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Issue Date: May 2006 Issue

The 2006 Silver Spoon Awards

Northeast Ohio's best restaurants judged in 45 categories.  Plus, our food writers share their favorite place to sit down for a bite.

Cleveland, you’ve come a long way, baby.

It’s almost hard to believe the modern fine dining revolution only began to take hold here during the last 20 years.

In 1985, Paul Minillo first enticed us with a modern and refined approach to European and Mediterranean cuisine at Little Italy’s Baricelli Inn, and Zach Bruell introduced the East Side to the West Coast’s interest in fusing Asian and American culinary traditions.

Six years later, Piccolo Mondo became ground zero for another revolution in Northeast Ohio, as talented young chefs and managers turned Carl Quagliata’s Warehouse District gamble into the hottest dining destination in town.

With the increasing success of trendy new dishes and techniques, other young chefs previously dispersed across the country returned to their native city, hoping we were ready to accept more than brats and peirogies (not that we don’t still love both).

Fantastic eateries began to spring up in the suburbs and local groups such as Hyde Park and Hospitality Restaurants (Cabin Club, Salmon Dave’s, Blue Point, etc.) brought concepts from Chicago and beyond back to our ZIP codes.

In the later ’90s, long-abandoned urban areas flourished as dining and entertainment meccas, with restaurateurs following Piccolo Mondo to the Warehouse District and Michael and Liz Symon’s Lola into Tremont. Some of our best chefs, such as Symon and Minillo, have attracted national attention for themselves and our great city by the lake.

So, here we are today. I like to think that Clevelanders’ tastes have become even more cosmopolitan and refined. I believe, in my chef’s heart, that really good cuisine and distinctive local restaurants still have the opportunity to take root and flourish in our native soil. The dining revolution is, and hopefully always will be, still under way.

Bruell is back with Parallax, the hottest new restaurant in Tremont, while Piccolo alumni such as Tom Quick, Symon, Mike Long and Ron Seballos have continued to evolve, bringing our taste buds along for the ride.

Hudson, the city of my youth, now boasts three fantastic, upscale dining destinations as Vue and Downtown 140 join the iconic Inn at Turner’s Mill. Excellent, independent cuisine-driven steak houses have sprouted all around town, an answer to our deep-seated Midwestern need for meat and potatoes: Delmonico’s Steakhouse in Independence, XO Prime Steaks in the Warehouse District, and Beachwood’s Red the Steakhouse, the newest offering from Moxie’s Jonathan Bennett and Brad Friedlander.

Our palates, too, are evolving as we embrace offerings from the exotic culinary traditions of Thailand, Vietnam, Lebanon, India and Japan. If someone had told me five years ago that I would someday be craving Vietnamese pho noodles over french fries, I would have been more than a bit skeptical.

Sushi Rock has scored big with its second location on the East Side with scores of former perch-fry patrons now tucking into raw tuna, while Taza, the grown-up sister of the Aladdin’s restaurants, offers a Middle Eastern menu that delights meat eaters and vegetarians alike.

Some of these restaurants may have made your list of favorites, but all of them, and many more, deserve your business. Each time we patronize the new place we’ve been hearing about or return to an old favorite, we are making a commitment to a stronger and better dining scene in Northeast Ohio. I hope that you are as interested as I am to see which area restaurants earned the accolades of your fellow readers, so that you, in turn, can pick up a fork and find out for yourself what makes each one worthy of note.

Because the people who own, staff and stake their lifeblood in these local eateries await the results of the 2006 Silver Spoons, hoping for the vindication of the vox populi. While no amount of press can assure the success of an eatery, we can by dining out. In the end, every person with a fork is a critic.

Back in 2001, I closed my own restaurant, MacLaren’s Cuisine, after two years of rave reviews and too often empty seats. Five years later, people still occasionally say they loved the place. (To which I always answer, “Oh, you were the ones.”) It breaks my heart to see good local concepts closing and national chains expanding.

I remember, all too recently, visiting Doug Petkovic at Theory. As the once-proud venture faltered and began to sink around him, I found myself uttering a useless, “I know what it’s like.” Truly, ours is a difficult voyage aboard an unsteady ship in the most tempestuous of waters.
These servers, chefs, managers, bartenders and others who do this are the warrior poets of the kitchen, fiercely committed men and women forging instantaneous art out of raw ingredients, skill and fire.

Restaurants, and the people who make their livelihoods within them, are one of the finest parts of our community, creating what sociologists call a “third place” beyond our homes and workplaces. These third places give us a chance to reconnect with our families, friends and loved ones, our present and past, and to those important moments that are somehow captured on our tongues, just as in our minds. Food and the traditions that surround the meal are powerful caches of memory, and restaurants are the depository of that essence.

So enjoy the 2006 Silver Spoon Awards, and when you have finished, reserve an evening out with your dream girl or boy, your mother, father, children or someone whose dinner conversation makes you feel wittier than usual. During this coming year, be part of the revolution. Eat, drink, laugh, remember, reconnect and help dining in Cleveland continue to grow, evolve and endure.

— Greg MacLaren

Editor’s Note: Ballots were bound into subscriber copies of the December 2005 issue and available online at Results were verified by accounting firm Meaden & Moore.

