Monday, December 21, 2009

Catching Up

by Beau Cadiyo

I'm on vacation and had a few bites to get out. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!!

Radisson Hotel and Suites Cleveland-Eastlake
35000 Curtis Boulevard
Eastlake, OH 44095
(440) 953-8000

Frank Hoxha and I ended up at the Radisson Hotel with the goal of scoring reduced-price iPod shuffles from StoresOnline (well, we paid $15 for shipping and handling). Yes, I know it's a scam, but I'd gotten a iPod from them before and I wanted another. We stayed for the presentation, and then they served a “dinner” of a sandwich and a small dessert.

There is a concept in America that buttery croissants must be butter-heavy. This is not true; one can have a buttery croissant which is not butter-heavy but, instead, is light, airy and fluffy while still tasting of butter. Go to Europe and eat! Alternately, go to Eastlake; the Radisson understands this. The croissants were buttery and airy, compressing perfectly in response to incisors. Frank then pointed out that there are two types of chicken salad: chunky and creamy. Creamy chicken salad smells like chicken, but is almost entirely pulverized, leaving a paste behind. Chunky...has chunks. This chicken salad was chunky, which Frank prefers; I’m still on the fence as to what I think makes for a superior sandwich. However, these were very good – especially since the kitchen was preparing food for 150 people at one time. We were very, very impressed all around.

Mantel's at the Radisson on Urbanspoon


Diner on Clifton
11637 Clifton Blvd
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 521-5003

I met Frank McMahan here for dinner one night and had the Yellowfin Tuna Steak sandwich – a triple-decker served with sweet potato fries. While I really liked the 1950s diner feel at the Clifton, I was not overly impressed with the sandwich itself. The tuna was exceptionally dry, almost powdering during bites, and leaving a fibrous mash in between my molars. The toast was reasonable, and the vegetables and sauce added a lot of moisture, but it was not enough. I’ve never liked sweet potato fries, and these did nothing to sway me from that position, but we had cheddar/bacon fries for an appetizer which were supurb. Frank McMahan’s open-faced pulled-pork sandwich was sauce-heavy. All around, it was ok, but I think there are better places to eat in the area.

Diner on Clifton on Urbanspoon


What About Bob’s?
38233 Glenn Avenue
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 951-9700

I’m consistently impressed with WAB’s. On my second and third visits, I had their off-menu chicken salad; it is more toward the creamy side, and, with the tough crust of their bread, is perfect. This last time I had a Turkey sandwich, packed as usual with sandwich goodness. The turkey, of various textures and parts, was stuffed in with lettuce, tomato, cheese and sauce; at $3.99 for a 12-inch sandwich, it’s still one of the best deals I’ve seen in Cleveland, and would still be reasonably priced at $6. At $3.99 for any of their sandwiches, I would nominate WAB’s as the standout of the year – exceptionally high quality sandwiches for bargain basement prices.

What About Bob's? on Urbanspoon


Crop Bistro
(216) 696-2767
Warehouse District
1400 W 6th St
Cleveland, OH 44113

I’ve not had much success with events. Early on, I volunteered with them, and found that two of the three events I helped at – one at Blossom, one in Akron - were neither cool nor in Cleveland. I also volunteered with them at a festival, where my job was to ask people to sign up for the mailing list in return for being entered in a drawing for an iPhone – I never did learn if they actually had such a drawing, and I suspect it was just a gimmick and the drawing never occurred.

It was thus with trepidation that I went to a CoolCleveland-sponsored launch of some Christmas present social networking business which I don’t understand whatsoever. The big draw for me, of course, was a chance to taste their lamb sliders – as many as I could eat for $10. That’s value.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought. The sliders were just ok. The lamb was actually very good, cooked on industrial sized sheets and doused or marinated in some delicious sauce in their open kitchen. However, the bread was absolutely mediocre. To test whether I was being hyper-critical, I asked the five people in my immediate vicinity about their opinion. Each of them said it was a fine filling on a bad bun, which tasted like they were mass produced in some white bread factory in the suburbs. It was far from what I would have expected from Crop Bistro, considering all of the good things that I've heard about it before.

We also had truffle egg salad sandwiches on the same mediocre bread as the sliders. The result was not as good; the truffle egg salad probably tasted amazing on its own, but the flavor was so delicate that it tasted flat when mixed with the buns. The eggs were also over-boiled, leaving the whites leathery. Between the two, go for the sliders - and ask them for some sort of better bread.

Crop Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon


Bruegger's Bagels
Cleveland Airport
Concourse C
Cleveland, OH 44135

The last place one would expect to find good food at a reasonable price is in an airport. Cleveland Hopkins not only challenged this myth, it drop-kicked it in the face and gave it a combination wet willy/noogie to boot.

