Thursday, March 25, 2010

Quick and Easy Homemade Black Bean Burgers

Nicole and I were looking for a quick, easy, and generally healthy meal a few nights ago. We had missed our chance to hit up a restaurant and the grocery store across the street was closed so we were left with few options other than what was in the cupboard. While wracking our brains I suddenly remembered a super easy and totally delicious recipe for homemade black bean burgers that can more than likely be made with what’s in your pantry right now. After a quick double check of the recipe on the internet this is what we made:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup bread crumbs
½ onion
½ pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1 egg
Cayenne pepper or chili powder, to taste
Cumin, to taste
Hot sauce to taste

Pre-heat oven to 375* or begin heating grill. Place onion, pepper, and garlic in a food processor, process until smooth, set aside. In a small mixing bowl combine egg, cayenne, cumin, and hot sauce, set aside. Pour beans into medium sized bowl and mash with a large fork until mostly uniformly creamy (a few whole beans or bean parts are fine). Mix in egg and spice mixture. Mix in onion/pepper/garlic mixture. Fold in bread crumbs a little at a time; until mixture become firm and workable by hand (you may not need the full ½ cup of crumbs). Divide mixture into 4 parts and shape into patties. Place on baking sheet and bake at 375* for 10 minutes per side, a properly heated grill should only take 3-5 minutes per side.

From here you have a slightly southwestern flavored blank canvass to work on, top it with guacamole, salsa, cheese, jalapenos, barbeque sauce, or anything else you desire. Or you could alter the base flavor of the burger by subbing out the hot sauce, cayenne, and cumin for other herbs and spices. With a little basil, oregano, a squeeze of tomato paste, and a sprinkle of parmesan you’ve got an Italian black bean burger that could be topped with a little marinara and sautéed mushrooms. The sky is literally the limit; anything you can do to a meat burger can be done to these. When we made these the other night we didn’t have the onion or pepper so we left them out and instead folded in some diced mushrooms both for taste and texture and dressed them with spinach, satium mustard, and horseradish. Or how about some sautéed onions and Swiss on rye for a black bean Patty Melt? Plus these are already completely vegetarian friendly, but could easily be made vegan by leaving out the egg completely or mixing in one egg’s worth of egg replacer (I stand by Enner-G in these matters).

These burgers were simple to make, delicious, filling, and require nothing strange or unusual. Oven time make take a few minutes but while they’re in there you’ll have more than enough time to wash up the few dishes this soils and crack open another beer or let that bottle of red start to breathe. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reuntied And It Feels So Good!

My old college roommate, Aaron, came back to Ohio for a visit this past weekend so naturally we had to celebrate by eating and drinking too much. Just like old times!

We met up Sunday night at the Cuyahoga County Airport where his younger brother, Tim, is a flight instructor. Tim was nice enough to take us, along with our friend Nick, up in a single prop, four seat plane for a sundown buzzing of the North Coast. We flew over Geauga County to look for my parents’ house and then out over the lake for a view of Cleveland few have seen. It was a beautiful evening and my first time in a plane so small, but the turbulence and stalls from the tiny air-machine were enough to unsettle even this roller coaster vet’s insides. All concurred on this point and it was decided that the only cure was beer and food. A short deliberation and the fact that even thought it was Sunday night there was still an hour wait at Melt (yeah, I told you it was that good) sent us to Lakewood’s Buckeye Beer Engine.

Affiliated with the Buckeye Brewing Company, the Beer Engine is a comfy little spot to grab any number of delicious beers, both from Buckeye and abroad, as well as chow on some seriously tasty bar food. And since Buckeye offers weekly and monthly specials every visit is new and exciting. For example March’s Ridiculously Huge Burger of the Month is the so-called O’Fatty Melt. Where the Beer Engine’s Fatty Melt nestles one of their ½ pound burgers between two grilled cheese sandwiches, the O’Fatty swaps out the grilled cheese for two (that’s right, 2) grilled Rubens! Seriously.

Anywhoozle, I’ve supped there a few times and have tried a couple of the Beer Engine’s delicious burgers, so I thought I’d go for something new this time. Well, a new burger at least. On this visit I opted for the Tuscan. Building on the ½ pound burger base the Tuscan is topped by herbed goat cheese, caramelized onions in balsamic reduction, roasted red peppers, and bacon (natch). Not being a fan of the texture of peppers I opted out of those, but it was fine since the rest of the burger was so flavorful. The ground meat blend the Beer Engine is extremely flavorful and benefits from not being cooked past medium. The bacon is, well, it’s bacon. And bacon is always good and beloved by all (even vegans) but unlike Cedar Lee Pub & Grill or Kuma’s Corner, BBE’s bacon is pretty standard; thick cut and flavorful for sure, but nothing amazing or out of the ordinary. The real stars of this show are the cheese and onions. The buttery, gamey zing of the goat cheese was the perfect foil to the sweet-n-sour onions ensuring that the Tuscan tagged three out of four taste buds with flavor graffiti that simply said “Awesome!” (4 of 5 if you’re the type to count “umami.”)

