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, February 23, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Loop in Tremont

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

It should go without saying that my boyfriend, Matt, knows me very well. So well that he knows what my ideal Valentines date is without asking. (HINT: Think of the furthest thing away from Applebees.)

What a great sport! Matt never complains about
modeling in my low-angle storefront shots.
I have many ideal dates and one of them is adventuring around Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, disputably my favorite area of Northeast Ohio. It's walkable, has plenty of mixed-use buildings, a wide arrange of unique bars, restaurants, stores and... of course, coffee shops. And unlike other young, energetic areas I've visited such as Ohio City, University Circle and Detroit Avenue, Tremont offers a slower-pace environment that feels more like a neighborhood than a commuter destination.

Anyway, this post isn't dedicated to my love of Tremont; it's here to review a very awesome coffee shop along West 11th Street that also doubles as record and CD store. (Groundbreaking idea!)

Loop, at 2180 W. 11th St., was the final stop for our date after browsing literature and sipping wine at Vision Voice Books and stuffing carbs into our faces at Crust, both on Kenilworth Avenue.

Oooooh... I always get excited over coffee shops with
two floors.
Location: Considering I already spilled my heart out for Tremont, I'll just focus this section on the corner of West 11th Street and Fairfield Avenue. Like most of Tremont, Loop is weaved along mostly houses with a few eateries and retailers in the mix. But this area is far from Tremont's most vibrant pastures.

A few fenced parking lots are dotted along Fairfield Avenue, and many of the houses along both streets aren't as majestic as Tremont's historic reputation would make you believe. And despite all of that, the area has plenty of appeal. In fact, part of me thinks the sour spots add a layer of character to the intersection.

Talking about character, Matt and I had the pleasure of watching runners finish their course of Cupid's Undie Run across the street at South Side restaurant. (Sorry, I didn't shoot any photos of any of the runners.)

After choking down a Lemon Rosemary Chicken pizza
at Crust, Matt and I figured it would be wise to split
only one muffin this time. We were so proud of ourselves.
Food and Beverages: Loop aligns itself along with most coffee shops, serving primarily cookies, scones and muffins in addiction to its caffeinated beverages.

That Saturday, Matt and I ordered a coffee cake muffin, a 20-ounce double-shot espresso and a 16-ounce cup of coffee for $8 and change. The double-shot belonged to Matt, who was going to order Loop's Death Charge that contains three espresso shots. Luckily, he was talked out of it.

I don't typically do this, but I have to give Loop credit on its milk and sweetener stand. Unlike some other places I've visited, Loop offers unbleached sugar in addition to the conventional artificial stuff of Equal and Splenda. (I have yet to find a coffee shop that offers packets of natural Stevia.) More rare to see, they label their pictures with skim milk and half-and-half. It's always good to know what fluid I am pouring into my coffee without needing to bother the barista.

Matt had a fun time looking through Loop's music
collection, but he doesn't buy CDs often. He more
often rents them out at his local library.
Space and Atmosphere: If you're anything like my News-Herald colleague Andrew Cass, you probably skipped down to this section the second you read the phrase record and CD store. And unlike many of the bookstore-slash-coffee-shop combinations I've visited, Loop actually acts more like a half and half business. There's a few boxes and shelves on the coffee shop's first floor, and a far bigger library on its second floor. The second floor even has a station upstairs for patrons to listen to vinyl. Very cool.

The shop also offers very stellar work space for laptops. The first floor has outlets for almost every seat or stool available and its light-colored walls and ceiling lights provide plenty of illumination. (And yes, Loop like every coffee shop has free WiFi. No password needed either.)

Fun Fact: My first visit to Loop, pictured here,
is where I decided to start this coffee shop blog after some
encouragement from five of my News-Herald colleagues,
Amy, Andrew, Devon, Caitlin and Sam.
I now have 13 posts under my belt. Thank you, guys!
Loop also keeps artwork that's for sale mounted on its two-story wall.

Ironically enough, Matt and I learned Saturday that Loop had organized a special art walk for Valentines Day. It's a shame we missed it, but news at the News-Herald doesn't slow down on Valentines Day. For a plan B, Matt and I did spend Friday evening at our favorite Euclid bar, Paragon on Lake Shore Boulevard.

