Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Crop Rocks

We are really loving spending time down in The Flats since all of the restaurants and bars have been popping up over the last year. There are still a couple of places that we haven't been yet, but we did get to cross two off the other night with friends.

For pre-dinner drinks, we met at Beerhead Bar + Eatery. With six locations spread across Illinois, Ohio, NY, and Pennsylvania, it is a chain, but one that I think will be welcomed in Cleveland, and do well in that area. They are offering 50 beers on tap and 400+ in bottles. Beer is certainly the focus here, but they do have wine and cocktail offerings. Just don't ask them to make a "mock"tail (not for me!), because you'll thrown them for a loop and you'll get a skunky-tasting non-alcoholic beer instead. With so many dining options and great places to grab wine and cocktails in that area now, it's nice to have a craft beer option. They are serving some small plate food and pizzas too, and I've heard that the pizza is good. We'll be back.

We had dinner reservations at the new Crop Rocks restaurant from the folks behind Crop Bistro and Crop Kitchen. They also opened up Crop Sticks right next door to Crop Rocks.
This casual bar setting highlights 50 years worth of Cleveland music history and 15,000 vinyl records. The menu is "American Comfort Food," and plenty of the dishes are served right on metal trays. The vibe is fun, laid-back and will be great during the warmer months when they open up the garage door-style walls behind the main bar overlooking the river.

I went with the Kung-Fu Fighting ($13) with Korean BBQ meatloaf, kim chi, and sriracha aioli on a toasted bun. Yes, almost every dish is named after a musical reference.
The sandwich contents were a bit mushy and I made quite a mess of myself as I ate half of it, but it had good flavor. I'd probably order other items before revisiting this one though.

With the sandwiches, french fries are served, but for a small up-charge you can substitute a side of gravy cheese fries, shrapnel fries, slaw, or a salad. Pictured above are the gravy and cheese fries, and they were outstanding. The gravy was very flavorful, and they didn't overdo the quantity of gravy on on the fries. You got the flavor of it without the fries turning to complete wet mush.

Mr. H and our friends were happy with their food as well. We'll revisit this one. I also popped my head into Crop Sticks (because the bathroom hallway connects both restaurants). This small Asian bistro is more formal than its sister restaurant next door. Something for everyone.

Then, we headed to Punch Bowl Social where I embarrassed myself on the bowling lanes, but we had a good laugh. Between pre-dinner drink destinations, several restaurants, and entertainment like Punch Bowl and Big Bang (dueling piano bar), you can really make a night of it in The Flats now.

Crop Rocks
1075 Old River Road
Cleveland, OH 44113

Monday, December 28, 2015

Campus Grille- Last 2015 Restaurant!

You guys...I did it! I just squeaked by, and finally got to the last restaurant on the 2015 To Dine Challenge list just before Christmas hit. Hooray! 

Mr. H and I scooted out to Berea to Campus Grille for lunch last Saturday.

Just steps away from the Baldwin Wallace campus, it is open Wednesday - Sunday from 12 - 9PM (6PM on Sundays). There is a small parking lot in front of the building, and the signage is easy to identify.

This casual, family-friendly spot is serving up fresh, authentic Caribbean/Latin cuisine. They have printed menus at the counter, or you can order from the chalkboard menus hanging above.
Many were taking their food to-go, but they do have a small section of seating by the counter and another small section by the front door for dining in. We ordered at the counter, and took a seat to wait for our food. The open kitchen was allowing our nostrils to be tantalized from the smells wafting our way.

We decided to share the Caribbean Mango Guacamole ($8 with chips or $3.30 as a side). Guacamole is not served with tortilla chips here. Instead, you get these pressed and fried plantains (tostones) with lots of garlic. We loved them! My dad would hate this place. Garlic everywhere!
Mr. H ordered The Campus "Cuban" ($8.50). Dining Deals Alert!
We both agreed that the version at Moncho's from an earlier 2015 To Dine visit was slightly better, but this was a darn good Cuban sandwich for Cleveland.

