Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The "Hungry I" Returns

The Hungry I
6060 Renaissance Place
Toledo, OH 43623

Even in the midst of a tough economy, talented restaurateurs can revitalize a strong brand. Gus Nicolaides and Moussa Salloukh recently reopened the "Hungry I" in the space on Holland-Sylvania that was built for the short-lived "Rouge" restaurant. They made a few minor changes including repainting the walls sage green and adding glass partitions between the bar and formal dining areas to break it up a bit. There is still a small private dining room but the communal bar table that was a massive split log is gone. The hard wood floors, leather chairs and white table cloths covered with butcher paper, create a welcoming atmosphere.

On my first visit, we sampled the french onion soup ($4.99) and the crab cakes ($11.99) as starters. According to a local expert on crab cakes hailing from twenty plus years in Virginia Beach, the best crab cakes are "more crab than cake". If this is the criterion, the Hungry I crab cakes are first rate and served with a tart remoulade sauce. The French onion soup is every bit of the warm, gooey, cheesy heaven that we've all come to expect. For dinner, we split the chicken Caesar wrap ($7.99) and a Southwestern burger ($9.99). The wrap was delicious. The burger did not come out as described on the menu with guacamole, bacon and spicy pepper jack. However, the server quickly offered to take it back and provide a substitute. I suspect that this, along with the array of kitchen shortages of featured items on the menu that night, is just a small hiccup during the opening weeks of the restaurant.

I returned a week later, and ordered the mushroom and Swiss burger ($8.99) that was cooked on a charcoal grill to a perfect medium-rare. The fries were crispy and good. I also sampled the shrimp soft taco entree ($11.99). The shrimp were a little undercooked but the spicy blend of avocado, red onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper has just the right amount of kick to demand a dollop of the house blended cilantro and green onion sour cream that is served with it. Again, I'm sure that Chef Brandon will bring all of the line cooks up to speed on this very quickly. I also enjoyed the tossed salad that comes with all entrees. The house lemon vinaigrette has a delicate flavor.

The last dish we tried was the "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" ($10.99). It is prepared with a blend of four cheeses and a bit of bacon served on penne pasta in a fun, over-sized pasta bowl. Although the flavor is good, it felt like the order had been sitting for too long as the cheese had congealed and the pasta had lost all of it's texture. Once the kitchen team gets in to the groove of making it creamy and serving it quickly, the "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" will become a staple shared at every table in the restaurant. You get a one pound box of pasta cooked for each order. I'm really not exaggerating here. It's enough pasta to share as a side dish for four people or a full meal for two. Order one "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" for your table - no matter what everyone wants to eat. If it arrives congealed tell your server that the Glass City Gourmet told you to, "send it back 'til it comes out creamy"! The concept is too good here to ever miss the mark again.

Our kind and attentive server, Kelly, informed us that none of the deserts available that evening were made in house. We tried the carrot cake ($5.50). Although it was a good quality, I had the feeling I was eating a slice of a cake that started its day in the freezer. My suggestion: skip dessert and try one of the currently featured cocktails. A "gingerbread martini" sounds like the perfect sweet treat to end a meal.

The Hungry I is a great spot to have lunch, go on a week night date, take your family for a quick bite, or meet your parents and grand parents for a strong drink and food that they will remember fondly from the first round of the Hungry I (circa 1975-84). There are a few interesting items on the menu for the more adventurous diner, but the focus is really on American classics: steaks, cedar plank salmon, ribs, salads and very hearty sandwiches. For old fans of the Oaken Bucket, the giant Reuben on marble rye is here and Gus didn't mess with a good thing.

While there is no dress code, seeing Gus walking the floor and running plates from the kitchen to tables demands respect. Leave your baseball cap in the car and change out of your sweats as someone will inevitably be sharing a special occasion at the Hungry I when you are there.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Avenue Bistro Anew

Avenue Bistro
6710 W. Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43617
Monday through Saturday
Lunch starting at 11:00am
Dinner M-Th 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Fri 4:00pm to 11:00pm

When was the last time you went to Avenue Bistro? Unless it was within the last three weeks, you haven't experienced the Avenue Bistro under chef Chris Burchell. Coming from a catering company in Pittsburgh by way of Genoa, Chef Burchell immediately added specials to the lunch and dinner menus to showcase his talents.

