If you recall, last week was the first half of our annual Top Ten list where we revealed numbers 10 through 6. Now, it's finally time to disclose our five favorite eateries of 2013!
#5 - Bridgelin
The parking lot in front of Bridgelin, located at 76 29th St. in Wheeling in the former Bachmann's location, was full when the Buds arrived - that's always a good sign! Once inside, the Buds made note of the clean and nicely decorated dining area, then settled at a table near the buffet to peruse the menus.
The Buds immediately noticed that not only did the Bridgelin menu feature most of the dishes they'd come to expect on a Chinese menu, but also a few surprises. Among them were Minced Chicken Corn Rice Soup, steamed or fried spinach dumplings (as well as the typical pork), dishes seasoned with black pepper sauce, Hawaiian Fried Rice and even a variety of meals that feature angel hair pasta. They also have several vegetarian meals and 22 lunch specials.
After looking over the menu, the Buds knew the way to go was the lunch buffet. Available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m . to 3 p.m. for $6.95, the buffet was sure to offer plenty of appetizers and main dish courses to give us a good sampling of the cuisine we'd been craving.
The buffet featured soups, egg rolls, crab and cheese fried wontons (so help us God!), fried rice, vegetable lo mein, mixed vegetables in white sauce, yummy sauteed mushrooms, chicken and beef with garlic sauce, chicken and broccoli, Kung Pao chicken, General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour chicken and a baked fish and watermelon.
After getting the drink order, the friendly waitress didn't have to tell the Buds twice to "help themselves to the buffet"! The Buds sampled nearly all of the tasty dishes. Bud Em enjoyed the sweet and sour chicken, an egg roll, a smidge of lo mein, mixed veggies, sauteed mushrooms and - of course - plenty of wontons. Everything was fresh and delicious. Bud Shaunna tried the chicken and beef with garlic sauce, some fried rice, General Tso's and Kung Pao chickens and some of the fish, all of which she thoroughly enjoyed.
#4 - The Forum
The Forum, located at 2205 Southgate Parkway in Cambridge, has been in operation since 1987 and offers a wide variety of foods that include American, Greek and Italian cuisine, many of which are made from scratch. They were also featured in "101 Must Places to Eat in Ohio" by Karen Patterson - kind of a big deal! The eatery is clean and spacious and the Buds couldn't wait to dig in!
The menu includes many tantalizing appetizers such as homemade Greek pastries (spanikopita, tyropita and dolmades), artichoke dip, homemade cheese sticks, stuffed potato skins, flowering onion, stuffed and breaded ravioli, wings and more. And the SALADS! Wow! Not only do they have the standard grilled chicken, chef, taco and steak salads, but their house specialties also include the Chicken Roma Tortellini (yeah - tortellini ON a salad!), and the Authentic Greek Salad which Bud Em will rave about shortly.
The Forum also boasts a whole page of yummy-sounding pasta dishes. Take for instance the Parisian Seafood: shrimp, scallops and surimi crabmeat sauteed in butter with herbs and white wine, finished with cream sauce over fettuccini. Help! And it doesn't stop there, they have a bevy of burgers, sandwiches (Gyro or Reuben, anyone?), Tex-Mex items (fajitas, burritos and quesadillas), seafood, stir-fry, steak, chicken, chops and pizza.
The Buds munched on the delicious buttery breadsticks - which alone were worth the trip - while deliberating. Bud Em finally settled on the Authentic Greek Salad, as was mentioned previously. This was a huge salad platter of mixed greens topped with tomatoes, olives, pepperocinis, and a ton of Feta cheese AS WELL AS two pieces of Spanikopita (spinach pie), two Tyropita (three cheese in filo crust) and two dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and their Special Greek Dressing. And the whole thing was just $7.59. Incredible! All of the ingredients were fresh and their special dressing was divine. The pastries were fabulous! So good in fact that Bud Em had to share some with Bud Shaunna. Best. Salad. Ever.
Bud Shaunna opted for another Forum specialty - Elvis Pork Chops. Thank you, thank you very much! Bad Elvis impersonations aside, two flavorful pork chops were marinated and seasoned with "Mama's" herbs and spices and charbroiled. The Forum claims you'll "love them tender" and they were right! These chops were so tender and juicy, and served with a side salad and mixed vegetables, Bud Shaunna loved the price too - a mere $7.79! And, the second pork chop tasted just as juicy and tender reheated for dinner later that night. Bud Shaunna would definitely order this again!
