Thursday, July 29, 2010

Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar

Way back when I was growing up on a southwestern Ohio farm, there were three constants when it came to food: One, most of it would be made from scratch by my hard-working, but stay-at-home, mother. Two, potato skins always went into the garbage can or on top of the compost heap. And three, whoever got stuck with the chicken wings was the big loser.

My how things change! Oh sure, I made my fair share of "scratch" meals back when our two kids were youngsters; but well before they left elementary school, they were much more enthusiastic about a burger from Mickey D's or a burger at the long-since gone Silver Nugget in Niles than anything Mom could conjure up. And inexplicably, somewhere along the way, potato skins and chicken wings became delicacies for which just about everyone is willing to pay -- and a pretty penny at that.

We adults, of course, learned to adapt as well (and I admit it I never really missed all that kitchen duty very much). But while I've never quite warmed up to potato
skins unless they're covered with so much "stuff" that the skins are well camouflaged, I have learned to love chicken wings. So it was that when Buffalo Wild Wings hit downtown Youngstown within easy walking distance of the building in which I worked, I was delighted. And when we got "our own" in the Great East Plaza in Niles, both my husband Jack and I did the Chicken Dance.

Over all these many years, the name has changed at least three times; once it was Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck (the "Weck" being a type of bun, if I re
call correctly). All that got truncated to a more reasonable BW-3 for a while, and today the 600 company owned and franchised restaurants in 41 states are known as Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar (or B-Dubs, as many of the regulars call it). We've hit quite a few, from Toledo to Erie, Pa., to Columbus, Ohio.

Service has changed as well. Originally, customers placed their orders at
a counter, then grabbed a seat until their names were called and they returned to the counter to pick up the goodies. Much later, a few locations did sort of a half-and-half maneuver, with servers on call to help out here and there and take orders for people who preferred that option. These days, a hostess or server will lead you to a table, take your order and deliver it, just like in any other sit-down restaurant. As in most bar-restaurants, there's a side close to the bar that's well stocked with high tables and chairs and another section or two with very large booths and tables for those who prefer to dine less out in the open.

The whole thing got started, by the way, by two men who moved from Buffalo, N.Y., to Kent, Ohio. They loved and missed their New York-style Buffalo wings when they couldn't find them around here. So, they started their own place, and the rest, as they say, is history. Buffalo Wild Wings, now headquartered
in Minneapolis, is one of the 10 fastest growing restaurant chains in the country, according to corporate reports.

As the number of locations increases, though some things haven't changed much at all. Buffalo Wild Wings started as a fun and very casual eatery with a large bar, lots of beer, big-screen TV sets tuned to various sports events and interactive trivia games that pitted local players with players at other locations throughout the country. That's true to this day. And from the beginning, the focus was on chicken wings -- an
d although the menu has plenty of other goodies to offer, those wings are still flying high.

The choice of sauces, too, has grown -- to 14 at last count. They range from very mild (Sweet
BBQ) to very hot (Blazin'); somewhere in between is the big reason I've loved B-Dubs right from the start -- Spicy Garlic. This thick, bright orange delicacy with a definite kick of heat is absolutely delicious; except for sampling a few other sauces when someone else offers me a taste, I've never ordered anything else. Many of the sauces are for sale in bottles, too, and I'll testify that they make terrific gifts.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, I rarely get that sauce on the regular wings (when I do, I ask for it on the side). As I said, it's very thick and spicy, and a little goes a very long way. Rather, my chicken of choice is the chicken tenders -- fairly
heavily breaded and crispy, but juicy and tender white meat on the inside (there's a non-breaded "naked" version as well). You can get four for $7.59 and eight for $8.99, and the latter always seems like a better deal (besides, then I have some left over to bring home). At one time, everything purchased here was a la carte, which I always thought made eating here a rather expensive proposition unless all you wanted was wings. But now they've "packaged" baskets together so the tenders come in a basket with a choice of potato -- either the Buffalo chips or potato wedges. My preference is the former, and I love to dip them in that Spicy Garlic sauce.

Jack, who eschews anything that bites him back even a little bit, prefers the Teriyaki sauce; it's dark and rich and a bit tangy but packs minimal heat. He loves it with the breaded peppercorn-garlic popcorn shrimp -- half a po
und for $7.79 with the same choice of potatoes. You can, by the way, swap out the potato side for a salad or onion rings for an additional 99 cents; last time we ordered our favorites -- in Oregon, Ohio, where we were staying while we attended the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Festival at nearby Maumee Bay State Park -- that's exactly what we did. He chose his favorite thousand island dressing and I had bleu cheese, and I'm here to tell you those salads aren't exactly small. We also noticed, by the way, that the chicken tenders at this location were substantially larger than those served up at the back-home restaurants. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I figure it's worth mentioning. It's not worth driving three hours to get fatter tenders, of course, but knowing there's a difference means we might be willing to stray a bit farther from home to get more bang for our bucks.

