Lately I seem to be on a Mexican food kick. First I posted about El Meson and then followed that up with a trip (or six) to Taqueria La Loma. In doing research on Urbanspoon, I discovered that Kent held another highly regarded restaurant, Taco Tantos. Sadly, when I went last Sunday, they were closed. Thinking that they were closed because of the day, I returned today to discover that they were still closed. Apparently they weren't closed the first time because it was a Sunday, but because the restaurant itself was actually closed for a two week period. Having driven all the way to Kent to check out the restaurant, I was bound and determined to find someplace else within walking distance where I could find a decent lunch.
While there were several other restaurants on Franklin Avenue, the one that immediately caught my interest was The Pufferbelly Limited. Located at 152 Franklin Avenue, Kent, Ohio 44240, they can be reached at 330-673-1771. Their website is available here.
Here was a shot of the entrance to the building:
Just outside the front door was a sidewalk sign that contained today's specials:
Inside the front door was a chalkboard displaying today's dessert specials:
Once inside, I took another photo of the interior of the space:
I was a bit confused because I got the distinct feeling by some of the wall art and the dessert specials just inside the main door that the space was in some way connected to the railway system. In fact, when I did some research on Pufferbelly Limited on the Internet after my meal, it turned out that this space was actually a rail hub that had been renovated back in 1971 and re-purposed as a restaurant and bar area. What I didn't really get, however, was why there was an old buggy hanging from the ceiling and mounted fish on the walls. The space itself was quite large and during peak hours could probably hold 150-200 guests. Fortunately, I decided to have a late lunch, so there were probably closer to 15 guests when I went.
As my hostess sat me at my table, she handed me the menu to look over:
Nothing really jumped out of the menu at me, so when my server came over to get my drink order, I asked her if Pufferbelly had any signature items. Apparently this was the wrong question to ask because she immediately became flustered and started muttering things like "I normally don't work the day shift" and "Gosh, everything is really good" and "I don't really know what your tastes are." It wasn't that she was being rude about it, the question just really sent her into a tailspin. It turns out that in later conversation I discovered that she had been working at Pufferbelly Limited as long as it had been open, twenty-nine years. How she was unable to make a recommendation off the menu after working there for so long was a bit disconcerting.
She left to get me my drink and I continued to study the menu. While I am not a huge fan of wraps, Mike's Philly Wrap looked decent enough. The fact that it came with a homemade "creamy cheese dressing for dipping" was probably what sold me on the notion. The only part of the description that didn't sound all that appealing was its pairing with the restaurant's fresh cut fries. Fortunately it turns out that you can substitute a number of other sides for free or for an extra $0.55, you can get sweet potato fries. Bingo!
Fairly soon after placing my order, my lunch arrived:
Here was a close-up of the Philly Wrap:
Consisting of thinly sliced roast beef with grilled mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers, grated mozzarella cheese and shredded lettuce, the sandwich was wrapped in a herbed flour tortilla. Had I seen the "herbed tortilla" on the menu, I would've requested a plain one in its place as I am not usually a fan of that flavor combination. Then again, I suppose I received the sandwich as the chef had intended it, so I could judge it more fairly. I tried a bite before pairing it with the creamy cheese dressing. The roast beef was tender and the ingredients (except for the shredded lettuce) were seasoned properly. The wrap, although not my favorite flavor, was definitely fresh. Unfortunately, I don't know that a wrap was the right vehicle for this sandwich as it kind of fell apart as I ate it. With the herbed tortilla, the flavors were quite busy. So busy, in fact, that you began to lose the beefy flavor of the meat.
Pairing it with the creamy cheese dressing,
I tried another bite. This was definitely not a good combination. The muted flavor of the melted Mozzarella already present inside the wrap was good enough. The dressing (also called a sauce on the menu) was simply too strong. I tasted the sauce by itself and it had a very strong extra sharp cheddar taste to it. The other strong reaction I had was to the texture. While the sauce was smooth, there was a residual mouth feel, a slight graininess like those associated with eating an aged cheese. You couldn't really pick up on the texture when applied to the wrap, but by itself it was quite evident. I have to wonder if this sauce was a classic Sauce Mornay made with an aged cheddar or some proprietary recipe that they developed at Pufferbelly. Either way, it was too much flavor for an already confusing wrap.
Along with my Philly wrap were an order of sweet potato fries:
These were fried quite nicely. They were crisp on the outside and very creamy on the inside. While they didn't have the nice rigidity of a properly cooked French fry, they weren't limp either. They were seasoned lightly with salt and eaten by themselves, they were quite good. I asked my server after she stopped by to check on me if they were freshly cut, too, but apparently no one had ever asked her that in the twenty-nine years she had worked there and didn't know the answer.
As an extra surprise, this condiment came with my lunch:
As soon as she set it down, I could immediately smell the cinnamon. I guessed that it was a sweetened whipped butter with cinnamon for the sweet potato fries and my server agreed with me. After a little further tasting of the butter by itself, I would guess that this was whipped butter sweetened with brown sugar, maple syrup (or flavoring) and cinnamon. It was a bit hard to "dip" the fries in this as it was only slightly softened when she brought it out. I employed more of a swiping method to dress the fries. I do have to say that the butter did add a nice flavor to the already good fries, playing off the combination of salty and sweet. After tasting this, I'm entirely happy that I paid the extra $0.55 for this option.
My experience today at Pufferbelly Limited was moderate to good. The service was excellent and some of my meal was very good. Mike's Philly Wrap with creamy cheese dressing, however, just didn't hit the mark for me. Having just recently had a pretty close-to-classic Whiz Wit at Cosmo's Cheesesteaks in Scranton, PA, this was nowhere near the flavor profile it should have been. Add in the herbed tortilla wrap and the main ingredient, the beef, just got a little lost. I'd recommend you check out Pufferbelly Limited if you happen to be in Kent, but I'd skip on Mike's Philly Wrap.