I ordered the Tarragon Chicken Salad from Breugger's in a new modern food section which looks more like a sweet mall food court than an airport. It was a tough choice; there were plenty of other good restaurants around (and, when we were walking to Gate C, there was even a Panini's!). There was also a total lack of Starbucks, which was a brave, daring move on the Port Authority's part. Anyways, the chicken was tender and chunky; the almonds added occasional surprises of texture without being overpowering; the red onions added a delicate taste; the cranberries added tartness; the lemon mayonnaise was a tiny bit too watery; the tomatoes were under-ripe but juicy nonetheless; the lettuce was fresh and crispy; the wheat bread was perfectly toasted, and stayed crunchy despite the watery mayonnaise; and Jonathan, behind the counter, was extremely pleasant to talk to. The most incredible part, to me, was that the sandwich only cost $5.99. There was another sandwich, the veggie melt egg sandwich, for $2.99, which I only saw after I'd ordered. When I fly home, I'm definitely going to get one of these.

You can now get a very good meal at a reasonable price at the airport. Nicely done, Cleveland Port Authority!

Bruegger's Bagels on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

B Spot Burgers

28699 Chagrin Boulevard
Woodmere, OH 44122
(216) 292-5567

by Beau Cadiyo

Bite: Michael Symon's name on a restaurant no longer means it's dependably good. For a better burger, go across the parking lot to Fleming's.


25 February 2010
5:05 p.m.

In comments to this post, "JB" wrote that the Boca Burger is gone from the B-Spot menu, and that it has been replaced by an absurdly greasy portabello mushroom burger, so disgusting that his pet pig would not eat it.

If true, some might think that this is a victory for the Cleveland Sandwich Board over Michael Symon. However, I don't think it is. If anything, it is a victory of good ol' common sense and self-interest over hubris and an unexplainable lapse of judgment. I think it likely that Mr. Symon realized that by trying to pass off a frozen, store-bought patty under his own name, he was basically telling people, "I'm Michael Symon, celebrity chef, and I can get away with serving you frozen, individually wrapped pressed-food patties for grievously inflated prices just because it has my name on it! Eat it, stupid star-struck consumer, then praise me for being a culinary genius!" Then, in a moment of reflection - I'm imagining something like when Derek Zoolander looked into the puddle after losing to Hansel - Symon probably asked himself, "Who do I think I am?" Then I see...I see...the ball is cloudy...I see the next day, when Mr. Symon realized that his name was losing cache among discerning consumers, and that he should probably at least try to deliver something besides reheated patties.

Again, the commenter "JB" noted that the new vegetarian alternative is not very good. He also noted that his pet pig wouldn't touch it, but that the little oinker loved the bread. Even if it really is crap, though, at least this time it seems to be Michael Symon crap - something that he decided to put some thought into. For finally putting thought into what he is serving, Mr. Symon should be applauded.

Rumors that B-Spot has changed their bread remain unsubstantiated.



Original review:
After hiking at Chapin in Kirtland for a few hours, Frank Hoxha and I tried to get a burger and fries at some restaurant on SOM Center Road which bills itself as "a fine dining establishment." The problem is that whenever I go there to dine, it's closed, and this was no exception. We then tried Europa, but they were serving brunch and wouldn't open their kitchen for another hour. "Forget it," I said, "lets get food at Trader Joe's and I'll cook."

We drove up Chagrin and walked up to Eton. Something I saw out of the corner of my eye was off; instead of the bright, open windows of Coldstone Creamery I saw tinted, imposing windows and a dark doorway. "BURGERS BRATS BEER" and "B-SPOT" broadcast from the blackness. I gravitated toward it, and Frank asked if we were going. I nodded, entranced, like adulte Roland to the Dark Tower.

Inside, we sat at the central bar. Above us were faux motorcycle parts, pretending to be stamped out of the metal; the lab stools we sat on pulled up against a concrete bar top. A giant beer-can mural, "B" spelled out in red cans, dominated one wall, graffiti art dominated another, and a third opened up into the mall. In the middle of the room was a giant stag-antler chandelier reminiscent more of an Abercrombie and Fitch store than a burger joint. Things started to look familiar - a Lola Burger, Symon and Michael were tossed casually throughout the menu and on a card proclaiming the house rules. "Excuse me," I said to the bartender, "Is this a Michael Symon restaurant?" "Yes, it is - you stumbled into a Michael Symon restaurant without even knowing it!" he exclaimed, smiling like a salesman.

