Friday, October 30, 2009

The holiday buzz returns

Great Lakes Brewing Company has given us an early reason to be merry: the return of Christmas Ale.

The brewery kicked off the holiday season early with a tapping party in the bar Tuesday at lunchtime this Tuesday and an official release at midnight last night. Faithful fans were allowed to buy one case each until 1 a.m. last night at the brewery gift shop on Market Avenue, across from the West Side Market. Six-packs are now available for purchase there.

Chances are, you haven’t forgotten the taste of this Cleveland tradition, but let us refresh your memory just in case. The brew includes honey, ginger, and cinnamon, mixed together for a spicy flavor that lingers long after it’s been consumed (as does the buzz). The popular ale has been a hallmark of Cleveland's Christmas seasons since about 1990, and the suspense we feel throughout the remaining winter, spring, and summer months has made beer-lovers crave and demand it every year since.

The beer hits stores Monday, but it's already available on tap at the brewery. The shortages of years past are unlikely — for a while, at least. We hear production has increased 22% this year, with thousands of barrels to go around.

So bring your thirst over to Market Street and rejoice.

To read our article about Christmas Ale from the magazine's December 2008 Cleveland beer package, click here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Give, Learn, Eat

Some great food themed fundraisers and classes coming up in the next few weeks. Mark your calendars, line-up a spouse or a friend to bring along, and take advantage of the opportunities to donate, discover, and dine.

Cuyahoga County Community College hospitality students go toque to toque for the “Cleveland Culinary Challenge” on Wednesday, November 4th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm at the Metropolitan Campus of Tri-C. There are five teams, each made up of two aspiring chefs. In preparation for the competition, each group got some coaching from a pro: Doug Katz, fire food and drink; Sergio Abramof, Sergio’s and Sarava; Zach Bruell, Parallax, Table 45, and L’Albatros; Marlin Kaplan, One Walnut and Luxe ; and Steve Schimoler, Crop Bistro. While guests nibble hors d’oeuvres and listen to live music, the kids will prep a dish featuring a special ingredient. I’m one of three judges deciding which masterpiece is the winner. The event is co-sponsored by Positively Cleveland and proceeds support paid culinary internships for the program’s students.

For those who want to get in on the action themselves Tri-C ‘s hospitality faculty are teaching hands on classes evenings and weekends for non-professionals. There are one time, how-to sessions in Knife Skills I and II, November 7 and 21; Winter Holiday Desserts, November 10; Pies and Tarts, November 14; and Italian Feast, November 17. Information and registration at or 866-933-5178

Dames Dish for the Holidays is the annual fundraiser for the Cleveland chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization for women of achievement in the culinary and hospitality professions. Find inspiration for your own entertaining menus (and take home recipes), as you sample appetizers and desserts made by local chefs and Les Dames members accompanied by wonderful wines. It will be held Friday, November 6th from 5:30-8:30 PM at the Trevarrow Kitchen Showroom in Parma. Full disclosure- I am a Dame and will be cooking for the event, and I don’t want to deal with any leftovers. The money we raise goes to help projects promoting local sustainable food and agriculture. Pre-paid reservations required. Call 216-831-3767 and ask for Angela Williams.

Nurture the baker in you by signing up for a Film Feast dubbed the Cookie Jar at Sur La Table on November 21. Chef Bob Sferra of Culinary Occasions is leading this family-friendly Saturday afternoon class in the art of cookie decorating to benefit the Cleveland International Film Festival. Reserve a seat for the sprinkle and icing tutorial online or by calling 216-623-3456, ext.14.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cocktail Culture Swap

Reality tv has given us “Wife Swap” and “Trading Spouses.” These shows hold no attraction for me, but there is an upcoming exchange that has me all excited. On Monday and Tuesday nights, Oct 26 and 27, gin slingers from Chicago’s Bar DeVille are taking over at The Velvet Tango Room, Cleveland’s shrine to fine spirits.

