Indie Toledo: Phoenicia Cuisine

Part of a series about independent restaurants and stores in the Northwest Ohio area.

Classes at the University of Toledo have started up again, and in honor of thousands of students migrating back to Toledo to learn stuff, I would like to present you with a special edition of Indie Toledo about an on-campus treasure.

Phoenicia Cuisine is a Mediterranean-style restaurant located on the third floor of UT’s Student Union.  Phoenicia serves Lebanese-style food for the most part, but there are also other offerings.

When it’s time to order, you have two choices: a sit-down area and a take-out window.  Busy students may want to just grab an order to take back to the dorm, but it’s always nice to sit in the dining area and just chill out.  It’s a great place to catch up with that friend you haven’t seen since May!

Food & Beverages

There are several main categories of food at Phoenicia, including Entrees, Appetizers, Sandwiches, and Salads.  I’ve tried something from every category, so we’ll talk about at least one recipe from each here.

The appetizer list consists of several dishes, including several Lebanese foods.  I’ve tried the hummus and grape leaves, and both were fantastic.  Hummus comes in a regular and large size, but the regular size is huge!  It was much bigger than I could eat all on my own, and if my roommate had not been allergic to chickpeas I would have saved the rest for later.  (I ended up giving it to a friend.)  The stuffed grape leaves were non-vegetarian, something I like in my stuffed grape leaves, and were served slightly warm.  Mmm.  There are also vegetarian stuffed grape leaves available.

The list of salads is by far my favorite.  While there are regular American-style salads, like the house salad and Greek salad, there are also Mediterranean-style salads as well.  In particular, you can find an incredibly fresh tabbouli and an absolutely delicious fattoush salad.  My personal favorite is the tabbouli – I get it so often, I’m sure that’s how the staff knows me by now!

The sandwiches are fairly standard in terms of American restaurant fare.  There are cheeseburgers and other specialty hamburgers as well as gyros and other sandwiches.  One particular delicious meal is the grilled feta, a pita filled with feta cheese and tomatoes grilled to a melty perfection.  It comes with a side – you can choose fries, but I almost always take rice with it.  Grilled feta is my staple sandwich at Phoenicia because it’s easy and quick when I’m on the run.

You can also order one of their many entrees, which are always made when you order it.  You can order things like the chicken shawarma platter or a Lebanese combo.  Vegetarian entrees, like the vegetarian grape leaves and falafel sandwich, are also available for the health-conscious or those living a vegetarian lifestyle.

Critic’s Conclusion

While it’s one of the pricier options for on-campus food, Phoenicia offers fresher, healthier options for those who spend a lot of time on campus.  They even offer vegetarian options – always a healthy choice no matter if you’re a vegetarian or proud omnivore.

Phoenicia is also a nice place for a sit-down dinner with friends or a casual lunch date with a new friend.  If you attend the University of Toledo, you should definitely check out Phoenicia before you graduate.

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Indie Toledo: KotoBuki

Part of a series about independent restaurants and stores in the Northwest Ohio area.

KotoBuki in Sylvania, Ohio is one of several Japanese food/sushi places within just a few miles on Monroe Street.  Nestled among a variety of shops in the same plaza, KotoBuki houses a beautiful dine-in area and a friendly atmosphere.

The restaurant has a very good reputation in Toledo and has been featured in local media several times.  The restaurant currently has a 4 1/2 star rating on Google restaurant reviews and is one of the highest-recommended Japanese restaurants in Toledo.

Food & Beverages

KotoBuki has a wide range of food available, from unique and standard sushi rolls to Korean and Japanese traditional cuisine.  One item of note that sets KotoBuki apart from other area sushi places is that, if requested, a diner may enjoy a cup of green tea to accompany his or her meal for free.  One of my closest friends, who in fact brought me to KotoBuki in the first place, loves to have green tea with her sushi, so this works out wonderfully for her.

Many specialty rolls at KotoBuki can also be found at other restaurants, such as the Joe roll or the Ninja roll, but the restaurant also has several unique rolls as well including the Toledo roll and the Harry Potter roll, neither of which I’ve seen (in the exact incarnation) as I have at KotoBuki.

