Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Spread–Cleveland Horseshoe Casino Buffet

With my birthday coming up on Thursday, I got a great early present; the dealers were invited down to try the Spread Buffet at the Cleveland Horseshoe Casino and it was spectacular. 

Located in the lower floor of the Higbee Building on Public Square the Spread refers to both the amount of glorious food that is presented and the layout.  Tastefully decorated seating areas are located in front of long wall of food stations with a wide variety of choices.  Although the spread will seat about 400 at a time, they have managed to make the arrangement feel warm and inviting with the food being the star.

There are seven different food stations, each with a open kitchen immediately behind it so that food is a fresh and flavorful as possible.  Dishes will be rotated in and out so that they can take advantage of seasonality and local products.  I will highlight some of the favorites that I was lucky enough to try, but you will have to see what is there when you go.

The Asian station is the furthest to the right when facing the Spread, it provided a mix of different Asian cuisines done in an upscale manner; the Sweet and Sour Shrimp I tried were expertly prepared with large tail on jumbo shrimp in a sauce that was not overly sweet, but could have used a sour counter-point.  I do have to admit that I did go back for seconds on the shrimp, as they were juicy and succulent.

The next station over was the carving station, not eating meat or foul, I had to pass on the wonderful looking game hens that they were roasting, but I did try the vegetable sides and they were outstanding.  Golden breaded Okra was tasty and the creamed spinach was as good as I have had.

Next we come to the Shuffle station which allows them to mix things up.  On one side they had a do it yourself Taco Bar, which I passed on, on the other they were featuring some Cleveland favorites, fried perch and pierogies.  The Pierogies were artfully presented in a small cast iron casserole with purple cabbage on the bottom one nice sized potato pierogi topped with sour cream, showing a nice balance of care and appreciation for one of our local culinary favorites.  The fried perch were one of the real highlights of the meal.  Two beautiful small fillets were corn meal breaded and then expertly fried so that the coating was crisp with the fish inside mild and flakey; the fillets were topped with a sweet and hot sauce that made my taste buds dance with delight.

The American section had a nice variety of well prepared favorites, including clam chowder, fried chicken and salmon along with plenty of sides.  The Salad station provides a nice variety of fresh produce in nice variations, all very well done, but I was hunting for more exotic fare.

The Italian station provides great pastas, a variety of pizzas and flatbreads and another of the highpoints for me were fresh clams in a nicely seasoned broth with garlic bread sopping it up.  The clams were tender and delicious, an feat that is not easy on a buffet, while the broth soaked bread provided the perfect way to finish the savory side of the meal.

Located in the center of the Spread as you enter and exit is the desert station and it is a stunner and is probably worth a trip all by itself.  Featuring everything from woppie pies to panna cotta and gelato to bread pudding, you can be a kid in a candy store with all the choices.  What will catch your eye is the circular cooler case with about a dozen varieties of Gelato that revolve to allow them to be scooped.  I tried 4 different small scoops, with the fresh banana being the highpoint; there is a topping station if you want, but with Gelato this good there is no reason to cover it up.  Other highpoints (and there were nothing I tried that wasn’t delicious) were the Panna Cotta, providing a nice soft custard topped with fruit and a classic rendition of bread pudding with a nice cream sauce on the side.  If you really want to go into kid mode there is cotton candy machine for some spun sugar goodness.  The only downside was that I was full before I could try all of the many cakes and delicacies available.

The Spread will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and should prove very popular with anyone who wants a wide variety of expertly prepared high quality foods.  I have been to upscale buffets before, including the Seafood Buffet at Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, and this would rank at the top of my list for quality, taste and variety.  You will want to get a Total Rewards card as this will knock a couple bucks off the buffet price, plus it is the best casino rewards card available and is well worth having. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great service we had at the Spread, everyone is incredible friendly and upbeat, ready to insure that you have a great meal.   The Spread is a wonderful addition to the Cleveland dining scene and there will be people coming to the Casino just for the buffet, but you should also check out the gaming upstairs, it will knock your socks off.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Nauvoo Family Market–Best Donuts Ever

First off sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I have been very busy with working and going through the Casino Dealer Academy, with that over and starting at the Casino I will be back to trying to find the gems in NE Ohio dining.  I will start back with a real Amish Delight (thank you Weird Al) and
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a top find. 

This started a while back when I was at an event where someone had brought some unbelievably good doughnuts that they got in Middlefield, Ohio; so I have stopped out that way a number of times looking for the elusive home of these culinary gems.   Finally I was shopping at the Middlefield Flea Market and one of the vendors suggested a little market down the road as the place to go for doughnuts – and she was so right.