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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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dining Out: Concord Township's Pub Frato is true, wonderful gastropub

These days, the term “gastropub” gets thrown around with carelessness. Originally meant to convey the concept of a drinking establishment that serves high-end food, its connotation has devolved to, basically, “a bar with food.”

Photo by Mark Koestner
That’s certainly not the case with Concord Township’s latest entry on the eating/drinking scene: Pub Frato, a pub that genuinely puts the “gastro” in “gastropub.”

And it’s a little unexpected when you walk in. The pub occupies a space that formerly housed a coffee house in the Gristmill Village shopping strip, and it has similarly small physical footprint. A contemporary, concrete-and-corrugated metal bar occupies most of one half of the long, narrow space, and a few tables along the opposite reclaimed-wood wall are situated close together.

It’s an intimate place, where you can imbibe shoulder-to-shoulder with your friends and easily meet new ones, which our party did on a recent Saturday. Twelve taps of craft beers and a creative cocktail menu send the message that Pub Frato takes its drinks seriously. But when you sit down for a meal, there’s no mistaking it: The food here is the real deal.

Read more from Correspondent Mark Koestner's review: Dining Out: Concord Township's Pub Frato is true, wonderful gastropub.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ Erie Island Coffee in Rocky River

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

In continuing my quest to visit signature coffee shops west of Interstate 77, I am dedicating this week's blog post to Erie Island Coffee in Rocky River.

Liz and I had a fun time composing a photo outside
while patrons were staring at us.
Erie Island is a roasting company with two locations: one on East 4th Street inside Cleveland's Gateway District and the other in Rocky River.

I've visited the East 4th location once in September to chit-chat and catch up with a Kent State friend, and just Saturday, Feb. 8, I had the pleasure of visiting the Rocky River location at 19300 Detroit Road. Another friend from Kent State had suggested the place a while back, and on that day I was driving across Cleveland to pick up my missing Windows Phone in Lakewood, so there was no sense in not driving a little farther west.

News-Herald journalist and colleague, Liz Lundblad, took time from her busy schedule and changing the world to join me for a humble cup of coffee. Despite buying Erie Island brand coffee at Heinen's before, this was her first trip to either location.

I am always sneaking photos like a ninja!
Location: Being my first time crossing the actual river that bears the same name, Rocky River definitely left an impression. I was expecting a more affluent Lakewood, but it came more across as a Beachwood with less frontal parking lots. All of the buildings looked like they were built sometime after the Y2K mania and purposed for single uses, mostly stores and eateries, including the area flush to Erie Island.

The coffee shop is built against the sidewalk, but sitting west of it is Beachcliff Market Square with a large parking lot plaza servicing stores such as Loft, Jos. A Bank, Urban Home and Garden and Mellow Yellow. Erie Island even has a drive-thru window to tie into the parking lot. Nevertheless, even with the lack of mixed-use residential buildings, most of the stores and eateries along Detroit Road are very pedestrian-friendly.

I did see some people drinking out of classy mugs.
I think the barista thought I was ordering to go.
Food and Beverage: Erie Island in Rocky River is a full-service cafe, offering a menu of soups, sandwiches, paninis and salads in addition to plenty of pastries to make a diabetic lose one or more toes.  (Upon editing this, my diabetic boyfriend, Matthew, said this was "offensive, but funny.")

On Saturday, while waiting for Liz, I ordered a 16-ounce cup of their signature coffee and a club crush panini for a little more than $8 and two quarters.

Best of all, refills at Erie Island are only 50 cents. That's very good news for people like myself who love camping out at coffee shops and exploiting their free WiFi.

Someone man the sail and fire the cannon!
Space and Atmosphere: Erie Island is definitely current and trend-conscious, whilst maintaining relevance to a wide patronage. It has a fire place in the center of its seating area, garage-style windows that lift up during the summer months, and artwork on sale along the walls.

Best of all, however, is the atrial ceiling on the west end of the shop. Beneath the glass are antique coffee bags patching up rays of sunlight, so as not to overwhelm any moody, Alt-English majors. It's a cool idea, and combined with the blue color scheme and walls of wooden tiles, it enhances the feeling that you're on a pirate ship. Pirates and coffee? Yes, it needs to happen.

