Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Penn Station East Coast Subs‎

9501 Vista Way
Cleveland, OH 44135
(216) 365-0200

By Reuben Dagwood

I love a good sub. The problem, however, is that a submarine sandwich typically has an inverse relationship between tasty and healthy. I love a good sub, but have the metabolism of a 60 year old couch potato. So, as a rule, I do my damndest to avoid eating things that will add to my ever growing gut.

There are a few exceptions to this rule of eating healthy that I try so hard to adhere to. Of course, the major exception is when I get too hungover, I must get something sloppy and bad for me.

This weekend, a large group of my friends and I went to our secret retreat, a cabin on the outskirts of the small town Walhonding, which we can never pronounce and instead call Walla Walla. The cabin is part of a “rural resort” called Indian Bear Lodge. The drive there from Cleveland is miserable and goes through the most winding and crazy roads I’ve ever driven. By the time you make it to the resort, you are deep in the midst of backwoods country.

I am from the backwoods country, and don’t remember ever having seen any resorts around where I came from, much less resorts that had any sort of luxury attached to them. So, it was with great surprise when we first pulled into the place a few months back. There is a beautiful little man made lake with paddle boats, a dock and an awesome, nautical themed beach area. The cabin we always rent has a giant front yard, great for horseshoes and bocce. The cabin itself is not only enormous, but very well made and decorated. The kitchen has granite countertops, modern appliances, and is overall a wonderful place for cooking. The front porch that surrounds the entire cabin has tons of very comfortable Adirondack chairs, and most importantly, a hot tub. This place is stunning.

Although we call these weekends camping trips, the typical camping activities are no where to be found. There are no nature walks. There are no hayrides. There is no cooking over an open fire. What there is, however, is a shitload of booze, debauchery, and overall irreverence.

Last night, after finishing off a whole bottle of Maker’s Mark and the last of 6 bottles of wine, the party was starting to wind down, and people were headed to sleep. I decided it was a good time to attempt a little quiet introspection in the solitude of the hot tub..

The hot tub was such a bad idea, due mainly to the fact that I was much too drunk for either quiet introspection or safe hot tub enjoyment. The result was a double pass out, first in the hot tub, and then in my soaking wet trunks on one of those comfortable Adirondack chairs. I woke up freezing sometime around 4am and finally stumbled to bed.

This ridiculous set of decisions led me to one of the worst hangovers I can remember having, timed perfectly to hang around with me as I made the heroic journey home. Like Odysseus’ ships, we were blown off course. However, unlike his ships, it was the fault not of the Gods, but of my epic vacant hangover stare as I drove right past important turns. The sirens’ call of fountain soda was too much to resist, and we were lulled into further delaying the journey by the allure of the small town gas station. The normally two hour trip lasted well over three, and I knew that I was going to need a sub today, and it was going to have to be a kick ass one.

I was mentioning mentioned this to my co-pilot, Frank, and we got to talking a bit about good subs and good hangover foods. I mentioned my love for the Penn Station Artichoke Sub and her eyes lit up. She then went on to preach to me the glories of her own variation of that sub, which I have christened “The Dachtler”.

For those of you who haven’t eaten at Penn Station, you are missing out. They are similar to all the sandwich chains in that they use fresh ingredients, and they make the subs in front of you on bread baked in the store. However, unlike the other sub chains, you will see no reference to health anywhere in the store. This is a sub shop that knows how to make a sandwich taste good: load it up with shit that is horrible for you and stand back.

“The Dachtler” is the typical artichoke sandwich, which is just artichokes, oregano and provolone cheese, all oven baked on a fresh roll, with two added twists. First off, mushrooms are added. Second, the mayonnaise of the original is substituted with pizza sauce. I added a large order of the fresh cut steak fries and headed back home.

From the first bite, I knew that I had a new go-to hangover sandwich. This sub is hearty, greasy, and most importantly, damned tasty. I’d always liked the sandwich in the past, and had utilized its greasy love on multiple occasions. But, the biggest difference here was that although it was still hearty as hell, I didn’t feel like I was covered in sweat and grease after eating it. The loss of the mayo is truly a powerful submaking move.

Each bite of this sub just gets better and better. As all the cheese melts the whole thing into one sloppy chunk, the result is better and better flavor. I crushed all the fries first, drenched in vinegar, and absolutely dominated the first 7 inches of the sub. I tried very hard to stop eating at this point, but it was just sitting there, staring at me as it continued to congeal into a better, cheesier, greasier little delight. Of course, I crushed the last 7 inches as well.

After waddling in to bed and undoing my belt, I was finally able to get that introspection that I’d been looking for the night before. This sandwich, as good as it was, probably wouldn’t have rung so true in my hung over little heart if not for where it came from. This wasn’t a menu item that was carefully decided on by a marketing department in New York. This was the creation of a fellow degenerate, made from the actual need to destroy a hangover, not just the marketable idea that it could. This is an example of a badass sub being made for its most glorious purpose: the greasy, taste bud exciting, belly bursting destruction of a serious hangover.

Penn Station East Coast Subs on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hot Sauce Williams

7815 Carnegie Ave
Cleveland, OH 44103
(216) 391-2230

by Beau Cadiyo

During World War II, the American shipyards propelled the American Navy into a place it had never been: we had the largest navy in the world. It was a rank we’ve never surrendered. An apocryphal story says that, on the date that the US surpassed the British (who had previously held this distinction), two Destroyers, one American and the other British, passed each other. The Americans used semaphore to signal to the British: “Good morning! How does it feel to be part of the second-largest navy in the world?” The British responded, “Fine. How does it feel to be part of the second-best navy in the world?”

