Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jeremiah Bullfrogs Sports Bar & Grille

Jeremiah was a bullfrog. And after visiting his very laid-back restaurant several times, he's definitely a good friend of mine!

Truth is, my husband Jack and I had driven past Jeremiah Bullfrogs Sp
orts Bar & Grille in Austintown many times -- it's located in the Westin Center Plaza -- usually on the way to stop at the Panera Bakery Cafe for some of those wonderful Danish pastries or to have lunch at the Rotelli restaurant. Some day, we always said, we'll peek inside and see what it's like. That day finally arrived not long ago, when I had to make a quick run to Panera for a loaf of bread, after which we'd planned to head elsewhere to have lunch at one of our old familiar eateries. While I was at Panera, though, Jack wandered a couple of doors down to check out Jeremiah's.

When we met up 10 minutes later, I was greeted by an enthusiastic, "Wait till you see this place -- you're gonna love it!"

As it turns out, t
ruer words were never spoken. But if my words aren't enough to be convincing, consider this: be Within a week and a half of that first visit, we made two return trips.

For openers, this is our kind of atmosphere; the interior is quite large with plenty of uncrowded seating at booths and tables. There's a full bar for times we just want to pop in for a beer or perhaps a munchie or two during the Happy Hour that takes place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and with more than 30 flat-screen TV sets, we're always within view of whatever we'd like to watch. All around the walls are cardboard cut-outs and ceramic bullfrogs -- and even a few of the lyrics to "Joy to the World," a song written by Hoyt Axton made wildly popular by Three Dog Night.

Other than liking what I saw inside, though, my first real clue that I'd be very happy here was looking at the menu and seeing Antone's salad listed there. For years, I've actually craved that salad -- chopped iceberg and romaine lettuce tossed with tune, salami, Romano and m
ozzarella cheeses. Wow, I wondered, what's up with that?

As it turns out, Jeremiah Bullfrogs is owned by the folks at Antone's -- there's a second location in Boardman -- so the pasta and other offerings here are familiar to Antone's regulars as well (Antone's, for the record, has been an area staple since 1961). We even noticed Antone's gift baskets filled with tempting goodies perched atop some of the partitions that delineate various seating sections.

The extensive list of appetizers and wings, the latter including a Jim Beam Bourbon sauce, got Jack's attention first. He ended up getting the Froggers' Sliders appetizer ($7.49) which consists of four miniature hamburgers with onions, pickles, American cheese and fries. To that, he added a cup of tomato basil soup ($3.99).

Needless to say, I wasted little time ordering the Antone's salad (with Antone's Italian dressing) as a side to my sausage penne marinara, one of the daily specials ($6.99). The pasta was loaded with green peppers, onions and plenty of sausage and marinara sauce and quite delicious. The salad, though, was a surprise. Yes, I'm very familiar with what I'd describe as my favorite-ever salad. What I didn't expect was the size; as a side, I figured it would be a relatively small portion.

Not so! In fact, it was so large -- and so mouth-watering -- that I scarfed up the entire thing and had no room for that wonderful pasta! Oh well, I reasoned, the pasta would be great for lunch the next day. It was, but I had to share it with Jack.

Jack's four sliders would have been about two too many for me, but he managed to eat all four. The fries were quite good as well, and there were plenty of them to share. The soup is an absolute standout; very very thick, full of finely chopped tomatoes and spices and, in short, just wonderful.

As we neared the end of our first meal here, I looked longingly at the list of "signature" hot chocolate drinks, all $4.95 and very "adult" beverages with tempting names like "Chocolate Cherries" (with Bailey's Irish Creme, grenadine and hot chocolate). Oooh, I signed -- no room left today. Maybe next time!

Next time we stopped in -- maybe a week later -- Jack simply had to have another cup of that great tomato basil soup. Our server pointed out that a cup is $3.99 and a bowl is just a dollar more, making the latter a much better deal (and yes, Jack agreed). To that he added a beef brisket sandwich with fries ($7.99) and one of the $5.99 pitchers of domestic draft beer. The brisket was delilcious, topped with hot peppers,mozzarella cheese and vinegar cole slaw on a grilled ciabatta hoagie. He did find a few hot pepper rings, which he fished out and gave to me.

Meantime, I decided to go big-time. For the month of February, Jeremiah's was offering half-slabs of their "Almost Famous" ribs accompanied by fries and slaw for $8.99, and that Jim Beam bourbon glaze sounded great. But then, I saw the chicken francaise and -- not being a huge ribs fan -- I went in that direction. For an extra 99 cents, I substituted that wonderful Antone's salad for the regular slaw, and chose pasta with red sauce for the second side. I could have had the pasta topped with the francaise sauce to "match" my chicken, but somehow that sounded like overkill.

