Friday, October 30, 2009

A Trip To Homerville Sans Homer

A good friend called me up last weekend to ask me if I wanted to go with her to a produce auction. Knowing that she is in the beginning process of starting up her own pie-baking business, she is constantly on the lookout for places to source her ingredients, especially the expensive ones such as berries and cherries. She told me that the sister of a friend of hers had told her about a market in rural Ohio where the atmosphere was like a farmer's market crossed with an auction. Having nothing really better to do and given that it's free just to go and experience it for myself, I agreed to meet her there. She indicated that she would forward details so that I could look it up on-line for myself.

What she sent me was a link to the Homerville Wholesale Produce Auction which is held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday promptly at 5:30 PM near the small town of Homerville, OH, just west of downtown Lodi. I've written before about supporting your local farmer's markets as it is a win-win situation for both parties involved. You get farm fresh produce that is generally cheaper than you would pay for it in the supermarket and the farmer generally gets more for his/her products than they would if purchased by said supermarket. However, the HWPA takes it even one step further, allowing the farmers to truly maximize their profits through the use of the auction process.

As I arrived at 5:15 PM today, I snapped a photo of the sign marking the entrance to the auction:

It became pretty obvious as I drove down Spencer Road that I was getting close as there was a large Amish contingency pulling their horse-drawn carts onto the same property. The cars mostly parked on a grassy area to the right and the carts that the Amish had brought were mostly lined up on the left of the property:

After parking, I walked up to the main venue:

As it turns out, there were really two auctions that happened here. The area of the building in the above photo was for consumer-sized lots; i.e., a couple of quarts of maple syrup, four pints of freshly picked blueberries, a peck of green peppers. The other side of the building where the Amish carts had been lining up was also home to an auction, but at the wholesale level. Here was where you could bid on a box containing 75 heads of cabbage or an entire flats of berries. The consumer auction started promptly at 5:30 PM while the wholesale auction started a bit later and proceeded concurrently with the consumer version.

As I mentioned before, it was absolutely free to go and browse around. But if you were here to buy or sell something, there was a large list of rules posted up on the wall that everyone must abide by:

While waiting for my friend to arrive, I started walking up and down the three very large tables of produce snapping some photos:

What really surprised me the most was the incredible variety of produce that was available for purchase here today. When you ask most people what Ohio is known for, they can usually only point to a couple of items: sweet corn, tomatoes, and apples. Here you had a virtual rainbow of colors and flavors all grown by local farmers.

Besides produce, other items were also available for sale:

There were many baked goods such as breads, pies, and cookies available for purchase, too. What I found out from my friend was that it is legal in Ohio to sell baked goods out of one's own oven without the need to have your kitchen certified.

Once the auction started, it was interesting to watch (and listen to) the auctioneer's chatter as they sold lot after lot. The man running the consumer auction was a bit easier to understand than the woman running the wholesale auction, but it was interesting to hear the differences in their respective talents. I stayed for about an hour and a half after the auction started and the auctioneer only managed to get through one of the three tables allotted for the consumer lots. Apparently they start at 5:30 PM and can go until 9:30 or 10:00 PM, were you to be unlucky enough to have something you of interest at the end of that third table.

Before I left the auction, I was encouraged to try out a little food cart that was located directly to the right of the auction building. "Kathy's Kitchen" sprawled across its marquee, they offered a few very basic items:

And a shot of the limited menu:

While my friend had suggested I give the hand-dipped onion rings a go, I decided to make an entire meal out of it and ordered one of their giant steakburgers and a half-order of the onion rings. When asked if I wanted cheese on my burger, I agreed. After a few minutes, this monstrous burger showed up:

I was surprised to learn that "cheese on it" actually meant melted cheddar cheese sauce, the same kind you'd find with your nachos for dipping. I was a bit disappointed by this and wouldn't have ordered it had I known beforehand. Adorned with some ketchup and mustard, this burger was enormous. It tasted alright, but was definitely a challenge to eat. I should mention that there are no tables to sit down at, so I had to juggle the burger and my freshly fried onion rings. Had I been smarter, I would've ordered my burger first, finished it, and then gone back for the onion rings.

