Monday, April 26, 2010

Enzo's Restaurant & Lounge

My love of Enzo's Restaurant & Lounge goes way back -- never mind how many years -- but I was working in downtown Warren at the time I first discovered it. My business colleagues and I loved to go there for lunch when our workloads permitted us a real lunch hour. Once my job moved to Youngstown, my visits necessarily were far less frequent, but now that my husband Jack and I are at least somewhat retired, we've rediscovered the place and fallen in love all over again.

In addition to enjoying a wonderful, leisurely lunch or dinner, though, I mus
t note that Enzo's was the site of an even more joyous occasion: Our daughter's wedding reception more than a dozen years ago. At that time, Enzo's had just opened a banquet room, and she was looking for a place to hold the big event. All the huge well-known banquet halls were booked up a year or more in advance, and besides, her reception, with something like 125 guests, didn't require such a big facility. The minute she learned about Enzo's, she paid them a visit -- and went on to become the first wedding reception to be held there. Needless to say, everything was perfect, not the least of which was the food. To this day, we remember the wonderful time we all had there, and every once in a while one of the guests from all those years ago mentions the great surroundings and food as well.

Our "official" visit was in early April for a late lunch, and once again, we left with full stomachs, smiles on our faces and a pledge to not wait so long to eat here next time around. The decor is quite lovely with a decided Italian flavor -- Enzo's is owned by the Cantalamessa family, after all -- and there's a definite upscale ambience that's felt the minute you enter the lobby. To the right is the banquet facility; to the left is a small bar where you can wait for a table (or just pop in for a glass of wine, mixed drink or a cold beer). Almost straight ahead is the restaurant, which has a couple of dozen booths and a dozen or so tables. We also noticed a small outdoor patio that will be nice in warmer weather -- we'll definitely give it a try this summer!

Given the surroundings, you might expect to find outrageous prices -- but not so. We spent just under $9 apiece for our entrees (not including a couple of beers); we've spent far more than that at many "family casual" restaurants like Appleb
ee's and Ruby Tuesday, all amid the banter of overly friendly servers who seem bent on becoming our best friends, the clatter of dishes and intrusive music and chatter from a half-dozen TV sets pointed at us from every direction.

At Enzo's, there's none of that -- the servers here are very friendly, courteous and helpful (they even bring ice water as soon as you sit down with no need to beg for
it). Although business people clearly eat here often and you'll see lots of suits, sport coats and even an occasional necktie, you won't feel out of place if you wander in, as we did, in jeans. We also learned from our server that the restaurant's "regulars" haven't slacked off a bit despite the economy -- which also tells me something about how good, and reasonably priced, the food is here.

Two things we almost always get here -- wedding soup and linguine with red clam sauce -- we've always said are as good as you'll find anywhere. The wedding soup (I'm the one who loves it) is filled with all the usual greens, shredded chicken and those teeny meatballs, all swimming in an
absolutely delicious broth. As for the linguine, it's Jack who claims that as his all-time favorite (I don't like red sauce on seafood). He love it so much, though, that he orders it at just about every Italian restaurant we've ever been to. So when he says this is the best, I'm inclined to believe him.

For him, then, the choice of entree was a no-brainer, especially since t
he cost is a reasonable $8.95 on the lunch menu. He chose the daily special soup of vegetable beef, which he pronounced delicious as he ate that and a slice of fresh Italian bread from the basket our server delivered with our soup.

The choice of entree for me, however, was a bit more difficult. I've always loved Chicken Francaise, for instance, and it's wonderful here, sauteed with lemon, wine and butter and also $8.95. Then there's the Fettuccini Prima Vera --
homemade noodles tossed with fresh vegetables and Alfredo sauce at $8.95. Most lunch entrees, I should add, come with either a tossed salad or a cup of soup (sandwiches generally include fries or onion rings). If you're there for dinner, expect to add three or four bucks to the lunch cost, but the portions are substantially larger and non-pasta entrees include either tossed salad or soup and a choice of potatoes, pasta, rice or vegetables. We've never had dinner here without bringing home at least half to enjoy another day.

