Friday, Dec 15, 2017
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

Good friends are the perfect companions for good food

Talk about contrasts on the Toledo dining scene. Not only were two recent experiences A-plus in quality, but both were on the section of Airport Highway that I travel during my escapes to the big city from Posey Lake.

At Bobby V's American Grill it was macaroni and cheese and apple bread pudding. At Fifi's it was pate, vichyssoise, and ruby trout. How is that for a contrast in culinary offerings?

Bobby V's, at the corner of Albon Road and Airport, is a goal come true for business partners who grew up in the restaurant business. Kevin Bowers is the grandson of Bob Verbon, one-time owner of the Vagabond and the Embers, now the location of Mancy's Italian. Matt Sofo is the son of Carl Sofo, who owned Tratorria in Sylvania and for many years operated Casa de Maria with his sister Marie on Summit Street in Point Place. Kevin was for many years employed by Main Street Ventures, and he and Matt worked together at Real Seafood, one of several Main Street restaurants. Cindy Verbon, Kevin's aunt, is behind the bar.

Dueling Meat Loaves, number one on their list of signature dishes, clearly identifies their intention to feature comfort foods. Matt makes standard, old-fashioned meat loaf with a ketchup glaze while Kevin grinds blanched almonds as a substitute for bread crumbs and finishes it with a demi glaze. The two loaves are one entree. I thought $9 for mac and cheese was pricey until the large serving with a generous portion of bacon was served. Shell-style pasta, rather than the usual elbow, also makes it different. Corn chowder with bacon topping and beef stroganoff are also in the menu's comfort zone and horseradish encrusted whitefish is another signature dish.

Although Matt and Kevin hope to make most of the dishes from scratch, they shop at a neighbor's bakery for the main ingredient in the bread pudding. The apple fritters in the pudding are from MacQueen's. It is served warm with vanilla sauce.

I often joke that Fifi's is my country club because of its proximity to the motel where I stay frequently. But this time it was a special occasion.

How many times had I heard Florence Oberle, of Grand Rapids, Ohio, exclaim, "I have never been to Fifi's"? What better reason could there be to respond to such a dilemma than for Ms. Oberle's 97th birthday?

Personalized menus listing the selected items marked each of the seven dinner places. The shared appetizers were blue cheese pate, the house chicken liver pate, and baked brie with fresh fruit. Entree choices were limited to a filet or the trout, a product from Quebec that in flavor and texture is a close cousin to red salmon. Cognac dressing is a given for a Fifi's salad. It has been on the menu most of the restaurant's 31 years. Beets and horseradish, basil and parmesan, and parsley root added to a trio of designer mashed potatoes introduced color along with flavor to each plate.

Aniko, who heads Fifi's kitchen staff, came up with a quick answer when a vegetarian entree was needed for one guest. The guest said she would be happy with a salad, but Aniko came to the dietary rescue with a mega portabella mushroom, topped with cheese and layered with vegetables.

Because Ms. Oberle is a champion baker who bakes cakes, cookies, or a pie nearly every day, the kind of cake chosen for her birthday is always a challenge for her friends. Last year we embraced the cupcake trend with several designs that were baked by Shelby Simpson, of Blissfield. This year's celebration cake required some serious scouting.

Not many people, and no bakery that I know of, make Dobos Tortes, the 12-layer masterpieces that are smothered in rich chocolate and oozing with butter. Its origin is credited to Austrian pastry chef Josef Dobos, but it is more commonly considered a Hungarian pastry. Elizabeth Toth of Toledo gave me her recipe a few years ago, but it just seemed like too much effort to make.

After several telephone inquiries, the call to Marlene Danko solved the problem. The Dobos Tortes are one of her specialties, but she also is known for authentic Hungarian pastries at the Perrysburg Thursday market and at the Birmingham ethnic festival. Because Ms. Danko bakes the thin layers on a cookie sheet instead of round cake pans, the completed cake was a rectangle, measuring 5 1/2 by 16 inches, or half the size of a cookie sheet. The 12 cake layers that were sealed with buttery chocolate frosting were the thickness of fluffy pancakes.

Because Ms. Oberle is known for her rose gardens and for several years opened them to the public for teas, the Dobos Torte was dressed with long-stemmed roses, one for each guest to take home.

The 97-year-old extended the best birthday wish of all: "Remember that Emerson said 'We do not find our friends. God sends them to us.'"

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.

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