Thursday, October 28, 2010


Autumn is my favorite time of the year -- even if my allergies don't agree -- so we've been running thither and yon of late to chase the reds, golds and browns of the changing leaves before they all fall off and we're faced with the vast photographic wasteland we call winter. Most often, that means visiting a park, and one of the biggies is Ohio's vast Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Truth is, t
he park has plenty to offer most of the year, whether it be watching the great blue herons building nests at their rookery in May, cheering on our "side" during the lively Civil War reenactment at Hale Farm and Village in August or hitching a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in the fall.

Needless to say, we tend to get hungry along the way; and happily, we've found a wonderful place at which to satisfy our cravings each time we head in this direction: Fisher's Cafe & Pub in Peninsula. In summer, we might enjoy a cool salad or wrap sandwich on the outdoor patio in summer. When the weather heads toward nasty, we'll snuggle up inside with a hearty bowl of C
anal Chili.

That chi
li, by the way, is the original recipe created by George Fisher Sr., who founded the restaurant back in 1958 (the year my husband Jack graduated from high school). A bowl will set you back just $3.99 unless you prefer to "deluxe" it up with cheddar cheese and sour cream toppings -- in which case you'll pay an extra buck.

The cafe, I should add, is now in its third generation, under the ownership of "Grandpa George's" son Dick Fisher. Grandson Rich Fisher is the manager (or so the W
eb site says).

On the downside, the view from the outdoor deck isn't all that wonderful despite Peninsula's location smack dab in the middle of the national park, but y
ou can get a taste of Main Street activity in the historic village. And, the restaurant folks have added lots of plants and flowers as a buffer between the pub and parking lot.

When we're inside, we usually sit on the smaller bar side, where there's lots of dark wood complemented by dark green and mauve and windows to let the sunshine in. Fisher's isn't exceptionally large, so it can get pretty crowded during peak eating hours. This is a very casual place, so as a warning to those who might care, the sandwich and salad choices outnumber the dinner entrees.

There's nothing wimpy about the appetizer list, though -- there are at least a dozen to choose from, including my favorite, battered eggplant frie
s ($6.29). These tasty strips, topped with grated Parmesan cheese, are served with a delicious bistro sauce, making them almost a meal in and of themselves. More than once, in fact, I've ordered the eggplant fries and the spinach artichoke dip (filled with marinated artichokes and oodles of Parmesan cheese) instead of an entree.

You can, and we often do, substitute those eggplant fries for one of the "regular" sides for an extra $1.59 -- an option I always request when I'm ordering a sandwich or dinner entree.

Still another favorite appetizer is the grilled Caribbean shrimp ($7.49); the main seasonings are Jamaican spices and basting with a spicy sauce. These are so special, in fact, that we actually crave them -- e
ven to the point of including them in a Business Journal article on appetizers that are worth driving out of the local area to get.

When it comes to sandwiches, you'll have a tough time deciding what you want (which, I suppose, is a good thing for the restaurant si
nce you'll have to come back to try others). We do recommend the grilled yellow fin tuna sub, which is basted in teriyaki-honey glaze and topped with pineapple salsa ($8.99).

Jack's especially fond of the Philly Steak & Cheese sandwich, with thin slices of mea
t plus grilled onions, mushrooms and melted Swiss cheese ($8.29). The burgers here are outstanding as well, with a couple of more unusual offerings. There's the Raider Burger, in honor of the University of Mount Union (nee Mount Union College) Raiders -- half a pound of meat topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, fries, hot wing sauce, jalapeno peppers, onion tanglers and blackened with Cajun spices -- whew!

Or, there's the Spicy Black Bean Burger, a low-fat vegetarian treat topped with lettuce and tomato (which I admit I haven't tried, nor will I ever -- I dislike black beans almost as much as cucumbers)!

Don't like burgers? Choose from a long list of chicken sandwiches and wraps; most of the latter have grilled chicken as the meat and various fillings to make them different.

On our most recent visit, I enjoyed the Bourbon Street Chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato and barbecue sauce ($8.29), while Jack couldn't pass up his favorite Philly Steak & Cheese. My chicken breast was exceptionally tender and juicy and the bourbon sauce had just the right amount of "kick." I substituted those eggplant fries, while Jack stuck with the regular kind.

At first glance, I thought perhaps I'd made a mistake by ordering them this time -- the outside looked dark and crispy as if they'd been deep-fried too long -- but I quickly learned that looks can be deceiving. Not only were they not over-cooked, they were tender and flavorful as usual. Best of all was the accompanying thousand island-type dip that seemed to be abundantly laced with horseradish, although it really wasn't hot at all. In fact, the heat-hating Jack loved it too, sneaking in dips with his "regular" fries when he thought he could get away without getting his hand smacked.

