Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Serving It The Same Way Since 1931

I had originally heard about Bob's Hamburg in Akron, Ohio, several years ago, before I began writing this blog. As quickly as I learned of its existence, I forgot about it as well. Not because I didn't think it wouldn't be an interesting place to check out, but because at the time I was in the midst of dealing with the last few months that my grandfather was alive. It was right about that time that he started to go into that last serious decline that eventually led to his death in mid-2008.

It wasn't until I engaged in a fairly recent conversation with a newly acquired reader that making a stop at Bob's came back to the forefront of my mind. I had asked her about some of her favorite burger places and one of the spots she named was Bob's Hamburg. Being in a much less preoccupied state of mind than I was two years ago, I added it to the short list of places to review. The problem I had was that Bob's was a breakfast and lunch place. And since I am currently working in Cleveland during the week, it was apparent that a Saturday lunch visit would be the most likely time for me to try them out.

I arrived at Bob's Hamburg shortly after 11 AM and was surprised to find the lot almost completely empty. Perhaps the breakfast rush had come and gone and the lunch rush had yet to materialize. Regardless, I parked in the rather large lot (compared to the size of the restaurant itself). Bob's was located at 1351 East Avenue, Akron, OH 44307 and they can be reached at 330-253-2627. There was no website associated with the restaurant at the time of this writing. While call ahead and carry-out was available, there was no delivery service.

Here was a shot of the outside sign and the restaurant itself:

Exterior of Bob's Hamburg
Once inside, it became apparent that this was the quintessential diner from the 1950's. There was stool seating at the lunch counter to the left and about a half dozen booths to the right. While no trace of a "diner car" existed on the exterior of the restaurant, the inside just screamed with the kind of charm that chain restaurants can't deliver. Center stage at the counter was the burger grill, the very one that has existed since 1931. At roughly four foot by two foot square, it was dedicated to doing just one thing: grilling burgers. Additionally, the broiler under the grill was there to toast buns. Everything else came from what I am guessing is a second kitchen in the back of the restaurant.

I picked up one of the paper menus and began to photograph it:

Bob's Hamburg Menu 1
Bob's Hamburg Menu 2
Bob's Hamburg Menu 3
Bob's Hamburg Menu 4
Ironically, if you look at the third photo, all of the burgers are called "hamburgers" and "cheeseburgers" instead of the more colloquial "hamburgs" and "cheeseburgs" that the sign out in front of the restaurant would suggest. I'm not sure why they didn't continue the tradition on the menu. Looking at the menu, I decided to go with a single bacon cheeseburger with "everything" and an order of onion rings. After placing my order, I began watching the young woman manning the burger grill:

Working the Burger Grill
As with my experience at Powers Hamburgers in Fort Wayne, IN, she seemed to be the master of her domain and the number of burgers that occupied the grill at any given time varied from completely full to just one or two. The longer I sat and observed, the more I realized that almost all of the fried side items came out of the back kitchen at a much quicker pace than the burgers on the front grill. In fact, my onion rings arrived an astonishing ten minutes before my burger:

Homemade Onion Rings
As soon as I saw these, I had a sneaking suspicion that they were homemade. I tasted them and my inclination was confirmed. These had a very delicate coating of batter on them. In fact, they were almost too delicate, because if I wasn't careful, the coating fell off just a bit too easily. The onions themselves were nice, although one of the onions was a bit difficult to chew; perhaps it was either too old or it had been one of the outer leaves of the onion. While there was a bit of the fryer grease at the bottom of the cardboard container, it was fairly minor and didn't affect the greasiness of the rings.

I watched as my bacon strips arrived at the burger station from the back kitchen and the woman on burger duty quickly assembled my bacon cheeseburger. Here was what she placed in front of me:

Single Bacon Cheeseburg
"Everything," in case you were wondering, gentle reader, was shredded lettuce, mustard, onions, pickles, and a "special sauce." I decided to leave the raw onion off of my burger, but as I was to discover later, there were actually two other onion options. The first of which was caramelized onions, which seems pretty standard for a burger topping. The second option, which honestly looked like brown rice, was reconstituted dried onions. Apparently known for their sweeter disposition than the raw onion, this was actually dried onions that were soaked in hot water until plump and then drained. I asked the young woman about this and she said that it's been a very popular option since they opened, eight decades ago.

