Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Au Bon Pain

200 Public Sq
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 771-0869

by Beau Cadiyo

This will be brief. I had a spicy tuna salad sandwich at ABP, which was, surprisingly, very good. The bread was ok, the filling was phenomenal, the price was high. Fine. Done.

I write to warn you of chips. I purchased the Food Should Taste Good Potato and Chive Tortilla Chips. These were, by far, the worst potato chips I've ever had. I shall elucidate:

1) Statistics prove, prove that you've one...no, wait. The bag had a drawing - a DRAWING - of the average chip inside, which it boasted was enlarged to show texture. Yet it was the same size as the chips inside. A small complaint, but telling. Of what, I do not know.

2) The texture was of gritty, wet cardboard. They did not crunch so much as yield with difficulty.

3) They tasted of the cardboard, heavily salted, with other odd flavors here and there. Sometimes I tasted the corn of the tortilla chip; sometimes I thought I detected a potato essence. Mostly, however, it was bland and dull. Combined with the texture, it was downright unpleasant.

4) Hope springs eternal: I finished almost the whole bag. I was hoping I would grow to like these. Frank Dumbrys, a workmate, tried one and discarded half of it. He then tried another, and discarded that half.

The name of the company states something true: food should taste good. Unfortunately, we are sometimes grievously disappointed.

Au Bon Pain on Urbanspoon

How do you eat your sandwiches?

Reflections by Patty Foccacia

The other day, I was making myself a nice decadent turkey and ham sandwich. I am a big fan of dressing up my sandwich - two slices of multi-grain bread, a few slices of deli turkey and ham, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, cheese, topped with yellow mustard. Hmm, delicious.

As I was eating my huge creation of a sandwich, I noticed that I ate the crusts first and then worked my way to the middle. I realized I did the same with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And for soft tacos.

Some people discard their crusts. I remember back in fifth grade, this kid would bring four PB&J sandwiches for lunch. When finished, he'd leave a huge mountain of crusts, which probably equaled to two whole slices of bread. What a waster, I'd think.

Of course some people eat their sandwiches top-down. They'd get a a little bit of the crust, then the middle, the crust again, and work their way down the sandwich. How neat and methodical and ... normal.

Then there is me, who eats the crusts first and then the middle. I don't particularly like eating crusts. They are a bit dry. The mustard or peanut butter never gets spread all the way to the edge of the crust. I also need dressings to top my sandwiches in order for them to be edible. Therefore I wondered why I ate the crusts first.

Oh, I knew perfectly why. You know when you stick lettuce and cheese (and other miscellaneous toppings) in the bread, they tend to stick out on the sides? I hate that. Especially when you eat them the "normal way," a bit of them would slow migrate out of the sandwich. By the time you're almost done, you realize you have this huge chunk of lettuce or tomato that is just sitting there. I also hate when excess olives or sauce drips out of the sandwich and most likely fall on my lap. With my luck, I'd probably be wearing khakis or a nice skirt on that day.

So, I'd eat the fringes and crusts first so that my teeth marks would create a seal to my sandwich. Think of it like a crimping machine. I am such a dork, I know. I also like the idea of saving the best for last, so not only do I 'crimp' my sandwich to a nice neatly-edged square, I am also left with a juicy, plump sandwich with moist bread. No crusts.

Finally I can enjoy the rest of my sandwich and have a satisfying finish. What a life. Delicious.

So I guess a simple thing like eating a sandwich revealed a little aspect of how I think and how I like things done.

Did you know Brazilians eat sandwiches (and pizza) with forks and knives? A quote from maria-brazil.org:

"Brazilians will usually use a fork and knife for pizza, open sandwiches, and even chicken. They are amused and even amazed - like my friend Cesar in Columbus, Ohio - at the American way of eating such foods with their hands."

