Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taco Tuesday- Sachsenheim Hall

My Taco Tuesday quest took me to Sachsenheim Hall on Denison Avenue last night. Several of you suggested their tacos, and for just $1 each- I can see why.

First, the building is quite the sight.
It is over 100 years old, and includes a bar area, ballroom, dance hall, and several other smaller rooms throughout. There is decent parking space available in a lot just to the right of the building, and we entered through the side door. Immediately, we were hit in the face with the stench of urine and cigarettes. No joke.

Inside the bar area, we found quite a mix of people. It was great people watching! To our left was a fine specimen of a mullet, with multiple elastics holding it into a perfectly sectioned ponytail. To my right, a classy young gal talking loudly about her mandatory DUI class as she downed five shots while we sat there. We saw families, blue-collar workers, hipsters, and plenty of your average Joe's. All are welcome.

After securing our drinks, we were handed a menu of the Taco Tuesday specials.
With 15 different types of filling, it was hard to choose. They come in a hard or soft taco shell for $1 each, and "loading" them with lettuce, cheese, tomato, sour cream, and salsa is free. This is often not the case with other Taco Tuesday deals. They also offer empanadas stuffed with any of the fillings, or a V-RITO which includes a soft shell, a layer of nacho cheese, and then a hard shell.

I ordered a Habanera Empanada, Black Bean & Corn soft taco, Fish soft taco, and a Jamaican Jerk Sausage soft taco.
All were served warm. The Habanera filling had a nice heat to it, but wasn't as spicy as the bartender made it out to be. The empanada was a little over fried, and dry around the outside. The fish taco was the only one that I didn't care for. It was lacking the crunch of a good fried breading, and tasted a little "fishy". The Jamaican Jerk was probably my favorite of the bunch.

With two beers (one pint, one liter), and "R" having more tacos than I did- our bill STILL only came to $20 and change. Per person, this is definitely a Dining Deals alert!

Don't get me wrong, I love Touch's Thursday tacos and Deagan's gourmet tacos...but this type of Taco Tuesday was more what I had in mind when I started this series. Stay tuned for more, and keep the suggestions coming!

Sachsenheim Hall
7001 Denison Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sweetie Fry

Opening a restaurant that only serves french fries and hand-crafted ice cream...a risky business venture, or pure genius?

After our first visit last night, my vote is pure genius. Sweetie Fry on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights opens its doors in the afternoon, and stays open late Tuesday-Sunday. We stopped in around 9:00PM last night for an after-dinner treat, and we weren't the only ones with that in mind. The line was out the door, but it moved quickly. Suddenly I found myself at the counter, forced to make a decision.
Luckily, the staff happily gives you samples of any flavors that you want to try before ordering. They had just added a Goat Cheese with Honey and Walnuts flavor, and after one taste I knew that was what I wanted.
It was light and creamy, with a distinct flavor of my beloved goat cheese. The honey drizzled on top, and crushed walnuts, added interesting texture and complimented the flavor of the goat cheese well.

With each order, you also receive a small "Sweetie Scoop" of any flavor on top. Oops, I had already dug into my Maple Bacon before I snapped this photo. Excuse my excitement. With a strong maple flavor, and chunks of real bacon crumbled into it- I would order this flavor as a whole scoop.

Now, we didn't try the french fries since we had stuffed ourselves with Pacific East sushi for dinner. But the smell of the cinnamon and sugar on the waffle fries, and hint of malt vinegar in the air for the fresh cut fries, were driving us nuts so we had to leave as soon as we finished our ice cream. "R" was about to find room in his belly for some.

Have you been to Sweetie Fry yet? What's your favorite flavor there? How does it stack up against other ice creams in the area, in your opinion?

Sweetie Fry
2307 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012 Update

Where the heck is 2012 going? The months have been flying by, in my opinion. How is it the end of May already? Geez.

Well, the "Year of Fun" has been good to me so far. For the most part. We traveled to New Orleans, are spending quality time with family and friends, "R" and I will celebrate our five-year (dating) anniversary this summer, my best friend from high school is getting married in July, and we have a couple of other mini-trips planned. But, I'm still battling my health issue. The end is in sight, but boy what a long road. It will probably be close to three and a half years when this is all said and done. I thought that I would be better sooner, so I feel like this has slowed down my "Year of Fun" and the big plans I had for 2012.