Alright, so how was the burger? Actually, quite good. I wasn't able to taste the meat by itself since it was covered from edge to edge with a slice of American cheese. Between the bacon, pickles, American cheese, and special sauce, if the burger had any sins, they were successfully covered up. The toasted bun added a nice textural contrast to the softness of the meat and cheese. As I ate the burger, a bit of the special sauce dripped out of the bottom of the bun. I swished a bit of water in my mouth to try and cleanse my palate before I dipped a finger in to taste it by itself. It wasn't quite as thick as a commercial ketchup, but it almost had a BBQ sauce-esque taste to it. I was picking up hints of coriander and cumin. While definitely a tomato-based sauce, it was neither ketchup nor BBQ sauce, although it reminded me of both.

Having finished my lunch, I paid the just over $5 check, thanked the ladies working behind the counter and strolled out into the for now, still cool Akron afternoon air. Bob's was a simple place and served simple, but tasty food. While I've had better burgers, Bob's version was no slouch and if you are into authentic diner ambiance, then Bob's might just fit the bill perfectly. I recommend you check them out.

Bob's Hamburg on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kitchen Challenge: Panzanella Salad At Hudson Farmers Market

After my last adventure doing a demonstration at the Howe Meadow Farmers Market at the end of August, I thought my demonstration days for the year were pretty much over. When I was unexpectedly contacted about two weeks ago by Catherine St. John, owner and teacher at the Western Reserve School of Cookery in Hudson, I was surprised to learn that a spot had opened up at the Hudson Farmers Market for a recipe demonstration. Apparently, the person who had backed out had planned on showcasing the breads from Great Lakes Baking Company and was going to prepare a panzanella salad. Catherine told me I could do the same thing or simply pick a new recipe as long as it highlighted the breads.

I thought about it over the weekend and decided that I didn't want to get into anything nearly as complicated as I did for my previous demonstration. I did some research on panzanella salads on the Internet and pretty much came to the conclusion that other than day old bread and fresh tomatoes, panzanella salad was pretty much an open book. Dressed with a fresh vinaigrette, this was a salad designed at its very core to use ingredients both leftover and fresh. I agreed to do the demonstration and on the morning of Saturday, September 25th, I showed up about an hour earlier than necessary to set up my station, gather the necessary bowl, cutting board and metal spoon from the cooking school, and make my rounds to the various vendors, gathering the few simple ingredients I would need today to make my salad.

So let's talk about the primary players in today's demonstration. First up were two day-old baguettes that I managed to secure from Great Lakes Baking Company:

Day Old Baguettes
From one of the Amish vendors, I bought three pints of very red and very ripe tomatoes:

Ripe Tomatoes
Between this vendor and another one, I also managed to add some red onions and Asian eggplants to the mix:

Red Onions and Asian Eggplant
The final fresh components came from one of the vendors offering fresh organic basil and garlic:

Fresh Organic Basil and Garlic
To prepare the salad, first I used my paring knife to core all of the tomatoes. I then switched to my chef's knife and did a rough dice of all the tomatoes. Since panzanella is a rustic salad, there was no need for a fine dice on any of the ingredients. After cutting all of my tomatoes and adding them to my mixing bowl, I turned my attention to the two medium-sized red onions. After peeling each, I cut them both into a rough dice as well, discarding the root ends. My general rule of thumb in vegetable preparation today was to try and cut all of the vegetables to the same size.

Since the Asian eggplant was long and slender (you could also use regular eggplant, too), I cut them into "coins" and then cut the larger coins in half where necessary. The Asian eggplant had a bit of a slight bitterness to it that I hoped would match well to the sweetness from the ripe tomatoes and the acidity from the vinaigrette. If there was one surprising item that I learned from today's demonstration, it was the fact that so many people didn't realize that you can eat eggplant raw. I can't count the number of times I heard, "Wait, you added raw eggplant?"

