Friday, January 29, 2010

Pulling For The Little Guy At Powers Hamburgers

It has taken a while for me to write up my review of Powers Hamburgers in Fort Wayne, IN. I think had I sat down right afterward and immediately written up my review, it probably would've read a little differently than what you are about to read instead. What gave me so much pause was that the day after I ate at Powers, having returned to Akron from my Fort Wayne trip, I ate at a Steak and Shake for the very first time. I'm sure, gentle reader, that you are thinking to yourself, "What does ONE have to do with the OTHER?" And that's a valid question that I've had to spend some time thinking about before finally committing my thoughts to keyboard.

Powers Hamburgers is a small little mom and pop joint that gradually expanded itself into new locations, but eventually regressed back into the single location just south of the convention center downtown. It is exactly the kind of local place that I love to find. Serving up breakfast and lunch from a limited menu, they are mostly known for their burgers, technically called sliders since the buns are steamed.

For those that don't know, Steak and Shake is a nationwide chain that focuses primarily on the diner-style eateries from from the 50's and 60's. Shakes, burgers, fries, that sort of thing. You walk into Powers and you are walking into history. You walk into Steak and Shake, and you are walking into someone's vision of history. It occurs to me that what you see at Steak and Shake is decidedly Matrix-esque. Everything about the look and feel has been compiled from data point after data point and its up to the restaurant goer herself to decide which pill, red or blue, she will ultimately swallow.

How is it possible for Powers Hamburgers, having possibly never changed their menu once it was set, almost never running "specials," having never even updated its decor since the original location even opened, can still pack them in? While they are normally open most of the day every day, today when I went for lunch at 11:15, I walked to the small restaurant located at 1402 South Harrison Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802 to find a building that was closed up and powered down. There is currently no website, but they can be reached at 260-422-6620.

Hanging in the front door was a yellow piece of paper announcing that they wouldn't open until 2 PM today.

Fortunately I was able to switch gears and catch a great lunch at the only Vietnamese restaurant in Fort Wayne. Having an early lunch was probably a good thing since it turned out that I was actually free from 2 - 3 PM that day. Was I hungry? No, not really. But, I figured since I wouldn't get another chance to go again before I left, and since Powers main draw were their sliders and sliders are pretty small, I should at least be able to try them out. At precisely 2:05 PM, I pulled into a dead parking lot.

I walked in and sat at one of the twenty seats available in the entire place. Here was a shot of the wall menu:

I struck up a conversation with the woman working behind the counter; she turned out to be the afternoon shift manager. It seems that the morning crew, the owner and his wife, were dreadfully sick and had decided that even if they could power through the morning shift, they didn't want to get any of their customers sick. Alright, I suppose that was inconvenient for my earlier plans, but at least there was a good reason. Looking around the small building, I didn't notice a fryer. When I asked about sides like French Fries, the shift manager indicated that there really weren't any "sides" with the exception of bagged chips or a bowl of their homemade chili.

I ended up ordering two cheese sliders and a bowl of chili. I suppose my eyes were bigger than my still-partially full stomach as I didn't finish either. But at least I got to try both. Here was a shot of the bowl of chili:

The chili was decent, although a bit soupy for my taste. Being already salty enough, I opted not to use the extra oyster crackers that were supplied with my bowl. The chili had its own unique taste, although from the hints of spice I kept tasting I could see a kinship between Cincinnati style chili and this version.

As I dug into my chili, I started watching the gentleman working behind the counter whose sole job was to run the grill. As orders came in, he would reach into the cooler to the left of the extraordinarily tiny grill and place pre-portioned ground beef balls on top of the grill.

What really surprised me was how he cooked the sliders. First, he literally flattened and then re-flattened each ball until it yielded completely underneath his spatula. Once completely mashed down, raw onions were added on top and another pressing from the spatula was administered. After what seemed to only be 45 seconds or so, both the onions and burger were flipped over so that the onions were now face down. If you requested cheese, it was at this point that a slice of American cheese was placed on the meat. The heel of the slider bun went on top of the cheese and the crown went on top of that to start the steaming process. Another minute later and the grillmaster, in a swift and dexterous move, flipped the burger right side up and deftly deposited the crown on top of the tiny burger.

Here was a picture of my cheese sliders:

Here was where disillusionment started to rear its ugly head. I noticed that at no point during the grilling process was any seasoning involved. That's alright, I thought to myself, perhaps the balls were seasoned prior to the ground beef being shaped into individual servings. Sadly, no. While I wanted to love Powers Hamburgers, I mean, REALLY wanted to love them so much that I could unequivocally say, "Hah! Listen to me all you nationwide burger chains, with your mass-produced food and pandering to the lowest common denominator, look here at what this little burger place in the middle of nowhere can do that you can't!" That's what I wanted to say.