And at a place called the Beer Engine there was certainly beer being drunk, right? You bet there was! Round one I went up against Southern Tier’s Backburner 2010, the brewery’s latest entry in their annual Barley Wine run. With 10% ABV and a metric buttload of hops and malt, Backburner is a pretty serious brew, but certainly one of the most even keeled Barley Wines I’ve ever sampled. Most are so crammed with hops that they taste of grapefruits lost in pine forests (definitely a good thing), but this particular iteration falls more into the malty/caramel-y camp. In the second round I took on Buckeye’s own Beaucoup D’Houblon. A double IPA with saison tendencies, this ultra hoppy beer (115 IBUs) combines fruity esters and grassy/hay flavors to create a flavor profile similar to that of bubblegum! Not at all what I would expect a beer to taste like and I was certainly skeptical of the draught list that said as much, but there it was. Amazing hops burst, followed by grass and fruits, with an aftertaste that suggests a few hours old piece of original Bubble-Yum; delicious!

Day two of this reunion was carried on at Fat Head’s Brewery and Saloon on Monday night, this time we were accompanied by Nick’s wife Melanie as well as Nicole. Fat Head’s is a Pennsylvania based brew pub that opened a branch in North Olmstead in the past few years. Fat Head’s boasts a roster of 10 beers brewed on rotation or based on season as well as offering dozens of other choice micro brews. March is, apparently, “Head Strong Month” at Fat Head, offering up “40+ extreme beers.” This means Fat Head’s guest beers, as well as a few of their own brews, are offering higher ABVs and IBUs, read as: beers not for the faint of heart. I started the evening off with a pour of Fat Head’s own Hop Juju Imperial IPA. Clocking in at 100 IBU and 9.3% this was a seriously delicious draught. Lots of citrusy hops and just the right hint of malt made this go down quicker and smoother than it should have. To chase it I moved over to the guest list for a Brooklyn Blast Imperial IPA (8.2% ABV). Another hopped up offering that drinks like the Brooklyn East India Pale Ale turned up to ten. It’s initially grapefruit city, then briefly detours into floral town, before swerving into a piney rest stop; like gin and grapefruit juice, only much, much better.

While most of the beers at Fat Head are big and flavorful, the “Fat” in the name comes from the food menu. There is nothing small or restrained about the menu, each appetizer, sandwich, and burger is bigger and meaner than the last. Having gorged on burger the night prior I skipped over that delicious and inimitable section in favor of the “Headwiches.” But with so many options I was completely stuck for what to get. My first thought was the “Bay of Pigs,” a mammoth take on the Cuban sandwich. Or maybe the “Head Banger,” a sandwich-ized take on the pub classic bangers and mash. Ultimately I picked the “South Side Slopes” for a variety of reasons—most of which were between the buns—but also because it was picked as one of the Best Sandwiches in the USA by that paragon of journalistic integrity: Maxim Magazine. I had to know if they were right or not. But before judgment is passed, let’s take a look inside. This monster starts with a huge grilled kielbasa, then topped by potato-cheddar pierogies, caramelized onions, cheese, and horsey sauce. Not to shabby, but does it all add up? At first, only sort of. Although I tried to get a little bit of everything into the first few bites I found the rest of the components to be totally over powered by the big and bold kielbasa. But after a few bites I finally got into it. The potato and pasta in the pierogies help mellow out the smokey bite of the sausage while the tangy cheddar and horseradish add some sharper notes to the big brassy tones of sausage and potato. And the caramelized onions once again add some much needed sweetness to the mix. Delicious to be sure, but I’m not sure if it ranks as one of the Best Sandwiches in the USA.”

Between these outings and the trip to Detroit I’m certainly no healthier than I was last Thursday, but I got to spend time with some of my favorite people, eating amazing food and drinking fantastic beers. Certainly time well spent!

