Monday, July 16, 2012

Dayton: Bill's Donut Shop

Old school donut shops are a favorite of mine. There's something about the distinct smell of donut frying oil and freshly brewed coffee that I find oddly appealing. Linoleum floors, chromed stools bolted to the floor, yellowing back lit signs with blue snap-in plastic letters, all take me back to the shops of my childhood.

Bill's Donut Shop is such a place.

Old School
If you look Bill's up on the internet, you're probably going to find claims like "the best donuts ever" or "I've lived all over the country and never found anything that comes close to Bill's". I suspect many of these declarations come from a place of nostalgia. Thousands of children brought up on these donuts. Childhood memories are a powerful thing.

The truth is that the donuts' at Bill's are hardly what I would consider unique. One could go to most old school shops around the country and they'd find many of the same things they sell here. There is, however, a HUGE selection and the prices are very reasonable (70¢ a piece).

So what did I get? If it's called "Red Velvet", I'll buy it - and I did. Essentially a chocolate cake donut dyed red with cream cheese frosting, the Red Velvet was one of the more inventive offerings they had here. I like it.

Bill's is open 24 hours, so if you're looking to miss the morning rush - and it is busy all morning - then you can stop in just about anytime of day. Even though the parking lot was full the counter is well staffed, very friendly, and moves with purpose. Lines don't last long here.While it isn't someplace I would go out of my way to get to, if you're in the area I would certainly give it a shot. I'll be the first to admit that this is not on par with Dynamo Donut in San Francisco, but then again it is about a quarter of the price, too.

Bill's Donut Shop
268 N Main St
Centerville, OH 45459 
(937) 433-0002

Bill's Donut Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cleveland: Vero Bistro

Vero Bistro is the newly incarnated pizza place in the old La Gelateria space on Fairmount. This is a very similar experience to the former tenant; the main exception is that the oven has been moved from the front to the back, and now there's an upstairs. I could be wrong but I don't recall there being upstairs seating before.
    First let's start with the website. I was critical of Sweetie Fry's website and this one is no different. Nowadays most people look at a website before they ever think about going to a restaurant. It tells a story; a first impression if you will. Since websites are fairly inexpensive to produce, a hastily thrown together website that tells us very little is not the way to start things. Unless the place is old school and its reputation precedes itself, the bare bones approach doesn't really cut it for most customers.Some pictures of the decor and the food would be nice to see.

     I ordered a Margherita pizza to go ($9). With the high heat of the wood-fired oven it was done and ready to go in a matter of minutes.

     Pizza Margherita

    Here's my assessment:
    • Very small. If you're going to serve small pizzas, put them in small boxes. This looked like a two year old child that was sleeping in a queen-sized bed. The scale dwarfs the pizza and makes it look even smaller than it really is. I'm guessing it was 10". Buy boxes that are the size of your pizzas or vice versa.
    • The sauce was actually very good. Simple and sweet. I also like the smaller basil leaves. Nothing sucks worse than have a huge basil leaf slide of the slice, hanging from you mouth.
    • There was a perfect amount of cheese. 
    • The bottom was straight up burnt. If the char was on top of the crust, it would be a little easier on the palate. A small bit of char on the bottom is good; I'm talking about spots that should be the diameter of a pea. The vast silver dollar sized char spots laid a coat of bitter burnt taste on your tongue, overpowering everything else on the pizza. Since the top was not all that charred, I have to believe the floor temp on that oven is just too damn hot. The debate of char on the bottom of the pizza is very subjective. See HERE.
     The char went too far
    •  There was not a whole lot of lift or puff to the crust. With a high heat oven you've got the thermal power to pop a fermented dough into the stratosphere. If you look at the picture this crust is pretty flat. The hole structure is fairly uniform. Top notch pizza has a pretty good diversity due to a good fermentation.
    I feel the pizzas need to be larger. The 12" pie is about as perfect as it gets in a wood-fired oven. Is it going to cost more? Sure, but I could have easily eaten two of these pizzas. Vero Bistro has only been open for a month or so. As they settle into a groove and better understand how the dough and the oven are interacting; I expect the product will get better. This isn't the last these guys have seen of me. I'll be coming in every so often to see how they're coming along. The owner is a young guy and he's going to learn from his mistakes. I have no problem updating this post to reflect an improvement over this past visit.