If you want a lighter meal, be sure to check out the dinner salads, simply because they're wonderful. My favorite is the Strawberry Mandarin Salad, with fresh strawberries, mandarin oranges, grapes, dried cranberries and walnuts with or without grilled chicken. I prefer the wild raspberry dressing, but there are plenty of other options.

As I mentioned earlier, the list of entrees is a bit less lengthy -- the menu at the Web site lists just seven. But that's certainly not a problem in my eyes given the choices. How about the 6-ounce Caribbean bourbon salmon filet ($16.99) or a half-slab of hickory smoked pork ribs with Fisher’s award-winning barbecue sauce ($11.99).

There are a couple of steaks, too -- New York strip and top sirloin. Fish-lovers have a couple of choices besides the salmon, such as beer battered cod and a catfish fillet. If you try either, let me know how you like it, though -- I avoid breading on fish whenever possible, and I simply don't care for catfish (or oysters, if anybody cares to know).

When you stop here for lunch, dinner or anything in between, do try to leave some extra time to roam the village streets. The village has been deemed a national historic district, and the reason is evident in the array of small shops, restaurants and galleries that line the streets. If you want, you can hop aboard the scenic railway at the Peninsula Depot as well.

If you go: Fisher's Cafe & Pub
1607 Main St.
Peninsula, Ohio
(330) 657-2651

Fall 2010 hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Check the Web site for seasonal events, hours and prices.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Buena Vista Cafe & Sports Bar

The Buena Vista Cafe has been around longer than I've been living in northeast Ohio. The restaurant started in 1956, and back then I was starting my sophomore year -- together with my 27 other classmates -- at a very small country school in the southwestern part of the Buckeye State and the only "Niles" I'd ever heard of was in Michigan (still is). I landed in Ohio's version of the town in the summer of 1962, right before I married a Niles native who had just graduated from Kent State University and accepted a teaching job at his high-school alma mater (and where, for the record, he retired in 1995 after 33 years at that same school).

Truthfully, I don't recall when I first visited the Buena Vista, but I do know when I began eating there with some regularity. It was somewhere around late 1988, when I'd started working for an advertising agency in downtown Warren and a couple of us in my public relations department would make the short drive for lunch. I still recall the delicious "personal" size pizzas -- the veggie or Greek versions were my favorites -- and an equally yummy appetizer that consisted of three or four boneless barbecue ribs.

Other times, I'd round up my husband Jack and off we'd go for lunch, usually to have the Greek fried chicken the Buena Vista is perhaps best known for. Then, we'd order a pizza to take home (since Jack isn't a fan of my favorite pizza toppings, we'd get the Briar Hill, with green peppers, pepperoni, parmesan cheese and red sauce, which I love as well).

Taking home a pizza is a treat we enjoy to this day, but the Buena
Vista also serves up a wonderful variety of sandwiches and entrees that rival more "upscale" restaurants. And these days, we're not limited to Warren; the Buena Vista now operates "BV-II-GO" sites in Niles and Howland and an Uncle Nick's Chicken in Austintown -- all primarily take-out with a more limited menu that includes that terrific chicken, pizza, salads and a couple of desserts. Just the other day, in fact, our entire family enjoyed a huge bucket of mixed chicken pieces from the BV at a get-together.

At the restaurant, we most often sit on the bar side just because we prefer a very relaxed atmosphere that's close to the beer (there's a spacious dining room at t
he back where we've enjoyed great meals with friends on a couple of occasions). The bar side, though, is a bit more interesting, with several TV sets and an upside-down replica of a football field hanging from the ceiling as well as football jerseys and helmets from local and professional teams hung on the walls and stashed on shelves.

The restaurant prices are quite reasonable, too -- especially the daily lunch specials. On a recent visit, I chose the "mile high" meatloaf with mashed potatoes and a vegetable for $6.99,
although for several minutes it was a toss-up between that and the creamed chicken and biscuits, also with mashed potatoes and a veggie for $5.99. For good measure, I added an appetizer of hot peppers in oil for $2.59, fully expecting to eat the entire batch myself. Then too, I always look to see if they have my favorite kielbasa and baked beans (which comes with mashed potatoes) -- but on this day, it was not to be.

As for Jack, he simply couldn't resist the linguini with red clam sauce for $10.99. Learning that they had Blue Moon and Sam Adams Winter Lager on tap, we went for them -- but after ordering two each and discovering they cost $4 apiece, we'll stick to plain old domestics next time out.

Jack chose a salad with his meal, and for some silly reason he got sweet and sour dressing. They accommodated his request for "double" by bringing two containers. His unusual (for him) choice of dressing turned out to be a blessing -- it was absolutely delicious and he devoured almost all of it-- except for the shredded carrots and any greens that didn't look like iceberg lettuce, which happily he passed on to me to finish.