We looked down the menu. The burgers all looked reasonably interesting, but none stood out as a must-have revolution in Burger Dynamics(tm) - that is, until I saw the veggie burger. Of course! Since That Place was closed, and L'Albatros took over, I hadn't had a truly great veggie burger. Michael Symon, of all people, would be the one to pick up the fake meat mantle! But...could he? I was hopeful: "Excuse me," I said to the bartender, "Are the veggie burgers made on-site?" He shook his head. "They're Boca," he said, for the first time not assuming a guise of pride and confidence. I blinked, trying to hide my shock. Boca burgers? Michael Symon would create a burger joint, brand it with his name, and then serve perhaps the most unappetizing frozen veggie burgers available? It jarred with what I'd read the day before in his new book, advice from the man himself to buy fresh, organic, and local. I looked back at the menu, talked it over with Frank, and picked the Shroomage ($9) with some fries ($3). "This one better be amazing," I thought. I was famished.

While waiting, we talked over the interior design and location. What struck me was that this seemed about as far from Symon's other restaurants as one could get. Lola opened as an extremely high-class place in the middle of an area experiencing "redevelopment"; Lolita picked up Lola's special spot in Tremont. They set the standard for the areas, too; next to Lola, for example, La Strada - otherwise quite attractive - looks tawdry. Downtown and Tremont are nicer now, but there are still some parts that don't feel that good or that safe - that still feel a little gritty, even though they've been mostly gentrified. The Shops at Eton Place are the polar opposite - Chagrin Boulevard is about as white and suburban as one could get. B-Spot seemed to be trying to bring a bit of sanitized grit to the neighborhood, but the exposed metal, the beer cans, the stag chandelier all felt fake, non-Symonesque. More confusions came out: while B-Spot has a high-school diner throwback atmosphere to it, when we were there, it was patronized almost exclusively by families and older couples and staffed by 20- and 30-somethings. This, I realized, was the true Symon franchise; Lola is patronized by businesspeople, Lolita by older hipsters. Neither can be copied and then exported with ease. B-Spot is the version that he can replicate and take to every mall in America if he wants to. However, looking around Eton, it started to feel more ridiculous - B-Spot is sandwiched between Barnes & Noble, The Powder Room Makeup Oasis and Boutique and Europa International Salon-Spa. I began to have visions of the genesis of the restaurant: a middle-aged suburban housewife was married to a successful businessman. They have connections, and, somewhat bored, she decided to get Michael Symon to open up a restaurant nearer to her 10-acre lot so that she wouldn't have to travel so far to eat his brand. They put up some money, he signed off on their design and Coldstone Creamery closed. I looked to the right and recognized them: next to us were a 50-something couple, drinking beer and sharing a salad. It was simply a wide, shallow bowl of lettuce, with a few rings of onions, a tomato, mushroom and feta cheese on top, perhaps with olive oil and vinegar. Frank's face scrunched up when they started moaning orgasmically with every bite; Symon had apparently hit their B-Spots. "It's just a bowl of lettuce," Frank hissed at me.

The burger and fries arrived. The small portion of Lola fries were good, but nothing stupendous, and certainly not worth $3 - McDonald's up the street could have sprinkled rosemary on theirs and it would have been as tasty for far less. We sampled the six sauces which were placed in front of us in squeeze bottles and rejected them all - most were apparently house-made, but all tasted heavily of powdered curry. The fries were better on their own. Biting into the burger, juice squirted out - a good sign. However, after chewing through a strong charcoal flavor, I was left with sticky bread smeared across my teeth. "Excuse me," I said to the bartender, "what kind of bun is this?" "Orlando Egg," he replied, grinning widely. Orlando? Imagine another celebrity chef proudly embracing boca burgers and mass-produced buns in his restaurant. Perhaps it wasn't even pride - perhaps he was flaunting it to other celebrity chefs, showing them how powerful his name was: who else but Michael Symon could sell a boca burger on Orlando bread for $7? I kept eating, determined to find something to like about the sandwich. Burger, bun, griddled onions, portabella mushroom cap...I swore there was supposed to be another topping. Only in the last two bites was I reminded what that something was: bleu cheese. It was strong, but there was just a tiny pocket of it, nestled within the onions, and not enough to flavor more than those two bites. Frank had a bite of my burger and a few fries; later, she said that she entered hungry and left not wanting to eat. I finished, left a tip and we left.

On the way out, we passed families and couples seated around tables, most not talking. They were all waiting, with the sort of blank, expectant stares one might see at political rallies or tent revivals. They were there to worship Symon. I felt like we had temporarily joined a mass movement but were escaping the fold, losing only 40 minutes and $15. I wanted to cry out to them to stop, to be critical, to think about what they were doing. I didn't fear for their safety, though; Kool-Aid wasn't listed among the available drinks.