Including my "To Dine" list.

2012 "To Dine" Challenge:
Stonehouse Grill
Lure Bistro & Sushi Bar
The Fairview Tavern
Beach Club Bistro
Bistro 185 ----- DONE
Sullivan's Irish Pub & Restaurant
Tree Country Bistro
Sun Luck Garden Restaurant
Bruno's Ristorante & Catering

Only ONE done! That is not okay. I need to get my butt in gear.

Who's coming with me?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Maxi's in Little Italy

I'm not even sure how I am awake at this hour this morning. Yesterday was event #1 of three within three weeks of each other that I am working on right now, and with only three hours of sleep the night before, a 3:45AM wake-up call, and a dinner event to attend last night after my walk was all said and done...I don't really feel human today.

Last week was a flurry of last minute event details, and plenty of stress. I fell off the WW bandwagon for several days, but it's back to it today! While I knew that I wasn't counting points, we decided to indulge in some Italian food on Thursday night. Work errands on the east side of Cleveland prompted "R" and I to finally use our gift certificate to Maxi's Bistro in Little Italy.

In the heart of it all on Mayfield Road, they offer a couple of outdoor tables, an expansive bar and small casual dining area downstairs, and then a more formal dining room upstairs. We just saddled up to the bar, and had excellent service from the bartender throughout the meal.

I knew that I wanted to start with the Stuffed Banana Peppers.
Two good sized peppers arrived swimming in a marinara sauce. I enjoyed the dish, but agreed with "R" that the flavor of the sausage could have been more prominent. The pepper was cooked well with a great subtle heat, and the sauce was flavorful and perfect for dipping our warm bread into. I find that so many marinara sauces are pretty bland when dining out, but this was not the case.

Two things determined my entree for me: red pepper and shrimp.
This penne in a spicy vodka sauce had my name written all over it. The portion was huge for $18, and I took more than half of it home.

But "R" had the winning dish of the night. He ordered the goat cheese and roasted tomato ravioli, but the kitchen made a mistake and served him the Spinach Ravioli dish instead. Who cared? Not us! The raviolis were so light and airy, and the stuffing was delicious. However, the Alfredo sauce that it came with was outstanding and had us both licking his plate. I was so happy that I had saved half a piece of bread. It went right into the sauce left on his plate! Only complaint...the dish included just four ravioli. They weren't large, and for the price- the dish should have included one or two more.

I haven't really enjoyed the handful of restaurants that I've tried in Little Italy, other than Washington Place Bistro (duh) and Trattoria's gnocchi. But Maxi's easily is the best overall meal we've had in the area's traditional Italian restaurants. Now I just need to check out Michelangelo's...

What's your favorite restaurant in Cleveland's Little Italy? What is the best dish there?

Maxi's Bistro
12113 Mayfield Road
Cleveland, OH 44106

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Barrio's Tacos

Tuesday was just begging for some patio time and cocktails that evening. The weather was a perfect balance of sunny skies and no humidity. That rarely happens in Cleveland, so we were certainly taking advantage of it! This led to an impromptu gathering of friends and significant others at the recently opened Barrio in Tremont.
Barrio took over the old 806 Wine Bar on Literary just over two weeks ago. So they are brand spanking new. And it kind of showed. But there's potential there.

First order of business, margaritas.
We went with a pitcher of the traditional flavored Casa Made Margaritas for $24. We got about four and a half drinks out of it. I thought the mason jars were a cute twist.

Now that we were settled in on the brick patio, it was time to order. Like Happy Dog, you are given a checklist of taco choices. You start with either hard or soft, flour or corn, and then build your custom taco. The options are lengthy, so we felt that over time they should create and provide a list of "suggested" combinations.