The pan-fried chicken breasts were lightly breaded and topped with a delicious lemon wine sauce. The portions seemed a little small for the $11.99 price tag, but they were extremely tasty and satifying (besides, I'd filled up on that Antone's salad once again). This time, though, I didn't have any of the entree left to take home.

After a second great experience here, we returned once again -- and the third time was a charm as well, at least for me. This time, one of the daily specials was three bone-in ribs with four wings, fries and cole slaw for $6.99. Aha, I said, now I can try that Jim Beam bourbon sauce! Not being terribly hungry, Jack decided on the "Big Ol' Pepper and Egg sandwich $6.99; it was made with four eggs, hot, sweet or mixed peppers (he got the sweet), mozarella cheese and mayo on toasted Italian bread. Once again, he couldn't resist that tomato-basil soup -- he went straight for the bowl this time, asking for two spoons so I could help him finish it (as if he needed any).

The "regular" (non-vinegar) slaw is not finely shredded, but the sweet mayo dressing rivals my own -- which I consider to be the best in the world, for the record. The wings are on the small side and very, very crispy -- I chose the garlic sauce -- and at first, I thought they'd be too crunchy for me to eat (those of us who still have most of our teeth realize that the older they get, the more vulnerable they become). But they weren't too bad, and the garlic sauce was quite delicious and loaded with small pieces of garlic.

Turns out the Jim Beam sauce is delicious as well, and the the ribs were so fall-off-the-bone tender that it was impossible to pick one up -- I was "forced" to eat them with a fork. I should also note that the fries are quite tasty here as well, and I'm not a big fan of French fries. They are so plentiful, however, that we've never been able to come close to polishing off even a single side order.

As for Jack's egg sandwich, the best I can say is he was less than enthusiastic. To start, it was so large that it was virtually impossible to pick it up even though it was cut in half. The eggs were cooked rather like a pancake and almost brown on both sides -- more than a little overcooked and very lacking in flavor. That's one sandwich we won't try again, but there are plenty more on the extensive menu for us to try next time, and the next and the next!

Editor's Note: This update was added to the Jeremiah Bullfrogs review on March 5, 2010.

More recently, the sun decided to peek out (finally!) so Jack and I headed south through farm country to try out the replacement lens he just got for his Canon Digital Rebel XSi camera. On the way home, we were hungry and ended up at Jeremiah's, which has become an old standby. Once again, we weren't disappointed.

We had a coupon from the Entertainment Book that gave us a buy one, get one free lunch (up to $7 off), and when our server said it was good on anything from the list of entrees for the day, we stopped looking at the less expensive sandwiches and went straight to the good stuff. And boy, was it ever good!

For my entree, I chose the haddock at $9.99 -- broiled instead of fried -- which came with one side (mashed potatoes) and either fries or a tossed salad (the latter, with some of that wonderful Antone's House Italian dressing that's the same as on my favorite Antone's salad I mentioned earlier). Meanwhile, Jack couldn't resist the stuffed flounder at $11.99; knowing full well that I'm not a big fan of fries, he got those so we could share.

First came some of that wonderful fresh-baked bread, along with plenty of butter packets -- very unusual since at most restaurants you're lucky to get two or three. My salad was almost as good as the Antone's salad -- I've concluded that the dressing is close to half the appeal here. It's absolutely delicious.

Then the entrees were delivered, and oh my! My piece of haddock was quite substantial and swimming in a wonderful buttery sauce. Noticing that the mashed potatoes were plain, our server immediately asked if I'd like gravy (yes, ma'am). It arrived in short order -- a thick brown -- and it was excellent. And, it was plentiful enough that when I'd finished the mashed potatoes, I tried dipping a fry in the gravy bowl and discovered yet another treat.

My fish was quite tasty, and while it perhaps could have used 30 seconds less under the broiler, it was flaky, tender and nowhere near as overcooked as I find at most restaurants. Jack's flounder, though, was nothing short of outstanding. He raved ("This is the best meal I've had in a long, long time," he uttered when he came up for a breath between bites). It was wonderful; the stuffing was very flavorful, and whatever sauce was on top -- sort of a Hollandaise taste -- really made it outstanding. In short, it's a highly recommended dish and our complements went to the chef -- who for the record turned out to be the husband of our server (who said this is a favorite dish of hers as well).

If you go:

Jeremiah Bullfrogs Sports Bar & Grille
5229 Mahoning Ave. (Westin Center)
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 259-3402


1315 Boardman-Canfield Road, Boardman 44512
(330) 965-0800

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaming Up!

This just in: Thanks to Mike Costarella, host of The Valley View, we'll be bringing some of this blog's restaurant reviews to listeners now and again. If you haven't tuned in to this interesting and informative talk radio broadcast that features interviews with "happening" people, now's the time to get in on the action. If you're a Facebook member (and if you're not, sign up -- it's free), enter The Valley View in the search box and add it to your list of friends! Mike will issue a notice each time a new show airs. For the record, Mike says the cute logo was drawn by his daughter.