Speaking of the onion rings, each batch is battered and fried to order. Here is a shot of my half-order:

These were extremely fresh tasting, but a little bit oily. If I had to guess, I think that the oil might not be hot enough and the batter ended up absorbing just a bit too much oil. The onions used for the rings were clearly freshly cut, but because they weren't uniform in size, some of the smaller finished onion rings were a little overcooked while others had a still-raw crunch to them at their very centers. The friend who had suggested the onion rings to me admitted that today's version was a bit greasy. When she had them the previous time she was there, they had been flawless. I'm willing to give them another try.

Regardless, between the enormous steakburger and my half-order of onion rings, I was completely stuffed. I ordered a bottle of water for the road, hopped in my car, and headed out of Homerville back towards home. While I hadn't actually purchased anything at the auction, I did take the memory of an interesting way to spend an evening home with me. If you want to connect even closer to the farmer than your local farmer's market, I'd suggest giving the Homerville Wholesale Produce Auction a gander. It's a nice way to spend a free evening reconnecting with how food in this country should work.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm Just Here For The Fish

Recently, I decided to stop in and visit with my aunt and uncle. I had seen them about two and a half months ago at the wedding of my cousin (their son), but didn't really have a chance to just sit down and share a spell. So it was with great enthusiasm that I sat on their couch for about three hours as we filled in each other on the goings on of myself, my family and their family. Knowing that my aunt is a faithful reader of my blog, I was pretty sure at some point that the conversation would lead to food. Sure, enough, I was right.

While we talked about many places, both from the past and the present, the one eatery they kept returning to was Bradley's Restaurant located in Sterling, OH. While I knew there had been a Bradley's in Wadsworth for many, many years, what I didn't realize until now was that the Wadsworth location wasn't the original. I had eaten at the Wadsworth location several times and I don't remember it ever being particularly memorable. However, when they told me with a certain earnestness in their eyes about the Friday fish fry at the location in Sterling, I was hooked and decided to give them a try.

Deciding that I needed to bring along my aunt and uncle to verify if today's fish was up to par, we all descended on Bradley's Restaurant located at 14004 Kauffman Avenue, Sterling OH 44276 around 11:04 AM, just shortly after they opened. Here was a shot of the front of the building:

To the left of the building was a sign advertising the daily specials for Friday:

I eagerly grabbed both cameras and walked through the door. The original Bradley's was much more low key than the Wadsworth location. In fact, it was pretty much a bar with tables. And the lighting was commensurate with the environment, which explained why I took my ancient digital camera that had a flash with me just in case. As it turns out, we sat at a table that had decent lighting and was by the front door. No flash would be required.

Here was a sign on the wall listing the luncheon specials:

The fish fry is only available on Friday and from what my aunt and uncle said, the place fills up quickly. As we had arrived four minutes after they opened, we didn't have any trouble finding a table. When we left, however, the bar was beginning to fill up quickly. When our waitress came over to take our order, it was pretty straightforward: Fish, fish, and, um, fish. After about five minutes, a basket of warm dinner rolls was brought to the table:

They were nice and soft and fresh. While I didn't manage to eat them when they were warm, I did grab one once my fried fish platter came out. Here was a shot of the interior crumb of the roll:

Served with fresh pats of butter, this was a nice accompaniment to lunch, although wholly unnecessary given all of the other starch we consumed.

Along with our basket of bread, we each received a small dish of homemade cole slaw:

This was extra rich and creamy and you could definitely tell that there was mayonnaise in the dressing base. The cabbage was there for the texture, but the dressing is what made the flavor sing. It was very tasty and quite the opposite of the cole slaw I had while visiting Limburg's Patio Grill, which while not bad, lacked overall depth of flavor.