I had to order something totally new-to-me, the House Mofongo ($9.50). These fried plantains are mashed together and molded with garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings. You can add meats for an additional charge. I selected pork shoulder (+$2), and the center of the mold was stuffed with the pulled meat.
It was sweet from the plantains, full of garlic flavor, and salty from the meat. I was thoroughly enjoying this dish! It was unlike anything that I've had before. It was also huge. I took more than half of it home with me, and didn't even touch the salad until the next day. I appreciated that the salad dressing was served on the side. Don't you love the little flag too?

This was a big hit with us, and one that we'll revisit. They are also known for their split rotisserie chicken, so we'll have to give that a try.
The 2015 To Dine Challenge ended on a high note. You guys picked well last year!

Some highlights from the 2015 list included: Campus Grille, Thai Elephant, Forage Public House, Gigi's on Fairmount, and Moncho's. A couple of the restaurants on the list we've even  already been back to this year, like Grove Hill, Forage, and Bourbon Street Barrel Room.

It's not too late to make some last-minute suggestions for the 2016 To Dine Challenge list, so don't forget to head over to the blog post to comment before 12/31. Let's put together another outstanding list like 2015. What a year! I hope that you enjoyed following along as I visited all 10 on the list.

Campus Grille
10 Seminary Street
Berea, OH 44017

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

For those of you that celebrate Christmas, here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas.
My mother has created a "Christmas monster" out of me, according to Mr. H.
I do truly love the spirit and joy that this season brings. Twinkling tree lights, the smell of fresh pine, personal ornaments that we've collected through our travels, holiday tunes on the radio, family traditions, and selecting the perfect gifts for my family and friends all bring me immense happiness and peace this time of year.

I will spend this day surrounded by my family, each appreciating what really matters. We have a lot to be thankful for this year, and much celebrating to do!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Adega Brunch

Mr. H and I celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary on December 13th! How is that even possible? The year just flew by, and our anniversary kind of popped out of nowhere. I'm sure that it will always be a struggle, since it's smack in the middle of the holiday season. But, we couldn't let it pass us by without doing something special!

We decided it was easy enough to plan a "staycation" in Downtown Cleveland. Of course, we made a Saturday dinner reservation at Cibreo. We were married in the Cibreo Privato space, so this restaurant will always hold a special place in our hearts. We were fortunate enough to have a server that actually worked at our wedding. She took great care of us, and truly made the meal very special. Then, we headed over to the Ohio Theatre for A Christmas Carol from the Great Lakes Theater. The unseasonably warm December evening allowed us to walk through PlayhouseSquare and enjoy the city's holiday tree and lights as we strolled back to the Metropolitan at The 9, where we had decided to stay the night. It all brought back great memories of our wedding weekend last year.

For the last portion of our Downtown "staycation," we decided to try Adega at The 9 for brunch on Sunday morning. I wish that I could say that this dining experience was as pleasurable as the rest of the anniversary weekend, but it sadly wasn't.

I had to start the meal with The C-Town Bloody Mary ($15). Pricey, and certainly not the best Bloody Mary that I've had in town.
I ordered it spicy, but it barely had any heat to it at all. Otherwise, it did taste fresh and had some interesting flavors from the sweet relish, yellow mustard, and maple syrup. I love a Bloody Mary that you can "chew" on. This one had stuffed olives, serrano ham, and bacon. Not the cubed cheese or blue-cheese stuffed jalapeno peppers that are advertised on the menu though. Hmmm...

Mr. H ordered The Adega ($14) with serrano, ground chorizo, tomato, cilantro, arugula, pickled red onion, manchego, and a basil pesto aioli on ciabatta.
He was expecting a chorizo patty, but the sandwich is made with crumbled chorizo. This did make it more difficult to eat, and the meat was very greasy. Also, our server offered him hot sauce or ketchup...when he had two bites left of the sandwich. Bad timing. 

He also ordered a side of the Chicken Apple Sausage ($6 for 2 links) for the table. The links were unappetizing to look at, all gray and deep-fried. It reminded me of a mozzarella stick. Had little to no flavor as well. We left most of it behind on the plate.

