Monday, April 29, 2013

Cincinnati Eats- Local 127 and Mokka

Work took me to Cincinnati again late last week, so "R" and I decided to make a vacation out of it and extended our stay through the weekend. Good decision--- we had a blast! We finally made it onto the Ride the Ducks boat tour out of Newport. Even though the weather was a little lousy on Saturday, our tour guide more than made up for it with his humor. We also spent a lot of time at the newly opened Horseshoe Casino, the sister property to Cleveland's own casino.
The gaming floor is smaller, but I thought that overall it was much prettier and I loved the lounge area that featured live music every night.

We also had some great eats while we were in town. On Friday night, we went back to Local 127 for a late dinner. With a focus on quality, local products, it's right up our alley. While the meal wasn't as memorable as our first visit, we both agreed that we'd go back. "R's" Porkopolis dish was exceptional.

We shared the Potato Skin with duck confit, soft egg, potato chips, and white cheddar cheese whiz ($12).
The duck confit was lost in this dish, but overall it was decent. They do love playing with soft eggs at this restaurant, and I'm okay with that!

We also spilt a side of the Mac & Cheese with white cheddar foam ($8).
It was a "deconstructed" mac and cheese, which made for an interesting presentation. It was very light, and was missing some of that creamy heartiness of good mac and cheese, but the portion was large for $8 and it was a good side dish to share.

I was leaning towards another entree on the menu, but when I asked our server about it---all she said was "It's earthy." Not a great description, so I changed my mind at the last minute and ordered the Duck Breast with rhubarb, sugar snap peas, carrots, and gastrique ($29).
I was thoroughly disappointed in this dish. Very little flavor, and the duck was just chewy. The vegetables were awesome, but that shouldn't be the best part of any dish.

Our service was also laughable that evening. Poor "R" had a glass of water spilled on him, another server accidentally threw my fork at "R" when clearing the table, and there was over an hour wait in between our first course and the entrees. At least they recognized this, and sent out a complimentary dessert.

So, it wasn't as good as our last meal there, but "R's" dish alone left us with a good impression. It's expensive, and a "splurge" kind of place, so if we do return then the meal better be more like our first visit.

The next morning, we decided to stick to the side of the river that we were staying at, and we checked out brunch at Mokka and the Sunset Bar & Grill in Newport, KY. This area is the original "Sin City", before many of the casinos and strip clubs moved to Vegas. The restaurant was hip and cool, with some tempting daily specials. "R" went with the Breakfast Pizza on pita bread, and I had the Gravy Train.
This version of biscuits and gravy was good, but not compared to Cleveland favorites like Lucky's. I added some maple syrup and hot sauce, and then it was much more flavorful for my personal taste. The interesting piece of this dish? The goetta. A breakfast sausage that is popular in the area, made with ground meat and steel-cut oats. It could be found on many Cincinnati-area restaurants' menus.

More on our trip later this week, as we discovered a new place--- Zula Bistro, featuring a mussels bar. Why don't we have one of these in Cleveland?

Local 127
413 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202

Mokka and the Sunset Bar & Grill
500 Monmouth Street
Newport, KY 41071

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Corks, Cleavers, and Drinks

Tuesday was a fun night, full of trying new things. This month's @CLEDinnerClub event brought the group to the newly opened Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen in Broadview Heights. This week, the restaurant turns two weeks-old, so we were among the first to sample what's going on in this new spot.

I may be a little biased, because I adore the two chefs behind this new restaurant--- Chef Brian Okin (Dinner in the Dark co-creator, formally of Verve, Fountain, and Luxe) and Chef Adam Bostwick (formally of Melange). They are two of my favorite chefs in the area, and I'd follow them anywhere. The good news? Cork & Cleaver somehow managed to even exceed my expectations, and it left me wanting, immediately.

The group was served family-style, which allowed us to have small sample tastings of many dishes found on their menu, and a few special items just for us.
The general discussion at the table was that as each course came out, it was claimed to be a new "favorite" course of the meal. That's a good problem to have.

I wanted to share a couple of items with you that are current menu options--- Chicken and Waffles with fried chicken, thyme waffles, spicy butter, and savory maple ($8). Sample portion pictured.
I am not a chicken lover, and this course was one of my top three. This wasn't your typical fried chicken, and this heavenly little patty of shredded chicken made me want more.

Also, we had Pork Paprikash with braised pork shoulder, smoked paprika spaetzle, and crème fraiche ($16). Sample portion pictured.
This dish is already becoming a fan favorite, and our group agreed.

