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.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hold the Coffee @ Coffee Phix Cafe

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the latest posts on Simon’s coffee shop adventures, visit his blog at

Remember back when I proclaimed a front parking lot is a deal breaker for any coffee shop that wanted to be indie? Well, I guess even that rule has some exceptions.

See how the front parking lot disrupting the coffee shop's
indie flare. Disgusting
My fellow reporter, Andrew Cass, told me about Coffee Phix Cafe in early December when he wrote about its involvement in South Euclid's Christmas Tree event.

Despite noticing the two rows of parking in front of the shop, my boyfriend, Matt, and I were still eager to try it, Saturday, Dec. 7, after our gregarious, gains-yielding gym workout in Richmond Heights. (It's only a 6-minute drive, mind you.)

What we found, were plenty of redeeming indie features that greatly compensates for the building's less-than-hipster parking design. Coffee Phix makes a great nursery lesson for novice hipsters like myself: Never judge a coffee shop by what's between the curb and the storefront.

Location: I probably should start off explaining why front parking lots are a bad thing for community-minded consumers. (And it isn't because it eliminates the challenge of searching for free or cheap parking.) First, it makes eating and shopping less pedestrian-friendly. I don't know who likes cutting through a massive parking lot, which is often treacherous and life-threatening, to get to their destination. I think many people would prefer to spend double the time reaching their destination by means of walking through a more vibrant sidewalk versus a parking lot with nothing to see. Second, the layers of cars always ruin the aesthetic of an attractive-looking commercial strip.  And finally, the third reason why front parking lots are humankind's most disgusting invention is because they inhibit patrons inside from "people-watching" or enjoying the elements. What else are patrons suppose to do in between writing blog posts about coffee shops other than enjoy the diverse and eclectic passersby? Scope out the newest Kia Optima nearest to the window?

Now that I've given everyone a brief dissertation of the unfortunate existence of frontal parking lots, not all frontal parking lots bode as poorly as the rest. In fact, Coffee Phix is a best-case scenario: it's not in a strip plaza, and it still has a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk beyond the two rows of parking. More importantly, the building next door is up against the sidewalk and has a nature-inspired, hand-painted mural on the side of its building to grace the eyes of everyone in Coffee Phix's front parking lot.  It is a simple, easy addition to add a dramatic aesthetic punch.

Food and Beverage: Now that I am finished dedicating half of this blog post to my thoughts of frontal parking lots, we can move on to what Coffee Phix sell. In addition to tasty pastries, coffee and sandwiches, Coffee Phix also sells marijuana. Well actually, it's just THC-free hemp seed energy bars. They're supplied by Ohio-based Plant Kingdom Snackery and Bakery.  (Matthew is a nursing student and healthcare worker who receives frequent drug tests.  The kind barista put his anxieties at bay, guaranteeing he would not test positive.)

My ice coffee next to Matt's double brew.
Coffee Phix has even bigger mugs than these.
We bought the hemp bars after our meal. Together, Matt and I had a 20-ounce ice coffee (mine), a 16-ounce double-brew coffee (his, of course), a tuna-salad sandwich (mine) and a "sausage frittata" (his.) We spent $15 flat on it all.

I rarely ever talk about coffee in my blog, but News-Herald reporter and regal coffee expert, Devon Turchan, conducted some independent research and reported to me that Coffee Phix sells and roasts Phoenix Coffee-branded coffee beans. Part of the reason is because the location used to be part of the Phoenix Coffee Shop chain. The owner, who confirmed Devon's reporting, said that's why the building's name was spelled "Coffee Phix."  (Ala, "phoenix.")

Maybe it is a fire hazard, but who cares. It looks SWEET!
Space and Atmosphere: With the interior's high, black ceilings, structural beams and brick walls, I can see why an indie business like Coffee Phix would be interested in leasing the space. Coffee Phix also decorates its interior with signature coffee bags and colorful furniture.  The ceiling is donned with coffee bean bags, displaying an intersection between eco-friendly and chic.

Coffee Phix's interior is charming during the day, but emits a unique, majestic flare during evening hours, complimented by the warm, ethereal glow of Tiffany-style light fixtures and warm shaded lamps.

