The Sausage King

100_3738Ever wonder what chicken Normandy or champagne and lobster would taste like in a tubed form?  Just looking for brats and andouille?  Either way, Gibbs Butcher Block is the place to check out.

The shop sits nestled along the Rocky River’s west branch, away from the center of Columbia Station.

Besides the various, and sometimes curious, selection of meats, Gibbs also sells beer, produce, snacks, and a wide choice of sauces and marinades.  Part specialty sausage shop, part country market.

0310131345Locals know it, and love it.  On a recent Sunday visit, I had trouble just moving around the store’s narrow aisles, as crowded as it was.

If the choices seem overwhelming, Gibbs does a weekly Sausage Sampling each Saturday.  From personal experience, I have not had a bad sausage.  That Sunday we decided with the cranberry apple chicken and the champagne lobster and both turned out to be excellent choices.

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The Bar Around the Corner

Everybody has their go-to spots.  Cornerstone is one of mine.  And it is stop #2 on the TiMC Cleveland Beer Tour.

CornerStone, right on the Berea Triangle, brews a number of seasonal drafts on top of their stand-bys of Grindstone Gold and Sandstone Lager.  They also brew their own root beer, which sells out quick.  If it’s there, get some while you can.

I like the mellow atmosphere of the brewpub.  The building and décor are simple: exposed brick, an open kitchen, and a few Prohibition-era pictures.  It just feels like a part of the neighborhood.

This time at my go-to spot I got my go-to dishes.  We started with the Brewer’s Pretzels appetizer.  A regular buttery, salted pretzel and a jalapeno cheese stuffed pretzel, accompanied by honey mustard and ranch dipping sauces.

Then, of course, the pulled pork sandwich.  And CornerStone has one of the better pulled pork sandwiches I’ve had around here.

For beers I went with a Pleasurable Demise American-style pale ale and the Erie Blü, both seasonal.

The Erie Blü surprised me.  I’m not big on fruit beers, but the berry flavors were refreshing and not too over the top.

The real joy of having go-to spots is sharing them with others.  So I encourage you, dear readers, check it out and let me know what you think.

Running Shoes Out of the Box

The running community of Brecksville was buzzing yesterday with the opening of the new Vertical Runner store on Brecksville Road.  The new store accompanies VR’s Hudson location in providing local runners good running gear and even better service.

The store opened at 10 a.m.  By the time I got there at 10:45, the place was full.  An army of VR staff bounced around the store, boxes upon boxes of shoes in hand for customers to try.  In the middle of the action, store co-founder Vince Rucci talked with runners about the store, beaming like a proud parent.

Throw the Pasta

With the opening of D.C. Pasta Company last week, the food scene in Strongsville became a little stronger.

Dante Boccuzzi’s latest project serves up homemade pastas with sauces picked for that specific pasta.  Pastas are offered in three sizes: Taste, Appetizer, and Main.  Starters including polenta and Tuscan bean soup are also offered, as well as plates of cheeses, meats, and “marinated stuff.”

Our lunch started with house ciabatta served with a rosemary white bean paste, which tasted a bit like a thinner hummus.  An order of the bocconcino di mozarella followed.  The cheese was drizzled with olive oil and served with an apricot accompaniment.  Sweetness from apricot and honey, and a slight tang of balsamic vinegar meshed with the ethereal taste of dairy.

For my mains, I ordered a Taste plate each of strozzapreti alla norma and tortellini di zucca.  The first burst with flavors of eggplant and basil.  Pigtail pasta, a little thicker from its shape, provided that bit of chewiness that boxed pasta doesn’t have.

The tortellini tasted right from fall.  Each bite made me think of changing leaves floating in chilly breezes.  Stuffed with pumpkin and amaretto cookies, I expected a sweeter filling.  But any sweetness was light, to the dish’s credit.

