Sunday, August 30, 2009

Le Dog

I’ve seen a number of places that have tried to catch The Soup Nazi’s lightening in a bottle. While, at least in the US, soup is never going to overtake sandwiches as the preferred menu item for lunch, it does have a rather strong following amongst the bread averse. For my own taste, the options that I’ve encountered in Cleveland and Columbus have been of the “take it or leave it variety”. I don’t think it’s that these places are necessarily bad; it’s just that they don’t incite overwhelming lust. Then again, I’ve never lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Enter Le Dog.

Around 11:30am, office workers start to make their way out of their cubicles with hopes of beating the lunchtime rush and not getting edged out of Le Dog's full array of soup offerings. With a rotation of over eighty soups, anticipation builds through the morning as they ponder the possibilities. The only exception to Le Dog’s “wait and see” menu is the lobster bisque that is served every Thursday and Friday. A word to the wise, if you want the bisque, don’t wait until 1 o’clock, it won’t be there.

So what’s up with the name “Le Dog”? Isn’t a hot dog stand? Well, yes and no. It may have started that way, but in my opinion the dogs are average at best. It’s more like a stand they sells four star soup, and two star hot dogs to those too stupid to eat four star soup.

Le Dog is actually located in two spots, the original stand at 410 East Liberty Street (outdoors), and 306 South Main Street (indoors).

East Liberty Street Outdoor Stand

Many of the daily soups are based on the locally available produce. I think that what is most striking about their soups is the amount of "stuff" that each bowl contains. We've all had soups where the goodies are being stretched to the very edge of fraud - not here. Pickles that would normally sink to the bottom of the bowl are proudly perched atop a thick pile of Cajun rice. With the purchase of a bowl of soup you can also get a Zingerman's pretzel roll for a dollar.

Cajun Rice with Pretzel Roll

If you happen to be in Ann Arbor for lunch (especially on Thursday and Friday), you've got to stop at Le Dog. This is every bit as much an Ann Arbor institution as Zingerman's Deli.

Le Dog (Indoor)
306 S Main St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 327-0091

Le Dog on Urbanspoon

Le Dog (Outdoor)
410 E Liberty St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 665-2114

Le Dog on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brothers Lounge

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Lately, Monday nights have been my Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives explorations with brother-in-law Mike (a.k.a. Cheesecake). Since I had picked 56 West last week, it was his turn to pick this week. Initially he had wanted to take me to Big Guys Pizza in Tremont (next to Hotz Café), but they aren’t open on Mondays. Instead he chose Reddstone nestled in the Battery Park neighborhood (that has seemingly hit a housing bubble snag), near Detroit. Everything was going fine until we tried to walk in and it was closed. C’mon, man. What do you have to do to get some dinner around here? Since it was still his choice, he decided to go to Brothers Lounge near the corner of Detroit and West 117th.

Admittedly, I was a little skeptical of the three headed monster that is Brothers. If you’re not into pub food, there’s the wine bar. If you’re not into wine bars, there’s the music hall/patio. I’m not talking about three separate places. All of this stuff is, yes, under one roof. I suppose the skepticism comes from having the confidence that they could do all three things, and do them well.

The first thing you notice when you walk in the door, is that a small *scratch that* a large fortune was spent on woodwork. From the floors, to the trim, to the bars, everything in this place is the real deal. No laminate floors, cheap trim, cheap-o light fixtures, or plain concrete; the interior materials are old school craftsmanship.

As we sat down, the band that was playing that night was starting to trickle in. We were eating on the pub side of the restaurant. With the happy hour menu extending until seven o’clock, I wanted to try the sliders off of the happy hour menu. Cheesecake went with the wings. The Chicken Fresco sandwich had caught my eye, so I decided to get that as well.

The sliders (four mini burgers seasoned with Cajun spices, topped with Danish blue cheese, and onion straws and served with herb aioli), arrived first. They were essentially a burger patty cut into quarters, served on mini buns like you’d find at White Castle. I thought they were pretty good. The blue cheese and the onion straws really made the slider.

The wings and the Chicken Fresco sandwich came next and looked very promising. First, I can only assume that the wings were good because the only thing left at the end was a pile of bones. The chicken sandwich was also quite good. Consisting of chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, basil, and herb aioli on a baguette, the first bite was the perfect mouthful of peppers, cheese, and chicken on a nice soft baguette. Served with fries, I thought the sandwich was also a winner.

