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, January 27, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ Arabica in Willoughby

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

I know what you're thinking... it is about time a Lake County coffee shop is finally reviewed! (And trust me, it won't be my last. I'll probably have Open Door Coffee on here sometime in the next two months.)

Arabica looks so inviting from the outside,
or is that just Matt's face?
Most posts on this blog have been dedicated to indie coffee shops I infrequently visit, and Arabica Coffee House is definitely not among them. I often camp out at the Downtown Willoughby coffee shop at least twice a month. It's partly because the News-Herald's office is only a four-minute drive away, but mostly it is because Arabica offers a fresh breath of indie flare in a county that is severely inundated with frontal parking lots and five-lane roads. If Euclid, Richmond Heights or western Lake County offered more indie coffee venues, I probably wouldn't need to know Arabica's hours of operation by heart like I do now.

My boyfriend Matt and I visited Arabica Friday, Jan. 17, for a pre-workout coffee break. Being so close to the newsroom, we were fortunate to have some of my coworkers, Amy, Devon and Cheryl join us for coffee.

Matt realizing he just poured salt in his coffee.
He said he thought the salt shaker was vanilla.
Location: There's only a handful of places in Lake County that possess a neighborhood-like flare (or a strong potential for it.) Those areas sit either around State and Main Street in Painesville, High and Third Street in Fairport Harbor and Route 84 and 528 in Madison Village. Downtown Willoughby, comprised mostly of Route 20, stands out as the success story in the county. Although it doesn't reach the offerings of some destinations in Columbus, Buffalo and Cleveland, Downtown Willoughby does remarkably well in creating a critical mass commercial district for a relatively small city. The first time I visited Downtown Willougby, its brick facades, narrow streets and seamless layer of buildings reminded me of Downtown Kent, minus the nearby massive college campus and needless hassle to find free parking.

They taste as good as they look.
Speaking about free parking, there's plenty of it near Arabica, whether its along Euclid Avenue, Spaulding Street, Erie Street or the municipal lot in front of City Hall. (Yes, Downtown Willoughby has a front parking lot, unfortunately.) I'd argue Arabica's storefront is the most convenient location for drivers in Downtown Willoughby.

Food and Beverages: If there's one thing that separates Arabica from most coffee shops, it is the baked goods, mostly the cookies and brownies. Their designs are often compelling and flavors often rich in  sweetness that I am surprised Arabica's management doesn't place signs near the counter warning diabetic patrons to stare with caution. Matt and I often leave Arabica with carb comas.  Friday's visit was not so different. Matt and I spent $10 and change for two 20-ounce coffees (one with an espresso shot) and two baked goods. Matt was wise and ordered a cranberry granola bar. I was weak-minded and caved in to the smore-brownie, which was the size of a stack of note cards.

Matt and I got Styrofoam cups.Nearly an hour later,
Devon showed us that you can order a mug if you ask. 
If there's one thing that troubles me about Arabica, however, it is its use of Styrofoam cups. Now, I can probably count at least a handful of other indie coffee shops that use Styrofoam, but that's no excuse. We just entered 2014, and it's little secret of the environmental consequences of Styrofoam. And Arabica uses plenty of Styrofoam cups--even for iced beverages, strangely enough. Up until a week ago, I didn't know you could actually order a mug if you asked the barista for it.

Space and Atmosphere: Arabica checks off all of the necessities of a neighborhood coffee shop, combining its wood-panel flooring, exposed brick walls, earth-tone lighting and antique black-and-white photos of Willoughby's urbanized landscape.

An artistic low-angle shot of Arabica!
Arabica excels especially well as a night-life bar. Not having done it myself, I can see patrons starting their bar crawl at Arabica to fill up on some caffeine and sober conversation before launching into one of Downtown Willoughby's nearly dozen bars.