The meal was simply outstanding, and I could see both Brian and Adam's styles shining through on the menu. It's wonderful to see them being able to do the food that they want to do. You'll find many twists on classic dishes, and some familiar items from their former restaurants.

Also, the small restaurant and bar area are full of playful accents. You'll find corks in every nook, and Brian's beloved Heineken prominently displayed as bar lights.

More on this restaurant to come...soon. Because I already can't wait for a return visit.

After dinner club, we headed towards home and decided to stop in to the newly opened Drink Bar & Grill in Old Brooklyn on the corner of Memphis and Pearl. Just about a mile from home, we were curious after reading about it in Scene. The grand opening was just about a month ago, and they are certainly trying to bring something new to the area.

Think more cocktail lounge than bar, and add in a few inventive menu items. We'll see if it will survive, but I'm crossing my fingers. It would be nice to have this place so close by, without having to go into Tremont or Ohio City for this type of atmosphere. But will it draw in that type of clientele? Only time will tell, but I'll get back to you with more on this new spot too after we try some of the menu.

Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen
8130 Broadview Road
Broadview Heights, OH

Drink Bar & Grill
4250 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44109

Monday, April 22, 2013

Guest Post- All Lacquered Up Attends Market at the Foodbank

Hello, readers! Today, I have a guest post for you. I was unable to attend this year's Market at the Foodbank to benefit the Cleveland Foodbank, so I sent my good friend Michelle in my place so that she could report back to you about her experience at one of my favorite Cleveland food events. It was also her first time at the Foodbank's facility, and I'm glad that she got to see first-hand the impressive work that the organization is doing. Seeing the warehouse, filled with approximately 2 million pounds of food, leaves a lasting impression. It typically only takes about 3 weeks for all of that food to be distributed into the community. I am also happy to report that the event raised $233,000, which will provide 932,000 meals in local hunger centers. Wow!

Hi everyone! I'm Michelle and I write a nail focused beauty blog, All Lacquered Up. As much as I love nail polish, I'm just as passionate about food and Cleveland so I was thrilled to attend the Cleveland Foodbank's Market at the Foodbank on Katrina's behalf. A chance to sample dishes from thirty NEO restaurants? Count me in!

Market at the Foodbank benefits Harvest for Hunger, a 21 county food and fund drive, one of the largest programs of its kind in the country. Just one dollar provides four meals for those in need. Pretty incredible! I'll admit, this was my first trip to the Cleveland Foodbank. While I've known about the amazing work they do and seen the enormity of the building from the highway, I didn't truly have a grip on it all until I actually looked inside the warehouse. It's very inspiring.
Now let's talk about the food, shall we? The list of chefs in attendance was impressive and if the tables hadn't been spread out throughout the Foodbank, I would have been overwhelmed trying to decide where to go first. Our first stop ended up being one of the favorites of the night, The Grovewood Tavern. We've been to Grovewood multiple times and the food is always spot on. The duck breast is divine. Tonight they served up lamb sliders with rosemary cherry aioli using Fresh Fork meat. The lamb was perfectly cooked and the aioli was sweet yet earthy. A perfect combo.
My hands down favorite dish of the night came from my go-to Chinese restaurant, Pearl of the Orient. They served a crabmeat salad, peppered with chunks of avocado, that was so light and refreshing and bursting with flavor that I went back for seconds (and thirds, no shame!). This dish is not on their regular menu but it should be.
Now I haven't had a deviled egg in, well, I've never had one. I love, love, love hard boiled eggs but I'm not a fan of mustard or mayo so I've never tried them. But the ones from Press Wine Bar, a new fave spot of mine, looked so delicious with the tiny salad shrimp on top, I decided to give it a go. And, wow was it good. I'm officially a deviled egg fan. That's the bonus of this event, you can try foods outside your comfort zone with no real commitment.
Finally, my surprise of the night was a dish from Pickwick & Frolic. I normally think of it as the place I walk through to get to Hilarities, not giving the restaurant a second thought but after trying their lobster mac and cheese, they're worthy of another look. It was the love child of lobster bisque and traditional mac and cheese and I loved every bite!
It was a great night for a fabulous cause and I'm already counting down until next year. Thanks again Katrina! Disclosure: I was provided two general admission tickets to attend Market at the Foodbank. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Disclosure: I was provided with two media passes and two general admission tickets to giveaway in exchange for two blog posts. I am former employee of the Cleveland Foodbank, and a current Council member for the YP Pantry- their new young professionals group. My thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, April 19, 2013

This Week

I've been struggling this week to find motivation to blog. To come off such a high of celebrating my grandmother turning 90 years-old on Sunday...
...with my whole family in attendance...
...witnessing "Granny's" pure joy of living life in the moment, and her willingness to still challenge herself and try anything once... was a really special weekend for our family. One that we won't forget.