Or maybe you just think I'm an utter dork and think too much about little things. I really don't. :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Double Down

Opinion - Reuben Dagwood

A typical approach to marketing is to create a product that “isn’t your father’s [whatever]”. This is not a new phenomenon to our generation. In fact this has been going on for decades. It’s a simple way to add life to a product by attempting to appeal to “the younger crowd”.

Sometimes, this approach involves nothing more than a change in marketing campaign. Take the same product and make some hip young ads for it. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to appeal to a whole new batch of customers.

Another approach is to make some dramatic decisions regarding the packaging and the composition of the product itself. This can be a bit more expensive, but also, in essence, creates a whole new product, eliminating any concern of offending the loyal followers of your original item.

And then, there is the third variety: the face raping destruction of an icon. And, in this vein, I submit to you the attempt to do so to our beloved idea of a sandwich by the American company, KFC: The Double Down Sandwich.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What About Bob’s?

38233 Glenn Avenue
Willoughby, Ohio 44094
(440) 951-9700 (phone orders available)

by Beau Cadiyo

Bite: the best sandwich deal in Cleveland, if not America.

"Movies make me want to go back to California. Visiting reminds me of why I left."

This was my Facebook status the morning after watching Lords of Dogtown. The magic, beauty, and excitement of being in California - of being young in California - were all there on the screen: the ocean, the streets, the people, the parties. I grew up in San Diego and knew all of those people when I was young, just like how, when I was driving to my new home in Cleveland and I stopped in hotels and turned on MTV, I recognized every face. Every night, I knew all the rich fucks partying on Laguna Beach. They were types, but apparently they were everywhere, and I laughed as I recognized my friends beaming out from the screen. They were the ones that made California the promised land to viewers around the world – the people I met in China, Wales, Spain or Mauritius who said that they always wanted to move to Los Angeles, or Santa Barbara, or San Diego, and get away from their unexciting, unromantic, uninteresting homes.

What is it about the human heart that makes the grass greener? Does this serve evolution, or reproduction? I think everyone must want to be happy where they are; the problem is actually accomplishing it.

California’s great advantage over other states is the media. People who work in movies, television and radio - so often people from other states or countries - have a wonderful ability to imagine what it is like to grow up in California, unencumbered by reality. The aspects of California culture they portray undoubtedly exist – the people, places, sun and sand, but the romantic figures are, like Tom Sawyer, cobbled together from others. Moreover, modern media does not possess Samuel Clemens' compunctions - writers now don't tell you when they change reality to suit their vision. Instead, they imagine a Southern California youthful experience, and through screens and stereos around the world, it becomes the reality. Ignored, minimalized, or more often romanticized, are the bad things about living in SoCal – drugs, crime, traffic, social pressure, ennui, spiritual desolation . Without a comparable portrayal of, say, Iowa or Idaho, Columbus or Cleveland, the rest of the world sees only the reality of their own existence and compares it to the ideals they see on their screens. It's like looking at David and bemoaning our own puny muscles.

The next morning, I woke up and pulled on some shorts for work. It wasn't my usual work attire, but I was going to a warehouse to look at files, and the woman who organized our files said it would be hot. In California, at my old firm, this was the uniform; when I started, they'd just banned flip-flops from the office, but the outcry from the secretaries was so great that they rescinded the rule: no flip-flops when carrying boxes up and down stairs.

I was nostalgic.

I worked all morning, then headed down the street to downtown Willoughby for lunch. Parking was easy, even on a beautiful day at noon, and I first walked up to Enclave coffee house (http://www.myspace.com/enclavecoffeehouse). I asked if they had sandwiches, and the pretty, tattooed, multicolored-haired girl behind the counter replied in a slow, lilting voice that they didn't. She recommended another place as "good - and cheap." I started to walk out, past two middle-aged women doing something on laptops and a man on the cafe's desktop, past black tables and chairs and a plywood stage with two acoustic guitars propped up on it, strings broken and dangling, when I thought, "I've been here before." All coffee shops look the same, yes, but that this was exactly the type of place Kassia and Jarmilka and Ananda and Roselva and Agata and Saskia and Aujah and Karina and I used to go in Pacific Beach, drinking too much coffee, running around through the tables playing tag, playing guitar for our friends. I walked out. The street was beautiful: old brick buildings that had stood for four generations were real, not facades created to imitate establishment. They have the aura of history and uniqueness and architectural attention put into their construction that one never sees out west, where it's almost impossible to get away from strip malls filled with franchises and housing divisions with three or four floorplans. I crossed the street.

