WTGW 3/13/19: REVISIT – Wil’s Grille and Pub, Portage Lakes

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THE WHERE (we went)

Poor Jason.

So on his last pick Jason realized the importance of checking addresses on maps to verify exact locations, lest he try to take us damn near to the furthest state line to enjoy a weeknight meal.

Fast forward to this week, and a lesson in calling ahead to make sure a place in the area that seems too good to be true is actually, well, open.

It’s like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears of WTGW picks. So next time will surely be just right.

But anyway.

Let’s talk first about where we didn’t go … The Harbor Inn, in Portage Lakes, which was Jason’s first pick that he was all super proud of until we pulled up in front to find the parking area overtaken by a giant dumpster, and no sign of life anywhere near the place. Hmmm.

Shane: Maybe they’re all parked in the lake?

Considering it’s March, I’m going to assume that’s a no.

But wait, Jason has a backup plan! The Smokin’ Claw! Located just around the lake near our old friend The Upper Deck that we visited back when sitting outside wouldn’t give you frostbite. And the website said it was open. Let’s go!

Just kidding. That’s closed, too. Or at least that’s all we could assume when we pulled up to where we thought the place was supposed to be and found zero cars and again no signs of human involvement anywhere.

To say we were confused was an understatement.

Short lived attempt #3 was Howie’s, which we’ve always loved but fully admit that we never visited enough. I think our grand total was three visits before we heard it was sold last fall. Gleaming a small bit of knowledge from the past 20 minutes of our evening, we took a few moments in the maybe-Smokin-Claw-parking-lot to try to find the place online before we drove in that direction … at which time we learned that apparently either it hasn’t yet or will never reopen, as a google search brought up the dreaded “permanently closed” banner where the hours should be, and a quick phone call served us an unwelcome “this number does not exist” message.

Lovely.

So that’s the story of how we ended up at Wil’s. Our last visit wasn’t too long ago – last summer, July 2018 – which we fully admit is a little early for a revisit, but I think at this point we were about ready to knock on a door of any house that looked inhabited by somewhat normal people and ask to join them at their dinner table, so going instead to a place that might not call the cops on us for entering was indeed a much better plan.

And hey, look, Jason dressed appropriately!

Looks like this is the official shirt of Jason’s visits to Wil’s Grille & Pub

THE WHAT (we ordered)

Another blast from the not-so-distant past – potato skins. A quick check back on our post from the last visit affirmed that they were what made mouths water when Cassi and Jason ordered them the first time around. OK, well, I guess mine and Shane’s anyway, since I have to believe that in Ted’s mind this is pretty much the picture of what hell would be filled with.

LOOK AT ALL THE CHEESE

The sheer amount of cheese involved here almost made Ted move to another table once two full orders arrived on the table in front of him during this visit.

Meanwhile the rest of us found them to be little cups of heaven. Enough said.

For drinks, it was tequila and soda for the girls, bottled bud light for the guys and dark draft beer for Ted – which, unlike last week, actually wasn’t the color of a bright sunny day.

Beyond those items, we all were on the struggle bus when it came to choosing our meals for the evening. I think part of it was that no one had a real taste for anything in particular, and the other part was that we remembered all of the food here as being decent, so other than the potato skins there wasn’t a clear standout on something we absolutely had to order.

Two separate times we asked the server about what she recommended, or the whole “if you had to choose between this or this” scenerio. And two separate times we weren’t really given clear answers, so I feel like we just kind of closed our eyes and pointed at something on the menu that seemed like it would be a decent choice.

Russian roulette of dining experiences. We live on the edge.

I think Ted was the first of us to set his menu aside and finally make an unwavering decision on a meal. He chose the crab cake dinner, with sides of jojos and cole slaw.

That looks very … brown

Hey, color!

The jojos were the star of Ted’s meal here. He said the crab cakes were just OK, claiming that they tasted more like a pre-packaged item from the frozen food section of the supermarket than something that should be on a restaurant dinner menu. Not exactly a stellar review … although let’s be clear, he did still finish them, so there’s that.

Jason had inquired about what was better – the steak sandwich special or the fish sandwich. Our friendly but not-too-helpful-in-the-decision-making-department server answered that by way of explaining that the fish sandwich was two large pieces of fish on a giant bun. Which I’m sure she didn’t believe would truly be helpful, but it definitely was. I mean, if you can’t recommend the best tasting item, always go with the option of which delivers the most food for your money.

At least with this group anyway. Maybe she reads this blog.

As advertised

And he liked it. So bonus, when the item you were just served a giant portion of actually turns out to be something you really want to eat.

