Monday, May 30, 2016

New Era Cafe (Akron, OH) and Kitchen Post (Struthers, OH)

Mrs. Hackknife and I recently found ourselves in Northeast Ohio again for the second of 3 family weddings (all three grooms are brothers and my first cousins) in an 18-month period. In addition to getting to see distant relatives, we always enjoy the opportunity to sample whatever outstanding local eats we encounter there. For example, we missed out on Central European grub when we passed through Akron last October (there is a sizable population of Serbians and Hungarians nearby), so we were sure not to pass on it this trip. Fortunately, one of the better Central European restaurants anywhere is located a mere 20 minutes from Akron-Canton Airport; namely, New Era Restaurant, next to Interstate 76 at 10 Massillon Road.

At first glance, the operation (which appears to be relatively new or at least newly-renovated) doesn't differ much from any of thousands of blue-collar restaurants across America, a tavern on one end and a dining room on the other with a take-out counter in the middle.  Even the menu doesn't exactly scream "ethnic food" upon review, that is, until you zero in on a few key dishes, most of which we had to try.

What looks like Brown-N-Serve breakfast sausages above is actually the national dish of Serbia called cevapi, which are skinless links of minced beef, lamb, and/or pork (not sure which meats ended up in ours).  The cevapi at New Era are served with fries and raw chopped onions, making for a tasty, garlicky treat.

The house touts their 75-year old chicken paprikash recipe, so, of course, we had to have it.  The dish (which consists of assorted bone-in chicken pieces browned in butter, then stewed with onions/paprika) is served here on a bed of dumplings swimming in the reddish paprika-laced stewing liquid.  A slice of delicious homemade strudel (we chose cheese over apple) accompanied the chicken.

Mrs. H. couldn't pass on one more offering, a thick-cut goose liver sausage sandwich, served on toast with onions and mustard.  This beauty was rich and earthy and ensured that no one would come within 50 yards of us for several hours.

After our sizable dinner in Akron, we rolled into my aunt and uncle's house in suburban Youngstown (our destination for the weekend), who promptly informed us that they have a new restaurant nearby that was a can't-miss experience.  Unable to further defile our innards that evening, we waited until lunch the next day to pop in to The Kitchen Post, a self-described "supper club" in a small strip mall space on a ragged stretch of Youngstown-Poland Road, an area of town still visibly reeling from the local steel industry's departure and about the last place one would expect to discover elevated cuisine.

Dressed for a wedding (I in my suit and my lovely bride in a formal dress), we clearly stood out amongst the youthful, hipster crowd, but settled in for a fine lunch nonetheless.  The chalkboard above the counter stated that the menu changes frequently and included a collection of casual, accessible dishes like toasts, tacos, and fried chicken.

What you see above is one of the aforementioned toasts, in this case smoked salmon with mashed avocado, red onion, jalapenos, and "everything bagel" seasoning.  This was my first experience with the ultra-trendy avocado toast and I now get the allure: KP's toast was fantastic, a real pro combo of flavors and textures that was perfectly balanced and just a tad sloppy for good measure.

If you see something called "Elvis spoonbread" on a menu, I believe it should be your moral obligation to get some. Chef Ross Fowler at KP created this decadent wonder of peanut butter bread pudding, bruleed bananas, bacon, and honey, all the best parts of Sunday brunch in a single bowl. I had to share it with Mrs. Hackknife. I wasn't happy about that.  At the rate he's going, Chef Fowler (who's only around 25 and apparently going places) should be expecting a call from the producers at Top Chef any day now...

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