Today is Fat Tuesday – aka Mardi Gras – which means it is Paczki Day! In Cleveland (and Chicago…and elsewhere) this is a pretty big deal – and the Polish jelly-filled doughnuts called Pączki pop up nearly everywhere. If you have a sweet tooth, you don’t want to be left out of this tradition. Cleveland.com has a guide to the best places in town the get a paczki, and they will even be live-Tweeting and Instagramming from Rudy’s Bakery in Parma, epicenter of the Paczki madness. Traditional Polish fillings are prune, jelly and poppyseed, but every year brings more unique flavors. There is even an enigmatic cannoli paczki at Colozza’s (seen below), which may just be the most Cleveland thing ever! Or go one step further, with a paczki filled with ice cream at Mitchell’s.
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We have had a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food in our day, and to be honest, a lot of it tends to run together. So we are always glad to happen upon spots that serve more regional dishes beyond the ubiquitous kebabs and hummus. At an unassuming strip mall in Avon, we found a hidden Turkish gem doing just that: Istanbul Grill (35840 Chester Rd., Avon, OH). One thing that sets Istanbul Grill apart is that it serves some slightly more unusual (and authentic) Turkish dishes you won’t see elsewhere. For example you can get kebabs over diced bread, a serving style that is common in Turkey, but I haven’t really seen much in the US. They also serve Lahmacun ($13.49) on Sundays – a Turkish pizza-style flatbread topped with ground lamb.
The decor at Istanbul Grill is simple but comfortable, with bright red walls and enlarged photos of Turkey hung throughout. We received a basket of fresh Turkish flatbread while we perused the substantial menu, with an assortment of meze, salads, kebabs (filet, lamb, chicken, shrimp and doner) and specialty meat dishes. Though there are some vegetarian options, the menu is very meat heavy. We started off with two distinctly Turkish starters: a riff on Tzatziki sauce – Cacik ($6.99) – which consists of yogurt with dill sauce, and Sigara Boregi ($7.99)- fried phyllo filled with cheese. Both were delicious and comforting, and we think we’d take Sigara Boregi over mozzarella sticks any day. For mains, we ordered the Iskander kebab – lamb and beef carved off a spit, like gyros, served over diced bread with a mild tomato sauce (seen below – $16.99); and the Hunkar Begendi (aka Sultan’s Delight – $17.99) – which was lamb with bell peppers in a tomato sauce, served over pureed eggplant and cheese. We haven’t seen either of these mains on a menu before – so we were excited to try something new.
For dessert we finished up with Kunefe ($6.99), a hot dessert with shredded wheat topped with cheese and sugar syrup, which goes perfectly with a hot cup of Turkish coffee. Both main courses were perfectly spiced, and we enjoyed the eggplant and bread as alternative sides to the more common rice. Though the prices seemed a little high, you make up for it in portions, and we were left with enough for the leftovers for the next day. A final plus, the service was friendly and attentive throughout. We highly enjoyed everything we sampled at Istanbul Grill and we look forward to working our way through the Turkish menu and coming back for some Lahmacun!
The cheese plate at Cleveland’s French stalwart L’Albatros (11401 Bellflower Rd.) is the best one we have ever tried. Usually, when you order a cheese plate at a restaurant, you get a small plate of pre-selected cheeses. Maybe at better restaurants you choose from 10 or so cheeses off of a list. One of the most disappointing things about cheese plates is either that they have repetitive, common cheeses, or the servers have no idea how to direct you to the right cheese selection. However, at L’Albatros, nothing is left to chance, and the staff goes above and beyond to help you get the right selections. You can get the cheese plate for either lunch or dinner, and you can select either 3 ($11), 5($14) or 7 ($17) cheeses. There are no pre-set selections, and the cheesemonger comes over to your table with a giant tray of dozens of cheeses, and you can talk about what you want, and even have samples! Check out at the amount of cheese to choose from (plus there were even more that didn’t fit into the frame).
Here’s what we ended up with after much discussion and sampling:
- Tomme de Savoie – France – A good start, Tomme is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor.
