Akron has the world's best everything. Really
By Jane Snow
The best pizza, hamburgers and frozen custard in the world can be found right here in the Akron area. Just ask anyone who lives here. We did, and were swamped with votes and testimonials.
Here's a sampling of the enthusiasm displayed by the pizza partisans alone:
"Absolutely scrumptious" (Gino's on Copley Road in Akron); "The best of the best" (Altieri's in Stow); "The best white pizza ever" (DaVinci's in Akron); "The best white pizza in town" (DeCheco's in Akron).
Shops from Kent to Youngstown, from Hartville to Hudson got votes in the hotly disputed pizza category. But then, all of the food categories were hotly disputed. Folks around here love to eat and they're passionate about it. Where else can you start an argument by mentioning two burger drive-ins in the same sentence?
Well, you've spoken -- the results are in those little boxes over the next few pages -- and now it's my turn. I've spent 24 years writing about local food and restaurants, and it's time I answered the question a bazillion of you (well, at least two or three) have posed: "Where's your favorite place to eat?"
The answer changes according to my mood, but for a big night out, I'd choose Russo's or Moe's in Cuyahoga Falls, Downtown 140 in Hudson or Piatto in Akron. These four restaurants get my vote for the best in the Akron area.
If I had to choose just one it would be Russo's, not only because of chef David Russo's fanatical pursuit of flavor but because I like the restaurant's laid-back style. Dining in the bar at Moe's is also my idea of a great evening out. I love the juxtaposition of the casual but energized surroundings with chef Jared Kirby's fabulous upscale food.
Then again, no one is serving more elegant food, in such elegant surroundings, than chef Roger Thomas of Piatto. Unless it's chef Shawn Monday at his jewellike tapas bar, Downtown 140.
Downtown 140 came in 20th, just after Olive Garden, in the reader poll. Piatto was a respectable but wrong-headed fifth, Moe's was 11th and Russo's was 16th.
You guys have got to get out more.
You have to love the guy who scrawled on his entry, "Buy a big steak and eat at home. No wretched tipping either."
But unless you have access to a super-hot grill, you cannot produce a steak that is as gloriously caramelized, smoky-flavored and tender as the ones you can get in a restaurant.
Voters loved the Diamond Grille, and I do, too. But c'mon. Do you really think Outback Steakhouse is better than Hyde Park Grille? That Longhorn can beat Ken Stewart's?
Try the T-bone with homemade Worcestershire sauce at Russo's. All those other hunks o' cow pale in comparison.
If you consider prime rib to be a steak, as many voters did, then Henry Wahner's in Kent is the place to go. The price is modest, the cut is obscenely huge and Wahner roasts it perfectly.
Pizza, hamburgers, frozen custard
Not to brag, but I've been around the block when it comes to these categories. I have tasted pizza from Wadsworth to Kent, frozen custard from Northfield to Kenmore, and hamburgers from all of the drive-ins plus Whitey's, Louie's, the Ido and the Brown Derby.
In other words, I'm about as qualified to pick a favorite as you are. When it comes to pizza, hamburgers and frozen custard, everyone's an expert.
Still, you asked (didn't you?), so my choices are Gino's on Copley Road in Akron for pizza, Strickland's for frozen custard (especially the coconut) and Skyway for hamburgers.
Swensons had the best hamburgers until Skyway beefed up its previously skimpy patties. Swensons is still a sentimental favorite, though, and you'll spot me at the Wallhaven location on summer evenings, sharing a cheeseburger with mustard, onion and pickles with my burger-loving dog.
And shame on you giving a chain the No. 2 overall spot in our pizza poll, behind Luigi's. We have plenty of home-grown pizzas that can beat the pants off Pizza Hut.
When I want unpretentious food, I head for the New Era, The Ido or Dodie's. You do, too. The New Era came in second in the voting, behind Hartville Kitchen. Dodie's was eighth and the Ido, 16th.
The Akron area shines in this category. Dozens of cozy neighborhood spots earned votes, including Woody's in Green, the Amber Pub, Eat & Run, Waterloo Restaurant, Julian's, Fred's Diner and Steinly's in Akron, Charlie's in Norton.
With all of these local gems, who needs chain restaurants such as Cracker Barrel and Bob Evans? You do, apparently. You placed them third and fourth, respectively.
Place for kids
Bob Evans won this category, and I can't quibble. Plenty of locally owned restaurants treat kids right, too, though. The next time you're looking to feed the family without destroying your budget, try Mary Coyle's, Parasson's, Yours Truly, Menches Brothers, Luigi's or Mike's Place in Kent. As one voted noted about Mike's Place, "I mean, c'mon, they've got an Xwing . . . how cool is that?"
The buffet is almost as breathtaking as the view at the RiverFront Restaurant in the Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls. The glassed-in restaurant cantilevered over the falls was the runaway winner, followed by the 356th Fighter Group in Green and Triple Crown in Stow.
My choice is the RiverFront, too, followed by your No. 5 pick, Mustard Seed Market in Bath Township.
Cooking as entertainment
You said the best restaurant to watch your food being prepared is Hibachi Japan in Cuyahoga Falls followed by Otani in Akron and Russo's in Cuyahoga Falls. Ditto, although I'd reverse the order. Stir Fire in Summit Mall also is entertaining, as are all the local sushi bars.
Here are some of my other favorites:
Best deli -- Primo's in Akron unless it's Friday night, when I head for Ivan's Deli in Fairlawn for the fish fry.
Best Asian -- I'm still waiting. Meanwhile, the best of the rest is the Vietnamese food Jade Place in Akron, the classic Cantonese dishes at Chin's in Akron, and chef Sue Fogle's Thai dishes at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.
Best Italian -- There's an embarrassment of riches. The area is stuffed with great Italian restaurants, both old-style and regional-Italian chic. Try the incredible chicken with garlic at Dilullo's in Cuyahoga Falls and anything on the menu at Piatto.
Best Mexican: La Taqueria Rancheros followed by Two Amigos.
Best bakery -- Hmmm. For bread, the Breadsmith in Fairlawn. For cannoli, Ninni's in Akron. For cakes, West Side Bakery in Akron. For brownies, West Point Market. For pies, Waterloo Restaurant. For coconut-chocolate cake with toasted almonds, my house. But I'm not sharing.
Jane Snow is the Beacon Journal's food writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3571 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for Jane's free, weekly e-mail newsletter "Second Helpings" at www.ohio.com.