I decided on a Build Your Own Crepe ($8). They have a list of sweet toppings and a list of savory toppings. Missing was any type of vegetables. I went savory, and you can only select from meats and cheeses.
I ordered Bacon and Boursin. There wasn't much cheese in there, and unfortunately, the kitchen uses the same thick-cut, extra-crispy bacon that was featured in my Bloody Mary. Great for soaking in tomato juice, not so great as large, hard chunks in a delicate crepe. Even Mr. H called the bite that he took "terrible." Again, I left half of it on the plate.

I also ordered a side of Marble Rye Toast ($2). The bread was wonderful, but the solid, rock-hard butter was un-spreadable, and it just shredded the poor toast. Can we all agree that chilled, hard butter should never be served with toast or starter bread at a restaurant? Please, stop. 

With an additional coffee and orange juice, this meal ran us about $60 with tax and tip. A very expensive brunch, and not one worthwhile thing about it. It doesn't leave me wanting to run back and try their dinner menu.

Was this meal just a misstep? Have you dined there and had a different (or similar) experience?

The weekend ended with a home-cooked Hong Kong-style Sea Bass dinner, and the frozen top tier of our wedding cake from A Cookie and a Cupcake. I had very low expectations, but it tasted as if we had just bought it that day!

The Metropolitan at The 9
2017 East 9th Street
Cleveland, OH 44115

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ring in New Year's Eve in Style

With Christmas looming and lots of last-minute gift buying, holiday gatherings, and other tasks to complete, I've overlooked the fact that 2016 is almost upon us. How will you be ringing in the new year? Given it any thought yet? If not, here are some tasty events going on around Cleveland for you to choose from!

New Year's Eve at the Cleveland Museum of Art: Explore the galleries late into the evening, see the blockbuster exhibition "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse," and dance the night away as Solstice 2015 performer King Britt returns to Cleveland to reprise his non-stop, high-energy set of electronica, house, and soul-fusion, with opening set by DJ MisterBradleyP. Enjoy curator-led tours, gallery programs, stunning visuals in the atrium, late night desserts, a complimentary champagne toast at midnight, and other surprises as you ring in 2016. General Admission – $40 (Cleveland Museum of Art Members $30). Centennial Package – $150. Upgrade your evening with free reserved parking and access to the Centennial Lounge, complete with a complimentary full bar, specialty hors d’oeuvres, and DJ Darrick Grant spinning old school funk and soul all night. Purchase tickets here.

New Year's Eve Prix Fixe Dinner at Spice Kitchen + Bar: Celebrate a year well-lived with the perfect prix fixe menu! Five courses, featuring fresh hoop house produce, sustainably raised meats & fall preserves. $75 per person – menu only. Add wine pairings for an additional $25. Choose one of three seating times: 5:00pm, 7:00pm, or 9:00pm. Reservations required: 216-961-9637.

NYE at Crop Bistro + Bar: 9-course tasting menu. $100 for menu only, and $135 with wine pairings. Call 216-696-2767 for reservations.

New Year's Eve at The Black Pig: 7-course prix fixe menu to ring in the New Year. Reservations are required, and are available between the hours of 6PM - 9PM, and can be made on the website or by calling (216) 862-7551. $75 per person (dinner only) + optional wine pairings for an additional $45 per person.

Celebrate New Year's Eve with Fahrenheit: $80 per person or $120 a couple. Includes a bottle of Moet and Chandon White Star Champagne. Four courses. Call 216-781-8858 for reservations.

Countdown to 2016 from Behind the Mask: Join Lago Custom Events inside the aLoft Hotel for the New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball! Unveil the New Year with a night of lavish dining, dancing and entertainment. Dinner accompanied by live band and music spinning all night from DJ Flaco Flash. Cocktails will be pouring at the premium bar with a variety of decadent food served throughout the night. Ticket Prices: $175 per person | $300 per couple | $500 per couple includes a room at the aloft Hotel for the night. Purchase online here.

New Year's Eve Bash at Graffiti: First Seating (5-7pm) for $30.00 (Tax and gratuity for the buffet has been added to the ticket). Includes- Endless buffet, complimentary glass of champagne, drink specials. Second Seating (9pm-12am) for $30.00 (Tax and gratuity for the buffet has been added to the ticket). Includes- Endless buffet, complimentary glass of champagne, drink specials, DJ and dancing. Reserve your seating online here.

