Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Go for the YOLO

Five minutes into my first time at Battery Park Wine Bar, I was planning a next visit and thinking about who I’d like to bring along with me. I took an instant liking to the place-the look, the feel, and the energy- and everything about the next two hours spent there confirmed that initial impression.

Open only since the beginning of December, it’s located in the former Eveready factory that is part of a new residential development in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Exposed brick walls and other elements testifying to an industrial past define the big open space but large windows, a handsome wood bar and the glow of candles speak to the current use. Tables are not crowded together, a big plus in my book, and décor is spare and simple.

There are 128 bottles on the wine list (also sold for take home consumption), 40 available by the glass. The selections are a mix of obscure, boutique producers and more recognizable labels. Mike Graley, Battery Park Wine Bar’s founder and owner, chooses them and the guy knows his juice. He has spent the past 20 years as a wine buyer for Heinen’s a day job he plans to keep for the foreseeable future. He brings a retailers sensibility to pricing his bottles, so the mark ups here are incredibly reasonable. Our threesome had an outstanding 2005 Barolo priced at about half of what most restaurants would charge.
The menu concentrates on small plates and share platters. I’m a nig fan of eating this way and turns out Graley is too. He says heavy, full-size entrees make him sleepy, especially when paired with copious amounts of wine. The execution is the work of Dimitri Ragousis- the chef behind the long gone (and much missed) Opa! on W. 25th . Making a choice was hard because every item was appealing. We had charcuterie board with housemade bread; braised lamb and feta flatbread; pommes frites with house roasted tomato ketchup and lemon feta dip; and butternut squash lasagna with hazelnut cream sauce. Each dish was a delight, so good we ate up every last bit of crumb, drop of sauce and drip of cream.

The guiding mantra here is Y.O.L.O. The catchy acronym stands for You Only Live Once and its meant to capture the treat yourself well spirit Graley wants to cultivate among his clientele. And he makes that goal accessible by making it so affordable. As part of his program to get rid the cost and pretension that can characterize wine-centric establishments, Graley’s put in a pool table and playing is free as long as you’re eating or drinking. His Happy Hour will likely cause many to feel exceptionally cheerful, as it starts earlier than most and runs longer, 3:30-7:30 Monday-Thursday with discounted appetizers, and a featured $ 4 wine and $3 beer (there are eight on tap and 25 bottled artisan brews).

If you don’t yet have plans for New Year’s Eve consider joining the festivities Battery Park Wine Bar. It’s one of the best deals in town: $15 per person at the door gets you complimentary appetizers, live music, and a champagne toast at midnight.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Stop Shop

The husband and I were at the West Side Market last Saturday afternoon- along with hundreds, maybe even a thousand others- for a musical experience. Crowded shoulder to shoulder in the aisles of the great hall, with the aroma of bratwurst, falafel, and gyros perfuming the air (an excellent alternative to the distinctive scent of many humans gathered together), we were participants in a Random Act of Culture orchestrated by the West Shore Chorale. Members gathered on the balcony to sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and many down below joined in. A flash mob event promoted via social media and the occasional old school person to person word of mouth method this was a rousing energetic outburst of music, seasonal joy and community spirit. photo by Barney Taxel

It took a few minutes for the multitudes to disperse after the final note died out, so that those who wanted to actually shop could once again make their way from stand to stand. Personally, confronted by the awesome and irresistible selection, I don’t understand how anyone could leave without buying food to take home or something to eat on the spot. We loaded up our canvas bags with ingredients for the family party we’re throwing tonight to celebrate our twins 26th birthday. The menu theme: homemade bar food favorites. The supplies included: wings from Whittaker's Poultry; Czuchraj's smokies; half sour pickles from Ritas; and big Idaho spuds for oven fried wedges from Kristi's (aka The Potato Stand)and carrots and cabbage for coleslaw at The Basketeria.

This was my second trip there in a week but the earlier visit was about gift shopping not groceries. Over the years I’ve learned that some of the best and most appreciated presents are those that can be consumed. If you’re still on the hunt for things to wrap and give, the West Side Market is full of great possibilities, and I’m not talking pounds of ground beef, raw fish, or a bag of apples. There are real treasures to be found here. To help get you started I offer these suggestions (which also qualify as a few of my favorite things):
-Urban Herbs
a salt grinder and some chunky salts to fill it; fresh and unusual spices and spice blends; or a selection of exotic grains and beans
-The Olive and the Grape
a bottle of single origin extra virgin olive oil and another of gourmet vinegar

-The Cheese Shop
some artisanal cheeses, specialty crackers and a little jar membrillo (quince paste) (heavenly with aged cheese)
-Mediterranean Imported Foods
three to six quarter pound bags of loose teas; imported preserves; or cheeses and fig almond “cake” to pair with them
-Ohio City Pasta
fresh, handmade flavored varieties of fettucine, ravioli, gnocchi and tortellini
-Narrins Spice and Sauce
hot sauces from around the world- the crazy labels and wacky names make them extra giftable
-Campbell’s Popcorn Shop
Dichotomy Corn is addictive and hand dipped chocolates are perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth, chocolate covered chiles are in a class of their own

-Mena’s Produce (outside)
boxes of luscious colorful dried fruits
-Johrhensen’s Apiary (outside)
local honey and fruit jams
-The Basketeria (outside)
sells gift cards- how cool is that- and buy $50 worth and you'll get another $5 free.


Special holiday hours this week so the West Side Market is open on Thursday.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Conversation with Bob Feller

Wednesday night, Cleveland lost a man who set the bar high for being a good person as well as a professional athlete. Bob Feller died at age 92.

I met him in the spring of 2007, when I interviewed him at his Gates Mills home for Cleveland Magazine’s Home Décor. I expected to talk about baseball, to pore over Tribe memorabilia. But I learned quickly that would have shortchanged the man.

Yes, he was a pitcher on the Cleveland Indians’ 1948 championship team. But he also volunteered to leave baseball for four years to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II — a decision he never regretted. Even though had he stayed he surely would have won more than 300 games. As it is, his 266 wins make him the Indians all-time greatest pitcher. He also threw three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters.

I was there to interview him about a favorite place in his house. So Feller showed me to his basement — a personal museum dedicated to things he loved. It held a framed American flag that flew over Babylon, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. It also included a replica of his Hall of Fame plaque, but Feller proudly led me to the flag first.

He showed me gifts he’d received from young fans. I had to prod him to tell me more about the items of historical significance.

I saw his first baseball contract — complete with a $1 signing bonus — written on the back of stationery from the Chamberlain Hotel in Des Moines. It included clauses allowing Feller to “visit his folks” and play basketball during the 1936 season. He also had the original scorecard from the only opening day no-hitter in major-league history. Feller threw it, of course. The scorecard was obscured by other, less mind-blowing items.

I asked him about Ted Williams. I wanted to know about the baseball player; Feller wanted to tell me about the man. Sure, Feller said, Williams was the best hitter he ever faced, followed closely by Stan Musial. But boy, was he a great fisherman! He thought Williams could cast a line through a keyhole — hyperbole, yes, but Feller was convincing.

He told me about his big tractor collection. Some were in his garage; most were back in Iowa. He told me Iowa has the best grass for fattening up cows.