In the sub shop, four people - likely family - labored behind the counter while a family two mothers with two children ate at a table. Four businessmen ordered, joking in the uncomfortable way businessmen joke, the way teenagers hear and vow to never be like. Switchfoot came in over the speakers, the way they might do anywhere. The woman taking my order was a fairly attractive middle-aged woman in a tie-dyed shirt, blonde hair and silver necklace. The subs were cheap - $3.99 for a foot-long. I sat outside on the sidewalk. It was hot, so I took off my polo and sat in a wife-beater. When I went in to collect my sandwich, a 20-something MILF was bending over to sweep up her child's crumbs, revealing a tramp stamp of a colorful ocean scene.

Bob's Ultimate Original Sub was excellent. First, the bread was incredible - crisp crust, chewy center. Second, it was stuffed - layers and layers of meat, cheese and lettuce with a vinegar-based sauce. The textures were sublime - my teeth sheared easily through the meat, the lettuce was crunchy and the bread was hard and soft at the same time. I'm a heavy eater, but I couldn't even start the second half.

I went back to Enclave to pick up a cup of coffee. As soon as I walked in, the man at the desktop shouted, "He's back!" and the girl echoed him. They asked about the sandwich. The man, Traveling Frank, opined that the bread was not left to proof long enough, and began to explain the process of bread-making. The girl started complaining about her one experience at Bob's ordering a Chicken Salad Sandwich, and I ended up speaking with them both about relationships, travel, business, and all the good reasons to live in Cleveland. Traveling Frankhit one on the head: the people are friendly, the kind of friendly that stands in a coffee shop for a half-hour casually talking to strangers.

Back at the warehouse, I noticed large square windows in the wall every twenty feet, all looking out into dense greenery surrounding the building. Then I thought of my friend Frank Sharp, who recently started a business in San Diego that rips up lawns and replaces them with green plastic turf. He can’t keep up with demand and is already behind in orders. It made me smile: the grass may be greener, but that doesn't mean it's real.

What About Bob's? on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Cleveland Chop House and Brewery and the Barley House

Cleveland Chop House and Brewery
824 W Saint Clair Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 623-0909

Barley House
1265 W 6th
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 623-1700

by Beau Cadiyo
I first came into sliders in any great quantity here in Cleveland. In California, we were much more likely to get a Double Double, and the idea of a slider at White Castle was completely foreign to me. Thus, seeing them in person made me think of first Saturday Night Fever where Travolta jumps on the table, and then Harold and Kumar (entire movie); the idea of a slider attracted me, but I never got the urge to actually take the first step toward getting one. Like going home with a stripper, it was always one of those things I wanted to do but never did, satisfying my desires elsewhere.

I thought I knew what sliders were, though. So, when my belief was challenged, I looked them up on two separate sites. First, Wikipedia:

Another variety of hamburger is the "slider", which is a very small square hamburger patty sprinkled with diced onions and served on an equally small bun, popularized by White Castle. The name comes from their size, whereby they are considered to "slide" right down your throat in one or two bites (Many U.S. vets will disagree; the term "slider" originated from the hamburgers served by flight line galleys at military airfields, which were so greasy they slid right through you). Another purveyor of the slider is Krystal. Burger King has sold pull-apart mini-burgers, first under the name "Burger Buddies" and later as "Burger Shots". In the late 2000s, the "slider" has gained in popularity and has been featured on the menu even at more formal restaurants such as T.G.I. Fridays. Jack-in-the-box also now serves sliders marketed as "Mini Sirloin Burgers."

