Saturday, June 22, 2013


For many years, my husband Jack and I were big fans of Nicolino's Restaurant in Niles (the best linguine with clam sauce anywhere, IMHO). Later, it became Niki'z, a makeover primarily spearheaded by Nick Logan, one of the sons of owners Anthony and Mary Ann Donatelli Logan (or so we were told at the time). Then one sad day, it was gone - to be replaced by a couple of different eateries, most recently the High Pointe Restaurant & Tavern. The only constant is that things change, we sighed, wishing we could turn back the hands of time.

Imagine our delight, then, when friends told us that Niki'z is back in town! Sure enough, it's now on Mason Street, in a corner building that once housed the Naus Club. It's quite small, and the menu primarily consists of pub food (except once a month, but more on that later). Alas, no linguine or pizza, but Nick told us plans are in the works for an expansion that could include a pizza oven. And, they still have that lunch rewards card - buy nine items, get the card punched and get a sandwich free next time you go.

The first wonderful surprise is a popcorn machine just inside the door. I absolutely love popcorn - there are relatively large containers and a scoop right by the machine for DIY scoops. The surprise, though, is that there's a noticeable kick of heat. I've asked our server a couple of times how they do it, but she's just smiled and said it's a secret. One day, however, I discovered the "secret" - but no, I won't reveal it here.

Although the menu is limited compared with what the restaurant used to have, everything we've tried here has been excellent - including one important carryover: Niki's homemade Italian hot sausage patty sandwich, topped with sauteed peppers and onions and provolone cheese on a toasted Italian roll ($6.99). Yum!

There's a good selection of appetizers here, including Italian fried greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic ($4.50), Jalapeno bottle caps ($4.99) and even fried pickle slices ($4.99). That last one, however, we'll leave to someone else to try. One thing that's still on my to-eat list as of this writing is Niki'z Stuffed Hot Peppers - yellow Hungarian peppers stuffed with special cheese mix served over marinara sauce ($6.50). I used to love them at the old place, and I have no doubt they're delicious here as well.

Daily specials are listed on a board - at this writing, Tuesday is 50-cent wing day, for instance. But generally, we stick with our favorite things, and if I don't get that hot sausage sandwich it's likely to be the traditional gyro ($6.50). A grilled chicken gyro is available, too, but  nothing will do for me except the traditional. It's a pita filled with thin slices of gyro meat plus tomato, black olives, onion, lettuce and homemade cucumber sauce.

Still another fave is the chicken fingers basket with fries ($6.50) - the breading isn't too heavy and tastes great, as does the dipping sauce. Prefer clams? There's a basket of them as well, also $6.50. You'll find several dinner-size salads, and build-your-own burgers, with half a pound of ground sirloin, start at $5.50.

The wings are good here as well - both traditional and boneless (six for $4.50 and six for $5, respectively). Our sauce preference is butter garlic or garlic parmesan, but there are plenty of other choices. Niki'z does catering, too, and a tray of 36 wings is $22.50, for instance. 

On our most recent visit, though, we tried a couple of different items (for us, at least). Jack had the chicken melt pita ($6.50, and he asked for it on a regular bun). It was delicious - grilled chicken breast topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions and topped with melted American cheese. I tried - and loved - the pulled pork BBQ ($6.99), a large sandwich of shredded hickory pit roasted pork shoulder on an Italian roll. It comes with a side of Niki'z special BBQ sauce, which is delicious as well. All sandwiches, I should add, come with either pasta salad or cole slaw; for a buck more you can substitute fries, and an extra 50 cents will let you turn just about any sandwich into a wrap.

For a really big treat, come here on the first Saturday of each month, when Nick cranks up that hickory pit to crank out roasted lamb, pork (including ribs), chicken and ham - all available for takeout (meats are sold by the pound and chickens are sold by halves and wholes). I've been told there's quite a crowd, so it might be a good idea to call ahead and order what you want. We haven't yet tried most of these, although ham and chicken are on our must-eat list. We can, however, attest to the deliciousness of those ribs, which are available other times. On a recent Saturday evening, in fact, we and friends Jerry and Barb from Niles licked our fingers as each of us got a half rack ($10, including two sides). Yum!

If you go:

508 Mason St.
Niles, Ohio 44446
(330) 544-6100

Open daily at 11 a.m.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Flashback: It was a beautiful spring day - one of the first of the season when the sun was shining brightly, the temperatures were heading a bit north of 60 degrees and a few flowers were in bloom. Looking for somewhere to go for a drive, I happened to look first in our refrigerator and notice that our supply of cheese was dangerously low.

