Friday, April 26, 2013


Quite honestly, I could probably live the rest of my life without having another hamburger. Some of that is because I just don't eat much red meat any more, but I suspect another reason is that I so miss the wonderful Maid-Rite sandwiches from Greenville, Ohio, near the farm where I grew up. Not sloppy joes but "loose meat," the recipe has remained a secret ever since the place started in 1926 (no, I was not a customer back then). Every single time my husband Jack and I go back "down home," though, I insist on grabbing a big bag of the treats from the brick building that's known as a hangout for the used chewing gum teenagers stick on the walls.

That said, every once in a while I do get a hankering for a good ol' burger, whether it be plain with mustard, lettuce and tomato or a fancy schmancy job topped with bacon and/or bleu cheese. Generally, I satisfy the urge at Gasoline Alley in Niles or Fudruckers in the Eastwood Mall. But when we spotted a Five Guys Burgers and Fries near the Walmart store on Elm Road in Cortland a while back, I started to salivate and said, "Let's give it a try."

Other shops are in Boardman and Austintown (we've been to the latter), and the closest Pennsylvania location I could find is in Meadville. For the record, the whole thing started in Arlington, Va., in 1986; today, there are more than 1,000 locations nationwide and another 1,500 or so under development, or so the website says. You can hook up with them on Facebook and Twitter, place orders online and enjoy a totally trans-fat free menu. They do, however, use peanut oil, so anyone with a peanut allergy should stay away.

The restaurants are relatively small, but quite colorful and fun. Food is packed in brown paper bags, you can grab a container of peanuts in the shells from a huge bin -- they're free) -- and huge bags of potatoes are stacked to form the entrance to the order-your-own counter. In addition to burgers, Five Guys is known for fries, which come in a big plastic cup reminiscent of Idora Park. The cups are so full that they spill out, making big grease spots on the brown paper bag.

Although this is a neat place for kids, it's not the least expensive burger joint on the block; our total bill at our first visit was $17.74 including tax, and that was for two "regular" hamburgers, one order of fries, one large soft drink and one bottle of water. But those regular burgers ($4.89 at the time of our first visit and $5.29 at our second) are double patties, and all the fixin's are free, including jalapenos, tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, pickles, relish and a variety of sauces. As it turns out, the "little" burger, which is a single patty, would have been less expensive and quite sufficient for me - and I'm sure would be enough to satisfy young children.

Comparatively, a regular bacon cheeseburger (now $6.69), a kosher style hot dog is $3.59 and a grilled cheese $3.59. The beef is always cooked well done and is fresh - there are no freezers in any of the restaurants, the website says. There's a veggie burger as well ($2.99) into which you can put any or all of the vegetables that are on the menu into a bun. I haven't tried that yet, but it sure sounds yummy.

The hamburgers are unusually flavorful, and in Austintown, I tried the kosher hot dog topped with onions, jalapenos and mustard. The dog is split in half lengthwise and grilled, exactly the way I do them at home. The jalapenos, I hasten to add, pack enough heat that they're not for the faint of heart.

Jack got a hamburger with his favorite grilled onions and mushrooms as he did at Cortland, noting - as he did then - that's is really nice to get all those toppings at no extra cost. In addition to finding a bit of a price hike, we ran into a newfangled push-button drink dispenser here; it's just different enough that it took a little extra time (and more than a couple of sloppy mistakes) to figure out how it works. Pretty cool, actually!

If you go:

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Cortland: (330) 372-0232
Austintown: (330) 953-2880
Boardman: (330) 629-8038

Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

CAFE 422

One of the many pluses of living in the Mahoning Valley, as I've said time after time, is accessibility to some of the best restaurant food anywhere in the country. Conversely, one of the minuses is that restaurants come and go. Sometimes, the demise falls under the Who Cares? category; other times, not so much.

As longtime Valley residents (my husband Jack from birth and me after we got married), we well remember the bustling U.S. Route 422 "Strip" that was lined with wonderful places to eat. At the heart were Alberini's, El Rio, Cafe 422, Jimmy Chieffo, Cherry's Top of the Mall, The Living Room and the Town and Country where we got to see big-name Kenley Players after the shows at Packard Music Hall. The parking lots overflowed every evening, and at least once a week, our car was among them.

Today, these treasures are gone, the most recent of which to close its doors is Alberini's. That is, with one notable exception: Cafe 422. The folks who started the place back in 1939 - the late Guerino "Greenie" Abruzzi and Orazio Rossi - are long gone, but the restaurant was sold to Serdar Dede a few years back. Since then, he's kept the name, the hot peppers in oil and good food, and in 2012 he opened a second location in the former Rusty's Southside Grille in Boardman.

Our first visit for review purposes was at the original location with our usual friends Jerry and Barb from Niles - on Valentine's Day, no less - and the first time we've been there since it changed hands. The interior configuration hasn't changed much from what we remember, but it's been updated. The main dining room now has windows that reflect the Route 422 scene, for instance - much more airy and light. In another area, a large bar dominates (we sat in this section).