They’ll be shaking up some signature cocktails to give us locals a taste of what their guests get back home. I’ve heard they do one with chartreuse called the Songbird, named Best New Cocktail this year by the Chicago Reader. They’ll also give us their take on classics like the Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy that are VTR staples, (“They take a more interpretative approach than we do,” says Paulius Nasvytis, the man behind the Velvet), and will create a special drink to commemorate the event. Media folk like me get pre-sips at a private reception first. Pouring for the public starts at 8 PM.
Carol makes it happen at the VTR

Next month, on November 9 and 10, VTR bartenders will do the same, plying the liquid arts for the Windy City crowd. No doubt they’ll wow them with a combination of finesse and flair. But this is no mix off. There’s nothing competitive about the switch and everybody wins, especially those who belly up to the bar at either location to buy one of these carefully crafted libations.
The DeVille Pour

The two places, I’m told, share a philosophy – and details of décor- that makes the switch seamless and natural. Both endeavor to return cocktails- and those who enjoy them- to a better time, before shortcuts and cheap imitations became the norm. Every drink embodies a sense of elegance and class, the best ingredients handled with the best intentions. If the bartenders from Chicago are indeed motivated by the same quest for perfection as those I know and admire at the VTR, then the experience they’re bringing to Cleveland promises to be deliciously memorable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Michael Symon’s New Arena

We had lunch with Iron Chef Michael Symon in downtown Cleveland today, but it wasn’t at his signature Lola. It was 400 feet away inside Quicken Loans Arena where Symon is putting a gourmet spin on stadium food, opening two food stands, each modeled after his newest suburban restaurants — both in menu and rustic design.

The deal between the Cavs, food and beverage provider ARAMARK, and Symon has been in the works for eight to 12 months, says Symon, who was sold on the concept for one main reason: “The Cavs are arguably the best team in the NBA, and we like to be affiliated with the best.”

Open for all Cavs home games and most arena events will be The B Spot on the main concourse level next to the team shop and Bar Symon on the club level on the fourth floor.

The B Spot boasts a modest menu of four burgers, not quite the 12 varieties Symon promises at the Eton location in Woodmere, due to open in November. But Symon says he kept it small to keep it fresh. “If we did 15 different hamburgers on a mass level here, the quality could suffer. Instead, we’re still going to use the same quality of product, but give fewer choices,” he says. “We’re going to give the basic burgers, then have a really expansive condiment section so you can build your own.”

At The Q’s B-Spot, you can choose from four burgers, a simple plain Jane with or without cheese ($7.50) to a Symon Says burger with fried bologna and slaw ($8.50), Cleveland bratwurst ($7) and even his famous Lola fries with rosemary ($4.75). Then, top any of it off with of house made pickles, picked onions, jalapenos, sweet and spicy pickles and Lola sauce.

Upstairs at Bar Symon, the menu is a scaled back version of the one found at the Avon Lake restaurant with a pork pastrami sandwich ($8.50), Symon fried chicken ($11) tossed with parsley and spicy honey, mac-and-cheese ($12.50) with rosemary and goat cheese, house made chips with a choice of two cheese dipping sauces ($4.50) and popcorn, tossed with either chili flakes, feta and oregano or smoked paprika and white cheddar ($4.50). All of these at prices similar to what you’d pay for nachos or a stadium dog — not a bad deal to enjoy signature Symon.

Also at either stand, you can wash it all down with a premium selection of beer including Rogue Dead Guy, Victory Hop Devil or Thirsty Dog.

Suite holders can opt for a few extra treats from Symon including duck confit sliders, a board of assorted sausages and picked vegetables, chilled shrimp with orange, fennel and olives and a root vegetable salad (featured in the Silver Spoons package in the May issue of Cleveland Magazine).

“It’s our interpretation of stadium food,” says Symon, an outspoken advocate for eating local and using fresh ingredients. But is there room for fresh ingredients in mass-produced stadium food? Symon told us yes. He spent the last several months working closely with ARAMARK to ensure the food at his stands offers the same fresh quality ingredients you’ll find outside of the stadium. In many cases, he adds, they are even using the same providers, specifically the same hand-ground burgers and home made bratwurst.

Best of Cleveland Party -- the Monday after

We feel loved. Hundreds of people turned out at the Rock Hall Friday night for Cleveland Magazine's fourth annual Best of Cleveland Party. Attendance keeps growing year to year -- Angelo's, one of our featured best-ofs, had to send in more pizza to feed the hungry crowd. Hollywood Shuffle and Skinny Moo played on the Rock Hall's first-floor stage.