Sadly, what I did say was, "Where the hell is the salt?" Even more sad was that the burger I ate the following day at Steak and Shake, while not an exceptional burger, was actually more tasty because it was properly seasoned. Sigh.

Now clearly, citizens of Fort Wayne have come to love this grossly underseasoned patty because by the time I left at 2:35 PM, there was a line out the door and the grill was completely full from the orders that had been placed. I continued to watch the grillmaster to see if maybe the lack of seasoning on my burger was just a fluke. Unfortunately, it wasn't a mistake. I really did enjoy the uniqueness of the building; it spoke quietly about its history without losing its authenticity. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Steak and Shake just felt like another marketing driven cross between a Denny's and a Friendly's. But, in the end, the only criteria I could rely on was the taste.

I suppose the owners of Powers Hamburgers are reluctant to change anything that has been done the same way for decades. And by not seasoning the burger patties at all, you completely avoid the problem of over salting it and having to re-fire the burger if its too salty for the customer. But by not even trying to make the best burger you can, I think you are turning off people like myself who didn't grow up eating this local version and don't have the halcyon days of my youth to bolster my confidence in recommending it. I have three words of advice for Powers Hamburgers: Salt your meat.

Powers Hamburger Shop on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Only One In All Of Fort Wayne

On our rather short drive from our hotel to Casa D'Angelo for dinner on Friday night, the car just happened to pass a Thai / Chinese / Vietnamese / American eatery called Saigon Restaurant. The odd thing about it wasn't that it was an amalgamation of cuisines, but that it had very odd hours, open every day at 9 am and closed by 7 pm. Knowing that I already had my lunch planned out for Saturday, I just let it drop when I came to the sad conclusion that I wouldn't be able to visit the restaurant while I was here in Fort Wayne.

Located at 2006 South Calhoun Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802, they can also be reached at 260-456-8550. As is typical with very small mom and pop restaurants, there is currently no website available.

As you will no doubt learn in my next post on Powers Hamburgers, fate intervened in a strange way and I found myself falling back on a Plan B for lunch. Gee? Have lunch at a little Vietnamese mom and pop place or McDonalds? The decision was excruciatingly easy to make. I hopped in the car and before you knew it, I was sitting inside the cozy little restaurant that was a cross between a diner and a more traditionally decorated Asian eatery.

As soon as I saw the menu,

I began to understand the reason for the plethora of cuisines. Apparently the breakfast they served was of the American variety. Eggs, toast, bacon, you name it. However, everything else was pure Asian goodness. Wanting to maximize my exposure to the menu, I decided that I would get an appetizer and a cold rice noodle dish. Having had goi cuon before at other Vietnamese restaurants, I wanted to see how Saigon's version fared. Unfortunately, the menu listed them at 4 rolls for $6. Knowing that this was way more than I needed, I asked my server if I could do a half-order and she dutifully complied with my request.

Here was a shot of my rice paper summer rolls and the hoisin dipping sauce with crushed peanuts:

Filled with cold cooked shrimp, lettuce, cold vermicelli rice noodles, fresh mint and carrots, these were sweet, refreshing, and just a little bit chewy because of the rice paper wrapper. The dipping sauce wasn't anything unique to the Saigon Restaurant, but added a nice bit of tanginess to the overall flavor profile. I'm definitely certain had I eaten an entire order, I would've been completely full. If there was one thing I've learned from watching food-related traveling shows, many times restaurants will give you half-sized portions simply if you ask. The worse thing they can say is "no", right? Fortunately, this time I got to have my summer rolls and eat them, too.

Even before I had finished my goi cuon, the rest of my lunch arrived from the kitchen:

This was pretty standard on most menus that offer Vietnamese food, even if the flavors were slightly different. Essentially you have cooked and cooled vermicelli rice noodles on top of bean sprouts, shredded iceberg lettuce, and julienned cucumber. This layer represented the "base." On top of that you can add a number of additional toppings. Today I decided to do a two-flavor pork. First there was the roasted pork that was in the upper right part of the bowl. On the lower left part of the bowl was a pork egg roll that had been sliced into individual bites.

Here was a side shot of the pork egg roll:

Accompanying every noodle dish was the obligatory nuoc cham:

This liquid combines sweet, sour, salty, and fishy flavors (from Nam Pla, or fish sauce) to make a uniquely aromatic sauce when used in combination with the noodles. I normally use it like a liquid dressing and add as much as I need over the pork and noodles to add some extra flavor. Also, if you were wondering what the light fixtures looked like at Saigon Restaurant, check out the reflection in the surface of the nuoc cham.