My personal favorite at KotoBuki is the Joe roll, simply because of the way the KotoBuki chefs make it.  I have tried some of the other specialty rolls as well and have never felt unsatisfied with the way it was made or the taste.  The fish at KotoBuki is fresh and the presentation is very pretty.

There are other dishes available as well, such as chirashi and Korean chirashi.  Chirashi is a dish of sashimi (sliced raw fish) on top of a bed of rice, unlike nigiri-zushi, which is a slice of raw fish on a pat of rice.  There are also hot dishes, like tempura and soba, and hot appetizers like gyoza (dumplings) and calamari.

Critic’s Conclusion

I personally would recommend KotoBuki as a place to enjoy sushi or traditional Korean and Japanese meals with family members or close friends.  The atmosphere is friendly, the restaurant itself is beautiful, and the wide variety of foods available on the menu make it an excellent place for evening meals.

While there, I’d definitely recommend trying out the traditional dishes over the sushi.  Not that there’s anything “wrong” or sub-par about the sushi – it’s quite delicious – but the traditional offerings are what really set KotoBuki apart from other Japanese-style restaurants in the area.  It also makes KotoBuki a great place to have dinner with friends who don’t do the raw fish thing when everyone else in the group loves sushi.

You can learn more about KotoBuki and check out the menu at the KotoBuki website.

Have you been to KotoBuki?  What do you like about the restaurant?

Indie Toledo: Elaine’s Tea Shoppe

Part of a series about independent restaurants and retailers in the Toledo area.

Toledo isn’t exactly the place you’d expect to find tea and scones, but you can in fact find a place that serves tea and scones on Monroe Street in West Toledo.

Elaine’s Tea Shoppe, which has been in the area for about 10 years at various locations, sells loose-leaf tea, tea accessories, and other paraphernalia as well as offering a tea service at all times of the day.

Elaine’s is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Food & Beverage

Elaine’s offers a tea service to customers who stay in the shop which has a variety of offerings.  The main menu is a list of the varieties of tea available at the tea service.  I vastly prefer the green teas, but that’s more of a personal preference.

The shop has multiple varieties available, primarily black teas, oolong teas, green teas, and white teas.  Each type costs $3.50, which includes multiple re-steeps.

There are other things on the menu, as well, including Elaine’s recipe for scones with jam and cream.

Products

The greatest variety at Elaine’s includes the various tea-related accessories and other items that a casual browser might enjoy.

First off, there are a variety of teapots, tea strainers and infusers, and other items to help a tea enthusiast to brew tea.  Currently, since it’s summer, the shop is carrying iced tea makers as well as regular pots to make hot tea in.

Apart from single pots, the shop also carries sets – for my birthday, my friends bought me a set with a teapot and a cup, while other sets come with a pot and two cups.

Elaine’s also carries food products, particularly loose-leaf tea (nothing comes in bagged form) and flavored varieties of honey, which – incidentally – are created locally in Waterville, Ohio.  The honey comes in several varieties, such as Lemon, Cinnamon, or Lavender.  There are also other sweeteners available, such as the popular tea sweetener German rock salt.

In terms of tea, Elaine’s carries black teas, oolong teas, white teas, green teas, herbal tisanes, and blooming teas.  All of these line one long wall on the right side of the shop.  They come in small or large bags – you can purchase packs of 4 as well – and you can always buy a 2-oz or 3-oz tin and buy loose-leaf tea to be put in the tin if you don’t like to use up a lot of packaging.

Critic’s Conclusion

If you’re interested in learning more about tea – and maybe discovering a new brew – then Elaine’s is the place for you.  Elaine is one of a handful of Tea Masters in the country, and she can answer practically any question on the topic.

My best recommendation is to visit with the intent of having tea in the shop.  The service is very nice, there is a wide variety of teas to try for $3.50, and you can try something new each time.  My favorite thing to do?  Have tea with a friend.

*Please note that Elaine’s Tea Shoppe requests that you pay by check or in cash if possible.

Indie Toledo: PLATE 21

Part of a series about independent shops and restaurants in the Northwest Ohio area.

Cafes and coffee shops in Toledo can be hard to come by, especially if you’re not looking for a chain like Starbucks or Biggby’s.  As a student at the University of Toledo, I’ve been disappointed by what’s nearby.  We once had a spectacular local spot nearby on Secor called Caffeini’s, but it shut down in Fall 2010.

