Monday, March 26, 2018

Eastern European Food in NE Ohio

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring NE Ohio's Eastern European Culture

Today's report is quite a few years in the making. It's spans over at least three different trips to the NE Ohio area during the last five or so years. During these trips there's been something that's always stood out as far as Eastern European food goes. Cuisines from countries like Poland, Hungary, and Serbia can be found in NE Ohio towns like Toledo, Parma, and Cleveland. It's quite interesting if you ask me. These restaurants and bakeries are holdovers from when Northeast Ohio was a hotbed for immigrants looking for work. Most of them found it in the areas steel mills, canals, and other forms of blue collar jobs. As always with immigrants come their recipes. Many of which live on today.

Tony Packo's

Toledo, OH

Here we have the most famous restaurant in Toledo. Tony Packo's and their Hungarian sausages are synonymous with the city. What started out as a small hot dog shop during the Great Depression in 1932 has spawned into a mini empire with multiple locations including a spot at the city's popular minor league baseball stadium. You can even buy Tony Packo's signature sausages at grocery stores in this region. The famous "Hungarian Hot Dog" as they're called are a Tony Packo original recipe. There's no Hungarian Hot Dog Tour to embark on in this region. The inside of the original is part tavern and part sit-down. As you might imagine they're a popular place for the family on Sunday's.

a peek inside at the bar

This being my first visit I was required to try the signature Packo Dog and I found it to be quite tasty. The spicy sliced sausage is stellar and so is the spicy meat sauce on top. The latter of which I thought was good enough to warrant buying a DIY jar of it to take home. When I opened it one winter I followed the directions precisely and added two pounds of beef and some tomatoes and ended up with a huge bowl of sweet slop. I guess they're not giving that secret recipe out to everyone after all.

Hungarian Hot Dog at Packo's

The menu boasts other Hungarian favorites and I decided to take an order stuffed cabbage to go. Beef and pork combined with rice and seasonings, hand-rolled in cabbage, thats simmered in sour cream and tomato sauce. Served with their tender paprika dumplings and gravy it made for a pretty good meal spread out over two days. After just one visit it was easy to see why this place is loved locally.

Stuffed Cabbage

 Little Polish Diner 

Parma, OH

Our next stop takes us the Cleveland suburb of Parma. It's the city's largest suburb and a great place to go get a taste of Old Ohio. There's both a Ukrainian Village and a Polish Village too. The Little Polish Diner is exactly what it's name implies. It's a spot I got tipped off on by the fine folks at Roadfood. The type of place I love exploring while on the road. They say this is the place to go in Parma for a taste of Poland and after one trip in I can back this fact up. I tried a plate of Pyzy which consisted of six fluffy potato dumplings filled with meat and sauteed in bacon and onion. Yum! Served on the side was a creamy cucumber salad that I didn't think I'd like but I loved. Great little place.

Pyzy at Little Polish Diner 

Belgrade Gardens

Barberton, OH

In my opinion one of the country's most interesting regional eats can be found in the town of Barberton which is about 15 minutes southwest of Akron. In this little town of 25,000+ the fried chicken is king. It's called Barberton style fried chicken or Serbian fried chicken and it can be found at a handful of old school spots in town. Belgrade Gardens is where it all began. Started by two Serbian immigrants forced to sell their farm during the Great Depression they then opened Belgrade Gardens and began serving their now famous fried chicken. It's a distinct style that I think is best described as Shake & Bake style as far as the thick unseasoned crust goes. Though this isn't baked but rather fried in lard. The meat is really juicy as they've perfected the fry job over the years. Also distinct is the fact they serve the chicken back (top piece in the pic) in your order. Dinners come with a vinegar-based cole slaw as well as a unique rice and tomato sauce side that's seasoned with hot peppers called "hot sauce" and fresh cut french fries. I really enjoyed both the atmosphere and food.

