Friday, December 16, 2016


G'head, call me a pickle freak - but nothing in the world could keep me away from a lip-smacking good, fat kosher dill. In years past, I've been known to make a special trip to Corky & Lenny's restaurant and deli on Chagrin Boulevard in Woodmere, Ohio - mostly so I could chow down on the crispy chunks in ice-water filled bowls they put on the tables (these days, the bowls aren't delivered automatically; if you want them, you'll have to ask).

But driving that far isn't always an option, and I'm happy to say I've satisfied my kosher dill tooth closer to home at Kravitz Deli in Liberty Township. It's got a long history, founded in 1939 by Rose Kravitz on Youngstown's North Side and moved to Belmont Avenue in 1970. There, it grew into a restaurant and bakery - and besides those to-die-for pickles, the corned beef sandwiches are the bomb.

As an aside, I got a hearty chuckle when I mentioned a visit to Kravitz in a recent Facebook post. That name, one of my "old" friends said, reminded her of the "Bewitched" TV show starring the late Elizabeth Montgomery. The memories flooded back as I, too, recalled Samantha Stephens and her husband Darren, and their nosy next-door neighbors Gladys and Abner Kravitz.

But I digress; this Kravitz (owner Jack, Rose's son), also operates cafes inside the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County's Poland Library, and more recently, the Garden Cafe in the Davis Visitor Center in Mill Creek Park. We visit the latter often on our photography forays to the park, and needless to say, we've been thinking about popping in for lunch. That happened in mid-December when we gathered up friends Jerry and Barb from Niles and headed over. We timed our arrival after what we figured would be prime lunch time - it's not unusual to see the place packed around the noon hour. Even when we arrived a bit later, there were a few folks there, but plenty of other tables, including those by the expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, were empty and inviting.

In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to find a place for lunch in a much prettier setting - in addition to the views from all those windows in the circular room there's a skylight in the center of the ceiling with really cool hanging lamps scattered around it. The only thing that might make the whole thing more perfect would be a glass of wine, but hey, this is a municipal park, so alcohol isn't a happening thing.

The menu is fairly extensive for a small deli, with plenty of appetizers ranging from a hummus plate to potato pancakes with applesauce and sour cream to spanakopita. Hearty soups are there, too, with a daily special plus everyday clam chowder, paprikash or stew. Several full-size salads are offered (I've had the country club chicken salad, with dried cranberries in a honey mayo dressing with berries and topped with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic glaze and kosher salt and it's yummy). There's a Sunday brunch as well, another option we've been considering (and no doubt will do in the near future).

The four of us pretty much stuck with traditional deli sandwiches; Barb ordered a Reuben, corned beef with kraut and swiss on grilled rye  with cole slaw ($9.99). Jack went for a half sandwich, also a Reuben (but on Italian bread), with a cup of chicken noodle soup ($8.99). Jerry tried the in-house roasted turkey breast sandwich on Italian bread with slaw ($8.99); I went for a bit of a zing with the "Kraut on Fire" sandwich of corned beef with kraut, hot peppers and hot pepper cheese on grilled rye with a side of potato salad ($10.99).

As expected, everything was delicious; I especially loved my "hot" kraut sandwich, although in all honesty I have to say it wasn't very hot (but keep in mind I have a cast-iron stomach). The corned beef was tender and juicy and stacked high, and Barb mentioned how much she liked the slaw. All of us polished off everything on our plates; I had a bit of a struggle and was tempted to call it quits and bring the other half of my sandwich home but in the end managed to get the whole thing down minus a couple of bites. 

The verdict? The beautiful setting alone makes this place shine, but the food makes it perfect. Why not give it a try soon - who knows, we may see you there!

If you go:

Kravitz Garden Cafe
Fellows Riverside Gardens, Mill Creek Park
Youngstown, Ohio
(330) 779-8201
Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Especially since my husband Jack and I don't stray far from home these days, it's always a pleasure to find a new-to-us restaurant. We'd heard through the grapevine about a new place in the Mahoning Country Club in Girard, Ohio, that had pretty good burgers - so one Saturday evening, together with friends Jerry and Barb, we ventured in.

Our first surprise came at the entrance; you can't get there from the main banquet entrance. Instead, drive to the left end of the building and you'll see big windows and the restaurant entrance (and maybe a few parked golf carts). Once we went in, though, we were impressed. The interior is woody, warm and welcoming; as Jack said, it's a major improvement over the days when he and his golfing buddies played at the course here. There's lots of stone, too, including a beautiful floor-to-ceiling fireplace. Two separate rooms are available, both filled with dark wood furniture; each room has its own bar, back-to-back on a shared wall.

