Today we bring you the tale of two WTGW locations, all for the price of one. And also a good lesson in back-up plans.

First let’s rewind a few days, when Shane – reluctantly and under extreme interrogation from me and Amanda – finally gave up the name of the place he was choosing for this week’s pick. Before we had a chance to Google it on our own, he was showing us pictures of what looked like an actual house, and claimed that there was a real bar inside. Where real paying customers went to eat and drink. Yeah, um, that sounds a little shady. And probably not the best way to sell the place to us, BTW.

So over the course of the next few days I did a little bit of research into this mythical “house of alcohol,” and, after reading some admittedly surprisingly favorable reviews, decided that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t going to be so bad after all. I think my exact text to Shane was something along the lines of “I think we only have about a 40% chance of getting shot there, so let’s give it a try.” Life on the edge, folks. 

Fast forward to the drive there, where you could visibly see Shane’s anxiety level rising as we got closer and the jokes about any one of the shacks we passed potentially being our actual destination escaladed. And then this conversation happened:

Amanda: “Well the place does have a website, so it has to be kind of OK, right?”

Me: “Yeah, but did you see the part of the website that said it was actually created by some random super fan of the place, and not anyone actually affiliated with it?”

I think Shane almost turned the car around right there.

But we soldiered on, and eventually found The Annex in Solon. And they aren’t lying, it truly is a house. And not a very big one at that. But there were cars in the parking lot, and we could hear music coming from inside through the open window, so I think at that point we all figured it couldn’t be nearly as bad as we were making it out to be.

Let’s just say this much: The Annex is billed as “Solon’s best kept secret.” And I guess it will stay a secret to our group, because –  for the first time in WTGW history – we ditched out before we could even order anything. But not for lack of trying, though.

The place was packed, so we grabbed the first (and I think only) empty table available, right by the door. We waited for a few minutes, then finally realized that, for all the people in the place, only two of them were actually working there. There was one bartender behind the bar, and then one cook – who we could clearly see grilling up burgers in the back corner of the house. Call me crazy, but it seemed a bit unsafe (and potentially slightly unsanitary) to have someone cooking with fire and grease right out there in the open inches from the bar, no? I mean, I like open concept and all, but that was a bit much.

So the boys went up to the bar to get drinks, and that’s when we realized the real “best kept secret” about The Annex: you only get served if you’re a regular. Not once but twice they were very obviously overlooked in favor of someone who walked up after them and who the bartender clearly knew the order for.

Well then.

So we left. Because there’s no need to give money to a place who clearly cares not if you’re there. And also the whole chance that we might contract salmonella from the insane kitchen setup – but that was really reason #2 in our book. Because, well let’s face it, if we haven’t died yet from some of the places we’ve eaten in, chances are this wouldn’t have killed us either.

Although I can say the place definitely followed us, as it only took about two seconds in the car for us to realize that we all smelled like one giant collective grease trap. Awesome.

Fortunately Shane had a back up plan for the evening, which should probably tell you something about the place right from the get-go, but whatevs. We headed a few miles down the road, and arrived at Station 43. A place which not only acknowledged us when we walked in the front door, but seated us promptly, and served us drinks. And also didn’t reek of animal fat. What?

Of course we started out with drinks – in what seems to have become our new regular order, it was a Fat Tire for me and Ted, Miller Lite for Amanda, and rum and diet for Shane. Which was considerably darker than last week. And not $2.25.

Now that's a much better rum-to-coke ratio
Now that’s a much better rum-to-coke ratio
It's more difficult to do the color test when bottles are involved
It’s more difficult to do the color test when bottles are involved

For appetizers we went with calamari – because, well, Shane – and steak bites – because, well, Ted. Both of the apps were outstanding. The presentation was nice on the calamari, and the sauce was really tasty. The steak bites, while not exactly the “meat flavored cotton candy” we’d experienced at Teschner’s a while back, were still tender and delicious.

If there's calamari on the menu, chances are Shane will order it
If there’s calamari on the menu, chances are Shane will order it

Our waitress (Allie?) was great. She clearly loves the place and taking care of her customers. She was chatty and funny and just overall personable, which – call me crazy – seems to be a good quality for anyone in the service industry. And the exact opposite of what we’d just encountered at The Annex, so there’s that.

