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

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, Alex Kimball reminisces about batting against a 75-year-old Bob Feller. senior editor Todd Holzman talks about his father, Feller and the perfect first pitch.'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

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