Located at 15979 Nauvoo Road, Middlefield, Ohio 44062, around the corner from Middlefield Cheese and just past the Middlefield Market (the flea market), it could be easy to miss the small market on the South side of the road, but you would be missing some major league doughnuts.  P4180156The small, clean market has a sign out front and one on the front of the building.   Pulling in to the small parking lot you will see some spaces to park in front and a parking area for the Amish buggies off to the side.  There is a covered porch area with a couple of chairs.  Walking in to the market you will find that the grocery side is to your right and the hardware side is on the left. 

Going to the right and all the way back you will find the bakery at the back wall, with three display cases, first a large display of fry pies in almost every variety you can imagine.  I have tried a couple and they are very good, the kind of pastry that the old Hostess pies wanted to be.  On the other end is a case that usually has several pies in assorted sizes and flavors along with some other assorted baked goods, all of P4180159these are usually outstanding as well, with a special mention for the molasses cookies with the creme in the middle.
Now we get to what is the true highlight for me, the doughnut case in the middle.   Here are the best doughnuts I have ever had.  Big sugary bombs of goodness that should be a National Treasure.   Admittedly, the variety is somewhat limited, usually several variations on creme stick topped with chocolate, maple or powdered sugar, glazed rings, cinnamon sugar rings and then variations of those.  Occasionally I will find the creme sticks with Pastry Creme and there will be chocolate topped glazed, but I have never seen any jelly doughnuts or fruit variations; the truth is that these doughnuts are so good, they don’t need more variety.

Let’s start with the Creme Sticks, these are bigger than your hand sticks of perfectly cooked doughnuts that are filled with a perfect creme filling and then topped with a chocolate glaze.  Not only are they delicious, they are filled so full that almost every P4180158bite has creme.

The giant glazed rings are bigger than any other place I have ever seen and as delicious as you could imagine.  A bit lighter in texture than the other doughnuts, they still have enough weight to fill you up with a single doughnut, but the taste may make you want to go back for another.

The real revelation to me are the Cinnamon Sugar Rings, harkening back to a simpler time when doughnuts were just fried rings of dough with a simple topping these taste better then any other simple doughnut I have tasted.  The texture is great, substantial without being heavy and somehow the cinnamon sugar just pops my taste buds awake every time.  Probably the only place, this side of the Café Du Monde Beignets from New Orleans that you will taste anything this simple and good.

Prices are very affordable, especially considering the size and quality of what you are getting, last time I checked a dozen glazed doughnuts were $9.   The sticks were slightly more.  In addition there are a variety of breads and other baked items you can buy.  It is also worth shopping the small aisle for bulk food items; I usually pick up popcorn at great price and will see what else hits my fancy.

I would strongly recommend stopping out and trying these doughnuts if you are anywhere in the area.  For that matter you can make a trip of it; stop at Middlefield Cheese and get some great Swiss or other cheese and imported items; shop through the stalls at Middlefield Market and see what obscure itP1230148em you can find; of head to Headwaters Park or Swine Creek for a very nice hike.  Of course there is a lot more interesting things to do in Amish country so stop by and visit.  Remember the Market is closed on Sundays.

I will warn you that these doughnuts can become habit forming; I brought a couple dozen in for the instructors at the dealers academy to welcome them to the Cleveland area and I started to get frequent requests to bring them more, I ended up making a couple more runs over the academy and they were always a big hit.

Doughnuts from Nauvoo Family Market get my highest recommendation, well worth the drive.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kiedrowski’s Bakery–Best in America?

When I saw the news that a local bakery had been picked as the best in America I knew I had to check it out.   So with
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good weather I hopped on the motorcycle and headed to Amherst.  Kiedrowski’s is located at 2267 Coopimageer Foster Park Rd. Amherst, OH 44001 just off of Route 2.  A nice easy ride and a place you could stop if you are headed to Sandusky or the Erie Islands.

Kiedrowski’s is located in a small strip of stores and is a bit smaller then I thought it would be.  Once inside I found a wonderful selection of pastries and cakes.  I choose a donut, a cinnamon roll and a poppyseed danish.

The pastries were very good, with the poppyseed danish being the highpoint in that it was sweet without being overly sweet and somehow they made the poppyseeds smoother then I am used to.  The donut and cinnamon roll were both good representations of their genres.  P4280108
Kiedrowski’s also had a sample tray of their signature pastries, called a “Snoogle” which is a large cheese filled stick.  The samples were very good, but this is where the sweetness level may have exceeded my taste buds; I imagethink I might have maxed out if I had eaten a whole Snoogle.  Kiedrowski’s does offer a variety of different flavors of Snoogles so it is certainly worth checking out.

While I found Kiedrowski’s a delightful little Eastern European bakery, I would not have said it was the best in the Cleveland area, but it is probably top 5 of those I have tried.  It is hard when you get a label like “Best in America” since we all have our own tastes and preferences.  Kiedrowski’s is certainly worth a visit if you are out Amherst way or headed further West.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hiroshi's Pub on Facebook and Twitter

A quick update - I am helping out at Hiroshi's Pub (website is of course here) which is a lot of fun and I am seeing a bunch of people who I haven't seen in a while.  We have revised the menu slightly, mainly to make it easier to read and we have put more of the emphasis on smoked items coming out of the state of the art in house smoker, concentrated on pub fare and kept the sushi. We have added a kids menu with 5 meals for $5 each and have some great happy hour specials weekdays 3:00-7:00pm, including $7 Martinis and top shelf cocktails, $1 off all beers and some great food specials.  