Then, "R" and I were driving back to Ohio on Monday, and Twitter updated me on what was happening at the Boston Marathon. It is unthinkable, and I think it's been a sad week for all Americans humans. Why do we do this to each other?

The non-profit that I work for had a large charity team participating in the Boston Marathon, including a handful of people from Cleveland and one that I know very well. Fortunately, all 200+ runners on the team, and the staff, were all unharmed by the explosions. A couple of friends and family members that were cheering for our team were injured, but they are not critical and are expected to fully recover. I think everyone was shocked by this incident, but this one hit a little too close to home for me. I, too, manage a charity marathon team each year, and I thought about my runners and the bond that we form throughout the training period. These people, these runners, dedicate so much time and energy to training and fundraising. To have it end like it did for these Boston Marathon runners is just tragic, and many lives and families will never be the same because of it.

It has made my heart very heavy this week. Last night's news didn't help, as I lay awake in bed for hours. So, I apologize for the lack of posts. Go hug your loved ones, help someone in need when you can see that they need it, and try to think of the good in one another. Think of those first-responders and runners that ran INTO the explosions. They showed us what true inspirations they are.

I, for one, am glad that this week is over.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

90th Birthday Tribute

Today, my grandmother turns 90 years old young. "R" and I are in NY celebrating this milestone with my entire family, and she'll be surrounded by friends and good food all day long. I think that there is no better way to celebrate such a huge moment in all of our lives.

For twenty-two years now, my dad's mother has been the only grandparent in my life. She never lived further than 50 minutes away when I was growing up, and every summer was spent moving up to our family cottage that is right next door to her house.

"Granny" has been my biggest fan, trustworthy confidant, and source of many special memories over the years. Since I was able to speak, our "talks" have always been treasured by both of us, and hours were spent discussing nothing and everything.
She has taught me about unconditional love and support for your family, to have a passion for living each and every day in the moment and to not think too much about the past, and to enjoy the simple things in life. Like being outdoors on a gorgeous day taking care of your lawn and flowers (yes, a real Christmas present pictured below for an 89 year-old this year)...
...and the pleasure of a cold cocktail.
I admire my grandmother so much. She's seen more in her lifetime than we ever will. I bet she never thought things like emailing her granddaughter three states away, or reading this blog to keep up with my life, were even possible. She's traveled the world, went to college (a huge deal back then), married the love of her life, doted on our family, and is still always willing to try almost anything once. Although, both of us prefer to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.

She took me on one of my first big trips, loves to play games, cooks the best macaroni and cheese that I've ever had, shares my passion for reading, walks every single day, enjoys getting dressed up and putting on her jewelry and heels, and...still gives in whenever I pout my bottom lip.

This weekend, we celebrate her 90th birthday, and I couldn't be prouder to be her granddaughter! I love you, Granny. I hope that you know how important you are to me, and how special celebrating this birthday is to all of us. Happy Birthday!!!!!! Cheers to many, many, many more.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Tremont's La Bodega

One of the only restaurants in Tremont that "R" and I had never been to was La Bodega on the corner of Tremont and Jefferson. A small little sandwich shop, offering a wide variety of sandwiches, subs, wraps, soups, and salads. They are only open from 11AM - 7PM on Monday - Friday, and 11AM - 4PM on the weekends. Free street parking is available, but it can be difficult to find in Tremont during popular dining hours. La Bodega is just one block from the main strip of restaurants and bars on Professor Avenue, so parking is at a premium. Luckily, late yesterday afternoon we easily found a spot just down the block from the restaurant.

I had a hard time choosing from the lengthy menu, so "R" and I decided to split two sandwiches that sounded good to both of us. We had the Roast Beef #24 (half sandwich pictured below) with bleu cheese, horseradish mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion ($8). Dining Deals Alert!
We also shared the Ham #38 (half sandwich pictured below) with ham, brie, and pineapple with honey mustard ($8.50).
I love that the menu is broken up by meat choice (Turkey, Roast Beef, Ham or Bacon, Chicken Salad, Fish). I think it makes narrowing down your selections a little easier. You also have a choice between 10 bread options. We selected Italian for both of our sandwiches. They also have a Vegetarian section, and a variety of soups and salads. Every order comes with a bag of chips.