Before tacos, however, came guacamole. "R" and I shared the Tuscan Guacamole with pine nuts, mozzarella, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. The ingredients added some texture and minimal flavor that apparently the Traditional was lacking, but our version still needed the addition of citrus and salt. It was certainly fresh and creamy, but a little bland in the bites without the balsamic.
The chips were sometimes chewy, perhaps a little stale?

Our tacos arrived a bit later. I had gone with two soft flour tortillas, and built my tacos around the fish and chorizo.
While the flavors of both were good, the tacos have really cooled down by the time they arrive. I know that they can be difficult to keep hot when adding so many cold toppings, but I still think that the kitchen just hasn't quite figured out that balance. There's improvement in their process needed. I give these tacos a solid 4 out of 10, but if they had been served warmer they would have been bumped up to a 6 out of 10 (in my opinion).

Overall, the ingredients were clearly fresh and they have a great concept. The tacos were reasonably priced at $3 each. I love the addition of a Tequilaria in Tremont. It's something that isn't being done in the area. They are serving late night tacos as well, from what I hear. They are just going through some significant growing pains with both food and service (long wait times, food/drinks missing, wrong kind of tortillas used on a couple of taco orders), but there's hope for this new spot.

806 Literary Road
Cleveland, OH 44113

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dinner in the Dark- May Event

Last night's Dinner in the Dark event was held at Washington Place Bistro in Little Italy. The event always rotates restaurant locations and charity of the month each time, so when I saw that May's dinner was being held at one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland- I had to go. I had a feeling that it was going to be a good one, and it was.

Just check out the lineup...
A few of my favorites were there, including Adam Bostwick (formally of Melange and Hodge's) and Matt Anderson (Umami), and a couple of new chefs that I was excited to try. One was Fabio Mota from Club Isabella. I just haven't made it over to the restaurant yet since its opening, but I keep hearing good things about it.

We settled into the sunny back room of Washington Place Bistro, and were quickly served the signature cocktail of the night (pictured above). It was a light and refreshing take on a Tom Collins. Then came out the amuse bouche, an English pea and coconut milk panna cotta with black truffle honey and lemon zest.

We all really enjoyed this, and the truffle honey drizzled on the plate was outstanding.

First course came from Chef Matt Anderson from Umami. It was a huge chunk of Parmesan-crusted lobster meat served over first-of-the-season vine-ripened tomatoes, seared greens, and a sriracha vinaigrette. I really enjoyed this course.
Next up was Chef Nate Barker from the Welshfield Inn. Our second course was a scallop served with a pickled salad of beets, red onion, and shiitake mushrooms. Fennel, sea salt, and fiddleheads rounded out the dish. Have you ever had a fiddlehead? This was my first time. A member of the fern family, it is inedible after it opens and only has a four week season. Very cool looking, and this course was delicious.
Third course was a light and fresh asparagus salad from Chef John Selick at University Hospitals. He spoke briefly about their approach to food and serving the hospital patients. Who knew you could get such great, locally sourced whenever possible, food there?!
Then we moved on to the fourth course, a salt-crusted bronzini with pan seared black polenta and red pepper sauce from Chef John Roskowski of Washington Place Bistro.
This was our table's least favorite dish of the night. The texture of the fish was a little too soft, and we found several bones throughout. It took away from truly experiencing the flavors, as we were constantly searching for those bones.
In between this and the next course, we were treated to a durian mousse. Have you ever heard of durian? Apparently, the smell of this fruit is compared to sweaty gym socks and rotting garbage. Good thing it tastes better than it smells!
Our last savory course was from Chef Fabio Mota, and it was a sirloin ramen with rare beef, cabbage slaw, nori sheets, and a poached egg.
Unfortunately, the yolk of the poached egg had hardened by the time it arrived at the table. I think it would have only added to an already great dish. Guests were given painted chop sticks to slurp this course with, and we got to take them home at the end of the night. The flavors were well-balanced, and I had fun enjoying this dish.

Our last course of the night was from Chef Adam Bostwick. While it wasn't my favorite dish of the night, it certainly was the star of the evening! The menu pictured a baseball. What the heck is a baseball dessert going to be? We had fun guessing, but here is Adam's interpretation of game day.
He playfully created a soft pretzel bread pudding with beer caramel and Stadium Mustard ice cream. Yes, you read that correctly. Stadium Mustard ice cream, folks. Combined, all of the components truly did remind me of baseball game flavors. His own cracker jacks added great crunchy texture to the dish as well. Home run! If I was a sweet vs. savory person, this probably would have been my favorite course.