Wings may be top dog at B-Dubs, but diners have plenty of other choices as well. On a recent visit to Austintown, Jack ordered another of his favorites, the chicken quesadilla. These grilled four tortillas stuffed with Cajun-flavored grilled chicken, pico de gallo and assorted cheeses makes a great, if a bit lighter, meal ($6.99). Besides that, the burgers here are terrific; my pick of the litter is the Black & Bleu, seasoned with Cajun spices and topped with (what else??) bleu cheese dressing.

Much newer to the menu are the Wild Flatbreads, sort of pizza-like concoctions ranging from a steak-and-potato flip (steak and mozzarella cheese topped with French fries, Southwestern Ranch dressing and Honey BBQ sauce sandwiched between the flatbread crust ($8.79). I admit I haven't tried this one yet, but I plan to do it soon: The Buffalo Chicken, which is topped with a blend of my favorite Spicy Garlic sauce and bleu cheese dressing with chicken, celery bits and mozzarella cheese ($7.99).

If you like wraps, you'll find several here as well. I'm not a big fan, but Jack has tried and liked a couple, including the Grilled Chicken, which wraps up the chicken plus several cheeses, lettuce and tomato with his favorite sauce ($7.49). We've also sampled some sandwiches -- I'm partial to the hickory-smoked pulled pork, which is tossed in the sauce of your choice (in this instance, I prefer the Honey or Sweet BBQ). If you're very hungry, you might try one of the "combo" meals, such as ribs with chicken tenders, popcorn shrimp or wings.

As I mentioned back in the beginning, the "Bar" part of the B-Dubs name isn't for nothing; you'll find a vast array of both draft and on-tap beer here. Sometimes, you get really lucky; at the Oregon location, for instance, we learned that 16-ounce drafts of Dos Equis -- definitely high on both our Top 5 beer lists -- were going for $3, so of course we took advantage of that opportunity several times over. Since you asked, we share the No. 1 preference as well, Yuengling, which (alas!) isn't sold in Ohio. Thank goodness we live within 15 minutes or so from a Pennsylvania drive-thru (and not all that far from that B-Dubs in Erie)!

If you go: Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar
950 Great East Plaza
Niles, Ohio 44446
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week
Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week; check the Web site for other locations including Youngstown, Austintown and Boardman.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Blogger's note: In the introduction to this blog at the left, I warned readers I'd stray from the local region from time to time. This is one of those times -- and if you're ever anywhere near Toledo, Ohio, I hope you won't miss this place.

“I think I’ve died and gone to Heaven” probably isn’t the best
way to describe an outstanding culinary experience. But if you ever get the chance to eat at Tony Packo’s, I think you'll understand.

If the name sounds a bit familiar, it should. Jamie Farr, who played Corporal Max Klinger on the pop
ular show “M*A*S*H,” is a native of Toledo, Ohio. In one of the episodes, Klinger told a newspaper reporter that Tony Packo’s had the “greatest Hungarian hot dogs” – and the reference subsequently was written into five more shows plus the final episode in 1983.

About four years ago, my husband Jack and I had reason to visit Toledo, and since w
e were familiar with the “M*A*S*H” reference, the restaurant was at the top of our list of places to have a meal. Since then, we’ve been back several times -- twice accompanied by new-to-Packo's friends -- and we've placed a couple of orders for non-perishable goodies online to enjoy back at home as well.

In fact, Packo’s has b
een a staple in Toledo since Tony Packo, the son of Hungarian immigrants, opened a sandwich and ice cream shop in 1932 with his wife, Rose. In 1935, they needed more space and purchased a distinctive wedge-shaped building at the intersection of Front and Consaul streets. Today, there are five locations in the Toledo area, but if you're a first-timer, this is the only way to go.

Dining here is quite an experience; the restaurant retains an authentic ethnic flavor, complete with red-and-white checked oilclot
h on the tables. You can’t miss what has become a Tony Packo’s tradition; when celebrities visit here, they “autograph” a hot dog bun, which is then hermetically sealed in plastic and hung on the wall (for the record, a server let us in on a secret -- the buns aren't real). Plenty of big names have been “hot doggers” here over the years, from Alice Cooper to Bill and Hillary Clinton to Jerry Seinfeld to The Donald (for the full story on how this came about, visit Packo's Web site).

