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Monday, March 22, 2010

Tasting Cleveland is Best Done in Groups

Sometimes it takes a visiting out-of-towner to help you see what's in your back yard.

This isn't an uncommon phenomena. When I lived in Padua, Italy, I tried not to see anything remotely famous in the area, figuring SOMEONE would come to make me see it again. When I visited my cousin in St. Louis, she claimed that she saw more in St. Louis that weekend with me, than ever.

These are possibly exaggerations on both counts, but it's true we don't take as much effort when we're alone because we'll always be near that place to check out later. It's our vacation destinations where we put the extra effort in to see as much as we can (check this blog in the next two weeks!!).

So, when my girlfriend's friends came in from Rhode Island for a few days, we decided to all go out with some other mutual friends to a Cleveland spot...where someone got a sense of the city...where the food helped reflect the culture...where an artist wouldn't feel the wallet pinch too tightly...and where we, as "locals" could go somewhere we've been meaning to go for a while.

And we came up with Sokolowski's University Inn in Tremont.

(this photo taken on the way out)

The only main obstacle foreseen was the time. We were meeting on a Friday during Lent in Catholic country. The place, itself, served Polish food with pierogi, which was a common meal for a Catholic on a Lenten Friday. They would also have fish, so the place would be filled.

And when we all met in three different cars, we were in 8. Eight people at the end of a considerably long line.

First, we passed through a dining area where people were bringing back their food topped with potato pierogies, kraut, rolls, salads and what-not. It took some time to get through the first room, only to find ourselves in the bar room, where the line turned and went into another direction.

Here are two pics from the spot where the line took a turn...

Looking back to the entry of the first room we went through.

Looking in the direction to the room we were heading to (which had the food).

And a nice view of Cleveland.

Slowly we approached the cafeteria-style serving area... portraits of the owners looked upon you.

The first thing you noticed was the dessert area. I say this not only because the desserts, combined with a growling stomach, made the mouth water, but because the majority of our group overlooked the napkins and silverware to our right as we approached it. It wasn't until the drink area (halfway down) that I noticed trays next to me practically barren from anything - save the dessert - and we had to yell down to others to pass over some utensils.

Also, at the dessert area, reflexes were quick. My girlfriend's hand snuck under for the chocolate pie before I could even get my camera phone in place.

Notice how her face is completely unaware of this event! Imagine her surprise when she found it on her plate!

I, myself, wanted something more old-school. So I went with the rice pudding.

The line progressed with beverages (beer, soft drinks, and their own root beer).

Soon, we were getting close to the hot food and I wasn't sure what I wanted yet.

I was crossed between the Salisbury Steak, which they were famous for, and the kielbasa. My girlfriend said she was getting pierogies for sure, so there was no need for me to order those. A tasting was planned! But kielbasa was typically salty and Salisbury seemed typically processed.

I really didn't know what to do.

Then I found out they had potato pancakes. Maybe I could get a side of that? But she wanted one too and I found out that one pancake counted as one it'd have to be a separate side order. What was it going to be?

Walking further left, it was suddenly my turn. With a last second decision between the kielbasa and the Salisbury Steak, I went with the steak, side of potato and corn (on top on potatoes) in a moat of gravy. This also came with a roll and a salad plate.

My girlfriend got the kielbasa with a side of pierogies and kraut.

Now, an hour after we arrived, we had our food and the eight of us crammed into a table for 6. I was between a wall and table behind me as all our trays did not fit along the table's wooden surface. We lifted trays and brought our plates down, using our Tetris skills to the best of our ability so that everything would fit.

Those at the end of the table were sent off as hunters to bring back some salad delights. There was no way I was going anywhere from that spot. If I wanted a salad that badly, I should have done it before sitting down.

I looked down at my food swimming in gravy and wished I asked the woman behind the counter not to put so much gravy in. I don't like gravy or au jus or anything of those things really. Things in crock pots freak me out. I don't even care for soup (see previous entry).

But, in the end, I looked past it and it really didn't matter...because I sliced off pieces of Salisbury steak and spread each bite with a corny dab of potato and everything was fine.

Concerning the food in general, it was good. Granted, I thought the kielbasa casing was too tough and the potato pancakes cooked too much, but the pierogies were light and flavorful and those yogurty cucumbers in the salad bar were out of this world!

My rice pudding was tasty and moist and great. And her chocolate pie... was different than just chocolate pudding.

It tasted like licking chocolate cake batter really. I was happy her hand pulled it before her face figured out what was going on.

Her hand is awesome!

But, when it came down to it, I thought the experience with good people ended up being more of a highlight for me than the food. And, with that said, I also feel that, with this particular group, I would feel the same in any other restaurant in the world. So I did enjoy Sokolowski's, but I enjoyed my company more. They were great dinner mates.

I only keep their names (including the girlfriend) private out of respect for them. But, if they come across this blog, they'll know who they are.

It's not always the food itself that makes going out wonderful. I've had many great-tasting meals that have been horrible experiences.

Great company is the best spice of all.

1 comment:

  1. i think you can safely and officially refer to the girlfriend as Julia. (says the girlfriend.)