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Taste Buds: Top Ten, part 1

Buds deliver first installment of 2012 faves Buds deliver first installment of 2012 faves

December 21, 2012

It's a week before Christmas and the Buds are off doing what they do best: eating, drinking and being merry.

But don't despair - we would never leave our dear readers without their weekly dose of all things Bud! As promised, we proudly offer you the first installment of our highly coveted Top Ten list.

No. 10: Lil' Gerardo's, Belmont St., Bellaire

Lil' Gerardo's offers fresh baked Italian-style foods, featuring homemade meatballs, bread and sauce. Patrons can treat themselves to one of Lil' Gerardo's baked or fried pepperoni rolls, old school pepperoni rolls which have extra cheese and sauce added to the inside, meatball hoagies, the meatball deluxe - a meatball hoagie served on a pepperoni roll (interesting indeed!), sausage hoagies and calzones.

But that's not all. Lil' Gerardo's also serves up homemade spaghetti and meatball dinners on the first and third Tuesday of each month and lasagna dinners on the second and fourth Tuesdays. Each dinner includes bread and rings in at 7 bucks.

Both Buds were immediately roped in by the lure of their popular pepperoni rolls. Owner Lori Vinka still uses the same recipe her father, Jerry Ciofani, made famous at his pizza shop. The large rolls rang in at $2.50 each and are worth every cent. The deep-fried rolls offer that extra crunch of texture and flavor, blending provolone and mozzarella with the pepperoni. Warm, gooey goodness!

Bud Em also ordered a meatball calzone to take home. The calzone was a bit smaller than those we've seen before but tasty just the same. The homemade dough was light and fresh and it was packed with ricotta, mozzarella and provolone cheeses. The homemade meatballs were tender and full of flavor. Delicious! Bud Em notes that it would be even better with a side of sauce, so keep that in mind when ordering.

Being a Tuesday, Bud Shaunna was delighted to get to try the homemade lasagna. This generous portion of cheesy lasagna was not too saucy and had delicious chunks of meat throughout - Bud Shaunna suspects it was a blend of sausage and beef, as the flavor was mild. Yum! Served with two slices of fresh, soft white bread, this dinner was well worth $7.

No. 9: Deep Cut Tavern, East Pike Road, Cambridge

Located a couple miles off of the Old Washington/Seneca Lake exit, the pub/restaurant touts attention-grabbing menu items such as deep fried hamburgers and pork tenderloin. Yep, that's deep fried hamburgers!

Deep Cut also offers just about every other sandwich conceivable - regular hamburgers, veggie burgers, grilled cheese, hot ham, fish, bologna, gyros, corn dogs, grilled chicken, catfish and ribeye steak - as well as salads and appetizers.

After some discussion, the duty of taking on the deep fried burger fell into Bud Em's lap. A fairly large beef patty was breaded and deep fried, then put on a bun with all the usual fixin's - lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and pickle. The burger was big and very tasty - the crispy breading gave it a little extra crunch that Bud Em found to be quite appealing. The unique burger is something one must really try themselves to fully appreciate. With a side of fried corn nuggets and a soda, the lunch, which rang in under ten dollars, was surely not the healthiest lunch Bud Em has had, but it was yummy and satisfying. Every bite was worth it.

Bud Shaunna had some trouble choosing just one meal (the 3 piece cod fishsticks were calling her name) but finally decided on the chicken quesadilla. The chicken was moist and the warm flour tortilla was filled with delicious grilled onions and green peppers and cheese. Served with sour cream and salsa on the side, this proved to be just big enough to fill a hungry Bud's belly. And this was the "small" size - Bud Shaunna wonders just how big the large quesadilla is? As a side order, Bud Shaunna ordered the potato munchers, which were tater tots with zesty cheese inside. Dee-li-cious!!

No. 8: Ruttenbucks, W. Alexander Rd., Valley Grove

Just off the Dallas Pike exit in Valley Grove, Ruttenbucks sits in a very busy area across from the truck stop. The whole restaurant had a welcoming western theme and a menu full of options - appetizers, soups, salads, tons of sandwiches, combo dinners with steak, chicken and seafood, steaks and of course, Ruttenbucks' famous ribs.

Bud Shaunna finally narrowed down her choices to the pico chicken combo, a grilled chicken breast topped with tomato-basil seasoned pico de gallo and crumbled Feta cheese. It was the Feta that sucked her in. This meal did not disappoint. The chicken breast was huge and juicy, and the pico and Feta added a delicious zing. With a generous side salad and steamed broccoli, this large dinner rang in at 11 bucks.

