Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Joe's Deli

Inspired to turn a negative 2019 To Dine Challenge experience around, Mr. H and I decided to hit another restaurant on the list the very next day. We had some errands to run in Rocky River, so a late lunch at Joe's Deli and Restaurant was a perfect fix!

We thought by heading there at an "off" lunch time of 2PM would cut down on a wait time, but wow the line was still out the door and we weren't seated until close to 3PM. The place is so huge compared to what I had pictured in my head, and they were pumping diners out pretty quickly (on top of steady takeout). But that kitchen looked like a well-oiled machine, and it gave us time to drool over the dessert counter (cakes from Cake Royale in our neighborhood, which ROCK!).

Once we were settled into a booth and looking at the menu, I knew I had to get the famous Matzo Ball Soup (cup- $4.50, bowl- $5.95). I won't pretend to be a connoisseur, but many locals claim this is the best version around.
I also knew I needed to order the side of Onion Rings ($5.95). Thanks for the tip, Lisa Zone!
7 of these huge hand-battered babies arrived. We were only able to eat half. They should come with a warning, haha. 
The real star of the meal, however, turned out to be the Shish Tawook ($12.95) with marinated chicken tenderloins served in a pita with fries and garlic mayonnaise. You can request it panini-pressed, as Mr. H did, and I highly recommend. I could bathe in that delicious garlic mayo.
The restaurant was a winner. This Lebanese spot will get a slot on our rotation. There's plenty of more menu items to tackle!

Joe's Deli and Restaurant
19215 Hilliard Blvd.
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 333-7890

Monday, October 14, 2019

Kavana Social Kitchen

With the end of the year looming, there's some pressure on to finish up my 2019 To Dine Challenge list of restaurants. So, Mr. H and I headed to Kavana Social Kitchen in North Royalton on Friday.
Owned by two sisters, the restaurant is colorful, lively, and intended for you to settle in for a shareable meal over craft cocktails, wine and beer, and often live music. There's a patio out front and a deck off the back, with a dining room and then a separate room for the bar and slightly more casual seating too. But overall, it's an approachable spot for all ages.

With an expansive menu of small plates (and a few handhelds and larger dishes), you should be able to find something for every diner. My Cleveland Peach cocktail was quite enjoyable.
But, sometimes when a menu is too big that translates to the kitchen not really doing any dishes "well" in my opinion. Sadly, I think that's the case here.

The menu recomends 2-3 dishes per person. Many of the descriptions sounded great and the website boasts that local and seasonal ingredients are featured. I didn't see that one bit.

We started with the Spicy Crab Dip ($13) with Crab Meat, Red Pepper Flake, Asiago Cheese, and Toasted Naan. There was a pool of oil that was not appetizing to look at and the crab dip was a dull brown in color. The flavor was fine and the mini naan was fantastic (same used at Polpetta). Not a bad start, but underwelming. 
A dish that had immediately caught my eye was the Ahi Tuna Nachos ($12) with Sushi-grade Saku Block Ahi Tuna, Black & White Sesame Seeds, House Made Tortilla, Avocado Pulp, Hot & Sweet Pepper Relish, and Sriracha Hot Sauce. The house-made tortilla chips were done well, and overall it had good flavor. But the dish would eat much better if the tuna was diced and there was more of it per chip. You ended up eating a lot of bites of just chip. This probably was the best dish we had.
Then the meal took a nosedive. There were a few chicken wing options on the menu, and the Chipotle Lime Wings ($8) with Jumbo Wings, a Chipotle Dry Rub and Kiwi BBQ Drizzle with Corn Salsa stood out to me. Um...does that look like a "corn salsa" to you? Looks like canned corn, and it was so strange paired with wings and a mushy gross texture to boot. The "rub" was also flavorless and the sauce was more minimal than the picture below looks. These were probably the worst wings I've had in a long time, maybe ever.
Mr. H had really wanted to share the Grouper Bites ($14) with Tempura Battered Fresh Grouper, Sweet Chili Redux, Key Lime Aioli, Arugula Cabbage Slaw, and a Lime Wedge. Now, the flavor really mimicked General Tso's chicken and we both liked it. But that's where the good qualities stopped. The fish was complete mush, the salad was almost all bland cabbage and difficult to eat a bite on your fork, and where oh where is the key lime aioli promised? On the cabbage and greens? Didn't taste like it.
Mr. H also selected an order of their House Made Tots with Truffle Aioli ($5.50) to round out the meal. They were very large, almost closer to thick potato pancakes than tots. And we only had two left before the kitchen realized they never sent out the aioli. Those last two were infinitely better with it, but that just made me even more disappointed.
Now let's talk about service. The five dishes arrived almost rapid-fire. I get it that "small plate" restaurants often fire dishes and the order in which they arrive varies. But it still helps to course it out a bit and not fire everything at once when the dishes don't take that long to prepare. It's no fun feeling rushed and you don't enjoy the food as much when plates are piling up around you. Also, almost every food runner that came out to the deck delivered dishes to the wrong table. Almost every.single.time. It became quite comical, really. 