Best of all, the coffee shop integrates its space with community events. The day my boyfriend and I visited, the owner was busily affixing pieces by local artisans throughout the space for an art show that evening. And just this past Thursday, the coffee shop hosted an open mic
Here's Janet and another percent setting up the art show.
night, where I made my debut as an amateur stand-up comedienne, flabbergasting the crowd with my skills of charm, wit and hilarity. (Janet, the owner of the coffee shop, posted a snippet of my 6-minute act on their Facebook page.)

Apparently, Coffee Phix likes to schedule these events every other week. I commend coffee shops that double down as community hubs for culture, art and sharing.

(Editor's note: Adjectives and adverbs were profusely encouraged and harangued by my boyfriend, Matthew Sellers.)

The News-Herald in South Euclid? You better believe it!
Won't find this in your local Starbucks.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hold The Coffee @ Coffee Corners

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the latest posts on Simon’s coffee shop adventures, visit his blog at

Sometimes finding a very special coffee shop means killing a quarter tank of gas in my car. So when I was asked to travel down to Burton Village Nov. 30 to cover an event, you better believe I took advantage of checking out the area's signature coffee destination.

I had no one to model for this photo. Sad face. 
The event I covered was a Christmas-themed open house at Century Village Museum. (Another cool place to check out if you're in the area. It features historical homes that were uprooted and moved from all over Geauga County to its campus in the village.) After the event, I checked out Coffee Corners at 14544 Main St., a place I've heard all about from my newsroom's real coffee enthusiasts John Hutchison and Devon Turchan.

That Saturday, which quite fittingly was Small Business Saturday, I visited Coffee Corners by myself.  Be aware, I don't typically visit indie coffee shops by myself, especially when I'm obnoxiously and suspiciously taking photos inside and outside the shop. 

Below is my breakdown on the charms of the Burton indie coffee shop.

Location: The area between Burton's East Park Avenue circle and it's strip of stores along Main Street rival that of historic Chardon Square. Like almost all of Burton Village, Coffee Corners is very walk-, bike- and even horse-carriage-friendly. Although sometimes stressful to drive through, the village is a unique place to visit, and one of Geauga County's biggest gems. And unlike most rural-set coffee shops I find, Coffee Corners is actually open on Sundays.

The soup is not pictured here, but my keys are!
Food and Beverage: Coffee Corners has a fairly wide selection of hot and cold beverages and even food options, like sandwiches and soups. But the pastries are the winner. The cookies on display are gigantic enough to feed a small village. I couldn't help, but buy a Chinese almond cookie almost the size of my hand. Together with a 16-ounce coffee and a bowl of beef vegetable soup, I spent $7 and change. Coffee Corners also sells locally made wines and beer such as Raven's Glen and Great Lakes Brewery.

Atmosphere and Space: Coffee Corners' is an antique-themed coffee shop, and it does well in
I had no one to play Tic-Tak-Toe with. More sad face.
decorating its space with dated furniture, lamps and framed pictures around the coffee shop's three dining rooms, all of which have distinctive differences. The room I ate in was shrouded in dim warmth and was lit only by desk lamps at each of the small tables. The room had plenty of wall outlets scattered around and I noticed more than three people working on their computers. (The Wi-Fi password is listed on the chalk board menu behind the counter.) And despite being an antique-themed indie coffee shop, Coffee Corners appears to have no problem passing a health inspection. That can't be said of every antique-themed coffee shop I've visited.
The entire store had a very warm feeling
Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Dining Out: Casual fine dining is done right at ML Tavern in Moreland Hills

The last time the Hyde Park Restaurant Group decided on a departure from its flagship restaurant, the result was recently burned Jekyll’s Kitchen in Chagrin Falls — a mix of Hyde Park fine-dining staples and an attempt at a more casual atmosphere. It would be fair to say it suffered from a bit of an identity crisis.

The company, however, seems to have re-found its way with its latest iteration, ML Tavern in Moreland Hills, which stays true to Hyde Park’s exquisite fare and service and gets much more right than wrong in the setting in which they’re provided.

