Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This Bites...

Look, there's no flowery way to put this. We are living through some truly wild times, and it's changing by the hour. I know we haven't even experienced the worst of it yet.

When news hit Ohio on Sunday that all bars and restaurants were being forced into mandatory closure (with the exception of carry-out and delivery), it really started to hit "home" and I began worrying about our friends in the business and how all of our favorite local eateries may or may not be able to weather this storm.
Now, I want to be clear that I agree with most of the decisions being made. Because, let's face it, people won't make the right choices for themselves and staying home is the only way to flatten the curve. (Umm Florida and West Virginia, what is WRONG with you?!) Honestly, I wish the government was taking more of an aggressive approach nationally. I've been proud to be a resident of Ohio, leading the way in many of the tough and conservative decisions.

But some people are just nutty with the panic and hoarding, and it's a real problem to get some products that are broadly needed or critical for our health care providers. I had to chuckle as Mr. H tried to buy some toilet paper in bulk for his small business (35 employees go through quite a bit quite quickly!), and Instacart made THIS a suggested replacement item...
That's certainly not something I'd want near my lady bits.

We had been out of the country for a week (gasp, I know), so we stocked up on groceries over the weekend with a focus on supporting our favorite local shops. That included stops at the West Side Market, Old Brooklyn Cheese Co., and Ohio City Provisions
I don't take it for granted that our budget allows for us to shop at places like these, and I hope we can continue to have that ability.

Restaurants are making tough decisions every day now about laying off employees, closing their doors indefinitely, or trying to stay open for carry-out and delivery on a skeleton crew. I'm doing my part to share information. Head to my Instagram and view the NEO Updates highlights for information on restaurants staying open.
I know not everyone feels comfortable with it, but for now health care providers are saying that it doesn't appear to be transmitted through food and not as easily on some surfaces. Just keep your safe distance (6' suggested) from delivery or restaurant employees and consistently wash your hands and disinfect items that touch other surfaces or people. 

We'll be doing our part by purchasing takeout, gift certificates to use at a later date, and retail wine/beer. Mr. H and I decided to focus our support on 3-4 of our favorite local spots, to have the most impact. 
I urge you to do the same during this time. It's our small, local businesses that will be hurt badly in this. At least it sounds like there are additional relief programs on the way. At The Black Pig, we called in our order, interacted with only one employee and she stayed at a safe distance (they'll also deliver it to your car), and they had hand sanitizer available for use after signing the check. 

We don't know what the future will look like, particularly our local restaurant scene. Please do your part, and I'll continue to share information on my social channels. 

In the meantime for this blog, you'll likely see more home cooking (from Mr. H, of course) and updates on local businesses we're trying to support in different ways. 

One beautiful thing we're witnessing in this is a renewed sense of community and humanity. People are helping each other, thinking of others, and doing more to reach out. Sometimes in really creative ways! A neighbor's child was turning 3 years-old this week, so another neighbor created a "parade" route and a collection of neighbors stood outside on their porches or walked to a spot across the street on the route to sing Happy Birthday and wave as she marched past.

Cleveland, I love you. We're in this together.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Twisted Taino Takeover at Opal

A new Restaurant Takeover event series kicked off at Opal on Pearl in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood. The first Monday of every month from now through July (fingers crossed for an extension!), a different chef/restaurant will take over the Opal kitchen and offer a special menu for the evening. You pre-purchase your reservation, but then the deposit is applied to your bill that night.

We couldn't make the first event in February, but we made it in with some neighbors for the Twisted Taino Frappé Bar & Grill takeover last week.
No brick-and-mortar restaurant yet (hint, hint come to Old Brooklyn!), but word on the street is that they are looking for a location. They currently do pop-events around town, and just finished up a stint at Forest City Shuffleboard

Mr. H and I started with the Bandeja Criolla ($12) with pork and chicken chicharrones, fried yucca, and tostones served with pink garlic sauce and Jaramillo sauce. I didn't care for the tostones as they were denser and drier than others I've had, but the other items on the sampler platter were excellent. The real star was the Jaramillo sauce! Rumor has it that they may look to have it bottled for retail. Yes, please. Everyone was asking about it.
I had the Chile Relleno ($15) with two stuffed poblano peppers in either a Crema sauce or Tomato sauce. I selected the crema.
It was spicier than poblanos often are, but I love heat so I was good with it. They were quite tasty. 