In the past year, though, a friend of mine from grade school introduced me to PLATE 21, where she invited me to meet her to catch up over lunch and coffee.  PLATE 21 is located at 3664 Rugby Drive in south Toledo.

Food & Beverages

PLATE 21 is what I would consider a cafe, serving both coffee and light food.

The main portion of the menu consists of coffee beverages, which include both an espresso bar and a regular drip coffee bar.  I have tried only one of the coffee drinks – my personal favorite, a mocha.  There are several other blended drinks and other familiar names on the menu.

In terms of non-coffee beverages, PLATE 21 serves a few different types of tea.  During my most recent visit with my sister, I tried out a green pear iced tea, which was on the board as a daily special.  I’m usually not one for iced teas, but this one was quite good.  My sister had a chai latte which she described as “just the right level of spicy.”

The shop also has a food menu, which ranges from morning pastries to specialty soups.  I have tried some of the soups before, which I greatly enjoyed.  This time, I had an order of oatmeal from the morning menu, which was fantastic.

The coffees and teas served at PLATE 21 are listed as fair trade and organic.

Additional Information

There’s more to it, though.  PLATE 21 also hosts events as well.  The cafe has hosted fundraisers, open mic events, musicians, performances, and even a Christmas Boutique this past December (2010).  There are often other events posted on their Facebook page.

Even if you aren’t interested in events, anyone is welcome to hang out at the cafe.  Apart from the main floor, which houses tables and chairs for patrons to eat lunch at and enjoy their drinks, there is also another section that contains lounge seating.  Get a drink, settle in, and spend some time drawing or writing in the comfortable space.  (I personally recommend writing there, especially if you need soft background noise to write!)

Critic’s Conclusion

I recommend PLATE 21 to those looking for a friendly coffee-house atmosphere.  The coffee is great, the staff is friendly, and the cafe is beautiful. Overall, PLATE 21 is a relaxing place to enjoy lunch or breakfast, making it one of my favorites.

In terms of actually consuming things, I recommend the coffee drinks.  I usually get a cafe mocha, but any of the espresso drinks are good.  The food is also pretty fantastic – I adore the soups the chef makes.

PLATE 21 is something a little different from what I usually like, but – as in many cases – different can be pretty amazing.

Indie Toledo: Taruman

Part of a series about independent restaurants and stores in the Northwest Ohio area.

Sushi may not be for everyone, but those who do enjoy it often have particular tastes: specific cuts of specific types of fish, preferences of toppings or fillings for various rolls, even a liking for the California roll made by certain sushi places.

While I’ve been to several sushi places within five miles or so of the University of Toledo, where I work and go to school, I haven’t found one I like quite as much as I like Taruman.

Taruman, which technically counts more as a sushi takeout restaurant, is located at 7430 West Central Avenue in what the maps tell me is Toledo.  I’d definitely say it’s far out enough on Central to be in Sylvania, though, so if you’re a Sylvania resident near Central Avenue, it’s one of the closest sushi places.

Food & Beverages

As a sushi place, Taruman serves sushi.  Usually, they’re open for lunch and dinner, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays there is a lunch special, which is written on the white board at the front of the shop.  There are a few basic categories of food at Taruman.

First, there’s nigiri sushi.  Nigiri is the type of sushi that has a small pat of rice with a piece of fish, seafood, or other item on top.  I haven’t really tried the nigiri at Taruman, but I have tried one: the tamago nigiri, which is sweet fried egg.  It was a little odd-tasting, but as far as I can tell, it’s because sweet fried egg in general tastes very strange to me.  (I’ve had it elsewhere and felt the same way.)

The second category I would include are the regular and vegetable rolls, or maki sushi.  Maki refers to something round, so a maki is a rolled sushi.  I usually get maki sushi, since it’s my main preference.  There are standard rolls like the California and Philadelphia rolls as well as a variety of vegetable/vegetarian rolls.

The third category is specialty rolls.  I haven’t tried Taruman’s specialty rolls, but those I go with often do.  From the reviews I’ve heard from friends, the Monster roll and the Dragon roll are both very good.

