Blogs > Eating It Up Locally!

Who wants to cook? Let’s go out to eat. See where News-Herald staff members dined and where they go to unwind in our area. You might just find a new treasure in your own neighborhood.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The perfect soup and a darn good salad

Sure, Max & Erma's is a great place to go to get a juicy burger, but don't count out the restaurant if you're in the mood for lighter fare.

This weekend I tried their Hula Bowl salad, which the menu calls "No Guilt." The description states the dish is "Mixed greens, pineapple-soy chicken, Mandarin oranges, fresh chunks of pineapple, tomatoes, carrots & crunchy noodles, with a fat-free honey mustard dressing."

I know what you're thinking: Fruit on a salad? With honey mustard dressing? I was thinking the same thing, but something about it appealed to me -- and boy, am I glad it did. In no time I was scraping the bottom of my bowl and wishing I had gotten the dinner size instead of the lunch portion.

Max & Erma's also has one of my most favorite foods, chicken tortilla soup. One bowl of the spicy, cheesy special recipe is hardly enough and always leaves me wanting more. In fact, I would love to have some right now.

Max & Erma's Restaurant Mentor
7890 Mentor Ave. (near Great Lakes Mall)
Mentor, OH 44060

A coupon for Max & Erma's can be found in the "Our Town and All-Around Dining Directory." If you're interested in your own "Our Town and All-Around Dining Directory" coupon book, you can get one when your News-Herald subscription is set up for EZ Pay, which is the automatic deduction from your credit card every month. You can also order one online at

-- Cheryl Sadler

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Not Your Ordinary Breakfast

Bob Evans, Eat'n Park and Perkins all serve their purpose when it comes to delivering a dependable, good breakfast. But let's face it, sometimes their offerings can become, well, quite predictable.

Wanting to take my dear friend to a special place for her birthday, I remembered some wonderful reviews The Original Pancake House received over the past few years. Granted,I was taking a chance. But since the reviews were pretty impressive, I figured our experience would be, at the least, decent.

The small storefront on Chagrin Boulevard in Woodmere does no justice to what lies within. Colorful, eclectic surroundings provided a warm and inviting ambiance. Efficient staff members promptly greeted and seated us, despite growing crowds.

Enough that the place itself was refreshingly unique, let's talk about the food. Pancakes are created with the restaurant's own sourdough starter recipe which results in a light, fine texture. The server's recommendation of the popular pumpkin version was not misleading. I didn't even need my spinach, feta cheese and sun-dried tomato omelette. The three, healthy-sized pancakes would have been enough. But then again, I would have been deprived of yet another creative and different taste.

For juice lovers, they've got the real, fresh-squeezed stuff here (orange and grapefruit). The bubbly froth on top is a bonus.

So just in case you're a tad bored with the usual morning fare, try the Original Pancake House. Those tastebuds seeking something new and different for breakfast will be sure to thank you.

The Original Pancake House, 28700 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere. 216-292-7777

- Jean Bonchak

It's all about the pizzafries

Taking advantage of the warmer weather last weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to walk around downtown Willoughby to find a place to lunch. We made our way into Fanucce's Italian Imports and Pizzeria, which opened in November. Immediately we were greeted with the smell of fresh Italian food and friendly faces behind the counter, who told us to take a seat anywhere.

The food preparation area of the long and narrow restaurant is in full view behind a counter and glass, so you can see the staff making your meal. The atmosphere is totally casual, and the staff was professional. I was impressed that they genuinely seemed interested in how we were enjoying our meal.

I loved the real Italian taste of the pizza we ordered. The seasoning in the dough made it seem authentic and not just doughy, like most chain pizzerias. The pepperoni was spicy, and the cheese and chicken tasted so fresh. The best part of the meal was DEFINITELY the pizzafries. Never heard of them? I hadn't either. Put together fries, sauce, sausage and cheese, and you have pizzafries. It's like the Italian version of cheesy fries, and they're much better than their American counterpart. I had never seen pizzafries before, and they're the perfect reason to stop in and try Fanucce's.

My only regret about the visit is that I filled up so much on pizzafries and pizza that I didn't get to try dessert.

Fanucce's offers dine in, carryout, delivery and party trays, and the eatery also has a deli counter with fresh meats, cheeses and other Italian fare. I'll definitely keep it in mind next time I'm getting lunch meat or a pizza.

Fanucce's Italian Imports and Pizzeria
4125 Erie St.
Willoughby, OH 44094
Fax 440-946-3959
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday
11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

-- Cheryl Sadler

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Monday, March 16, 2009

The perfect wine for a sweet tooth

Those who know me, can attest that I have quite a sweet tooth. So, when I heard that our local wineries were putting together an Ice Wine self-driving tour on Saturday I jumped at the opportunity. My wife also was eager as we are always on the lookout for "adventure dates" (defined as anything other than a dinner and a movie).

And we weren't disappointed.

The wines -- which taste like alcoholic syrupy juice because the grapes aren't harvested until late in the season -- were excellent at all six locations. Some carried hints of apricots, others had a bit of a spiciness to them.

Special award goes to Debonne Vineyards who took the super-sweet wine, added a chocolate liquor, then drizzled the glass with Hershey's syrup for an Ice Wine Martini.I told you I had a sweet tooth.

While I'm handing out awards, the Coolest Winery goes to South River Vineyard, which makes its home in a church building that looks like it came right out of Little House on the Prairie. Actually, the former Methodist church built in the 1890s came from Portage County where it was abandoned in 1970 and stayed that way until 2000 when it was taken down and rebuilt in Harpersfield on the Ashtabula side of the Lake County border.Chatting in a wine bar setting among the pews and stained glass creates an interesting vibe.

