Fish Fry Friday 2022 #4 – St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church

St.Sava was an interesting fish fry. There were some good parts and some bad parts – like any fish fry. I somehow had it mixed up in my mind with St. Francis DeSales when it came to the location. I drove down Broadview and did a u-turn once I hit the Seven Hills border. I had been concentrating on finding it on my left side when it was on the right. Luckily I hadn’t gone far at all, and I was able to almost immediately pull onto W. Ridgewood and then into the parking lot. I followed another diner to the Hall entrance on the left side of the building and then followed the signs down the hall to the fish fry.

I got there at about 4:15 or so to beat the crowd. I got in line, where I was greeted by a friendly lady in Serbian and then in English. There were two dinner choices – fish and some Serbian dish called Bakalar. She explained to me that Bakalar is a dried cod served with potatoes and lots of garlic. I wasn’t feeling that adventurous, so I paid for a fish dinner, took my receipt, and sat down at a table. There were plenty of seats to choose from. I sat with a very nice couple from Parma. Apparently, there is also a fish fry at St. Sava Hall on Wallings Road that offers a bit more selection (fried shrimp, pierogi, more sides than just fries and cole slaw). The food runner greeted me at the table and grabbed my receipt to get my food. I bevvied up to the bar, thinking I could get a soda. Nope! I had to buy a ticket at the cash table. That was not clear at all. Everything runs through the cash table. I spent $12 on the dinner, $1 on the apple strudel, and $1 on a can of soda.

Once I sorted out my beverage situation, I came back to my table to find a vegetable soup and a bread roll waiting. Here is where the first hiccups started. The soup was awful. There was NO seasoning in it – not even salt and pepper. I asked one of the runners for some butter, and he informed me they had no butter because it was Lent. What? Not even margarine. So bring your own butter to slather that delicious roll with.

Onto the main dinner. The fish was a thing of beauty – definitely the best piece of fish I’ve had this season. It is a 6 oz piece of cod that is battered and baked, and the fish inside was flaky and moist. I enjoyed a nice sizeable forkful each bite. The fries were quite good as well – nicely fried with a crisp outside and a soft inside. The only con from the dinner was the cole slaw. It was a vinegar-based cole slaw, but it didn’t even taste like vinegar. I added salt and pepper to it from the table, and it didn’t help. I ate two bites and left the rest.

The pièce de résistance of the meal, however, was the apple strudel. I ordered it on a whim for an extra $1.00. That strudel was divine. It is wrapped up like a burrito and seems like it was flash-fried. The strudel pastry shattered with each bite, and the filling was delicious. It tasted like a cross between strudel and baklava. I swear it had honey in it. I would come back again just for the strudel. If they improve the soup and the cole slaw by adding seasoning they would have a solid fish fry. Don’t be shy. A little seasoning goes a long way.

Contact info:

St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church
6306 Broadview Road
Cleveland, OH 44134
(216) 749-0064

Fish Fry Friday 2022 #3 – St. John Bosco

Most fish fries are quite similar, serving the same things – fried or baked or broiled fish, the occasional fried shrimp, fries, cole slaw and (if you are lucky) pierogi. If you are really lucky, they serve mac n cheese or cabbage and noodles or some kind of chowder or soup. St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Parma Heights stands apart because it is ‘catered’ by Bruno’s Ristorante. This means you can choose eggplant lasagna for your main and have side choices like manicotti and pizza.

I’ll give you one guess as to what I ordered at the fish fry. If you guessed a combo of fried battered fish and eggplant lasagna with manicotti as my one side and a second extra side of pizza you would be correct. I could have gone for just fish or just lasagna, a 3-side dinner or a pierogi dinner as well. The broiled fish looked really good too. Overall, the food was quite simple, but it was very well made. I was extremely happy with my choices. The dinners include one side, coleslaw, roll, dessert, and beverage. Wine and beer were also available at a cash bar.

The fried fish was perfectly fried and nice and crispy. The eggplant lasagna was delicious and full of layers of cheesy goodness. They offered extra sauce on top of the eggplant and manicotti, so they were nice and moist. The manicotti was a simple cheese manicotti, but it was so good. I was also allowed to choose my square of cheese pizza. I went with a juicy looking middle piece. In contrast, I chose an edge piece of white cake for my dessert. It was a good white cake and not too sweet, which I really enjoyed – especially since it had a nice amount of frosting on it. I also want to give a tip of my hat to the coleslaw. It was some of the best I’ve had in a while. Not too sweet, not too sour, with just the right amount of moisture to it.

St. John Bosco serves their fish fries from 4 to 7:30. I was lucky I came when I did, because they aren’t serving for the next two weeks and start again in April. They offer an early bird discount between 4 and 5, but I chose to get there closer to 4 (4:20 to be exact) just to avoid the crowds. Since some friends who were there last week allegedly waited two hours, it was a good move on my part. The early bird crowd was all seated and eating by then. I walked in and was immediately greeted and shown to a table.