Bud Hubby was tempted by the steaks, but he eventually decided to get what we came for - ribs! Luckily for the Buds, it was rib night, and the special featured $2 off a full rack of ribs. With only a three buck difference between half a rack and a full rack, Bud Hubby went whole hog and ordered the full rack.

The menu boldly states that the ribs are "darn good" and it's not kidding! The ribs, slow cooked with a secret seasoning and then charbroiled with a honey BBQ sauce, were so tender that the meat was falling off the bones. The slightly sweet, slightly smokey flavor had Bud Hubby licking his fingers - until he couldn't eat anymore and requested a to-go box. His meal rang in just under 20 bucks and included a side salad, seasoned fries and a soda.

No. 7: The Soup Shack, Centre Market, Wheeling

Opened late in 2009 by Frank Warren, The Soup Shack serves up "soup for everyone." The menu isn't limited to just the homemade soups, it also includes salads with homemade dressings, sandwiches and various daily specials. The soup menu varies daily, but you can now check out their Facebook page (The Soup Shack) for a run down of what's available. The menu also features a spinach ricotta pie (YUM!) as well as sandwiches made of various deli meats, egg salad, tuna, veggie burger, portabella and even a hummus taco which surely had aroused the Buds' curiosity.

Bud Em decided to get a bowl of the roasted red pepper soup with a side spinach salad for just $6.25.

The soup was rich and flavorful, creamy and delicious. Bud Em loved the subtle smokey sweet flavor of the red peppers. The salad was fantastic. A bed of fresh baby spinach was topped with fresh basil, tomato, mushrooms, Feta and was topped with honey toasted almonds. Following Warren's suggestion, Bud Em opted for the sweet and sour ginger dressing. With a can of cold soda, this turned out to be one of the best meals Bud Em has had in a while.

Bud Shaunna decided to go with a soup and sandwich combo which rang in at $5.50. After tasting the split pea soup (The Soup Shack happily allows you to sample the soup before you buy it) which was quite tasty, Bud Shaunna decided to go with something more homey and opted for chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich was made with nutty oat bread and it was toasted perfectly. This bread was to die for! Just enough sweetness and full of flavor. Perfect for dunking into the soup, filled with large chunks of chicken, vegetables and noodles. So filling, and who can beat that price for delicious comfort food?

No 6: Chico Fiesta, Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton

Chico Fiesta proudly serves up authentic Mexican cuisine which is homemade and prepared fresh daily. Decorated in bright colors with colorful artwork, painted table tops and comfy looking chairs, the Buds found the atmosphere to be warm and inviting.

The menu features a large selection of lunch specials, appetizers, a la carte items, chicken, steak, vegetarian and seafood dishes, special dinners, fajitas, salads and desserts.

The Buds noted some of the more interesting special dinners included Chico Chicken (grilled chicken and shrimp with pineapple covered with melted cheese and served with rice, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and tortillas - WOW!), and the Parrillida for one or two persons (grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, pork and chorizo cooked with onions and bell peppers served with rice, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo and tortillas).

*Sigh* Decisions, decisions!

Bud Em ultimately settled on one of the very affordable lunch specials: Lunch Fajitas Yucatan. Ringing in at $7.95, the dish includes choice of grilled beef or chicken cooked with red and green bell peppers, onions, yellow and green zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower. Three warm tortillas and a side of both rice and beans rounds out the bountiful entree.

The meal was pretty fantastic. The colorful mixture of veggies created a lovely and appetizing dish. Everything was fresh and tasty and not overly seasoned or greasy. The amount of food was certainly overwhelming, especially for a lunch portion. Bud Em loved every bite and would certainly order this dish again.

Bud Shaunna opted for the pick three "Make Your Own Combination" by ordering a chicken chimichanga, a beef enchilada and beans. The chimi was super! It had been quite a while since Bud Shaunna sunk her teeth in the crispy fried, cheesey-sauce goodness of a chimichanga, and this certainly did not disappoint! The flavorful enchilada, topped with a red sauce, was stuffed with tons of ground beef. At just $7.25, this was certainly more than enough food for a great lunch.

Stay tuned... next week the Buds serve up our top 5!

The Buds can be reached at tastebuds@timesleader



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