Bearden’s is back, baby!

Bearden’s in Rocky River is a Cleveland institution. Opened in 1948, Bearden’s is known for its bear logo, steakburgers and shakes. It closed a couple years ago when construction on Lake Road caused business to dry up. It reopened this past October. Most West Siders have a story about Bearden’s. I remember going to Bearden’s with my high school boyfriend on our first date. There was some discussion the night I went as to whether it was the original location. My friend and I remember it being much darker than it is now. I seem to remember wood paneling, and my friend Suzanne insists it was at the end of her grandmother’s street. Maybe there were two locations at one time. Who knows. In any case, the new Bearden’s is much brighter, but the iconic train with its stuffed bear conductor is still circling the dining area. Bearden’s is not fancy dining by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my fellow diners weren’t that impressed with the fare. If you are used to burgers at B Spot, Greenhouse Tavern or Whitey’s this place may not be for you. However, if you like Steak and Shake you’ll feel right at home. Kids adore it and it is good for a stroll down memory lane, eliciting the old 1950s diner vibe.

When I mentioned on Facebook that I would be dining at Bearden’s several of my friends mentioned the peanutburger, so of course I had to try it. I would have never thought creamy peanut butter spread on a burger would be tasty, but it wasn’t bad. If I were to go there again I would definitely order bacon with the burger. The chocolate milkshake was definitely a nice accompaniment to the peanutburger for this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan. Everyone at our table shared sides of golden fries and thick onion rings. My fries were quite tasty, with just the right amount of salt. The onion rings are fresh and not frozen. One side of fries or onion rings can easily be shared by two or three people.

The Plain Dealer’s Friday! magazine recently reviewed Bearden’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was there the night after we were. I distinctly remember the valentines on the windows too.

I was particularly thrilled to see that they offer birch beer on tap in the self-serve soda fountain. It’s one of my all-time favorite drinks from childhood, and you can’t find it everywhere.

Contact info:

Bearden’s
19985 Lake Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 331-7850

Istanbul Grill

in-memoriam-graphic

If you are looking for a good Mediterranean restaurant, you can’t go wrong with the Istanbul Grill in Tremont. The Istanbul Grill was established in 2010 in the historic Tremont neighborhood at the south end of Professor, near the St. Teodosious Church and Lucky’s Cafe. The food is fresh and very flavorful.

As we walked in the door we were greeted enthusiastically and shown to our tables. Our group of 20 was seated at three separate tables, one of which was in an alcove on the upper floor, but no one cared after the food came out. The service was attentive, and the food was delicious. The atmosphere in the restaurant was simple, clean, and modern yet warm. I have heard wonderful things about the patio, although I haven’t had a chance to check it out.

I like to start my meal off with a beverage (in the case of Turkish cuisine I like to enjoy an apple tea), and the Istanbul Grill didn’t disappoint. This fruity flavored delight is much more popular in the Turkish culture than traditional tea and coffee. In fact it is regarded as the national soft drink of Turkey.

My friend is a vegetarian, so we ordered several vegetarian appetizers. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph the baba gannush (chargrilled eggplant pureed with olive oil, lemon and garlic) before she dug in. The baba was fresh and delicious. You could taste that it was freshly prepared on site. The other appetizer – the soslu patlican (pictured to the left) – featured chopped eggplant cooked in a moderately spicy sauce of fresh tomato, green pepper, garlic, onions and parsley) was also quite fresh. Of the two I preferred the baba, but I am not a huge eggplant fan.

When it comes to Turkish food, my entree of choice is usually the Chicken Adana, although Doner Kebab is a close second. I ordered the Adana kebab (ground chicken and beef grilled on skewers), which was flavorful, and the meat was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside, yet juicy from the inside, seasoned to perfection. The rice was flaky and a nice complement to the meat. Since I have a dairy allergy I did not order the yogurt kebabs, although several people did and raved about them.

My friend ordered the Sigara Börek on Mediterranean Salad. The “cigars” filled with feta cheese and parsley were artfully placed over the bed of greens, and she loved her choice.

No meal is complete without dessert, and the Istanbul Grill didn’t disappoint. Our group tends to order several desserts and shares them. In this case, the baklava was fresh and tender, and the Kadayif (shredded pastry dough stuffed with walnuts, baked, and topped with
chopped pistachios) was a delight. And of course no meal is complete without a Turkish coffee.

The members of my dining out group couldn’t wait to go back, and have mentioned it several times since our meal. The vegetarians in the group were especially pleased with their meals. If you are looking for an affordable yet tasty meal, you can’t go wrong with the Istanbul Grill in Tremont.

