Friday, December 30, 2011


Restaurant food in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys is as good (or better) than I've found anywhere else in the country, in my humble opinion -- with one exception: Seafood. For the most part, that's not because we're basically landlocked in these parts; rather, it's because it's inevitably overcooked to the point of being relatively tasteless and tough.

And for a seafood lover like me, that's a big disappointment; I'm always a bit leery of ordering it, knowing it's likely to be less than "perfect." So when I noticed lemon pepper swordfish on the daily specials menu at Trax Restaurant in Austintown, I hesitated -- but since swordfish is hard to find and is my favorite fish to eat -- I decided to reel it in. As a special, it came with one side and a salad for just $10.95, so I figured I wouldn't lose all that much if it wasn't all that great.

Ah, I'm delighted to report it was wonderful! I chose spaghetti as my side - as you'll find out in a minute, I'd tasted the sauce here before and liked it. This time I'd say it could have used a bit more sauce, but quite honestly I was too full to care after devouring every mouth-watering bite of the sizable chunk of swordfish steak. Not only w
as it juicy, the lemon flavor was subtle but noticeable and the cracked pepper added just the right touch of zest. Yum!

We arrived here this time for an early dinner, just before 4 p.m.; our server brought a list of lunch specials even at this late hour, which was nice because there were loads of great things from which to choose, including cavatelli-stuffed and chili cheese stuffed breadbowls ($8.50). I also considered the Italian sausage hero at $8.99 before spotting that swordfish.

Jack had a bit more trouble deciding, finally settling on the Yankee pot roast ($10.50), described as beef and carrots with au jus and one side. He opted for slaw instead of salad and picked mashed potatoes and gravy as his side, which seemed a natural fit for the pot roast. When he placed the order, our server assured him it was delicious - in fact, she'd had a big mound of it for her lunch earlier in the day.

Turns out she was right on the money; the pot roast was yummy with a large amount of fork-tender meat. And even though he made a point of reminding me he doesn't like carrots, he scarfed down all of these chunks (noting that he was doing so because they didn't taste much like carrots after simmering in all that juice for what must have been a long time). At his request, the server br
ought a container of extra gravy, which was rich, thick and delicious.

As I mentioned before, this stop for dinner wasn't the first time we've been to Trax; on one occasion, we sat on the separate bar side for a couple of quick sandwiches and beers. The interior, by the way, is a darkish red and gray and features lots of old photos, most related to the B&O Railroad -- especially interesting to us because Jack's late uncle, Robert M. Semple, for many years was the local yardmaster. There's also a large outdoor patio
that's open in good weather, and we hear there's live music out there now and again.

A couple of weeks before my encounter with the swordfish, we stopped for lunch mostly because we had a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase, including alcohol. Speaking of alcohol, there's an extensive wine and beer list plus a few on tap including our favorite Yuengling. Some of the menu items are things I haven't seen in a while, like city chicken ($9.50 for the dinner portion). I also noticed Cincinnati chili ($9.50) -- another favorite of mine. Most dinners come with a potato or salad plus bread and butter.

Any time stuffed cabbage or peppers is on the menu, it's hard for Jack to resist. This time it was cabbage, which usually comes with mashed potatoes. He asked for slaw instead, plus a salad with balsamic viniagrette dressing, all for $9.50.

I was in the mood for plain old spaghetti, and when I asked our server about the difference between the marinara and "regular" red sauce, she explained that the marinara at Trax "isn't like others" and is filled with lots of vegetables whereas the red sauce has two meatballs. I opted for the red sauce over spaghetti (ziti was my other choice), salad with bleu cheese dressing and a cup of wedding soup for $8.29.

Jack liked that the stuffed cabbage was topped with an abundance of sauce, which all too often isn't the case. There were a couple of slices of kielbasi in it as well, which he passed on to me and they were delicious. Our server also brought a basket of good-sized rolls and butter, but we had so much else to eat that we brought them home.

