse in Cleveland Heights. Every month about six to eight volunteers make a batch of soup each and bring it the BottleHouse. There is always a good variety of soups, including vegan and vegetarian options. Any possible allergens are noted on the soup signs. On The Rise donates a variety of bread and baked goods. The proceeds go to a different charity every month. This month’s Soup and Bread Experiment is on Wednesday the 15th (it tends to be on the third Wednesday of the month) from 6:30-8:30 and will be benefiting the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. I haven’t decided what I’ll be making, but I’ve made autumn lentil and pumpkin soup, split pea and ham, zuppa toscana, straciatella, beef barley and Italian wedding soup in the past. Some of my favorites from other soup makers include Judi Strauss’ grandmother’s mushroom soup, Mulligatawny soup, and tortellini and kielbasa soup.

Sichuan Hot Pot continues to be a draw for my friends and me. We get a nice-sized group together (6 or 8), and everyone orders one thing for the table to share. My favorites include the crispy fish hot & spicy, garlic shrimp, and their roasted eggplant with garlic sauce (we’ve learned to ask for the sauce on the side so the eggplant stays crisp). The shredded pork with pickled cabbage (pictured here) was an early favorite, as were the crispy spare ribs. We have only had one or two dishes that did not thrill us.

Shredded pork with pickled cabbage

Roasted eggplant

Crispy fish hot & spicy

I went on a queso kick for a while this summer and learned I enjoyed chorizo – especially if it is combined with queso. I always thought it was too spicy for me. My friend Dale ordered this queso and chorizo at Blue Habanero, and I ignored the combo app platter I ordered for the table to help inhale his. No other queso has exceeded the excellence of this one, and the tortilla chips have some good flavor to them as well. Paired with an octopus (margarita and sangria) I was a very happy girl that night.

Polpetta is my favorite place to go for special dinners. They did a Throwback Dinner honoring all the great things from Graffiti: a Social Kitchen. The Graffiti Artist featured the chorizo potato skin, French onion soup egg roll and a pb&j wing. The second course was an ancient grain salad. The third course was salmon on a delectable cauliflower puree with fried Brussels, and the fourth course was the Deconstructed Monte Cristo (my fave). Rounded off with the O.G. Fat Kid. We all loved it. We enjoyed Adam Bostwick’s whimsy so much that I was the first person to reserve a table (for 8 people) for their Christmas Dinner, which featured courses inspired by Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (a potato croquette with a red, The Grinch (“Roast Beast”), A Christmas Story (duck over coconut rice), and the most unusual dish but biggest hit, Chocolate Spaghetti inspired by the movie Elf. Adam said it was the weirdest thing he’d ever made, and he was nervous about how it would be received. Well, we’re still talking about it – in a good way.

My sister’s family lives in Medina, so when I attend an orchestra concert, softball game, or swim meet there I am usually hungry when I head home. I do enjoy eating at Sérénité or 111 Bistro, but lately Santosuosso has been my later-in-the-night stop. I enjoy their Meatball and Sausage Casserole a lot, but the side salad that comes with the meal is the main draw for me. I order it with the Italian house salad dressing, and it comes with the perfect balance of dressing, lettuce, cheese and side veggies (cucumber, tomato and chickpeas). For some reason it tastes better than any other side salad I’ve been served.

One of my friends discovered Mama Marie’s Ukrainian Kitchen in Parma, and we have all been checking it out. It is located next to State Meats on Ridge, and is super-tiny. There are three booths where only two of them can be occupied at the same time as well as two small two-tops. Most of their business is carry out. I enjoyed the most delicious and humongous Kielbasa Sandwich there. It is served on a perfectly soft bun on a bed of sauerkraut. I enjoyed every single bite. The pierogis were quite good too!

We said goodbye to Marta’s in Euclid in September 2019. I was unable to order my favorite Svickova then, but I got to enjoy it in March. The Wienerschnitzel and Czech bread dumplings were a great second choice in September. I’m going to miss those bread dumplings!

