Friday, May 29, 2009

Kiflis Bakery & Restaurant

Recently I came across fellow Akronite food blogger Kathy and her site called Carano's Cucina. In one of her more recent blogs, she details the discovery she made one day when she and her husband decided to stop at a local Cuyahoga Falls bakery just down the road from Kreiger's Market on Graham Road called Kiflis Bakery and Restaurant. What drew her in was a sign outside the building advertising fresh "burek". Keenly interested in what burek was, they stopped in to find out. As you can no doubt see from her blog entry, they had discovered someplace unique offering something unique.

Having driven by this intersection hundreds of times in my life, I was stunned to learn that this building housed a wonderful ethnic bakery that was offering up homemade and heartfelt goodies for the local community. They are located at 526 Graham Road, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221 and can be reached at 330-926-1999. There is currently no website, but as owner Mire Udovicic mentioned to me, he is currently having one designed for him. To make locating the building that much easier, the bakery is essentially on the corner of Graham Road, Bath Rd, and 8th Street.

Here is a view from the outside (notice the drive-thru service window on the left side of the building):

I was a concerned about the availability of fresh burek when I first pulled up because there wasn't a sign outside advertising the fact. Once inside the door though, a sign immediately to my right put me at ease:

And it turns out that I showed up on a good day. Not only was there cheese burek, but also beef, spinach and cheese, and apple. Burek can be either sweet or savory. Since Kiflis is both a bakery and a restaurant, I decided to take a look around at some of their offerings.

First up, the handwritten menu on the wall:

There are between 5 and 6 tables available to sit at and eat your meal. Given Kiflis's hours of operation, that would most likely be breakfast and lunch. They close at 5 pm during weekdays and on 3 pm on Saturdays. As you can see from the menu above, the most Mediterranean item on the menu would be the gyros. Everything else is mostly American style sandwiches.

Next up is a shot of one of the pastry cases that houses some of the burek available. All the burek is rolled in the same manner, so you can't really tell which type you have just by looking at the outside. Here we have spinach and cheese on the left and plain cheese on the right:

The cheese is a mixture of Feta cheese and American cottage cheese. The use of cottage cheese in this didn't really surprise me. I researched a Russian dish several years ago for a party I had catered and the recipe called for Sulguni (or Suliguni) cheese. The recipe noted that if I couldn't find that, a mixture of cottage cheese, Feta, and mozzarella cheese could be used in its place. The cottage cheese is used to add a nice softness and creaminess to the drier and more crumbly Feta.

In the next case over are some of their pastries that they offer by the slice:

Here you can see some of their cookies on the top shelf and the poppy seed and walnut strudels on the middle shelf.

Next up is a shot of several varieties of cookies that they offer. They generally fall into two categories, those with no jam (such as almond cookies) and those that do. I didn't get to try any of the cookies this time around, so a return trip is definitely in order!

And in the rack behind the cookies was shelf after shelf of strudel:

As with most small ethnic bakery / restaurants, Kiflis also offers some harder to locate ingredients in case you want to try and make these treats at home. While Kiflis doesn't have as large a grocery section as some other Akron ethnic stores I have visited, they did offer quite a variety of not-so-easy to find items. The prices also seemed quite reasonable.

On one of the walls by the grocery area, an article from 2001 from the local Cuyahoga Falls newspaper heralded the arrival of Mire and his wife and their new bakery:

I didn't actually taste anything at the store, but I did spend about twenty minutes talking with Mire and how he runs his store and decided to leave with tastes of four of his treats: a cheese burek, an apple burek, a slice of poppy seed strudel, and a slice of the walnut strudel. He assured me that they would be absolutely fine until later tonight.

First up, a shot of the two strudels, walnut on the left/bottom, poppy seed on the top/right:

While just a touch dry, the overall taste on both was exactly what I expected. They were sweet, but not too sweet. The dryness of the dough didn't particular bother me because I knew that a) I had asked for slices of strudel from an already cut whole strudel and b) I bought them at 1:30 pm and didn't try them until 9:30 pm later that day. The walnut filling had a wonderful nutty taste and combined well with the heady cinnamon spice. It was ground completely smooth so there wasn't any texture to it. The poppy seed was equally as good with that wonderful lemony citrus undertone to it. Both of these were excellent examples of a well done European strudel. You could definitely enjoy this in place of a nice coffeecake in the morning.