Since what we eat here hasn't varied much over the years, I'll reference our most recent visit earlier this month, when we traveled to Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio (just outside Toledo) to attend the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Waterfront Festival. Since we couldn't check into our motel till mid-afternoon, once we'd made our initial tour of the festival grounds, we headed into town for a much-anticipated lunch at Packo's. And I must say, we certainly weren't disappointed -- not that for one second we ex
pected to be. The menu isn't what I'd call expansive in terms of the number of choices, but there's more than enough here to satisfy any family member of any age. Hey, lives there a kid out there who refuses to eat hot dogs?

If you want, you can start with an appetizer; for something a bit different, try the fried pickles (Packo's original pickles and peppers breaded and deep fried and served with a choice of dipping sauces. Or, how about a "Chili Sundae?" No ice cream, but the restaurant's delicious chili layered with sour cream and shredded lettuce in a sundae glass with warm taco chips on the side.

The chili, in fact, is a huge part of my "to-die-for" reasoning; it's survived more than seven decades after its introduction, and it's absolutely delicious (with awards to prove it). Filled with finely chopped meat, chili beans and oodles of flavor, it packs a decent, but not off-putting, "heat" wallop.

The best way to get the full flavor of the Packo's experience, in my humble opinion, is to stick with one of the simple classics. On our most recent visit, for instance, w
e both ordered Tony Packo's Hot Dog Combo #1 (how's that for name originality)? No matter; what you get, for $8.49, is a famous hot dog with mustard, diced onions and "secret" sauce, a bowl or the chili (which now comes in regular, chicken or vegetarian) and your choice of one side dish. Not a chili lover, Jack substituted a bowl of chicken-and-dumpling soup, which was quite good. For sides, he picked the sauerkraut simmered in tomato sauce, while I insisted on the paprika dumplings with gravy -- for me, nothing else will do.

For the re
cord, there are several varieties of hot dogs, including plain, so don't hesitate to ask for something different if you don't want the works. And if you love chili, you might try the Chili Mac, with the chili spread over dumplings and topped with shredded cheddar and onions. This delicacy comes with either cole slaw or creamy cucumber salad and bread and butter.

Another item of note: Those wonderful pickles. There are several varieties, all of which can be purchased in the gift shop or online. With each meal,
though, you get my favorite -- the delectable Sweet Hot Pickles & Peppers. It's hard to describe the sensation of sweet pickle slices combined with hot, thick-sliced banana peppers on your tongue, but it's just wonderful.

It's rare that either of us has room for dessert after chowing down on all these goodies (plus a couple of beers), but if you do, there are a couple of don't miss items. Our favorite is the warm apple dumpling -- succulent apple slices in pastry flavored with cinnamon and other spices with the must-do option of adding ice cream (for $3.69), although the apple, cherry or "special fruit strudels are a quite acceptable alternative.

Once you're finished, be sure to stop in the gift shop. If you loved those pickles, I guarantee some of your friends will as well, and jars make great gifts. Plenty of other "stuff" awaits your perusal as well, from the requisite tourist T-shirts (I own two) to newer barbecue aprons. In the event you just can't bring yourself to waddle into the shop, though, be comforted by the fact that a few products, most notably the pickles, can be purchased back home in Giant Eagle supermarkets and Patton's IGA in Hubbard. Or, visit Packo's Web site and order online; just be aware that shipping costs are high for heavy, breakable items like pickles.

Finally, if you really want to be in the "with it" crowd, you can follow Tony Packo's (as I do) on Facebook and Twitter.

If you go:

Tony Packo’s
1902 Front St.
Toledo, OH 43605
(419) 691-1953
Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday Noon to 9 p.m.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I'm not a native of northeastern Ohio -- I was born in Indiana and grew up on a small farm on the southwest side of the Buckeye State -- but I've lived in this neck of the woods ever since I left home to start college at Kent State University way back in 1959. A few years later, I married a guy from Niles, and that's been my home ever since.

One of the disadvantages of living in rural Ohio way back when (although of course I didn't realize it at the time) was an almost total lack of ethnic food. For the most part, we grew what we ate, all lovingly cooked from scratch by a hard-working
Mom who was proud to call herself a "housewife." To this day, I clearly remember my first taste of what was called "pizza pie" -- an oven-warmed triangle of red sauce topped by too-hot melted cheese that was sold to the kids at the public swimming pool in Union City, Indiana, for the first time when I was in junior high. It was totally new, totally delicious, and my introduction to the wonderful world of Italian food.

Then when I hit the city of Niles, with its large Italian population, I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven. I lost count of the times we went to the long-gone Jerry's In
n or still popular Alberini's Restaurant for what my husband Jack and I still call the best-ever pizza. Spaghetti and meatballs? Speaking as someone who grew up on cans of Chef Boyardee, I couldn't get enough of the "real" thing.

