Thursday, December 28, 2017

North End Wine Bar

Phew, I did it! I completed the 2017 To Dine Challenge in time for December 31st to roll around. For those of you that aren't familiar, since 2010 I've been setting a goal for this blog to dine at 10 specific restaurants over a 12 month period. Each December, I had gathered your suggestions, narrowed it down to 10, and announced the new Challenge list on January 1st. A little "New Year's Resolution" of sorts. 

There were some years that I didn't get to them all before December ended, and other years I was able to complete it in time. For 2017, I decided to bring back any restaurants that I had missed from other years (those that hadn't closed), and added a couple of new ones to round out the list of 10.

Well, I was able to get to all 10 over the last year, and I'm officially calling it QUITS. Completing all of the past restaurants that I missed, and a couple of fun new ones this year, is a great way to end the 7 year stretch of the To Dine Challenge. It's been fun, and thank you for all of your input, and sometimes company, in this annual challenge.

The last 2017 restaurant was North End Wine Bar in Hudson. It had originally been on my radar about a decade ago now, when my friend Chef Jeff Jarrett was there. It was one of the restaurants from my 2011 To Dine Challenge list that I never got to, and so it made its way back on to the list this year.

We were immediately greeted by what looked like the owner, as he swung open the front door for us as we arrived. The first section is a casual bar setting, with brightly lit coolers of all kinds of great craft beers and a few wines.
The larger section of the restaurant and retail shop is dedicated to wine sales and bistro seating.
It was Happy Hour, so we snagged flights of wine for just $10 (four 2 oz. pours). Thursdays are also Retail Wine Night, so if you order two entrees and a bottle of wine then the price of the wine is at retail value and the corkage fee is waived.
They also had good Happy Hour deals on wine by the glass, beer, and food. We ordered the Arancini ($5).
We then decided to share a few small plates instead of ordering entrees, so we decided on the NE Signature Dip ($10) with artichoke, Asiago cheese, roasted red pepper, garlic pita chips, and Parmesan.
The Lobster Cakes ($12) with lobster meat, boursin cheese, green onion, panko, and a roasted red pepper sauce.
Lastly, we shared the Chef's Pizza of the Day, which included short ribs, arugula, roasted red peppers, and a boursin cream sauce.
While I didn't care for the Signature Dip or Lobster Cakes, the Arancini and Pizza were both good.

They had asked if it was our first time there when we arrived, and as we wrapped up the meal a complimentary dessert wine and wedge of chocolate brownie arrived. What a sweet surprise! 
Honestly, it was the service that made me love this place. They were so welcoming, and went above and beyond to make our experience a good one. While some of the food was hit or miss, the concept is just great and I'd love to have a spot like this closer to us on the west side!

Well, that's a wrap on 2017. It's been a delicious and fun year. Cheers to what 2018 will bring!

North End Wine Bar
7542 Darrow Road
Hudson, OH 44236
(330) 342-1400

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar

Since Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar opened their doors just a short time ago, I've seen nothing but stunning photographs posted all over social media of their renovated bank building space.
But, I've also heard varying reviews of both food quality and service. So, Mr. H and I held out for "something special" before rushing in to try it for ourselves. We celebrated our wedding anniversary on the 13th, and had decided that Marble Room was going to be our big night out.

Immediately, any diner is impressed with the architecture and grand scale of everything in the room, including the raw bar on your right as you enter the main dining room.
We settled into a comfortable table...and I mean COMFORTABLE. You look around, and all of the chairs and booths look like you could sink in and spend some time. So, we did.

We had to start with some raw bar options. A dozen Oysters quickly hit the table ($27). I do have to say that I found it odd that they only had one type of oyster available. That's unusual, right? Particularly for a restaurant with "Raw Bar" in their name too, right? Anywho...they were plump and delicious, so I wasn't complaining.
We also ordered the Yuzu Miso Salmon Roll ($16) with avocado, cucumber, and pineapple salsa.
Our server had really talked this sushi roll up, but honestly I found it too plain and bland. I'll just head to Mizu Sushi for a specialty roll next time I want one, and for a cheaper price point and larger size.

Mr. H and I decided to both order steaks, because, well, we were at a steakhouse. You feel a sense of obligation to try one when it's your first time there. So, we decided to share two side dishes to accompany the steaks.

We ordered the Creamed Spinach ($10).
Also, the "Marble Room Specialty" Crispy Potato Cake ($11) with roasted poblano and guajillo, cojita cheese, and scallions.
The creamed spinach was certainly fine, but we had just had some outstanding creamed spinach at a steakhouse in NYC the week before (Quality Meats), so it didn't leave me digging in for more. The potato cake was unique, and ate like a fancy fried hash brown with Mexican flavors. Personally, I'd probably stick with more traditional potato or pasta side dishes with a steak next time.

Mr. H ordered the Dry-aged Delmonico ($68), and really didn't think the steak was very good. But, we've become steak snobs over the years, because he makes fantastic steak at home and the more recent dry-aged versions we've had at home have been wonderful. I went for the 6 oz. Filet ($38) and added a lobster tail. My steak was seasoned well and cooked perfectly. It was so tender that it literally melted like butter in my mouth. I was happy!
We were completely full at this point and turned down the dessert menu, but they knew it was our anniversary and a complimentary dessert arrived at the table as we wrapped up the meal. I won't say no to a bite of rich, dark chocolate that appears in front of me! The gesture was appreciated.
I know a lot of people have complained about service so far at this restaurant, but we had no issues at all. We were pleasantly greeted at the hostess stand (even though we were 20 minutes late thanks to Cavs' traffic and Uber), and our server was attentive, funny, and knowledgeable about the food and wine.

The atmosphere can't be beat right now for elegance and size, there were very talent musicians wandering throughout the main dining room (but yet piped into the sound system so it filled the space) that truly made the experience feel special, and we had no issues with service. But, I think the food wasn't quite as good as some other local steakhouses at this time, so I see some "newly opened" kinks that they still need to work out. For what we spent on that meal, I was glad we tried it, but I would have preferred to spend the money somewhere else that was a home-run for such a special occasion.

Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar
623 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 523-7000

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Proper Pig Smokehouse

With only two restaurants left to go on the 2017 To Dine Challenge list, Mr. H and I headed to The Proper Pig Smokehouse in Lakewood last week.
This fast casual spot offers a handful of sandwiches, like The Proper Slopper ($12), piled high with chopped beef brisket, pulled pork, Texas hot link sausage, maple bacon BBQ sauce and coleslaw. It comes with your choice of side. It isn't a great way to sample their meats, if you're a first-timer, since it mashes them all up on one sandwich. But, Mr. H threw caution to the wind and went for it.
I stuck with the best option for trying their meats, a Combo Platter. I opted for Two Meats and One Side ($12) and added on three ribs for $3.
I was glad that I did, because the ribs ended up being my favorite of the ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. The brisket took second place for me. While the other two were tender and smokey, the ribs just had a perfect bark and fell right off the bone. I had the Beans and the CLE Potato Salad (made with Stadium Mustard) for my sides, and I would recommend not skipping the potato salad.

Lots of takeout orders going by as we dined in, so it's a great place to grab some grub for home or to pop in for a quick bite. They now have a second location in Mentor as well.

The Proper Pig Smokehouse
17100 Detroit Road
Lakewood, OH 44107
440-665-3768

9582 Diamond Centre Drive
Mentor, OH 44060
440-853-1553

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Weekend Bites

This past weekend kicked off the holiday rush and madness for us. On Friday, I got to enjoy a fun night as "auntie" at The Nutcracker with my favorite five year-old. Then I was up bright and early on Saturday morning to volunteer with my Cleveland Bridge Builders classmates as we assembled Blessing Bags for Neighborhood Alliance.
After popping home quickly, Mr. H and I then scooted up to Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. for their 1 Year Anniversary Party. There were all kinds of samples, raffles, and a chance to taste the new cheese collaboration between the shop and Lake Erie Creamery.
Soon after, it was time to slow down and have some "me" time at Spa West. I started a monthly membership with them about 6 months ago, and it's the best $60 a month I spend. Members can pick one service per month, and I'm now a firm believer that carving out that time to relax and recharge each month is very important.
Mr. H and I celebrated 3 years of marriage this past week, and Saturday finally brought our chance to celebrate! More on that coming later this week. Thanks to our wedding florist, Urban Orchid, Mr. H sends me a bouquet reminiscent of my bridal bouquet every year. While still beautiful, I did miss my peonies this year though!
On Sunday, we woke up to an empty refrigerator and a lot of errands to do. So, a stop at Tremont Tap House for brunch seemed like a great start to the busy day. Their Chorizo Burrito has been on the menu for years, and has always been a go-to item for us.
The end of 2017 is in sight, and I couldn't be happier. It hasn't been my favorite year, so I'm ready to put it behind us. Just a few more days to push through, and then it will be Christmas break!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Xinji Noodle Bar

I've been hearing great things about Xinji Noodle Bar since it opened in Ohio City not too long ago, so Mr. H and I finally made our way in to try it for ourselves. On a cold night, it hit the spot right away.

The space is larger than I had thought it would be, spilling over into two storefronts with table seating and a bar area. A family-friendly atmosphere too, so that means ramen for everyone!

