Dining » Dining Lead

Two Fast-Casual Spots Join Cleveland Heights' Food Scene

Great heights



Cleveland Heights recently snagged a pair of independent, fast-casual eateries, and while they're both mainly carryout sandwich joints, they couldn't be more dissimilar.

On one end of the spectrum is the health-focused Café Bon Appetit, which set up shop on the southern tip of the main Coventry drag. On the other end is Black Box Fix, a gut-busting comfort food spot that claimed the old Sweetie Fry space on Lee Road. Both are worth a visit. Which one you choose likely will depend on your appetite.

Café Bon Appetit might be new to Cleveland Heights residents, but Cleveland State University students and faculty have been enjoying the downtown shop on Euclid for about five years. That's how long owners Jade and Jay Novak – a former biology professor and civil engineer, respectively – have been serving up good, healthy and reasonably priced food. The pair noticed a decided lack of budget-friendly healthy options in the area and decided to do something about it.

That's what makes the shop, located near the entrance to the old Centrum Theatre, such a natural fit for Coventry. Long a haven for health-conscious residents, the strip has been inundated in recent years by less-than-wholesome fare. The Novaks, Heights residents themselves, decided to amend that by importing the successful model to their own neck of the woods.

The straightforward all-day menu is comprised of juices and smoothies, salads, wraps and sandwiches, and even a few crepes. Items are made to order by a small staff, which results in fresh food but not necessarily fast food. Most diners grab and go, but there are about 20 seats inside and a few more outside on the sidewalk patio. The slender space, formerly home to the Doghouse Inn, is cute in a DIY sort of way, with reclaimed wood walls and a fresh coat of paint.

In the morning, French press and pour-over coffees are served, along with blended fruit juices and smoothies. Salads like the Greek ($7.99), with tabbouleh, cukes and feta, and the chicken avocado ($9.99), are big and fresh. Some sandwiches are served warm, like the gyro ($7.99), a warm pita loaded with grilled sliced meat, veggies, greens and sauce. Others are served cold, like the smoked salmon ($7.99), in which the chilled sliced fish is bundled in a wrap with greens, veggies and cream cheese.

On average, prices uptown appear to be 1, 2 or even 3 bucks higher than their equivalents downtown, making it slightly less budget-friendly than its campus-based sibling.

I'm pretty certain the word "healthy" doesn't get bandied about much when folks recommend Black Box Fix to their friends. And they do recommend it. At this smart little corner carry-out, the food sticks mainly to two-fisted, meat-stuffed sandwiches that drip down one's chin, arm and pant leg if not eaten with due care.

Self-titled celebrity chef (even prior to his lone appearance on "Guy's Grocery Games") and owner Eric Rogers has built up a remarkable following on social media thanks in large part to his sophisticated use of the medium, as well as his one-year tenure running Nevaeh Cuisine in South Euclid. In fact, the peculiar restaurant name originated as an Instagram hashtag (#blackboxfix) that customers would use when sharing pictures of food from his prior restaurant, which was served in black take-out boxes.

For now the menu consists of about a dozen sandwiches, most of them regular items and the rest specials. Rogers says that he might add salads and entrees down the road. The lone current exception is the "Famous Creole Soul Roll" ($3), a deep-fried, egg roll-style snack. The wrapper on ours was drenched in grease so we stuck to the filling, a zesty and flavorful mix of seasoned rice, greens and sausage.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with our OMG Philly ($13), a hoagie-style bun filled with sautéed shrimp, grilled chicken, mushrooms, onions and peppers dripping with delicious "yum-yum" sauce. The same holds true for the Reuben Gobble ($10), a delicious mess of smoked turkey, warm slaw, Swiss cheese and remoulade on grilled Tuscan bread. Like all the sandwiches we tried, the bun arrived buttered and toasted and the ingredients well seasoned. Other sandwiches are built around fried chicken, sautéed tilapia and smoked beef sausage, the last appearing in the chef's take on a Polish Boy.

Every sandwich comes with a big pile of salted and herbed fries topped with shredded parmesan cheese, a move that ups the flavor profile while all but guaranteeing non-crispy spuds.

Rogers has a good system in place up front, with separate lines for diners who call ahead and those who are placing their order on the spot. My wait time decreased from 13 minutes to three minutes when I phoned ahead. There is seating for approximately 15 to 20 dine-in customers, but almost everybody takes their black boxes elsewhere.

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