The small bulb of garlic I had purchased during my earlier shopping spree yielded about five good-sized cloves that I smacked with the side of my knife to release the paper husk. I then sliced the individual cloves thinly before adding them to my mixing bowl. For the final "fresh" ingredient, the basil, I picked the tender leaves from the stems, piled them up on my cutting board and used my knife to slice them into thin ribbons. Had the amount of leaves I needed been much smaller, I would have stacked the leaves, rolled them up and done a proper chiffonade on them. Since I had a limited amount of time before serving today's market-goers, I did a simpler, more rustic cut. I added the fresh basil to the mixing bowl and turned to the other star of the show: the bread.

Switching to my trusty serrated bread knife, I began thinly cutting the baguettes, probably about 1/8" thick. After slicing through one and a half baguettes, I stacked four or five of the slices on top of each other and cut the entire stack in half so that they were a similar size to the already cut up vegetables. I have also seen versions of this salad where the bread was torn from the loaf, sort of free form. I think either way will work just fine. I added all of the sliced and cut bread to the mixing bowl and began the final step of assembling the salad, building the red wine vinaigrette.

Here were the ingredients I used today to build my red wine vinaigrette:

Red Wine Vinaigrette Ingredients
The wonderful thing about vinaigrettes is that at its most basic you need oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper ... that's it! And even the mustard is optional in a real basic vinaigrette. The Dijon mustard actually plays two roles in this particular vinaigrette. First, I love the bit of heat that the prepared mustard adds to the finished dressing. Second, mustard seeds contain a natural substance called lecithen which actually acts to emulsify the dressing so that the oil and vinegar don't separate after mixing.

To the small mason jar in the above photograph, I added two healthy spoonfuls of mustard, three nice pinches of kosher salt, several grinds of freshly cracked black peppercorns and enough red wine vinegar to go about one third of the way up the jar. I then added enough extra virgin olive oil until it was about three-quarters full. I placed the lid on the jar and screwed the cap down firmly, shook vigorously and tasted. I wanted a dressing that was tart, but not overly so. From this point it is all about adjusting the flavor to your taste. If it is too oily, add more vinegar; too tart, add more oil. It took about two or three adjustments of adding oil and salt before I got it to the perfect level.

I added the entire contents of the jar to my mixing bowl along with a nice pinch of sea salt and more freshly cracked black pepper, grabbed the large metal spoon and began to gently toss the salad, scooping from the bottom of the bowl and lifting to the top. I wanted to make sure that I was gentle so that I didn't break the ripe tomatoes down too much as I mixed. How did I know when the salad was ready? Basically, once the bread absorbed the vinaigrette and the juice that had come out of the tomatoes, it softened up a bit. At that point, I tasted it for seasoning, made some corrections, and ended up with this:

Finished Panzanella Salad
At this point I looked up and realized that quite the crowd had gathered round the demonstration booth. I knew that we needed to get the samples out as quickly as possible. Using the cardboard containers that the market's manager, J Hudson, had supplied, he and I quickly did an assembly line style plating and handed the dishes out to eager patrons:

Photo of the Cook
What had taken me about forty-five minutes to prepare took only twenty minutes to plate and serve. Honestly, given the size of the salad I had made, I was a little surprised it went so quickly. Once the bowl was completely empty, I fielded any remaining questions from the crowd and began to clean up and break down my station. I'm not exactly sure how many samples we handed out today at the market, but if I had to guess, it was probably somewhere between 40 and 50. Of course, you are certainly free to scale the amounts I used today up or down to feed the number of hungry mouths you have on hand.

Sadly, we are nearing the end of the picking season for this year. That being said, you still have a couple more weeks to get to the Hudson Farmers Market (or whatever market is closest to you) if you want to try out this salad. The tomatoes really do need to be at their peak of ripeness, so if you wait too long, it won't be until next summer before you have another shot at making this tasty and fresh salad.

[Ed. note: A quick thank you to Chef Brian from Hudson's Restaurant on the Green for helping me to expedite some of the samples handed out today.]

Friday, September 24, 2010

Have YOU Heard Of Edgar's Restaurant?

I was shocked.