With plenty of outlets and a Wi-Fi password available on the receipts, Arabica also offers patrons good working space. However be warned: the tables near the Erie Street door can get pretty drafty. The building is so old, I can't be too surprised by the draft. I often wonder if that's why Arabica was closed during the polar vortex earlier this month. In addition, its suppose to be closed Monday and Tuesday because of the Alberta Clipper, according to its Facebook page. Ouch! Closed on a frigid day when people like myself need you most? Not cool, Arabica. Not cool.
Here's Matt, Jan. 6, finding out that Arabica is closed
because of the Polar Vortex.
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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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dining Out: Mentor's Local Tavern does interesting bar food at historic spot

It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Sawyer Home in Mentor has a recent history of housing eateries with, well, short histories. In the last 15 or so years, it’s been home to at least four different restaurants.

Its latest occupant, Local Tavern, has a shot at making history. That’s to say it’s not hard to envision it sticking around for a while.

Locally owned by the same group that operates the flagship in Willoughby Hills, the Mentor location opened in June. Unlike its predecessor in the 170-year-old Sawyer home, the out-of-retirement version of Frank and Pauly’s that lasted only a year there, Local Tavern has figured out how to fit its style to the space. Four separate bars, an entertainment stage in the main room and strategically placed TVs work with the building’s cut-up layout better. The lively music and rock-themed décor make the whole place inviting and fun. You can watch sports there, but it’s not a sports bar.

Calling it a “tavern” is fitting. It’s more bar than restaurant, but Local Tavern is also a bar that foodies can get into. With a focus on fresh local ingredients, a tight menu and 30-some beers on tap — including a fair selection of micro-brews — it has a little bit of a higher-end feel to it, but without hitting your wallet on the high end.

Read more on Correspondent Mark Koestner's review: Dining Out: Mentor's Local Tavern does interesting bar food at historic spot.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Beer dinner at Ballantine in Willoughby

When I came across Ballantine's post on Facebook last week about the Stone Beer Dinner on Jan. 20, I immediately texted the menu to my boyfriend. The beer — all from Stone Brewing Company — didn't exactly sound like my style, but the food seemed too good to pass up at the $35-a-head price. And wow, that is one of the best meals I have ever had.

The menu and the dishes — with some fancy Instagram filtering.

Course by course

The Citrus Arugula Salad was perfectly balanced flavor and texture. I was scraping the plate with my fork to try to get every last bit of prosciutto and citrus vinaigrette.

The Braised Pork Sliders — wow. I am pretty sure I said "Oh my god, these are amazing" with my mouth full more than once while eating these. A big fan of onions, I would have preferred a bit more of the "cotton onion" on my sliders. Also probably a bit more of the cole slaw. But the serving size was big enough, given the amount of food we were served (and beer).

The Righteous Chili was exactly how I like chili made — hearty with a spice that you doesn't hit you immediately. I couldn't detect any of the chocolate (my boyfriend good), but still enjoyed it.

The Coffee Rubbed Duck came to the table when I started feeling full. I actually had to pause before finishing the duck — and skipped some of the veggies on the plate to ensure I had room for dessert. I do not ever see myself cooking duck, and am not sure if I would regularly order it in a restaurant, but I was definitely looking forward to this. The meat was a little raw for my liking; though it tasted fine, the texture took me a minute to adjust to. But the coffee rub on it was incredible. And the cranberry redux? I'm probably going to be dreaming about that. If this dish lands a spot on Ballantine's menu, I definitely will be ordering it on a future visit.

The Pecan Ball was tasty and light — which was good after finishing the previous four courses and their accompanying beers. But it also was the most ordinary dish of the five. I could make this at home, which may be why it initially jumped out at me on the menu. I didn't not enjoy any of the courses, but this one was my least favorite, probably because it was so simple.

The beer

As I said earlier, the beer wasn't exactly my style, but all of it was good. The Levitation Amber Ale is probably the only one I would order on its own in the future, but that's just my taste. The others went perfectly with the dishes and were, to me, enjoyable in that context. I think my boyfriend actually might have been a bit impressed that I drank some hoppy varieties, which normally I avoid or taste before quickly swigging my own beverage.

More, please!

Our server let us know that more beer dinners are planned in February, March and April:

I thought she had said the Jackie-O's dinner wasn't set yet, but I sure hope it is! They're brewing some good stuff in Athens, and I would love to see what Ballantine will cook up to pair with the beer.