All told, the menu is pretty affordable. Most of the appetizers are in the $7-9 range, sandwiches (served with choice of fries or pasta salad) are either $8 or $9, with entrees coming in at $12-$17. I can’t really speak for the Wine Bar, but the selection of beers is okay – maybe a click down from Tremont Taphouse. Speaking of which, if I had to compare Brothers’ (pub side) menu to anything, it would be Tremont Taphouse. I’m not much of a wine bar or live music kind of person, but I have to say that if the line is ever too long at Melt, this would be a great nearby alternative.

Brothers Lounge
11609 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 226-2767

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar

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We had actually been to Sansei the last time we were in Maui. I remember it well, because I had spent the entire day in the ocean after big storm and started feeling sick (and getting sicker) while we ate at Sansei. You know what the bitch of the whole thing was? Even though I felt sick to my stomach, I was trying to eat because the food was so damn good. Needless to say, when we got back to the room I went straight to bed; pissed that I didn’t get to finish a good dinner.

On this particular visit I was feeling much better; with the greenness gone I was ready to eat. Located in a shopping center, Sansei occupies a pretty large amount of floor space. When we first walked in, it was packed to the gills. To me it’s incredible that the kitchen can churn out such high quality food to so many people at one time. With the locals and tourists split 50/50 every single table was taken up. Even though it was busy it only took five minutes for us to get seated.

Sansei's Shrimp Dynamite

To start things off we went with the Sansei’s Shrimp Dynamite (crispy tempura shrimp tossed with creamy garlic masago aioli with an unagi glaze drizzle), and the … As with most of the things here at Sansei, the flavors are bold.

Roasted Japanese Jerk-spiced Chicken

Since the last visit I had here didn’t work out too well for me I decided order that delicious Roasted Japanese Jerk-spiced Chicken with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Local Vegetables and fresh Herb Beurre Jus. I don’t know if it’s the marinade or what, but the chicken on this thing is very moist on the inside with a delicious char on the outside. If you’re a chicken lover you’ve got to give this thing a try. The last time we were here we bought Dave "DK" Kodama's cookbook DK's Sushi Chronicles, which has this recipe. In the next few days I’ll be doing a post on how to cook this very dish.

Grilled Veggie Roll

Yaki-maki Sushi Roll

Regina decided on a sushi roll dinner by ordering the Yaki-maki Sushi Roll
California roll wrapped with smoked salmon and baked with Sansei’s Special Dynamite Sauce. The sauce is freaking awesome, but she felt the smoked salmon was competing with the rest of the dish. As her vegetable alternative she went with the Grilled Veggie Roll with grilled shiitake mushrooms, squash, roasted red peppers, creamy avocado, cucumber and kaiware sprouts. There wasn’t a huge amount of flavor in this roll, but what do you expect? They’re grilled vegetables.

The "Granny Smith" Apple Tart

For dessert, which I can’t believe we even order because we were so full, we had the Sansei’s “Granny Smith” Apple Tart (their signature dessert) consisting of buttery puff pastry topped with fresh Granny Smith apple slices, baked to order and served with vanilla ice cream over homemade warm caramel sauce. It’s actually a very plain looking dessert, but I have to say that, like everything else, it was very good. I think without the caramel sauce it might have fallen flat, but this thing was gone in a matter of minutes.

As we picked over the few remaining remnants of our wonderful (and very filling) dinner, we looked around and noticed that we were one of the last customers left. This massive restaurant had emptied just as quickly as it had filled up. If you have a crew of hungry people there is no shortage of flavorful and filling food at Sansei. Although it is described as Japanese Contemporary, the portions are much larger, sweeter, and spicier than you’re going to find at a Japanese restaurant. This is the perfect place to go if you, or the people you’re traveling with, are not very adventuresome eaters. I think it’s a great introduction to Asian fusion cuisine.

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Kihei)
1881 S Kihei Rd
Kihei, HI 96753
(808) 879-0004

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is one ingredient that just doesn’t get much love at the restaurants. I don’t know if it’s the fact that people don’t really know what it is, or. I’m not really sure what the stigma is.

Saturday was the St. Dominic Block Party and we had to come up with a side dish to bring, and fast. Our thinking was that everyone was going to bring macaroni salad, different variety of lettuce type salad, etc., so we wanted to bring something different but healthy.

Since Saturday was so cool, we dropped off the quinoa salad and went back home to change. When we got back, we went inside to see if could grab some of our quinoa. After checking the tables twice, it was pretty clear that we were too late – gone in fifteen minutes.

Quinoa is known as the chisiya mama or "Mother of All Grain". This stuff is as versatile as rice, has the best amino acid profile of all grain, gluten free, and is very rich in fiber. When I was in New Jersey I ate at a place that made a killer lobster quinoa. I'm hoping that in the future this is something that shows up on more menus.

