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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leo's Reserve Inn - Hudson, Ohio

White table cloth city tonight, baby!! Somebody paid me and I was feeling flush…so me and my honey decided to upgrade the food level a tad and drive in the rain to Hudson, Ohio, exactly 45 miles from my driveway. Hudson is a great little town between Cleveland and Akron filled with great shopping, schools with the word “academy” in their name, and lots and lots of expensive real estate. Sprinkled in the mix are several interesting restaurants from bargain Mexican to an uber trendy tapas bar. (Check out the Rosewood Grill review for another great Hudson restaurant)

I wanted to try something that was upscale, familiar, adult oriented, but not so trendy as to make me feel I need a trip to the plastic surgeon to take some wrinkles off of my face and take away two of my double chins. After perusing the internet, I decided to give Leo’s Reserve Inn a try.

Let’s say that what I was expecting, and what we got were two different things. I have driven past this place for years. The sign out front is 1950’s neon modern…it might as well say “Airport Bar and Grill”. Obviously the outside of the restaurant had to have been remodeled because it looks like an Amish place you might find in Columbiana. “I will have the hot turkey sandwich, please!” I went to the unremarkable website, also looking like this should be one of those home cookin with fixin’s places. You know…fruit pies thickened with lots of corn starch and tapioca!!!!!

But the posted menu and the reviews on Trip Advisor belied what my senses told me, so I thought we would give it a try. I didn’t know what to expect. So we overlooked the tacky website. We drove past the tacky neon sign. We parked next to the Amish styled building and walked into…well…into an absolutely sophisticated space that didn’t look anything like the pictures on the website. (If they did the site themselves, they should hire someone to fix it. If someone they hired designed the site, get somebody else quick!) It was exactly the kind of place I wanted to be tonight.

As you walk in the door, there is a dining room to the left, and a bar to the right. The dining room is plain but tasteful. The bar is to the right, and it is upscale in every sense of the work. The clientele is somewhat older than the tapas bar around the corner, but these are folks I am comfortable with enjoying a restaurant where you can actually hear yourself talk while eating some great food. It is just fancy enough.

It takes reservations, recommended on the weekends. Request a booth in the bar. We got there very early so we got seated without too much trouble, but most of the tables were reserved for the evening. This is not a moo-moo place that turns tables umpteen times as you gulp down your food.

The menu is well thought out, and would be classified “American”. Translate: If want veal parm…go down the street. Although we didn’t meet the chef, he spent a considerable amount of time at the table next to us. His heritage is apparently Native American. He loves to talk about his cooking. And he offers numerous specials that don’t appear on the menu, so listen closely when the server gives you the run down.

The appetizers are fascinating. We had baked olives with onions and tomatoes in vinaigrette. It is served hot, so it is a little disconcerting. You could just eat appetizers and a salad and call it a night (like tapas?). This is a well thought out selection.

Next my wife had a Caesar salad and I had French onion soup. To be honest, the onion soup was not that great, but my wife’s salad was terrific. For our main course, my wife chose walleye served with black eyed peas. I had an expertly prepared hanger steak served with baked au gratin potatoes served in a wedge.

Here’s the thing. Everything was very good…nothing was WOW. The garnish on the steak was some annoying green shredded stuff that wasn’t really needed and a little irritating. The potatoes were good, but I have had better. My wife’s walleye was good, but again, she has had better. And they didn’t serve bread…and I need my carbs with my meal. Not serving bread or rolls is just plain strange. When I asked for some, they brought out some corn bread…which again was good, but I have had better.

So here’s the deal. I would definitely go to the Reserve Inn again. The total package of good food and the wonderful atmosphere and absolutely outstanding and friendly service makes it worth the 45 mile drive. It is a little on the pricey side. It is an ala carte menu. And for a place like this, you should expect nothing else.

One secret….IT HAS THE BEST DAMN COCONUT CAKE I HAVE EVER EATEN IN MY LIFE!!!!!! In fact, it the best piece of restaurant cake of any kind I have ever had in my live. Homemade on the premises, if I were the owners, I would put on that neon sign out front…"Home of the World’s Best Damn Coconut Cake."

It is SINFUL. We think we figured it out. Cubans have a specialty cake called three leches cake, which is a cake made with three kinds of milk…regular milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. The number of “leches” goes up as the baker gets creative to include whipping cream and coconut milk…now a five leches cake. The trick to these cakes is to pour the milk mixture over the cake and let it sit while the cake sops up the milk. Sound yucky, but the result is a cake that is creamy and rich and decadent. Throw in two tablespoons of rum and whoa mama!!! Layer it…add coconut and you have one of the richest and creamiest cakes you can imagine. We don’t know if that is what this is…but we have our suspicions. If it isn’t, whoever bakes for them is the best baker in the world, and we had fun digging up some recipes to try at home!!!!!!

I was going to give it 3 ½ meatballs until I had the cake, which bumped into the 4 meatball category.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Molly's Restaurant - Youngstown's West Side

Okay…gas is $4.00/gallon and my wallet has taken a hit. My lunch money has been rationed, and my wife wants to cook at home. OMG!!!! What’s a body to do? In Youngtown the answer is easy. Look for some of those wonderful taverns that are sprinkled around the city, and eat well for less in friendly and historic surroundings. We found one in Struthers two weeks ago. This week we found another.