Like Ballantine on Facebook to keep updated on future beer dinner plans. Maybe I will see you there!

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Relax, It's Just Coffee

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

I am the first to admit I am never going to be a coffee connoisseur, and up until this post, I never really thought it mattered much.

Lets just say the two men drinking their coffees outside
were very amused to watch the photoshoot between
Matt and I. 
It was not so much the case at Relax, It's Just Coffee. The Mansfield coffee shop--sometimes spelled without the comma to grind the gears of Grammar Nazis--is like the indie craft brewery of coffee shops. Some of their darkest coffees are so intense that they can make my boyfriend, Matt, squirm--even with milk and sweetener added.

Relax was a frequent hangout of Matt's when he was a student at Ohio State University's Mansfield Campus and it speaks volumes of the alternative lifestyle he lived (still mildly lives in a rated PG way) before meeting me.

According to Matt, I've seemingly visited every coffee shop worth reviewing in Knox County, and so we agreed to drive 40 minutes north Sunday, Jan. 12, to visit Relax and find out if anything has changed since our last visit in March.

Matt ordering our coffees.
Location: The coffee shop is located inside the city's historic Carrousel District and blends well with the surrounding businesses and their facades. Downtown Mansfield doesn't have the best reputation. Even I admit, the streets and buildings are a little too rustic and beaten and have too many parking lots for my taste. But the Carrousel District adds a breath of vitality to Downtown Mansfield, and despite being a small district, anyone can see the positive effects it is having on surrounding blocks.  Yet, Matt was walking, experiencing an elevated sense of nostalgia.  He mused, "Simon, sometimes the best people and places are like these buildings: a little rough and worn, but still lovely."

Like any good coffee destination, Relax, sits in the center of this district and its mission to revitalize Downtown Mansfield.

I ordered a Mocha simply to appreciate the foam art.
Food and Beverage: If you're looking to quell an empty stomach, Relax is not the coffee shop to visit. Relax carries scones, cookies, muffins, bagels and other sugary carbs, all made by a local bakery, but leaves out other staple food options like sandwiches, wraps and soups. But then again, Relax is within walking distance of so many great restaurants that it's hard to knock off too many points because the coffee shop doesn't have a fully functioning kitchen.

On Sunday, Matt and I ordered a chai pistachio muffin, an apple oat scone, a 16-ounce Mocha and a 16-ounce mug of some absurdly dark coffee that will taint your soul. It all cost $8 and change.

Very nice layout for an artsy coffee shop.
Space: Relax is definitely a place worth checking out. With its narrow hall-like space, exposed ventilation and wooden flooring, Relax seems more like an art gallery that just so happens to brew and serve coffee. In fact, Relax is pretty much an art gallery. Paintings and sculptures from students and local artisans are arranged throughout the space.

It's probably why Relax often attracts a niche artistic crowd that sports dark, over-sized jackets and long hair. I call them intensely hipster, but Matt calls them "alternative," or more proudly "alt." Either way, walking into Relax Sunday made me regret shaving my facial hair or showering that week. But in less than an hour, the crowd of patrons changed from "alt" to business professionals and even families. (Because kids love those sugary Mochas.)

Large menu huh? It's actually all beverages.
Relax seems to also attract a lot of students. A few were working on their laptops Sunday, Matt included. Relax has plenty of wall outlets and unless you were logging on with my computer, the place also has working Wi-Fi. Its best attribute, however, is the soft, moody music the staff plays. Think Plumb, but without any Christian references.

If you're in Mansfield with an non-famished stomach, Relax is a place to stop in.

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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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ SPoT Coffee on Elmwood Avenue

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

Simon is back this week, and I am reviewing another coffee destination in my home city of Buffalo.

My boyfriend, Matt, and I visited my parent's house for a three-day weekend earlier this month. More important than meeting my parents, I wanted to introduce Matt to some of Buffalo’s cool, hip assets. On Saturday Jan. 4, Matt and I scouted through the famous Elmwood Village. It's not actually a village, but a vibrant commercial district in northern Buffalo filled with locally owned shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes.

