Lucky's Cafe
 Cleveland, Ohio        Date of Visit  07/26/13

So it took us a week to complete our Café to Café comparison after a fun but under-satisfying trip to Grumpy’s we find ourselves standing out in the rain waiting for our turn to Lucky’s. It might be raining but my hopes are high and my spirit buoyed by signs of good things to come. It’s not just the wait that heralds good things but you can check out the herb and veggie garden and they have a wee pot of fresh cucumber water to enjoy in the little gathering area next to the restaurant.



The Garden Is Small But Close

For so many folks waiting outside of a tiny place they appeared supremely efficient moving people in and out. We were lead to a little table in a place just dancing with energy from the staff and tables so I figured service and ambiance would at least match Grumpy’s and if the food is as good as people report it is this might be a homerun.

It was just after we took our order that the service fell apart and all the energy seemed to be coming from the melodramatically angry customer at the table next to us and the staff seemed to deflate. It went from friendly to disconnected, attentive to lost and from pride in their efforts to rote recitation of a script read too many times. If had started that way it may not have been as noticeable but the decent made it stand out.

But food can change everything!

Fresh Cucumber Water While You Wait?

Good Coffee. Mango/Ginger "Fizzy" All Mango. Bring On The Flavor

We ordered more than three people should, and enjoyed so little of it. Three things stood out for good reasons and rest didn’t satisfy let alone impress and two out of the three turned out to be sides. We started with coffees and a mango-ginger fizzy, the pecan bacon, the biscuits, the Reuben and the granola, all of which were featured to some degree on Diners Drive Ins and Dives with special guest Michael Symon. I think it’s the nature of tv, the standards in his own house are much higher than on the travel shows. Sometimes I wonder if tv celebs feel a bit like Aaron Rogers when it comes to Ryan Braun. You like the people and hope it’s better than it actually is.

Don't Look Like Bacon. Don't Taste Like Bacon

No Better Than Grumpy's Insipid Slop...Except For Biscuit

The bacon arrived first, coated with pecans and dusted with brown sugar. It did have some nuttiness but completely lacked the essence of…BACON! I don’t think I’m alone in expecting some smoke, salt, maybe even pork flavor in a bacon dish. The menu said the bacon is nicely cured, I think I like the angrily cured. The chef prepared the sausage biscuits on the show and they looked and sounded amazing, certainly better than Grumpy’s. The gravy was different but lacked SAUSAGE flavor and the eggs weren’t anywhere near as well done as last weekends. The hash browns didn’t require a Deer Hunteresqe turn at spice roulette but they weren’t seasoned much at all, so which is worse?

Standout #1: the cheddar scallion biscuit was super. It held a crisp exterior and the cheese and onion in the center stood out even with the load atop them. Sadly, that confirmed the thin flavor of the gravy.


This Didn't Taste Much Like Cheese

Applesauce Was Good...Helped When Mixed With Mac...Yeah Surprised Me Too

The baked mac and cheese contains cheddar, brie, parm and mozz with some cream. The sauce was rich and thick, the pasta wasn’t overdone, the brioche crumbs on top were nice. There was just something missing, what was it? Oh, yeah, CHEESE. There was some in it, it just didn’t taste much like cheese at all.

Standout #2: the house made applesauce was fresh, rustic and had some warm spices that added interest but left the concoction tasting much like apple. MB started mixing some of the apple in with the mac which made it strangely better, who knew?

A Reuben With Out Any Reubenosity

Tater Salad Rules. Ron White Would Be Proud

The Reuben, also featured on the show, is a labor of love with each component (rye, thousand island, corned beef and sauerkraut) all being made in house. I have great respect for people who work that hard. It looked great. The strips of corned beef were oddly thick which would have been fine but the intensity of flavor for each component of the sandwich was listed in order in the parentheses above. It tasted mostly of rye which was fine but overpowered thin thousand, uncorned beef and sourless kraut. I nearly felt guilty how little I enjoyed something that takes so much effort but I was quickly over it.

Standout #3: the potato salad contained well cooked taters in a seasoned mayo bind which had a bit of horseradish or a mustard with something like it to give it a lift, it was my favorite bite of the day but couldn’t help the sandwich. Slyman's and Primo's are way safe.

Is It Meant To Convert Me?

Not When Half The Fruit Is Gone 12 Rounds

At this point my head was starting to seek out understanding and started to run down the path of conspiracy. It hits me. Lucky’s is progressive, farm to table, support locals, etc. Sometime progressive restaurateurs are progressive in other ways…hmmmm. Are they using TV appearances to lure in meat eaters, feeding them ehhhhh meat dishes in an effort to lure them to the righteousness of vegetarian/vegan/fruititarian wholeness? It weirdly made some sense. Then we tried the house made granola with loads of grains in different forms, nuts, dried and fresh fruits served with plain yogurt and honey. This would be the quintessential draw and it failed as well. The granola was alright but even the fresh fruit topping the dish was beat up pretty bad. I would rather have more fresh blueberries than the variety that pale lifeless strawberries and blown out raspberries might bring. I have not converted, bring the flesh.

Peach and Cherryless Cobbler

Wasn't Much Going On In Chocolate/Salted Caramel

Carrot Cake Better. Icing Same.

Zucchini Even Better. Icing Same.

The dessert case looked appealing but we were less motivated after brunch but we wanted to find some redemption outside of the three small components. We had peach-cherry cobbler, dark chocolate cupcake with salted caramel butter cream, carrot cake with cream cheese butter cream and zucchini bread with more butter cream all packed into a box. The cobbler was devoid of cherries and the crumble topping had a nice oatey flavor but had sogged all the way through losing worthwhile texture. The chocolate salted caramel was below average from top to bottom but the two veggie cakes were much better. They use all butter creams which, when warm, gives them a luscious texture but the flavors in them are also forcibly restrained which is more forgivable with the better cakes.

I came to Lucky’s with some serious expectations, nearly all of which went unfulfilled. Grumpy’s had a much more fun atmosphere and the food turned out about the same. Lucky’s was timid from beginning to end, even in dishes where some intensity is requisite. Plus for the average cover price, these plates should make you stand up and applaud instead of yawn. Our visit left me without reason to return.




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