I have lived in or around Akron almost my entire life and had never heard of Edgar's Restaurant located on the Good Park Golf Course. I even used to drive by that area on my daily commute to the Montrose area, at the extreme west end of Akron. And then, in the span of just a few days, I was let it on this little secluded restaurant by two completely separate individuals, one a longtime reader and the other, a friend in the food business who had invited me to "like" the restaurant on Facebook. I went on-line to check them out and discovered that the menu was fairly reasonably priced and the food was a sort of mix from American and non-American influences. It was evident early on in my research that the smoker was the chef's bread and butter, so to speak.

While I had promised my friend that when I went to Edgar's I would invite her and her husband along, I happened to be free on a Tuesday evening and decided to do a preview of the restaurant by myself. I figured if I showed up at around 7 PM, I wouldn't have a problem getting a table without a reservation. This theory was severely tested, however, as I pulled into the parking lot attached to the restaurant only to find it hopelessly filled. I managed to snag a spot as another patron exited the restaurant and pulled out to leave. For those of you who don't know where Edgar's Restaurant is, the address was listed as 530 Nome Avenue, Akron, OH 44320 and they can be reached at 330-869-3000. They have a website, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page.

As I exited my car, the first sense to get ticked was my nose: I smelled smoke. As I neared the large brick edifice containing the restaurant, I noticed several smoking devices churning out the grayish mist from the back porch:

Back Porch Smokers
A little further past the back porch was the entrance to the restaurant:

Entrance to Edgar's Restaurant
Based on the parking situation in the outside lot, when I walked in I was expecting the place to be packed from wall to wall. Fortunately, I was wrong. Not only would I be able to get a table tonight without a reservation, there were plenty of tables from which to choose. Had I been a little smarter, I would've picked one of the booths with direct lighting overhead. Instead, I opted for a table over by the windows. This was fine for the first two courses or so, but at some point, I ended up having to discreetly use the flash on my camera in order to be able to capture shots so that they weren't too dim to use, even with the awesome adjustments that I can make in Google's Picasa software.

After being seated, the hostess handed me the menu:

Edgar's Menu Page 1
Edgar's Menu Page 2
Edgar's Menu Page 3
Edgar's Menu Page 4
Edgar's Menu Page 5
Edgar's Menu Page 6
Eating alone is always a challenge. While I want to get in as many tastes of the food as possible, I also have to temper that desire with the fact that my stomach is a finite size and I don't want leftovers for a week if I order too much. Seeing as there were several soups on the daily specials insert, I decided to start with a cup of the melon and mint soup to wake up my taste buds. As the menu listed that the soup was chilled, I figured it would be tasty without being too filling.

Here was a shot of the chilled melon and mint soup with caramelized ginger sour cream:

Chilled Melon and Mint Soup
It turned out that the ginger sour cream was actually at the bottom of the cup. Unfortunately, as my server set this down in front of me, her hands were a little shaky and a bit of the soup spilled over the lip of the cup. While the soup actually resembled gazpacho, it certainly didn't taste like it. The flavor of watermelon was definitely present and the sweetness was nicely controlled. While I could see the mint in the soup, I didn't get a particularly prominent flavor from it. The soup was pureed, but not completely smooth. I scooped into the bottom of the cup and retrieved some of the ginger sour cream and tasted by itself. On its own, there was too much ginger "heat," but once I got bites of both the soup and the cream on my spoon, the bite from the ginger was tempered and actually went well with the melon flavor from the broth.

As I was working my way through the cup, I noticed something fibrous and when I went to examine it, I found this:

Errant Ginger Fiber
While I don't think this would've caused someone to choke, it certainly could've made eating it an unpleasant experience. Food at this level (and price point), should be executed at a high enough level where this shouldn't have even been an issue.

Knowing that Chef Glenn Gillespie's trademark was his competence with traditional barbecue, I wanted to make sure I included at least one taste from the menu that allowed me to gain insight into his talents. While I am not normally a rib person, I decided to go with an appetizer of cherry wood smoked ribs:

Cherry Wood Smoked Pork Ribs
Served with a housemade mango sauce, the small plate of ribs came out with only a dry rub on them. I was impressed that the chef felt that the ribs were good enough to stand on their own sans sauce. So many times barely passable ribs are slathered in sauce to hide the inferior meat or preparation. Before trying the ribs, I tasted the mango sauce. While it wasn't a completely pureed barbecue sauce like most Northerners are used to, the play of sweet and heat between the mangoes and chilies was well balanced, neither flavor dominating the other. I next turned my attention to the pork ribs and tried a bite with only the dry rub. The meat was incredibly tender and easily yielded to my teeth, with only a slight bit of resistance. I noticed the pink smoke ring on the inside of the meat remaining on the bone: A sign of proper smoking.

