Friday, January 31, 2014


For quite a few years, my husband Jack and I enjoyed occasional visits to Salvatore's Italian Grill in Howland Township, Ohio. We'd work in a visit for lunch or dinner and stop at the wine shop next door to replenish our supply. Once in a while, we'd head south from Niles to the Austintown restaurant, which is familiar to many as the former site of The Lodge.

Since we moved to Mineral Ridge, though, the Austintown location has become the place to head; most recently, we acquired a taste for flatbread-style pizza and discovered some real treats here. A late lunch of the Monte Cristo (white pizza with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, $8.50) for me and an Old World Brier Hill for Jack (sauteed green peppers, onions and marinara sauce sprinkled with Romano cheese to which he adds pepperoni, $6.50 plus a buck for the extra topping, became almost a habit during the hot months of last summer. 

Much of the ambience from The Lodge is still here - the dark wood interior and booths, exposed beams and a few things stuck up near the ceiling like an old clawfoot bathtub. There's a good-sized bar near the kitchen, and plenty of cold beer on tap.

Not long ago, armed with a $20 certificate for which we'd paid $10 at, we headed back for lunch. This time, though, we weren't in the mood for pizza; instead, Jack ordered his always-favorite Philly steak sandwich ($9), substituting a salad for the fries for a $1.50 upcharge. The raspberry vinaigrette dressing, he said, is outstanding.

First came the usual basket of "regular" pizza squares and two crispy-on-the-outside warm Italian rolls. We tried hard not to fill up on them so we'd have no room for our entrees, but it was a struggle. 
Since I was on the hungry side (plus I figured I could bring anything left over home for later), my choice was the lunch special sausage and green peppers over penne pasta ($8.99). Instead of a salad, I picked wedding soup, which is always delicious here, filled with lots of goodies. The pasta was excellent, and as expected, I brought home more than half of what was in my very large bowl.

Those who prefer baked Italian specialties should love the Eggplant Parmigiana or Lasagna Classico ($12.50 each, dinner portion) or the Stuffed Eggplant Rollantini (eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese and ham topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese with a side of angel hair pasta ($11.50). My all-time favorite is Linguini Fra Diavlo - crab meat, shrimp and clams in a spicy tomato sauce and served over linguini (I ask for it to be made extra-spicy). Since it blows $15 all to heck I save it for very special occasions, but it's absolutely wonderful. There are a couple of salmon choices on the seafood menu that are delicious as well.

As for Jack, he swears the chicken alla cacciatore is better here than anywhere else ($13.50). The mushrooms, green peppers and fresh tomatoes complement the boneless chicken breast, and the marinara sauce is outstanding. I've also sampled the Chicken Francaise, a boneless breast in lemon white wine sauce served with capellini ($14.50), and still other favorites are the Penne Alla Vodka (penne in cream sauce with prosciutto, shallots and vodka, $14.50) and Penne Alla Arrabiata, or penne with prosciutto in that terrific spicy marinara sauce ($13.50).

For those so inclined, there are several vegetarian specialties here as well, including Penne Primavera with broccoli, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms and tomatoes with either garlic and extra-virgin olive oil or marinara sauce for $13.95. Or, you can built your own, choosing one vegetable and one pasta for $10.50.

Not too long ago when a couple of friends were visiting here from Columbus, we took them to Salvatore's for dinner and discovered a really great deal: Two dinners and a whole bottle of wine for $29.99. The wines (we picked cabernets) were quite good - no $4.95 unknown brand here - and each of us got to choose the entree we wanted (for me, it was that Penne Alla Arrabiata). One of these days, we're going to go for dinner just the two of us and do it all over again.

If you go:

Salvatore's Italian Grill
4831 Mahoning Ave.
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 799-2285

Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday noon to 8 p.m.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Both my husband Jack and I are graduates of Kent State University - in fact, we met there back in 1959 toward the end of my freshman year (he was a sophomore; we got married after he graduated in 1962 and was about to start teaching English and competitive speech at Niles McKinley High School in his home town). If we were lucky back in our college days, we'd have four bucks between us on the weekends and would head to downtown Kent - walking, of course, since neither of us had a car. There, we'd have to choose how to best spend our precious money: Would it be on a movie (hopefully with enough left to share a cold drink and a small box of popcorn), or have a beer or two and maybe share a sandwich at one of the bars like The Deck or Ray's?