We had the place pretty much to ourselves and were able to pick where we wanted to sit, so we opted for a table near a window even though it was dark outside. Our server, who was the only one working on this night, came right away to take our drinks orders (on-tap Yuengling for me and Stella Artois for the other three in our party). We chatted a while - she was great fun to talk to, and with less than a handful of other customers, she had time to spend with us.

But we knew decision time was drawing near, so we turned our attention to the menu. It's not what I'd call extensive - for the most part only appetizers, wings, burgers and a few other sandwiches plus some breakfast items - but there was more than enough to make us waffle back and forth over what we wanted to try. There's an unwritten rule among the four of us that we each get something different and share, which further complicates the decision-making process but makes it more satisfying in the long run.

Jack was the first to make his choice - two appetizers including the Portabella Parm, breaded 'shrooms topped with melted mozzarella and marinara sauce ($7) and calimari with either spicy Tai chili or marinara sauce ($8). Barb set her sights on appetizers as well, going for the shrimp tacos (three flour tortillas stuffed with marinated shrimp, clubhouse pico and sweet and sour sauce at $9 and a dozen bone-in wings ($10). There are several sauces from which to choose, such as Thai Chili and Seracha Bourbon (there's a boneless option as well), but at our server's suggestion, she picked Stingin' Honey Garlic. I should mention that with orders of 10 wings, diners can pick two different sauces (we passed on that and went with just one).

Jerry and I, meanwhile, had heard that the burgers here are excellent. His pick was the Surf & Turf, a prime beef burger piled with shrimp topped with spicy caramelized onions. I went for the Jalapeno Melt, a burger topped with a mixture of chopped fresh jalapenos and melted cream cheese. Both come with fries at $10.

Not long after we placed our orders, the server returned with bad news; the calamari wasn't available. Oh drat, Jack said, switching to onion rings, also a favorite of our foursome ($7).

The wings arrived first on a big platter - plump and juicy with plenty of sauce. It was quite delicious, with a bit of a kick but not enough to knock any of us down (I'm the only one who has a hotter-the-better attitude; the others don't mind a little heat, but only a little). At any rate, the flavor was exceptional, and yes, we'd order it again in a heartbeat.

Once the rest of the food was delivered, we all dug in with gusto. Barb's shrimp tacos disappeared in record time, and she mentioned that the slaw was especially good. The O-rings were a bit of a disappointment; although they were huge with just the right breading crunch on the outside, the skins on the onion slices made most of them too tough (literally) to eat. Jack enjoyed his portabella, noting that it's unusual to find one that's breaded but he really liked it that way. As for the toppings, he said they were tasty but he would have preferred that the marinara sauce be put on top of the melted cheese rather than the other way around. 

Jerry and I were pleased with our burgers despite a mix-up that might have caused an issue with diners more picky about their meat. He'd asked for medium and I for medium-well; when we got them, clearly I got his and he got mine. Since the toppings were firmly in place, asking for a redo would have been a bit problematic (and neither of us really minded all that much anyway), so we just shrugged and chowed down. We agreed the toppings didn't seem to add a lot of flavor to the burgers; my minced jalapenos, for instance, were crunchy but impossible to identify as jalapenos. Still, the sandwiches were thick and flavorful and the accompanying fries were quite good as well - I for one would happily order the burger I got next time around.

All in all, we had a great time and definitely plan a return visit before long. In fact, our server said future plans call for expanding into dinner entrees, so for sure we'll be keeping an eye out for that.

If you go:

Albatross Bar & Grill
710 E. Liberty St.
Girard, Ohio 44420
(330) 545-6841

Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


As a few kinds friends have noticed, the frequency of my restaurant reviews has taken a nosedive over the past two or three years (my most recent post was more than a year ago, in fact). Why? Several reasons, the first of which is that we simply don't go out to eat as often as we used to. Also, we don't venture as far away from home on day trips, so finding new spots doesn't happen often. And last, largely as a natural offshoot of the first two reasons, we tend to stick to places we already know and love. Quite honestly, I can't remember the last time we ate at a new-to-us restaurant (well, at least one that was memorable and/or that stayed in business long enough for me to compose a review).