Mire pointed out that burek is traditionally a Turkish dish that he has given his own spin to. Literally. Traditionally burek was a layered type of pastry. Finding this method to be too time consuming to be profitable, he decided to do the version he offers today. Essentially they take handmade phyllo dough that they make on-site, layer a few sheets, place the filling along one end and roll it up sushi-style. Then they take the long filled pastry rope and wrap it around itself in a circular fashion. Brush with lots of butter, bake, and you get this:

Although you can't tell from the outside, this happened to be the apple burek. This is big enough for one hungry adult or could easily be split between two less hungry people. This is such a wonderful treat. The phyllo dough on the outside is so nice and tender and flaky. The filling was slightly sweetened, but not so much as to mask the natural apple taste. The filling had a nice integrity to it as you could still get the chunks of apples on the inside. Canned pie filling this was not! With just the right seasoning from cinnamon and sugar, this was a real winner.

The cheese burek was equally as good, although this was savory and not sweet. Feta by itself would've been too overpowering, too salty. The cottage cheese was used both as an extender as well as a way to cut the sharpness of the Feta. Just delicious. I ate both of these at room temperature and they were both absolutely outstanding. Mire indicated that you could gently reheat them if you chose to do so, but it really isn't necessary.

This is exactly the kind of place I love finding. Local ethnic mom and pop shop making wonderfully unique and delicious food that truly everyone can enjoy. I encourage you to stop in at Kiflis to meet Mire and his wife and try some of their truly tantalizing treats.

Kislis Restaurant &D Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: Cleveland Ethnic Eats

While I didn't originally set up this blog with the intent of doing book reviews (or actually, to be fair, restaurant reviews), since December 2008 I have sort of let the blog grow organically in order to see where it would lead me. Besides the obvious restaurants write-ups that I've done, I've also done two recipe posts, a write-up of my friend Nancy's awesome Seder meal this year for Passover, and a smidgen of commentaries. So, why not include a book review in there as well?

I was contacted several weeks ago by Cleveland author Laura Taxel. Her publishing company had set up a website to coincide with the latest edition (8th) of her book, Cleveland Ethnic Eats. Laura had come across my blog and read several of my posts on various ethnic restaurants that I had gone to and posted about. Considering that ethnic restaurants are her forte, she wrote and asked if we could link to each other's blogs. Now, whenever I get unsolicited email from anyone, the first thing I do is to spend a little time vetting their credentials. After several Google and Amazon searches, it became clear that she was the real deal and not someone I should dismiss right away. Even before I received a copy of her book, it was clear that Laura's writing style was friendly, approachable, and designed to get more people into our locally owned ethnic restaurants. This is completely in-line with my own personal goals.

She also mentioned in her e-mail that she would be happy to arrange for her publisher to send me a copy if I wanted to mention it in one of my blogs. So, full disclosure being what it is, I contacted her publisher and they sent me a copy free of charge. Feel free to take my review with a grain of salt if that bothers you. I was never asked to do a review, much less a favorable one. I am also not a professional book reviewer, so I am looking at this book purely from my own perception of what makes a good book.

First and foremost, Laura takes several pages to explain the methodology she uses in her book: how the restaurants were chosen for inclusion, a description of the terminology she uses within her reviews, and how to use the book most effectively. I found the following point from her Introduction completely appropriate when describing her writing angle:

"I didn't pass judgments on the restaurants I've included, or rate them with stars. That's for you to do, though I have to admit that many times I decided that there really was no reason for me to ever cook again. I wanted to offer information, not evaluations, and encourage readers to investigate and experiment."

And based on the number of restaurant write-ups I've perused in her book, this is exactly what she does. Every now and again a write-up will contain a little bit of commentary along with the rest of the information, but it's never mean-spirited or meant to keep you from trying out the establishment. Laura's write-ups are meant to give you a general feeling for the restaurant as a whole. In contrast, my blog posts are meant to tell the story of my experience at a restaurant, good or bad.

The book is cleverly organized first by cuisine geography and then divided into restaurants and markets. Examples of geography include Pacific Rim; Middle East, Africa, India, and Turkey; Mediterranean; Europe East of the Danube; Europe West of the Danube; Latin America; American Regional; and International. Within each restaurant and market category, they are further subdivided into specific cuisines such as Greek, Italian, Spanish, British, Slovenain, etc. This makes it very easy to locate a specific restaurant or market if you know what type of cuisine you are after.

