Thursday, November 21, 2019


Almost before the entrance door has smacked my husband Jack and me in the backside, the bartender at Coaches Burger Bar in Austintown has poured our beers (Labbatt's Blue, for the record). By the time we get to our booth of choice, they're on the table. That's a testament to two things: a) the number of times we've been here and b) the attentiveness of said bartender. Either one means we're always glad we came. Cheers!

In fact, we've been coming here regularly since it opened - in 2015, I believe. It's located in the space that held another of our favorite-but-gone restaurants, Jeremiah Bullfrog's (and subsequently a couple of other restaurants that never, IMHO, stood the ghost of a chance of succeeding at this shopping mall near the corner of State Route 46 and Mahoning Avenue). Typically, we time our visits on the outskirts of the prime lunch hour - meaning somewhere around 1 p.m. - and getting a booth in our favorite bar area toward the back has never been a problem. There are also two relatively spacious dining areas with many more tables and booths - all within easy watching of the goodly number of wall-hung TV sets. The decor isn't fancy-schmancy, but it's clean, comfortable and doesn't make diners feel as if they're sardines (although it can get a little loud on a Sunday afternoon when the Browns or Steelers are playing).

Oddly, given the focus at this place, it's rare for either of us to order a burger. That's not because they're no good; rather, it's just that neither of us is a big fan of the iconic sandwich. When I succumb, I have a tough time choosing between the Peppercorn Burger (seared in a blend of black and white pepper and topped with sauteed mushrooms, onion and Swiss cheese with a sweet peppercorn aioli at $9.99), the Sideline Fire Burger (topped with pepper jack cheese, house-made hot peppers and "fire" sauce at $10.99) and the Bleu Burger (topped with bleu cheese crumbles, onion tanglers and Southwest ranch dressing at $11.99). Put my feet to the fire (so to speak) and I'll probably deem the second one my favorite, but honestly, it depends on the mood that strikes me when the server shows up to take my order. All, I hasten to add, have been exceptionally delicious.

More often, as at our most recent visit, we'll opt for one of the 10-inch specialty pizzas; our favorite is the Original
Veggie, with cheese, onions, mushrooms, green peppers and sliced tomatoes (to which we add pepperoni) at $8.99. A basic cheese version is just $6.99, and there are a few varieties that don't tempt us in the slightest (potato & greens, for instance) that are priced at $10.99. The crust is tasty and on the thinner (but not too thin), somewhat crispy side; if we get another item to share - like an appetizer or wings - there's plenty to satisfy both of us and provide a couple of slices to take home.

Amid the 14 specialty burgers (plus a build-your-own option) are a number of other sandwiches, all of which come with "Coaches signature" fries. We've sampled a few, including the Gyro ($9.99) and Crabby Patty (a homemade crab cake topped with house remoulade, lettuce, tomato and onion at $10.99) and all were delicious. When we're in sandwich mode, one of us is likely to substitute a small order of onion tanglers for the fries for an extra $2.50. The fries are very good, but how many can two people eat, for gosh sakes? I'm also a fan of the Pepper & Egg sandwich; at $6.99, it's just what it claims to be plus provolone cheese. The Gyro is quite good as well ($9.99 with fries).

One early evening visit was especially memorable, but for a rather somber reason. Our booth of choice is one of those at the back of the restaurant in the bar area, but on this visit the hostess - who of course knew of our preference - suggested that we might prefer a different location. On this day, it seems, the last Chevrolet Cruze had rolled off the assembly line at the General Motors plant in nearby Lordstown; and the bar was packed with workers who had just finished what for many would be their last-ever day at work there. Looking around at the faces - most not smiling - our first thought was regret that we hadn't brought more cash with us so we could have bought a round for the bar. 

This past summer was marked with seasonal specials like "Boom-Boom" shrimp with tasty siracha sauce (for which Jack developed a craving that brought us back here at least once a week) and a spicy crabcake. They're gone now, alas, but we're hoping both will make a comeback next summer. That aforementioned Crabby Patty is pretty good, but Jack says it doesn't quite compare to that wonderful summer version.

