WTGW 6/14/17: Crave Cantina, Cuyahoga Falls

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Wait, what, there’s a new taco joint in our backyard? Please, twist our arms to try this one.

Crave Cantina opened just a few weeks ago, a spinoff from the same owners of the Akron-based restaurant of close-to-the-same-name, Crave. We see what you did there, owners. The new Cantina is located in the old Firehouse restaurant on Front Street in downtown Cuyahoga Falls, which looks like a war zone now (note to ladies, heels may not be the best choice for navigating the walkway from any parking area to the front door, trust me on this one) but once the street renovation project is completed should be fabulous.

Speaking of parking, it took us a hot minute to find a lot and a spot – which of course caused us all to think there would be a wait for a table once we finally got into the restaurant. And the hostess didn’t help things much, as we’ve learned the hard way that being greeted with the question “do you have a reservation?” typically leads into the “well, unfortunately we currently have a wait until about 2025 if you don’t have a reservation” let down. Especially when a place is less than a month old.

But luck was on our side this evening, as our “no” to the reservation interrogation was followed with “OK, well follow me this way.” Yes, please. Gladly.

Also, it should be noted that we don’t do reservations for WTGW. Well, except if you’re Ted and you want to check out Gus’s Chalet. Just saying.

Our first observation after we were seated was that they definitely put some energy into changing the place up from its last incarnation as Firehouse. Let’s just say that our few experiences at that particular establishment were not good ones, so noticing that it was freshened up – and cleaned up – was a good sign. Although we did notice that the wall on the one side of the back area where we sat – which you’ll see in the pic of Ted later – looked a little like the street outside (maybe they’re waiting to match it to said street?), but other than that the place looks great.

Crave is also part of this new trend of “fancy” Mexican places, where instead of the generic menu-that-could-be-placed-at-any-Mexican-place-in-the-city-involving-dishes-made-from-a-combination-of-rice-and-beans-and-some-sort-of-corn-or-flour-shell-filled-item, everything is pretty much a la carte. Tacos with interesting fillings are individually purchased at $3 or $4 each, and then you can add sides if you like. There are a few entrees, and some intriguing appetizers, but the focus is more on creating combinations of your own than a standard menu.

Which also means … no free chips and salsa as soon as you sit down. This is one part of “fancy Mexican” I certainly can’t get behind.

Because of this, and the fact that (as usual) we were “hungry enough to eat the entire menu” as soon as we got there, Shane and I ordered the chips and quacamole as an app. We did the trio of three different guacs: traditional, mango, and charred corn.

Mix and match

Unfortunately it seems that we probably could’ve stuck with just one guac option, as they all tasted the same to us. And trust me, we tried really hard to make comparisons. But we honestly felt they were all extremely similar. Three bowls of green dip, with nothing much to distinguish one from the other. Well, OK, one had some chunks of mango on top. But if you closed your eyes and just did a taste test, it was very difficult to tell one from another. Also, chunks of corn are surprisingly similar to chunks of mango when placed in a green substance. Just an observation.

At least they brought us extra chips to help finish off the guac

Meanwhile, on the fancypants side of the table, Ted went with the Yellowtail Cerviche as an app. And yes, I had to consult the menu online before I typed that.

It apparently tastes better than it looks

He was far more pleased with his app than we were with ours. He gave it a thumbs up, saying that the sweet potatoes on top were tasty, and the nuts (at least that’s what he thought they were?) were a good contrast. And the dish as a whole was sweet.

You know, unlike other dishes we’ve had in the past.

Yes, I just made another Gus’s Chalet reference. It was that kind of night.

We also, of course, got margaritas. Or, at least Shane and I did – Ted made up for his highbrow appetizer by ordering a boring old beer. Boo. We shared a pitcher of passion fruit margaritas … which, strike two for us, I guess, as we weren’t thrilled with the flavor. The taste – what there was of it – was a bit tart. I probably wouldn’t go that route again.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, we still finished it. Please. But for next time we made a mental note that we should probably try something else from the drink menu. Maybe Ted was smart after all.

We also got this lovely bottle of water for the table.

Fancy water to go with the fancy food

This is awfully classy for a Wednesday night out, people. I mean, it has a cork in it. And it’s water.

Although Shane pointed out that if the bottle were plastic and not glass he would probably have thought they just recycled one of those old cheap vodka bottles with the built in handles on the sides. Point, Shane.

