Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Café Ah Roma

2230 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 771-8700

by Beau Cadiyo

1. The increase in ATM fees in this city has reached absurd proportions. Both US Bank and National City near the West Side Market charge $3 for people to use their ATMs; the US Bank ATM INSIDE the West Side Market is only $2. I guess they need to make money somehow - their management certainly isn't doing a great job of it. A teller at the US Bank suggested I go to the dollar store down the street and get cash back; they let me buy an Arizona Iced Tea but then didn’t let me get cash. I was half-tempted to pour the tea on an ATM, but thought better of it.

2. I hate it when people say something is the “best X ever,” or “worst Y ever,” or any combination where the implication is that they’ve sampled all of the golf balls, or hair stylists, or Thai food in the world and have an objective opinion to offer which puts the issue of who/what IS the best to rest. I also hate it when non-English people say “cheers” instead of thanks, or end their emails with it, and when non-Italians say “Ciao” – Frank Cranney excluded.

3. The church was like any European church – towering, ornate, detailed, beautiful. A giant cast eagle in the front made us think of Frank Mott, whose ex-girlfriend commissioned a large, framed portrait of herself, naked, reclined on an American flag with an eagle on top and a cigarette dangling between her legs. She then thought it prudent to mail it to Frank’s mother’s house. We went back out through the lobby looking for the café promised on the sign outside, and only after a few hallways did we find it. Inside, we found normal café furniture, a nerd on a PowerBook, people studying and/or watching YouTube while surrounded by books and the obligatory alternative staff, one intricately and beautifully tattooed, the rest looking like they were trying to make it through another hellish day of food service.

4. The “Famous Chicken Salad” sandwich was texturally satisfying, but almost flavorless. The homemade honey whole wheat bread was soft and chewy, with an almost non-existent crust which melted into the bread itself – any kid would love it. The chicken salad itself was composed of unusually large, firm chunks of bland chicken in a white sauce I would hesitate to call mayonnaise, simply because it didn’t taste of anything. The lettuce was crunchy; I don’t remember a slice of the promised tomato, although I’m sure it was on there. The pickle was, sadly, the most flavorful part.

5. Three bites in, I realized it needed mustard; Frank agreed. It was distributed in small Solo cups. The yellow was completely average, but the honey mustard added more liquid than taste.

6. Perhaps the special coffee drinks and atmosphere are worth it. For food in the area, though, Johnnie’s is just around the corner and much, much tastier.

Cafe Ah-Roma on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 15, 2008


3355 Richmond Rd
Beachwood, OH 44122
(216) 831-5599

I once bought a badge at a thrift store that said “I’ve got MOXIE!” As a teenager in San Diego, it meant nothing to me, but to my mother it was a reminder of the 1950s spent in her mother’s soda shoppe on Staten Island, drinking sodas long forgotten. When we looked up the word, we found that it was synonymous for chutzpa. At the time, it certainly described me.

Twelve or thirteen years and thousands of miles later, I arrived at Moxie thinking of that button, and my mother, who I am probably too hard on, but who isn’t hard on their own mother? Moxie seemed to be in an anonymous office park, but inside was a dark, sensuous lounge. It was too much for me to take in at once; I was self-conscious, feeling as if I was out of place. Frank Berezin greeted me warmly at a table in the back, and with the rest of the restaurant behind me, I suddenly felt that the entire meal was something special, like a private club which I’d just gotten access to by association with him – the restaurant in Paris with Dick Diver, perhaps. Frank described some of the other patrons he knew from practicing law or presiding over charitable boards. It struck me how what people desire most – be it power, wealth, fame or any of the other big goals – is about human connections, nothing more, nothing less. The people in that restaurant seemed powerful because, in some way or another, they were all connected to each other. I’d be willing to gamble that a well-connected group of poor people can accumulate anything they desire within a few short years, while a poorly-connected group of well-off people can lose it all in the same amount of time.

Sunlight streamed in when the back door opened. We talked. The Moxie burgers arrived, both medium, mine with onions. It was good. Very good. Held together by a single long toothpick, the meat was tender, markedly sticking together by sheer force of the seared outer shell and crumbling tenderly in my mouth when bitten. The onion, tomato and lettuce was fresh in a way that made each a distinct flavor and the fries were golden and crispy. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as Lolita – ah, Lolita – but for $10, in Beachwood, at lunch, it was a fine, fine sandwich.

When I walked out, the parking lot was full. It again looked like an office park, with cars on Richmond screaming past. I had a moment where I felt like Harry Potter, realizing that I just had to know to walk through the glass doors to be taken to a special place. Then I put my sunglasses on, got into my car and drove away.

Moxie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Cheesecake Factory

Highland Heights/Mayfield Heights
24265 Cedar Rd
Cleveland, OH 44124
(216) 691-3387

by Beau Cadiyo

Five bites. One, I can understand. Two is suspicious. At three you start looking between the bun. At four you start laughing and mentioning it to the other diners, whereupon they start speculating as to when you will hit meat. When, at five, you finally get a bite of burger patty, you can’t help but be disappointed.

