Indiana: Michigan City – El Cantarito

Cantarito is our favorite Mexican Restaurnat in the area and has the best carne asada I’ve ever had.

El Cantarito: Michigan City

336 Dunes Plaza, Michigan City, IN 46360

An unassuming store front in a strip mall conceals our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Cantarito. We have a date night every Tuesday and this is one of our go-to spots for our date night meal. The atmosphere includes fin murals on the walls with a nice mix of booths and tables. We almost always request a booth and have never had to wait for one, even when the restaurant is busy.

img_2085Tonight I ordered my favorite, Carne Asada, cooked as rare as possible. One of the problems I often have with this dish is that it often tastes as if it’s been seasoned with beef bullion. This NOT the case at El Cantarito. Their Carne Asada has the most amazing, fresh flavor I’ve ever had and I have trouble remembering that I should take half of it home for the next day. There is a lot of food included with the meal and it makes great leftovers. Tonight the flavor was just slightly lacking its usual intensity and I found it a bit easier to save half for later.img_2086 My fiancé also enjoys the Carne Asada (although he didn’t have it tonight) because there is no dairy included on the plate, so he doesn’t have to mention his allergy when ordering. The other thing I appreciate about the Carne Asada here is that when I order it rare, it actually arrives rare, which is not easy to do with such a thin cut of meat. I also appreciate the accompaniment of real beans instead of the typical refried beans. The texture of whole beans pairs a little better with the other ingredients when building the tortilla.

img_2082Tonight my fiancé ordered a favorite, the Chicken Fajitas. While the fajitas here don’t normally come with cheese or sour cream, he does still have to mention “no dairy” because they do come with refried beans, which are typically topped with a sprinkling of queso blanco, white cheese.  He must have been very hungry tonight because he usually has some leftovers to bring home too, but tonight he finished the whole dish. He said the flavor was really good and everything tasted fresh. He didn’t want to ruin it with reheating.

We have long loved El Cantarito and this visit didn’t change that one bit. We will likely be back again at least once within the month. Perhaps I’ll use that opportunity to review one of my other favorite dishes.

 

 

Indiana: Michigan City – Hokkaido

Hokkaido is within walking distance for us and one of our go-to spots for a quick and tasty Japanese meal.

HOKKAIDO: MICHIGAN CITY

725 Franklin St, Michigan City, Indiana

It was the first Friday of September for this visit and first Fridays in downtown Michigaimg_2067n City are busy. Tonight was no exception and Hokkaido was very busy as well. We waited quite a while for everything from being seated, to getting our food, to getting the check. Since we weren’t in a hurry, this pace was fine for us. We ordered teriyaki chicken as an entrée, miso soup, and three sushi rolls to start… ice mountain, tara, and tempura shrimp. Our teriyaki chicken came out well before our sushi. The sushi chefs were very busy, so it was understandable, but usually we prefer to eat the sushi first.

  • The miso soup arrived first and my fiancé found it to be a bit saltier than usual.
  • The teriyaki chicken (above) was well prepared, appropriately sauced, and served on a sizzling hot platter that continued to caramelize the bed of onions as we dug in. It was very good.
  • The sushi arrived. just as we were finishing the chicken. These were 3 rolls we had not tried before and we looked forward to the new flavors.
    • The tara roll (left) contains tempura shrimp and is topped with rare beef andimg_2068 caviar. It is very spicy, but the surf and turf combination in sushi gives a unique, smoky, savory taste and we really enjoyed the new flavors.
    • The ice mountain roll (middle) was a request by my fiancé and I have to confess I didn’t pay much attention to what was in it. It was covered in a jalapeño sauce and looked to be topped with a piece of white fish. I tried one piece and although it was not as spicy as the tara roll, I didn’t particularly enjoy the flavor of jalapeño on my sushi. My fiancé was quite happy to have the rest of the roll to himself.
    • The shrimp tempura roll (right) is one of the basic rolls and includes shrimp and cucumber. It was a nice cooling roll after the spicy tara roll and I really like the tempura crunch.

Hokkaido is within walking distance for us and one of our go-to spots for a quick and tasty Japanese meal. Tonight may not have been as quick as we are used to, but the food was still delicious and we had a good evening.

2019 Road Trip – Day 9: Cleveland

Today we poked around the Cleveland, Ohio area before driving the last leg of our trip home. Ohio’s only National Park is really something to be seen!

We started our last day on the road with a great complimentary breakfast at our hotel. The Residence Inn by Marriot in Mentor, OH was a fantastic place to stay and we would have liked to spend more time there.

CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

Our first excursion in the Cleveland area was to visit Ohio’s only National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is about a 30 minute drive south of the city. This National Park offers free admission, so it was right in our budget. We only wanted to spend a couple hours there, so we headed to the Boston Store Visitors Center to ask what we absolutely shouldn’t miss. I recommend doing this first because there are 125 miles of trails and you could easily spend a week or two seeing it all. Our guide told us to focus our energy on the Ledges trail and it was the perfect morning hike for us.