All this brings me to the subject of this blog, Sunrise Inn in Warren, Ohio -- because for years, it's been my absolute favorite place for spaghetti. To
me, the sauce is absolutely wonderful, and the best I've had anywhere; relatively thick and slightly sweet, it has a flavor beyond compare. We've gone there with regularity for many years, and I've never been disappointed.

That's not to say, though, that we haven't tried -- and loved -- other things, not the least of which is the Sunrise Inn pizza. On many occasions, we've stopped in just to sit at the bar for a couple of beers and a couple of slices of bar pizza -- most often the old-fashioned Old World (sometimes known as Brier Hill), topped with a wonderful red sauce, slightly spicy pepperoni and sprinkle cheese. Once in a while I'll try a slice of deep-dish, spinach or veggie pizza -- all delicious -- but in the end the hands-down favorite is the Old World.

We're also quite fond of several other entrees, some Italian, some not; one of my favorites, for instance, is tortellini -- cheese or spinach, your choice, both delicious -- for $8.99. Jack regularly opts for lasagna, which stands at least 4 inches high and covers most of a plate counting the spillover sauce. And Chef Boyardee be darned, the ravioli here is absolutely wonderful. Still another hard-to-go-wrong items are eggplant parmesan and seafood linguine with either red or white sauce -- although lately the latter has become a Friday-only option.

Sunrise Inn is also the go-to place for garlic chicken; that and pizza are popular take-out items. Every time we eat here, we watch quite a number of folks come in to pick up orders they've called in. My preference is the four-piece all dark (Jack prefers the same but all-white) for $7.65; both come with a large Texas potato slice and cole slaw.

Recent years also have brought the addition of roasted prime rib, available for $9.99 on Thursdays and Sundays. It's wonderfully flavored and cooked to perfection -- and at least for me, there's always plenty left for lunch or dinner the next day.

Also more recently is the addition of "Eleven for Eleven" on the menu; as you might expect, there are 11 entrees priced at, well...On a recent visit with friends Jerry and Barb (and a $25 certificate we snagged from, it was this menu that got our full attention. Consider the following:

Tuna Lorenz, yellowfin tuna suteed with capers, mushrooms, carrots and broccoli in lemon-sherry-butter sauce (for me); Seafood Marinara, Blue Island mussels, black tiger shrimp, tilapia and chopped clams sauteed with garlic in marinara sauce over linguine (Jack); Chicken Monterrey, two breasts with green peppers, artichoke hearts, diced tomatoeas and green onions in garlic butter sauce with Monterrey Jack cheese over rice pilaf (Jerry); and Blackened Pork Chops Au Blu, center-cut chops with blackened seasoning, blue cheese, bacon and caramelized onions over crispy potatoes (Barb).

Needless to say, we sampled each others' entrees, and every one of us said we'd have been quite satisfied with any of the others' choices. The chicken was especially tasty (I love artichoke hearts), and the chops were juicy and tender -- what's not to love about blue cheese?

It goes without saying that we all came back for more; this time, Barb's choice was the "Po Boy" crabcake with remoulade, lettuce, tomato, red onion and cole slaw on a boule for $8.69, while Jerry opted for chicken parmesan, or strips of chicken with onion, peppers, pineapple chunks for $9.39. I stuck with my favorite meat-filled ravioli with toasted garlic bread ($8.99), while Jack, who wasn't quite as hungry, decided on a small order of spaghetti for $7.49 but added mushrooms for an additional 99 cents plus a cup of the delicious tomato bisque.

Everything was absolutely delicious as usual, but Barb was astounded at the size of the crab cake (for the record, it was the biggest one I've ever seen, even on the Atlantic Coast). It tasted even better, although she was able to eat only about half and took the rest home. Noticing that the same crab cake is on the dinner menu, we asked about it -- and our server told us the dinner has not one, but two, of the same huge crab cakes (you'll find it on the Eleven Under Eleven menu).

On still another visit, this time with a coupon for up to $8 off on two dinner entrees from the Entertainment Book, I couldn't resist that "Under Eleven" menu and just had to try the linguine-tuna primavera, with mushrooms, onions, broccoli, carrots and peas in light cream sauce topped with toasted almonds. It was, in three words, to die for. Jack, however, decided on the more classic lasagna, adding a salad for 99 cents.

I feel compelled to add that entrees come with fresh-baked Italian bread; it's hard to resist, but be careful. It's quite dense, and consuming a slice or two can fill you up before your meals arrive. We've learned to pace ourselves, taking the leftover bread home for later.

If you go:

Sunrise Inn
510 E. Market St.
Warren, Ohio 44481
(330) 392-5176