Thursday, September 29, 2011


Dino's Restaurant is celebrating 31 years in business this year, and that's quite an accomplishment for any eatery these days. But would you believe it took a dining-out disaster to get us here for the first - but definitely not last - time?

On a cool but beautiful Saturday afternoon in mid-September, our son Scott and his wife Lilla invited my husband Jack and me to join them at at a local winery near Berlin Center, which was hosting a clambake catered by a local restaurant. The occasion was to celebrate the birthday of our daughter-in-law's brother, who was visiting from London. Also along for the fun was their mother, Sheila, who's been living in South Africa but is here now. Told to arrive about an hour prior to our reserved time to get a good seat for the clambake, we cheerfully obeyed - and proceeded to drop more than $100 on tasting trays, glasses and pitchers of wine and bottles to take home as we waited for our appointed serving time.

To our dismay, the "reserved" time turned into "just 15 more minutes," then 15 more, and then another 15. The winery folks blamed the caterer, and the caterer blamed an equipment malfunction. The bottom line is that nearly an hour after the time we were to eat, we were so frustrated (not to mention starving since none of us had eaten lunch to save up for the big dinner) that we demanded a refund ($28 times six, by the way) and left.

Long story short, we still had our hunger to deal with and a birthday to finish celebrating. But since we live about an hour away from our son - us to the east and he to the west - we wanted to find someplace in the middle so neither of us had to backtrack very far. But where?

Suddenly, Jack remembered Dino's Restaurant in North Jackson at the corner of Mahoning Avenue and State Route 45. As soon as he mentioned it, I recalled that a friend -- I believe it was Mike Costarella, who, among other things, hosts "Another Valley View" on AM 1540 WYCL each week -- had recommended it to me. So, Dino's it was.

Admittedly, we had a few doubts. First, it's located in a small plaza, certainly isn't "fancy" and we figured we wouldn't be able to get a beer to wash down our food even if it was good. Well, I'm here to tell you, we were dead wrong. No, it's not fancy; but alcohol is served here, and the food -- well, let's just say it was so good that Jack and I returned for lunch the very next day (more on that later, of course)!

We arrived about a quarter to six on a Saturday night, and despite a decent crowd, we were seated immediately at a large round table. It took a while to settle on what we wanted to eat since the menu is fairly extensive - and our choices were all over the map. The first thing I noticed is that they have pierogies, both batter-fried as an appetizer and "regular" with butter and onions. Our son Scott ordered the fried version as his meal, and he definitely wasn't disappointed (quite a nice feeling after our clambake fiasco, I hasten to add).

Jack zeroed in on linguine with clam sauce ($7.99), ordering it with red sauce instead of white. As it turned out, he got the white sauce by accident, but he said it was absolutely delicious and, instead of complaining, downed the whole thing while vowing to try the white next time. Lilla's brother Iain chose the veal parmesan, her mother picked the seafood trio appetizer of shrimp, clams and a crabcake ($6.99) while my choice was baked haddock ($8.49). For my sides, I paid a bit extra to have wedding soup and pierogies (the ones with butter and onions).

The fish turned out to be one of the tastiest portions I've had inland, and both the soup and pierogies were delicious as well. Admittedly I was too busy chatting with everyone that I didn't do a lot of writing, including getting prices on several of the items -- but the fact that most of the chatting came to an abrupt halt when the food arrived and didn't start up again till dessert is a good indication that everyone was quite satisfied.

Speaking of dessert, Wow! says it best. Most of us were too full to even think about a slice of pie, an apple dumpling or even a sundae, but then we spotted the stuffed elephant ear ($4.99), filled with vanilla ice cream and either apples or cherries (our choice) and topped with whipped cream. We ordered just one with four spoons, and there was plenty to go around. The elephant ear was huge -- and delectably warm -- and the ice cream, cherries and whipped cream sort of melted into it (melting with it all the calories, of course). Oh my!

A couple of us had beer or wine and the rest soft drinks, but perhaps the biggest and best surprise came at the end of the meal: The total bill for the six of us was just over $77 -- quite a noticeable difference from the $168 we'd have paid for the clambake, and everything was wonderfully tasty and delivered as promised.