#3 - Avenue Eats
Based on the Farm to Table movement which has been seen in larger cities, Avenue Eats, located at 1201 Valley View Ave in Wheeling, features fresh, never frozen, food prepared daily and served in their intimate and beautifully decorated dining area.
The neighborhood eatery offers unique appetizers such as black bean hummus, fish tacos (made with grilled tilapia, cilantro-lime slaw and fresh crema) and a cheese board for two featuring assorted cheeses, olives, stone ground mustard, and locally produced spicy balsamic tomato jelly.
The Buds warmed up with an order of the black bean hummus, which was aMAZing! With the perfect consistency and just the right amount of garlic and seasonings, the Buds could have eaten it all day long. The tasty spread was served with warm pita wedges and rang in at 7 bucks.
It took Bud Em quite a while to ponder the menu. With options like the grilled brie and apple sandwich (brie, granny smith apples and caramelized onions on grilled cinnamon bread ... help!), settling on one thing was no easy feat. She finally opted to try the grilled chicken salad and took home a burger - which are ground fresh daily by the way - for her hungry teen.
The salad featured all fresh greens topped with grilled chicken breast, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, calamata olives and crostini with a vinaigrette dressing. The salad, which rang in at 9 bucks, was delicious. The chicken was tender and juicy and there was nary a shred of iceberg to be seen. The sweetness of the roasted peppers perfectly complimented the saltiness of the feta. *Sigh* Bud Em was in foodie heaven.
Of course, she had to sneak a bite of the classic cheeseburger with fresh cut fries and caramelized onion dipping sauce that she took home for the kiddo. Topped with sharp cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and onion, the whole combo came to just $7. Bud Em learned that fresh ground meat makes a world of difference! Yesiree! No more pre-fab patties for her. Ever.
Bud Shaunna immediately zoned in on the fish tacos, and since it was Friday, a perfect meatless option. The three tacos were served on warm tortillas, and the fish was extremely tender and flaky. The slaw was fantastic - full of fresh cilantro, which is one of Bud Shaunna's favorites. At only $8, these were filling and worth every penny!
Because she enjoyed her meal so much, and like Bud Em saw many things on the menu worth trying, Bud Shaunna, along with Bud Hubby, paid a return visit. Bud Hubby ordered the Poutine burger, which was fresh ground beef, fresh mozzarella, french fries, and brown gravy all served on a kaiser roll. Attempts to eat this burger with his hands were futile, as Bud Hubby dug in with a knife and fork. Judging by the way he cleaned his plate, suffice it to say, he was satisfied. Bud Shaunna tried the Bacon & Blue burger (without bun), and the creaminess of the blue cheese was offset by the saltiness of the bacon, and oh my, we realize this is a run on sentence, but we could literally go on and on about the tender juicy burgers. Divine!
#2 - Bovine Gourmet Burgers and Dogs
Get outta town!
Literally. Right now. Get in your car and drive to Weirton. Stop at 3625 Main St. and you will see a food truck that says "Bovine Gourmet Burgers and Dogs". Order food from said truck. Eat the food. Experience Heaven. Then call the Buds and thank them profusely.
Bovine's menu includes a dozen different gourmet burgers, steak or chicken hoagies and quesadillas, Italian beef hoagie, sirloin steak salad, and several gourmet hot dogs. Everything sounds so unique and delicious that settling on one is nearly impossible.
You've got your American Cheeseburger, the Mushroom Swiss, the Greek (topped with feta, olives, lettuce, tomato and taziki sauce), and the Sicilian (roasted red peppers, provolone and marinara). Sound good? Well how about the Corn Chip Burger (topped with cheddar, chili, barbecue sauce and corn chips) ... or the Southern Burger (topped with cheese, bacon, coleslaw and BBQ) ? And don't forget the Breakfast Burger (topped with bacon, egg, cheese and blackberry jam) or the Peanut Butter Burger (pepper jack, jalapenos, bacon and peanut butter)!
After a bit of wavering, Bud Em ordered the Stuffed Harvest Burger with a side of coleslaw. Lord have mercy! This monster burger is stuffed with apple butter and chopped granny smiths then topped with cheddar cheese, bacon and more apple butter. It was absolutely fantastic! Really. Sweet apple butter ... salty bacon .... and the most delicious bun ever.