He politely answered all my baseball questions, then said he wanted to show me something. He led me to a giant map of the world and pointed out where he was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. Then he showed me another spot, the takeoff point for the pilot — a man he said he knew — who flew the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. There was no commentary or hidden message. It was what it was, matter of fact. Just like Feller.

Before I left, so that Feller could head to his usual spot in the press box at that night’s Indians game, I took a moment to just be a fan. I told him my father would be jealous I got to spend this time with him.

“Well, you tell your dad I said hi,” he said. “And you tell him he has a pretty daughter.”

It was gracious compliment I will never forget, from a Clevelander whose achievements will never be matched.

(photo from clevelandmemory.org)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bob Feller 1918-2010

If you've lived here long enough, you probably have a Bob Feller story. Not only was the Cleveland Indians legend the city's most famous baseball player, he was also its most accessible. He went to the games. He did signings at baseball card shows. He trolled spring training. He always seemed genuinely happy to mingle with the fans. Feller once famously said that baseball was responsible for everything that he was. As one of the game's greatest ambassadors, he more than paid it back. Here is some of the great stuff written about Bob Feller today:


Over at ESPN.com, Alex Kimball reminisces about batting against a 75-year-old Bob Feller.

NPR.org senior editor Todd Holzman talks about his father, Feller and the perfect first pitch.

SI.com's Joe Posnanski has what NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra is calling the best Bob Feller obituary.

Jim Caple posted his memories of the first autograph he ever received at ESPN.com.

Tim Wendel recounts Bob Feller's famous motorcycle test at Huffington Post.

MLB.com's Marty Noble asks if anyone could throw harder than Feller.

The Plain Dealer's Bob Dolgan offers the local take.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Liquid Warmth

Kevin Wildermuth, aka Keeper Of The Bar, at The Greenhouse Tavern doesn’t just pour and shake. He’s making barrel aged cocktails and his boss Jonathon Sawyer says this is only restaurant in Ohio, serving them. I was in for dinner recently and tasted his two latest creations, Vin Chaud and a spirited mulled cider. Both were served warm. They're decidely different but pack equally big, intense and complex flavor. Sipping each was a conversation stopper. The pro in me wanted to tease out the ingredients dancing on my tongue and grabbing my attention. But the citizen drinker was just knocked out by how good they tasted.

Next day I emailed with a few questions. Clearly geeky when it comes to alcoholic beverages, Wildermuth responded with detailed descriptions of how he makes them. It was so interesting I decided to share here with only minimal editing.

Vin Chaud is spiced and heated wine that goes by different names in different cultures. In Scandinavia it is known as glögg, in Germany and Alsace (France) its called glühwein. We’re doing a Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur fortified Vin Chaud, but approaching the execution a bit backwards. Rather than mulling the wine, we are infusing the liqueur with the mulling spices, marrying the wine and Bärenjäger in a five to two ratio. Then it goes into a two-year-old uncharred American White Oak barrel, previously used to age a batch of red wine vinegar and last year’s Glögg. The fortified wine on it’s own is quite hot, alcohol wise, but this mellows the Vin Chaud, and allows all the flavors to integrate.

For the batch of mulled cider we have going, I used local apple cider with Bulleit Bourbon that I infused with cinnamon and Ohio maple syrup. The Bulleit has a high rye content, giving it a spicier flavor than some of its counterparts. The cider is mulled using traditional methods and spices first, fortified with the bourbon, and then put in a barrel that originally held Lagavulin (a single malt scotch whiskey) and after that beer. The cider is picking up a touch of smoke from its time ageing.

Winter’s still officially a week away but there’s no doubt that the season of freezin’ is already here. I can’t think of a better way to take the edge off than to wrap your mitts around one of these. Or two.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rock Hall Rorschach: Tom Waits or Neil Diamond?

It's a rock and roll Rorschach test: Which new Rock Hall inductee are you cheering for?

By tomorrow I expect my Facebook feed to fill with Neil Diamond fans, YouTube-linking to the Solitary Man as they hum "Sweet Caroline," to which I can only say what Bill Murray said in What About Bob?.



And since this is Cleveland Rock City, I expect some old-school Buzzard fans to crank up the Alice Cooper on their drives to work tomorrow.

But I've got Tom Waits spinning in my CD player tonight, gritty-growling about the Eyeball Kid, the murder in the red barn, and the 16 shells from a thirty-ought-six. He's going to change his name to Hannibal, or maybe just Rex, and maybe I will too.



Complain about who got snubbed all you want, but I think the Rock Hall voters are figuring out the right mix. Each year needs a pop star, a rocker, and a poet. That's why Leonard Cohen got in the same year as Madonna, or Patti Smith along with Van Halen.

Tom Waits doesn't get on the radio at all, not like Neil, or Alice, or even Darlene Love. But he'll give the induction ceremony a huge dose of cool.

He did the same for the House of Blues in 2006, when he swung through on an ultra-rare tour, playing with his own scarcity by staging two shows in one night, in Akron and Cleveland. His anti-scalping rules had the unintended effect of giving his second show even more of an after-hours exclusivity: he didn't go on until way past midnight and finished after 3 a.m. I just remember the vibe: the loose, improv version of his cabaret-spiked found-instrument blues.

Years ago, when I was living in Ann Arbor, I was drinking with my upstairs neighbor when she showed me the cryptic words a former tenant had scrawled inside her window frame: "Your pistol and your Bible and your sleeping pills." I recognized it instantly: lyrics from the Waits song "Who Are You?", one of the most bitter kiss-offs ever recorded.

There is something scorched and lonesome about Waits' music, something that makes you want to make a mark with it just before leaving town. It could be mistaken for a romantic feeling, but be careful. I once read a wise quote on the subject, which my Googling is not turning up, so here's an approximate version:

'I don't know why guys think owning a Tom Waits record is going to help them with women. I own all of them and it's never worked for me.' -- Tom Waits

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Give a Little, Get a Lot


Donate to Veggie U between now and Dec. 23, and you'll be doing more than helping to keep the fourth-grade Earth-to-Table curriculum alive in Cleveland schools — you'll also have a chance to win more than $2,200 worth of gift cards to restaurants and shops around Northeast Ohio.

The promotional fundraiser, run by Cleveland Foodie blogger Michelle Venorsky, raised $3,820 for the nonprofit arm of the Culinary Vegetable Institute last year. These funds saved the program in Cleveland schools. Here's how it works: Just call 419-499-7500 and reference Cleveland Foodie while making a donation. For every $5 you donate to Veggie U between now and Dec. 23, you'll be entered to win (Venorksy will pick a winner at random on Dec. 23). Read more about the fundraiser and prizes on Cleveland Foodie here.

Not familiar with Veggie U and it's great cause? Read Cleveland Magazine's July story about Farmer Lee Jones, here. He's the inspiring man behind Veggie U, the Culinary Vegetable Institute the Chef's Garden, which provides veggies, micro greens and herbs to some of the world's best chefs.

So, what are you waiting for? Give a little to help kids learn how to make better food choices, and enter for a chance to eat great all year long.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bye Bye Baricelli, Hello Washington Place

I admit to feeling an initial twinge of nostalgia when I pulled up to the corner of Cornell and Murray Hill Roads last and saw The Baricelli sign replaced with one for Washington Place Bistro and Inn. But things change. Chef Paul Minnillo closed his restaurant last July and this was a party to introduce the media to new operator Scott Kuhn and Executive Chef Jonathan Guest. I was ready to let go, move on, look around, find out what these guys were up to and, of course, eat dinner.