Metromix, the events website, posted more than 50 photos from the event. Check them out here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Readers predict Mangini will last two seasons as Browns coach

The results are in from our blog's readers' poll. Asked to predict beleaguered Browns coach Eric Mangini's future, 47% of you chose the most cynical answer in our multiple-choice survey: "He'll manage to last two seasons, though he'll deserve to be fired after one."

A few of you agreed with the Sports Illustrated writer who asked whether Mangini was the worst NFL coaching hire ever: 29% agreed with the statement, "He'll get fired before the season's over."

Voting trends shifted a little after the Browns traded Braylon Edwards to Mangini's former team, the Jets. Dumping the combative wide receiver within 48 hours of his downtown fisticuffery helped boost the vote to cut the coach a break -- 23% of those voting chose: "His discipline will pay off, and the Browns will improve and earn him several years in the job. Coaches, like quarterbacks, need time to get better."

No one chose the fourth prediction: "He'll be gone right after the season's ignominious end."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Buffalo soldiers documentary premieres at Cleveland library today

Inside Buffalo, a new documentary about African-American and Italian soldiers fighting together in World War II, premieres in Ohio today at the Cleveland Public Library.

Free screenings are at noon and 3 p.m. in the Louis Stokes Wing auditorium, East 6th St. and Superior Avenue.

Directed by Italian-Ghanaian filmmaker Fred Kuwornu, Inside Buffalo tells the story of the 92nd Infantry Division, a segregated division of African-American soldiers, fighting in Italy during World War II. They teamed up with Italian soldiers to liberate Italy from Fascist rule.

Mayor Frank Jackson helped bring the film to Cleveland. "The significant contributions of Italian and African-American soldiers to the overall war effort deserve to be recognized," the mayor said in the library's press release. "As an Italian African-American, I am very proud to have contributed to the effort of relaying this heroic story to the people of Cleveland."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleveland Beer Week opens tonight with ceremonial keg-tapping

This is the kind of event we can get behind. The first annual Cleveland Beer Week opens tonight with a ceremonial tapping of the keg at the Winking Lizard in Independence, featuring Jimmy Malone of WMJI and state Sen. Tom Patton.

(We'd be there, but we're heading to Cleveland Magazine's Best of Cleveland Party tonight.)

The rest of the week includes a dizzying lineup of tastings, tappings, talks, brewing demos, beer dinners, an IPA festival -- and, next Saturday, Brewzilla, a 50-brewery mega-tasting at the Euclid Arcade downtown.

To get into the festive spirit, and to remind you of all the malty liquid goodness of Cleveland's brewing culture, we recommend "Beer Ye, Beer Ye," our December 2008 package of stories celebrating the 75th anniversary of our constitutional right to beer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Case of the Vanishing Server

You go to a highly recommended restaurant, a place where you’ve heard the chef and the vibe are amazing. You’re primed, excited, and ready for a special experience. The menu looks good. You order. You eat. But at some point, or many times, during the meal- whether it’s early on between the aps and the entrees, or at the end when waiting for the check- your server is nowhere to be seen. If the disappearing act happens more than once over the course of an evening or lasts way too long, it becomes annoying, aggravating, and, at worst can even take some of the shimmer off an otherwise perfect outing.

My server was noticeably absent and incredibly slow Friday night at Momocho. A friend and I went there for dinner and had great food: blue crab guacamole, carnitas, and Vera Cruz style calamar, washed down with margaritas. We weren’t in a hurry and didn’t demand a lot of extra attention. But throughout our two hours at the table, our guy was just gone, unavailable to refill water glasses, invisible when we were thinking of ordering a second drink, and seemingly on a cross town trip between taking our credit cards and returning with receipts to sign.

So what gives when this happens? A cigarette break or a smooching in the storeroom? A sudden need to text or talk cell to cell? Or something more sinister- say alien abduction? I might have entertained such questions, and gotten in a snit about his apparent and repeated desertions, had I not recently read a post about the subject on Slashfood . It offers an education about what else might be happening. Check it out before you dine out again and don’t forget to scroll through the comments.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bruce to play Born to Run album at The Q Nov. 10.

