Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where in the hell have you been?

Sorry for the lull in postings. I've been traveling back and forth from Cleveland to New Jersey fairly frequently and it doesn’t look like it will end for a few more weeks. In the meantime I continue to wrack up potential postings, with no time to really write about them.

When I'm not working I find myself in a frantic race against the impending Cleveland winter to finish removing paint from the "Incredible Molting House". It's been a real pain in the ass, but when I'm done this thing is going to look awesome (and won't have to be painted for awhile).

Since I'm still getting my ass kicked between work and the house, I figured I'd just drop a few random thoughts...

The Deck
I admit that I'm a Cleveland Independents whore. When those gift certificate sales come out we're all over them. About a month ago they started selling something called "The Deck" ($29.95). It's an actual deck of cards that has a $10 off coupon printed on each one. As you would expect, some of these offers are better than others. I think I can say that for the money, it will pay for itself with relative ease. If you don't have one you can purchase them here.

Some people rave about this place. I think I'm just lukewarm on it. I'd been a couple of times before and I found it to be "meh". This time I loved it. I had the Harissa Chicken Wings. In a word - awesome. While not for everyone, theies things are long on heat. The waitress told me they were braised and then somehow cooked so they were crispy. When I asked if they were deep fried she said they weren't. Whatever they did to them they were worth the price of admission. I would say they're neck and neck with the smoked wings from Fathead's. These are actually what I was expecting GHT's to taste like. A lot of people rave about those wings, I just don't think they have enough flavor (although I love the restaurant). I will say that Luxe has good desserts at good prices. In fact, most are so big they could be shared.

Buckeye Beer Engine
Went to "The Engine" and found Stuart Spivack (purveyor of fine food photography according to the acknowledgments part of the McNulty's Bier Market menu) ordering up good eats. During the course of dinner, I found out he was a fellow Buckeye. Thank God he wasn't a teaching assistant for one of my many forays in OSU calculus. You'll be happy to know that I did eventually make it out of that horrible subject alive. That is one thing I don't miss.

Jeni's Beet Lemon Poppy Seed Ice Cream
When we went to GHT last Saturday (thanks Julie), the guest of honor, Johnathan, was the only one with the balls to order the ice cream. It should have been called Red Lemon Ice Cream. The was nothing "beet-y" about it; except for its color. I had the apple crisp (which I didn't care for all that much). The chocolate mousse is probably the best thing I've had there.

Velvet Tango Room
Went there for the first time - Holy Shit.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Route 62 Barbecue

The definition of the word “barbecue” means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some it’s all about the sauce. For others it can be summed up in one word – smoke. And still others aren’t quite sure what it means. Like a toddler who has a favorite corner of their blanket, they can’t seem to put into words exactly what it is they like, all they know is that they like it…a lot.

You can imagine my skepticism when I had heard rumblings that a barbecue place was cranking out ‘cue that surpasses that of City Barbeque (my favorite in Ohio). Since opinions on this particular subject are so passionate and varied, there was really only one way to verify such a claim – go there and try it for myself.Since Regina was involved in a certification exam all weekend, I had pretty much all day to drive around and try places that I had meaning to try.

On this warm Saturday afternoon my first stop was going to be Route 62 Barbecue in Johnstown, OH (located about a half hour or so from Easton Town Center in New Albany). As I pulled up to my destination there were a number of “good barbecue place” hallmarks. The first thing you notice is the line that already existed at 11am. As I parked my car near the back I noticed two monster Ole Hickory Pit smokers. The building itself is just a stark block building that was built to be used as something other than a restaurant. This, too, I consider to be a good sign as it shows there is one reason why people are lining up to get in – and it ain’t the ambiance.

Ole Hickory Pit Double Trouble

There are picnic tables out front and about 15-20 seats inside the small front area of the restaurant. As far as eating at the restaurant, it’s a clean brightly decorated space with pictures of family, reviews, and barbecue related items on the walls.

As I waited in line I realized that most of the people were there to pick up catering orders for the Ohio State game that started in an hour.

I don’t say this very often, but looking at the menu on the wall, the prices seemed a little low. If I had glasses, I would have taken them off to clean them when I saw “Baby Back Ribs - $10”. Tough, chewy, inedible ribs from a chain don’t cost ten bucks. What’s the going rate for the best? How much for a death row slab? I was becoming skeptical; Route 62 was defying the law of good food vs. price, and it was making me uneasy. Good food, relative to its competitors, is typically not cheap in comparison (example Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream).

I ordered the smoked turkey sandwich with a side of baked beans and coleslaw. If Route 62 was going to win my heart, they were going to have to trump City Barbecue’s baked beans straight away. I realized after I placed the order, that a small bit of coleslaw actually comes with each sandwich. I was a little pissed at myself because I could have tried three sides instead of two. Dammit, I wanted to try the skillet corn!

I sat down at the table and opened up the container. Whoosh! The smoky scented steam rolled off the turkey and up my nostrils opening the flood gates in my mouth known as salivary glands.
The turkey is smoky.

The turkey is moist (for some reason women hate that word).