On my recent visit, the specials included potato latkes with smoked salmon and a baby greens salad ($12), a Cuban sandwich ($9) featuring braised pork and ham served with thinly sliced pickle, Swiss cheese and a honey whole grain mustard mayo on flat bread, a turkey and roast beef sandwich served "Pittsburgh Style" with Swiss cheese and cole slaw on grilled sourdough bread ($9) and sweet cheese stuffed crepes served with Chambord sauce ($9). Chef Burchell is already making his mark with these signature dishes.

For dinner, I ordered the 8 oz. fillet Mignon ($26) and was pleased with the cut of beef and perfectly seared steak. My guests ordered the Caesar salad with salmon ($14) and the special Neapolitan Steak Wrap ($14). The Caesar salad can be ordered with grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon. The salmon fillet is cooked to an elegant medium rare temperature and the Caesar dressing is mild but tasty. The Neapolitan Steak Wrap was enough for two people and was filled with sliced steak, sauteed mushrooms, fried onion straws, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and horseradish sauce and then grilled. My friends chose the home made Cajun potato chips as an accompaniment. Although the chips were a little bit burnt that night, I suspect Chef Burchell will set a standard that will be hit even when he is not in the kitchen.

The salads at Avenue Bistro are the best in the city. There is no other restaurant with as broad or gourmet selection. Each salad combines a perfect balance of flavors, textures and visual contrast to delight the senses of a hungry diner. The salads taste as delicious as they look and this is the only place in town where ordering a salad as an entree means you will not be hungry before your next meal. Seriously. This is not a plate designed for those among us who order a salad and push their forks around the plate to avoid ingesting any calories. This is a hearty and health conscious meal.

On another visit I sampled the salmon salad($14) and the Stilton Steak Salad ($15). The salmon salad has an Asian twist with a combination of crunchy rice noodles, radishes, scallions, mushrooms, sesame seeds and almonds over mixed greens and features a 6oz grilled salmon fillet served with Teriyaki vinaigrette. The Stilton Steak Salad is served with house made Stilton bleu cheese dressing, Roma tomatoes, chopped red onion, enoki mushrooms and candied walnuts. It is a sensory delight. Both the lunch and dinner menus include the full variety of salads. I can't wait to get back and try the Grilled Pear Chicken Salad ($12) and the Grilled Tuna Steak Salad ($14).

With all this eating, the Glass City Gourmet uses her gym membership regularly and sometimes is just a little too misty for the dining room. So tonight I ordered carry-out and tried the Pizzas. Keep in mind that the restaurant is owned by Pat Giammarco, Chuck Mirra, and Dr. Ashraf Banoub. There is no question that Pat and Chuck take pizza very seriously and installed a stone oven for the sole purpose of making a thin and lightly browned crust. The Margarita ($11.00) and the Mediterranean Bistro Pizza ($12.00) are terrific. For the Bistro Pizza, the slim crust is coated with garlic butter and topped with chicken, onions, tomatoes, Greek olives, mozzarella and feta cheese.

The desserts are all made on the premises. This is a rarity in Toledo and a real treat. The night I was there with friends for dinner, we tried everything and passed the plates twice. Everybody wanted more, more, more. I have to say the cranberry and orange bread pudding was my favorite.

Avenue Bistro is new again. The prices are reasonable, the portions are generous, the atmosphere is relaxing, and the service is friendly and helpful. Go for lunch, go for dinner, go to the bar and meet Nikki for a stiff drink or advice on the wine selections. If you decide to make a dinner reservation, ask to sit in "Little Debbie's" section. She's a mother of five and a career waitress who can read the mood of the table to pace your meal and interact with you appropriately. She kids with the kidders and works formally and quietly around a business meeting. Do your part to support the Toledo economy by dining out at this locally owned suburban treasure.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Masala Cuisine of India

Masala Cuisine of India
1855 South Reynolds Road
Toledo, OH 43614
Mon – Sat 11:00am to 3:00pm, 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Sun – 11:30am to 3:00pm, 5:00pm – 9:30pm

Masala is the word used to describe a mix of spices used in Indian cooking either dried or as a paste. True to the essence of its name, Masala delivers a broad mix of Northern Indian specialties. Located in a strip mall near the corner of Reynolds and Glendale, the restaurant is inconspicuous and the interior is completely forgettable. This is in sharp contrast to the food, which explodes with scent, texture and flavor.