The place is completely though sensitively refurbished with an understated modern look that generally blends seamlessly with the original architecture of the 19th century mansion. The cheese cooler that dominated the lobby is gone- though happily Minnillo’s cheeses, along with chevre from Mackenzie Creamery are used in the kitchen - and the adjacent dining area has been turned into an inviting bar.

The evening kicked off with a selection of passed hors d’oeuvres: spoonfuls of shrimp and grits; hangar steak crostini, goat cheese strudel, and cheese puffs. Before the group split up to take their seats for a five course tasting experience, Kuhn did some welcoming and speechmaking, explaining that the all-American name of his latest venture (he also runs Burton’s Welshfield Inn , 87 West at Crocker Park, and a restaurant in Pennsylvania) is a tip of the hat to his grandfather, a passionate patriot. (Read more about Kuhn in this month's Cleveland Magazine.) Then he introduced Guest, a sweet faced, rake thin guy with a shaved head- the di rigueur style it seems for today’s young chefs- who's the man behind the menu.

To show what he can do, Guest served us a tri-colored roasted beet salad with creamy Mackenzie goat cheese ranch dressing; potato truffle pierogies from Ohio City Pasta topped with his own oxtail ragout and horseradish crème fraiche- a big hit at our table of four; scallops with butternut squash risotto; pot roast and roasted garlic mashed potatoes; pan seared salmon and an exceptional cauliflower gratin topped with crisped slices of Killbuck Valley mushrooms; and a brownie made special with the addition of sea salt, Jeni’s chocolate ice cream and a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate sauce. All these dishes and other moderatley priced comfort food favorites- meatloaf, mac-n-cheese, pork chops, rib eye steaks and burgers- are in the line-up for lunch and dinner.
This was my first taste of Guest's cooking, Everything was delicous, demonstrating both raw talent and the real world ability to execute that this young chef clearly brings to the job. I hope he’ll eventually bust out and add some options that go beyond the tried and true things we see at so many places around town, pushing the culinary envelope, and himself, a little further. The meal I had suggests he's got what it takes and that the results would be incredible.

Washington Place is now officially open to the public. They’re offering $5 cocktails and appetizers during the 4-7 PM happy hour and brunches on Sunday from 10 AM-2 PM. Wednesday’s are a bargain- $40 buys one ap for sharing, two entrees and a bottle of wine. Hey- that’s tonight. Good time to make a first visit. I'm guessing it probably won’t be your last.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

As LeBron returns, ESPN.com writer explores Cleveland's code of honor

Tomorrow night, Cleveland confronts the future it thought it had, the hero it thought it made. The whole sports world will watch as the Cavaliers confront LeBron James for the first time after the breakup.

It's our chance to show LeBron, and the country, and ourselves, that the Cavaliers' slogan, "All for One, One for All" -- the musketeers' code of humility and equality -- fits Cleveland better than star worship.

Wright Thompson gets that. He's an ESPN.com writer who visited Cleveland for the Cavs' home opener and stayed long enough to get to know the city. He's penned a first-rate piece about Cleveland's pride and preoccupations, our neuroses and our codes of honor.

Cleveland used to be the center of America's rise, he writes. This used to be a factory, and these used to be jobs, and this mill used to be a future, not a silent metaphor for the past. There are two Clevelands, the one that exists today and the ghost city floating just above it, in the memory of the people who've been here for a long time, and in the imagination of those who just arrived.

Thompson's piece avoids the too-common traps of the fly-in national writer trying to define the state of a city. He doesn't grab the most provocative thing someone tells him, doesn't gravitate to the worst disappointment. Instead, touring the city with several well-chosen guides, he listens for patterns, recurring ideas, then digs deeper.

Much like Cleveland Magazine's December package "Our Miserable Year," Thompson notes the irony in Harvey Pekar, who embodied the complete opposite of sports heroism, dying just days after LeBron's Decision.

Who will Cleveland miss more?
Thompson writes. That question is a proxy for a larger, more difficult one: Is the future of Cleveland in the image of LeBron James or Harvey Pekar?

Thompson feels the hurt LeBron inflicted on the city, but his insight into LeBron's motivation and character, gained on a drive from the Q to LeBron's mansion in Bath, is saddened, not angry.

LeBron rose above every possible obstacle. ... His greatest dream, it seems, was to make a life in a perfectly normal, nice suburban subdivision. It's so clear now. LeBron James went from poverty to the bubble of celebrity. He's spent his entire life on one of these two islands. He's not from northeast Ohio. He's from his own struggle.

He completes the thought later, when he notices LeBron's admiration for what the Saints mean to New Orleans:

Instead of grasping the golden ticket to Legend, he seemed to want the ordinary one to Star, the sporting equivalent of a perfectly normal, nice suburban subdivision. Whatever the reason, he didn't get that Cleveland felt about him the way New Orleans feels about the Saints.

There's plenty more -- poetic observations from Dennis Kucinich, dinner with Daniel Gibson at a neighborhood bar in Westlake, Lithuanian moonshine in Collinwood. More than a blogger can blog. Check out the full story here.

Whoopee for Le Oui Oui

I’m so excited. Denajua, the original queen of Cleveland crepes, is back from Paris and back in business. The new incarnation of Le Oui Oui Crepe Café- there have been two other versions in Ohio City, both long gone - is now in University Circle (11309 Euclid Avenue, 216-231-2800). And that means I can once again enjoy her wonderful savory and sweet French pancakes.

I made my first foray on Monday. The place had been open just three weeks and two days. Had a great catch up chat with Denajua (she’s a one name phenomenon like Madonna or Prince) and sampled a crepe, made from her own scratch batter, that was filled with moist chunks of chicken and sharp chedder cheese set off with a smear of fruity chutney. Every bite was perfect. Next time it’ll be ham and double crème Brie. Or maybe one with chevre, spinach and tomato. She plans to add individual gratinees (quiche but more crème fraiche than eggs) to her menu soon, further complicating my choices. Then there’s dessert to consider- and some more tough decisions- the Nutella crepe (already very popular I hear with CWRU students) or the version made with apricot preserves and sliced almonds.

This is not a real restaurant per se. Orders are placed at the counter. Dishes and utensils are disposable. Much of the food is packed to go. But there are tables and chairs for eating in. The Cafe is part of a mini food court dubbed World Market. Still a work in progress, plans for the space include a sushi stand and a deli. The Galindo family, which runs Luchita Express in an adjoining room, is the landlord. A former costume designer and street performer with a flair for the fabulous, Denajua managed to create a little atmosphere with an old curved wooden bar, a miniature old-timey street lamp, the well-dressed rooster pictured here, and the requisite model of the Eiffel Tower on the wall.

She gave her helper instructions in French and called out Au ‘voir to her customers when they left. Her voice has a distinctive sexy growl, and a timbre that suggests too many Gauloises and late nights. I sat on my stool in the window, taking it all in along with forkfuls of a warm soft buttery crepe, and for a moment Cleveland on the Cuyahoga seemed like a kissing cousin to Paris on the Seine.