Often, we'll get an order of wings to share (five for $5.99 and 10 for
$11.99); our favorite is the buttery garlic parmesan. If I'm honest, I must say that the wings here are excellent but not our all-time favorites;  Gasoline Alley in Niles tops my pecking order of bird appendages (with Niki'z, also in Niles, and Little Wing Cafe in Warren rounding out my Top 3 list). But now that we've moved from our long-time home in Niles to Mineral Ridge, Coaches is much more convenient for spur-of-the-moment eating out. 

There are other tempting items on the menu, like salads, appetizers, a couple of desserts and milkshakes (several flavors at $3.99 each that you can "spike" for an additional $3.50). One of these days, I'm determined to try one - unspiked, thank you very much. Hmmm, think I'll shoot for this coming summer when I dig into those Boom-Boom shrimp once again. Pretty please?

If you go:

Coaches Burger Bar
5529 Mahoning Avenue
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 330-8686

Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Other locations in Boardman, Poland, Salem and Lisbon.

Friday, March 15, 2019


It's been a while since I've posted a new review to my Dining Out blog. Truth is, we don't stray very far from home these days. Besides that, living on a relatively fixed income not only means that splurging on anything beyond a very casual restaurant doesn't happen often, but that it's rare to find us eating out anywhere unless we have a (gasp!) discount coupon. 

That doesn't mean we don't get out, though, so if I'm honest, I must chalk up most of the lack of blog additions solely to my own laziness. In fact, now that I've given it some thought, I can name at least five places we've been and enjoyed that I should have written about long before this. So now I'm psyched - and looking forward to getting back to some writing about a subject I love.

One of the places I've been wanting to go is the historic
Peter Allen Inn in Kinsman; but we simply haven't gone there for several reasons, first and foremost that not straying far from home thing - and in the middle of winter that's even more of an issue. So what got us up and out? That other thing I mentioned earlier: A BOGO lunch coupon. Our Niles friends and frequent dining-out companions Jerry and Barb spotted it in the newspaper, called to make sure we clipped it as well, and the rest is history. Barb called for a reservation (recommended here, by the way, and you can do it online if you prefer). Despite the iffy weather this time of year, when the day arrived neither rain nor snow was falling, and off we went.

I will say winter probably isn't the ideal time to see the entire place; clearly, the grounds are lovely, but everything brown and dusted with snow plus temperatures in the 30s doesn't exactly make strolling around outside a walk in the park. The inside, however, is another story - and a beautiful one at that. The whole place, including the dining areas, are somewhat reminiscent of Tara-A Country Inn in Clark, Pa., and the Spread Eagle Tavern in Hanoverton. Restored by the Richard and Rhonda Thompson Foundation, the intent is to honor the architectural importance of the house as well as the contributions of the Allen family to the field of medicine. Allen, a physician, who moved to Kinsman in 1808, helped found what would become the Ohio State Medical Society, among other accomplishments, according to online reports and the Inn's website (where I snitched the gorgeous exterior photo above as well).

No doubt the overnight rooms are gorgeous, but while we looked up the beautiful staircase, our focus on this outing was on eating. We were seated in a lovely "formal" dining area that featured butcher-block style tables, plenty of sunlight, a very intriguing chandelier and a working fireplace (quite welcome on a chilly day). Classical music playing softly in the background added an
elegant touch. Later, we peeked in at other, more intimate dining areas, including one in which guests are treated to a formal tea service (Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.). Downstairs, we fell in love with the Tavern; it's got a more modern touch yet doesn't lose the period "feel." 

While I'm on that subject, I must note that just about anything anyone could possibly want in the alcohol department can be found here; an almost endless list of wine, beer and mixed drinks is at the ready and, at the time of our visit, featured winter drink specials with such enticing names as "Kiss from a Rose," "The Irish Maid" and "Green Fairy" (the latter made with Absinthe and egg whites and yes, we all passed on that one). Better still, prices are quite reasonable; my glass of Lindeman's Moscato cost just $6 - that's less than I've seen at some chain restaurants. Water is delivered automatically - always a plus (although I do appreciate being asked first - conservation of natural resources is important to me as well).