This recipe below actually came from Einat Admony’s podcast on quinoa. If you’re ever in Manhattan (West Village) you’ve got to go to her small restaurant called Taïm. Regina swears that it is the best falafel she ever had. Admony offers up a great recipe for quinoa salad.

Quinoa Salad
  • Quinoa 2-3C
  • Chickpeas 1-1/2C
  • Celery (chopped) 1C
  • Scallions (chopped) 1/2C
  • Cilantro (chopped) 1/2C
  • Cranberries (dried) 2 Tbsp
  • Apricots (dried) 4 Tbsp
  • Lemon (fresh squeezed) 2 Tbsp
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2 Tbsp
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Harissa 1 tsp

  1. Boil the quinoa.
  2. Stir and let cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Strain and rinse with cold water.
  4. Add all ingredients and mix well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mint Cafe

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Lately it seems the power has been going out here in Shaker Heights every time the wind blows. Last night was another one of those instances. Striking right before dinner we had decided to vacate the premises and head to Mint Café for a little dinner, in hopes that the delicate power grid in our fair city would be up and operating by the time we got back.

It’s funny, Mint Café is one of those places that we’ve been meaning to get to, but for one reason or another never seem to go. Located in Coventry, the space actually takes up two units. On the side of the entrance there’s a waiting area and a row of tables, the other side is simply dining, with the kitchen in the back.

Specializing in Thai cuisine, Mint Café has a fairly extensive list of curries, noodles, rice, vegetarian, and what they call signature dishes. Depending on which Thai place you go to, some seem to be heavier on the heat than others. If I had to pick one, I’d say this menu is a little on the milder side (which I think most people probably prefer).

Regina ordered the SHRIMP FAIRY TALE Dinner ($11.95) which consisted of sautéed shrimp, onion, red pepper, mushroom, snow pea, scallion, pineapple chuck, cashew nut in honey lemon sauce. They didn’t skimp on the shrimp (Hey, nice rhyme) or the cashews. That being said, it wasn’t like they brought out monster Cheesecake Factory portioned plates either. For some, big portions are welcomed, but we’re partial to the more comfortably digestible sizes.

Typically when I try a Thai place for the first time I like to dip my toe in the spiciness pool so I don’t get burnt (literally and figuratively), for the price of the whole meal. I went with the CHILI DUCK ($13.95) Crispy half boneless roasted duck sliced and glazed with chef’s spicy sauce, with sautéed assorted fresh vegetables on the side. The dish was fantastic. The duck was deep fried, with a chili glaze that was not gooey or overpowering. I find that some of these glazes tend to be on the overly sweet side. This, however, had a very good balance of sweetness and spice.

Although we didn’t order any appetizers or dessert we left feeling completely satiated. Mint Café is right up there with Ty Fun (pronounced like Typhoon), Thai Charm, and Mekong River, in my opinion. Their service ran like a well oiled machine, and was very friendly and personable. There was quite a crowd waiting to get in as we left, but people seemed to get seated fairly quickly with the rapid turnover. This place has reasonable portions, at reasonable prices, with excellent flavor. We loved it, and will definitely be back.

Mint Café
1791 Coventry Rd
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 320-9915

Mint Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weber's Premium Custard & Ice Cream (Fairview Park)

Since I was on the west side I figured I’d stop at Weber’s Premium Custard & Ice Cream in Fairview Park, and see if it was any different than the one over in Mentor. In talking to the guy in Mentor last winter, I think they used to be owned by the same guy, but today are different entities. What I was most interested in was whether or not they had the malted chocolate custard.

For fear of not getting the story right, I’m not going to try and recount the history of the “Higbee’s malted chocolate custard pie”, but it goes way back. People my parent’s age fondly place this dessert in the same hallowed company as the Hough cake.

When we strolled into the shop the first thing I noticed was an autographed picture from Drew Carey. So now I know he likes Antonio’s and Weber’s. I then looked up on the wall and there it was “HIGBEE’S MALTED CUSTARD”. Bingo! That’s what I came for.

The girl at the counter served it up and before she could get the money out of my hand I was already inhaling it. Melting fast, I knew this cone was not going to last long. It’s good stuff, no doubt. I was tempted to get another one, but was content talking to my partner in crime (Mike “Cheesecake” Mihna), while he finished his butter pecan.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any childhood memories of this custard, or even the pie (I grew up in Medina). If you happen to be in the area and you can remember this stuff, I’d stop in, but I don’t think I’d make a special trip just to try it. They have a ton of other traditional ice creams, custards, sundaes, and shakes. If malted custard isn’t your thing, don’t worry, there’s something for everyone.

