I love surprises and I really love them when the surprise turns out to be so much more than I expected. I had one of those, the moment I walked into Mojo's in Austintown. I'm not sure why, but I thought Mojo's was a bar that maybe served some good bar food. I was so wrong. Mojo's is an awesome restaurant that just happens to serve great food, amazing drinks and homemade cheesecake. There are several high back booths, tables and a bar area with a few additional tables. I was warmly welcomed by owner John Marino and his girlfriend Tammy. John is the genius behind the recipes and even more genius because he has teamed up with Tammy who happens to bake a to-die-for cheesecake and is also the "house mixologist".
John opened Mojo's in the current location about 2 years ago. It has a Classic Rock vibe, 60's and 70's, with the walls covered in artwork to match. You'll see music posters from Zappa to Zeppelin, The Beatles to The Doors. Ah, The Doors. John smiles, "I'm a big Jim Morrison/Doors fan. That's where the name Mojo's came from. Mojo Risin'." He's referring to the classic Doors hit, "L.A. Woman".
There aren't many restaurants that serve walleye so I decided to start there. A pan-fried walleye filet resting on a bed of sautèed spinach and grape tomatoes in a light butter, wine sauce. Just one bite and I was sold. Absolutely phenomenal. This is the most delicious fish dish I have ever eaten. The fish is so light and fresh, cooked to perfection. The spinach is well seasoned and the sauce takes this dish over the top. If you're not a fan of fish you've got to give it one more try with Mojo's walleye. This one has found a way into the number one position on my list.
Great food is closer than you think.
A good choice at Shale Tavern & Grille is the Tavern Beef with Smashed Redskin Potatoes. The minute Valerie placed this dish in front of me my eyes lit up as I looked up at her. "Like it's been cooking all day", she said. That's exactly what it was. If your grandma ever made beef stew that you loved, well, grandma, there's a new stew in town. The beef is so tender you can't keep it on your fork, baby carrots, onion and celery replica handbags all cooked in a delicious, yet simple, au jus. There is so much flavor packed into this dish, it's absolutely melt-in-your-mouth amazing. It's served up with a generous portion of smashed redskin potatoes and a side salad. You won't go home hungry after eating this dish, if you can actually finish it.
The XXL Reuben is a customer favorite. It's the house specialty with a GIANT helping of freshly sliced corned beef, kraut and Swiss cheese on fresh baked rye bread. It comes with thousand island dressing on the side, which I think is a must on a Reuben and let me tell you, one bite and yes, it's the best corned beef in town. It's sliced paper thin and melts in your mouth. The bread is fantastic, the meat is packed with flavor, it's so good. Sandwiches come with a pickle and, of course, even the pickles are GIANT at Kravitz. What a great sandwich. Jack also brought out a few slices of the roast turkey which you can get as a reuben in place of the corned beef which is also delicious. Kravitz is "the only place in the city that cooks corned beef and uses a traditional corned beef." "It takes 3 hours to cook", Jack tells me, "and cooks down to about 40% of the original size". So how does he get it so tender? "It's how you cut it. Not everybody here is allowed to cut the corned beef. You have to learn how to do it." The turkey is also roasted in house as is the roast beef.
I could only eat half of my Reuben before my belly meter was teetering on full so I could only try to imagine who could possibly eat that GIANT corned beef sandwich that was sitting next to the hat. A loaf of rye bread, yes a whole loaf, is sliced in half and loaded with a full pound of piled high, thin sliced, corned beef. Topped with four slices of swiss cheese, a side of potato salad and a GIANT pickle. This one could easily feed a family of four.
If you haven't heard of Dine-n-Dash Restaurant it won't be long before that's all you'll be hearing about. Located inside The Dash Inn on the corner of Schenley and Mahoning Avenues since last October, Rick Lohr is making a name for himself with some pretty unique food. He's got some great ideas and is always trying something new. When I asked Rick how he got started in the restaurant business he replied, "this is my baby, my first one."
I took one look at the menu and was glad I checked my diet at the door. This is the kind of food I dream about eating on a daily basis, lots of burgers, lots of cheese and lots of stuff.