Our BOGO coupon applied only to entrees on the lunch menu - fine with us, since there were a number of enticing options. In the end, husband Jack decided on the knife-and-fork meatloaf sandwich, "signature" meatloaf topped with tomato sauce and fontina cheese on a toasted baguette ($10). I waffled a
bit, drooling over the candied bacon BLT ($11), but in the end I couldn't resist trying the sausage and hot pepper flatbread ($10). That's partly because instead of the regular fries, Jack substituted sweet potato fries (bless him - he knows how much I love them and I knew he'd share). Barb went for the grilled chicken salad ($11), grilled chicken breast, French fries, mixed greens with grape tomatoes, onions and cheddar cheese with her choice of bleu cheese dressing. Jerry opted for the knife-and-fork pot roast sandwich ($11), Heritage Hill chuck roast on a toasted ciabatta with melted fontina cheese and
fries. At our server's suggestion, Jack, Jerry and Barb added special soups of the day - Jack's tomato-based and theirs a cream base with funky mushrooms (yes, they really were -I peeked).

I tasted both soups and they were quite good, as were the waffle-style sweet potato fries. To be sure, they could have used some kind of dipping sauce - preferably something sweet, like maple syrup - but they stood well on their own. Ditto the seasoned "regular" fries; ketchup and/or vinegar don't come automatically, but our friends liked theirs just the way they were and commented favorably on the flavor.

Jack's sandwich was delicious, but impossible to eat in the long crusty roll without getting more of it on him than in him, so he just picked out the meatloaf, sauce, onions and peppers and left the roll. Jerry wasn't thrilled with his pot roast sandwich, saying it didn't taste like any pot roast he'd ever had. After taking a taste, I know what he meant; it had a unique flavor that was quite good, actually, but I'd never have been able to eat more than a bite or two.

Speaking of the flatbread, it was tasty but could have used a bit more sausage (the peppers weren't very hot, either, but then it's rare for me to meet a hot pepper that knocked my socks off in the heat department). But it was filling - I ate the whole thing - and I was happy to learn that the Inn gets at least some of its meats from Badurik's Butcher Block in Mineral Ridge (a shop just a few blocks from our home that I highly recommend, by the way).

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the wire basket of soft, fresh-baked rolls with honey-garlic butter; we loved those so much we ordered a second round. Truth be told, those - and the wonderful, relaxing atmosphere - were the highlight of our meal. We'll be back for sure, although next time our outing will be when the weather is nicer so we can enjoy the outdoors (and maybe take a closer look at the overnight rooms - they look beautiful in the website photos - and for sure have a drink or two in the Tavern).

If you go:

Peter Allen Inn & Event Center
8581 State St.
Kinsman, Ohio 44428
(330) 355-2100

Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Dining out remains a special treat for my husband Jack and I, even though we don't do it as frequently nor travel as far as we used to. That means I don't get to write restaurant reviews as often as I'd like - we rarely go to a place I haven't already posted on my blog. So on a recent weekend night, we and a couple of friends decided to try a new-to-us local restaurant that might be called a reincarnation of one that for many years before its closing was highly regarded. This version 2.0 claims to have the same or similar recipes and is, by our standards, a relatively upscale place (with dinner entrees in the $13 to $18 range and wine sold mostly by the bottle). We called ahead and made reservations just to be on the safe side. Beyond that, we had high expectations for an evening to remember.

That it was, but for all the wrong reasons. When we arrived, we were seated immediately; there were just a few folks in the separate bar section and only one occupied table of four in the main dining area. Lookin' good so far, we said. But alas, from that point on, the whole experience turned into a comedy of errors. I won't name the place - mostly to protect the identity of the innocent. Rather, my intent is to point out what can, but should not, go awry (and just plain allow me to vent; almost a week later, I'm still fuming).