I finished up my dish of cole slaw just in time to receive my fried fish platter:

First a close-up of the fish:

And a close-up of the fries:

I was nervous when the plate was first set down in front of me. The fillets themselves were pretty skinny and in the past that has usually meant fish jerky. However, this fish was nicely cooked and still moist. The coating on the fish was flavorful and not oily. Overall this was some pretty good fried fish, Alaskan Pollock to be exact. The French Fries were fried from frozen and while better than nearly any "fresh cut" fries I've ever had, were merely so-so. The tartar sauce and ketchup were pretty much "plain Jane", so I won't go into too much detail critiquing them. The fish was clearly the star of the plate and you definitely got a lot of it. In fact, the fish was actually all-you-can-eat. I didn't order additional fish, but my uncle ordered one extra fillet after he had finished his plateful.

Driving to Sterling, OH is not a luxury most of us could afford to do very often. However, if you find that you will be in the Seville, OH area (which happens to coincide with the intersections of I-71 and I-76), it might not be a bad side trip to make to get some delicious fried fish. I will pass along this bit of advice from my aunt and uncle to you, gentle reader: go during lunchtime. They had gone once (of the many times they have eaten here) during dinner service and the oil used to fry the fish in was "off". Perhaps someone forgot to change the oil, perhaps they went on a bad night. Who knows? All I can say is that today's fish tasted fresh and delicious.

Bradley's of Sterling on Urbanspoon  Bradley's of Sterling on Restaurantica

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Extra Helpings: Chi-Town At The Velvet Tango Room

I had been hearing rumors for a while.

Back in May of this year, Paulius Nasvytis, co-owner of the Velvet Tango Room located on Columbus Road between Tremont and Ohio City in Cleveland, had traveled to Chicago for both personal and professional pursuits. As a result of that trip, an idea was born. He had the fortune to visit the fine folks at Bar Deville during his visit and really liked what he saw. What if the two bars, with equally refined cocktail menus but different vibes, were to do an exchange? In professional kitchens, cooks often do a stagiere at other restaurants for several days or weeks at a time in order to gain experience and expose themselves to new ideas and cuisines. Why not put this concept to use for two cocktail bars that have such a dedicated following?

I happened to be at the Velvet Tango Room about two weeks ago to celebrate my new-found employment with some friends and our bartender brought over a flyer that described the exchange in more detail. Apparently the fine folks from Bar Deville would be arriving for their stagiere at the VTR relatively shortly. It wasn't until I received an invitation from Paulius asking if I'd be available to attend a reception he was throwing to welcome the staff from Bar Deville that I realized that the exchange was not several weeks away, but imminently upon us. It seems that the Bar Deville staff would be here serving cocktails on Monday, October 26th and Tuesday, October 27th. To kick everything off, the charismatic chancellor of cocktails decided to throw a small two hour complimentary soirée to introduce the visiting bar staff and their cocktails to an eager Cleveland crowd.

I happened to arrive about fifteen minutes early and was immediately greeted by Paulius as I walked into the front bar area of the Velvet Tango Room. After enthusiastically shaking my hand, he asked if I was hungry. Admittedly, I had left work around 4:30 PM today in order to make it in time and hadn't had a chance to stop for any type of sustenance. He escorted me to the back room where Chef Rocco Whalen from Fahrenheit had dropped off an impressive selection of food for the staff and guests to nosh on before the start of the event. Among the food available were several pizzas, a salad, ravioli, and a beef noodle dish. I walked down the line, taking a little from here and a little from there and ended up with an amazing selection of food.

Fortunately, today was a gorgeous fall day in Cleveland, so it was a complete no-brainer to walk out the back door of the Velvet Tango Room and sit at one of the patio tables. Here was a shot of my food:

The pizza to the right side of the plate had mushrooms, onions, goat cheese, and rosemary as toppings. The pizza slice right in the middle of the plate (which was kind of buried underneath the ravioli on the left) was cheddar cheese, incredibly thin apple slices, and a chili and cumin spiced sausage. Needless to say, both pizzas were excellent, but I particularly liked the the mushroom and goat cheese pizza. The crust was thin but still had a wonderful chew to it. The ravioli on the left side of the plate had been stuffed with potato and were topped with a wonderful spicy cream corn sauce. I almost wanted to call them pierogi, even though they had the classic ravioli shape. At the top of my plate were the noodles and beef. The beef was nearly falling apart and the noodles were tender and flavorful. I have yet to try out Fahrenheit, but after having this plateful of food, that may be next on my list of must-try places.

