CUYAHOGA FALLS – He couldn't boil water and he burnt the toast when he first tried to cook, but after 31 years as a head cook of his own bistro, Tom Metlovski is serving up meals to please the eye and palate.
Village Gardens, 2437 State Road, is family-owned and known for its scratch-made soups and steaks, chops and Macedonian specialties. It is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The restaurant has a bar and tables for 64 people inside with an additional 20 seats on the patio, which is open during nice weather.
Metlovski said he and his father-in-law, the late John Spiroff, built the restaurant building in 1986.
"We said let's do something for ourselves," Metlovski said. "What about a restaurant?"
Metlovski, who had limited cooking skills, spent four days in Rochester, New York, with his cousin who taught him the basics and gave him a crash course in restaurant cooking.
"In the beginning, I made basic breakfast and lunch meals with one dinner at night," Metlovski said.
Now the Village Gardens offers a full menu with fresh ingredients, homemade soups like Macedonia Bean Soup and special dinner options like a grilled salmon over zoodles (zucchini noodles) with pesto garlic cream sauce.
"We make home-cooked meals with great products at reasonable prices," Metlovski said. "I've kept my prices low even when everything is more expensive to buy."
He says the menu includes everything people like, including pasta, omelets, sandwiches, homemade burgers and soups.
"We bring in fresh produce," he said. "I don't like frozen or canned."
In addition, the cooks will cater to the special needs of diners.
"If we have the items, we'll make it," Metlovski said. "We cater to people's needs."
The Village Gardens combines Metlovski's passion for food and music.
Every Friday night from 9 p.m. to midnight a musical group entertains guests, he said. The music ranges from jazz, rhythm and blues to lite rock.
Metlovski has emphasized community and has been generous, offering a free Thanksgiving dinner for the past 11 years.
His wife, Vicky, died of cancer March 21, 2013, and nearly every year they have a golf outing to raise money for the Falls Cancer Club, which pays the bills and for prescriptions for Cuyahoga Falls residents with cancer.
The Vicky Cheeseburger Deluxe is a quarter pound beef patty with lettuce tomato, mayo and American cheese with chips.
Metlovski recalls all the love, respect and outpouring of support from the community over the last 31 years and especially after his wife died.
To honor the city, there is the Cuyahoga Falls Burger which is a grilled half pound beef patty, topped with pepper jack cheese, crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, chipotle cole slaw and a fried egg served on a brioche bun. A sharp knife comes with the sandwich to cut it into edible portions.
His twin daughters worked in the restaurant, but Stephanie is engaged and only Lauren remains on the staff.
"Every year it gets tougher," Metlovski said. "Many other places have opened, and some people think that if it's more expensive, it's better, but that's not true."
The menu includes Macedonian specialties because Metlovski is from Macedonia. When he was 10 years old, his family moved to Indiana for a better life. He met Vicky and moved to Ohio in 1986.
"People come from all over the world for the opportunities here," Metlovski said.
The Chicken Vlaki is a Macedonian sandwich with marinated chicken grilled with onions, peppers, lettuce, tomato, feta cheese and Italian dressing and served on pita bread.
For a meal, the Macedonian Kebapi Dinner offers five kebab's grilled and served with chopped onion, rice and homemade tzatziki sauce.
After 31 years, Metlovski is thinking about the future and as long as his health allows, he'll continue cooking for his customers, but someday he may indulge his other passions and ride his motorcycle more, take in a baseball game or two and spend more time with his family.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org