Order and pay at the first station, grab the food against the back wall

The staff set down silverware to indicate my seat was reserved since I didn’t have a coat to leave. The hostess then pointed me in the direction of the line to pay and get my food. The line was almost non-existent. I had a group of two and a group of four ahead of me. I quickly gave the order taker my order and paid the cashier (they only accept cash or check) before heading a few steps to the food line. I grabbed a plate since I was eating in. The take-outs and in-person diners all go through the same food line, they just grab a take-out box instead and had it to the server. They definitely were a well-oiled machine. I hobbled down the line, making my choices to add to my plate, and then hobbled to the beverage station where I grabbed a couple ginger ales. After dropping my plate and beverages off at my table I made my way back to the desserts and grabbed a piece of cake. I have learned not to wait until the end of the meal to grab a dessert or they may run out.

Beverage station on the back wall and desserts/coffee were against the wall on the right

I enjoyed my meal while looking out the window at the parking lot. The woman at a table next to me (the aforementioned group of four, which was actually a group of five) regaled everyone with her plight with workman’s comp and how Door Dash worked. It was interesting, but I don’t think she managed to take a bite during her diatribe. Everyone else at her table seemed to be almost done when I left. The kids who patrolled the hall with bus stations probably only waited five seconds before they cleared my table for the next guests. St. John Bosco claims they serve up to 1000 meals on Fridays during Lent. I was in my car and heading home by 5 o’clock.

This was a stellar fish fry. I definitely rank it in the top five in the area. I would definitely go again. Well done, St. John Bosco. You’ve done your namesake proud!

Contact info:

St. John Bosco Catholic Church
6480 Pearl Road
Parma Heights, OH 44130
(440) 886-3500

The Original Pancake House

The Original Pancake House was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1953 by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke. It may be a chain of pancake houses across the United States, but it isn’t a large one that is so homogenized that the quality lacks. I don’t really even consider this a chain, because the food is so outstanding. We only have two locations in the Cleveland area – in Woodmere and Fairview Park. The OPH batters are all made from scratch, every day, and are carefully prepared and blended by hand using only the very freshest and finest quality ingredients available. Their original (and extensive!) menu of authentic national and ethnic pancake recipes has gained national acclaim and remains unchanged to this day. In 1999, the Original Pancake House received the James Beard Award in the category of “America’s Regional Classic Award”.

There is always a wait, so plan ahead. Bring snacks and diversions for the kids. Expect at least a half hour wait during breakfast hours – even during the week. The wait may be longer if it is a weekend. If you are a group you better make sure everyone shows up on time, because they will not seat you until everyone has arrived. I try to get there after the rush hours during the week. I don’t have the patience to deal with the weekend crowds.

The food is excellent, and the portions are huge. The focus is pancakes and crepes. The Original Pancake House’s specialties include the Dutch Baby (a fluffy German pancake topped with melted butter and powdered sugar) and the Apple Pancake. They use only the highest quality ingredients such as 93 score butter, pure whipping cream, fresh Grade AA eggs, hardwheat unbleached flour and their own sourdough yeast. The ham and Canadian Bacon are naturally hickory smoked, and the smoked bacon is sliced extra thick. Seriously, it is some of the best bacon I have ever eaten.

Their coffee blend is specially roasted just for the restaurants and served in their own specially designed mugs. I don’t know what it is about the mugs, but they definitely appeal to me. The swooped handle and the cup shape with its larger bottom and tapered top just make me want to keep drinking coffee. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had done psychological studies and knew that. I like that I can also order cranberry juice here.

I also love their seasonal fruit salad. The fruit varies with the season, but when I ordered it in late January the fruits were cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, bananas and grapes. The fruit salad is served with a little metal pitcher of Tropical Syrup. I can’t quite place what fruits are in it, but it is citrusy with a hint of bitterness to the sweet, which I enjoyed since it wasn’t so cloyingly sweet. A discussion on Reddit revealed that it is made with day old orange juice and some pineapple juice and corn starch (1 8 oz can pineapple chunks, 2 6 oz cans pine-banana-orange juice and 1 Tbsp corn starch – boil together and then pour over the pineapple chunks, slices of 1 orange, 1 c seedless grapes and 1 banana).

The first time I ate here was with my Meetup Brunch Group. We managed to get a table together – or rather a couple tables close together. This was pre-COVID. Now they don’t allow groups of 7 or more. I remember taking forever to decide what I wanted, because everything sounded so good. I knew I wanted some kind of pancake and was in the mood for sausage, so I ended up ordering the Pigs in a Blanket. The Pigs in a Blanket are three regular-sized sausages wrapped up in their own individual pancake. The pancakes are a little too sweet for my taste. I would have preferred a more savory pancake to match the savory sausages. Then again, I do tend to prefer savory breakfasts over sweet.

I need to rave about the Dutch Baby for a second. I always shied away from ordering it because it looked so plain. It tastes anything but plain! More like custardy goodness! A Dutch baby pancake is like a hybrid (or a love child, if you will) of a pancake, a crepe, and a popover — all in a 9 or 10 inch skillet. I’ve started making them at home because they are not hard. Mix the ingredients (flour, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and salt) together in a blender or food processor and let it rest for 20-25 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid. The skillet should be screaming hot and preheated in a 425 degree oven. Melt butter in the skillet, swirl to evenly distribute the butter, add the batter and pop back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Top with melted butter, powdered sugar, maple syrup, jam, Nutella, peanut butter, fresh fruit, etc. One Dutch Baby can feed two people – or one person who wants to bring home leftovers for the next day. The OPH Dutch Baby is served topped with butter and powdered sugar with more on the side along with a lemon wedge.

