Friday, February 27, 2015

Charleston Eats

Last weekend, I headed to Charleston, South Carolina with four of my five "honorary bridal party" members. Mr. H and I only had one friend each stand up with us on the big day, but I am fortunate enough to have five ladies that I call "my best friend." One, I've known since childhood when we were just silly sixth graders, others I met in college at Kappa Alpha Theta and we share a unique bond of sisterhood, and one I collected here in Cleveland as adults. All are simply "my best friend," no matter how long I've known them, or how often I see them. I'm so lucky, and this past weekend just proved that once again. We had an amazing time exploring Charleston together (we missed you, Cristin!).
Of course, much of trip was focused around food and drink. My friends know me well, as this was a "wedding celebration," of sorts, since we didn't have time to squeeze in a bachelorette trip before our December wedding.

We landed in Charleston on Friday morning, checked into our adorable house that we rented for the weekend, and then went on the hunt for lunch. Completely by chance, we found The Park Cafe in our neighborhood and walked over.
It ended up being one of our favorite meals of the weekend! How random. I loved their "Dog of the Day," which was a house-made sausage with cheddar cheese whiz, caramelized onions, and one of the best buns that I've ever had.
The Bloody Mary wasn't a bad start to the trip either. I'd highly recommend The Park Cafe for brunch or lunch.

Our good eats continued all weekend, with only a few flops. I wanted to share the highlights, because apparently a lot of Ohioians find themselves in Charleston. One Uber driver (we used it all weekend) told us that there used to be a Charleston website called "Go Home to Ohio."

Other meal highlights included:

Dinner at Hominy Grill (James Beard award-winner) for some Southern classics like shrimp and grits, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, and more.
Brunch at Butcher & Bee, which included a Shrimp and Chorizo Benedict for me. It was hearty, but outstanding.
Our last dinner of the weekend was a memory-maker as well. Husk Restaurant (James Beard award-winner) was the most popular suggestion for Charleston eats, and it did not disappoint.
From the craft cocktails, the atmosphere, to the food, this was fine Southern dining at its best. I enjoyed the Oysters...
...and the Striploin, which was the smokiest-tasting beef that I've ever had. In the best possible way. The meat literally melted in my mouth.
I'll be thinking about that meat for a long time.

We also really enjoyed the bar scene in Charleston. They've embraced craft cocktails, and we kicked off the weekend with a Mixology tour of three bars on King Street. I highly recommend taking one of these tours, or the walking food tours. We visited Prohibition, The Cocktail Club, and Republic. All were fantastic. Also during the trip, we enjoyed an afternoon wine flight at Social Wine Bar and Restaurant...
...and really wanted to check out The Gin Joint next door (but they weren't open yet).

We spent a lot of time strolling down King Street. It has a ton of restaurants, bars, high-end shopping, and local shops. We also walked along the ocean, just soaking in some sunshine and water views. It was a chilly weekend for typical Charleston weather, but anything was better than the negative temperatures we all came from in Ohio, New York, and Windsor!

Truly, it was a wonderful weekend in a quaint city that I would certainly visit again. Time flew by, and we left with a long list of things we still wanted to do. I guess that's always a good feeling when checking out a new city. It was a nice break from the Cleveland weather we've been having, and it's always good for the soul to spend time with the people you love most. The comment was made several times that weekend..."Katrina, you have really awesome friends." I couldn't agree more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lyndhurst Diner

Mr. H and I needed to go to Whole Foods in University Heights last weekend, so we decided to head over to the east side in search of a diner breakfast before grocery shopping. Not overly familiar with the area, we headed to the Internet. Mr. H knew that Mayfield Road would have some options, and sure enough, he stumbled upon the Facebook page for the Lyndhurst Diner, LLC.

I wasn't prepared for just how small it was going to be. Located in a strip of businesses on Mayfield Road, it has a cooler, tiny counter, and only five tables. FIVE! How do they even turn enough tables to stay in business? Well, you can certainly tell that they have many regulars, from the way that customers were greeting the cook by name as he stopped by tables.
People also seemed to be familiar with their Ricotta Pancakes.
This was my first experience with ricotta pancakes, and they do have a slight "tang" to the flavor and a different texture than your traditional pancake. I have nothing to compare them to, but I'm pretty sure that these were a good version of them.

In honor of Valentine's Day, they were offering Red Velvet Ricotta Pancakes as a special. We didn't order any, but the kitchen decided to make up some small ones to offer to everyone while we were having breakfast.
I had ordered the Breakfast Sandwich, with two eggs scrambled, American cheese, and your choice of meat (bacon, sausage, or ham) on Texas toast.
I probably should have asked to swap cheeses, because I'm not a huge fan of American, but otherwise, it was a tasty breakfast classic.

It was a fun excursion to blindly explore this east-side diner. I'm so glad that we did. There's just something great about a good neighborhood diner, and this one seems to have a couple of unique items as well.

