I’m sorry. We haven’t been out and about too much. The principal reason is that one of our two pups, Eddie and Debbie, both of whom we tragically (though kind of expected) lost within a week of each other, was on a couple different diuretics, so the days of the 5-7 hour held bladder had long ago left the station.
There are lots of new brewers popping up around here, but for the above reasons, along with a few others, I’ve visited none in about a year, which I hope to correct in the near future. I’ll pick up something untried at the store here and there and often write a shorty about it.
But there ARE a couple establishments that rear their lovely heads fairly often of late that give me the opportunity to eat, drink, and write about it.
One is The Valley Café, a neighborhood haunt in West Akron, now with a new location in Wadsworth, Ohio. Principally a breakfast/lunch restaurant, the VC has not been highlighted on this site much. Once, I think, for an astonishing burger, but as they’ve served no beer or spirits, I’ve had little reason to mention them much, despite their ridiculous homemade corned beef hash (order it “well, well, well” done and the carmelized nuggets of heaven awash in the yokes of a couple o’er easies a fine example of how cholesterol offers true value to humanity), awesome home fries, shrimp & grits and a sausage gravy with a little special heat. But the Valley Café has made it to the YBN facebook page on a few occasions, so the name may be familiar.
But now, having opened a second location, they have embarked on turning their newest hash slingin’ joint into a swanky high end eatery on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, Valley Café at nite. We had to miss the soft open, but after all the conversations over breakfast had with Chefs B.J and Ron—– about what they aspired to do, and what I would like them to do (I mean they DID name a sandwich on the menu after me), we made reservations to try it as early on as we could.
A bright and airy high ceilinged, bare wood floor daytime eatery, the transformation into a venue consistent with the prices and style of the dinner menu was great. Done simply with lighting, black linens, nice china, glassware and cutlery, there was a level of intimacy and the suggestion of some pampering coming our way. We’re going to credit Nicole Mikoda, co-owner with husband B.J. with this understated tasteful transformation. Always staffed with great folks, this was the case with the evening crew, the family atmosphere that has always been so appealing about the VC kept intact even as the stakes raised.
B.J had told me he was getting in a few craft brews especially with me in mind. I’ll admit, I figured it would likely be a couple standard issue brews from Great Lakes and/or Thirsty Dog, two exceptional local brewers, but leaving me with little to write about. Much to my delight, there were more than a couple beers I’d never tried, so I started out with Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes. The description they offer is as follows
“A juicy citrus and grapefruit flavor profile, as if fresh Citra and Mosaic hops were squeezed right into the bottle.”
With a 6.4% ABV and 60 IBUs, not a lot of malt presence in the nose or the flavor, both flowery and citrusy at once. Super hoppy and citrusy with a nice bitter hitting the tongue at first blush, an interestingly well balanced beer, the malt serving to give its some heft while really profiling the Mozaic and Citra hops. It was almost like an American Pale with a few more bullets in the clip. As tasty as they come.
As we perused the menu, BJ approached the table with a long serving plate presenting a beautiful steak tartar, a mound of fresh steak chopped fine, topped with a raw egg yoke. It was accompanied by crisp lightly toasted baggette, finely chopped onion, capers, and seed mustard. This was not on the menu, but most definitely should be. I’m a little embarassed I didn’t snap a pic of it, as it was a thing of beauty. Delicious, and the IPA from Deschutes went perfectly with it. But to be fair, the Fresh Squeezed IPA would go great with anything placed before me.
One of my dinner companions ordered a Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Stout. The nose vividly represented the chocolate component of the roasted barley, as did the flavor. The surprise was the bitter on the front of the tongue presenting at first sip. There was also an immediate sweetness. After waiting for it to warm up just a bit, the chocolate continued to rise up as the statement this stout makes. At 8% ABV, the alcohol was not terribly noticable, but it did push the flavor notes. There was a bit of an oakiness to it but no obvious suggestion of bourbon, a pleasant surprise coming from a Kentucky brewer wishing to focus in on this technique. I also found this to be the case with their neighbor Altel’s offering in their Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout, which I very much liked, as I prefered the woodiness of the barrel to an overstated bourbon flavor, which can really dominate.
While not described as such by the brewer, I would simply call Goodwood’s offering a very decent chocolate stout.
A table appetizer was ordered in the form of Butternut Squash Ravioli in Sage Brown Butter. I’m not a big squash fan, and as our dates at the table were a little squeamish about raw steak (and/or the raw egg) my pal and I had eaten most of the bountiful tartar, so I just had a bite of the ravioli, which was sweet, savory, and really delicious. Everyone else at the table LOVED it.
While the ravioli was being devoured, our server brought me a Lager Heads Bed Head Red, brewed in Medina, Ohio, as you might guess, from the name, an American Amber/ Red Ale. The tale of the tape has it presenting at 5.9% ABV, and pouring a little darker than expected. A tasty, proper red, there was a little smoke, a little bitter, a little caramel. Exactly what I would hope for.
My only note about the salads is that the VC white french dressing is excellent. My Caesar was fine, but for my obnoxious palate, more of a anchovie presence would have made it perfect.
My main course was perhaps the most beautiful pork chop I’ve ever seen, served on a bed of mashed potatoes and a smoky and sweet braised red cabbage, flavored by apple cider vinegar and amish smoked bacon. Big, moist, and along with being the most beautiful pork chop I’ve seen, it was also the best pork chop I’ve ever eaten. I should note here that it’s own smoke, sweetness, and caramel made the Lager Heads ale a perfect complement.
My table mates all enjoyed different dishes. One had seared scallops on a mushroom risoto so rich, I believe the one forkful I had added 2 inches to my waste. Another, braised shortribs on rosemary mashed with roasted root vegetables. You could cut it with a fork, dark, meaty, and rich. My buddy had the broiled fresh steelhead trout which had a great texture, but compared to the other dishes we ordered, probably left him a little envious.
Chef B.J hails from the south, which explains his shrimp & grits, the fact that he’s always a little dangerously generous with the heat in some dishes, which I love, and always offers up bountiful portions.
So while we were all happily stuffed, when we learned he was serving a dessert of fresh made beigniets and Café du Mond, bringing a little NOLA to our northern Ohio table, we had to order some. Then again, he was also offering an espresso crème brulet, so… we ordered one of each, drank lots of delicious chicory coffee and chowed down. The desserts were mouth watering and yet light enough to not kill us, for which we were grateful.
How can I conclude this review other than declare loudly, “We are going back!!!” Congratulations to the Valley Café at nite.