- Cantal – France – A sharp, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that was almost Cheddar-like in taste and consistency.
- Cabrales – Spain – M asked for the “blue-est” cheese they had, and after sampling, this was our choice. It was indeed a super sharp, crumbly sheep and cow’s milk cheese (so sharp it was almost metallic, which sounds weird, but was tasty).
- Robiola Bosina – Italy – The first of two Robiola varieties we tried. This was a more mild, creamy goat and cow cheese.
- Robiola Rochetta – Italy – As a contrast to the first robiola, this was a sharp, super-creamy (almost runny) blue cheese made with sheep, goat and cow’s milk.
We really enjoyed all of our our selections, and felt we got exactly what we wanted: a good mix of flavors and consistencies (granted we did take a while with the process). The plate also came with bread, honey and quince paste. We loved our cheese choices that night, but if we went back, we may end up with a totally different selection of just-as-delicious choices, depending on our mood. We cannot recommend the L’Albatros cheese plate enough!
Koko Bakery (3710 Payne Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114) has a little something for everyone, and is a great place in to get your bubble tea fix, and follow it up with some egg tarts and sweet red bean buns. Koko Bakery reminds us of an amalgamation of some of our favorite spots in Chicago: combining the Chinese buns from Chiu Quon Bakery with the huge bubble tea menu of Saint’s Alp, all in a clean, simple cafe that has an almost-intimidating variety of treats (and free wifi).
Along one side of the restaurant, there is a bakery case with all sorts of Chinese, Hong Kongese, and Taiwanese pastries, in both sweet and savory varieties – all you do is pick up a tray, and start using the tongs to pick out which items you want (most priced under $2). We tried the red bean bun, the Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork bun) and the egg tarts, and all were quite good (and super cheap). Other varieties of buns and pastries included bo lo (pineapple bun), taro, cream-filled, strawberry, peanut butter, scallion, cheese, beef, chocolate and coconut. Koko also has frozen buns to take and bake, sweet cakes in flavors like Ube and green tea, and a second bakery case filled with Asian and European inspired petit fours: from mango and chocolate mousses to mooncakes to mini cheesecakes. It seems like pretty much every surface of this modest store is covered in baked goods, and on the right side, you will find other non-refrigerated sweets like sesame cookies and loaves of milk bread.
The bubble tea menu is also massive! You can get all different varieties, from iced fruit smoothies to sweetened coffee to the Hong Kong style milk teas (in flavors like matcha, mango, melon, Thai tea, lychee, etc.), and you can also customize the sugar level and type of bubbles you want. Just when you thought you couldn’t eat any more, Koko also has substantial savory meals, and Taiwanese shaved ice, though we have never tried these selections. Koko Bakery is a solid Chinese bakery in Cleveland, and you can be assured that there will be something new to try on each visit!
We are all about a good bakery, and though we have visited many Italian, Mexican, French and Portuguese bakeries over the years, other countries have flown under the radar. But here in Cleveland we recently came across a bakery dedicated to all things Swiss, Zoss Bakery (12397 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights). Who knew? The concept of the Swiss bakery reminds us of New Glarus, Wisconsin, a fully Swiss-themed town, which we visited many moons ago at the start of our ETW journey. Zoss Bakery is located in a small, nondescript building in Cleveland Heights, just east of Cleveland, and is helmed by an actual Swiss baker, Kurt Zoss.
Though small, the bakery is well stocked with all manner of sweet and savory goods. There are many different types of bread on the back wall: baguette, honey wheat, sourdough, multi grain, brioche and the unusual Krustenkrone, a ring of bread composed of smaller rolls. There were also several types of croissants, both sweet and savory (almond, chocolate, cheese, ham, etc.), and Bavarian pretzels (we had to get both a croissant and pretzel – both of which were amazing). There are also more Americanized offerings like chocolate cookies, coconut macaroons and muffins.
There is also a cooler with a variety of chilled desserts, which is where the really interesting stuff was hidden. There were a variety of Swiss treats including the classic chocolate and apricot Linzer torte, apple strudel, and a flourless chocolate torte. We were also intrigued by the most geometric dessert we have ever seen, the perfectly-triangular Nussecken, which was composed of two pieces of hazelnut shortbread with apricot jam, with a coating of chocolate – delicious! We were excited to sample some more esoteric Swiss treats at Zoss, and hope to be back soon for more inexplicably geometric pastries.