Lyndhurst Diner, LLC
5416 Mayfield Road
Lyndhurst, OH

Thursday, February 19, 2015

TownHall Has Gone Non-GMO

Ohio City's TownHall has improved leaps and bounds since it first opened, in my opinion. It always had a lively and hip vibe, fantastic beer and cocktail menu, desirable seating options, and a spot on the popular West 25th Street. I felt when they opened, that they had a few good dishes, but still a lot of room for improvement. We've continued to dine there, for dinner, lunch, and takeout, and I've continued to be impressed with the changes over the last two years.

One recent change has made a big splash. The restaurant committed to going 100% non-GMO, and they did. An accomplishment only achieved by two other restaurants in the country. "GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals to make a crop grow bigger and faster." Reading that description, does that make you want to eat a GMO? Uhh, no. Well, TownHall can help with that.

I was invited in to the restaurant to sample some of the new menu items. Mr. H and I enjoyed some complimentary juices, cocktails, and food.

I started with a Jalapinta juice with pineapple, jalapeno, cilantro, romaine, and cucumber ($5).
Spicy, yet crisp and refreshing, I loved this fresh-squeezed juice.

The kitchen sent out two dishes from their Shareables: Raw Vegetable Crudite with smooth olive tapenade and spicy white bean and kale hummus ($10).
I never thought that raw vegetables could be so exciting, but this gorgeous bowl of crisp vegetables were addicting and prefect for dipping. Mr. H is still craving this.

The second appetizer that we shared was the Seared Shishitos ($7).
These mild to medium spiced Asian peppers were served with a Thai Chili Aioli and Korean BBQ sauce. Again, simple but addicting, and we couldn't stop eating them. These peppers were my favorite dish of the evening, and I can't wait to order them again.

The kitchen then delivered their Power 3.0 salad ($10) with kale, beets, quinoa, almonds, apples, goat cheese, chili threads, and a sweet balsamic vinaigrette.
I'm not a huge fan of kale, particularly in salads, so this wasn't my favorite dish of the evening. I do feel that it needed more quinoa and dressing.

For our entrees, we were encouraged to select our own from the Large Plates section of the menu. Mr. H went for the Thyme Seared Nova Scotia Salmon ($17) with cauliflower puree, brussel sprouts, and a local maple syrup reduction. The salmon was prepared well, and the cauliflower puree tasted way too good to be healthy for you. The consistency was just like creamy mashed potatoes!

I ordered the Grass-fed Ribeye with a sweet potato mash, sauteed broccolini and baby bok choy, and topped with a Thai peanut sauce ($20).
The sweet potato mash was heavenly, and I liked the flavor of the Thai peanut sauce. But, even the flavorful sauce couldn't mask the fact that some bites of the steak were overly charred and didn't taste good. It wasn't every bite, but the ones that were like that were not pleasant. Also, the baby bok choy was a little too bitter. We did share our feedback, both positive and negative, with the manager after the meal.

The meal did not end there. Their Skillet Cookie ($6) arrived, with a homemade white and chocolate chip cookie and Mitchell's vanilla ice cream.
This piping hot cookie was divine, and we ate every last bite, despite being full. Funny how that happens! There's always room for a hot chocolate chip cookie and locally-made ice cream. A great end to the meal.

I also want to say that our server, Alex, was amazing. She's been with the restaurant for a long time, and she was incredibly knowledgeable about the menu and helpful throughout the meal. We haven't always experienced great service there, but Alex did an outstanding job.

The initiative  to go 100% non-GMO may seem a little idealistic, but it's hard to dismiss the fact that an increase in chronic diseases, allergies, cancer and autism diagnoses is consistent with the increase in the use of foods and ingredients made with genetically modified plants in our country. Finding the right distributors, and assessing the increase in costs to make the switch, was difficult for TownHall. However, I think the restaurant, and Clevelanders, will be much better off in the long run. Thanks for caring about the food that we're consuming, TownHall, and congratulations on being able to go 100% non-GMO.

I encourage you to head back in to TownHall, or to visit for the first time if you haven't already, to check out the full non-GMO menu.

1909 West 25th Street
Cleveland, OH

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary food and drink, and invited to bring a guest, in exchange for this blog post. All opinions stated are 100% my own. Some images were provided by TownHall. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gigi's on Fairmount

Only two things could have dragged me out in last Wednesday's snow storm...really good friends, and the possibility of a good meal at a new-to-me restaurant. With the intention of knocking another restaurant off of the 2015 To Dine challenge, I ventured to the east side in one of the worst snow storms of this winter. It took me just over an hour to go the 11.5 miles there, but luckily, it was worth it.