Needless to say, I had to try the hot peppers in oil as an appetizer ($3.50) - diners no longer get a free dish as was the custom long ago. Water was poured automatically - which I always take as a sign that customers are well cared for. Right after we ordered drinks and entrees, our server returned with a basket of fresh bread and butter.

Immediately, we dug into those hot peppers in oil. While I'll say they're different from the ones I remember, they were quite delicious (and hot enough to be not too popular with the others at our table, much to my delight).

It took us a while to decide on entrees, but decide we did. Barb chose the broiled salmon with lemon butter sauce, one of several three-course dinners priced at $17.99. They come with soup or salad, one side and a dessert (chocolate cake, raspberry cheesecake - her choice - coconut cream pie, tiramisu, creme brulee, a brownie sundae, Italian spumoni or ice cream. How's that for choices?

Jack finally picked the Italian-style whitefish, sauteed with hot peppers, olives and onions in a light marinara sauce ($16.99), but not before he asked if he could substitute less hot peppers - certainly, our server said.

Jerry and I are huge walleye fans, so we couldn't resist the walleye over sauteed greens, one of the specials of the day ($17.95). He chose a Caesar salad, while I went with wedding soup. Since the entrees also come with a side, I asked what my choices were, but the server said the sauteed greens counted as the side and I didn't get a second. Not a big greens lover, I almost switched entrees, but when our server said the fish was ample in size (and did I say that I love walleye), I stuck with my original decision.

The results? For openers, the wedding soup definitely ranks among my top three favorites; the flavorful broth is filled with a couple of tiny meatballs and veggies but not to the point of having very little broth. If there's a downside, it's that it comes in a very tiny cup - I'd love to have enjoyed a few more spoonsful.

Barb's salmon was excellent, and Jack's whitefish was a goodly size with an abundance of veggies in the topping (he did say he could have done without a few of those olives, though). Jerry and I loved the walleye as expected, but as it turned out, it's a good thing I also loved the sauteed greens. Had I not, the filet wouldn't have come close to filling me up; I hadn't eaten much the whole day to "save up" for our special Valentine's Day splurge. On the whole, we all agreed the meals and ambience here are wonderful and a refreshing change from our usual casual dining - but we also agreed prices are a bit on the high side so it's not a place we can afford to visit very often.

We didn't waste a lot of time heading to the Boardman location - also with Jerry and Barb in tow - but this time it was for lunch (Jack took this photo of the three of us). The building is quite impressive, and the decor is absolutely elegant. Soft muted grays and browns blend comfortably with blonde wood tables with comfy chairs.

There's a separate lunch menu as well as a daily specials list; our server said the menu is virtually the same as Warren, although Boardman doesn't have the three-course specials. Here, too, we had a tough time making up our minds. I was the first to decide, although I fluctuated between Cajun tilapia over orzo for $7.99 or clam linguine with white sauce at $9.99 (the latter won out). Opting for soup over salad, I ordered pasta fagioli instead of clam chowder.

Jack was in a fishy mood as well, choosing parmesan crusted haddock with sauteed greens and tomato vinaigrette salsa plus a salad with sweet-and-sour dressing for $9.99. For Barb, it was eggplant parmesan with a salad (the blue cheese dressing added a $1.25 upcharge). She also asked if she could have the standard red sauce on the eggplant and just olive oil on the accompanying pasta and was told that would be no problem.

Jerry broke ranks by going with a sandwich, prime rib with sauteed onions, peppers and mozzarella on ciabatta bread ($9.99). He picked a salad with sweet-and-sour dressing.

We also got a loaf of delicious warm bread before our entrees arrived. The lunch portions weren't huge - we all polished off every single bite - but each was well worth the price in terms of size. Barb raved about the eggplant, mostly because it was an exceptionally thick chunk and the coating was crispy, just as she likes it. The pasta seemed to have an overabundance of butter rather than "straight" olive oil, and our server confirmed Barb's assessment, adding that there was a bit of garlic in there as well. The extra cost of the bleu cheese dressing, Barb said, was money well spent.

Pasta fagioli's never been a favorite (I ordered it simply because I didn't want a salad or clam chowder). But this was quite different; light pink, relatively thin broth filled with tiny pasta rings and other goodies. I doubt I'd want an entire bowl, but I wouldn't hesitate to order it again - although those salads, with a variety of greens - looked great as well.

My linguine was especially tasty, with no shortage of shredded clams. After I added a few sprinkles of hot pepper seeds, I was in pasta heaven. Meanwhile, Jack deemed his fish excellent, and he said the greens were unexpectedly flavorful and the tartar-like dipping sauce was unique and delicious.

Jerry - who's usually the most loquacious of our foursome, for the most part chowed down quietly until every bit of his sandwich disappeared. Did he like it? "Kick-ass! he pronounced.

If you go:

Cafe 422
4422 Youngstown Road S.E.
Warren, Ohio 44484
(330) 369-2422

Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. The Boardman location is open on Sunday only for private parties and one hour later than Warren on all evenings.