I then started to chew. I have to tell you, gentle reader, that I was rewarded with the best ribs that I have ever had. Bar none. The dry rub was incredibly flavorful and the seasoning was perfect. I considered ditching the mango sauce completely and just eating the ribs dry, but after pairing the two flavors together, what was once two separate flavors now merged into a symphony of flavors circulating in my mouth. Since starting a food blog almost two years ago, there have been very few flavors over which the very mention of a food item will make me salivate on the spot. Add Edgar's ribs to that very short list.

Before I knew it, I looked down to see this:

Completely Cleaned Rib Bones
Five ribs bones, completely cleaned of any trace of meat and a dish of mango sauce, completely consumed. I looked at my hands and noticed I had pork fat running down the sides of my palms, adhering mercilessly to the natural law of gravity. I realized at that moment that I probably could've eaten an entire rack of those ribs, savagely tearing meat from bone, grunting in absolute contentment the entire time. Fortunately, my server dropped off a clean napkin at a fortuitous moment at my table so that I could recompose myself. I never considered myself a rib person before tonight. Edgar's changed my mind.

Having finished my soup and starter, I now placed my order for the entrée and was informed that my dinner came with a garden salad. After asking about the available dressings, I found out that of the five offered, only the ranch dressing was not homemade. Intrigued by the sound of the rosemary vinaigrette, I asked for my salad to be accompanied with it.

Here was a shot of the salad:

House Salad with Rosemary Vinaigrette
The salad was pretty run of the mill, nothing particularly special. The dressing had a nice balance between the vinegar and oil and the rosemary scent was immediately apparent when I took the plastic lid off of the container. Considering that the salad was not dressed in any way when it got to the table, it wasn't surprising that even when dressed, the greens lacked a little seasoning. Adjusting it with the table's salt and pepper shaker seemed to fix that problem.

While I had been surprised that my server hadn't brought me bread earlier during my dining experience, I was happy for it to now make an appearance on my table:

Bread and Butter
As I smelled the bread and then tasted it, I marveled at its freshness. While it wasn't a particularly adventurous bread, the crumb was tight, the crust had a lovely chew to it and possessed a lovely mahogany sheen that reminded me of the golden brown hue of an egg-washed brioche or challah. I confirmed with my server at the end of my meal that the kitchen at Edgar's does indeed make their own bread.

For my entrée tonight, I decided to go with even more pork and ordered the Creole Stuffed Grilled Pork Chop:

Creole Stuffed Grilled Pork Chop
The dish was served with grilled asparagus and plated atop creole red-skinned potato salad. Here was a shot of the stuffing in the pork chop after I had cut off the end:

Stuffing in Creole Pork Chop
Sprinkled on top of the pork chop were crispy prosciutto bits, similar to bacon bits, but without the smoky flavor. While the prosciutto and pork were fine on their own, the combination of the two rendered the pork just a touch too salty. Texturally, it was a fantastic idea to put the crispy rendered prosciutto on top of the pork. The still-on-the-bone pork chop was juicy and the creole stuffing was tasty, although to be honest, the sweetness from the shrimp and crayfish was a little lost on my palate. The asparagus stalks were perfectly grilled and seasoned. The potato salad, interestingly served cold, had the slightest hint of mustard in the dressing, not so much that I would compare it to the supermarket equivalent, with its homogenous canary yellow mustardy dressing. But there was no denying the sharp flavor of mustard as a background note. This was a solid dish, a touch too salty, but solid.

It was at this point that Chef Gillespie came out of the kitchen and approached my table asking how my meal was. I asked him, somewhat obviously, if he was the chef tonight.

"It depends," he quipped back. "How was the food?"

