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 (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04234/365002-46.stm) 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.