For meals, Ted again got something I can’t pronounce or spell, so let me consult the online menu … Pollo la Braza. Which I think must translate into “entire chicken on a bed of fried plantains.” And also without flavor, according to Ted. He said he expected it to be spicier, but if was almost like just a rotisserie chicken with rosemary flavor. And the fried plantains (wait, that’s what we were calling them all night … but it turns out after I look at the online menu those were actually yucca fries. Are they the same thing? I took German in high school, folks. Spanish is lost on me) Anyway, those were good as long as you used the sauce on the plate to dip them in. He definitely preferred his appetizer over the main dish.

Here’s your half a chicken, sir

Shane and I went the taco route. I got three total – although in retrospect I should’ve only gotten two. When we asked how big the tacos were – because at these places they can be anything from two bites to the size of a frisbee – the server told us they were about as big in diameter as one of the small plates on the table.

So either she was off on her comparison, or – more likely – I was using hangry eyes when I ordered, because the tacos we got seemed far bigger than the size of those dishes. Bigger is better? No?

In any case, I chose the chicken, the chorizo and the ground beef.

I was too hungry to note which was which. Sorry.

Shane was in the same bottomless pit of hunger boat as me, and got five total – two brisket, one chorizo, one buttermilk fried chicken and one flank steak.

Come hungry, leave happy. Wait, wrong restaurant.

I also got a completely unnecessary side of rice. Because, again, eyes bigger than stomach. I should also point out that this side was the one and only thing that I could probably walk into any Mexican place and obtain. So I wasn’t really missing out on much by not finishing that.

Extra food. Because we never have that at our table.

I liked all of my tacos. The chicken one had good flavor all around, but the other two got most of their flavor from the sauces and not the meat. That being said, I would still order them all again, but I would also really like to try some others on the menu.

Shane adamantly disagreed with me about the chorizo. He thought it was lacking in flavor overall. He thought the buttermilk fried chicken and the flank steak were the best of his – he said would’ve been happy with just those two and maybe one more as far as being full, but definitely those two in terms of flavor. The others were a disappointment in comparison.

Thus followed a conversation about the merits of eating the best food first versus last – as Shane had eaten his two best tacos first, since those were the ones he was the least sure about and thought he would like least, and then was stuck with the actual least liked ones to finish things out. See also: why I’m prone to taking a bite of each and then deciding what order to eat them in. Don’t judge.

Overall Crave Cantina is a decent place. The service was good, although we think our server may have been new to the business since she was a bit timid (I mean, come on, even though we were hungry we’re not that intimidating … usually …) but she was still OK. And while we were a bit hit and miss on our meals and drinks … the concept and the space (and the fact that they’re kind of still getting their feet wet at this location) are enough to make us want to come back and try out some different things on the menu that we passed up this time around. It reminded us of places like Bomba in Fairlawn or Barrio in downtown Cleveland, where the tacos are all interesting and different and you want to try them all since they’re all only a few dollars each. Frugal + options = a thumbs up in our group.

Shane

Steph

Ted. And I wonder if they’re taking suggestions on what to do with that wall?

Picked by: Ted
Next pick: Shane

Crave Cantina Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

WTGW 4/5/17: Arnie’s Public House, Akron

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Today’s lesson is in marketing. Specifically, what to name your restaruant that makes it sound inviting and like a place you might want to spend an evening with friends.

Arnie’s Standing Room Only: sounds like a place where we’d be lucky to get in the door, and then stand around awkwardly looking at each other and trying not to spill our beers.

Arnie’s Public House: less like a place you’re going to get jostled around in, but all I can think of is a “bath house” at the lake … and that’s not a very pretty picture either.

OK, so maybe it still falls a bit short of the mark, but progress.

We’ve never been inside this place when it was Arnie’s SRO – although Ted swears to the darkest side of the sun that we at least talked about going here more than once. Hmm. Personally I know I had to look it up in Google maps just to make sure it was where I was thinking it was, so I’m guessing those must be his other friends he’s referring to.

Dammit Ted, we don’t talk about other friends on WTGW. This is our night.

So I read some reviews and everyone agreed that Arnie’s PH was a much improved version of SRO. From what I can gather, they added a new menu/chef, as well as tables and booths for (gasp) seating options. Again, progress.

The place is still small, wedged into the side of a strip plaza. It probably only fits 50-75 people if I had to guess. This proved beneficial when we walked all the way through from what we thought was the front entrance on the patio to the actual front entrance at the back of the place (see also: irony) – only to find a “please seat yourself” sign. Well at least we had already walked past the available tables, and since the place was small we didn’t go too far out of our way.

The bartender helped us to a booth anyway, and explained that there were two bartenders, as well as one server – and she was new, but doing OK, so just give her a chance.