The Cheesecake Factory is a phenomenon: some lady moved to Los Angeles and started it up, and now it’s an international sensation. I went to one in LA seven years ago for a friend’s birthday party, and would have never gone to the one in Beachwood had Frank Keller not had a gift card. She said she owed me for helping her move; I am not one of those chivalrous gentlemen who would never hear of a lady paying for my meal. She gets her wallet out and I know I can put more money toward buying a Rolex or a Springfield Armory 1911. In short, she pays, I become more of a man.

It was packed, so we waited at the bar. Frank sat in the lone empty seat, next to two cougars who obviously knew the 20-something bartender a little too well. I stood, drinking my beer, while Frank argued with him about the amount of vodka in her martini; for $9, one would think you could taste the alcohol a bit more. We talked to the ladies about television shows. When it came time to be seated, we walked a short distance through faux-Egyptian splendor. Something about it reminded me of New York restaurants in the Roaring 20s, and I'm sure the plastic pharaoh heads will last longer than the pyramids. What will future generations think of our chain-restaurant ruins?

The waitress was surly, not bothering to do more than describe the specials and take our orders. When she next returned, with our food, we were just speculating on how horrible her night must be to be as rude as she was – not blaming her, but circumstances.

Then the five bites. Again, I can understand one bite, two is suspicious, etc. Beyond the five bites, nothing about the burger, or the beer, or the fries, or the atmosphere, or the patrons, or the bathroom, was special. Frank’s Thai chicken lettuce wraps were good, but that was small consolation. Five bites.

Frank got out her gift card; she ended up with 33 cents extra on it and, sans cash, no way to leave a tip. That was fine: neither the waitress nor the Cheesecake Factory deserved any of our money. Or her money, anyway.

Five bites. Five bites.

Cheesecake Factory on Urbanspoon

Mad Greek

2466 Fairmount Blvd
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 421-3333

by Beau Cadiyo

I know a lot of bathrooms.

Lola’s sinks are a work of art. Lolita’s remind me, aesthetically, of Portland, Oregon. Slyman’s bathroom is tidy – shipshape, really. Hot Sauce Williams’ requires a key. Freddie’s Southern Style Rib House doubles as a cleaning closet, and a filthy one at that. The door on Sokolowski’s mens’ room is awkward to operate. As far as I could tell, there was no men's room at Johnnie's Deli - only a women's room. The Mad Greek’s reminded me that I’d been there before at some point in the past, slightly more buzzed.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise: the Mad Greek felt familiar, like a good neighborhood bar should. The bartender has a broad New York accent and talks to you in a way that makes you feel like you can confide in him – he gives away a small weakness or character trait in himself and you feel obligated to do the same. Soon he knows that you feel estranged from your mother, or that you hooked up with a girl at the other end of the bar who now won’t talk to you. The tables feel like you might have sat in any of them before, and have. The television, tucked away in an awkward corner, forces people close together to watch it and invites you to brush against your neighbor intimately.

The Feta Cheeseburger arrived; I was thick in the crowd of patrons, but the bartender made eye contact and waved me into a seat in front of him. He placed the burger before me as I tried to trade him my credit card; he waved it away, saying, “later.” I wasn’t sure why, but I thought that perhaps he wanted to make sure that I liked it before I even considered leaving a tip, a level of honest dealing which I fully respect.

Perhaps he knew that it could only end well for him. The burger was big and juicy; the red onions and tomatoes were fresh and the lettuce only slightly wilted. The pile of feta cheese stayed in place, adding flavor to the meat and a sort of dry, grainy texture – but you know what feta cheese is like. The only mistake, in my mind, was the potatoes – instead of fries, they were cubed and tasted frozen, a major turnoff which I wouldn’t have dared tell him.

The check arrived; $10 and change. I, too, was shocked; not even Lola charges that much for a burger, and theirs are, next to Lolita’s, the best I’ve had in Cleveland. I tipped, though – even though it was just a pretty good burger, The Mad Greek had something extra in it, something pleasant, something friendly, something familiar.