Their omelettes are not omelette-shaped. They are round – as if finished off in the pan and not flipped or folded. This photo of the Irish omelette is from my friend Jane. This fluffy omelette is filled with OPH’s own corned beef hash, onions, and provolone cheese. She definitely enjoyed it. I try to avoid omelettes due to my egg allergy, which is why I am using her photo.

I was in the mood for a waffle one morning, and their Cherry Kijafa Waffle did not disappoint. It is a Belgium waffle topped with Montmorency cherries that are simmered in homemade Danish Cherry Kijafa sauce then dusted with powdered sugar. I loved the Kijafa sauce. According to the OPH in Denver, Cherry Kijafa is a type of fortified 16% ABV cherry fruit wine that is produced in Denmark from cherries with added natural flavors. Because Montmorency cherries are naturally tart, the sweet wine sauce balances the flavors so you have a lovely cherry flavor that is not too sweet and not too tart. The sauce also paired well with the sausage links.

During my most recent visit I ordered everything ala carte. From a small fruit salad to two scrambled eggs, 4 slices of delicious, thick-cut bacon and one perfect Continental crepe. I didn’t want a full order of crepes, so this was a good solution. The Continental crepes are stuffed with sour cream tempered with Triple Sec and served with hot tropical syrup (I still had mine left from the fruit salad). I wanted to take some bacon home, but it was just too good. I sat there drinking my coffee and nibbling on the bacon

The omelettes and egg specialties (not the sausage though) are gluten-free. Gluten-free pancakes and crepes are also available.

Contact info:

The Original Pancake House
Woodmere location

28700 Chagrin Boulevard
Woodmere, OH 44122
216-292-7777

Fairview Park location

3000 Westgate
Fairview Park, OH 44126
440-333-5515

Fish Fry Friday 2022 #2 – Greater Sokol Cleveland

Sokol Greater Cleveland hosted two fish fries this year – on March 4 and March 11. The dinners are served in the basement of the historic Bohemian National Hall. Park in the parking lot in the back, walk down the hall and follow the voices to the ticket table. After you have your ticket and number stand, walk down the hall to the stairs or take the elevator to the basement. I took the elevator down with the evening’s musical entertainment, Anthony Culkar. Nice guy. He started playing at 5:30.

Reservations are recommended for big groups, but I was only one person. They were serving from 5-8 and I got there at 5:10. It was easy to find a seat at a table that didn’t have the chairs up indicating they were reserved. They serve fried or baked fish dinners, shrimp dinners, and pierogi dinners, either dine-in or take-out. The fish, shrimp and combo dinners are $12. The half fish and pierogi dinners are $8. The dinners come with tater tots, cole slaw, a slice of bread, coffee and dessert. I also got a small serving of apple sauce. It might have come with the pierogi. You also pay a $1 temporary membership at the door for the Full Cash Bar. My total came to $17 – $12 plus $4 for two pierogi and the membership.

I chose my seat and shared the table with a nice group of three. I sat for a bit to get my bearings and as I decided to get up to go to the bar my food arrived. My tablemates weren’t as lucky. They were served shortly before I left. There was an advantage to only being one person. Anyway, I hit the cash bar and ordered a Primator Premium Lager (a Czech beer) and a ginger ale ($6 total).

I arranged my meal and drinks and enjoyed m Combination Dinner, which had fried fish and fried shrimp, and two add-on pierogi with sauteed onions. I somehow got two pieces of fish instead of one. It was palatable, but I especially enjoyed the fried shrimp. If I had known butter and ketchup were available if I asked I would have probably enjoyed the tater tots and slice of bread more. In the end, I just left them unfinished. The cole slaw and apple sauce were a nice little treat, and the pierogi were delectable. I took my dessert (choice of yellow or chocolate cake) home in a small to-go box and hobbled back into the snowy night with a full belly. I was going to go grocery shopping, but decided to do it tomorrow instead. I just wanted to go home, put on some comfy pajamas and cuddle up with a book and a cup of tea in this weather.

BTW, they also serve a Sunday Supper from 1-2:30 on the last Sunday of every other month. The next one is chicken paprikash and dumplings on April 24th. Reservations are required by the Wednesday beforehand. The dumplings are usually the flat Czech dumplings, so it’s a total treat. Happy Lent, everyone! Where did you go?

Contact info:

Sokol Greater Cleveland
(at Bohemian National Hall)
4939 Broadway Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44127
(216) 883-0675

Fish Fry Friday 2022 #1 – Twisted Taino

Photo by Twisted Taino from Yelp

It’s Lent season in Cleveland, and we all know what that means—fish fries and pancake breakfasts. And 40 days of sandwiches (or as close as I can get to it). Twisted Taino has been advertising on All Things Food in Cleveland. My friend S. ate here recently and raved about the Cubano. So when they posted two photos of their fish that are only available on Fridays during Lent I knew we had to go. Twisted Taino originally opened in Ohio City, but recently moved to Parma.