We both laughed and I couldn't wait to ask him specifically about the ribs and the dry rub. He told me that the dry rub was a multi-spiced concoction that contained salt, black pepper, brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, celery salt, cayenne, and a few other spices that I have now forgotten. Whatever the magical mixture was, I told him, it was absolutely delicious and the ribs could definitely stand on their own, no sauce required.

I packed up my leftovers (enough for a second meal) and asked for the check after turning down the tempting dessert tray. With tax and tip, my check only came to $41, which I thought was an amazing value. While some of the entrées do run into the mid $20's, most of his dishes are much more easily accessible in the $10-$20 range. I am eager to return again to Edgar's in order to try more of his barbecue staples as well as some of the non-barbecue items off of the menu. My recommendation is that you go with a small group, order lots of tastes, and go to town enjoying all of the well-prepared food that comes out of the kitchen. If you fancy yourself a pork rib person even remotely, you must try them when you go; you might just find yourself smacking the hands away of anyone who tries to get close to the plate of ribs. Highly recommended.

Edgar's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sometimes Homemade Just Isn't Enough

While it has been more than a year since anything about Marie's Restaurant in Wadsworth, Ohio has shown up here on the blog, that doesn't mean that it has been that long since I returned for a meal. Often times I end up getting the same thing on different visits and once I've written about a particular menu item, there really isn't a need to re-hash it again (unless it has dramatically changed). The trouble is that since Marie's isn't all that close to where I live, I only consider going when I am either a) craving their pizza or b) already in Wadsworth visiting with my grandmother. On this particular visit, instead of our semi-yearly visit to Miss Molly's Tea Room to celebrate my mother's birthday, she indicated that she'd like to go to Marie's instead. This was doubly good for my grandmother, who has certain food restrictions, because their menu does indeed offer some items she can eat without issue.

When Marie's first relocated to its present location in the northern end of Wadsworth, expecting to find an empty table at 11:30 AM on a Saturday would have been a fruitless endeavor. Fortunately, as happens with all popular restaurants, after a few months the hysteria dies down and you start to see more realistic numbers during the lunch and dinner rush. We arrived today and found a rather sparse crowd at 11:30 and by the time we left an hour later, it was busier, but certainly not packed.

Since I neglected to take a photograph of the front of Marie's restaurant on my last two write-ups, I thought I would include one now:

Front of Marie's Restaurant in Wadsworth, Ohio
While the pizza has been my staple menu item for years, today I wasn't particularly feeling the love. I've had good success with their chicken Parmesan sandwich before, but wanted to try a twist today and decided to go with the homemade meatball sandwich instead. It seemed like a real no-brainer since the buns were homemade, the meatballs were homemade, and the marinara was homemade. Having already established that I like the buns and the marinara because of the chicken Parmesan sandwich, it seemed that the only unknown part of this equation were the meatballs. After having had a pretty bad meatball recently at Bellacino's Pizza and Grinders, I figured that Marie's couldn't be worse.

After placing our orders and dropping off our drinks, our server surprised us with a basket of garlic breadsticks and marinara sauce:

Garlic Bread and Marinara
I had forgotten that breadsticks came complimentary with our meal. They were made from the same homemade dough that Marie's uses for their pizza. Here was a shot of my breadstick, sauced:

Shot of my Garlic Bread
I've written about the breadsticks in a past entry, so I won't belabor the point of repeating myself. I'll just stick with ... these were pretty good.

Shortly after finishing the breadsticks, our lunches arrived. Here was a shot of my meatball sandwich and potato chips:

Meatball Sandwich Platter
Hidden at the rear of the plate was a standard dill pickle spear. All sandwiches come with potato chips, and you can upgrade to another side for an additional fee. Obviously, I just decided to go with the standard potato chips today. Both the pickle and chips were of the grocery store variety and didn't go out of their way to impress me. At the same time, the flavor was precisely what I expected from this level of food product.

The meatball sandwich, however, was definitely worth talking about. I guess I had assumed that a meatball sandwich would be served on a roll-style bun; something with a spine that connected the two halves together. Marie's version was served on the same bun that the rest of the sandwiches utilized. For chicken Parmesan, this was fine since the fried chicken patty sat nicely between the split roll.