I still have no frame of reference for exactly where I was in Cleveland Heights, because it was a giant white snow globe of an evening, but my trusty GPS landed me in front of the restaurant. There is some street parking available on the one-way street, and parking lots behind the buildings. I trudged through the snow and wind, and was instantly comforted upon walking through Gigi's on Fairmount's door. The place is intimate, cozy, and dark, in all of the right ways.
Any place where I can sit under a glittering chandelier gets points in my book!
The restaurant offers a couple of homemade soup options each day. My two friends each started with a bowl of soup, which was pretty tempting on that snowy night. Instead, I ordered the Fromage from the Small Bites section for us to share.
It had a nice variety of cheeses, some toasted bread, fresh greens, preserves, dried fruit, honey, and nuts ($16). The Small Bites are all very easy to share, and you can also opt for the "All of the Above" for $24, if you want to try a little bit of everything.

They have several Salads and Panini sandwiches on the menu, along with daily entree specials, but Gigi's is really known for their Signature Bruschetta Boards. For $17, you select four (out of 15) options for your board.

I went with the (right to left) Mushroom, Caramelized Onion, and Chevre bruschetta, the White Bean and Kalamative Olive Tapenade bruschetta, the Duck, Brie, and Cherry Gastrique bruschetta, and the Lardon Bacon, Micro Greens, Tomato, and House Truffle Aioli bruschetta.
I loved the earthy mushroom bruschetta, and was completely shocked by how good the white bean bruschetta was. They quickly became my two favorites. The bacon and tomato bruschetta was fine, but nothing special. I'd try several others before ordering that one again. The only one that I didn't care for was the duck. It was very one-note in flavor, and I didn't like the flavor. It needed more cherry, and the brie was almost non-existent. I wouldn't order that particular one again.

The boards come with a small side of dressed greens. Overall, it was wonderful, and really unique. A great way to share items, since they are each cut into four pieces, or you can build your own board and keep it yourself.

Gigi's on Fairmount is a small place, but they have a lounge area that is connected to the main dining room. With a long bar and some additional seating, you can settle in there, or hang out with a cocktail while you wait for a table. Do note that they don't accept reservations. 

The menu is limited, but unique, and perfect for a date night out or a gathering with your friends. Mr. H would like the bruschetta, and the wine list, so I think that I'll have to take him there soon. It was well worth the drive over to the east side, even in that terrible snow storm. Which really says something!

Gigi's on Fairmount
3477 Fairmount Boulevard
Cleveland Heights, OH

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Grocery

If you haven't checked out the new The Grocery on Lorain Avenue in the Ohio City neighborhood yet, then I hope that you will now.
I love the concept, and it is so cute inside.

The Grocery is a small store, focusing on selling products that are sourced from Ohio farmers, local food start-ups, and earth-friendly household items. The selection will change daily, but they are doing a  great job of posting available products through social media.

We stopped in recently to pick up some produce to pair with some Ohio City Pasta that we already had at home. Little did we know, we could have purchased the pasta there as well.
They currently have two displays of produce (one pictured above), a couple of coolers...
...and some shelves, where we picked up some Montana Girl Hot Mustard. Holy moly, that has a ZING to it. I love it! It was great on a ham and cheese sandwich.
The Grocery also has a large counter, and is selling some grab-and-go items, like some delicious sandwiches and baked goods.
This store reminds me of a farmers' market, or our beloved Fresh Fork CSA, in a brick-and-mortar form. You'll find a lot of the same products, like Randy's Pickles, Gallucci's Italian goods, Clark Pope's Bloody Mary Mix, Ohio City Pasta, bread from The Stone Oven, meat products from the ladies at Saucisson, dairy items from Snowville Creamery, and baked goods from Cleveland Bagel Company. Just to name a few...

They are open:
Monday - Friday 10am to 7pm
Saturday  9am to 6pm
Sunday  12pm to 6pm

They are also doing some live demonstrations with local vendors, like Kombucha Class, Live Juicing, and Mardi Gras Recipes.

Street parking is relatively easy to find. The store is located near Platform Brewery and Jack Flaps, and I think it is a great addition to the rejuvenated extension of Ohio City. I, for one, will be stopping in again, and again.

The Grocery
3815 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The (New) Black Pig

The Black Pig in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland had become one of my favorite restaurants. It consistently had good food, good service, delicious hand-crafted cocktails, occasional live music, and I've know the chef/owner for several years through my non-profit work.

When I heard that they were moving from their West 25th Street location to take over the empty Light Bistro restaurant space on Bridge Avenue, I wasn't sure what to think. We had always loved Light Bistro, but they never seemed to draw enough business. The location is just off the "beaten path" of Ohio City's main strip of restaurants/bars enough that, I think, it is often forgotten.

However, we've been into the new The Black Pig five times now (for drinks, a work meeting, and now dinner), and I'm happy to report that it has been packed every single time. Let's hope that continues! If the food is any indication, it'll do just fine. I've always enjoyed my meals at this restaurant, but our first meal at the new location might take top honors for meals from The Black Pig.

