Friday, July 26, 2013


Alert: This restaurant has closed.

It's not often that I review a restaurant after just one visit. Sure, I know how much first impressions count, but especially when it comes to food, seconds and thirds can be deal-breakers. And as I update this after our second visit, I'm even more certain that once isn't enough (but more on that later).

My husband Jack and I have been watching for Jack Perry's Gastropub to open ever since Jeremiah Bullfrog's closed and we got the word on its replacement. The opening happened July 17, in fact, and we didn't waste much time trying it out. Although we couldn't sample much on a single visit, there's absolutely no doubt we'll be back soon - and since it's brand new, I wanted to help get the word out as quickly as possible.

According to a brochure we picked up at the front desk, owners Dan Perry and Randy Spencer named the new bar in honor of Perry's father, Jack, who they say was a "sports fanatic." The gastropub concept, they say, originated in the United Kingdom, a name coined in 1991 by the owners of The Eagle Pub in London. 

Inside, the decor is quite different from the predecessor - nary a frog anywhere to be seen - and perhaps, with black, chrome and silver everywhere, could even be called minimalistic (and leading Jack to quip that it's a great place for Oakland Raiders fans). There's still a bar side and a restaurant side, the former highlighted by several large flat-screen TV sets, all tuned to sporting events the day of our visit.

The menu isn't terribly extensive, but the offerings have a bit of a unique flair and there's plenty to suit us. Prices are reasonable, although if you're looking for cheap munchies or a hot dog while you watch a game, you might want to go elsewhere. If you want something to drink while you watch, however, you've come to the right place.

That's because in addition to a full bar and a number of specialty drinks, there are 25 beers and ales on tap here, ranging from IPAs, strong ales, fruit beers, wheat beers/dortmunders/blonde ales and stouts - most in the $3.50 to $5 range. Yuengling, in fact, was about the most "standard" on-tap brew I noticed.

But if you aren't sure what you'd like, you can sample. I'm not a big fan of IPAs and funky ale, but the Fathead's Bumble Berry from Fathead's Brewery in North Olmsted sounded good (it's brewed with fresh spring honey with sweet malt flavors and a blueberry finish). I tried a sample and yes, it was delicious, so I ordered a whole glass at $4.50.

As we perused the menu, we noticed several interesting appetizers, including a hummus of the day with baked pita bread ($6.99) and blackened yellow fin Ahi tuna bites with sweet and spicy Szechuan ($11.99). Ah, we said, another time; we'd come for lunch and wanted something more than an appetizer and less than a dinner entree.

Since we're not big salad fans, that left the sandwich list, and our very friendly server said the burgers are great here. Actually, there are four what I'd call "real" burgers on the menu, the most appealing of which to me is the Perry Pepper Burger, with Tri-Pepper Sirachi Salsa, fried Anaheim pepper and American cheese ($8.99).

But that was not to be once I spotted the Kase Melt, made with Rust Belt beef, sliced mushrooms, caramelized onions and horseradish cheese ($8.99). Meanwhile, Jack settled on the Portobello sandwich, a marinated portobello with spinach pesto and roasted red pepper (also $8.99). Sandwiches come with fries - or you can substitute one of the other sides including baked potato, mashed potatoes, broccoli or the vegetable of the day.

As it turns out, I made the right choice; the Kase Melt was to die for. After I gave him a bite, I ended up giving nearly half of it to Jack, who announced that this may be his all-time favorite Philly cheesesteak-type sandwich (surpassing the one he loves best at Mojo's up the road). The shredded beef is delicious, and the horseradish cheese really adds flavor, gives it just a hint of a kick and makes it unique.

Jack's portobello was delicious as well - that spinach pesto is especially good. We both opted for fries, which have a light coating and are quite tasty as well.

Just as notable as what we ate, though, is what we didn't eat - and we saw way more than enough reasons to come back here soon. Our server said he's particularly fond of the Chicken Diane ($9.99), sauteed garlic chicken with romano cheese and red pepper, and the Shepherd's Pie with Rust Belt Beer bruised beef, Jack Perry's Mirepoix and caramelized mashed potato ($8.99). Also of interest to me is the Bangers and Mash (which, for who-knows-what reason, are called Bangers and Mashed here) - sausages, mashed potato - singular, so we guess that means you get just one - and onion demi ($9.99). Jack has his eye on the Chorizo Meatloaf with brown sauce, that singular mashed potato and vegetable ($8.99).