Best New Restaurant: Vue

Hudson’s Vue may be the first restaurant in our history to overhaul its culinary staff between voting and publication of the Silver Spoon Awards. But the move does nothing to diminish the accomplishment. After a two-week hiatus this winter, Vue returned with Robert Ledzianowski, formerly chef de cuisine at One Walnut, replacing Gregg Korney as executive chef. And the new plan already seems to be working. The menu has been freshly reimagined, while prices have generally been lowered across the board. An attractive bistro menu is in place for the lively and well-stocked bar, which offers live music on Fridays and Saturdays. Where Korney drew inspiration from the flavors of the Orient, Ledzianowski’s cuisine favors an upscale blend of the finest American, Spanish and Italian influences. We enjoyed dishes ranging from an interesting appetizer of warm Taleggio with a salad of wilted frisee, bacon lardons and quail eggs to a delicious, sausage-wrapped pork tenderloin with sweet potato gnocchi. Ledzianowski’s impressive cuisine blends well with his tony new surroundings — one of the area’s best-looking dining spaces. If judged purely by looks alone, Vue should be considered a world-class eatery. Fortunately, a stellar wine list and an extremely professional and adept service staff, both under the direction of general manager Michael Tomaselli, move the experience beyond the aesthetic and earn this standout eatery the distinction of being our readers’ favorite addition to Northeast Ohio’s dining scene.
— Greg MacLaren


1. Vue
2. Parallax

A winter switch at Vue saw former One Walnut chef Robert Ledzianowski replace Gregg Korney and a freshly imagined menu that brought lower prices and traded Asian flavors for a blend of the finest American, Spanish and Italian influences. And even though this all happened after our voters cast their ballots for this year’s best new restaurant, our recent visit found Vue 2.0 on par with the original.
Zach Bruell’s reappearance on the city’s restaurant scene, Parallax, was a close second. The Tremont eatery’s minimalist decor and dishes that leap from grilled chicken with watercress to Asian black cod to some of the city’s freshest sushi make this one of the West Side’s destination eateries.


1. Blue Point Grille
2. Lockkeepers
3. Classics

After dropping out of the Top 3 last year, Blue Point Grille is back on top, proving the Warehouse District eatery still delivers one of the city’s best dining experiences eight years after opening its doors at St. Clair Avenue and West Sixth Street. Lockkeepers in Valley View retains the No. 2 position it finished at last year, while Classics rounds out the pack, making the list for the first time since the Cleveland favorite’s rebirth at the InterContinental Hotel and Conference Center.


1. Yours Truly
2. Aladdin’s

Yours Truly celebrates its 25th anniversary by retaking first place from last year’s winner and fellow mini-chain Aladdin’s.

1. Chipotle

By Cuisine


1. Blue Point Grille
2. Mitchell’s Fish Market
3. Blake’s Seafood Grill

For the eighth year, Blue Point Grille tops our seafood category, which the restaurant has hooked since its first year in business. Mitchell’s Fish Market and Blake’s Seafood Grill also repeat their 2005 finishes.


1. Sans Souci
2. Chez Francois
3. Classics

Sans Souci is “without concern” about taking this category for its 14th year running, while Classics and Vermilion’s Chez Francois swap second and third place from last year. Now that famed French chef Guillaume Brard has departed Classics, we’ll be watching to see if his former sous chefs, now at the helm, will prove themselves contenders.


1. Ristorante Giovanni’s
2. Trattoria on the Hill
3. Mama Santa’s

Beachwood’s Ristorante Giovanni’s wins for a third year running. Little Italy’s Trattoria on the Hill once again falls just shy of taking top billing while fellow Little Italy location Mama Santa’s claims third.

1. tie: Brio Tuscan Grille/
The Olive Garden


1. Cafe Tandoor
2. Saffron Patch
3. tie: Maharaja/Mughal

Now with locations in Cleveland Heights, Westlake and Aurora, no part of Greater Cleveland is denied the rich spices of Cafe Tandoor, which finishes on top for a fifth year.


1. Jade Tree
2. tie: Pearl of The Orient/
Hunan on Coventry

Lake County voters put Jade Tree on the list and pushed it just past perennial first-place finisher Pearl of the Orient, which has both East and West side locations. Hunan on Coventry — a list fixture — finishes third.


1. Shuhei
2. tie: Otani/Sushi Rock

The traditional decor and authentic cuisine prompted voters to give Shuhei its second consecutive first-place finish. Mayfield Heights favorite Otani enters the list this year for the first time since its 2001 first-place finish, tying with Sushi Rock, which extended its trendy take on Japanese to the East Side in 2005 with a Beachwood location.

1. Benihana


1. Lemon Grass
2. #1 Pho
3. Pad Thai


1. Mad Greek
2. Niko’s on Detroit

A battle of mythic proportions arises as voters pay homage to two Greek restaurants that rule their respective sides of the crooked river. The East Side’s Mad Greek (which also serves Indian food) wins this battle, but the strong showing by Niko’s on Detroit proves the Zeuslike power this Lakewood eatery has over the palates of Greek cuisine lovers living west of the Cuyahoga.


1. Aladdin’s Eatery
2. Nate’s Deli

Aladdin’s magic carpet ride continues, as the chain expands while owning this category. The only sign of competition on the horizon may be its newly opened upscale spin-off at Eton Chagrin Boulevard: Taza Lebanese Grill.


1. Frank Sterle’s
Slovenian Country House
2. Balaton
3. tie: Der Braumeister/
Sokolowski’s University Inn


1. Mallorca
2. Viva Barcelona
3. Marbella

Mallorca, the first eatery in the city to introduce us to upscale Spanish and Portuguese cuisine, once again runs away with this category by claiming several times the votes of Viva Barcelona, which traded spaces with last year’s second-place finisher Marbella (also run by the owners of Mallorca).


1. Luchita’s
2. tie: Lopez/Nuevo Acapulco

Luchita’s easily wins the category again, while Lopez, a third-place finisher in a nearly identical list for the last two years, ascends to a tie but fails to take the whole enchilada from Nuevo Acapulco.