To finish, we split the tartufo di cioccolato.  A snow globe sized ball of hazelnut and amaretto gelati surrounded by a chocolate mouse, all coated in cocoa powder.  The mouse dissolved in the mouth instantly, adding a contrast of both taste and texture with the gelati.  Lovers of Nutella rejoice.

D.C. surprised me in a few ways.

I liked the idea of Taste portions as a way to try different dishes.  With the cheese and bread, two taste dishes satisfied my hunger and left enough room for dessert.

Our entire meal (including two more unmentioned Taste dishes) cost less than what I’d spend for two at Olive Garden.  Now compare those.  Less money for better much better food.

And the location isn’t where I’d expect one of Cleveland’s top chefs to open a new spot.  Not only is it in a strip mall, it is away from the street at the back of the strip mall.

The spot concerns me.  Jeff Jarrett’s Palate once occupied the same space, but soon struggled.  Boccuzzi seems to understand the environment the restaurant is in, as reflected in his prices.  As people learn of the restaurant and eat there, I think a following can grow quickly.

Having grown up near Strongsville, I want to see D.C. succeed.  The southern suburbs need more culinary variety.  Along with Michael Symon’s B Spot, D.C. can change that.

Brewing Up a Storm

I’m a beer snob.  I won’t deny it.  Part of that is just the way I am.  Part I blame on the Winking Lizard’s World Tour of Beers (more on that some other time).

And what better place to be for beer snobs?  Sure, the whole emergence of the microbrew industry over the past 10 years has changed beer-drinking across the country for the better.  But are all cities as saturated with microbreweries as Cleveland?

There are so many choices for beer-lovers to find something unique.

There’s only one place they can make it themselves.

The Brew Kettle owns the market here…with much success.  Every time I’m in the brewery, the place is crammed full.  As of this past Monday, their brew appointments were filled until August.  I’ve heard friends as far as North Carolina say people there know about it.

Brewers at TBK seem to fall into two categories.  The first are people who just want to make something unique to drink and serve.  To others, the chance to see what goes into beer making becomes an Intro to Home Brewing course.

That’s what draws me.  Beyond the notion of drinking just for a buzz, beer is interesting stuff.  Seeing how certain ingredients make a stout rather than an IPA, and what adding more malt or hops will do to the taste.  Just like cooking.

So I’m a bit of a dork and love learning about new things.  But as the shirts of the Brew Kettle workers say: “Give a man a beer, and he drinks for a day.  But teach a man to brew, and he drinks for life.”

Coffee Break

I’m not a coffee connoisseur.  I can’t taste a cup and distinguish between a Kenyan bean or Columbian bean.  But I do like coffee, and coffeehouses.

With an afternoon free and sick of big-box blandness, we ventured to Rocky River.  The coffee shop caught my eye.  Erie Island Coffee Company.

As said before, I don’t compare coffee shops by their coffee.  I don’t have the palate for that.  As long as the coffee isn’t muddied dishwater, I’ll drink it.  Instead, I compare by their vibe: charm, décor, people.

The industrial interior played well with the building, a former garage of some sort.  Big windows and an open floor made the place bright in the afternoon sun.  And a big counter running along the shop front made for good people watching on Detroit Avenue.  During a busy evening, that could entertain me for hours.

Coffee was served in the plain paper cups, or in mugs which could be refilled for 50₵.  Very nice if you want to spend the day at the shop, studying or writing a paper.

Prices were very good, at least for what I got: Two cups of coffee and a big, sharable M&M cookie cost me $6.  Better than those other coffee places, if you know what I mean.

I can’t say that this has become my favorite coffee place in the area, a tough feat for any new place after one visit.  But next time I’m in Rocky River (or around E. 4th, their other location) I’ll stop again.

[A favorite touch of mine were their souvenir mugs, covered with the words, “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  The mugs were a fun tribute to Commodore Perry and his impact on the history of Lake Erie, Ohio, and the nation.  What can I say…I’m a sucker for anything that plays on locale history.]