Cassi decided on the chicken tender dinner with a baked potato and side salad.

The potato arrived with a giant slab of butter on the top which seemed better suited to creating cake batter than as a condiment for a vegetable. It took a bit of surgery but she was able to extract it without much harm to the taste or the meal.

And she really liked the chicken, claiming it was “just what she was hoping for.” She said it was perfectly breaded and very tasty – even with no sauces or dips of any kind (which she was offered, but refused) to go along with it.

I got the fish and chips with jojos and side salad.

A tad bit difficult to tell which of these things are the fish and which are the chips, no?

 

And don’t forget the giant basket of bread. Totally completes the salad.

It was very good. The breading on the fish was very light, which made it extra tasty without feeling like you were eating a bag of flour as part of the meal. And the fish itself was light and flaky.

Unlike Ted, I wasn’t as much a fan of the jojos though. I thought they were too dry. Maybe I should’ve taken Cassi’s butter extraction and used it as a dipping sauce? Because that’s good for the arteries. 

Shane got the roasted chicken dinner, after seeing  delivered to another table and asking the server what it was because it looked delicious.

Brown is definitely the theme of our meals this evening.

Our server asked Shane as he was ordering this dish if he was OK with the sides that come with it – which are cole slaw, hot rice and fries. Shane just nodded. Sounds good.

And then when this appeared he just tried to push it over toward Ted like it was supposed to be part of Ted’s meal.

Oh look, a side of “I-didn’t-know-before-today-what-hot-rice-really-looks-like”

I was like, uh, you know that’s yours right?

Yeah, he didn’t.

But Shane ate it anyway, although he said it tasted like salsa. Kinda looks like it, too, so I guess I can kinda see the point there.

But it was quickly forgotten about when the chicken finally arrived, which he immediately not only recognized but was super happy to devour. He agreed with the table on the already stated verdict on the breading, and really liked the overall flavor. And it was so much food that he even took a piece home. Which happens so rarely that I feel like we need to make a special note of it when it does.

THE WHO (we saw)

Well, it’s not really as much who we saw, but what … and that’s decorations.

Lots and lots of St Patrick’s Day flair going on up in this place. We remembered that last time the ceiling and walls were decked out in July 4th decor, so I guess just arrived prepared with the knowledge that it’s going to look like the party store section of whatever holiday is closest just threw up in there.

It also seems that Wil’s wasn’t nearly as busy this time of year – which seems to be a theme in this area, like I get that most of your business is in the summer when those lakes for which the area is named are more useful than when it’s under 30 degrees out, but still. I know there are still people around, and don’t they need to eat? Or do we all just hibernate for the winter in these parts?

Those that were out dining with us this evening were definitely of the older variety, which meant that by the time we left the place after 9pm there were only a few tables remaining, and one lone guy at the bar who was making an evening of playing obscurely old and melodramatic country songs on the jukebox. Fun.

But we’re happy to report that everyone is still as friendly as they were last summer. Once again we had probably four different servers or staff members stop by our table to say hello and see how our evening was going. To which I’d venture the answer was much better than jukebox guy, so maybe they should go entertain him for a bit. But still, we appreciated the check-ins.

THE HOW (much we paid)

Here’s a fun lesson in bar math: four tequila and soda mixed drinks are only $1 more than the cost of four Bud Lites. Huh. That’s interesting.

Our total was $64 – for an app (that I took home part of), two meals (that Shane also took home part of) and a grand total of 8 drinks.

THE WHY (they may see us again)

Well, if no place else ever opens on Portage Lakes again, then I guess this will always remain in our back pocket as a standby. In all honesty, though, I have to believe Wil’s will always be a crowd favorite. There’s decent food and cold drinks for a reasonable price, as well as friendly people to chat with. Well, other than the jukebox guy, he was kind of questionable – but that’s besides the point. And you always know what holiday is closest on the calendar, just from looking around the place. Bonus.

But I have to believe we can only go back on nights when Jason is wearing this shirt. New rule.

Picked by Jason
Next pick: Ted

Is this 2019 Jason or 2018 Jason? You decide …

Cassi

Steph

Shane

Ted

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WTGW 8/15/18: Tinkers Creek Rd Tavern, Northfield

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It’s a rite of passage this week, as this marks Jason’s first official pick as part of our WTGW crew. Because after a certain number of weeks dining out with the group you’re forced to stop freeloading and take responsibility for some of the sketchy choices we’ve made over the years, as well as the judgmental, sarcastic commentary that follows.

Needless to say he was a little nervous.