Because that sounds like a setup for eventual disappointment, no? Like “hey, here’s a great car … it looks nice, but it has 400,000 miles, no brakes and is missing a tire, so if you just park it in your driveway and look at it from the side with both tires, it’s really awesome.”

Also, since the bar is considerably smaller – and pouring drinks seems like sometimes it can be less work than waiting tables – it appeared the scales may have been tipped a little bit out of the new girl’s favor there, but whatever.

The beer list seemed decent, although Ted went to order one of his dark beers on tap only to be told it had been replaced with Summer Shandy. I’m liking that the “we’re out of the beer you like” curse has been moved out of my corner for a bit.

In any case, he went with a Thirsty Dog Twisted Kilt, I decided on Angry Orchard, and Shane – in a twist to shock us all – grabbed the Summer Shandy over his usual Bud Light. Color us surprised.

The menu is a mix of things that sound fancy (siracha brussel sprouts, Hungarian stuffed peppers, chicken and waffles) and things that you’d think a bar would have (burgers, chips and dip, sliders, pretzel sticks).

We’ve been on a pretzel stick kick the last few weeks, so we switched it up and went with the hush puppies this time around. Although a bit later – before our hush puppy app arrived – the server approached our table mistakenly with a plate of – what else? – pretzel sticks.

It’s like they knew we’d broken up with them and they were stalking us out to see our new love.

And I guess maybe in some ways they were warning us we were going to be sorry, because the hush puppies ended up not being the best choice. For something that has jalepeno in them – and you could see the actual jalepeno bits – there was zero flavor. Shane commented that normal, non-jalepeno hush puppies have more flavor than these did. This was just like eating a huge ball of cornmeal mush with some green flecks in it – something we all find incredibly delectable, I know.

“Those are some balls” – Shane, as they arrived on the table. Keeping it classy, folks.

The sauce was the only thing that made them even edible, but even that wasn’t anything impressive – I think it just seemed so amazing because it kept the hush puppies from turning your mouth into the Sahara desert and gave the dry bread crumb consistency at least a little bit of flavor. You can tell we didn’t care for them so much when we left one hush puppy on the plate – and even after we were done with our meals still no one touched it. That never happens.

Sorry, pretzels. We never should have doubted you. Please don’t hold it against us.

Shane got the Red Eye burger for his meal, along with a side of the housemade chips and dill dip for his side.

Mmmm … meat

He liked the burger, but because he got it his usual medium rare (and they actually cooked it that way) it was very difficult to eat. It fell apart as soon as he bit into it, so he pretty much had to go the knife and fork route at that point.

Good thing we weren’t still “standing room only” or that could’ve gotten messy.

I got the chicken tacos for my meal, only replaced the tortillas with a lettuce wrap. I guess I’ll be playing the part of “healthy Shane” this evening. Although I did get the homemade chips and dill dip as my side, too, so there’s that.

It looks pretty until you attempt to eat it

The chicken was really good, it was broken up into small pieces and very well seasoned with a little spicy kick. Lettuce wraps are a bit tricky to navigate, so I eventually resorted to fork bites also – which meant I kind of just ate the lettuce separately and could’ve just asked them to heap the chicken, cheese and filling from the tacos right onto my plate – but whatever, it was still good.

I will say both of us were disappointed in the chips, though. They were flimsy, and tasted more like the oil they were cooked in than the actual potato. Maybe slice them a bit thicker in the future. I mean, some of us actually like the taste of potato and not just air and oil, thanks.  And the dip was just OK. We’re more French Onion people than dill folks, I guess.

Ted got the special for the evening, which was a pasta dish with shrimp and sausage. He said he was about halfway down the menu and had a few items in mind that he was considering when the server came over to tell us about the specials, and once he heard that one he decided it cancelled all the other options out.

Because “pasta special” sounds less goofy than “goulash”

He really liked the pasta dish, even though he said that it was essentially goulash. He commented that he hadn’t realized the place had a bit of a Hungarian theme going on, but once he ate that and remembered things like the stuffed peppers on theh menu, it made sense. But overall he was happy, his meal was very good.

I guess all in all, Arnie’s isn’t a bad place … it just wasnt the best, either. It seems like even though the transition to this new restaurant with more seating isn’t a brand new thing, they’re still working out some of the kinks. And I know our server was new, but she was still exceptionally slow. I mean, there were three, maybe four tables total that she was handling – but it just seemed like she wasn’t getting the hang of timing for everyone.