Then, I read this, which sounded more reasonable:

So what makes a Slider?
…Most of all it’s the size, current White Castle Slyder patties are only 2.5 inches wide and very thin, the buns are just as small. Because of their size Sliders are often served in pairs, trios or even six at a time.
Next is the small square and super soft burger buns. These are custom baked just for Slyders so don’t expect the same taste and feel anywhere else. The nearest thing you can get from a grocery store might be Martin’s Potato Rolls but a lot of the flavor and softness comes from the unique White Castle cooking method.

When faced with the opportunity to order sliders at the Cleveland Chophouse, I couldn't resist. I'd gone to meet my mentor, attorney Frank Rosenthal, who - while constantly stressed out - is still one of the most fun people I have met, and is also notable for his genuine interest in others. We sat outside and talked; runners passed by, and lawyers going home from work, and dates, and valets.

The "sliders" that came out were, to my mind, unrecognizable as such, even if I'd never laid eyes on one before. The large plate held four pieces of what was otherwise a normal hamburger, which had been quartered. In the middle was a mess of fried onions - not onion rings, but thin-sliced onions which were almost all interconnected. I took a "slider" and some onions, realizing a moment later that because they were all tangled together I'd taken nearly all of them.

The "slider" had bacon on it, which is almost to be expected nowadays, but otherwise it was completely average. The Chophouse may believe that it is being gastronomically progressive by taking the concept of "slider" and changing it to “quartered hamburgerTo me, it merely seemed like they were adding a menu item without actually having to do anything beyond cutting up a hamburger. Ruling: disappointed.

The weird thing was, a day later and around the corner, the Barley House offered exactly the same thing. Frank Nguyen, a local restaranteur, Frank Whitman-Rush, Frank Hoxha and I all sat outside on the patio. There were a lot of people there for a West Sixth Wednesday - the patio was packed, and the pub quiz kept most of the inside tables busy. We sat outside and Nguyen ordered the sliders. He then went on for almost five minutes on how much he liked their menu layout, and how cheap the food was.

I was again disappointed. The slider was, again, simply a burger cut up into quarters, this time with waffle-cut french fries. It came with impressive Italian bread, real cheddar cheese, special sauce, bacon and a reasonable piece of hamburger meat, but it was still cut into quarters - a poor man’s slider. It made me wonder if people were just going crazy.

So after all that, I'm still a slider virgin. The "sliders" I was served were not sliders at all - they were quartered hamburgers. Quarters. That's what they should be called, and that's what you should order the next time you go to either of these places. If the wait staff say they don't have quarters, but they have sliders, insist on a quartered hamburger, then say, "You know - quarters." They will probably think you eccentric, and will possibly condemn you when they're among their own. They may even spit in your quarters. However, such is the price of integrity - something that they will never, ever know.

Cleveland Chophouse & Brewery on Urbanspoon

Barley House on Urbanspoon

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

28869 Chagrin Blvd
Woodmere, OH 44122
(216) 896-9000

by Beau Cadiyo

The Cleveland Sandwich Board was started as a sandwich-reviewing body, and we fully intended to pay for those sandwiches ourselves. After our first few reviews, we linked up with the Case School of Law Docket, a student newspaper. They reimbursed us up to $30 per meal (which we usually exceeded). For the first year of our existence, we milked it for all it was worth: the Docket got regular restaurant reviews from one of America’s most important and vital sandwich review organizations; we got free food. It was a win-win situation.

Having said that, I absolutely resent it when businesses offer me free food to review. Reviews should, in my opinion, be unbiased assessments of the items reviewed. For something like food, the need to avoid influence is even more acute . A movie leaves one with an experience and a car is often returned to the manufacturer, but food is not regurgitated at the end; it becomes a part of the reviewer. Trading free food for a review strikes me as bribery, as corruption, as absolutely dishonest. However, I am not averse to taking advantage of a free offer – instead, with righteous indignation, I become hyper-critical.