The next day, Jack and I had hoped to stop at White House Fruit Farm near Canfield for the annual fall craft fair. But when we discovered the traffic was creeping along just to get to the entrance and the parking lots looked to be overflowing, we kept right on going. It would have been fun, but fighting big crowds just isn't something we have any interest in doing these days. We headed down a bit to Salem, and after cruising through the downtown and a few of that city's beautiful streets, we found ourselves back on State Route 45 to head home again.

And as luck would have it, it was somewhere around lunch time. Since we were on the right road, it took Jack about two minutes to come up with the possibility of stopping at Dino's for lunch -- and about two seconds more for me to say that's a great idea! This time, we agreed, we'll try a few new things.

We also looked around a bit more; this isn't a really large place, but there are plenty of large and small tables and booths along the walls. The decor is mostly wood, with Italian-style wall hangings in recessed areas. There's a banquet room to accommodate larger crowds as well and a small outdoor patio when the weather is cooperative. Specials are available each day, and I was tempted by several varieties of fried chicken (three pieces with a side of slaw is just $5.99). For future reference, we also noted that domestic beers are $1 on Wednesdays.

The Sunday entrees included prime rib for $12.99, but I wasn't quite that hungry. Instead, I opted for cavatelli chicken and greens with garlic broccolini sauce for $10.99. Jack had a tough time choosing as well, but he finally settled on pot roast with mashed potatoes, gravy and slaw for $7.99.

For starters, our server brought a basket of four very large (and still warm) rolls with my salad and Jack's slaw. Better still, the rolls were accompanied by plenty of butter pats. One of my big pet peeves is that most restaurants aren't stingy with the bread and rolls, but they really skimp on the butter and/or margarine. Admittedly, I tend to use more than many people do, but one or two of those tiny packets don't even begin to cover half a dozen pieces of bread and it's not always easy to catch a server's attention when I want more.

My chicken dish was served in a large oval bowl, and the sauce tasted fabulous. The grilled chicken pieces perhaps could have been more tender - pieces that small tend to cook up fast and get tough even faster. But the flavor was wonderful -- absolutely loved the homemade greens -- and I had plenty left to take home.

No such luck for Jack, since he scarfed down every single bite of what he called delicious pot roast (I sampled a bit of the gravy and agree with his assessment). Once again, we left satisfied -- proving that our initial experience was no fluke. Already, we've added Dino's to our list of places we love and will return to any time we're in the neighborhood (ah, I'll rephrase that: It's one we're willing to go out of our way to visit)!

If you go:

Dino's Restaurant
9245 Mahoning Ave.
North Jackson, Ohio
(330) 538-2263

Open Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Warm summer days just beg for day trips -- at least as far as I'm concerned -- and one of the delights in hitting the road is finding interesting restaurants. On one of those awful 90 degree-plus days back in July, that's exactly what my husband Jack and I did.

At least once a year, we head to the Pymatuning State Park spillway near Linesville, Pa., to see those huge, hungry (and downright ugly) carp climb all over each other to get to bread chunks pitched over the railing by visitors who can't believe their eyes. They're so thick that here and there, equally hungry gulls walk on the fishes' backs, trying to steal the bread before it even gets to those gaping mouths.

The gulls, however, have a decided advantage:
If you toss bread in the air, they'll fly over in droves and it's a sure bet one will catch the chunk in mid-flight. The whole thing is an awesome sight, so if you haven't been there yet, there's still plenty of good weather left before the snow flies.

On this day, we rounded up our friends Jerry and Barb from Niles, and the four of us spent
a bit of time oggling the fish monsters just like the rest of the gawkers. But in short order, the blistering heat took its toll and we almost flew faster than those gulls to get back to the comfort of our air-conditioned car. Once we could breathe again, though, we decided we were hungry -- although we weren't sure whether to blame that on the time of day or watching those carp scarf down the bread.

So, we headed back toward home with an eye toward finding a place to satisfy our craving for food -
preferably a place we hadn't tried before. Not long after we crossed back into Ohio, we reached Andover, and right on the town square, there it was: Cranberry Station Restaurant. The neat windows and red awning above the entrance were very inviting, and since it was early afternoon, we didn't really care that the place doesn't sell alcohol -- it was good food and something cold to drink that we were after.