The turkey is going to make me drive two hours each way from Cleveland to Columbus on Thanksgiving Day. It’s that good. No sauce, no gravy, no anything necessary. Their turkey is a natural beauty – absolutely no makeup required.The baked beans were also very carefully crafted. Comprised of about five different beans, not the ketchupy brown sugar type (I normally gravitate toward), no chunks of meat; I thought this thing was going straight into the trash. Wrong! The textural differences of the beans combined with the brown gravy-like sauce were very different…and absolutely delicious.

The coleslaw reminds me a lot of the stuff that they serve at KFC. I actually prefer it chipped into smaller pieces, especially if it’s on a sandwich. It isn’t the shredded kind containing the tough strands of cabbage, or even worse, the bland kind with pepper on it.

So much food…so little stomach room…so far from Cleveland. The prices are awesome and the food is mind blowing.

Fact: Owners Jarid Blinsky and Brad Jalovec have the total package in Route 62 Barbecue.

Fact: This is the best I’ve had in Ohio.

Fact: The menu defies the laws of delicious food.

Update May 1, 2010

The food is as good as ever. Jarid let me take a picture of a suckling pig he was smoking for a regular's graduation party.

Suckling Pig a-roastin'

Where there's a smoke ring, there's flavor!

Route 62 Barbecue
580 W Coshocton St
Johnstown, OH 43031
(740) 967-2462

Route 62 Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Buckeye Beer Engine

Make sure to check here for more Cleveland posts

Buckeye Beer Engine does not get that much play with the local food scene. Cheesecake and I went there last night; which was my first time. What can I say other than I was very, very impressed. If I lived on this side of town I would be either an alcoholic, chub tub, or an alcoholic chub tub.

I liked it on three separate levels: the beer, the food, and the setting.

The Beer
BBE offers up 27 different beers on tap. With four separate price points ranked by letters A thru D, with A being the most expensive, they have a beer for the aficionado as well as the “I don’t care, just gimme a goddam beer” crowd (my father falls in the latter category). Since I’m a huge fan of Bear Republic Brewing, I went with the Hop Rod Rye. A self proclaimed Racer 5 addict, I was surprised that I liked this one more than maybe Racer 5. Later on I finished my dinner with Buckeye Brewing’s, Buckeye Bling Bling; which ended up being okay. Aside from the one page draft list, they also have what I think is at least a 3 page bottled list that totals somewhere around the century mark. If they just served beer and nothing else I would drive from Shaker Heights to come here.

The Food

While we waited for the food to come, we talked about what makes a good burger. Does it have to be a hand-made patty or can it be preformed? Is it the bread? Is it the toppings? Is it the sides that come with it? Does price play a role? Does a burger get points if it's cheaper, like $6, but a click below the $16 version? The discussion could have lasted hours. Each question giving rise to new ones. It just the kind of exercise you want to be engaged in when there's an entire keg of Hop Rod Rye on tap.

From some of the things I’ve read BBE cited fairly regularly as having a good hamburger. Cheesecake would be the only one sampling the bovine bliss tonight due to the fact that I am in the middle of trying to lose weight. Here something cool: if you see a burger you like but don’t want the hamburger patty, you can substitute it for a chicken breast or a spicy bean patty. I ordered the Blackened Burger (chicken breast substitute), with Cajun seasoning, topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions, and blue cheese. It had an awesome char on it, the bun was just a plain (but very soft and fresh), and there was so many big chunks of cheese on it they were falling out the back of the bun. Looking back I think this is the best sandwich I’ve had this year. A side of shoestring fries and a deep fried pickle come with the sandwich.

Since I wasn’t allowed to substitute the baked beans for the fries, I ordered them “to go”. When I reheated them at home, they tasted like they were fresh out of the pot. What had intrigued me was the addition of the jalapenos. These beans tasted like my favorites down at City BBQ in Columbus. With a brown sugar influence, they tasted just like my favorites. The only difference between the two of these recipes was the subtle heat you felt at the end of each bite. If there was a gripe, it’s that there weren’t any chunks of brisket or pork (at least none that I could see). These were a special so they might not be on the menu if you go.

The Setting
A big bar dominates the central space of the restaurant, proudly declaring that beer is at the forefront of this establishment. Behind the bar sits a battalion of taps, eager to serve any thirsty customers who come through the door. To the left of the bar are tables and booths, with high boys rounding out the balance of the seating in the front of the restaurant. I know it isn’t much consolation heading into winter, but a sizeable patio area wraps around the front of the building. I actually like drinking great beer with loud music, but it might not be the place to take the elders if they’re looking for burgers, unless you can sit outside or they too enjoy loud music beer drinking. In which case, a good time will be had by all.

The bottom line is that this is THE place to have sandwiches and beer. I know this may be sacrilege but I’m going to go so far as to say that the beer (27 different drafts, 100+ bottles), the food (inventive tasty sandwiches with bread that will actually fit in your mouth), and setting (both have loud music, both have tables and chairs but BBE just has more of them, and no 2 hour wait). I have a gift certificate for Melt that I still have to use, but after that I think I’ve eaten for the last time at the one in Lakewood. As far as my D, D, and D Mondays have gone with Cheesecake, this one was the best yet. Buckeye Beer Engine is definitely worthy of a special drive from Shaker.

Buckeye Beer Engine
15315 Madison Ave
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-2337

Buckeye Beer Engine on Urbanspoon