Next plate. Wings. I've had many wings and I've probably said before that they were the best wings ever. I may have to retract that statement because I now have just eaten my most favorite wing ever. Forever, ever. Rick brought out three of his favorite signature sauced wings from a list of 21. The plate looked great. Three completely different sauced wings, a side of carrots and celery and some really good blue cheese dressing. Wing number one: Blackberry Chipotle. The menu describes this sauce as sweet, tart, smokey and hot. The sweet, smokey is right on and then the heat comes in. A nice fragrance of blackberries and then the chipotle gives it a surprising kick. It's the perfect combination of sweet and hot. The sauce is thick and it sits on a nice crispy fried wing. No flabby skin on these wings. They are fabulous. The crispy outside keeps the sauce clinging and inside is a delicious juicy wing. I next moved over to the Southwestern Ranch. The one thing I love about these wings is they are loaded with sauce. This one taste like a regular hot wing that's been blended with a good ranch dressing. It's got a cool, warm thing going on. Again, that crispy wing with the smooth sauce, you will be licking your fingers with these. I think I saved the best for last and I do mean the best. The Garlic Parmesan with Cracked Black Pepper is, hands down, THE BEST WING I HAVE EVER EATEN PERIOD. It's a buttery garlic sauce loaded with bits of garlic, good parmesan (not some powder cheese) but really good bits of cheese, and then this is what puts this wing over the top; cracked black peppercorns. AMAZING. I can't say enough about this one. Killer wings. I will be back for those Garlic Parms.
Arthur Treacher's and Frankie's Main Street of Hubbard have joined menus locally to bring you the best of both worlds: The Original Fish & Chips from England, and BBQ from the United States.
If you're like me, you know Arthur Treacher's is famous for their original Fish & Chips, but did you know they also have chicken and shrimp hand dipped in that same secret batter then fried to a golden crunch. A handful of British chips, a couple hushpuppies on the side and you'll enjoy a meal that you just can't get anywhere else.
The restaurant from the outside looks like something you would see in Florida. Turquoise and white paint with a touch of flamingo pink. The minute I walked inside, I got that laid-back kind of feel sensing a lot of history in a sort of nostalgic kind of way.
I was greeted by owner Bobbi Ieropoli and knew immediately I was in a good place. We began to chat about the restaurant's history. "Mark's Landing has been in business since 1946 and is one of the oldest surviving businesses in the area" Bobbi tells me. In 1981, she was working here as a waitress when she met Joe, a frequent customer, whom later became her husband. In 1988, Joe & Bobbi Ieropoli became the fourth owners of Mark's Landing and continue to carry on the tradition of Columbiana County's own little paradise.
Bobbi took me to the kitchen to meet Chef Ron who was going to make a few dishes from the new menu that will be coming soon to Mark's Landing. We left the master to work as we headed back to the dining room and grabbed a large booth in the corner. The multi-level dining room is separate from the bar and in the summer, patrons can dine on the huge outdoor patio. This is the place to be on those warm summer nights. Good food, good view, good times. The walls are adorned with everything from mounted fish and paintings to custom signs and minnow buckets that will keep you looking around if you can take your eyes off the beautiful lake view. There are several tables that are like scrapbooks. Tabletops with pictures from the past, historical papers, even a table with pictures from Bobbi and Joe's daughter's wedding. I was drawn to one table in particular that actually had pieces of pottery embedded into the tabletop with the history of pottery production in the area. There's a lot of history here, very nostalgic, and a place that once you sit down you won't be in a hurry to leave.
I could write about this place all day long but Chef Ron exited the kitchen and headed my way with an armful of plates. The plates were beautiful, the aroma had my senses on alert and I was ready to dig in. The first dish to catch my eye was the Prime Rib. It was huge. I've heard of a king cut before, but this one goes beyond. Had to be almost 2" thick and took up every inch of the plate. It was calling my name. One bite and it melted in my mouth. Simple seasoning, cooked perfectly with so much flavor. Ron says "it's all in the au jus." "With a cut this thick it's hard to season all the way through so the flavor all comes from the au jus." It was delicious and cooked to a perfect medium. Tender and plenty of flavorful au jus with every bite. Trust me when I say this one's for a big appetite and I have to say it's the best prime rib I've eaten.
A huge filet of cod, batter dipped and fried to a golden brown. I could almost hear the crunch just looking at it. It's served on a buttered, toasted bun with fresh lettuce and a side of tartar sauce. I happen to love tartar sauce so on it went and in I went. One bite and I actually got a double crunch. You first get that soft bun but then it's toasted so you get this buttery little crunch then the hot softer crunch that takes you right into that flakey fish. Wow. All I can say is YUM. It's not a bunch of doughy batter. It's a golden, light batter and all fish. The buttery, toasted bun for some reason puts this sandwich over the top. The tale about this sandwich making them famous. That's no fish story. One bite and I was a believer.
