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.

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