This restaurant left nothing to desire, and unless they trim their menu and perfect what's left, I don't see the quality changing. Which stinks, because there aren't a lot of restaurant option in the area, and this could be a real gem. The right elements are there, but we certainly won't be driving back from Cleveland for it. 

13570 Ridge Road
North Royalton, Ohio, OH 44133
(440) 628-8889

Friday, September 27, 2019

Cowboy Food and Drink Turns 15 and Gives Back

Cowboy Food and Drink in Chagrin Falls is celebrating their 15th anniversary, and in a big way. Each Sunday in September, they partnered with a local charity and a portion of all sales that day is being donated to the cause. This Sunday is the last one, and your meal can support United Way.
Now I had never heard of Cowboy Food and Drink before they contacted me to help promote the charity partnership, but Mr. H had! They've changed over the years and are no longer a honky-tonk bar with a mechanical bull. But the BBQ is still banging and Chef Stephen is putting out some pretty darn good Tex-Mex and American food from their kitchen and 500-pound Southern Pride Smoker.
Lucky for us, summer weather is still hanging on in Cleveland, so we settled in on the outdoor patio.
First to come out was a half-portion of the Potato Skins ($8) with jack, cheddar, bacon, scallions, and sour cream, but you can add BBQ pulled pork for $4. I haven't had skins with BBQ sauce or pulled pork before, but it totally worked.
Next up was an order of their Smokehouse Wings with Spicy Garlic sauce (17 types available). Served with their housemade Ranch, these wing were a real standout of the meal and Mr. H deemed them worth the drive alone.
The Chopped Cobb ($12) with smoked chicken, avocado, egg, tomatoes,  bleu cheese, and bacon didn't have very much lettuce and was forgettable.
But I wasn't there for a salad, I wanted BBQ! Next up was the BBQ Trio ($26) with brisket, smoked turkey, and pulled pork. The brisket immediately fell into our top three items of the meal, but that housemade sweet BBQ sauce was so good that I would have eaten any meat with it on it.
All good BBQ has to offer the classic sides, and this spot is no different. Leave the coleslaw behind, but the Mac + Cheese was everything you want this side to be and the BBQ Beans with brisket were also good.
Not pictured were the final meats, a House Recipe Smoked Sausage (two thumbs up), Smoked Half Chicken, and Baby Back Ribs. The ribs rocketed to my top dish of the evening, with incredible bark and the meat cooked just right. Chef Stephen even let us in on a few trade secrets. Honestly, our conversations with him were some of the best parts of the experience.

I love people with such a passion for their craft, and food always reflects that love and passion. This was really good BBQ, in my opinion. Plus, they have such a charitable environment at the restaurant that gives back year-round. But get in there this last Sunday to make the biggest impact.

