Friday, November 30, 2012


Have cameras, will travel, is a motto that prompts my husband Jack and I to hit the road every chance we get - even if it's just for an hour or so. As winter rolls in, though, our outings become few and far between. So when the temperature was predicted to reach an unseasonably warm 68 degrees on a near-winter morning not long ago, we figured it might be the last chance we'd get for a while to get outta Dodge.

But what might our destination be? Basically, we have four choices: North, South, East and West. Well, we reasoned, we haven't seen the Ohio River for a while - so we pointed the car south to East Liverpool. And by the way, that relatively new Shale Tavern & Grille near Lisbon is a place we've been meaning to visit and it's right on the way home.

We tooled around for a bit on Broadway Wharf in East Liverpool, happily snapping photos of a tug chugging up the river pushing a huge barge. After that, we wandered around a few city streets to see some of the old buildings, stopping just short of crossing the Newell Bridge to West Virginia this time out - frankly, we were getting hungry.

The Shale Tavern, which is located next to a Days Inn, used to be the Saratoga Restaurant - and it sure is impressive to look at. Inside are two beautiful stone fireplaces (the one on the bar side was fronted by two overstuffed easy chairs that were tempting - they looked far more cozy than the high-backed wood chairs and bar stools (although they were quite comfortable, too). The stuffed deer head on the rugged stone chimney keeps watch on the expansive bar that takes up almost the whole side of the room (there's another "restaurant" section with its own fireplace). The mirrored built-in carved wood "hutch" that stores liquor bottles behind the bar is just awesome.

As is our preference, we opted for the bar side, where five brews are on tap including the local Shale Ale, one of the Great Lakes Brewing varieties, Blue Moon, Bud Light and Yuengling. Jack likes to try specialty ales, so the Shale Ale was his choice. I'm far less adventurous when it comes to the stuff, so it was Yuengling for me.
I should note that the restaurant reportedly is owned by Mike Naffah, also owner of the Days Inn. The decision to reopen the former Saratoga (and the choice of name) was made because of the increased business at the motel as workers come to the area as part of the burgeoning Utica Shale development in Columbiana and nearby Carroll counties.

I'll also be honest and say that as of this writing, we've been to the tavern just once (after all, it's a bit of a hike down there from Mineral Ridge). But I'm also delighted to say we'll be going back every chance we get - the food we had was outstanding and we look forward to trying more. 

Take, for instance, the wonderful sounding entrees; our visit was at lunch - the place is open for lunch only on Sundays, by the way - so we just weren't hungry enough to go for the crabmeat stuffed haddock topped with Hollandaise sauce ($15.95), Tavern Beef with smashed redskin potatoes ($13.95) or the jumbo shrimp scampi on a bed of linguine ($14.95). There are daily specials that sound great as well, but they're weekdays only when the tavern doesn't open until 4 p.m. (the Tavern Beef, for instance, is $12.95 on Wednesdays).

The ribs and chicken, which the menu says are "soon to be world famous," may be an option as well; a half rack (dry rub or barbecue) is $13.99.

We, however, stuck to the list of sandwiches and burgers at our visit. Jack picked the steak hoagie for $6.99, adding grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers for another $1.29 and substituting cole slaw for the usual fries. Once I saw the Blue Devil burger - half a pound of Angus beef topped with bleu cheese crumbles and haystack onions with fries ($8.99), it was mine, all mine.

The fries were good - the thin Idora Park style - but they weren't very hot and I suspected they might have been fried much earlier in the day and reheated. Everything else we ordered, though, got a total of two thumbs ups. The slaw was particularly good, Jack said (I took a bite and agreed). And his steak hoagie was excellent as well, providing enough to bring half of it home.

It was the burger, though, that was the real standout. The beef was very tasty, and I loved the buttered and grilled bun. Truthfully, I'd probably eat sawdust if it were covered in bleu cheese, but those onion straws really made the difference. Somehow, they managed to stay amazingly crisp until I'd polished off the entire burger.

And, they were delicious; the result is that I pledged to order the haystack onion blossom with bistro sauce appetizer ($5.99) next time we visit!

If you go:

Shale Tavern & Grille
40964 State Route 154
Lisbon, Ohio 44432
(330) 420-0045

Open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Friday, November 9, 2012


My husband Jack and I are fond of having lunch at The Phoenix, which is located in a strip plaza just north of Canfield off State Route 46. But every time we go there, or drive past the plaza, we see YOLO, a restaurant at the opposite end. We always thought the name is catchy and wondered if it was an acronym for something, until one day we read an article somewhere that the owner said stands for "You Only Live Once."

Neat, we said, and when we learned the place specializes in Mediterranean food, we vowed we'd get there one day.

First, though, as is my custom before we visit any new restaurant, I wanted to check the website for details. Looking up the URL mentioned in the newspaper article I'd read earlier, I was quite impressed - that is, until I realized this YOLO was based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Further searches turned up YOLOs in Buffalo, N.Y., Chicago, Miami and Nashville -- bringing the realization that the name isn't quite as unique for a restaurant as I'd thought.