In addition we have revised the website and started the twitter feed back up at @HiroshisPub so check it out as its a great place to get specials and information about what is going on at the Pub.

We have also have started an official facebook page I wanted to ask all of my readers a favor and ask you to go to the facebook page and hit "Like"; we need to get to 25 people liking the page in order to get a shorter name, so if you appreciate this blog, I would be very grateful if you would help us out.

Finally, I would invite you all to stop in and check out the menu and the food, we are working hard to make Hiroshi's Pub a great place to come and get a great meal at a reasonable price.  Here your chance to let me know if I have any actual restaurant cred, so give it a try and let me know what you think.

Franklin Square Deli–Kent Yummy Sandwiches

Map pictureSo it was a beautiful day (something rare for us this year) and I felt like getting on the motorcycle and heading out for something to eat, so I looked through my pile of Groupons ( to see what I felt like that would be a nice ride; well Franklin Square Deli fit the bill perfectly so I cruised down to check out this sandwich place right in the middle of downtown Kent.   Located at the corner of Water and Main Streets Franklin Square has a great location, close to most of the bars, near the waterfall and the riverside park and not a bad walk from campus.  The corner location is easy to spot and once inside you find a friendly looking sandwich shop with black and white tiles and a lot of car racing pictures and art.  The overall effect is a bit retro and different then I would have guessed for a college hang out, but they make it work. 

The staff was friendly and attentive, with good service.  Also in the short time I waP4010121s there the friendly staff and owner when not waiting on customers was working hard to keep everything very clean and neat, so kudos for that.
Looking at the menu (which you can see here) quickly shows you that this is not really a deli, but actually a very good sandwich shop, with an emphasis on submarines, although they also have soP4010118ups, bagels, pitas, salads and breakfast.  With the Groupon I ordered a whole tuna sub, a bowl of the clam chowder and a side of potato salad.  The food was prepared and presented to me in a reasonable time so I settled in to give things a try.
I started with the soup, which was preportioned and then heated up in the microwave.  Surprisingly, I found this to be a very nice rendition of Clam Chowder, well stocked with clams, potatoes and vegies, the soup itself was just a hint thin, but had very good flavor and balance.  By keeping it refrigerated and heating to order, they managed to avoid having the soup over reduce and thicken up.

Next up was half of the tuna sub (I had had them wrap the other half to take home for a later meal).  The half sub was more then enough for a meal and was well stuffed with good quality tuna and fresh vegies, including some nice peppers to wake up the taste buds.  The bread was good, but a little soft for my P4010119preference since I love a sub that has the really crusty bread with a soft interior.  The seasoned oil and vinegar topping added just the right touch to make everything meld together in a harmonious melody of flavors.   The side of potato salad was pretty much what you would imagine it to be, so neither a plus or a minus.

Overall I had a very pleasant lunch at Franklin Square Deli and I will hit it again when I am in the Kent area.  This is good quality food, simply presented and a step above most of the chains sub shops.  If you are in the Kent area and need a bite, check them out.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Fat Fish Blue–Downtown Hot Spot

What happens when you take a former car repair facility in a parking garage near Public Square and turn it into a restaurant and bar featuring New Orleans flavors, party decor and add a
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calendar of different music?  Well in Cleveland’s case you get Fat Fish Blue which has been a mainstay of Downtown for a couple of decades.  I know Fat Fish pretty well, when I worked downtown I parked in the garage above it and still use this garage when heading to Gateway events; I also used to come down on Wednesday nights when FatP3240105 Fish would feature Blues Legend Robert Lockwood and his band, so when Fat Fish came up on Groupon (the link is here)I was only to happy to check out how Fat Fish has held up over the years.

Located at 21 Prospect Avenue East (corner of Ontario), Cleveland, OH 44115, Fat Fish is close to Public Square, Tower City, E. 4th Street and Gateway. Presenting large glass windows and blue shades to the street, Fat Fish announces it presence and invites you in.  Once inside you are presented with a crescent shaped room  with a bP3240113ar against the inside wall and a stage by the corner windows.  The found space features very high ceilings, exposed ductwork,  a nice assortment of plants, streamers and decorations.  The overall effect is festive and busy, with the greenery and the large windows to the street soften the effect somewhat.  On a Saturday afternoon I arrived and was quickly seated at a window table behind the stage.   The tables are simply set, they still have the wrapped cutlery with a little toy surprise inside combined with the crayons and paper topping to the table you now this is a place that wants people to have fun. 
P3240106The menu (which you can see here) describes the food as American Bisto Fare with a New Orleans Flair, which seems about right.  I figured I would sample a couple of different things to get an overview so I ordered the Buffalo Tails, a Shrimp Po Boy and a side of the Mac & Cheese.