The restaurant, which opened in June in the former location of Fountain, without a doubt falls into the fine-dining category. But it’s a fresher take on the Hyde Park style — cozier and less formal. Its wood-paneled walls, covered in framed oil paintings, fire places and hardwood floors make ML feel rich but welcoming. A large bar and open kitchen add some more contemporary feel.

If you’ve ever felt that Hyde Park was fine-dining more appointed for your parents’ tastes, then ML Tavern might be considered your generation’s version.

Read more in Correspondent Mark Koestner's review: Dining Out: Casual fine dining is done right at ML Tavern in Moreland Hills.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tony Sacco's marks one year at Great Lakes Mall in Mentor

Tony Sacco's at Great Lakes Mall in Mentor opened on Dec. 12, 2012, so to celebrate its first anniversary, the coal oven pizza restaurant has created the "Sacco's Philly Pizza."

The special pizza, available for all of December, includes "Sacco's thin crust dough topped with slices of sautéed beef, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms and sweet peppers topped with a variety of specialty cheeses," according to a news release. Additionally, Tony Sacco's says it will donate $2 of every large Philly Pizza sold to Make-A-Wish America.

To look back on the year anniversary, check out the video Jean Bonchak produced when she wrote about the pizzeria's opening last December:

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dining Out: Flavors Around the Square in Painesville a real family-friendly find

When I heard of a new place coming to downtown Painesville that was to be named Flavors Around the Square, I assumed it was the new facsimile of the former Flavors on the Square, which was shuttered after a fire in 2010.

It took a recent trip to Flavors Around the Square, which opened in June on St. Clair Street, to learn that it is not connected to the old place. As it turned out, my wife and I learned quite a few things about this restaurant.

Read more of correspondent Mark Koestner's review at Dining Out: Flavors Around the Square in Painesville a real family-friendly find.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hold the Coffee @ Dog Ears Bookstore & Cafe

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the latest posts on Simon’s coffee shop adventures, visit his blog at

This week I am broadening my hunt for indie coffee shops to include a secret gem on the city of Buffalo's south side.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am born and raised in Buffalo and I make infrequent visits to the Queen City to meet family and check out all of the up-and-comings in the city. Throughout the months, you'll see a few blog entries dedicated to indie coffee shops in Buffalo.)

Yes, that is my younger brother Adam
pictured in the blue hoodie.
Dogs Ears Bookstore & Cafe, at 688 Abbott Road, is part-bookstore, part-coffee shop and all not-for-profit goodness. It shocks me more coffee shops haven't applied for 501c3 status. I know I am not speaking only for myself when I say people love patronizing coffee shops that invest in civic matters versus profits.

For Dog Ears, all of the proceeds from the coffee shop go directly to support the Enlightenment Literary Arts Center, located upstairs in the building, according to their website. (I don't know what the center does, and quite frankly, I don't care. The name sounds wonderful.)

I visited the coffee shop with my younger brother, Adam, Nov. 27, during my trip back home to Buffalo for Thanksgiving week. It wasn't my first time at Dog Ears. I've shared a meal their once before this summer with a friend who is a producer for one of Buffalo's TV news stations, and I also visited the place a couple times when it had a different owner and was called Caz Coffee Cafe. That shop closed down in 2012 and the bookstore took over the entire building some months afterward.

Here's part of the bookstore in the back,
but half of the bookshelves are woven incredibly well
into the coffee shop's dining areas.
The new management hasn't taken down or altered the old sign above the door, which could fool people into thinking it is still called Caz Coffee. At least that was what I thought that Wednesday when I was searching the place on my phone.

Below is my breakdown of the coffee shop:

Location - For those who don't know Western New York--South Buffalo and especially this portion along Abbott Road--is not often a highlighted destination for young, hip people to hang out. Buffalo's Elmwood Village, Allentown, Hertal Avenue, Chippewa Strip and more recently Canalside, Amherst Street and Larkin District are the spots people scope out for a good time. (And I haven't been to half of those places, of course.)

Dog Ears is one of a few businesses nestled between residential streets and in close proximity to a major park and hospital. That's part of the charm of Dog Ears. It's a very walk-friendly destination for the thousands of nearby residents and employees in South Buffalo. It works well with neighborhoods, even when patrons--myself included--are forced to park along residential streets because Dog Ears has no parking lot.