Inside, it's a one-room affair but quite spacious, with several large tables and comfortable high-back wooden chairs. At 1:30 in the afternoon several folks were here finishing up, chatting with each and other and the servers, so we figured this is a popular place with the locals.

The walls are filled with country-style artwork and hand-made items, most of which are for sale. Right next to our table there was a table holding lip gloss and handmade soaps in a variety of tempting scents. Curious, we asked out server about them, and she absolutely raved about the lip gloss. Learning that it was just $1 a tube, Barb and I figured why not and bought several to take home -- and yes, they're wonderful.

Dinners h
ere range from around $7.99 to $15.99, the latter for a strip steak. Croissant sandwiches are under $7, and they have several burgers and subs as well. I eyed the Cincinnati Chili ($6.49), a dish I've loved ever since I was a kid growing up not far from the Queen City. For the record, it's basically spaghetti topped with chili instead of spaghetti sauce; here, they add black olives and onion and the whole thing comes with a salad.

There are daily specials as well as plenty of "standards" on the menu such as a corned beef on rye sandwich with Swiss cheese for $5.49 - it can be served hot or cold. A
grilled Swiss cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato on rye is just $3.99, beef liver and onions is $6.99 and roasted turkey breast with dressing and cranberry sauce is $8.99, to give you some idea of the range of offerings and prices. In short, I'd think there is sufficient variety here to please just about any palate.

Hungry as we were, we started with appetizers all around. Except for me -- I love corn nuggets so the choice was a no-brainer - it wasn't an easy decision, especially since we wanted to try four different things to share. Jack didn't take too long, choosing the breaded mushrooms. Barb followed with potato skins, and finally Jerry opted for a cup of chili. We all were quite pleased (especially my with the corn nuggets, which were much like corn fritters). The chili was a little harder to share so I can't offer a personal opinion, but Jerry said the chili had a too-strong tomato base and not much chili flavor. That didn't keep him from polishing it off, I hasten to add.

It took longer for us to pick entrees than it did for the appetizers - lots of delicious-sounding items here - but pick we did. It was lunch time and very hot outside, so I wanted something cool. The croissant sandwich with chicken salad filled that bill perfectly ($5.99, and I could have had tuna salad instead). It came with a side of either macaroni salad or potato salad, but since they were out of macaroni salad, that, too, so potato it was. To drink, I picked cranberry lemonade, which our server told us is a very popular drink that they serve at events Cranberry Station caters.

Jack, always a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, went for the meatloaf dinner ($7.49). He had a choice of potato, salad or vegetable plus a roll and butter, and he picked fries and a salad with raspberry viniagrette dressing. Jerry finally settled on the fried fish sandwich.

Like me, Barb wanted something cool, so her pick was the deluxe tuna salad ($6.59). Our server then asked what kind of dressing she wanted -- I don't recall for sure, but I think she chose bleu cheese -- and after the server left we wondered why there was a choice of dressing. The tuna salad we're all used to comes pre-mixed, usually with mayonnaise. Oh well, we said - guess Barb's in for a surprise!

In fact, she did get a surprise - and a very pleasant one. The tuna salad here, it turns out, is a huge mound of tuna -- no filling whatsoever -- with the dressing served on the side to be added to the tuna as you like. Neat concept, we agreed - and quite delicious.

Jack happily shoveled down every single bite of his meatloaf, pronouncing it "very good." My chicken salad was delicious as well, although it, too, was a bit different. The typical mayo used to bind it together was totally absent, replaced by something that had a bit of a mustard taste to it. Jerry proclaimed his fish sandwich "good," but nothing to write home about.

When she noticed that we had cleaned off our plates, our observant server trotted out a fabulous dessert tray loaded with goodies from key lime/strawberry cake and fresh-based pies. We were stuffed, but these looked way too good for some of us to resist. Jack picked a slice of apple pie and Jerry couldn't resist a big slice of yummy-looking chocolate cake. Barb was the only holdout, saying she absolutely couldn't get another bite down.

Beverages here are served in Mason jars, and I couldn't help noticing when our server delivered a just-made milkshake to another table (also in a Mason jar). Another no-brainer for me: For dessert, I'll have what she's having, I told our server.