*Edit August 21, 2009*
Posted by Anonymous - " The former owner in Mentor sold his shop. It is now owned by the same folks as the Fairview Park store." Thanks for the update, hopefully they add it to their website.

Weber's Premium Custard & Ice Cream
20230 Lorain Rd
Cleveland, OH 44126
(440) 331-0004

Webers Premium Custard & Ice on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


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Since we had fought the lines across the street at Paia Fish Market the day before and there was more seating at Milagros we figured we’d give it a try. Out front sits an outdoor eating area with an awning over it. Since intermittent sprinkles consistently roll over the Upcountry, this cover is a necessity. Inside is a bar on your right with additional seating on your left.

The menu is actually a pretty good variety of food from fish, to burgers, to southwest, to a burrito section. There seemed to be something for everyone on the menu. I went with the Ahi Burger which consisted of fresh Ahi steak (local tuna) – blackened with a sweet Thai mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and side of Milagros seasoned fries. This was actually very similar to what I had at Paia Fish Market but I thought it was much better. I think the Thai mayo was a big part of the sandwich’s success. My wife liked the mayo so much she asked for a side of it.

The Ahi Burger with Sweet Thai Mayo and Fries

Regina ordered the Maui’s Best Fish Tacos – a pair of soft shell tacos filled with fresh Ahi (local tuna), homemade guacamole, Milagros secret sauce, lettuce, homemade salsa, served with black beans and rice. While she hasn’t been everywhere on my to sample the fish tacos, these tacos were her favorite.

Maui's Best Fish Tacos

If I had to choose between Milagros and Paia Fish Market, I’d have to give the nod to Milagros. The fact that you aren’t sitting on top of the person seated next to you is a big plus. Milagros has an outdoor area so you can sit and chill with friends and have a few drinks, while people watching. Venues aside, I think the food is a little better. Paia Fish Market definitely gives you more food, but Milagros has the little extras (which we are suckers for).

3 Baldwin Ave
Paia, HI 96779

(808) 579-8755

Milagros on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 17, 2009

56 West

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Since I was on my own for dinner I decided to meet my brother-in-law (who happens to be my default dinner partner when my wife isn’t available), to try 56 West in Lakewood.

Since I have been on the weight loss program for the last couple of months, it has become a little more difficult to find places that are friendly to fatties trying to shed pounds. The menu at 56 West seemed to have a few viable options. Since neither of us had ever been, we decided to give it a try.

56 West is collectively about the size of Melt’s current configuration. The kitchen and a waiting area are on the right side, where the entrance is, and the dining room is on the entire left side.

The menu offers many creative items that don’t venture too far out into the hinterlands, but do give a welcome variety. All burgers and sandwiches are served with only a pickle. If you want fries or anything else, you have to order those for an extra couple bucks. This doesn’t bother me since I don’t want the fries, but this is the type of thing that drives the “stick to your ribs” crowd to the exits.

I opted for the ONE HOT CHICK which is a marinated chicken breast with spicy fried onion straws, pepperjack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red curry mayonnaise. I also got a side of the SULTRY SLAW made with Napa cabbage, shredded carrots, scallions, in a rice wine vinaigrette, and sesame seeds. I thought the chicken sandwich was a winner. The slaw on the other hand, was waaaay too chunky. There were some pretty tough pieces of cabbage that I don’t think would have tasted good if shredded to a quarter of the size. The pieces should have never made it into the slaw, they should have tossed out.

My Brother-in-law was less than thrilled with his burger. I can’t say that I really blame him, the patty was kind of small. Without a bun it really looked small (think George Castanza and the pool shrinkage). At the end of the day it was a puny eight dollar bacon and cheddar burger without anything else but a pickle.

When it was all said and done, it was one up (mine) and one down (his). I think 56 West is nice option for a quick cheap bite for those in the neighborhood, but I don’t see it as much more than that. If you are a big eater, and by that I mean a Man vs. Food type, you will definitely want to pass this place up - Melt it is not. While I thought mine was good, I don’t think it warrants a special trip from the east side.

56 West
16300 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-0056

56 West on Urbanspoon

Mama's Fish House

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I’ve been to Mama’s Fish House exactly twice in my lifetime. The first time I went sight unseen, with only their website and internet recommendations to go by, I thought for sure I was walking into an overpriced tourist trap. The prices looked expensive and the pictures looked like there was a certain amount of kitschiness to the whole place that gave me the sense that maybe Mama’s was a restaurant that had seen its better days.