Cleveland is celebrating their NBA win today, so it seemed only fitting to feature a longtime Cleveland hangout on the blog. Tucked away a few blocks from the bustling atmosphere of Cleveland’s Little Italy is the serene, bohemian Algebra Tea House (2136 Murray Hill Rd Cleveland, OH). Filled with custom, natural wood furniture, textiles from around the world, and handmade ceramics, you may just think you’ve stepped into a hippie retreat on the silk road. True to its name, the specialty at Algebra is tea, and they have a bunch of esoteric blends for drinking in house (and for sale, to bring home). A small sampling of the teas on offer included: sage herbal, hibiscus, house-made chai, Darjeeling, Dragonwell, Yunnan, Assam and White Pekoe. In the international tea section there was Moroccan mint tea, Turkish tea, Palestinian tea, and a wholly new variety for us: Libyan Tea.
We didn’t go in to Algebra Tea House expecting to gain a new country for our list- but we’ve never had any food or drink from Libya before – so we were really excited to see “Libyan tea” on the menu. Libyan tea is a blend of strong black tea, mint, sugar, and peanuts! Yes – the whole shelled peanuts are thrown right into the tea itself. The flavor is rich and peanut-y – and perfect as a pick me up. Along with tea, you can order house-roasted coffee made in a variety of styles, caffeine-free milk drinks, and fruit smoothies.There is also a pretty sizable menu of Middle-Eastern food, including hummus, falafel, shewarma and ful medames (Egyptian fava bean dip). While we came for the tea (and the Libyan tea was delicious) we were also pretty impressed with their falafel, which was made in our favorite herby, Palestinian/Israeli style. Between the good food, tea and relaxed atmosphere we could have stayed at Algebra for hours. We hope to visit Algebra Tea House again soon to sample more of their tea (and food!) menu.
One vibrant ethnic community in Cleveland has that was not really present in Chicago is Slovenian! You can even get a Cleveland Slovenian pride T-shirt! However, where Slovenians apparently make their presence known in Cleveland in sausage-making. There are several places in Cleveland to get traditional Slovenian sausage, as well as at an annual Slovenian sausage fest.
The most famous Slovenian sausage is called Klobasa and is similar to the more familiar Kielbasa. Klobasa is a smoked sausage made primarily made of pork, garlic and sometimes a bit of bacon. Some varieties of klobasa may even contain cheese. We sampled some Slovenian sausage for the first time at J & J Czuchraj Meats in the venerable West Side Market (1979 W 25th St, Cleveland, OH 44113). This stand in particular has gotten a lot of accolades and outside notice for its smoked sausages, and we were impressed by the quality when we stopped by.
However, J & J Czuchraj Meats is not the only game in town, another fine purveyor of local Slovenian sausage is Raddell’s (klobasa pictured above) on the far east side of Cleveland (478 E 152nd St., Cleveland, OH 44110) in North Collinwood. You can even purchase the smoked sausages to ship right to your door! Another benefit of Raddell’s is that they serve amazing Potica/Povitica, Eastern European nut bread. Azman’s (6501 Saint Claire Ave. Cleveland Ohio 44103) is another purveyor of Klobasa, and they walked away with the 2015 title at the Slovenian sausage festival. Where is your favorite Slovenian sausage made in Cleveland?
Barbecue aficionados are familiar by now with the main styles of American BBQ: sweet, saucy Kansas City and Memphis ribs, mustard-based South Carolina pulled pork, tomato-based Texas brisket, and vinegary North Carolina whole or chopped hog. But a new BBQ place in Cleveland is hoping to both invent and put “Cleveland Style BBQ” on the map. Mabel’s BBQ (2050 E 4th St, Cleveland, OH) is the brainchild of Cleveland-born chef Michael Symon, who decided to up and create “Cleveland-style” BBQ based on the diverse cultural influences in Cleveland cuisine. The downtown restaurant opened about two months ago – after nearly a year-long delay – to much fanfare. As a result, waiting times have been long since the opening.