Mad Greek on Urbanspoon


900 Literary Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-5652

by Beau Cadiyo

Michael Symon isn’t so good with choosing hostesses. At Lola, they always act as if we might not be seated for lunch if we don’t have a reservation, no matter how empty the restaurant is. At Lolita, the hostess pointedly told us that we couldn’t get our reserved table during happy hour, but she would do us the immense favor of not making us wait six minutes for our reservation and, instead, seat us immediately. Like, whatever.
The patrons are different from those at Lola. While many were in their 30s and 40s, and had the same appearance of trying to be hip, they generally did not seem desperate. They were, instead, at Lolita to eat good food and drink good alcohol. The eclectic decorations – from candles jutting out of the walls to a large, festooned pig to shower curtains and a wall reminiscent of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors – mixed together well, the notable exception being the flat-screen television above the bar. It looked out of place, an inelegant distraction from the beauty of the remainder. The bathroom is sparse and clean. The open kitchen is dark yet vibrant, a great place to watch masters at work. For the third time in five days, Ed mentioned a dinner where the chef had disparaged Michael Symon, saying that prep boys in France knew more about food than Symon did. However, the chef apparently did not explain why Symon was supposed to be so bad, nor did Ed explain why he was telling me about it repeatedly. Judging by the reaction of everyone at the meal, this chef was likely just jealous and bitter.
The $5 Lolita Burger is the only sandwich on the menu. It is only served during happy hour and is almost identical to the Lola burger: an English muffin, meat, cheese and onions. The only difference is that the Lolita burger has a fried egg and has more, crispier bacon. Ed opined that the beef was of a slightly lower quality than that of Lola, but we agreed that the Lolita burger tasted more flavorful, more succulent, more mouthwatering (literally, my salivary glands open up whenever I re-read this sentence). We could have ordered them for the entire meal had happy hour not ended; it is hands-down the best burger I have had in Cleveland.
With only one sandwich, we moved on. The spicy chicken wings were tender, the olives warm and juicy, the big board of meats distinct and flavorful, the duck prosciutto pizza a marked disappointment (the crust was mediocre), the Swiss Chard slightly crunchy and the desserts utterly magnificent. The vanilla bean sorbet was my personal favorite, followed by the lemon semifreddo; while the chocolate pot de crème was distinct and salty, Lola does it better. All of it mixed well with the wine, beer and scotch.
Total, to comfortably fill four bellies, the meal came to $140 including a well-deserved 20% tip. I’m planning on going back at least twice in the next two weeks – the first time to bring my old boss and a special lady friend, the second to bring my best friend on a double-blind date the day after he gets married. Yes: the day after he gets married I’m going to try to set him up with another girl. That’s what friends are for.


Addendum, June 14, 2008: Symon apparently DOES know how to pick hostesses after all. Last night Kathleen was celebrating her first week of work - truly a nice, sweet girl, with the ability to turn rude people away politely and maintain a positive, sunny outlook. She was also eager to introduce us to the manager, who spent a good 10 minutes talking to us about the restaurant before being called away to his professional duties. I was thoroughly impressed by the personal touch we received - but just make sure you book ahead of time, and don't give them a hard time when there isn't any room!

Lolita on Urbanspoon

Johnnie’s Deli

1840 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio

by Beau Cadiyo

It has been a while. I apologize for that. First, both Ed and D. John have moved out of Cleveland. Second, we all finished law school, and now I’m preparing for the bar. Third, though, is the kicker – I’ve had tons of sandwiches over the last few months. Tons. I’ve just been uninspired. Whenever I sit down to write a review I turn up blank. I’ll keep at them, and turn something out, but I’ve just been disappointed in most of the sandwiches I’ve eaten over the last two months.
Until today.
At the lunch hour, Frank Khan and I made our way to a café we’d stopped in a couple of weeks earlier. I hadn’t gotten a good look at it before, but I remembered that the breakfast waitress was friendly in a gruff way, and promised a breakfast in two minutes, a burger in “maybe five.” Frank stayed and ordered and I went around the corner.
This time, the waiter was a short middle-eastern man. He was friendly, too, in a business-like way – it was refreshing to have him treat us as normal people rather than try to kiss our asses for tips. The menu was plain, but in this day and age that made it extraordinary: regular sandwiches, fried sandwiches, sides, breakfast until 11 a.m. Turkey, Pastrami, Tuna, Chicken. The specials were on a small white board which, from many parts of the restaurant, was inaccessible without standing up and walking around; he made no effort to tell us what was on it, another endearing factor.
There were four other bar students around the counter, along with a man in a short-sleeve shirt and tie who looked haggard. I imagined his life as a tired, spent public defender who made his living defending petty criminals and getting beaten up by the prosecutors. He still found the heart to joke with our host, and I liked him for it.
My tuna melt came, along with the curly fries. Note this: there are no frills on these sandwiches. Two pieces of rye, two slices of American cheese, and between them two massive, generous, ice-cream-scoops of tuna and egg salad. No tomato. No lettuce. No special sauce. These things cost extra, and while it was annoying, I was in a good mood and liked it all. I marveled at the sandwich, ate the pickle and then bit in, squeezing more than half of the tuna out as I did so. The bread was well-fried and not too soft, the cheese was barely noticeable, the tuna/egg combination divine in its middle-American blandness. Here was a sandwich which did not have to put on airs, did not have to dress up for company, was not competing with anyone else for awards, and so, Taoist, excelled and defeated them all. The curly fries were well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside, perfect with the off-brand ketchup in the red bottles. Hot sauce would have been appreciated, but I suspected it may have cost extra.
They had just gotten a credit card machine the day before and he did not know how to use it. When I returned to my seat after paying, our host had filled my water glass, anticipating that I would stick around and talk for a while. I did, and in so doing discovered that I wanted to write again - first and foremost about Johnnie’s, one of the great delis in Cleveland. We’ll see if I’m inspired to get into the others.

Johnnie's Deli on Urbanspoon