After finishing my pre-event dinner, I grabbed my glass of water and my phone and digital camera and headed back up to the front area of the bar to stake out a table. I figured it would give me the best view of those coming through the front door as well as a great visual of the gentlemen working behind the bar. Here was an early shot of a VTR regular, Rick, as well as one of the handsome gentlemen from Bar Deville:

This shot was taken just as the reception started. Once guests started to arrive, the atmosphere really got hectic. The two gentlemen working the bar did an excellent job filling orders and creating some really dynamite cocktails. Sitting out on every table and along the bar were cocktail menus detailing the drinks we would have an opportunity to sample tonight and tomorrow night:

Paulius wisely decided early on to serve half-sized cocktails during the reception. This would give guests the opportunity to try more samples from the menu as they attempted to try and figure out what suited their own individual tastes. I thought this was a fantastic idea. With twelve available cocktails on the menu, I ended up getting to try half of them. It probably also helped that I was sharing my cocktails with two of my favorite people, Debbie and Scott. By the end of the two hours, I had probably only consumed about two cocktails worth of alcohol, making me perfectly fine to drive home.

In addition to the cocktail sampler we were about to enjoy, passed hors d'oeuvres made their way around the room. Half of the appetizers were of the "flavorful ingredient on a toasted crostini" variety, two were of the "protein on a stick" variety, and the final one was sushi, specifically an inverted maki roll.

The first appetizer to make it to us was a double crostini variety:

Here was a close-up on my cocktail napkin:

On the left you have a cooked portabello mushroom on top of a goat cheese spread with roasted red pepper slices on top. On the right you have slices of cooked chicken breast on top of a basil pesto and covered with artichoke hearts. Both were served chilled, but were still very flavorful. These had obviously been assembled earlier and then chilled for service. The only problem I had was that the crostini had absorbed some of the moisture from the cooler and had softened somewhat. This resulted in the bread being a bit delicate. Fortunately, these had been designed to be bite sized and it was entirely too simple just to pop the entire thing in your mouth.

The first drink that we received was a Sao Paolo Word:

I had actually just tried a new cocktail on the upcoming menu at the Velvet Tango Room the last time I visited called The Last Word. Made with gin, Chartreuse, lime juice, and Maraschino, I had actually managed to stumble onto a cocktail that bested my beloved Aviation. It was simply that good. The Bar Deville's version took the concept of The Last Word and substituted Cachaca for the gin. The floral notes were very similar to the original The Last Word, but the Cachaca added an extra bit of exoticness that one can experience only in a true Caipirinha. The Sao Paolo Word was definitely tasty and I rated it in the top three of the drinks I tried.

Next up on the appetizer selection were chilled chicken livers wrapped in bacon:

While these were definitely flavorful and had a lovely mouthfeel to them, I think I've grown accustomed to chicken livers being served hot and juicy (thanks, Lolita) and probably would've preferred them served warm. That being said, the zippy citrus flavors from the Sao Paolo Word helped to cut through the fattiness of this two-bite morsel.

Ironically, our second drink was the Negroni #2:

Traditionally, a Negroni has Campari in it. This one did not. However, it did still have the orange bitters used in a traditional Negroni, so I like to think of this version as a play on the original. Composed of gin, dry vermouth, Aperol, and orange bitters, this was a delightfully balanced cocktail. It had an amazing orange nose to it and it played well to both bittter and sweet tastes in my mouth, neither flavor dominating the drink entirely. As it turned out, this cocktail was also in the top three of the evening.

Our next round of appetizers consisted of two similarly inspired tastes:

On the left was a crostini with smoked salmon over a horseradish sauce and finished with finely diced red onion. On the right was an inverted maki roll containing carrots and cucumbers with just a dot of spicy wasabi paste. While I missed having just a little bit of salty tamari in which to dip my maki, the smoked salmon more than made up for it with it's smoky and salty flavor. The spiciness of both the wasabi and the horseradish were definitely welcome flavors.