However, not as fun and tasty as Mr. H's La Torre del Cacique ($17).
This tower was made of mashed yucca, sweet plantains, mofongo, Spanish yellow rice and choice of meat. It was a large portion, and reheated nicely the next day topped with some hot sauce. Or so I heard...

For $20 a ticket, it was affordable and we really enjoyed the evening. The kitchen got a little backed up so food took a long while, but Tony and his crew from Opal were slinging drinks and we enjoyed our time catching up with friends.

Next month...Momocho! Chef/owner Eric Williams lives in the neighborhood. Actually just down the street from me, hey neighbor! Don't miss this one, guys. Check out the Restaurant Takeover tab on Opal's website or the Facebook event for more information. Will I see you there?

4250 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 417-2030

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Village Martini and Wine Bar

I had kind of a crappy birthday this year. It was just days after the 1-year anniversary of my dad passing, I was in NYC for a work conference and had to travel back very late at night on the actual day of my birthday, I had caught a terrible upper respiratory infection during the trip and was still feverish, and then I was still very under the weather once we got to the weekend celebrations planned with my friends. *cue the tiny violin*

Even Mr. H must have been feeling badly for how my birthday went down (because I'm also a BIG birthday celebration person for myself and anyone I love), because he decided to plan a surprise "birthday do-over" this past weekend.

All I knew was that I needed to be ready at 6PM. An Uber came to whisk us away, and the driver immediately said, "You're headed to Chagrin Falls?" and my mind started spinning with restaurants we hadn't dined at yet in one of my favorite quaint, east-side towns.

What Mr. H had up his sleeve was a pre-dinner drinks spot, the Village Martini and Wine Bar.
Had never heard of it!

Located outside of the center of town, this cozy restaurant and bar was tucked away in a small business complex. We settled in at the bar, and immediately I saw several delicious-sounding cocktails on their list.

Turns out, they do a lot of their own infusions (as you can see behind the bar) and the cocktail menu was really interesting. The name and ingredients of my first drink escapes me (having too much fun with my hubby!), but I think it was something like The Bohemian (??) and it had blackberry(??)-infused gin and some tropical juices.
Mr. H declared this Manhattan with Peanut and Chocolate Chip-infused Bourbon as one of the best drinks he's had in a while.
Which says a lot, because we were just in NYC at some great cocktail bars, Mr. H makes some dreamy ones at home, and we have several favorite cocktail bars around Northeast Ohio.

I enjoyed both of my cocktails from the Seasonal Cocktails section. The Winter Paloma was just as good.

We didn't try any of the food because Mr. H had a dinner stop scheduled too (more on that in the next blog post), but it looked really decent coming out of the kitchen. Charcuterie and cheese board, stuffed mushrooms, ahi tuna, pasta, big salads...it all looked above what you'd find at an average wine bar.

I'd like to go back in the warmer weather to try the food and enjoy some more cocktails (I'm sure the wine list is good too and they had a few craft beers on tap), because there was a patio out front of the restaurant.
It was twinkling in the fresh snow.

I love finding gems like this spot! You could tell that they have a lot of regulars based on how people were interacting with the bartender and servers. Plenty of free parking in the lot too.

Village Martini and Wine Bar
516 E Washington Street
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022
(440) 893-9463

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

West Side Market Cafe

I'd consider us pretty regular shoppers of the historic West Side Market in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. Our visits haven't been as frequent since great locally-sourced shops like Ohio City Provisions and Saucisson popped up over the last few years, but we still enjoy our outings to the WSM often enough.