I started out with the assorted appetizers ($6.99). A plate of traditional Indian fried savories arrived at the table within moments. It included samosa, pakora, meat samosa and chicken pakora and was served with a spicy and sweet tamarind dipping sauce as well as a tart coriander (cilantro) sauce. If you’ve never had Indian food, this is a great way to sample the wonders of the North.

The menu includes Tandoori Chicken (4pc $8.99, full $15.99) as well as lamb kababs ($9.99) and other meat dishes prepared in a clay oven.

My table shared the lamb korma ($9.99) and the chicken tikka masala ($9.99). Both dishes were served with basmati rice. The lamb was cooked in a creamy curry blended with a mix of Indian herbs and spices. The combination of flavors was both elegant and delicious. The chicken tikka masala was also a creamy tomato based sauce but was spicier than the lamb. In spite of the similar appearances of the two dishes, the tastes and textures were distinctly different. We also ordered a side of raitha ($2.99) to cool our palates. For the uninitiated, raitha is yogurt mixed with a combination of chopped vegetables such as tomatoes, onion and/or cucumber.

To make the most of every dish, we ordered a basket of naan (soft, Indian bread $1.99) to soak up the remaining curry and the piquant tikka masala sauce. I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t a really ugly habit I’ve carried from the universal sauce mopping Italians to the more culturally diverse subcontinent…but it’s impossible to savor every drop of sauce without sliding a piece of naan across your plate a few times. We also ordered palak paneer kulcha, an Indian bread stuffed with cheese and spinach ($3.99). It had a cooling effect in our Midwestern mouths.

No Indian meal in America is complete without a lassi ($2.99). I ordered a mango lassi, which is typically cold, blended yogurt and mango pulp served over ice and with a straw. There aren’t as many varieties of lassi as there are versions of masala, and I’m pretty sure you have to eat in the home of Indian-Americans if you want to try other flavors. And yes, this is a not so subtle hint to any of my Indian American friends looking for an appreciative diner at their next home cooked meal.

The waiters at Masala are particularly friendly and willing to explain the menu to anyone who has never had Indian food before. I noticed our waiter taking his time to describe the various dishes to other customers who were struggling with what to order and very apprehensive of the spice intensity. I couldn’t help but ease drop to hear that these adventurous neophytes enjoyed their meal.

Masala is a welcome addition to the group of Indian restaurants in Toledo.

If you’ve never had Indian food before, I encourage you to grab a group of friends and go discover the sensual delights of Indian cuisine. It is just another way to support the local economy with a moderately priced meal, while possibly trying something new.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Petit Fours - Chic. Simple. Delicious.

Petit Fours Patisserie and The Cafe
The Oliver House
27 Broadway Street
Toledo, OH 43604
ph: 419-724-4477
fax: 419-724-4478

Monday through Saturday
Breakfast 7am-10:30am
Lunch 11am-3:00pm

In March of 2006, Karen Lucas opened Petit Fours Patisserie and cafe in Downtown Perrysburg. Karen's culinary background includes time with LadyFingers, a high end catering business that thrived a few decades ago and was eventually acquired by Gladieux. She has also had the opportunity to travel extensively to major cities in both the US and Europe where she gained exposure and familiarity with specialized products and techniques.

Recently, Karen sold the business to the Oliver House. While Karen still maintains an advisory role with her esteemed attention to every detail, the day to day operations are handled by pastry chef, Liz Grosjean.

The breakfast menu features "savories", "signature organic granolas" and "pastries". While the pastries can vary, European standards are the norm. The Croissant and Pain au Chocolat are the perfect consistency of flaky, buttery heaven and come in regular ($2.50) and petit ($1.50) sizes. Scones ($.85), cheese strudel($2.50), Almond Kringler ($2.00) and Almond Cherry Jalousie ($2.00) are nothing less than melt in your mouth perfection.