Bruce Springsteen announced through Live Nation this morning that his Nov. 10 stop at Quicken Loans Arena will include a performance of his classic album Born To Run in its entirety. Springsteen and the E Street Band recently performed the entire album in Chicago. Enthusiastic fan feedback led the Boss to perform the albums Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. at various nights during his recent Giants Stadium run.

So, you want a ticket to Born To Run in Cleveland? Some seats have just been released at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Garry Trudeau speaks at Ohio Theater on "Doonesbury in a Time of War"

Last night, "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau, one of the greatest political cartoonists and comic-strip creators of our time, made a rare appearance at the Ohio Theater in Playhouse Square.

Trudeau started reminiscing about the extraordinary story of his arrival in comics as a college-age prodigy -- then shifted away from himself to a bigger subject, "Doonesbury in a Time of War": how he has depicted American soldiers' wartime experiences throughout his 40 years in cartooning.

As a thinker of his generation, Trudeau is first-rate: He can still make the amazing but oft-told story of the baby boomers' intellectual revolt fresh again. He started off with vivid memories of what it was like to live in the early '60s -- "the last moment in the history of Western culture when being young was viewed as a burden," as he put it, paraphrasing novelist Ian McEwan.

"My friends and I grew up yearning to join the adult world at the earliest possible moment," Trudeau said. He even sent away for adult plays for his youth theater groups to perform. Then he reached Yale at a time of chaotic upending, when he and his peers wanted to undo all convention. He took notes, created a fresh and irreverent and daring college-paper comic strip, and was hired right out of college to represent youth on the nation's funny pages.

Even today, baby boomers revere their own youth, Trudeau noted: A poll of boomers defined "old age" as age 80 -- "two full years past life expectancy!" he observed. "The new 'old' is death!"

After 13 minutes on youth and age, he segued into his talk's true subject with images of his early-'70s cartoons of Vietnam. In the most memorable storyline, infantryman and main character B.D. (based on St. Ignatius/Yale football star Brian Dowling) met friendly Viet Cong terrorist Phred. Mixing pride in his peace-activist past with admirable self-scrutiny, Trudeau called his B.D.-Phred strips a "hippie fantasia," in which B.D. learns how much he has in common with the bad guy, and the enemies develop a mutual dependency -- even though, "in our entire time in Vietnam, nothing remotely like this had ever once happened."

He spoke for an hour about his treatment of the soldier's experience in the strip, from the 1980s invasion of Grenada and bombing of Libya to the two Gulf wars. In 1991, a military officer who was a fan of his work secreted him through Saudi Arabia into Kuwait, where he interviewed soldiers about their battlefield experiences.

This decade, after Trudeau had B.D. lose a leg in Iraq, the Pentagon gave him open access to the Walter Reed medical center, where he's spoken at length to wounded soldiers. He's used those conversations and other encounters with vets to depict B.D.'s struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and to create two other Iraq war vet characters: Melissa, who is recovering from military sexual trauma, and Toggle, who is coping with traumatic brain injury.

Trudeau is known for giving few interviews and making few public appearances, yet he came off as very poised, intelligent, and affecting. He is now on a tour of sorts -- appearing in North Carolina tonight as I write this -- and an art exhibit, also entitled "Doonesbury in a Time of War," is on tour as well.

Trudeau referred so often to his interactions with the "military treatment community" (disabled vets and those who care for them) that I wondered if his interactions with them have drawn him farther out in the public eye -- if when he set out to research his strip, he soon found himself explaining his motives and his art, first informally, and now to his audience.

Braylon Edwards traded to Jets -- did we speak too soon about Mangini?

OK, maybe Eric Mangini isn't so bad after all. reports that the Browns have traded Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets.

The trade comes just two days after Edwards allegedly punched promoter and LeBron buddy Edward Givens outside the View nightclub on Prospect Avenue at 2:30 a.m. Monday morning.

This tells us two things. First, this town isn't big enough for LeBron and anyone hating on LeBron's buddies.

It also tells us that, whatever you might think of Mangini's rocky start as coach, he acts swiftly when a player's bad attitude causes a distraction. The deal was with the Jets, Mangini's previous team, which seems a sign that Mangini had a big hand in the move. Will it cause a shift in our poll about Mangini's future? (See the right side of the page.)