Similarly, many thanks to Art Byrd and editor/writer Michele Ristich Gatts for promoting this blog in the "A Byrd's Eye View" free e-newsletter! Want to know what's going on in the Mahoning Valley's entertainment scene? Read well-thought-out reviews of movies, TV shows and such? Sign up to get this must-read e-newsletter (did I mention it's free?) by sending an e-mail to -- just add "SUBSCRIBE" to the subject line (minus the quotes, of course)! If you'd like to learn more about Art, check out the profile article on the YSU graduate in the Winter 2010 issue of the Youngstown State University Magazine.

But wait, there's more! As I write this (on Feb. 18, 2010), I just finished reading Art's new blog, "A Byrd's Eye View." You won't want to miss this, either -- and while you're there, sign up to follow Art on Twitter!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill

No bones about it: Smokey Bones has a new owner, but the food and atmosphere remain top-notch -- at least for now. Quite honestly, I was almost heartbroken back in 2007 when the former owner of Smokey Bones Barbecue & Grill, Darden Restaurants, sold the franchise. Darden, you may know, also owns the popular Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants, which are favorites of mine among the chain gang. Perhaps a year earlier, my husband and I discovered the Smokey Bones on South Avenue in Boardman, taking great pleasure in having a late lunch there when we made the trip from Niles to the Southern Park Mall or The Shops at Boardman Park (or both). The ribs here were absolutely the best anywhere -- even beating out our old favorite, Damon's -- and we were afraid that if the new owner of Smokey Bones, an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners, didn't shut the whole thing down, everything would change for the worse.

So far, so good. Oh, I admit there are a few changes I wish hadn't been made, most notably that wonderful hot sauce that packed a real kick when added to ribs or the delicious pulled pork seem
s to have gone by the boards. As for what could happen next, the jury's still out: We're waiting to see if the Boardman restaurant -- one of 68 locations in 17 states -- gets revamped as several others have been. The redesign, company officials say, replaces the "log cabin" decor with a "More contemporary restaurant setting, high-definition flat-screen TVs, new employee uniforms" and more.

I'm okay with the latter two, but quite honestly, I love the mountain lodge-like atmosphere. "Contemporary" I can find anywhere -- just go to any Applebee's, Chili's, Ruby Tuesday or TGI Friday's, all of which are practically interchangeable as far as I'm concerned. If that kind of change comes to Boardman -- and I sure hope it doesn't -- I'll clue you in. Meantime, I'll still recommend the place for both the relaxed, friendly atmosphere and the great food.

My husband Jack and I are fairly regular visitors to Mill Creek Park -- one of the Mahoning Valley's greatest treasures, in my opinion -- but we don't always drive all the way through to the U.S. Route 224 side in Boardman. Recently, we did -- and since it was past lunchtime, our thoughts turned to Smokey Bones. So, we headed in that direction, looking forward to some of that wonderful pulled pork (me) and smoked beef brisket (Jack). Looking at the menu for the first time in a few months, we encountered another change, this time something called "value-priced" meals. Immediately, my shackles went up: Certainly not a concept new in the industry -- everybody from McDonald's to hoity-toity restaurants are advertising these so-called deals -- but I'm definitely not a fan, so I'm going to digress for a minute.

This concept is a good deal for the restaurants, which are scrambling to stay afloat in a terrible economy, but for customers, not so much. What seems to be happening is that restaurants are serving up entrees that cost less than their "regular" fare in the hope that price-conscious customers will continue to eat out. Here's an example: A restaurant sells a dinner entree of meat loaf, potatoes and a side for $10.95. Now, there's a "value-priced" option -- same entree -- for $8.50. And now comes the problem. First, they typically raise t
he price of the "old" entree by a buck or two; what used to cost $10.95 now is $11.95 or $12.95.

The value-priced option is smaller portions -- understandably. But at almost every restaurant where we've encountered these new "deals," the portions have been cut by close to half. The price, however, certainly isn't cut by half -- making the so-called value pricing actually cost more on a per-bite basis than the higher-priced version.
That's particularly upsetting for customers like us, who expect that any entree we buy that costs more than $5 will render enough leftovers to take home for another meal. Now, if we want leftovers, it will cost us a couple of bucks more than usual; and if we spring for the "value-price" meal that's half the size but more than half the price, we'll have nothing left at all.