We all had kind of decided what we wanted for our dinners, but when Allie (I’ve pretty much decided that’s her name, my apologies if it’s really Susan or something not even close) came to take our order we of course asked what she recommended – and she was such a good salesperson that I think 3/4 of the table changed their minds.

Case in point, Ted was the first of us to set down his menu and declare his order (perch platter) but after hearing Allie’s recommendations he did a 180 and went with the Rueben sandwich instead.  As did Amanda, who had been wavering between that and a burger, and made her decision after Allie’s proclamation that she could eat it like every other day.

And I’m happy to report that neither of them were disappointed by their sandwiches. The corned beer was thinly sliced, and not salty at all. Ted said it was second only to Slyman’s – which anyone from the Cleveland area will know is quite the compliment.

Second to Slyman's, Impressive
Second to Slyman’s, Impressive

Shane had had his heart set on a burger, especially after staring hungrily at the plate of the woman seated at the table next to us, and noticing that the burger she had was done pretty much the exact way he liked them cooked. I mean, we didn’t bring out the photo from the Happy Moose a few weeks ago for reference or anything crazy like that, but it seemed pretty spot on. However, by the time Allie was done with us Shane had switched up to a full rack of ribs and a 6-pack of garlic parmesan wings … which had started out as only garlic, Allie suggested adding the parm … and as you can guess it was a done deal.


I swear, I think she could’ve sold us oceanfront property in Oklahoma at that point. Maybe she’s related to the guy from Moe’s?

Regardless, Shane was not disappointed either. Full, yes – but disappointed, not at all.

Half of Shane's meal
Half of Shane’s meal
And the other half
And the other half

I had the Solon Grande burger, which I also decided on via the plate of the stranger sitting at the table next to us, so thanks for that. Mine was cooked medium, and it was still pink inside – which means Shane really probably would’ve been just as happy with his order if he’d gone that route. It was delicious. And the fries. Fresh cut, thick fries. Yum.

Can't beat good fries
Can’t beat good fries
Burger, medium
Burger, medium

Seriously, how we all don’t weigh about 400 pounds is beyond my realm of comprehension some days.

Even though we were all nearly bursting and complaining about how full we were, our used-car-salesman-turned-waitress almost sold us on desserts, just because they sounded insanely good. Pumpkin roll? Carrot cake? Apple pie? Good lord. I think we finally had to shoo poor Allie away from the table before she sweet talked us into anything else.

Ted: Those desserts sounded really good. I want one but I literally just can’t eat it. Why am I so full?

Amanda: Well you did just basically eat a sandwich and a steak.

So there’s that.

All in all, I think we ended up at the much better place. Station 43 has great decor – it’s all done in a fire station theme, and we loved the canister lights made out of re-purposed air canisters, as well as the various photos and other fun wall decorations.

I don't think they sell those at Lowe's
I don’t think they sell those at Lowe’s

We were fortunate enough to score a fun and personable waitress, and the food was terrific. I mean, it even scored the ever-rare double-thumbs-up from Shane, so you know that speaks volumes all in itself. Hopefully they didn’t judge us from the grease smell we still carried with us from our first choice of the evening. Or maybe they get people in our situation a lot and are used to it by now. Hmm.











CAPSULE (… for Station 43. Because I think you pretty much already get the jist of our feelings towards The Annex)

Picked by:  Shane
Drinks: Mostly craft beers on tap, and the usual suspects in bottles. While the sticker shock was a bit much after last week’s pick, that says more to the fact that last week’s place was just dirt cheap.  
It’s a good sign when we’re stuffed but yet we can’t stop eating because it’s so good. And we’re tempted to order more just because we know it will continue to be delicious.
Service: Let’s be honest, after our first attempt of the evening it really wasn’t going to take much to impress us. But even without that in the equation we still would’ve been impressed here.
Overall: Another on the list of “why are you a half hour away?” Seriously, is there some way we can just get all of the places we really like to move to within a 5-7 mile radius of us?

Next Pick: Steph

Station 43 on Urbanspoon

Annex Bar and Grille on Urbanspoon