For those seeking a heartier breakfast, there is frequently a Quiche of the Day
($5.50). If the last time you ate a quiche was in 1975, and you swore them off after the publication of "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" - make a trip to Petit Fours just to try one again. Real men DO eat quiche, especially when they are prepared in the traditional French method with a combination of eggs, egg yolks, milk and heavy cream. The texture is more like custard and the result is magnifique! If you learn to love quiche, you can take home a 6" round ($10.95) or a 10" round ($24.95) and feed your family.

The house made signature granola is crunchy and delicious. Flavors include maple cherry walnut, honey peanut, and lemon ginger. The Signature Organic Granolas are served with yogurt ($4.25 petit/$5.50 regular) or cold milk ($4.00).

The lunch menu at Petit Fours is concise and well portioned. The signature tomato basil soup is thick and chunky with a chiffonade of basil sprinkled over the top. The soup du jour when I visited was a sherried mushroom soup that was divine. Both soups are available in a cup ($3.25) or a bowl ($4.25). I sampled the Croque Monsieur ($7.50), cold Curried Chicken salad sandwich ($7.25) and a "Parma Pasta" salad (side $5.25, regular $7.25).

The Croque Monsieur is made with brown sugar ham and smoked mozzarella on a Parmesan crusted bread. The combination of flavors is subtle and elegant. The cold curried chicken salad sandwich was a savory blend of roasted chicken, bamboo shoots, white raisins and a creamy lemon curry sauce served with sliced cucumber and alfalfa sprouts on a whole wheat bun. All sandwiches are served with thin and crispy, lightly seasoned, homemade potato chips. Ooh, la, la! They are so naughty.

The "Parma Pasta" salad contains walnut and basil pesto, fresh tomato slices and black olives. This is the only true pesto available in any restaurant in Toledo. If you've never tried pesto, or you've only tried that dreadful watered down version available in most Toledo Italian restaurants you MUST sample the Parma Pasta and find out why the Glass City Gourmet gets so grumpy when she doesn't get the real thing! Pesto is an unmistakable earthy blend of fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil. The Petit Fours version contains walnuts which is a worthy enhancement to the perfection of pesto.

After all of these wonderful options, it is impossible to resist the Patisserie that is the headliner at Petit Fours. The sweets range from cakes, cupcakes, pies, tarts, cookies, brownies, bar cookies, cream pastries and tea breads to puddings and cobblers. The selection is vast and changes daily. When I visited, I tried the peach cobbler ($3.25) and was pleased with the topping and not too sweet peaches. There is a Belgian Chocolate Brownie ($1.50) available. What else do you really need to know about that? I couldn't resist the caramel, almond and cherry bar ($1.50) or another round of Karen Lucas' signature Bourbon Balls (5 for $2.50).

Keep in mind that Petit Fours is a bakery and specializes in extraordinary wedding and special occasion cakes. Chef Grosjean has an album of her work to spark ideas and can work with almost any budget and theme to create a memorable and savory confection for any occasion. Call to set up an appointment.

If you want to have a cosmopolitan gourmet breakfast or lunch, while supporting the local economy, take time to find Petit Fours at the back of the Oliver House. If you crave the specialty pastries you ate the last time you were traveling, this is the best place in the area to fulfill your need.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Old Time Toledo Dining

Ask anyone in Toledo what the longest running locally owned and operated restaurant is and you will get a myriad of answers. Ask someone what the oldest full service restaurant in Toledo is that is 1) still open for business 2)still owned by the same family and 3) in the same location as where it started - and the list dwindles down to three.

"The Toledo Trio", as I like to call them:

Mancy's Steakhouse - 1921
953 Phillips Avenue
Toledo, OH
(419) 476-4154‎

Inky's Italian - 1957
3945 North Detroit Avenue
Toledo, Ohio 43612
(419) 476-0500

The Seafood - circa 1958
5504 Alexis Road
Sylvania, Ohio

When I decided to check out these Toledo landmarks, I found out very quickly that the only thing these restaurants have in common is longevity. Mancy's is rated by Esquire magazine as "one of the top 40 steakhouses in America." Inky's is an old fashioned neighborhood Italian restaurant and The Seafood specializes in deep fried Lake Erie yellow perch, pickerel (a.k.a walleye) and battered and deep fried onion rings.

If you are looking for a place to impress out-of-town guests, a date, your parents, a client or anyone else for that matter - go to Mancy's. It's the kind of place where men can be men and women are treated like ladies. The service is always impeccable.

The steaks are "premium grade corn feed Midwestern beef that is aged and hand butchered on premise and charbroiled at temperatures exceeding 1200 degrees." You simply can't do anything this good at home.

It's easy to pair a Mancy's steak with a glass, carafe or bottle of wine from one of the most comprehensive wine lists in the city. Mancy's Steaks and seafood entrees are all served with a house salad that is presented on a chilled pewter plate. It's a nice touch from a more genteel time. Although, I wish they'd bring back "Green Goddess" dressing. Seriously. I double-dog-dare you to ask Mike Mancy when they plan to "go green" and put Green Goddess dressing back on the menu...That's right. Ask him. And when he doesn't laugh at that lame joke, you can tell him you're just part of a Glass City Gourmet caper to bring back the Green Goddess!

All dinners at Mancy's come with home made bread and a choice of a 1 lb. baked potato, hand cut fries, hash browns (I typically order them well done with onions), wild rice pilaf, boiled redskins or vegetables. You can also order classic steak house favorites such as an iceberg wedge salad, steamed asparagus or broccoli served with Hollandaise sauce, and sautéed spinach with wild mushrooms. If you grew up in Toledo and haven't been to Mancy's since your grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary or a company holiday party...go back. It's worth the splurge and so are you.

Mancy's is a tough act to follow.

It took thirty plus years for another restaurant to open with staying power. Enter Inky's. There is something charming about the original neon sign above the door, the white trellises, the leather booths, and the old straw wrapped Chianti bottles that decorate the restaurant. There is something quaint about the waitresses who've worked there for years and will steer you to the house favorites. There is something very 1950's about an Italian menu that features: pizza, lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, spaghetti and meat balls, house made ravioli, etc. With the exception of the pizza, everything is covered in ladles of Inky's famous homemade tomato sauce. If your kids won't eat here, they don't deserve to go out to eat! The prices are family friendly and the dining room is brightly lit so you won't miss anything. This is not a place for romance, but it sure is fun. Grab a crowd and order enough for the table to eat "family style". You won't have to worry about getting enough food for the whole soccer team or cleaning all those dirty dishes.

The third restaurant in this "triad of timelessness" is The Seafood. It is located in an old house that was converted to a full service restaurant in Sylvania. If fried food is comfort food for you, this is your home away from home. The restaurant is moderately priced and a great place to take your parents if they like a stiff drink and a plate of locally caught and fried fish. The onion rings are a house special and come in a high stack. All meals are served with bread and house salads. The ambiance is pleasant, but not memorable. The Seafood is a safe place to take family members who use "different" as an adjective to describe anything that wasn't a part of their early childhood.

As Toledo continues to suffer the pains of a downward economy please find the time and a little bit of cash to support locally owned restaurants. We owe it to our community to keep them around for the next generation.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kyoto Ka

Kyoto Ka
6801 West Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43615

Monday thru Thursday
11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M
4:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M.

11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M
4:30 P.M. to 10:30 P.M.

Noon to 10:30 P.M.

3 P.M. to 9 P.M.

Visa, Mastercard, American Express

As Toledo suffers the blows of the economic downturn, it's hard to even contemplate dinner on the town. My completely biased and unsubstantiated theory is that people will go out to eat a meal they can't possibly cook at home. For this reason, sushi restaurants seem to be staying busy.

Kyoto Ka opened in November of 2007 on Central Avenue near Meijer's. It is a pleasant space with red walls and bamboo accents. Chef Joe spent seven years perfecting his ability to please the American palate at Cleveland's number one sushi spot "Sushi Rock". Most recently, Chef Joe brought on Chef Chun who helped open YOKO and also worked at Kotobuki before coming to Kyoto Ka. The two chefs have created an extensive menu featuring traditional sushi, cooked entrees, and Americanized maki rolls to suit the public. The menu also includes a few Korean favorites such as Dol Sot Bi Bim Bop ($13.95) and Korean Chirashi ($16.95).

On my first visit, I ordered the seaweed salad ($4.25). It was delicious and a nice sized portion. I also sampled the rainbow roll ($10.95). The fish was fresh and the texture and color were perfect.