But sometimes you don't know what kind of cuisine you are after. Sometimes you are out in a particular part of town and want to know what is available. Maybe you want to try a new restaurant. Laura has you covered. As one of the many indexes in the back of the book, she has a listing of restaurants in various Cleveland, Akron, and Canton suburbs. Each listing then has a page number associated with it so you can quickly flip to the write-up for more information.

Not enough cross-referencing for you? She also lists the write-ups by Country, Region, or Ethnicity; Ideas; and Street Eats. The Idea index suggests write-ups by such categories as Around Midnight, Cheap Eats, and Great Choice for Vegetarians. The Street Eats index is designed to showcase groups of restaurants and markets that are geographically close to each other, such as on the same street. Plus, there is always the plain old Alphabetical index if you already know the name of the restaurant or market.

This is clearly a book that will be constantly living in my glove box (and it's about the right size for a glove box, too). What would be incredibly helpful is if all of this wonderful information could be put online so that it was accessible by the many mobile devices that seem to dominate our lives. Clearly the publisher would have to ensure that people using the online service had either purchased an actual copy of the book or perhaps just purchased a license to use the site. But this is a desire that I have of many of my culinary reference books, about which I consider Cleveland Ethnic Eats to be just as important as any book on cooking technique.

With 356 entries, you could try a new place almost every day of the year without repeating. If you are looking to truly discover what the Northeast Ohio area has to offer in terms of locally owned, authentic ethnic cuisine, recipes that have been handed from generation to generation, I would suggest you find yourself a copy of Cleveland Ethnic Eats by Laura Taxel. And, oh yeah, check out her blog, too. I know that I do on a regular basis.

(Image courtesy of Gray & Company, all rights reserved.)

Cleveland Ethnic Eats, 8th Edition
Written by Laura Taxel
Published by Gray & Company
ISBN: 978-1-59851-053-9
List price is US $14.95.

From the letter that was included with the book, Cleveland Ethnic Eats is available at Northeast Ohio bookstores and online from You can also contact Gray & Company at 800-915-3609 or online at their website if you want more information.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lunch at The Barn

The Barn restaurant has always been one of those places that seems to create a lot of buzz about it. It's far enough away from Akron that it isn't casually suggested as a place for lunch or dinner. That is, unless there is buzz.

"Last weekend we just up and decided to travel all the way to The Barn for dinner. What a wonderful experience we had!"

It has been at least two decades since I have eaten here and since this was on the way back from my trip to Wooster to visit Lerch's Donut cart, I decided to take advantage and stop in for lunch. The Barn happens to be located on Rt. 585, just south of Smithville. From the road, the first thing you'll notice is the sign:

From what I remember twenty years ago, it used to just be literally, "The Barn". Now it seems that they've built an entire complex. Apparently, you don't just go for the food, but the entire Barn "experience".

To the right of the restaurant is a pretty lake with swings and tables and such:

To the left is the gift shop. Behind the gift shop are a toy shop and an Amish furniture shop:

And finally, the restaurant itself, in all it's glorious barn-ness:

To get to the front door, one must cross over a small covered wooden bridge with a lovely artificial stream running under it out to the lake:

Once inside, the first thing that struck me was how kitschy it is. Or unique. Or quaint. I suppose different people would have different reactions depending on their own personal taste in decorating. Walking past the cash registers, where of course they sell various restaurant products to go, I was finally seated at a table near a window.

The menu was fairly straightforward. Here is the front side with the daily specials:

And the story of The Barn on the backside:

While you are free to order completely off the menu, there is also the all-you-can-eat salad and soup buffet as well. You can also add this buffet to any item you order off the menu. I opted to stay with something simple, a sandwich and a side. The menu consisted of burgers, sandwiches, sides, and several entrees. And of course, there was the buffet to consider as well.

Here is another example of the kitsch I was mentioning earlier. I asked for water and this is what my server brought me:

Cute. Kitsch. You be the judge.

Looking over the menu, I noticed they had a sandwich called the "Chippy". Not sure if this was simply ham sliced very thin or the chipped-chopped ham I remember from my youth (Isaly's, anyone?), I decided to ask my server. Indeed it turned out to be just very thinly sliced regular ham. I decided to go with the Chippy, and as all sandwiches are a la carte, I ordered a side of onion rings to accompany my sandwich.

