WTGW 7/27/16: Caston & Main Brew Yard, Portage Lakes

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Sorry to desert you last week, but since it was a super nice night out we decided to call a patio audible and opt for a former pick that we knew had good food and a nice outdoor area to enjoy it. Because, well, summer only lasts so long around these parts, people. We have to do what we can to cherish it. Which last week meant a return visit to Delanie’s in Tallmadge, a place we’ve visited several times since our original pick … but oddly enough never tried out the patio. And let’s just say we were not disappointed.

I would’ve done a revisit post, but, well, I think we were all about halfway through our meals before I realized we hadn’t taken any photos. And I know that’s really what you all look at here anyway. Oops.

Anyway, that pushed Ted’s pick for a new spot off to this week, and he actually managed to find a place that neither me nor Shane had even heard of before. Impressive. Apparently it’s a somewhat newer place (opened last fall, I believe) in the Lakes area. In full disclosure, Ted had actually already visited Caston & Main once with another friend of his (yes, we are allowed to have other friends, shush) – but adamantly refused to try any of the food because he wanted to be able to legit pick it as a WTGW choice. Smart man.

I mean, this may seem like all fun and games here, but we do have to keep some rules. Come on.

This place is another of those that either has a deceptively small parking area, or only serves customers that don’t know the meaning of carpooling. Because looking at the packed lot you would think we would’ve had a long wait for a table … but yet when we walked inside there were about 6 or 7 large open tables. Hmm. My smart ass observation was that everyone there must’ve somehow managed to drive two cars to dinner that evening. Which is rather impressive.

So there’s a bar area when you first walk in, but neither Shane nor I really had a chance to actually see it, as Ted made a quick right and beelined it to a table in the dining area. Uh, that’s slightly out of character. Have you met us, Ted? We like bars. Dining rooms are boring. Remember Memories, anyone?

Yeah, we’re trying to forget, too.

But regardless, we knew Ted had been there before, and thought maybe he that made him privy to some special inside info about best seating practices. Yeah, no. I mean, the table was fine, the service was good, once the place started to fill in it never seemed overly packed … but, well, let’s just say that the entertainment provided in the main dining area left something to be desired. A lot of something. Like the ability to hold a regular conversation, think quietly, or ever hear some songs the same way again. I guess Wednesdays are “acoustic night” at Caston & Main … and this little one-man-band electric guitarist that was playing on this particular Wednesday was, well, perhaps deaf. And I’m not saying that so much to be mean as I am to imply that we think he really had no idea how loud his guitar playing actually was. So, like, you know when you go out to eat and there’s music, you kind of want it to be background to your conversation, right? Not this guy. It seemed like the louder everyone talked, the more he upped the volume on the amp, or made some weird screechy sounds with his guitar that I have to believe forced more than a few of my brain cells to spontaneously combust. It was like one of those “anything you can do I can do better” competitions. And the end result was something akin to attempting to maintain a dinner conversation while your neighbor hosts a tractor pull in the backyard. Because that’s way fun.

Needless to say, we relished the few breaks that were taken. And silently cursed Ted for not just picking a seat in the way opposite back corner of the bar.

So there’s that.

Another tip – be sure to bring your reading glasses. Because the beer list for this place is about four pages long. Which amounts to lots of words.

Conversely, the food list is only about two pages. We see your priorities, and we like them.

Always one for choosing a beer with a good name, Ted went with the Left Hand Wake Up Dead Nitro to start. Bravo. I pretty much just stuck my finger somewhere on the beer list and ended up with the Jackie O’s Razz Wheat. Which came in a really neat glass, so that was a plus.

If it has raspberry puree in it, does it make it healthy?

If it has raspberry puree in it, does it make it healthy?

Where's Amanda and her big purse when you need her?

Where’s Amanda and her big purse when you need her?

But Shane won the drink lottery with the Crabbie’s Raspberry Mule. We were a little worried about his order after our – or rather Ted’s – experience with a “mule” at Burntwood Tavern a few years ago. But looking back maybe Ted was just unfortunate enough to have had an awful bartender that evening who just threw some alcohol in a copper mug and called it a mule. Because by the end of this particular evening at C&M all three of us had switched to the drink Shane picked. Delicious.

Shane and I got the chips and dip as an app. Which did not come in a plastic Lawson’s container – boooo – but was equally as delicious. – yay! I have to think it’s one of the best we’ve tried. Shane said his only complaint was that it was a little too runny, but other than that the taste was great.

No, it didn't come served with a chip imprint in the middle of the dip. Thanks, Shane.

No, it didn’t come served with a chip imprint in the middle of the dip. Thanks, Shane.

