Recently a call rang out from a Cleveland foodie friend, Kay, to come together for a communal meal at an Italian eatery I have written about once before, Eddie's Pizzeria Cerino. Considering the Food Illuminati who would be attending tonight's dinner, I was greatly anticipating a wonderful meal. While some might think that my review of tonight's meal will be biased because the chef knew we were coming and clearly put the kitchen's best foot forward, my previous experience as an anonymous diner lead me to the conclusion that the food would be consistently good, known identity or not.
Pizzeria Cerino does not take reservations. Well, sort of. There is actually one long communal table that can be reserved. It turned out that it could hold parties as large as fifteen people. Which, incidentally enough, was exactly the number of people who showed up tonight. When I showed up, only my friends Nancy and Bob were there. Nancy was enjoying a seasonal brew from the Thirsty Dog Brewery located right here in Akron, Ohio, the Pumpkin Ale. It looked so good that I decided to order one, too:
My pint came rimmed with a cinnamon sugar mix that made me do a double take. At first I thought it didn't sound particularly appealing to mix sugar with beer, but the combination worked extremely well. The flavors of the ale were clean and crisp and tasting this flavor made me seriously consider ordering the pasta special tonight, the butternut squash ravioli.
After all the patrons finally arrived, Chef Eddie Cerino came out to welcome us. He told us he would be sending out some complimentary flatbreads for us to try. Here was a shot of the first flatbread to arrive at our table:
This flatbread had prosciutto, goat cheese, and capers on it and was really amazing. The flavors and textures were so layered, even with such simple ingredients. The flatbread crust itself was thin and crispy while still maintaining a nice chewy texture. The toppings, salty, sour, and sweet, all worked so well together to make a perfect bite.
The second flatbread to come out to the table was this beauty:
Topped with the housemade bolognese, melted cheese, and some freshly chiffonaded basil, the complex sweet and savory flavors danced around in my mouth after taking a bite. I'm not sure if the flatbreads are made from the same dough that Eddie's uses for their thin crust pizzas, but I do know that the they are shaped in a free-form manner. The thin crust pizzas are shaped to fit in an actual pan.
To finish up the flatbread portion of our meal, a shot of my appetizer plate:
I highly recommend you give the flatbreads a try the next time you go.
While I wasn't initially in the mood for a salad, the daily special sounded so go that I couldn't pass it up. The fact that the salad (as are all salads at Eddie's) was available in both half and full sizes enticed me further into having one before my entree. Here was a photo of my salad:
Let me apologize for the somewhat lackluster green color of the above salad. I'm finding that one of the limitations of using my G1 camera phone with imperfect lighting conditions is that the green colors tend to be somewhat washed out. I can assure you that this salad was perfectly fresh and vibrant, both in color and taste. The salad consisted of greens tossed in the most delicious honey mustard poppy seed dressing and was adorned with toasted slivered almonds, chunks of feta, and sliced mandarin oranges. I was a little taken aback at how large the salad was as I had only ordered a half-salad. Had I been dining with a partner, this half-salad could've easily been split between two people.
In the end, however, I have to confess that I ate the entire salad. I knew that I had an entree coming, but honestly, the flavors were so spot on that I found myself desiring bite after bite. I normally ask for my salad dressing on the side as most restaurants overly saturate salad greens. Not at Eddie's. Each leaf was properly dressed and when I finally reached the white ceramic surface of my plate, nary a puddle of dressing could be seen anywhere.
Accompanying our salad course was a basket of the housemade focaccia bread:
I had sampled the focaccia bread on my last visit and was looking forward to trying it again. Served simply with a saucer of extra virgin olive oil and a little bit of freshly cracked pepper, I took a bite and immediately remembered why I had liked this bread the first time I tried it. Even eaten plain, the focaccia has an amazing flavor. Many places make their own breads. But it takes a baker with experience to know that true depth of flavor only comes with cold-aging the dough. Clearly this focaccia was made with maximum flavor in mind.
For my entree, I decided to go with the eggplant parmesan bolognese:
This was a massive portion of food and after eating all of my salad, I only managed to finish off about one-third of the food on the plate. I didn't see this as a problem; it was just a way to continue my experience the next day when I had the leftovers for lunch.
Here was a shot of the eggplant parmesan portion of the platter:
The eggplant was tender and flavorful. The crispy exterior was quite tasty and contrasted nicely with the soft eggplant interior. The eggplant had been perfectly fried and there was absolutely no hint of oily residue left on the exterior. The bolognese, lying hidden underneath the eggplant, added a nice meaty richness that I think would be sadly missing in the vegetarian version of this dish.
Accompanying my eggplant was a side of pasta in marinara:
Showered with fresh basil, the pasta was tender and flavorful and the marinara brought a nice brightness to the plate. I forgot to ask if the capellini was housemade, but given the excellent quality of our meal up to this point, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it was.
When I arrived at the restaurant, it was brimming full of patrons and there was an electricity in the air. By the time our two and a half hour culinary odyssey had come to an end, there were considerably fewer people in the dining room. I boxed up my rather ample remaining portion of eggplant and capellini, paid the check, and returned outside into the now somewhat chilly autumnal air. I was worried when longtime Executive Chef Dominic Cerino left the kitchen at Carrie Cerino's in North Royalton that I would be without a seat in the cucina. Having now eaten twice at Eddie's Pizzeria Cerino, I realize that perhaps all I ever really needed to do was simply change the address of where that kitchen was located.