I couldn’t find the original Maxim Best Sandwiches article, but another source ( provided the rest of the top ten:
10. Steak & Cheese -- Mugsy's Sub Galley, Yankton, S.D.
9. Cuban Sandwich (of pork, ham, etc.) -- Latin American Cafeteria, Miami.
8. French Dip -- Phillippe the Original, Los Angeles.
7. Brisket Sandwich -- Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas.
6. Beef On Weck -- Schwabl's, West Seneca, N.Y.
5. The Southside Slopes Headwich -- Fat Head's.
4. The (half shrimp, half oyster) Peace Maker -- Acme Oyster House, New Orleans.
3. The Combo (of rib tips and pig snout) -- C & K Barbecue, St. Louis.
2. The Nuke (ham, beef, turkey and three cheeses) -- The Staggering Ox, Helena, Mont.
1. The Fat Darrell (chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks with marinara and fries) -- R.U. Grill & Pizza, New Brunswick, N.J.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Driving to Dives and Diners

The band scored an out-of-town gig this weekend, so Friday night we loaded up the car and made the trek up to Detroit for a show with our friends the Sons of Adray. The show was at a cozy little dive called the New Way Bar. The New Way was the perfect spot for our bands’ reunion: dark, hot, and smokey with Elvis and British heavy metal serving as the between band soundtrack and on of the coolest sound guys ever. The beer selection at the New Way is almost exclusively domestic bottles and cans and the liquor shelf was comprised mostly of whiskey. You could pay a few dollars more for a Heineken or a Corona, but then again you could also pay some one to punch you until you felt tipsy. Basically what I’m trying to say here is that the New Way is the quintessential dive bar with an uncharacteristically clean rest room. After playing and sweating and partying into the night and sleeping it off on chairs and couches and floors and the Adray’s drummer’s house we headed back to Ohio sometime around 12:30 or 1:00pm. Our mission for the drive home, besides a safe return, was sweet, sweet sustenance.

We began our cruise down 75 South on the lookout for signs of food. Freeway-side signage only pointed the way towards Bob Evanses, Burger Kings, and Big Boys, but when you’re out of town why eat what you can eat at home. We needed something local and new. And that’s when I saw it: “Beef Jerky Unlimited, Exit 6.” That sign was all I needed to remind me of the last time we hit the D for a show. On our way back we stopped for breakfast at an amazing little diner somewhere between the Motor City and the Glass City, but all I could remember about it was that it was next door to the beef jerky store. So we pulled off 75 at Luna Pier and made our way to Gander’s Family Restaurant.

I have no idea how long Gander’s has been in Luna Pier, but the building and hand-painted sign suggest a long time. The inside, however was updated at some point; the late 80s would be my guess, but it’s a bright, friendly space with booths lining the walls of the small dining room, a few tables in the middle, and a counter that serves as the (gasp!) smoking area. We seated ourselves and ordered water and coffee. The coffee at Gander’s is exactly what a diner should serve: dark, rich coffee that tastes like coffee. No fancy roasts or blends just flavorful, rejuvenating coffee. And thankfully, too, as it seems like it’s harder and harder to find a good, simple cup anymore. Sure, there are a number of excellent local boutique shops in the area and chains like Starbucks offer a great brew, but sometimes a simpler cup is what the doctor orders. Anyways, I’m digressing. Gander’s menu is exactly what one would expect from such and establishment, burgers, hot sandwiches, chicken/steak/meatloaf in the entrees, and breakfast served all day.

I couldn’t remember for the life of me what I had last time, but I knew it was breakfast and it was good. I looked over the breakfast page a few times and ultimately arrived on the Southern Sausage Omelet. Filled with cheese and hash browns the Southern Sausage is an excellent foundation for the generous helping of sausage gravy ladled on top. Now, sausage gravy is something I’ve only recently warmed to, but if every restaurant made theirs as well as Gander’s I’d probably be ordering it on everything. Thick, rich, and creamy, the gravy was jammed full of bits of spicy breakfast sausage and the whole thing created a symphony of simplicity when tasted all together. The slight tang of the American cheese and spiciness of the sausage counter-pointed the creaminess of the gravy with the potatoes and perfectly cooked eggs serving as the melody to the more flavorful components’ harmonies. A breakfast at Gander’s comes with a side of hash browns so I go to sample them by themselves, also delicious; brown and crispy on the outside, firm but yielding on the inside. But does such deliciousness and opulence come with a hefty price tag? Not at Gander’s it doesn’t. My check for my food, Joe’s Western Omelet (their most popular item) and two coffees was just a few cents north of $16, not a bad price especially considering I didn’t feel the need to eat again until about 9:30 that night.

Gander’s is certainly light on flash and flare, but they more than make up for a lack of fanciness with excellent food, friendly service and a damn fine cup of coffee. This restaurant is absolutely worth the hour’s layover in Luna Pier, plus it gives you an excuse to visit the pier and Beef Jerky Unlimited which offers way more flavors of jerked animal flesh than I could ever imagine (gator or buffalo jerky, anyone?).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bowling Green Food Feast 2010!

On what seems to have been the greatest whim ever, Nicole and Cousin Jay made the turnpike trek out to the city of our alma mater, Bowling Green, yesterday. Their mission was to retrieve the most delicious food items offered by the myriad of amazing eateries in that sleepy little college town. As it has been several year since I last visited BG, naturally I was hungry for some of my favorite collegiate munchies and began considering my order.

