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Travel: A Day in Cleveland

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On our recent trip to Cleveland, we started the day with a hearty breakfast at Slyman’s Restaurant, and while we were filled up with corned beef hash and hotcakes, we were still excited to explore more of Cleveland’s culinary landscape. Our boys had never been to the city before, so Mrs. Bfast w/Nick and I were excited to share the city with them (while discovering new things for ourselves). Because it was a busy Saturday, we knew a stop at the West Side Market was in order. The boys seemed impressed with its massive size. We began by running the gauntlet of the produce arcade, with all of its sights, sounds, and smells.

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We then strolled the main market hall to see all the market stalls, stopping for cannolis and a lady lock at Teresa’s.

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After the market visit, Mrs. Bfast w/Nick peeled off to go to the Weapons of Mass Creation festival in Gordon Square. She presented with Igloo Letterpress, while I took the boys to the Great Lakes Science Center. The Science Center sits right next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the lakeshore. Some of the exhibits were over their heads, but we watched a small science show (featuring fountains of Diet Coke and Mentos), wandered through the space exploration exhibit, and then spent most of our time in the Lego Travel Adventure hall. The exhibit featured elaborate Lego creations by a local enthusiast + areas for building your own Lego, Duplo, and Quatro creations.

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Earlier we spotted the William G. Mather steamship docked outside. The old freighter has been converted into a museum for shipping on the Great Lakes. Guided tours are available, or guests are welcome to follow the orange painted line, which will take them throughout the entire ship. This includes a walk across the top, with some beautiful views of the lake and the Cleveland skyline. (We thought the ship tour was included in the Museum admission, when it is not, but they let us onto the ship anyway.)

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The tour takes you through the crew’s quarters, the engine room, and wheelhouse.

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After Mrs. Bfast w/Nick was done at the festival, we headed back downtown to stroll East Fourth Street. The weather was perfect that day, sunny and breezy without being too warm.

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Our walk led us to our dinner destination: Noodlecat. We had been before (see link) and had a feeling the boys would really like it. Adults will find some solid drink options like Ohio beers, sake, and specialty sake cocktails. We tried the remarkable Japanese 75 on the suggestion of our server. It mixes Watershed gin, cherry, lemon, and a sparkling sake. It’s a perfect summer cocktail.

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Between the family we split a variety of steam buns and a bowl of pork miso ramen.

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The pork miso is an easy entry (and a safe bet for the kiddos) into ramen. If your only experience is with ramen packets, you need to experience the real deal. The honest stuff is loaded with more flavor and waaaaay less salt. The pork miso includes shredded pork, scallions, sesame seeds, and a six-minute egg.

The restaurant is very encouraging of kids. There are cartoons on the walls, a special Noodlekids menu, and the kid’s cups have cartoon instructions for enjoying your ramen.

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Between the adults we split the dan dan ramen, a spicy concoction with peanuts, basil, soy, and a lot of heat from Szechuan chili and a spicy garlic oil. It really packed a punch.

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And we supplemented it with crispy fried onigiri rice balls.

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The boys were hesitant at first, but they were fans by the end.

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After dinner we strolled more of downtown, then headed back to Ohio City for dessert at Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream. Mitchell’s is just up the street from the West Side Market, in a beautifully converted old theatre. You can see the production space through the big back windows.

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The menu features the mouth-watering flavors we’ve come to expect from an Ohio creamery. Between the family, we tried a bit of everything: vanilla bean, blue cosmo, caramel fudge brownie, a chocolate chunk made with Great Lakes Brewing porter, and an amazing toasted pistachio. The pricing is very easy to like, too.

We made a busy day of it in Cleveland, but that’s kind of how we like to do things. We loved everything we did, saw, and ate, but once again it left us wanting to get to know the city more. Here’s hoping for a return trip soon!

Want to follow in our footsteps?
West Side Market (Facebook / @WestSideMarket)
Great Lakes Science Center (Facebook / @GLScienceCtr)
Noodlecat (Facebook / @noodle_cat)
Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream (Facebook / @MitchellsCleve)

Slyman’s Restaurant | Cleveland, OH

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Slyman’s Restaurant (Facebook / @SlymansClevBest)
3106 St. Clair Ave. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 621-3760
Open Mon-Fri, 6a-2:30p; Sat, 9a-1p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 10:30am

Following a stellar weekend trip to Cleveland last year, we’ve been itching for the opportunity to return. Through last year’s trip, we experienced a memorable round of bars, restaurants, breakfast spots, and markets, but like any good city visit we left with an even larger list of places still to try. At the top of that list: Slyman’s. So on a return trip this past weekend, we sought out this Cleveland favorite, and it took only a few minutes to see why so many people recommend it.

