32858 Walker Rd., Avon Lake
We could not have been happier with an appetizer of roasted bone marrow ($8), a dish that admittedly sounds less than appealing. Split lengthwise for easy scooping, the long bones cradle a lush and beefy pudding that is spread on toasts and topped with herbs and pickled onion. Timid guests can ignore the fibula in favor of addictive chicken wings ($7). Slow-braised for juiciness, then flash-fried for crispness, the double-cooked wings arrive bearing a mahogany-colored crust.
Much of the menu is built around a wood-fired grill, which tastefully chars everything from burgers and steak to fish and meatloaf. Nightly specials come from a rotating spit mounted above the grill. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of pork. Heading up the kitchen is Matthew Harlan, the former chef of Lolita.
No table should pass up an order of the grilled fresh sausages. Available individually ($6/$7) or as part of the Big Board ($17 for three), boldly flavored varieties like lamb with mint, pork and fennel, and veal bratwurst are presented with toasted bread, pickled veggies and a trio of mustards (including Stadium). Everybody, it seems, is doing sliders — but nobody is doing them like this. Luscious shreds of duck confit ($6) are tucked into a wee soft bun with cilantro, carrot and spicy mayo. These gems should be sold by the bucket.
FAT HEAD'S BREWERY AND SALOON
24581 Lorain Rd., North Olmsted
Built on large round buns imported from a Pittsburgh bakery, [Headwiches] arrive garnished with olive "eyes" and a steak-knife "nose." The Full Cleveland ($10.95) is an ungainly arrangement of kielbasa, bratwurst, sauerkraut, cheese, 1,000 Island and Stadium Mustard. Similarly endowed, the cheese steak ($9.95) features quality sliced beef, sweet and hot peppers, cheese and mayo. All sandwiches come with the house's killer thick-cut potato chips.
MI PUEBLO MERCADO AND TAQUERIA
12207 Lorain Ave. & 11611 Euclid Ave.
Mexican home cooks flock to the market [at the West Side location] for its extensive selection of tortillas, tostadas, chiles and spices. Coolers overflow with fresh cheeses, sausages, peppers and hard-to-find produce like tamarind, guava and cactus. A butcher counter provides the special cuts of beef and pork that are required to whip up staples like carne asada and carnitas. Shoppers can also pick up Mexican fruit juices, beer and freshly fried pork rinds.
If you'd like to experience what a real taco tastes like, walk next door to the taqueria. Unlike what we have grown accustomed to, these gems are sparsely filled and judiciously topped. Fillings include zesty chorizo, tender chicken, braised pork and simmered beef tongue ($1.65 each). The flavorful meats are spooned onto a pair of warm, soft corn tortillas and dressed with a smattering of onion and cilantro. Diners add their own fresh lime, pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa.
"Here, everybody eats their tacos with cheese, tomato, lettuce and sour cream," says Ortega. "That's just not right. Ours come as close as possible to being home."
If you fancy all those fixings, skip the tacos in favor of a torta ($4.50). These Mexican-style sandwiches come on a soft bun and are loaded with meat, veggies, avocado, beans and cheese. The filling choices are the same as those served in the tacos.
5800 Detroit Ave.
It would be a challenge to find a better steak sandwich ($9.50) than the one served here. Thick, juicy and tender chunks of marinated beef are tossed with sautéed mushrooms and onions, blanketed in melted havarti and packed into a rosemary-studded bun. All this sandwich lacks is the vinegary kick of the promised chimichurri sauce. An expertly grilled and sliced flank steak ($15) is topped with peppers and onions and sided by fluffy herbed rice. Juicy white-meat chicken ($13) is carved thin and sauced with a tropical mango glaze. The poultry is paired with a well-seasoned quinoa and orzo salad.
2038 E. 4th St.,
I've eaten more chicken wings ($11) than I care to admit, but damned if I've ever tasted them like this. Crisp, salty, juicy and tossed with garlic and peppers, the duck-fat-fried wings are anything but pedestrian.
With Greenhouse, Sawyer promised to do for French-inspired fare what he did for Italian at the wildly popular Bar Cento — namely, reinterpret the cuisine through the use of local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients. Through that lens, a hackneyed goat-cheese salad becomes a salad ($11) made not with goat's-milk cheese but with Ohio goat meat. A bundle of lush, earthy goat confit (its "baa" subdued by the braise) is paired with a springy herb salad of mint, cilantro and watercress.
The only real "twist" in the quintessentially French steak frites ($19) is the well-trimmed flank of Ohio beef in the center of the plate. The expertly grilled steak is lean, flavorful and tender, making it a delicious foil for Sawyer's inexplicably crisp fries. On its own, the fine-grained steak tartare ($9) seems to be lacking the requisite salty kick. But when spread on thin toasts and topped with the onion and cornichon relish, the dish nears perfection.
VIENG'S ASIAN BISTRO
139 Crocker Park Blvd., Westlake
Vieng's Korean sizzling steak ($17) is a delightfully effortless adaptation of the interactive Korean meal bulgogi. A blistering-hot platter takes the place of the traditional table-top hotplate, searing all the meat in one smoky blast. What's left (apart from the splatter) is lightly charred and surprisingly tender beef in a faintly sweet, garlicky sauce. This and most dishes come with a covered dish of steamed rice.
8074 Columbia Rd., Olmsted Falls
Looking for a relatively light lunch one afternoon, I ordered the pork schnitzel ($9) from the menu's "Between Bread" section, expecting a sandwich. What arrived was a tower of food that could have served as a last meal. I am not exaggerating when I say that the stack was a half-foot tall, comprising alternating strata of potato pancakes, pork schnitzel, artichoke hearts and roasted garlic. The whole shebang was drizzled with a buttery lemon-caper sauce. Garnishes included airy gaufrettes, grainy mustard, pesto and fried basil leaves.