On October 4, 1957, when Sputnik’s first beeps made their way back to earth, somewhere, in some remote outpost, Americans and Brits were probably still arguing about which Navy was superior. But suddenly, the Russians had made their debate academic, unimportant, unnecessary. With the Russian advance in real and military science, instantly the world was talking about a completely different topic. Two men with walrus moustaches and medals, whose lecture-hall debates or after-dinner talks would once have drawn thousands, would instead forever be talking to near-empty rooms on small, private liberal arts college campuses before going back to their motel rooms, alone, to drink a small whiskey from the minibar and watch pay-per-view pornography that they’d later demand be taken off the bill so they could pay it in cash.

When last we discussed French fries on top of sandwiches, I received two responses. One was from a die-hard Pittsburgher who said that such an advance in Sandwich Science™ was thanks solely to Pittsburgh, and that any other city’s attempt was at best copying, at worst sandwich plagiarism. Another was from an English friend who thought that this was a purely English thing to do – I believe her words were, “Chips in a sandwich – what could be more quintessentially English than that?”

I leave them to their debate, which is now academic, because the Sputnik of sandwiches has been launched and its signal is coming through loud and clear.

Hot Sauce Williams has something on its menu called a Veggie Boy. It starts with a hot-dog bun, which is put inside a Styrofoam hot-dog container and split, as it would be for a hot dog. It is then stuffed with fries, and a few more fries are placed in the top of the container. They then place coleslaw on top of the sandwich, very, very delicately, and drizzle Hot Sauce Williams sauce on both sides. Then, it’s closed, wrapped in wax paper, and looped round with a rubber band to keep it together.


If it wasn’t successful, it would be like a failed Russian rocket launch that hardly makes the news, or, more likely, is covered up by both sides. But it IS successful. It is not only successful, it is amazing. It’s knife-and-fork delectable, with tender yet crisp fries, soft bread, creamy, crunchy cole slaw and the signature Hot Sauce Williams hot-and-sweet sauce in a perfect balance. It was so delicious that both Scarlet and I had to stop to savor the experience multiple times, and we’re no sandwich virgins. We were patriots in the Sandwich Wars, and our country just made massive and game-changing advances. The whole experience was helped by a turkey sausage sandwich on wheat toast. It tasted exactly like Thanksgiving, with turkey, spices, a huge amount of salt and wheat bread with the sogginess of stuffing.

I should also mention, right now, that the Veggie Boy is $1.75. A DOLLAR AND SEVENTY-FIVE CENTS US TENDER. Stand up and sing, dammit:

God Bless America
Land that I love!
Stand beside her,
And guide her,
Through the night with the light from above.
Through the mountains
And the prairies
And the oceans, white with foooooooaaaaammmmmmmmmm

Hot Sauce Williams on Urbanspoon

John Palmer's Bistro 44

7590 Fredle Dr
Painesville, OH 44077
(440) 350-0793

by Beau Cadiyo

I do not delight in calling out Bistro 44. However, right now I feel like Walter Sobchak: “Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?”

John Palmer’s Bistro 44 website explains that the chef graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and is the only chef in Lake County to have graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and how prestigious it is to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America. Thus, I felt it reasonable to expect great things from a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. This was misguided, and the first clue was that the only item on the menu resembling a sandwich was a slider. I’ve had bad experiences with sliders before, but while those were mere travesties, the sliders at Bistro 44 were downright insulting. They were described as "Pan Seared Sea Scallops, Mini Challah Rolls, Asian Slaw, Siracha Aioli." Nice try, Culinary Institute of America graduate, but (A) these are NOT SLIDERS, and (B) even if they’d been called “miniature sandwiches,” which would have been more accurate, these were atrocious.

I won’t repeat what makes a slider a slider. However, I will briefly describe why these sucked.

First, the half-inch thick filling (menu description: "Pan Seared Sea Scallops...Asian Slaw, Siracha Aioli") was mediocre, at best. The scallops were bland; in order to have any hope in a sandwich, seafood should have some taste or texture to it. The relish on top added little moisture and scant flavor. Three short sentences are all that the filling deserves.

The bread deserves more: it tasted worse than corner-store enriched white hamburger buns. It was dry, tasteless, of medium density and perhaps 2.5 inches thick. It was therefore five times thicker than the filling, and – as though this needs to be articulated – this is NOT a good proportion. (Proportions should definitely be taught at the Culinary Institute of America, and tested before graduation.) The sandwich tasted entirely of stale bread. The greatest insult was the price: $12 for the plate, or $6 per “slider.”

I will now propose a theory as to what made such a travesty possible. Bistro 44 is perhaps 30 minutes from downtown Cleveland, but is on the outskirts of the outermost suburbs. Cleveland is a culinary hotspot; the restaurants here gain national attention, and while it’s tempting to say that this is because of Michael Symon, he is not the only bright star in our galaxy. (We have a hefty portion of nationally famous sandwiches here, including what many believe to be the top Po’ Boy, corned beef and pastrami, and L’Albatross was just rated as one of the top new restaurants in America. However, these spots are all within a few miles of the city center.

Bistro 44, on the other hand, is in the boondocks. This could be a plus – for example, one might argue that being away from media-fuelled, urban culinary pressures would allow the chef to be more experimental, or be less driven by passing trends. The flip side of the coin is that being away from competition, standards could slip, and sub-par cooking could be passed off as something special. This is what I suspect has happened. This is to the detriment not only of the area, which is hurting for truly good sandwiches, but also of the restaurant and its standards.

We had other dishes – the calamari wasn’t bad, the lamb lollipops were passable and the lobster nachos were actually quite good. However, if you’re looking for sandwiches - as, of course, you are - you should definitely steer clear of Bistro 44.

John Palmer's Bistro on Urbanspoon