Last weekend, I dined with a friend and we ordered more of the house specialties. We started with the Kani Su Maki ($3.95). This is a maki roll that consists of a cucumber rolled around crab, a chunk of avocado, and served with a tasty sesame sauce. It was delicious. We also tried the gyoza ($5.95). These are Japanese fried dumplings that arrived at the table crazy hot. In my haste to sample these little treats, I scorched the roof of my mouth. I'd better get on my game before I start looking for Toledo's best Pizza or I will be unfit for the job. Needless to say, once they cooled to a more reasonable warmth the gyoza were delicious.

We split the black dragon roll ($13.95). The roll contained shrimp tempura,
cucumber, crab, avocado with toasted eel and a sweet sauce on top. The eel had a mild flavor and was more like a flaky white fish, which we thought was a plus. We also shared the caterpillar roll ($12.95) This roll also contained eel, crab, cucumber with
avocado on top. For those who are fans of Japanese mayo and cream cheese in their rolls, there is a full assortment of that style of rolls. The cooked entrees include, salmon steak ($21.95), tuna steak ($21.95), and spicy seafood pasta ($14.95).

For dessert, Kyoto Ka offers mochi ice cream. Mochi is a soft dough like outer shell with a golf ball sized piece of ice cream on the inside ($2.50 each). We sampled the green tea, red bean, strawberry and mango flavors. If you've never tried green tea or red bean flavors, order at least one. You will not be disappointed. These are more common tastes for Asian sweets and they are wonderful.

Kyoto Ka has something for everyone: the sushi connoisseur, the sushi novice, the cooked fish and cream cheese lover, and the steak fan. Bring a group of friends or your family and enjoy this special place.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Toledo's Best Guacamole

The search for "Toledo's Best Guacamole" sent me all over the city to find locally owned Mexican restaurants.

It was a "challenge" that became a "quest" and ended up as a full scale "caper". I spent two lunches and one whirlwind afternoon hunting for Mexican restaurants around the Toledo area. Nothing could stop me: not my poor sense of geography, not the fear of consuming over 5,000 calories of guacamole in 24 hours, not the strength of the margaritas, nor the redundancy of eating nine plates of guacamole. Nothing and no one could keep me from my irrational search for the perfect guacamole.

For the uninitiated, guacamole has its roots in the Aztec culture of Mexico which flourished from about 1428-1521 A.D. At that time, the avocados were mashed with a mortal and pestle called "molcajete". The earliest known recipes contained chopped tomatoes and salt. The word “guacamole” comes from a native dialect from Central Mexico. The literal translation is "avocado sauce". Over time, recipes evolved and changed so that guacamole recipes are as unique as the chef or home cook who prepares them.

With this in mind, I began my tasting experience by comparing ingredients, texture, and flavor. Every restaurant was gracious enough to give me a list of ingredients. Frank Villa of El Tipico went so far as to give me an enchanting lesson in purchasing a perfect avocado and demonstrate the proper technique for making authentic guacamole.

The ten finalists and three winners represent the full geography of our community and the diverse backgrounds of the owners of each establishment. Prices for guacamole appetizers are all priced between $1.95 and $4.95 depending on if it is served as a 2oz condiment or a full appetizer.

The Glass City Gourmet Guacamole Champions:
1. El Tipico (1444 S. Avenue - S. Toledo) - Winner of the most authentic and traditional guacamole
2. Mi Hacienda (Glanzman - S. Toledo) - Winner of the best "homestyle chunky" guac and best presentation.
3. Pepe's (Sylvania Avenue - W. Toledo) - Winner of the gourmet "Guacamole Nuevo"

Other finalists (in alphabetical order):

Casa Baron (209 Louisiana Avenue - Perrysburg)
Carmel's (2947 Tremainsville - W. Toledo)
Dos Hermanos (1705 S. Wheeling - Oregon)
El Camino Real (2500 W. Sylvania Avenue - W. Toledo)
El Nuevo Vallarta (3330 W. Central Avenue - Toledo)
Loma Linda's (10400 Airport Highway - Swanton)
Ventura's (7742 W.Bancroft - Toledo)

If you like a mild, smooth and creamy guacamole head to Casa Baron, Dos Hermanos, El Camino, El Nuevo Vallarta, or El Tipico. These recipes all contain avocado, chopped tomato and salt. Dos Hermanos and El Nuevo Vallarta also add a little cilantro for extra flavor while Casa Baron's version has a black pepper kick.