My first thought was of Mr. Spots, a small chain of regional sandwich shops specializing in one of the best Philly Cheese Steaks out side of Philadelphia. Unfortunately a greasy, cheese soaked sandwich doesn’t make the best travel companion so I had to nix that (side note, does anyone know of a good cheese steak in Cleveland? I’ve yet to find one). My next thought was a Campus Polleyes Super-Mug of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. A whole liter of delicious hoppy goodness and a huge mug that could double as weight training equipment. Alas, open container laws and flat, warm beer are two of my greatest pet peeves so this idea, too, went by the wayside. What’s a hungry alumnus to do?

But thinking of Polleyes got me thinking more, and it dawned on me: Stuffed Fucking Breadsticks! Fellow alumni, friends of Falcons, and family should all know about the magic of Campus Polleyes’ stuffed breadsticks, but for those who missed out on the magical powers of Northwest Ohio’s “World Famous” (according to their menu) Stuffed Breadsticks let me let you in. The stuffed breadstick is pretty straight forward menu option; a sheet of bread dough is layered with cheese and the customer’s choice of pizza toppings. Chicken and roast beef are likely the two most popular, but almost anything that can go on a pizza can go in a bread stick. While the chicken and cheese was a long time favorite of mine, this go round I opted for the taco style. In this iteration, the breadstick is filled with Colby-Jack cheese and seasoned ground beef. After a stint in the oven, the breadsticks are served with optional garlic butter on top (delicious) and customer’s choice of pizza sauce, house made ranch, nacho cheese, or barbeque sauce. The ranch and the cheese are the most delicious so I chose those two to accompany my sticks.

And were they as good as I remember? You bet! The ground beef is still a little spicy and delicious and the tang of the Colby-Jack adds a nice little bite that mozzarella might not. The nacho cheese is, well, the nacho cheese sauce you’re likely to find at a gas station or ball park, but that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious, in fact it might be one of the best condiments ever despite it lacking any real food qualities. And the ranch dressing is still creamy, delicious, and appropriately understated, unlike the white sludge for sale in most supermarkets.

The second course of this nostalgia feast came from the one and only Myles’ Pizza Pub. An operational monument to extreme foods Myles’ loads and re-loads all their pizzas with double or triple the amount of toppings normally found on a pizza then tops their thick crusted beauties with handfuls of cheese. Not New York and not Chicago, Myles’ is a pizza unto itself and a must try for any/all pizza aficionado. Myles’ menu boasts a huge array of sides (tomato bread is a popular favorite), massive salads, and incredible pizzas. But the stars of the Myles’ line up are the “Lovers Pizzas.” To clarify, these pizzas are for lovers of their toppings and not aphrodisiacs, unless of course feeling bloated and overstuffed is your idea of sexy time. And with 9 in the line the Lovers Pizzas offer something for everyone. The Breakfast Lovers is topped with scrambled eggs and breakfast meats, the Mexico Lovers mixes seasoned ground beef and spicy sausage in tangy pizza salsa then tops off with all the usual taco fillers (lettuce, tomatoes, olives, etc.), the Wild-West Lovers is cram jammed with bacon, mushrooms, and ground buffalo (when available, otherwise it’s ground beef). But my favorite has always been the Spice Lovers. With a massive layer of spicy pepperoni, salami, and homemade Italian sausage sandwiched between Myles’ perfection-nearing sauce and mound of cheese, this pizza packs plenty of pleasing zing into every bite. Topped with a little crushed red pepper and this is pizza heaven. Should you leave Myles’ Pizza Pub anything short of filled to bursting, the Myles family also operates BG’s Dairy Queen and approaches the Blizzard and sundae making business in the same manner they make their pizzas: bigger, better, more. A small blizzard at Myles’ DQ is equivalent to the mediums at most other franchises, and has as much of your topping of choice mixed in as is structurally possible.

Rounding out this hearty cast of characters is a lesser known, but my no means less delicious component of the Bowling Green food community: the hummus and pita chips from South Side 6. SS6 has been a part of the BG community for years and for most of that time they were simply a beverage store offering up a variety of beers and sodas on the southern edge of town. Around 2003 or so the owners of SS6, a family from the Middle East, added a food service counter to mix and started serving up gyros, falafel, and other fare from that region. Everything I sampled from there was pretty outstanding, especially the falafel pita roll and the fries with tangy garlic sauce, but the hidden jewels on the South Side 6 menu are the hummus and pita chips. The hummus seems simple enough, but there’s something extra special about it I’ve never been able to put my finger on. It makes almost anything that’s dipped into it mouthwateringly delicious, and my guess is that it has extra garlic and tahini in it. The pita chips SS6 offers by the bag full have something special about them, too, but their greatness is easier to pin down. First of all they’re fried crisp giving them a texture similar to a tortilla chip, but they’re also topped with a savory and slightly spicy herb and spice mix that certainly contains basil, oregano, garlic and onion powders, and sesame seeds. There’s got to more to it than than that, but anything subtler gets lost in the mélange of other spices and the hummus. South Side 6 pita and hummus makes a great snack or side, but it’s good enough that I’ve made meals out of it more than once.