B Spot Burgers on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 6, 2009


11401 Bellflower Rd
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 791-7880

by Beau Cadiyo


Two days after Bar Cento, I found myself in l’Albatross. I was excited about it, despite the shady rumors of how Case had forced the previous owner out in order to install the new one; while I’d loved the That Place veggie burgers and had fond memories of the collegial collegiate vibe that always surrounded the bar, I got the feeling that That Place wasn’t as much of a restaurant as that space could support. However, the vibe was good: even when there were 70-year-olds at That Place, they seemed full of youthful vigor, and watching their friendly interactions with the tables around them just reinforced this sense. However, from experience, I was wary of Albatross. The few times that I’d been to get a drink there it was almost empty, or the patrons were older couples who seemed consciously out of place in the college environment. It had been octogenarified.

I went with Frank Hoxha at lunch on a Saturday. As I’d expected, save for two girls in the corner, we were the only customers under forty. An incredibly friendly host seated us in the back, near the fireplace; immediately, Frank said that while she generally liked the interior details, the tables were far too close together, leading to a break in intimacy on the level of Sushi Rock’s Beachwood restaurant (their Tsunami Night is possibly the single worst place to take a date in greater Cleveland). This was reinforced when a couple was seated next to us. The woman was a loud woman with an overbearing manner and loud, nasally voice; her husband, at least fifteen years her senior, sat complacently across the table from her as she droned on.

A recent New Yorker article on the Michelin Guide mentioned that good waiters are judged by their knowledge and the fact that they don't make up answers to questions, and the fact that they don't have to fudge when asked questions. Our waiter, who could memorize facts, didn’t seem to measure up; while he knew the basic things to say, he could only parrot when asked specific questions about the food. A busboy gave us each two small pieces of bread, which tasted great in the olive oil and mustard that we were given. However, when these were done, we were stocked only once more with bread before they just stopped coming. That Place used to give out copious amounts fresh-baked interlocked rolls with plenty of butter. My nostalgia increased.

The woman droned on. At one point I thought she was on the phone, as she kept spouting off inane, disconnected sentences, and no voice responded. It turned out that her husband just wasn’t answering, and she was conversing with herself. Then their appetizers arrived and a minor riot ensued. While hers was fine, his was “far too salty, oh my God, that’s disgusting, send it back, oh waiter, excuse me!” Frank’s fingers clenched around her knife.

Our food arrived. My burger, served with “pommes frites – you know, French fries” lounged casually on its plate, slightly askew. I wasn’t sure if this was affected or if the kitchen, in its rush to get the food out, hadn’t put it together properly. Regardless, it looked sloppy. When I went to cut it, I went down what I thought was the middle only to discover the bottom bun was off-center. In contrast, Frank’s Smoked Salmon Tartine was artfully prepared, an explosion of color and art.

When I’d ordered, the waiter had asked at what temperature I wanted the burger cooked. Temperature? I’d only ever been asked how I wanted my burger cooked. I didn’t know that there was a class of humans who knew the temperatures at which they wanted meat prepared, and that he mistook me for one of them. I asked what the options were, and he stuttered, then started to explain what it was to be rare, medium and well-done. Manifested, the medium was just short of another restaurant’s “well done,” seared on the outside and mostly brown on the inside, with a tiny sliver of pink. Oil-soaked yellow bell peppers and caramelized onions soaked through the bread; some sort of greasy cheese topped it off. When I picked it up, the bread slipped off; even holding it was a challenge. The pommes frites were certainly nowhere near Bar Cento or The Greenhouse Tavern; I found myself thinking back to Lola, and not in a good way. At Lola, each dish was self-contained perfection. At L’Albatros, I found myself longing for ketchup, pretentiously not provided.

Frank’s tartine was, on the other hand, delicious, an intriguing lemon-juice salad complementing the salmon, a seasoned cream sauce, feta cheese and bread. However, as the meal wore on, we each experienced a unique phenomenon: it became saltier. For each of us, the last few bites of our food was almost overwhelmingly salty, as if a child lacking self-control had been allowed into the kitchen. I began to think that the couple next to us had been right about the man’s soup. My last bite of fries made my mouth pucker, and I grasped for a near-empty water glass to wash it down.

When we left, the woman was opining loudly that the staff had forgotten about them – they hadn’t received any service after returning the soup, and we were completely done. The man shrugged and said perhaps he should have gotten the cheeseburger. I felt like telling him that that was just wishful thinking – just having food doesn’t make it good. But I didn’t. They bothered me, and L’Albatross bothered me, and I was not going to help either of them out.