2019 was the year I fell in love with Mama Catena Vino e Cucina (also in Euclid). I found it after searching for somewhere close to eat after an event at the public library. They were vote Best Sinful Dessert in 2018, and I recognized the dining room from the video as soon as I stepped into the restaurant. The amazing cannoli cake features two layers of vanilla cake, one layer of chocolate cake, and tons of cannoli filling and crushed cannoli shells. I ordered it for a friend’s birthday when the dining group had dinner there. Everyone loved it – including me and I don’t like usually like cannolis. In fact, I loved it so much that I then ordered it to bring to my birthday party at Corleone’s in August. It was a HUGE hit. You have to pre-order it, but you can pre-order single servings if you are dining there and can plan ahead. I also recommend their Sunday Sauce, which is served with a meatball, slice of sausage and pork that is falling apart because it’s been simmering in marinara sauce for hours! This family-run business treated me like family after the second time I walked in. It has turned into one of my favorite restaurants in town.

My Friday nights and Saturday mornings in Lent were booked with fish fries and pancake breakfasts. The fish fries and pancake breakfasts were hit or miss. You can read all about them in the blog. My favorite fish fry was at St. Andrew’s in Parma, and my favorite pancake breakfast was in Burton at the high school (they served omelettes along with the AYCE pancakes). Some girlfriends and I did a paczki crawl one Sunday after a bad pancake breakfast on the West Side. We started by comparing Biagio’s and Seven Roses’, which I had bought the day before, then stopped at Becker’s (unfortunately there were no paczki that day), Chuppa’s, and Colozza’s. Chuppa’s had a banana custard paczki that I adored; however, my favorite paczkis remain Michael Angelo’s and Rudy’s Strudel. Rudy’s Hough Bakery paczki is absolutely amazing, and just FYI Rudy’s also serves savory paczki – I heated mine up in my air fryer at 360 for 5 minutes.

A must for me is Sokolowski’s clam bake in October. Every Saturday in October from 4-9 they serve a clam bake with either a 1/2 chicken or 12 oz strip steak as well as a ton of other really tempting menu choices. Since it was a spontaneous decision and I hadn’t preordered I was afraid they would run out by the time I made it to the counter because the line was long (it started outside the back door and threaded its way through the dining room), but luckily they had one. (Plan B would have been to just cobble something together from the chowder, appetizer order of clams, and a kielbasa meal.) Their New England Clam Chowder was my favorite part of the meal this year. It was creamy and delicious with lots of chopped clams and big chunks of bacon. The red-skin potatoes were creamy and perfectly cooked as well. I need to get back here to enjoy the chowder again soon. I hope they don’t just serve this during the clam bake season. But I have to mention that normally I ignore the clam broth at clam bakes. I am so glad I didn’t ignore the clam broth here. It was buttery and flavorful, and it was my second favorite part of the meal – and that’s saying something since I ordered a strip steak and clams!

Gunselman’s Tavern serves a burger of the month. December’s burger was the Christmas Dinner, featuring a 1/2 lb burger patty from the West Side Market, shaved (thick shaved!) prime rib, horseradish aioli, rosemary au jus, arugula and tomato on a weck bun. My friend and I split one the first time I went (with onion rings instead of fries), and I went back a week later for lunch to enjoy it again. It is without a doubt the best burger I have ever eaten, edging out the burger at Annie’s Island Fresh Burgers on Mamalahoa Hwy. in Kealakekua, Hawaii.

Le Petit Triangle’s Raspberry and Mango French toast made with challah was not only a feast for the eyes – it was also a feast for the tummy. I can’t even begin to describe had delectable this was. I enjoyed every single bite. I went to brunch there with a friend, and she ordered this and gave me a taste. I went back a couple days later to order my own and enjoyed it on the patio with a good book. In fact, this might have been the best thing I’ve eaten all year.

P.S. It isn’t in Cleveland, but deserves a mention because it ranks as one of my favorite French onion soups of all-time. I was in Palm Springs for a conference in October and enjoyed a French onion soup at Pomme Frite French & Belgian Cuisine that was covered in so much melty cheese that it was served with a pair of scissors. Now *that* is my kind of soup! If you find yourself in Palm Springs be sure to check it out!