We wanted to try a little of everything, so we split the kimchi balls (select 3 for the trio tasting, or order by piece). These were certainly decent, but maybe not really my thing. I missed the creaminess of a risotto ball, so I'd pass next time and do more bao.
We also each got to try the Fried Chicken Bao ($7), as one order comes with two steamed buns. The chicken was super crispy and the other crunchy textures were awesome, but I had wished the bun itself was warmer to really make this pop.
Lastly, we had to order the ramen. I went for the Shoyu Ramen ($12) and added a Soy Egg ($1). The noodles were cooked perfectly, with a nice chew to them. I also thought my broth was wonderful. Mr. H's seafood special ramen wasn't quite as good as mine, but he still enjoyed it.
Overall, we really liked the meal and restaurant, and want to go back. They also serve brunch!

Cleveland seems to be on a ramen kick recently, and I'm not mad about it.

Xinji Noodle Bar
4211 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-465-2439

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

2017 Holiday Gift Guide for Your CLE Foodie

It's Deeeeecccceeeemmmmbbbbeeeeerrrr! One of my favorite times of year, with plentiful holiday cheer, twinkling lights, parties to attend, food and drink to be had, and...gift giving. I keep a list on my phone using the app Wunderlist year-round, and it's been a life-saver for years now. When a loved one mentions something that they need or want, or I come up with a gift idea, I just add it to the list and then reference it when it comes time for a holiday or their birthday. Highly suggest doing this!

Today, I'm going to round up some of my favorite CLE-themed gifts for the foodie in your life.

Sausage Making Class at Saucisson
We did an in-home version a couple of years ago with our favorite lady butchers, and it was beyond fun (and educational, and delicious). They now offer the classes at their brick-and-mortar butcher shop in Slavic Village.

Tickets to Supper Club at Gatherings Kitchen
Always one of our favorite "interactive" dates related to food in Cleveland, Gatherings Kitchen offers a hands-on cooking class on Fridays that ends with a beautiful multi-course meal and the recipes to take home with you. We've been 1-2 times a year since discovering it, and we're busy planning to attend in February with friends! They just released their menus through June (each month has a theme) and they sell out quickly, so don't miss out. $85 a ticket, and it's BYOB.

3-Pack of Spices from Fire Spice Co.
Pick up a pack of spices from this local company, founded by chef Doug Katz of fire. food + drink in Shaker Square fame. $26.75 (other quantities available).

Custom Crate from DistinctCLE
We received one as a gift from our realtor when we closed on our house last year, and it was FULL of great Cleveland-based food products. $45 - $150 for the food-related curated crates.

Or, create your own gift basket of Cleveland food items by shopping at Ohio City Provisions, Tremont General Store, or The Grocery!

Cleveland-themed Canvas Tote Bag from CLE Clothing Co.
Pick up this canvas tote bag ($30), or another version from your favorite local retailer, to show off your Cleveland pride while grocery shopping, hitting up the West Side Market, or visiting one of the many local farmers markets.

Full Measure Bitters
For the craft cocktail lover that wants to create their own masterpiece at home, check out these locally made bitters by a friend of ours. You can order them online through Amazon, or shop locally at places like Happy Hour Collection in the 5th Street Arcades. I gave some to Mr. H last year for Christmas, and he loves using it.


So, what's on your "foodie" wish list this year? Any great gift ideas that you're excited about giving?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Original Steaks and Hoagies

Rumors on social media always stated that for a "true" classic Philly Cheesesteak in the Greater Cleveland area, you needed to head to The Original Steaks & Hoagies in Twinsburg. Curious for myself, that's how it eventually made its way onto my To Dine Challenge list. Well, I'm happy to finally report that we made it there to try it for ourselves.
Located in a strip mall, there's plenty of parking and this casual shop offers a variety of hot and cold subs, salads, a couple of other items, and...a Philly Style Cheesesteak. Just place your order at the counter, deciding which type of the three cheeses you want, and what toppings (onions, mushrooms, and two kinds of peppers). There are "extras" available for 50 cents, like tomato, lettuce, etc.
The shop is small, but there is seating available for those that want to dine in. For 2PM on a Saturday, the place was hoppin'!

Mr. H and I shared an order of the Beer Battered Fries (add Old Bay seasoning for 50 cents).
I just haven't seen fries like that before, so it was worth trying. They were nice and crispy, and not overly battered. The Old Bay seasoning was a fun addition.

I was there for the Philly Cheesesteak (two sizes available), with cheese whiz, mushrooms, and onions.
Other than wishing the cheese whiz was a little more present, this was a darn good cheesesteak and probably the closest to a "real" classic version that I've had locally.