L'Albatros on Urbanspoon

Bar Cento

1948 W 25th St
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 274-1010

by Beau Cadiyo

I’d seen Inglorious Basterds twice in the last three weeks, and had a desire for European aesthetics on my mind. Thus, I met Frank Ciepiel at Bar Cento for happy hour. I had only expected to redeem a coupon that I had for a $5 pizza and get a drink. Little did I know that I would be in it for a burger masterpiece.

Bar Cento is part of the McNulty’s empire, but, unlike the trashy bar on Coventry well-known for admitting 17-year-old girls trying to meet 23-year-old guys (and vice-versa), it is timelessly classy, with dark wood, creative curtained tables and romantic lighting. Bier Markt, part of the same empire, is just as beautiful, with incredibly knowledgeable bartenders and a stunning beer selection. Frank and I ordered our food and drinks, and talked over our lives.

At some point I looked at the happy hour menu. Something about it struck me through the thin veil of red wine. It was only after deep personal reflection that I realized that it contained a $6 happy hour burger, the song of which I could hear distinctly. I immediately looked around for our barmaid, and threw my hands up cheerleader-style to catch her attention. She was a short, pretty brunette, who immediately threw her own hands up and took our order.

The burger arrived shortly thereafter, jauntily perched on an oval plate with a small ramekin of ketchup. The first thing I noticed was that they put the lettuce below the burger; on top were caramelized onions, melted cheddar cheese and tiny bacon strips. What appeared to be sun dried tomatoes joined the lettuce. Lettuce, of course, has a texture better suited to being shorn by the top teeth than the bottom, since resistance is better handled by the top of the mouth than the bottom. This is shown by the dominance of the upper bite over the lower, or the fact that vampire fangs are larger on top than on bottom; it is the natural order of things. I mean, what would it look like if the bottom teeth or fangs were larger than the top? It's just crazy talk; when natural order is violated, all hell breaks loose. It reminds me of the debate over gay marriage. Conservative Christian women like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter implore Americans to preserve traditional Judeo-Christian marriage values and prevent laws changing to allow for "unnatural" gay marriage. Of course, true Christian women who believe in the concept of the natural order, or “traditional marriage,” should practice traditional marriage in their own lives, and that's something that very few of them do. If these women believe in traditional marriage, it’s only right that they should follow true traditional marriage values and renounce all of their rights to their husbands, including rights to property, suffrage, even the right to socialize with their friends. After all, that's what the Bible commands as the natural order - see, for example, Titus, Timothy, Ephesians and Peter. If they want to promote traditional marriage values, they should stay home, raise their children and serve their husbands as they should serve God. (Well, married conservative women like Sarah should at least be following the dictates of Ephesians 5:22 – Ann appears unable to maintain natural relationships with men.) If they believe in the Judeo-Christian natural order, they wouldn’t even be participating in the debate – they’d be standing behind the men who participate in the debate. If Christian conservative men and women want to bend the rules for their own temporal, corporeal desires and decide to practice non-traditional marriage, it is disgusting, repugnant falsehood for them to claim to be practicing “traditional marriage,” and disgusting, repugnant hypocrisy to prevent other forms of the non-traditional marriage. Is the 50% divorce rate somehow related to their violations of the natural order? Only God knows. All I know is that by violating traditional marriage values and concepts, they cannot deny that they violate the will of God, and they thus invoke and deserve the rebuke and wrath of God. Having never violated the natural order in which a burger should be constructed, I do not feel at all hypocritical in advising Bar Cento to put the lettuce on top of the meat patty next time.

Luckily, the wrath of God was not here invoked - the meat was perfectly medium-rare, seeping glorious cow juice into an above-average bun. The assorted toppings mixed in flavors without being overpowering, and though I wouldn't have put the lettuce on the bottom, the reality of its existence couldn't prevent me from enjoying and celebrating the burger as a whole. Together, the combination made the item certainly worth the happy-hour price of $6. A side of pommes frites – second only to Greenhouse Tavern – rounded out a shockingly good meal.

Frank told me of a problem he's been encountering, and we laughed as he said, "Maybe God is trying to tell me something." Our barmaid came over again. I told her that God was talking to Frank, and she looked at him, eyes sparkling, and said with studied nonchalance, “Tell him I said hi.” With this wonderful cheek she gave us our check and we walked out. As the cold blast of our first winter-feeling night of the year hit my face, I thought that Bar Cento is the kind of place I’d like to be a regular at.

Bar Cento on Urbanspoon