First out was the order of Buffalo Tails, crawfish deep fried, tossed with a “hot sauce from hell” and served up with a blue cheese dip.  The portion size was ok, but the crawfish themselves were very small which when deep fried meant that they had almost no real taste of their own, the buffalo sauce was ok, but not nearly as hoP3240109t as describe and the blue cheese dip was creamy and rich but lacking a bit of the blue cheese flavor you would hope for.  What resulted was a dish that was just ok, but certainly not one that I would order again.

Up next was the Shrimp Po Boy with French fries and the side of Mac and Cheese.  The Sandwich was pretty good with the best part being the large fried shrimp.  Were the crawdads were a disappointment, the shrimp were succulent and tasty with a nice crunchy breading.  The bread, lettuce and tomato were what you would expect, while the Cajun Mayo was a bit lacking both in amount and flavor; when I order a Po Boy I expect a real punch from the remoulade.  The fries were nothing special, but were hot and crisp.

Probably the most satisfP3240112ying thing I tried was the Mac & Cheese, which was rich and creamy with some bread crumbs for textural contrast.  Instead of elbow macaroni Fat Fish uses a spiral pasta that really holds the rich mix of cheeses with a nice hint of smokiness. 

I came away from Fat Fish very impressed with the décor, the atmosphere, service and the entertainment they offer; the food is a bit uneven, with some items a bit disappointing, others are good solid renditions.  I had nothing that I would describe as a home run, but Fat Fish has developed a formula that works , if you check it out you may not get a gourmet experience, but you will probably have a really good time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hiroshi’s Pub–Sunday Brunch

You should all know how much I love Hiroshi’s Pub, as it offers a unique blend of comfort food and sushi in what I consider one of the coolest places in town, well they have made some changes to keep things moving along.  First they have simplified the menu, while it is still big, it is now readable; they have kept most of the favorites and it still covers a pretty wide swatch. 
Second, Hiroshi’s is now open for Sunday Brunch from 11:00am to 4:00pm every Sunday.  They have designed a really nice menu of hearty breakfast and lunch faves (go see the
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whole menu here) that includes such delicious items as Apple Cinnamon French Toast, Lemon Blueberry Pancakes, Corned Beef Hatch made with their in-house smoked Corned Beef, big Omelets and a Lox and Bagel plate.  What I like about the menu is that it falls in that nice middle, where you can have a leisurely brunch of food prepared to your order in a relaxed atmosphere without all of the aggravation of the diners and deli breakfasts or the high cost and mediocre food of the buffet brunches.  Big portions of well prepared food with bold flavors always sound good to me. 
Hiroshi’s Pub is located at 3355 Richmond Road, Beachwood, OH Building B, across the parking lot from Moxie. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Aladdin Baking–Great Pitas and More Update

A couple of years ago I did a quick post on the Aladdin Bakery's store downtown (link if here) and I wanted to update it since they have done a major remodeling both inside and out.  Aladdin Bakery is located at
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1301 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland Ohio just a block from both Progressive Field and the Wolstein Center.  While I will stop at Aladdin when I am in the area to stock up on pitas (check out the day old rack by the center column for a bag of pitas for about 1/2 of a buck) , there is a lot more here then just that.  There is a very nice menu of middle eastern foods at incredibly reasonable prices, with stuffed pies, such as spinach, cheese or meat; pita pizzas; stuffed sandwiches including a very good falafel, gyros and chicken shwarma; and salads such as humus and baba ganoush. Also there is a nice display case of middle-eaP3240117stern deserts including a variety of baklava and cookies. With the new face on the building and the new front room, the atmosphere has gone from a bit grubby to clean, a bit more spacious and more organized.  For a fast, tasty and affordable bite, especially if you are headed to an Indians game, check out Aladdin.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Zocalo–E.4th Street Yummy Mexican

E.4th Street downtown has become a culinary destination with some of the best restaurants in Northeast Ohio and a diverse spectrum of culinary styles and cuisines.  Zocalo holds down the Mexican cuisine aspect with well prepared and presented food, a classy décor and an unusual menu. 

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Located at 2071 E. 4th Street, Cleveland, Ohio you enter Zocalo through the side door off of a small alley.  Once inside you find a very nicely decorated restaurant with a warm golden glow about it.  The decor is relaxed, but classy with a feeling that someone spent a lot of time and attention to create a welcoming atmosphere.  A circular staircase leads to the lower level, but we were seated in a nice table in the back corner.  The one downside of our location was there were several bachelorette parties near us so the sound level was a bit louder then I would have expected, but it was clear that people were having a good time.