When you first drive up the Hana Highway, going north past Paia, you start to wonder whether you passed it or not. Just as you start to feel you’ve gone too far, a boat which looks like it’s been slung ashore by a storm, is perched on a small dune.

Just look for the boat

When you get out of your car at the valet stand, you step into a landscape job that appears to be a good thirty years in the making. As you walk through the covered valet waiting area, the grounds open up to a coconut grove that has the scenic Ku’au Cove to the right and the dining room to Mama’s Fish House to the left.

Ku'au Cove

A path paved with an MC Escher-like pattern to it, snakes around the back of the restaurant, through an arching grotto of ficus type trees leading to the reservation hut. The people manning the reservations are more than happy to take a picture in front of a number of different flower arrangements (or under the ficus grotto like we did).

We had specially requested a table by the portion of the restaurant that looks out through the coconut grove and onto the ocean. Since this trip was for our anniversary Mama’s was gracious enough to give my wife a lei to commemorate the occasion.

A present from Mama

The view from our table

I’ve been to plenty of places that roll out the red carpet and offer up beautiful settings, but it’s ultimately about the food, isn’t it? You bet, and Mama and her staff deliver in a big way. We started off with the crab cakes. For me, these are always a dangerous choice because it is so easy to make either something that’s very pedestrian or really bad. In true fashion however, the kitchen came through with two ever-so-delicate crab cakes (complete with a claw), that were untainted by any residual oil. As with most everything here, the presentation is anticipated almost as much of the taste itself.

Crab Cakes

Regina went on a luau during her first visit, with her family, and said that the food was less than impressive. Considering most of these things aren’t exactly cheap, this is our version of a luau – ordering the Polynesian Lau-Lau which is Mahimahi & Pork baked in a ti leaf package, Hawaiian style, with grilled Hana banana, tropical fruit, and coconut milk. We both really enjoyed it the last time around, and this time was no different. As with everything here the presentation was great.

Polynesian Lau-Lau

One time my wife asked a server in Ohio if the halibut was Pacific or Atlantic, to which the server replied, "It's from Canada." You won't find that here. Mama’s is (obviously) known for their fish. In terms of provenance I don’t think it can become any more specific as to where the fish came from. The menu states where the fish was caught, on what boat, by which guy. How neat is that? You’ve got to see it to believe it. What a treat.

Some people are into wine, some just like appetizers, we are dessert-aholics. This is a dessert that is one of the best tasting AND the best presentation I’ve ever seen. When I think of the Black Pearl I don’t think of Jack Sparrow first – I think of Mama’s famous Polynesian Black Pear with chocolate mousse and lilikoi cream in a pastry shell. This right here is worth the price of admission. A lot of times these fancy presentations usually have individual components that look good, but one or two parts don’t taste that good. Each and every part of this thing is to die for. Hands down this is the best combination of creativity in presentation and taste I’ve ever had. This is a must try.

The Black Pearl

I can’t say enough great things about this place. Unfortunately, I’m not much help when it comes to wine lists. I don’t know wine. I don’t pretend to know it. As for the rest of it, I think Mama’s is THE special occasion place on Maui. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great places to eat expensive dinners, but since we were staying in Kihei the drive wasn’t bad. If you’re in Lahaina or further north in Kapalua it will give you pause for thought, simply because it IS a long drive. If I was staying up there I would probably hit it for lunch before flying out or after flying in. Not to worry if you're not dressed to the nines; a collared shirt and nice shorts will do just fine.

This experience is truly a sum of its parts. There is a subtle layering of all the little design details to the grounds and the restaurant make for a wonderful setting. For us the server was courteous, as well as very knowledgeable. Above all else, the food is just great straight forward Polynesian fare. Mama’s Fish House will be a stop for as long as we continue to come to Maui.

Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Pl
Paia, HI 96779
(808) 579-8488

Mama's Fish House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Anthony's of Little Italy

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As far as community fairs go, I’m not a fan. Because my interest is mainly food, I think it’s safe to say that having a bunch of carnies serving up fried dough doesn’t really have much appeal to me.

We actually ended up at the Feast of the Assumption celebration in Little Italy, on Thursday. You see, my sister is a teacher at Holy Rosary Montessori and wanted to show us the space for her new classroom. Since I had never been to the FOTA it was a perfect opportunity to do both.

Without going into too many specifics, there was a lot of Italian sausage, sheet pizza, and cavatelli with meatballs being served (just what you want on a hot summer night, right?. Most of what was being served was much of the same at each stand. There was a guy selling mussels and clams but I didn’t think it would be very easy to eat with a plastic fork – but they get an A for effort.