Overall, we really loved the meal. We tried two unusual ingredients, fiddlehead ferns and durian, and a great variety of flavors throughout the dishes. I am so glad that I didn't miss this one! All proceeds benefitted The Dancing Wheels Company & School this month.

Next up, they'll be at Fat Casual BBQ for an outdoor Dinner in the Dark in June.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

I may not be able to celebrate in NY with you today, but I'm thinking of you and grateful that I have one of the best moms out there.
Even if you allowed me to dress in patterened leggings, perm my hair, and sport a New Kids on the Block hat. I'll still pretend that was just what was "cool" circa 1990. It was, right? That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it. (Thought you guys would enjoy this embarassing family photo).

Love you, Mom! Enjoy your day.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Session One of the IX Beer Fest

Last night, "R" and I attended Session 1 of the International Beer Fest at the IX Center. Session 2 begins today at 1:00, and Session 3 opens at 7PM tonight. Since it was my second year going, I knew what to expect and felt that I actually enjoyed it more this time (even though very little had changed).

What a difference a year can make though! Last year, I was barely a beer drinker and stuck to all of the lighter options, seeking out wheat beers and fruity blends. Thanks to events like the IX Beer Fest and Beer Week in October, my palate has changed a lot over the past year. Last night, I focused on stouts and porters.

My two favorite beers of the night? Fat Heads Brewery Bean Me Up, an intense coffee-flavored stout.
My other favorite? Willoughby Brewing Company's Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter.
I went back for seconds of both, wanting to end my night with each. The fact that my two favorites happen to both be from Ohio made me happy. I swear I wasn't biased. We know our beer. The IX Beer Fest features an entire section, just for Ohio breweries.
Two of the most unusual beers that we sampled were the Mexicali Smoke from Fat Heads Brewery, with intense smokiness and subtle heat. Also, we had a Tangerine Wheat from Lost Coast. It was the punchiess cirtrus beer I've ever personally had. Perfect for a hot day on a patio.

Other features that I like about this event? Area food trucks park in the back left corner, so you can grab some tasty grub to line your belly for all that beer. We enjoyed grab-and-go items from strEat Mobile Bistro and Jibaro. With my media passes, we had access to the VIP Brewers Lounge. The Lounge had plenty of soft leather couches, small rounds, and high tops for relaxing, special taps taking place at two expansive bars, and a small buffet of complimentary food. It was a great escape from the main floor.

But my favorite part of the event, other than the beer, is the people watching.
You never quite know what you're going to find wandering the floor.
We had a great time, and it's not too late for you to enjoy the 2012 International Beer Fest. Thank you to the IX Center for providing me with two passes to give away to a reader (enjoy, Julie!), and for two media passes so that we could enjoy the event as well. We certainly did!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wonton Gourmet in AsiaTown

I don't have a lot of experience in Cleveland's AsiaTown. Actually, looking at this helpful guide, my experience is even more limited than I thought. A go-to lunch spot for Foodbank employees was #1 Pho, and I am a fan of Li Wah for Chinese. But, until recently, that was my short list of visited restaurants in the neighborhood. And Tastebuds, but does that really count?

Lucky for me, a friend took "R" and I to Wonton Gourmet & BBQ. First, I love that all of the menu items are pictured on the wall. It's a little overwhelming for a first-time diner, but helpful! We decided that the best route to go was to share several items.

Turnip Cakes and Chive Potstickers started us out.
"R" and I both love a good steamed dumpling, and these were some of the better ones that I've had locally. I don't like the completely meat-packed versions as much, so this was perfect for me.

Wonton Soup was next, which was plenty to share for three people.

We decided on two main dishes, the Mixed Seafood and Chinese Vegetables in XO Sauce and "R" ordered a Short Rib dish that I didn't catch the name of.
As you can see, the seafood dish was packed with different types of seafood. The only one I didn't care for was the white fish. It was a little chewy. But the flavors of the sauce were enjoyable, and the vegetables still had a nice firmness to them and weren't overdone.