Our third cocktail was the somewhat non-inspirationally named Bar Deville Cocktail:

Comprised of rye, Campari, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, egg whites, and just a few drops of Peychaud's bitters, this was an excellent drink. Something about the combination of these ingredients actually evoked the flavor of coconut to both Scott and myself. We speculated on what it might be and personally, I think it was the astringency of the grapefruit juice with the smokiness of the rye that combined to form that additional flavor profile. Either way, this cocktail managed to walk the fine line of being sweet, smoky, and bitter without being too strong in any one area. Three cocktails into the evening, we seemed to be batting 100%; the first three cocktails were all winners in my book.

Our fourth appetizer was a beef satay, served on a wooden skewer (sorry for the blurry photo):

This bite of beef was decent. It was tender enough, but I was kind of hoping it would have a more authentic Thai / Malaysian sauce served with it. That being said, it was clear that the appetizers were designed to mix it up and hit multiple proteins with a few vegetarian options thrown in for good measure.

Our fourth cocktail of the evening was one that I was on the fence about initially, a signature drink of Bar Deville called the Songbird:

When I first inhaled the very floral bouquet emanating off of this drink, I was puzzled. I knew that both Chartreuse and St. Germain were used as flavoring agents in this gin-based cocktail. What struck me as I continued to try and identify the unique flavor after repeatedly smelling and tasting it, was that what I was detecting was an almost basil-like quality to the drink ... which, of course, was completely absent from the list of ingredients. I think what was tickling my taste buds into thinking that I was tasting basil was the slightly anise flavor that the Chartreuse brought to the table. Once I identified the mystery flavor, I enjoyed the remainder of the cocktail quite a bit. It wasn't quite as good as the first three, but I could see myself ordering one of these every now and again, just to shake it up a little bit.

Our fifth cocktail (remember gentle reader, these are half-pours and I am sharing them with two other people ... if I had been drinking full-sized versions, I'd be pretty shnockered by now) was something called The Hard Sell:

A gin-based drink containing St. Germain, Malort, lemon juice and grapefruit oil, I immediately guessed where the name had originated. This drink was decidedly bitter. Grapefruit bitter, Campari bitter. This drink definitely appealed to a subset of the crowd and Debbie had exactly the kind of palate to which this drink catered. Being a lover of strong bitter flavors, this was right up Debbie's alley and Scott and I were only too happy to oblige and surrender the cocktail to her. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a poorly executed cocktail. It's just that that such an astringent flavor only appeals to certain palates.

Our sixth and final cocktail tonight also turned out to be somewhat of a mystery. When one of the VTR bar staff dropped off an Autumn Sidecar at our table, Scott immediately commented on the floral nose of the cinnamon used to top the drink:

Upon tasting it, however, something didn't seem right. Based on the Bar Deville cocktail menu, this libation should have consisted of apple brandy, orange curacao, lemon juice, old-fashioned bitters, and cinnamon. Scott and I both agreed that while this cocktail was tasty, the flavors from the apple brandy and orange curacao seemed to be missing. And in fact, when we compared the color of our cocktail to another guest enjoying the same thing, ours was a decidedly yellow color while hers was a more apple cider color. The cooperative cocktail comparer stated that her drink was absolutely delicious, so I can only surmise that somehow in the mad rush (and it was definitely a mad rush), one or more ingredients were accidentally left out of our version.

As we were reveling in our final cocktail, the final appetizer made its way to our table, a jerk-spiced chicken skewer:

Being the lone hot appetizer of the evening, this was moist and tasty and had a nice little kick to it from the jerk spice rub. The pineapple and red pepper added a lovely bit of sweetness to help cut through the heat. For me, this was probably the tastiest hors d'oeuvre of the evening.