And how does one wash down a feast of such epic proportions? With no Super-Mugs or Mini-Pitchers available, we opted for the suds that so often filled the aforementioned chalices: Old Speckled Hen and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Old Speckled Hen’s balance of malt and hops is the perfect accompaniment to almost any hearty meal, and Sierra Nevada’s extreme hop bite is an excellent foil to the bold flavors in these food favorites.

This is but a small sampling of the delicious fare sustaining college students and townies alike in BG, but these are some of the most notable contributors to my freshman, sophomore, and junior fifteens. Eating them again I was transported back to a simpler time. While I can never return to those days again, I can always relive the memories with a few bites of food and a few sips of beer!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What's YOUR Favorite Breakfast Spot?

A recent article from MSN's "Delish" blog features 57 of the nations best breakfast stops. While the list is certainly interesting and definitely mouth watering it does, of course, come a little short. I mean how could it not? There are innumerable restaurants serving up breakfast in every state so naming them all would be an exercise in futility.

That said, I thought I'd open up the discussion to you, the readers! So what'll it be? What is your favorite breakfast joint and why? Send your pick(s) to with the subject line "Best Breakfast!"

Here are a few responses already:

Erik P.:
The corned beef hash at the Best Breakfast and Sandwiches in Westerville, Ohio is a thing of beauty.

Jessica H.:
uh. they had me til bob evans and holiday inn express. even though bob evans DOES have good biscuits. and FUCK YEAH WAFFLE HOUSE.

Lindsey E.:
The Inn on Coventry. Yessir.

And me? Well, in Cleveland I'm with Lindsey and the Inn on Coventry, I also like Vine & Bean, and if I want to go chain I like First Watch. In Columbus it's a toss up between Tip-Top and the Blue Danube. And certainly one of the best places I've ever started the day while out of town is the Pancake Pantry in Nashville, TN.

Let us know! We'll post a full write up of your picks in a few weeks!



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ridiculous Eats XIII: This Is Why I'M Fat

I haven’t been on the “Ridiculous Eats” kick as much as usual, but having had a recent brush with the limits of food-too-muchery, I felt it was definitely time to revisit the land of too-plenty.

The location of this gorging was Cleveland Heights’ own Cedar Lee Pub & Grill. Located about a block from the similarly named movie theatre, the Cedar Lee Pub occupies a great location. Inside the bar is simple and welcoming; a large bar is centrally located with seating areas on either side. The minimal décor is charming with little on the walls to distract and our two-person booth was cozy and comfortable. Cedar Lee Pub offers a solid beer list and hosts some great nightly specials (on Monday night five bucks will get you a burger, fries, and a Labatt draught!). At a glance the CLP&G’s menu offers standard bar food, sandwiches, salads, wraps, etc., but nestled in the center panel of the menu is a laundry list of some really amazing burgers. The “Boss Hog” boasts pulled barbequed pork and fried onions, the “Polish” adds pierogies to the burger, and the “Say Cheese” is loaded with three different cheeses, bacon, and tomato on toasty garlic bread. Needless to say, the Cedar Lee Pub & Grill is not messing around.

(not the actual clp&g breakfast burger)
While pouring over this magical list of meaty morsels we sipped out beers, mine a wonderfully bitter and hoppy IPA from Stone Brewing and Nicole’s a Guinness, the real King of Beers. Deciding was tough, to say the least, but knowing that CLP&G is just down the street helped re-assure us that we could always come back for more. So, when the waiter came around to take our order this is what we put in: for Nicole the “Horsey” burger, slathered with horseradish, topped with cheese and pickles, and accompanied by a side of Thousand Island dressing, this burger has a super pungent bite. Ordered medium-rare, her burger was perfectly cooked and delicious. I, after some serious deliberation and a desire for something dangerous, finally picked the “Breakfast” over the “Boss Hog.” While there are numerous burgers out there boasting breakfast options as toppings (the “Kuma” at Kuma’s corner, the “Jamburger” and Jam, and the “Cyclops” at Buckeye Beer Engine to name a few) the Cedar Lee Pub and Grill offers two variants on this theme. The first is topped with bacon and a fried egg, sunny-side up, a la the aforementioned. But when the CDP&G says breakfast, they mean breakfast. My burger, an 8oz. patty before cooking, came topped with cheddar, bacon, scrambled eggs, and a hash-brown patty. Cooked somewhere south of medium but north of medium-rare, the burger was perfect. The bacon the Cedar Lee Pub uses is excellently smoked and cured, it tastes exactly the way bacon should taste, only better (the only other time I can recall having bacon this good, like better-than-bacon-good, was at Kuma’s). The generous scoop of scrambled eggs was also cooked exactly right, in that sweet spot between runny and rubbery. There are breakfast joints out there that can’t seem to get this right so maybe the CLP&G should offer some classes. But it was the hearty, greasy, salty goodness of the hash browns on top that took this burger out of bacon-and-egg burger territory and into the Ridiculous Eats zone. The richness of the fried potatoes added a great deal of depth and flavor to the burger without overpowering the other components, more of a supporting cast member rather than a lead. Amazingly, I polished this burger off in no time flat along with the delicious hand-cut fries that filled the rest of the plate space. Nicole opted for onion rings with her burger, a standard, but flavorful entry in the onion ring category, CLP&G’s are good, but I don’t think they’ll be taking home any awards for them.