His nerves certainly weren’t calmed on the drive to Tinkers Creek Road Tavern, as we all at one point or another commented that, while we weren’t far from our homes in terms of mileage, we sure were in terms of civilization. This place is quite literally in the middle of absolute nowhere. Or, technically, the middle of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Which led to speculation that Jason’s search for this place must’ve essentially consisted of Googling “places to go for a beer when lost in the forest.”

Boy Scouts would be proud.

Once we finally found the place the concern switched to whether or not we would actually get a table prior to the 9PM closing time, as the parking lot looked packed and the building looked way too tiny to hold all of the people that would’ve arrived in said vehicles.

It turns out that the building is deceptively small looking, and they probably want to think about expanding that parking lot.

Upon entering we realized that the easiest way to a hostess’ heart is to tell them you have no preference between indoor or outdoor seating, as she proclaimed she loved us after that statement. We figured that given the number of cars in the parking lot and the vacancy of the indoor areas, we would most likely not see the likes of a patio this evening.

We were wrong. The hostess led us outside to the patio, where we discovered not only the owners of most of those cars in the parking lot, but also an amazingly beautiful patio situated next to what I’m assuming must be the namesake Tinker’s Creek.

Well this certainly doesn’t suck for background atmosphere

It was like being in a whole other world. Or on vacation somewhere not in northeast Ohio. Which, with Ted in the driver’s seat, isn’t all that difficult a proposition. How long were we in the car, exactly?

We showed our appreciation for our new environment from the very beginning, as we became what I can only assume were the most agreeable table ever to set foot on this particular patio. Drink menus? Yep, hand them over. Waters for everyone? Sure! With lemon? Why not!?!

Cassi put the brakes on our enthusiasm train when she realized that the extensive drink menu didn’t include pricing, and had to ask the server how much the various cocktails and craft beers were going for. All heed the lesson of Shane and the unknowingly overpriced craft beers of a few months ago.

While we weren’t fans of the price guessing game, we will give kudos to the server for not only unbegrudgingly going to check on them for us, but also actually knowing the differences in the various beers on the menu. When Jason asked about the flavors of the different IPAs, she gave real references, not just the generic “they all taste like beer, what more do you want?” conversation we’ve had in some establishments.

Of course we ordered appetizers, because we were happily agreeing to everything … and also, well, because we’re us.

Following the food envy of the potato cups at Wil’s Grill a few weeks ago, I lobbied Shane to order those.

I’m not sure who made potato cups a thing, but I’d like to hug that person

They were good. Not overwhelmingly so, and they didn’t have the “holy crap that’s a lot of melted cheese” wow factor that the ones at Wil’s had … but I would order them again.

Cassi and Jason ordered the fried mozzarella. It was tasty. Cassi said she would rate it higher than her old favorite – although she kindly didn’t mention the restaurant where that dish resided. I’m not sure when we suddenly got so courteous.

Not on Ted’s list of any kind

Ted, in spite of voicing his disappointment that no one decided to order the eggplant stack, opted for calamari.

That’s like the exact opposite of eggplant

He then proceeded to rave about it for the rest of the time it was on the table. Apparently his sorrow over not getting to try the eggplant stack was quickly forgotten. He said he’s not really one for top five lists – a statement that seems like it could factor into a severe punishment from certain members of this group – but if he was then this calamari would be on it. It was breaded well, and the sauce was an excellent compliment to the flavor.

With an endorsement like that, of course we all tried a bit of it when offered. Shane thought it might’ve been a bit of a trick, since it seemed like if Ted was truly a fan then he shouldn’t have been willingly sharing it so much with everyone.

Regardless, we agreed, it was really good.

We also agreed not to use any unnecessary dishes, as the stack of side plates that the server brought prior to the apps sat unused off to the side of the table throughout the course of our preliminary food binge. While this was nothing new to us, the server noticed and asked “so, I take it you don’t need these then?”

Shane: No, we’re savages.

OK then.

Also not new to us, but likely an intro course for our server: Shane’s obligatory firing range of questions related to the best items on the menu. I’m happy to report she survived the assault, listing several dishes that she personally enjoys, from the mac and cheese, to the salmon, the pulled pork sandwich, the salmon salad and the brisket sandwich.

Now if she truly wanted to be a member of our group she would say that she once ordered all of those items in one sitting just so she could compare them all and come up with a final true winner. But, alas, that food challenge never happened.

Something to think about, though.

Shane followed up that interrogation by ordering nothing that she recommended, and instead asking how large the portion size was on the eggplant parmesan. Because we all know how much size matters in these instances.