For the record, they use Edy's Ice Cream here, and it goes in the shakes as well. The "soda fountain" was just on the other side of our table, and I was surprised and thrilled to see not one, but three generous scoops of chocolate ice cream go in the jar (most chocolate shakes are made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup). Not a lot of milk was added so I figured it would take a while before I could get it through the straw without sucking my face inside out. Not so; it was kept on the mixer long enough to thin it down perfectly. It was, in fact, my very own little piece of Heaven.

Desserts here are kept on a chilled tray so they're fairly cold when they reach the table. So although Jerry said the cake was very good, he would have preferred it served at room temperature, if not slightly warmed.

If there's a real downside here, it's that there's only one single-stall restroom; that could, we imagine, be problematic when the place is full of folks drinking that delicious cranberry lemonade.

If you go: Cranberry Station Restaurant
68 Public Square
Andover, Ohio 44003
(440) 293-6651

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our server said the restaurant opens daily between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and are open till 11 p.m. on weekdays except Mondays, when they close at 3 p.m. On weekends, closing is 11:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Editor's note on 9/7/12: Bad new update on the Emerald Diner - the diner recently was gutted by a fire. No word on when (or whether) it will be rebuilt, but I'll keep you posted.

Back in the '50s when I was a kid growing up on a farm in southwestern Ohio, drive-in restaurants, soda fountains and diners were staples of everyday living. Nobody "ate out" very often -- our stay-at-home moms cooked up three squares a day, mostly from scratch. But once in a while, we'd get treated to a cold root beer and chili dog at the A&W or a "brown cow" at the new Dairy Queen in town.
Dairy Que
en, by the way, was founded in 1940, so when one opened in our small town sometime in the mid-'50s, we all thought we'd died and gone to Heaven. That Dairy Queen also was the first real job I ever had; I spent two summers whipping up sundaes, milkshakes and putting those curls on cones trying to earn enough money to buy some neat back-to-school clothes that weren't on my mother's list of what I really needed. I'll never forget the thrill of discovering that as an employee, I was allowed eat all the ice cream treats I wanted -- followed by the realization maybe three days later that I wouldn't care if I never ate it again for the rest of my life.

Once I
turned 16 and got my driver's license, I'd get behind the wheel of my dad's '57 Chevy Bel Air (metallic pink, dual exhaust and stick shift), pick up my best friend Marcia and head into the small town of Union City, Indiana, to the Sweet Shoppe for a freshly made chocolate malt and listening to the latest tunes on the juke box. Last time I was in town, the Sweet Shoppe was still open - a testament, I guess, to the ongoing popularity of this kind of place.

I left the farm for college in 1959 and never went back (except, of course, to visit my wonder
ful parents when they were still living, which happily was for many more years). But I've always had an affinity for any kind of eatery that brings back memories of the '50s. So even though my husband Jack and I prefer our meals accompanied by beer or wine, every once in a while we consider it a treat to have a meal in surroundings that remind us of days gone by.
And that's exactly what we did not long ago, when our friends Jerry and Barb suggested that we have dinner at the Emerald Diner in Hubbard, Ohio. Truth is, we enjoyed a meal or two here several years ago when Jack reviewed the place for his "Dining Out" column for The Business Journal. Since then, for some reason we were under the impression that it had closed. Not so -- in fact, it's very much alive and well and living in the 21st Century. The food and decor, though, are happily stuck in a previous generation.

The diner
, according to a diner brochure, is a green-accented 1939 O'Mahony that was Burt's Diner in Norwich, Conn., for 40 years. Once it closed, it sat abandoned in a cornfield for 10 years. In 1994, James P. Marsh of J.P. Marsh & Co., a certified public accountant firm in Hubbard, purchased it and moved it here, where the first cup of coffee was served in April of the following year.
As you might expect, the railroad car-style diner has bar stools and a counter on one side and booths on the other. There's lots of chrome and replicas of LP records (remember those??) hanging around, and in each booth there's a juke box that simply begs for quarters -- each of which gets you two selections.

That, in fact, provided some entertainment for our outing -- but first we'll talk about the real reason for being here -- the food. There's plenty here from which to choose, by the way -- far more than I'd have expected at a so-called diner. We found lots
that sounded wonderful from breakfast, lunch and dinner menus (all of which prompted us to agree we'd be making more visits here).