Fried Chicken Dinner at Belgrade Gardens

Kuhar's Carryout

Mentor, OH

Out in the Cleveland area there's a couple places that remind me of old school spots in Madison, WI that I used to frequent. Places where they run a catering operation that doubles as a takeout joint with the menu switching up daily. Kuhar's is in a suburb called Mentor which is about20 minutes north up the lake. You wouldn't guess it was a restaurant without the carryouts in it's name. This place has been a part of the area for more than 40 years. If you grew up around here you probably went to a party catered by Kuhar's at some point. They have a menu that changes each day and it features popular Hungarian-American dishes like goulash over buttered noodles. it's the prettiest looking dish but comfort food rarely photographs well so whatever. I wish I had a place to carry this out in Chicago.

Goulash (Saturday special) at Kuhar's Carry-Out's

Kiedrowski's Bakery

Amherst, OH

Approaching their 30th year in business this small polish bakery in a strip mall in a Cleveland suburb is a popular spot with the locals. It was named "best Bakery in America" in a poll conducted by Baking Buyer Magazine back in 2011. That might not mean much but I can vouch for the place. They pack alot of house baked goods on site. Most of which looked like something I would like. The most popular of which is the Snoogle. "Accidents can be disastrous in a bakery, but the 'snoogle accident' was a welcome one for Kiedrowski's! Late one evening at the bakery, Tim was preparing ladylocks and Terri was working on a batch of cheese danish. With leftover ingredients, these two happy bakers set out to create something new. A little bit of this, a little of that, and voila, the Snoogle was born! These sweet cream-filled confections have become Kiedrowski's biggest seller. It is not unusual for the bakery to sell 40 dozen Snoogles daily, and upwards of 100 dozen every weekend."

Snoogles (Signature Dish) at Kiedrowski's Bakery

Lydia's Hungarian Strudel Shop 

Parma Heights, OH

There's a handful of bakeries in the Parma area and a couple of them feature Hungarian strudels. I tried to go to two of them but one was randomly closed. Good thing Lydia's was not other wise I would never know I have a love for Hungarian style strudel. The original location of Lydia's opened in 1938 in an area that had a predominately Hungarian and Romanian population. Today they;re a fifth generation family business that hasn't changed a thing as far as recipes. I got a half dozen of their hand stretched made from scratch strudels. I got different flavors like cherry, apricot, and even prune but it was the cheese which she recommended that blew me away. If I'm ever near here again it's a must I stop and get a bakers dozen. These are the treats I never knew I needed so much.

Hungarian Strudels at Lydia's Bakery

Tony Packo's
1902 Front St
Toledo, OH 43605
(419) 691-1953

Little Polish Diner
5772 Ridge Rd
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 842-8212

Belgrade Gardens
401 E State St
Barberton, OH 44203
(330) 745-0113

Kuhar's Carryouts
8030 Broadmoor Rd
Mentor, OH 44060 Hours:
(440) 951-1000

Kiedrowski's Bakery
2267 E. Cooper Foster Park Road
Amherst, OH 44001
(440) 282-2700

Lydia's Hungarian Strudel Shop
6230 Stumph Rd
Parma Heights, OH 44130
(440) 885-2600

Friday, March 23, 2018

Evanston Grill

-Grubbing in Chicago (land)
Korean Diner Food in Evanston

There's a cool article on Al's Deli in Evanston that's been floating around my Social Media feed this week. I've featured Al's before but that Takeout article reminded me I've never given my thoughts on Evanston Grill. Another one of the city's most beloved spots. A place that generations have ate at.

Locals Favorite in Evanston, IL

I have pretty much zero affiliation with Evanston. I didn't go to Northwestern but I did go to Loyola Academy for a couple years and it brought me through Evanston often. As the purple line was my way home. I remember when I first learned of Bi Bim Bop after seeing the ad on Evanston Grill's window announcing they served it. Evanston Grill is a Korean owned diner where the mother and son are always in-house. It's the last of a dying breed. To my knowledge there's only three Korean owned diners left in the Chicago area as well as one Vietnamese owned spot. Evanston Grill caters to a city that's mostly vanilla so you can expect all the breakfast classics as well as a few Korean favorites.

a peek inside 

I can't say I'm a regular here but I can proclaim my love for it. Every time I stop by which is maybe every other year I'm reminded just how classic of an establishment this is. It just wreaks of old school feels. I'm sure that pretty much everyone that lives in Evanston or went to school at Northwestern has an opinion on this place and I'm sure most of them are good. Personally I love the bi bim bop here as much as anywhere. They make a pretty traditional style with a handful of different thinly sliced veggies resting on the bottom with a big scoop of rice on top as well as a fried egg and lots of sliced beef. It doesn't come in a dolsat bowl which is it's biggest weakness but the beef is it's strength. I love how they chop it down really finely and season it just right. Kimchi is free upon request. Bc the son runs this spot with his mother it may have a couple decades left but you never know for sure.