1. 83 Degrees Caribbean
2. Rachel’s Caribbean

A new combined category and solid Caribbean cuisine options leaves Lozada’s Restaurant — the city’s most visible and popular Puerto Rican eatery — off this year’s list.

1. Bahama Breeze

Food & Drink


1. Tony Roma’s
2. Damon’s
3. Smokey Bones

The win is nearly posthumous for Tony Roma’s, which put three of its four area locations on the slab after voting was tallied. Will Roma romancers venture to the chain’s lone local outpost in Brunswick or does a growing number of barbecue outlets make this anyone’s game in ’07?


1. Hyde Park Prime
2. Ruth’s Chris Steak House
3. Morton’s, the Steakhouse


1. Mama Santa’s
2. Geraci’s
3. Danny Boy’s

East Side landmarks Mama Santa’s and Geraci’s have taken turns slicing out victories for years, while Danny Boy’s third appearance in five years shows the West Side can still twirl dough with the best of them.


1. Heck’s Cafe
2. Yours Truly
3. Burgers-N-Beer


1. Slyman’s
2. Max’s Deli
3. Corky & Lenny’s

This is one city where corned beef is king and size does matter. Max’s and Corky’s sandwiches can compete, but only Slyman’s offers a heaping mound of corned beef that’s as intimidating as it is delicious. They don’t offer the brown bag for nothing.


1. Panera Bread
2. Corky & Lenny’s
3. The Olive Garden


1. Blue Canyon Kitchen *
2. tie: Lockkeepers/
Salmon Dave’s

1. TGI Friday’s


1. Max’s Deli
2. The Cheesecake Factory
3. Baker’s Square

Worries that national heavyweight The Cheesecake Factory would cakewalk its way into Max’s long-held first place slot were unfounded — one glance into Max’s dessert case in Rocky River gives you the entrancing reason why.


1. Tommy’s
2. Aladdin’s Eatery
3. Johnny Mango World Cafe


1. Lockkeepers
2. Blue Point Grille
3. Molinari’s


1. Winking Lizard
2. Metropolitan Cafe


1. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
2. Willoughby Brewing Co.
3. Rocky River Brewing Co.


1. Winking Lizard
2. Great Lakes Brewing Co.
3. Willoughby Brewing Co.

The Winking Lizard’s “World Tour of Beers” pushes it to the front of the pack, but a faction of voters chose local flavor over sheer quantity, casting their votes for homegrown favorites Great Lakes Brewing Co. and Willoughby Brewing Co.

Specific Interest


1. Michael Symon,
Lolita /Lola Bistro
2. Brandt Evans, Blue Canyon
Kitchen * Tavern
3. Doug Katz, fire food
& drink

It’s little wonder with his appearance on “Iron Chef,” new Tremont eatery Lolita and the hotly anticipated opening of the transplanted Lola Bistro on East Fourth Street that Symon would take top honors for a fifth year running. Blue Canyon Kitchen * Tavern’s Brandt Evans claims the No. 2 spot once again just as he takes his Rocky Mountain lodge dining concept that is packing the house in Twinsburg to a second location in Montana.


1. tie: Blue Canyon Kitchen *
Tavern/Blue Point Grille
2. Classics


1. Pier W
2. Century at The Ritz-Carlton
3. tie: Blue Canyon Kitchen *
Tavern/Inn on Coventry


1. tie: The Baricelli Inn/
Pier W
2. Sans Souci

The Baricelli Inn rightfully bounds onto the list, showing it snares our readers’ affections as much as perennial first-place finisher Pier W. Sans Souci, which usually finishes in the Top 3, is another winner with its incredible Public Square views. Though we’d advise booking a table with that special someone here any time, the restaurant’s holiday views of the downtown lights are peerless.


1. Champps
2. Winking Lizard
3. Damon’s Grill


1. Gamekeepers Taverne
2. Three Birds


1. Blue Point Grille
2. Shooters on the Water
3. Johnny’s Downtown

Blue Point Grille is a celebrity magnet, whether it’s LeBron stopping in for a pregame meal or Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson popping by after a long day of “American Idol” auditions. Shooters’ riverside patio makes it a natural environment for scoping out the crowd, while a week of lunches at Johnny’s Downtown provides steady sightings of city power brokers.


1. Yours Truly
2. tie: Park City Diner/


1. Ristorante Giovanni’s
2. Blue Point Grille
3. Hyde Park Prime


1. Pier W
2. Blake’s Seafood Grill
3. Ponte Vecchio

It almost sounds like a punch line when you say the best way to see Cleveland is from Lakewood, but the breathtaking view of the downtown skyline from a few miles west down the Lake Erie shore is sure to let the air out of any joke. Blake’s Seafood Grill’s Chagrin Falls location reclaims its second-place spot, while newcomer Ponte Vecchio’s perch from atop the remains of the Old Superior Viaduct takes third.


1. tie: Blue Canyon
Kitchen * Tavern/
Bravo! Cucina Italiano
2. Pier W



1. Corky and Lenny’s
2. Jack’s Deli
3. Max’s Deli


1. Corbo’s Dolceria
2. Presti’s Bakery
3. Panera Bread

Little Italy’s one-two punch of Corbo’s Dolceria and Presti’s Bakery claim the top slots in a switch of last year’s top finishers, while Panera Bread sneaks into the category to unseat last year’s local three-way tie.


1. Heinen’s
2. Minotti’s Wine & Liquor
3. West Point Market

Great wines under $10, a deep lineup of premium bottles and store locations spanning Greater Cleveland give Heinen’s a slight margin over the West Side’s Minotti’s Wine & Liquor locations and Akron’s West Point Market in a tight finish.