At 8 PM, Paulius raised the lights in the bar slightly and announced that although the reception was officially over, the party need not stop as both the bartenders from the Velvet Tango Room and Bar Deville were available to fulfill all of the patrons wishes and desires. Having had my fill of amazing food and delicious cocktails, I thanked our gracious host, hugged my friends farewell and strode out into the still lovely fall air. I realized how lucky I was to live so close to so many amazing people, restaurants, and epicurean experiences. I even managed to rub elbows with several authors, bloggers, and a chef that I greatly admire.

The fine gentlemen from Bar Deville will be serving their Chicago-based cocktails on Tuesday evening, October 27th as well. While there won't be a reception like there was tonight, the excellent cocktails will still be available for sampling. I highly encourage you to check them out while they are in town. An additional note, several of the bartenders from the Velvet Tango Room will be in Chicago returning the favor at Bar Deville in November. If you happen to be in Chi-town during their visit, you might just want to look them up and make a stop at Bar Deville.

Velvet Tango Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 26, 2009

Julie and Julia: The Road Not Taken

My only real exposure to Julia Child growing up was on PBS. It wasn't the groundbreaking television show produced in the early 1960's entitled, The French Chef. It was her later work, after she had firmly entrenched herself into the consciousness of the American culinary psyche. While I knew that she had written many books, I didn't even know that she wasn't the only author of her seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I learned that a movie was to be made about Julia Child. Well, sort of. The movie would also feature the real-life story of Julie Powell, a post 9/11 government worker who was convinced that she lacked direction in her life. The hype amongst my foodie friends and colleagues had been strong for quite some time. Even before going to see the movie, I had already been invited to a dinner party where all the guests were asked to bring a version of their favorite Julia Child recipe from one of her cookbooks. I was reluctant to admit that I don't even own a single Julia Child cookbook. I had to go down to the public library in order to conduct my research on the recipe I would be using.

Deciding that it would serve my best interest to inspire me for the dinner party, I chose to catch a matinee of Julie & Julia the other day. At a little over two hours, the film wasn't short by any stretch of the imagination. But once the story got moving, I never once had the need to look at my watch again. In fact, when the movie ended, I was almost disappointed that it was over. I had connected with the movie so powerfully and enjoyed the ride so thoroughly that I entertained the idea of returning to the ticket booth and buying another ticket for the next showing just to relive the experience.

Having had a couple of days to sit on my feelings, I began to realize that what connected me so completely to both the Julia and Julie characters was the sense of a kindred spirit. While I've spent nearly a decade and a half in my current career, I began growing apart from my love of working as a computer programmers over the last couple of years. I also have known for some time now what makes me happy. Food. Talking about it, making it, creating it, sharing it, writing about it, and of course most importantly, eating it. But I've not found a way to transform one career into another. As I stated in another blog entry I wrote prior to leaving for the Kansas City trip I took several weeks ago, the process of writing, creating something from nothing, has allowed me to tap into parts of my brain that I wasn't entirely sure were still functioning all that well.

When I saw Julia and Julie succeed, I was re-energized to succeed even more. I wanted what they now had, the security of knowing you could pay the bills while at the same time pursuing their respective endeavors. Part of me realized that perhaps the reason I haven't decided to jump in with both feet and change careers so completely was that I am not ready to choose what that next career will be. Do I want to be a cook? Do I want to be a writer? Do I want to run a restaurant? Ironically, these are all questions that others have asked me over the years and quite frankly, I've asked myself repeatedly. I just don't know that I have a good answer yet.

Along the way I've met some remarkable people who have recognized merit in my work. While I know that these individuals don't dole out gold stars to just anyone, I still feel cautious when accepting their compliments. Not because I doubt their sincerity or credibility, but because I doubt my own sense of growth and accomplishment. Whether I'm making a loaf of fresh bread or writing about it, how do I know that what I am producing is laudable?

As Julia said so many years ago in one of her television broadcasts, one must have "courage of conviction." I suppose that part of that courage is knowing that you aren't going to please everyone. No matter what your life's endeavor is, there will always be lovers and haters. To me, conviction seems to truly be the heart of the issue. Being self-aware that what you decide to do is true to who you are and that it can always be improved upon. The courage to not be afraid of waiting for my next failure to happen; or worse, that the failure is such a catastrophic event that one can't recover from it. That fear has always paralyzed me to some degree. Successful people are primarily successful because they are able to keep this fear in check and not let it derail their efforts.