It's no secret that I strongly dislike cold cuts. Give me a hot sandwich any day. So I appreciate that it looks like all sandwiches and wraps are pressed at La Bodega. It warmed it up just a bit, and the toasty crust was great.

Overall, I did like both sandwiches as much as I could. I am just NOT a sandwich person. Weird, I know. I ate about half of the Ham before I removed the ham itself, and then the melted brie and pineapple sandwich that I was left with was AWESOME. Maybe next time I should just skip the ham completely. The Roast Beef was good as well, but I wish that the horseradish mayo had more of a kick to it. A whole sandwich on the Italian bread was just too much food for me yesterday, so I'm about to enjoy the rest of the Roast Beef one for lunch today. Next time, I'd love to try one of their interesting Chicken Salad options.

There are about six tables in a small dining room just beyond the counter/ordering area, and a counter along the window with a few stools. They seem to do a lot of takeout and catering. With a lot of tempting options on the menu, I think there's something for everyone. Even this self-proclaimed sandwich-hater will keep La Bodega in mind for a quick lunch bite in Tremont.

I'm glad that we finally stopped in to a place that we frequently drive by. Do you have that place in your neighborhood that you always mean to try, but you just haven't made it there yet? I encourage you to make the effort. You never know what you will find.

La Bodega
869 Jefferson Avenue
Cleveland, OH

Thursday, April 4, 2013

India Garden

I am absolutely kicking my 2013 "To Dine" list's butt. I have already tackled five out of ten restaurants since January. I am bound and determined to complete the list this year! Last night, with the help of six friends, I conquered India Garden in Lakewood.

It's a relatively small place, tucked back slightly from the road, so you need to be on the lookout. Luckily, they do have visible signage. There is a parking lot that offers free parking out front. I tried calling earlier in the day to make a reservation, but no one answered the phone. I made sure to arrive 15 minutes early so that the table would be all set once everyone arrived. They immediately pushed two tables together for us.

The service continued to be outstanding throughout the meal. They let us take our time ordering, but were always refilling our water glasses and checking in on us. Our server was also very helpful in determining spice level when we finally ordered. They have a 1-10 scale, which I think is intimidating. I could confidently order a 4 on a scale of 1-5, but with ten options--- I was scared of going too hot! I ended up with a 6, but I should have gone with the 8 that our server suggested for me. Almost everyone else at our table ordered a 2 or 3, which is probably more standard. I have a love for extreme heat.

We started with the Mixed Vegetable Platter ($7.95) with two samosas, four pakora, and four aaloo tikki. It was more than enough to share. I really liked the samosas. They were big, which allowed there to be more filling and less fried shell. Sometimes, I think samosas can be dry and bland if there is not enough filling. Tip--- be aware that the green dipping sauce on the table is quite hot!

I love trying multiple Indian dishes at a time, but if I'm just ordering one item on my own, it's always Chicken Tikka Masala. I was pleasantly surprised to see Lamb Tikka Masala ($14.95) on the menu, so that's exactly what I ordered.
Slightly darker in color than the Chicken Tikka Masala, it was quite good and I really enjoyed the lamb over chicken. Was it the best Tikka Masala that I've had around Cleveland? No, but it was good and I'd get it again.

A side of Garlic Naan ($2.95) is a no-brainer.

Also, a new-to-me addition to the meal was a side of Raita ($2.95). It's a sauce made with fresh yogurt that is spiced with onions, tomatoes, and cucumber (very similar to tzatziki). It was so tangy and refreshing, and a wonderful addition to the Indian spices.

Overall, it may not have been my favorite Indian that I've had in the area, but it was really good and I will be going there again. It was probably one of the best dine-in experiences that I've had at an Indian restaurant.

I think the next restaurant that I'm going to try on the list is Sterle's Country House. Who's coming with me?

India Garden
18405 Detroit Road
Lakewood, OH 44107

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tremont Scoops- New and Improved

"I scream, YOU scream, WE ALL scream for ice cream!"

Who doesn't love ice cream? I'm not even remotely a "sweets" girl, and I don't particularly care for rock-hard ice cream, but I do love a cold scoop of creamy ice cream or frozen custard during the warmer months. Now "R" on the other hand could eat ice cream every day of the year. I've even witnessed him stop at two different ice cream shops in one day. He may be addicted.