"The Jets agreed to send key special teams player Jason Trusnik, wide receiver Chansi Stuckey and a pair of draft picks to Cleveland," ESPN reports.

Far East on the Near West [Side]

Chef Zack Bruell invited me to come sample some dishes on the new fall menu at Parallax. Continuing to express his fascination with Pacific Rim cuisines, he’s put together a freshened line-up of Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese inflected dishes. I was wowed by the spot-on balance of flavors in everything I tasted: the flawless meeting and mating of sweet with sour, the just-right saltiness, the richness of meat and seafood offset with spice, vinegar, and citrus. One word describes Bruell’s culinary concepts, the ability of his kitchen team to execute them, and my experience last Friday night: impeccable.

I let the in-house experts choose glass pours to go with each dish and the selections- white with meat, red with fish- surprised and pleased. The pours, based on sauces and seasonings, rather then the traditional paradigm, really brought out the best in the food.

Here’s what I ate and drank:
-lettuce wraps filled with slow roasted pork, served with spicy Korean kimchee and pickled onions and peppers
2007 Von Buhl Armand Riesling Kabinett
-braised short rib pot stickers
2008 Hiedler Grüner Veltliner
-roasted beet and ginger salad with curried cashews
2006 Soave Classico Inama
-seared scallops with pickled plum sauce and coconut rice
2004 Maison Faively Pinot Noir
- fennel-coriander crusted seared tuna with pickled shiitakes and red ver jus
2006 Castello Sonnino Chianti di Montespertoli

Tried two desserts, both outstanding and noteworthy for a light hand with the sugar: lemongrass crème brulee and ginger cheesecake with grapefruit almond crust.

Lunch is also now available at the W.11th Street spot. Dine Asian on sushi, a Vietnamese sub, and Japanese fried chicken or stick to more all American- though definitely scaled up- fare like a cobb salad, chili dog, or walleye sandwich.

If you haven't ever been to Parallax, or haven't been there in a while, I'd say now's the time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Brady Quinn spotted at Common show

Common, the rapper/actor who hails from Chicago, put on a great performance at the House of Blues Thursday night, albeit for a high price tag. (Who's got $43 bucks to drop on a weeknight show?) But the rapper is worth it in my opinion and reminds me what's good about true hip-hop. And by that I mean hip-hop that isn't in the played-out radio rotation.

The most memorable part of the night was when Common dropped Brady Quinn's name in his freestyle bit as he pointed to where the Cleveland Brown's now-benched starting quarterback was seated in the upper level. Guess Brady Quinn and I have something in Common. Ooh, bad pun, I know.

Check out my sighting of Quinn below.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mangini: worst coaching hire ever?

Now that Tribe manager Eric Wedge is about to become history, it's time for frustrated Cleveland sports fans to focus our frustration on another hapless team leader: 0-3 Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Last week, Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated's Web site asked if Mangini (pictured) was the worst NFL coaching hire ever:

I cannot stand the lack of respect he has shown for the team's history, the Mickey Mouse game he plays with quarterbacks, the amazing knack he has for getting his players to not play hard for him or the stupid fines he hands out like he's Principal Vernon from "The Breakfast Club." Don't mess with the bull, young man, you'll get the horns. Posnanski admitted it was a burst of fan hyperbole ("fanbole," he called it). But would he still qualify his statement today, after Mangini's announcement that he's replacing Brady Quinn with Derek Anderson as the Browns' starting quarterback?

OK, we'll admit, this blog has shown some Quinn bias before. But the quarterback-controversy consensus here in the Cleveland Magazine offices is: You've got to give your young talent time to learn and get comfortable, not pull them after 2 1/2 games. Troy Aikman went 1-15 in his rookie year, and the Cowboys didn't bench him. OK, so Quinn might not be an Aikman, but Browns fans know what Anderson can and can't do by now, even if Mangini doesn't.

So how long will Mangini last as coach of the Browns? Please vote in our blog poll, at the top of the right column.

(To read Kim Schneider's January 2008 profile of Quinn and Joe Thomas, click here.)