With the continuing decline of occupancy, the poor structural conditions some of the vendors face, and other issues that appear to be on the rise with the management from the city of this treasure, we've been trying to do our part to shop there more frequently to support those that are still there trying to make a living. I encourage you to do the same.

However, I admit, I hate trying to shop there once the tourist crowds come in on Saturday. So I've always tried to get in and out before 10AM. Weekday shopping with the hours the market keeps just doesn't work for us.

But that means that somehow, for all these years, I overlooked dining at the West Side Market Café.
One quick look at the menu, and I figured that I wouldn't be making that mistake again.
I already want to head back to try the Hot Mess, Fried Egg Sandwich and Pierogi Melt.

But, I tried The Remedy Breakfast Sandwich with a fried egg, hashbrown patty, breakfast sausage, and American cheese on a pretzel bun and topped with sausage gravy. Holy moly, this thing was a beast. I barely ate half of it.
It just sounded unusual, and most of the ingredients were sourced from the West Side Market vendors. The pretzel bun was one of the better ones I've had. My only critique would be that the sausage was sliced links, and it seems like a patty would work better. Most bites didn't have any sausage. Doesn't really matter though, this is a knife and fork kinda sandwich!

Then we headed into the market hall for our shopping, and with full bellies we made much better decisions!

West Side Market Café
1979 W 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113

Friday, February 21, 2020

Great Lakes Brewpub and Beer Garden Renovations

In its 30+ years of business, the Great Lake Brewing Co. facility on Market Avenue has grown, expanded, and made upgrades. But they recently shut down for two weeks (a lifetime in the restaurant business) to make major renovations to the Brewpub and Beer Garden.

The first noticeable change is where the first floor dining room used to be is now an open space for more casual beer drinking with views of two original brewing tanks that are still used to brew pub-exclusive beers. The brewpub and taproom are now called "Brewhouse No. 1" in honor of these tanks. The main entrance has been relocated, so this room is now the first thing you see.
We settled in at a new high top table in the Brewpub for some flights and to try a bit of the new menu items.

The renovations were designed to enhance the guest experience, but also designate very unique spaces within the brewery that now offer different menus and varying types of seating.

We primarily ordered from the Brewpub menu, and dug in to the GLBC Board ($22) with house pickles, local cheeses and meats, artichoke crock, Kalamata olive ciabatta, and Burning River Pale Ale Pepper Jam.
Their original Cheese and Charcuterie Board was always good (and it's still on the menu), but this new version kicks it up a notch by adding pickled items and the warm artichoke dip. The meats and cheeses will change, but you can't go wrong with this easy-to-share item.

We also ordered one of their Flatbreads, the Short Rib ($18) with Stilton blue cheese, arugula, black garlic herb oil, pearl onions, and roasted grapes.
The thin crust was still nice and doughy, and we really liked the combination of flavors and textures. I also want to get back to try the Crispy Pork Belly version.

Normally you can't order from the Beer Garden or Bar Snacks menus in the Brewpub, but our server brought us out her favorite dish from the new Bar Snacks menu. Boy, we were glad she did! The Sriracha Cheese Curds ($6) with avocado ranch sauce were phenomenal. I'm still thinking about these days later.
Executive chef Shorty Coleman, who has been there for 15 years, is overseeing the changes. They also have a completely renovated kitchen with new floors, ceiling and cooking equipment. Additional changes to the patio are scheduled as well.

It had always been my opinion that the food quality didn't quite live up to the beer quality and atmosphere of the brewery, but this visit proved that these changes to the menus and dining concepts are raising the bar. I'll be more inclined to head there myself and recommend it to others!

One thing that I love about actually going to Great Lakes Brewing is the opportunity to try brews that are only tapped there. We included a couple of those in the flights we sampled.

Mr. H is really loving their new Bierwolf. Have you tried it yet?
In addition to their beers and the new menus, there's also weekly entertainment like Euchre, held every Tuesday in the Beer Garden at 6:30PM. This will include a weekly trophy when tournaments officially start in mid-March. It is free to play and registration will be open soon. Also, Bingo is held every Wednesday in the Beer Garden at 6:30 PM, with multiple rounds of prizes.