We are loving the proliferation of Salvadorean pupusa places in Cleveland, and the latest stop on our pupusa exploration is Pupuseria La Bendicion (93685 W 105th St, Cleveland, OH 44111) on the southwest side of Cleveland. There are so many quality pupusas here – stuffed masa patties – that we have switched over to pupusa craving in Cleveland, leaving the taco cravings to Chicago. However, you usually have to get off the beaten path to get your pupusa fix in Cleveland: like Katerina’s, Pupuseria La Bendiction is in a semi-industrial location near the airport. The strip mall location is small, but when we entered on a weekday night, it was nearly full, and pupusas were in full production. Rest assured, the pupusas are made to order – we even heard them! There is nothing like hearing the reassuring “pat pat” as the pupusa are being made by hand and tossed on the griddle.
Happy Dyngus Day! Dyngus Day (Easter Monday – from the Polish Śmigus-dyngus ) is huge celebration in Cleveland (music automatically plays) and throughout Polish American communities, especially in Buffalo, New York . Typical Dyngus Day celebrations include pierogies, polka, free-flowing krupnik, a parade and all things Polish. Similar celebrations occur. Food and drinks are of course a focus, but so are other traditions – like attempting to soak the neighborhood girls with water and swatting them with pussy willows (yikes!). Traditionally, the girls retaliated by doing the same to the boys on Tuesday, but nowadays the retaliation occurs on the same day (how could you wait until the next day anyway?) If you are not in the area of a Dyngus Day celebration, why not celebrate with some pierogies, Bigos (Hunter’s) Stew, Haluski and Polish sausage.
We have recently realized that we are big fans of Dobos Torte, a classic Hungarian cake composed of thin layers of cake and chocolate. After having a supremely delicious Dobos Torte at Ovy Bakery in Skokie, we were pleased to find out that there was a bakery that specializes in Dobos Torte right in our neck of the woods – Farkas Pastry Shoppe (2700 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, OH). Farkas is an old-school Cleveland institution that has been around for 50 years, not really changing much in the process (which in terms of a bakery is a good thing!). Farkas specializes in Hungarian and Eastern European cakes and sweets including Esterházy Torte (an almond and apricot layered cake), Nut Rolls, and Linzer Tortes. Another great pick at Farkas is the Kréme, a Hungarian take on a Napoleon, which is vanilla creme between two sheets of puff pastry.
However, we were there specifically for the Dobos Torte (pictured above), so we made a beeline to the cakes. There is a special case at Farkas specifically for cakes – and you can get either a whole or half Dobos Torte ($25 for a whole). We bought a half cake to bring to a friend’s house, and with 5 pre-cut slices, it was perfectly portioned for the occasion. The Dobos Torte was delicious, and a little different from the traditional formulation since it had a marzipan top layer instead of caramel. The cake was a big hit at dinner – and we were impressed by the flavors as well as the expertly even layers. If you haven’t tried Hungarian pastries or cakes yet, Dobos Torte is a perfect introduction!
The main thing we miss about moving away from Chicago is proliferation of taquerias there – you could pretty much throw a stone and hit a taqueria on every corner. Sadly, we had pretty much given up on the taqueria-style Mexican food in the area, but we found a shining beacon of hope in the unlikeliest of places – Akron. It’s true – La Loma Taqueria (459 Darrow Rd, Akron, OH 44305) in Akron makes some of the best al pastor this side of Clark street. La Loma is located in a nondescript strip mall on the outskirts of Akron, a pretty unlikely location for crazy delicious and authentic tacos.
What led us to La Loma were reports of a trompo in this location – the gyro-esque spit that is required to make a proper al pastor taco. Surely enough, when we entered the taqueria we were greeted by the fully loaded trompo! In terms of tacos La Loma delivers on value and variety. At a very reasonable $1.50 each, it is feasible to try all of the meat options: carne asada, barbacoa, chorizo, chicken or tongue. We tried both al pastor and chorizo, our go-to taqueria order. Other options available with the same meats include burritos, tortas on homemade telera bread, quesadilla, flautas, sopes and tamales.
