Thursday, October 27, 2011


In years past when we didn't have to choose between buying a winter coat and filling up the gas tank, my husband Jack and I loved to venture south to Columbiana County to take in the beautiful countryside, perhaps stopping at a couple of antique shops in Columbiana or heading on down to get some photos in the scenic Beaver Creek State Park. On the way home, we enjoyed stopping for a meal, often at the wonderful Das Dutch Haus Restaurant & Bakery in Columbiana.

These days, I'm sad to say, forays that require gasing up the car have become few and far between, as have impromptu stops for shopping or a meal. But now and again, we still get the urge to hit the road, as we did recently when we traveled down State Route 11 all the way to East Liverpool, stopping at Broadway Wharf for photos along the Ohio River and at the Lou Holz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame downtown.

And would you believe that on the way home, our old-but-still good Pontiac Vibe just seemed to nose into the parking lot at the Das Dutch Haus complex? This is, I should note, way more than just a restaurant; you can spend the night at Das Dutch Village Inn, where the 51 rooms and suites are furnished in a variety of styles such as Shaker, Colonial and Victorian. You can browse unique merchandise like cheese, books and hand-crafted items in the Das Dutch Village Shops as well.

But the main attraction here, at least for me, is the restaurant. The main dining area can ac
comodate 450, and even then the lines can be a bit long during peak dining hours. As soon as you open the door, the smell of fresh-baked bread, pies, cakes and other goodies tantalizes your senses. Then, you see why; to the right, rack after rack of these delights stand ready for take-out. Look left, and you'll see an expansive area filled with items that make wonderful gifts (a great place to explore after your stomach is full).

Since our vis
its tend to be at off hours - most recently, we got there around 2:30 p.m. - we're usually seated immediately. The decor is decidedly Dutch, with lots of wood, flowers and Old World wall hangings. Large tables can accommodate bigger groups, and dinners can be served family style (all you can eat chuck roast, chicken and all the trimmings including the salad bar for $14.75 per adult).

- including pies of the day - are posted on boards in each section of the restaurant. Shortly after you're seated, a server asks for your drink order (no alcohol here, by the way) and then brings a basket of fresh-baked bread.

The down-home menu is extensive, and dinner entrees range from creamed chicken on a homemade biscuit to smoked sausage to Swiss steak (all $11.25) and a couple of fish dinners priced slightly higher. For lunch, hot sandwiches like beef, pork and turkey are especially tempting, as are old favorites like the Dutch Bo
y Ham & Swiss Cheese served with horseradish sauce on a homemade bun ($5.25).

On our "official" visit, we both opted for one of the daily specials; Jack ordered a sloppy joe with potato chips and cole slaw and I picked baked chicken, which came with two sides. I knew I wanted mashed potatoes and gravy, but I was
n't sure about the other one. Noticing the baked squash with brown sugar-walnut crumb topping, I asked our server, who told me it's delicious. So, squash it was.

There's not much to say about Jack's sloppy joe and slaw except that both disappeared in
very short order, a clear indication that it was tasty (and that he was very hungry). Meanwhile, I took one look at the huge mound of squash and figured I'd be a while.

It was quite tasty, too, made special by that crumb topping (I liken the flavor to mashed sweet potatoes). The mashed potatoes somehow didn't quite
taste like the real thing, but if they were fake, they were good. The two pieces of chicken weren't very large, but the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and the flavor was wonderful. Next time, I told myself, I'll go for the same thing only the dinner-size entree.

Although our stomachs were full after polishing off our main meals, we made sure to leave room for dessert - and I urge you to do the same. The pies here are hard to beat - Jack tried the sugar-free apple - and I usually go for an apple dumpling ($3.45 for each). The dumpling comes warmed, and our server asked if Jack wanted his pie that way (he did). I decided to add vanilla ice cream, too, which costs $1.25 but really makes the dumpling special.

After we finished, we virtually waddled out of the restaurant section to browse the gift shop and bakery. The special-occasion cakes caught my eye - one very large cake was shaped and decorated like a fabulous castle. Other display cases contain the restaurant's homemade soups, potato salad, ham loaf and more as well as those wonderful whole pies,
cakes, breads and doughnuts.

This time out, we resisted buying anything to take home (mostly, I suspect, because our stomachs were so full we figured we wouldn't want to eat anything else till at least the next day). That's a decision we'd come to regret once we got back home, though, so for sure next time we go we won't make that mistake again!

If you go: Das Dutch Haus Restaurant & Bakery
14895 South Ave. Extension
Columbiana, Ohio 44408
(330) 482-2236

Open Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sundays.

Friday, October 14, 2011


If you think the name of this restaurant is intriguing, you're not alone. Every time my husband Jack and I go shopping at the Grove City Premium Outlets near Grove City, Pa., we drive by one of the 20-something locations, always saying, "That place looks really interesting. We've got to have lunch there someday!"

Not long ago, that someday arrived -- and we've added it to our list of favorite places to eat when we're over that way.

In the interests of full disclosure, though, I must tell you that the
corporate owner, Elephant & Castle Group Inc., of Boston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 5. That said, officials say no restaurant closings are expected, and you'll find locations across the United States and Canada from Toronto to Boston to Chicago to San Diego and San Francisco.

