The Epicurean: Amherst, a Low-Key Food Paradise

Matt Segall, Columnist

I hear so much talk about how Oberlin needs an Indian or a Thai restaurant — or whatever the complainer is craving at the time. But northeast Ohio itself has such a vast culinary identity, which I would also like to see better represented in Oberlin. Sal and Al’s Diner, only a 10-minute drive away in Amherst, captures Northeast Ohio’s culinary profile better than any other restaurant I have visited. These fine folks pride themselves on making everything they serve in-house, and it shines through on the plate and palette.

If one dish could sum up Cleveland’s food identity, it would be the pierogi. Native to Poland, Russia and Ukraine, the pierogi represents the area’s immigrant history and culture. Nowadays, pierogi variations available in Cleveland run the gamut from the traditional potato and cheese option, to a trendy beef cheek and wild mushroom variety, to a sweet peanut butter and banana dessert. Sal and Al’s sticks to the traditional end of the spectrum with a potato and cheese-filled dumpling fried in clarified butter and topped with perfectly translucent onions. The dough has a pleasant chewy texture with a good amount of resistance that complements the smooth, uniform cheesy potato filling on the inside.

Sal and Al’s offers other dishes which reflect the Hungarian population’s influence in the area such as chicken paprikash, which consists of dark chicken meat simmered in a paprika and cream sauce and served with spaetzle. Their burgers are also fantastic. Thin patties of freshly ground beef allow for beautifully crispy exteriors and lightly pink interiors and are served with a variety of classic topping combinations.

Beyond their fantastic product, Sal and Al’s offers true Midwestern hospitality. Every server I’ve had there has been charming and attentive, but not overly so. They seem like they genuinely enjoy their jobs and are proud to represent their employer. The staff are not overly trained in fine hospitality but are nice folks who have respect for their customers. For better or worse, this level of service is pretty rare these days, which makes Sal and Al’s a stand out.

Even after stuffing yourself at Sal and Al’s, it is hard to ignore the scent of fresh-baked breads and pastries wafting over from Kiedrowski’s next door. The saints that occupy the kitchen at Kiedrowski’s are true pastry innovators. Baking Buyer magazine agrees with me, as they voted Kiedrowski’s the best bakery in America. Their signature item, the Snoogle, an amazing phyllo-puff hybrid dough filled with cream cheese frosting — a testament to their mastery. Kiedrowski’s is not a one-trick pony, though. They excel at all varieties of pastries — cakes, pies, donuts, brownies, cookies and pretty much anything else you can imagine. On my most recent trip to Amherst I indulged in a divine maple bacon bar and the always-delicious Snoogle. Find out for yourself why they sell 100 dozen Snoogles every weekend.

I was tired of Oberlin’s dining options after my first semester at Oberlin, but even if you love downtown’s meager culinary offerings, do yourself a favor and make the trip to Amherst.