Le Oui Oui Crepe Café has no website site yet but there is Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Smart Phone, Dumb Idea

The Event:I went to a newish West Side watering hole and restaurant Saturday night. Since we didn’t have reservations there was a 20 minute wait for a table. We told the hostess we’d get a drink at the bar — which wasn’t particularly crowded — while we waited. The hostess, who looked around 12, asked for a cell phone number.
Excuse me, I replied.
She repeated the request.
I asked her why she wanted it.
So I can text you when your table’s ready.

I was dumbfounded. Our party of three was going to be perched on stools, 20 feet away and within sight of her station. I refused and suggested she like, you know, come get us. How hard could it be to walk over? Apparently quite a challenge because this girl actually complained that it's tough to remember and identify patrons. My failure to cooperate meant she’d have to look up, look at me, and commit the impression to memory. Not trusting she was up to this formidable task, and sighing to indicate that I was really putting her out, our hostess wrote down that I was wearing large red earrings. By the time she made her way over, successfully picking us out from the dozen or so others, we’d decided to eat elsewhere.

The Analysis:
I didn’t particularly like the idea of sharing my number with a stranger. I found the presumption that everyone texts, and has an unlimited plan, annoying. Then there are those of us who like disconnect when we go out and sans phone focus on the folks in front of us (a dying breed I know). But what really bothered me was the lack of personal, attentive, service oriented treatment. This is called the hospitality industry after all. The policy and the attitude fell short of what I'd call a warm welcome.

I suppose there’s a case that can be made for texting patrons that their table is available in certain situations, just as there’s a justification for those irritating blinking beeping disks that are sometimes handed out at huge, mobbed chain venues. But that didn’t apply here.

So tell me, what’s your opinion? Am I being unreasonable? Hopelessly out of step with the times? Or is my complaint legit? I’d like to hear from others.

One thing I know — if this is the wave of the future for restaurants than I’m going to be wanting some numbers too. Because when my server's nowhere in sight I'll be texting Hope 2 C U Soon and complaining to the manager U Take 2 Long or wuz ^ w/ my soup when orders are slow to arrive.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holiday Hottness

Many of you have started to become bombarded with holiday party invitations and are not quite sure what to wear to these grand events. Invitations are pouring in from a variety of places such as work, friends, social organizations, and New Year's Eve parties. The holidays are the perfect time to add a little sparkle to your ordinary style so go ahead and dazzle your office crew and make your friends envious of your holiday spirit and style sense. Ladies; tops and dresses embellished with fur, leather, and sequins will definitely make an impression. Black opaque tights worn with heeled ankle booties, knee boots, or over-the-knee boots will complete the look. Guys will turn heads by rocking a wool or rich velvet sport coat in black, navy, or charcoal gray, paired with dark slacks or denim. Add a pop of color to your look with a striped or plaid dress shirt paired with a complementing neck tie and pocket square. These looks will surely get you through the holidays without a hitch. Happy Holidays and most importantly, happy shopping!

Fashionably yours,
Frenchye

The Curse of Christmas Ale

In what could be called a cry for people to calm down about Christmas Ale, Great Lakes Brewing Co. posted an open letter about the availability of its legendary seasonal beverage on its website yesterday.

The brewery explained that a large capital investment at its Ohio City facility delayed production of this year's batch until September — about a month later than the usual start. This, in turn, has meant less six-packs on store shelves during the hype-heavy early weeks of the annual brew's release. And that has apparently made some of the natives grumpy.

Never fear, the brewery is cranking like mad and said in the letter, "We are now shipping more Christmas Ale each week than we normally ship of our popular Dortmunder Gold Lager in a month and a half."

You can read Great Lakes Brewing Co.'s politely worded statement about the matter here. But, if you ask us, they were being too nice. Here are some rules to live by in the face of our temporary Christmas Ale shortage.

1. There's no need to panic; you'll get some.
How Great Lakes worded that: "... due to the late start, we are releasing the beer in greater increments throughout the season instead of up front. If your distributor ran out of Christmas Ale before Thanksgiving last year, please know that the supply of this beer will continue into December."

2. Don't trash talk GLBC online.
How Great Lakes worded that: "We review and appreciate the many comments made throughout our social media outlets, including those from customers who own or manage retail outlets."

3. No, there is no conspiracy against you.
How Great Lakes worded that: "Our distributors work diligently to allocate this exclusive brew. With a limited supply, they understandably first sell to accounts — chains and independents alike — that feature our entire family of beers throughout the year."

4. Don't embarrass yourself.
How Great Lakes worded that: "Thank you again for your support of Great Lakes Brewing Company and our Christmas Ale, which we encourage all to enjoy responsibly."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mixing It Up


Professional chefs have a lot of secrets. And I’m not referring to what they do after hours. What I’m talking about are the techniques and tools that help them make magic in the kitchen. Most of this knowledge takes time and effort to acquire and the specialized equipment is out of reach for the majority of home cooks. But Saturday, November 20 is a gamer changer.

It’s the Vitamix one day only annual factory sale. Chefs swear by these high powered, high performance, heavy duty machines. At the flick of a switch it can mix, blend, shred, chop, juice, knead, churn (no kidding), and pretty much pulverize whatever fruit, vegetable and grain you throw in. According the manufacturer’s specs, a Vitamix does the work of ten different appliances and performs fifty tasks without a single specialized attachment. Prices are the best you’ll find and this year for the first time ever, the chef- inspired Vitamix Professional model will be available for direct purchase by consumers.

The event runs from 9-AM-5 PM. Some local chefs will be on hand to put the product through its paces. Jonathon Sawyer (Greenhouse Tavern), Steve Schimoler (Crop Bistro & Bar), Andy Dombrowski (Chinato), and Chris DiLisi (of the soon to open Flour Restaurant in Moreland Hills) will be doing demos throughout the day.
The Cleveland company is located at 8615 Usher Road. Free parking is available.

I've lusted after these for years. And did I mention there’s a model that comes in a delicious shade of red? To anyone thinking of giving me a gift- it would be quite the piece of eye candy on my counter.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ex-Brown dares to question the Man-Genius

Nate Jackson. Sound familiar?

Probably not, because the Browns cut him during the 2009 preseason. Apparently his one week with the team told him enough about coach Eric Mangini that he now feels compelled, in Slate.com's "Sports Nut" roundtable, to rip Mangini's coaching methods to shreds.

Jackson argues the man at the Browns' helm demeans players by forcing them to 1) actually learn something about their opponents and 2) the team they play for, and 3) memorize quotes intended to encourage discipline and hard work. What a monster!

Far be it for me to suggest that maybe a team that has perpetually dwelled in the AFC North's cellar could use a little discipline. But it couldn't hurt.

After the first 11 games of the 2009 season, when the team's mood seemed dark and defeated, it might have been tempting to say Jackson had a point. But whatever Mangini has done with these players since August 2009 now has them beating some of the best teams in the NFL. Jackson figures Mangini must have adjusted his methods and gone easier on the team. Or, maybe not. Something is going right for the Browns that wasn't before Mangini came to town.