Here is the sandwich I received from the kitchen:

And another shot showing the sandwich's layers:

A couple of thoughts about the sandwich. First, the ham was nice. It wasn't too salty and it balanced well with some of the other flavors on the sandwich. Second, the special "sauce" that the menu alluded to also added a nice bit of balance. Fattiness, sweetness, and sourness. At first I thought it was simply mayonnaise. But after tasting it a little more closely, I detected both sweet and sour. And then I discovered some chopped up pieces of what at first looked like cucumber. It was at that point I had my eureka moment and realized that the special sauce is probably mayo combined with finely chopped sweet pickles (which, while being sweet, also have an acidic component to them). Unfortunately, my server was not helpful in confirming my theory as she had no idea what was in the sauce.

The one thing I was a bit disappointed with was the amount of meat you got on the sandwich. At nearly $5 for the sandwich alone, all you received is a single layer of pretty thinly sliced ham. And like I said before, while the ham itself was tasty, there just wasn't enough of it.

The onion rings seemed a little pricey as well at $3.10. However, what you get is a true side, meant to be shared with other diners:

These had been nicely fried, crispy and not oily. They were seasoned properly, but the actual onion inside the batter was rather anemic, not like the nice fat rings you get at the Hamburger Station. When my server came by to check on me, she confirmed that these are not made in-house and are just fried from frozen. I would have gladly paid the $3.10 for half the amount I received had they been homemade and nice and thick. And as you can see from the first shot of my Chippy sandwich, they garnish every sandwich plate with a single lone onion ring. You would think that if you are going to use a product to garnish every single sandwich plate that leaves the kitchen, it would be something that is representative of your food philosophy. Which, on second thought, might have been what they were doing after all.

And while there was a separate dessert menu on the table which I did check out, I wasn't all that interested in dessert. It mostly consisted of various fruit pies and dumplings. I didn't bother to ask if the pies were made in-house or not, but I do know that they are available for purchase when you go and pay your bill.

I'm conflicted about The Barn restaurant for several reasons. The food wasn't terrible. The food wasn't great. And I suspect that if you are into salad and soup buffets, they may be able to satisfy your craving. To me, however, the entire experience, from the various shops, to the merchandise and food products available inside the restaurant for sale: it just all felt a little too commercial for my taste. In a way, the shopping experience is designed to elevate the eating experience you have at the restaurant so that if one is not so good, the other will more than make up for it.

Would I personally choose this restaurant as a destination type of place? No, probably not. Then again, I'm not really into the gift shop / toy shop / Amish furniture experience that a lot of people absolutely cherish. Would I stop here if I happened to be driving by and needed a bite to eat? Yeah, probably.

Barn Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Trip to Wooster for Lerch's Donuts

If you happen to find yourself near Wooster, Ohio, you might want to take a moment to find one of it's hidden treasures. A friend of mine alerted me to the presence of Lerch's Donuts (Twitter feed here) and suggested that I give them a try. Unfortunately, I had a problem. The website only lists their permanent location as "Portage Square Plaza". Both Google and Yahoo had a hard time putting an exact address to that search term. Fortunately, another Wooster-related site that allows users to comment on local businesses had an entry on Lerch's along with their location information. Specifically they are at 2312 Akron Road, Wooster, OH 44691. Akron Road also happens to be Rt. 585, the same one that connects Barberton to Wooster.

Unable to verify when their hours were (having a website is nice, but leaving off things like a street address and business hours seems a little pointless, no?), I decided to throw caution to the wind and drive down anyway as it was a lovely day. After weaving around left and right turns on Rt. 585, I finally came to the intersection of Akron and Portage Roads and immediately saw what I was looking for, a tiny little fair-style cart sitting in front of what used to be Hawkins Market (which has huge lettering by the way, hard to miss) on the right hand side of the road.

I pulled off and found a place to park and walked up to this:

The menu is simple: donuts, French waffles, and freshly squeezed lemonade. And even the donuts were simple: plain, sugared, or cinnamon sugared. While this one location I was at is permanent, there are two other carts that travel local fairs and festivals. Clearly the menu is short and sweet because they know what they are good at and this is exactly the food product they are trying to provide. No artifice at all.

Looking over the prices, I decided to get the "6 donuts for $3" deal. Two of each please. I walked away with this:

I normally try to avoid getting parts of my hand in the shot, but it was an extremely windy day today and had I let the bag go, it would have either a) fallen over or b) been moving so much that I wouldn't have gotten a good photograph. I decided that I'd better do the taste test while sitting inside my car.

Having worked so well for my Swensons post, I decided to do the food-on-the-knee photography again. These are smaller donuts (much like The Fractured Prune) so there is no need to feel guilty about eating a couple at a time. Here are the three kinds:

At the top is the plain, at 4 o'clock is the cinnamon sugared and at 8 o'clock is the sugared. They are all made from the same basic cake donut batter, but then finished in different ways (again like The Fractured Prune). Here is a shot of the interior of the plain donut:

I was quite surprised when I went to lift the donuts up off the napkin to finally eat them. I found no grease spots whatsoever. This lack of greasiness definitely translated to a wonderful light-tasting experience when eating them.

In doing my research on Lerch's before making the decision to go, on more than one occasion I came across comments from both websites and people who said that these made-to-order donuts were superior because you received them right out of the fryer. Now this may very well be true if you hit them up first thing in the morning or when they are close to running low on inventory, but when I got there and ordered my six, the woman simply walked over to a set of trays, slid one out and filled my bag. I didn't have the presence of mind to ask when the donuts had been fried, but it had been long enough that they were the same temperature as the outside air.

When I finally had a chance to try them, I decided to start with the simplest of the three, the plain donut. It had an interesting "crunch" to the outside. More of a resistance than a crunch really. I liked it. The donut itself was nice and fresh on the inside and what really surprised me a lot was the controlled level of sweetness. It wasn't cloyingly sweet like a Krispy Kreme is. I also found that even with the cinnamon sugared and sugared donuts, they were equally as restrained on the sweetness factor. I found that I rather enjoyed them.

I ate three of them sitting in my car and then brought the other three home with me. I tried them again several hours later and found that while the flavor was still the same as it had been earlier, that elusive "crunch" was now missing; effects of the room's humidity no doubt. I'm going to go out on a limb and propose that they are probably at their peak when right out of the fryer and dredged in the cinnamon and/or sugar coatings.

Would I purposely drive the forty-five minutes it took me to get there again just for these donuts? Probably not. If I was within fifteen minutes of their location, would I change course for some of these donuts? Absolutely. And if one of the two extra Lerch's carts happened to be at a fair or festival I was attending? Perfect.

And before I forget to mention it, I asked the woman working behind the counter what their hours of operation are. Hours of operation are from 6:30 am - 6:30 pm, although the closer you get to 6:30 pm, the less inventory they may have available to sell.

While these donuts probably wouldn't appeal to the extreme sweet tooth readers out there, for everyone else they are a nice treat and I definitely recommend them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If Garlic be the Food of Love, Play On

I found out about Ermanno's Three Guys Pizza from a co-worker. The first time I stopped in for a pie, it seems that they had just moved into their new North Canton location, taking over for Rocco's NY Style Pizza (which I never actually had a chance to try). Ermanno's is located in a strip retail outlet setting right across the street from a Fisher's grocery store. Their address is 3159 Whitewood Street, North Canton, OH 44720 and can be reached at 330-494-3131. Do NOT rely on the information you find on the web as it has been incorrect the last several times I went to view it. Currently, Ermanno's has no website. (UPDATE: Untrue, I just found their website here.)

Here is a shot of their exterior:

Now, they do offer many things on their menu. But the one thing I haven't been able to get over is their pizza. And for one very good reason: garlic. As a lover of all things garlic, this warms my soul. I think we'd all be happier people if we just ate a little more garlic. Unfortunately, with Ermanno's, this is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, they realize that garlic and pizza work so well together. The down side is that the owners have settled on a product that lends a chemically garlic flavor to their pizzas, Garlic Mist. A Par Way Tryson product, the ingredient list isn't exactly awe inspiring. It does contain garlic oil, however. And propellants. And lecithen. And a few others.

Now I could sit here and ask myself why on earth anyone would use such a product instead of good old fashioned extra virgin olive oil that has been used to gently roast garlic; I just don't know. But, the food business being the way it is, I surmise that they think that no one can tell the difference. And when you first pick up your pie and have that nice, hot slice, it's a lot more difficult to pick up on the underlying chemical taste of the spray. But, you just wait until later on that evening or the next morning for breakfast when you try eating a slice cold right from the refrigerator. Wham-O! The first time I tasted it, it nearly knocked me back on my chair. It is really that pronounced. I have found that if you reheat your slice before eating it, the taste is again minimized, but jeez louise, shouldn't I just be able to enjoy my slice cold?