8586 E Washington Street
Chagrin Falls, OH 44023
(440) 708-1011

Disclosure: All food was provided complimentary for me and a guest in exchange for help promoting their anniversary charity partnership. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Molto Bene Italian Eatery

With the first day of fall upon us, I had a sense of urgency to tackle another restaurant off of my 2019 To Dine Challenge list.
Molto Bene Italian Eatery in Lakewood was one that I was really looking forward to. It's a really small restaurant with limited indoor and outdoor seating, and they don't take reservations. So be prepared to have a brief wait, but on a Saturday evening we never saw more than a 15-minute wait.
I had heard that the Arancini ($9) of rice balls filled with asiago cheese was a dish to not miss, and I agree! Way more cheese inside that most arancini, the perfect bite-size, and the blended sauces for dipping left us scooping out the remains. I'd have a hard time not ordering these every time. 
I was really torn between the Cavatelli della Casa ($18) topped with pomodoro sauce, light pesto sauce and calamari and the Fettuccine in Salsa di Aragosta ($25) topped with lobster meat, garlic, red pepper, and pomodoro sauce with white wine. So I asked our server, and she immediately guided me to the Fettuccine because they make those noodles in-house.
The sauce had nice, bold flavor and the portion wasn't overwhelming as many pasta dishes tend to be. I did ask for Parmesan cheese, because duh.

Mr. H ordered the Tortellini pancetta e broccoli ($17) with ricotta stuffed tortellini with bacon and broccoli, topped with pomodoro sauce. This dish didn't really meet our expectations. The sauce was a little bland, and there were only about three small pieces of broccoli.
Other pasta dishes on the menu sounded fabulous as well, so I'd suggest trying another one over the tortellini. But, as you can see, I was happy with mine!
We couldn't leave without a scoop of Gelato ($5), made daily. Pistachio for us!
I would give this restaurant another try for sure, but it didn't "wow" me for classic Italian food. I think there are some better options around town. If you've been, what dishes do you recommend? 

But the place is adorable, the family running the business was so kind and gracious, and it was lively without being loud. Family-friendly, and street parking was very easy to find. 

18401 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 273-7333

Monday, September 23, 2019

Weekend Bites

I've had to work the previous two weekends in September (and another one this weekend, ugh) so I was beeeeeyond ready for this past weekend at home. The calendar got a little full, and I did head into it feeling a little overwhelmed. But, it ended up just perfect! We had a blend of friends, fun, adventure, and good food mixed with sleeping in, being productive around the house, and plenty of pooch snuggles.

It all kicked off on Friday with hosting the monthly ladies Happy Hour for my neighbors at my house. We rotate one Friday every month, the hostess puts out some food and everyone brings a drink to share. I've met some incredible women through this, and fall in love with my neighborhood just a little bit more.

Because I was so busy and on the road leading up to Friday, I decided weeks ago to call in reinforcements. Nobody in this household had time to menu plan, grocery shop, and make food...so my buddy chef Jeff Jarrett to the rescue! And what a spread he brought.
Mr. H and I woke up on Saturday morning and headed towards Akron for an unusual excursion...a ride on the Goodyear Blimp!
He had won the package in a charity auction, and it was finally time to fly. We got to hear and see behind the scenes...
...with views as far as the eye could see.
We were up for about 40 minutes, which was just enough for me. My fear of heights didn't stop me from going, but I wasn't exactly comfortable. It kind of felt like a boat in the air with all the swaying. 

You'll hear more about our Saturday evening later this week, but Sunday brought a lot of chores around the house, a good healthy dinner, and then a late show at The Improv.
While the comedians weren't really my personal taste in humor, Mr. H just loves stand-up and he has been so supportive during this crazy work schedule so I was happy we went. 

I'm back on the road later this week for work, but this past weekend just emphasized how much I crave being at home and enjoying what our city has to offer. October, I see you on the horizon!