Admittedly, this one is some distance from home (roughly 80 miles, in fact) - and honestly, we can't take the credit for finding it. Over the past few years, we've missed seeing our friends Marcia and her husband Rich, who live south of Columbus, Ohio. She's been my best friend since grade school; they married not long before we did, and she was the matron of honor at our wedding way back in 1962. We used to count on seeing each other for annual class reunions (Jackson Local High School near Union City, Indiana), but Jack and I haven't been able to get there since our 50th a handful of years back. So, Rich got the great idea of meeting somewhere in the middle; Wooster, he decided, was a good fit, so he searched for restaurants in that area and came up with this one.

And what a great place it is! As is our custom, we checked the website, but it really didn't come close to describing the place. Driving in, we were surprised to see the 25,000-square-foot historic 1868 landmark barn gift shop/restaurant building (well landscaped and, given the time of year, walkways lined with huge pots of colorful chrysanthemums that could be purchased at an extremely reasonable price. Had we not been facing an hour-and-a-half drive back home, we'd have snapped up a couple of pots for sure. There's also a barn mostly for tree farm business (there are some 75,000 trees on the property), a lovely gazebo decorated for fall and, if you look out back, which we did, views of man-made lakes and the scenic Kilbuck Valley.

Just inside the main building is the restaurant entrance, but our eyes quickly shifted to take in an amazing array of gorgeous furniture, jewelry, specialty greeting cards and the doorway to the year-round Christmas Shop. We poked around a little bit, but since we didn't have lunch reservations, we checked in with the hostess and were called to our table almost immediately. On that topic, BTW, since the website suggests that reservations are recommended, Rich called ahead of time and was told they wouldn't be needed. But when we arrived around 11:30, the first question we were asked was if we had one. Judging from the number of people already seated and coming through the door, then, next time we'll be sure to follow the website's advice.

The sunny fall day prompted us to ask for a table on the roofed-covered outdoor patio; our friendly server appeared momentarily to take our drink orders. The restaurant does serve wine - including a couple of varieties from Breitenbach Wine Cellars in Dover - but since our favorite fruit wines weren't on the menu (and we were facing a long drive back home), we passed on that in favor of soft drinks, coffee and water.

Then, it was time to choose our entrees, and the decisions didn't come easily. The website doesn't begin to list all the possibilities; in addition to the printed menu, our server ran through the quiche, salad, crepe and soup du jour, making our selections even harder. Marcia went first, as I recall, choosing the grilled chicken raspberry salad with a raspberry dressing (one of a couple of options I was considering seriously as well). For her side, she asked for an apple-cinnamon muffin. Since she picked one of my possibilities, I figured she'd give me a taste if I wanted, so I settled on the crepes du jour - filled with veggies - and the creamy chicken noodle soup. Rich and Jack both favored the French onion soup - Jack's accompanied by a wrap that contained chicken and veggies and Rich's with another kind of sandwich.

Suffice it to say we had no complaints about the delicious food - Jack said the French onion soup was especially good, though some might argue there's almost too much cheese on top - and I loved my creamy chicken noodle soup. Marcia's salad was indeed delicious, as was the muffin (although because the salad was so large and filling, most of her muffin ended up on her husband's plate). As for prices, I'll admit that because we were spending so much time looking at photos and catching up on what's been happening with our families, I paid little attention to costs. Just to provide some idea, though, my soup and crepe lunch special was $10.99, and I did notice several items priced a bit lower and higher.

After we finished and had been occupying a table for a long while, we saw that other diners were filtering in for a later lunch. So out of courtesy we vacated ours and headed back to the three-floor shopping area. To our regret, we didn't have much time to poke around - skipping the grocery and Will Moses art gallery entirely - he's the great grandson of Grandma Moses - but we did do a walk through the Christmas Shop and section near the check-out counter with everything from jewelry to soap (I couldn't resist a bar of the latter, amaretto scented). While we looked, Rich went back to the bakery to snag a couple of the lemon crumb muffins, apparently the specialty here - we noticed several other people with carryout boxes of them. 

Finally, we called it an afternoon - going our separate ways once again to be sure we'd get back home before the end-of-work traffic. On our way, we enjoyed the beautiful rural scenery (at least until we reached the interstate highway that would take us within a couple of miles from our house). Will we do this again? In a heartbeat. In fact, we're already planning another meet-up before the snow flies. And this time, you can bet I won't leave without a box of those wonderful muffins for our very own.

If you go:

Granary Restaurant at Pine Tree Barn
4374 Shreve Road (SR 226)
Wooster, Ohio 44691
(330) 264-1014

Open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Lunch served daily 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.