I always have a concern that when we order meals that require a substantially different amount of time to prepare -- like the linguini and my meatloaf, which no doubt is made early in the day and simply reheated -- that one entree will arrive lukewarm because it sat and waited for the other to be finished so they could be delivered at the same time. Not so here; I watched as the kitchen folks poured the red clam sauce over Jack's just-cooked linguini; and then our server, who was there to pick up the plates for delivery, waited a few seconds while my meatloaf meal -- also straight from the pot -- was put on the plate. Both were the perfect temperature.

For the record, the meatloaf chunk was gigantic -- close to three inches thick and close to three times that long. It was accompanied by oodles of tasty beef gravy and the mashed potatoes, which were topped by tiny, crispy onion straws. The vegetable was fresh green beans, cooked tender as I prefer them and quite tasty.

The peppers actually weren't very hot, but they sure were good (the seeds had a bit of a zing, but the fact that Jack was able to eat at least three of the sliced rings with bread is a clear indication that to me, they were on the mild side. The flavor and crunch was wonderful, and I think I detected a slightly sweet tinge that might have come from a titch of sugar. The herbs permeated the oil, and when the peppers were gone, it made a great dipping sauce for the fresh sliced bread that came with our meals.

Partly because Jack isn't fond of many vegetables and I don't get to eat many at home, I tend to go crazy when we eat out. As a result, I used up much of my appetite on the peppers in oil and green beans, leaving plenty of that huge meatloaf to take home (it made enough for dinner for both of us the next evening). Jack had plenty of his linguine to take home as well, but he ended up polishing it off later that same evening.

On another recent visit, I looked long and hard at the BV Club sandwich ($7.99); it's filled with turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, onion, tomato and spicy mustard on Italian bread, and it sounded wonderful. Another favorite is the Reuben sandwich, which is filled with the "stuff" you'd expect, for $7.99. Of course, it's always hard to pass up Uncle Nick's Greek Fried Chicken -- dinners range from about $6.50 to $8, and you can get all white or all dark pieces. Although the menu says to allow 30 minutes for all chicken dinners, we've never had to wait anywhere near that long.

For the record, Uncle Nick's original breaded house wings are great as well, tossed with your choice of several sauces (we prefer the buttery garlic). This time out, though, we had something a bit more substantial in mind.

As is our custom, we ordered a 12-inch Brier Hill pizza to go when we placed our eat-in order ($8.99). If you want to try the pizza, by the way, you can order a slice of bar pizza for just $1.

I couldn't resist those hot peppers and oil once again, and although it was lunchtime, I considered getting Chicken Franchaise, in a delicious lemon sauce with a choice of potato or rice for $11.99. That creamed chicken over biscuits was tempting as well, as were the several half-sandwich/soup combos at great prices (a sloppy joe combo, for instance, was $4.99).
In fact, in the end I decided on on one of those combos -- half a meatball sub smothered in melted cheese and sauce. Stuffed full with two huge meatballs, it was more than enough for me and I took half of it home (it was, I'll add, way too sloppy to pick up, so I ate it with a knife and fork).

Jack went for the mile-high meatloaf I'd had on my earlier visit, substituting cole slaw for the green beans. We both love the slaw; it's finely shredded and mayonnaise-based. His meatloaf chunk was a good 4 inches high and delicious with the crunchy onion straws on top, and he got a basket of fresh Italian bread as well.

I chose wedding soup to go with my half-sandwich -- always one of my favorite soups. It was piping hot and filled with lots of greens, tiny meatballs, chicken chunks in a very tasty broth. I sensed a hint of ginger, reminiscent of some Greek dishes I've enjoyed.

The Buena Vista also has a banquet menu; per-person costs for a buffet range from $11.99 to $15.99, and there are plenty of delicious choices available. Also offered are full-course, sit-down dinners that would be wonderful for wedding rehearsal or anniversary parties.

I just learned from the BV's Web site that it's almost time for the Clam Bake -- and since it's a couple of weeks away, I'll bring it to your attention here. From noon to 7 p.m. on Oct. 31 (that's a Sunday), guests can choose "Surf & Turf," consisting of clam chowder, a mixed green salad, a 1-1/2 pound whole Maine lobster, filet of sirloin, red roasted potatoes, mixed vegetables and dessert for $49.99. Or, those who want to go the whole nine yards can pay $79.99 for a traditional clam bake, which includes the same items as the Surf & Turf but adds all-you-can-eat clams. Reservations are required, so I advise calling right away if you're interested.

If you go: Buena Vista Cafe & Sports Bar
1305 Buena Vista Ave.
Warren, Ohio
(330) 372-4493

Open Monday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 11 am. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday drive-through open only 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.