Thursday, September 29, 2011

Critical Mass Spins through City Streets Friday

Friday night I’m going to ride my bicycle from Public Square to North Collinwood — and I’m going to do it with more than 300 of my closest friends.

In 1992, a few dozen San Francisco bicyclists decided to get together once a month and simply ride their bikes. Critical Mass has since become a worldwide phenomenon. In more than 300 cities spanning the globe, people grab their bikes and just ride.

This ride will be my fourth — which makes me still a newbie by Critical Mass standards. The rides usually begin in Public Square and end at a bar in one of Cleveland’s many hip neighborhoods, where you get to chat with other pedalers. I ended up on Larchmere, in Ohio City and on Whiskey Island after my first three treks.

I realized Critical Mass’s epic scope within the first few minutes of my initial ride in June. We were a mass of bikes taking up the entire eastbound lane of Lakeside Avenue. With hundreds of people around me, and the buildings of the city encompassing us, I immediately understood the ride’s appeal.

The rides begin with a destination in mind, but the route is never predetermined. The organizers just go with the flow. Veterans of past journeys will rush to the front to “cork” intersections and let the mass of bicycles pass through safely.

Every ride has gone through some of Cleveland’s poorer areas — and this has been the most rewarding part. People come out and cheer us on. There are no pretenses to Critical Mass, so when someone asks what we’re doing this for, several riders often shout back:

“For fun!”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Laura Likes Luna

I believe in bakeries like some people believe in saints and saviors. I need what they provide, and I’m convinced that living a good, happy life depends on their proximity. I am blessed to make my home in Cleveland Heights, a place that has and is close to multiple bakers of fine artisinal breads, pastries, cookies and cakes. Now I can add another to the list: Luna Bakery Café in the Cedar-Fairmount shopping district, just up the hill from University Circle.

The cases are filled with jewel-colored macaroons, crisp fruit filled galettes, trays of scones and plump croissant, sugar cookies almost too pretty to eat, nut bars and cupcakes. There’s an amazing 25-layer crepe cake and an almond meal “Luna” cake that’s so good you’d never believe it’s gluten free. These treats are the work of Bridget Thibeault and her kneading, stirring and whipping staff. Formerly known as Flour Girl, the name of the custom cake business she ran out of her home kitchen, Thibeault partnered with Tatyana Rehn and John Emerman of Stone Oven to launch this shop.

The café side of the operation has been getting lots of attention, and customers, since the place opened in June. In addition to lattes and all manner of beverages hot and cold, they serve prepared-to-order crepes and paninis. But there aren’t many seats here, and thinking of it primarily as a place to eat misses the point. This is first and foremost a high end Euro-style bakery.

They pack up pastries and cookies in bags and utilitarian by-the-dozen boxes or in beribboned gift-ready packages. Show up at dinner with one of these, and you’re sure to be invited back. Thibeault, with the heart and eye of an artist, designs special-occasion cakes, does entire dessert tables for events and caters meetings.

I work at home, alone, so there’s no stopping by for breakfast goodies to bring to the office for my co-workers. But you should. It would definitely boost morale. And I’m thinking my spirits could use a little lift, so I’m putting on my walking shoes and heading to Luna right now to get myself a biscotti. Or two. And some flourless chocolate mini-cakes for tonight’s dessert. I see a very happy husband in my future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chris Hodgson Finishes Close Second in Great Food Truck Race

Cleveland chef Chris Hodgson, of Dim and Den Sum fame, and his newest truck, Hodge Podge Truck, made it to Sunday's finale of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.”

Dishing out lunches and dinners in cities from Vegas to Miami, competing against trucks from all over the country, Hodgson came in second against the Lime Truck from Orange County, Calif. Hodgson represented Cleveland and its burgeoning food truck scene well. We caught up with him today to hear about his cross-country journey.

Cleveland Magazine: What was the experience like, outside of what made the air?

Chris Hodgson: A lot of us were actually friends. We were all hanging out together. Jason and Jesse from the Lime Truck were absolutely stand-out characters and phenomenal chefs. It was a lot of work.

CM: Show host Tyler Florence referred to you as a fierce competitor. What is it about being from Cleveland that made you such a fierce competitor?

CH: We’re Midwesterners; we don’t ever quit. Clevelanders never quit. When they asked me what would winning mean, I said I’d finally get to bring home a championship to Cleveland. It wasn’t “I want money.” I wanted to do something great for my city. Cleveland’s got unbelievable people with unbelievable drive who are going to do everything in their power and keep fighting to the end. I love this place.

CM: The way the show was edited, it looked like you guys lost by such a slim margin. Was that how it went down?

CH: We actually made the money faster. We just couldn’t get there before them. We were parked about 45 minutes away. They were parked about 10 minutes from the beach.

CM: The other trucks were run by people who were either friends, or business partners. A few of the trucks even had two chefs. You had your sister and your girlfriend. What made you decide to take them?