The tacos were the real deal – served on small, fresh corn tortillas, they were topped with the requisite onion and cilantro. Plus, there was a healthy slice of fresh pineapple – the holy grail of al pastor tacos – which is sometimes left off at other taquerias. The pork was spicy and the outside was well-charred, like we prefer. As a plus, there is even an impeccably clean store attached to the taqueria selling a variety of Mexican and other Latin American foods and sundries. We snagged some dried guajillo peppers and Mexican cinnamon sticks, staples we needed for recipe production. La Loma’s one flaw is that it is located a bit of a drive from where we live. However, we know we will be back when the inevitable, insatiable taco craving hits.
We have noticed a proliferation of small plates places serving globally-inspired dishes with local ingredients – and we are excited to find a local exemplar of this trend in Spice Kitchen + Bar (5800 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, OH) in the emerging foodie neighborhood of Detroit-Shoreway/Gordon Square in Cleveland. Spice Kitchen is located in an old corner building with wooden floors, large windows, a vintage bar and several rooms (some with exposed brick) forming the dining space. We love the old-school atmosphere.
Rincon Criollo (6504 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH) reminds us of home. This kind of restaurant serving Latin American or Caribbean food can be found in nearly every neighborhood in Chicago, so we felt right at home in this Cleveland mom and pop place. The food at Rincon Criollo is Puerto Rican, and it serves a menu of island favorites at reasonable prices. We arrived on a Friday night (note that they close at 8 PM) and the place was full of families and couples ordering takeout. The menu focuses on meat-heavy dishes like roast pork, roast chicken, beef stew and pork chops with sides of rice and beans (all less than $10). Rounding out the menu is a selection of sandwiches and a huge variety of traditional sides including maduros and tostones (fried savory or sweet plantains).
One of our favorite carb & filling combos is the Salvadorean pupusa, which just may be one of the ultimate comfort foods. Katerina’s Pupuseria (1409 Brookpark Rd., Cleveland, OH) is certainly located off the beaten path, and it seems to do double duty as a banquet hall and a bar. There is even a pool table, which was empty when we got there at 1 PM, probably a little before typical party time. The inside is very cute, filled with little seating coves, decorative blue and yellow tiles and Salvadorean trinkets.
Of course we had to order the pupusas (which were the bulk of the menu), our favorite little masa pockets filled with tasty fillings (including chicken, cheese, garlic, pork and zucchini). We each tried different pupusa varieties, L with her favorite loroco flowers and M with pork. The pupusas were only 2 dollars each and we found 2 apiece to be more than filling. The pupusas were tender and tasty and the fillings were generous. And of course who could forget the vinegary curtido slaw, necessary to give the pupusas a little kick.
This was also our first time trying Salvadorean horchata, which is different than the Mexican version, and is made from morro seeds, instead of rice. It reminded us a bit more of the nut-based Spanish horchata instead of the Mexican rice-based version. The pupusas and horchata were the perfect cheap lunch and had us remembering some of our favorite classic meals in Chicago. definitely make a stop at Katerina’s for pupusas, and maybe even a game of pool.
There is nothing M loves more than well-prepared pork and charcuterie, and Black Pig (2801 Bridge Avenue, Cleveland) has both in spades. The logo for the Black Pig is a gigantic, portly swine, and this place definitely takes its pig seriously. The restaurant is tucked into a restored Victorian home on a quiet corner of Ohio City, where they relocated in early 2015. The inside of Black Pig is casual and comfortable, featuring the exposed brick of the old house and lots of windows.
The menu at Black Pig puts its focus on classic American dishes made with local ingredients, as well as a curated selection of craft brews and unique cocktails. The menu is divided into small plates and entrees, a section called “the weekly pig” and a rotating menu of freshly-made pasta. Recently, they even rolled out a special 3-course pasta tasting (we will have to come back for that). Though pork-centric, there are also a myriad of vegetarian and fish options. We started out with the charcuterie plate, with all house-made meats (including patê, sausage and prosciutto) and pickles (pictured above), as well as cheese plate featuring cheeses from the Midwest. We selected a few of the appetizers to share: Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes. The roast fingerling potatoes, drenched in lemon and Parmesan, were particularly delicious (below).