Needless to say, there are plenty of salads and sandwiches here as well; when was the last time you had a real pizzaburger -- a choice of hamburger, sausage or a meatball served between two slices of pizza? The lunch version costs $5.95, by the way, and it's a real treat.

For this lunch, I finally settled on a new-to-me entree: Angel Hair Giardiniera, or angel hair spaghetti tossed in olive oil with snow peas, sundried tomatoes, red, yellow and green bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and romano cheese ($8.95). It sounded absolutely marvelous, and I was absolutely right. Light but spilling over with flavor, especially in the sauce, it's surpassed the Fettuccini Prima Vera as my favorite pasta dish. Although I struggled to make room, it was so delicious that I finished the entire bowl.

I digress a bit, but I must stop to share a little tip. Those who know me know I love anything hot and spicy -- I'll know I'm old when I can no longer wolf down a bowl of hot peppers in oil without suffering for days afterward. But in all my years of enjoying the spices of life, never once did I ever consider adding hot pepper flakes to pasta cooked in a white sauce. That was until I found a special linguine with white clam sauce at another local Italian restaurant -- the "secret" ingredient is (you guessed it), red pepper flakes. They add just the right amount of zing without changing the flavor of the dish.

So trust me: Although Enzo's Angel Hair Giardiniera is as close to perfect as you can get all on its own, try adding a couple of shakes of those pepper flakes. Bellissimo!

If you go: Enzo's Restaurant & Lounge
2918 Elm Road N.E.
Warren, Ohio
(330) 372-331­4

Open Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday noon to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Big congratulations to Art Byrd for the publication of his 50th "A Byrd's Eye View" newsletter! As he notes in the latest edition, he started the newsletter because, "I got tired of people telling me that there is nothing to do in the Youngstown area. With each edition, we prove them wrong."

That's much the same reason I started this Mahoning Valley Eats & Treats blog -- there's no shortage of great places to eat right here in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. Keep up the good work, Art, and here's a special thanks for "plugging" my blog in your terrific newsletter! If you'd like to read excerpts from the newsletters, visit Art's blog!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Up A Creek Tavern

Spring is here -- finally -- bringing with it the opening of the outdoor patio at Up A Creek Tavern and a great place to soak up rays, chow down on a juicy burger and quaff a beer or two. Yes, it's a great neighborhood pub! But did you know you can have great private parties here? Or that the pasta at this Howland Township eatery is good enough to make Italian restaurant chefs cry? Or that on Saturdays, the wood-fired roasted Texas brisket, lamb and prime rib are melt-in-your-mouth wonderful?

My husband Jack and I consider ourselves regulars here -- in fact, when the weather's warm and we're not on the road, we're likely to be here for a late lunch a couple of days a week at least.

One of the best things going is that there's almost always something special -- meaning great food and drink at a special price. There are $1 drafts here every day, but there's also Happy Hour (3 p.m. to closing), drinks of the month (for April, it's Riesling from one of our favorite Ohio wineries, Chalet Debonn
e) and some kind of food deal. The April wing flavors are Mango Rum and Citrus Herb; the Burger of the Month is the Tavern Burger at $6.99, which is a delicious half-pound Black Angus burger topped with sauteed sweet peppers and onions, a piece of fried bologna, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato on a grilled kaiser roll. If you like, add a fried egg for another buck (oh yes, it comes with fries).

Then there are daily specials, which we often try because the price is right and we're introduced to what's likely to become a new favorite -- like the recent Tuscany sausage sandwich for $5.99 -- which is one of the thickest, juiciest and spiciest hot I've ever had, topped with and red bell peppers and melted cheese. Jack had one of his all-time favorites, the Reuben sandwich (he swears the corned beef is better here than anywhere else), and I added a cup of chicken and wild
rice soup. The soup was filled with plenty of tender rice, chicken chunks, celery and carrots -- oh yeah, I'd order both the sandwich and soup again, no question!

I've already mentioned that we eat on the outdoor patio when possible; there are several booths and tables in the main room where the bar is when the w
eather isn't so good. There's a porch with a fireplace and screens on the windows that is used year-round as well. Plenty of flat-screen TVs assure you won't miss a big game for those who are interested in that stuff. The tables have boxes filled with condiments and a rack of paper towels in the old Hooters tradition -- definitely a low-key kind of place!