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Busy breakfast places are easily recognized by their noise. The moment you step into the neighborhood you can identify the hub of activity, from busy customers waiting inside and out, servers dashing to and fro, and the kitchen clattering. What’s surprising about Slyman’s is the silence outside. We pulled up and parked on the street out front, and from there you wouldn’t know what a busy place it was inside.

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Once we stepped in the doors, though, it was clear that Clevelanders breakfast here. We found a table quickly, but the restaurant was busy busy busy. Nearly every table was full, and while we certainly didn’t feel out of place, we were clearly tourists.

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There’s a familiar look to delis. Usually they have a big, long counter and an equally long menu hanging over it. I’ve seen it everywhere: Katz’s in New York, Katzinger’s in Columbus. It’s the signature deli look. Also, there’s a big tub of pickles.

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And then there’s the shaved meats. The delicious, delicious shaved meats. Slyman’s boasts the best corned beef in town. Obviously this takes center stage in their reubens, but they give it a chance to shine at breakfast, too.

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Not only does Slyman’s brag about the best corned beef, they brag about the BIGGEST corned beef sandwiches, too. And let’s face it: the portions are generous.

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Slyman’s breakfast menu is straightforward – no real surprises – but obviously the corned beef is prominently featured on eggs, in omelets, in sandwiches, or as a hash.

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Both of our boys were very hungry that morning (even more so than usual), so they absolutely devoured their breakfasts. First off: a plate of scrambled eggs and home fries. The eggs were well done with being dried out and the potatoes had a nice, crispy brown to them.

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They also demolished a hotcake and sausage. Beautifully done pancake, perfectly cooked.

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I’m a fan of corned beef hash but I tend to shy away from it. Too many canned versions that are mealy and taste like metal. But when I see big tubs of corned beef freshly brined, and I see the slicer working away, I know it’s a safe place for some real hash. So that’s how I ended up with a monster plate of corned beef hash. This is honestly some of the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had. The beef is finely chopped and mixed thoroughly with the potatoes, which are the right balance of soft with crispy edges. The whole thing is grilled with a fine crust, then topped with eggs of your choice. In retrospect I should have ordered the eggs over medium instead of scrambled, but it ultimately didn’t matter.

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As if that wasn’t enough, the egg and corned beef breakfast sandwich arrived stacked high on rye. The beef is nice and lean, ideal for a sandwich. Our server allowed  us to order the egg scrambled or over hard, so there’s no runny yolk. Between the hash and the sandwich, Slyman’s is a shrine to corned beef at breakfast.

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Slyman’s exudes an old school vibe. It’s clearly a restaurant that has earned its accolades and its regulars over the years. It’s not fancy, and while the servers don’t take time to chat, they’re still welcoming. So even as an outsider, it’s easy to feel included, and sitting there with a big plate of corned beef hash on a bustling Saturday morning, it’s easy to see why Slyman’s tops a lot of people’s lists for Cleveland breakfasts.

Slyman's on Urbanspoon

The Social | Columbus, OH

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The Social (Facebook / @WholeFoodsUA / Instagram @wfmupperarlington)
1555 W. Lane Ave. (map it!) (inside the Upper Arlington Whole Foods)
Columbus, OH 43221
(614) 481-3400
Open 7a-10p (bfast served all day)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

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Whole Foods is known for not just being a shopping place but for creating a full experience. This includes a lot of in-store events and a lot of opportunities for in-store dining. Most Whole Foods have an active prepared foods department that does more than just assemble meals for customers. The WF in Dublin, for instance, includes the 161 Diner, a small counter serving brunch, burgers, and beers.

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The fairly new Whole Foods in Upper Arlington, a smaller-scale store that replaced the Wild Oats on Lane Avenue, includes a small restaurant called The Social. The Social is connected to the store but still feels separate. It has its own entrance, which creates more of a feeling of a stand-alone restaurant than, say, the 161 Diner. In Dublin you need to trek through the store to get to the diner, and then sitting at the counter feels a little like sitting in the middle of the store.

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The Social could be any restaurant space. Not to say it’s generic – it just has a life of its own, separate from the store. The space is bright and welcoming, with a long bar at the back and plenty of cafe tables. Chalkboard menus list drinks from coffee to beer (mental note: good beer selection). Full- and half-sized growlers line nearly every shelf. Ordering takes place at the counter.