I tried to fit SPoT Coffee's sign in the frame,
but if I backed up any farther into the street,
I am sure car would've hit me.
Matt and I spent more than two hours at SPoT Coffee at 765 Elmwood Avenue. I have to confess, SPoT is actually a publicly traded company with nine locations and blurs the lines between indie and corporate. Despite being headquartered at its Toronto location, the company has most of its cafes in the Buffalo area. Three are in the city, two in nearby suburbs, two in Upstate New York cities and one in coastal Florida.

I am sure some people might accuse SPoT of being a big corporate chain, but I don't think their size is that out-of-control, and from what I've seen, each location is very different from one another and tries to emulate a neighborhood coffee shop. (Granted, I've only visited a SPoT once before my visit to the Elmwood location, and that was a quick stop at the one on Delaware Avenue.)

Instead of reviewing SPoT, the company, I am dedicating this post specifically to the Elmwood Avenue location. (Expect the same treatment for other regionally chained coffee shops. I am looking at you, Pheonix Coffee and Erie Island.)

This beautiful mural of Elmwood Village was the
first thing to greet our eye's at SPoT Coffee.
Location:  Elmwood Village a place founded by hipsters, and taken over by college students and rich single people. It's the kind of place you meet someone for a day-long date and by the end of the day, you'll have sworn you walked a half-marathon. What's more, a strong portion of the shops and restaurants are located inside renovated and repurposed old homes and mansions.

Despite being located inside a one-story, single-use building, SPoT's high roof and streetside facade blends well with its surrounding buildings. 

Nearby curbside parking can be hard to find In Elmwood Village. Not so much the case at SPoT. There's actually two public parking lots within walking distance of the cafe. Parking lots might grind my gears, but they do serve well in accommodating commuters, much like myself.

Because the lighting was so dim where we were eating,
I lit the food using my second smart phone's flash.
Food and Beverages: SPoT carries the traditional wide range of caffeine beverages, smoothies, sandwiches, wraps and breakfast items, but it's also known for its selection of gourmet pizza, which presents a valuable option for a group of young hipsters who want to hang out together on a tight wallet.

Matt and I didn't order a pizza. He got a bagel with enough veggie cream cheese to clog someone's sceptic tank,and I ordered a hummus wrap, which you can imagine contained enough hummus to do the same. Together with two 16-ounce coffees and a side salad, we spent a little more than $15 and two quarters.

I am in love with those glass jars on the left.
They have packets of sweetener in them.
Space and Atmosphere: Matt and I were thrown off our feet when we first entered SPoT that Thursday evening. Like most coffee shops we visit, we were expecting a calm and personal atmosphere. What we found was pretty much a crowded date night with colorful walls, bright lights and music almost as loud as a college town bar. We don't normally go to coffee shops after 5 p.m., and I am sure that played a big reason for the unsettling atmosphere. 

We first sat at a small table adjacent to a woman and man of our age who were clearly on a first date. (I think it well because later I saw both walking together toward Downtown Buffalo.)

Don't be fooled. Nearly half were playing video games.
After several minutes, Matt and I found more welcoming space at a a bar stool area near the windows. The seven or eight people sitting there were all on laptops. The softer music, dimmer lights and nearby wall outlets allowed Matt to work on his online test for nursing school and me to therapeutically creep on people walking between stores outside. I've never seen a seating area at a coffee shop so blatantly designed for work. 

Unlike most coffee shop's I visit, SPoT's volume of seating and tables can accommodate groups of up to a dozen people. I know that Saturday I saw one group of nearly ten people crowded comfortably around a large table.

With SPoT's large space, it is no surprise I saw flyers for an upcoming open mic night posted around. (Too bad it was scheduled two days after Matt and I returned to Cleveland. Would've loved to try my stand-up comedy one more time.) 
SPoT keeps a Ken and Barbie doll posted on the women's
and men's restroom doors. Groundbreaking! 