Only two more restaurants to go on the 2017 To Dine Challenge list! Do you think I can do it by December 31st?

The Original Steaks & Hoagies
10735 Ravenna Road
Twinsburg, OH 44087
(330) 998-6574

Friday, November 24, 2017

EverCrisp Apples at Heinen's

Thanks to Heinen's Grocery Store, I recently got to try EverCrisp Apples, which come from its parent apples of HoneyCrisp (Mr. H's favorite) and Fuji.
This new apple addition is grown locally in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan and it’s initially exclusive to Heinen’s in our area. It originated from the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA). MAIA is a traditional apple breeding program that began in Ohio as a grass roots breeding program by apple growers 20 years ago.

I was challenged to cook with them, and we found two great ways to incorporate them into meals, but Mr. H and I both enjoyed just plain snacking on them too. They are uber crunchy, and stay fresh for a long time on the counter.

The first way that we used them was that I COOKED (yikes, I know. I does happen sometimes) some apple, brie, pecan, and honey bites wrapped in crescent roll pastry. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes, and boom, a great appetizer for any party or meal at home.
Mr. H then used them a few days later in an apple and raisin chutney over pork chops and a carrot puree with smashed roasted potatoes.
Apple and pork are just always a match made in heaven.

What else is great about the EverCrisp apple is that it is a late season varietal, and you'll still be able to see these on the produce shelves at Heinen's this fall and early winter. I highly suggest you pick some up!

Disclosure: I was provided with a $20 Heinen's gift card to purchase EverCrisp apples in exchange for a blog post and social media posts. All opinions stated are 100% my own. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Rowley Inn

Mr. H and I were invited to attend a blogger dinner at The Rowley Inn last week, and I can't tell you how happy I am that we were. Because, I was mildly aware that it existed in Tremont, just across the street from the famous A Christmas Story museum, but it wasn't truly on my foodie "radar" and it should have been.

In existence since 1906, the current owners have been at the helm for about a year. They joked that they are "watching the place" and "keeping it safe" as they preserve the pub's history, while implementing some changes of their own. Top priority became reinventing the food offered, and I can't speak for what it was before, but wow it really blew away any expectations I had of this little bar tucked away on Rowley Avenue.
You settle in for a drink and bite of food to the soft glow of a leg lamp...
...and will immediately be surprised at the pretty extensive list of menu options considering the kitchen is small, how they try to locally source products, and how "Cleveland" themed it really is!

We kicked off the meal with a fried Shrimp Cocktail, that had the most wonderful zingy, creamy cocktail sauce with it. I'm still thinking about that dish!
We also sampled the giant Fried Pickles with a house made beer batter and spicy remoulade. Seriously, biggest ones I've ever seen.
The next course was a bit lighter, a Southwest Chicken Salad. The creamy cilantro dressing was delicious.
Then we got into sample sizes of several of their "In Betweens" of the sandwich section of the menu. This included the Chicken Club (that walnut pesto on there had this chicken-hater gobbling down the full sample).
The Cleveland's Best Grilled Cheese, with smoked gouda, mozzarella/provolone blend, and a touch of mayonnaise.
And the Cleveland Burger. This bad boy had pierogi, kielbasa, and stadium mustard on it! You don't get much more "Cleveland" than that.
Next up was the Mac N' Cheese, which was so rich and delicious that it moved up into my top three mac n' cheeses in Cleveland (Lucky's Cafe reigns supreme, and Tremont Tap House rounds out the top three for me). I'm ready to go back and order this again, immediately.
The show-stopping plate of Loco Moski (their twist on a Hawaiian classic) hit the table next, and by this point in the meal my belly was crying "UNCLE!" But I grab a bite of the pierogi with gravy, and this hearty dish sounds strange, but it somehow really works in a weird Cleveland way.
From the brunch menu, we got to sample the Chicken and Waffles. The waffles are cinnamon flavored, and the dish is topped with gravy and maple syrup, so it has a real sweet/savory combo going on.
The last dish to hit our table was dessert, and it was, you guessed it...Pierogi! Candied apple pierogi to be precise. I would have loved to see this dish warm and topped with some vanilla ice cream. That would have really taken it over the top.
We also got to see their bar tending skills in action, and their craft cocktails were impressive for what feels like just a regular old neighborhood dive bar.
Trust me, they are trying to be anything but, and it's clearly working.

I'm just happy that this spot is within bike riding distance, and on our route of frequent Tremont visits, because I loved the experience and can't wait to go back on my own. This is exactly the type of hidden gem that I love discovering and sharing with you.

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

Disclosure: I and a guest were invited to attend a media preview dinner where all food and beverages were complimentary. A $25 gift card was received. All opinions stated are 100% my own.