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Whistle a Happy Tune: Cleveland Food Tour at Whistler’s in Avon

Located right at a very busy corner of Avon on Detroit Avenue and 611 sits Whistler’s Wood Fire Grill. Sort of a strange looking front as you drive by as it sort of resembles a shabby shack or old barn, but in reality it used to be an ice cream place — as we understand it. The front section is well lit and most likely this was added to put the actual 700 degree wood fire oven in, and it features a quaint little bar that seats four and about 5 or 6 tables in the space, which also leads out to a front patio.

The side entrance (main entrance) is the main dining room with a much larger bar. Why did we start with the decor? Well, for as amazing good as the food and service is, the actual decor and design of the place is at best confusing and at worst, really, really dated and kinda shabby, particularly when you look at the menu and corresponding prices — dinners are priced the same as much, much, MUCH higher end establishments. Now, having said that the food is good is an understatement — the food (and service) were fantastic. But, when it’s 5 p.m. on a Friday night and we are the only two folks in the place, there’s a sign.

Whistler’s is suffering from a brand identity crisis and is in desperate need of clarifying the message while updating the space to fit the menu and the cool factor of the wood fire grill. A bad website, awful decor, furniture from a cheap diner, yet the prices for a steak rival or if not more than Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris. It was strange, here you are in a rather expensive restaurant, yet you have sports on several TVs and really old WWII stuff, which made no sense at all? A bit of advice, hire a marketing professional to give you a little image makeover and a redesign of the front of house and the website, a clarified brand and message as to “what you are,” better and smarter promotions on social media and our bet is this place would be packed. Because…

The food is excellent. It’s fresh. It’s well crafted and thought out, and everything was absolutely cooked to perfection in that amazing wood fire grill.

The second bar in the front room had a few beers on tap and a nice wine and spirits selection. And, you can actually watch the wood fire grill from there, so it was a cool place to sit. We ordered the shrimp crostini and fried calamari as an appetizer, and both were very good — flavorful and fresh. The calamari was not frozen, it was hand cut, hand dipped and fried fresh and you can definitely tell the difference. Dinner was a 12 oz NY strip and lobster tail, which came with fresh zuke salad and a baked spud. Absolutely wood fired to perfection, flavorful, juicy and a perfect medium rare. The lobster was tender and moist, bursting with lobster awesomeness, and the sides were well prepared. In all, absolutely fantastic food. Great service, but I felt kinda bad for the cook and the waitress there on a Friday night hustling for tips with two whole customers.

Give Whistler’s a try, you’ll be glad you did. But, be prepared, it’s pricey (one dinner, two apps and a couple beers was over $100). I don’t mind paying for a good meal and good service, I just didn’t expect a $100 meal from a place that looks like really dark Flo’s Diner. Update the look, find your brand voice and this place — because of the cook and server — is a definite home run.

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Cleveland Food Tour: Cole’s Public House in Amherst

Nestled on Main Street in the quaint Sandstone City of Amherst sits the best restaurant this critic has been to in years, in Cleveland or Cincinnati, and is so far the top spot in the Greater Cleveland Food Tour. It rivals the very best of the best in Cincinnati, a great foodie town and  is reminiscent of the great spots in OTR, as well as Brew River or Incline. If you’re talking Greater Cleveland, it has a Tremont vibe but far less pretentious. Of course, I’m talking about Cole’s Public House. If you’ve haven’t been, you’re missing out and if you have, then you already know how amazing this place is.

For starters, guess what cocktail we started off with? That’s right, the holy grail quest for the perfect Old Fashioned has come to end — the holy grail is at Cole’s Public House. No, itimg_0021 is still not the standard bearer that is Bour Bon in Paris (KY), but it’s the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had in Ohio. Crafted beautifully by friendly, knowledgeable and charismatic bartenders Wendy and Mike, it was the perfect combination of rye, sugar, aromatic bitters and style (the recreation of the Cavaliers logo for the cherry and orange peel was icing on the cake.). It was, quite frankly, delicious. The space has an old feel to it, the exposed brick walls and large, heavy dark wood accented by nice lighting and natural light from the front window made the space feel larger than it actually is. The back and side walls had faux windows with scenery and was quite cleverly designed. The bar is large, with ample seating and fronting an excellent selection of draft beers and an amazing selection of bottled and canned beer from the past (black label, for example, which I’ve never actually seen) to present.

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For the entree, I can never resist fresh, raw hand shucked oysters (I call them shuckers). They have a variety of things to put on them, but of course the only way to eat them is naked. Cleaned perfectly, filled with salty briny awesomeness, these were fresh, flavorful and a site for sore eyes — oh we love a good raw bar. Just delicious, a tad pricey, so this isn’t an everyday appetizer, but yummy and nicely unexpected in Amherst.

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After the apps, I had a roasted beet salad. Two types of beets roasted to absolute perfection. Tender and flavorful, a little earthy as you like them, but not mushy. Highly recommend the beets. The entree was a delightful black cod, served over a bed of hand made spinach fettuccine served with olives, crushed tomatoes and a garlic sauce. The fish was cooked absolutely to perfection, light and flavorful, and flaked off the fork with ease — glistening with natural oils and not overly seasoned as to ruin the great taste of the fish itself. Pasta in most restaurants I find they don’t know how to make noodles al dente. These were perfectly prepared, not drowning in sauce but rather allowing the fish and the pasta to brilliantly intermingle and create an amazing texture and taste.