They did a beautiful job of honoring the history of the space and the brewery, but it certainly feels refreshed and more open and cohesive. Go check it out for yourself.

Great Lakes Brewing Co.
2516 Market Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-4404

Disclosure: I was invited for a tour and tasting of the newly renovated Brew Pub and Beer Garden spaces. All food and drink were complimentary. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Tapatia's Taqueria

It was time to kick off the 2020 To Dine Challenge, so Mr. H and I headed to Tapatia's Taqueria for some authentic street tacos on a Saturday for lunch.
Mr. H was immediately happy when warm tortilla chips and salsa arrived at the table!
I ordered the Combo Taco Special ($8.99) with your choice of two taco fillings (excluding seafood) and sides of rice and beans. There are 11 fillings to choose from.
Then you get to take your tacos up to the magical Taco Salad Bar and fill them up with all kinds of goodies like fresh salsas, cilantro, onions, lime wedges, pickled red onions, sour cream and more.
Voila!
Now I've admitted this here before, I'm a flour tortilla kinda gal. But these housemade corn tortillas were pretty darn good and also didn't split apart or get soggy despite my efforts to overload my tacos. I may prefer La Plaza Taqueria's slightly, but these were closer than any others I've had locally.

Mr. H ordered two Sopes ($4.25 - $4.75) and the thick homemade corn tortillas were a perfect mix of soft and crunchy, piled with your choice of meat and refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and crumbled cheese. He even preferred this over the tacos. 
A couple of checks in the "pro" column over La Plaza is that it's larger and has table service, a good sized bar, and a bigger menu. But no grocery store attached that you can shop at after dining! We'll be back.

Tapatia's Taqueria
12501 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44111
(216) 600-5505

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Zhug Knocks My Socks Off

My mom was in town last weekend, and it was the perfect opportunity for a girls' night out along with one of my besties for the three of us to check out the brand new Zhug by Doug Katz (of Shaker Square's fire food and drink).

In Cleveland Heights, near Nighttown on Cedar Road, the restaurant is serving up Middle Eastern Mezze (or "small dishes"). Lucky for us, my friend had already dined there, so she helped guide us on how many and what to order.

Top of her list was the Harissa Peanut Hummus ($10) served with fresh pita. They have three different versions of hummus on the menu.
Next we tried something she hadn't had during her other two visits, the Leeks and Feta ($8) with ramp-pistachio pistou, toasted shallot, and dijon vin.
Then came another dish she recommended, the Warm White Beans ($7) with local tomato and a basil aioli.
Followed by the Duck Fat Fried Parsnip Pancakes ($9) with apples and sage.
The only savory dish that didn't wow me and I'd suggest skipping over was the Butter Roasted Shrimp ($14) with garlic and pil biber chili. It was certainly fine, but not unique or full of the interesting flavors and textures the other dishes had.
On the heartier side of the small plates are dishes like the Miller Grass Fed Beef Kofte ($15) with smoked feta, shaved fennel, and radish...
...and Yemenite Curry Fried Chicken ($14) with harissa honey.
My friend had raved about the Tahini Ice Cream Sundae, and in hindsight I wish we had just gotten that because the Lemon Cake was only ok. We all shared it, and still left a good piece of it behind.
Other than the long line of diners waiting to get in and the hour and a half we waited for a table, you'd never know that the restaurant just opened. There were no service issues, and the quality and pacing of the food was top notch. But word is spreading fast, and they don't currently take reservations, so be prepared to wait if you're trying to dine on a popular night or time. No fear, there are good drinks just down the street at Parnell's Pub or Fairmount. My only "complaint" is that a few areas of the dining room are communal seating, which I personally don't care for.

I walked away thinking that this was one of the best meals I've had in Cleveland in a while, and that says a lot because you all know that we eat good around here! I purposefully didn't order a few small plates that I knew Mr. H would love to try, so we'll be going back soon.