The salads were your garden-variety head lettuce with some sliced black olives, one tomato slice and one of those yummy small hot peppers (the latter of which Jack gave to me since he's not into anything spicy hot). Dressings are served on the side, and both of our choices were very good. As is his custom, Jack asked for "extra" and got two containers, which was plenty to make him happy.

My wedding soup was quite tasty, filled with lots of greens, carrots and one of those teeny meatballs. My only complaint was that it was almost lukewarm (but keep in mind I like soup almost at the boiling point). The red sauce was delicious as well, and the meatballs were outstanding. The bowl was ample, giving me about half to take home for another day.

When we finished up, we noticed several desserts listed on a chalkboard - among them cocoanut creme and lemon merangue pie at ($3.50 a slice). They sounded wonderful, but we had absolutely no room left. For the record, they were still on the list the next time we visited, but the same thing happened: Our stomachs were so full with the main courses that we couldn't have downed another bite. Oh well, guess we've got a couple more reasons to go back!

If you go:

Trax Restaurant
4250 New Road
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 799-2245

Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m.; Sunday 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Any time it takes more than 15 minutes to pick what you want to eat at a restaurant - and hear other diners around you asking their servers for more time to decide - you know you've hit the menu mother lode. That's exactly what happened the first time my husband Jack and I visited Danny Boys in Boardman.

Truth is, we found it by accident; exiting Mill Creek Park on state Route 224, we crossed to the south side of the road to take a peek in another restaurant we'd planned to review at some point. Then, Jack noticed Danny Boys, a place almost next door he'd never seen before. Since we also were trying to kill 15 minutes or so before the YM Camera store just up the road opened (it was a Sunday, and the store doesn't open till 12:30 p.m.), Jack drove over to Danny Boys for a closer look.

He liked what he saw; so after we stopped at the camera shop and he'd purchased a new neck strap for one of his cameras, he suggested having lunch at Danny Boys even though we'd intended to head straight back home. Never one to turn down an invitation to eat out, I quickly agreed.

As it turns out, there's a good reason we hadn't noticed the place before; as of mid-November, it had been open just four
months, our friendly server responded to my question. And, it's a chain; based in Rocky River, Ohio, since 1991, there are other locations in Canton, Chesterland and Sandusky. Along the way have come a number of culinary kudos, the most recent of which (at this writing) are a "Top 10 Best Pizzas" award from Cleveland Magazine and "Best Pizza 2010" from WKYC Channel 3 and Metromix.

As the name implies, this place specializes in Italian food with emphasis on pizza. Catering is available as well, and Danny Boys says that depending on menu choices, the cost per person usually ranges from $6 to $9 and dinners and salads can feed two to three people per portion - not bad if you're hankering to host a party.

First, though, a bit about decor; just about everything here is related t
o Ol' Blue Eyes. Not only are the walls decorated with old photos, playbills and such; menu items are called "Chairman of the Board," "Lady is a Tramp" and even "Hammy Davis Jr." And most of the soft background music is by - you guessed it - Frank himself.

The number of choices in each category on the menu, from appetizers to sandwiches and calzones to pasta entrees, is impressive (we had a sample menu to peruse before our first visit and even then we had a tough time deciding). As I mentioned before, lmost everything here has an Italian flavor, but the primary emphasis is on that award-winning pizza.

You can, of course, build your own; in fact, that's what Jack did, ordering the basic one-item 10-inch pie for $9.99 and adding pepperoni, mushrooms and green peppers to bring
the total cost to $13.99. Not in the mood for pizza, I finally decided on the Grilled Classic Club Croissant ($7.99) - sliced ham, turkey, bacon and melted pizza cheese with lettuce, tomato and pesto ranch dressing. It comes with mildly flavored kettle-style chips, but diners can substitute a variety of fries, like the Cajun flavored I tried, for just $1.