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, February 9, 2014

Hold The Coffee @ The Root Cafe

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

This post was updated 5:34 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, to replace an unsettling verb with the more conventional verb of "wussed out."

This week's blog post is focused on a Lakewood coffee and vegan destination that probably should keep a sign outside informing patrons to leave all hoity-toity parts of themselves at the door.

Diana and Andrew were good sports on being models.
The Root Cafe, located on Detroit Avenue between Andrews and Gladys avenues, is a hot spot I've been asked to visit and review. But like so many great coffee shops, it's a 30-minute drive across Cleveland from where I live.

Fortunately, I was heading over to Lakewood for a small 1990s-themed party this past Friday, and figured to head to Root beforehand for some caffeine pre-gaming. It's a good thing I did because I didn't get home until 3:30 a.m. (My friends wouldn't stop playing Cards Against Humanity.)

News-Herald colleague Andrew Cass and Lakewood coffee connoisseur Diana Szelagowski joined me Friday for some chit-chat and caffeine.

Friday had some great comics, but the self-proclaimed
fat vegetarian stole the show. "If you're a vegetarian and
not fat, you're not doing it right," I remember him saying.
Location: I am sure even if you've never visited Lakewood, you've heard of Detroit Avenue. The street, along with most of Lakewood, is a destination for young, artsy, sometimes gay, youth to hang out and live. Root sits along a very vibrant portion of Detroit Avenue--with bars, stores and restaurants along both sides of the street. (A Peet's Coffee even sits across from Root, ironically enough.) There's hardly a vacant storefront to be found.

Like most of Detroit Avenue, Root's storefront is up against the curb, and relies mostly on-street parking for commuters. Quite fittingly, the coffee shop is shrouded by two trees outside.

Despite all of the bars nearby, Root was hopping with activity late Friday evening. I'm sure plenty of it had to do with its open-mic comedy night that we didn't expect to see. I was pressured to perform, but ultimately wussed out. Maybe I'll perform at its next comedy night, Feb. 21.

Hmmm... that cookie was delish!
Food and Beverage: Although short on food when Andrew, Diana and I visited Friday, Root offers a unique range of baked goods and vegan dishes. On Friday, however, I only ordered a 16-ounce coffee and cinnamon sugar cookie to keep me company.

Despite that I am a proud meat eater, I have no problem narrowing my food options to help animals. What I do have a problem, however, is narrowing my sweetener options. As I've discussed in previous blog posts, I only drink coffee diluted and sweetened until it is coffee no more--preferably using 1 percent milk and Stevia. Nevertheless, I can always manage with whatever sweetener and unlabeled white fluid a coffee shop has on hand. Well... except when the only option for sweetener "unbleached sugar."  When did sugar started getting bleached, anyway? And more importantly, why does the sweetener at Root look like uncooked brown rice? Is that its natural form?

Unbleached sugar? What's next, unleaded sugar?
I poured some into my coffee Friday, and then 4 minutes later, after being unsatisfied with the sweetness level, I came back and poured some more. It was only until I reached the lower third end of my coffee did I taste a crazy amount of sweetness. Upon nearly finishing it, I found a pile of shards sitting at the bottom of my cup.

Apparently this stuff doesn't dissolve as quickly as the artificial stuff. I'll remember next time to bring my own sweetener.

Space and Atmosphere: Root's wood-tile flooring and abundance of wooden furniture aligns well with it's name. But aside from the framed artwork and earth-toned colors, what really separates Root from other coffee shop's is its L-shaped seating space and the
I hate when my coffee shops are packed. Go home, people!
cut-out Cleveland skyline that lines up along one of the walls. The layers of green, yellow and blue shapes are something to write home about.

Root deserves major praise for its bathroom. Its purple- and cyan-painted walls with sketches of what I can only assume are famous hipsters possibly makes it the most creative public bathroom I've ever visited. What's more is the ancient-greek-style sink. First time I have seen something like that and I would definitely like to see more of it.

I feel like I should at least one of these faces.
It's nomadic, yet sophisticated.
P.S.: I have to applaud Root's staff on being thoughtful samaritans. On Friday, my personal cell phone slipped out of my coat pocket and into a pile of snow outside the coffee shop. (I was too busy shooting a low-angle of the storefront at the time, as you can imagine.) I panicked all night and morning about it until Diana told me she got a text from my phone telling her to tell the phone owner he can pick it up at Root Saturday. What a breath of relief that was for me.