This brings us to Fleming’s. A woman contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in coming down for a complimentary burger from their new happy-hour "5 for $6 before 7" menu. I accepted and immediately regretted it. What would reviewing a free burger do to my objectivity? And, if I gave them a bad review, what would that say about my gratitude? I conceded that I would not be objective, and decided not to care what they thought about my manners. If they asked for a review, they had to be willing to accept a negative one. It was not my fault if I found their food lacking.

So I went, my heart – and stomach – hardened. Frank Hoxha, who often has interesting ideas about what one should do with food, joined me.At the door, we told the hostesses we were there for happy hour with Frank Vasil, who had emailed me. They did not know who this Vasil person was. I escalated: we were with The Cleveland Sandwich Board. The ignorami had heard nothing of us. I was furiously turning to walk away from their dank establishment when I remembered to say "Taste of Flemings," which saw us whisked swiftly through the dark restaurant to a long table on their bright outside patio, with plates and forks and drinks of our choice.

The owner was sitting with a table of food bloggers and talking about the restaurant, and we joined them. I immediately disliked the place a little more. Any place where critics are treated specially is suspect. He went to get the bartender, who asked what we’d like to drink. I asked for a surprise with hard alcohol; Frank got wine. I became even more annoyed. They were trying to liquor us up.

The other bloggers were all friendly; I ended up talking to a Brazilian lawyer who never removed her sunglasses. I expressed my discomfort at receiving free food, at which point one of the other bloggers looked squarely at me and said that most of her meals were free. She said she often contacted restaurants and offered to review them in exchange for free food, and suggested that I do the same. I looked around the table and suddenly wondered if I was the only one who didn’t think this was right or honorable, the only one who thought this practice put the entire reviewing community to shame.

A Sirloin Burger arrived, cut in half and haughtily perched on a huge plate with two giant onion rings and a small ramekin of jalapeño aioli sauce. It was heavy enough that I began to think that the meat was not bulked out with any additives. The bottom bun was slightly soggy, while the top had a smooth, thin crust that was not normal for hamburgers. It didn’t react much when I pushed down, instead retaining much of its shape.

I resented the first bite, and the second, and the third, because I resented the hope on the part of the restaurant that I, and the other bloggers, would be pleased. The first, the corner, was mostly bread, but it was good – egg knot bread, baked at the restaurant by the chef, chewy and warm, tasting of an ethnic nostalgia. The second included more sauce and meat, which was dense, solid, slightly pink and very juicy. The lettuce was wilted on top, and slightly slimy (perhaps from the sauce); the melted cheddar was not noticeable, and the bacon, cooked in cajun spices and sugar, added a small amount of flavor. More than flavor, though, it added texture - a little bit of resistance to the top teeth which, after biting through the bread and just before hitting the sirloin, forced me to pause. The rest of the bites were just as good, although the burger at one point got a bit messy, with sauce dripping and beef slipping out almost sexually. When I finished, I tried an onion ring. I hate when onion rings are stringy, not allowing for a clean bite but instead forcing the eater to slurp the onion out of the breading as if it was a common piece of pasta. This one allowed for a clean bite, the onion remaining perfectly in place. I was totally unprepared for my reaction: I was impressed.

At the end, they gave us gift bags - two wine glasses, a bottle stopper, wine key, foil cutter and a bottle of wine. Walking out, I told Frank, "We were so fucking bribed." Yet, somehow, I didn’t resent them as much as I thought I would. The burger was excellent; the spicy calamari was some of the best I’ve had in Cleveland; the cajun shrimp spicy and crunchy. The staff was attentive, which I didn’t like, until I noticed that they were attentive to everyone – the bartender sat on the couches with another group, chatting, and the busser, a young black man, was perfectly deferential to the customers. (Ever since talking with Frank Frazier about the racial divisions with staff, I’m more and more conscious of black men and women being allowed out of the back to interact with customers; this is a strong point in Flemings’ favor.) My Eight Ball cocktail was strong, and very drinkable. Although the patio looks out onto the parking lot, it’s not as unpleasant as, say, Sushi Rock Beachwood’s, which puts you almost on top of passing cars.

