Friday, October 19, 2012


As most readers of my blog know by now, I love seafood. No, make that I love seafood. I love it so much, in fact, that on more than one of the trips my husband Jack and I have made to the North Carolina Outer Banks, I vowed to eat nothing else as an entree - including for breakfast. Admittedly, we rarely eat much of anything before lunch (at least not in a restaurant), but a couple of times we did, and yes, I managed to find something that once made its home in water.

Back here in landlocked Mineral Ridge, Ohio, I'm more likely than not to order seafood when it's on a menu, although I'm not shy about saying that's not always the best choice because (a) it's not fresh off the boat and (b) generally speaking, it's overcooked. So when we were shopping for an easy chair at Sheely's in North Lima several months ago, on a whim we asked a couple of employees if there was a good place nearby to have lunch. Their response? Steamers, not far away on Market Street - which specializes in seafood.

We found the place in something of a nondescript building we almost didn't spot in a small strip mall and attached to a Super 8 Motel. For whatever reason, we decided not to stop, choosing instead to head closer to home. But the recommendation by those folks at Sheely's stuck with us -- this is the place everyone around here goes, they'd said -- and one fine day when we were traveling around looking for things to photograph and were in the neighborhood, we said, let's give it a try.

Our first adventure there, I'm delighted to report, was nothing short of WOW!

It was somewhere between the usual lunch and dinner hours - typically when we visit restaurants to avoid the possibility of waiting, which we hate - and we were seated immediately in a booth not far from the bar. There's also a dining area, a banquet room and a closed-off outdoor patio when the weather's nice. 

Inside, though, it's quite a different story. On this first trip, just a glance at the menu told us we'd have to come back (in fact, we never made it past the appetizers before we'd made our choices). We decided to try three: the overloaded potato skins to share, peel-and-eat spiced shrimp for Jack and blackened tuna bites for me. 

Both of us were thrilled. The tuna bites ($9.99) were outstanding, though a bit spicy -- but not so much that Jack couldn't eat them - and for me of the cast-iron stomach, it was love at first bite. The shrimp (also $9.99), were saturated with Old Bay spices, and Jack said that while they aren't quite as fresh as his favorite food at Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar on the Outer Banks, they were every bit as tasty.

The potato skins were fabulous - without question the best we've had anywhere. That's quite a complement coming from me, a person who isn't all that fond of potato skins (the skins, after all, were what my mother discarded back on the farm where I grew up; ever since then it's been hard for me to think of them as much of a delicacy).

We did look at the dinner menu (which you'll find online at the website at the end of this review), and unless you're interested in chicken and pasta dishes that are in the $12 to $15 range, expect to spend a few bucks here. The Scallops Portabella, with jumbo scallops atop a portabella in asiago cream sauce with sliced tomatoes, for instance, is $23.99 (but it's got to be to die for). A hefty 16-ounce chargrilled ribeye tavern-style prime rib au jus is $21.99, so you get the point. 

There is a Happy Hour Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with discounted alcoholic beverages and munchy specials depending on the day (Tuesday you get 10 jumbo wings for $4, for example). One of these days, we've decided, we absolutely must go on a Wednesday to try the $5 crab dip breadbowl.

Our next visit came on the way home from filling up our camera cards with fall foliage photos from the beautiful Beaver Creek State Park in Columbiana County - we'd timed our trip so we could stop at Steamers for a late lunch. When we arrived around 1:15 p.m., there were a number of cars in the parking lot, but we got a table on the bar side once again and the tables that were occupied cleared out within another 15 minutes or so. This time, our plan was to focus entirely on seafood.

We hadn't intended to try another appetizer, but then we spotted the Crabmeat Portabella ($9.99) stuffed with lump crabmeat in a tomato basil sauce. Oh what the heck, we said, let's go for it!

Picking our entrees proved difficult for Jack once again, but finally he opted for the lunch portion of breaded cod ($7.99) with cole slaw and fries as his sides. My choice was quite easy: Once I saw the 8-ounce tuna steak, chargrilled with remoulade sauce ($10.99), I was hooked. For sides, I got a tossed salad and rice pilaf. Since this isn't Ahi tuna, I was a bit hesitant to ask for medium or medium rare and went with medium well. 

Our server brought a basket of two warm rolls along with the appetizer, whispering that the bread is perfect for dipping in the tomato basil sauce in which that large stuffed mushroom was swimming. She was right; and Jack said the mushroom was outstanding, worth every single penny and at least as good, if not better, than any crab dish he's had in Maryland.

Jack's cod portion was quite substantial, maybe a foot long and 4 inches wide, as well as flaky and tender. The slaw wasn't his favorite, and when I tasted it I understood why: It was more like a Waldorf salad, with a slight apple flavor in the mayonnaise dressing. Too bad you don't care for it much, I said as I polished it off. 

My salad, with ranch dressing, was quite good (well, except for the cucumber slice, which I picked out immediately so it wouldn't contaminate the rest of the greens), and the rice pilaf had a nice flavor. As for the tuna steak, I was sorry I hadn't listened to my inner voice and asked for a less-cooked version. It was very good, mind you, and the portion was so large that I brought half of it home for another meal. But it was more well done (and therefore not as tender) than I really love (my bad, not the restaurant's), and next time I'll go with my first instincts.