Case in point:  when she came around asking if we wanted a third round of drinks, and we said no … she scampered away before we could ask for the checks, and then took forever to reappear to finally ask if we did, in fact, want them. No, we’d just like to sit here and stare at one another over empty glasses, please. I mean, usually being done with your meal and refusing another round of drinks is a universal sign for “we’re pretty much ready to head out, thanks.” But it was like she read some manual for how to be a server, and had time slots she had to fill for each of those questions. “OK they said no to more drinks, now avoid them and wait the appropriate 10 minutes before returning to ask if they want the check so they don’t feel rushed out.”

And the bartenders who warned us about her newness also weren’t going out of their way to help her, either. We know she put in our order for our second round of drinks, and we watched the one bartender pour said drinks … but rather than walk them over to our table (as we already mentioned, the place is pretty small so I’m fairly sure those 20 steps wouldn’t cause him to break a sweat, plus I know he saw our empty glasses lined up on the edge of our table) – he waited for her to come pick them up. All the while bartender #2 was too busy doing shots with someone who appeared to be either the owner or manager and his little group of friends at the bar to even notice us at all. Nice.

As Shane would say “John Taffer would be disappointed.”

Picked by: Steph
Next pick: Ted

Ted

Shane – trying to hide so no one saw his grade

Steph

Arnie's Standing Room Only Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

WTGW 8/31/16: Bomba Rum & Tacos, Fairlawn

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OK, let’s be honest, do I even need to write a review here? I mean, this place has the words “tacos” (delicious) and “rum” (even more delicious) right in the title. Could anything be more up our alley? It’s like someone fashioned a WTGW oasis just to lure our group into its clutches. The only thing more appealing to us might be if someone opened a place just called “Cheap Wings and Beer.” I mean, really.

So it’s probably no surprise that both Shane and I had been eyeing this place up since it opened a few months back. On many occasions we’ve been in the area and almost just broke down and stopped in for dinner, but were trying to hold out to use it as a pick.

Must. Not. Break. Down.

The struggle is real, kids.Bomba Tacos and Rum, Fairlawn

Bomba is located in the old Hudson’s Restaurant space in the Montrose Center in Fairlawn. Having been to Hudson’s a few times, I can say Bomba definitely gutted the place when they moved in, as it’s barely recognizable now that it’s been redone. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, Hudson’s was OK – but I always thought parts of it needed more lighting. Like they were going for that romantic date spot, but when a few of the tables around us had like four kids with them then the darkness just kinda came off as a bit creepy. No wonder the kids are crying, they can’t see what you’re feeding them.

Anyway.

In contrast, Bomba has a great atmosphere, very open and much brighter. There was also patio seating, although we didn’t opt for that since it looked like the skies might open at any moment. And you know our luck there.

So when you’re in a place that has the word “rum” in the title, it makes perfect sense that Ted gets a beer. Because, well, Ted.

Well at least "Lagunitas" sounds Mexican, no?

Well at least “Lagunitas” sounds Mexican, no?

I mean, he did redeem himself later by switching to a mojito, but sheesh. Damage done.

I got the Tropical Mango White Sangria, which sounded delicious on the menu but ended up tasting a little less so when I actually tried it. Kinda like those deceptive beer descriptions I always want to volunteer to compose.

I should know by now not to trust descriptions

I should know by now not to trust descriptions

Jerrid got the Brazilian Red Sangria – which also sounded delicious – and he was far happier with that one than I was with mine.

Check out the size of that berry!

Check out the size of that berry!

But it was Shane who once again won the drink lottery with the Blackberry Ginger Mojito. One sip and I knew that’s what I would be switching to next. It was similar to the mules we had at Caston & Main a few weeks back. He’s on fire with his choices lately.

Winner winner chicken dinner

Winner winner chicken dinner

And for Amanda … water. Boo.

No rum for you!

No rum for you!

For appetizers, Shane and I picked the bacon wrapped jalepenos – which Shane liked but I wasn’t crazy about. I didn’t think they had much flavor. So either I got the lame pepper with no taste, or my taste buds are permanently scarred from weeks of hot wings.

That's not a hot dog. Really.

That’s not a hot dog. Really.

Jerrid and Amanda got the beef empanadas. Which, aside from just being fun to say, were tasty.

Fun to say, good to eat

Fun to say, good to eat

We also got an order of the fire-roasted salsa for the table (this is one of those “fancy” Mexican places where you have to order the chips & salsa/guac, they don’t just bring it to the table automatically) as well as the house made guac. Because it’s made fresh when you order it, they have stuff you can add in to make it your own custom mix. Our server was kind enough to suggest a few things that he usually adds to his … but we just went with plain for our first try. Because, honestly, some of the add-ins seem a bit strange. Candied pumpkin seeds? Chipotle honey? Goat cheese? We’re simple folks. Just bring us the green stuff to dip our chips in. For reals.