I look forward to what 2020 will bring! Happy New Year!

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

Clambakes 2019

Fall’s arrival means that it’s officially clambake season in Cleveland—at restaurants, at special events, and in friends’ backyards. The photo to the left is from the Willoughby Elks’ Annual Clambake a few years ago. I missed their clambake this year, because I was out of town. It’s always a good meal.

An Ohio clambake is a little different than a typical New England Clambake. An Ohio clambake steams everything together in one big pot, and the clams are not local—they are shipped in from the east coast. A typical clambake usually includes a dozen clams, perhaps a half-chicken or steak or lobster, ears of corn, and white, red or sweet potatoes. Served with clam chowder and/or clam broth, fresh rolls slathered with butter and a side of creamy coleslaw. My best friend from high school and her family used to put one on every year. You can read more about clambakes and hers in particular in one of my first blog posts from 2009 here.

If I ever get married, I will be married in October and have a clambake for the reception or rehearsal dinner. Clambakes are just a great time to get together. You can go to a restaurant for a clambake or put together your own. Some restaurants serve clambakes every Friday and Saturday night in October, some have a clambake on one specific day, and some only serve it one weekend night through the month.

This season I treated myself to two special clambakes in restaurants, and a friend had me over for a clambake she purchased from SweetBerry Fresh Market in Wickcliffe. You need to preorder them. The SweetBerry clambake was $14.99 per person and included a dozen clams, 1/2 a chicken, a huge sweet potato, an ear of corn, cole slaw and a dinner roll. You can also order 100 medium-neck clams for $49. She did not boil everything together, but instead prepared everything separately in her kitchen. I’m not usually a fan of chicken with a clambake, but I tore into the white meal of the chicken and loved every bite. I shared some of my dark meat with my dog. I managed to eat everything but the sweet potato, and she had made a pear cake for dessert. We sat around the table and caught up. It was a nice way to spend a Friday evening.

I chose The Lobster Pot in Willoughby Hills for my first clambake of the season in a restaurant. I was craving seafood and headed up there on a Friday night. It was later in the evening (just past the dinner hour rush), but I still had to wait about ten minutes for a table. I upgraded my $25 clambake to add a whole lobster for another $25. The clambake came with a cup of chowder (which was a little too heavy with the flavor of celery but still tasty), a dozen clams, red skin potatoes, an ear of corn, and cole slaw. I paired it with a nice chardonnay and enjoyed the entire meal very much. The lobster was awesome. They precracked it in several spots to make it easier to eat, but I did use the provided cracker as well on a couple of the joints. Even though the red skin potatoes were simple they were delicious and hit the spot. I only had one clam that didn’t open. The corn was perfectly cooked, and the cole slaw was creamy and only needed a dash of pepper to make it perfect. It definitely hit the spot.

I treated myself to a clambake at Sokolowski’s, which is the one I recommend, last Saturday. Sokolowski’s serves their clambake every Saturday in October and do not advertise it on their social media. They don’t have to. I got there at 5:15 and the line was out the back door and into the parking lot. We stood in line for a little over an hour and slowly made our way through the restaurant. I witnessed one old couple make their way through the restaurant and jump to the front of the line. Don’t be that person—even if you have reserved a clambake (which Sokolowski’s recommends) you still have to stand in line with the rest of the plebians. There were a lot of delicious choices being offered that night – including grilled red snapper, mussels in a cream sauce, grilled trout, battered cod or perch as well as the usual kielbasa, meatloaf, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. I decided if they were out of clambakes by the time I reached the steam pans I would get a dozen clams, a bowl of clam chowder and a kielbasa dinner to go (so I could eat the side salad there). Luckily they still had clambakes by the time I ordered at around 6:30.

