Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An Enchanting Experience At The Enchanted Cafe

To think of myself as simply a food writer is a bit narrow-minded. While I can write purely about food on a given occasion, normally when I review the food of a particular restaurant, there are always extra criteria with which to be concerned. Often times the entire restaurant experience, including service, ambiance, and mood, can be significantly enhanced or degraded based on the physical interaction that happens during a visit. Unenthusiastic staff or management can sour what would have been a decent food experience. Along the same vein, having people around you that are excited to have you at their establishment can be enough to elevate the visit.

I recently read about a small eatery in Barberton, Ohio, in Jane Snow's latest e-Newsletter. In it, one of her readers mentioned how good the coney dogs were at the Enchanted Cafe. Located at 559 Norton Avenue, 44203, the restaurant can be reached at 330-753-5837. They currently do not have a website. I prudently decided to show up for lunch on a Thursday afternoon. It turns out that they are completely closed on Mondays and only maintain breakfast and lunch hours the rest of the week. When I looked up the location on a map, I could immediately picture what the building looked like as I had seen it countless times while driving through Barberton.

I arrived and parked in the fairly ample parking lot in front of the restaurant. Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

Once inside, I sat at a table next to a window and started looking over the fairly straightforward menu. First, a shot of the front:

And the back:

I told my server that this was my first time at the Enchanted Cafe and asked her if she could recommend any of the house specialties. Apparently the egg strata with mystic potatoes were a favorite. Not really being in a breakfast mood, she also suggested the kafta burger and as luck would have it, I could get the mystic potatoes as a side. Besides having an enthusiastic server, it was easy to pick out the owners, Allan and Susan Mellan. They were both as much working the back of the house as the front. Regular customers came in and were immediately greeted by first name. In a somewhat surprising move, they both made a point to introduce themselves to me during the course of my meal. I was also introduced to Susan's mother, Dee, who was in charge of making the baklava. It was a fine line to walk between cheap salesmanship and genuine enthusiasm for their product and business and I think the Mellans did an admirable job. Their attitude alone made me want to return for another visit.

After about fifteen minutes or so, my meal arrived:

This was a good looking plate of food. The menu didn't go too much into the description of the kafta burger or the mystic potatoes, so I wasn't sure quite what to expect. It turns out the Lebanese heritage of the Mellans had been channeled into this tasty burger:

The ground beef has been studded with chopped parsley, onions, and a Lebanese spice blend. Traditionally kafta is made with a spice blend called bhar helou and while the seasoning was definitely present in every bite, it never became overpowering. I hadn't ordered the burger to be cooked to any particular temperature, so I was worried that it might be dried out. While it was cooked somewhere between medium well and well, it was amazingly juicy. The bun had a nice denseness to it and was buttered and grilled perfectly. I have to admit that the single slice of tomato, while normally not something you consider when judging how good a burger is, was perfectly ripe and sweet. While it was currently the peak of tomato season, you'd be surprised how many mealy, flavorless tomatoes you can find being served in restaurants. This was an excellent suggestion by my server and more importantly, an excellent burger.

After my burger, I turned my attention to the mystic potatoes:

While my server tried to describe these potatoes to me when I was placing my order, it wasn't until I saw them that I realized they immediately reminded me of cheesy potatoes. Topped with what appeared to be Corn Flakes cereal, this was a very nice version of a dish that I have had many times in the past. The acidity from the sour cream balanced the fattiness from the butter and cheese nicely and the crispy cereal top was a nice contrast to the creaminess of the potatoes. Was this the best version of this dish that I've ever had? While it was clearly better than the average version, it lacked a unique flavor that made it distinct and unique to the Enchanted Cafe.

Finally, having just finished preparing a pan of their fresh baklava, Allan brought me a free sample to try:

While I should've been good and waited until after I ate my burger and potatoes, I decided I couldn't wait that long and ate it as soon as he put it on my table. With layers of phyllo dough, ground walnuts, honey and spices, this was a tasty and delicious version of the Greek dessert. It was sweet without being cloying, the walnuts and spices each had their own unique flavors, and the phyllo dough had the perfect consistency to it. Had I waited until the end to eat this treat, it would've been the perfect two-bite dessert to finish my savory lunch.

After paying my check, I chatted with both Allan and Susan for a few minutes before I left. It seems that the Enchanted Cafe, or at least the restaurant in it's current location, used to be one of those 24-hour dives that drew the kind of crowd that gave it a reputation. Allan and Susan have re-opened it with with the challenge of refocusing the restaurant toward a new type of clientèle. With the new hours and the new menu, I think they have certainly succeeded in placing their best foot forward.

As we were wrapping up the conversation, Susan asked that if I liked my visit today if I wouldn't mind sharing the name and the experience with my friends. As she put it, "we can use all the publicity that we can get." Noting the serendipitous nature of her request, I chuckled to myself and told her I would do what I could. Hopefully, this blog post will qualify as my "word of mouth." I strongly encourage you to look up this quaint Barberton cafe. The atmosphere was relaxed, the people were honestly glad to see you there, and the food was pretty darn terrific. If that isn't a epicurean hat trick, I don't know what is.


Anonymous said...

I eat there a lot, since I work in Barberton. They have wonderful Middle Eastern lunch specials on Wednesdays (call ahead to make sure; it's not every week) & their sandwiches are all wonderful. Hand-cut fries round out the lunch experience. I've not been for breakfast, but I'm sure it's excellent, too. The owners are as nice as anyone has the right to be! Will be back, again and again and again.

Anonymous said...

After driving by from Wadsworth High to Barberton High about 5 times a week, decided to check this place out. The name caught my eye. It sounded like a neat place to eat and I was not disappointed. Hand painted murals adorned the walls--making you feel you are in a fairyland. Had the mystic potatoes, which is a must when dining. Very creamy, crunchy and hot. Delicious. The baklava also lives up to it's name as a real treat.
My first-time visit won't be my last. P. S. they also have carry out "Good" food on the go. You won't be disappointed and you will be treated like family. Thanks Allan and Susan for your hospitality. Helen

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