Thus, I was angry at their attempts to influence our writing, and resented them for it. The problem is that the food really was excellent - and, at $6 during happy hour, a very, very good deal. We're already planning on going back.

Addendum: I was happy to see that another blogger had similar reservations about reviewing free food as I did. She is obviously not the blogger mentioned above. There are also some good pictures in this post. We apparently received conflicting reports about where the burger bread was made; I hope that the owners can clear up this confusion, perhaps in the comments section.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 17, 2009


5345 Canal Rd
Valley View, OH 44125
(216) 328-0942

by Reuben Dagwood

Every morning for the last five or six months, I have started my day with a trip to Gourmand’s for coffee. It started out when my neighbor’s daughter was preggers. She was coming right along, and I decided that I needed to get a cigar or two to celebrate the birth with Frank when the time came. Once upon a time, I was a wannabe cigar snob, so I knew I wanted something good.

I stopped by Gourmand’s expecting to find nothing worthy of the situation, being that it’s tucked away in the food desert of Canal Road. But, when I examined the selection, I was blown away. There was so much to choose from. But, more importantly, the owner, Frank, was so entirely helpful and really steered me into a great selection. Later in the week, we celebrated the birth, and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed the cigar. I thought I was over that little phase in my life. As it turns out, I was wrong.

So, I started going there pretty regularly to buy cigars. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the coffee he served there was Phoenix Coffee, which completely threw me back to the days of living on Superior when Phoenix was my number one morning spot. Instantly, I was off Starbucks. I’d like to say that I’m still buying cigars from Frank, but I can’t. After buying quite a few from him, he started giving me some free ones here and there. And, after some more time, he finally gave me the catalog that he actually buys the cigars from, telling me to just go right to the source. I told him that was not good business, and he replied, “I’ve never really been a good businessman.”

Now, my co-worker, Frank, is a Gourmand’s addict as well, but he goes not for the morning wake up call but for all his lunchtime sandwich needs. Despite his repeated moans of ecstasy, floating to my cubicle many times a week, and despite my morning loyalty to the shop, until today, I’d never ordered food from there. I did know going in that I loved their French Fries, because I’ve stolen an incredibly large amount of them from Frank in the past. But, that’s the extent of my Gourmand’s food experience. Today it was time for that to change.

Walking in, I received confused looks from all the employees, and Frank asked me what the hell I was doing there. I looked up at the menu, containing 50 different sandwiches (I just counted) as well as salads, soups, wraps, pastries, sides, and frozen drinks, and said, “I’m going to need a minute.”

After considerably more than one minute, I decided on the Bueno Puerco. It’s hot charcoal roasted pork with a homemade Cubano sauce, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions and Monterrey Jack cheese on a toasted sub bun. I ordered a side of the French Fries as well, although I felt as though I was letting myself down, in that I was actually going to pay for these ones.

Fast forward ten minutes. I ate my food while back at the office, watching the newest episode of True Blood. The sandwich was incredible. I took a little too long getting back to the office and getting the sandwich opened, so the bottom bun had caught a lot of juice and was dancing right on the border of soggy. I worried that this was going to ruin the sandwich. My worry was misplaced.

From the first bite, I knew that this sandwich was a winner. I actually liked that the bottom had gotten softer. The mix of texture just made the whole thing more interesting. The Cubano sauce, of which I know nothing about, was a flavor explosion. The pork was pulled, and I kept thinking about how the sandwich reminded me of the pork sandwiches they sold at the concession stand to the city pool when I grew up, if only the cook there had been a graduate of a culinary institute. I promised myself I was only eating half, and then moved to the fries.