I obviously quickly ordered the clambake ($40) and chose the 12 oz NY strip steak instead of the 1/2 chicken, candied yams instead of red skin potatoes, and sweet corn instead of green beans. The clambake also apparently came with garlic toast (but I never was offered that and grabbed a dinner roll instead) and a slice of pumpkin or apple pie for dessert. I chose a Fat Heads Bumble Berry Ale to top it off. I started with the clams, because they get cold quickly. I dipped the tender clams in the melted butter and didn’t have a single closed clam indicating a bad one. The clam chowder is the best clam chowder I have ever eaten – with chunks of chopped clam that are clearly not from a can, perfectly cooked red skin potatoes and lots and lots of delicious flavor. I managed to eat half of the steak, yams and ear of corn. I even loved the clam broth here, which I normally don’t bother with. Once stuffed, I got a box for the steak, yams and corn, grabbed my pumpkin pie (which was wrapped on a plastic plate I could just bring home with me) and headed home, looking forward to lunch or dinner the next day.

I won’t be in town for the last clambake weekend of the season, but I think I did the season justice. I wanted to post this in case one of you wanted to grab a clambake before the season ends.

Contact info:

SweetBerry Fresh Market
30022 Euclid Avenue
Wickliffe, OH 44092
(440) 569-1042

The Lobster Pot
2749 SOM Center Road
Willoughby Hills, OH 44094
(440) 569-1634

Sokolowski’s University Inn
1201 University Road
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-9236

Omizu Sushi

Omizu Sushi on Ridge Road – not to be confused with Mizu Sushi on Brookpark Road – has earned its spot on my short list of favorite sushi places in Cleveland. It is tucked away in an unassuming strip mall with a Save-A-Lot and a Master Pizza. This place should be more packed than it is. It seems people flock to Mizu on Brookpark Road for their happy hour, but they are seriously missing out on some artistic and delicious sushi at Omizu. Omizu has a happy hour too. It just isn’t as well known.

I stumbled on it when I was looking for a place close to the Parma-Snow library to grab a bite after an author book talk and signing. I love the wall of water and fake fish that divides the dining area from the bar and sushi bar. I saw a lychee martini on the menu and haven’t looked back. The lychee martini is really nice and refreshing, with a lychee garnish.

I decided to order a miso soup and a couple of sushi rolls. The miso soup was decent. It’s nothing to write home about, but the broth is flavorful and they don’t cheap out on the tofu chunks. I just wish there was more seaweed in it.

I ordered two specialty rolls and a couple nigiri. The salmon and tuna nigiri were a delight. The fish was fresh, and the rice was perfect. It didn’t fall apart and had a nice flavor to it. I was not all that impressed with the “Yummy Roll.” It was supposed to have mango in it, but there wasn’t enough to notice. On the other hand, the Monkey Roll was out of this world. The Monkey Roll is topped with tempura banana. I was a little nervous ordering it, but it ended up being my favorite thing. The sweetness of the banana played off the fish and eel sauce nicely. It may not sound that great, but if you like banana trust me. You will love it. I suggest ordering it closer to the end of the meal as a dessert roll.

The next time I went I met a group of people for dinner. We all ordered a roll or two and passed them around, so we got to try a little of everything. Some of us also ordered some appetizers. I ordered the sushi appetizer, and my friend ordered the soft shell crab. Another friend ordered the pickled mackerel, which pairs well with a martini. I loved the soft shell crab the best and would order it again. My friends make fun of me for my unintentionally phallic photos. They ribbed me once again for the sushi appetizer. My friend had posted a photo to Facebook, and they automatically asked if that appetizer was mine. No fair! I chose the Snow Mountain Roll that night in addition to the Monkey Roll. I loved the Snow Mountain Roll, so keep that in mind if you are trying to choose. But the entree that blew us all away that time was the sushimi boat for two. Since one of my friends is diabetic he tends to stay away from rice if he can. The sushimi boat was absolutely stunning. They really do a great job with presentation here.

The third time it was just me and a book. I was craving sushi and made a special drive to Omizu. I changed things up a bit and ordered the Mango Martini, which was also light and refreshing. Usually mango drinks can taste too unnatural. Not this one. I loved it. I was really hungry, so I ordered a vegetable tempura appetizer and a sushi and sashimi platter. The tempura vegetables were not too greasy and actually had a nice taste to them.  I usually find tempura to be too bland. The sashimi and nigiri were pristine, and the California roll was rolled tightly. I took half of everything home and had a nice breakfast the next day.

