Hodge’s, On Euclid

During several of my recent visits to Cleveland I’ve eaten dinner at Hodge’s restaurant on Euclid Avenue.  It’s quickly moved up to become one of my favorite restaurants in a city that offers a lot of excellent dining options.

IMG_2948One of the proprietors started out as a food truck operator, and Hodge’s offers the same kind of somewhat zany, try-just-about-anything food truck spirit in a brick-and-mortar restaurant setting.  The menu changes regularly, and the options are always inventive and intriguing.  It’s the kind of place that Cleveland foodies must love to have as a regular dining option.

When I was there earlier this week (before my Meatless Thursday) we enjoyed some well-made cocktails in Hodge’s spacious, modern bar area.  We then moved upstairs and sampled an eclectic mix of “snacks,” appetizers and entrees, washed down by a fine and affordable bottle of wine.  We began with “snacks” of deviled eggs, which were quite tasty, and spectacular “chicken liver toast” — two thick pieces of toast layered about an inch deep with densely packed, coarsely chopped chicken liver.  Next up were appetizers, in the form of wild mushroom and Ohio City pasta gnocchi, which was light and delicately flavored, and the bold and mouth-watering lucky penny goat cheese and leek tart, topped with onion jam, arugula, and parmesan.

By then we were on a mission to try as much of the menu as possible, and we would not be denied.  We split two entrees — the pan roasted scallops with butternut squash risotto and currants, and the house brined pork chop — and both were excellent.  My favorite was the huge, juicy, perfectly prepared pork chop.  Unembarrassed, we ventured into the dessert menu, and my friend wolfed down the massive brownie skillet sundae while I daintily sampled a delicate fruit crisp.

After an appalling display of our ravenousness, we hauled our carcasses off our seats and reeled out into the icy Cleveland night, thoroughly satisfied by an exceptional meal.  Yes, I’d recommend Hodge’s to anyone who likes to pick up knife and fork.

Jack’s, In The Alley

In the alley behind the State Office Building in downtown Columbus, you will find Jack’s — a small diner serves one of the best lunches in central Ohio.

This is one of those places that is frozen in time.  I’ve been going there for more than 25 years, and it hasn’t changed in that time.  It still has the slowly spinning disco ball on the ceiling, the ’50s vintage signage, the lights strung from wall to wall, and the bright aluminum backsplashes behind the grill.  The friendly wait staff has been there for years, too, and the menu hasn’t changed much, either.

When I go to Jack’s, I get the same order every time:  the double cheeseburger special, with the two hamburger patties cooked on the open grill so that they have a slight crust, crinkle-cut french fries, and a chocolate milkshake made with real milk and real ice cream, mixed in a large blender in huge steel glasses.  It’s the best milkshake in Columbus, so thick you have to work hard to suck it through your straw, and one of the best cheeseburgers, too.  I have mine with a raw onion, melted American cheese, and ketchup, and it goes down easy.

I know we’re supposed to eat healthy these days, but there is nothing — nothing! — like a good cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake for lunch.

My Favorite Restaurants: Indian Oven

There are some restaurants that show off Columbus to good advantage.  Indian Oven, on East Main Street, is one of them.  If someone who is new to town is laboring under the misconception that Columbus is a boring food town, one visit to Indian Oven will disabuse them of that grossly mistaken notion.  That’s why, every year, I take every member of the firm’s Columbus crop of new summer clerks to Indian Oven for lunch.  They have a good lunch, and they leave knowing that Columbus is a bit more interesting and diverse than they previously thought.

For starters, this is a good looking place to eat.  The color scheme is red and yellow — appropriate for Indian cuisine, don’t you think? — and the interior features lots of burnished aluminum surfaces, high ceilings, small drop-down light fixtures, and large windows that flood the dining area with natural light.  The open, bright surroundings make Indian Oven a delightful place to dine.

More importantly, the food is even better than the decor.  This is one of the few restaurants in Columbus where you can take a vegetarian and a meat-eater for a meal and be confident that they both will have lots of interesting and well-prepared choices that will meet their dietary requirements.  I’m predictable — I usually get either lamb korma or lamb curry, so much so that for years the staff referred to me as “lamb curry guy” — but I’ve taken dozens of people to lunch and dinner at the IO, and I’ve never heard anything but raves.  (The lamb korma and lamb curry are both so good I don’t feel any need to experiment; I get to the restaurant with every intention of trying something new, but I just can’t resist ordering one of my all-time favorites dishes.)  And for dinner the kitchen will stretch out a bit, serving dishes like goat or fresh seafood that are always exceptionally well prepared.

I also like the fact that this is a friendly, welcoming place.  The gracious proprietor tries, with immense good humor, to get me to sample something different.  The staff are nice folks, and they aren’t shy about making suggestions, either.  One of them told me that I needed to try their tea because it was “life-changing.”  I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is an excellent, spicy concoction that goes very well with lamb korma and roti.  And I really don’t need the tea to change my life — just having Indian Oven as a regular lunch stop has been life-changing enough.