Bi Bim Bop at Evanston Grill

Evanston Grill
1047 Chicago Ave # B
Evanston, IL 60202
(847) 328-3339

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Captain B's

-The Shrimp Shacks of Chi

It's been a while since I featured a Chicago style shrimp shack on here. They are no doubt an endangered species but the good news is the old school spots seem to be sticking around. Places like Captain B's which has two locations out west. One in the city and the other in Bellwood.

Locals Favorite on the West Side

Captain B labels themselves a Chicago style shrimp shack and that they are. What does that mean? Well they're old school for one. But on top of that to me anyway it also means thickly breaded shrimp with a crisp cornmeal-like coating. This is the style of fried shrimp I grew up on over at Goose Island. I admit it's not as pleasing to me as the lightly breaded shrimps you find in other regions but it's a taste of childhood. It's home. B's makes prototypical Chicago style shrimp. One tip I can give as far as ordering is always get the jumbos with this style as the shrimp to breading ratio is much better.

Fried Shrimp at Captain B's 

Captain B's
5641 W Roosevelt Rd
Chicago, IL 60804
(708) 656-8700

Monday, March 19, 2018

Garfield Gyros

-The Sammy's of Chi

I'm always surprised when I find a totally new to me spot that's been around the block forever. While there's still a few spots I have yet to get to there are not many I flat up do not know about. Or are there? Seeing as how there's no way to know what you don't know I'd like to think so. I found Garfield Gyros when I happened to be driving by. The old school look and bright colors caught my eye.

Locals favorite in West Englewood 

Garfield Gyros sits all by itself in the middle of Garfield Blvd. I don't think there's another business within a few blocks. Both it's looks and location caught my eye some time last year. I decided to stop right there and have been back a few times since then. It's a classic Chicago style fast food shack. The old school type as is evidenced by it's age (Since 1980). Bc they cater to the blue collar crowd they also do breakfast which is something many of the old school Greek owned Chicago style fast food shacks do. Judging by the quality of the stuff coming out from behind the ballistic glass that separates you and the staff this is some of the city's finest food being made behind bulletproof glass.

Menu at Garfield Gyros

If you look at the bottom left hand corner of the menu up above you'll see what I believe to be the best item to order here. It's the house made grilled cheese. They do them really well. I also like the Greek grilled chicken in a pita. It's typical Chicago style fast food which has always been a tier higher than any of the franchised crap from other parts of the country. Fans of the long gone CND Gyros Lounge will get a fond memory out of the gyros grilled cheese from Garfield. I don't know why the gyro melt isn't as common as the gyro sandwich itself but it seems like only the old school spots rock it. This one might be missing those potent grilled onions many of us remember from CND but at just $3.25 it’s one of the more satisfying sandwiches you can find under $5. Count me a fan.

Gyro Grilled Cheese from Garfield Gyros 

Garfield Gyros
2020 W Garfield Blvd
Chicago, IL 60609
(773) 476-3606

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lonesome Rose

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

I spent a good two years wondering what would open at the address of 2101 N. California in Logan Square. The building that's now home to Lonesome Rose was being rehabbed for what felt like forever. I was extra curious bc I live an easy 7 minute walk away from there. It wasn't until last year that it's future was made public but I guess they spent a good eight years working on it. They being the team behind the Land & Sea Dept. restaurant group which also owns Parson's, Longman & Eagle, and Lost Lake. Lonesome Rose opened this past winter and it's been a popular spot to warm up.