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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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ Wiggin Street Coffee by Guest Writer, Matthew Sellers

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

There is no Simon this week.  He is tied and restrained with duct tape in an anonymous car trunk in Euclid.  I'm kidding, but I garnered your attention, no?  (I do not mean to be overly prejudicial, but according to the French Foreign Ministry, the probability of Simon finding himself in such unfortunate circumstances in Euclid is actually quite high.  I lovingly ask him not to park in the dark, but do you think he listens?)  Actually, his whereabouts are seemingly more lackluster.  He is currently slipping and sliding along "the 90," among the torrent of frigid, meteorological ejaculation that occurs often during January in Lake County, Ohio. He said he had to "write about a council meeting," or whatever that means.

I'm trying to bring sex appeal to coffee.
Instead of Simon, I will be writing about Wiggin Street Coffee, a charming locale Simon and I visit upon occasion when exploring central Ohio.  So you and I will not be complete strangers, allow me to tell you that I am Matthew, Simon's charming, remarkably attractive, humble boyfriend, a graduate of "The" Ohio State University with a degree in English and minors in History and Spanish.  (Don't ever allow me to catch you withholding the rather sanctimonious "The" in my Alma mater's title.  I will quickly interrupt you and ask you to rightfully repeat yourself.)  Seeing that I hold a terribly marketable degree of English from this great Ohio school, I enrolled in a nursing program this past July and upon completion of my NCLEX in the fall, I will be moving to the Cleveland area to begin practice as a nurse and further my nursing education so that I may assist Simon when he has another bout with mono, stomach flu, or listens to copious amount of Daughter and acquires the melancholy.  (If you don't yet know Daughter, please cast your attention upon her via Youtube.)      

Location/Local Colour: Wiggin Street Coffee is cozily nestled in the idyllic hills of The Village of Gambier and Kenyon College in Knox County, Ohio; one hour north of Columbus and two hours southeast of Cleveland.  Kenyon College is considered a "new Ivy" and number-one on Forbes' List of Most Beautiful College Campuses.  The sleeper-hit film, Liberal Arts, starring Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen was filmed upon her campus.  It is the quintessential, leaf-strewn liberal arts school where creative, bookish, and heatedly philanthropic, and righteously hipster students from the Northeast and southern California enroll to "get away and find themselves" and earn degrees in Women's Studies, Art, Anthropology, Dance, Queer Theory, English, Being Lesbian  and many more auspicious foci of study.  In short, Kenyon College is a world-renown, private, Midwestern Mecca for the arts and humanities with a $60,000 yearly price tag.  Also, it has one of the most quaint, civic-minded coffee shops I've ever visited.

Comfortable furniture for warm conversations.
I am going to disclose something rather shocking: I am not the "frontal parking" connoisseur that Simon is.  (I believe I just heard his Ford Focus break with alarm.)  My belief on the matter is simply: buildings and architectural theory evolve over time and what and how something was built in the past often had its fitting reasons, so if it makes little sense or does not meld well with current building/commercial trends, that's quite okay, in my opinion, and Simon and I are simply going to have to agree to disagree.  (Trial/error, cause/effect are how history is written, but that's for another blog.)  I myself, am a Romantic, and like old things that do not always make sense in 2014.  Wiggin Street Coffee, at 101 East Wiggin Street, however, is located on a pedestrian-friendly location, but it is housed in a tiny Victorian block adjacent to a historical Episcopal Church, which I attended when I was younger.  Parking is available across the street along the front lawn of church grounds.  Every business in Gambier, Ohio is locally-owned and the citizens advocate damned hard to keep life that way.  Juxtaposed to Wiggin Street Coffee are a rather Jewish deli frequented by Episcopalians, the campus bookstore, Village Inn Bar & Grille and Kenyon administration buildings. Kenyon College charmingly coalesces its college with the commercial, and vice versa.