This is only a sampling of some of the great ways to ring in the new year in Cleveland this December 31st. If you have others to share, please comment on this post.

Me? I'll be quietly spending New Year's Eve with my husband and family. 2015 was pretty darn good to us, and we're looking forward to welcoming in 2016 together.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

BOLD Food & Drink

A recent girls' night out took us to The Flats. If you haven't been in that area in a while, it is unrecognizable. The amount of restaurants and bars that have popped up in the last year is remarkable. In the eight years that I've lived in Cleveland, that area lining the Cuyahoga River has been desolate. Well, no more! 

One of the newest additions to the East Bank is BOLD Food & Drink. It opened in record-time in the former Ken Stewart's location on W. 10th Street. From the folks behind Oak Barrel and Forage Public House, this restaurant has a similar feel to its menu and presentation. You'll find a wide variety of "tiny" and "small" plates, 10 entrees, and then the "BOLD" section of the menu that features steaks, chops, and seafood dishes. Their intention is to bring an affordable steakhouse to the Downtown area. Luckily, the quality that I've come to expect from them at the other two restaurants was present here as well.

To start, we shared the Stuffed Pasture Raised Eggs with piquillo pepper and radish sprouts ($3 for one egg).
While I prefer the other version of this dish at Oak Barrel and Forage, it was still a good deviled egg. What is it about this classic and often called "outdated" dish that people still love? I don't know, but I'm a sucker for one!

I wanted to be able to try a few things, so I chose to order two of the "small" plates as my entree. First, I ordered the Stuffed Chile Rellenos with a poblano chile, cotija cheese, chilatomate sauce, and lime crema ($11).
For $11, the portion was large. The chile pepper was lightly breaded and deep-fried, with a golden crust instead of the often too-thick coating that others can have. The cheese was creamy and oozed right out of the pepper when I cut into it. This was a great stuffed pepper! However, I really did not care for the sauce. Its tomato base leaned Italian, and just didn't work well with this dish, in my opinion. It was easy to avoid after a few bites, and I happily enjoyed this pepper even without a sauce.

For my second small plate, I went with the Manchester Farms Stuffed Quail with serrano ham, gruyere, and white truffled cream corn ($13).
The quail skin was crispy, meat moist and tender, and the cream corn was delicate and delicious. I would order this dish again.

Service was very good, even though our server admitted that he was in training and had only been there four days. They also made a delicious mock-tini for my pregnant friend. We were nestled in a cozy U-shaped booth, with a glass fireplace crackling in front of us. It was a great setting for a girls' night out, or a special date night without breaking the bank. They retained most of the decor and atmosphere from Ken Stewart's, so it has a high-end feel without quite the price tag. I think they'll do well in the "new" The Flats.

BOLD Food & Drink
1121 W. 10th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Oberlin's The Feve

With the end of the year looming, it was time to hit another restaurant on the 2015 To Dine Challenge list. This time, we met another couple out in Oberlin at The Feve.

Since 1992, it has been a community favorite for college students, families, and anyone looking for craft beer and tasty bar grub. A lengthy craft beer list is not as easy to find outside of the Cleveland city limits, and The Feve has an impressive one. Instant "points" with me! Couple that with locally-sourced ingredients and fresh, homemade casual food, and you have yourself a winning restaurant concept. It reminded me of our beloved Tremont Tap House, in every sense of the way. Maybe slightly better service here, haha.

They've been voted "Ohio's Best Brunch," but they are truly know for their burgers and tater tots. Although, I could have made a meal from some of their Starters, like the Habanero Rangoon, Fried Pickle Spears, and Mac n' Cheese bites made from Ohio City Pasta.

A big section of the menu is dedicated to French Fries and Tater Tots. You can select from 6 dry seasonings, 4 styles, and 21 dipping sauces. Yes, 21 different sauces. It is so hard to choose!

For 50 cents each, or 3 for $1, I highly recommend trying several sauces. I decided to try the Garlic Mayo, Honey Sriracha, and Thai Peanut with my tater tots.