Update March 1, 2012: The Elephant & Castle Group Inc. has sold substantially all of its assets (19 locations) to Original Joe’s Acquisition Corp. for $22.75 million. All locations and "substantially all" employees will be retained, officials said.

Of course, it's the name that's most intriguing about this place, so let me give you a condensed version from a company-provided brochure. As legend has it, there once was a fair maiden who lived in the French province of Castile. Her parents wanted to marry her off to a rich English prince. Because English nobles often spoke French as well as English, the daughter became known as L'Enfant de Castile (the child of Castile).

Then, a London innkeeper decided to name his place after her; but the Cockneys had a bit of trouble with pronunciation and the pub became known as Elephant and Castle. Eve
n today, an inn of that name is located across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.

I will note, however, that as soon as I posted the blog, I heard from someone who's a U.K. citizen informing me that this version is a common misconception but not the true story. Not wanting to get in the middle of an elephant tussle, I'll share the link I received and let readers draw their own conclusions:

However the name came to be, fast-forward to 1977, when twin brothers Paul and Jeffery Barnett and their associate George Pitman opened the first
Elephant & Castle in Vancouver. I have no idea where the Grove City pub stands on the development timeline, but I do know I'm glad we found it.

We stopped
for lunch around 12:30 on a Tuesday afternoon after a relatively quick stop at the mall to check out our favorite Bass, Van Heusen and Izod stores as well as look for a new pair of walking shoes for me at the Nike store (no luck on the latter; the most I'm willing to spring for a pair is about 40 bucks, and among the less-than-a-handful I found on sale at that price, I found nothing I'd ever willingly put on my feet).

The restaurant has a look and feel similar to others of its ilk -- among them Applebee's,
TGI Friday's and Ruby Tuesday -- but the abundant glass, dark wood, old books and ale tankards and the like do give it an atmosphere somewhat like I'd expect at a pub in Merry Olde England. There's an extensive beer list with plenty of specials; on this day, one of the best deals was $2 pints of Coors Light, of which we happily partook.

I'll also alert you that it's a great place to go on your birthday; just show your ID and you'll get a percentage discount on your meal that's equal to your age. Next March, trust me, I plan to be there with bells on -- and clean house with my 71% off! We'll follow that up in June for Jack, who'll get an even bigger 72% discount.

Since this was our lunch, we zeroed in on somewhat lighter fare; sandwiches come with a house or Caesar salad, pub chips or soup. Jack chose a salad, asking for the homemade viniagrette. I opted for soup, with three choices: The cream of broccoli soup of the day, onion soup or chicken and leek (it was the latter for me).

The soup and salad were delivered almost immediately, and Jack said the dressing was very creamy and flavorful. He was less enthusiastic about the salad, since it was filled with all different kinds of greens he claims make him think he's eating the front yard. Never mind, I said, eager to polish off what he left

The soup had a thin chicken-flavored broth with lots of celery, leeks, small chicken chunks and other greens. It tasted great, and I discovered that the delicious salad croutons (terrific flavor and not so crisp that they threaten to break your teeth) made an excellent addition to my soup as well.

For our entrees, Jack picked the Loaded Beef Dip ($8.99), with caramelized mushrooms, jack cheese and au jus for dipping. My choice was the bruschetta chicken sandwich ($8.69), a chicken breast topped with jack cheese and bruschetta tomatoes on a rosemary Focaccia bun with pesto mayonnaise.

Jack really loved his sandwich, although he did find it a bit hard to dip it into the small cup of au jus -- it was quite funny watching him bite it in very strange ways just to get it to fit. My sandwich was delicious as well, with finely chopped, flavored bruschetta tomatoes. The chicken breast didn't even come close to filling the bun, although it was fairly thick. If I'd been the cook, I'd have simply pounded it thinner to stretch it out (and it would cook faster as well). I do admit, though, the bun was quite large to begin with -- and that rosemary flavor came through loud and clear.

By the way, the website serves up a wealth of information, including current promotions, special features (see the link below). For fall, I've got my eye on the sausage sampler, a grilled bratwurst and British banger with a hot pretzel, beer mustard and braised red cabbage for $8. Or, the grilled bratwurst -- two char-grilled German-style sausages with wine braised red cabbage onion gravy and garlic mashed potatoes ($11.50) sounds like a wonderful alternative. For dessert? My mouth is watering at the thought of a Stout poached pear ($6.50), served with stout syrup and vanilla ice cream.

Much of the food, understandably, has a strong British flavor; the menu can vary slightly from location to location, though, so it's a good idea to check the website for the menu specific to the location you plan to visit. I should also note that in case you want to spend the evening sampling the beers and ales, you can spend the night as well; the Grove City location offers 12 air-conditioned rooms with cable and Internet connections, a continental breakfast and 10% off on restaurant meals for overnight guests.

If you go: The Elephant & Castle Pub and Restaurant
1923 Leesburg-Grove City Road
Grove City, Pa. 16127
(724) 748-1010

Open 11 a.m. to midnight Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.