For entrees, we chose off the Weekly Pig menu, which featured classic pork preparations, including: Pork Collar, schnitzel, Sausage and cabbage, and a pork chop. M ordered the Pork chop over corn salsa and L got the short ribs, served with hush puppies, roasted beans and chili peppers (below). Both pork dishes were extremely successful: the pork chop was juicy and tender (which is difficult to do for pork chops), and the short ribs, in a balsamic reduction, were fork-tender and extremely flavorful. Creative desserts like an almond financier cake rounded out the menu. Black Pig is a great place for a date night or special occasion, though you will feel welcome for a casual night out, too. The menu at the Black Pig changes with the seasons, so there is always something new to try.
We are recently back from NYC, and had a hankering for some arepas. Fortunately, Cleveland has a self-proclaimed areperia, Barroco (12906 Madison Ave Lakewood, Ohio ). We visited Barroco on an unseasonably warm day, which meant we were able to enjoy the outdoor patio alongside our starchy treats. We were not disappointed, the simple but bright patio was a great place to enjoy some juice or a cerveza on a nice day. By the way, did we mention that Barroco is BYOB? However, even if you sit inside, you are in for a visual treat – the walls are covered with murals, twinkle lights, photographs and the accumulated scrawlings of other customers.
The menu is an interesting mix of Colombian and other South American influences, and there is something for everyone (even vegetarians). You can get a starter of shrimp ceviche ($11) or opt for the larger “picado” platter which is an assortment of pork, chorizo, yuca and ($40). For a traditional Colombian meal – you can get the national dish of sausage, rice and beans, Bandeja Paisa ($19). However, we were in the mood for the specialty of the house – arepas ($12 each) – of which there were both traditional and more avant-garde versions. For example, you can order a arepa with Bolognese sauce or buffalo chicken. We got two kinds of arepa in the more traditional vein: first the Reina Pepiada – Grilled chicken breast with avocado, red peppers and feta cheese; and next the Ropa Vieja – braised beef in tomato sauce with black beans, feta and mozzarella.
The arepas were freshly made from white corn into neat squares and generously filled (as you can see above). We appreciated that the masa was made in-house and you could really taste the difference. In terms of fillings, the ropa vieja was particularly delicious and comforting. We also shared a side of guacamole with plantain chips, and each arepa came with a size of expertly fried sweet plantains (did someone say plantain?). Once spring rolls around again we hope to give Barroco’s outdoor patio a visit again soon. In the meantime, we will enjoy exploring the quirky interior while we get our arepa fix.
Phusion Cafe (3030 W. Superior Ave, Cleveland) is where we ended up instead when we thought we had arrived at Superior Pho. The first time we turned around in confusion, but this time we were excited to give the only place for Taiwanese food in Cleveland a try. If you enter from the back parking lot you will be greeted by the jumble of signs below. Phusion’s location in the lobby of a mini mall is not necessarily the most atmospheric, but don’t let that (or the vague name) dissuade you from some amazing Taiwanese food!
The menu at Phusion has a large selection of typical some American-Chinese favorites like Egg rolls and General Tso’s chicken, but we made a beeline for the selection of more unique Taiwanese dishes. The server was more than happy to describe the Taiwanese dishes and offer recommendations. We were interested by the unique Taiwanese dishes including Hakka-style pork and squid ($12.95) and the Hakka-style tofu ($10.95) along with perhaps the most famous Taiwanese dish, Three Cups Chicken ($12.95). To start off, our server recommended the salt and pepper chicken, we got an appetizer portion, though you can also get it as a full sized entree. M ordered the ginger beef ($12.95) and L got the cold peanut and sesame noodles ($6.95). These cold noodles were the first Taiwanese dish we ever had, all the way back in Minneapolis, so seeing them again on the menu made us feel nostalgic.