1. Panera Bread
2. The Stone Oven
Bakery Cafe
3. On the Rise

The Panera Bread chain claims the first-place slot for the seventh consecutive year.


1. Heinen’s
2. tie: The Baricelli Inn/
West Point Market/
West Side Market

5 Favorites
by Carl Musacchio

 Bucci’s, Berea — One of the best buys around. Standard Italian-American fare is handled very well — manicotti and veal Francais are as good as you’ll find anywhere in town — and seasonal specialties are outstanding. Don’t miss the grouper, especially if it’s offered in a lobster cream sauce or teamed with rock shrimp. The “lighter fare” menu offers a great prime rib dinner for $13.95, complete with salad, horseradish sauce, baked potato and some of the best bread in town. They also have my favorite cannoli anywhere.   Baricelli Inn, Little Italy This culinary landmark occupies an architectural one: a century-old brownstone mansion on University Circle. Cuisine ranges far beyond the usual Italian-American red sauce specialties. Chef/owner Paul Minillo is especially serious about artisinal salumi (cured pork products) and cheeses (the restaurant boasts its own affinage, a cheese storage and curing area). It’s expensive and usually worth it.

Pier W, Lakewood — Always good, it’s been remodeled, redesigned and reincarnated — and it’s better than ever. Chef Anthony Phenis’ menu draws on culinary traditions ranging from Mediterranean to East Asian to Latin American. Appetizers are great, main courses are outstanding and the mini desserts are a treat. Try the halibut tacos or the bouillabaisse. For dessert, sample the chocolate macadamia nut tart.

Lockkeepers, Valley View — Beautiful dining and banquet rooms feature decor inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in a canal-side setting near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Chef Pamela Waterman offers steaks and chops as good as you’ll get anywhere. Venison osso buco is outstanding as are seafood selections such as peekytoe crab cakes, lobster gratin and crab-stuffed sole. The wine list is a perennial award winner.  Blue Canyon Kitchen * Tavern, Twinsburg — Just sitting in chef Brandt Evans’ beautiful restaurant, in the style of one of the grand old National Park lodges, is a treat. The creative and innovative food usually lives up to the promise. Try the pretzel-crusted trout or the yellowfin tuna two ways. Don’t miss the Bibb lettuce wedge salad. It’s a big, busy restaurant though, and some have complained of being lost in the shuffle.

Reborn Restaurants
by Carl Musacchio

Pier W, Lakewood — This 40-year-old classic reopened in 2005 after being closed nine months for a $3 million refurbishing. The interior has been redesigned to give just about every table access to the great view over Lake Erie. Chef Phenis has kept many of the favorites and added a number of great new dishes as well.

Oggi, North Royalton — Chef/owner Carmela Delbusso left Portofino in Strongsville last year to take over this spot in North Royalton. The restaurant serves excellent versions of Italian-American restaurant classics. Don’t miss the penne pasta with vodka sauce.
 Palmer’s Grille, Strongsville — Another old favorite that reopened under new ownership, with a new menu, in 2005. Steaks and ribs are excellent — give the espresso-rubbed rib-eye a try — but don’t overlook the fish and seafood entres such as grilled scallops with jasmine rice in chipotle cream sauce.

 Raffine, Medina — Formerly the Glass Garden, this spot reopened in 2005 with a new chef/owner. The restaurant specializes in outstanding renditions of old favorites and classics like veal Oscar and steak Diane.

Great Views
by Carl Musacchio

Pier W, Lakewood — The view across Lake Erie toward the Cleveland skyline is the best offered by any local restaurant, with the possible exception of... 

Water’s Edge Deli and Grill, Lakewood — This waterfront favorite is on the ground floor of a Gold Coast apartment building. It offers much the same view as the nearby Pier W, but with much less strain on the budget. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Blue Canyon Kitchen * Tavern, Twinsburg — Sit in the main dining room near the great windows and enjoy a sweeping panorama of the Ohio countryside as it rolls gently toward the Pennsylvania line.  Mapleside Apple Farm, Brunswick — Part of a rambling fruit stand, bakery, ice cream parlor and gift shop complex on a high ridge in Medina County. The homestyle food is good, not great, but if you score a table near the window, you can see for miles. It’s breathtaking in autumn.

Best New Restaurant: Runner- Up : Parallax

Twenty-one years after ushering Cleveland’s dining scene into the modern era with his incredibly popular Z Contemporary Cuisine, Zach Bruell, along with partner David Schneider, has returned with Parallax, arguably one of the busiest spots in Tremont. With clean lines, minimalist design and its feng shui feel, the restaurant is a very visual interpretation of the contemporary East-meets-West theme that weaves through Bruell’s cuisine. To complement his culinary arsenal, Bruell added a skillfully staffed sushi bar to his new concept, bringing extra traffic in the door and keeping the bar filled on most nights. The dining menu, one of the largest in Tremont even without the sushi selections, features several favorites from the old days (try the grilled chicken breast with watercress, pommes frites and beurre blanc) along with some new dishes, including the udon noodle appetizer and the Asian black cod with miso glaze and sauted bok choy, that showcase the skill and creativity of the eatery’s talented young kitchen staff. Portions here are uniformly hearty, a refreshing change in a time when many restaurants have begun to downsize their dishes in the name of art. Schneider’s wine list, possibly sculpted by the sensibilities he gained at the helm of Chicago’s Bin 36, is extensive without being overly large and offers several interesting and unfamiliar selections. A generally excellent staff of serving veterans, also working under Schneider’s watchful yet congenial eye, is efficient and attentively assures one of an enjoyable evening. While the times may have finally caught up to Zach Bruell’s cuisine, it has not been surpassed and is as thoroughly contemporary now as it was ahead of its time before.