The menu for Zocalo (which you can see here) offers a diverse array of both the familiar Mexican faves as well some more diverse representations of Mexican cuisine that we don’t usually see around here.  Noted Latin Chef Aaron Sanchez was brought in and his influence shows in the menu and how the food is prepared and presented.

We started with some aP3030107dult beverages and the chips and salsa, which give a good indication of what is to come; the chips are fresh and hot and have a more tortilla like texture, the salsa is nicely balanced and has a bit of complexity with just enough heat to make it interesting.

I ordered the  Shrimp Tacos, which came out beautifully plated on a triangular plate.  Each of the 3 soft taco shells had a beautifully grilled shrimp skewers, sided by Tomatillio and mild Habenero sauces to perfectly compliment the succulent shrimp.  This was one of the best shrimp tacos I have had and definitely the classiest version I have ever encountered.  On the side were portions of a flavorful and moist Mexican rice and wonderful refried beans.  The beans were a bit of a revelation, clearly freshly made and with a deep and almost smoky flavor that makes you realize how wonderful a simple dish can be.

My friend ordered the fish special which was perfectly prepared and beautifully presented  on a black plate which made the bright vegetables pop.  The fish was tender and flakey with subtle seasoningsP3030108 that complimented the mild fish.  Accompanied by sautéed vegetables and  a nice portion of rice, this was a very pretty and satisfying plate of food.

Service was friendly, knowledgeable and good with the food coming out in timely fashion, despite the restaurant being filled. 

Although it may not get all of the critical raves of some of its 4th Street neighbors, Zocalo more then holds its own.  The décor is a significant step above most Mexican Restaurants, the food is excellent and unusual and the service is good.  Zocalo provides a very upscale experience at a reasonable price.  My only reservation was the noise level and it is hard to fault a restaurant for drawing large crowds and people enjoying themselves.  Definitely a place to check out if you have an urge to eat some South of the Border food, also it seems to be a great place for a celebration.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cabanas–Just OK

I have often written about how I prefer local restaurants over the chains, generally the food is better and the atmosphere has a more genuine feel; then I run across a place like Cabanas in Mentor, a locally owned place that has all of the problems I have with chains.  Recently relocated to 9055 Mentor Ave., Mentor, OH 44060,
Map pictureCabanas has the potential to be so much more then it is a place with mediocre food and lots of generic Islands decorations. 

Cabanas has recently moved from another location in Mentor, so the restaurant was recently remodeled and as you would expect it has an Islands theme, unfortunately it comes across as a bit cheap and tacky, but not in the good dive place kind of way.  Rather it just feels like they went out and found the least expensive nautical and island decorations and used them. 
The menu (which you can review here) is described as American and Island cuisine and while it is heavy on fish and seafood it seems to be missing any kind of genuine Islands influence, especially since while there is plenty of grouper, shrimp and other seafood on the menu, nothing is at all exotic or unusual.  I would love to see some conch or some Island Chowder, but instead there are the usual Americanized versions of seafood.  

We started with the Coconut Shrimp Appetizer and while the shrimp were plump and nicely deep fried they were a bit sweet, especially if dipped in the orange mango marmalade that accompanied the shrimp.  The portion size was ok, but as I would notice throughout the meal the food was simply presented on the plate with no garnish.

For dinner I ordered the Fish Tacos, which were actually not Tacos at all; rather this was a flour tortilla wrapped around some grouper with a small serving of lettuce and some cheese then cut in half.   The lack of presentation was really bad on this plate as it was just the two halves of the wrap on a plate with nothing else; it looked kind of lonely and sad, with noting to make the plate appealing to the eye.  The fish was cooked alright, but there was nothing to indicate that it had the promised Caribbean spice and it certainly was as far from a fish taco as I have seen.  

Service was ok, but nothing exceptional and our server seemed to be learning the menu as she was going along.  The noise level was pretty high as the place was busy. 

My overall impression of Cabanas was that they have what I call PAF – perfectly acceptable food, but I look for more then that in a place I want to frequent.  There seems to be a lack of passion, like they are trying to create an atmosphere where as long as the food is OK, people will come for the excitement.  A few tweaks here and there, especially in how the food is prepared and presented and they could present a much better experience then they currently do.  Of course your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Battiste & Dupree Cajun Grill – New Orleans Greatness in South Euclid

Map pictureB&D is a small place located in a small strip mall at 1992 Warrensville Center Road, South Euclid, OH 44121.  It has been around a while now and while there are lots of raves about the food there are also a lot of comments about the pace of service.  I headed over with a group of friends and had let them know that service would be “leisurely”, what we ended up with was a meal where the food was great, the service was a bit ragged, but always friendly and the pace was a bit too slow for most of my friends.  While we were a party of 5 and arrived at about 7:00pm on a Saturday, we managed to snag a table in about 15 minutes.  