If you like a chunky guacamole with small pieces of avocado still in the mix, Carmel's, Loma Linda, Mi Hacienda, Pepe's, and Ventura's will give you what you're after. Pepe's wins special honors for it's unique recipe that includes avocado, chopped tomato and onion, a bit of garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and both salt & pepper. The addition of garlic is a European twist I suspect came from Becky and John Skiadas, the Greek original owners of the restaurant. James Foster is running Pepe's now. I'll admit I had not been to Pepe's in years and was delighted with this rediscovery. I hope the patio with the strings of white lights over head and the running fountain is still intact this summer.

Mi Hacienda distinguished itself by serving the guacamole in a small taco chip bowl. It was a nice touch and I enjoyed finishing the last bits of guacamole as I cracked the bowl into bite sized pieces.

Toledo retains it's reputation for great Mexican restaurants and there is a guacamole dip or guacamole salad for every preference.

Until next month, Viva Guacamole!

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Executive Diner

Executive Diner
2516 Sylvania Avenue
Toledo, OH 43613

Monday-Saturday 6:00AM - 2:00PM (Winter Hours 7am - 2pm)
Sunday 7:00AM - 2:00PM (Winter Hours 7am - 3pm)

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Building upon the great success of El Camino Real, El Camino Sky, and El Camino Ann Arbor local restaurateur Jesus Angel brought together a team of professionals to create "Executive Diner". House manager Jennifer Hurst and executive chef, Jared DeBlaere worked with Jesus to develop a standard diner menu accented with Mexican specialties. They also have a liquor license that allows them to serve beer, mimosas, Bailey's and coffee and Bloody Mary's.

The restaurant features an open air kitchen that is elegantly appointed with hand laid mosaic tiles, a stained glass drop ceiling, and a polished copper partition. The dining room is comfortable with both tables and booths dressed with copper salt shakers and pepper grinders. Decorated with custom built wood paneled walls and a library in the entry, Executive Diner has a welcoming home-like atmosphere. The decor, combined with a wait staff dressed tastefully in black shirts and pants, makes Executive Diner a family and business friendly alternative to the "eggs and legs" diners of Toledo.

The food at Executive Diner is as good as it reads on the menu. The "Firecracker Shrimp" ($9.50) includes ten shrimp coated in a special blend of tortilla crumbs, cheese and chipotle peppers and deep fried to crispy perfection. It is served with El Camino's homemade salsa and tastes delicious with a Bloody Mary ($4.00) featuring a dash of Chohula hot sauce and a fresh celery stalk. Order "Firecracker Shrimp" for the table the minute you are seated.

Mexican breakfast specials include Yucatan Eggs/Huevos Motulenos ($5.50), Submarine Eggs/Huevos Submarines ($5.50), Divorced Eggs/Huevos Divorciados ($5.50), and a choice of a Mexican Burrito ($5.50) or a Tex-Mex Burrito ($5.50). All are served with home fries and contain traditional house made Mexican ingredients such as red and green salsa, chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage) and fresh Mexican cheeses all provided by the kitchen staff at El Camino.

One of my guests tried the waffle ($5.50). It was cooked perfectly and served with tasty syrup. Another friend tried the traditional Eggs Benedict ($6.50) The hollandaise was a sunny yellow color, smooth and had just the right amount of lemon juice. However, it seems that the chef that morning was still working on his timing for the poached eggs. The Mexican omelet ($6.50) is fluffy and features El Camino's home made chorizo and Mexican style cheese. It is also served with home fries and toast.

Executive Diner is popular with neighborhood regulars, breakfast fans, and even clergy from local parishes. As Jennifer Hurst explained, "Executive Diner is a gift to the neighborhood that has been so supportive to El Camino." She added, "We wanted to price the menu so someone can have breakfast and a drink for $10, tip included." At these prices, you can afford to leave a bigger tip.

I look forward to heading back and sampling the Executive Diner lunch menu soon.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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