But none of those compare to the treat that will get me here in a flash - the Ahi Tuna Fillet, or poppy seed encrusted Ahi tuna served with 2 sides ($13.99). Served rare, it's a delicacy I'd be willing to travel to the ends of the earth to enjoy. Locally, I've found it only as a generous-size to-die-for appetizer at The Phoenix Fire Grill and Bar near Canfield, so trust me, I can't wait to try it a little closer to home.

Now for the rest of the story: A couple of weeks later as we were leaving Mill Creek Park after a photography session with the starting-to-bloom dahlias, Jack told me he really, really wanted one of those Kase Melt sandwiches - this time all for himself. Fine, I said - I'll try a different sandwich this time. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon about 1:15 p.m.; just one other couple was there at the time, although a third came in while we were eating.

Not in the mood for fancy beer, we both ordered draught Yuenglings. And after one sip, we sent it back; it was so weak it might as well have been copper colored water (an experience we haven't had in many years, I hasten to add). The Coors Lights we asked for as a replacement were just fine, though.

Jack, of course, had his mind made up on what to eat before we got there; my sandwich choice took a little longer. I considered the Smoked Monte Cristo ($8.99 with fries), but when I saw it's mostly cheeses, tomato and some bacon, I decided against it - the Monte Cristo I love is made with ham and turkey, fried in an egg batter and served with a fruity sauce, usually red currant jelly. Then I spotted the Pepper Burger, and that's all she wrote. A cooked-to-order burger topped with tri-pepper sirachi salsa, a fried Anaheim pepper and American cheese, it had my name on it from the git-go (also $8.99 with fries).

If you can't stand the heat, though, this burger isn't for you. The pepper and salsa are quite spicy to say the least, but absolutely delicious and nowhere near too hot to suit me. I also love the seasoned fries here, and after I ate several of those I wasn't able to finish my burger and brought half of it home.

But alas, Jack was supremely disappointed with the sandwich he'd had his heart set on. The beef was tasty as before, but he kept waiting for the kick from the horseradish cheese (that's what makes this one three cuts above other Philly steak-type sandwiches). About halfway through, he was still waiting; finally, he opened up the other half of the sandwich to find there was no cheese or sauce of any kind on it at all.

So, live and learn. We'll give it another try for dinner sometime, though - I've still got my heart set on that Ahi tuna!

If you go:

Jack Perry's Gastropub
5529 Mahoning Ave.
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 953-3224 

Friday, July 12, 2013


It's a bit out of the ordinary for me to review a chain restaurant, and even more uncommon when it's one that doesn't serve alcohol since most of the time, my husband Jack and I eat out for very late lunches and dinners when we enjoy a glass of wine with our food. 

Breakfast, however, is a bit different. Except for the year Jack retired after 33 years of teaching at Niles McKinley High School and the day school started that fall we were sitting on the beach at the North Carolina Outer Banks lifting plastic glasses of champagne toward Ohio at 8 o'clock in the morning, the spirits never have moved us at that hour of the day.

And breakfast, I would argue, is what Bob Evans does best; besides that, it’s an Ohio staple, starting out in the small town of Rio Grande (for you tenderfeet, that’s “Ryoh,” unlike the river that separates Texas and Mexico). Corporate headquarters are being relocated from Columbus to New Albany this year, and the company today is a $1.7 billion restaurant and retail food products company with somewhere around 600 full-service restaurants in 18 states and more than 100 company-owned Mimi's Cafe locations in 22 states.

That's not to say the other meals aren't good, though; in fact, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say we've never had a "bad" meal here. And now that the chain has undergone a substantial remodeling outside and in, it seems a good time to give it a plug.

There's another little secret I'll share up front for what it's worth (and to us, it's worth plenty): Sign up online to get email news, and you'll get great deals on meals. Just about every week, we get BOGO offers for breakfasts and dinners. To be honest, some are good for a single day and usually don't arrive much in advance (they tend to be on holidays like July 4 or days like the day after Thanksgiving when, we suppose, business is slower). Still, there have been very few we haven't cashed in. There's also a requirement of purchasing two beverages - which aren't the cheapest on the block - but especially when you consider that we're usually able to bring home some leftovers, these are not-to-be-missed deals.

