Sunday, October 18, 2009

Extra Helpings: Chowder House Cafe

When I first moved back to Northeast Ohio from Columbus, I decided to settle in the residential suburb of Cuyahoga Falls. It seemed like a nice area with access to many of the businesses I would be frequenting as well as close to a number of friends. Several stores were even within walking distance, including a unique little coffee shop called Jimmy's Cafe. Jimmy's was an imaginatively decorated shop that was known for serving good coffee and several unique New Orleans specialties. As I had yet to hear the blogger siren's call, I never bothered to pay too much attention to it. It was with a bit of sadness that I later learned that the original owner had simply given up after a number of years and closed it down.

Recently while reading the online version of the Akron Beacon Journal, I discovered an article that said another area chef had bought Jimmy's, renamed it to the Chowder House Cafe, and decided to throw his hat into the ring. Chef Louis Prpich, known for his stints at other Akron eateries, decided to keep the funky interior and exterior decor and put together a rather simple menu that he could execute by himself. According to my server, they had only been open one week, but had seen some pretty good turnout based on word of mouth.

The Chowder House Cafe was located at the corner of Chestnut Boulevard and State Road in Cuyahoga Falls. More specifically, they were located at 2028 Chestnut Boulevard, 44221. Unfortunately no definite phone number or website could be found online at the moment. Hopefully both of these problems will be remedied with time.

I arrived around dusk and parked my car behind the restaurant. Here was a shot of the exterior:

Once inside, you turn right and enter the dining room. There were two areas, the outer area with smaller round tables and a spot in the back where simple square wooden tables lounged on a small dais. Noting the lack of really good lighting in the restaurant, I decided to sit at one of the wooden tables in the back because it appeared to have better lighting.

Once I got acclimated to my surroundings, I looked around to discover a veritable bare bones staff. Essentially there was Chef Louis Prpich in the tiny kitchen and just one server. With just a handful of tables available for guests, I can totally see one chef and two servers being able to easily handle the entire room. After a few minutes, my server arrived at my table, took my drink order, and dropped off the menu.

Here was a shot of the front:

And a shot of the back:

Clearly this was a simple menu. But it also made sense to start with something not overly ambitious. A single soup, several appetizers, salads, and lots of sandwiches, this menu conveyed to me that the chef was still finding his sea legs but was confident that what was on the menu was good. The special for the evening was a prime rib dinner as well as a French Dip sandwich au jus. Most items were between $5 and $9 and my server indicated that portions were large enough that if you got the soup and a salad or sandwich, you would be more than satisfied.

While many of the starters on the appetizer list looked tempting, the chef's potato-less clam chowder finally intrigued me enough to order it. At $5 for a bowl it seemed a touch on the pricey side, but after receiving my portion, I though it was well worth it.

This was incredibly smooth and creamy without any of the grit that potatoes would bring to the party. The clams were tender but still just a little bit chewy to give the soup some nice texture. Potatoes are normally one of the ways clam chowders are thickened. As the potato cooks, it releases starch into the surrounding liquid which then gelatinizes when cooked to the proper temperature. The chef stopped by at one point to check in on me and I asked him about the technique he used to get such a thick velvety texture to his soup. Apparently he uses both a roux (flour and butter cooked together) as well as reduced heavy cream. The one downside to the soup was that the clams were just a touch too sandy for my taste. Purging the sand out of clams is an essential, but often difficult, task one must do to avoid the annoying grinding between the teeth sensation in the final product. I always expect a little bit in clam chowder, but Chowder House Cafe's version had more than would've liked. Flavor? A-/A. Grittiness from sand? C.

While the lobster roll initially looked like it might be my sandwich selection for the evening, when my server told me that they were serving a French Dip sandwich au jus made from the prime rib that was destined for the lone entree of the night, I was hooked. I managed to make it almost all the way through my soup when this plateful of food arrived, still steaming:

The bowl of brown soup in the foreground is actually the jus. It had actually formed a "crema" on top of the liquid. The potato chips on the back left side were standard run-of-the-mill chips and nothing special.