Unlike most Hollywood films with overly saccharin endings, Julie & Julia ended as it did in real life for both women: a successful start in a new career that they felt passionate about. To be honest, in the end that is really all I am after, too. While I am passionate about technology and how it can better our lives, I seem to have lost my passion for all of the little nitty gritty details on which I built my initial career.

I realize that everyone who goes to see Julie & Julia will come away with their own interpretation of the story and how it relates to the journey that they have taken so far, but for me it has only reinforced the notion that what I am doing here, writing, even if deemed unimportant by all others, is important to me. As I've come to discover, passion isn't something that you can will into existence. You either have it or you don't. So I think now is a good time for me to live up to my courage of conviction and be passionate about the very thing that makes me the happiest.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Another Visit To Nicole's Family Restaurant

When I first started working for the client with whom I was employed previously, I would take a lot more lunch hours to go out and explore the surrounding area. Nearly a year and a half later, the opposite has happened; most of my lunches were purchased through the on-site cafeteria. The food at the cafeteria was so-so and as long as you stuck to some of the basics -- soups, sandwiches, and yogurt -- you'd do okay.

Today, however, I just felt like going out for lunch. Wanting something relatively close, I decided to return to a quaint little diner that serves up a mean double cheeseburger, Nicole's Family Restaurant. It's been at least three months since I've eaten there and felt like today was a nice day to return.

I also made the conscious choice before I even arrived that I didn't want to do a cheeseburger today. I had already had some form of beef three out of the last four days. So, when I sat down and started looking at the menu, I zeroed in on the spaghetti with homemade marinara sauce. Of course, it didn't even occur to me until after the words had left my mouth and my server was walking away that I had ordered the "spaghetti and meatballs". Um, hello? McFly? Wasn't I trying to not eat more beef? Ah well.

After about ten minutes of waiting, I received my plate of spaghetti and meatballs accompanied by two slices of Texas Toast garlic bread:

A closer shot:

The sauce was decent, nothing fancy. I could taste the oregano and the mild chunkiness of the tomatoes in the sauce. Unfortunately, the pasta was vastly overcooked. The noodles were clearly cooked ahead of time and then reheated in water for service. You could tell because the spaghetti had that overly plumped look to it. This may be great for hot dogs, but for pasta, not so much. There was a little bit of pasta water in the bottom of the bowl, but it wasn't terrible. The garlic bread was fine, but there was a remarkable lack of any actual garlic chunks to let me know that this was the real deal. The Texas Toast was nicely crisped though.

The meatballs had a wonderful seasoning to them and were quite tender. Here was one cut in half:

With my meal, I also had the chance to order one side item. Having never had their broasted potatoes before, I decided to give them a try. Here was what came out with my meal:

And a shot of the inside of one:

These were HUGE. Like Jo Jo's on steroids. They had a nice crispy coating on the outside created by a flour and spice dredge that the cook applied before pressure frying them. As I ate my spaghetti, I was worried that they might get a little cold. But, because of their sheer size and the fact that the potato was completely encased in the coating, they stayed hot the entire time.

The only complaint I had about the broasted potatoes was that the coating lacked enough salt to properly season such a thick wedge of potato. After asking my waitress about it, she confirmed that it was a coating mix provided by the same company that provided the broasting equipment and brines that they used for their broasted chicken. And if you remember my comments from this post about Nicole's broasted chicken, I noticed that it was lacking in salt, too.

Because of the starchy nature of my lunch, I decided to skip dessert as I was too full. My rather hearty lunch came to a very reasonable $7, including tax. I don't know that I would travel far out of my way just to come to Nicole's. The food is solid but not spectacular. But, if you happen to be in the Canton/East Canton area for some other reason, it's definitely worth a look. Just remember, they aren't open on Mondays. Take it from someone who already made that mistake once.
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