I guess the problem that I have is that I'm torn. Their made-from-scratch pizza dough is actually pretty good. The doctored sauce they use is also quite good, even if it isn't made from scratch. It contains a lovely oregano undertone. The toppings are always plentiful. Add on top of that they run daily specials and it can also be a pretty good deal, too. So, as long as I eat the pizza hot, I enjoy it. Whenever they've passed out suggestion cards, I always dutifully fill them out. I've been trying to build up enough clout with the one manager to bring it up to him.

The manager in question knows me by name now (which may give you some idea of how often I visit), so perhaps next time, if he isn't slammed with orders when I get there, I'll take him aside and ask him what the deal is. I'm sure it's largely a matter of cost and convenience for them. Heck, I'd even just take a nice brushing of extra virgin olive oil instead of the garlic spray, if I am to be totally honest.

(UPDATE: This update is being written about two weeks after I wrote the copy for the original review, even though they will both post at the same time. I did finally get a chance to talk with one of the managers tonight when I stopped in for another pie. When I finally asked about the use of Garlic Mist, he came clean right away and verified that yes, it was used as a convenience product. He also agreed with my assessment that when eating the pizza cold, you really could tell that it was a spray on product and not the real deal. But what really surprised me, was that before I could make my "why not just roast your own garlic?" suggestion, he stated that he was actually toying with the idea of roasting his own garlic and then brushing the puree on top of the crusts instead of using the Garlic Mist. Needless to say, I encouraged his idea and even volunteered to be a Guinea Pig when he decided to pursue his testing. So, there very well could be another entry about Ermanno's in the future.)

All that being said, I still stopped and ordered a pizza. Of course. I'm a slave to the garlic.

A shot of the pizza box:

And a shot of the large pepperoni I ordered:

This 10 slice pizza was $12 dollars tonight, but on Monday nights it is only $9. An incredible bargain considering how addictive this is. Garlic, tomatoes, pepperoni, dough, and cheese? Heavenly. The only thing missing is a nice liberal sprinkling of spicy chili flakes. Ermanno's pizza is also susceptible to the Molten Cheese Conundrum first mentioned in my post on Tavanello and Sons. But, just letting the pizza box sit open for a minute or two seemed to minimize the problem.

The only other thing I've had from Ermanno's is a steak and cheese sub sandwich. It was not bad, but nowhere near as noteworthy as the pizza. If you're in the area, try them out.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Louie's Bar & Grille: Still The Best Burger?

In a recent posting on The Greenhouse Tavern, I mentioned how utterly delicious the Ohio burger they have on their menu is. Truth be told, it is probably one of the most soul-satisfyingly delicious burgers I think I may have ever had. Questioning her long held belief on who had the best burger, an astute Akron blog reader of mine decided to clue me in on another one of Akron's many local legends with a burger history of it's own, Louie's Bar & Grille. Started in 1992, only one year later it won the Akron Beacon Journal's Best Burger award and beat out a large number of other incumbent burger institutions.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I went there tonight for dinner. I actually remember seeing this storefront before when driving down Tallmadge Avenue, but had never paid much attention to it. Isn't that always the way?

Here is the front of the restaurant:

Once inside, I sat down at a table and started to peruse the menu:

The menu has your standard pub type food. Wings, sandwiches, soups, salads, sides, and a couple of entrees. All of the menu items are available on their website so you can get a feeling for the items they offer on their menu as well as their prices. I started out by ordering one of my favorite brews, a pint of Guinness:

I'm not about to review the actual Guinness, other than to say that Louie's has a carbon dioxide tap and not the nitrogen variety. You can tell by the way the bubbles fall in the pint glass (they do with nitrogen). No big deal, it was still creamy and delicious. After I placed my order with my waitress, I took a couple of random photos. Here is the condiment basket on every table:

Interestingly in the back is a small laminated leaflet containing various advertisements. Definitely an effective way to get some additional attention for your business. After about fifteen minutes or so (it was pretty busy when I got there), my burger finally arrived. A bacon cheeseburger with fresh cut fries:

All of Louie's burgers are 1/2 pound and made from fresh ground meat, never frozen. The fries are also made from scratch. The burgers are cooked to medium well unless otherwise requested. I decided to stick with what they suggested, so that was how I had mine cooked.