I figured all of the Ukrainian fish fries would be packed, so this was a good first choice. It’s located down the street from Das Schnitzel Haus – directly across from Chuppa’s Market – in an old Lawson’s location. One of my friends got there early and grabbed a table for us. There were six of us, but there are only five tables inside. They have a patio set up outside that looks promising for nicer weather. We stood in line to place our order and were given a little buzzer that went off when it was ready.

My friend K. ordered the Escabeche Fish Fry, and it was finished first. Escabeche consists of marinated fish, meat or vegetables, cooked in an acidic sauce (usually with vinegar), and colored with paprika, citrus, and other spices. This version featured king fish on a bed of (cerviche-like) seafood salad topped with pickled onions served with coconut shrimp & tostones. She used to live in Japan and loves the pickledness of the fish. She makes it herself, so was looking forward to it. She enjoyed it a lot, particularly the coconut shrimp. She lamented that it wasn’t on the regular menu. I tried a bite of the fish and seafood salad and enjoyed both of them. The fish was very dense and heavy, but the pickling made it a little lighter.

I ordered the Chillo Frito (Caribbean Red Snapper). This thing was a thing of beauty. It was so large it filled a whole foil container that is usually used for family-sized mac n cheese or something like that. The fish was fried perfectly. I carefully opened it up at the filet line and removed the backbone and just pulled the meat off with my hands. I only had a few tiny bones, but for the most part, they lifted clean out with the backbone. I comes with a side salad with a lovely dressing and ordered the arroz mampostea’ (Puerto Rican dish of rice and stewed red beans, sweet plantains, and bacon – a vegan version is also available) as my side dish. I almost ordered the yuca fries, but the arroz was calling me. It was delicious. My friend D. finished his snapper, but I ended up taking it home to eat as leftovers.

I have to rave about the beverages as well – not something I usually do. I tend to be really thirsty when I’m out to dinner. Drinking a couple glasses of water is normal for me, because I don’t drink enough fluids during the day. Well, that is not a problem here. I was able to order a 32 oz. ginger ale and a 32 oz. passionfruit lemonade. They were the perfect amount of liquid for me – and the passionfruit lemonade was divine!! Twisted Taino is very proud of its lemonades, frappes, and frappucinos. There offer five lemonades in a 32 oz “tub” in original lemonade, tamarind, strawberry, mango, and passionfruit. The frappes (but not the toppings) are lactose- and gluten-free and completely over the top with cookies and other toppings.

One of my friends ordered the Beef Empanada Trio and enjoyed it (photo missing one of the empanadas and picturing one of the tostones). Her partner enjoyed the escabeche. One of my other friends ordered the pork tacos (pernil) and a pound of seafood salad (which she took home with her). I think she will be going back regularly for it. I can’t wait to go back and try one of the many Mofongo choices.

Contact info:

Twisted Taino
5633 Pearl Road
Parma, OH 44129
(216) 310-5880

The Diner on 55th

You can’t miss the Diner on 55th. Just look for the shiny, old-timey diner car at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair (pro tip: enter from E. 55th once you cross St. Clair – the driveway on St. Clair is exit only). It’s right off the E. 55th exit on I-90. If the sun is shining you may need sunglasses, but you definitely can’t miss it!

Since it opened in 2001, the Diner on 55th has been the epitome of a “classic small town diner,” but in the big city. If you’re a fan of old-school dining and comfort food, you’re sure to fall in love with this classically-inspired 1950s-style diner with checkerboard tablecloths. They specialize in all-American comforts like breakfast foods, chili, burgers, and onion rings. The Diner on 55th is open 6 days a week from 6 am to 3 pm (Saturday and Sunday from 7 am to 2 pm). It is closed on Mondays and holidays.

The diner car is surprisingly roomy inside. Booths line the windows and walls, and tables are lined up down the middle to be fit together as needed. There is a counter down the middle with comfortable-looking stools as well. The clientele was a mix of regulars and first-timers. I don’t know our local athletes, but one particularly tall gentleman may or may not play for the Cavs. He had to duck his head when he left. Being 5’2″ I didn’t have that problem. Whether they were regulars or a newbie like me, everyone was cheerfully greeted and treated well. The servers were very friendly and accommodating.

As for the food, it was by far one of the best breakfasts I have enjoyed in a long time!!! I ordered the Full Belly Breakfast, which comes with two eggs, two pancakes or two slices of French toast, and home fries or grits (or half and half). You can also order it with your choice of bacon, sausage, ham steak, or “ranch steak”, so I ordered bacon. When the server put the plate in front of me I was taken aback by how good it smelled. Well, it tasted even better. I don’t know what they put in the pancakes, but they were delicious. I think I only left a couple bites behind. As good as the pancakes were, the star of the show were the scrambled eggs. They were firm yet fluffy and every bite was a buttery delight. I savored every single eggy bite. The bacon was perfectly crisp. I walked out of here happy and looking forward to my next visit.

An omelet hit the spot one early Saturday morning. I decided to give it a chance even though it was 11 o’clock, and I was surprised that there were still a few tables available as well as the counter. People used the counter to sit until a table could be cleared. Once I sat down I ordered coffee and the Lorraine omelet, a three-egg omelet made with bacon, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. I chose the home fries instead of grits and rye toast. There was a big table that had spun the kitchen into the weeds, but I was in no hurry. I had a book on my phone and was happy to chill and drink some coffee.