Of course, no Vietnamese rice noodle dish would be complete without the globally popular Srirachi garlic chili sauce:

Made with simply garlic, chilies, vinegar and salt, this stuff rocks all on its own. When added to my lunch, it just made the dish explode with flavor and heat. I honestly think that a bottle of this stuff should be in every refrigerator in the country. I do love Tabasco on my eggs, but Sriracha puts it over the top. It turns out I added enough of this spicy elixir to force me to blow my nose twice during the course of the meal; it was so worth it.

I finished up my meal and walked over to the cash register to pay the check. While the young man rang up my change, I asked him if he knew of other good Vietnamese restaurants in Fort Wayne. He looked at me, furrowed his brow for just a moment, and said, "I don't think there are any other Vietnamese places in Fort Wayne." He wasn't kidding either. As soon as I walked outside, I pulled up the location for Saigon Restaurant on my Google phone and kept zooming out waiting for other spots to show up using "Vietnamese restaurants" as my search criteria. None appeared.

I'm particularly glad that a series of happy accidents led me to try Saigon Restaurant today for lunch and I'm fortunate that the one Vietnamese offering that Fort Wayne did have did an excellent job of preparing tasty and authentic food. As with my last post on Casa D'Angelo, if you live in Fort Wayne or are passing through, they are definitely worth looking up, assuming that you are available for lunch or an early dinner. I heartily recommend this restaurant.

Saigon Restaurant on Urbanspoon Saigon Restaurant on Restaurantica

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Nice Surprise At Casa D'Angelo

After taking me up on my rather disastrous lunch suggestion of MJ Mugsy's in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, I was worried that our Fort Wayne-bound group might be a little hesitant before taking another suggestion from me. In doing my research prior to the trip, I had narrowed down the number of interesting looking Fort Wayne eateries to about half a dozen. But, due to time constraints, I knew that I would have to narrow it down even further.

Originally listed on the first cut of restaurants, Casa D'Angelo fit a lot of the criteria I was using. It was a local chain, lots of local folks were recommending it on the Internet, and there were six locations from which to choose. Ultimately what made me cut it from the final list was their menu. Fortunately, this time I was not relying on a third party website to dig deeper into the offerings, I could see it with my own two eyes on their website. Unfortunately, as I scrutinized the menu, I began to see the tell-tale signs of what I like to call the "Cheesecake Factory Effect." In a nutshell, the CFE is the tendency for the food quality to decline as the number of dishes available increases. I personally felt it would be better to stick with a more manageable list of dishes that could be executed flawlessly rather than a huge menu that tried to appeal to everyone but was mediocre.

At the last minute, however, my mother asked if I could make a dinner recommendation for Friday night. Knowing that nearly everyone loves Italian food and figuring that it couldn't be any worse than a national chain (or my lunch suggestion), I thought that this might now fit the bill perfectly. I was worried because we were a group of eight and Casa D'Angelo has a no reservations policy on Friday and Saturday nights. Fortunately, we arrived right at 5:30 PM and had absolutely no problem getting a table.

The location we decided to eat at was situated at 3402 Fairfield Avenue, Fort Wayne, IN 46807 and can be reached directly at 260-745-7200. Being only a mere two miles from our hotel, it took us all of ten minutes to get there. From the street, you saw the lit sign attached to a light pole:

A sizable parking lot and the restaurant's entrance were in the rear of the building:

Once inside, we were escorted through a number of hallways to our table at the rear of the restaurant. Instead of the dining room being one large room, there were many smaller rooms off the main hallway. Several members of our dining party wondered if this had been an old house that had been converted into a restaurant. I'm not quite sure. I know a number of old-school Italian places in Akron that had several adjoining rooms to the main one, just like Casa D'Angelo.

After we were all seated, menus were distributed:

I won't go into picture after picture of the menu since I've already posted a link to the entire contents on their website. After taking our drink orders, our server brought us pre-sliced Italian loaves with ramekins of butter:

Here was a shot of my portion:

This was a nice slice of bread. Nothing pretentious, nothing artisan. Just a nice warm slice of bread with perfectly softened butter. I'm not sure if they set out some of the butter to soften for the beginning of dinner service because after our server brought us out more bread and butter half-way through the meal, the butter in that ramekin was rock hard and ice cold.

I decided to start out with a cup of their Zuppa di Lenticchie (or Lentil Soup):

This had a very hearty, earthy flavor to it. What surprised me was that there weren't just lentils in it:

The broccoli floret in the above photo had completely given its flavor over to the soup and in return had absorbed the hearty stock and lentil flavors right back in. It was interesting how it definitely tasted like lentil soup, but there were clearly other ingredients in there as well that blended in so nicely. I was impressed enough (and hungry enough) to finish the entire cup. Several others at our table got a simple tossed salad with the only dressing available, the house dressing. I didn't have a chance to taste it, but those who had salads seemed to enjoy it.