CH: Oh, I didn’t.

CM: Who did?

CH: The Food Network — I applied with my chefs, yo! (laughs)

CM: Are you glad they decided to send them along with you?

CH: Absolutely, because my girlfriend and my sister are huge supporters for me. Not just on the truck, but emotionally.

CM: Aside from not coming out on top, would you change anything?

CH: Nothing. I was a winner, baby. I was a winner. I went 3,500 miles with the two girls that I love the most.

Check out our story on Hodgson from the May 2011 issue here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Cleveland

This mini musing on the interesting and exciting things that happen in, and come from, Cleveland begins at a gallery and ends at a bar. Last week the husband and I went to the 78th Street Studios for Third Fridays. The sprawling repurposed industrial building is a hotbed of creative activity, and tenants throw open their doors to welcome visitors one night, every month. The first thing I noticed when we pulled into the parking lot was the new Touch Supper Truck. It’s hard to miss: The vehicle is garishly painted with cartoonish females and red-orange flames. It’s the mobile side of Touch Supper Club and just rolled out in August. There was a guy performing doing DJ duties so folks chowing down on tacos and sliders had some musical entertainment.

We didn’t stop, too full from an excellent dinner at home and in a hurry to get to an opening at Tregoning and Company, an art gallery. The show, called Spiritus, is a collection of compelling black and white photographs made by Elizabeth Sunday in Africa. (It's up through November and shouldn't be missed.) Though she now lives in California, Sunday was born here and has deep Cleveland roots: Her grandfather Paul B. Travis was a painter who taught at CIA for more than 30 years, and her father, Douglas Phillips, a renowned designer of stained-glass windows, had his studio here. We met James Wyman, curator, gallerist and fine arts consultant, who helped organize the show. He’s recently relocated to Northeast Ohio and is brimming with ideas and energy for the local arts community. No doubt we’ll be hearing more about him.

I ran into someone from my book club at the show. She wanted to know if I’d read The Paris Wife , the new novel by Paula McLain about Ernest Hemingway, his first wife Hadley and the six years they lived together among the literary greats who flocked to Europe in the 1920s. I’d just finished it the night before. We’ll be discussing it at our next gathering, and McLain, who lives in Cleveland Heights, will being joining us.

Next stop was the Velvet Tango Room for a nightcap, and there’s no place in this town, or any other, that better evokes the glamour and style of pre-war watering holes. Coincidentally, the last time I had a cocktail here, it was a Hemingway Daiquiri. The temperature was 40 degrees warmer, and it proved to be just the thing for a sweltering summer evening. This visit, we arrived just minutes ahead of a fill-the-house crowd and snagged the last two seats at the bar. The chill in the air prompted me to order an apple brandy sour. As always, it was perfectly made, the delicate balance of alcohol and acid achieved with just a whisper of sweetness. The husband had the potent Widow’s Kiss. We sat and sipped for a pleasant hour, talked about Sunday’s photographs and went home happy. It was a good night in Cleveland.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interactivity meets art and technology at this year's Ingenuity Fest

Through the doorway with the green awning and down a flight of steps lay a festival of sights and sounds spanning the lower level of one of Cleveland's historic bridges.

Just about a hundred feet above the river, Cleveland’s past, present and future were all on display at the 2011 Ingenuity Fest this weekend. The annual event, set up for the second year in a row on the lower, streetcar level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, was a giant art exhibit — of sorts.

Paramount at this exhibit was interactivity. Consider the Doodle Bar by the YoyoSyndicate, a sub-group of Dr. Sketchy Cleveland.

The Doodle Bar let Ingenuity Fest-goers write whatever their hearts desired on several white walls, desks and chairs. By late Sunday afternoon, people were seen lugging around scribbled-on pieces of furniture as souvenirs.

As in the past, technology was prevalent at Ingenuity. Every installation had a QR code that could be scanned with a smartphone. The code sent users to a website containing more information on the installation or artist.

At the middle of the span, the phrase "tweets light hearts" could be seen written in chalk on the concrete poles supporting the bridge. An interactive installation, comprised of a series of hearts (similar to those in a video game), lit up progressively over the weekend as more and more people tweeted using the #ingenuityfest hashtag.

Steve Lambert's art installation "Capitalism Works for Me!" also invited viewers to participate, while provoking discussion.

Viewers could walk up to a podium and press "True" or "False" buttons to vote on whether they agreed with the sign's sentiment. A side effect (or probably the intended effect) was the conversation that often arose after someone cast a vote. At one point in the afternoon, capitalism was leading the race, but only by a slight margin.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art announces Ohio City gallery

Come this time next year, Ohio City will have a more contemporary feel.

The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation will open the exhibition space Transformer Station on West 29th Street. Built in the 1920s as a power station for the Detroit Avenue streetcar line, the Transformer Station will be renovated and expanded into an 8,000-square-foot space for art programs, exhibitions and installations.