"R" was really the only one eating the short rib dish. Notice the bones still connected to the meat? They had cut the meat into small pieces, but left the bone down the center. The meat was fatty and difficult to chew, so removing it from the bone proved challenging at times. I actually spit out my one bite, which is not something that I normally do. The texture of the meat just wasn't pleasing, for me personally. Too bad, because the sauce was tasty.

Overall, I really liked everything that we ordered. I think that I still prefer Li Wah, but I'd go back for more. Also, it's worth noting that the bill was incredibly cheap for three diners and the amount of dishes that we tried. Really, I should just try a new place and attempt to tackle more on the list.

What's your favorite spot in AsiaTown?

Wonton Gourmet
3211 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thai Gourmet

First things first...Thank you to all who entered my IX Center Beer Fest giveaway. I used to select a winner, and it chose...#45- Julie at @Tribechic! Congratulations. Please email me to claim your prize.

My posts will be few and far between these next couple of weeks. By day, I work for a non-profit and a big part of my job is event planning. Well, I am simultaneously working on five major events right now (three taking place in the next four weeks). The largest is next Sunday, so as you can imagine I am running around finishing up the logistical details and pushing my team captains to continue to raise funds for the organization. Lots to do!

I had a work event last night that ran until 8PM, so that left "R" and I scrambling for dinner afterwards (because he's the best and "volunteers" at a lot of my functions since I have no staff). We were in Independence, so I knew exactly where I wanted to go. One of my favorite Thai joints in tucked away in the shopping plaza off of Rockside Road- Thai Gourmet.
Aren't the best "ethnic" restaurants typically some shotty-looking strip mall spot? Love it!

But they have one of my favorite Thai dishes in our area. I love peanut curry, also often called massaman curry (but not here).
Many Thai restaurants locally serve the peanut curry with just sweet potatoes, onions, and carrots. As you can see, Thai Gourmet packs their dish with all kinds of great vegetables. You can select your protein, and I went with shrimp.

It's been a while since we've been in, like probably pre-surgery (the first one, a year and half ago). I love spice and heat, and typically order my Thai dishes as "Thai hot" when dining out. Clearly, my memory had escaped me that Thai Gourmet is not shy with the chili peppers. I think that I may have burned off some of my taste buds. Is it wrong that I was still loving it? I know that's not for everyone, including "R".

For the price, it includes your choice of white or brown rice, and there was plenty for me to take home. Our meal ended with this...
Does that first one even make sense to you?

What's your favorite type of "ethnic" food? I love Thai and Indian, but am always willing to try anything. Where's your favorite strip mall restaurant? They are always so unassuming from the exterior, but you can find some great gems hidden inside.

Thai Gourmet
6901 Rockside Road
Independence, OH 44131

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Win tickets to the 2012 International Beer Fest

In honor of the multiple Shandy beverages that I consumed last night, I have a beer lovers giveaway today.

The IX Center is hosting the 2012 International Beer Fest on May 11th and 12th. This craft beer event is one to look forward to, featuring over 200 breweries offering more than 800 different beers to sample. They have added a couple of new highlights this year, including Ohio's largest Silent Disco (headphones and your own dance party), enhanced Real Ale Bar, Mixology Lounge, and a Cider & Meads tasting pavilion.

I personally love large beer tasting events like the IX Beer Fest, because it pushes me to taste beers that I wouldn't normally order on my own. I've discovered some new brews the last couple of years, and stouts even wormed their way into my heart.

The list of vendors is impressive. Just a few that "R" and I are looking forward to sampling include: Bell's, Ommegang, Dogfish Head, Founder's, and Hoppin' Frog. Of course, I always love to see the great representation from Ohio breweries as well!

A Single-Session General Admission ticket is $45, and includes 36 tasting pours, commemorative tasting cup, access to all demos and appearances, and a one-year subscription to Draft Magazine. You can also purchase an All Session General Admission pass for all three sessions for $120, or a VIP All Session pass for $200. I appreciate that they also offer a Designated Driver ticket for just $10. Be safe, people!