The fourth category of sushi is the te-maki, which translates to hand-roll.  These are cone-shaped sushi often filled with deliciousness.  Taruman actually has a kimchi te-maki, which would sound interesting and delicious if I liked kimchi.

There are other offerings as well, such as udon (a type of noodle), edamame (lightly salted, steamed soybeans in the pod) and miso (a traditional Japanese soup made with tofu).

A variety of beverages are also available, including the Japanese soda Ramune, hot tea, and more.

Critic’s Conclusion

I GREATLY recommend Taruman to any sushi-lover in Northwest Ohio – and anyone just trying sushi for the first time.  Taruman is the second place I had tried sushi, but the first place I actually enjoyed it – and after that, I headed there regularly.

Personally, my favorite thing about Taruman is the service.  The staff there is great – the chef is a very nice lady, and I’m sure that by now she knows my face, since I’m there pretty often and usually get the same thing.  I haven’t met such a friendly staff in a restaurant before!

In regards to food, I widely recommend the California roll or spicy California, especially if you like spicy sauce.  That’s pretty intense coming from me – I usually can’t stand spicy things!  The Philadelphia roll is also good.

One note: I’d recommend Taruman as a lunch visit.  While it’s charming inside, it’s not the sort of place you would impress your date.

Indie Toledo: Cake in a Cup

Second in a series about independent shops and restaurants in the Northwest Ohio area.

Something about Midwestern cities like Toledo just screams ‘practicality.’  In economic times like these, cities like ours sometimes struggle – and while we struggle, sometimes we start losing hope.

Cake in a Cup Toledo is an independently-owned and operated cupcake bakery that can make any Toledoan forget those struggles.  While the shop itself is small, the atmosphere and the food can give customers a sense of delight.

Food & Beverages

The primary food product at this shop, as I’m sure you can imagine, is its specialty cupcakes.  Three flavors are always available: vanilla, chocolate, and red velvet.  There are many flavors of cupcake offered by Cake in a Cup, but these rotate daily – and every month, there is a different selection of flavors rotated each day.

I’ve visited Cake in a Cup twice, but I’ve only tried one cupcake: the Black Bottom.  This type seems to be dark chocolate with a lighter flavor in the middle, topped with dark chocolate frosting and a raspberry.  It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted: a little bit rich, but fresh and sweet, and the cupcake part was moist and perfect.

There is also a small coffee/cafe bar in the shop with a few different offerings.  Mainly, it’s an espresso bar, but there are other things you can also order including hot tea.  When we visited, I tried to order a hot tea, but they didn’t have any.  I was a little disappointed, because I thought it would go well with my cupcake and I absolutely love hot tea.

One can purchase cupcakes as singles, groups of four, or by dozens.  A single cupcake is usually $2.50, but just $2 if you want a vanilla or chocolate cupcake.  You can even walk in and buy up to 2 dozen cupcakes without pre-ordering, according to the girl who was working at the counter when I was there.

Products

As one might expect from a boutique bakery, there are also a few additional products available both at the counter and on a shelf inside the shop.

On the shelves, there are a few different artist pieces.  I’m not sure if any are available for purchase, but the artist’s card is there, so she may be contacted if you’re interested in anything you see.

At the counter, there are a variety of greeting cards available.  They are all specialty cards and very pretty.  Most were birthday cards and Father’s Day cards, since we went about a week and a half before the holiday.

Critic’s Conclusion

If you don’t have a lot of spare money to go around, visiting Cake in a Cup for a once-in-a-while treat is your best bet.  While it’s not too expensive if you’re just getting one for yourself or a couple for a date, more than four cupcakes start to get very pricey very quickly.

However, getting that once-in-a-while treat is definitely worthwhile.  The cupcakes are moist and very tasty, and it’s easy to tell just by the taste how fresh they are.  If you DO have the spare cash, buying a dozen or two for a special occasion would be worth your while as well.  Your guests will be thrilled with the delicious cupcakes – and they’re also very pretty to look at, as well.

I would also recommend sitting in the shop to eat your cupcake.  There are a few tables inside the shop, and it was a lot of fun to sit and watch the customers come in and out.  Cake in a Cup seems so busy for such a small shop; it’s enjoyable to just watch everything happen.