Here is a shot with the top half of the bun lifted off the burger:

Mine came with bacon, American cheese, several really nice slices of ripe tomato, lettuce and mustard and was served on a nice fresh Kaiser roll. I added ketchup tableside. This was a monster burger. And a messy one. I had ketchup and mustard squirt out of the burger every single time I took a bite. But it was GOOOD. Juicy, hot, and seasoned just right. The bacon added a nice salty bite and the tomato a wonderful sweetness.

Is this the best burger I've ever had in Akron? It's been a while since I've had a really good burger in Akron, so I feel safe in saying that it could possibly be the best burger in Akron. On a scale of 5, I'd give it a 4.5. How does it rack up against The Greenhouse Tavern? Sorry, fellow Akronites, The Greenhouse Tavern burger completely reshaped my concept of what it is like to eat a delicious, juicy burger. Yes, Louie's burger is juicy. But The Greenhouse Tavern's burger is unbelievably juicy. In some sort of Pavlovian epicurean curse, I actually salivate when I think of The Greenhouse Tavern's burger.

Finally, since they were in my basket, I should probably mention the fresh cut fries. Unfortunately, they were not particularly inspiring. In fact, they were the same limp, greasy, nasty mess of fried potatoes you get almost every time the words "fresh cut" appear on the menu. The "wetness" in the next photo wasn't from any liquid that I added:

It's a shame, really. I never knew it was so hard to make good fries. It seems to have infected quite a few of the restaurants in the Akron and Canton area. Except for Prime at Anthe's. They could teach Louie's a thing or two about what good fries should taste like.

Louie's Bar & Grille is highly recommended if you are in the mood for a really great burger. I'd just pay the upcharge and get a different side instead.

Louie's Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon  Louie's Bar & Grille on Restaurantica

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Das Dutch Kitchen, Simple Fare from the Heartland

I lived on the east coast for about six months back in 2000, specifically near Boston. Many of us have perceptions about what life is like in other parts of the country. The Bostonians that I worked with wondered if everyone in Ohio had the "slow moving vehicle" signs on the backs of their cars. Of course, the word cars came out more like, "cahhz". It took me a minute to realize they were thinking of the Amish buggies found in mid and southern Ohio.

I assured my fellow colleagues that more than just Amish people inhabited the state of Ohio and nary a orange triangle could be found on any cars in the part of Ohio that I was familiar with. (As an additional cultural oddity, the side of the road on the highway where you pull over in case you have car troubles is called the "berm" here in Ohio. The first time I used that word in Boston I got many blank stares. When I finally got them to understand what I meant, they informed me, with what can only be described as the condescending "Duh?!" look on their faces, that it is called the "breakdown lane" in Boston.)

My mother happens to be the music director for her church and will occasionally need someone to "sub" in for one of her regulars during rehearsals. I suppose fortunately for her, reading music is like riding a bicycle; once learned, you'll always be able to do it. On occasions when the rehearsal is after work, I will try and find a restaurant somewhere between where I work and the church. This is where I stumbled across Das Dutch Kitchen. Right off of Rt. 30 between Dalton and Orrville, OH, they are serving up some traditional Amish / Pennsylvania Dutch fare that is quite good. Some of their offerings have been modernized for the average Joe (such as the salad offerings), but if you pick and choose carefully, you can put together a very nice meal.

Here is a shot of the exterior of the restaurant. Note the buggy by the front door:

Once inside, they will seat you in their rather large dining room. If you come during lunchtime, you have the option of ordering from the menu or participating in the daily rotating buffet (meaning the foods available rotate, not the entire buffet itself). The one thing that is always on the buffet is their broasted chicken.

I spoke of broasted chicken in an earlier post about Nicole's Family Restaurant. Broasted chicken is actually a two step process. First, the chicken is brined according to a specific recipe. After the brining period, it is pressure fried in oil. This results in a fried chicken that is incredibly hot and moist with extra crispy skin. Against all odds, every time I've been to Das Dutch and gotten the buffet for lunch, the chicken has always lived up to this potential. The version I had at Nicole's was lacking a bit in salt, but Das Dutch always hits it right on the head when it comes to seasoning. In fact, everything I've ever had from the Das Dutch kitchen has always been seasoned very well.

Here is a shot of the front of their menu:

And while I know that the table side condiment shot usually consists of a bottle of ketchup or salt and pepper shakers, at Das Dutch they actually have two table side condiments that appear at no other restaurant I've ever eaten at.