Happily, the food is - but more on that in a bit. Next time we were in the neighborhood, we pulled in the parking lot and Jack went in to ask if they had a take-home version of the menu - and happily, the answer was yes. Then when we discovered that the local YOLO is in the 2012 Entertainment Book, we decided to throw caution to the wind and go. As usual, we rounded up our Niles friends Jerry and Barb - an easy sell since Barb is quite fond of Mediterranean food, lamb in particular.

The Entertainment Book gave us $10 off if we spent $30 (our friends had one as well), so we figured if we went for dinner each couple could get an appetizer to share with everyone; adding in an entree for each of us, then, would get us to the required minimum with little effort.

Since other errands the day we planned to visit meant we couldn't absolutely pinpoint an arrival time, we decided to take our chances and not ask for a reservation. As it turned out, we didn't need one at the time we got there at close to 6:30 p.m., but by the time we left most of the tables were occupied. It's not a large place, but it's very cozy and comfortable; there's free WiFi for the tech folks, and a live singer/guitarist was in a corner providing entertainment, adding to the overall ambience.

We hadn't planned on having alcoholic drinks, but when our very friendly server told us it was still Happy Hour and all house wines were $3.50 a glass, we changed our minds quickly. Two of us went for the cabernet, one with shiraz and the third, who has a bit of a rebellious streak, ordered a beer. All were quite tasty, I'm happy to say.

Based on what we knew from the sample menu, we knew choosing an entree wouldn't be easy, but having that in advance did allow us to narrow things down a bit before we went. The appetizers, however, proved more difficult; just too many that sounded way too good.

There are actually two lists; on one, all appetizers are $5.77 each (or you can get a tapas platter of any three for $10.97). The other list is of "jumbo" appetizers big enough to share for $9.97 each. Not wanting to stuff themselves early on, our friends opted for the small version of Hummus - roasted and chilled garlic and chick peas pureed with sesame and olive oil, lemon and Mediterranean seasoning. Jack and I decided to splurge on the tapas platter, choosing Baba Ghanoush (mesquite eggplant puree with sesame, garlic and lemon, YOLO Fungi (garlic and port roasted wild mushrooms) and smoked hot peppers in olive oil (no further explanation needed).

As for the entrees, Barb had decided before she walked in the door to get the grilled lamb platter, consisting of lamb cubes over Syrian rice with roasted peppers and onions with garlic paste and pita bread ($14.97) with the lamb medium rare. Jerry didn't take long either: his choice was the Shish Tawouk platter, or chicken breast cubes marinated in garlic and sumac, chargrilled over Syrian rice with peppers, onions, garlic paste and flatbread ($12.97).

Jack didn't waffle much either, at least once he spotted the crab-and-shrimp stuffed chicken breast with asiago cream sauce ($18). I kept shifting between the pan-fried walleye with sherry lemon sauce over Syrian rice (my favorite fish, $14.57) and the Ahi tuna steak topped with charcoal sesame seeds, green onion, ginger and Wasabi with Syrian rice ($14.27). Depending on when the server asked, it could have gone either way, but she caught me when my mind was on that Ahi tuna so tuna it was (ordered medium rare).

We didn't realize it, but the meals come with salads as well; and the dressings are quite unusual. Here, too, our choices varied; Jack wanted strawberry vinaigrette, I opted for Greek-style ranch, Jerry chose tropical sweet and sour and Barb couldn't resist the lemon pepper gorgonzola. Each turned out to be quite tasty, served over fresh greens with green pepper slivers and a couple of errant cucumber wedges that I happily passed on to Barb lest they contaminate the rest of my salad.

First, though, we smacked our lips over the appetizers. I'm not a huge fan of hummis, but I have to admit, I could make a meal out of the hummus appetizer - and I'll say the same for the Baba Ghanousch (both came with pita triangles). The hot peppers weren't very hot, but they were quite tasty, and every one raved about those mushrooms.

It didn't take long after we'd polished off the appetizers for the entrees to arrive, and they sure looked impressive. Unknown to us beforehand, most came with a generous helping of unusual fresh green beans, cut in small-ish crosswise slices and covered with unusual (and delicious) seasoning.

We're not at all certain what makes the rice Syrian, but it sure was good. The flavor wasn't strong, but it was perfectly cooked and moist but all not stuck together. It was the main part of our meals, though, that were so wonderful. The portions were sizable, although I was the only one who ended up taking anything home.

The lamb, Barb said, was especially good (I'm not a big fan of lamb, but I tasted it and immediately agreed with her assessment). The garlic paste was served in a small container on the side - that's because the flavor is a bit strong to suit some folks, our server said. Here too, Barb agreed; she loved it but was glad she could add it in as much or as little as she wanted.

After one bite, Jerry was quite certain it wouldn't be necessary for the staff to eat his leftovers - there would be none. Jack, too, loved the crab and shrimp stuffing with his chicken breast, and the asiago cream sauce was quite tasty as well.

My Ahi tuna steak was perfectly cooked as well, and the Wasabi added a flavorful bit of zest. At least half of it plus some rice went in a to-go box, making a nice lunch for Jack the next day.

If you go:

YOLO Grille & Spirits
5231 S. Canfield-Niles Road
Canfield, Ohio 44406
(330) 286-3866

Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.