Thursday, April 25, 2019

March and April Fun! Birthdays, Weekends and Good-Byes...

I love birthdays. They are so special because it's that one day of the year when it's all about you. I love making this day extra special and this year was no different. This March (and really every March...) we celebrated a lot of birthdays, beginning with one very special 46-year old on March 4th!

For Steve's birthday weekend, we had a pizza extravaganza. Extravagant, gluttonous, delicious and fun it was! Our first stop was Friday night when we hit up Vero in Cleveland Heights. We enjoyed the Salumi (tomato, mozzarella, salami, hot honey) and Funkhouser (fontina, caciocavallo, ibores, mozzarella, chili flake) pizzas and pistachio gelato for dessert. We both preferred the Salumi. It was our first time to Vero and we were pleased. 

On Saturday (late) morning we headed to Dante Next Door. Another first time, this has been on our list for quite some time. Located in Tremont, they are only open on Saturday and Sunday for brunch. We ordered the Dante's Inferno with spicy sausage, pepperoni, kalamata olives, hot peppers, mozzarella and basil. We each had one slice and took the rest to-go. We knew we had a big day ahead of us! The crust was chewy and had a nice char. It was a combination between your traditional greasy pizza and wood fired pizza. We also enjoyed a piece of Nutella pie for dessert. Woah!

Our first time to Edison’s was pretty perfect. Known for their late-night pizza by the slice, this gigantic slice is exactly what I want out of a pepperoni pizza. Extra crispy pepperoni and so much of it. There was a lot of cheese and a crispy and soft crust. One of the best! We were joined by Lisa and Kevin who enjoyed a slice themselves.

Our next few stops will not be revisited and really just did not do pizza right. Crust usually has decent pizza, but there was a bar crawl going on and they did something wrong. We couldn't figure it out. Was it frozen or what? It was terrible. We had 3 pepperoni and 1 spanakopita. We couldn't finish.

Sainato's was a random stop on the way to Gordon Square. We figured anything would be better than what we just had...well, not really. We ordered a small pepperoni to split and it was simply boring. Another pizza that seemed like it came out of a box.

XYZ the Tavern is located in Gordon Square and it was decent. We split 2 slices of pepperoni and were satisfied. I remember it being better than it was, but oh well. Thankfully, those duds were followed by the best of the bunch. 

We were gearing up for a pie that I had heard all about at Il Rione. Also located in Gordon Square, it's sort of a neighborhood pizzeria serving up some incredible pizza. The style is pretty close to NY style with a thin and chewy crust. We ordered the margarita with pepperoni and it did not disappoint. Quite possibly the best pizza in Cleveland. I can't wait to go back!

On Sunday morning-ish (yes, that was only Saturday...), we headed to an early lunch at one of our favorite pizza joints in Cleveland. Citizen Pie has a nice wood-fired crust. We love ricotta on our pepperoni pizza and that's what we got. We were the first pizza of the day and Steve wore his Cleveland Pizza Club shirt for the occasion. 

Saucy Brew Works was our next stop and they traditionally have great pizza. We've both had it at work functions and really loved it. We opted to "build your own" and that was a big mistake. In an effort to order pepperoni & ricotta; we got just that. No mozzarella. Ugh. No only did it taste terrible, it looked awful. We tossed it up as a lesson learned and threw it in the trash. 

We searched high and low for another place that was open on Sunday that served pizza by the slice...we ended up at Whole Foods :) We've eyed their pizza for years and never actually took the plunge. This was the day...and we don't have to do it again.

That evening we celebrated Steve (and Rich's) birthdays with my family. Guests brought pizzas from four different places and we all judged our favorites. A Dairy Queen cake was an obvious choice for dessert.

First up was Pepper's pepperoni. Their pizza is always solid and did not disappoint.

Angelo's is an old stand-by and a Lakewood staple. If you live in Cleveland and know pizza like we do, then you've been to Angelo's. There is no question, we are regulars. After all, it's across the street from the house we've lived in for 15 years! While we don't always order pizza, it's always a safe choice. The pepperoni and sausage is a Mott family favorite.

Poor Junior's was a new one for us. It opened up in the competitive Lakewood pizza market a few years ago and this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Loaded with pepperoni, it looked amazing. There were mixed feelings from the group, but overall the least favorite of the four.

Finally...Danny Boy's. I've been eating Danny Boy's since I was a kid when their shop was in Lakewood. They have since moved to Rocky River and it's still some of the best pizza I've had. Steve and I always get their NY Style with pepperoni and ricotta and it's always great. I will say it's better fresh, but still the favorite of the group.

Happy Birthday Steve! He even got a few million dollars from my dad :) We can't keep it a secret anymore...he must love us best!

In the end, Steve’s birthday celebration was a smashing success! 14 pizza joints in 3 days...we had some real winners, and some terrible losers, but overall it was a pizza paradise. We are so thankful to be surrounded by love with a little help eating along the way. Cheers!

Next up was Rich's birthday on March 16th which continued through to St. Patrick's Day! We started the weekend with Fish & Chips at El Carnicero. This is one of our favorite places in Lakewood and they only have Fish & Chips on Fridays during Lent from 5-8 pm. Rich claimed it was one of the best...and he has had plenty of fried fish! We couldn't resist some fried ice cream for dessert. After all, what's a birthday without a candle?!

St. Patrick's Day started with Sean, Alex, Louie and Jo Jo where we tried to find a place that was reasonable to bring kids. Red Rose it is!