Since I have really enjoyed the breakfasts I ordered another Full Belly Breakfast, but this time I was in the mood for French toast. I figured I would be taking half home with me, but it was so good I cleaned the plate. The French toast was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They are generous with the butter. The scrambled eggs were once again delicious, the home fries featured some crispy bits and soft potato bits, and the bacon was perfectly crisp. I ordered coffee and two orange juices because I was thirsty. Since I know how to deal with the sugar dispenser now, the coffee was perfect.

Once it came out and I managed to wrangle up some jelly, ketchup, and an ice water, my breakfast was complete. I savored every bite of my breakfast – from the buttery omelet with chunks of bacon and mushroom and a pillow of Swiss and home fries with a liberal dousing of ketchup to the jelly-slathered and generously buttered rye toast. I walked out of there full and happy, which is how you want to be when you leave a diner.

Both breakfast and lunch are served all day. I saw stuffed cabbage on special one day and headed out (after digging my car out from a snowstorm). I got there shortly after one and they had unfortunately run out. When I asked the waitress when they usually start running out of things she suggested I get there a little before noon next time. So keep that in mind. I ordered the Roast Beef and Cheddar on a Bun off the Specials Board. She explained that they make the roast beef there, shave it and top it with cheddar cheese. In fact, from listening to the talk between the servers and the regulars at the counter they make just about everything (including the salad dressings) there.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the sandwich itself. Once I removed a couple pieces with gristle I enjoyed it more, but I was blown away by the onion rings. The special sandwich came with my choice of side, and when I asked her she recommended the onion rings. Talk about a great choice! They are definitely made there. The breading is light and crisp, and the entire thing is just tasty. One of the best orders of onion rings I’ve ever enjoyed. They don’t serve a lot of them, but it’s definitely quality over quantity. If you want more, order a second side.

The Lunch Specials also come with a complimentary soup. The soup of the day that day was Manhattan Clam Chowder (see above). I did notice a few clams in it, but honestly, it was more of a tasty tomato-based vegetable soup. I really didn’t miss the clams at all. On another visit, the soup of the day was cream of asparagus. I loved it. It was a lighter soup with not much cream and had some rice to give it some bulk. The soup was also brightened up by lemon juice. It was definitely a Greek take on asparagus soup combined with avgolemono soup (Greek chicken soup prepared with eggs and lemon and a bit of rice).

I ordered a Patty Melt with onion rings during a recent visit. The waitress, unfortunately, wrote it down wrong, but immediately rectified it by returning the plate to the kitchen and asking for onion rings. She then brought the burger back to me, and I enjoyed the perfectly medium rare burger while waiting for the onion rings, which were once again absolute perfection. The waitresses have also started greeting me like a regular.

Club sandwiches are also a great way to judge a diner. I also ordered the Diner Club sandwich to go. It was also perfection – a triple layer of white bread layered with ham, turkey (that are seasoned with what may be caraway?), bacon, cheese lettuce, and tomato. I asked for a side of 1000 Island dressing to slather on it. My perfect addition. I learned of this hack when I worked at Bakers Square. It was a bit difficult to eat, because it is so tall and fell apart pretty easily. But it sure was tasty! I ate the second half the next day, and it stayed together much better because it had all chilled together overnight.

The owner (a cute little older Greek guy named “Jimmy”) was either at the register or sitting/standing at the counter (the guy in the plaid shirt in the photo with the counter) the whole time I was there. He warmly cashes people out and thanks them for coming. On my first visit, I wondered how soon is too soon to return. Turns out every couple of days is just fine.

Contact info:

The Diner on 55th
1328 East 55th Street (at the corner of E. 55th and St. Clair Ave.)
Cleveland, Ohio
(216) 417-8001

Charlie’s Dog House Diner

I have been fascinated with Charlie’s Dog House Diner my entire life. The building sparked my imagination for years. To my young eyes, it looked like a little fairy tale diner guarded by two snoopy dogs. My grandparents lived on W. Schaaf off Broadview in Old Brooklyn, so we would frequently pass the diner, which marks the border between Cleveland and Parma. The kitschy roadside attraction has been in the exact same spot since 1952, when it began life as the Dog House, part of a national chain of shops that offered walk-up service to customers who ordered hot dogs and hamburgers through a window. When my father heard I ate here he made fun of me. Apparently, it was never quite taken seriously by him and his friends. Their loss.

The menu was expanded to include breakfast and lunch when a new owner took over 10 years ago, but they “updated” it during the pandemic (June 2020). It still contains all of the breakfast and lunch favorites. There is not a lot of seating. If you time it right, you can walk right in and grab a seat at one of the twelve red-topped stools at the L-shaped counter. It is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which means I have to get motivated to make it there.

The building features a doghouse-like façade and two painted hound dogs that look out in either direction from the front door, just beneath a classic Coca-Cola sign, neon lights promising Chicago-style Vienna hot dogs and Charlie’s original waffles, and a marquee that reads “Charlie’s Restaurant.” It can seat 12 people. Obviously, I can’t say how busy it is in the morning. I would imagine it is busy enough that it is still in business all these years later.