10078 Market St.
North Lima, Ohio 44452
(330) 549-9041

Open at 11:30 a.m to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday; closed Sunday.

Friday, October 5, 2012


If you've read the introduction to my Mahoning Valley Eats & Treats blog, you know the reason I started it in the first place is that I truly believe the restaurants here are the best you'll find anywhere. With few exceptions (like crab cakes on the Maryland coast, shrimp at the North Carolina Banks), no matter how much you pay or what the restaurant's cache, the quality of the food won't be any better than you can get in this neck of the woods.

Right at the top of my list of reasons my husband Jack and I make that claim is Vernon's Cafe. Back in the day when we could afford to eat out more often than we can now that we're both retired, I'm guessing we had dinner there, on average, once a week - and never once were we disappointed. In between, we enjoyed greeting, meeting friends and eating in the banquet, often the site of special occasions like wedding receptions, office parties and such.

Up front, I'll say that while Vernon's is far from the most expensive place in the world - you'll find wonderful dinner entrees from $9 to $12 or so - but given our changed economic circumstances in recent years, it's enough that we simply don't go as often. That said, we got a hankering to go once again and decided to try lunch. In addition to banquet space, there's a relatively large dining room and a separate bar, where, because it's more casual and intimate, we always prefer to sit. We opted to get there around 1 p.m., thinking we'd miss the lunch crowd. That we did, but barely; quite a few folks were still there, although two of the four tables for four on the bar side were empty (happily for us).

Vernon's is known for a great wine selection, and although there's no on-tap beer, our server told us they've got just about everything from domestics to top shelf. And, we learned, they're delivered with tall, frosty glasses for those who want them.

There's a list of specials that changes daily, and while we looked those over our server brought a basket of thick, fresh Italian bread. Vernon's keeps bottles of herb-infused olive oil on each table - delicious for dipping that wonderful bread (we always add a few shakes of sprinkle cheese as well).

On the specials list, my first inclination was to try the linguine with bluefoot white shrimp and proscuitto ($10) or the sauteed chicken livers with mushrooms, onions, wine, rice and green beans ($7). Jack thought long and hard about the stuffed pepper with smashed Yukon gold potatoes ($8).

That's before I spotted the petite grilled salmon over angel hair pasta with tomatoes, scallions, asparagus and scampi butter sauce ($9.50) from the regular lunch menu - that one just called out my name. Jack, too, picked from the regular menu - his all-time favorite linguine with red clam sauce ($9), and you can get it with white sauce as well.

With our entrees come garden salads, with a choice of Italian or raspberry viniagrette dressings, both made in-house. Both are delicious - he picked one and I the other - and I said yes to our server's offer of topping it off with fresh ground pepper.

Both our entrees, as expected, were to die for; the portions were quite sizable for lunch, and both of us expected to take some home. Well, that didn't happen; paying no mind whatsoever to the possible consequences of overeating, we kept on shoveling it in until our bowls were completely empty - a testament to how fabulous both dishes were.

As we were lamenting our lack of self-control, though, Jack reminded me of the main reason we love Vernon's: The food here is creative. Almost all the entrees have some kind of unique touch - something we'd expect to find in big-city restaurants where, I hasten to add, we'd also expect to pay a lot more. 

The majority of our restaurant forays happen in the company of good friends Jerry and Barb from Niles, and Vernon's is no exception. This time, though, we went for dinner, and since there was no room in the bar, we were seated in the dining room. I must say that one of the reasons we prefer the bar side is that the dining room always seems a bit too crowded, as one of our friends noted on this visit so I guess I'm not alone. But since we managed to get a table against one of the walls, it was less noticeable than if we'd been at one of the tables in the middle of the room.

To start, we dug in on that wonderful bread and olive oil dip; three of us had ordered salads, while I had the wonderful wedding soup, which I absolutely love. In part to save on the cost, all four of us ordered waster and nothing else to drink, and - wonder of wonders, our glasses were refilled without our having to ask.

Our entree selections were all over the map; Jerry ordered the Chicken Saltimbocca ($14), two chicken breasts smothered in cheese and asparagus, which came with those Yukon gold smashed potatoes. Jack chose his favorite chicken cacciatore ($14), also two chicken breasts but with peppers, onions and other vegetables in a flavorful sauce.

Barb loves lamb, so she was more than willing to spend a little more for the Colorado chops ($17.50). And when I saw the blackened swordfish with rice ($17.50), I was hooked.

Needless to say, we were extremely happy with our choices. Jack's had the cacciatore many times, and it was delicious once again; Jerry's saltimbocca was a very generous size with outstanding flavor.

Barb was thrilled; the lamb chops, which were beautifully presented, included asparagus and au jus - and the only time she stopped saying "Wow!" was when she was eating. My swordfish was a very large chunk, and the blackened seasoning was quite spicy (wonderful for me, but it was a little too much for the other three, who liked it very much but said they wouldn't want more than a bite or two). The rice had an excellent flavor as well and the grilled vegetables made a perfect complement.

If you go:

Vernon's Cafe
720 Youngstown-Warren Road
Niles, Ohio 44446
(330) 652-1381

Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday. Since 2011, Vernon's also operates the V2 Wine Bar Trattoria on Federal Street in downtown Youngstown (