Surprisingly, the pastas here are among our favorites; they range in price from $7.99 to $9.99, and you can add chicken, shrimp and/or sausage to any dish for a couple of dollars extra. My special favorite is the Pasta Diavlo ($7.99), a very spicy concoction of pasta with garlic, herbs, olive oil, fresh plum tomatoes, hot peppers and basil in red sauce.

Speaking of hot peppers, at one of our visits we overheard one of the chefs talking about hot peppers in oil in a jar that were being sold at the restaurant and as far away as Arizona and Florida. Needless to say, we asked about them and ended up buying a jar for $7.99. They're called Papa Canzonetta's Medium Hot Peppers Italian Style, which means, I guess, that they're packed with a red sauce). They're not eye-watering hot -- even Jack had a taste without passing out -- but they sure are delicious! Next time you're at the tavern, ask about getting a jar.

At another visit, Jack ordered linguine with red clam sauce (white sauce is on the menu as well) for $9.99. When I noticed the menu statement, "You've gotta try this one!" on the daily special crabmeat in tequila lime cream sauce pasta (11.99), I just had to try it. The sauce is pink -- so when it was set down in front of me, I thought oh no -- red sauce and seafood are not a good combination in my book. One bite, though, and that concern went right out the window. There was plenty of sauce, and the whole thing was topped with pieces of crabmeat (not the fake kind). It's substantial enough that I could eat only about half, and the half I brought home was enough to make a meal for the two of us. In short, it was to die for -- so good that I suggested to the server that it be placed on the permanent menu.

For the record, like other foods here, pastas, can be yours at a special price if you watch what day you go; currently, for instance, on Wednesdays you can buy one, get one free -- a can't-be-beat deal.

Still another favorite I found on the "winter" menu -- a four-piece fried chicken dinner that comes either spicy hot or "regular" Southern spiced for $7.49. I tried it on a day it was on special, which offered a $2 discount, and it was wonderful (I got the regular version because the spicy one had a sauce on it and I don't like chicken that drips or is excessively messy). The chicken came with cheddar mashed potatoes and cole slaw (I could have substituted fries or onion straws but didn't). Meanwhile, Jack tried a parmesan pepper shrimp wrap accompanied by onion straws -- also delicious -- and a cup of the tavern's excellent French onion soup. and washed it all down with a couple of those $1 drafts (Coors Light is our choice).

When the chicken first arrived, though, I was afraid it might be too crispy for my taste (more to the point, for my aging teeth to handle without cracking off), but I was pleasantly surprised. The pieces were quite large and included a leg, a wing, a thigh and a breast. In the end, we took home two pieces of the chicken and half of Jack's wrap -- the portions are quite substantial here, by the way, and we leave with boxes in hand virtually every time we visit.

The sandwiches and wings here are outstanding too; our favorite wing flavors are Butter Garlic and Parmesan & Black Pepper. The regular price is six wings for $4.49 (eight boneless for $5.29), but they're often on special as well. In addition to Jack's favorite Reuben, I love the fried bologna sandwich, packed full of thick-sliced balogna topped with grilled onions and provolone for $4.99. To that, I add hot peppers for another $1. Talk about comfort food!

Finally, I'll mention a couple of other great deals: If it's your birthday, you eat here free (up to $12). And if you want to party down with a relatively small crowd, you can reserve that screened-in porch for $50, which is then applied to the cost of the food assuming you show up. Not long ago, we booked the place on a Sunday afternoon to entertain about 30 friends and family members who came to meet our son Scott's wife Lilla, who came here from South Africa (she has dual citizenship there and in Great Britain). We could have ordered individual meals or chosen a buffet with as many items as we wanted. Since this was a mid-afternoon bash, we went with the latter, picking two kinds of pizza (with pepperoni and veggie), two kinds of wings (honey barbecue and butter garlic) and a large antipasto tray -- choose a size of each that would feed from 30 to 35. Everyone had plenty (and loved the butter garlic wings in particular), and we still had plenty left to share take-home boxes with several of our guests.

If you go:

Up a Creek Tavern
4793 E. Market St.
Warren, OH 44484
(330) 856-5135

Open daily from 11:30 a.m. top 2:30 a.m.