These days, the clientele is still solidly working class, the burgers and pancakes still sizzle on the flat top and, though heavily remodeled throughout the decades, the space still features numerous retro throwbacks. Children’s artwork, a Specials board, lotto scratch-off dispensers, and photos of Liam Neeson (see below) decorate the area behind the counter. The operation still runs much like it would have back in the 1950s, with the owner on the grill and one of the employees tending the counter. Everything is made to order. You can still get full for less than $10.

The eggs Benedicts and breakfast burritos are well-loved. A list of skillets and omelets, pancakes, burgers, sandwiches, and, of course, those famous hot dogs are also on the menu; however, most people here are regulars and just ask for “the usual.” Since I am not a regular, I chose to go with one of their “specialty omelets” – the Dog House Omelet – along with hash browns and rye toast. The Dog House Omelet is stuffed with bacon, sausage, onions, mushrooms, and cheese. It was almost too much. A good omelet has two or three ingredients. This one seemed like it was trying too hard. As you can see by the photo it was more mix-in than egg.

also wanted to try their waffle but knew it was a lot of food. The waitress suggested I order half a waffle (yes, it’s possible!), so I splurged and added strawberry and blueberry toppings to it. The waffle was light and crispy and luscious inside. Adding the fruit toppings was an inspired choice. I really enjoyed the fruit with the carby goodness of the waffle. I ate half of everything and then took the leftovers home. I made the day of a guy begging at the side of the exit ramp onto Carnegie when I gave him my leftovers.

I heard the Ashlee Burrito is not to be missed, so I ordered that the next time I was there. Talk about filling! The tortilla wrap is stuffed with eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and cheddar cheese and topped with sausage gravy. They also drop a bottle of hot sauce, so you can spice it up. It is a little bland, so the hot sauce was a nice added bonus. I obviously could only eat half, and saved half for the next day’s breakfast. I know I already said it, but “Talk about filling!”

I ordered a breakfast bagel sandwich to go just to see what it was like. For $3.99 I got a deliciously soft bagel filled with bacon, a well-fried egg (no yolk splooge on me this time), cheese and hash browns. It was a decent breakfast sandwich and was a total bargain. I can’t wait to try the croissant sandwiches, but I would definitely get this one again too.

They have several hot dogs on the menu. Since we aren’t in Chicago I decided not to order the Chicago Dog. I just can’t picture any place in Cleveland doing it right. Instead, I ordered the Cleveland Dog, because that is the way God intended hot dogs to be served 🙂 . It is a delicious Vienna hot dog, so it had some heft to it. They topped it with chopped onions and Stadium mustard. Absolutely divine. Someone ordered a trio of dogs the other day when I was there. It looked amazing.

I’ve tried to order a Patty Melt from every diner I have eaten at recently to compare them. This was definitely a decent Patty Melt. First off, they used rye bread, so bonus points. The burger was cooked medium and the cheese was perfectly melted to hold in the grilled onions. A squirt of yellow mustard made it complete. The onion rings were also decent. The onion stayed inside the batter when I bit into it. They stood up nicely to the ketchup.

I look forward to continuing to explore the menu. Maybe I’ll have a Monte Cristo, Charlie’s Mess or one of the benedicts next. This place definitely deserves our love. Did you know it was featured in a recent movie with Liam Neeson called The Marksman? Apparently, Charlie’s is a steakhouse in Arizona. 🙂

Photo of Charlie's Restaurant - Cleveland, OH, United States
How could a kid not be fascinated by this? Photo from Yelp user Chas M.

Contact info:

Charlie’s Dog House Diner
2102 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, OH 44134
216-661-4873

Zhug

Zhug is a new concept by chef Douglas Katz that offers “Middle Eastern Mezze” in a casual, high energy urban space at Cedar Fairmount. Low tables with pillows surround the space filled with tables. There is no hint of its past as a Liquid Planet. The kitchen is tucked in the back right corner. Esquire magazine named it one of 23 Best New Restaurants in America in 2020. Michael Symon visited town a few months ago for the birth of his new grandson and praised it on Instagram as insanely good .. one of the best and most thoughtful restaurants in the country right now IMHO. The praise, combined with a serious lack of parking and the fact that they don’t take reservations, made the restaurant pretty difficult to visit (even though I live very close).

The pandemic changed that for me. Doug wanted to keep the restaurant operating, so he decided to switch to takeout – with curbside pickup and delivery. Doug himself delivered the meals and waved to me on his way back for the next delivery order as I sat in my car waiting for my order. This allowed me to try the delicious choices in the comfort of my own home. I went a little crazy that night – as you can see in the photo below. I ordered the hummus, curry fried chicken, buttered shrimp, crispy brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus, and a cocktail to go (in that cute little jam jar). The cocktail was a lot of fun, and I have reused the jam jar several times to store leftovers. I must have a type of favorite cocktail, because I ordered it when we sat down to eat in the restaurant.

The location doesn’t have the best parking or wait-for-a-table options, but Parnell’s Pub, Starbucks, and Appletree Books are neighbors and allow folks to chill and wait for a table. The dining area is somewhat austere and industrial, with benches piled with pillows lining the walls. The servers are super friendly and knowledgeable, and Doug tends to make the rounds in his restaurants, greeting diners and making them feel like friends.

