Sunday, September 19, 2010

Quick Bites in the Heights

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Lately I've been more inclined to try places that I've driven past a hundred times, but never actually stopped at. I've heard about the patio at Lopez Bar and Grill as being an exceptional place to enjoy a margarita on a balmy summer evening. A Touch of Italy sits across Chagrin Blvd from the Heinen's I go to every week - yet I've never stopped. Mama Joyce's Soul Food serves daily lunch specials during the week with prices that give you serious pause for thought. Clyde's Bistro & Barroom has - to the dismay of some and the glee of others - received a face lift. All worthy candidates, yet repeatedly jilted.

There are no more excuses. Step aside Menu 6 (some big time deals here). You'll have to wait Dante. Chinato? Back of the line.

It's time to roll up my sleeves, crawl into the mine, and dig up some diamonds.

Clyde's Bistro & Barroom is an old dining car that has been recently updated and perhaps gussied up a bit from its past incarnations. Judging by what I had read there were some mixed opinions on what they had done to the old lady. Admittedly I had never seen the building dressed in the clothes of her former self, but I will say that the food here does match the decor. Clearly the whole diner thing was not working at the location. In the end it is about making money.

Clyde's serves a similar menu to what you might find at Champp's (yeah, they're special - they get two p's). The menu is a full on mixture of american and comfort foods. Portions are large enough to where a normal person is able to finish their entree and not feel like they just gained ten pounds. Not that there are to0 many patio kind of days left, but Clyde's does offer a patio that is pleasantly guarded from the traffic noise on Lee Rd.

On the night we went, the median age appeared to be somewhere in the range of 60-65. This isn't an dig on the establishment - just an observation. I'm hoping the place isn't empty in the winter when they all go to FLA.

I recommend the Cubana Panini. Should you feel so inclined to go there is a good deal on gift certificates for Clyde's here.

Clyde's Bistro & Barroom
1975 Lee Rd
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 321-7100

Clyde's Bistro & Barroom on Urbanspoon

I'm not sure why I've never felt the need to go to Lopez Bar and Grill at Cedar Lee, but the beautiful summer night presented the prime patio weather. Feeling the need to try something new, Regina suggested going to Lopez. She had never been - and neither had I - so Lopez it was.

The first thing I noticed as we walked through the front door was the decor. A southwest color scheme is put forth, but without all of the kitschy touches one would typically expect at a Mexican restaurant. The patio is integrated into the physical restaurant via opened doors and windows. Typically in Cleveland, the dining room and the patio are two very separate areas due to the cold weather we have here, but Lopez does a nice job of combining the two.

I don't remember her name but our server was very attentive. (You'd know her if you saw her because her arms were incredible for a woman her age. Just sayin'.) If I had any gripe it was that the margarita was a little skimpy for the price (half off from 5-9 on Tues. + Thurs). What wasn't skimpy was the unbelievable size of the guacamole sampler. This behemoth of an appetizer consists of traditional, bacon + pineapple, and blue cheese + sage - my favorite being the bacon + pineapple. This could easily be shared by four people.

Arriving with eyes bigger than my stomach and ordering my entree before I saw the size of the appetizer, I went with the pulled pork "wet burritos". This combination of spicy pork, black beans, and jack cheese was presented in such a way that there was a good ratio of meat to tortilla. Nothing makes a carnivore angrier than an out of whack M:T ratio that is heavily skewed toward T. Combined with the appetizer and a skimpy margarita, the burritos tested my stomach's bounds and made for a beautiful summer night.

Lopez Bar and Grill
2196 Lee Rd
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 932-9000

Lopez Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trattoria on the Hill

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First a pet peeve of mine: small parking lots where they insist on valeting the car and then park it ten steps away from the entrance to the restaurant. I understand if you want to charge me to park. That's fine, parking is at a premium in this area (not quite as bad as the North End of Boston), but they should be allowed to charge for the parking. BUT, when I finish dinner and have to wait behind two other parties when my car is so close I could fart on it - I get irritated. Just put somebody at the entrance to the parking lot (like they do at L'Albatros) and charge what you need to charge and be done with it .

I ordered the breaded veal special of the evening with a side of veg and pasta. The veal spent way too long in the fryer or pan or whatever they cooked it in. (Judging by the way it was breaded I'm guessing fryer.) Very tough and greasy. The pasta was cooked just the way I like it, but there was a TON of sauce on it. In general I think most of what they serve here is sauced with a very heavy hand. Giving them the benefit of the doubt; perhaps that's the way their customers prefer it, which in the end does have a major affect on what stays on the menu and how it's served.

Dessert had quite the selection: Cannoli, Cassatta Cake and the ubiquitous Tiramisu. With the wide variety at Presti's and the gelato at Anthony's (I recommend trying both), we decided to walk our dinner off and get some gelato.

