Monday, April 12, 2010

The Adirondacker

There is a beauty in hamburger that most people don't really understand.  Ground meat is as versatile as pasta. I will often just mix in dices leek, Worcester Sauce, bread crumbs, egg, and chopped garlic.  Just the variety of cheeses that could go on a burger can make the flavor change drastically.  There is nothing like a good Jalapeño cheddar!   I really love to hear about other people's creativity with their burgers.  For this reason, I am an avid fan of Rachel Ray.  She has a feature recipe in her magazine each month devoted to the nuance of the burger.  Bon appetit indeed.

(Source: Rachel Ray Magazine, Februrary 2010)

The Adirondacker


  • 8 slices smoked bacon
  • 2 pounds ground sirloin
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces shredded or sliced extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped chives (a generous handful)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped dill (a generous handful)
  • 4 crusty kaiser rolls, split
  • 1 bunch watercress or arugula, chopped


  1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Discard all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the sirloin, Worcestershire sauce and horseradish; season with salt and pepper. Form into 4 patties. Heat the bacon fat in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef patties and cook, turning once, for 8 minutes for medium. Melt the cheese on top of the patties during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, parsley, chives, dill and lots of pepper.
  4. Place the cheeseburgers on the roll bottoms and top each with 2 slices bacon and some watercress. Slather the bun tops with the sour cream sauce and set into place.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Business and Burgers: Two Dads' Diner

DSCN2719 Before moving to Cleveland in 2003, I spent two years in upstate New York, working hard earning my M.B.A. at the Simon School. The winters of Rochacha, as it’s referred to by the natives, are cold, snowy, gray and the city rests just south of one of the five Great Lakes. Sound familiar? To keep the energy going, the school would sometimes host after hour events at the local diners, places where, for $10, you could order a three-course dinner complete with canned chicken soup, a burger and fries and even a piece of chocolate pie. The decor in these diners stayed true to its 70’s blue collar origins and the yellow lighting and solo customers sipping their sole cup of coffee before stepping outside for a smoke reminded you why movies, politicians and diners go hand in hand: there’s a quiet understanding of social distance and simultaneous friendliness, a contrast of decision-making suits enjoying cheap meals next to time-clocked people in uniforms. A good diner will serve you a cup of coffee, a sandwich and a side order of “Enjoy and carry on.”

As a frequenter of this type of dining establishment, I had to go and try Two Dads’ Diner on Detroit in Lakewood. Recruiting a couple of downtown Cleveland residents as my accomplices, we headed to the new restaurant on a casual workday evening. Parking right in front of the doors, we entered and, quickly, one of the waitresses asked us where we wanted to sit. It’s a diner, so, personally, nothing but a booth would do. The three of us chose one, towards the back, away from the draft of the front door. Hungry and cold, we immediately began to investigate the menu, but not until we checked out the space. Fabric-covered booths against the wall, muted green colors accenting the neutral surrounding decor, desserts staged near the register on inexpensive plastic pedestal plates with see-through tall lids and unpretentious and helpful, witty employees. Yep, this is very much a timeless, kitschy diner cafe.

We proceeded to order: chicken paprikash, hamburger with onion rings and, of course, a tuna melt with fries and a chocolate milk shake. Before the food arrived, the owner, John, one of the two dads, who made the rounds with the others guests, stopped by and chatted up with us. A tall man with an edgy sense of humor, he proceeded to give us the story. He and Frank, the other dad who is the chef, have known each other for years and, between the two of them, they have “two wives and eight daughters.” They wanted to go into business together and thought that opening this would be the perfect opportunity to do what they love.

John continued to entertain us until our food arrived, and, as our eyes were hungrier than our stomachs, we pretty much devoured our meals. For the most part, we enjoyed everything. My tuna melt, not a standard menu option, thus custom made, had a very distinct taste. The tuna salad, intended to be eaten sans the toast and hot cheese, surprised me a little with its extra kick. Beyond that, the meals tasted like the food one would expect at such a place, just better. That’s because the two dads do what they can to serve local produce. Even the meat comes from the butcher, directly across the street. Additionally, the portions are generous and the prices are incredibly reasonable. Finally, Frank prepares several of the staples from scratch, including the blue cheese dressing, the salad croutons – crispy on the outside and layered in flavor on the inside – and the home-made onion ring sauce, a combination of horseradish, mayo, Worchester, ketchup and other ingredients, giving it a creamy consistency with a vinegar-based sharpness. Two Dads’ Diner is diner food, plus.

During our conversation with John, I mentioned to him that his new restaurant reminded me of what the Theatrical Grill, (opened by Morris “Mushy” Wexler), may have once been, sans the jazz and the jars of pickles on the tables. John was stunned that I even knew what the Theatrical was and I reassured him that, as a non-native Clevelander, the only reason I knew about it was because it’s frequently mentioned in Crooked River Burning (by Mark Winegardner – the book should be the mandatory welcome manual to anyone moving here. But that’s another topic for another column). And, based on this historical novel set in this city, my impression of the former Vincent street legendary establishment is one of a place where politicians, mobsters and business people made their deals, quietly, and where big decisions that influenced the lives of Clevelanders occurred. Two Dads’ Diner, just down the street from a well-known congressman’s office and blocks away from numerous office buildings, while not a grand entertainment venue, gives off that same kind of vibe. It’s like “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets “Cheers.”

About a week after this outing, my neighbor and I stopped in to have some lunch at Two Dads’. Both dressed in casual sweats, sans makeup and really just there to enjoy a cup of soup and a sandwich before heading back home to work, we observed the incredibly kind service, the very fresh food and, a row down, the uber important looking men, in suits, discussing something, quietly. Mssr. Wexler would be so proud.

Two Dad’s Diner has no website, but does have a thriving and loyal Facebook Page. Info: 14412 Detroit Ave, Lakewood, OH, 44107 Phone: 216-226-3270 Hours: Mon – Sat: 7:00 am – 8:00 pm, Sun: 7:00 am – 2:00 pm

Reprinted with permission and gratitude from

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie is the definition of down-home decadence.  It is so rich and delightful that it has been years since I allowed myself the pleasure of enjoying this wonder.  To me, it feels as risqué as spending a weekend riding with a rough motorcycle gang.  Dangerous, self-gratifying, fun, and somehow out-of-bounds.  It is easily one of my favorite desserts, but I know that there can be no self-control with this bad-boy around.  It will haunt me until I am drunk with flavors so complete and complex that it forces me to press forward - just one more bite!  Just like so many haunted characters, this friend is surprisingly simple.  Beaten early and long, the golden exterior belies a soft, creamy underbelly that melts hearts and tastes simultaneously.  Stay away.  Stay away or be stricken with longing for the rest of your lives.  Please god, deliver me (another pie).

Banana Cream Pie


  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
  • 4 bananas, sliced


  1. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Add milk in gradually while stirring gently. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is bubbly. Keep stirring and cook for about 2 more minutes, and then remove from the burner.
  2. Stir a small quantity of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks, and immediately add egg yolk mixture to the rest of the hot mixture. Cook for 2 more minutes; remember to keep stirring. Remove the mixture from the stove, and add butter and vanilla. Stir until the whole thing has a smooth consistency.
  3. Slice bananas into the cooled baked pastry shell. Top with pudding mixture.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 12 to 15 minutes. Chill for an hour.