Monday, January 17, 2011

More Lunch Adventures At Continental Cuisine

As adventurous as I am about my dining choices, sometimes I just get into a routine. Not necessarily over the seemingly limitless choices of restaurants, but when I find a great dish, I mean a REALLY great dish on a menu, a visit to the restaurant isn't so much about exploring other items which could also be equally as tasty, but rather enjoying the same thing over and over again. It's kind of like when I crave a specific type of food, the associated restaurant immediately pops into my head as well. Thus it is with Continental Cuisine in the Fairlawn area located directly across from Summit Mall. While their menu has a variety of Mediterranean-inspired dishes, I always end up ordering the chicken shwarma with a side of French Fries. Oddly enough, today I met up with a friend who also goes to the restaurant for exactly one thing, the gyro with the same side of fries.

So, in the spirit of change, even though both of us were still considering ordering our old stand-bys when we arrived, in an interesting twist of fate, by the time we got around to placing our order, both of us decided on giving their pizzas a try. Made from a homemade pizza dough, they were available in both small (10") and large (14") sizes and could be made from standard pizza toppings or many of the other Mediterranean ingredients available on the menu.

My friend decided to order the small Meat Lover's pizza, substituting the gyro meat for the ham:

Meat Lovers Pizza
And while I didn't try a slice of his, I thoroughly enjoyed my version, the small Mediterranean:

Mediterranean Pizza
Topped with black olives, eggplant, tomatoes, and onions, each bite had a little bit of salty and sweet flavor to it. While the tomato sauce was fairly basic and didn't really stand out, the crust was very tasty and quite well done.

Here was a close-up shot of a single slice:

Single Pizza Slice
And here was a closer shot of the crust:

Interior Crumb of the Crust
The crust had that nice balance of crunch and chew. I don't think Continental Cuisine aged their pizza dough, but I could definitely tell from the delicious flavor that it was definitely made in-house. With the addition of some dried red pepper flakes, I pretty much devoured my pizza (as did my friend). I had heard good things about Continental's pizza from other people and now I can confirm that they are all true. Was this crust in the Pantheon of all-time greats for me? No, there are definitely better out there. But this was far better than any chain pizza and I'd have no qualms recommending them to pizza aficionados out there.

About a week and half after my last visit, I decided to stop back in for another lunch, this time flying solo. While I was tempted to fall back into old habits, I decided to take a chance and try something else from the menu. Feeling in a red sauce kind of mood, the only option which would appease this lust (besides the pizza, which I already had) was the Lasagna. The menu indicated that all of the entrees came with either a house salad or their fantastic French Fries. I opted for the house salad because a) I've already talked about the French Fries and b) French Fries with Lasagna? Really? Um, no.

A few minutes later, my server returned with a quite large salad:

House SaladI had asked him if the restaurant had a house dressing and sure enough, they did. This rather simple lettuce and chopped tomato salad had been dressed with a lemon, garlic, and olive oil vinaigrette. The garlic wasn't particularly present visibly in the vinaigrette, but after a mouthful of greens, I could definitely taste it. While I would consider the salad a bit too overdressed, I found that the dressing was well seasoned and slightly acidic, a perfect dipping sauce for the pita bread that had arrived with the salad:

Pita Wedges
While the salad wasn't particularly inspirational with it's fair share of lettuce stems and very out-of-season tomato chunks, the accompanying pita bread was fresh and soaked up the extra vinaigrette nicely. I had to remind myself that I still had the lasagna coming, so I didn't want to fill up on bread. While most items I've ever ordered at Continental Cuisine have come out of the kitchen with surprising speed, my server informed me that the lasagna takes a bit longer to come to the right temperature. I'd say I waited maybe five minutes longer than normal, so it wasn't a huge problem.

When my lasagna did arrive, I heard it before I saw it:

Apparently having come straight from the oven and plated on a ceramic dish, as my server set it in front of me he admonished me to not touch the deep walled dish in which the lasagna rested. Visually noting the voracity of the still bubbling cheese and sauce, I took him at his word. After dropping off my dish, he asked if I wanted any of the extras; I opted for dried oregano and red pepper flakes:

Dried Oregano and Red Pepper Flakes
Of course, before I added anything to the dish, I wanted to taste it on its own first. First impressions? If you like lots of gooey melted cheese and lasagna absolutely swimming in sauce, then Continental Cuisine's version will be right up your alley. While the menu had implied that the lasagna was made with meat sauce, they were only half-telling the truth. There was indeed meat in the lasagna, but the sauce was instead a marinara. I tried the marinara by itself and found it on the sweeter side of the scale. For me it was borderline almost too sweet, but there was enough acidity from the tomatoes to keep it from going too far. The cheese was of your standard shredded mozzarella variety and was either melted into a molten Napalm or crusted with a nice golden brown color on top of the actual piece of lasagna.

When I finally managed to get to the lasagna, I was neither wowed nor disappointed. Sadly, the layers of pasta and meat got lost amongst all of the red sauce in the dish. I did end up adding a little bit of oregano and red pepper flakes, but that wasn't so much to correct the seasoning as it was to just make the flavors a little more interesting. While I've been a big proponent of the other dishes I've had in the past at Continental Cuisine, this one left me feeling just a little flat.

In addition to the pita bread brought out during my salad course, the lasagna also came with a small plate of cheesy garlic bread:

Cheesy Garlic Bread
In addition to the single slice of toasted bread, there was even MORE shredded cheese sitting next to it, just in case I hadn't gotten my cheese fix from the lasagna. The bread was toasted nicely with a prominent but not overwhelming garlic flavor. I suppose for those who think that there can never be too much cheese on a dish, this would suit them well, but for me, I would have liked it better sans cheese.

All criticisms aside, I did end up eating the entire dish of pasta as well as my garlic bread, if that says anything. While I don't think I will be ordering the lasagna again (or the house salad unless the tomatoes are actually in season), I have had so many other great meals at Continental Cuisine, that I know I will be returning time and again for either the pizza or their Mediterranean wraps and the still amazing French Fries. I heartily suggest you check them out if you haven't already.


MikeV @ DadCooksDinner said...

Next time you're there, try the Tabouli salad. I love the dense mix of parsley, cracked wheat, and lemon dressing. (With a few of those out of season tomatoes mixed in - but they're diced small, and there aren't many of them, so they melt into the rest of the salad.)

It's my favorite thing on their menu. Tabouli salad, falalfel, and I'm a happy guy.

Tino said...

@Mike: Thanks for the suggestion. I've had the falafel before, but not their tabouli salad. I also need to try the Fattoush salad as well. And the lentil soup. Geez, you would think I'm not eating there on a fairly regular basis.

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