My older brother lived for quite a while down in New Orleans and I was lucky enough to get down to visit him and experience the New Orleans style.   My trips included great food and drink, a welcoming party atmosphere and a slow pace that was great for a short while, but one that I couldn’t take for long periods of time.  Battiste & Dupree Cajun Grill has managed to bring a small slice of genuine New Orleans to our neck of the woods, with all of the great food, great atmosphere and slow service that you might encounter down in the Big Easy itself. 

The small dining room is up front by the windows and is decorated with posters, photos and other New Orleans decorations.   It has the feel of someone's collection jammed into a room just a little too small, the result if heartfelt and welcoming, but a little crowded. 

We finally got menus, although we had to share, since our waitress said they only have 4 menus for the whole place. The menu is a nice mix of cajun and creole favorites, although as we went through we found out that B&D was out of a couple of items.  This was explained to us as it was late on Saturday and they are closed on Sunday and Monday.   To me a place that occasionally runs out of an item means that they are using fresh food and I treat that as a good sign, but that’s me.  Our waitress was a fill in who was just helping out, so some of the problems we encountered may have to do with her not being familiar with the job.  We ended up ordering and then had to wait about 45 minutes for any of the food to come out. 

First up was a salad, which unfortunately was the wrong salad; instead of getting the house salad that was ordered we got the Steve’s Chef Salad.  Junior the owner explained that they were out of some of the ingredients for the house salad and took the salad off the bill, but left the salad for the table.  The salad was a wonderful mix of field greens and fruit with a spicy dressing that really woke up my taste buds, in my opinion a great start, but it will not be to everyone’s taste.

After this food started coming out slowly and individually; at B&D each dish seems to be prepared sequentially rather then consecutively, which results in some great food, but a bit of a disjointed dining experience.  My order of Crawfish Etouffee was wonderful, with a mess of the sweet crawfish tails swimming with some vegetables in a tomato sauce around a pile of jasmine rice.  The presentation was much nicer then I expected, the portion size was good and the aroma was enticing.  Upon digging in I found the dish to be perfectly seasoned, with a spicy heat that snuck up on me after the first few bites.  The crawfish were tender and flavorful, with just the right contrasting  texture from the vegetable bits.   With the tomatoes in the sauce, this was a bit of a different version of Etoufee then I am used to, but it felt right and genuine none the less.

We also had some of the sweet potato fries and they were hand cut, sweet and delicious.  The couple of Shrimp Po Boys at the table were large and looked great, I will be heading back to B&D to give them a try.  It did take quite a while for these to come out, but it looked like they were worth the wait.

After we had finished dinner and several of my friends had left because of the time crunch, Junior did bring over a massive slice of his German Chocolate Cake to make amends for the slow service.  Not one of the deserts I associate with the Crescent City, this was the best version of a German Chocolate Cake I have ever had.  The cake was moist with a thick topping of gooey frosting packed with coconut and wonderful pecans that danced across my tongue.  It was sticky, sweet, crunchy and utterly delicious.

I have to mention the owner of B&D Junior who was an incredibly gracious host.  He makes you feel welcome and as if you are his friend.   He handles each of the issues with class and understanding, obviously a man who loves his work.  B&D is a clear reflection of him, the food is excellent with a huge amount of time and attention paid to getting thing right.  The food is excellent, without the type of compromises you see most places when they do a “Cajun” dish in such a way that it is a pale reflection of the real thing. 

I am willing to wait for food that is this good and is priced reasonably for what you get, you will have to make your own decision on whether it is worth it or not.  My suggestion is to head over on a night when you are in no hurry and just want some really good food, however if you have no patience, can't handle bold flavors and spiciness this is probably not the place for you.   Within these parameters, this is a very high recommendation, give them a try.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Luxe–Gordon Square Bistro