(Photo, of Mangini at 2010 training camp with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, from clevelandbrowns.com.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Perfect Pours for the Holiday

Wondering what wine to put on the table for the Thanksgiving meal? If your criteria goes beyond what’s cheapest at the grocery store, then you might want to consider signing up for the crash course at Table 45, November 11th or 12th. Your wine pairing teacher will be sommelier Todd Thompson. But this lesson requires a fork, knife, and glass- eight of them to be precise- and note taking is optional. The restaurant’s chef Tom Schrenk is preparing tasting portions of holiday favorites, with a twist of course, to partner with Thompson’s selections. Dinner- I mean class- begins at 6:30. Space is limited and reservations are required, 216-707-4045. The cost is $40 per person plus tax and gratuity and valet parking is complementary. Table 45 is located inside the Intercontinental Hotel on Carnegie Avenue on the Cleveland Clinic campus.

If you and your guests are more inclined to sip suds than rely on Randy Mosher to steer you in the right direction. He’s a nationally recognized craft brew expert based in Chicago and author of a newish book called Tasting Beer. I’ve interviewed Mosher and the depth and breadth of his knowledge is impressive. So I was excited to get word that he’s put together an online list of beers that pair well with turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, providing detailed descriptions of what’s in each bottle. Instead of choosing just one or two, Mosher suggests setting up a little brew buffet so people can do some beverage grazing. The guy has a sense of humor, and though I have a high regard for his advice, the best bit of wisdom he offers in my opinion is this: “With the right beer, Cousin Eddy won't care that he's still sitting at the kids' table even though he's on his third wife.”

If you want to belly up to a hoppy smorgasbord a day early, then head to Touche, the lounge at Chez Francois in Vermillion, on Wednesday November 24. They’re hosting a sampling of holiday ales from around the country, Belgium and England called The 12 Beers of Christmas. $35 gets you 2 ounce pours of everything plus appetizers. Reservations required 440.967.0630

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Now I'm Fabulous and You Can Be Too

If you pay even the slightest bit of attention to local media in any form- traditional, online and social- then you know that the Fabulous Food Show is happening November 12-14 at the IX Center. As always the annual culinary extravaganza will include cooking demos, food and wine tastings, and an eclectic selection of products to browse and buy.

Sure, you can see celebrities like Jason Roberts, Alton Brown, Guy Fieri, and Giada De Laurentis and line up to get their autographs along with their cookbooks. And yes, Michael Symon will be there, whooping it up on stage for the hometown audience while he MC’s the cook off competition between three local chefs: Dante Boccuzzi, Jonathon Sawyer and Steve Schimoler. But this year also has something brand new and fabulous in a whole different kind of way.

I’ve organized a writing class for anyone who’s ever dreamed of well- being me. That is, a person who writes about food. Lots of people ask about it- they want to know the nuts and bolts of how you get into it and how you get good at it. They envy me the lifestyle (certainly not the income). Someone once told me she couldn’t decide if it would be better to come back for a second life as her pampered Siamese cat or Laura Taxel, food writer. So I’ve decided its time to share.

To help me, I enlisted my friend and colleague Dianne Jacob. She’s a former magazine editor, an acclaimed writing coach from California, and the author of the definitive book on the subject: Will Write For Food. I’m even quoted in the chapter on freelancing. Her workshops, which she’s done all over the country, in Canada, and even Mexico, draw crowds and get rave reviews.

We’re doing two morning seminars at the Fabulous Food Show. The interactive 2-hour sessions will offer tips on how to spice up your food writing skills; demystify the process of writing and selling a cookbook or an article; and explore the pros, cons, and steps for launching and maintaining a blog. We’re going to provide practical advice and real world guidance on getting started, doing it well, and what’s required to get published and get readers. The Friday workshop is strictly for chefs, other food and hospitality industry professionals, and media veterans. The focus is on building a business, a brand, and a career. The Saturday version is for the general public- amateurs, enthusiasts, and aspiring beginners with an idea or a passion. Tickets for each class are $50 per person, include same day admission to the Show, and must be purchased in advance. Buy yours and read more about Dianne and I and what we’ll be covering in each group here.

We’ve got big plans and I think these seminars are going to be very informative. But there is one thing that remains unresolved. Dianne’s excited about coming to Cleveland and checking out the local culinary talent. But I’m in a tough spot- we only have three nights. So the question is- where should we go for dinner?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Your last-minute scare

Halloween is Sunday, so it's crunch time. I'm sure most of you are adding the final touches to your costume. Lady Gaga, anyone?

No matter what guise you are donning this year, Halloween is about stepping outside our comfort zones and having a little fun. It's (unfortunately) the only holiday that allows us to dress like crazy people and beg for candy. It's the only holiday where broomsticks, skeletons and demon-shaped door markers are as commonplace as the fall foliage. Most importantly, it's the only holiday when we won't judge you if you scream like a little girl.

Here's a list of places to get your last-minute scare -- if you dare.

This Broadview Heights attraction boasts a legion of monsters (see photo) who linger in the darkness, preying on your fear. $15.

This 124-year-old Mansfield landmark once housed actual lost souls. Beware the shifting floors, disguised actors, and ghosts of inmates whose punishments have lasted into the afterlife. $15-17.

North Olmsted's smorgasbord of fright features a haunted mansion, morgue, carnival, and meat market. But that's not the worst of it. Be on the lookout for clowns -- and not the face-painting, animal-balloon-making kind. $13.

Sometimes, the scariest stories are real. Learn of Cleveland's most gruesome murders on this guided charter bus tour. $50.

For more ghastly and ghostly Halloween outings, see the list at the bottom of this page from October's Cleveland Magazine.

Photo from bloodview.com.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Better Time to Eat Out

We all fall into ruts. It’s only human. Habits take over, familiarity is typically the default setting, and so we tend to do what we’ve already done before. This predisposition often expresses itself when choosing where to eat. Restaurants we know and like are the fallback option. The appeal is that we know what kind of experience we’re in for and are confident we’ll be happy with our meal. And there are definite advantages to being a regular.

But there is no better time to bust out and try something new and different in the dining realm than Cleveland Restaurant Week. Make that weeks. This year the promotional event sponsored by locally owned independent restaurants runs from November 1-14. Approximately 90 places are participating by offering three-course, prix fixe menus for $30 per person, with a few throwing in an extra course or charging a bit more, or even less, depending on the type of venue. The locations range from downtown to the ‘burbs, Cleveland Heights to Rocky River, Tremont to Willoughby. You can see a complete list online, and make reservations via Opentable.

It’s an affordable way to do some culinary exploring and add variety your dining routine. You may even find a new favorite, the kind of place you’ll go back to again and again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Literature, comedy vie for top billing at Wise Up!

Is Cavs owner Dan Gilbert an unacknowledged literary master? Or just an unintentional comedian? I wondered that after Sunday's Wise Up! literary festival at Nighttown, where comedy and song vied with literary ambition as the top draw.

Actor Nick Koesters, billed as Gilbert, took the mike and performed an anxious, wiry, bug-eyed reading of the Cavs owner's anti-LeBron screed. As Koesters barked out Gilbert's "NEVER will betray you" line, you could almost hear the Comic Sans. He also joined Eric Schmiedl, his co-star in last year's Cleveland Public Theater play Browns Rules, for a Kingston-Trio-esque comic song about superhero-quarterback Otto Graham.

