The Wanderer: “More sauerkraut balls, please!”

Ed. note: Welcome another new writer to the Devil Strip family, Holly Brown! She’s going to be writing a food column for us. Introducing… THE WANDERER! 

I’m an Akron transplant. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve learned a few things. Firstly, whenever you tell an Akronite that you just moved to Akron, be prepared to answer the question: “Why?

Also: “Have you ever had sauerkraut balls?”

Well, I have.

The first time, I was starving. I had spent the entire day running errands all around (what felt like) the entire state of Ohio. When I finally sat down at Rockne’s, only one thing was on my mind: food.

“I think it’s time you try sauerkraut balls,” my friend said from across the table.

Initiation time. Now was the moment I would find out exactly how “Akron” I’d really become. Though didn’t know what to expect, I was all in. I was ready to give this Northeastern Ohio delicacy a whirl, despite–truth be told–not being a huge sauerkraut fan. I find it affronting in the same way that horseradish is, but…

Life experience has taught me that everything deep fried is good, but I didn’t expect sauerkraut balls to be that damn good. There’s something about the paradox between the texture and flavor. The crunchy, deep-fried shell filled with mushy sauerkraut–that mushy-ness anything but the flavorless mush you expect–tangy, a bit aggressive, unable to be ignored.

I was sold right then and there.

So why do I love Akron? For much the same reason I fell for the sauerkraut balls.

This city is unlike any place I’ve ever been because it is simultaneously welcoming and hardened. Colloquially called “city-lite” by more than a few, it presents challenges, then talks you through them. There’s just something about the people here.

And, the food. It doesn’t have to be particular to Akron for Akron to do it particularly well.

Like, grilled cheeses. At the Lockview, you’re forced to pick from thirteen delicious types of gourmet grilled cheeses. Do I want artichokes on my sandwich tonight? Perhaps mashed potatoes and gravy? Each is served with a side of my all-time favorite childhood (also, post night-out-drinking) snack: Goldfish. If you’re feeling adventurous, have sweet potato fries with some of that sriracha ketchup. They even garnish your grilled cheese with a tiny umbrella and when that gooey masterpiece is placed in front of me, I am seven years old again, home sick from school, lying on the couch with a blanket and a lunch that my mom made for me. But at the same time I’m eating goat cheese, Swiss cheese, portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions: the very same things that would have caused my seven-year-old self’s nose to crinkle.

Holly sparkles at Crave. (Fireworks not required.)
Holly sparkles at Crave. (Fireworks not required.)

How about chicken and waffles? An American staple. Crave serves the waffles with cinnamon, sage and maple foam as well as syrup. Or go for some upper East Coast comfort food. Being from New England, I take lobster very seriously so pairing it with pineapple tarragon vinaigrette in a salad? I jumped at the chance. Forever a Boston girl, my heart may be back home but my tastebuds were happy to be here.

Harnessing my spirit of adventurousness means making tough choices, which Urban Eats requires every time I go. Because their menu changes monthly, something new is always added to the list of things I must choose between. The sandwiches, soups and paninis are as eye-catching as the pop art on the walls. But hey, gals love them some chicken salad right? Or, is it gals love them some pad thai? Well, I can’t wait for the thai chicken salad wrap to return because it mixes the familiar with a taste that expands my culinary palette. Plus the peanuts add a nice little crunch.

Mr. Zub’s Deli has a sandwich literally stuffed with mac and cheese and bacon, and named Hightower after Bubba Smith’s character in the movie “Police Academy”. It’s the the kind of sandwich I want to spend the rest of my life with, that is, a sandwich that almost transcends being a sandwich, a sandwich that says “hey, I can put whatever the hell I want between my slices and you can just deal with it”.

Swenson’s drive-ins deliver what may be the epitome of good ol’ American comfort food: the Galley Boy, a cheeseburger smothered in some delicious mystery sauce and stabbed with a green-olived toothpick. Want fries with that? I’ll take my down home American potatoes as teezers, filled with cheese and jalapeños. Plus, the whole time I get to sit in my car and watch young guys race each other across the parking lot to feed me. A dream come true.

The irony is that when you answer the “Why Akron?” with your gushing about all these culinary delights–and the bars, neighborhoods, people, events, etc.–Akronites heartily agreed with you. That question doesn’t come from a place of insecurity but, perhaps, honest surprise that you found out their secret. You’ll hear how happy they are that you love it, that they’re glad you’re here and feel at home, that you seem like you’ve been here all of your life–and that, hell yeah, this place is pretty damn good, now that you mention it. They aren’t messing with you; they really mean this stuff. Akronites are proud of what makes Akron, well, Akron.

Which leads to the next thing you should prepare to hear if you’re new: More food recommendations.

Fortunately, I’m a girl with a healthy appetite and I could talk about food for days. Days. I love nothing more in this world than a good meal. So, I’m going to level with you; I think Akron is just like one big sauerkraut ball. Deep-fried homey goodness. Hard around the outside and filled with a punchy, fermented bite. But soft, warm and inviting. Comfort with an edge.

[su_box title=”Meet… The Wanderer”]

Holly Brown, lover of food and toothless, claw-less, meow-less cat.


Holly Brown currently lives in Akron (with her toothless, claw-less, meow-less cat, Hedwig) where she is a poetry candidate at the NEOMFA. She loves many things, notably: food (both cooking and eating it), reading everything, painting with a lot of color, elephants, bees and the color yellow. She also thoroughly enjoys adventures of any kind and hopes to spend her life exploring, and then writing about it.[/su_box]