I will say this; the desserts had a fair amount of variety from stand to stand. Many were homemade Italian originals being served with much pride. Other stands were of the traditional county fair, tow behind trailer, elephant ear variety – no pride.

We decided to err on the side of lower fat and all got some gelato from Anthony’s of Little Italy. My wife and I are gelato/ice cream freaks. The bar was set exceedingly low for what Anthony’s was serving up. Our reasoning was:

a) We had never heard of them.
b) La Gelataria is the only gelato maker in Cleveland we’ve ever heard of.
c) Since we aren’t fans of La Gelataria (which is widely considered the best in Cleveland), then Anthony’s must be a couple clicks below the place we already don’t like.

Let me start by saying that I’ve been to Italy. I’ve tasted the gelato there. It’s awesome, however that was eight years ago (before I had a true appreciation for food). I think the secret is actually pretty simple: get the freshest damn gelato you can find. I don’t think the stuff at Anthony’s had been sitting around for very long. The first taste coated my tongue with the smooth taste of chocolate. Moments after putting it in my mouth you could still taste it.

The next night we had dinner with a couple at L’Albatros and skipped dessert to go to Anthony’s, it’s that good. The best I’ve ever had is from Capigiro in Philadelphia, Grom in Greenwich Village is up there as well. The only criticism I have is that they don’t have very original flavors. If you happen to be in the University Circle area you’ve got to give Anthony’s of Little Italy at try.

Anthony's of Little Italy
12018 Mayfield Rd
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 791-0700

Anthony's of Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Flatbread Company (Paia)

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Update: February 15th, 2011

Flatbread still has it. When you're staying at the Paia Inn, it's pretty much the most convenient place to eat, (just downstairs). "The Mopsy" is THE Hawaiian pizza. In fact, if there's a better one I'd like to taste it. Regina was very adamant about getting her nightly fix of brownie and Roselani haupia ice cream with chocolate sauce. The brownie gets warmed in the oven and develops this charred goodness on the bottom. Even if you can't get to Flatbread, you've got to pick up a carton of that ice cream. It's available at any supermarket in the Hawaiian Islands.

This was the first trip that we had ever stopped at Flatbread in Paia. Located on the corner of the infamous Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue, this pizzeria is THE meeting place for locals and tourists alike in Paia.

While Flatbread appears to be a product of this town’s liberally slanted residents, it’s actually the lone outpost of a small chain of restaurants that started in New England. My guess is that there was no shortage of volunteers to open the one in Hawai’i.

If there was a pizzeria that had to open in a specific town, this would be the perfect marriage. Organic ingredients, as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, and donating a portion of profits to charity are the tenets of Flatbread Company.

When we first walked in about six o’clock the place was almost filled. There were probably more locals than tourists, (which was a good sign). There were actually a lot of families with children, this is a very kid friendly kind of place.

Large and in Charge Wood Fired Clay Oven

The wood-fired clay oven is one of the first things you see when you walk through the door. As we sat down I could just smell these pizzas coming out of the oven, one right after the other. Since we were fairly close to the oven we got a sneak peak at what they were serving up. *Seriously…my stomach is growling right now just writing about them. There is literally saliva filling my mouth as we speak. Gross, but true.* I caught a glimpse of the kalua pork pizza and knew straight away that I was going to get it. My guess is that this is obviously is exclusive to the Paia Flatbread Company. It was absolutely the best Hawaiian pizza I’ve ever tasted. Where most incarnations have just pineapple and ham, this one had kalua pork, red onions, and pineapple. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Hawaiian Pizza (The Real Deal)

If there was one downer to our visit, it’s that I didn’t bring my ID. They’re pretty adamant about checking birth dates, so if you want to drink - don’t forget license. The server was not willing to take one of my gray chest hairs as proof of age. Oh well, it’s my fault for not bringing the damn thing with me.

Chalkboard Showing Suppliers

The one aspect of the restaurant I thought was really cool is the chalkboard that lists the companies of the locally sourced food. Chef Michel Nischan at The Dressing Room in Westport, CT actually incorporates little blurbs about his purveyors in his menu. I’ve never understood why more restaurants don’t provide the provenance of their locally sourced food (unless of course it isn’t as local as they would want people to believe). Why not educate your customers about the various growers who are supplying the restaurant? Once people taste good produce and no where it’s coming from, I’m thinking they’re going to want to go to restaurants that cook with it.

As we left, the place was packed and there was a wait. As I said before it’s wildly popular with local families as well as tourists, but if you arrive around six or so it wasn’t full yet. The vibe is awesome, the service is friendly, and most importantly the food is awesome. If you’re hungry bring some stomach room, and if you’re thirsty bring your ID.