Get your mind out of the gutter, kids. Especially for when I tell you that her response was that it’s giant, and Shane’s response was that he would take it.

So there’s that.

But at least she wasn’t lying. When the food arrived, I think we all had our own “holy crap, I’m supposed to eat all of that in one sitting” moment as the plates were set in front of us.

This photo doesn’t do justice to the size of the bowl. Although the sheer amount of cheese displayed here should give some indication.

Let’s just say that Shane immediately regretted letting his hunger take the reigns and ordering the extra side of onion rings to accompany his eggplant parm – ironically not because those two things usually are never ordered together as one meal, but because he could barely make it through the actual dinner portion of his meal without being overly full.

His eagerness at the question “would you like a box for those?” was very much diminished from the reaction to the questions at the beginning of our meal.

I’ll take things we didn’t need to order for $1,000, please

Speaking of side orders of things that didn’t get eaten in their entirety, I spent a few minutes dispelling the advances of Ted and his overly aggressive forcing of his wee basket of tater tots into my face. Little did I realize he was just trying to make sure they got their proper photographic documentation, and not trying to force feed them to me.

When tots attack

Me: Put your tots away, Ted, I don’t want any
Ted: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that

The joys of being the official photographer. More on that later.

In the category of foods Ted didn’t try to shove in my face, Ted also got the smoked chicken sandwich. He said it was good. His rating system on his meal this evening pretty much went as follows: Chips just OK, sandwich and tots good, calamari excellent.

At least he kept that plate on his side of the table

Use that information as you will. In true girl fashion, I give bonus points to the tots for being contained in one of those cute miniature fry baskets – which of course we all tried to convince Ted he should just walk out of the restaurant with instead of asking for a box for his remaining tots.

He did neither. Which makes me think they weren’t as good as he said they were, and he also clearly doesn’t appreciate interesting servingware.

Jason got the baked cod sandwich. He liked it, saying that the fish was very moist. Although part of that verdict may have just been so that he could use that particular word and annoy the hell out of his fiance, who has on more than one occasion announced her dislike of it.

Ah, true love.

It looks less moist from this angle

Cassi and I both ordered the tacos – I got the grilled steak tacos with chips and salsa, while Cassi got the tilapia tacos with sweet potato fries.

Tacos take one

And two

We both said they were really good. And we agreed with the table sentiment that the server was not incorrect in her statement that no one will leave hungry, since each meal came with three large tacos, plus a generous portion of the side. We each took one of our tacos home.

In retrospect, we probably could’ve done without all of the apps at the top of the meal. I’m making that note for our eventual return visit, although I already know we won’t heed it.

Remember when I mentioned that the place closes at 9:00? Yeah, that’s not a typo. The place definitely starts emptying out after the early dinner rush, and by 8:30 we were one of only a couple tables left. I know this for certain because any table not inhabited was bring cleaned and upturned and pretty much sending a solid message that diners arriving at 8:55PM might have technically still arrived prior to closing time, but also were more likely to be served in a less than appreciative manner. Just speculation, of course, but I for one am not willing to test that theory.

Another thing we decided against testing: our ability to read a very large sign on a gate stating “NOT AN EXIT,” and the server’s patience when said sign is blatantly ignored. We watched in amusement as one couple tempted fate in this manner and was scolded openly – and righteously, in my opinion, as I mean … come on … there’s a sign. It’s pretty clear that just because the gate opens doesn’t mean they want any random person using it. The reasoning may not be clear, but the sign is … and that’s what matters.

(Keep in mind these words are coming to you from someone who a mere few paragraphs ago was vying for the pilfering of a miniature fry basket from our table. Priorities.)

But aside from the early closing time and the questionable use of lighting on both the patio and the parking areas, I would give this place a high thumbs up. You wouldn’t know it, though, because these are the only photos we attempted before giving in to the questionable lighting gods and admitting defeat.

Now whose turn is it to find the worst lighting possible?

Clearly adding the flash doesn’t help things. Now we can just better see Ted’s inability to keep his eyes open

Well this obviously isn’t working

No thanks. I’ll just stick to words to tell the story. The service was good, the portions were huge and tasty – and the patio really is a great space to spend a nice summer evening. They even brought us citronella candles for the table after we mentioned our dining experience was quickly creating a feast for various bugs as well (sitting near water + humidity = mosquitoes. It’s just science).

And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even spot this strange creature in the parking lot on your way out.

Look kids, it’s the elusive parking lot gnome

Picked by: Jason
Next pick: Steph

Tinkers Creek Road Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato