The Dish: The Chocolate Bar
A sleek and trendy franchise from New York has graced Cleveland with its arrival. Well, Buffalo NY, but let’s give it a shot.
The Chocolate Bar sits on Euclid, posing at the mouth of E. 4th as if saying, “Hello. I’m fabulous. Enter me.” What a great location – Cleveland actually looks like a bustling metropolis from the vantage point inside this deep, sultry hot spot. It feels like a sexy coffee shop, and is crawling with first dates, girls-night-outs and… man candy.
The bar must have placed a want-ad to pull in their wait staff: “Single, young, trim men wanted: we promise hungry, drunk girls a-plenty. Must look good in an apron. Tall & charming. Hair color must match décor: hues of mocha, cinnamon, caramel, or cocoa preferred.” And mmm mmm mmm did they deliver. Why yes I’ll have another slice of mousse cake, can I have a piece of you too?
Let’s dive into the drink menu. It’s something out of a damned romance novel: Champagne with strawberries for dipping; Cristal with a long stem rose; Belgian Chocolate Shooters and a Martini list that beckons you to try everything just to taste the name. My friends and I couldn’t decide between The Wedding Cake, The Strawberry Cheesecake, The Swedish Fish and about five others so… we got ‘em all, and a taxi a la mode.
My fav so far: The Orange Chocolate Martini. It’s a tango of dark cocoa and citrus with plenty of booze hiding amongst its marble layers of cream. It comes with a chocolate stir stick and chocolate shavings around the rim that’ll leave you licking the glass. If you’re a real boozer, try the Crème Brulee Martini. It’s the strongest on the menu, and should be re-named Crème Bru-Laid or Crème Bru-Barfing Later. As with any trendy bar, nothing is a cheap thrill. Expect to pay the standard $10 for a martini. Expect to gain five pounds in one sitting.
Yes, there is food. I had the Roasted Chicken Sandwich – it was fine. Grilled-pressed focaccia, sun dried tomato pesto, motz and a rose petal garnish. Meh. No really, it was good… I just see the food menu as a nice option to pad your stomach before tackling the martinis. For the same reason you don’t go to a brewery for the wine or a movie theater for the nachos – honestly, who’s going to go to a chocolate bar for a sandwich. A liar, that’s who. Straight up, we’re there for the chocolate and alcohol. The food is just foreplay. Or a fine excuse to mix business with pleasure during the workday lunch hour.
So here’s the dish: The Chocolate Bar is a Valentine’s Day dream date 365 days out of the year, so go spoil yourself.
The Dish: The Ultimate Drunk Food
Cleveland, I’ve found it. Something I know you will thank me for… THE ULTIMATE DRUNK FOOD. It’s genius. The bad boy of chow; the king of midnight mow-downs: The Potato Pancake Reuben at Rocky River Brewing Company.
That’s right, screw bread – they serve the sandwich sans such. Instead, it comes on a platter of greasy starch, and people love it. It’s a mountain of finely shaved corned beef and kraut slapped inside two giant potato pancakes. Look at that thing – it just grins, “EAT ME.” And trust me – no matter how sober, you’re gonna to have to break out the shoveling technique, so just own it. It’s like a 24-hour-diner made love with a drunken Irishman. There’s enough grease to rebound the oncoming hangover, and enough meat to force a food coma. Served with a heap of thick, perfectly battered fries, some say it may be potato overload – I say, no such thing. Bring on the heart attack, at least I’ll die full.
It’s only fitting that the ultimate drunk food would be served at a brewery – experts of intoxication know what drunks need: a nonchalant scene straight out of Cheers, and vats of beer. Most of their microbrews taste as you’d expect, but the specialty brews are outstanding, and packed with uncanny flavor – kind of like when you smell a Yankee Candle and you think, “Wow, that really smells like Dune Grass and Berries, how’d they do that?” The Blueberry Ale would impress Wonka himself. And the Pilgrim Pumpkin is like sipping on a spiked spice rack. If their Christmas brew is just as good, I’m thinking Great Lakes might have some real competition this year. Gasp! Blasphemy, you say? I’m going back for a taste duel.
Now it’s not just beer and bar food – RRBC also serves up a full menu of just about everything. So if your dad wants a three-course meal, your girlfriend only likes ethnic, your coworkers want to get blasted, and all you want is a burger special – problem solved. They have everything from Thai food to Italian to Just Plain Bad For You. Clear your sinuses with the surprisingly spicy Asian Nachos, or try a classic plate with a twist: the tender Pretzel Crusted Chicken Breast.