First we went to see the Ledges Overlook. The rock formations were beautiful and the view over the Ohio countryside was fantastic.

Next we doubled back through the parking lot and headed down the trail towards the Ice Box Cave. The cave itself was closed to protect the bats, but the trail took us through an amazing labyrinth of moss covered rock formations that glowed like the Emerald City in Oz when the sun hit them just right. This was an easy hike, but does have quite a few stairs at the end, so be prepared. My knees managed to hold up ok.

WEST SIDE MARKET

By the time we found our way back to the parking lot, we were ready for lunch. In the Cleveland area, one of the coolest places to go for lunch is the West Side Market. We had a great time walking around the market and picking up small bites from various vendors for lunch. I stuck to a Parisian themed lunch of savory crepe and macaroons and enjoyed every bite. We took our epicurean treasures outside to an area of tables across the street. Note that you can park in the market parking lot free for 90 minutes, but after that it is $1/hour. Our market adventure cost us $1 + food.

We left the market stuffed and satisfied and started making our was home. We made a quick stop in Angola, IN for dinner at Applebees along the way, but otherwise drove straight through. It was getting late in the day and we wanted to get home before midnight. We arrived home at 9:30 and were unpacked and in bed by 10:30 after a thoroughly enjoyable vacation.

Our final stats for the 2019 Road Trip:

  • Elapsed time: 9 days, 8 nights
  • States visited: 6 (Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania)
  • Major Cities visited: 2 (Cleveland, Buffalo, Salem, Boston, New York, Allentown, Pittsburgh)
  • Miles driven: 2,590
  • Steps taken: 85,536 (I had good step days and then days we were mostly in the car where I only got around 4,000. The overall average was 9,504 steps/day… not bad.)
  • Attractions/Sites visited: over 20+
  • National Park Sites Visited: 7
  • State Parks Sites Visited: 5
  • Hard Rock Shot Glasses added to collection: 4 (Boston, Connecticut, Bronx NYC, Pittsburgh – we also visited Niagara Falls HRC but we already have a glass from there)
  • Budget: $2200 ($2199.47 actually spent)

2019_RoadTrip_Map

Ohio: Cleveland/Grand River – Brennan’s Fish House

Who knew we could find delicious, fresh crab in the Midwest?

Brennan’s Fish House: Cleveland/Grand River

102 River Street, Grand River, OH 44045

We were staying one night in the Cleveland area on our way home from Boston. During our short stay on the Eat Coast, I had not quite satisfied my craving for fresh shellfish. Who knew we could find delicious, fresh crab in the Midwest? We searched the area near our hotel for restaurants and saw a couple seafood restaurants that claimed to be “on the water”. We felt compelled to drive over to that area to check them out and ended up at Brennan’s Fish House. It’s an unassuming brick building across the street from what appears, in the dark, to be a river. The view is not the best reason to visit though; the food is.

img_1834-1We started our evening with some raw oysters on the half shell. I debated ordering a full dozen, but we were planning a bigger entrée, so I stuck with the smaller portion. There was NOTHING small about these oysters… check those things out in the photo! I have never had oysters that large. They were tasty and accompanied by all the usual suspects: horseradish, cocktail sauce, lemon and hot sauce upon request.

For our entrée, we split the 2-1/2 pound bucket of steamed crab. Each of us got our own img_1839-1side of veggies and each of us would have gotten our own drawn butter warmer, except my fiancé can’t have the butter. I have never minded the work involved in a crab leg dinner, but this was the first time my fiancé had enjoyed them as more than a small add on and he got a little annoyed by the end at all of the effort he was exerting. The crab was fresh, sweet and delicious; and it seemed to be the most popular choice of meal, since the majority of tables were topped with buckets of crab legs. They ran out of buckets, so our came on plates… just fine by us.

I really appreciated the warmers for the clarified butter. It takes a while to eat that much crab. Butter that isn’t kept warm tends to solidify and doesn’t work as well or taste as good.

img_1836

For all this fresh seafood in the Midwest, you would expect a hefty price tag, but Brennan’s was very reasonable, on par with the east coast places we had eaten recently. At the end of the meal we were stuffed, happy, and ready for a good night sleep.

img_1840

Ohio: Cleveland/Mentor – The Residence Inn by Marriot

The location worked fine for our needs and is about 1/2-hour drive NE of Cleveland. It is a hotel we would definitely like to return to in the future.

THE RESIDENCE INN BY MARRIOTT: CLEVELAND/MENTOR

5660 Emerald Court, Mentor, Ohio 44060

img_1829

We only spent one night at the Residence Inn in Mentor and immediately upon opening the door to our room we wished we were staying longer. In fact, we even discussed doing so.  The Suite was clean and wonderfully appointed with a fully functional kitchen, small living room/office area, sleeping area, generous closet and bathroom. The kitchen was stocked with basic equipment and the hotel even provided a single use packet of dishwashing img_1830detergent in addition to the usual toiletries and coffee. The bed was firm without being hard. Temperature within the suite was easy to set using the thermostat. There was free parking and an outdoor pool with hot tub that we did not get an opportunity to use on this trip. The complimentary buffet breakfast included eggs, breakfast meats and potato, along with cereals, baked goods, yogurt, fresh fruit, and the standard waffle iron setup. The seating area for breakfast was more comfortable than most, offering booth options that would also serve as a great place to get away from the room with a laptop and get some work done. We arrived too late to participate in the social hour and didn’t get a chance to see the fitness center, but did see notices about both those items in the room. The staff was friendly and welcoming. The TV allows you to log into your streaming services, a thoughtful feature that we didn’t have time to use. There is a very small convenience store in the lobby that includes microwavable meals and even beer for the weary traveler who just doesn’t want to run out again. The location worked fine for our needs, but it is about 1/2-hour drive NE of Cleveland. This is a hotel we would definitely like to return to in the future. If you visit the area, don’t miss Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

2019 Road Trip – Day 8: Shawnee State Park, Hard Rock Café Pittsburgh, Cleveland

A long day on the road after very little sleep was challenging, But stops to get out in nature, eat good food, and see cool sights helped me through it.

After a somewhat difficult night for me with very little sleep, I was not really looking forward to a full day in the car. Fortunately there was a Starbucks nearby and I felt at least mildly human after a little coffee.  The plan was to get to Cleveland by way of Pittsburgh. Since we didn’t make it all the way to Hershey last night, we had a little more than an hour of extra drive time today.

SHAWNEE STATE PARK

Our fist stop of the day was Shawnee State Park. The park boasts lots of areas for picnicking, canoeing, and general running around, but this was a leg stretch stop, so we didn’t have time for all that. We walked up the hill, spent time looking at the lake, and generally admired the view before the smells of everyone grilling made us realize we were desperately wanting lunch.

Fortunately we had passed a cute place a couple miles back and decided to give it a try. img_1808Turns out Jean Bonnet Tavern was a charming historic tavern and had amazing food. It is also a bed & breakfast, for anyone who might be looking for that sort of thing in the Bedford, PA area. Read a full review of our dining experience.

The drive through Pennsylvania is beautiful. You are almost always driving around the curve of a hill… that is, when you aren’t driving through a tunnel under a mountain. Driving through the gentle rolling hills started to make me sleepy after a while. Fortunately, we were almost to Pittsburgh when it got to that point and made it safely to our next stop.

HARD ROCK CAFE PITTSBURGH

Our last leg stretch of the day was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Pittsburgh. I say “in”, but it actually sits outside the city center and has a great view of the city across the river. We stopped long enough for me to have a couple caffeinated sodas, since my morning coffee completely wore off on those Pennsylvania hills. It was just the boost I needed to make it through that last stretch and safely into Cleveland for the night.

After we checked in at the Residence Inn by Mariott in Mentor (NE of Cleveland), we checked Google for local restaurant options and noticed there were some seafood restaurants “on the water”. We decided to check them out and ended up getting one more fantastic east-coast-style seafood dinner before we headed home. Check out my review of Brennan’s Fish House.

 

 

 

 

 

Pennsylvania: Bedford – Jean Bonnet Tavern

After smelling all the food being grilled at nearby Shawnee state park, we decided it was definitely time for lunch. This adorable historic tavern has great food!

Jean Bonnet Tavern: Bedford

6048 Lincoln Highway, Bedford, PA 15522

img_1808-1

We were back on the road the day we visited Jean Bonnet Tavern and found it on the fly. We had gotten off the road to stretch our legs at Shawnee State Park and passed it on the way there. I thought it looked like a cute building, but thought no more of it. When we got to the park, there were lots of people grilling and it made us hungry. We did a google search of nearby restaurants and I recognized the building as being on our route back to the highway, so we chose it.

img_1810My fiancé ordered teriyaki wings and one last Samuel Adams beer before the end of our trip. The wings were generously sized and had just the right amount of sauce. They can be ordered with the usual accompaniments, but he only opted to add the celery. While he loves traditional wings, they have butter and his dairy allergy doesn’t allow him to indulge in them. He was quite happy with this alternative and said they were delicious.

I had the fillet steak sandwich with sautéed mushrooms and swiss cheese. It was img_1811delicious. I wasn’t in the mood for anything fried, so I paired it with cinnamon applesauce. The fillet mignon was tender with a wonderful aged flavor and the ratio of filling to bread was good. This used to be a regular meal of mine at a local establishment when I lived in Illinois and it brought back wonderful memories.

The building is a historic tavern and oozed charm out of every surface. The owners have done a great job of enhancing the historic experience with the use of thoughtful décor and pewter dishes. The building is also a bed and breakfast, if you are looking for somewhere to spend the night, and there is an adorable gift shop on the grounds. We will definitely find our way back here if we are ever in the area again.

img_1809