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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Monday, February 3, 2014

Hold the Coffee @ Pheonix Coffee in Coventry

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

My blog post this week isn't steering far from the local scene in highlighting a long-established indie coffee shop in Coventry Village, and eastern Cleveland, in general.

Devon was gracious enough to pose for the camera Sunday
while holding one of Phoenix's eye-catching
paper coffee cups.
Phoenix Coffee is a Cleveland-based roasting company and overseer of a small chain of coffee shops east of Downtown Cleveland. Of the three, I've only managed to visit the shop in Coventry because it is slightly closer than the one on Lee Road.

The shop moved to a one-story building at the corner of Coventry and Hampshire Road in September. I hadn't visited the shop since the move, but wanted to check it out Sunday, Jan 26. My boyfriend, Matt, was working in Mount Vernon that day, but my coworker and coffee connoisseur Devon Turchan agreed to brave the weekend snow storm and join me for coffee.

Devon is a frequent-flyer of Phoenix Coffee, so it only seemed appropriate.

A similar Phoenix sign, pictured here, will be
going up in front of the coffee shop's new location
on Coventry and Hampshire roads,
as I was told by a barista Sunday. 
Location: I am all about coffee shops blending well with their surroundings, but Phoenix in Coventry might have taken it just a little too far. I had to a walk through the north end of Coventry Road twice before spotting a bunch of hipsters and Phoenix-branded merchandise through the window of a plain brick building. Phoenix takes up about a third of the building on the corner of Hampshire and Coventry, but because it lacks signage, I thought the space was a part of the adjacent "Laura Lee Salon."

I wondered if the objective was to keep its location a secret for the exclusive crowd of hipsters, but I latter learned workers plan to have a large sign up in the next few weeks.

Overall though, Phoenix is in a great place for visitors. I admit, Coventry is past its prime of growth, but it offers a refreshing and slightly less overwhelming scene away from other indie destinations like Ohio City and University Circle. On Sunday, Devon and I even managed to find my boyfriend a Valentine's Day gift soon after coffee.

Another important note to know:
a refill on my large coffee was $2.05.
Food and Beverage: Phoenix isn't something you want to go to on an empty stomach, unless you're looking to fill up on bagels, scones and pastries. But for what Phoenix lacks in options, it makes up in presentation, namely its paper cups. Although I will always ask for huge mugs when I can, the colorful light designs of the paper cups are something to write about and veer greatly from the dark moody paper cups I am all too used to seeing at coffee shops.

On Sunday, Devon ordered a cranberry citrus scone and a large light roast coffee for $5 and change. I ordered a sesame seed bagel with full-fat cream cheese and a large coffee for $6 and change.

Space and Atmosphere: Phoenix's new location trades in dimmer, dinning-room-like space for fresher, brighter chrome-like space. Because I don't have photos of the old location, I am working mostly from memory, mind you.

Here's a wide shot of the front half of the interior Phoenix
Coffee's new Coventry location.
Although some of my friends dispute which location is better, I've grown to accept Phoenix's new Coventry location as slightly more appealing. Sure, I miss the red classy aura I remember from the old, but the new location offers plenty of natural light with its large side windows and integrates plenty of wood work into its design, breaking it apart from the overly bland and steering it away form the obnoxious look of a frozen yogurt joint.

Besides that, the new location has a tad bit of more seating, which is important. I swear, every Case Western Reserve and John Carroll University student studies at the Phoenix on Coventry. Sunday was no different. My options were split between sitting at the almost-crowded computer-work bar or a small table nestled between two larger tables. I decided on the table only because I knew the obnoxious after-church-chit-chat between Devon and I would disrupt some poor college student's studying.

With free Wi-Fi and wide option of wall outlets, Phoenix offers patrons a steady work environment, as well as a chill venue for small groups of friends. With that said, it is important to be weary of how busy Phoenix is before making plans. Even with the stormy, wintry weather Sunday morning brought out, it was clear that Devon and I weren't the only people who liked to live dangerously.

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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