So here’s the dish: Rocky River Brewing Company is a friendly, Average-Joe setting with some not-so-average brews and grub, both crafted with attention to detail and spice.
The Dish: Lilly Handmade Chocolates
Words like “decadent” and “indulgent” have become cliché in the world of chocolate – every commercial insists on using them. Usually some sort of whispy font breathes onto the screen, promising sensations like “heavenly” as naked women roll around in the background, draped in brown silk sheets and making-out with Dove bars. Ugh, I get it. Chocolate is luxurious, blah blah blah. As I woman, I consider myself an expert in the dessert. Yes, I crave it every day… But I ain’t never had a cocoa bean pleasure me to that height.
That is, until Lilly came until my life… Lilly Handmade Chocolates in Tremont.
OH. MY. GOD. Get there. For those of you that avoid Tremont because you always get lost – get a friggin’ GPS, you simply must go. It’s a chocoholic’s playground that will satisfy the sexually deprived and surely turn even the most macho-est of men into mush. I’ve seen it happen.
Lilly is located in a lovely little blue house at the corner of Starkweather and Professor. Like the gingerbread house from Hansel & Gretel, it’s warm and inviting, the windows glowing with sparkly pink decor and swirly hand-made signs. Inside, the walls are lined with beers and wines from all over the world, gift boxes, champagnes, and splendid employees. Yes, “splendid” is the perfect word to describe them: sugar-high smiles, pink or purple hair, and trilling “hellooooooo” upon your arrival. They’re either angels or devils, I haven’t decided.
Alcohol and chocolate. God damn. What more could you want? Micro-brewskies from Colorado or Sweden, the option to pick your own 4 or 6 pack, and the most perfectly blended chocolates I’ve ever tasted. Ladies, drop the guys off at the Beer Wall, we’re going back to the chocolate bar.
I’m gonna dish the bad news first – a box of six chocolates is eleven bones. It’s outrageous. It’s shocking. What do they think this is, New York City? But here’s the good news – it’s so freaking delicious, you’ll be willing to give up a few meals a week to afford it. That, or start workin’ the streets – this shit is the crack of candy.
Each morsel is a work of art, decorated with colorful stripes or flowers (like those trippy hippy candles) and affectionately named things like “The Southern Gentleman,” “Boozie Suzie,” or “Forty Winks.” How do they get the patterns onto the pieces? I was told they have elves in the back.
My favorite treat is the “After Midnite” – It’s a vegan truffle, made dairy free by blending bitter stout with the darkest of chocolates, then rolled in cocoa. Yes, rich soft balls that have made even the most modest of my family members exclaim, “This is better than sex!” All of the vegan chocolates are made with booze instead of milk, enhancing the flavor like a punch to the face, followed by a sweet little wake up kiss.
Six pieces of chocolates becomes an event – so expensive, you’re forced to savor; so complex, each bite is an experience. Black lava sea salt, hints of lavender, cayenne pepper – even bacon. It’s like wine tasting – but sweeter. And don’t even get me started on the drinking chocolate – forget that standard watery hot chocolate we’re all used to – this is different. A heavy, thick, melted concoction of gourmet chocolates and spice that requires slurping and will leave you in a happy coma.
So here’s the dish: Lilly Handmade Chocolates is like spring break for your taste buds: you’ll probably spend too much money, but it tastes so good to be bad. And you’d do it again in a second.
The Dish: Close Quarters
If you see a faded sign on the side of the road after 16 miles it’s not the Love Shack – it’s Close Quarters in Avon Lake: A funky little shack smack in the middle of suburbia that seats about 15 with the bare essentials: booze, microwave, fryer, and lots of flair.
With a swing of a door, you’ve left Ohio and crashed a luau. Jimmy Buffet is contemplating how it could be his fault, the fryer is smoking, and the atmosphere takes over: Parrots, a flying mermaid, distasteful signs – a hodge-podge of sensory overload that makes you drunk before you even take a sip. An alligator regurgitating a human hand; a mannequin’s head with boobies stuck on her ears; a beer can mobile; multi-color Christmas lights hanging in a “basket” of bull testies. Yup, they’ve got balls—bull balls, still hairy and glowing in the rainbow light.