Lucky for us, Tremont Scoops was recently purchased by a group of folks that we call friends. Not only is the location very close to home for us, but the fresh new look and fabulous new ice cream will be drawing us in this spring/summer.

They may have a new look and a new ice cream distributor, but it still maintains that nostalgic neighborhood feel. And the trademark metal cone out front is still there, with a fresh coat of paint!
It's never looked better.

I was surprised at the wide range of flavors available, many of them gluten-free and a few vegan options as well. They also offer different cone options, and other frozen treats, milkshakes and sundaes. The chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick was simply sinful!
We were there for the Family/Friends Opening party last night, and had the chance to sample several of the flavors.
They were all so smooth and creamy, and I was an instant fan. Note---That's Superman ice cream in the bottom left corner. I know that flavor can be hard to find.

So, congratulations to this team of friends that have bought, renovated, and re-opened a neighborhood staple in Tremont. Best wishes for successful scooping. You'll certainly be seeing our faces a lot this summer! Everyone, go check them out on Professor Avenue in Tremont. The official opening is this Saturday.

Tremont Scoops
2362 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jezebels Bayou- A Taste of New Orleans

Someone suggested Jezebels Bayou for my 2013 "To Dine" Challenge--- Thank You! This New Orleans-inspired restaurant on Larchmere Boulevard is quickly become one of my new favorite spots.

My first trip there was actually through the CLE Dinner Club. We had our choice between a couple of dishes for each of the four courses, and I tried to stay true to the Cajun/Creole food that I'd experienced in New Orleans last March. I also wanted to sample dishes that can be found on Jezebels' regular menu. They had prepared a couple of special dishes for our group that night. I had the Gumbo Ya Ya (my favorite course of the night).
Jambalaya, another crowd favorite that I would certainly order again on my own.
Their New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp that is simmered in a silky brown Worcestershire-spiked, lemon butter sauce (not a full portion pictured below).
This was the dish that I was anticipating the most, after hearing rave reviews from others, but it ended up being my least favorite course of the night. The potatoes arrived lukewarm, and the shrimp sauce was only average in flavor. Luckily, this dish redeemed itself during our second visit. I think the kitchen just wasn't used to large parties like ours, and execution took a hit that night.

The CLE Dinner Club event ended on a high note. I selected the Bananas Foster dessert, and it was so delicious that I dug right in and didn't even snap a picture. As usual, it was another fun outing with this group, and I left with a great first impression of Jezebels. It left me wanting more, and I quickly made plans to return just two weeks later.

Our second visit was a little more "normal", and the food and service reflected that. We enjoyed another fabulous meal, full of flavors that brought me right back to New Orleans.

I wanted that Gumbo Ya Ya again, with a thick, dark roux served with chicken, sausage, and tasso ham $7.95.
Can you see the difference in texture and color from the first to the second? This perplexed me. Is every batch slightly different? This was also good, but I much preferred the gumbo that we had the first time.

I wanted to sample several things, so I did a little mixing and matching with some side dishes and appetizers as my meal. "R" and I shared an order of the Alligator Voodoo (get it blackened, not fried) with farm-raised Louisiana gator bites and a Jalapeno Remoulade Sauce ($9.95). Much like chicken in texture, it's nothing to be scared of. Overall, it was good but it didn't "wow" me.

I also ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes with a spicy Cajun sauce ($6.95).
The breading wasn't too heavy, and the tomatoes weren't overcooked. A little more sauce would have gone a long way, but overall I did like them a lot.

A side dish of Sauteed Spinach ($4.95) completed my meal. It was one of my favorite items, and I'd have a hard time not adding it to any future meal there!

"R" did order the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp from the main entrees section of the menu (a smaller portion is available as a starter). It was totally better than what we received at the dinner event, and this dish suddenly redeemed itself. I can see why it's become a fan favorite, but personally I want to try their Classic Cajun Etouffee or Po' Boy next time.

The portions are quite large for the price, the spice level has been perfect for my taste (and memory from true New Orleans fare), and I've been loving a glass of their sweet Pineapple wine. The service was fabulous both times, bringing the charm and attentiveness that marks a great dining experience. There are a couple of options for parking: valet in front of the restaurant (at least on the weekends), metered street parking, and a couple of small lots around there. This place is truly a gem, and we're already planning on bringing my parents there during their next trip to Cleveland.

Jezebels Bayou
12718 Larchmere Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44120