Warm, clean and little distraction for the Thinking person.
Space/Atmosphere: When Simon and I visited, the students were on winter holiday, so we beheld a vacant coffee house with plenty of space and solace for Simon's article-writing and my feverish attempt to catch another Pokemon on my DS.  The mocha walls and minimalist decor provide a calm, clean,warm environment with little flare or distraction for the Thinking person.  A guest may choose from a myriad of seating options: the cafe bar with stools and industrial lighting, several circles of plush sofas for a more collectivist meeting, or booth seating with (Hallelujah!) plenty of electrical outlets for lengthy laptop use and electronic devices.  (My greatest pet peeve is lack of outlets in coffee shops to accommodate rather lengthy stays.  However, remember to gauge what you purchase based upon the length of your stay, but we will cover that later.) I enjoy booth seating because Simon and I both have space for our tasks and duties, but I can easily disrupt him with a gentle kick below the table to ask him to assist with my DS.  ("You press the 'B' button, Matthew.  The 'B' button...")

The barista area was lit with industrial-style bulbs
 and the equipment was open for the guests
to enjoy the drink-making process.
Less conspicuously, but nonetheless, just as important as the coffee shop at large, Wiggin Street Coffee has one of the most thoughtful and civic-minded restrooms I've ever graced with my urinary and scatological needs.  Stocked with 100% natural and biodegradable hand soap and unbleached toilet paper made entirely from post-consumer materials, the most ardent environmentalist can relieve herself with little or no ecological consequence.  (Also, it was delightfully warm.  Typically, restrooms in coffee shops are too cold.)  The restroom has the same, warm mocha walls and my bottom could not necessarily tell the difference in the unbleached toilet paper versus the traditional Charmin blankets I use at home, but my bottom was definitely a hero, that day.

I like my coffee like I enjoy my men: strong, slightly pale
and a little sweet.
Food & Beverage:  Now, I understand this blog is titled, "Hold the Coffee," but doing so in my entry would only prove to be a detriment in the proper description of Wiggin Street Coffee, because the beverages are what makes it so special.  Wiggin Street Coffee does offer various baked goods like scones, danishes, muffins, and upon occasion, sandwiches.  However, the reason to visit is its beverages.  (I know, I know, I'm breaking the blog's orthodoxy, today.)  I bought Simon and I drip coffee with some rather robust espresso, a crisp, peppermint mocha with a delightful leaf pattern in the foam, a raspberry-chocolate scone, vanilla danish and eventual refills prepared by a notably professional barista for less than fifteen bucks.  Also, the coffee has a streamlined, civic distribution process from "farmer to roaster to you," heralded by its coffee provider, Epitome of Granola.  Many coffee shops are rather discreet in their drink-making processes, placing their brewers, presses, mixers and such behind a counter or partition, but Wiggin Street Coffee is rather celebratory, expressive and sensuous in serving the guests in a brightly-lit, barista area with all of the equipment and accessories within view.  These people live and breathe coffee.  As mentioned, the barista station is surrounded by a coffee bar and stools so the guests may observe their drink's genesis and burgeoning.  The industrial light bulbs are simply breathtaking.

Coffee with a conscience.
On a side note, since I have free reign of this post while Simon is somewhere in the wintry wilderness, I am going to take a moment to discuss what I'll call, "drinks purchased/length-of-visit etiquette."  Like many coffee shops, they are located within proximity to a college or university and students frequent them for rather long allotments of time whilst studying, yet sometimes purchase very little in proportion to their stay.  My rule of thumb is such: for every hour I occupy a table, I purchase one cup of coffee.  This keeps my table and involves me in the life and investment of my coffee shop.  We all win.

Overall, Wiggin Street Coffee is for the coffee shop goer who yearns to experience the romance of a rural, liberal arts campus with a natural, food chain-free backdrop.  From a humanities scholar novice to the  graduate like myself who often wishes to reconnect with that epoch of my life, visiting the Village of Gambier and Kenyon College to have a peppermint mocha will prove to be a pleasant step into nostalgia and quietness for the Thinking person.

Simon will be back next week. In the meantime, send suggestions of any coffee destinations to @SimonSaysNH or


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Friday, January 3, 2014

Dining Out: Stevenson's moves from Euclid to Cleveland, brings familiar tastes

Things are a little less uneven these days at Stevenson’s Bar & Grille.