Close Quarters may be in Avon Lake, but they ain’t no Country Club: For food, you’ve got a choice of fried taters, fried zucchini, fried cheese, or fried tacos, all prepared by a gruff old man drinkin’ a bourbon. He was the perfect contrast to the bar’s dizzying mayhem-–hardly spoke. Probably a veteran. Intimidating as that big hanging ball sac. And served up nachos just like anyone’s militant grandpa would: start with a handful of tortilla chips. Slap down a few slices of Kraft cheese. Microwave. Done. Eat it or get the eff out. And drink your water ya damn lightweight.
So here’s the dish: Close Quarters is what it is – a trip! Definitely not for foodies, but a great little marina bar that got drunk and lost its way to Put-In-Bay.
The Dish: The Petite Triangle
The Petite Triangle is pretty self-explanatory. It’s petite. It’s a triangle. And it’s a freaking trifecta of flavor, hospitality, and selection.
A TINY little restaurant in a triangular building, The Petite Triangle is squeezed onto a plot totally out of Paris… in Ohio City. Maybe eight tables encompass an open kitchen – almost Hibachi style, but instead of flying eggs and flames, you’ll see ribbons of crepe-batter poured onto hot plates. It’s an obtuse dining experience (Yes, I totally just rocked a 7th grade geometry class reference) with a triple threat of savory entrees, high-end cocktails (with petite prices!), and mind-blowing desserts. I suppose that makes it a sextuple threat.
Speaking of sex, lets talk Nutella. The biggest things inside the Petite Triangle are the gi-a-normous jars of Nutella. They’re like kegs of chocolaty-hazelnut goodness hanging out at the bar, sweet enough to get giddy on. I fantasize about that stuff. I am beginning to think they were mixing endorphins into it. Yes, I realize that chocolate is supposedly an aphrodisiac, but The Petite Triangle’s Nutella is ridunkulous. It will catapult your date into bed faster than Mathew McConaughey in a Versace speedo. Perhaps this is because they import their Nutella straight from Italy (unlike everyone else around here, who order it from Canada). Wrap that up in a paper thin pancake with some fresh cut bananas, a dollup of airy whipped cream, powered sugar and a finely sliced strawberry – voila, you’re a Cleveland Casanova.
Ok, so I jumped to dessert first – let’s backtrack. I had always thought of The Petite Triangle as a Creperie: I. Stand. Corrected. There are soups, salads, steaks, pastas, many a de-feathered fowl and fish, omelettes… and I haven’t even touched on the extensive wine list. That tiny kitchen is like a culinary clown car – more and more and more and MORE food keeps popping out from behind the coffee brewer, from under the marble counter, from around the back corner and past the wall of wine. Each dish makes its entrance with a tantalizing aroma and a happy “ding” from the ready bell. Then it is swept tableside by a wait staff so naturally personable, you’d think you must have known them from a previous life.
Every single dish has a personal touch or a substituted ingredient that owners Joy and Tom have perfected over their twelve years of business together. Joy claims their finesse comes through trial and error and their cumulative experience in the catering business. I was surprised to learn that neither have a culinary degree – and I don’t give a Ratatouille’s ass. There is so much natural talent packed into that place, it’s amazing it hasn’t imploded. Good thing they’re planning on expanding the venue in September. Currently, you may have to wait 20 -30 minutes for a seat at Sunday brunch, but believe me, people wait… for this:
A brown sugar cube doused in orange bitters, fizzing at the bottom of a sweet champagne cocktail. A fresh leafy Mojito infused with a simple syrup pressed from fresh lavender petals … and here’s the best part: $5-$6. Kalamata olives instead of those bitter Nicoise ones to go with your Pan-Seared Salmon over Salad. But The Petite Triangle won my heart with the Steak & Boursin.
To those non-French-speaking-people like myself, Boursin is a cream cheese so creamy I actually thought it was butter. Now imagine fresh baguettes slathered in the stuff with two big fat steaks lying on top. Ohhhh yeah. Let’s not forget the caramelized onions and homemade Lyonnaise potatoes, all painted with a hint of oil and spice.
So here’s THE DISH: The Petite Triangle is an unobtrusive obtuse delight with two owners that know what taste buds crave. I give it an “Mmmmm” with 5 Ms.
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