On the times the bar won, our journey often took us past the theater to Water Street, where we'd see - but not really see - the old brick train depot that served as the main railway depot in the area until 1970, when it was boarded up. Not long thereafter, research tells me, the Kent Historical Society was formed, mostly with an eye toward saving the station. Long story short, the Pufferbelly Ltd. Restaurant opened in 1981 and now is part of the Kent Industrial District, which in turn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Outside, the building has retained it's train depot look - much like the B&O Station Restaurant building in downtown Youngstown, Ohio. It's much longer than it is wide with high ceilings, from which a variety of objects hang (including a full-size buggy). Some of the interior walls are the old brick, and railroad memorabilia is hung here, there and everywhere. If you sit on the railroad tracks side, you can hear trains pass by; the railroad itself is still active - the trains just don't stop here any more.

Although neither of us is much interested in returning to our alma mater for special events like homecoming, we do enjoy driving through the campus now and again just to see the latest changes. I was devastated, for instance, when "my" dormitory - Terrace Hall - was razed; lots and lots of wonderful memories came down with that building. And on several of those drive-through occasions, we've stopped for lunch at the Pufferbelly. And on at least two occasions, we've gone to Kent expressly for that purpose. We've lunched there with our son Scott and his wife, Lilla, as well as Lilla's wonderful Mum, Sheila - at the time, they all lived close by in the Cuyahoga Falls area. At any rate, we love the ambience and food here; one of these days, we'll get there for one of the special events (there's a clam bake each September, for instance). 

There's also a Sunday brunch buffet that's served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and it includes several goodies like bacon and sausage, potatoes and vegetables, eggs Benedict, fish, chicken and pork, made-to-order omelets and waffles, rice and pasta and more.

If you go during the right season, we suggest trying the gazpacho as an appetizer. Quite some time ago we took the plunge - call us food-challenged, but we'd never even heard of cold tomato-based soup before. But tell you what - we left smacking our lips, and the first thing we did when we got back home was track down a recipe so we could make it ourselves.

The menu isn't what I'd call extensive, but there are always a few things that are a little on the unique side. Ever hear of Andouille Quesadilla? At $8.25, it's a flour tortilla stuffed with Andouille sausage, scallions, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. For an entree, there's Veggie Aglio, or sauteed artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, onions and spinach served over wheat linguine in a garlic, herb and olive oil sauce ($10.50).

Our most recent stop was on our way home from Cleveland; it was around lunch time, we were hungry, and it wasn't much out of our way to go through Kent. The day was sunny, so we took a few photos in the historic district while we were at it, as is our usual custom. We were seated almost immediately, and then realized it would take some time to decide what we wanted because everything sounded wonderful - even the daily specials.

I almost caved in and ordered the baked Brie appetizer once again - a whole mini-wheel of Brie cheese topped with roasted almonds and served warm with fresh fruit and French bread ($8.95). Oh mama, it's to die for. To this day, I don't know why I passed it by this time, but I did.

Both of us love reuben sandwiches, and past experience told me they're very good here. They're a combination of the usual lean corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing, but here, they add a bit of turkey as well ($7.25). Jack went for it almost immediately (substituting cole slaw for the standard fries) and I considered it, but since I've had it before I wanted something different this time.

Finally, I settled on the cashew chicken salad croissant - chicken in a honey mayonnaise blend with toasted cashews served on a toasted croissant with fresh fruit ($6.95). I'd had it long ago and it was delicious - and by golly, it's still every bit as tasty. There's so much filling that it's hard to eat without everything spilling, but it's well worth the effort (besides, you can clean up the fallout with a fork).

If you go:

Pufferbelly Ltd.
152 Franklin Ave.
Kent, Ohio 44240
(330) 673-1771

Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday (brunch); 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday (dinner). In winter months, closes at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday.