Saturday, June 23, 2012
Less than a handful of years ago, my husband Jack and I discovered the wonder Military Aviation Preservation Society Air Museum in North Canton, Ohio. Run by an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, the intent is to educate people about the history of military aviation. Since the topic here is dining out I won't include details, but it's a wonderful place to visit.
When we first stopped at the museum a couple of years back, we wanted to have lunch at the nearby 356th Fighter Group restaurant. Everything we'd heard about it was positive, and we wanted to see for ourselves. But alas, we had no time to spare then; but one day, we vowed, we'd get there.
The day finally happened when we purchased a half-price admission for four to the MAPS Museum from Groupon.com, with the intent of taking our friends Jerry and Barb from Niles, who'd never been there. Since we'll be in the neighborhood, we said, why not plan to eat at the 356th?
Indeed we did - and long before we were back in the car to head home we'd unanimously decided to go back soon.
Even without the food, this is an impressive place. Located on the south runways of the Akron-Canton Airport, the exterior is reminiscent of a beautiful old castle. Inside, the surprisingly spacious interior boasts several rooms with windows overlooking the airport runways and grounds. Brick walls are everywhere, and here and there are large stacks of real sandbags plus weathered wood, fireplaces and many more artifacts, all designed to reflect the World War II era.
We arrived for a late lunch, so there were plenty of places to sit. Our very friendly server brought menus that included a list of daily specials and took our drink orders - there's a full bar here, of course. After a quick look, we decided to share two appetizers: the crab-stuffed mushrooms ($9.99) and stuffed cubanelle peppers with mild Italian sausage and homemade marinara plus provolone and mozzarella cheeses ($8.99).
It took a while, though, to decide on our entrees; the menu is both lengthy and impressive, and for our first time here, we wanted to make the best-possible choices. Not easy, we learned; from pecan crusted tilapia to asiago pretzel crusted chicken to "healthy choice" items lilke a marinated pork chop and vegetarian stir fry and oodles of tempting sandwiches and salads, everything sounded wonderful.
Finally, I zeroed in on one of the daily specials - prime rib bordelaise for $12.99. It comes with sauteed mushrooms and house-made bordelaise and rice pilaf, and for my side, I chose the chicken corn chowder - also a soup of the day. The prime rib was cooked medium and above for the day's special, so I asked that they come as close to medium as they could (as those who have read my reviews before know, I prefer my prime rib to be just shy of still mooing).
Jerry liked the idea of prime rib, but in the sandwich version ($10.99). It's shaved thin with jack cheese, mushrooms and sauteed onions and served open face with au jus and fries. But when the server described the homemade chips here, he swapped out the fries to go with the chips.
Both Jack and Barb were in a fishy mood, I guess, so they finally settled on the stuffed sole filet with scallops and crabmeat stuffing, Hollandaise sauce and rice pilaf for $11.99. Both chose a tossed salad as their side.
Especially at lunchtime, we could (and probably should) have stopped at the appetizers. The stuffed mushrooms were especially mouth-watering, filled with lots of crabmeat bits and almost none of the usual bread crumb mixture as they are at most other places. The peppers were wonderful as well, with delicious marinara sauce and peppers that really had a kick (but not so much that even Jack, who loves the flavor but not the heat, couldn't eat a few bites).
The salads were good, although nothing out of the ordinary; but when our server delivered a round loaf of fresh whole-grain bread, we devoured it almost immediately. I loved my corn chowder, too; the broth was on the thin side, but exceptionally flavorful - and there was no shortage of shredded chicken, chopped red peppers, and, of course, corn.
The entrees couldn't have been much better, confirming that we'd done well in our choices. The sole was well cooked with a tasty stuffing; my prime rib wasn't think, but it was a piece bigger than my two hands held side by side with my fingers extended - and this was a lunch portion, for goodness sake. They did well in giving me a portion close to medium, and the flavor and texture reminded me more of ribeye than prime rib. The sauce was absolutely delicious as well and made the rice pilaf extra good when I added in a bit of the sauce. In the end, I had to take home more than half of my meat and sauce.
Jerry loved his sandwich, although it was so large and stuffed full that he finally gave up trying to get it to his mouth intact and cut it up in more manageable pieces (which he mostly ate with a fork).
If you go:
The 356th Fighter Group
4919 Mount Pleasant Road
North Canton, Ohio 44720
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch; Sunday dinner 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, June 8, 2012
The chances that my husband Jack and I will drive all the way to anywhere in Columbiana County just to have a meal are somewhere between slim and none. Oh sure, we love to have lunch at Das Dutch Haus in Columbiana and BB Rooners and Ricky's English Pub in Salem -- all of which I've told you about in previous blogs (http://mahoningvalleyeats.blogspot.com/2011/10/das-dutch-haus-restaurant-bakery.html, http://mahoningvalleyeats.blogspot.com/2012/03/b-b-rooners-food-spirits.html and http://mahoningvalleyeats.blogspot.com/2011/02/rickys-english-pub.html). But I don't recall ever once making a special trip just for the purpose of eating.