Directors Regina Brett and Derdriu Ring (pictured, left), like good variety-show emcees, kept the benefit for Cleveland Heights' libraries moving with quirky introductions built on the performers' best memories of libraries and wildest ambitions for them. Newscaster Leon Bibb (pictured, right) recited his poem comparing his mother's clothesline to a chorus line. Charles Michener read the quiet but finely observed conclusion to his New Yorker piece on the Cleveland Orchestra. Steve Presser contributed quotes from the buttons and bumper stickers he sells at Big Fun. Between readers, pianist Joe Hunter and vocalist Doris Long sang old standards, including Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," which advises men to memorize the Bard of Avon to woo women.

Former Cleveland Heights poet laureate Loren Weiss contributed the best combination of a literary eye and a sense of place. In his poem "Looking Through Glass," he sees a couple embracing, then fighting, inside the Coventry parking structure's glass elevator. Then a truck obscures his view. In the last stanza, his coffee turns bitter and he heads back into Tommy's for another, hoping "for a better ending." Ironically, his was just right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let the Yuletide cheer begin!

It’s only October, but in Cleveland, the Christmas season starts today. At 4 p.m., Great Lakes Brewing Company puts its Christmas Ale on tap at its Market Avenue brewpub. Six-packs hit stores next week.

The holiday brew’s cult following grows every year. Bars, notoriously, run out long before the holiday arrives. The combination of cinnamon, ginger and honey is sweet, but not too sweet, a little spicy and very smooth. As popular as the beer is, you have to be careful with it. At 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, it packs quite a punch and often leads to headaches and regret (“I said what last night?”).

I’ve been a fan of Christmas Ale since college, but last year, its return upset me. I was in living in Paris, and Christmas Ale was not on the list of imported beers at my favorite pub. Then, miracle of miracles, Christmas came early. Generous friends sent me a trans-Atlantic six-pack through Rozi’s Wine House in Lakewood.

I was so ecstatic, I posted a picture of myself on my personal blog holding a bottle for the world to see. I enjoyed it with a baguette and cheese.

The worst part about this beer is (surprisingly) not the hangover. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Great Lakes only produces a certain amount each year, and after it’s sold out, we’re all doomed to wait another ten months until we can taste this sweet, sweet nectar.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Goldberg leaving Plain Dealer

Susan Goldberg is heading home to San Francisco. After 3 1/2 years in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer's editor announced yesterday that she's resigning Nov. 5 to join Bloomberg News as an executive editor. Managing editor Debra Adams Simmons will take over the paper's top job.

Goldberg gave the Plain Dealer a new personality, a new face. She transformed its front page with splashy centerpieces, sporty blurbs, and a relentless Cleveland focus, shoving national and world news to back pages. A glamorous figure in the newsroom, cutting across the carpet in high heels and St. John's knit suits, she also insisted on style and energy in the paper's coverage, her strategy for holding onto readers in the digital age.

But few will accuse Goldberg of softening the Plain Dealer. She steeled its spine, green-lighting aggressive coverage of patronage in Cuyahoga County government. The FBI raids vindicated the paper's stance and sparked exhaustive, banner-headline corruption coverage. Reporter Mark Puente's exposés brought down sheriff Gerald McFaul, whose corruption had been hidden or winked at for 30 years. Even our columnist Michael D. Roberts, a ferocious PD critic for years, gave Goldberg credit this September for the paper's watchdogging and its role in spurring voters to reform county government.

She'll surely be happy to leave the Don Rosenberg trial behind her. Her decision to replace Rosenberg as Cleveland Orchestra critic became a national media controversy and an ugly legal battle, raising knotty questions about how papers respond to fierce pressure from those they cover and when a writer's critical judgment becomes bias.

Home and marriage, not controversy, led to Goldberg's departure. When I profiled her two years ago, she told me her husband, real estate lawyer Geoffrey Etnire, would move to Cleveland. But he stayed in California, creating a cross-continental commuter marriage. In fact, I randomly ran into the two of them in San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace on a Saturday this February. She told me they owned a home nearby. Now Goldberg will reunite with her husband and walk to work at Bloomberg News' office in downtown San Francisco.

To read my profile of Goldberg, "Front Page News," click here. For Roberts' column, "Pain Dealer," click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christmas on Carnegie

Christmas came early for me this year and a few select others. We were invited to holiday party preview at Verve and though the calendar said autumn, the interior of the downtown Cleveland restaurant was decked out in ornaments, sleigh bells, baskets of poinsettias that looked remarkably real, and stacks of beautifully wrapped gifts. And I was told on good authority that Santa had left the building just moments before I arrived.

The prompt for all this December style cheer was Chef/owner Brian Okin’s new partnership with experienced event and food professional Nancy Yetman and their recent launch of Verve’s Art of Catering operation. They’ll gladly prep the buffet and bring it to you but with the restaurant now open only for breakfast and lunch, it can accommodate private shindigs at night. It’s a great place for a special gathering and the pair decided to demo the concept, showing the kind of spread- and creative presentation- they can produce for festive occasions.

Irresistible house made sweet and savory “cracker jacks” were heaped in the center of paper-topped tables. A line-up of really delicious hors d’oeuvres that were cleverly named and conceived was prettily arrayed on the bar. Okin’s version of Pigs in a Blanket consisted of trotter croquettes with apple mostarda. Quackers was a tart made with duck confit and cherry onion relish. For his Cape Cod Shooters, he served a bite of pasta in clam sauce in a shell. Tastebuds was a combination of sweet potatoes, figs, goat cheese and pistachios. The Turkey Napoleans featured layers of bread pudding, bird, and cranberry raspberry compote. There were velvety squash soup shooters garnished with candied nuts, endive leaves filled with crab salad, and ratatouille inside crisply fried wonton skins. Servers passed miniature ice cream cones filled salmon mousseline or beef tartar.

It was an impressive performance and the team gets my endorsement. And it’s straight up cool to have a whole restaurant just for you and your guests. Those with holiday entertaining responsibilities would be wise to contact Nancy immediately (216-577-3663, nancyatverve@gmail.com) and get your date on her calendar. Tell her Laura sent you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Get Out and Get Giving


If anyone’s looking for me on Saturday night, Oct. 16, I’ll be at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. And you’re welcome to join me at Sweetest Day Delights for hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and an over-the-top array of desserts to sample. But I won’t have time for chit chat because I’m on the job, one of 16 judges who will decide the winner of this year’s Creative Confection Competition.
The evening, a benefit for the Art Therapy Studio, brings established pastry chefs and up-comers from various culinary programs around town together for a friendly food fight.