Newly Opened in Logan Square 

I actually went to LR on the opening day for some breakfast tacos. Before I get into them let me say that I hope to open my own breakfast taco spot one day so you can choose whether or not my thoughts are worth considering. I didn't love them. I liked the housemade flour tortillas but thought both the fillings and the salsas were lacking. Big time actually. They just tasted really plain. I tried a green chorizo, bacon-egg-cheese, and also one with black beans and cheese and I haven't been back for more. Now I will say I'm pretty sure they've gotten better as it was the first day but I was hoping for more. I hope they're better next time. You can follow @tweetsoftacos on twitter for my updates.

Breakfast Tacos at Lonesome Rose 

The breakfast tacos are more of a takeout thing here. You can come by in the morning for some of those and some coffee or you can stop by in the afternoon and evening for Border food and drinks. What's "border food"? It's food inspired by the US-Mexico border. So it can qualify as Tex-Mex as well as the flavors from Baja California and so on. I was kind of annoyed it wasn't going to be straight up Tex-Mex but I've warmed up to the idea of cooking all the different foods found along the border. Though I think they missed a good opportunity to do some dishes inspired by the food of Mexicali.

Chips and Salsas at Lonesome Rose

Starting off with an order of chips and salsa is a good way to down a beer. I dont know what was up with the breakfast taco salsa but these ones were much better. While I cant remember exact details of each one I do remember asking myself where were these when I came in for breakfast. The answer is maybe still in the production stages bc my second visit came for dinner a couple months later. There's lots of chips and dips on the menu and we tried all of them. The guac was nice and fresh while the ceviche was decent enough. The best thing on the menu that I've had to date is the queso.

Trio of Chips and Guacamole, Queso, Ceviche

They have an entire set of tacos that are pretty good. I've tried almost all of them and like the fish taco the best. I can already see myself enjoying an afternoon frozen margarita with a couple of those this summer. I was excited when I first heard Lonesome Rose was opening around the corner from me and it's been fun having them in the neighborhood but I guess I was selfishly hoping for something a bit more Texas. Still I look forward to their growth and to a visit to the well stocked downstairs bar.

Fish Taco at Lonesome Rose 

Lonesome Rose
2101 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 770-3414

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tastee Rolls

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Jerk Chicken Egg Rolls in Bellwood

You know it wasn't too long ago that the jerk taco was somewhat of an oddity. Back in 2014 when this piece was posted it was a popular item at the Jerk Taco Man's stand but nowhere near as readily available as it is today. Damn near every Chicago restaurant that sells jerk chicken now sells jerk tacos. So I wouldn't be surprised if the folks at Tastee Rolls have the next big thing on their hands.

 Locals Favorite in Bellwood, IL

Tastee Rolls calls themselves the "Home of the Jerk Chicken Egg Roll" - and any time a place calls itself the home of something I have to stop and try it. I was kind of taken into deja vu when I walked inside Tastee Rolls and it reminded me exactly of the old Jerk Taco Man's location. It's very similar except here the star of the show is the jerk chicken egg roll. It's one of a handful of options they offer as far as fillings but as I was told it's easily the most popular. I can understand the love. Inside a fresh fried to order egg roll was the flavors of Jamaica that I crave. Big chunks of white meat chicken mixed in with crunchy vegetables like carrots and cabbage with just the right amount of spice from the jerk. There's a decent sized Chinese population in Jamaica but I've never seen jerk chicken egg rolls at any of the Chinese-Jamaican joints that I've visited. Like the jerk tacos these are a product of Chicago.

Jerk Chicken Egg Rolls

Tastee Rolls
633 Bellwood Ave
Bellwood, IL 60104
(708) 632-4646

Monday, March 12, 2018

Rica Arepa

-Grubbing in Chicago
Venezuelan food makes it's mark

I got another spot on Armitage worth your time. Which has me thinking, is Armitage the city's best food street? Maybe. What I know for sure is the part that stretches West from California to Grand is filled with a handful of worthy stops. The most recent to open is the city's second Venezuelan restaurant. Located in a former cafe in Hermosa, Rica Arepa has quickly become a favorite of mine.