It was no surprise to me, but those damned fries are so good. I say this with frustration, because I do not want to be the guy that gets a giant order of fried potatoes and then proceeds to aggressively manhandle the whole thing. But, aggressively manhandle them I did. To make matters worse, I then returned to the fridge, unwrapped my sandwich and crushed the last half as well. The marvelous food just threw me into an outright feeding frenzy.

Back to Gourmand's, ten minutes prior. I sat down and started thinking. Would I focus on the food? Would I focus on the quality of the coffee? How about the service? Is it fair to bring up the freebies? Should I act as though this whole thing is new to me and I’ve never heard of Gourmand’s? What is the right move?

Before I could come to a decision, my order was up. I went to pay and had a little chat with Frank. We joked about the sandwich name, and I did my best bad Spanish accent and, oh, we laughed. He then looked at me, said the coffee was on him today, threw in an extra pickle and told me he’d see me tomorrow.

Gourmand's on Urbanspoon

Melt Bar & Grilled

14718 Detroit Ave
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 226-3699

by Reuben Dagwood

Being both a negative bastard and a drunk sometimes makes it difficult to have smooth interactions with other people. This is especially true in regard to spouses and girlfriends of friends. The problem is that most of my best pals are all like minded “rude jerks”. However, unlike myself, most of them are pretty skilled at turning this side of themselves off, especially when attempting to land a significant other. The result of this is that they typically have GFs that don’t like their BFF.

The best example of this is my best mate Frank’s last gal. In the beginning, I would just hear whisperings from Frank on days after about her having been disappointed with me. In the end, I’d show up, she’d roll her eyes and say something along the lines of, “I didn’t know Rueben was coming. Maybe we can leave early tonight, Frank, yeah?”

Well, I always made the argument that this unfortunate scenario was all based on the fact that Frank’s main gal was simply boring and un-fun. This argument was always heatedly countered by Frank, but now, I have been vindicated. After Frank moved on from her, he quickly found a newer, stronger, improved version, and I couldn’t be more pleased. She is a professional, has class, is independent, and most importantly, isn’t afraid to make obnoxious jokes and get completely hammered. In short, my bromance with Frank is back in full swing!

She suggested we all should go get a nice, relaxing dinner, and maybe meet up with their other female friend in the attempts to create a love affair with yours truly. Melt was suggested, and I’ve heard all kinds of things about the place, from wonderful to absolute garbage. So, I decided it was time to find out for myself.

It was a Wednesday night, but the wait for a table was still quoted as “a little over an hour.” I was a bit surprised by this, but the place has been in every newspaper, magazine, and Cleveland based blog for two years, so I guess it shouldn’t have been such a shock. We passed the time at the bar, dominating their bottle of Maker’s Mark.

We finally got our table, and I have no idea if it was an hour or ten minutes, just because we were having a great time, and the libations were flowing hard. I ordered the Firecracker Chicken, which was, like all the sandwiches there, a variation of the grilled cheese sandwich. I must be clear and specify, however, that it was an awesome variation.

It was seasoned chicken with avocado and grilled pineapple, all melted together with pepper jack cheese. The bread was huge slices of Texas Toast. It came with a massive order of home-cut French Fries and a gigantic scoop of coleslaw. When the plate arrived, I was very leery, mainly because the meal was $10, but the large plate had absolutely zero exposed area. I thought this was going to be an example of big huge servings to mask crappy food. I was wrong. This sandwich was phenomenal.

Initially, I was worried that it was going to be too dry. But, as it turns out, I had just missed the pineapple on the first bite. I had picked this sandwich only on the merits that it was the only spicy sandwich on the menu. I couldn’t really wrap my mind around the idea of pineapple mixing with pepper jack cheese. But, and I cannot stress this enough, when coupled with the avocado, it’s maybe the best combination ever.