As I was looking through the vast menu, my eye came upon a dish that suddenly tickled my fancy, Risotto con Pollo e Funghi (or Risotto with Chicken and Mushrooms). Knowing that risotto can be a tricky dish to get right and also knowing the tricks that professional kitchens use to prepare risotto so that it can be served a la minute (at the last minute), I figured this would be a good test. I was impressed that our food (for an eight top) came out all together and relatively quickly.

Here was a shot of my risotto:

The chicken was sort of buried in the rice, but the mushrooms were certainly visible on the top:

I have to say that this was actually a decent risotto. The rice was cooked but still had just a bit of toothiness to it, the chicken was very moist and tender, and the mushrooms, although not quite as exotic as the menu would lead you to believe, added a nice earthiness to the dish as well. It was creamy enough to "glop" off the spoon and back onto the plate, but not so creamy that it resembled a savory rice pudding dish. I also definitely picked up on the chicken stock flavor in which the rice had been cooked. The only thing really lacking was a real explosion of any single flavor. I would've loved had the mushroom flavor been more intense. That being said, for a chain restaurant, this wasn't a bad version. Had I been served this at a high end Italian restaurant and been charged twice as much, I would expect a lot more. For $9.79, I think it fit the bill.

Our server offered us the obligatory tiramisu for dessert, but unfortunately, the conference for which we had all driven the three hours to Fort Wayne was scheduled to start in about ten minutes. We quickly paid for our individual checks (which I have to give props to our server who did a marvelous job taking care of us, especially under our time constraint), hopped back in the cars and were back at the hotel/convention center just in time for the opening session.

While I was skeptical at first and even went so far as to cross Casa D'Angelo off my own personal list of places to visit in Fort Wayne, they did a pretty good job. I certainly found it to be better than a certain national Italian restaurant brand, but my viewpoint wasn't shared by all. And I'm totally fine with that. In the end, I'm glad I had a chance to try the food. I suggest if you live in Fort Wayne or are passing through and are looking a decent Italian meal, Casa D'Angelo might just be right up your alley.

Casa D'angelo on Urbanspoon Casa D'Angelo on Restaurantica

Friday, January 22, 2010

Three Strikes And MJ Mugsy's Should've Been Out

Anytime I know that I will be traveling a significant distance away from home, I try and prepare as early as possible to maximize my local food exposure. When I'm with a group of people, I'm happy to defer to a national chain restaurant if that is all that is available, but when I can, I try and encourage people to give the local eateries a chance as well. Just such an occasion happened over the weekend. I found myself journeying some three and a half hours west of Akron to Fort Wayne, IN for a two-day convention with a number of other members from a group representing my mother's church in Orrville, Ohio.

While I knew that there were some specific spots that I personally was going to cover, when a call went out to talk about where to eat for lunch and dinner, I decided to dig in, do the research, and make a few suggestions. Fort Wayne essentially being a straight shot west on US Route 30, I looked at the approximate halfway point and discovered a small town named Upper Sandusky. Digging even further, out of the forty or so restaurants currently listed on Yahoo Maps, only a handful qualified as locally owned. I was further aided by a website called which listed the menus at the various eateries I was considering. This really helped to narrow down the handful to three possibilities that each had their own unique personality and offered a good lunch for a good value ($4-$7).

Since there were only two drivers leaving late on Friday morning (myself being one of them), we agreed ahead of time on which of the three choices sounded the best. Seeing that MJ Mugsy's offered lots of tempting sandwiches for not a lot of money made it the best sounding choice of the three and that's the one we decided to stop at for lunch. MJ Mugsy's was located at 123 West Wyandot Avenue, Upper Sandusky, OH 43351 and can be reached at 419-294-5355. I couldn't find a website owned by MJ Mugsy's, but here is a link to the website where I found their menu.

As we drove down the main city street of Upper Sandusky, we noticed MJ Mugsy's sign on the left hand side of the street:

We did a quick U-turn and parked right in front of the restaurant. It was cold and rainy and we were all pretty hungry for some good sandwiches. Unfortunately, no one spotted this sign hanging in one of the storefront windows:

Apparently at the beginning of last year, there was no longer an available lunch menu. The only thing available was a "lunch buffet." We discovered this only after we were already inside and talking with what seemed to be the only other person in the restaurant. Okay, so the first strike was that they were only serving a lunch buffet. The second strike was that the place was entirely empty (at 12:45 pm on a Friday afternoon, mind you). The third strike should've been that since the buffet started at 11:00 am, and no one was apparently around to eat it, that it wouldn't have been the freshest choice.

Sadly, group dynamics being what they were, we collectively decided to stay and brave it out. After taking our drink orders and bringing us reasonably hot and fresh breadsticks, we retired to a second equally as enormous and empty room to find a sad looking buffet line with a meager number of choices.