    Vero Bistro
    12421 Cedar Road
    Cleveland, OH 44106
    (216) 229-8383

    Vero Bistro on Urbanspoon

    Saturday, July 7, 2012

    New York: Sigmund Pretzel Shop

    As a former resident of Philadelphia I can say that I enjoy a good pretzel. So imagine my delight when I read an article in the New York Times about a little handmade pretzel place in the East Village called Sigmund Pretzel Shop. Since I obviously don't live in NYC, I made sure I marked it on my New York Google map so I could visit the next time I'm there.

    Fast forward to the present. Always looking for something that isn't so filling that it ruins dinner, but enough to bridge the gap from morning to night - I headed over to Sigmund's.

    Lina Kulchinsky's small pretzel shop is a light and airy space with folding windows. Sitting on the east side of the street, the afternoon sun floods the entire shop. Inside there is no shortage of handmade pretzels. From breakfast type things sprinkled on top (cinnamon and raisin) to the afternoon snack-like truffle and cheddar, Sigmund's offers up a good variety.

    Looking for something for lunch? Not a problem. Kulchinsky also offers up turkey, ham, smoked salmon, or caprese on a pretzel roll to knock down your lunch time hunger. I actually went with the Shaller and Weber hotdog topped with spiced kraut. Since I was on vacation and not on my lunch break, I was able to wash it down with a Spaten.

    I thought the place was pretty cool. There were, unfortunately, out of the traditional German pretzels that have are really fat and bready at the bottom and thin and crunchy at the top. Overall, I thought you paid for what you got. Sometimes I think the prices of these little shops can be completely out of line simply because they don't move enough product and need to make money. I think it's certainly unique to what NYC, which in itself is pretty hard to do. Sigmund is worth going out of your way to visit.

    Sigmund Pretzel Shop
    29 Avenue 
    New York, NY 10009
    (646) 410-0333

    Sigmund Pretzel Shop on Urbanspoon

    Since I love trying to make the very things that I enjoy eating, here is a link to one of Lina's recipes on the Martha Stewart website. It's obviously not the traditional hardcore method using lye, but I'd be interested in trying this one out.

    Wednesday, July 4, 2012

    It's Been a Rough Go

    If you're a regular reader - and I doubt there are many left- you will notice that the last couple of months things have been pretty quiet around here. The fact is, that even though the blog has been quiet doesn't mean my life has been.

    In the middle of May I suffered from the most debilitating back pain I've ever experienced in my life. I've had bouts from time to time where I have to spend a couple of days in bed, but this was different. After going on a rather lengthy bike ride, my back began to tighten up. As the day wore on it felt worse and worse. By the time I had come home from a dinner out I could not sit or stand. I laid down in bed and remained there for four days.

    Thankfully, I had my frenchie Seamus and pug Ladybug to keep me company. For those four days they basically laid in the bedroom with me, only leaving for the occasional drink of water. It always amazes me how loyal and therapeutic these wonderful animals are. They made me laugh. They made me feel better. Once I was able to actually walk, they motivated me to walk farther and farther each day.

    On Sunday, June 10th Seamus started having trouble walking. Every now and then he would yelp with pain. After a Monday vet visit, steroids, and more yelping we ended up at an animal hospital in Akron at 3:30am. With a very grim prognosis we had to make the extremely difficult decision to put him down. On June 12th - our wedding anniversary - we experienced the saddest day of our thirteen year marriage.

    So what does this have to do with my silly little blog?

    Well, Seamus was my constant shadow - and that definitely included the kitchen. He loved sitting in front of our oven because the excess heat was exhausted down near the floor. He'd just lay right in front of the vent until we had to open the door. He was also the vacuum that instantly sucked up any excess crumbs that might make their way to the floor. Our boy was also a foodie in his own right. An aficionado of carrots, blueberries, and especially green beans; the only time that dog ever left my side was when he heard his mom making her lunch in the morning. He'd hear the clinking of the glass bowls she put her blueberries in and would bound down the stairs in search of two or three fruity treats.

    His spot in front of the stove
    For most people this is just a dog. I get that. I actually used to be one of those people. I can say that after losing a dog like Seamus you're changed. He was my constant companion, and was never more than 10 feet away while I cooked the very things you see on this blog. In fact, he was more than likely laying under my desk as I wrote many of these posts.

    It takes serious wind out of your sails when something like this happens. After spending a week in NYC and Philly, I can say that I'm reinvigorated. It isn't that I'm "over" Seamus. You never forget a Hall of Famer like him. I'd like to think that I have taken on some of his zeal for life. It's the same zeal that made him pull me around one particular corner on our daily walk, so he could see what was on the other side of the hedge. It's with a Seamus-like zeal that I hope to pick up where I left all of this off.