Looking backwards, it makes sense. The avocado accented the spice of the cheese, and the pineapple left the most pleasantly sweet aftertaste rolling around in my mouth. Honestly, the chicken was simply an afterthought. To me, it was simply a vehicle for the knockout punch of the toppings. It could have been substituted with anything and I’d have been fine with it. In fact, I suspect that had it been “Firecracker Cardboard”, I’d still be raving. Stopping myself halfway through the sandwich was possibly the hardest thing I’ve had to do in recent memory.

From there, we stayed for a few more rounds, and were wonderfully looped by the time we left. I thought the service was exceptionally friendly, especially in that the more boozy I get, the louder I get. The price was wonderful, both for the food and the booze. And, the food was exquisite.

The evening continued considerably later than had been originally planned, and as a result, massive hangovers abounded. I fired up the oven and split the sandwich apart and loaded it on a cookie sheet along with the French fries. I cooked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, and I actually thought the sandwich was even better. I will, for sure, be looking forward to the next visit to Melt, especially if it is going to be with a good gang of hammerbacks like this time.

Melt Bar & Grilled on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Superior Pho

3030 Superior Ave E
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 781-7462

by Duke Grinder

There is ancient mystery that oft streaks through Superior Avenue in the form of whispers on the lips of self proclaimed Chinatown experts, downtown-lunchers and the usual riff-raff who drift upon the nexus of two of Cleveland's Goliaths of pho. Which is truly better, Superior Pho or #1 Pho? On Superior Avenues' south side, they are just across the 31st Street intersection from each other. Both serve some of Northeast Ohio's finest Vietnamese Cuisine; legend has it that the two restaurants started as one until a familial fallout caused a schism. The result: Superior Pho sprouted across 31st St before the hipsters got hip to the highly coveted soup.

Though the casual sandwich-blog reader might think, "Why do I care about the minimal differences and pseudo-lore about two soup joints?" The answer is this: Superior Pho, not #1 Pho, has these totally-incredible sandwiches. I mean the kind of sandwich that makes you order another sandwich even though you just ate one and have a bowl of soup coming. Ya, ‘ril good.

Bánh mì, a traditional Vietnamese pork sandwich, served with thinly sliced pickled carrots and daikon, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeño peppers is reason enough to distinguish between the delicately furnished #1 Pho (where in the background you can usually hear easy-listening Vietnamese versions of older American top 40s songs) and the dungeon of Superior Pho (located in a strange strip mall across the hall from a nail salon and away from any windows to the outside world).

Similar to pho restaurants I’ve seen on the west coast, Superior Pho is a plain restaurant with a bunch of tables - no booths - on top of which reside containers full of chop sticks, spoons, Sriracha and assorted other sauces. It’s really not a great place to take a date, as it is dark, with an elementary-school-cafeteria vibe. Again, though, it has these totally incredible sandwiches. The kind of sandwich that would make you single-handedly convince a car full of people to change lunch plans, or else.

Served on a baguette, Bánh mì is a tasty example of French influence on Vietnamese cuisine most typical of South Vietnam. The French bread's crunch and chewiness, followed by crispy herbs, vegetables and tender pork make the sandwich easy to hold and easier to taste. Though a casual diner may suddenly find him/herself eating two in a sitting, it's pretty healthy, evenly balances the vegetables with the meat and doesn't leave the lingering heaviness of overindulgence.

You may even read a Yelp thread in which pho enthusiasts claim that Superior Pho’s soup recipes is actually better than #1 Pho’s. Have the courage to dismiss these claims as the misguided banter of self-righteous tasters with an inability to submit to reason. You see Superior Pho, well, they have these really amazing sandwiches. A sandwich that is chewy and crunchy and sexy and Frenchy and Vietnamesey and just so so not at #1 Pho. So, for this blogger, there really is only one pho spot on Superior, and it has nothing to do with soup.

Superior Pho on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 3, 2009


Reuben just sent this to me. I'm still deciding what I think of it.