Walking down the line there was a tossed salad with two kinds of dressing and something resembling chunky salsa, one rather dessicated looking pasta with clumpy sauce, a cheesy bacon potato casserole, a baked spaghetti that looked like it had seen better days and finally two kinds of soup, an onion soup and a chili that our server described as "funky."

Making the best of the situation, I decided to go with as many non-meat options as I could thinking it would be the safer way to proceed. My first trip through the line, I chose some tossed salad with what I thought was a creamy Italian dressing, some of the cheesy bacon potato casserole and a bit of the baked spaghetti:

As I had feared, the food was only slightly hotter than lukewarm. The salad dressing I had thought was creamy Italian turned out to be sweet instead of acidic. I might have thought it was a honey mustard instead, but I didn't taste any mustard. The greens were slightly wilted, but decent enough. The potato casserole hit all the flavor profiles: cheese-y, bacon-y, and potato-y. The baked spaghetti was probably the worst of the three, but still a better choice than some of the other dishes being offered.

Our server also indicated that the kitchen was baking off a fresh pizza. After finishing my plate of food, I decided to return to the buffet line to check it out figuring that at least I could have something that I knew hadn't been sitting there for hours. I came across a Buffalo chicken style pizza, cut into a number of varying sized slices:

Still hot, I decided to go for a single slice. To be honest, this was probably the best thing on the entire buffet. This was a thin crust pizza that had been topped with bits of cooked chicken tossed in a Buffalo wing sauce and then finished with mozzarella cheese before being baked. The result was just a modicum of heat that would've made chicken wing lovers happy. Unfortunately, the only person in our group to return for a second look was me, so no one else took advantage of the fresh pizza.

When I decided to write this particular blog entry, it was with the intention of not only telling you about my experience at MJ Mugsy's, but also to remind you that even with going through the due diligence of researching the restaurants you are thinking of visiting in a foreign city, it is still a good idea to get multiple points of information. Had I called the restaurant ahead of time and verified their menu, I could've ruled them out immediately. Fortunately, everyone seemed forgiving about the suggestion and no one got sick, so I suppose all's well that ends well.

I can't speak to MJ Mugsy's dinner menu, but if you happen to be in Upper Sandusky from 11 am until 2 pm, my recommendation is that you skip this restaurant and try one of the other food establishments. In case you were wondering, gentle reader, the other two I had suggested were Los Archos (menu here) and China Garden (menu here). If any of my myriad of Upper Sandusky readers out there can vouch for either of these restaurants in the comments section, I'm sure our other readers would greatly appreciate it.

M J Mugsy's on Urbanspoon M J Mugsy's on Restaurantica

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another Visit To Jerry's Cafe

Following my last meal at Jerry's Cafe in Orville, Ohio, I managed to get a little more of the backstory from one of the other member's of my mother's handbell choir. It seems that when Jerry initially bought the bar, it had a rather typical rough and tumble crowd. Over time, Jerry worked long and hard to turn the place into a more family friendly place that serves really great food. When I told this member what I had tried for dinner, the burger and onion rings, he told me that the next time I return, I definitely needed to try the sausage vegetable chowder and the fried fish. Oddly enough, I do remember seeing the sausage vegetable chowder on the specials board the last time I ate at Jerry's and thinking that it sounded like an odd candidate for a chowder. I was informed that not only was it delicious and a signature item on Jerry's menu, it was also an award winning soup.

Finding myself in Orrville for another choir rehearsal, I decided to return to Jerry's Cafe and try out some of the suggestions I had received after my first visit. Once again, I was warmly greeted and told I could sit wherever I liked. I choose the Ohio State room once again since it was sequestered off the main area and had decent lighting (which usually translates into better photographs). As soon as I sat down, I was greeted by a nice basket of freshly popped popcorn:

As I remarked in my last entry on Jerry's, this was a nice way to greet customers and for those of adult-beverage ordering age, a good way to push drinks from the bar. While I did enjoy a couple of handfuls of popcorn before I ordered my food, I decided to limit my intake so that I didn't get too full before receiving my dinner. I decided to start with a cup of the sausage vegetable chowder:

This was an excellent soup, creamy and well balanced. The large chunks of sausage added a lot of textural and flavor elements to the soup. There was a mild pepperiness to the soup, the kind that tickles the back of the throat. What I really found interesting, though, was the mild hint of anise flavor that seemed only barely discernible in the aroma. Knowing that most Italian sausage had fennel seed in them, I asked my server what kind of sausage the cook used. She wasn't entirely sure, but thought that Italian sausage in one form or another might be an ingredient. The soup, while it may have contained cream, was primarily thickened with potato.