As you can see in this next shot, melted mozzarella cheese partially covered the ROUND meatballs:

Melty Mozzarella Cheese
And here was a shot of the sandwich, bisected:

Side Shot of the Meatball Sandwich
Because of the roundness of the meatballs, taking a bite meant not only trying to get a mouthful of sandwich, but also preventing the filling from falling out onto the plate below. In terms of "Sandwich Science," either slice the meatballs in half so they don't roll, or put the round meatballs in a hoagie bun. That criticism aside, how did it taste? From a flavor standpoint, it was quite good. All the elements worked pretty well together. The meatball flavor was prominent and the acidity from the marinara sauce added a nice counterbalance to the fattiness of the meat. Sadly, the meatballs were a bit dry. I think that made the meatball a little bit tougher to chew than it should have been. Would I order the sandwich again? Yes, I would. Based on my other visits, I'm willing to consider the overcooked meatballs an anomaly.

Another oddity that came out on my plate hidden underneath the potato chips was this lone, strangely-shaped Jo Jo:

An Oddly Shaped Jo-Jo
For those not from the northeast Ohio area, a Jo Jo is kind of like a potato wedge that may or may not be coated and then normally fried (and they can be baked, too). Somehow this misshapen spud managed to sneak its way onto my plate. Either none of us were in the mood for a potato or its uneven size made us all too scared to touch it as it sat lonely on my side plate. I have had Jo Jo's at Marie's before and they were at least on par with the rest of the Jo Jo universe.

While I still maintain that Marie's menu was unnecessarily enlarged to appeal to a wider audience, at least the Italian staples that made them a Wadsworth institution have remained solid and still tasty. While I have heard others state that they think Marie's has declined over the years, the food and service has always remained pretty consistent during my visits. While their new location doesn't quite have the charm of the original, the food still manages to take me back to my high school days when I'd stop in for some Italian American treats.

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Impromptu Stop At Dagwood's Sandwich Shop

As I was meandering my way around northern Medina, Ohio on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I happened to pass by a small, blink-and-you'll-miss-it restaurant located in one of the many strip malls that dot the landscape of this part of town. I actually remember seeing it briefly before, but because I was in Medina to try out a different restaurant (Bullies Real BBQ), I didn't stop or backtrack to give it more attention. This time, however, I had no such agenda and seeing as I was a tiny bit hungry and it was the middle of the afternoon (read: fewer customers), I began to think this would be the perfect time to stop in to Dagwood's Sandwich Shop.

From a bit of research, I've deduced that Dagwood's is a national chain based out of Clearwater, Florida and that the Medina store was just one of those locations. From the information I found on the web, the original store only opened and began franchising in 2006 and the website for the Medina store states that Debra Gabel purchased the location in 2008 and has been running it ever since. To make matters even more confusing there apparently was also a Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppe, which may or may not have anything to do with Dagwood's Sandwich Shop.

Regardless, this Dagwood's was located at 965C North Court, Medina, OH 44256 and can be reached at 330-721-1575 (phone) or 330-721-1576 (fax). You can also go to this location's website by clicking here. Parking was a bit strange as the small drive in front of the restaurant only allowed unidirectional traffic. However, at the rear of the building was a second road that allowed me to circle around and pull into a parking slot with relative ease.

Here was a shot of the exterior of the store:

Storefront of Dagwood's Sandwich Shop
Once inside, I was greeted by a lone worker and no patrons. Above her head was the menu posted on the wall in two different sections:

Dagwood's Wall Menu 1
Dagwood's Wall Menu 2
By the ordering area, there was a similar paper menu fixed to the surface of the counter:

Paper Menu Affixed To Counter
It is interesting to note that there are some discrepancies between items and prices between the two in-store menus and the on-line version. While I normally might have entertained the thought of trying the signature sandwich at Dagwood's (appropriately enough called the "Dagwood"), it looked huge and I wasn't that particularly hungry. I asked the worker if Dagwood's had any signature sandwiches other than the Dagwood and she pointed to the front of the counter where an arrangement of food pictures taunted hungry customers:

Dagwood's Signature Sandwiches
This led me to contemplate having a gyro and I gazed at the slowly spinning machine at the left end of the grilltop area:

Gyro Slicing Station
I finally settled on a sandwich that was listed on the wall menu, but none of the other menus, a Turkey Reuben for $5.99. Seeing as the entire soda fountain was out of order, I just asked for a glass of water. Expecting the same small "courtesy cup" of water I get whenever I request something free, the worker surprised me by telling me to just take one of the bottled waters from the cooler behind me.