The Cedar Lee Pub & Grill’s big front windows provide a good look inside, and the bar’s simple, unassuming interior kept me moving down the street in the past, but after my extraordinary evening and amazingly absurd burger there, I think I’ll be stopping in more often!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Award for Best Supporting Organ in a Body Goes to... The Punished Liver! Or: How to Make Your Own Oscar and Feel Like a Million Bucks!

Looking for that perfect libation to liven up your Oscar party? Something that screams classy, yet provides total social lubrication? Well look no further, because What We Eat Is Laughable and your friendly neighborhood Liver Punisher have just the beverage for you!

Here’s how the magic happens:

Tall glass (pint, highball, old Taco-Bell cup, or anything that holds at least 12oz)
Plastic cocktail swords
Fruit garnish (cherry and orange slice)

Vodka (decent quality)
Peach Schnapps
Pineapple juice
Sweeter champagne or sparkling white wine

The Plot:
Fill glass with reasonable amount of ice. Add 2 parts Vodka to 1 part peach schnapps. Top with equal parts champagne and pineapple juice. Stir and garnish with fruit on sword. Enjoy!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Award for best Awards Themed Beverage goes to: the Oscar!

Regular readers may recognize this as a variation on a drink recipe I posted last year. This iteration swaps out the Vernor's for a sweeter (at least sec) champagne or sparkling white wine. The result should be a sweet, sparkling, Oscar-golden draught the imbues the consumer with the sense of granduer and self-worth that only comes from winning an Academy Award. Or being at least moderately tipsy.

After a long, exciting night with the Oscars, I've formulated a few variations. Where the recipe above is certainly award worthy, there's always room for an upgrade. To make a Picture of the Year sub out the cheap bubbly for the good stuff, say Korbel or Moet, and swap the peach schnapps for a peach infused brandy and trade up your Stoli for some Grey Goose. But for the big shots, the studio heads, the acclaimed auteur, or the long beloved actor you can make a Lifetime Achievement Award with Kaufman Luxury Vintage Vodka and some Dom Perignon! enjoy!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Quick Bites

I feel like I post pretty regularly, but I’ve been a little busy lately and have missed a few great meals in the last few weeks, so here’s run down of some of the last month’s food highlights:

Struck by a sudden sushi craving Nicole and I investigated Ariyoshi Japanese Restaurant on Lee Road. Ariyoshi’s dining room is elegantly understated, and patrons may sit at either a table, dressed simply in white, or at the sushi bar. What Ariyoshi lacks in décor is more than made up for in menu. The number of food options is almost dizzying, to help sort things out we ordered warm sake and hot tea. The tea was a delicious, full bodied green tea, the kind you only seem to get at good Japanese restaurants and decent coffee shops and the sake was good. I guess? I don’t know that much about sake but I know what tastes good and we had no problem putting this down. Its pungent first taste was well complemented by its subtle floral and vanilla aftertastes. Having finally made my decision, Nicole had no problem making hers, we ordered. Our meal consisted of:
One spicy tuna roll
Two pieces of unagi (eel)
Two pieces of yellow fin tuna
One piece of octopus
One piece of squid
One piece of crab
One red clam
The spicy tuna roll was one of the best I’ve ever had. I tend to stay away from rolls as all the other additions to the roll seem to detract from the fish, but this was outstanding! The yellow fin was also spectacular. I order this almost any time I get sushi and Ariyoshi’s was maybe the best I’ve ever had. With a clean delicate taste, this tuna has faint sweetness to it and a fatty, slightly fishy end. Perfect with just a little wasabi and soy sauce. The unagi was also spectacular, perfectly broiled with just a touch of a salty/sweet/smokey sauce over it. The red clam was… interesting to say the least. Taste wise it was fine, clean, fresh, and salty, like a sip of ocean water, but it was texturally, um, different. Not bad, but not something I’m likely to try again. The squid was similar. I usually love squid, but every other time I’ve had it it’s been cooked in some way. Raw, however, it leaves me a little cold. It has very little taste and felt a bit like chewing on a slightly fishy rubber band. I’ll be sticking to calamari from now on. The octopus, on the other hand, was a revelation! It was generally tender with just a slight toothiness to it, and the flavor was crisp and clean, requiring no further doctoring. Amazing. Last but not least was the crab. Definitely the most average piece tried that night. It was just a piece of steamed crab leg, in eating this, though, I discovered that in lieu of drawn butter wasabi and soy sauce make pretty great dressing for crab. At the end of our meal instead of dessert we ordered one more piece each of the toro, or fatty tuna belly. A more expensive and flavorful cut our toro was extremely clean tasting and had an aftertaste of watermelon, which was great, but it also seemed to have been recently thawed and still very slightly frozen, which wasn’t so great. The overall experience was phenomenal and I would definitely recommend Ariyoshi for sushi in Cleveland Heights, and not only was the food and service outstanding, had we nor ordered sake and the toro we would’ve been both well fed for well under $15!

