Meatloaf Dinner at Babushka's Kitchen
Comfort food gets a bad rap: As code for any sort of flavorless glop you can throw together on a plate, the term does a disservice to carefully prepared home cooking. Take the lineup at Babushka's Kitchen, Dave and Nancy Abramowski's labor of love. Now with three locations — the original in Northfield Center, an outpost in Independence, and a soon-to-reopen spot in Columbus — this "Polish heritage restaurant" is a bastion of comfort food, as in the type of soulful fare that generations of babushkas brought forth for their hardworking families. Among the hearty ethnic offerings, you'll find stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikash, homemade fresh kielbasa, and the fancifully named "Grandma Olga's Favorite:" two handmade potato-and-cheddar pierogi, topped with a snowy mound of rich sour cream and a toss of lightly griddled onions. Big spenders might consider ordering up the enormous Hunter's Feast: a sampler platter featuring most of the above plus roasted pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings. But cost-conscious diners will likely head straight for the homemade meatloaf dinner (pictured), bargain-priced at $9.99. Constructed around three thick slabs of firm yet tender meatloaf made from Dave Abramowski's family recipe, the dinner arrives with rye bread and butter, glossy mashed potatoes, a choice of warm applesauce, crisp cucumber salad or bacon-flecked green beans, and a slathering of gravy — either the savory pork version or the sweet red tomato. Afterward, if you've got room, try a couple of the freshly baked kolachky: At just 70 cents each, the flaky little bow-tie pastries go easy on the wallet while satisfying a sweet tooth. Or go whole hog with the highly share-able hot apple pierogi ($4.99), sided with a tidy puck of mousse-like vanilla ice cream and two pretty poufs of whipped cream, then finished with a generous caramel drizzle. If you can think of a better use for five bucks, we'll eat our headscarf.
9199 Olde Eight Rd., Northfield Center, 330-468-0402
6531 Brecksville Rd., Independence, 216-447-9277, Babushkafoods.com
Beef & Latkas at Corky & Lenny's
Since 1956, Corky & Lenny's has reigned supreme as that most venerable of urban eateries: a good Jewish deli. Lest a younger generation imagine that mile-high sandwiches were invented at a grilled-cheese spot in Lakewood, it can be instructive to revisit the deli's big menu, a belly-busting compendium that runs from lox, gefilte fish, and the beloved Mish Mash soup ($7.50 for a bathtub-size bowl of chicken broth containing a matzo ball, noodles, rice, and kreplach) to the towering sandwiches stuffed with pastrami, roast turkey, tongue, chopped liver, brisket, or nearly any combination thereof. Among the multitudinous offerings, the Beef & Latkas is a house favorite: eight full ounces of thinly sliced corned beef cosseted between two enormous, golden potato pancakes and served with a choice of applesauce or sour cream. (A complimentary portion of crunchy kosher pickles comes with; just ask your server.) According to deli co-owner Earl Stein, three qualities make this particular combo a top choice for budget-minded noshers-the exceptionally tender meat, the dense, crisp-edged, cooked-to-order latkas, and the fact that, at a reasonable $11.50, the dish is plenty big enough to share. While the debate over the best way to ensure tender corned beef continues — some claim baking is the key, while others swear by boiling — Corky & Lenny's falls squarely in the later camp. "We go through 4,000 pounds of corned beef a week," says Stein. "That's the secret: We're constantly boiling a batch, so it's always fresh, hot, and delicious." After 56 years of success, who are we to argue? —Cicora
27091 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere Village, 216-464-3838, corkyandlennys.net.