That’s because the venerable Euclid sandwich shop has moved from its Lake Shore Boulevard location, becoming the venerable Cleveland sandwich shop in the process. The owners abandoned their original spot after 90 years in the midst of a long battle with Euclid city officials over safety concerns. Officials said the warped floor wasn’t safe and that the building had numerous code violations.

Now at 800 E. 200th St., next to the former Clark gas station and across from Discount Drug Mart, it hasn’t missed a beat in bringing its burgers and more to patrons who’ve found their way to the new spot.

Read more on Managing Editor Laura Kessel's review: Dining Out: Stevenson's moves from Euclid to Cleveland, brings familiar tastes.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ Sips Coffee House

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

Editors note: I usually try to post entries on Sunday. However, this weekend I came down with the stomach flu and had problems just standing up straight and remembering my boyfriend's name. I hope you all forgive me for waiting until New Years Day to get this done. Future blog posts will still be on Sunday, health permitting.

I would love to live above a coffee shop like this!
Do you have a small city you love visiting, but wonder if a third or more of that love is simply attributed to its indie coffee shop? That is how I feel about Mount Vernon and Sips Coffee House at 101 S Main St. My boyfriend, Matt was raised in Mount Vernon, a town about 45 minutes north of Columbus. In addition to seeing him, his friends, and downtown Mount Vernon's revitalizing spirit, I love spending hours sitting in Sips, reading what question The Mount Vernon News asks random strangers in its weekly series, "Taking It to the Streets."  (On a side note, the answers are often hilarious and entail "Jesus.") Much of our time consists of my helping Matt study for his next nursing test that delves a little too deep into female genitalia; all the while capitalizing on free coffee refills.

Matt and I visited Sips this past Saturday, December 21, for the nth time and I figured I would dedicate my blog post to that visit.

Location: On the corner of Main and Vine streets, Sips is one of the successful downtown businesses partially responsible for Mount Vernon's steady revitalization, operating since the late 1990s. Virtually all of its Colonial-style brick buildings are occupied with independent book stores, bakeries, offices, apartments and myriad other vintage shops. Mount Vernon is the kind of place where I will like to see the city of Painesville in three or four years.

Yes, there's pasta salad behind my sandwich,
but at least I didn't order a muffin
Sips' Main and Vine Street entrances are up against the sidewalk--just like the Universe intended. A surface-level/free community parking lot does sit on the other end of the block, but it doesn't detract or break up the dense environment along Main Street. (The smaller parking lot across Vine Street does break up the synergy a bit, however.) (Matthew questioned my usage of the word, "synergy.")

Food and Beverage: Being also a deli, Sips makes wraps, sandwiches, panini, soups and overwhelmingly gregarious muffins, in lieu of a community with a suspiciously high density of diabetes.

Matt and I usually stop at Sips after a grueling, muscle-building gym session, so we're buying food often to support our gains. Saturday was no exception. We ordered a Cobb wrap, an Atlanta deli sandwich, two biscotti, and two house coffees for $19.50. The biscotti were made by Paula Barone, a retired English teacher who started her own "micro-bakery." (I think I found my latest hipster buzzword.)

Space and Atmosphere: Despite Fox News often playing on the TV and the interior's antique-themed decor, Sips draws a surprisingly varied crowd. Matt often points out all of the gay employees and patrons at almost all of our visits. (As such, I've learned Mount Vernon has a dense, Kinsey-6 population.)

In addition, Matt and I always see students (mostly from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Central State Technical College or nearby Kenyon College) working on their laptops. (The password to the coffee shop's Wi-Fi is available on the receipts.)

As much as I love "Space Invaders," I want more.
Maybe Ice Climbers and Donkey Kong? 
Just Saturday, I saw a group of high school students piled around the Space Invaders arcade machine in the dining area. Matt tells me that is a new addition.

Using its corridor-shaped space, Sips occasionally hosts musical performances and open mic sessions in the late evening hours. You probably won't see me displaying my comedic skills there anytime soon, however. I would know, because I asked the owner to give me a try, but he replied, "We really try to keep it family-friendly."  What does he know?

Sips gets two thumbs up for hosting these. 

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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