I hope Omizu is around for a long time so we can keep enjoying its delicious offerings. They have a ton of interesting-sounding rolls to choose from as well as tempura, hibachi and other Japanese entrees. I also look forward to trying their ramen. They have a huge range of choices.

Contact info:

Omizu Japanese Restaurant
6843 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 340-0888

Polpetta

in-memoriam-graphic

Polpetta is the brain child of restauranteurs Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti: A Social Kitchen fame. I have had some amazing meals from these two chefs. They closed the two popular restaurants to focus on the Polpetta concept, which relies heavily on the theme of “balls.” The decor is heavy on old meat grinders, which are used as the door handle and light fixtures, and artwork with cleverly-hidden balls in them.

They launched the Polpetta concept at Porco when Walter Hyde was cooking in the tiny kitchen there. That was where I had my first taste of Sunday Supper, which I personally think is the best spaghetti and meatballs I have had in Cleveland. Usually restaurant spaghetti and meatballs are bland, but the meatballs here are well-seasoned and paired with a herbaceous pomodoro red sauce. The pasta was al dente and easy to twirl. When I told my server that I think they are the best spaghetti and meatballs in Cleveland he told me about a woman from Little Italy who came in and was vocally critical of everything, but once she had the Sunday Supper she was quiet and said she would be back. He said she’s been back at least seven times. I agree, Nonna.

Porco version

Polpetta version

Once they opened their restaurant on Detroit Road in Rocky River it was on my list of places to try, but it took a while to make my way over there. I finally met a group of friends there for a nice meal, and that night I accidentally ordered what I think is the best thing on the menu, the Spinach and Meatball Dip. It features mini-meatballs in a spinach-parmesan-roasted tomatoes bechamel sauce and fun little pita dippers. This dip is Chef Adam at his best. It is rich and lush, and I could have eaten the whole thing by myself and regretted it. Everyone at the table adored it, and we practically licked the serving plate clean.

I was less impressed by my entree choice that evening. I ordered The Adam, which features chicken meatballs, Thai peanut sauce, and fried rice. I love Adam’s fried rice, which I first enjoyed as spam fried rice at a pop-up at Toast several years ago. It was then included on the menu at Graffiti, and I happily ordered it several times. Unfortunately the Thai peanut sauce was too bitter that night. I was expecting a nice, creamy Thai peanut sauce, and I think it had too much hot sauce in it that night. My friend Nancy loves his Thai peanut sauce, so apparently it was an anomaly. Luckily I had eaten a ton of the appetizer, so I didn’t go away hungry. But I knew they could do better based on past experience.

I left wishing I had ordered the Grandma Bos, which is a chicken paprikash featuring chicken meatballs, paprikash sauce, and herbed spaetzle. When I ordered it the server asked if I wanted sour cream on top. Yes, please. This was a satisfying dish. The chicken meatballs were nicely seasoned, albeit a little denser than I had hoped. Overall the meatballs here are very dense, but at least they won’t fall apart. The herbed spaetzle are not the traditional (i.e., bland) German spätzle I am used to, but I liked the herb flavor profile and the pan-fried crispiness held up well against the paprikash sauce. I would order this again and again. If you like paprikash you will like this dish.

I ordered the Cereal Balls for dessert, which are made from several different cereals molded into rice krispie-like balls served with milk panna cotta and fresh berries and bananas. I first enjoyed Adam’s panna cotta at a grill evening on the Graffiti patio, so I was looking forward to that magic being recreated. He used cereal milk for that one, but the Polpetta panna cotta just uses milk so it was not as magical – even though it was tasty.

The OG Fat Kid

If you want a dessert that will bowl you over, order the Fat Kid 3.0, which features fried cookie dough balls, ice cream, chips, candy and fun. I got to taste the OG Fat Kid at a Graffiti Throw Back dinner at Polpetta a couple of months ago. That one was outrageously good and featured french fries, which was a fun pairing with the ice cream and chocolate and nerds. It is definitely a dessert to share though.

Contact info:

Polpetta
19900 Detroit Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(216) 860-4474