Gordon Square (the Detroit-Shoreway area) has become one of Cleveland’s most happening neighborhoods.  Starting with Cleveland Public Theater the area has developed into an attractive neighborhood and is one of Cleveland’s biggest successes.  One of the key steps in the development of this area was when Marlin
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Kaplin, one of this area’s most respected restaurateurs decided to open Luxe in the heart of Gordon Square.  Having a Groupon in hand (the link for Groupon is here), I was excited to check Luxe out to see if it lived up to the hype.  Located at 6605 Detroit Avenue a block away from the Theater, Luxe offers a warm friendly face to the neighborhood.  P1300169 The front windows are decorated with culinary quotes, which gives a feel for the interesting combination of whimsy and style that Luxe presents.
The inside is striking, with a Art Deco bar, tin ceiling and well chosen pieces throughout.  While pieces are eclectic, they are used with restraint, creating a pleasant slightly upscale feeling.  You feel welcome, but you know that this isn’t a hash house.
Service is friendly and attentive with a young, but knowledgeable staff.  Once settled out came a very nice artisanal bread bowl with some yummy pieces of crusty bread to start.   The menu (which you can see at the website here) contains a nice mix of interesting items.  I settled on the Calamari small plate and an order of the Lobster Risotto from the evening specials.
The Crispy Calamari was very well prepared with a light breading on the fresh squid and a quick fry, sided with some marinara and a lemon aioli.  The dish was well prepared and the sauces provided just the right punch to compliment the slightly sweet and tender squid.  When the plate was first put down I thought the portion was small, but part of that was being presented on a large plate; while certainly not huge, the calamari made a very nice appetizer.
Next up was the Lobster Risotto which was beautifully presented and had a wonderful aroma that made you want to just drink in the smell.   Topped with two large perfectly prepared grilled shrimp, the risotto was studded with lobster, shallots and asparagus.  The one quibble I had with the dish is that it wasn’t quite as creamy as I expect from a risotto.  As has been discussed in a recent Top Chef episode, where Tre was sent home, the rice should be creamy while maintaining their individual grains, here they were a bit more toothsome and could be molded into a shape rather then spreading out on the plate.  Even with that caveat, the dish was delicious.
Overall I found Luxe to be an excellent place to get some high quality food.  The portions are not huge for the price, but premium ingredients are used and are generally very well prepared.  Not the place to go if you are looking for a budget meal, but if you are headed to the Gordon Square it’s a great place to check out, with one of the nicer decors in Cleveland, great service, a relaxed atmosphere and some great bistro fare.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chowder House Café–Cuyahoga Falls Eclectic Greatness

I have to admit that I am a very happy guy, for a while it seemed like I was in a bit of a rut, hitting places that were ok, but nothing special, but I seemed to have found my mojo, and Chowder House Café was o
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ne of the major reasons why I got my groove back.  I have to give credit on this one to Groupon (the link is here), since I had not  heard of CHC when it came up on the Akron/Canton Groupon listing; I liked the menu and figured that I would give it a try since during the summer I get up to Cuyahoga Falls for the Friday Concerts  and the Gorge Park.  I have to say that I found CHC to be exactly the kind of place I am looking for and exactly what this blog is all about.
Located at 2028 Chestnut Blvd., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio 44223, just off of State Road (old RoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         ute 8), it is easy to miss CHC unless you are looking for it, since the building is not very visible from State Road.  The outside starts to give a hint of the eclectic wonders that await inside. with some funky painting, little twinkle lights and a patio that must be a nice place to hang in the summer.  Once inside you find a couple of small dining areas with the kitchen in the middle.  The Chowder House name may invoke images of New England and you may expect lobster pots, nets and other nautical gear, but CHC has gone a completely different way.  The décor is what I would desOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         cribe as funky eclectic, with brightly colored and quite complicated murals on the walls, comfy tables and chairs and just a wonderful friendly atmosphere of organized chaos.  To me the place feels like something you would find in New Orleans or the hip part of a big city, not in the middle of suburban sprawl across from a dOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         rugstore.
I was seated at a high table next to the window, which of course had a winter wonderland display; my server told me that the decorations change seasonally.   A quick perusal of the menu (which you can see at the CHC website here) reveals the eclectic extends to the food selection OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         as well.  There are influences from different cuisines such as New England (Clam Chowder, Lobster Rolls, etc.), New Orleans (Étouffée, Muffuletta), French (Cassoulet, French Onion Soup) mixed with Fish Tacos, Walleye, and just anything else that the chef finds interesting.  Putting together a menu like this can be fun and exciting, but the test is OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         whether the food actually delivers on the diverse range of flavors.
I made the tough choice and started with a the Lobster Bisque, deciding to save the namesake Chowder on another trip.  I got a nice sized bowl of some of the best bisque I have ever had.  The soup was creamy, without being thick, perfectly balanced with just a touch of sherry for acid and loaded with sweet and tendeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         r pieces of lobster.  Sided with a thick slice of bread, that was a bit softer then I would have guessed, this was a perfect start to my meal.
Next up I had the walleye sandwich, with a nice fillet of baked walleye on a nice bun with a herbed mayo.  I think this is the first time that I have had walleye that wasn’t fried.  The fish was moist and expertly cooked, with most of it tasting wonderful.  Unfortunately as I have found with walleye, there is part of the fillet that can be a bit more fishy, in this case it wasn’t bad, just a  bit inconsistent.  The portion is nice and with the big mound of chips and pretty filling meal.
Since I had $30 of Groupon to spend, I ordered a Lobster Roll to take home for the next day.  A generous portion of lobster and shrimp is mixed with some quality mayo and served in the classic split top hot dog bun.   The salad was excellent, with just enough mayo to hold it together without overpowering the subtle flavors of the lobster.  A great taste of New England at a reasonable price which was a perfect lunch the next day.
With a couple of bucks left on the Groupon, I decided to see what was in the desert case and was seduced into a slice of the chOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         ocolate cake.  Layers of a moist cake alternated with rich frosting and then topped with delicious chocolate ganache resulted in a great end to one of the better meals I have had in a while. 
My waitress was wonderful, knowledgeable and friendly, but not afraid to check on something when she wasn’t sure (I asked about meat in the Etouffee and sure enough, they do add sausage into their version).  She seemed to be happy to be working at CHC and provided the right level of attention without being overbearing.
Chowder House Café is a real find, I cannot recommend it more highly.  This is clearly a place where the chef has a vision of what he wants and has the skills to execute the food properly.   With a menu as diverse and eclectic as CHC has, it would be easy to have some major miscues, but I did not see any in my visit.  The atmosphere is funky but has an energy and verve that I like, the food was excellent and very well priced for the quality and flavor that you get.  If you are near Cuyahoga Falls or Akron, you should try CHC out, but I would go further and recommend that you consider making a trip to give CHC a try even if you are not nearby.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Flat Iron Café–Heart of the Flats