I adore the Yemenite curry fried chicken (gluten-free). I could eat it every day. Hunks of tender chicken are coated in a curry fried chicken batter and drizzled with harissa honey. It is super flavorful and one of the best chicken dishes in Cleveland at the moment if you ask me. The dipping sauce is also ridiculously delicious.

I also ordered the butter roasted shrimp (see above). I was less impressed with that one. Don’t get me wrong – it was very tasty. It is made with garlic and pil biber chili and is served with toast points. I think I got 5 shrimp for the $18 price tag. Yes, that is fairly normal, but I can just as easily roast shrimp in butter and spices myself. There is no way I could recreate the blissfulness of the fried chicken.

Zhug is also known for its hummus. It serves two kinds of hummus – curried lamb and apricot hummus and nigella seed and burnt onion hummus. I chose the curried lamb and apricot for my first venture and loved it. The hummus is creamy, the curried lamb was fork-tender and I loved the pairing of lamb and apricot. When I met some girlfriends at zhug when things opened up this spring we ordered both. I still preferred the lamb and apricot hummus, but the nigella seed and burnt onion hummus was also a very interesting choice and some of my girlfriends preferred it over the lamb hummus.

One mezze that we went nuts for was the leeks and feta. It is such a simple dish, but is executed so well that I adore it. The leeks are prepared in a scallion-pistachio pistou with roasted shallots and drizzled over a block of feta. I love, love, love it, as did my other friends.

We also very much enjoyed the smoked octopus. It was made with purple potatoes and olives in a tomato-based sauce and decorated with dabs of saffron aioli. My friends and I also chose a simple tomato salad as well. It featured cherry tomatoes cut in half and served with shaved parmesan and torn basil. I’m sure Doug put his own spin to it somehow, but it came across as simple yet delicious.

We ordered all of the desserts and shared them. They were all fantastic. I was skeptical about the tahini sundae, but the flavor blew me away. Topped with pistachios and chocolate sauce, the ice cream itself tasted like a mix between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The mango sorbet just tasted like a fresh mango, which was so refreshing after our big meal. And although the spiced apples looked kind of dry, it was like spiced apple crisp and was not dry at all. It is made with lebnah, oat streusel, orange blossom and citrus zest. I’d be very hard pressed to pick a favorite; they were all really, really delicious. A really tasty end to a delicious meal.

zhug went back to curbside service during the Omnicron surge, but reopened for in-house dining again on the 1st. I’m really proud of how Doug responded to the pandemic. He was one of the first restaurant owners to go to curbside service, because he was already doing pop-ups and running a ghost kitchen (Chimi) from the diner on Lee. He ended up closing Fire on Shaker Square, which I miss, but he seemed to be keeping his head above water during the pandemic with a second ghost kitchen, Amba, which will soon be turned into a brick and mortar  Indian-fusion restaurant in Hingetown. For now, he is focusing on zhug and Amba.

Contact info:

zhug
12413 Cedar Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 862-2508

The Rowley Inn

Open since 1906, The Rowley Inn is a neighborhood pub with great food, craft beers, reasonably priced drinks, and good service. Whenever I am here I picture my grandfather eating and drinking here way back then (my dad grew up in Tremont). It has a casual neighborhood vibe and a Cleveland-focused menu of comfort food and drinks. After all, it is located across the street from the Christmas Story House, so it gets a lot of tourists as well as locals. The Rowley also serves a great brunch. I just wish it were bigger because getting a table can sometimes be difficult.

The first time I came here I had seen a video of the grilled cheese pull on social media and decided I needed one asap. I was hooked from the moment I walked inside. I grabbed a little table to myself and ordered Cleveland’s Best Grilled Cheese with fries and a hard orange soda. It was a grown-up version of a beloved childhood meal. The grilled cheese features smoked gouda, mozzarella and provolone with a touch of mayo on grilled sourdough. I had never had mayo on grilled cheese before, but I am now a fan. The fries may not have looked like much, but they were some of the tastiest fries I have had in a while. I don’t know what kind of seasoning salt they use, but it makes the fries delectable. The hard orange soda made me chuckle. I felt like I was being so decadent.

The second visit I decided to try something completely different and ordered the Loco Moski. I loved the Loco Moco in Hawaii, and this is a decidedly Cleveland take on the Hawaiian rice, burger patty, gravy, and fried egg. It features pierogi instead of rice that are topped with a burger patty, fried onions, eggs and pepper gravy. It was a lot of food piled up, and I struggled to finish it. It was definitely a very unique choice – and quite a delicious one. I paired it with a Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine, which is made with Pinnacle whipped cream vodka, Kahlua, cream and ovaltine. I very much enjoyed the creamy drink, which was reminiscent of a mudslide and/or White Russian.

I was with my dining out group on the second visit, so we were able to try a few things and share them. We ordered the fried pickle spears, the pretzel bites, the kielbasa corndogs (no longer on the menu). Everyone really enjoyed them. Most everyone went with a burger.

Obviously, on my next solo visit I had to try the Rowley’s version of a Patty Melt. The Rowley Melt features a burger (it came out a perfect medium rare) topped with Swiss, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and an egg on grilled rye. I ordered mine without an egg, because I need to limit my egg intake and I had overdone it the day before. It came with it anyway, but I just removed it. No big deal. The fries were once again a highlight. I ordered a Paloma (Espolon, lime, simple syrup, and sparkling grapefruit) to go with it. Refreshing!

