558 Bishop Rd., Highland Hts.
As dictated by pizza code, Anthony Pilla uses only imported San Marzano tomatoes, which ripen on the volcanic slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Because it would be a shame to cook away the bright, summery freshness of these tomatoes, Pilla simply stems and squeezes the fruits by hand before combining them with some salt and Sicilian oregano. The cheeses that top Crostatas' pies are only those naturally occurring in Italy: mozzarella di bufala, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano. Same goes for toppings.
The best pizza on Crostatas' menu is the Margherita ($14.50). It is the perfect marriage of crust, tomato, mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Purists will doubtless seek out the marinara ($9.75), minimally topped with sauce, herbs and olive oil. Pizzas like the Classico ($14.75), with 24-hour roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms, while tasty, tend to obscure the art beneath.
Westlake and Cleveland Heights
Smoothies are considered by some an ideal breakfast food. Others gulp them down for an afternoon pick-me-up in place of coffee. Both groups are well served by the selection available here. There are more than 40 concoctions utilizing some combination of fruits, veggies, non-fat frozen yogurt, soy milk and the occasional Oreo cookie. Toss in another dozen "boosts" and supplements, and that figure increases exponentially. Recovering from a rager? Take a swig of the Hangover ($5.95), which combines fresh fruit and orange juice with gingko and ginseng, and feel the pain melt away.
Liquid Planet may have made a name for itself in the smoothie department, but the menu flies well beyond the orbit of its liquid assets. A brightly colored wall menu covers half the room, with sections devoted to soups, salads, pita sandwiches and rice bowls (My advice: grab a take-out menu and a seat, and decide in peace.)
13114 Shaker Square, Cleveland
The lounge area, assembled around a gas-log fireplace, is an ideal roost for friends to meet up over a glass of wine and a plate of hummus ($8). Darna may serve one of the best renditions in town, no doubt owing to the warm, airy, melt-in-your-mouth pita wedges that accompany it. Scattered atop the smooth chick-pea puree are olives, French feta, preserved lemon and olive oil, making each bite different from the last.
Preserved lemon, made by pickling the citrus whole or in part, is the secret ingredient to many Moroccan dishes. The result is an intensely lemony, but not sour, flavor that offers an unexpected boost to salads, soups and stews. It livens up a thick and satisfying split-pea soup ($7), pairing beautifully with the starter's faint fennel notes. And it brightens an already vivid Moroccan salad ($8), a veritable rainbow of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and feta.
ERIE ISLAND COFFEE CO.
East 4th St., Cleveland
In addition to the excellent brewed coffee ($1.60-$2) and espresso drinks ($1.85-$3.90), Erie Island offers smoothies ($3.80) made with real fruit. Named after the Kelleys Island phenomenon, the Glacial Grooves parfait ($4.70) alternates strata of smoothie and custard before topping it with icy Italian granita. There is also a concise menu of soups, salads and sandwiches that continues to improve over time. Soups are made in house, salads are assembled daily from seasonal ingredients and sandwiches are made to order. In the coming weeks, the grab-and-go cooler will be augmented with prepared foods that extend beyond the salads and hummus-and-veggie options presently available.
The sandwiches, called "crushes," are built atop inside-out bagels and heated on a panini press. The lunch selections ($5.95) include the Club Crush, filled with smoked turkey, honey ham, pepperoni, banana peppers and cheese. A vegetarian option skips the meat in favor of cheese, roasted mushrooms, tomato and red-pepper pesto.
12207 Lorain Ave. & 11611 Euclid Ave.
For those who prefer more substantial Mexican entrées, the taqueria more than provides. In the chile rellenos ($12.95), a pair of poblano peppers are stuffed with Chihuahua cheese, topped with mild red sauce and served with seasoned rice and refried beans. Breakfast fans are always looking for places that serve all day. Mi Pueblo dishes up huevos rancheros ($5.95), plus a half-dozen other egg-based items around the clock.
13002 Larchmere Blvd., Cleveland
A thick wedge of mushroom and cheese quiche ($7.50) is on hand for those who prefer something less exotic. The moist and filling savory pie is paired with salad and fruit. Diners who come for a lazy Sunday brunch can build a meal of soup, toast, fruit and coffee around an omelet, quiche or waffle for a flat fee of $10.
1330 Bagley Rd., Berea
In the Tree Hugger's salad ($6.95), impeccably fresh field greens are dotted with sweet dried fruit, chopped mushrooms and creamy goat cheese. Large enough to sate a mature giraffe, the bountiful salad is tossed in a seductive honey-lemon vinaigrette.
Ample enough for a small African village, the house-made hummus platter ($8.95) is stacked high with warm pita, bright veggies and a mountain of fluffy, addictive hummus. Sidestep the thick discs of raw zucchini and squash in favor of the baby carrots and red bell pepper. The kitchen makes it easy to go halfsies on dishes, splitting salads, sandwiches, even a fabulous Asian carrot soup ($5.95) with sliced almonds into separate servings.
As one might guess, Treehugger's is a vegetarian diner's best friend. More than half the menu items are meat-free, and many of those are easily upgraded to full-on vegan. Conversely, many of the vegetarian items can be made omnivore-friendly by the addition of grilled organic chicken ($2.95).
Tasting like a cross between falafel and a bowl of chili, the black-bean burger ($8.95) is a dense and filling sandwich that arrives bearing a fair amount of spice. Served on a soft knotted roll with greens, onions and sprouts, the "meaty" patty is delicious but a tad dry. If there was any sauce on the sandwich, it escaped our notice.