The most wonderful time of the year

For some reason I haven’t examined closely, Lent is my favorite Christian season of the year. I do know it has to do with the coming of spring, my second favorite season (after summer). But there is a lot I like about it — the solemnity of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, all the ceremony of Holy Week, the deprivations and devotions. I didn’t grew up with it and it feels exotic and rich to me. I also like how our church puts bare branches on the altar and leaves them there through the season — by Easter they are green and beautiful. It’s great!

But by far, by far the very best part of the season is fish fries. I am crazy about them. We got on the fish fry crazy train a few years ago after we moved to Willoughby. Though we have yet to go to more than one or two per season, I honestly look forward to it all year round. Why:

  • Authentic and local Cleveland fun
  • Polka
  • Breaded walleye
  • Pierogis
  • Cabbage and noodles (a new favorite!)
  • Yummy desserts
  • Old lady waitresses
  • Getting soda from the bar in plastic cups. Beer if you’re lucky.
  • The whole scene, really. You are always left guessing about how and whether you are going to be served, when you pay, how long you will have to wait for a table, if it will be crowded, if it will be weird. And it only lasts so long — you have to make hay while the sun shines.

Tonight we hit the Slovenian Workingmen’s Home in Collinwood, based on the recommendation of a friend and Collinwood resident. After a little scheduling craziness, we met up with our friends, the Randel-Robertsons, and enjoyed a hurried dinner (had to get Miles to Indoor Foot Skills at 7:00). We adults took turns passing around baby Eamon which was delightful for us whose “baby” is now 5. You forget about juggling the baby at dinnertime!

The pros were that the food was good — the fish was just okay, but the cabbage and noodles were outstanding and I also enjoyed the coleslaw which seemed very fresh and in a vinegar dressing, no mayo I could detect. My darling husband bought us all beers from the bar and the kids got Sprite. The children’s meals were chicken fingers with fries or macaroni and cheese and not much was eaten, but I think they were too wound up from the excitement of the place. Two guys were strolling around with their button boxes and the music sounded great. It was crowded but we didn’t have to wait to be seated and were able to sit with our friends (four adults, four kids, and a baby all together) — we shared a long table with some older folks who didn’t seem too ruffled by our squirmy and noisy school-age children. The old Slovenian ladies who waited on us were decked out in St. Patrick’s finery.

Cons were that it wasn’t buffet-style or all-you-can-eat — everything, including drinks and dessert, was “extra.” Seating was crowded and a little crazy but that is to be expected. Kind of expensive for how much you got.

Still, worth the drive to Collinwood — very ethnic and good fun.

Breakfast

Tried a new breakfast place today and — Lord! — I should have taken pictures.

With my charmed life lately I have been meeting girlfriends for breakfast and have been on the lookout for good cheap food, attentive servers, and coffee that keeps coming. It is a difficult combination to find — my latest, IHOP, had delicious food but *terrible* (Jersey-style) service. We weren’t in a hurry, and there was the IHOP carafe of coffee on the table (my reason for going) so it was fine but still the search continued.

I tried Anthony’s Family Restaurant on Vine Street in Eastlake today and what is wrong with me for not going there earlier? It is a local restaurant highly recommended by Eastlake natives (who also love doughnuts — see Biagio’s, also on Vine, for the finest). Honestly it looks like a greasy spoon from the street, but the parking lot was packed and inside was a busy restaurant that reminded me of a very lovely Jersey diner. Our charming young waiter got me some decaf and ice water (with a straw, love that) while I waited for Rhonda.

There is much to say about Rhonda but suffice to say that I love her. She is my newest friend and we met at the Y — it was the Jersey connection (I think she was wearing a t-shirt that made me turn to her and say, “Jersey?”). It turns out she doesn’t really identify with New Jersey — she is a Bronx girl. She’s been in the Army, worked as a delivery person for Fed Ex, has three kids and a kooky Nigerian husband, and is now studying for her MSW at Case.

Everyone was as nice as pie to us and we had a terrific classic breakfast —  two pancakes, two eggs over medium, and bacon done crisp — for $4!! Several cups of coffee were extra but still the bill was less than $6. It was a miserable rainy day outside but we were warm inside and out at Anthony’s. 5 Stars!