After finishing up my soup, I decided to take a small detour and try some of the chicken wings:

While there were several flavors available, I decided to see what Jerry's take on standard Buffalo-style wings would be. Truth be told, I'm a sucker for wings, even bad wings. Most of the time, the chicken skin is flabby and is normally discarded. I've only ever been to a handful of places that cooked the chicken wings correctly; Jerry's is now on that list. The wings were hot, juicy, and the skin was nice and crispy. Better yet, the sauce was an impressively tasty version of what I consider to an authentic Buffalo sauce. The cayenne spice and vinegar combined with butter nicely coated the wings and my tongue when I ate them.

For my final course, I went with a fried fish sandwich:

The fish, Alaskan pollack, was dipped in their beer batter before being fried to perfection. Served on a nicely buttered and grilled bun with lettuce and tomato, the only way this sandwich could've been improved was with the additional of a little homemade tartar sauce ... OH, WAIT!

May I introduce some of Jerry's homemade tartar sauce? I tried some of the sauce by itself and picked up a hint of the Dijon mustard that I was so excited to receive with my burger the last time I visited. I liberally applied the sauce to my sandwich and took a bite. I was rewarded with a flavorful stack of ingredients. The bun did an excellent job holding the entire sandwich together. The fish was hot and moist and the crispness from the lettuce offset the creaminess from the fish and the tartar sauce. Everything worked very well together and quite honestly, I think this was the best fried fish sandwich I've had in a very, very long time. It was at the same time a leap into a sense memory from my youth when I used to take fish stick sandwiches to my confirmation classes every week as well as a modernized and much more sophisticated version that I could enjoy as an adult.

Having eaten here at Jerry's Cafe twice now, I remain incredibly impressed with the level of food being served here. It takes real commitment and skill to bring out the best flavors of the food you serve and even when a fried-from-frozen product is served, such as the onion rings, they are done with great skill. I'm unfamiliar with what the post dinner bar crowd is like, but I can assure that during dinner hours, the place is entirely family friendly and accommodating to both children and adults without being noisy or congested. I have visited a number of rural places that served something unique or interesting, but until I ate at Jerry's, I don't know that I've ever come across a place that serves something that I can see myself craving enough to drive that far to get.

Jerry's Cafe may very well be one of those hidden gems in Orrville about which only the locals know. Hopefully with the encouragement of my last review and this one, you will take the time to seek them out. The food is simple, unpretentious, quite a bit is homemade, and best of all, delicious.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Link To An Excellent Cause

I came across a tweet this afternoon from another blogger I follow who had linked to the following blog:

Fed Up: School Lunch Project

It's a blog that just started at the beginning of January 2010 and chronicles the efforts of a public school teacher to demonstrate just how lacking our school lunch programs can be. In the same vein as Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me, "Mrs. Q" has decided to put her money where her mouth is and committed to eating the exact same school lunch that her students are offered for an entire year. While still in its infancy, I think and hope that this blog will help to expose the issue of nutrition (or lack thereof) in many of our school food programs.

Normally when I find a link that I like, I simply add it to the "Things I Like To Read" section on the right hand side of my blog. However, after reading what Mrs. Q has had to say so far in just this month alone, I felt like I would like to do just a bit more and decided to post an entry urging my readers to check out her blog. Plus, as an aside, you'll get a walk down memory lane when you read about the many classics that apparently have not faded with time. Salisbury steak anyone? Isn't it great to know that the "pizza" being served to our youth today is just as terrible as it was when you were back in the 8th grade?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ming Hing And The Nicely Fried Eggroll

I recently found myself in downtown Orrville on a Sunday night with an hour to kill before choir rehearsal was scheduled to begin. Finding my options limited to mostly fast food restaurants, I parked my car and began to walk around to see what was open. Fortunately on the corner of Market Street and Route 57, a single restaurant had it's marquee lit, Ming Hing. Knowing that I was unlikely to find a restaurant in the same league as Wonton Gourmet in Cleveland, I settled into the notion of having a more Americanized Chinese food experience.

Ming Hing was located at 100 East Market Street, Orrville, OH 44667 and can be reached at 330-682-8808. Unsurprisingly, there was currently no website attached to this restaurant.

As I approached the front of the restaurant, it occurred to me that due to the size of the storefront, this might be a take-out only kind of place. Here was a shot of the exterior of the store:

Once inside the front doors, I immediately realized how wrong I had been. Not only were there tables at which to sit, but there were multiple rooms of tables. Like many other Chinese restaurants with tables, I made a second assumption that there probably was not tableside service. At least I was correct in that assumption. I walked up to the front counter, looked over the menu and placed and paid for my order. I then sat at a table just off the main entrance and took a snapshot of the lunch buffet hot line that had been advertised in one of the windows visible from the street:

Looking over the menu, I had decided to go with one of their combination platters, the garlic chicken. I asked for it to be prepared extra spicy and when I heard my order taker utter "ma la" to the cooks in the kitchen, I nodded vigorously and said, "Yes! Very 'ma la'!" I counted on the fact that it probably wouldn't be too "ma", which is the numbing sensation you get when you consume actual Szechuan peppercorns, but if were remotely "la", meaning spicy, I figured it would be fine.