Each of the sandwiches and burgers come with a choice of side. You can pick between French Fries, Tater Tots, Side Salad, Hummus, Cup of Soup, Onion Rings, and Daily Bean. Just do yourself a favor and go right to the tater tots. Not enough restaurants serve them.

I had to go with the restaurant's namesake burger, The Feve Burger ($9).
It comes with grilled red onion, house-pickled jalapeno, bacon, and cheddar. The burger itself was decent, but the patty was a tad dry. Not my favorite gourmet burger that we've had in Greater Cleveland, but a solid choice and plenty of burger topping options here to choose from.

It was really an enjoyable evening, between the delicious craft beers, gourmet bar food, and the company. I can see why it's so popular in Oberlin. If you find yourself out that way, stop in for some tots! Just note- They do not accept reservations. There was a wait on Friday evening, but they send you a text message when your table is ready.

The Feve
30 S. Main Street
Oberlin, OH 44074

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Thai Elephant

2015 is winding down. By November, I still had three restaurants left to visit on my 2015 To Dine Challenge list. Luckily, I knew that I had some fellow diners all lined up to try Thai Elephant in Kamm's Corners.

The quaint restaurant is located on Lorain Avenue, and they are open seven days a week for dinner. They have recently changed their hours, so be careful. The sign on the door, and hours listed online, and not currently accurate.

A group of six of us met at Thai Elephant for dinner one chilly evening two weeks ago. It was a perfect night for Thai food. The decor and atmosphere is pretty typical, but warm and inviting. The smells from the kitchen were intoxicating as soon as we walked in the door. Bring on the curry! 
Our table shared a couple of appetizers, like the Crispy Shrimp and Dumplings. Both enjoyable, and easy to share.

I had to order the Pad Thai, because I heard that it was very good. I appreciated that I was given several spice level options, which isn't always the case for Pad Thai. Mr. H and I were doing some sharing, so I had to order it at a "medium" level. Normally, I order "Thai hot" for everything. Our server immediately offered to bring out a spicy chile sauce that could be added to the dishes to increase the level of heat. I was grateful, and it did the trick!
This was a solid Pad Thai, and much better than some other local versions that I've had around town.

However, the real star of the meal was the Massaman Curry that Mr. H ordered for us to share. The peanut-based curry sauce is my favorite Thai dish, and this was hands-down the best version that I've tasted in Greater Cleveland.
The sauce was thicker than most, almost like stew or thick gravy. It had wonderful flavor, and I was only able to steal a couple of bites from Mr. H. So much for "sharing," huh? I took that as a good sign. I used to claim that my favorite version was from Thai Gourmet in Independence. I still appreciate that they use additional vegetables, like peppers, that are a bit lighter than the traditional potato and carrot that is served with Massaman Curry.

Worth noting- This restaurant is BYOB!

We'll definitely be back to Thai Elephant. A highlight from the 2015 list, for sure.

Don't forget that it's that time of year. I want to hear from YOU on your restaurant ideas for the 2016 To Dine Challenge. I'll pick 10 from your suggestions, and I'll challenge myself to dine at all of them in the upcoming year. Comment on the blog post here. Where do you want to send me next year?

Thai Elephant
16610 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44111

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Submit Selections for 2016 To Dine Challenge

Wow, December 1st already, huh? know what that means. Time for you, dear readers, to submit your picks for my 2016 To Dine Challenge.

For those of you that are unfamiliar: Each December, Bite Buff readers make suggestions on restaurants that I should dine at in the upcoming year. At the end of the month, I'll select 10 and challenge myself to complete all ten by the close of the year. I'll post the final list on January 1st on my blog. As a New Year's Resolution, of sorts.

I want to hear from YOU. Where should I dine in 2016?

What's your favorite neighborhood haunt? A local spot that doesn't get the "buzz" that it deserves? Something off of the beaten path? A new restaurant that just opened and you're dying to try?

Hit me with them! Submit ideas by commenting on this post, or by tweeting (@BiteBuff) or Facebooking me. You have until December 31st to submit your choices.

Speaking of the To Dine Challenge...I hit two of the 2015 restaurants recently, so stay tuned for posts on those this week. Only one more to visit before the end of the month. I can do it!