Jack really liked the pizza, which had the "regular" thickness of crust as opposed to a few thin-crusts on the menu and the Chicago-style deep dish (both of which we plan on trying sometime down the road). The pizza sauce is very tasty and definitely a cut above other places, so it's easy to see why it's garnered some awards along the

My sandwich was absolutely fantastic, and although I really wanted to scarf down the whole thing, the size prevented that from happening and I took nearly half of it home. Those C
ajun fries, BTW, are well worth the extra buck.

I should mention that presentation is big here, too; the food is delivered on large red p
lates with the food in the center and the rims dusted with sprinkle cheese. Very nice! And for another interesting touch, there's a deck of cards on each table so you can play a few hands while you wait.

Needless to say, we shared our great find with a few other folks who promised to keep my upcoming review a secret till publication day, so it came as no surprise when our friends Jerry and Barb said they'd love to try it too. Although we'd warned them about that menu - and showed them a copy while we drove to the restaurant - once again we had to ask for extra time to decide.

This time, it was I who opted for pizza, but I strayed from the traditional and picked one of
the new, and intriguing, thin crust pies - this one Cabo Shrimp and Taco, made with lime cilantro olive oil, three-cheese blend, cilantro, chopped red and yellow peppers, black olives, chipotle shrimp, chopped lettuce and cilantro ranch dressing ($9.99). Although our goal is to try four different things to share, the pizza I chose sounded so great that Barb decided to give it a try, too.

Both of us ordered appetizers to pass around as well; Barb's choice was a half-order of the Bada Bing Buffalo Chips ($3.99), those crunchy kettle chips drizzled with mild buffalo sauce and topped with crumbled bleu cheese and a little pizza cheese. I just couldn't pass up the Italian Pigs in a Blanket ($5.99). The chips were quite good, although the add-ins didn't seem to add a whole lot of additional flavor. But my pigs
in a blanket? Oh my.

The appetizer consists of two Italian sausage links, each wrapped in a baked crescent roll; cutting each in half to share among the four of us gave us a good taste but also left us wanting more. The sausage, which tasted homemade, was absolutely mouth-watering. Next time, I promised myself, I'd look for something else made with that sausage. And looking at the menu back home, I think I've found it: The Abe Froman "Sausage King of Chicago" sub made with these links, sauteed onions and green peppers and warm pizza sauce covered with melted pizza cheese ($8.99).

Meanwhile, the guys simply rode our coattails on the appetizer thing, heading straight for the main course. Jack's choice was a New Jersey Chicken "Woogie" melt, with Ricotta cheese, grilled chicken, pepperoni, tomatoes, basil, romano and pizza cheese drizzled with house Italian dressing and marinara sauce on the side ($8.99). Jerry finally settled on a Steak & Cheese Ciabatta ($7.99), a grilled beef brisket, mushrooms, hot peppers and pizza cheese topped with tomatoes, onion and Italian pub cheese sauce.

Jack deemed his Woogie Melt delicious and said he wouldn't hesitate to order it again. Jerry was a bit less enthusiastic, noting that his ciabatta was quite good but not "exceptional." As for the thin-crust pizza, the jury's still out.

That's not because it wasn't delicious; it was, and the lime flavor came through loud and clear. But it was extremely rich, so neither of us could eat more than a couple of slices. We also noticed that the thin crust was starting to get soggy by the time we'd downed our two slices (most likely, the thin sauce was contributing to that phenomenon). At any rate, we spent some time trying to decide how best to reheat it back at home. Microwaving pizza is never a good option, and certainly not when the crust is already soggy.

Barb said she planned to scrape off all the topping and refrigerate it, then re-baking the crust in the oven till crispy again, nuking the good stuff and then adding it to the crust. I figured I'd leave mine intact but bake it at a fairly high temperature in the oven in the hopes of crisping up that crust.

In the end, we did neither; an e-mail from Barb told me she'd taken a bite right from the fridge and it was quite good; ironically, I'd been about to head to the kitchen and do exactly that - so I followed suit and agree it tasted almost as good cold as it did when it was hot.

If you go: Danny Boys Italian Eatery
1315 Boardman-Canfield Road
Youngstown, Ohio 44512
(330) 726-3726