Steve and I met up with Kevin, Lisa, Cassie and Jared for some more fun before meeting my mom and Rich at Sean's for Reuben sandwiches and beer cheese soup...and more birthday cake :)

At the end of the month we had a nice long weekend visiting Ron and Jean in New Jersey to celebrate Ron & Steve's birthdays.

They decorated our room with some balloons and even had a South Carolina flag flying outside! They really know how to make us feel right at home... 

On Friday (Ron's birthday) we toured the Red Bank area where we enjoyed some drinks, Ron's first Irish car bomb and snacks before enjoying cheese and charcuterie at The Cheese Cave. 

For dinner we enjoyed some fabulous food and company at La Pasteria. One of the things I love about the area is the number of BYOB restaurants. We were able to enjoy our favorite bottle of Moët Rosé for a 1/3 of the price by bringing it ourselves. Awesome. 

On Saturday we took the train into New York City where we embarked on our own incredible Speakeasy tour. Jean had seen a video online, so we did our research and mapped out our schedule. It was a great experience. We saw some cool places, had some great drinks and walked (and Ubered) all over Manhattan. 

We started with lunch at Tony's in Times Square. This is one of Ron and Jean's favorite spots and they're definitely regulars surrounded by many tourists. They even gave us a complementary bottle of sparking wine to celebrate Ron's birthday!

We stopped at Tony's sister restaurant Patrick's to waste some time before we started our tour. 

Our first stop on the Speakeasy tour was one of the best. Tucked away INSIDE of a fully operating Five Guys, we found The Garrett.

Bathtub Gin was 2nd on the list and they had some of our favorite drinks. Located above a coffee shop, we had to wait outside before being escorted up the stairs to a REALLY dark room with a copper bathtub in the middle.

Raines Law Room was another universal favorite. Our 3rd speakeasy had us ringing a doorbell for entry and pulling a chain for service. The bathroom wallpaper was a sight to see.

Angel's Share was stop #4 which was the most difficult to find. We asked some patrons walking out of a Japanese restaurant and then found a hidden door at the top of the stairs. Here we found some very unique cocktails...mine had grilled corn and soy sauce and Steve’s had a plant!

It was time to do some carb loading before our next stop...and what's a visit to NYC without a piece of pie? While we could have found pizza on nearly every block, Ron took us to Pronto's where he knew the owner. We each enjoyed a much-needed slice (+1) before heading on our way. 

Our 5th and final stop was The Back Room where we were shown an entrance at the end of a dark alley. The Back Room is one of only two speakeasies in NYC that operated during prohibition and is still in existence today. They still serve all of their drinks in tea cups! 


There were two other speakeasies on the list (Blind Barber and Gibson & Luce), but both were closed for private events...maybe next time!

As we headed back to the train, Ron couldn't resist a $1 dirty water dog.

The next morning we reviewed our notes and each ranked them based on location, atmosphere and drinks. Raines Law came out on top followed by Garret's and Bathtub Gin. Awesome time!

 I would HIGHLY recommend this tour to anyone who enjoys historic bars and great cocktails. 

That morning we enjoyed a NJ Taylor Ham Sandwich on a local bagel. We washed it down with a bottle of Dom Perignon. What a classic combination! 

Steve and I sent Ron this bottle of Dom when he retired just over two years ago. He's saved it to enjoy along with us. What a special gesture! Would I spend the $ again for myself? Nope, but it was fun while it lasted!

That evening the celebration continued as we had another birthday dinner for Ron & Steve. These two guys always put us first and they deserve all of this and more!

Patricia's is located in nearby Holmdel, NJ. Classic Italian fare and BYOB. My kind of place! 

We enjoyed another bottle of Moët Rosé followed by my 3rd chicken Parmesan of the trip. While it was my favorite chicken Parmesan, Steve's bolognese was off the charts!!


Steve and I have made some incredible friends over the years and we always know how to have fun 😊 This long weekend was no different. I had a successful chicken Parmesan tour and we experienced new adventures at 5 speakeasies in NYC. We danced, we sang and made so many new memories with awesome food, fun and cocktails. 

Speaking of great friends...while not a birthday, we had a sad, but exciting farewell to two of our best friends. Kevin and Lisa recently picked up and moved to Chicago after Lisa landed a kick-ass job at The University of Illinois Chicago. 

We started with brunch at El Carnicero (I told you this was a favorite...) then Lisa and I headed to the spa for massages, manicures and pedicures. That night we met so many of their friends at The Corner Alley where we enjoyed drinks, basketball and fun.

Later that week we met for a final final farewell for dinner in Lakewood with Cassie and Jared.

Friends like this are hard to find. Unwavering support, no judgement, 100’s of Cavs games, countless football Sundays, and SO MUCH FUN, but more than anything...Kevin & Lisa have been family. We will miss them A LOT!

As we headed into mid-April, there was only one thing on our minds...THE END OF THE CAVS SEASON! Finally. For the first time since 2014, the Cavs would not make the NBA Playoffs and Steve and I had our lives back two months early. April 9th was the final Cavs game of the season so we celebrated with dinner at one of our favorite places in Cleveland. La'Albatros is a cheese-lovers paradise with the best cheese board. It's both overwhelming and incredible. I almost always order the steak and frites then they add Luxardo cherries to their cheesecake. Sounds like a win. win. win. 

There you have it! We've had a busy several weeks and we're headed off to our home away from home on May 4th...that just 8 days, 11 hours, 10 minutes and 30 seconds, but who's counting?! It'll be my 11th visit to Ocean Maya Royale in Playa del Carmen. 

Our 12th stay is just around the corner where we'll all be celebrating my 40th in July! Remember when I said I love birthdays?? Well, I love my birthday the most :)

Summer 2019 here we come!