Ted got the homemade guac with pita chips for an app. And immediately commented that no one was going to kiss him that night, as it definitely had a lot of onion in it. If it’s not garlic, it’s onion with this group. How we are all still allowed to eat in public is beyond me sometimes. Regardless, he said the guac was still good.

Props for presentation

Props for presentation

For dinner, I got the Hot Italian Sub, with a side salad. I know, I know, first fruit in my beer and now vegetables with my meal? I’m slipping here. But it was all very good. The sandwich was large, but not overwhelming (that’s what she said … oh come on, you know I couldn’t resist) and was toasted just enough to be warm but not at all burnt. Thumbs up.

I'm not sure this is allowed on Wednesdays

I’m not sure this is allowed on Wednesdays

You had me at "soft bread"

You had me at “soft bread”

The guys went with the Wednesday special, which is three sliders for $6. They have a list of options you can choose from, including reuben, BLT, chorizo sausage, meatball, veggie, and chicken salad – and you pick any three of those to make up your $6 meal. Between the two of them they sampled all of the options except one, and I’ll give you one guess as to which one that was that neither of them picked …

Hint: it starts with a “v” and ends with “that sounds too healthy.”

Instead they went all out on the meat train, with Shane ordering the rueben, meatball and chorizo, while Ted decided on the reuben, meatball and BLT. Sometimes they’re so similar it’s almost scary.

Reuben, meatball and BLT

Reuben, meatball and BLT

Reuben, meatball, and chorizo.

Reuben, meatball, and chorizo.

Ted said he liked the BLT slider the best. They both thought the rueben was good, but said it was almost too toasted – Shane claimed to have lost a layer of skin on the roof of his mouth from biting into the crispy bread. Keeping on our theme from last week, Shane also said the chorizo needs more flavor (have they made some changes to this type of meat that we should know about?), and the meatball kinda did too.

But of course they didn’t let that didn’t stop them from ordering more. I mean, come on. We all know by now that one dinner is not enough to fill up our boys.

So for the second round Shane switched out his chorizo for a BLT, and Ted switched out his reuben for a chicken salad.

Hold the phone here … um, what? Chicken salad? Seems an odd choice, right? I mean, aside from the whole bordering on healthy thing, that’s also just not a slider option you see often. Which may be why Ted ordered it. Regardless, he said it was sweeter than anticipated – thanks to raisins in the mix that surprised him – but probably should’ve had a different bread, as it was the same bread from the rueben one he was trying to avoid. Oops.

After round two, Ted was sticking with the BLT as the favorite. And after trying it for himself in that same round, Shane agreed that it was the definite winner. And that, folks, will conclude this week’s unofficial best slider competition.

All in all C&M is a cool little place, with a crapload of alcohol selections and small but definitely delicious menu. The drink list kind of reminded us of what we said about the food menu at Mike’s Place in Kent – you could come back every day for a month and still not try everything on the menu. But hey, we like options, so we’re cool with that. I will say that as far as service, once it got busy we did wait a bit longer for our server to get around to us – but that’s to be expected anywhere they only have one or two people covering the space. Overall I could see us going back.

Well, as long as that guitar guy isn’t there anyway. Can someone new please volunteer to be the entertainment? Maybe Shane could just do this strange little interpretive dance he was doing in the parking lot as we were leaving. We’ll call this “the Mexican Jumping Bean.” I’m just going to leave these right here …

Take one

Take one

Take two

Take two

Take three

Take three

Take four

Take four

Are you laughing yet?

Are you laughing yet?

Is it over?

Take seven billion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final verdict:
Two double thumbs up, and one one up/one down

Shane

Shane

Ted. The thumbs up is for the place and food. The thumbs down is for the music.

Ted. The thumbs up is for the place and food. The thumbs down is for the music.

Steph ... and creepy background Shane. At least he stopped jumping.

Steph … and creepy background Shane. At least he stopped jumping.

Picked by: Ted
Next pick: Shane

WTGW 5/20/15: Howie’s on the Lake, Portage Lakes

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So as you probably noticed, we were technically off last week, as I was in NYC for a work conference. Although the rest of the group did keep up the tradition of ruining their livers at least getting out of the house on a Wednesday night, and decided to do a throwback to one of our recent favorites, the Blue Rock Cafe in Hudson. Which, if you recall, we left with thumbs up all around and an assurance that we’d be back.

Yeah, that changed.