89 Hana Hwy
Paia, HI 96779
(808) 579-8820

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Thursday, August 13, 2009


A well designed outdoor space can make all the difference when it comes to deciding on a place to eat. Here in Ohio, especially if you live in Cleveland, beautiful weather for eating outside a very few. When I do get those kinds of nights I, and everyone else, look to take advantage of restaurants with nice patios.

Before we even knew if there was going to be a beautiful night or not we made a reservation at Barcelona in German Village. We had driven past it numerous times in the past, but kept driving because we were broke college students at the time. Word on the street was that Barcelona has the best patio in the state capitol.

As it would turn out, the wonderful patio experience had to wait. It was raining pretty hard when we arrived and continued throughout the whole meal. If we had wanted to wait a half an hour we could have actually eaten outside under the roofed area. I didn’t feel like eating in the cold wet air.

The patio design was extremely well thought out. One of my biggest pet peeves is brick pavers or rough uneven pavement under my chair. Here the have a smooth finish with a slight roughness to it (like a tennis court), that you can actually slide your chair in and out on. The pavement also doesn’t give you a wobbly chair or table. There is no absence of privacy. A tall fence runs the perimeter of the area with plants everywhere to help soften the starkness of the fence. Finally, there is a whole row of tables that are under a roof so that it provides protection from the hot sun or the rain.

The interior of the building is no slouch, either. Housed in the typical German Village brick commercial building, Barcelona has seating the length of the restaurant down the right wall. A bar is on your right as you walk in, and then seating extends all the way to the back of the dining room. One of the neat touches I noticed was curtains that had been slung over the central duct work along the ceiling. It appeared that they could be brought down to separate different tables for privacy.

When I think of Spanish food we immediately think of Amada, in Philadelphia (if you’re ever there you’ve got to go). While Amada is more of a pure tapas restaurant, Barcelona offers a mixture of tapas (served as simply appetizers), soups and salads, and entrees – two different approaches, both Spanish, both delicious.

Regina ordered the Tapas Tasting Menu, which was comprised of eight separate items. Most weren't more than a few bites. I thought it was an excellent way to sample the range of the menu, and not have to order just one thing. For her, the corn salad, pan seared scallop, smoked trout salad, and deviled eggs were the most memorable. The tapas tasting runs $30.

On the servers recommendation I opted for the ever popular Paella Barcelona - basmati rice, chicken, spicy chorizo, shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, sofrito, roasted peppers, and peas. What can I say other than it was a gorgeous dish. The flavors were really popping in this thing, not to mention the monster portion. If you come here somebody has got to order this dish, it's absolutely fantastic (and it reheated very well).

Needless to say, there was no room left for dessert. For us, Barcelona is certainly a Top 10 for Columbus. While this is Spanish food, I would think there really isn’t much here that is way out in left field. I have to believe that most everyone would be able to find something to eat of this menu. If you’ve never been, you have to try it.

Wouldn’t you know it, as we left it stopped raining. Oh well, maybe next time we can sit on the patio.

263 E Whittier St
Columbus, OH 43206
(614) 443-3699

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blue Canyon

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I think it's fair to say that Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern is a much loved Cleveland area restaurant. Twinsburg's most recognized eatery offers up big food, a big bar, and a big patio, providing something for everyone. On this occasion I met a couple of friends for some food out on the patio.

Up until now I had never actually eaten out in the patio area (it IS Cleveland, so as far as patios go it's not a long season). The multi-tiered layout breaks up the space so that it creates a more intimate setting.

The menu out on the patio is a little different from the one in the dining (at least I think that's what the server told us). Most of what you find on the patio menu is shareable in some form. We were a little irritated that the guy that was serving us hadn't eaten most of what was on the patio menu. At one point we asked, "What's good?" to which he replied, "I don't know I haven't had much of it." What?!?!? He did say that he was very familiar with the indoor menu.

This was an "after a round of golf" dinner for us, so communal dining was a welcome departure from the massive dinners that are served inside. Since we ordered quite a bit of food I'm not going to get into the blow by blow, but the sushi actually reminded me of a place I ate at down in Augusta, GA called Takosushi, sushi with a southwest flair.

There are others who are bigger fans of Blue Canyon, than I. The dining room serves up food that sticks to your ribs, if that's your kind of thing. I'm not saying that the food is bad (or even average), it's just that it not really my cup of tea. With that being said, our patio dining experience was a Top 5 for Cleveland (behind only 3 Birds and L'Albatros). The guy I ate with is really picky, the other two were out-of-towners who eat for a living (salesman), all were raving by the end of dinner.