There are daily specials as well, although no matter how hard she tried, our friendly server just couldn't convince any of us to try the liver and haluska side that
was featured on this day. Saturday's country fried steak ($6.95) and Sunday's meatloaf ($7.95), however, were very tempting. A hint: If you're on Facebook, add the Emerald Diner to your "like" list and you can check out the daily postings of special Facebook-only deals that can save you a bundle.

There are several appetizers on the menu, like spinach and artichoke dip with tortilla chips ($4.95) and Italian greens in olive oil and garlic with toasted Italian bread ($5.95). The sandwiches are too numerous to mention anywhere near all, but the ope
n-faced turkey, meatloaf and roast beef with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy at $5.95 each caught my eye for a future visit. Dinner entrees range from pasta to stuffed cabbage to crispy fried chicken.
Another temptation was the "Wiener's Circle" of 100% all beef hotdogs, you get onions and relish on request. A quarter-pound dog is $2.45, and toppings (chili, coleslaw, sauerkraut, bacon and more) are an additional quarter each.
As for our final selections, mine was a Five Alarm burger, a one-third pound hunk of meat infused with hot spices and jalapenos. Then, just to make sure you don't miss the heat, it's topped with house marinated hot peppers, pepper jack cheese and jalapenos and priced at a reasonable $6.75 with one side. I nixed the veggie of the day -- stewed tomatoes and zucchini -- in favor of onion rings.

I can count on Jack for consistency when it comes to food, and this place was no exception; he picked the Philly Cheese Steak (you can get it with chicken instead of beef). It's topped by grilled onions, green peppers, mushrooms and provolone and served on a toasted hoagie roll for $6.75 -- he chose cole slaw as his side.

The Ch
icken and Greens sandwich was Jerry's pick of the litter: A 6-ounce chicken breast with homemade Italian greens, roasted red peppers and provolone on grilled Italian bread for $7.45. Barb opted for the Eggplant Parmesan sandwich with hand-sliced eggplant rolled in a blend of Panko and Italian seasoned bread crumbs and layered on a hoagie bun. Then it's topped with provolone, sauce and shredded mozzarella; with her choice of sweet potato fries for a side, the whole thing cost $6.75.

All of the sandwiches were wonderful, in part because of the bread (Barb called her bun "amazing," in fact). When we raved about it to our server, she told us it comes from the Orlando Baking Co. in Youngstown. Barb also loved the sweet potato fries, noting that they were thicker with "more potato" than most she's had. Along the same lines, she was delig
hted that Heinz ketchup is served here -- it's the only kind she likes (and yes, she really can tell the difference if blindfolded)!

The hot peppers on and in my burger were both plentiful and on the hot side, even for someone like me who has a cast-iron stomach. The homemade ones packed the most punch heat-wise, but the flavor was a bit too vinegary for me to want them as a full side dish. On the sandwich, though, they were delicious.

As I said before, we definitely plan to return here just because the food is great, the prices are reasonable and the decor is just plain fun. But there's another rea
son - to try one of the hand-dipped milkshakes that come in several flavors ($3.95). Milkshakes are a diner "must" and I absolutely love them, but I simply had no room to fit even part of one in my stomach on this visit.
On the fun side, too, is the music. After we'd placed our orders, we couldn't resist browsing through the golden oldies on the "pages" of the juke box at our table -- and that led to wondering if each of us chose two favorites to play for 25 cents, would there be any duplicates since the four of us are quite close in age? In fact, there was only one; both Jerry and I picked "All I Have to Do is Dream" by the Everly Brothers. So I switched one of my choices to Pat Benetar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

Other pick
s were "Hang on Sloopy" by the McCoys and "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry (Jack), "Night Moves" by Bob Seger and "Temptation Eyes" by The Grass Roots (Barb). Jerry's second pick was "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs and mine was "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynrd Skynyrd. For a quarter apiece, it was pretty cheap entertainment and great accompaniment to our meals.

After we'
d finished, we walked outside to wander around the grounds and pop into a really neat antique shop in a former train depot (a whole train and related memorabilia stand nearby as well). The collection of old steamer trunks is worthwhile in and of itself, and we look forward to coming back to see what we missed the first time around (right after we sample those milkshakes at the diner)!

If you go:


825 N. Main St.
Hubbard, Ohio 44425
(330) 534-7600

Open Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 7 a.m. to midnight; Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.