My guess is the attraction at Trattoria on the Hill or Roman Gardens is that the food is your typical red sauce Italian American fare that everyone here in the US equates to as "Italian". Admittedly, Trattoria does serve up monster portions for a very affordable price. If you like that sort of meal then I think you will most certainly enjoy your visit here. I found the service to be very cordial and attentive - the waiter had the accent to boot If you're looking for something similar to what you'd find in Italy I'd keep looking. I'm always happy when a place is packed. It means some sector of the dining public is very happy with the food that's being served - even if it isn't my thing.

Trattoria on the Hill (Roman Gardens)
12207 Mayfield Rd
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 421-2700

Trattoria on the Hill (Roman Gardens) on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 10, 2010

What about Bob's? (Yeah, that's the name of the business.)

Baby Steps

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I've heard nothing but great things about a little sandwich shop in Willoughby. They were pretty busy when I visited, so I didn't want to bother someone about the genesis of the establishment's name. The only thing that comes to mind is Bill Murray's OCD character in the '80's movie What about Bob.

Though the menu has 10 different sandwiches on it and 10 different wraps the prices are pretty easy to remember: $3.99 for a 12" $6.99 for a 24". As is my usual custom when trying a place for the first time, a straight forward signature sandwich like the Bob's Ultimate Original Sub was ordered.

The crew of four or five work together like a well oiled machine to crank out these monsters. WAB's? does a huge lunch business so efficiency is an absolute must. Probably two minutes after I placed my order the sandwich was wrapped and ready to go. I had to get back home, so I didn't stay there and eat. They have 3 or 4 tables that have a lawn furniture look to them (so do the chairs), with a television running in the corner.

The first thing you notice about these sandwiches is the heft. As I opened the wrapper the next thing that jumped out at me was the beautiful french baguette they serve. I don't know if they make their own bread or not, but the quality of the bread is almost in the same league as Sarcone's Deli and Primo's Hoagies in Philly. (Both make their own bread so it's not out of the realm of possibility that WAB's? does as well).

How in the HELL am I going to eat all of that?

WAB's? follows its wonderful french bread prelude with the guts of the sandwich backing up the promises made by the beautiful bun. On the first bite there's a little bit of everything ...meats...cheeses....vegetables....sauce. Everything makes its presence known as you make your way through this very filling sandwich. The onions are finely sliced so that their essence is evident but not clumsy and overpowering. The meat and cheese is generously spread throughout so as to not end up with empty bread on the last few bites. (Or worse yet, have a quarter of the bun left when you suddenly feel that last bit of meat squirt into your mouth like a small turd.)

I can't say that I understand the name, but the next time I stop I'll ask about it. As far as hoagie style sandwiches go, WAB's? pretty much smashes everything else I've had in Cleveland. If there IS a better sub, I'd like to see it.

What about Bob's?
38233 Glenn Avenue
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 951-9700

What About Bob's? on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 9, 2010

No false advertising at Compola's Tasty Pizza

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As far as I'm concerned the west side has the east side beat hands down in pizza. Up until last Saturday, Geraci's was really the only pie on this side of town that I would put in my Cleveland top five. (I don't count Crostatas because they're Neapolitan.)

Ever the optimist, I've soldiered on and continued the pizza quest here on the east side. Since we were staying in and wanted to watch the newly arrived Paris, Je T'aime from Netflix (great movie BTW twenty different five minute short films about love in Paris), we wanted something that would hold up to the drive home. I had heard nothing but good things from people about Compola's Tasty Pizza on Mayfield Rd so we decided to give it a try.

Tasty Pizza, as it's commonly referred to, has dine in as well as carryout and delivery. The dining room is a a series of tables with wooden benches and chairs. While certainly not the kind of place to park your ass for hours on end, it is by no means a dive.

Mushroom, Onion, Bulk Sausage on left
Pepperoni, Bulk Sausage and Bacon on right

After paying $15.25 for a 12" with three toppings on each side (pepperoni, bulk sausage, and bacon on my half - onions, mushrooms, and bulk sausage on Regina's half), I hopped in the car and sped home. As is always the custom, I place the pizza in the boot of the car to keep any pieces from falling out during the drive back. I don't know what is, but I usually find one or two slices missing if the box sits on the passenger seat. Don't let this happen to you. Secure that stuff!

We queued up the movie and dug into the box. I like Geraci's a lot, but this pizza had much of what I like about Geraci's and none of what I don't like about them. For me it all starts with the crust. If the crust sucks it doesn't matter what you put on top - the whole thing is going to taste like supermarket dreck.

Tasty makes a dough that has a moderate chew to it, but doesn't have the crunchy edges that destroy the roof of your mouth. (Think age 10... bus comes in five minutes... you wolf down an entire bowl of Cap'n Crunch in spend the entire ride to school tonguing the tattered remains of skin hanging from the roof of your mouth.) The bottom has a brown crispy coating that lends a little bit of crispiness to the pleasantly chewy dough.