Instead of encouraging us to visit more often, it's a real turn-off.
Here's an example from Smokey Bones: My hubby's favorite smoked beef brisket. If he wants what I assume is the same size he used to get, he'll pay $11.49 (which includes two sides), more costly than it used to be, but he had more than enough left so we could enjoy a couple of sandwiches back home the next day. At our most recent visit, he chose the same entree from the "more bones for your buck" section -- at a cost of $8.79. Needless to say, he was able to polish off every single bite with some room left over -- and nary a crumb to take home for later. I experienced the same thing with my choice of that wonderful hand-pulled pork; with two sides, the "value-priced" portion is $8.29 compared with $10.29 for the larger size. I, too, scarfed down every bite and went home empty-handed. Next time we're here, we'll go for the bigger enchilada, which is by far the better deal.

That aside, the food at Smokey Bones is delicious -- although I do wish they'd put the bottles of barbecue sauce back on the tables as they used to be. Both the brisket and pulled pork arrived scantily basted with sauce and we needed more; fortunately, just as we were about to trip our server, she stopped to ask if we wanted some extra sauce. How fast can you get it here? was our reply. I'm also fond of the so-called St. Louis sauce, which remains available on the ribs but wasn't among the sauces our server delivered.

What did come, though, was something I overheard another server call "new Carolina Gold" sauce -- so I poured a little on my plate to sample. In fact, it's quite good (although I wouldn't want it on ribs or pulled pork). Golden yellow and a little on the sweet side with a kick, it's great for dipping French fries.
Speaking of the sides, the fries are quite good -- and I'm not a big fan of fries. Jack got those and the tasty cinnamon apples, which he saves for "dessert," as his two sides.

I'm also
happy to report that my favorite steamed broccoli is still perfectly cooked to my liking -- still bright green but tender yet well short of mushy. My second side was baked beans, which are cooked in a wonderful smokey barbecue sauce with bits of pork and absolutely yummy.

As I said before, I like the atmosphere here; there's a large bar plopped in the middle of everything, with a circle of TV sets tuned to various sports events right in the center in full view of everyone who bellies up and quite a few of those who prefer tables or booths. Tall beers were going for $2.50 the day of our last visit -- a good deal that convinced us to go for it instead of settling for soda or plain water. We sat at one of the booths that offers a personal TV tuner -- nice to be able to get sound with whichever event we want.

Smokey Bones also has a Happy Hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to closing on weekdays, when appetizers are half price and Mini Porkies -- three pulled pork sliders in a choice of hickory smoked, sweet BBQ or mustard BBQ sauce (or any combination or even one of each) are just 99 cents (they're regularly three for $6.99). Barbecue is perhaps the main attraction, but the salads sound wonderful too. A special favorite is the Nutty Chicken Salad ($9.49), with chicken fingers warm over field greens with goat cheese, candied pecans, dried cranberries, red onions and fresh strawberries with honey Dijon dressing and more pecans.

For the record, Smokey Bones emphasizes take-out as well; party packs and barbecue by the pound can be called in and picked up on the fly to feed four or 400 (or more). Side dishes, like my favorite baked beans, can be purchased in pints and quarts; a dozen of the restaurant's signature Hot Bag O' Donuts, with chocolate and strawberry dipping sauces, go out the door with you for $7.49.

At our recent visit, we also learned about a new feature we like a lot: the Smokey Bones loyalty card, which our server pitched to us as we were paying the bill. To be honest, now that retailers on every corner hand these out like candy, trying to keep track of them (much less find room for all of them in a wallet or purse) is getting to be quite a hassle. But this one offers some dandy rewards that put it a cut above most of the others; one point for every $1 you spend, and once you rack up 200 points, you get $20 to spend any way you want. When you register the card online, you get 100 points and the promise of a free appetizer. When I registered ours, the 100 points -- plus just under 23 more to account for what we spent for lunch the day the card was issued -- were dutifully posted as promised.

A day later, though, I'd heard nothing about the free appetizer. Because joining these programs is guaranteed to bring an almost-instant "Welcome" e-mail from the issuing company -- and because half of the links at Smokey Bones' Web site don't work well, at least with the Firefox browser -- I was a bit concerned when I didn't hear a thing about the free appetizer by the end of the following day.
I needn't have worried; the next morning, the welcome e-mail arrived, together with a coupon for that free appetizer. Granted, the expiration date was less than a month away, but there were no other strings attached except a limit of $9.

So, as long as we can find time to head back to Boardman before the end of February, we'll cash it in, perhaps pitching in the extra 29 cents to get the great-sounding Blazin' Shrimp -- fried saltwater shrimp tossed in a "fiery" sauce, served on a bed of crispy onions and drizzled with sweet rib glaze. My mouth is watering already!

It's also worth mentioning that when you sign up for a Smokey Bones loyalty card (as is the case at most restaurant Web sites), you'll get occasional e-mails with special offers and other news of interest. I always advise folks to get a "throw-away" e-mail address -- perhaps from AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo! -- to use when you buy online and register at various sites so you won't clog up your regular e-mailbox. That only works, though, if you remember to check your inbox regularly!

If you go: Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill
6651 South Ave.
Boardman OH 44512

(330) 965-1554