Bud Shaunna zeroed in on the Stuffed Gorgonzola Burger. This was pretty much exactly what it sounds like - a large, juicy burger stuffed full of fresh gorgonzola cheese. You can add your own accouterments to this baby, but Bud Shaunna just wanted the bliss of the bun, the meat and the cheese, so she declined to add anything. Gorgonzola oozed out of every heavenly bite, and the delicious bun held up to this mammoth burger - no disintegrating wimpy buns here. She also took home the Peanut Butter Burger with the intent to share with Bud Hubby - but admittedly, these are just so good, sharing is darn near impossible!
If you've never tried peanut butter on a burger, you don't know what you're missing. The creaminess of the peanut butter blended perfectly with the flavors from the pepper jack cheese and bacon, while the jalepenos gave an extra little kick to the taste buds. Oh my, it's like Heaven replicated itself into delicious gourmet burgers! Really, we can't rave about these burgers enough.
But guess what? We aren't the only ones raving. West Virginia Executive magazine named Bovine's one of its "15 Fabulous Food Finds" in its Summer 2013 issue, stating that it's a "must-stop" venue.
#1 - The Honey Hole
The Honey Hole, located at 2247 Market St. in Wheeling, is filled with lovely home decorations, handmade soaps, silver spoon jewelry and gourmet food items. The Buds also helped themselves to samples of their fresh baked bread dipped in cold pressed olive oil. Umm...YUM! And best of all, perhaps, are the deli cases full of fresh baked delights at the rear of the store. This is where the Buds fall apart!
Every day, the folks at The Honey Hole bake a variety of unique breads, muffins, cookies, scones and stuffed bread loaves. They also create a beautiful array of cupcakes and other dessert specialties. If there was ever a time that we couldn't make up our minds, it was now!!
On the day of the Buds' visit, available items included Grandma's Syrian Flat Bread, stuffed pepperoni and cheese loaves, stuffed feta and spinach loaves and the much less self-explanatory "Stuffed Man" rolls which are filled with pepperoni, provolone, caramelized onions, garlic, sweet n' sassy peppers, hard-boiled eggs and a blend of their secret spices. Wow! And last but not least ... the butter danish. Yes, you heard us correctly!
The Buds decided to double-team the situation by splitting one stuffed loaf and each getting a couple additional items to take home. While we were surely intrigued by the Stuffed Man Loaf, we finally decided to go with the spinach and feta loaf, which rang in at $10.95. And let us tell you - it was worth every penny!
The Syrian bread dough was soft and full of flavor and stuffed to the brim with chopped spinach, feta cheese, caramelized onions and garlic and the secret spices. The flavor was amazing, and the large loaf provided several servings. In fact, Bud Shaunna polished off hers Monday at lunch and claimed it tasted just as fresh as it did four days earlier when it was made.
Additionally, Bud Em picked up a Ghirardelli and Chocolate Ganache Brownie Cup for $2.65 and a Chocolate Covered Strawberry Daiquiri Cupcake for $2.95. Sadly for Bud Em, her daughter inhaled the brownie cup immediately so she didn't even get a taste. Not a single crumb. Her daughter did mention, however, that the sweet treat was "amazing." So there you have it. Bud Em then decided to eat the cupcake before it too disappeared. The moist chocolate cake had a layer of strawberry inside and was topped with sweet buttercream icing and a chocolate covered cherry. And how was it? Let's just say that sometimes money CAN buy happiness!
Bud Shaunna spent an extra 5 bucks and picked up a White Chocolate Raspberry Scone and a Tiramisu Cupcake. Once home, she instructed her hubby not to eat ALL of the cupcake. However, trusting her instincts, Bud Shaunna didn't wait around for imminent disaster and tore in to the cupcake before Bud Hubby could reach it. She was nice and shared, even though it was so good it made sharing tough! The moist lady finger cupcake was smeared with a thick topping of their special recipe of rum, sugar and custard and sprinkled with cocoa powder. Deee-vine!!
Bud Shaunna ate the scone the next morning for breakfast, and it was a very delightful treat with her morning coffee. The outside was crunchy by the inside had a firm, cake-like consistency - this was definitely not one of those "brick" scones. Packed with white chocolate chunks and raspberries, this scone didn't last long on Bud Shaunna's breakfast plate.
And there you have it! Another year of remarkable eateries under our belts.
Just kidding - we WISH we needed belts! At any rate, we are looking forward to a brand new year of foodie adventures with all of you - our fabulous readers!
The Buds can be reached at tastebuds@timesleader online.com