The cheese and the sauce are moderately applied. Some people like pizza that is loaded with cheese that when lubed with a lot of sauce slides right the crust - leaving you with a big old hunk of cheese and pepperoni dangling past your chin. Tasty puts enough cheese and sauce to where it clings to the dough anchoring the toppings in place - nice and clean-like.

The toppings were actually very good, too. The mushrooms are fresh (not out of can), which Regina doesn't typically like due to their chewiness, but these were really thin and may have been sauteed. The onions were quartered and thinly sliced which evenly distributed the flavor throughout the slice. My slices were decidedly salty which has a tendency to happen when you have that much cured meat you're half the pie.

I absolutely loved this place. If you look at the list on the upper right you'll see that Compola's Tasty Pizza is the new #2 on my list of "Best Pizza Americana in Cleveland". If you're within striking distance of Richmond and Mayfield Rds in Lyndhurst, you have got to try this little pizzeria.

Update: October 15th, 2010
We ordered a 12", and 14" was accidentally made. Perhaps it was an off night, but the crust was a bit out of control (very thin toward the middle and very puffy and doughy around the edges). I think the 12" might be the best incarnation of this particular pizza. If you do order their sausage, make sure you order the bulk sausage. The regular sausage is thinly cut and tucked under the cheese. I thought the bulk was above average.

Update: November 3rd, 2010
We ordered the 12" and the world balance was restored. The crust was king and the pie disappeared in 20 minutes flat. While waiting for my pizza I noticed the row of coolers against the wall. Tasty has a rather extensive lineup of conventional beers as well as craft beers from, but not limited to, Dogfish Head, Founders, Tröegs, Flying Dog, and Great Lakes ($3 a bottle). If there's one thing nearly every pizza shop across the country lacks, it's a decent selection of suds that aren't created by the Evil Empire. Just one more reason to head over to the this gem on Mayfield Rd.

Compola's Tasty Pizza
5101 Mayfield Rd
Cleveland, OH 44124
(440) 449-1252

Tasty Pizza Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ray's Place

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When we moved back to Cleveland we were actually naïve enough to think we would see our friends and family more often. Since just about everyone we know has had kids (and lives on the west side), we’ve found increasing difficult to find people able to go out to dinner with.

Through the magic of Facebook I’ve reconnected with an old friend from high school. Upon finding out he was married with two children, I figured this was going to be another “we can’t go more than 300 feet from our house” situation. To our surprise they both enjoy going out and don’t mind driving if they have to. (The added bonus here is that his wife Paula is really cool, too. What sucks worse than going out with a friend only to have a wet rag spouse come along?)

Since her mother lives in Kent and would watch the children (for the low, low price of free) I suggested Ray’s Place. I had heard nothing but good things and even though I spent a year attending school there – I had never been.

We met there about 7 on a Saturday night and there were tables available. I’m going to foreshadow a little here, but for food that is this good and inexpensive I’m surprised we didn’t have a wait. (I will say that I don’t think the students were back yet.) When school’s in session I imagine the story changes a little.

So we sit down and Jay tells me that draft list actually looks pretty good. Well, actually looking at September’s draft list things look better than good, (Southern Tier Pumpking, Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA). Sign me the hell up. Who’s going with me? So the draft beer list is really good. The happy hour is more like happy dinner service – it runs from 4-9pm!

The food here is high quality (and high fat). If you think you’re going to walk in and eat a bunch of low calorie BS, you’d better think again. That being said, I’m from the school of “I don’t give a damn what the calories are – but they better be worth it!” I can say unequivocally - it is. I ordered the Stuffed Gourmet Burger (6oz. patty, stuffed with mushroom duxelle (a minced mushroom, oniony mixture), topped with caramelized onions, and blue cheese served on a Kaiser roll). I hate stuff that comes on Kaiser rolls – unless it’s a stack of twenties – but the burger was so juicy that the firmer, drier roll actually kept the thing from being a sopping wet mess. A Shake Shack bun would not have been good for this particular burger.

Many a hamburger experience has been ruined by sub par fries – but this is not one of those stories. The fries are of the fresh cut variety and come in potato and sweet potato form. They actually call the sweet potato version “Sun Fries”. All of them were light and crispy. I don’t even think the ones at the bottom were soggy.

Ray’s Place is epic. I hit the trifecta on this visit: draft beer selection, burgers, and fries – all kicked ass. This is the kind of restaurant you can bring anyone in your family, from baby to grandparent. There’s something for everyone here. As I said before, I’m not really sure what the waiting routine is when school is in session so I might call ahead to find out.

Ray's Place
135 Franklin Ave
Kent, OH 44240
(330) 673-2233

Ray's Place on Urbanspoon