OK, so over the years I’ve been a little obnoxious about Ohio. Mostly because it refuses to let me have my luggage and makes my family throw up, but also because it’s freezing whenever I visit it. And flat. (And yes, it also has amazing antiquing and Quaker Steak ‘n’ Lube and all sorts of other things I love, but whatever: 10-hour journeys with children make me grumpy and trips to Ohio always involve 10-hour journeys with children, so I’m grumpy. Sue me.)
One unexpected byproduct of these trips: I’ve discovered that the rural and suburban areas around Cleveland have some seriously good food. (I discovered this because my father-in-law is deeply invested in the quest to cement his status as Awesomest Father-In-Law Ever Who Feeds His Daughter-In-Law Awesome Food.) Sure, I’ve had terrible, horrible garlic-pickled eggs and bologna-slab sandwiches at (the otherwise very cool) Lehman’s Hardware Store, but I’ve also eaten artisanal pizza at Gervasi Vineyard, phenomenal seafood at the Main Street Grille in downtown North Canton, and perfect aged Swiss at Guggisberg Cheese. So I think it’s safe to say that I’m respectably well-versed in how truly excellent the food around here can be.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have the chance to eat at some of the very best restaurants on the planet. Nobu; Blue Ribbon; Daniel; Blue Hill Farm. I may not really know what I’m talking about when it comes to *why* a restaurant is remarkable – I vastly prefer Burger King Whopper Juniors to Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger, so it’s safe my palate couldn’t be called the “refined” sort – but what I can say is whether a restaurant’s food is delicious. To me.
The food at Shy Cellars, an Amish Country restaurant run out of a converted ranch house sitting next to a truck stop, was some of the best food I have ever had.
The story behind this restaurant – again, discovered by my father-in-law via an overheard conversation at the gym – almost seems made for TV: the owners, Chef Sherry and her husband Ralph (who also serves as the restaurant’s sommelier), own the truck stop next door (!) and spent years saving up to open their own space.
I asked Sherry where she’d worked before, and where she’d trained – pretty standard questions for the head chef of a fancy restaurant – but the answer was, basically…nowhere. She has a certificate from a culinary school that she acquired a couple of years back, but apart from that she’s been 100% self-taught. Which is CRAZY. She and Ralph originally bought the ranch house that the restaurant operates in as a home for themselves and their daughter, Tara – the parents would live in one half, and Tara would live in the other – but ultimately decided to squeeze all three into one half, and convert the rest of the property into their dream restaurant.
The open kitchen? It used to be their garage.
Deep-fried chicken skins
I obviously love this story. But I love it even more because while the story is awesome, the food is oh my god, so much awesomer.
- First, the wine list. My go-to wine is the $4.29 pinot grigio from Trader Joe’s, so I can’t be trusted, but my brother-in-law Brian is a certifiable Wine Person – and he was so impressed with the wine list at Shy Cellars that he ended up ordering a 2012 Palmaz Cabernet…and then buying a second bottle to take home with him. (I don’t really drink red wine, and I couldn’t help but drink some of this one; it was perfect.)
- Second, the “kids menu.” There is no kids menu. Which is fine with me: I hate the idea of having my kids travel the world eating noodles and butter wherever they go, and was prepared to do what I usually do when I take them to a restaurant that isn’t especially kid-friendly – share my own food with them. But while taking the adults’ orders, our server made a few off-the-menu suggestions (mac and cheese, or maybe some chicken tenders), and I was all “well fiiiiine.” (Mostly because I didn’t want to share my meal.) Goldie’s macaroni and cheese – made with real cream and Amish country cheese, served alongside lightly roasted baby carrots – was arguably as good as any of the meals the grownups had. And I’m sorry, but how cool is that?! A restaurant that puts in the time and effort to make sure that the kids get to share in their parents’ experience?! That’s rare.
- Third, the food. Oh my god, the food. I wasn’t hungry when we sat down thanks to an earlier trip to Guggisberg where I ate far too much Swiss, so Kendrick and I decided to split an appetizer (fried chicken skin with honey-chipotle sauce) and a skirt steak with Brussels sprouts…but MAN I wish I hadn’t done that. I am a picky, picky lady when it comes to steak, but this one was done exactly the way I like it. Garlicky, buttery, tender: all the good things. My father-in-law ordered duck, which was served rare – and I have to admit it freaked me out a little, as I hadn’t been aware that “rare duck” was a thing, but it was the most popular dish at the table. (My son not only asked to try it, but ended up trying to steal his grandfather’s entire – rare! DUCK! – entree.) My sister-in-law Elizabeth’s dinner was one enormous piece of spinach ravioli stuffed with scallops, shrimp, and other types of seafood, and this really should not have worked, being much too much, but it did: every part of it was perfectly cooked, and rich without feeling heavy.
And finally…oh, finally…the dessert.
You know who makes the desserts at Shy Cellars? Tara, the owners’ daughter. Who, in keeping with the restaurant’s apparent theme, has zero professional training – and who, like her parents, is better at what she does than pretty much anyone regardless.
This photograph of Tara’s Cinnabun Cheesecake (Cinnabun Cheesecake!!!) is not pretty, because it was taken at night and because Elizabeth and I had already started eating it. I have eaten many cheesecakes in my life, and I have never had cheesecake like this.
Summary: Go here. Let the servers guide you; they’re super nice and just as excited about the food as you will be. Eat all the things.
Note: I apologize for the terrible, terrible photos that I took (the first two were pulled off of Google) – and these were the best of the bunch, eep. I promise the food is much more attractive than it appears here, and also promise to go back and try again 😉