Over the years, Cleveland’s flats have gone through a lot of changes: t
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he East Side is hot, then empty; the West Side gets the Powerhouse and Shooters; condos are built and filled; heck even the famous Cuyahoga River fire, but through it all the Flat Iron Café just keeps going, dishing out welcoming food and drink in a warm atmosphere.  It had been a while since I had checked the Flat Iron out, so when a Groupon (Groupon Site is here) came up for it, I grabbed it and have been waiting to use it for a while. 
The Flat Iron is locOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         ated at 1114 Center Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44113 right across the street from the Center Street Bridge (the swing bridge) and underneath the Detroit Superior Bridge.  The nicely kept triangle shaped brick building is a perfect reflection of the comfortable Irish tavern inside.  Once inside you find a comfortable bar and restaurant OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         with lots of dark wood, plenty of green highlights and just enough decoration to feel welcomed without being overwhelmed.  As opposed to some of bars around town which feel a need to show how Irish they are, the Flat Iron is comfortable in its own skin.  The bar along one wall provides a nice place to grab a beer and just relax.  The two slightly raised dining areas along the windows OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         are comfortable, with plain wooden chairs and tables.  
Service is friendly and attentive, without being overly familiar.  My waitress was helpful and seemed to know just the right level of attention to give her customers.  The menu quickly arrived (you can see the menu here), and is filled with the items you expect at an Irish Pub, done very well.  With $20 to spend on my Groupon, I figured on getting thOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         e Perch Sandwich (especially with my waitress recommending the Perch), a side of the Pierogies, and from the special board a cup of the Seafood Jambalaya. 
If you have been reading C-Town Eats, you might have noticed that I like my soups, they are a chance for a place to really hit you with some nice flavors or a bit of a different twist.  After checking that it didn’t contain any sausage or otherOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         meat, I was very happy to order the Seafood Jambalaya which was one of the highpoints of my meal at the Flat Iron. First I have to say that the portion size (I ordered a cup rather then a bowl) was extremely generous; with a nice sized crock stuffed full of a thick and spicy goodness.  The Jambalaya had nice portions of fish and shrimp and an overabundance of bay scallops, all of which were tender and flavorful.  With some nice bits of vegetables for cOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         ontrast and the perfect level of spiciness, this was a great way to start my lunch. 
Next up was the Fried Perch Sandwich, with a side of pasta salad.  Once again the portion size is very generous, with 5-6 fillets of perch served up a couple of slices of rye bread and a large heaping of pasta salad.  The perch were wonderful, with the mild white fish lightly breaded and perfectly OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         fried, set off with a very nice tarter sauce and a squeeze of lemon, this is one of the better fish sandwiches in town.  The pasta salad is surprisingly good, nothing unique, but the flavors are nicely balanced and there is enough acidity to add a bit of brightness.
Finally we come to the Pierogies, which the menu describes as the best in Cleveland according to AOL Guide in 2004 (which may say something about online guides as much as anything); while the Pierogies are good, they come nowhere near those at Babushka’s Kitchen ( or Sokolowski’s (  What I did get was four nice sized hand made pierogies topped with grilled onions and cheese with sour crème on the side.  The dough for the pierogies, was good and tender OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         with a nice potato and cheese filling that was a flavorful, but a bit dense.  My personal preference would have been to leave the onions in longer strips rather then the fine chop that the Flat Iron used, as they tend to stay a bit moister and add a better texture to the dish.  While I wouldn’t rate these Pierogies as tops in the city, they are certainly better then most and they will fill you up without a doubt.
I left the Flat Iron very satisfied and very well fed; this is a place that is doing standard food, but doing it with care and some obvious culinary skill.  The portions are large and the flavors are bold and well balanced.  The atmosphere is comfortable and friendly, there is not much more you can ask for.  Billed as the oldest Irish Pub in the flats, the Flat Iron should continue to be a long running Cleveland success.  Rather then trying to ride some trend or fad, the Flat Iron provides a perfect example of what an Irish Pub should be.  This is an easy and strong recommendation to give the Flat Iron a try.