— Greg MacLaren

5 Favorites
by Greg MacLaren

Flying Fig, Ohio City — Karen Small’s cool-without-trying-to-be eatery is one of my longtime favorites. I love the Fig’s happy hour and its small plates. The inventive menu changes frequently, though favorites often reappear. Some of mine include the roasted pork empanadas on the tapas menu or the double-duck entre, though I have never had a disappointing meal (this is really saying something).

Lola/Lolita, Downtown/Tremont — Closed for more than a year (and hopefully reopening downtown any day now), Michael and Liz Symon’s Lola gets picked on past merit, but said merit is more than enough. Michael’s deft touch with cuisine is coupled with a sense of adventure and culinary joie de vivre that have made him the biggest thing to come out of Cleveland’s dining scene since Chef Boyardee. Lolita’s Mediterranean offerings also easily deserve inclusion in this list, but I can hardly let the Symons hog two spots out of five.

Fahrenheit, Tremont — With Chef Rocco Whalen forming a new owner-ship group with the guys from the Blind Pig and Southside, big things may be in store for this popular Tremont eatery. The room is vibrant yet comfortable. And Whalen’s cuisine — whether his widely touted, Puck-inspired pizzas or more trendy dishes such as the rare beef carpaccio rolls, Chinatown chicken spring rolls or tempura-battered chicken and waffles with truffle honey — is upscale yet approachable. Plus, Fahrenheit’s martinis are some of the biggest and best in the city.

Russo’s, Peninsula — Chef David Russo’s eponymous eatery is worth the drive for both his excellent Italian food and, more so, his wonderful renderings of Cajun gumbo, and jambalaya that he mastered while working at K-Paul’s, Commander’s Palace and Emeril’s in New Orleans. Grab a seat at the horseshoe-shaped bar to see a real-life restaurant reality show in the open kitchen.

#1 Pho, Downtown — Easily the city’s most consistent and approachable Vietnamese restaurant, #1 Pho offers consistently great noodles and other standouts such as fried pork spring rolls and pork and vegetable rice paper rolls. Exotic beverages, including Taro bubble tea and Vietnamese coffee, round out a great meal for Asian food fans who are looking to break out of the Chinese-Japanese rut.

Instant Classics
by Greg MacLaren

Red the Steakhouse, Beachwood — Brad Friedlander, Jonathan Bennett and the gang at Moxie have outdone themselves with this upscale steak joint that is easily the best of its breed in the ever-expanding steak house market. While a visit isn’t cheap, it’s worth it for the seriously tasty steaks, general culinary acumen and polished service. An instant classic.

Cowboy Food & Drink, Bainbridge and Mentor — Mike Longo, the man behind popular East Side eateries Market Square Bistro and Firefly, decided to bring a taste of the Longhorn State to the East Side with his tribute to the barbecued cuisine of the Southern roadhouse and watering hole. The beer here is frosty cold and the barbecued specialties smoked to perfection. These joints are a great local answer to the chains invading our area.

Aura Global Cuisine, Broadview Heights
— Chef Jihad Hachicho’s Broadview Heights outpost presents a distant but welcome location for fine dining in an area of Northeastern Ohio better known for Italian restaurants and chains. Expect fantastic food and better service. The chef is a master of hospitality in every conceivable way.

Old-fashioned Values
by Greg MacLaren

Whether no tablecloth, bar top or in-your-lap dining, these Northeast Ohio gems are what I craved while living in Europe.

Swenson’s, Akron area — The last of a dying breed, this chain of extremely busy drive-up hamburger stands has been an Akron fave since just after World War II. The burgers, freshly seared with a hint of brown sugar (maybe) and other closely guarded secret ingredients, are a true original, especially the signature double-decker Galley Boy with its two tasty sauces. Everything is cooked fresh to order from the original recipes that made Swenson’s great, and the fountain still offers some of the best shakes around.

Luigi’s Pizza, Akron — As you may have noticed, I grew up in Akron and have fond memories of the food there. Regardless, Luigi’s Pizza has been cooking up some of the best pies and no-nonsense Italian-American food since my grandparents were dating. The place is mobbed on weekend nights with a line stretching out the door until the wee hours. For starters, try a tossed salad with a mountain of freshly shredded cheese or their magnificent meatballs. Please note, Luigi’s does not except any credit cards.

Lucia’s Restaurant & Lounge, Canton — For 53 years, Lucia’s has served as Northeast Ohio’s answer to great Italian steak houses like Gene and Georgetti’s in Chicago. The ultimate best-kept secret among area steak lovers, Lucia’s offers hand-trimmed and perfectly cooked steaks that are among the best I’ve had anywhere, while the secret recipes and “Godfather”-era decor make the Italian specialties taste even better.

Marta’s, Euclid — As the son of Slavic immigrants, it breaks my heart that there aren’t more eateries left to serve what I believe to be some of the best food in the world. With apologies to Sokolowski’s, Frank Sterle’s and others, my favorite Eastern European eatery must be Marta’s. Serving up some seriously awesome goulash, paprikash, schnitzel and sauerbraten (to name a few), this is the food I remember from my grandma’s kitchen.

The Moosehead Saloon, Westlake — When the missus and I are craving bar food par excellence, we head to this clever little place on Dover Center Road. More “Northern Exposure” than Northern Ohio, this bar and restaurant offers creative sandwiches, good soups and a nice, small selection of competently prepared entres along with some ice-cold beers from the frozen North.