But Ferrante's, Grand River Cellars, Laurello Vineyards and St. Joseph Vineyards each also offered a unique setting and tasting, despite all six being located in the same general area -- just south of Route 90 near Routes 528 and 534.

There were only two downsides. One was this event was so popular that every winery was packed with hundreds of revelers and while that's great for their businesses during a traditionally slow time, it did infringe on the usually tranquil atmosphere. Second, the trees must be amazing in the summer and fall but nowadays the barren trees were more in line with, well, ice wine.

But we'll definitely be visiting our version of Napa Valley again -- hmmm,these wineries are having an "Around the World" wine tour April 25.

-- John Bertosa,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Sweet Pancake Event

This time of year pancake breakfasts abound in northeast Ohio. Churches, community organizations and other groups are busy flipping their special versions of cakes.

The West Geauga Kiwanis have been delivering this culinary pleasure for more than 50 years. Attending the yearly events has been one of our happy, family traditions for about two decades.

The cakes are light, fluffy and wonderfully delicious, especially when smothered with the real, golden maple syrup that's set out on each table.

Also making the event pleasurable is the finely-honed procedure the Kiwanis have developed over the years. A usual lengthy line moves quickly and a multitude of upbeat volunteers are at-the-ready pouring coffee and filling up empty plates.

We still get a kick out of the paint sticks marked with "pancakes" and "coffee" that one need only raise to summon workers ready to fulfill requests.

Assuredly, there are other pancake breakfasts where the food is yummy and the process well-organized. The West G Kiwanis' pancake-fest certainly has to be very near the top of that list.

The breakfasts are available from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. March 15, 22 and 29 at West Geauga High School on Route 306 in Chesterland.

--Jean Bonchak

Monday, March 9, 2009

A little Southwest in Mentor

This weekend I tried Branding Iron Cookhouse for the first time. I immediately liked the Southwest atmosphere of the bar and grill, with cowboy paraphernalia and photographs covering the walls from floor to ceiling.

The staff was nothing short of friendly, and the manager even spent some time talking with my party and ensuring we were enjoying ourselves. I don't remember the last time I had such good service -- especially from our server, who remembered each of our drink orders and exactly how much ice we wanted in them when she got our refills.

My group ordered chicken wings, pulled pork and a chicken sandwich, and we all got onion rings. The food came out a little slower than I would have wanted (our server explained it was because the wings took a little longer to cook), but it was hot and tasty when it reached our table. The chicken on my sandwich was cooked perfectly, and I really enjoyed the side of honey mustard dipping sauce that came with the onion rings.

The thing I might remember most about my experience there was the special touch that came with our meals: The sandwich buns were branded.

And if you go there for your birthday, you can sit on a horse, wear a cowboy hat and have a picture taken. Those pictures fill the walls in the front of the restaurant.

Branding Iron Cookhouse
8450 Market St. (Route 615)
Mentor, OH 44060
Open at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays)
Happy Hour 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday

-- Cheryl Sadler

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Lunch in the Stadium

I grabbed lunch last week at Stadium Grill in Mentor, the first time I have eaten at the restaurant. We picked Stadium Grill because of the buy-one-get-one coupon in the "Our Town and All-Around Dining Directory." The sparse lunchtime crowd allowed us to seat ourselves, and we were waited on quickly.

The coupon we had was good for a meal valued up to $8. My dining companion and I had no trouble picking out dishes that fit the price because most of the items on the menu ranged from $7 to $9. I ordered the BBQ Chicken Pizza, while he ordered the Wet & Wild Chicken Sandwich coated in hot garlic Parmesean wing sauce; we also ordered the sweet potato fries as an appetizer. All were delicious, and the pizza was enough for me to eat lunch and a cold dinner later. But the next time I go, I'm definitely going to get the Wet & Wild Chicken Sandwich. The wing sauce was just so good.

In addition to the tasty, fairly priced fare, Stadium Grill also offers a stage for various entertainment acts (a list of which can be found on the Web site), special events and Keno.

Stadium Grill
8330 Tyler Blvd.
Mentor, OH 44060

If you're interested in your own "Our Town and All-Around Dining Directory" coupon book, you can get one when your News-Herald subscription is set up for EZ Pay, which is the automatic deduction from your credit card every month. You can also order one online at

-- Cheryl Sadler

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chefs Shine in Chester Township

A recent Saturday marked my tea group's third visit to the Loretta Paganini ICASI Student Cafe in Chester Township.

For those unaware of the workings of the local food fests, students at the internationally famous cooking school prepare several gourmet courses for a luncheon that is open to the public. Cost of a ticket is $20 and reservations are required. Diners have the choice of one of two offerings per course.

The primi course that I chose was a spinach pasta with creamy Gorgonzola sauce, prosciutto and sweet peas.
Was it rich? Yes.
Was it mouth-watering, delicious and worth the calories? Absolutely.
On the critique sheet diners are encouraged to use, I wrote that it easily would be considered as one of my choices for a last dinner on earth.

Dolci, or dessert, offered chocolate macadamia pie and a pumpkin trio. Though most ordered and raved about the pie, other tea group members remarked that the pumpkin selection, including a creme brulee, was very satisfying as well.

Not only do the luncheons give participants the opportunity to sample true gourmet fare at a low cost, it also affords the privilege of giving feedback to the future chefs.

The gastronomic feasts run through the end of March, but will pick up again in September. If you're interested in a unique and delicious Saturday afternoon dining experience, the ICASI Student Cafe more than fits the bill.

--Jean Bonchak