After about ten minutes or so, my food arrived at the table:

Here was a shot of the garlic chicken, extra spicy:

Composed of tender chicken slices, green bell peppers, broccoli florets, mushrooms, pea pods, and bamboo strips, the dish was clearly an American version. While the spice level on this dish was somewhere around medium for me, the amount of sauce used and the sweetness of it were tell-tale signs that this dish had been created or modified to fit American tastes. From an Americanized Chinese point of view, however, this was a tasty version of garlic chicken.

Along with my garlic chicken, the plate overflowed with pork fried rice:

The rice by itself was a bit bland and one-note. The chunks of roasted pork were nice, but there weren't enough of them to really make a difference in the overall flavor of the rice. Once I finished most of the garlic chicken, there was plenty of sauce left over to combine with the fried rice. While the combination didn't elevate the fried rice to a new plateau, at least it made the rice easier to eat with chopsticks and the flavor was better than no sauce at all.

The third and final component on my plate was the fried egg roll with pork and cabbage:

Of all the components on my plate, the egg roll was probably the best executed. Crispy without being greasy, hot and juicy on the inside without the filling being too moist, this egg roll was very tasty. I longed for a little hot mustard to dip my egg roll into, but by this point of the meal, I was nearly done and didn't have the desire to walk back up to the front counter just for a little bit of the spicy condiment.

On the whole, Ming Hing did a decent job of Americanized Chinese food. While the fried rice was a bit on the dull side, the food was hot and tasty and the egg roll was nicely done. I will be the first to admit that Ming Hing is not a destination restaurant and in fact, if it weren't a Sunday and other restaurants were open, I'd probably recommend other establishments over this one. But, if you are driving through Orrville on a Sunday or have a serious craving for Americanized Chinese food, you won't do too badly at Ming Hing.

Ming S Chanz on Urbanspoon  Ming Hing on Restaurantica

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Extra Helpings: A Family Meal At Moxie

Cleveland Independents, a group that showcases local independently owned Cleveland restaurants, has worked with its members to promote family-oriented meals during the month of January 2010. This means that at each of the eighty member restaurants, you can find a meal that will either be served family-style or have the addition of a children's menu (sometimes both). Having had the family dinner at Crop Bistro not to long ago (which runs every Sunday regardless of this special promotion by Cleveland Independents), I was excited to receive an invitation from my friend Diane to join her and a group of others to try the family-style dinner at Moxie, The Restaurant. I had been wanting to try Moxie for quite some time and this gave me a perfect opportunity to sample a multi-course dinner at a more reasonable cost.

Moxie was located at 3355 Richmond Road, Beachwood, Ohio 44122 and can be reached at 216-831-5599. Moxie shared the building with another Cleveland eatery, Red. Since both shared the same parking lot, it could be quite full, even when Moxie wasn't. This was the case when I showed up for our 6:30 PM reservation. While valet parking was available, I chose to instead park across the street at the Charter One and walk over.

Once inside the door, I immediately noticed the restaurant's namesake built into the top of the wall that greeted all of the guests:

Once seated at our table, I noticed two menus. The regular menu was available for those who chose to order from it. The other menu available was for the family-style dinner. Here was a shot of that second menu:

Considering that most of the entrees alone on their regular menu were somewhere between $20 and $35, $30 for a three course meal seemed like a good deal. Having only the Crop Bistro's family dinner to compare it to, I was a little taken back that for $5 more per person, there was a lot less choice. However, I thought I needed to be open minded and experience the entire meal before making any further judgments.

The nice thing about the family dinner at Moxie was that it wasn't an all or nothing deal. Three members of our party decided to order from the regular menu and five of us decided to go with the family meal. After placing the order with our server, bread and butter quickly found its way to our table. Here was a shot of the bread basket:

Comprised of several kinds of bread, it was all fresh and delicious. Missing from the above basket but present in a refill was some of Moxie's homemade cornbread. The cornbread was by far the favorite amongst our group and it had a wonderfully fresh crumb and really tasted of corn. Served with the breads were two condiments:

At the front of the plate was simply butter. At the back of the plate in the two ramekins was a creamy white bean spread that had loves notes of garlic and lemon juice in them. A little thicker than your average hummos, it was a wonderful pairing with the whole grain bread that was in the basket.