A Mexican Vacation Without Leaving Town
The minute you walk into El Torero you'll be greeted with a contagious smile. Colorful chairs and tables, upbeat music playing overhead and icy margaritas flowing from the bar. There's something about it all that just makes you feel happy. Whether it's all the colors, the spicy food or music that makes you want to dance, I felt like I was on vacation in a tropical paradise. The only thing missing is the beach but they do have an awesome outdoor patio.
The menu is big and it may take you a while to decide what to order but don't worry. Whatever you decide on will be fantastic and don't be afraid to be daring and try something you've never tried before. As I sat waiting for my first tasting of El Torero my eyes widened as the staff brought out one dish after another. Before I knew it, the table was covered with amazing dishes and my mouth was watering.
Located in the heart of downtown Salem, Ezio's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria has been Salem's best kept secret for over 40 years. The menu has all what you would expect an Italian restaurant to have. Bruschetta and Greens, Fried Cheese, Calamari and of course Pasta and Wedding Soup. As I scanned the menu, owner Joan "Tiny" Ferri sat with me and began to tell me more about Ezio's. She makes fresh pasta every day; Gnocchi, Lasagna Noodles and Tiani, which is a Semolina Wheat Fettuccinni. "Making the pastas from scratch is a lot of work but well worth the effort." The gnocchi is made from "real potatoes, no shortcuts here", says Tiny. Word came from the kitchen that the food was ready. Tiny jumped from the chair and wanted to check it before serving. "I'm a perfectionist," she stated. Once she gave the nod, out came the plates. As each one was set on the table, I could see the pride in Tiny's eyes as she told me what each dish was and couldn't wait for me to try them.
Where to begin. I was starving and knew I had to pace myself. I started with the steak. A beautiful, large ribeye, cut by Ezio himself, served on a bed of greens that Tiny said are "the best". I took one bite and she may be right. Perfectly cooked, lots of garlic, and a little heat. The steak also was cooked perfectly. Tender, juicy, seasoned well and a very large cut. I couldn't stop eating but Tiny insisted I try the gnocchi.
I have to admit, I had some reservations about Indian food. I thought it was going to have some odd spicy taste, be very strong, and everything was going to taste the same. Much to my surprise, I was completely wrong.
Spice of India on Market Street is relatively new, just opening last year. I met with owner and chef, Raj Ingle. I admitted to him I had never tried Indian food before so this was a new experience for me. He was trained in India and creates authentic dishes but at times, he tells me, he adds his own flair on things. All I knew about Indian food was spice so I asked Raj what is the most important spice in the Indian kitchen. "It's like you're asking me to pick my favorite child. All the spices sit out in the kitchen like instruments in an orchestra," as he waves his hands in the air, "and I'm the conductor." "Once all together, the symphony comes out." Garam Masala is a main spice in the kitchen. It's a combination of many spices that when blended and roasted create the most amazing aroma. When Raj is cooking, he doesn't taste, he smells. "I can tell by the aroma when it's just right."
Raabia was my server today who presented me with a sizzling, steaming dish that when placed in front of me literally took my breath away. She tells me it's called Paneer Tikka. Raj tells me it's a Tandoori Specialty and like the Nan bread, it's baked in a special clay oven called a tandoor. Chunks of cheese (Paneer) are marinated then grilled with green peppers and onions. It continued sizzling, emitting this wonderful aroma as Raj served me. It's a different smell and I'm guessing it's the level of spice/heat that finds its way to all your senses. It smelled amazing and looked beautiful and I couldn't wait to try it. One bite and I was sold. It's so not what I expected. The cheese is not the type that melts. It's firm, yet soft. It reminds me of a greek cheese that I've called Haloumi. The outside of the cubes are bright red from the spices. The grilled peppers and onions on the bottom get a nice caramelization on them and the whole dish is topped with a few slices of raw peppers and onion and fresh lemon wedges. Next to the dish is a trio of sauces. Raj says these are typical sauces served with any dish. I actually really enjoyed all three and don't have a particular favorite but I would want all three with my meal just for the variety of taste and texture. One is a chunky Onion Chutney. It's probably the hottest of the three. A thick red sauce with chunks of onion and lots of spices. The smooth red sauce is Tamarind which, to me, reminds of American barbecue sauce. The third sauce is a beautiful green color. It's called Mint Tamarind. It's cool and refreshing due to the mint and it's very good. I kept trying each one and thoroughly enjoyed them all for their unique flavors.