We like our guac non-fancy, just tasty

We like our guac non-fancy, just tasty

Speaking of chips, this might be a good time to mention that they’re also on the fancy side. The chip baskets include four different kinds of chips – yucca, plantain, malanga (five dollars to the first person who can tell me what that actually is – without googling it), and regular corn – so of course the new table game became “guess what strange toasted substance you’re using as a vehicle to get the salsa/guac into your mouth.”

Good times.

At least I’m happy to say that we chose wisely, and the plain guac was really very good. As was the salsa. And most of the chips. Although I honestly can’t tell you which ones we liked least, because, as I mentioned, I still don’t think we really knew what we were eating.

Toast and salsa?

Toast and salsa?

Moving on.

To tacos. So, remember what our table looked like last week at Cruiser’s with our little wing fest? Well, just picture that same thing for this week, but with tacos.

So the gist of this place is that basically they have a bunch of different kinds of tacos, and they’re all a la carte, so you can mix & match. They’re all like $3 or $4 each, and they recommend 2-3 per person.

And now comes the part of the review where I test my own memory and ability to take notes, since, well, let’s face it, pretty much all tacos look the same in pictures.

I got the potato chorizo, braised beef and spicy shrimp, along with a side of mango cilantro rice. The spicy shrimp was definitely my favorite, it was for reals spicy – but in a you’re-killing-your-taste-buds-for-good-reason kind of way. I thought I would like the beef the best but when it turned out that it was primarily jalepenos, I decided that wasn’t so much a winner. The rice was delicious.

That rice was a meal in itself

That rice was a meal in itself

Amanda had the blackened fish, potato chorizo and chipotle ground beef. She liked the chorizo the best. She and Jerrid also got a side of the adobo fries, which she hardly touched because the three tacos were enough to make her quite full.

Same shells, different filling

Same shells, different filling

Ted went with the blackened fish (the server highly recommended this one and said that was his favorite … can you tell?), crispy fish, smoked brisket and slow braised duck. He said the dusk was his favorite. He thought the blackened fish didn’t have much flavor (in your face, server). The other two were OK but the definite winner for him was the duck.

Ted's side dish was apparently an extra taco

Ted’s side dish was apparently an extra taco

Jerrid had blackened fish (seriously, I’m getting tired of typing that), bbq pork and smoked brisket. Agreed that the fish wasn’t the best. He liked the pork and brisket though.

They're all starting to look the same

They’re all starting to look the same

And then there’s Shane … who went the “Ted’s getting a beer” route for his meal, ordering the Smoked Brisket Torta (that’s a fancy way of saying sandwich – I only know that from reading it on the menu) with adobo fries. Or adobE fries, as he called them. Like the photoshop software. Because who doesn’t like a little lesson in filters and levels while they eat french fries. Whatevs. He said the brisket was a little dry, and he compared the bread to an English muffin. Hmm, that’s not so tasty.

That doesn't look like tacos. Where are we Shane?

That doesn’t look like tacos. Where are we Shane?

He did mention that he thought it would’ve been better with some guac on it. Because woudn’t everything really?

Overall Bomba is a fun place with great options if you’re in the mood for tacos and don’t want the cookie-cutter options at the local Mexican joint. It’s a little pricy, but the a la carte is nice so you can try different things – or get a whole bunch of the one thing you try and decide you like. They had rice bowls that looked intriguing also, I would be willing to return to try one of those at some point. The chips and salsa/guac were good – although I’m still not sold on the list of additional add-ins, but that’s just me and my somewhat uncultured taste buds, perhaps. And I’m not a fan of straight-up rum without some type of mixer, but if you’re into that kind of thing they also have a ton of flights and sampling options for you to find the one that suits you best. I could see this being a good spot for a late night snack and drinks, or maybe a midday late lunch with day drinking. Because who doesn’t love cocktails at like 2PM? I mean, other than your boss when you’re supposed to be at work … but that’s a whole other blog there I suppose …

Ted

Ted

Shane

Shane

Jerrid

Jerrid

Amanda

Amanda

Steph

Steph

Picked by: Steph
Next pick: Amanda asked for a week off, since she just started this new job that puts her on a regular schedule and back to being with us on Wednesdays. So Ted’s up next week.

Bomba Tacos & Rum Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato