Triple D Restaurants – Epic Road Trip

6 Apr

Time for installment #2 of Stew, Alex and Brian’s Epic Road Trip, AKA “we visit Stew’s favorite things”, AKA “one lap of Ohio and Indiana”.

So, this is the Restaurants.  In order to make this make a bit more sense, I’ve copied and pasted the content from my blog post last week below that gave the restaurant info, and then have added in my own commentary and pictures to this.  That way, if you stumble on this post or if you’ve googled “Triple D” or something, you’ll get the whole picture and this post will be actually useful for you.

Here’s where we went:

Lunch on Weds:

South Side Soda Shop & Diner
1122 south Main Street
Goshen, IN 46526
(574) 534-3790

Copied from my previous post:

The South Side Diner is about 3/4 of a mile south of the town square on Hwy 15/33 in Goshen – Main Street.  It looks a bit like a train car at the front, and inside is pure vintage diner – black vinyl booths, laminate tables, authentically vintage marketing signs and local school spirit signage.  Goshen is close to Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, as well, so plenty of Fighting Irish stuff too.  The owner of the diner, Nate, is so proud of his place and couldn’t stop talking about it.  Once he heard we were on a cross country “Triple D” trip, he spent 10 minutes talking to us, telling us about his home made bread, their award winning pies, how he imports his hoagie rolls from Philadelphia, etc.  Wow.

When you walk in, instead of a typical greasy diner smell, we were met with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of freshly baked bread and pies.  They had just pulled out a large sheet pan with 10 or more big loaves on it and were cooling them on the counter – they bake much of their own bread.

They are very proud of their Philly cheese steak sandwich, their chili, their pies, their liverwurst and bacon sandwich, and their bread.  I was so enthralled with the bread that I had to go simple.  We ordered – Alex got a Philly Pizza sandwich – a Philly cheesesteak with pizza sauce, Brian got a New Englander Burger, which was a burger on homemade English Muffin bread, and because I had to have some of that wonderful bread, I went simple -a grilled ham and cheese.  We added to that a basket of their special curly fries and a chocolate shake to share, in addition to our soft drinks.  The food started to quickly come out, and last out was the shake.  The Philly Pizza sandwich was immense, the burger less so, and my ham sandwich was stacked tall but not obscene.  My sandwich was incredible – I had the “Swedish” bread which was pinwheel rye and pumpernickle with a great crust.  Ham was carved off the bone of course, and the cheese was melted perfectly. Heaven.  Their curly fries are different – they are flat swirls of fried potatoes, and honestly, needed an additional fryer run for crispness.  The shake was wonderful – we had a chocolate malt and it was that perfect thickness.  We capped it all off with a slice of Lemon Meringue pie.  Wonderful – creamy, tart curd with a huge mountain of meringue.  The bill was all of $32.00 before tip – and as we were checking out, we realized we were part of 3 different families there doing the Triple D thing – a family going west from Hoboken NJ, and another dad and two sons headed east – though they were going to the football and baseball halls of fame, versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Funny final note:  This lunch was $32.00 – with tip, the bill was $38.  Starting a theme.

Dinner on Weds:

Geraci’s Restaurant
2266 Warrensville Center Road
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 371-5643

Wonderful pizza/Italian restaurant on Cleveland’s southwest side.  All hand-tossed pizzas and the 80-some-odd year old owner is still tossin’ the pies, and her daughter runs the place with iron fists made strong by kneading pizza dough! Copied from my previous post:

Geraci’s is an old-fashioned family Italian restaurant.  According to the Triple D segment, it is owned by an old couple in their 80s, and their daughter, in her 50s,runs the place. Didn’t see any of them there tonight.  A decent sized crowd was there.  We ordered a large pepperoni pizza, an order of their Chicken Parmesan and meatballs – the ChixParm came with a side salad, which I promptly ate up.
First out was the pizza and OH MY GOD.  This is seriously among the best pizzas I have ever had – it’s not thin crust nor deep dish – a crisp-bottomed crust that was nicely thin but not cracker like, thick chunky tomatoes, and the pepperoni was obviously hand-sliced off sticks. Their ovens must be really hot – the crust had a good crunch on the bottom, and the cheese and tomatoes were browned and caramelized on top, and the pepperoni was curled and browned.

Next was the Chicken Parm – again, OH MY GOD.  The sauce was thick tomato-basil sauce with a unique, meaty flavor. We found out the reason for that in a moment.  The cheese was special mozzarella that they have made for them, and the chicken had a wonderful crust with a bit of a crunch, and was perfectly cooked and not at all dry.  The final item to come out was the meatballs – we ordered one but they brought two.  These are handmade every day out of a mix of beef and veal, with a substantial amount of Romano Pecorino cheese, plus seasonings.  Then they are first roasted in the oven to brown them, and then they pour tomato puree with basil and onion over them – and cook them the rest of the way – and that’s when we found out the secret of the sauce!  It’s the sauce they make the meatballs with!  Everything had such broad and bold flavors, but perfectly balanced.  Fantastic food.  I would seriously make a trip to Cleveland from Chicago just to eat at Geraci’s.

Final note – again, $38 bucks with tip.  I didn’t order alcohol as I had had two glasses of wine at the free cocktail hour at our hotel.  There’s a theme starting up here.

Thursday Lunch:

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Ave Lakewood, OH
(216) 226-3699

Full disclosure – we managed to NOT go to the location that Guy Fieri went to … on the way to Geraci’s on Wednesday night, we passed by this Melt location on the east side of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights.  We all turned and said “That place looks cool” and then all went “Oh, hey, that’s MELT!”  The next day for lunch, we just drove there without even looking up the address we had saved, and had lunch.  I discovered the issue when I went to the bathroom and was reading a flyer on the wall that noted their THREE locations in Cleveland.  Ooops.  Oh well … doesn’t change the outcome.

Melt is seriously one of the best things ever.  The space is cool – sort of a retro-throwback look – tin ceiling, funky furniture, a bar where the liquor shelving is all fronted with the glass title cards from stand up video games from the 80s, a huge shelf along one side of the restaurant covered with plastic, lit up holiday yard things – snow men, pumpkins, Santas, etc. etc.  Lots of vintage merchandising on the walls as well.  The menus are old album covers – Brian had a Doobie Bros. album, Alex had Mike and the Mechanics and I had a Talking Heads album – they glue the menu to the back.

The menu is grilled cheese sandwiches in 30 variations.  Let’s be clear, these aren’t just grilled cheese sandwiches – these are sandwiches made on thick, crusty, made-in-the restaurant  fresh bread and of course cheese, grilled.  But that’s where that ends – they are full-on sandwiches made with a plethora of ingredients.  We decided we needed to try an “old school” plain grilled cheese – what they call “The Kindergartener” – so we ordered that as an appetizer.  Big mistake.  More on that later. It was completely delicious, but had nothing to do with enhancing our appetites – quite the opposite.

The menu ranges through all kinds of meats, cheeses and all kinds of unusual fillings.  I was considering one of the two sandwiches that Guy made with the owner – the “Parmageddon” – which is a potato perogi with a crunchy hot “vodka-nappa cabbage” slaw that is vinegary and amazing with cheddar cheese and grilled onion, or the Tokyo Tuna Melt – a large portion of rare-seared sushi-grade tuna with lettuce, tomato, muenster cheese and wasabi-tofu mayo.  Went with the Parmageddon.  Alex ordered the “Chorizo Hash” sandwich – loaded with a corned-beef hash-like stuff made from fresh-made Chorizo and diced potatoes.  Brian ordered the Wake and Bacon – a fried egg, bacon and cheese sandwich.  All came with a mountain of crunchy, double-fried, hand cut fries that were incredible, and a big mound of freshly made creamy cole slaw.

Well, the big mistake was the Kindergartener – we all battled through our sandwiches, and Brian seemed to posses the right plan – he quit after half and saved his for breakfast the next morning.  Mine was incredible.

And incredibly filling – I felt like I was OD’ing on carbs between the potato/cheese pierogi’s in the sandwich, the bread, and the fries.  Honestly, wish i’d gone with the Tokyo Tuna.  Alex loved his, ate most of it, but said the heat of the Chorizo built up in his mouth and did him in.  That and the Kindergartener.

The boys each ordered two root beers, and I had two great beers from their 40-or-so selection of beers on tap.   The total bill after tip, was $50.  Those drinks were $12.  If we had not ordered them … $38 … Woo …

We waddled out of there at 3:00 PM, wondering how in the hell we’d ever eat again, much less in 5 hours when we went to Sterle’s Slovenian.

Thurs Dinner:

Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
1401 E 55th Street
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 881-4181

German/East German comfort food – I hear the Chicken Paprikash is the express train to Flavortown!

At 7:30, the guys were half-sacked out in a carbo-load coma in their room when I went in and said “Time for dinner!”  I was also probably too full to eat, but we were on a mission from G-d, and by G-d we were going to eat Paprikash.  Come hell or high water.  More on that to come.  We all agreed we had to go, even though none of us were hungry.  Hopped in the car and made the short drive to the northeast side of Cleveland and Sterle’s Slovenian House.

Sterle’s is on 55th Street, just south of St.  Clair, in this area that’s more industrial than anything else, and well, a bit dodgy.  The building is this big brown affair and you drive under an archway that carries the name of the restaurant and into a parking lot that could host five soccer games at once.   There was only one car parked there.  Uh oh.

We were looking around – is it closed?  Then we noticed there was a cardboard “open” sign next to the door, which was also propped open.  Well, we’re here … let’s go in.  You enter down this long hallway past all these glass display cases featuring 8×10 pictures of all the polka bands that have ever played there.   At the far end of the hall, we spot Guy Fieri’s stencil that he leaves on the wall of every restaurant.  Ok, we’re in the right spot.

We enter an immense dining room with exactly one table occupied – and they are all up at the band stand taking pictures.  The decor is 1964 Polka Hall and we are greeted by a friendly 30-something woman – “Yes, we’re open, we’ll seat you.”  They give us the menus and …. NO CHICKEN PAPRIKASH … WTF???  I call the hostess over and she knits her brow and says “Oh, that’s a lunch special.  But I think we had it today.  I doubt we have any more, but I can check the kitchen.  Hang on. ”  While she’s checking that, and fetching our drinks, this waitress straight out of central casting for German grandmas rolls out of the kitchen – she’s a solid 250 lbs or more packed onto a 5-foot-nothing frame, big round German face. (That’s her at the top of this section, we didn’t get an exterior shot of the restaurant.)  We all look at each other and she says “hi” to us and starts servicing the other occupied table.  We decided her name was Helga.  At that point, the hostess returns and says “No Paprikash.”  Well, Helga hears that and hustles over to our table and scolds the hostess – “There is so

Paprikash, it’s right in the walk in” – she looks at us and pronounces “Three Paprikash coming up!” and hurries to the kitchen.  We all look at each other and then at the hostess and say “umm …not three – one – please …” – she hustles back to the kitchen to flag down Helga, who comes ambling back out.  “Ok, you only want one Paprikash?  What the rest of you gonna eat?” – gesturing to Alex and Brian.  I said “Well, we were thinking a half-order of Weiner Schnitzel” – Helga  would have none of that “What, the full order is a dollar more.  You’ve got two boys.  Full order” – and she turns on her heel and she’s off.  We all look at each other and crack up, and the hostess, who stood there during this whole exchange just shrugged her shoulders and chuckled.

In nothing flat, she’s back with the soup AND salad that came with our meal – the guys dive into the soup and I have the salad – dying for something green to cut all those carbs from lunch.   And shortly after comes the Paprikash and the Schnitzel.   The Paprikash was incredible – roasted chicken, cooked without skin, and well seasoned, and then covered with an incredible brown gravy that was spicy with garlic and paprika.    It came as a drumstick, thigh and breast – all huge, and then a big portion of these long finger-shaped potato dumplings.  Fantastic!  The schnitzel was delicious as well, but as basic as basic gets – boneless veal, pounded flat, double dipped in flour and eggs and fried.  Basic – served with a side of hot sort of sliced roasted potato dish which we barely touched.  We ate all the chicken and then kept dipping the schitzel in the gravy.  And the bill?  $38.  AGAIN!

Final note on this one – I wouldn’t go back.  It was a bit.  I think it does have good food, but there are so many awesome restaurants in Cleveland that if you’re going, don’t bother with this one.

Friday Lunch:
Skyline Chili
2805 Centre Dr
Fairborn, OH 45324-2670

Well, on Friday, we left Cleveland and headed to Dayton.  Since the three of us love Cincinnati-style chili, we decided to give the Cinci favorite, Skyline Chili a try.  It was fantastic … at the end of the day, it’s fast food.  But really good chili on a bed of spaghetti and covered with cheddar cheese – that’s the three way – I ordered the 5-way, which added beans and diced onion.  Loved it.  We also left with a “go-box” of their fantastic oyster crackers and a 4-pack of the canned version of this.  Gotta have at home.   That said, I have made home-made Cinci chili before, and well, mine is better than this.  Still, Skyline is really good – wish we had these up in the Chicago area.   And would have tasted better half-hammered at three in the morning though!

Friday Dinner:

Tank’s Bar and Grill
2033 Wayne Ave

Given the trip we were on, Robin’s Aunt and Uncle, Linda and Steve, whom we were overnighting with in Dayton had to take us to their version of a Triple D – Tank’s.  Tanks is near the University of Dayton, about 4 miles southeast of downtown Dayton, where Linda and Steve live.

My view on this place – not a Triple D, but should be!  Alex and Brian were craving protein, and when they heard that they had great wings, they ordered a platter of 20 of them.  I added 10 to that to share between Steve, Linda and I and then we added fries, and Steve and Linda shared fried chicken and a bowl of chili.  The wings were fantastic!   Fried without breading, tossed in a traditional Franks Red Hot Sauce and butter, to the original Buffalo recipe.  The chili was delicious too, as well as the fries, Mac and Cheese et. al.  A great stop!

Friday Ice Cream:
Many locations in Cincinnati and Dayton OH
Far Hills Blvd., Dayton, OH

Even though it’s not Triple D, this is worth writing about – Graeter’s is a Cincinnati tradition (and of course Dayton mirrors the Cinci culture) – outstanding locally-made ice cream. They make it in small batches, 2 gallons at a time, in-store.  We were at the Oakwood store on Far Hills Ave in Dayton.  And the ice cream is just heaven. You just gotta try it to believe it!

Saturday  Lunch

Triple X Family Restaurant
2 North Salisbury Street
West Lafayette, IN
ph. (765) 743-5373

This is it – our final stop.   Triple XXX is a classic “drive-in” restaurant of the highest order.   Funky orange-and-black striped building with the classic drive-in carport parking, and inside, nothing but counter seating at a counter that winds back and forth through the place.  Watch the video!!  The food is all super-fresh made with all fresh, non-processed ingredients (unless you count American cheese), and made to order.  Their speciality is “chopped steak” burgers – it is ground-in-store sirloin burgers, which are then machine portioned into thick discs in this diabolical machine that they show on the video.  Before they grill the burgers on the flattop, they hand-flatten them, then dredge them first in flour to seal the juices in and grill them on a hot flattop.  And juices there are.  Then served simply with cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato on request.  All condiments are “put ’em on yourself”.

We got there at 1:00 local time and there was a crowd outside waiting to get in.  A girl who must have been hired expressly for her ability to shout loudly was keeping the wait list and told us “20 minutes”  … while cold out, it was a fun and festive atmosphere, and, well, after 850 miles of driving, we sure as hell weren’t getting back in the car.  The crowd in the restaurant and outside was a combo of mostly hung-over college students, locals and then at least two other traveling families doing the Triple D stop.  One couple had their dog, which got a lot of attention from us as we were all missing Sprite.  Then we were called in – we took our three seats at the counter near the front with a great view of the grill master taking pre-formed 3″ wide by 1 1/2″ thick discs of burgers, hand flattening them, then dredging them in flour and tossing them on the grill in front of him.

And this place has perfected the art of the perfect burger. We each had the “double” with cheese – the individual patties are just under a 1/4 lb., so a “double” is just over 1/3 of a pound, on a really fresh bun.  We ordered two sides of fries, a basket of onion rings – hand battered of course, and big, individual rings, not a big lump of an “onion loaf”.  And each of us had a cold mug of the Triple XXX root beer on tap.  Fantastic.  What a finish to our day.  Big, juicy, lots of cheese.  Perfect.

Triple XXX has been a Purdue University fixture for  eons and it’s easy to see why – tons of food at a very reasonable price – the perfect place for a college campus.

We pointed the GTI north for home at this point, and that was it!

So, one question that has been asked of me this week a lot:  “So, how much weight did you gain”?  Honestly?  I lost two pounds on the trip – has to do with being active, and the fact that while each time we ate, it was delicious, the reality is we did a LOT of splitting of stuff, and so the portions we ate (except at Melt and Triple XXX) were probably less than usual.  Go figure!

The other frequent question:  Was there an over-arching theme to these restaurants?  Yes, absolutely – and the word is “fresh” – everything in these places is fresh, home-made-style, using the best ingredients.  Proving over and over my mom’s axiom:  Put good things in, get good things out.  These guys all do it right.

Next post: The Rock Hall (with a bit about the airforce museum).

As you were,


For all the trip photos:


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