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Overall, what can I say 9 out of 10 or perhaps a 9.5 if we gave out such numbers. Not particularly expensive, not pretentious and incredibly fresh, friendly, vibrant and creative. The drink menu is a masterpiece of creativity and skill, and the food menu is perfectly balanced to please any foodie. HIGHLY recommended, and the best restaurant in Ohio to date.

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Cleveland Restaurant Tour: The Foundry in Elyria

About 20 minutes west of downtown is a great old blue collar town called Elyria, which has fallen on some pretty tough times over the past few decades. A once vibrant and bustling central downtown district has become a near ghost town consisting of mainly local government office buildings and seedy bars. But, recently the great old downtown corridor started to make a bit of a comeback, anchored by, of all things, a really nice McDonald’s (yes, you know it’s tough when the nicest restaurant is a Micky Ds, but I digress). So, when The Foundry opened its doors last summer, the grand old town saw a beaming light of awesome rising right on Broad Street.

The place reminds me of a hip, cool restaurant you would see downtown Cleveland in the Warehouse District or in Cincinnati’s OTR. The Foundry entrance is a cedar lined airlock, that heads you into the massive open space restaurant and bar. The walls are adorned with beautiful old brick and wood and pictures of old foundry workers. Flat screen TVs tuned to every sports event imaginable are within the line of sight no matter where you sit, but my favorite is the one you see first when you’re greeted by the hostess — a rotating photo album of old (and I mean 1800s old) Elyria. It’s spellbinding. The bar is amazing, and very large, spanning likely 30 feet long with a large archway and some of the niftiest lighting I’ve ever seen overhead (how they did it I don’t know, but I want to hire that person). The bar is flanked by high end scotch and whiskey, and behind more spirits and dozens of craft beers on tap.

We sat in the front section of the space, which seated probably 10 table tops of 4. A large fireplace was to our right, and the front is an all glass garage door which presumably is open in warmer weather — very cool. The drink menu is expansive and very creative, and I was impressed with the number of high end whiskeys certain to please even the most snobby of Scotch or Bourbon fan. The cocktails were just as impressive, so when you go, order something you’ve never had just to try it. Of course, I can’t resist a good Old Fashioned, so I started with that. While the standard bearer of all Old Fashioneds is The Bour Bon in Paris (KY) sidenote: literally, it’s worth the drive to Paris, KY just to go to Bour Bon and have their Old Fashioned, it’s life changing, this one was….okay. It’s not Bour Bon, but it was good. I am hopeful to find the quintessential Old Fashioned that is close to the world’s greatest cocktail i found in Paris — that search continues. I followed that with a Manhattan, which was properly made with a Rye base and was excellent! Highly recommend it, although again, there are dozens of clever and creative cocktails so if you go to The Foundry and order a Bud Light — please leave.

Now, on to the food, right? Well, the appetizer menu was a little weird and lacking, but there was one that stood out simply because I’ve never seen it and never had it anywhere so of course, you have to try it — I’m referring to their wasabi srirachi saki marinaded Deviled Eggs. Yep, you read correctly. So, it made the eggs look greyish green, but DAMN! they were really good. Flavor explosion with a perfect amount of heat and spice. Texture was yummy, and while a little weird, who doesn’t need a little weirdness once in a while.

The appetizer was followed up with a nice caprese salad, which we love. Okay, this one sucked. Why? It was advertised as heirloom tomatoes, with fresh local basil. While the balsamic reduction was good, if that was an heirloom tomato, I’m LeBron James. It was a thinly sliced tasteless soggy tomato from the bins at Giant Eagle. Also, no basil but an odd handful of leafy greens? This was bad, poorly constructed and generally tasteless. I’m going to guess this is not an oft ordered item at The Foundry.

Because, while there are a couple salads on the menu, this is a sandwich, pizza, burger and steak joint. They have really cool daily specials that highlight each of those, and on Friday, a seafood special of lob bisque and a beer battered Perch Sandwich (for our friends in Cincinnati, perch is the local fish delicacy in Cleveland). We went with the NY Strip, which came with garlic smashed yukons and brussel sprouts. This was quite good, and the brussels were cooked beautifully, with panchetta and the perfect amount of char. While I’m not a potato person per se, these were good — albeit HEAVY on the garlic. If you’re looking to ward off vampires, these are a great choice. Steak was flavorful and had great lines and was a good strip.

All things considered, The Foundry is simply a breath of fresh air to a town that desperately needs a success. The place has a cool vibe and a really creative and expansive menu that we can’t wait to continue to try over and over again. The Elyrian looks really good, and when we saw the burgers coming in and out from the kitchen, we admit we had a little food envy. So, we do highly recommend The Foundry, looks like the perfect place to hit after work with colleagues for a cocktail or two, great date night dinner and just an all around good experience. Give it a try.

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