Contact info:

Istanbul Grill
2505 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 298-4450

Mekong River

in-memoriam-graphic

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop ignoring this blog, so I intend to post at least one post a month. Let’s see if I can do better than last time. If I don’t, feel free to get on my case.

Tangerine Tilapia

I have been hearing about Mekong River for several years now and finally got a chance to check them out. I initially stopped by on a whim because I was craving fish, so I whipped out my smartphone, googled them while in the Beachwood library parking lot and called my carryout order in. I was surprised to find this place practically empty when I got there, although there was another woman waiting for her carryout order as well. She told me she and her husband get take-out from Mekong every week and recommended I try the Crystal Noodle Soup.

Crystal Noodle Soup

I was not disappointed. I had ordered the Cambodian eggrolls and Tangerine Tilapia and liked it so much that I brought my mother there the next night to try the tilapia as well. She has dietary restrictions and I knew it would be perfect for her. She loved it too. It is bright and fresh and served with steamed broccoli. The fish is lightly fried and flaky and tender, and the tangerine is served in slices on top of the fish. I have noted that the in-house servings are larger than the carryout servings, so if you are hungry try to eat there.

I also tried the Crystal Noodle Soup the second night, and it was delicious. The broth was light, and the cabbage was not overcooked and had a good bite to it. The pork was cooked perfectly, and the fresh cilantro on top really made the soup excel.

Thai Curry Puffs

Several tips on Foursquare recommend the Thai Curry Puffs, and they are not wrong! The curry puffs are amazingly light and flavorful. I could easily eat these and the tilapia for the rest of my life and be blissfully happy.

Cambodian Crepe

One thing to note about Mekong River is that the food is outstanding, but the service is lacking. I have heard several stories of bad service here, and witnessed it myself when my dining out group met there last week. One of my members may or may not have ordered the Tangerine Duck instead of the tilapia. I didn’t hear him order, so I don’t know if he made the mistake or the waiter did. However, the waiter’s response was unbelievably rude. He got upset with us, gave the tilapia to my friend, and then no longer came out to serve us. I was left sitting there with no meal for about five minutes. The owner then came out asking which of us had ordered the duck and I responded that none of us had. The kitchen then proceeded to cook another tilapia for me, which I was given shortly before everyone was finished with their meals. Luckily everyone in our group shares their meals, so I did not go hungry and ended up boxing almost the entire entree to take home.

Red Tom Kha Kai

We also had to ask for the Cambodian crepe after a while, because I was not the only person without her meal. I tried the crepe as well. The crepe is an egg crepe, but it could have been more flavorful. I took a Viking Cooking School class on Vietnamese cooking, and the crepe we cooked there was much more flavorful. The crepe here seemed more like an omelette than a crepe.

One thing I should note is that the place is freezing (especially the bathroom), so dress warmly in the winter. Or order tea and a soup to start to warm yourself up! The temperature of the restaurant and the service aren’t going to stop me from frequenting there, but I certainly won’t go there if I am in a hurry! Nor will I go there again with a large group.

Contact info:

Mekong River
1918 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118-2125
(216) 371-9575

Empress Taytu

I could start the post with an ignorant joke about Ethiopian food, but I have become such a fan that the idea frankly offends me. If you haven’t eaten at Cleveland’s sole Ethiopian restaurant you have been missing out. I have eaten at Empress Taytu quite a few times in the last year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite IMAG5762restaurants. Not to mention the fact that it is truly unique!

To quote Wikipedia, “Ethiopian cuisine and Eritrean cuisine characteristically consists of spicy vegetable and meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. Ethiopians eat with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. No utensils are used.” Guests are encouraged to share, and the combination platters easily accommodate several people.

Located in a rather dicey part of town, Empress Taytu offers ample parking in a gated area or in front of the restaurant, so there is really no need to be afraid to dine here. Once you walk inside you feel like you’ve entered another world. Empress Taytu features several thatched huts and comfortable carved wooden chairs sets around a mesob, which is a traditional table that is curved to accommodate the tray containing the food. Before the food is served you are given a warm towel to wash your hands. As I said earlier, the food is ladled on top of the injera (and additional injera is served on a separate plate). You then tear off pieces of injera and wrap it around a mouthful of your food.