If we do stop anywhere, it's because we're on the way home from a photography outing at Beaver Creek State Park, Broadway Wharf in East Liverpool or maybe The Bison Ranch just outside Ellsworth to see if any of those big hairy guys are out in the fields.
But those odds are much improved now that we've been to Shellabella's on Main in Columbiana. We "discovered" it, in fact, as a result of an offer by MyValleyDining.com, from which I purchased a $25 gift certificate for something like $10. Uh-oh, I worried - would it be worth the trip?
The short answer is a resounding yes. To begin with, when was the last time you found a cozy cafe-type eatery that has a full bar? That alone was enough to seal the deal for us. Once we'd tried the food, though, we knew we'd be back.
The place has two main dining areas, one of which includes the bar (guess which side we picked)? The bar itself is decorated with sports memorabilia, including a sign with a really old-time Cleveland Browns mascot that we haven't seen for many years. Interesting antique-looking "stuff" is on the walls and tucked neatly away on shelves and shadow boxes as well.
The big surprise, though, is the menu; not only is it fairly extensive, it features quite a few things that are unique, at least to us. For openers, we considered deep fried Asiago olives with bistro sauce ($6.29), breaded fried pickles with dill sauce ($6.29) and a "Yummy Roll" ($6.99). The latter, described as a deep-fried egg roll wrapper with cream cheese and a southwest cheesy chicken mixture covered with garlic ranch sauce, was just too tempting to pass up.
Plenty of salads and low-carb wraps are available, all of which sounded delicious (well, except for anything that has cucumbers in it - IMHO, the only good cucumber is one that's been turned into a pickle). Dinner entrees are all over the map, from steaks to chicken and fish to Italian dishes - most are in the $10.99 to $15.99 range. Our visit was at lunchtime, though, and those aren't on the lunch menu (and in any event, we wouldn't have been that hungry). But we did vow to return if only to try the sesame crusted tuna with sweet teriyaki glaze ($15.95) and chicken spindellinni, or sauteed chicken breast with roasted red peppers and spinacn in garlic cream sauce on a bed of cheese tortellini ($14.95).
First, we perused the daily lunch specials, and until the last minute I had my eye on the bacon garlic ranch avocado burger with garlic ranch dressing ($9.50). Just before our server came to write everything down, though, I switched to the hot spinach, garlic and chicken croissant with gourmet cheese, chopped chicken, garlic mushrooms, feta, mozzarella and fresh spinach on a grilled croissant roll ($8.79). The devil might have made me do it, but more likely it's because if you put it on a croissant, I'll eat it (well, as long as you leave out those cucumbers). I chose fries instead of cole slaw, although for a buck more I could have upgraded to other sides like sweet potato fries.
Jack's pick - Jim's portabella and chicken melt with balsamic dressing at $8.49) - was from the regular lunch menu. For his side, he went with the Vidalia onion viniagrette slaw.
At the outset, we learned that the Yummy Roll couldn't have a better name, except perhaps "out of this world" roll. It's a little too small to share as we did (that's why it's an appetizer, I suppose), but having a whole one to yourself would be so filling you wouldn't be able to eat a whole lot else. It's crispy on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside, sort of reminiscent of crab rangoon except with chicken flavor. Positively decadent!
Both our sandwiches were unusually good, a tribute, I suppose, to the slightly outside-the-box ingredients in many of the dishes here. I'm not a big cole slaw fan, but I loved the Vidalia slaw here - but Jack, more of a slaw traditionalist, wasn't quite as enthusiastic about it. And departing from our usual practice of taking half of our sandwiches home for later, we both managed to stuff down both halves even on top of that Yummy Roll. That's not because the sandwiches are smaller than most, but rather a testament to their wonderful taste.
Admittedly, we ran into a couple of minor glitches early on, including being "forced" to switch to a different beer because the Yuengling tap wasn't working properly. On the plus side, though, the short beers are served in exceptionally frosty mugs - another thing that will get my attention every time.
It also became evident that only one server was on duty, and understandably she was having a tough time dealing with at least three full tables on the bar side and one or two in the other room. As I watched, I couldn't help but think of "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get" from Alice in Wonderland. But in addition to working hard, she had a delightful sense of humor - and our longer-than-customary wait came only at the beginning. Once we'd placed our order, it arrived very quickly and was served with a friendly smile.
If you go:
Shellabella's On Main
108 S. Main St.
Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.