Saturday, March 24, 2012


When it comes to dining out, life is very, very good in northeastern Ohio. Within a drive of 20 minutes or less in any direction, my husband Jack and I can be chowing down on wonderful food, from burgers to lobster tail depending on what mood we're in.
Personal taste and a budget, though, mean we're more likely to gravitate toward the burgers; casual food generally costs less, and we much prefer a laid-back atmosphere to worrying about whether we're using the wrong fork. If we're heading south, one of our favorite stops is in Salem at B B Rooners Food & Spirits, a place that's popular just about any time of day or evening (and has been so for more than 22 years, although we didn't "discover" it until perhaps a dozen years ago). The atmosphere screams sports bar - TV sets tuned to football, basketball or whatever happens to be in season plus team trophies and even motorcycles parked on display inside. When the weather's decent, there's an outside bar and deck as well.

There are two main dining areas, one of which includes a good-sized b
ar; the other now hosts lunch buffet that costs just $6.99 for a goodly array of that usually includes pastas, pizzas, soup, salads, sandwiches and such (kids under 10 pay $4.99). On the other side of that is a long hall-like "room" with several booths that offer a bit more privacy than other parts of the restaurant.

That hallway is where we sat on one recent Sunday visit around lunchtime; in fact, we snagged the last available booth. I was especially hungry, so I asked for more time to ins
pect the menu, hoping to find a taste appetizer to take the edge off. The BB Spuds sounded good - potatoes with melted cheddar, bacon bits and sour cream for $7.20 - as did the battered fried zucchini sticks with marinara sauce ($5.15). In the end, I ordered eight wings with butter garlic sauce to share with Jack (also $5.15).

Choosing an entree took even longer; several specialty pizzas, including white with garlic and oil, hot peppers and five cheeses ($9.25) sounded wonderful. The pasta dinner for $10.30 comes with a salad, bread and butter, and diners can choose from cavatelli, spaghetti, linguine, penne, rigatoni or wheat (decisions, decisions, decisions)! On top of the "normal" sauces is an option for chili on top.

There are several salads and soups, and if you choose a sandwich, you can substitute one of these for the fries that come standard. Speaking of sandwiches, many have intriguing sports-related names: Triple Play Burger, World Series, Golf Club (as expected, a club sandwich) and Hook Line & Sinker, a breaded jumbo piece of fish on toasted bun for $7.20 (add 80 cents if you prefer broiled).

Our two children are well beyond the age to qualify for the children's menu (for that matter, so are our four grandchildren), but I couldn't help noticing that the "Little All Stars" menu here has quite a few choices that would appeal to munchkins, like two mini-burgers with fries and spaghetti and a meatball with applesauce. All are priced at a reasonable $3.99. When it comes to dessert (which we almost never have room to try), the options are limited, but the apple dumpling that's served warm with ice cream always sounds appealing.

After much deliberation, I chose the Pit Stop ($7.20), a DiRusso Italian sausage topped with peppers, onions and homemade sauce billed as "Just Like The Fair" (that's the storied Canfield Fair for those who don't know). Jack stayed on the lighter side with Post Time, a tuna salad sandwich on toast. He picked a side salad and I chose wedding soup instead of fries.

The wings were outstanding; the breading was crispy but not tooth-breakingly crunchy, and they were softened a bit by swimming in minced garlic and butter. They're also on the plump side, so we couldn't polish them all off before our server delivered other goodies. I admit that the strong spices in my first taste of the wedding soup gave me pause, but once I found (and removed) the whole bay leaf that was lurking in the cup the flavor grew on me. By the time I got to the bottom I was wishing for more. Jack's salad was simple with basic greens and a few veggies - pretty standard fare -- but he did say the raspberry vinaigrette dressing was exceptional.

Both sandwiches were very good. Jack said the tuna salad wasn't anything special, but then we're not exactly sure what could make tuna salad out of the ordinary (and he probably wouldn't like it if it were). My sausage link filled a large Italian hoagie roll, and there was so much sauce, peppers and onions on top that I literally couldn't get it to my mouth without spilling it. In the end, I just pulled it apart and ate it with a knife and fork, enjoying both the sausage and the delicious sauce.

Our next visit also came at lunch, but this time, we sat on the "restaurant" side, where there are a number of booths and tables. Once again, we got the last available booth, which happened to be near the wall board that listed the day's specials. I walked over to check out the buffet as well. I found a variety of pastas, pizzas, soup, salad and even small sandwiches, and everything looked appealing. Still, I'm not much of a buffet aficionado, so I decided to pass on this option (as did Jack).

We deliberated for a while, and finally I ordered the Reuben lunch special with fries ($6.99, down 30 cents or so from the usual price). . Jack decided to go healthier with a turkey burger ($6.70), choosing a side salad with that great raspberry vinaigrette dressing instead of fries or soup.

After I'd ordered my sandwich, our friendly server (for the record, we've never met a server here anything close to unfriendly) told me they have great Reubens. That's a fact I knew to be true since I've had them here before, but not very recently. When it arrived, it contained the requisite corned beef, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing on delicious grilled, buttery marble rye bread. The fries didn't look like the overwhelming amount some restaurants pile on these days, but even after sharing a few with Jack I had plenty left.

