Rediscovering Classic American Fare in Suburban Cleveland

16 Aug

Ah Brecksville, Ohio, the ideal all American suburb.  With its adorable historic downtown, gorgeous green belt of the Cleveland MetroParks, and closeby ski resorts, isn’t it everyone’s dream hometown?  A look at the 2000 Census statistics further confirms Brecksville’s solid standing as a wealthy (only 1.9% of families earning below poverty line), well educated (48% with college degrees), and yes, conservative ($74k in contributions to the Republican party for 2004 campaign versus $32k in contributions to the Democrats) slice of heaven for Red America suburban living.

Brecksville is also 95% white, and the homogeneity directly translates into a restaurant list that is decidedly American.  Though there are a couple of ethnic standard restaurants essential to Anytown (one Express Wok-type generic Chinese place, a couple of Italian places, and maybe a hibachi grill), there really is no better word to describe the food scene in suburban Cleveland than American.  In this somewhat dire situation, one thing is abundantly clear: there’s nothing left to do but to relax and enjoy the environment of classic American fare.

First up, brunch at Eddie’s Creekside (8803 Brecksville Road), a restaurant whose interior is all casual tables and booths but the outside deck seating nestled in the treetops of Chippewa Creek offers quite the breathtaking view.  Eddie’s has a hometown feel with families crowding the tables and chipper high school-aged waitresses.   

The breakfast menu is somewhere between standard and extensive, offering many options within omelettes, pancakes, waffles, French toast, and egg and meat combos.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw banana nut pancakes ($5.75) on the menu.  I love stuffed pancakes, and I don’t mean the regular pancakes topped with a disgusting amount of blueberries or strawberries in sickeningly sweet syrup covered in whipped cream you find at IHOP.  Ever since I had the buckwheat pancakes studded with loads of fresh blueberries (in the batter!  Not just as a topper!) for just the right amount of heavenly moisture without sogginess from The Pancake Shop in Hot Springs, Arkansas as a teenager, I’m always on the lookout for stuffed pancake greatness that can compare.  Thus far, none have been better.  Eddie’s rendition of banana nut pancakes are good, but alas, are of the “pancake topper” category rather than the “stuffed pancake” category.

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I have to say, the sheer amount of sauteed walnuts and banana slices in this dish is impressive if not exaggerated.  I skipped the Smuckers syrup since the banana nut topping was syrupy and flavorful enough to accent the fluffy pancakes.  Two delightfully chewey slices of thick slab bacon accompanied this creative spin on regular pancakes.  All in all a fantastic breakfast, just not legendary like those Hot Springs blueberry pancakes.

My companion enjoyed a plate of cinnamon French toast ($5.95), and I was pleased to see cinnamon swirl toast used instead of just regular French bread sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  Yum.

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The next day, we enjoyed lunch at The Courtyard (7600 Chippewa Road), so named for its patio dining overlooking a few shops in a strip mall.  Though also a casual restaurant, The Courtyard exudes more of a “ladies who lunch” atmosphere.

The Courtyard has quite the extensive menu, offering the kind of variety that almost competes with the monstrous menu at The Cheesecake Factory.  You can find something to suit everyone’s taste and budget, ranging from sandwiches around $8 to the 12 oz New York strip for $20.  Not in the mood for a super heavy lunch, I decided on a blueberry muffin (a different fresh baked muffin is featured every day of the week) and a bowl of French onion soup, touted by my dining companions as some of the best.

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The blueberry muffin had a texture unlike any muffin I’ve ever had.  The muffin top was like the topping of an apple crumble pie, crunchy and heavily laden with sugar.  I can see the obsession.  However, I prefer a moist, soft, traditional blueberry muffin and therefore actually ate the muffin bottom first (that never happens!) 

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The extra cheesey French onion soup had a nice onion-y broth, but lacked onion slices in the soup (I think I barely scraped up 4 to 5 slices in the whole bowl).  I was informed by a fellow diner that this soup used to have more onion slices.  Perhaps The Courtyard French onion soup of yesteryear could qualify as one of the best, but this rendition seemed lacking.

Some other plates around the table:

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Don’t order pizza at The Courtyard unless you can squeeze in your order at least 10 minutes before your dining companions.  The menu warns to allow at least 20 to 30 minutes for pizza, but in our case, that wait turned out to be at 40 minutes as the rest of the table were done with their lunch before the pizza-patron received his plate.  The pizza was excessively greasy (wipe off with napkin-appropriate) and had an unpleasant imbalance of mushrooms and chicken heavily in favor of the mushrooms.  The disproportion was also apparent in the cheese to pesto sauce ratio: too much cheese, not enough basil garlickyness. 

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Yes, this is a salad, the Texas Tumbleweed Salad, apparently both a tribute to the West Texas roadway fly-aways and the gluttonous Texan love for all things deep fried.  I am no one to argue with onion crisps atop a burger, or even a grilled chicken breast, but fried onion crisps and mushrooms in a salad is like an oxymoron.  Is this really a salad with fried toppers or is it an Awesome Blossom/fried mushroom appetizer on a bed of lettuce?  Served with a side of ranch dressing, this salad ranks up there with Chili’s Buffalo Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing as heart unfriendly.  As long as you’re able to endure the cholesterol, the salad (as anything with lots of deep fried goodness) is pretty tasty.

Then came our post lunch treat, homemade ice cream at Country Maid in Richfield (3252 W Streetsboro Rd), a place that has been around since 1948.

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This place has serious small town charm.  Located off of a scenic 2-lane road with fruit orchards on both sides, Country Maid stands out with its clean white storefront and small asphalt parking lot.  The inside is half country store (syrups, jams, nuts, pancake mixes, you know the drill) and half ice cream shop.  The place is somewhat sterile due to the lack of decor, but warm at the same time because you get the feeling that this is the same look Country Maid has had since 1948.  Outside, there’s a newly constructed deck with picnic tables overlooking the fruit orchard for you to enjoy.  And we did.

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I had a single scoop of penuche fudge and my companion a double scoop of butterscotch.  As you can see, the serving size is large and attempting a double scoop can be a feat. 

Penuche fudge, said to be a New England food and thus foreign to this southern resident,  is made from brown sugar, butter, and milk.  It has a lighter, more caramely taste than regular fudge.  A similar southern fudge is called brown sugar fudge, which I’ve also never had.  The penuche fudge ice cream at Country Maid had strong presences of walnut and maple in addition to the caramel base.  With the great countryside atmosphere at Country Maid, the picture would be complete with perfect ice cream.  It was good ice cream, but a little dense by my standards (for the non-luxury ice cream category, I’ve been a Blue Bell girl ever since I toured the factory in Brenham, Texas).  I also thought that my companion’s butterscotch was an odd, unnatural shade of yellow.  He still contests that it is his all time favorite ice cream and I’m no one to judge because I’m not a big butterscotch fan.

So there it is, a brief revisit of classic American fare from a trip to suburban Cleveland.  It’s familiar food that is often heartwarming and comforting in its buttery, sugary, creamy, syrupy, cheesey ways.  Classic as it may be, I was in need of some Baja freshness by the end of this trip.

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