Contenders prepare fabulous cakes, tortes, tarts, trifles, and all sorts of other inspired treats. We officials must sample the entries, rate them for taste and visual appeal and pick the winners for Best of Show, Most Decadently Delicious and Most Artistic. Please don’t take it personality if I respond to friendly greetings with a eyes glazed over and a blank stare- odds are, based on my past experience as a judge for this bi-annual event, by the time I come out of seclusion to mix and mingle I will be in one serious sugar coma. Reservations required. Make yours here.

photos of 2008 winners
Also on my calendar of upcoming activities is a Bourbon Tasting at the fabulous Taxel Image Group photography studio on Oct 21. The hosts for the evening are my husband, Barney Taxel, and Diana Greenberg, event planner and one of the founders of Sprout Connections, a power networking group devoted to fun and fundraising. Joe De Luca, spirit savant and proprietor of the recently opened Apothecary, a cocktail parlor in Lakewood, will be leading the guided tour of seven unique aged whiskies- including a liquid surprise at the finish.
Pours come from Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Old Forrester, Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek. and Jim Beam. Come join us as we learn about small batch distilling, mash mixtures and single barrel production. Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased online. A portion of the proceeds benefits City Music Cleveland’s educational programs. And you won’t leave hungry, I promise. Terry Tarantino and his cooks at La Strada and La Dolce Vita Bistro will be providing food. No doubt, we’ll eat and drink well.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking in my sleep

I first heard the voice this spring. Even my apartment's air conditioner couldn't drown it out. Now that the windows are open again, I hear it more than ever, robotic and relentless, like the talking billboard hovercraft in Blade Runner coaxing city-dwellers to live off-world.

"CAUTION," intones the stern female voice. "LOOK BOTH WAYS. PEDESTRIANS! Bus is TURNing. BUS is TURNING."

Large, motorized public transportation has plied our streets for 122 years, but not until 2010 did someone decide it must speak. Now, every RTA bus blares the same drone mantra whenever it makes a 45-degree turn.

Outside my apartment, where a bus stop stands next to a line of parked cars, that means 60 times a day and once or twice an hour at night until 12:29 a.m. The voice also follows me downtown into the office: The clamor of six bus lines resonates up East 14th Street just outside my window.

RTA has me trapped. If I protest this noise pollution, I am guilty of indifference to human life. RTA installed its monotone warnings after two bus drivers killed people with careless turns.

So until I move, I'm stuck with the android tones haunting my half-sleep. I wish our transit overlords would hear the common-sense solution: the bell that sings from their HealthLine buses.

And yes, if I ever get hit by a bus, this will make a lame epitaph.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Livin' La Local Vida

There are days, weeks, and months dedicated to raising awareness of all kinds of ailments, issues, organizations and causes. In Cleveland we’re right smack in the middle of Local Foods Week. It’s meant to educate and energize us about the sustainably grown, raised, and produced edibles from the region and why it is so important to spend some of our food dollars on these products. When we shop at a farmers market or dine at a restaurant with a farm to plate commitment, it’s a guarantee of fresh, wholesome and delicious fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry, and dairy products. But there’s more to it. The money we spend supports jobs for people that live here, fuels economic growth in northeast Ohio, helps preserve our farmland, and is an ecologically responsible choice. If you aren’t already aware of all this, now’s the moment to say Wow!

Participating in this group hug for local food is not hard. You can do it on your own, at home, or with others and in public places. There lots of events to attend between now and Sunday. Tonight participating restaurants will be offering special dishes featuring fresh from the farm ingredients. Friday there will be a Lunch Mob for like minded brown baggers – location a secret until that morning. Click here for a list of more options and ideas.

I have another suggestion that’s not on the official list. Attend the Western Reserve Herb Society Herb Fair at Cleveland Botanical Garden, Saturday Oct 9. Find vinegars, mustards, jellies, teas, and culinary blends made with herbs grown by Society members, and get tips for starting your own garden next year.

Consider joining Local Food Cleveland, a free online community and self described “action network” for those who are passionate about growing a thriving local food economy and culture in Cleveland. Then take the Local Food Challnge- it’s a promise you make to yourself to eat at least one meal made up of stuff that’s been rasied in or on northeast Ohio soil- and post about it on Local Food Cleveland.

If you’re lucky there are still some seats left for the Harvest Dinner at The Flying Fig on Sunday Oct 10. The meal is sponsored by Slow Food. Karen Small's locally rooted menu looks amazing and tickets are only $35 per person. Call (216) 241-4243 for reservations. But don’t fret should it be sold out. Small is deeply committed to featuring Ohio farm products in her restaurant. This season she got much stuff, and still is, from the amazing Ohio City Farm just down the street – a partnership that gives local a whole new dimension. The Farm is welcoming visitors on Sunday too.

Another way to get a taste of what Small does with the local bounty is get some grab and go food from her new Market at the Fig, next door to the restaurant. I stopped in recently and picked up a pound of wonderful stuffed Ohio pork loin and a crusty baguette baked in her own kitchen. Dubbed a small Euro-style urban pantry, the daily selection of salads, sandwiches and prepared entrees makes eating locally easier than ever.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The well-dressed, well-heeled man

Recently I have received comments from my male readers expressing their feeling of neglect. I have heard you loud and clear, therefore this post is just for the male fashion followers. I as watched the runway shows of NY fashion week and scoured over the pages of several popular men's magazines and clothing websites, three menswear trends have completely taking over. First, the gray wool suit- it is super versatile and can be worn in both casual and formal settings. Depending on the weight of the fabric, a gray suit can be worn year round and is a timeless classic- a wardrobe must have. It is most appealing when worn with a vividly patterned shirt and bold necktie. The second standout trend are slim fitting shirts in charcoal gray, black, or army green with military inspired details such as buttoned front pockets and epaulets worn with complementing skinny neckties. Finally, every guy must get a pair of brown dress shoes for fall! Brown shoes offer the most bang for you buck. They can be worn with just about everything (yes, even black and gray) and look far less formal than the basic black shoe. I hope this helps my trend challeged guys and motivates my fashion savvy male readers, never again again shall I neglect either.

Fashionably yours,
Frenchye

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crowing and Kvelling

I’m feeling good, really good about Cleveland and you should too. Quite a few of our culinary treasures received enthusiastic ink and media accolades from writers and reporters around in the country this week. I’m taking-in these compliments like a proud parent. Just as adoring moms and dads don’t need anyone to tell them that their kid is amazing, I’m already well aware of how many terrific and unique places there are in greater Cleveland to eat and go food shopping but it sure is nice when outsiders take notice.

Sheila O’Connor of the San Francisco Examiner told travelers to our town that they must visit The Happy Dog to enjoy the chummy ambience, great beers, and the hot dog menu featuring Chef’s Eric Williams’ incredible array of gourmet condiments and toppings.

Former Washington Post editor Maryann Haggerty, now freelancing for her old employer, was lured here by the Springsteen exhibit at the Rock Hall. But she devoted many words to her Ohio City restaurant finds- both those she actually tried (Great Lakes Brewing, Flying Fig) and those she plans to try next time (Bar Cento, Momocho) …because she liked it here so much she wants to come back. The highlight of her trip however was the West Side Market. You'll stand a little taller after reading the whole story.

The Market is also included in a four page spread in the October issue of Saveur. Veteran road trippers Jane and Michael Stern penned a love note to northeast Ohio ethnic dining. Among the places they mention are Balaton’s, Perla Homemade Delights, State Meats, Little Polish Diner, and Babushka’s Kitchen and Al’s Corner Restaurant. I had no idea the article would be there. The magazine arrived in the mail on Friday. I flipped through it while eating lunch, got to page 30, and this header caught my attention: Midwestern Charm. So I stopped turning pages and read the teaser: An Ohio road trip leads to some of the country’s best Eastern European fare- and more. What a nice surprise to dig in to their story and murmur to myself “been there,” “uh huh,” and “got that right!”

