Owners Ely (pronounced Ay-lee) and Jim Pugh said business has tripled since it opened in 2008 inside The Bread Chef a few doors down from its current location. Once the concept of nutritious, take-home food caught on, Ely’s expanded into its own space in 2011, offering seating for 15.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
BOARDMAN – More people are looking beyond the pasture when it comes to dining out.
For proof, stop by Ely’s To Go any day during the lunchtime rush. The Western Reserve eatery serves up delicious vegan fare that’s about as far from mass-produced as it gets.
While this space is usually dedicated to reviews for die-hard meat lovers, Rust Belt Dining has decided to branch out, covering more of the Mahoning Valley’s delicious dining landscape.
At Ely’s, the focus is on local and organic ingredients. Ely, who is from Vietnam, said whenever possible, she and her husband source ingredients close to home to reduce environmental impact.
There isn’t a set menu at Ely’s, but rather a revolving schedule of soups, salads, baked goods and “lunchboxes,” a daily special packaged to go. People who dine in can reheat meals in a microwave at the restaurant.
The brilliance of a place like Ely’s lies in its simplicity. The staff artfully prepares the food, cutting fresh fruits and vegetables and arranging them like artwork in recyclable containers. And when the daily specials run out, that’s it. The staff begins working on the next day’s meal.
Staffers get to know their customers and believe in what they’re selling – a gourmet experience in a low-key setting that keeps people coming back.
The Urbach family of Cornersburg – Ralf and Angela, and kids, Reese, 9, and Rowan, 7, dined at Ely’s recently when the kids were on spring break.
The Urbachs said they like to support local business and dined on salads while the kids ate “chicken” nuggets.
Rowan said he enjoyed the meal and liked the idea behind the restaurant. “They kind of think out of the box and they don’t use meat from animals,” he said.
The Urbachs like to expose their kids to new experiences, and Ralf said a community table at Ely’s is perfect for that. He also likes that the menu is limited, forcing customers to try new things.
The Pughs previously owned Lock 24 in Elkton, where the menu was heavy on wild game. Ely went vegan, followed soon after by Jim, and the two decided it was time to switch gears.
The day I popped in, I ordered Russian cabbage soup – a rich, savory broth with cabbage, carrots, celery, fire-roasted tomatoes and raisins for a hint of sweetness. Jim said the recipe was adapted from one used at a hotel on Capital Hill where the couple met in the 1970s.
The soup, which I plan to recreate at home, was perfectly seasoned and served with a piece of crusty bread. Drink choices included house-brewed iced coffee, iced green tea, coconut water, raw vanilla date almond milk, an exceptional green smoothie made to order and a seasonal lemonade.
In warmer months, it’s lavender lemonade, which is kind of like a beautiful summer day in a glass, both bright and tart. Introduced more recently is a very popular winter lemonade called “Kapow.”
This $3 shot, alone, is reason enough to stop at Ely’s. The warming elixir combines lemon and lime juice and gets a kick from turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne. Its gentle sweetness comes from agave nectar.
“I do believe in the yin and yang of things and we do eat according to the seasons,” Ely said.
I rounded out my meal with a gluten-free muffin studded with juicy chunks of champagne mango and strawberry. Baked goods without gluten have a reputation of being dense, dry, and even crumbly.
I wouldn’t have known this muffin was gluten-free if Jim hadn’t pointed it out. It was moist and held together well. There was a generous portion of fruit from top to bottom and the sweet, crumbly top was just enough to give me a sweet fix.
The day I visited, Ely’s menu included a cilantro-pesto “meatball” sandwich with pear-ginger slaw on ciabatta and a veggie supreme sandwich with BBQ cauliflower, mesquite chickpeas and spinach on ciabatta, both $7.75. The “lunchbox,” also $7.75, included whole-wheat pasta, white beans, zucchini, sundried tomatoes and a cashew “alfredo” sauce. Quinoa salad, spring rolls and a house salad were also on the menu.
Ely’s is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday at 850 E. Western Reserve Rd. The daily menu is posted on Facebook and Instagram, and the restaurant’s website has links to both.
Even if you like a hunk of meat with your vegetables, step outside your comfort zone and stop at Ely’s. I promise you won’t regret it.