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Here’s the farm breakfast, a steal at $5 for two eggs, choice of meat (including vegan sausage), toast, and potatoes. All of it was done just right: soft and well-seasoned potatoes, eggs to order, very flavorful sausage. And served with house-made jam. Again, for $5!

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Also, the challah French toast. Two thick slices served with syrup, berry compote, and whipped cream.

A comfortable space and inexpensive prices easily put The Social on the radar for me. It’s a very accessible place with a big enough breakfast menu to serve anyone. And you know I’m eyeing that beer selection for a later visit…

Mike’s Place | Kent, OH

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Mike’s Place (Facebook group)
1700 S. Water St. (map it!)
Kent, OH 44240
(330) 673-6501
Open Mon-Thurs, 6a-11p; Fri & Sat, 6a-12a; Sun, 7a-10p
Accepts cash, credit/debit, B-17 Bombers, droids, blimp rides, and authentic Fender twin reverb amps
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.

I seriously don’t even know how to begin to describe Mike’s Place. Okay, it’s a restaurant. It’s also a tourist destination. A college hangout. A collection of kitsch. A mish-mash of pieces. Or a crazy essay.

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Those who know Mike’s Place know it well. It’s not the type of place that you  easily pass by. For one thing, there are the decorations, like the giant X-Wing out front. We first heard about Mike’s from Laura Lee at Ajumama. All she had to say was, “X-Wing out front” and we were sold.

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Then there’s the building itself, which is assembled – International Space Station style – from many different components being welded together. Part of the building looks like a castle, part of it is like a traditional restaurant. But then there are a couple busses turned into dining rooms. There’s a boat converted to a seating area. A small shack, a faux corner store. The result is a maze of rooms, hallways, and nooks and crannies. I wonder if they’ve ever lost a customer in there?

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And then there are the signs. Mike has a lot to say. Everywhere you look, there are things to read. Handwritten signs, permanent signs. Short ones, long form ones. Some informative, some completely unnecessary.

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Near the entryway is a post full of signs that (for the most part) point you in the direction of bathrooms, themed seating areas, and the Bob Evans down the street (for whiners, it says).

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Pictures can hardly capture the feel of the place; the lighting and close quarters make taking proper photos too difficult (at least with an iPhone). Just imagine a colorful maze of rooms. If you’re a first-time visitor, your only hope is to follow your server to your table, and then hope you can find your way out.

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Many of the seating areas are separated into different rooms, like in a modified bus or a shack.

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And many of them are named. We were seated in a boat referred to as “Ship Happens,” with a sign saying “The Filthy Oar.”

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Remember I mentioned the crazy signage? The trend continues with the menu. It’s ridiculously huge – one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. If you can’t find at least one item to appeal to you, then you’re in the wrong place. Mike will probably tell you to go to Bob Evans.

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Oh, and a massive regular menu isn’t enough. There’s a hand-written photocopied monthly menu, too, listing monthly specials, special events, advertisements, and goofy quotes.

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The menu (which is on the website) provides enough entertaining reading to keep you occupied through any wait. You can tell that Mike is a talker with a big sense of humor. Case in point: the accepted forms of payment. There’s also a Rules of Dining at Mike’s Place, plus lots of colorful commentary spread throughout the menu.

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Somehow we managed to choose something from the menu. We started brunch with a smooth and spicy Bloody Mary.

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The kid’s menu is pretty sizable, too; a note on it jokes that they check IDs and will feed over-age kids to their pet dragon. Here’s a cheeseburger with curly fries.

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And a grilled cheese with curly fries. Why do curly fries always taste better than regular fries?

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We had a recommendation for the omelets, so we tried the Pat O’Brian Omelette. It’s a giant beast of an omelet, loaded with gyro meat, hash browns, and sauteed onions and peppers. It’s enough for three people.

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We also tried the Buckaroo Bonzai Bomber, a stir-fry or hash of eggs and meat on a bed of broccoli, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and potatoes. The eggs were a little over-done, but we really liked the stir-fried veggies. More places need to serve this, or we need to make it more at home.

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And finally we had the Reuben-Reuben, a tall stack of the usual suspects in a reuben sandwich. Very nicely done. Served with curly fries.

It’s clear that you go to Mike’s Place for the experience. The food is certainly good, but it’s not truly the focus. You really go there for the eclectic seating or the crazy decorations or rambling menu. Honestly, Mike’s is an example of what TGI Fridays is trying to be, with the colorful kitsch scattered around the walls.

I can see why it’s a classic stop for Kent State students and alumni, and for travelers in northeast Ohio. Given that there’s so much more to see and try, we’ll be making it a regular stop in the area.