Jack was happy with his ground turkey burger, which was topped with tomato and grilled onion and tomato as requested and rather sizable. In fact, he polished it off with time enough to spare that he could help me finish my Reuben.

If you go:

BB Rooners Food & Spirits
256 E. State St.
Salem, Ohio 44460
(330) 337-0001

Open at 11 a.m. for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Especially this time of year, sometimes you just gotta get outta Dodge, even if it's just for a few hours. For my husband Jack and me, that usually means hitting the road to find interesting things to photograph, and more often than not, we'll head for a park. After we've filled up our camera media cards, it's virtually guaranteed that we'll stop somewhere to fill up our stomachs as well.

Winter months around northeastern Ohio aren't all that beautiful, but it's also a time when cabin fever is at its peak - so as long as road conditions aren't hazardous, we're quite willing to head out. One of our favorite haunts is the vast Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where the scenery can be beautiful any time of the year, especially at Hale Farm and Village and some of the visitor centers.

When we get h
ungry, a likely stop is in historic Peninsula, Ohio, because we typically pass through on our way back home. We've written here before about the wonderful Fisher's Cafe & Pub. But there's another terrific place right across the street that gets our vote as well: the Winking Lizard Tavern.

In fact, this isn't the only one; as of this writing, there are 14 Winking Lizar
d locations, two in Columbus and the rest in the Cleveland area. The original tavern opened in 1983 in Bedford Heights (or so the website says). For the record, neat "stuff" like T-shirts and logo drinking glasses are for sale at the online store.
Speaking of drinking glasses, the website also claims that the beer list here is "second to none," and we've found no reason to doubt that. In fact, it's a participant in the annual World Tour of Beers. This year-long "event" invites folks to sign up and sample as many as possible (this can be done at any participating bar or bars). There are something like 295 different brews at Winking Lizard - many of which we're pretty sure we couldn't quite stomach, like the sweet Left Hand Milk Stout (from the U.S. of A.), the extra special bitter Monty Python Holy Grail from England and any that have fruit in the title.

The Winking Lizard is a popular place, and it can get quite
crowded at meal hours and in summer and fall when tourists and hikers are out in force. It's a true bar atmosphere - lots of wood, high tables and stools and laid-back servers. Just inside the door, we spotted a large lizard in a glass cage; how cute that they've got a stuffed animal on display, we said to each other - that is, until he really blinked! Yep, folks, the lizard is very real with a face only a mother could love.

ial events are frequent happenings at various Winking Lizard locations as well; March 24, for instance, is the 2012 Cask Conditioned Ale Festival at Bedford Heights. For $35 per person, you get a sandwich and appetizer buffet plus your choice of a glass from one of the participating breweries (check the website below for more information).

The website, by the way, is the best place to check out the menu as well. Don't miss the graphic "placemats" for each location to see the monthly specials specific to each location. You'll find a drink and dessert of the month (in March, the dessert is Bailey's Tiramisu, or layers of coffee-flavored ladyfingers and a mascarpone cream infused with Bailey's Irish Cream served with vanilla ice cre
am and lightly dusted with cocoa powder for $6.99). On Mondays and Tuesdays are 40-cent wings, ordered in multiples of 5 with a 5-wing minimum and a $4.99 small cheese pizza. Wednesdays are 1/2 slab of St. Louis ribs w/fries and slaw for $7.49; Thursdays most burgers are $5.79.

Food, needless to say, is outstanding as well. I love Joe's All American Chili ($2.29 for a cup; add 8
0 cents more to load it up with cheddar cheese and onions). There are plenty of pizza, wings, ribs and salad options as well, but most often, we stick with sandwiches. One of my favorites is made with Black Forest ham, smoked turkey, melted Swiss cheese and hickory-apple bacon on a pretzel roll with potato pancakes, but last time I checked the online menu, I couldn't find it (boo hoo, because it sure was yummy). But I'll "settle" for the Bo-Man's Honey Club, with broiled chicken breast basted in honey mustard sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese, applewood bacon, lettuce and tomato ($6.49).
Jack loves the barbecue pulled pork here, and at our last visit he got the three minis that normally come with fries, substituting shells and cheese for the fries ($7.99). He's also a wrap fan, so the strip steak version with mozzarella cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and lettuce always is a temptation ($8.49). I don't care much for wraps, but when I'm not in the mood for meat or a salad, the roasted veggie wrap stuffed with grilled portabello mushrooms, roasted zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, red peppers, spinach, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese is a good choice ($8.79).

Most of the time when we eat out, it's for a late lunch; first of all, lunch prices usually are lower, and second, if there's a bit of a drive to get back home, we can make it before dark (we concede the point that old folks tend to be homebodies once the sun goes down). Lunch specials at Winking Lizard are available from 11
a.m. to 3 p.m., giving us quite a bit of flexibility, and although the list isn't long, there's at least one discounted item Monday through Friday (Wednesday's turkey Reuben with fries is our pick of the litter).

To be honest, we've never tried dessert here -- we're always way too stuffed by the time we finish whatever we've had for the main course. But one of these days I want to sample the funnel cake sticks, or light fried pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce (and yes, whatever the dessert of the month happens to be)!

If you go:

1615 Main St.
Peninsula, Ohio 44264
(330) 467-1002

Kitchen open 11 a.m. 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.