Apparently this time around the group was outrightly ignored, eventually given drinks but not even asked if they wanted menus – all the while as the owner/server (who had waited on us the last time) obliged all of the other tables around them. Dost thou offend? After about 25 minutes, and as they were pretty much getting up to head out the door, he finally gave them a halfhearted “oh, did you want to eat?” No, it’s only dinner time on a weeknight. So I guess they didn’t look hungry enough? I mean, I don’t think we proved ourselves to be complete raging alcoholics the last time we were there, did we? They even went back and re-read the blog post, thinking maybe my snarkiness in the review might’ve offended in some way (what, me? No!) – but let’s face it, if you can find something in that post that offends you enough to deny repeat paying customers, then maybe you should rethink your line of work.

So instead they ended up down the street at Kepner’s – another repeat, although I don’t think Ted’s post-dinner-at-another-establishment order of XXX hot wings really counts as a complete dining experience. I’m not sure what they all had this time around – well, other than to say that they did not have those wings – but they said the food was good, the atmosphere was fantastic, and they made new friends … which I received photos of them doing shots with via text messages at 12:30 AM while I was in the Big Apple.

Because we all know shots and post-midnight WTGW outings are the staple of a good time in our books.

Ironically, that’s is a perfect segway into this week’s adventure …

Howie’s on the Lake is a little neighborhood bar right on one of the Portage Lakes. And I mean right on the lake. As in, if Mother Nature had cooperated with us like she did a few weeks ago and given us a beautiful 80+ degree night perfect for patio drinking, we would’ve been parked on one of the picnic tables outside on the water’s edge, enjoying the view and the sunset over the lake as we ate our dinners and sipped our beers.

But no, instead she was back to her usual whoreish ways, and served us up an evening of wind, grey skies and temps hovering around 50. Thanks for that. Glad to see our relationship is back to the level I’m used to.

Although I have to admit, had we not sat inside at the bar on this particular evening, I doubt we would’ve left with the new friends, laughs, fond memories – and of course rounds of shots – that we ended up enjoying. So there’s that. The world works in mysterious ways, I know. Take that Mother Nature.

Anyway.

So remember when I said Howie’s is a neighborhood bar? Yeah, not only does that speak of the atmosphere inside, but also the actual location. It’s smack in the middle of an actual residential neighborhood. Which – knowing Shane’s penchant for finding the scariest places around (um, The Annex, anyone?) – made us more than a little worried as we were driving in.

Me: So, did you call ahead to this person’s house and let them know to expect four more for dinner this evening?

Shane was not as amused by that as the rest of the car.

Howie’s is a bit on the small side inside, although that seems perfectly understandable considering their big draw is the lake and the patio outside. We ended up sitting at the bar partially because that was one of the few places left inside to sit on this blustery day, and also because that’s apparently where all the cool people sit these days, so that’s our new thing. Trying out that atmosphere for a bit, why not.

That's a big fish

That’s a big fish

It took us a hot minute to figure out that you actually have to order your food at a little walk-up counter on the other side of the place (called “The Shack) and then they bring the food over to you. Yeah, we’re a bit slow, we know. Ironically, alcohol actually makes us better when it comes to these things. Crazy, I know.

The bartender on Wednesday was Claudia, who we later found out was part owner or married to the owner or something of that nature. She was great, and once she realized we would be drinking her out of Summer Shandy she made sure to bring out enough to keep on ice for us for the duration of the evening, which we very much appreciated, even if we then did feel obligated to drink ALL of them before the end of the night. Twist our arms, I know.

Yes please

Yes please

Although I will say that the drink prices at Howie’s are a bit on the high side – $4 for a bottled Summer Shandy was reminiscent of what I’d paid for drinks in Manhattan the week prior, and a bit surprising considering the rest of the atmosphere. Again, not to say it stopped us from drinking them, but just pointing that out.

Claudia recommended the wings, saying they’re a crowd favorite, along with something called the Howie Sandwich – which appeared to be a variation of a hot ham and cheese. We all went with wings. Because, well, us.

We had a bone to pick with chickens this week

We had a bone to pick with chickens this week

Although the boys were thrown a curve ball when we went over to the window to order and saw the sign announcing Wednesdays as “Steak Night.” What’s this, you ask? Well, it turns out that you can get an 8 oz strip steak, salad and fries for just $10. $10! I know, right? And because this just happened to be the last Wednesday steak night before Howie’s took the summer off from the special … well of course the boys had to partake in it. I mean, because what if they decide not to bring it back in the fall and they never have that opportunity again?? The horror!

Exactly.

It should go without saying that of course they also still got wings in addition to the steaks. Because, well, them.

So because apparently he’s majoring in game time decisions this week, Shane’s second choice on the fly came in the form of the dry rub for the wings. Which came after the cook poured a bit of it into a little cup so he could sample it before he made up his mind. I had already pretty much decided that was the sauce I was going to get for my wings, but I will say that being able to sample it to make sure I would like it was a nice touch. It was definitely tasty, just spicy enough to have a kick (especially on the after taste) but not enough to make it unedible (a.k.a. Ted’s wing choice from Kepner’s last summer). I ordered six of those wings, and was not disappointed.