Mike's Place on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Hot Chicken Takeover

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Columbus is going chicken crazy right now, and there’s good reason for it. We’ve got lots of chicken. And it’s mostly fried. Our family has been fans of Mya’s Fried Chicken from the beginning, and being Clintonville residents it’s one of our favorite neighborhood dining spots. However, now we’ve also got reason to trek across town for fried chicken. Three words: Hot Chicken Takeover.

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Hot Chicken Takeover is a, well, takeover of the kitchen at the Near East Side Cooperative Market. The Market is on the corner of Oak and Ohio in Olde Towne East, down the street from spots like L’Appat Patisserie and Angry Baker. Joe DeLoss and his crew fry up anywhere from 250-350 meals each weekend day. They’re set up simply with an ordering window (labeled the “chicken window”), long picnic tables under a tent, and a station with sweet tea, water, ranch dressing, and silverware. It’s about as simple as can be, and in my experience, something that is well done and simple can be stellar.

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What is hot chicken? I had never heard of it before HCT opened up. Hot chicken is a popular Nashville serving of fried chicken, in which the breading is heavily dosed with spices like cayenne pepper. The chicken is served on a slice of white bread and topped with pickles. I enjoy a good bit of spice, so I relished the burn on my lips. What’s even better, though, is the meat. They’ve brined it and fried it perfectly, so it’s super juicy and a little salty. Joe said the hot chicken clocks in around 60,000 Scovilles, but if you’re a real hot-head, they served the “Holy Chicken,” which boosts the heat to over 100,000. I love some spice, but that’s probably too much for me.

The chicken brings plenty of heat, but there’s balance to it, too. Each meal is served with a creamy mac & cheese and a sweet cole slaw. You also get refills of a lovely sweet tea and access to rich home-made ranch. Every element works together, and each one nails the mark.

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HCT serves “Cold Chicken,” too. Not temperature cold, but similar cuts with less heat. This was helpful when ordering for our boys. They like some heat, but the hot chicken would have overwhelmed them. The cold chicken is just as juicy and it’s served with the same sides. The meals were big enough that got two – one hot and one cold – and split them between the four of us.

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I didn’t know what hot chicken was before, but I know now – and goodness, I’ve been missing out all these years. HCT will become another regular spot for us, for sure, and I’m really excited to see what happens with them in the future.

Important note: as of now the takeover runs Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm. I’ve heard tell of long lines, but we strolled right up when stopping by mid-afternoon. They close when they sell out, so it’s a good idea to watch their Facebook page for availability. Joe does a good job of providing updates with the number of meals left for the day.

If you want to visit:
Hot Chicken Takeover
1117 Oak St. (on the side of the Near East Side Cooperative Market)
Columbus, OH 43205
(614) 800-4538
Open 12-4 Saturday and Sunday (they close when they sell out)
facebook.com/hotchickentakeover

Cuco’s Taqueria | Columbus, OH

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Cuco’s Taqueria (Facebook / @CucosTaqueria)
2162 W. Henderson Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43220
(614) 538-8701
Open Mon-Sat, 8a-10p (bfast served till 11)
Accepts cash & debit/credit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

In the world of Columbus Mexican restaurants, Cuco’s has long been an easy go-to. Our tastes in Mexican fare have changed over the years as we’ve gotten to know less Americanized taco trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants, but Cuco’s little Henderson Road strip mall location is still familiar and cozy.

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The restaurant feels just like you’d expect most American-based Mexican restaurants to look: bright colors, signage from popular beers like Corona and Modelo, boisterous Spanish-language music.

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If you’ve been to Cuco’s for dinner, especially on a weekend, you know to expect a wait. The margaritas will be flowing and the salsa bar well stocked. But there’s plenty of room at breakfast. Not to say there aren’t customers – we witnessed a steady stream coming and going – but the early hours are a little more subdued. (Hint: this would make it ideal for a larger group.)

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The breakfast menu takes up one page. Asterisks are penned in next to a few items. We didn’t ask why. Popular dishes? Specialties?

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Notice that there are some straightforwardly American breakfasts: omelets, hotcakes, and the Plato Americano. My recommendation, though, is to try something you haven’t had before, like machaca, moyetes, or chilaquiles. Even huevos con chorizo.

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I ordered coffee with my breakfast. It’s basic diner brown.

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Chips and salsa aren’t normally brought to the table at breakfast, but our server offered to bring some when we asked just for salsa.IMG_3245

 

Our boys split the huevos rancheros. Like all the dishes we had, they weren’t as heavily seasoned as we normally prefer, but they’re served in generous portions at a very good price point. The huevos (two fried eggs) are layered onto tortillas and covered with a red ranchero sauce, with rice, refried beans, and cheese.