When it comes to breakfasts, I have two favorites here to which nobody else can yet compare, starting with sausage gravy. This does, however, require a bit of background. Coming from a farm and a cook-from-scratch mother, sausage gravy was a staple of growing up. But when I got married, it was to a handsome fellow who (gasp!) didn't much care for sausage in any shape or form, although he did manage to get some down when I'd cook sausage gravy and biscuits for whatever crowd we were with the morning after our New Year's Eve celebrations. But once we stopped partying quite so hard probably 20-plus years ago, the sausage gravy just never got made. Luckily, it was served at Bob Evans; so once or twice a year, we go there for breakfast (served all day, I should add) and I'd get my fix. 

And then they changed it. No longer was it the white gravy with visible and plentiful sausage crumbles; suddenly, it was dark brown, the sausage seemed harder to find and that wonderful down-home taste took a turn for the worse. 

Then one fine day much, much later I saw the photo in the menu and realized it was white once again - be still my heart! Needless to say, I wasted little time ordering it, and it's become my go-to, blues-chasing breakfast ever since. Prices can vary from place to place, but around here, a good-sized bowl of gravy with two of those giant buttermilk biscuits goes for around seven bucks.

When we get one of those breakfast BOGO coupons, though, we try our best to get the most for our money by ordering items that are very close in price (with these deals, you get one free, but it's always the least expensive of the two). My pick of the litter is the Farmer's Choice ($8.29), which comes with eggs (any style), hash browns, home fries or grits, bacon or sausage (patties or links) and your choice of a fruit crepe, two hotcakes or two slices of French toast. It's a great deal, and if you haven't tried those crepes yet, you're in for a real treat.

Jack usually opts for the Big Egg Breakfast - same price - with three eggs, sausage or bacon and a breakfast side (several choices here, but most often he gets whole wheat toast).

Lunch and dinner entrees are all over the map, ranging from big salads to pasta to fish, and there are several "55 & Over" possibilities that are smaller and a bit less expensive. One of my favorites is the slow-roasted turkey breast, with plenty of tender meat over bread and celery stuffing with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side. Jack, however, is fond of the potato-crusted flounder filet, which usually comes with a baked potato, broccoli and baked rolls or buttermilk biscuits (he substitutes other things for the potato and broccoli depending on his mood at the time). He's had the salmon filet, too (with a choice of Bob Evans Wildfire BBQ sauce or garlic herb butter) and likes that almost equally well.

Bob Evans has other options that aren't readily available at other restaurants, too, such as a $5 carryout value menu that includes a number of items including signature soups (we especially like the tomato basil and beef vegetable). Every once in a while we'll take one home for later - it's plenty for two very large bowls.

Another option is the family-size meals to go (there were 10 on the menu last time I checked). Priced at just under $20, they include a main meat - such as chicken breasts or tenders, turkey breast or country-fried steak - and one large side and freshly baked bread sufficient to serve four; call ahead for quick pick-up. Other options are offered for special occasions like Thanksgiving, with prices based on the number you'll be feeding. When you factor in not having to spend hours cooking, the price isn't bad at all.

Here's another tip: Bob Evans puts nutritional information on its website as well as recipes for quite a number of the foods for which they're known (slow cooker meatloaf, Italian Sausage, Tortellini Soup and yes, that sausage gravy, for instance). 

Each store also has a small selection of gift items, and on several occasions we've purchased whole pies from the in-store bakery (the cookies and banana bread are delicious as well). On one occasion, I bought bags of Bob Evans medium roast coffee when they were on sale at two for $10; it's good coffee, but much too mild for my taste. There's a new bold roast being advertised now that I'd like to try, but so far it hasn't been available by the bag at either the Austintown or Niles locations where we're frequent diners. Neither is the company's new loyalty card (spend $60, earn $4), launched in Dayton not long ago. We'll keep an eye out!

If you go:

Bob Evans
1100 N. Canfield-Niles Road
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 652-8211

Open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Sunday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.