Molly’s has been a lower west side standby for over 30 years. Located just a little ways past where Steel Street turns into Salt Springs Road, this place is a hoot. My son went there with some of his buddies from work…the Board of Elections knows where to find good, affordable food….and told me Molly’s was worth a visit.

So on Saturday night my wife and I decided to give it a go before going to see Forever Plaid downtown. Off we went, dressed in our business casual duds….me in an open suit…and my wife looking great as always with some big chunky jewelry. When we pulled into the parking lot, we knew we were WAAAYYY over dressed. But we went in anyway, and we had a great time.

First off, the waiter came over and looked at us and said, and this is a quote:  "You have never been here before, have you!” And then we all had a good laugh. What a great guy. He made us feel immediately at home, giving a history of the place, and some tips as to what to order off the menu. The people in the next booth chimed right in, also offering suggestions and telling us stories about the place.

We settled on a hot sausage and peppers sandwich with the sausage made on the premises, although the Saturday special stuffed pork chop looked tempting. The waiter also brought us a side dish of their spaghetti; again the sauce made on premises….and of course the obligatory peppers in oil. My son told us the wedding soup was the best he had ever eaten out…but we were a tad dressed up and the way I eat, soup was probably not a good idea.

My wife ordered a chardonnay. Well, you aren’t going to get that at Molly’s. You have a choice or Riunite white or lambrusco…and it comes the way Italians are supposed to drink wine…in a glass. My bourbon and water came with some accoutrements not usually served with bourbon and water…but handy nonetheless. Perfect!!

The hot sausage sandwich was absolutely out of this world accompanied by Idora home cut french fries and this waiter’s terrific personality. Be warned, it is a patty not a link…and just hot enough to be annoyingly delicious!!! And here is the test….don’t laugh. It didn’t make me sick, and I don’t mean that to be a pejorative statement. I love onions and peppers, but they don’t like me if not fresh, so I rarely order something like this out. Not here. I would go back for one of those in a Chinese minute. Everything was fresh, fresh, fresh, and you could actually taste the sweetness of the onions.

When we were done eating, the owner came over to chat about the food and the Kentucky Derby.  Another great guy.  He has true pride in his business, and bragged about the things he personally makes back in the kitchen. This is old school Youngstown at its best. He told us that Fridays are a big deal at Molly’s with numerous different offerings of excellently prepared fish. My son told us the same thing. So I am going to wait until I get down there on a Friday before giving Molly’s a meatball rating.

But I strongly recommend Molly’s for its friendly uber casual shot and a beer old steel town atmosphere, and some really good, good food that will help you keep this economy at bay!!! Two big thumbs up!!!!

Molly's Restaurant
1309 Salt Springs Road
Youngstown, OH 44509
Phone 330-799-0038

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rip's Cafe - The Hunky Platter - Struthers

Oh my goodness. Find your Bubba, get some slivovitz ,and head on down to Rip’s Café in Struthers for a heaping plate of old fashioned eastern European cooking. Rip’s café has been in Struthers probably since Mr. Struthers founded Struthers, or at least since 1933. This is the quintessential family run neighborhood bar which specializes in food offerings your grandma used to make.

In fact, people wanted to sample all of the eastern European cooking, so the owners put together an assortment of stuffed cabbage, halushki, and pierogies, and called it the Hunky Platter…yours for $7.50…only in Youngstown.

And that is one of the reasons I love living in Youngstown. This place is a gem of a dying genre. Currently run by two sisters, one cooks and the other works the bar and front, you can get good food and lots of friendly discussion from the owners of this wonderfully simple, and simply wonderful establishment.

It doesn't look like much from the road. Park in the front, go in through the door. If it is hot and the air conditioning isn’t on, don’t be surprised to see the front door wide open. It is a narrow place. The very long bar with 1950’s orange/red modern bar stools is on the left, and a row of booths under a wall mural is on the right. The owners pride themselves in their seasonal decorations.  Go now, and you will find God Bless America decorations.

The menu is filled with sandwiches, and of course a wide selection of eastern European food. EVERYTHING but one or two items on the menu is homemade, and they will happily tell you what those items are. Don’t expect to order a hamburger. They only have hamburgers on Saturday for $3.75, which are handmade just like Mom’s, really!! No french fries, thank you very much. You get chips and a pickle and you can order yourself up some sweet cole slaw. One order will serve two easily.

But the highlight is the Hunky Platter. Now I am not a big fan of central and eastern European cuisine. But this isn’t cuisine, this is Bubba Repasky’s home cooking recipes. The pig in the blanket is huge…the pierogies are buttery with or without onions. The Halushki is something to die for. The Halushki I am used to is basically cabbage and noodles. This is different. Everything is all chopped and blended together. Outstanding!!

And they are so friendly. My wife and I loved swapping stories with the owner whose got a lot of them…and these stories cross all ethnic cultural backgrounds. I hope they are never lost.

They have a DVD made by Bubba Repasky showing you how to cook the Ukrainian way. My wife teaches Home Ec and she bought one ($20.00) for her classes. It is a hoot. Food Network has nothing on these folks.

I really like this place. You get simple food from friendly folks at reasonable prices with a few stories thrown in at no charge. What the hell else do you want out of life?

An easy four meatballs for being a neighborhood tavern winner.

Rip's Cafe
614 Youngstown Poland Rd
Struthers, OH 44471