We only waited a short time for our food even though the dining room was pretty full with groups of college kids chatting and sipping on bubble tea. The salt and pepper chicken was crunchy, not greasy and actually consisted of high quality chicken (kind of the opposite of what we usually expect from popcorn chicken). The beef in the ginger beef dish was tender and flavorful, and there were actually long strips of ginger root throughout (we love ginger so this is a major plus). However, the favorite of the night was the delicious cold noodle dish topped with cucumber. The noodles were rich and savory, and the mix of peanut and sesame made for an incredible sauce. We could eat this every day!
And, yes, they have bubble tea! Not only that, it is made with Ten Ren Tea, a brand known for their high-quality leaves. Has anyone tried the bubble tea there yet? Phusion Cafe makes an excellent addition to an area where Taiwanese food is lacking, and delivers with authentic Taiwanese flavors. Our visit definitely made us want to duplicate that sesame and peanut noodle recipe at home.
Despite being Italian, both eaters are paridoxically not much into going out for pizza. Maybe this is because so much of it is mediocre? But when we do go for pizza, we either do Neapolitan-style of Chicago-style deep-dish (Yes, Chicago-style IS pizza). So when we heard about Vero Pizza Napoletana (12421 Cedar Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH) and the accolades heaped on it and its owner Marc-Aurele Buholzer we were cautiously excited. The focus here is on Neapolitan pizzas cooked in authentic 900° wood-fire oven (inside which a pizza is cooked in only 90 seconds). Vero’s interior is sleek and simple, and has two stories – but even so, it is not a huge place. Another feature of the second floor is that you can look right into the kitchen and see the oven and pizzaiolo at work, which is pretty cool.
The only thing on Vero’s menu is basically pizza (10″ pizzas that serve one, with a little to spare), which we always appreciate in a pizza place. The varieties available at Vero run the gamut from classic to creative ad include pizzas with and without red sauce – the Blanca features mozzarella, basil and garlic (and no red sauce). The inventive Milk ‘n’ Honey is topped with a farm egg (which you can also add to other pizzas for $2) and wild honey. For those feeling peckish, you can get a local cheese platter, olives or charcuterie to start off your meal.
First, we selected one of our favorite pizzas, the stalwart Margherita – tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella – the classic by which we judge almost any pizzeria. Next, we opted for the “Capua” variety which was topped with prosciutto, arugula and Parmesan cheese. The pizzas arrived quickly, as advertised. The pies initially come out uncut and the server will cut them for you into whatever configuration you may wish. The traditional way to eat this kind of pizza is by knife and fork anyway. Overall, the topping were fresh, generous and uniformly excellent, and the sauce was the perfect consistency. The crust was a little thicker than Neapolitan pies might be, but we don’t have any complaints.
The hype behind Vero’s fresh and authentic pizzas turned out to be warranted, as evidenced by the fact that we practically inhaled our pizzas. We also appreciated Vero’s commitment to the art of Neapolitan pizza. For example, in addition to the authentic oven of course, Vero doesn’t deliver pizzas and instead focuses on having the in-person Neapolitan experience. This makes perfect sense, since this kind of pizza really doesn’t taste the same unless you are eating it fresh out of the oven. We would definitely go back for another pizza fix soon, especially since we are so far from our deep-dish alternatives. As if that wasn’t enough, the gelato in the front counter looked pretty good, too.
Dumpling lovers rejoice: today is National Pierogi(e) Day! Pierogi can be found anywhere with a sizable Polish popular throughout the US and Canada, especially in the Midwest. Now living in Cleveland, I realize that this town may be even crazier about pierogi than Chicago. Here, the filled Polish dumpling can be found in dozens of frozen varieties in every grocery story and is a popular take-out and restaurant menu item. Michael Symon’s restaurant Lola even has an upscale beef cheek and mushroom version as an appetizer. So where do you go? Here are the top 9 places to get pierogi in Cleveland. One of our favorite places for Pierogi is the Pierogi Palace inside the West Side Market – take your pick of varieties! Or if you are feeling ambitions, make your own pierogi with meat, cheese and potato (my favorite combo), mushroom or even blueberry!