Look at these massive monsters!
Food and Beverage - Dog Ears offers a wide range of lunch-time meals and hot and iced beverages for coffee and non-coffee drinkers. Most importantly, the beverages come in gargantuan mugs. So gregarious, that the camera on my smart phone couldn't stop shooting photos.

Not to be overly pious about the "not-for-profit" status, but my brother only spent 20 bucks and some change for both of our quesadillas and our 16-ounce chai latte and cappucinno. That's pretty affordable cuisine for an urban indie coffee shop.

Space - In addition of adding more seating in the back of the building, Dog Ears made some noticeable interior improvements to the coffee shop since Caz Coffee left. It integrated its bookshelves nicely with the cafe's tables, fostered more open space, and most importantly, introduced me to the art of eco-friendly design: turning used doors into tables.  They are both beautiful and reused.

Why don't I see this more often?
Yes! Those are indeed coffee beans inside the
rectangular indents of the door. Groundbreaking!
Despite the added seating, I would advise to bring no more than three friends with you to Dog Ears, especially when the outdoor tables are unavailable because of a blustery Buffalo winter.

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hold the Coffee @ Beans Coffee Shop

Yes, I asked my boyfriend to model in the photo.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the latest posts on Simon’s coffee shop adventures, visit his blog at

Does it surprise anyone that the first indie coffee shop in my crusade is located inside the News-Herald’s coverage area?

What's surprising, however, is I hadn’t visited Beans Coffee Shop at 121 Main St., in Chardon, until my boyfriend, Matt, and I swung down there Saturday, Nov. 23, amid a typical Geauga County snow storm. (Coffee is best served with lake effect snow. Always.)

I’ve been dying to check the place out since a source asked to meet him there once this summer. It didn't happen because the coffee shop closes at 5 p.m. on weekdays. (It's even closed the whole day on Sundays.) On Saturday, the shop is open until 8 p.m., according to what Matt and I read on their website. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Beans at 4:40 p.m., the shop was just ready to close for the day. The nice clerk behind the counter said management still needed to update the site with its winter hours. Despite all that, Matt and I tried to make the best of our visit.

The place is great to visit, even for just 15 minutes, and below I've elaborated on some of its charms:

If I was weak-minded enough to give out star-ratings, I would give the historic Chardon Square five stars for its pedestrian-focused design and yet tranquil rural setting. Beans nestles very seamlessly into the strip of shops, restaurants and businesses around the square. Access to parking is easy from the street, which evades the winter torrent all too common in Northeast Ohio. It makes me wish I worked in Chardon Square.

Food and Beverage:
The coffee does come in mugs, but because
we got their so late we had to stick to Styrofoam.
Beans’ menu for coffee and non-coffee beverages is nothing to text your hipster competitors about. It is everything you would expect in a coffee shop that also serves ice cream. (Fun Fact: The ice cream is from Cincinnati-based Graeter’s.) With that said, Beans does offer a wider-than-expected menu of food options for breakfast and lunch. Despite visiting near the end of its operations, Beans had a fair selection of pastries. Matt and I indulged in a peanut-butter-and-chocolate brownie bigger than a stack of note cards, and together with two large coffees, we only spent six bucks and change.

Atmosphere and Space:
Maybe it was because the Holiday season was upon us with snowflakes dusting through Geauga County, but I felt a festive vibe at Beans that evening. The mocha-colored walls and warm accents invited closeness and conversation. Its ceiling fixtures and sky lights are warm and refreshing.  More importantly, Beans takes no modesty in decorating for the holidays. Beans is a great place to catch up with friends—maybe no more than a group of six or seven, mind you.  I didn’t have the time to see how well Beans does in a work-environment, but most certainly, my boyfriend did confirm the shop has working Wi-Fi.

Despite all of the design and decorations that went into its interior, the winner of the day was finding this gem of a coffee table pictured below, salvaged from old bricks and resurrected with modern glass.  Doesn’t everyone just want something like that in their living room?

I wish I shot a better photo.

P.S.: I am going to try to post each new blog entry on Sundays. Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.

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