Zhug
12413 Cedar Road
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 862-2508

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Rosso Italia Opens in Beachwood

I was invited to attend a recent media tasting at the brand new Rosso Italia in the former Red the Steakhouse space, adjacent to Blu and also owned by Brad Friedlander.
The restaurant's décor had a complete overhaul and it's much warmer than Red was. I love the attention to detail, custom pieces, and light fixtures.
We cozied up in this corner by the bar for quite a feast!
But, secretly I just wanted to go hang out in the wine cellar. Bring me some baguette, and I think I could just live there!
The family-style meal started with several appetizer items, like the Stuffed Peppers...
...Bone Marrow with Beef Tartar...
...and Calamari. My favorites included the Calamari and Charcuterie board.
Their bread is made in-house, and it arrived with an olive spread, oil and balsamic vinegar, and a whole head of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic cloves spread on good bread is just heavenly! Maybe not ideal on date night, haha.
During the salad course next, my favorite dish of the night arrived. The Radicchio salad with white beans, blue cheese, pine nuts, and an amazing dressing has been on my mind since I had it. It was really unexpected, and not anything I would have chosen to order on a menu on my own. But I must have it again.
The next course was the only real miss for me during the meal. The Gnocchi were a little too dense and forgettable.
And the Orecchiette was dry and lacked real flavor other than the sausage.
But my second favorite dish of the night was also served during the pasta course, the Bolognese with beef and pork ragu over house-made pappardelle. I'd totally order that again!

For the final savory course...the meats. First, came out the LARGEST Chicken Parmesan I've ever seen in my life. As big as my head. I wish this picture did it justice, but the knife in the background is a huge steak knife if that helps give you a sense of size. This dish is not served with a side of pasta, as usual.
Then we also feasted on Rack of Lamb, Strip Steak, and Veal Masala. The steak was probably my favorite, seasoned and seared perfectly. For those that miss Red, the Steakhouse then they'll be pleased to see this on the menu.
As if we weren't full already, dessert arrived. The Tiramisu was my favorite, but the lemon (pictured below) and chocolate desserts were also good.
Overall, the space is warmer and more inviting, and the food was classically done well. Most of it wasn't overly memorable, but that salad and the Bolognese sure were. 

3355 Richmond Road
Beachwood, OH 44122
(216) 831-1004

Disclosure: I was invited to attend a media preview dinner and all food and one drink was provided complimentary. All opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

KCC Carry-out

Kelly Catering Co. (KCC), after more than 20+ years in the catering business in Cleveland, decided to open a brick and mortar carry-out restaurant in a small storefront on Broadview Road in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Family, faith, and "serenity food" are at the heart of this business' menu and décor. Step inside, and you're welcomed by a heart-warming wall of the family's portraits done by a local artist that does a lot of work in the Hough neighborhood.
"Good food takes time." greets you, and yes, be prepared to wait for your takeout order. Because everything is made to-order. You can call ahead to speed up the wait once you arrive, but we didn't have to wait an unreasonable amount of time with even two orders ahead of us.

What drew me in even quicker to try out this new spot in the neighborhood was a posting on social media about Day's Deep Fried Deviled Eggs ($7). Umm, yes please!
We wanted to try a few different items, so the best way to do that is the Jerry and Cooney's Snack Pack Combo ($6.50) with two wings, four rib tips, one piece of fish, and fries. Came smothered in their BBQ sauce, which became so popular with their catering customers that they are now selling it by the jar. We'd buy some!
We decided to forgo the fries so we could try two of the other Sides, because let's be honest. Good BBQ and Southern food...the sides are just killer.

That included Tay's Mac n Cheese ($2 small, $4 large)...
...and Greg's Southern Style Baked Beans.
Both sides were great, and I enjoyed everything but the fish in the Snack Pack. It was totally fine, but not as good as the other meats so I'd skip it in the future.

A great little addition to the neighborhood for fast causal food, and right around the corner from the zoo for hungry families in the area. BBQ would make a fantastic picnic at the zoo!

3312 Broadview Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 862-0009