Ah yes, I said - what better day to head for Middlefield, Ohio, and replenish that drawer with some of that wonderful stuff from Middlefield Cheese? It's in the heart of Geauga County Amish country, so I knew the scenery would be great for viewing and photographing as well.

As my husband Jack and I neared downtown Middlefield, we passed Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen. As if on cue, we said to each other, almost simultaneously, that it's a place we really need to visit. That's when Jack's "Aha!" moment hit; we'd be leaving the cheese shop right about the time we usually have lunch and we'd be hungry, so why don't we give it a try? Never one to turn down a meal, I quickly agreed and the deal was sealed.

This is quite a popular restaurant, I should add - reminiscent of Hartville Kitchen in Hartville, Ohio, and Das Dutch Haus in Columbiana, the food is hearty, down home stick-to-your ribs stuff. And that means it's best not to get there at peak meal hours. In our case, we didn't arrive till close to 1:30, but even then, we had plenty of company. 

Like those other restaurants I mentioned, Mary Yoder's has a nice gift shop and bakery for take-home treats. There seemed to be an abundance of doggie-related goodies - found a hanging sign I almost bought for our friends in Powell, Ohio, who are "parents" to two beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The picture on it looked just like their sweet Lucy. 

Hungry as we were, though, we pressed on to the waiting line, which wasn't long at all. I imagine it would move fairly quickly, though, because there's plenty of room inside with at least four rather large dining rooms. The white woodwork and large windows make for a very light, airy look and feel, and the Amish quilts hanging on the walls (for sale, we assume) are absolutely gorgeous.

As luck would have it, we arrived on a day when the lunch buffet was a happening thing ($12.69 per person on Friday, Saturday and Monday). The price includes the salad bar but not beverages or dessert - unless you want fruit from the salad bar as your dessert as we usually do. Since this was our first visit here, we both decided on the buffet just so we could sample more different things. That turned out to be a smart decision, and if you're making a first visit, I encourage you to do the same. 

The servers here are noticeably friendly and attentive and are, in keeping with the decor, dressed mostly in white. Learning that we were first-timers, in fact, ours suggested the buffet. She then took our drink orders and brought dinner rolls (there's a choice between white and wheat and we chose the latter).

Then it was off to that buffet. First up was the salad bar, where I was delighted to find a container of my favorite pickled hard-boiled eggs as well as the basic greens and plenty of add-ins like chopped eggs, bacon bits and fresh radish slices. Another section had macaroni and potato salads, cottage cheese, Greek-style pasta salad and more. I especially enjoyed the pasta salad (besides those wonderful pickled eggs), and the bleu cheese dressing was excellent. Jack said the thousand island dressing was extra-good.

The entree section is very much a mother lode of down-home comfort foods, from green beans and corn (neither of which had that "canned" taste that's common on other buffets we've tried), and the mashed potatoes are the real thing. To top them, I passed over brown gravy and what appeared to be sausage gravy and opted instead for a sauce filled with healthy-size chunks of chicken I figured was to be put over biscuits (confirmed later by our server, who told me lots of folks do exactly what I did and use it to top mashed potatoes instead). It was so good, in fact, that it was the only thing I put on my plate when I went back for seconds.

Let's see, what else did we love? In short, everything we sampled, from fork-tender roast beef pot-roast style in juice, beef and noodles and stuffing (Jack's favorites) and to-die-for breaded roasted chicken that literally fell off the bone. The breading was quite flavorful but didn't overwhelm the meat - very much like my mama used to make.

We didn't have room for any dessert save some of that fruit from the salad bar for me, but I know the homemade pies are a real treat here ($3.69 per slice) as are the apple dumplings with sauce ($4.69, with a sugar-free version available as well).

Of course, just about any item on the buffet can be ordered as a standalone dinner, which includes those homemade rolls and two side dishes that range from home fries to mac-and-cheese to a tossed salad and more. The restaurant also serves family-style dinners, which are nice for larger groups. With one meat, the cost is $16.19 per person, and the other items included with it are too numerous to mention here. There's also a list of sandwiches and hot sandwiches, to which you can add the salad bar for $4.69 more.

If you go:

Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen
14743 N. State St.
Middlefield, Ohio 44062
(440) 632-1939

Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.