I also ordered a side of breaded mushrooms, which would’ve been 150% better if they’d actually been hot when they arrived. I eventually took the breading off and just ate the mushrooms inside. Hey – it makes me feel like I’m eating some vegetables, so step off.

You may want to check your heat lamps

You may want to check your heat lamps

By contrast, Amanda’s side order of breaded mushrooms about took a layer of skin off of her fingers just picking them up. I could see the steam rising off of them as she bit into them. And was insanely jealous. Clearly they made both of our orders together, and mine got to sit while the rest of mine and Shane’s dinner order (*ahem* someone’s steak *ahem*) was cooked. Boo.

Amanda also ordered 12 of the spicy bleu cheese wings, which she said were good, but could’ve used more sauce on them.Howie's on the Lake, Portage Lakes

Shane had six of the dry rub wings along with his steak special, all of which he enjoyed. While he’s clearly easier to please with rare steaks as opposed to his rare-but-not-so-rare-I-think-you’re-going-to-kill-me burgers, this one was done to his liking and said it had good flavor. Especially for $10. I mean, to put it in perspective – we pretty much each had that price surpassed in rounds of Summer Shandy by the time we were done with our dinners.

Shane's eating vegetables? Is that allowed?

Shane’s eating vegetables? Is that allowed?

All this for the price of 2.5 Summer Shandys

All this for the price of 2.5 Summer Shandys

Ted also enjoyed his steak, as well as six of the Sweet Heat wings. Because apparently Ted’s quest is to order that particular seasoning at every place we go to these days. He said that the spice on these wings was less salty than The Basement’s Sweet Heat – and also not a dry rub like theirs – so he said it had a lot more flavor and he liked it a lot better.

So if you’re keeping score, so far it’s Howie’s > Basement in the race for the best Sweet Heat wings in the area. Stay tuned for more.

Ironically I think it was this very conversation about The Basement that introduced Ted to the guys sitting next to him at the bar – and who became our new BFFs for the night. They were very cool and fun to talk to – turns out one of them also runs a Facebook group showcasing “Life on the Lakes,” which highlights all of the cool bars, boats, events and people in the immediate area. We of course became members of the group, and initiated ourselves with photos with these guys and the 5-ish(?) rounds of shots we ended up doing with them as the night wore on. Remember my saying about knowing how much we like a place based on how long we stay and how many rounds of shots we end up doing? Yeah, at this rate we better put Howie’s on our secondary address list, because I’m not sure we wanted to actually leave.

And that of all things was what I think impressed us the most about the place. You can tell they have their regulars, and there’s definitely a “Hey Norm!” Cheers-esque kind of vibe in the place … but conversely the record didn’t screech to a halt and no one stared daggers at us when we first walked in either. People were friendly and talkative. Shane and Ted scored random free desserts from some of the locals seated on the other side of the bar. Claudia was later joined behind the bar by the owner (Eric), and the two of them are fantastic at making people feel right at home there. I mean, of course you can’t go wrong by serving up some free shots – but even if it was a ploy to win our business, it definitely worked, as we then bought several rounds after that. What can I say, we’re easy like that.

It all starts with free shots ...

It all starts with free shots …

Shots with new friends

Shots with new friends

New friends, minus the shots

New friends, minus the shots

We gained a few more ... and more shots

We gained a few more … and more shots

Guess what? More shots!

Guess what? More shots!

Are you keeping track here?

Are you keeping track here?

It's all fun and games until the shot-ski comes out

It’s all fun and games until the shot-ski comes out

Howie's on the Lake, Portage Lakes

This is definitely our kind of place. Now we just have to figure out if we can get them to open a second location closer to us, or if we need to sell our house and move closer. Ha.

Steph

Steph

Amanda

Amanda

Ted

Ted

Shane

Shane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPSULE

Picked by:  Shane

Drinks:  Bottles and a few craft beers on draft. A bit on the pricey side for bottles, but you know you can win our love just by having Summer Shandy available, no matter what the price tag.
Food:
 Not a huge selection, mostly burgers and things that can be cooked in a fryer – but again, you know that bodes well for us. The wings were good and the steak special was definitely a winner.
Service: Excellent. We were in love when she brought out the new case of Summer Shandy and restocked to make sure we had plenty of reserves.
Overall: The atmosphere was what really won us over. We felt like we’d been accepted into a new family. Will definitely return, especially on nice patio days.

Next Pick:  Steph