Here was a close-up shot of the sandwich:

Other than this being a pretty darn messy sandwich to eat, it was extremely tasty. The tender prime rib slices were moist, juicy, and really flavorful. The Italian seeded bun did its best to contain all of the moisture, but at a certain point, disintegration was inevitable due to all of the juice. In order to eat this with my hands, I ended up holding the still stable parts of the sandwich with one hand and using my spoon from the chowder to spoon the juices over each bite instead of trying to dip the sandwich into the bowl of jus. And before I forget, let me give three cheers for the jus. I tried a spoonful of the jus when my plate was first set down in front of me and let me tell you, this broth was beefy. It was rich and earthy and was seasoned just perfectly. If anything, it simply made the sandwich taste even beefier.

After finishing up my sandwich, my server asked if I wanted to try any of their desserts. Normally I am not really a dessert person, especially after consuming a huge bowl of very filling soup and a large meat-filled sandwich, but I decided to hear her out. Tonight they had a chocolate torte as well as blackberry pie. Being an avid fan of chocolate and an even more avid hater of blackberry seeds, I decided to give the housemade torte a try. Here was what I received after a few minutes:

Here was a shot from another angle:

The torte slice consisted of thin slices of chocolate genoise that sandwiched layers of chocolate cream and topped off with a wonderfully thick chocolate ganache. This would have matched wonderfully with the bitterness of coffee, but unfortunately all that was available was caffeinated and as it was getting late, I wasn't about to risk a night of tossing and turning just because I wanted a bitter counterbalance to the chocolate. To say that this dessert was a chocoholic's dream would be an understatement. The contrast in textures and flavors between the layers was nicely done and the moistness of the cake, which dries out easily, really came through.

My bill, including an iced tea I had ordered at the beginning of the meal, came to roughly $20. The sandwich was $8.50 and the slice of chocolate torte was $5. This was quite reasonable given the quality of the food. There are a couple of things to note before heading off to Chowder House Cafe and trying them yourself. First, they do not have beer or wine available yet, but are more than willing to serve anything that you bring yourself for a small corkage fee. Second, they are currently only accepting cash and checks, so don't forget to stop by the ATM and make a withdrawal before you show up. I suspect that as Chef Prpich settles into his newest endeavor, all of these other accoutrement will begin to fall into place.

I highly recommend you give the Chowder House Cafe a try if you live in Akron or find yourself driving through. They are open weekdays for lunch and dinner and only for dinner on Saturdays. Between the quirky decor and the delicious food, you are sure to find something that will tickle your palate and fill your stomach.

The Chowder House on Urbanspoon


mr.diner42 said...

well i drove thru the falls and decided to stop by the was saturday nite at about i approached the building i heard people talking.... iopened the door and was surprised to see the place so full....i was asked if i had a reso (which i didnt) and the hostees said it woul be at least an hour wait....apparently the chef was tackiling a clambake and pushing many plates of food out of the smallest kitchen i ever saw....i stood by his pass thru to watch thourough and so much fun...he had me laughing all nite....the real treatwas the chef kept feedig me treats all nite...he eventually got me a table and then sent us out a 4 course tasting was fabulous....ahi tuna over chilled sesame noodles....lobster tacos..which i gotta say have had thousands of fish tacos from coast to coast and hid are far superior to any! crazy good tacos...and crazy good chowder.....with the direction chef louis has went in i could definetly see himm opening many more chowder houses....its a no-btainer. kudos to him and thank you chef wherever you are (probably making chowder)

Tino said...

@mr.diner42: I'm so glad you had a great experience when you went. The night I went (admittedly a Tuesday night), there were maybe three other tables occupied the entire time I was there. I know that since I posted about the Chowder House Cafe, I have received a lot of hits from people using search engines to find out more information about this restaurant.

My hope is that they continue to do well (but not so well that I can't show up and snag a table. :P).

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