First, we had to move to a different location; the seats we were assigned must have been in the direct path of a heating duct - no way could we stay there without dripping sweat bullets all over our food. Sure, the hostess told us - just find a table you like. That we did; and when our server appeared and introduced herself, our first move was to confirm that it was "happy hour" - when the restaurant's website advertised half-price appetizers and discounts on alcoholic beverages. Well, not exactly, she countered - that's only if you sit in the bar area (which, for the record, was about 10 feet from our table). Would we like to move there? No, we sighed, mostly because we'd already moved once. At the same time, though, we agreed that since the deal was off limits, we'd skip appetizers and limit ourselves to just one alcoholic beverage each. Another point we agreed upon: Why wasn't that happy hour seating rule  posted where it could easily be seen as well as spelled out on the website?

As she took our orders for what would be our only round of drinks and the appetizer (yes, we caved in and got one of the least expensive to share), we realized our server was struggling to keep it together. She was totally unfamiliar with the menu and clueless about the very short list of by-the-glass wines; we actually had to point our fingers to indicate our choices. To her credit, she was very apologetic, noting - while close to tears - that she was new and being forced to run from one section of the restaurant to another to serve customers (thank goodness there weren't many, we said). Don't worry about us, we joked - we won't bite anything unless it's on our plate.

Her obvious lack of proper training became evident once again, though, when she delivered glasses of wine to the three of us who ordered it. The lucky devil who picked red? No problem. But two of us ordered different whites, and by the time she reached our table, she'd "forgotten" which was which. That forced us to take sips from both glasses to figure it out (tacky at the very least and unsanitary at worst, but then we've been friends for a long time and often sample each others' foods). It did make me wonder what on earth she would have done if we'd refused  - as most diners would have - to stick our lips on each other's glasses.

Our appetizer came fairly quickly and was excellent; we polished off at least half before realizing our server had not returned to take our dinner orders. Right about then, entrees were delivered to that only other occupied table in the room - folks who had been there when we first arrived. Within minutes, one person at that table had a problem with his entree. We couldn't hear specifically what the complaint was about, but the diner was far from a happy camper. 

At that point, we looked at each other and kicked around the possibility of paying for our appetizer and drinks and cutting our losses - our entree orders still hadn't been taken, after all - but as we waffled our server appeared (more than half an hour after we'd been seated) so we decided to stick it out. And once again, unfamiliarity reared its ugly head as she tried to find the items on the menu to write on her order pad; once again, we had to point fingers and repeat several times the names of the dishes we wanted.

Our salads arrived in fairly short order after that, and honestly, they weren't at all bad. Meantime, another group of six were seated next to us - and we watched with dismay as those folks not only ordered right away but got their entrees before we did. A diner at that table, too, voiced a complaint, making us doubt the wisdom of not leaving when we had the chance.

Then, finally, our entrees arrived (prime ribs with grilled asparagus for our two friends and linguine with clam sauce for Jack). My ravioli wasn't on the tray, though, and as she departed to get the glasses of water we'd requested at least half an hour earlier, the server told me my lasagna would be out shortly. Say what? I'd ordered ravioli. Thinking she'd simply misspoken, I sloughed it off - until she ran by the table once again and again mentioned lasagna. You mean ravioli? I nearly shouted at her back. 

The look on her face turned first to shock; but this time, she tried to argue - saying I'd pointed to the lasagna (I don't think so, but even if I did, I and everyone else at our table knew I'd spoken the word "ravioli" several times). At that point, she told me - again tearfully - that she'd ask them to make what I'd ordered. But since I like lasagna, I said I'd take it rather than chance getting what I'd ordered long after everyone else had finished eating.

Once we had our meals, I realized there was neither sprinkle cheese nor hot pepper seeds on our table; in most Italian restaurants, they're already there or the server offers to bring them. Our server, of course, was nowhere to be found, so I spotted a jar of sprinkle cheese on the empty table next to us and "stole" it - opting to forego a search for my beloved hot pepper seeds. In fairness, our friends' prime ribs were cooked to order and tasty, and our linguine and lasagna were quite good as well (although a little on the skimpy side portion-wise for the price compared to similar area restaurants).