As outspoken proponents of the breakfast and brunch arts, Nicole and I are always on the prowl for great morning grub. While the Inn on Coventry is our go-to breakfast spot, there are numerous places in Cleveland serving up delicious morning munchies. A few weeks ago when we both had a Saturday off together we headed over to Shaker to eat at the Vine and Bean Café. Nestled in the cozy first floor of one of Shaker’s elegant old homes, Vine and Bean has the atmosphere any place serving breakfast should seek: homey and relaxed with the wonderful smells of coffee and the griddle filtering throughout. Vine and Bean’s dishes are all made from the freshest local ingredients seasonally available so the menu is subject to change, but it seems their chef is on point as the whole thing looks amazing. We started with cups of their fresh brewed coffee. Vine and Bean is a coffee shop in addition to restaurant so they know their way around a cuppa, and their dark roast is an excellent, full bodied way to start a meal. For our brunch I ordered the Gingerbread Waffles. Two huge, hearty homemade waffles loaded with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, these uber-waffles come piled with maple poached apples, honey-whipped cream, and homemade caramel sauce. The amazing this about this was, that for as massive and rich everything was, at no point did it seem overwhelming. Sweet, sour, spice and fat were all in perfect balance in this dish and it disappeared off my plate almost immediately. Nicole opted for the biscuits and gravy. We had both concurred that we were neither of us huge fans of this southern standard, but V&B’s iteration of this classic must be tried. Built on a base of cheddar scallion biscuits, topped with scrambled eggs, and a creamy sausage gravy loaded with sausage bits. Simple but somehow refined, Vine and Bean has turned this simple fair into a modern and almost elegant dish without losing any of its rugged charm. And it doesn’t stop at breakfast, Vine and Bean delivers modern takes on classic cuisine all day long with an equally amazing sounding lunch and dinner menu.

Rounding out the dining adventures I’ve had recently but haven’t been able to post up is Number 1 Pho. I feel like this restaurant has been in Cleveland forever, but it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I finally made it in. My only regret is not eating there sooner! Pho, if you’re not familiar, is a Vietnamese soup. The base of which is boiling hot beef broth and rice noodles into which sliced, rare beef is added to continue cooking. Bean sprouts, basil, peppers, lime, and hot and soy sauces can be added to taste. Working with a somewhat loose set of ingredients, Pho is almost endlessly customizable or variable depending on available ingredients, location, and dietary constraints. We started our meal with an appetizer made of spiced shrimp paste wrapped around pieces of sugar cane and steamed. With a side of sweet spicy chili sauce, this was a great little bite to kick start the old gastric juices. For the main course we both ordered the soup. Nicole chose the Pho with sliced beef and beef balls. With the basil and lime and hot sauce, this dish had everything going for it. Hearty and savory with a nice bit of acidity from the lime and a serious kick from the hot sauce it verged on a perfect flavor profile. The rare beef added to cook in the broth was wonderfully tender and the meat balls were perfectly cooked and seasoned, but had an interesting texture. I opted for the seafood variant, with a delicious fish stock as the base this soup was loaded with shrimp, squid, and fish balls. I was a little nervous about the so called fish balls at first, but they were delicious and tender, with a little bit of the stock they were the very essence of the taste of good seafood. The seafood soup arrives unadorned but is spiked with a handful of onions to add some depth to the dish. Amazing and delicious, but searing hot on it arrival, Pho is something to sip and savor, not wolf down.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Very Cleveland Night Out

With the snow falling fast and furious in Cleveland recently, the Cabin Fever has been hitting hard and often. So last week Nicole and I braved the elements to get out of our apartments for a few hours. Our mission was a taste of the near West Side, the neighborhood known as Ohio City. While certainly not strangers to Ohio City we opted to try a few newer places in order to spice things up a bit.