A few minutes after our bread course arrived, the family style spinach salad platters arrived on the table, too:

The salad was made with fresh spinach, Westfield Farms goat cheese and dried pear strips and was dressed with a warm date vinaigrette. After serving myself from the communal platter, I tucked into my portion. The spinach was slightly wilted from the warm vinaigrette, but was still fresh and had a nice chew to them. The seasoning on the salad was spot on and for the most part was delicious. The goat cheese added a nice creaminess and sharpness to balance the sweetness from the vinaigrette. The only criticism that I and a few others around the table had was that the dried pear strips were simply too big. It was a nice textural contrast to be sure, but because the strips were so large, it was a little difficult to get a little bit with each bite. Also missing from this salad was something a little on the crunchy side, like nuts. Had the pears been cut into a dice instead of julienne and a sprinkling of nuts been added, I think this salad would've been perfect.

Having finished the salad course, the main event soon arrived at our table. This presented somewhat of a real estate issue as the table was already covered with dishes from previous courses and attempting to set down new platters of fried chicken, carrots and mashed potatoes required quite a bit of shuffling around. Until we eventually got it all settled, there were a few of us at the table holding our own plates or platters of food in our hands while the jigsaw puzzle of food was being finalized.

Here was a shot of the buttermilk soaked fried chicken and the thyme-glazed carrots:

And here was a shot of the bowl of mashed potatoes:

There was also a milk gravy that was served, but in all of the confusion, I didn't manage to get a picture of it. After serving myself and dishing up my plate, I ended up with this for my dinner:

The chicken breast I had taken was completely boneless except for a single wing bone sticking out at one end of the meat. Based on how juicy and well seasoned the entire breast was, I am guessing that the chicken had been brined at some point. Regardless, this was an excellent piece of fried chicken. The coating was crispy and not greasy at all. I could taste a blend of spices in the crust, but it never overpowered the flavor of the moist breast meat inside. This was also a sizable portion and I by the time I finished what was on my plate, I was completely full. The mashed potatoes were equally as delicious. Light and creamy, they didn't taste like they had any butter or cream in them at all. However, knowing restaurants' love for the dairy, we figured there was probably more than any of us cared to acknowledge. The milk gravy was also seasoned well and complimented the mashed potatoes perfectly. Finally, let's talk about the thyme glazed carrots. Cooked until soft, the glazed carrots had the addition of fresh spinach to provide an additional color contrast. Flavor wise, the spinach didn't add a whole lot to the party, but it was nice to see an additional color on the plate. The carrots were a nice blend of salty and sweet (as glazed carrots should be), but the use of thyme to add a herbaceous note was a bit of a departure for me. Thyme has such a woodsy, earthy flavor that to my palate goes much better with something like mushrooms. I think dill or fennel fronds might have been a better pairing here, but the thyme still added a nice counterpoint to the flavor of the carrots.

Having finished the main portion of the meal now, I was completely stuffed. Thankfully, whether purposefully or not, the kitchen took a bit longer to get the dessert out to our table. At Crop Bistro, the dessert on the family dinner was the same for everybody, but plated separately. Here at Moxie, however, one very large chocolate Baked Alaska came out to the table:

After serving everyone at the table participating in the family dinner, I took a shot of my individual portion:

This was a three layered dessert. At the base was a dense, intensely flavored chocolate cake studded with chips of chocolate. Topping that was a homemade chocolate mocha ice cream. Finishing the dessert was a layer of ultra-light meringue that had been expertly baked so that each bite had a little bit of the caramelized flavor that only running this under the Salamander (e.g., broiler) could bring to the party. This was a fantastic way to finish the meal and the portion size turned out to be perfect after such a heavy meal. While none of us could taste the mocha flavor in the ice cream, the chocolate flavor in both the cake and the ice cream satisfied my seemingly unquenchable chocoholic craving.

After our meal was complete, Chef Jonathon Bennett stopped by our table to see how the meal went. All of us agreed that we had been treated to an excellent meal, which save for a few nitpickings I mentioned earlier in this review, was true. Having now experienced the flavors and cooking techniques of Chef Bennett and his brigade, I intend on returning to Moxie when I can afford it a bit more. While the family dinners cater to childrens' tastes with more well-known spices and flavors, the regular dinner menu was definitely more geared to an adult palate.

The family dinner at Moxie changes weekly and there are still several more weeks to go in the month of January. While I don't think the family dinner at Moxie was still quite the amazing value that Crop Bistro's is, I definitely think it would be wise to check them out during this special promotion whether you've eaten here before or not. Those ordering from the regular dinner menu said that their meals were excellent and I have no good reason to doubt them. I heartily recommend that you give Moxie a try.

Moxie on Urbanspoon The Moxie Restaurant on Restaurantica
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