The grilled asparagus, though, resembled long thin grass, and only the strong garlic flavor made it palatable (and then only barely). The next time the guy we guessed to be the manager wandered through our section, one of our friends attempted to ask him what kind of asparagus it was. Instead, he gave our friend the brush-off, claiming to be needed at the bar. Go, go, go, our friend responded - but please stop at our table on your way back.

Ah, but that was not to be. I watched as he took a furtive peek in our direction from the bar (remember, we were just a few feet away), then turn on his heels and head for the opposite end, where he took the back way into the kitchen never to be seen again. I must add that all four of us were appalled not only by his avoidance behavior but also by his attire. Surely, we thought, he could have picked something more appropriate than a pair of droopy cargo shorts, well-worn sneakers and a ratty baseball cap - fine for a burger joint, perhaps, but hardly what any customer we know would expect at a place like this.

Now ready to ante up, we weren't surprised to see no sign of our server (she hadn't made an appearance since bringing me the wrong entree). Finally, Jack spotted her and waved her over. She looked totally stricken until she realized all we wanted was our checks - and then the relief on her face was obvious. 

Our conclusions? Several, the first of which is the total unfairness of putting such an inexperienced and untrained server in this kind of position - a situation we lay directly at the feet of the manager and/or owner (Bar Rescue's Jon Taffer would have hung this guy out to dry). Second, the restaurant business doesn't enjoy the highest of profit margins, so satisfied customers are - or should be - a priority. If and when you make a mistake, it's imperative that you make it right - right away. At this place, making it right didn't happen for the unhappy diners at the tables next to us nor, obviously, to us. As one group left, they made it clear they won't be coming back - a sentiment we echoed as we walked out the door.

To be fair, before writing this I checked online reviews from other customers and found some wonderful comments. But I also found a goodly number whose opinions mirror ours - and that's more telling. If this place doesn't make it, I know quite a few people who won't be surprised.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Now that I'm old enough to have great-grandchildren, for the most part I've outgrown the food peccadilloes of my down-on-the-farm childhood. I now eat the crusts on bread, for instance (well, most of the time), and I no longer insist on removing the skin from a tomato before I'll eat it, as I insisted that my long-suffering mother do way back then. But still, no one would call me adventurous when it comes to food. When my husband Jack and I saw that Pho Viez, a new "Vietnamese restaurant with a twist" had replaced a Chinese eatery we frequented in Mineral Ridge, we agreed to give it a try. Probably. Someday.

That day came on a recent Saturday night, when we were joined by frequent dining-out companions Jerry and Barb. They've both somewhat experienced at eating Vietnam food, so they were up to the task (and we figured they'd be the perfect guides to help us navigate the menu). 

Good thing. When I looked it over on the restaurant's website, I was pretty much lost. I was interested in trying something new, but some of the ingredients sounded a bit off-putting. That, in turn, made me stop and think about how much food likes and dislikes are a matter of personal perspective. Growing up, you see, I thought nothing about helping mom pick the pinfeathers off a chicken she'd just killed for dinner or chowing down on her fried brains - a relative household staple. But tripe? Tofu? Pickled daikon? I have zero frame of reference for those, so my instinct was to say, no way.

In person, we found that the restaurant's interior has remained much the same, although with a freshened-up look (photos of the main dishes above the take-out order counter are much brighter, for one thing). We'd decided to eat in as long as a table was available - which it was - and a very helpful, enthusiastic young server followed us to bring menus. Silverware and napkins are already on the tables, along with a few add-in condiments like soy sauce, and the server brought our drinks in very short order.

The "twist" referred to in the restaurant's tagline, I'm assuming, refers to the fact that in addition to Vietnamese, diners can choose Thai dishes, such as Pad Thai, as well as more familiar (to us) Chinese entrees like Lo-Mein and General Tso's chicken. The specialty is Pho, a Vietnamese beef noodle soup made by simmering beef bone, flank steak, brisket daikon and herbs for hours (a meal in and of itself, priced at $9.25 to $11.95). But going in, Jack and I both reasoned that those Chinese options would serve as a fail-safe in case we chickened out on trying a Vietnamese dish. For the record, he did exactly that - opting for his old standby, sweet and sour chicken (with fried rice, which I hasten to add he never eats; we just bring it home for me to eat the next day).