Between what we were ordering (my parents were visiting from NY), and a few complimentary surprises that Chef Nowak sent out from the kitchen, the food just didn't stop coming.

House Made Charcuterie Selection
Duck Confit Presse with Farro Puree, Stewed Prunes, and Foie Gras Mi Cuit
Corned Chicken Liver with a Beet Mustard, Frisee, Pickled Shallot, and Caraway
Blue Marlin Crudo with a Smoked Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Crispy Quail (a new addition to the menu)
Ham and Eggs (another new menu addition)
Of these starters, the only one that our group didn't care for was the Ham and Eggs. It didn't have a whole lot of flavor, and the poached scrambled eggs (I'd like to see how they did that) were a texture that we didn't like. The rest were outstanding, and I'd order again in a heartbeat. Favorites included the Quail, Chicken Livers, and Duck Confit.

I'm not sure how we did it, but we did find room to order entrees. Mr. H ordered the Choucroute Garni with House Fermented Red Cabbage, Potato, Carrot, and three different Pork Preparations.
It was delicious, and a fun way to nosh on pork prepared several ways.

My dad and I both ordered the Tagliatelle Bolognese.
They are making their pastas in-house, and the noodles were cooked to perfection. However, there was not enough bolognese sauce on the plate. It left the dish a little underwhelming, but the bites where I could grab a good forkful of sauce/meat were good. I think simply adding more sauce could help this dish significantly.

My mom honed in on the Roasted Golden Trout with Fregola Sarda, Pork Sausage, Swiss Chard, Frisee, and a Bacon Consomme.
It was very pretty to look at, and she quite enjoyed the dish.

Overall, an outstanding meal. My parents deemed it "one of the most memorable" of their travels to Cleveland. We feed them well when they visit, so that says a lot.

The small changes that they've made to the interior, both in the bar and dining rooms, helped warm the place up a bit. Still needs some art on the wall, but I bet that's to come. They now have private dining space, for special events and groups, which the old restaurant location was lacking. I've already hosted a work meeting there, and they did a great job. With more seating, free street parking (when you can find it- valet is also available), a private dining space, and dare I say...even better food than the original location (??)...I think that they'll do well in this new spot.

The Black Pig
2801 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bourbon Street Barrel Room

I had the chance to knock another restaurant off of the 2015 To Dine list, thanks to a dinner invitation from Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Eats. She was organizing a group of fellow diners to try Tremont's new Bourbon Street Barrel Room.
This is one that I was anxious to try, because I was hoping that it would transport Mr. H and I back to our trip to NOLA three years ago. It still remains as one of my favorite trips that we've taken, and the food was a big part of that.

The restaurant is located on Professor Avenue, in the heart of Tremont's dining district. Next to Fahrenheit, free street parking can be difficult to find during peak dining hours, but they do offer valet in front of the restaurant.

The place is gorgeous inside, with no detail spared in capturing the look and feel of New Orleans.
I particularly love the upper level, with open viewing of the main dining room and bar below. It has its own small bar, and plenty of additional seating, upstairs.

Unfortunately, the food is not living up to the atmosphere. That seems to be the general consensus, from what I've heard, and it was certainly true during our first trip here.

Mr. H and I shared the Hot Legs ($5 for a pair, $9 for two pairs) of crispy frog legs drizzled in their Louisiana hot sauce and served with a citrus slaw.
They were okay. The hot sauce was very good, and the meat was tender, but the small bones made it difficult to eat and they were severely missing the "crispy" as the name implied.

We also shared the Ragin' Cajun Brochettes ($6.50) with andouille sausage, vegetables, and pineapple.
They were perfectly fine, but boring. It was just a basic kabob.

Mr. H ordered the New Orleans BBQ Shrimp and Grits ($17.50).
To be honest, I thought this was pretty terrible. They use tiny shrimp, which I find no use for, and the BBQ sauce was overpowering the entire plate. We didn't care for the flavor of it, and there was no escaping it. This dish was the biggest flop of the night.

I ordered a Crispy Oyster Po Boy ($11.50).
You can add a side of Hush Puppies for $2.50, and most of our table did.
These were the best two things that I ate that night, but I would call them "good" at best.

So, this meal and the atmosphere were reminiscent of our fond NOLA memories, but they didn't even come close to the recently-closed Jezebel's Bayou on the east side. Too bad, because I really needed a replacement!

They are still new, so let's hope that they work out the kinks. I'd love to have a go-to spot for this cuisine in Cleveland. At the very least, they are making some delicious drinks. I've had the Gator Juice and the Hurricane, and both were quite yummy.

Have you been to Bourbon Street Barrel Room? Is there something that I should have ordered that you enjoyed there?

Bourbon Street Barrel Room
2393 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113