One lucky Bite Buff reader can walk away with two one-session general admission tickets, just for commenting on this post. Tell me what your favorite beer is, or which Beer Fest brewery you want to try most. Leave a comment on this post for one entry, and you can gain a second entry in the giveaway by tweeting "I want to win IX Beer Fest tickets from @BiteBuff at ." Make sure that you leave a second comment to let me know that you tweeted. I will select the winner using on Wednesday.

Disclosure: IX Beer Fest provided me with two general admission passes for one reader, and two media passes to attend the event myself. My opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Do You "Pin"?

Pinterest has taken the world by storm, and people (mostly women) flock to it for home decorating ideas, clothing and accessories, DIY and crafts, interesting products, and more.

I started using Pinterest slowly. Not really "getting it", and completely overwhelmed by the millions of images and links. I built boards for Clothing, Home Decor, Event Ideas (for the planner in me), Organization (for a new business venture), and Random. I like to see what my friends are pinning, and dig around for interesting things that I may not have found on my own.

I saw lots of people create a board for recipes. Now, we all know that I am not the cook in this household. I had no use for recipes, and filled my Food & Wine board with fun wine glasses, jello shots in fresh fruit, funny mustache mugs, and other playful or useful kitchen gadgets. Then I started Weight Watchers. Now my Food & Wine board is filled with recipes, and we've actually made several. Here are just a couple that we've prepared and enjoyed:

Turkey Stuffed Zucchini (5 PP)

Pork and Green Chili Casserole (7 PP)

Spinach Lasagna Rolls (4 PP)

Pinterest has opened up a whole other world for me when it comes to sticking to the WW plan. I've found fun new blogs and recipe sites, and can make dinner interesting when dieting.

It may not seem like we have been dining out less and cooking at home more, but we have. This means more trips to the West Side Market, menu planning each week, and time spent together in the kitchen. I can chop like no one's business. Just don't ask me to be in charge. Or touch raw meat. But that's a story for another day.

What do you "Pin"?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jammy Buggars

Jammy Buggars quietly crept onto the dining scene in Lakewood, and offers a neighborhood bar atmosphere with upscale pub food, moderate prices, and a lengthy beer list (other drinks available). We stopped in a couple of weeks ago for the first time, and left impressed. The decor and set-up was not the dive bar that I was expecting, and overall we enjoyed the food and experienced great service. It fondly reminded me of the things we love about Deagan's.

Thanks to a friend, I already knew what I wanted- the New England Lobster and Shrimp Roll with fresh Maine lobster, sweet baby shrimp, a touch of lemon mayo and chives ($11).
I loved this sandwich, and would order it again in a heartbeat. I also liked that it came with two smaller buns, and I happily took one home with me for lunch the next day. All sandwiches come with house-cut fries, but you can substitute sweet potato waffle fries, a mug of soup, or a small house salad for $1.50. The portion size for $11 was plentiful, and everything was very fresh. A splash of lemon juice kicked this sandwich up a notch. They also offer six different dipping sauces for their fries, which I love. I'm a dipper!

"R" went with the Hawaiian Pulled Pork sandwich with Kona coffee BBQ, pineapple jam, pickled pepper, and macadamia nuts on a pretzel roll. He also opted to swap out his fries for the waffle sweet potato fries.
For just $9.50, this sandwich was HUGE. The BBQ sauce was a little too sweet for my personal taste, but from the bite that I swiped- it was a good sandwich. "R" liked the additional crunch that the macadamia nuts added.

Jammy Buggars also offers Happy Hour specials from 4-6PM every Monday-Thursday, Little Buggar Night on Mondays where two kids under 12 eat free from the kid's menu with the purchase of one adult meal, Tuesdays offer 15% of your check donated to the charity of the week, Wednesday is Trivia Night, and Thursday is 25 cent wing night.

Lots going on at this new eatery in Lakewood. Pop in, you'll enjoy it.

Jammy Buggars
15625 Detroit Avenue
Lakwood, OH 44107