The bottle on the left is the peanut butter sauce. The one on the right is the apple butter. Both are made in-house and are absolutely divine. The peanut butter sauce has the consistency of a thick syrup and has a sweet and salty component to it. The apple butter has a wonderfully fresh apple flavor along with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Mmmm.

With your meal you will get a basket of homemade white or wheat bread (or a mix). Today I opted for the whole wheat bread. Here is a shot of the basket:

And a shot of how I decided to eat my bread:

I've had both kinds of bread and honestly, while I wouldn't consider them artisan, they are always very fresh and have a lovely crust and crumb. I was disappointed to learn that they contained bleached flours and hydrogenated oils, but I suppose that they are looking to make breads that keep longer than a couple of days for their typical guest. Pre-sliced loaves of both kinds are sold in the gift shop out in front of the restaurant.

In any event, the whole wheat with the apple butter is simply a marvelous combination. No butter or margarine required!

The buffet includes not only the hotline but also a cold buffet. This includes all manner of salad greens, toppings, dressings, jellos, and dessert mousses. It's not nearly as large as the salad buffet I experienced at Lembo's in Akron, but I honestly think the quality is higher here at Das Dutch.

On the hotline today was a cheeseburger soup (which didn't sound all that good to be honest), buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, roasted new potatoes with parsley, chicken with dumplings, and finally the broasted chicken. I put together a plate of the broasted chicken and some of the chicken and dumplings and retired to my table:

This was, as always, quite tasty. There has only been one time over the last two years that I've eaten here where the chicken was so-so. Which is a pretty good track record for food coming off a buffet. Clearly this is simple food, but it is also simply delicious. Like I mentioned in my post on Nicole's, I normally find uncrisped chicken skin sort of nasty and would rather discard it than eat it, but not here. Crisp, not greasy, and tasty.

Das Dutch offers many pies by the slice for dessert (today's offerings were no less than six different kinds of pies). All are made from scratch on-site. They even offer several no sugar varieties for those who want to watch their sugar intake. While the non-featured pie slices can be a tad pricey, you get a sizable piece with a lot of fruit on it for the price you pay. They also offer non-fruit pies as well.

Normally I skip the pie and go for a bit of the mousse that is already included in the buffet price (remember the cold buffet?). They always have a chocolate and vanilla mousse on the buffet and today they had a bit of unmistakably green pistachio as well. Here is a shot of my bowl:

A little from column A and a little from column B. I actually like to drizzle a little bit of the peanut butter sauce on top of the chocolate mousse. Salty, sweet, chocolatey, peanut buttery, yum. The pistachio mousse was very light texturally and every now and then you would encounter a strange change in texture. It turns out they had folded in miniature marshmallows that had sort of halfway dissolved into the mousse. While I'll be the first to admit that the mousses aren't exactly a perfect substitution for a slice of one of their pies, if I'm already feeling full from the buffet and just want to end my meal with a little bit of sweet for free, you can't go wrong with this.

You actually pay for you meal in the front of the restaurant, which doubles as a gift shop. Here you can pick up various nick-knacks as well as some of the food items the kitchen makes for the restaurant. This includes pies, breads, cookies, brownies, etc. One thing I never seem to be able to pass up are the handmade fried pies. Several always manage to go home with me. Fried in canola oil, they have all the decadence of a Hostess Fruit Pie with much more flavor and less of the guilt from the saturated and trans fats. I'm not saying they are health food; far from it. I just feel far better about eating one of these than their more commercial counterpart. Today I picked up cherry, apple, and peach. They also had bumbleberry, black raspberry, and a no-sugar variety apple as well.

Here is my take home box of pies:

And a shot of the inside of the pies:

The first thing to note is the heft of these fried pies. Probably about twice the size and weight of a commercial fried pie, you could easily split this with a friend. Like the rest of the food served at Das Dutch, these are not greasy in the least. All of the fruit fillings have a nice balance of sugar. These are dessert, to be sure, but they don't smack you over the head with sweetness. The crust is a wonderful combination of tender and flaky, and if you are a pie crust freak, like me, you'll love these. Don't be tempted to eat two, you'll definitely not feel well after that. Not that I, um, speak from experience or anything.

If you are looking for simple, delicious, Amish / Pennsylvania Dutch inspired cuisine and happen to be driving through the area, I highly recommend you stop for lunch or dinner at Das Dutch Kitchen.

DAS Dutch Kitchen Restaurant on Urbanspoon  Das Dutch Kitchen Bakery on Restaurantica
Related Posts with Thumbnails