Newly Opened in Hermosa

I've gotten pretty familiar with Venezuelan cuisine over the years. Mostly through my time in South Florida but also thanks to a Venezuelan spot in Madison Wisconsin that I used to frequent. It's definitely a rice and beans cuisine similar to other South American and also Caribbean countries. Rica Arepa is a family operation. I've had a chance to chat with the young man who runs it and he's a really nice guy with a passion for his food. Makes sense bc Rica Arepa is making some great arepas as well as other Venezuelan favorites. The arepa is to Venezuela as the sandwich is to America. Everyone eats them. It's more than likely the country's signature eat with options being endless.

Patapata Arepa (Black Beans, Avocado, Cheese)at Rica Arepa

Arepas are traditionally made cooking dried corn, mashing it, and then drying it into a flour before shaping into a pocket. In Venezuela they tend to mix a bit of lard into the mixture making them a tad greasier than their Colombian counterparts. Arepas are a great snack source during morning and day and they also make for a great late night treat. Thus they tend to be stuffed with savory fillings like shredded beef, plantains, and cheese. Rica Arepa makes really good ones. They also make a Patacon. What you see in the picture below isn't a jibarito it's a Patacon Pisao. They like to make plantain sandwiches in Venezuela too but they do so differently. This one has pabellón (shredded beef), ham, lettuce, ketchup, mayo, mustard, cheese. It's shape is a more perfect circle than the jibarito and the fillings are different but it's same premise with the smashed plantain acting as bread.

Patacon Pisao (Venezuelan Plantain Sandwich)

I think I prefer the Puerto Rican plantain sandwich bc of both the garlic and the melted processed cheese but this is still a mighty fine way to kill a large appetite. Then there's the specials. On the first Sunday of the month they do Venezuelan style empanadas which I had never tried until last weekend. Of course they're made with corn and they're about twice the size of all other empanadas. Stuffed with the same style of fillings in an arepa and fried these are a special treat. In fact I follow Rica Arepa on social media and all of their specials look wonderful. Inside is small with only about 16 seats for but once the weather clears they have a huge side patio which will be great. Go check them out.

Venezuelan Empanadas (Black Beans and Cheese)at Rica Arepa

Rica Arepa
4253 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 543-3000

Friday, March 9, 2018

Chinese Cafe

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)
Taiwanese on the Weekends in Westmont

With daylight savings time near it's almost the end of hibernation. Which means you're probably very hungry and have a bad case of cabin fever. Well if you're looking for something to do this weekend you can always travel for food. Crack the windows and enjoy the fact it wont be dark before 5p. Sound like a plan? Then head out Westmont. A place most people willing to travel for food have already been. It's home, or was home, to two of Chicago's best restaurants in their respective categories of cuisine. Katy's being home to amazing hand pulled noodles and dumplings and Hanbun who was making some of the best Korean food in the city formerly in the space we visit today.

Chinese Cafe in Westmont's International Mall

The International Mall might not be home to Hanbun anymore but it still has a place worth seeking out especially on the weekends. I found out about Chinese Cafe from a fellow local food enthusiast who goes by @brian_eng on both Instagram and Twitter. He's low key the most knowledgeable person in the city when it comes to our many varieties of Asian cuisine. In fact he recently started his own little site where he shares his knowledge on some of his favorite dishes in the city. It's a great place to start if looking for a 'new to you' place to eat. You can check it out HERE. It was his post from Chinese Cafe, a food stall in the International Mall, that caught my eye. One on Taiwanese food.

Taiwanese Fried Doughnut Sticks

Taiwanese food isn't all that common in Chicago but in the last few years a few spots have popped up. Chinese Cafe serves a handful of Taiwanese favorites on the weekends (Sat. & Sun.) and it attracts lots of loyal customers. One thing you'll see on pretty much every table is these long things of fried dough called Youtiao or fried crueller. They're Chinese doughnuts and holy crap they're huge. Pictured next to them up above and also below is a Taiwanese Sticky Rice Roll. A popular breakfast snack consisting of little broken off parts of doughnut, hard boiled egg, and pork floss which is dried meat that's finely chopped. Stuffed in a roll of sticky rice. Breakfast just got interesting.