Our first stop was the Velvet Tango Room on Columbus Road. Nestled in the first floor of a house, the VTR is a bar and restaurant specializing in classic cocktails. As their website will tell you: “Once, there was a time when people understood the art of cocktails. A cocktail was not just a drink - it was a mood, a place, an aesthetic statement.” And that’s just what they do. Soft lighting, candles, and wood paneling give VTR a timeless, classic atmosphere while funky jazz floats off the stereo. While serving a higher class of cocktail than the average bar, VTR is surprisingly free of pretention; it’s simply the kind of place where fans of delicious, hand crafted cocktails can sip on a bit of history and a bit of invention.

While VTR’s mission is to present the highest quality cocktail possible, drawing on the mixology’s rich history, they’re not above innovation. Combing the best spirits available with the finest mixers and a slew of house made sodas, syrups, and bitters means VTR’s libations are as potent as they are delicious. After perusing both—that’s right both—drink menus Nicole and I ordered. For her a Manhattan. A classic cocktail usually consisting of bourbon or whiskey, vermouth, and bitters, the Tango Manhattan features VTR’s own wine reduction syrup, giving the drink a fullness and warmth not usually found in the traditional recipe. Served up in a cocktail glass this was one of the best Manhattan’s I’ve ever tried. I ordered the Old Fashioned. Building on a foundation of citrus muddled with sugar and bitters, this whiskey drink beautifully balances three of the four tastes. Deliciously smooth to sip with a beautifully subtle finish, this is easily one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. Certainly a great way to start the evening, but all this perfection has a price, so be prepared to shell out or get there early for happy hour! This is certainly the Cleveland parallel to Chicago’s Violet Hour.

With fancy-pants drinks tickling our hungry bones we departed the Velvet Tango Room in search of some eats. During one’s time in Ohio City there are plenty of food options, but hungering for something new we made for ABC the Tavern at Nicole’s suggestion. A bar that’s trapped between dive and respectable, ABC’s atmosphere is an atmosphere of no atmosphere. High ceilings, little to no décor, and dim lighting should signal blandsville, but somehow ABC pulls it off. We seated ourselves to a soundtrack of Al Green’s greatest hits—almost always appropriate—and ordered a round of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPAs (along with Sierra Nevada’s pale this is one of the best widely available IPAs in the country). We scanned the short but tasty menu filled with bar food standards—appetizers, sandwiches, sides, etc.—and placed an order for their burger and the Jamaican Jerk Chicken sandwich.

Nicole’s burger was perfectly cooked and topped with frazzled (fried) onions. Absolutely amazing, any burger joint throwing raw onion on a burger is missing an opportunity to make their Average-Joe meat sandwich an All-Star by frying those aromatics up! My chicken had been slow cooked until it was juicy and tender, then pulled and tossed with a house made jerk sauce. Crammed to the gills with ginger, sweetened with some brown sugar, lightly torched by some hot chilies, with just a hint of smokiness the sauce made this sandwich one of the most messy, delicious things I’ve eaten in a long time. It was one of those beautiful moments of eating something and suddenly realizing it’s exactly what you’d wanted but had no idea. Both sandwiches are musts should you visit. Like all good bar food should, these beauties on buns came with sides of fries, but ABC doesn’t serve your everyday French fry. Sixe wise these were just north or shoestring, but just south of a full sized fry; boot-string, perhaps. Expertly fried, ABC quickly tosses their fries with salt, pepper, parsley, and green onions for a little extra something in every bite. Outside of the sweet potato fries I had at Frank’s in Akron Monday night, ABC’s are the best fries I’ve had in a long time.

Our hunger pacified for the time being we were still looking for a little of that night life, so we made one last stop before heading home in what would eventually become last week’s Snowpacalypse. Our last call of the evening was made at the Academy Tavern on Larchmere in the Shaker neighbor hood. Another no-frills, locals and regulars type joint, the Academy is the place to go for an Early Bird Special, the game on TV, and plenty of beer that tastes like beer. The perfect spot to end a great night out. We ordered a few Beam-and-Ginger-Ales, the drink that’s quickly becoming the drink of choice as winter winds down, and watched the Cavs come from behind for decisive victory over the hated Celtics. There’s nothing fancy about the Academy, but who needs fancy when you’re just plain good?

This night out helped reinforce one of the greatest aspects of living in Cleveland: no matter your budget or location there's always a place to go that offers the best food, the best drinks, the best night out. All of Cleveland's neighborhoods and suburbs have a treasure trove of restaurants and bars just waiting to be discovered.

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