101_0503To be honest, the first time I ate here I wasn’t a fan, but from the second time on I was hooked. You just have to know what to order. You can’t go wrong with the sambusas or any of the other appetizers. My favorite entree at Empress Taytu is by far the tibs, which is sauteed meat or vegetables (see photo above). I prefer the chicken or shrimp tibs, which is shrimp or chicken sauteed with peppers, onions and various seasonings. It is served on the bread with a small, lightly dressed salad and one of the vegetarian entrees. I always order the tikil gomen (a stew featuring cabbage and carrots). This entree is so good I usually can’t stop eating it – even after I am full.

IMG_20110208_195435One of Empress Taytu’s most popular dishes is Dorowat, a spicy stew made of chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs. Ethiopian food can be very spicy, and Dorowat is one of the spicier dishes. Those of you new to Ethiopian food may want to order a combination platter to try the various entrees that are available. Empress Taytu offers meat (right) and vegetarian (above left) platters.

One thing you should be aware of – it is very easy to get full. The portions may not look very large when the food comes out, but you will be very surprised how quickly you become full. I used to split the vegetarian combination platter with my boyfriend, and we wouldn’t finish it.

If you have a lot of time (and can handle strong coffee in the evening), the coffee service is also a must. It is designed to slow things down and provide time for you and your fellow guests to talk. The server pan-roasts green Ethiopian coffee beans over a low fire until they browned and began to ooze oil. After the beans begin to smoke, she passes them around (or places them close to you) so that everyone can enjoy the aroma. Incense is also lit and carried around the room. The beans are then ground with a mortar and pestle and placed in a tall clay pot (see photo – and you can see some smoking incense in the background). We had ordered it as a group for a recent annual meeting of my translators group (we had the place to ourselves), so those of us who wanted coffee were asked to sit in a circle of low wooden chairs once the coffee was brewed and elaborately poured the coffee into cups.

Just don’t go here if you are in a hurry. You are definitely in a different world. Service is very slow, so consider yourselves forewarned. Just plan accordingly, allowing for several hours to dine before embarking on any other evening plans.

Contact info:

Empress Taytu
6125 Saint Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103-1627
(216) 391-9400

My New Year’s resolution is to post more!

I have been woefully remiss in posting here, but I have every intention of changing that. My New Year’s resolution is to start posting here again. 2010 was a crazy, crappy year for me. The translation industry has boomed and kept me very busy. When I am not working I try to stay off the computer as much as I can. I am still going out to eat, but I just need some motivation to write about it. I have the annual blog stats to thank for this prompting. I had no idea this blog had been viewed 8,000 times this year (with only 2 new posts). I need to step up my game! I will be posting on Empress Taytu later today. Keep your eyes peeled… and thanks for sticking with this little blog despite my ignoring it this year.

AMP 150 is off the chain!

My dining out group went to AMP 150 last Thursday night and had such an enjoyable experience. My assistant organizer had been tweeting about his excitement in going there, so they were fully aware we were coming. Since he had tweeted his disappointment about his meal at Chinato the weekend before, Ellis (the executive chef) was particularly careful informing the waitstaff. The service was quite good with one exception, but the size of our group probably threw them off a bit. Lisa, our server, did a wonderful job waiting on us and had no problem giving us separate checks.

Chef Ellis greeted us before the meal and came out afterward to answer any questions.

AMP 150 is located in the Cleveland Airport Marriott hotel. It has to be the best “hotel restaurant” I have ever eaten at. My only complaint is that the front parking lot was filled with cars (most likely guests’ cars), and most of us had to park at the back of the hotel and walk around the hotel in the freezing weather. Valet parking would have been extremely appreciated, and I for one would have gladly paid for it. Especially since a single woman walking by herself in a parking lot in West Park can get a little nervous…

Glazed Chesapeake Bay Cod with bok choy, broken shrimp, edamame, and smoked onion broth
Braised lamb special with Chorizo and white beans

AMP 150 features local Northern Ohio “farming and culinary artisanship” so the menu changes regularly. They had two special “secret fan” meals on offer that night – a Facebook special with Velvet Mushroom soup, Glazed Chesapeake Bay Cod with bok choy, broken shrimp, edamame, and smoked onion broth and the warm chocolate cake and the Twitter special with the Velvet Mushroom soup, braised lamb with Chorizo and white beans, and a Lemongrass Crème Brulee.

We started the meal by ordering an order of the sweet soy and peanut chicken wings with house-made kim chee and the spicy chicken wings. I was expecting more peanut flavor from the chicken wings, but they were indeed delicious. The housemade kim chee was not overpowering like kim chee usually is. I used to work at a Korean printing company in Germany and the smell of kim chee usually permeated the building since they worked and lived there. I enjoyed this version of kim chee.