And one other thing is worth noting in this round-up of the good press our culinary scene has earned. It’s a bit self-promotional (sorry) and a Columbus rather than a Cleveland triumph (same state however). I contributed to a story in the October issue of Cooking Light. My job was to nominate forty of the best artisan food products from the Midwest. Different writers did the same for other parts of the country. Judges tried them all and picked eight from each region to feature in the magazine. Jeni’s Splendid Cherry Lambic Sorbet was among those selected. It’s an Ohio win and like the other articles, it just makes me want to crow (braggy gloating) and kvell (Yiddish for joyful boasting). You know what I mean?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ingenuity, Saturday night


The Ingenuity Festival is filling every quirky nook of the Detroit-Superior Bridge's streetcar level with art. One alcove became Dr. Sketchy's Doodle Bar, a space filled with white walls made for markering, as well as white-painted tables, dishes and glasses. Two days of doodling had filled the space by last night.

Dr. Sketchy's main event, the monthly Anti-Art School at the Beachland Ballroom, invites artists to sketch burlesque models. (Here's a Cleveland Magazine article about a Dr. Sketchy night.) B.C. Miles and Danielle Muad-Dib, who's also a burlesque instructor, posed with local Dr. Sketchy founders Jason Tilk and Aaron Erb.


A bit higher up the span, visitors leaned over a scenic overlook's rail to admire Ingenuity's man-made waterfall and the lights of the Flats' West Bank.




As festival-goers descended into the catacombs of the West 25th streetcar stop, local video artist Kasumi's work flashed on an immense screen. Just by walking by, people seemed to merge with the kaleidoscopic, haunting pop art, with its ever-moving, ever-multiplying characters.

Ingenuity continues today until 5 pm.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ingenuity, Friday night

Water is emerging as a theme at this year's Ingenuity Festival. Not only is the 130-foot waterfall flowing off the Detroit-Superior Bridge...


...visitors can also text messages to a water fountain that spells out words, letter by letter.



The Ingenuity Festival continues tonight until 1 a.m. and tomorrow from 12 to 5.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sweet Discovery

Walking along Mayfield Road in Little Italy one recent evening I spied a sign I’d never seen before. It pointed down an alleyway, behind La Lanterna Gallery, to a dessert cafe. Of course, I had to go check it out. I’m glad I did. It’s an adorable little spot that opened in mid August, a new add-on to the two year old shop up front that sells all kinds of enticing non-essentials: jewelry, wearable art, paintings, ceramics, sculpture, prints, decorative housewares and gifts.

There’s a pretty enclosed courtyard outfitted with tables, statuary, and plantings. If we get any more mild weather this is a fine place to enjoy it. Before you snag a seat, head inside, where there are a couple more tables, to buy your espresso, biscotti, slice of cake or swirl of soft serve.
My personal recommendation is the pesche. Two cookie mounds are hollowed out and filled with vanilla custard, then dipped in peach schnapps and vermouth and dusted with sugar. This Italian treat, often served at weddings, delivers some mighty blissful bites.
The Cafe's open until 10 PM weekdays, 11:30 PM on Friday and Saturday. Just the thing when you’re not ready to go home but don’t want to head for a bar. Click here for a 20% off coupon .

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ingenuity creates 130-foot waterfall off Detroit-Superior Bridge

video

How's this for ingenious -- a 130-foot-tall man-made waterfall off the Detroit-Superior Bridge?

This weekend -- as the Ingenuity Festival stages a sprawling kaleidoscope of art, music, and theatrical performances on the bridge's old streetcar level -- the biggest art project of all will cascade past, from the bridge's upper floor all the way into the Cuyahoga River. As many as 5,000 gallons of water a minute, illuminated by amber lights, may tumble from the bridge.

This video, shot last night, captures the waterfall's first test run. Only three of the 10 weirs were running, so this weekend, the ribbon of water should three times as wide. The Cleveland Division of Water is working with Ingenuity to make it happen.

"We wanted something iconic," said Kidist Getachew, one of the three artists who conceived of the idea. "We wanted to celebrate Cleveland, Lake Erie, the water, the natural resource, the abundance of it." At lifelinefromcleveland.org, the artists are collecting donations to help bring running water to a community in Ethiopia, where Getachew is from.

The Ingenuity Festival runs this weekend on the Detroit Superior Bridge's lower level. For more info, see the festival website, ingenuitycleveland.com.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Food from the Ground Up

Much of the food on our plates starts in the soil. That’s easy to forget, especially if much of what you buy comes in boxes, cans and jars. Even the big bargain bag of chips -- so many steps removed from the natural world -- depends on corn or potatoes that spring up out of the dirt. Three upcoming events connect us to the simple yet significant fact. They’ll do it from three very different perspectives.

RIPE, Sept. 24-26, is a new family focused festival at the Cleveland Botanical Garden that’s bringing the local food movement a little closer to home. In addition to putting farmers and the restaurant chefs that support them in the spotlight, it aims to educate visitors about how doable and pleasurable it is to grow your own food. The brainchild of Kari Moore, founder of FarmShare Ohio and leader of the Northern Ohio Slow Food group, and Doug Katz of fire food and drink, this is the first time for this event. Expect good things to eat; a marketplace of area vendors selling, jams, honey, herbs and green products; cooking demos; and all kinds of how-to sessions on a variety of topics from canning to composting. Complete program, tickets and more information available here. Five-course Harvest Moon preview dinner on Thursday.

Ben Bebenroth will be one of the cooks for that feast. He’s the man behind the Plated Landscape dinner series and partner in Spice of Life Catering. A self-described “woods stomper” who’s been camping and finding forest edibles since he was a boy, the chef has decided to share some of his stalking expertise. He’s the instructor and guide for a course in food foraging sponsored by the Continuing Education department of Case Western Reserve University. Foraging, according to a recent article I read, is the next big thing in the foodie universe. Bebenroth's three expedition series, September 22nd, 29th and October 6th, from 10 a.m.–1 p.m., is open to the public and costs $75. Modern day hunter-gathers will scour the meadows and forests of the School’s 389-acre University Farm in Chagrin Falls and get some instruction on what to do with their harvest. I hope to be among them. To register, call 216-368-2090.


A benefit dinner for R.E.A.P. is scheduled for Oct. 3 at Dante Restaurant in Tremont. The acronym stands for The Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program. It is part of a larger collaborative effort involving the Ohio City Fresh Food Collaborative, which operates a 6-acre farm at West 24th Street and Bridge Avenue, Refugee Response, the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation and Great Lakes Brewing Company. The farm, on formerly vacant land behind an apartment complex, is an amazing and spirit-lifting sight. The training initiative employs 15 immigrants: They’re getting a fresh start in their new home, and the community gets fresh locally grown food. Chef Dante Boccuzzi will incorporate vegetables they’ve raised into the meal. Grazing stations serve from 6-9 p.m., but show up at 4:30, and you can board a Lolly Trolley for a tour of the farm with wine and cheese. Tickets are $100, $75 for dinner only and can be obtained by calling the Refugee Response office, 216-236-3877, or e-mailing info@refugeeresponse.org. Seating is limited. Chef, who has a generous heart and a philanthropic bent, is doing more than raising money for the group. He’s offering one of the refugees the opportunity to build career skills by working with him in the restaurant’s kitchen. It's a chance that could change a life.