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We also chose the oaxaqueña, a platter of three enchiladas stuffed with eggs and potatoes and generously doused with a black bean sauce. They’re big, starchy, and filling.

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I’m almost always in a mood for chorizo when it comes to Mexican breakfasts, so I eyed El Tapatio Platter. It mixes two barbacoa tacos (served like street tacos on two corn tortillas and topped with fresh onion and cilantro), two eggs, and chorizo mixed with potatoes, plus a side of refried beans. All very likable. The barbacoa wasn’t quite as juicy or as heavily spiced as I prefer it, but the chorizo adds a nice kick to the whole dish.

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The waiting area of Cuco’s includes market shelves of beer, sodas, hot sauces, and other ingredients to take home. So you get a little sense of a small, local marketplace and the little taqueria.

It’s funny how a place that’s so busy at night can be so quiet in the mornings. Again, this isn’t say Cuco’s isn’t undiscovered for breakfast (I mean, some guy wrote about it in a breakfast book), but it feels like a hidden gem. Which makes it a comfortable place for breakfast, and a flavorful option if you’re looking to change up your routine a bit.

Cuco's Mexican Taqueria on Urbanspoon

AJ’s Cafe | Columbus, OH

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AJ’s Cafe (Facebook / @AjaysCafe)
152 E. State St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 223-3999
Open Mon-Fri, 7:30a-3p; Sat, 11a-5p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

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We were very sad when Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant closed last fall; it was a favorite stop for Indian food, and a regular place to take out-of-town visitors. (It’s since been replaced by the also-good Mughal Darbar.) One of our favorite things about Taj was being greeted by Ajay Kumar. Ajay’s family owned the restaurant; his father started it over 25 years ago, and it was one of the first Indian restaurants in Columbus. Ajay shared an especially warm welcome and a friendly handshake, and we were especially sad to lose that when the restaurant closed.

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Fortunately for us (and the rest of Columbus, I guess), Ajay has worked his way back toward opening his own cafe – AJ’s Cafe downtown. While it’s not exclusively an Indian restaurant, he’s still up to a lot of good things, he’s still offering the welcoming smile, and some Indian flavors have naturally crept onto the menu.

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The cafe is in a good-sized space at the corners of State St. and North Fourth St. (formerly the C-Town Market). It’s a couple blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse, and is easily visible while jetting up Fourth (Fourth is one-way, but State is two-way). There’s plenty of metered parking lining the streets.

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As you might expect from a downtown cafe, the focus is on simpler grab-and-go items. Expect to see quickly-made hot sandwiches and wraps + pre-made cold sandwiches. This is in addition to assorted bagels, drinks and some locally baked snacks.

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Ajay serves Upper Cup Coffee from nearby Olde Towne East.

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He also makes a ginger spiced chai, a hot concoction of black tea, milk, and spices like ginger and cardamom.

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On our two visits to the cafe, we tried both breakfast and lunch dishes. Ajay was especially proud to show off a house-made potato salad, which is seasoned perfectly. I love me some potato salad, and this was up there with some of the best I’ve had.

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We combined some breakfast and lunch (there’s got to be a word for that) with the zen wrap and the lentil and spinach soup. The wrap mixes rice, spinach, lentils, sliced carrots and apples, and a tamarind-cilantro vinaigrette. It’s a nice refreshing combination – I think it needed a little more vinaigrette. The soup is rich but light-bodied and little lemony. Both dishes are vegan, too!

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The bacon and egg wrap is just what it sounds like: a wrap with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon. Simple but well executed.

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A good example of the Indian flavors making their way onto the menu is the raja wrap. It features tandoori chicken, rice, red onion, jalapenos, and a cilantro chutney familiar from the Taj Mahal days. Other good Indian examples are the CTM wrap, made with chicken tikka masala, and the spiced chickpea wrap. I’m hoping that Ajay can continue to distinguish his cafe with these flavor profiles.

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If Indian food isn’t your favorite (and why isn’t it?!), the cafe offers lunch classics like a corned beef reuben, a turkey meatball sub, a tilapia sandwich, and the Bourbon St. Philly with spicy chicken.

AJ’s Cafe obviously has competition downtown, but it’s close to some crowded buildings, and there’s enough interesting dishes to set it apart from nearby options. And you can’t beat the warm welcome from Ajay and his crew! If anything, we’re glad to have the chance to see him on a regular basis and experience his hospitality again.

Aj's Cafe on Urbanspoon

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