Sweet soy and peanut chicken wings with house-made kim chee
Fried apple pie with Jeni's honey vanilla ice cream

AMP 150 offers small plates and entrees, so there are enough choices to fit everyone’s budget and palate. I had a really hard time deciding. I ended up choosing the Facebook special. The Velvet Mushroom soup was creamy and delicious with a slight hint of smoke. I would order it again on its own if given the choice. The Glazed Chesapeake Bay Cod with bok choy, broken shrimp, edamame, and smoked onion broth was a good choice for a low-fat meal (I’m on Nutrisystem, so I need to be good most of the week). The cod was flaky and the broth and vegetables were hot and delicious. The warm chocolate cake was served with a scoop of Jeni’s Double CoCo ice cream. Anyone who has ever tried Jeni’s Ice Cream would know that it is simply divine. The double coco could become a new favorite. It was rich and creamy and oh so chocolatey.

Milk chocolate pana cotta with salted caramel ice cream and malted hazelnut shake

The chef also sent out several items for us to try, including the braised lamb with farro risotto and celery root and the Fried Apple Pie with Jeni’s Honey Vanilla Ice Cream. Both were divine. The braised lamb had sold out by the time we ordered, but they had saved a portion for us to try. Ellis explained to us that he serves a cut from the neck of the lamb, so it was flavorful and moist due to the ribbons of fat. The fried apple pie was amazing. I think I might have liked it better than my warm chocolate cake.

Chicken Paillard Sandwich with mixed greens, lemon herb vinaigrette, Brie cheese, and white truffle aioli

However, the real star of the night was the Milk Chocolate Pana Cotta with Jeni’s Salted Caramel ice cream and Malted Hazelnut Shake. I have eaten desserts in Europe and the U.S. and have never had such a delicious dessert. It was creamy and chocolatey, but not too overpowering. Simply divine! I cannot wait to go back and order it again.

When I do go back (and it will be soon – my assistant organizer went back the next night!) I may just have to order the Chicken Paillard Sandwich with mixed greens, lemon herb vinaigrette, Brie cheese, and white truffle aioli or one of their delicious-sounding burgers to ensure I have room for the Pana Cotta. I can’t recommend AMP 150 enough, and I really hope you give it a try soon.

Contact info:

Amp 150 Restaurant & Bar
4277 W. 150th Street
Cleveland, OH 44135
(216) 651-9474

Disclaimer: the really great, close-ups were taken by my assistant organizer. The other (lamer) photos were taken by me. I will be buying a Canon as well soon, so expect to see better, more artistic photos here very soon.

A whole lot of happiness at the Happy Dog

My dining out group recently ate at a great little place called the Happy Dog. I had heard about it from other food bloggers, and definitely wanted to give it a try. It seemed like a cheap and fun place to eat, so I scheduled our dinner in early January after the holidays when money is tight for most people.

There are only three things on the menu at the Happy Dog – a quarter pound hot dog ($5), tater tots ($2.50) and french fries ($2.50). They also offer vegetarian options, including a vegetarian hot dog, for the vegetarians in the group. The thing that makes it fun is that they offer 50 toppings to top your food with, from vodka sauerkraut, blue cheese cole slaw, kim chee, Bourbon baked beans, Cheese Whiz, pineapple-ginger-currant chutney, and homemade ketchup to rainbow sprinkles and chunky peanut butter. There are also a ton of toppings and dipping sauces available for the tots and fries. You select your toppings on a check list using a putt-putt pencil (I don’t know the technical term for it) and the sky’s the limit. There is no extra price for each topping. The servers were very attentive and brought out lots of sauces for us to try.

One of my friends went old-school, choosing just mustard and onion on his dog. I went for the blue cheese cole slaw, stone ground mustard, homemade ketchup, and dill pickle. Yet another of my friends loaded his hot dog up with 7 toppings. I don’t know how he ate it, but it was definitely a feat. I think a knife and fork were IMAG5754involved. I know I used a knife and a fork for mine and I only had 4 toppings.

The dogs were delicious and the tater tots were just as awesome as I thought they would be. The hot dog had a nice bite to it, and the various toppings allowed everyone to customize their dog as they wanted. Only one person was unhappy with her meal, but we suspect she was not given what she ordered. With all the toppings it was hard to tell…

And the best part was the price tag. Dinner for two (a hot dog, a veggie dog and two orders of tots plus 3 Czech lagers and a raspberry martini) ran us $37.76. We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back. I hear they have a Polka Happy Hour on Friday nights…

Contact info:

The Happy Dog
5801 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 651-9474

Cleveland Independents Deck

My favorite Christmas present this year is the Cleveland Independents Deck. I can’t wait to start using it. The Deck looks like a deck of playing cards and contains 52 $10 coupons for lots of Cleveland Independent restaurants.