I was lucky to get a seat at the bar one Taco Tuesday. I ordered a couple tacos, which were actually pretty good (I’m not the biggest taco fan), and a margarita, and then a Meatloaf Sandwich (one of these days I will order Randy’s Meatloaf Dinner and try eating it Randy-style for a free t-shirt. But I will have to have a designated driver in order to loosen up enough to do it.) The meatloaf sandwich was really, really good. I loved the glaze on it. The tomato slices were a little weird, but I got over it. When I make a meatloaf sandwich it is usually just a slab of meatloaf and ketchup – no tomatoes, no lettuce, no fried onions.

Finally, brunch at the Rowley is amazing. One of my friends made a reservation for our large group – and it was a good thing he did. People were enjoying Bloody Marys and coffee. I ordered a mimosa and the Everything But The Bagel Breakfast, which features 3 pierogi, kielbasa, cheddar cheese, Everything Bagel seasoning and is topped with sausage gravy & 2 over easy eggs. It was quite tasty and very filling. What’s not to like about pierogi and kielbasa?

My neighbor ordered the Corned Beef Hash and enjoyed it. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals as well, which ranged from a caesar salad, avocado toast to a breakfast burger. We split an order of beignets. Since the kitchen is small they brought the food out as it was finished, which meant that everything was fresh and piping hot. One thing to note is that a 20% gratuity is added to the checks for parties of 5 or more. I have no problem with this practice at all. I only wish our waitress had reminded us of it when we cashed out. She got a 43% gratuity out of me. It was her lucky day.

Contact info:

The Rowley Inn
1104 Rowley Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 795-5345

Big Al’s Diner

Big Al’s is about as “greasy spoon diner” as it gets. The 25-year-old diner is not flashy, it’s not fancy, it’s not big, it’s just a small diner. The staff is friendly, hard-working, and attentive. You walk in, sit where you want, and one of the servers will come ask you if you want coffee and take your order. The bill is dropped with your meal, and when you are done they cash you out or you pay the bill at the register. The diner is open Wednesday thru Sunday from 7:00 am to 1:30 pm, and breakfast is served the entire time.

It’s not a place to come if you are watching calories. The portions are big, and the food is fresh and delicious. If you are like me, you will be taking food home with you. The home fries are available with pepper and onions, and the prices are affordable. It has all the comforting favorites, like fluffy eggs, large, buttery pancakes and waffles, several kinds of sausage, sausage gravy to die for, thick, steaming soups, homemade mashed potatoes with gravy, burgers, and layer cake for dessert. But the corned beef hash is the star of the show – it was featured on the Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate by Michael Symon.

Obviously, I had to order breakfast the first time I visited. Since I am not a fan of corned beef I left the hash for the fans. I chose #8 – “On the Lighter Side Combo” – 2 eggs, 1 pancake or 1/2 a French toast, and bacon, ham or sausage. I added fresh blueberries to the pancake for an additional 50 cents. It was the perfect amount of food. The eggs were scrambled just as I like it and I could add cheese to them, the bacon was crisp and the blueberry pancake hit the spot. And best of all, my coffee cup was never empty for long.

I usually visit diners during the week to avoid crowds and waitings for a table. However, craving diner food on a recent rainy Sunday morning I headed to Big Al’s for a waffle. I had to wait about 5-10 minutes for a table at 12:45 (they close at 1:30). The two tables in front of me got seated right away, so it was just bad timing on my part. They seated one table after me and took the phone off the hook to cut off to-go orders. The #10 hit the spot – a waffle, 2 eggs, and choice of bacon, ham or sausage. I opted for scrambled and sausage (patties or links? turkey or pork?) patties. I ordered a large orange juice ($3.25) that was worth every penny because the serving was large. Most of the time you order a large orange juice and you are lucky to get a medium juice glass as the “large.” I wasn’t quite able to finish it, but I didn’t have enough to warrant a box. I left sated and happy at 1:35 pm.

Another visit had me trying the sausage gravy. Since I didn’t want a huge portion of sausage gravy I chose the country fried steak combo (#13) with two eggs, home fries, country fried steak, and toast. I chose over easy eggs so that I could mix the yolks in with the loaded home fries (always get them loaded with grilled onions and green peppers) and rye toast. Everything was very tasty, but the sausage gravy-covered country fried steak was exceptional. Screw the corned beef hash – get the sausage gravy! It was a filling breakfast, and I ended up taking half the home fries and steak home with me for a light supper. I ordered cranberry juice and coffee this time around, and the medium cranberry juice was perfect in addition to ice water.

I, of course, had to try their lunch items as well and decided on the Patty Melt. This was a great Patty Melt. The cheese was melty, the onions were nicely grilled and caramelized, and the burger was cooked to my specification (medium rare). The hand cut fries were delicious.

They are doing a booming carry-out business in the time of COVID, but they also clean and sterilize the tables before seating diners, the booths and tables in the middle of the room are separated by plastic partitions, and there is a bottle of hand sanitizer on each table. Silverware is rolled and sealed with a band.

Contact info:

Big Al’s Diner
12600 Larchmere Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 791-8550