Best Seafood/ Best Fine Dining/ Best Plate Presentation/ Best People Watching: Blue Point Grille

A heaping mound of Alaska king crab legs rests atop a bed of creamy lobster mashed potatoes and a stack of Szechwan green beans. Forget being like Mike. If you truly want to feast like a king, head to Blue Point Grille and order LeBron’s favorite meal.

The Warehouse District eatery has been one of the NBA star’s pet restaurants since his final year playing at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He chose the place as the site of an ESPN interview, popped by on New Year’s Eve and has been known to bring friends and family with him to enjoy an evening on the restaurant’s mezzanine.

No matter the entre (we’re told he sometimes opts for strip steak or the not-on-the-menu brown sugar-crusted salmon), a juice drink the restaurant specially concocted for LeBron usually accompanies it in an etched Cleveland Cavaliers glass.

“He did in fact drink one of these the other night before his shot that won the game [vs. Charlotte],” Blue Point Grille general manager Sam Lindsley says with a sly smile. The bottom of the drink is deep red fading to orange halfway up the glass. Served with a cherry and an orange slice, the concoction appears to be a palate-blasting mix of fruit juices that hints at orange, cherry, passion fruit and pineapple flavors, though the restaurant is tight-lipped about the ingredient list.

“That’s a trade secret,” Lindsley says. “We put our mixologists on it to make sure it has the most nutrients and the highest level of vitamins.”

Sampling the pile of king crab legs, it’s clear why Blue Point Grille has dominated the Silver Spoon seafood category for years. The generous portions are packed with tender and sweet white meat that make the marginal amount of work it requires to crack off the shell a minor obstacle. The can’t-miss lobster mashed potatoes — the restaurant’s most-popular side, Lindsley says — appeal to our city’s meat-and-potato instincts and the Asian-tinged green beans give us an airtight reason to eat our vegetables.

During its eight years at the heart of one of downtown’s most-popular nightlife districts, Blue Point Grille’s solid reputation and beautiful dining room have made it a destination for the people we love to watch. So, whether it’s Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson having dinner following “American Idol” auditions or the New York Yankees sitting down for a road meal, you never know whom you’ll bump into at St. Clair Avenue and West Sixth Street. Maybe even our own king of the court.
— Jim Vickers

5 Favorites
by Laura Taxel

fire food & drink, Shaker Square — Doug Katz and his crew are wizards of the flame, turning basic meat and fish into food of a higher order — tandoor roasted rib-eye, sauted black cod and braised lamb. Sides are tasty and unusual: caramelized onion-Brie strudel, garlic-mushroom bread pudding, dried cherry compote. Katz’s kitchen has been putting sizzle into our eating options since opening in 2001.

Fahrenheit, Tremont — Urban swank and style are on the menu along with cleverly conceived eats that are full of fun and impeccably executed. Cavatelli with duck confit and smoked Gouda is a standout, as are seared scallops with crawfish butter. Cashew “candy” on a salad and lobster mac-and-cheese are tongue-in-cheek tasty. The bar is great for a nightcap and a nibble.

Parallax, Tremont — A foodie destination and a welcome comeback for longtime fans of chef/co-owner Zach Bruell, who runs the restaurant with wine expert David Schneider. Fish is the specialty here, in uncomplicated yet dazzling preparations with an Asian attitude. Miso-glazed black cod is practically perfect in every way. The minimalist look of the space keeps with the kitchen’s pared-down-to-essentials philosophy.

Battuto, Little Italy — The regional cuisines of Italy inspire chef/owners Mark and Giovanna Daverio. But their contemporary versions of classic dishes — zuppa di pesce, house made bucatini pasta all’Amatriciana, and veal piccata — sing a song all their own. They successfully pair sophisticated dining and a great wine list with a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The renovated storefront space is lovely.

Sun Luck Garden, Cleveland Heights — Egg rolls, lo mein and governor’s chicken share the menu with East-meets-West dishes such as Peking duck wraps, blue nosed bass with asparagus and black bean sauce, and apricot-stuffed pork tenderloin. It’s not your average Chinese restaurant, and owner/chef Annie Chiu keeps her guests happy with a selection of fusion specialties, great wines and fabulous desserts.

New Restaurants
by Laura Taxel

Sarava, Shaker Square — The street plate menu of tasty Brazilian-style finger foods, which go well with mojitos, margaritas and sangria, make it tapas time, anytime. For those with heartier appetites, specialties da casa are sure to satisfy — try the bouillabaisse or xim xim, a chicken and shrimp dish made with coconut milk and malaguetta peppers. The place is gorgeous and big, but designed with lots of cozy, appealing corners. Sidewalk dining is an added plus in good weather.

Lolita, Tremont – Michael and Liz Symon have a knack for generating buzz, and once again it’s well deserved. Greek and Italian cooking get him going but then his free-spirited creativity kicks in and we get braised veal breast with crispy artichokes, roasted striped bass with lamb sausage, and pork saltimbocca with sweet potato gnocchi. This cool spot with cutting-edge food satisfies rather than mystifies, a terrific selection of wines by the glass as well as the bottle, and prices that seem to say, “come back again soon — you can afford it.”

Le Bistro du Beaujolais, North Olmsted — George and Claude D’Arras, who had a restaurant of the same name in Westlake that closed a couple of years ago, are back returning simple French food to the shores of Lake Erie. They have renovated a century home and the two small dining areas seem just the right place to enjoy mussels cooked in white wine, melt-in-your mouth onion tarts, sweetbreads, coq au vin and creme brulee. Let George choose your wine — he knows his grapes. A seat on the patio is a must for a balmy evening.