Taiwanese Sticky Rice Roll

The Taiwanese options are abundant on the weekends. One Taiwanese dish that always gets my attention is a version of Taiwanese fried chicken which is an extremely popular snack in Taipei and other parts of Taiwan. It's always served similar to popcorn chicken so you're getting little nuggets of meat and at Chinese Cafe some fried onions and scallions. Sometimes you just need some nuggets.

Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken

The main reason I rode out here was to get a taste of the Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. Which in Taiwan is called niu ro mien. This might be Taiwan's most popular dish. Everyone there has a spot they swear by in the same way American's have a pizza place etc. It's a dish I hope to one day try in it's natural habitat but for now I gotta travel to Westmont over the weekend if I want to eat it. Sure there's a few other places in town that make this dish but none with the flavors of what you get from here. This was one mighty potent bowl of noodle soup. The broth was extremely addictive. The beef was fall apart tender and I'm told the noodles are housemade. I couldn't get over the fact this bowl of soup tasted almost like an Italian Beef from Al's. Must've been the star anise. They have a few more Taiwanese favorites I have yet to try. Hanbun is gone but a reason to visit International Mall is not.

Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Chinese Cafe / Yu Ton Dumplings
665 Pasquinelli Dr
Westmont, IL 60559
(630) 323-2329

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mythos Greek Street Food

-Grubbing in Chicago
Greek Street Food on Montrose

I don't know about y'all but I'm really liking this current trend in Homemade* gyros. I've noticed a handful of spots that have recently popped open in Chicagoland where they're pushing what most of them call Greek Street Food. Today's stop takes us to the North Center neighborhood for some.

Newly Opened on Montrose

Mythos Greek Street Food is new but it's owners and the restaurant space are not. This place used to be called Mythos Greek Restaurant and it was a sit-down spot serving a full scale Greek menu. The owners decided to go in a different way but not a different cuisine. The food is still Greek but there's a focus on what they say are homemade gyros. The reason I put that * next to homemade in the previous paragraph is due to the fact they don't display the cones of meat in the open here. They may have one going in back but I never saw it. That said the meat you see in the pic below seems to be cut from a spit as you can see layers of meat making up each piece. I love real deal Greek gyros bc most of the time it's made with pork. Mythos version was pretty good but the portion was weak.

Pork Belly Gyros at Mythos Greek Street Food

Mythos Greek Street Food
2030 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 334-2000

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Little Pickle

-The Sammy's of Chi

How come no one's talking about The Little Pickle? If they are I haven't heard it. Or read it. But the truth is there's only a handful of food media left in the city and it's not easy for them to cover every last restaurant. Still I think that in due time people will start to make their way over here and proceed to make some noise about it afterwards. For me it was a DNAinfo (RIP) article that put it on my radar.

Newly Opened in Logan Square 

As the article informs this is the brainchild of a couple who owns the building. They wanted to bring the neighborhood a place where they could get a delicious homemade lunch at a more than fair price. I'm happy to report they have achieved their goal. Inside is a nice clean and open space with lots of light and a few tables. You order your sandwich at the counter and custom build it when doing so. Little Pickle offers a menu almost entirely made in-house. Meats are roasted right there and sliced fresh to order. All the pickled condiments are housemade. So are sides. Specials pop up regularly.

Everyday Menu at The Little Pickle

While those specials always have me tempted I think my go-to sandwich from here was realized on my first trip in. I tried a roast pork and you choose one pickled condiment and one sauce to go with it. My choices were avocado and roasted garlic. Wow. What a combo. This was a fantastic sandwich. Yes it was simple as far as ingredients but when you're doing it like that those ingredients better be great. The pork was outstanding. It was cooked to the perfect consistency to where the marbled fat melted in your mouth. There was no resistance from the meat making the sandwich easy to eat. When you consider the price point ($7.50) this has to be one of the better quality sandwiches you can find at that asking price. Which makes The Little Pickle a great neighborhood sandwich shop.

Roasted Pork Sandwich at The Little Pickle

The Little Pickle
3703 W Fullerton Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(312) 270-4538


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