In the world of restaurants, most start up operations are big-ticket productions where you sense the owners have placed everything on the line in hopes of becoming the next Johnny’s or Giovani’s. That, or they are another soulless chain outlet. Instead, how about a small, new place where the menu’s back panel boasts a thoughtful tract about how America’s vast and fortunate abundance, a missive that seems taken right out of “Diet for a Small Planet.” No preaching here: Its terrific setting foot in Tastebuds, a lively but unassuming spot on the fringes of Cleveland State University’s campus. Walls painted in deep, rich shades; hip servers who welcome you with warmth, not attitude; and a packed menu presented in handwritten style on boldly colored fliers.
It all adds up to a place where the food is straightforward and satisfying, with a fun atmosphere and service that is as quick and laid back as you want it to be
Step up to the counter and choose your entree from hot and cold packed with fresh-looking and tasting fare. On three visits, even toward the end of the restaurant’s fairly short workday, I could spot nothing that looked withered or past its prime. Plastic containers are well-packed, no stinting on quantity.
Plenty of apple slices and grape tomatoes topped the Blue Walnut ($5.95), and there was no shortage of blue cheese, toasted walnuts and crisp bacon crumbles. Roasted Toasted and Grilled ($6.95 with chicken, $5.95 without) was an interesting twist; garlicky roasted potatoes, toasted pine nuts and grilled bell pepper account for the name, and the combo accounts for the decidedly different take on the usual salad options. Almond Orange and the Chicken Ceasar (each, $6.95) were just what you’d expect; mandarins, toasted almonds, plus crisp shards of celery and pungent green onions on the former, and the usual parmesan-black-olive-cruton combo on the latter.
Among the hot sandwiches, you’ll do fine ordering the Italian Chicken ($5.95), but ask if they can hold the melted mozzarella if you want to cut down on calories. The Plain Grilled Chicken ($5.50) is moist and tender. The Chicken Parmesan ($6.95), Friday’s daily special, was right on the money, again tender and moist, and flavorfully coated in a tender crumb crust, served with very good penne pasta loaded with fresh veggies and lightly dressed in garlic and olive oil.
As in any restaurant, if your cardiovascular honor is on the line, you’ll want to choose carefully at Tastebuds; not everything here is for the dietary purist. Some of the good soups ($2.50) are quite rich; more than enough to satisfy a laborer’s hunger. The big bowlful of New England Clam Chowder is rich and satisfying; Cream of Broccoli with Cheese was even thicker. A serviceable Minestrone offered a less-filling operation.
The friend who turned me on the place, raving about its lean options, promptly ordered the plump, moist special of fried boneless chicken breast. “I know it’s not healthy, but it looks good,” she said. She was absolutely right.
So what the heck, we shared one of the giant chocolate chip cookies ($1.25) and headed back for work. Our resolve to eat intelligently remained largely intact and so did our promise that we’d make an occasional visit to Tastebuds. Healthful and inexpensive food is rarely this good.
– Joe Crea Plain Dealer
Food and Restaurants Editor