As the Cleveland Independents website explains:

Imagine being able to save $10 at 52 of your favorite, locally-owned Cleveland Independents restaurants. Each card in The Deck features a $10 special offer from some of Northeast Ohio’s favorite restaurants. No wonder The Deck is ideal for corporate gift-giving or for anyone who loves to explore the area’s many diverse, local flavors.

* Each card features an informative description of the restaurant as well as its special offer
* Each card is a $10 Gift Certificate at the restaurant it describes
* Each card includes the restaurant’s location and phone number.
* Each card is easy to redeem. Present it to your server. It’s that simple!

I promise there will be plenty of posts on the way this year with the help of The Deck. I can’t wait to try Ponte Vecchio and Bistro 185 as well as revisit personal favorites like The Mad Greek, L’Albatros and Luxe Kitchen. If you want your own you can order it here.

Mike’s Place in Kent

When I was in grad school at Kent State University Mike’s Place quickly became a favorite haunt. Mike’s Place opened at 6 am on September 5, 1987 and has become an institution. People either love it or hate it. I love it, because you can’t help but love a place that features off-the-wall humor on the menu (click here to check out the menu in all its glory), quirky decorating and a fighter plane.

I was in Kent the other day to visit my dentist (no cavities) and decided to go to Mike’s Place for an early lunch. I was there at 11 a.m., and apart from a couple hung over co-eds the place was populated with an older crowd than I was used to seeing.

My favorite sandwiches at Mike’s Place include Samuri Mike’s Teriyaki Terror (a hamburger with teriyaki sauce and onion rings), Josh’s Chicken Meltdown (fried chicken tenders, sautéed onions, American & Swiss cheese on 2 slices of grilled rye) and Lutz Lavishous Lust (pictured here – grilled chicken breast, bacon, 1000 island dressing, tomatoes & pineapple topped with shredded cheese), but there is a sandwich for just about every taste under the sun. You will need at least ten minutes to peruse the menu and narrow down your choices. I never managed to order a dinner entree, because I never managed to work my way through the sandwich menu!IMAG5792

Mike’s also serves breakfast all day, which was really appreciated when I was in grad school. They also feature lots of affordable specials. Mike’s hours of operation are 6 am – 11pm Monday through Thursday and 6 am to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 7 am to 10 pm on Sundays.

And if your sandwich is too sloppy, there is always a roll of paper towels on the table.

Contact info:

Mike’s Place
1700 S. Water Street (corner of SR 43 & SR 261)
Kent, Ohio 44240
330-673-6501

Apple turnovers at Blue Jaye Farm

I am not a big fan of baked goods (despite the fact that I worked at Baker’s Square for five years in high school and college). I usually leave the crust on pies and just eat the filling, and scones make me gag because I find them too dry. 100_1139But I stopped at Blue Jaye Farm on Liberty Road in Twinsburg (edit: the place has since closed – now working out of Heritage Farm in Peninsula) the other day to pick up some apple cider and was hungry, so I grabbed an apple turnover. Oh my goodness was it delicious. The turnover was flaky and delicious with just a hint of creamy vanilla goodness. I went back today and bought some more. I asked her what her secret ingredient was (making a joke that it was crack), and she told me she makes them two ways – plain and with cream cheese. I was lucky enough to buy one that uses cream cheese, although I bought a plain apple turnover too for the trip home and that was just as flaky and delicious. The apple turnovers made with cream cheese are slightly larger than the regular apple turnovers. Both are available for $1.50 each.

100_1140She sells lots of baked goods there, including chocolate chip cookies, rice krispie treats, fudge and homemade pies (I saw pumpkin, apple walnut, mixed berry and blueberry when I was there), as well as apple cider, apples, homemade jelly and preserves, pumpkins, and several kinds of candy for the kids. Not to mention the homemade wreaths, crafts, decorative corn stalks, and gourds. The pumpkins are gorgeous and are available in all sizes and colors (I’d never heard or seen cotton candy white pumpkins before). The variety is amazing.

Blue Jaye Farm also offers hayrides on the weekend. Be sure to check the site, because it is only open until October 31st. However, you can buy her baked goods, gift baskets, wreaths, centerpieces, etc. at Heritage Farms at 6050 Riverview Rd. in Peninsula. You can also find them in July and August at the Farmer’s Market in Middlefield.

Contact info:

6050 Riverview Road
Peninsula, Ohio
(330) 657-2330