Battiste & Dupree Cajun Grill, South Euclid — With only four tables and some counter seating, this little spot, open since February 2005, barely qualifies as a restaurant. But Junior Battiste does everything with upscale flair, and when he plates his gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee, hey look as good as they taste. You miss out on the picture-perfect presentations when you get take-out, but the zesty flavors travel well.

5 Places Changing How We Eat
by Laura Taxel

The chefs purchase from small local, organic, and artisan producers; run made-from-scratch kitchens; and push the culinary envelope.

Flying Fig, Ohio City — Chef/owner Karen Small designs her menu around the harvest schedule. When her farmer tells her green beans are ready, she’ll find five different delectable ways to use them. She “shops” for the best — ricotta from a boutique cheesemaker in New York; apples from Buster and Jeanne Woolf’s orchard in East Rochester, Ohio; bleu cheese crafted at a family-owned Massachusetts dairy. Her Asian and Mediterranean influenced dishes — seared scallops, gingered beef short ribs, sesame crusted calamari, and pappardelle with braised veal and tomato ragout — have kept customers coming for six years.

Parker’s New American Bistro, Ohio City — Chef Andy Strizak carries on the revolution launched by his pioneering mentor and the restaurant’s owner Parker Bosley. Because they deal directly with area farmers, these guys are doing more than making dinner — they’re helping keep family farms in business and thus saving green space from the ravages of urban sprawl. You may not care that your pork chop comes from one of Ed Snavely’s heritage breed pigs raised on Curly Tail Farm in Fredricktown, but when you pop a bite of it topped with blueberry port sauce into your mouth, there’s no doubt you’re eating something special.

Great Lakes Brewing Co., Ohio City — Kurt Steeber, who arrived on the job a year ago, brings high standards, a big talent and an impressive resume with him. He feeds his jones for all-natural, seasonal, organic and sustainably raised and produced ingredients with things such as Amish chickens, exotic mushrooms from Killbuck Valley Farms in Chester Township and fresh-picked herbs and vegetables from the restaurant’s own plots at the nearby Kentucky Community Garden.

Carrie Cerino’s, North Royalton — This traditional Italian ristorante is a local landmark, but the founder’s grandson Dominic is breaking new ground. To re-create the true flavors of Old World cooking, he’s switching from industrialized products to heritage breed pork, organic chicken and free-range eggs. Throw in the sausage, pasta, sauces and stocks he makes in his own kitchen, and the finished dishes are paradise on a plate.

Baricelli Inn, Little Italy — Chef Paul Minnillo’s latest culinary crusade focuses on cheese. The restaurant owner isn’t just serving Brie made by the masters of Meaux, a little French town, or Hudson Valley sheep milk Camembert from one the foremost American artisanal producers: He’s aging disks and wheels himself, lovingly tending each one to the moment of absolute readiness in his specially designed cooler. Have the finished product as an appetizer or dessert. Everything else on his menu is consistently executed with equal care and attention.

Best Japanese: Shuhei

Step away from the grocery store sushi. We know the supermarket works in a pinch, but the silvery soy packets and serrated piece of green plastic meant to mimic shiso, the Japanese herb traditionally used as sushi garnish, always make it seem a little flat. Sushi is an art form, so if you’re eating it from a plastic container, you’re not getting the full experience. Luckily, we have plenty of options for authentic Japanese cuisine and one of the best is Beachwood’s Shuhei. Located on the backside of a nondescript office building along Chagrin Boulevard, look for a small sign near the street to find your way to the red awning that marks the entrance. Step inside and the silk-screen prints, kimono-clad servers and sushi bar set the right mood. A deep menu offers plenty of sushi and sashimi options alongside noodle bowls and poultry dishes that provide alternatives for those not interested in dining on raw fish. Our culture’s habit of dining on seafood that emits a strong smell may be what puts Westerners off sashimi (the proper term for raw fish — anything prepared with vinegared rice is considered sushi). But the freshest varieties will seem to melt in your mouth with a delicious punch of flavor and no unpleasant smell. Shuhei’s is flat-out excellent. We went with the sushi and sashimi bento, a traditional Japanese box lunch. The presentation was outstanding with elegantly-arranged tuna, yellowtail, salmon, flounder and shrimp nigiri (a piece of fish resting atop a block of rice) as well as several pieces of maki (fish or vegetables and rice rolled into a ring of pressed seaweed) and a mix of sashimi (fresh, raw, chilled and sliced fish) that included a few surprising yet delicious slices of octopus.
— JV

Best Martini: New York Spaghetti House Chocolate Martini

There are many reasons to love New York Spaghetti House: that brown sauce, the mob-boss-meeting atmosphere, those red-checkered tablecloths. When the place shut down a few years ago after more than 50 years in business, those in the know lined up for a last supper. Now it’s back and once again providing an underground spot for lunchtime tartes and evening pretheater meals. And it’s given us one more reason for amore: the $5 chocolate martini, eternally billed as “the drink of the day.” The extravagant little number, which won our Web-exclusive round of Silver Spoon voting for Best Martini, positively froths with liquor — two varieties of flavored vodka, Godiva liqueur (the white or the dark) and creme de cocoa — and goes with pasta better than you’d expect. Your boss may tell you the three-martini lunch is a thing of the past, and connoisseurs may try to tell you the only real martini comes with just an olive and a little vermouth. Ignore them. The New York Spaghetti House and the chocolate martini are two of a kind: welcome new incarnations of old favorites.
— Amber Matheson