The menu isn't what I'd call extensive, but rest assured there's plenty here to satisfy most diners - and certainly those who are looking for Vietnamese fare. To start, we got two orders of the spring rolls (two for $5.95) - described as vermicelli, Romaine lettuce, bean sprouts and a choice of shrimp, pork or tofu wrapped in rice paper and served with house dipping sauce. 

When they arrived, the near transparent rice paper provided a good look at the ingredients therein, and the peanut dipping sauce was a nice contrast. Now I'll be honest here: My first bite felt like I'd bitten into a shower curtain. Add that to the discovery that cucumbers were lurking inside, and let's just say I wasn't too excited about taking a second bite. But a little poking around revealed that the cucumber was cut in long strips and easy to pull out (cucumber-loving Barb snatched them up immediately), I gave it another try - and it really was quite tasty (that peanut dipping sauce is especially wonderful). 

Will I try one again? More likely I'll stick with a more traditional (to me) crispy spring roll or six-piece dumpling, fried or steamed ($4.95). Everyone else, though, raved about them, so don't hesitate to give them a try.

For our entrees, we all picked something different, with the intent of sharing a bite or two. Barb ordered Bun (rice vermicelli noodles on a bed of lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts, cucumber, carrots, peanuts, spring roll and house fish sauce, $11.95 with a choice of meat). Jerry's choice was Pad Thai (a.k.a., Mi Zao Thai Lan), this restaurant's version of the classic Asian stir-fry of rice noodles, bean sprouts, egg, ground peanuts and chives in tamarind sauce and a choice of meat ($10-$11.95). 

Fear of the unknown almost made me go with that General Tso's chicken that I know I love, but in the end the opportunity to try something different won out and I opted for the red curry, with bell peppers, carrots, bamboo shoots and onions simmered that aforementioned coconut milk. It comes with white rice (I paid a buck more for fried rice) and a choice of tofu, chicken, beef or shrimp - perhaps thinking about my mom, it was chicken for me. The cost ranges from $10 to $12.95 depending on options, but mine ended up at $11.

Let me add here that when I see "spicy" on a menu item, I always request that mine be "as spicy as you can make it." Even then, never, ever, has any dish been too hot for me to eat. This time, though, our server fought back - arguing that there's no way I'd be able to eat their hottest version. Despite my unabashed begging, we compromised; yes, he said, they'd add a little extra heat.

When our orders were delivered, right up front we all agreed on two points: The presentation is outstanding - all the items on the plates are beautifully arranged - and, as advertised, all the ingredients are as fresh as can be. Clearly, the food here is far and away above the often overcooked Chinese buffet fare with meats of suspicious origin. Not only does everything here look fantastic, but it all tastes just-cooked as well.

I also learned rather quickly that our server probably kept me from total meltdown by insisting that I really didn't want it as hot as they could make it. In fact, there was a noticeable kick to it - enough that, after Barb ventured a tiny taste, no one else in our little party would come near it. Later, the owner explained she'd used only half a spoonful of whatever infuses the heat; and although I'm sure I could have handled a whole spoonful, it's likely that next time I order this dish I'll stick with what worked this time around. And yes, it was delicious enough to order again (and I had plenty left over to take home and enjoy the next day).

Conclusion? With no reservations, we'd say we were impressed. And here's another impressive note: Barb told us they'd eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago not long ago, and Pho Viez compares quite well. No surprise here - it just underscores my reason for starting this blog years ago: When it comes to great food, anything you can find anywhere else in the country you can find just as good - and often better - right here at home.

If you go:

Pho Viez
3971 S. Main St.
Mineral Ridge, OH 44440
(330) 349-0889

Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.

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.