She surprised me even more when she informed me that all the sandwiches come with complimentary fries if I wanted them. While I certainly didn't really have room for a sandwich and fries, I figured, hey, why not? The menu indicated that they were fresh cut and while I have found very few fresh cut fries to my liking, given that they were essentially free, I wouldn't necessarily be any worse for the wear. I asked her if that was a Saturday special and she replied that the free fries were an every day thing.

I watched (and covertly snapped the photos in this post) as she dropped the fresh cut fries into the fryer and then began assembling my sandwich. As she got close, she asked me if I wanted 1000 Island dressing on my sandwich. I asked her if she could simply serve it on the side and she nodded. I took my tray of food and retired to a table by the window.

Here was a shot of my Turkey Reuben, cup of 1000 Island dressing, and a pickle spear:

Turkey Reuben Sandwich
Here was a side shot of the sandwich:

Side Shot of Turkey Reuben Sandwich
First, the positives. None of the items on this sandwich were too salty. Sometimes sauerkraut can be kind of a wildcard when it comes to salt, but everything was nicely controlled. Everything also tasted fresh and the turkey was a nice quality, avoiding that slimy texture that cheap cuts sometimes possess. The application of the 1000 Island dressing added a nice balance of sweetness and creaminess to the sandwich.

Second, the negatives. While the rye bread had been put onto the flattop (I watched), neither of the slices had been buttered and the bread was on the heat only long enough to warm up and slightly stale the outer crust of the bread slices. This led to the sandwich missing the wonderful crunchy texture that a properly griddled sandwich should have. The Swiss cheese, although warmed by the heated turkey slices and sauerkraut, was only warm enough to start sweating some of its internal oils and not actually melt.

Finally, my complimentary order of fresh cut fries:

Complimentary Plate of Fresh-cut Fries
I couldn't believe the enormity of the portion size, especially for something that was free. While there weren't any grease puddles on the bottom on the plate, the fries were sort of all over the place in terms of greasiness and texture. Fortunately, some of the fries were wonderfully crispy and had a nice potato flavors. Others, a bit more greasy and sad, typical for this style of fry. There was easily enough fries for at least two servings and in the end, I took home my other half of my sandwich and half of the fries on this plate.

In an interesting twist of fate, the owner happened to arrive as I was about halfway through my meal. For whatever reason, after unloading the items she had purchased at Gordon Food Service from her car, she proceeded to have a company meeting right in the front of the restaurant with the newly arrived staff members. Here was what I easily overheard:

1) Staff members are to keep the doors open until the close time stated on the front door. No exceptions.

2) Apparently the menu is still in flux and she needed to sit down and write up a SOP (standard operating procedure) manual so that every employee knew exactly how to construct each and every sandwich.

3) Not only was she thinking about putting in a milkshake machine, she had already purchased one and was just waiting for the right time to install it in the store. Much discussion was had about the optimal location and no one seemed to be able to come to a consensus.

4) Not only had the cash register run out of $5's and $10's, but since it was late afternoon on a Saturday, no banks were open and no gas stations would give out change. Someone had already attempted and failed at this.

5) It was reiterated that all sandwiches, not just the subs, come with complimentary fries. The customer can refuse them, but they must be offered. No substitutions. Except for good customers. And then maybe not a full order of onion rings, but maybe, like six or so.

Honestly, the entire conversation left me just a little bit unsure of Ms. Gabel's business acumen. She purchased this location more than eighteen months ago and she is still having these kinds of operational issues? Based on the sandwich and fresh cut fries I ate today, the Medina Dagwood's gets a marginal pass in my book; based on the impromptu corporate meeting held in the front of the restaurant and the items discussed? I'd be surprised if this location lasted another eighteen months from now.

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