Best Burger: Heck's Cafe

I once ate 17 hotdogs on the Fourth of July at Coney Island, N.Y. Another time, I devoured 126 chicken wings in front of 20,000 screaming lunatics in Philadelphia. Last year, I defeated a 600-pound-bear in a pizza-eating contest on “The Big Chuck and Lil’ John Show.” I’m Coondog O’Karma, nationally-ranked competitive eater and gourmand glutton-naire. So when I was asked to tackle Heck’s Cafe’s famous burger, I bit at the chance. You see, some people know wine. Some people know cheese. I know burgers. Like Popeye’s Wimpy, they’re my favorite food and I seek out a good burger with a discerning palate and passion that matches any wine or cheese snob. Upon entering Heck’s Cafe, it seems a little formal for burgers. But it’s a brief deception as I’m led to a large, open dining area in the back of the Ohio City neighborhood restaurant. A high ceiling sets off bright yellow and green walls. A spiral staircase of hanging vines centers the room, inspiring the perfect patio-picnic ambience. I order the half-pounder without hesitation, preparing to do some serious culinary damage. It’s Goliath on a toasted bun — an open-faced charbroiled burger the size of a lawnmower wheel and coated with a heavy slab of dripping cheese. Fighting for plate space are sliced onions, lettuce, tomato and a heaping mound of fries. Definitely a two-fisted endeavor, the first bite meets my criteria in ground beef greatness: Loss of control. A great burger is like a bucking bronco — a wild ride. It should be a squishy, gushy mass of flavor that demands napkins for the dainty and stain remover for the daring. As I wash down the last of the burger, I politely sublimate my competitive eating urge to down six or seven more of them and declare Heck’s Cafe’s famous creation a winner.
— Dave “Coondog” O’Karma

Best Wine List: Lockkeepers

My experience with Lockkeepers’ award-winning wine selection begins at the table, where aptly trained servers present an oversized wine list.

With more than 30 selections available by the glass, diners have the option of sipping a crisp aperitif wine before their entre arrives. (Try the Camella Prosecco di Conegliano, a refreshing low-alcohol sparkler with just a hint of sweetness on the finish, or 2005 Gazela Vinho Verde, a Portuguese white with low alcohol, crisp acidity, lemon and lime aromas and a slight spritz.)
The main list boasts 750 selections from around the world, including a good selection of refreshing Rieslings. “It’s all about the finish,” explains Lockkeeper sommelier Chris Opewall. “Crisp and refreshing, the higher acidity makes your mouth water and prepares you for your next bite of food.”

Sure, the list is filled with impressive Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons such as Silver Oak and Opus One. But understanding that food-friendly wines come in various colors and flavors is a true sign of passion.

Seated in the elegant dining room with wine list in hand, I realized that I’m not getting the whole picture: Take a stroll in a working cellar and the bottles comes to life.

Beautifully appointed with slate floors, rich wood and earthy elements, Lockkeepers’ second-floor cellar looks like an award-winning program. Professionally sorted and cataloged bottles of wine fill every nook much like old history books in a well-established library. This is where Opewall’s passion for wine is stored.

Sure-handed and well-versed, Opewall moves through the cellar with ease, knowing where every bottle rests. Pulling a few from the shelf, we taste a bit of history together: Velvety Tandem from California and a St. George red from Greece’s Nemea region are special finds and reasonably priced.

“A good list is populated at every price level,” says Opewall. “We work to find a bottle in your price range, not the other way around.”

True to his word (and the restaurant’s passion for wine and wine service), Lockkeepers’ list shines at the $30 to $40 range.

Next time you sit down at the table, don’t forget to ask for a cellar tour.
— Marianne Frantz

Best Bartender: Seamus at The Harp

Raise your glass high in the air and salute Seamus Elbert, The Harp’s bartender for the last seven years. In our first-ever Web exclusive poll, the 33-year-old won by a landslide, leaving all other bartenders crying into their frothy mugs. From his knowledge of all things alcoholic to his charming conversation, we would love to sit at the bar and have this man pour his favorite drink (Powers Gold Label, straight up) for us anytime.— Kim Schneider

Bar time: Seamus works Wednesday and Saturday nights and “another random day” where he can wait on 400 to 500 people a night.

The beer man: You can see him pouring Harp and Guinness for most of his customers. “I’m not a big beer drinker,” he says, while noting that he does sip on an occasional Blue Moon or Smithwicks. “I enjoy Stoli vodka.”

The nutty professor: Sample his concoction, the “Electric Peanut,” a twist on a margarita with tequila, Cointreau and vodka with a splash of sour, orange juice and Blue Curacao for $5.50.
Hangover helpers: “Drink as much water as possible,” he says. “Water and time are the only things. Those magic pills — I don’t believe any of them.”

Note to the wise: Don’t ask him to make a “frou-frou” drink like a frozen daiquiri. (“It’s very time consuming and, unless you have fresh fruit, it’s hard to make it at the highest quality.”) Also, don’t raise your hand and call out his name for service. (“Any spectacle you make of yourself will only make you wait longer.”)

Big tipper: “One man ordered a Miller Lite for $2.50 and left $100.”
On being the best: “You get to meet so many people from different walks of life,” he says. “You learn how to gauge people’s attitudes. Some people want to tell you their life’s story and some just want a drink and to be left alone.”

Web-Exclusive Categories
You didn't have to be a magazine subscriber to vote in these five web-exclusive categories.

Best Coffee Shop
1. Starbucks
2. Arabica
3. Caribou Coffee

Best Breakfast
1. Yours Truly
2. Inn on Coventry
3. The Original Pancake House

Best Ice Cream
1. Mitchell’s
2. Handel’s
3. Honey Hut

Best Martini
1. N.Y. Spaghetti House
2. Pickwick & Frolic
3. Flying Fig

Best Bartender
1. Seamus Elbert
at The Harp
2. Steve Zornes
at The Boneyard
3. Mike Salamon
at boulevard blue

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