I know summer is almost over, but if you have a chance and you get a nice night you have to give it a try.

As a side note I think the website for Blue Canyon sucks, but the "Chef's Blog" while not updated frequently, is very thoughtful and candid.

Blue Canyon Kitchen and Tavern
8960 Wilcox Dr
Twinsburg, OH 44087
(330) 486-2583

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Bacon Fat Spice Cookies

I typically buy about 3 or 4 cookbooks a year. So far this year I’ve purchased Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini, The Perfect Scoop by Dave Leibvowitz, and Fat by Jennifer McLagan.

I want to focus on Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. Let me start by saying that I think this is fantastically researched book. McLagan offers a ton of information about butter, pork, poultry, beef, and lamb fat. Small historical blurbs are sprinkled about the pages of the book, while also including unique recipes, and basic techniques for utilizing fat.

As an example McLagan gives a recipe for Bacon Baklava and the page next to it is a recipe that utilizes all of the rendered fat from the bacon in the form of Bacon Fat Spice Cookies. I thought it sounded interesting so I decided to have a go. I wanted to try the bacon baklava but had been given the task of making the bacon for a family brunch. Armed with a pound of Curly Tail Farms bacon, I saved the rendered fat for the cookies.

The sound of bacon fat in your cookies sounds utterly disgusting. Visions of cool, thick, white grease being left behind by, of all things, a dessert is less than appetizing. After thinking about it a little bit, though, you realize that fat is fat. As long as you’re not after a buttery taste to begin with, and are using it in a strongly flavored spice cookie with a dominant taste of gingerbread, what’s the difference?

The straightforward recipe resulted in a couple dozen cookies that had the texture of freshly baked sugar cookies that were still warm. They taste just like gingerbread cookies only chewier. I, nor anyone else, could taste the saltiness of the bacon in the cookies themselves.

I enjoy making stuff like this, if for no other reason because it makes me think alternatively about how or why we use certain ingredients. The next time you’re in a bookstore look for Fat. I think you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

By the way, I love recipes that are written in the metric system, which is what the author has done in this book.

Bacon Fat Spice Cookies by Jennifer McLagan in her new book “Fat”

Makes 20 to 24 cookies (made 22 for me)
  • Flour - 1 ¼ cups/5 oz./150g
  • Sugar – ½ cup/3 ½ oz/100g plus 1 teaspoon
  • Sea Salt – 1 teaspoon
  • Cinnamon (ground) – ¾ teaspoon
  • Ginger (ground) – ¾ teaspoon
  • Cloves (ground) – ¾ teaspoon
  • Bacon Fat – ½ cup/3 ½ oz./100g (from approximately 1 pound of bacon)
  • Molasses – 2 Tablespoons
  • Egg – 1
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Line 2 Large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Combine the flour, ½ cup/3 ½ oz/100g of the sugar, the salt, and the spices in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the bacon fat, molasses, and egg and pulse until the mixture forms a soft dough.

3. Take level tablespoons of the dough and roll them into balls. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches / 5 cm apart. Using a fork, flatten the balls slightly, and sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar.

4. Bake the cookies until they are beginning to brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool slightly on the baking sheets and then transfer to a wire rack.

Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to a week.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Stone Mad? Absolutely.

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We went to Stone Mad Pub, Restaurant, and Bocce for the first time. First impressions? Stone - lots and lots of stone. I have never in my life seen so much stonework in one place in my entire life. Why is that significant? My father is a masonry contractor.

High Heels + Alcohol + Stone Parking Lot May Equal Broken Ankle

The World's Most Beautiful Garbage Stall

We sat out on the patio which is completely made out of stone. The floor, the walls, the tables, and yes, even the seats were made of the stuff. The inside of the building has a rustic Irish pub decor, with an indoor bocce ball downstairs.

Very Cool (What's it say?)

For appetizer, we ordered the brie wrapped in phyllo with strawberry sauce. Regina and I split a burger with blue cheese and side of the home fries. The burger was good, the potatoes were not. The potatoes were more soggy than crispy and had little to no taste. Stone Mad doesn't have a deep fryer, which I think is great, but I think some rosemary or garlic would have gone a long way to improve things. The bocce ball, which is a piece of chocolate cake covered with chocolate ganache, with bocce ball score marks in it. Not only was it good, but the idea was original.

The Bocce Ball

The food is straight forward - too straight forward. At the end of the whole thing I'd say it's a great place to drink, with the food feeling like an add-on. At the end of the night it seemed like bar first and a restaurant second.

Stone Mad Pub, Restaurant and Bocce
1306 W 65th St
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 281-6500

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