“It’s an opportunity to extend our reach to more Northeast Ohioans, specifically to this important and vibrant West Side of the city,” said David Franklin, the art museum's director, in a press conference this morning.

The Transformer Station will be the museum's first separate space outside University Circle. “Fundamentally, it strengthens our ancient mission of benefiting all the people forever,” Franklin said.

Fred Bidwell, co-founder and co-director of the Bidwell Foundation, said they chose the building to showcase art because of its industrial feel. And there's an huge crane on the ceiling that can lift 15 tons. Who doesn't need that?

“The diversity, the grit, the intimacy, the urbanity of Ohio City, with its dynamic art scene, we felt was a perfect place for this showplace for the contemporary art,” said Bidwell in the press conference.

The hopes are to have the Transformer Station open in late 2012. Franklin wants to encourage curators and collaborators to use the space as a laboratory and set up installations more spontaneously. This space will also allow young and local artists to show their work on the same floor as international artists.

City councilman Joe Cimperman, who represents Ohio City, thanked the Bidwells for opening the Transformer Station. “This neighborhood takes this gift very seriously,” he said. “We take you as gifts very seriously. We cherish what you’re doing here, and we are all too well aware that you could have done this anywhere.”

Cimperman predicted the gallery would become important to the neighborhood's future. “One day, in this building there will be children like me — who grew up on East 74th Street — [who,] but for the arts, would not be able to live the life they lived. So, if you want to know what you are doing today for this community, look 20 years from now to the generation that you are fostering.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

UFOs on the Cuyahoga: Ingenuity Fest 2011

If you see a flying saucer near the Detroit-Superior Bridge this weekend, don’t be alarmed. That’s just part of the Squonk Opera, the hallmark piece of Ingenuity Fest 2011.

“The Squonk is sort of a modern opera which will be performed outdoors,” says director of programming James Krouse. “There’s going to be a UFO that looks like it’s crashed into the side of the viaduct.”

Ingenuity, founded in 2004, has hopped around the city from East Fourth Street to PlayhouseSquare. Last year, it found its newest home, the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

“When you say the word ‘festival’ to people, a lot of times they think of a street fair: some tents, food and booze,” says Krouse. “But at Ingenuity Fest I think our ambition is much more along the lines of something like SXSW in Austin, Texas." Krouse hopes Ingenuity, like SXSW, will become a cultural exposition well-known outside its home city.

Kicking off tomorrow evening and wrapping up Sunday night, Ingenuity Fest celebrates art and technology with interactive exhibitions, performances and demonstrations. Onlookers can react and respond to different pieces via text and navigate through a maze using only their ears.

“Art and science are not two separate things,” says Krouse. “They’re this one continuum. We show that in a couple of different ways.”

Some of the performances literally tie art and science together. Krouse recommends Erica Mott's "The Victory Project," a dance of sorts. “She integrates technology into her movements. She’s actually tethered to a sound operator, so her motions actually produce sound.”

With more than 20 hours of programming, including more than 110 scheduled musical acts, where does one begin?

“There’s a lot to take in.” Krouse says, laughing. “I would pick out one or two things that really grab your attention, particularly if it’s a performance. Pick out those few things you want to do, but also give yourself the time to wander a bit. That’s part of the pleasure of being here.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Locavores Come Out to Play

The words “local food” don’t just refer to stuff you eat. They represent a transformation in how we think about food: where it comes from, who raises and produces it, how it’s grown, and what’s required to get it to our table. It’s a revolution and a lifestyle. There’s a local food scene and a movement. All these aspects get their due at RIPE, a three-day, family friendly festival organized and hosted by the Cleveland Botanical Garden. From Sept. 23-25, a tent city and harvest heaven will spring up at their doorstep on the grassy swath of University Circle known as Wade Oval.

There will be a farmers market filled with seasonal bounty, cooking demos, wine and beer tastings, and a culinary competition. You can learn to smoke trout, raise chickens, make pestos, dry herbs, or turn your backyard into an edible landscape. Kids can try cidermaking and veggie carving. Food trucks are rolling in, and restaurants are setting up booths to be sure nobody goes home hungry. Lots of live music provides a soundtrack for the fun. Early risers should plan on showing up Sunday morning for the pancake breakfast. Everything you need to know including hours and ticket information is here.

Full disclosure: I was on the planning committee this year, the second for Cleveland’s Ripe fest. You could say that makes me biased. On the other hand, it means I know the huge effort that went into putting this together and feel sure it’s going to be something special.

Those with some serious money to spend ($150 per person, CBG members, $185 non-members) should make reservations for the kick-off benefit Autumn's Eve Dinner on Thursday night, Sept. 22. People are still talking about the last one, calling it magical and memorable. This time around the outdoor feast will include grass-fed beef from Miller Livestock, Amish farm chicken from Gerber’s, heirloom tomatoes grown by students on Green Corps Urban Farms, vegetables from Veggie Valley Farm, fruit from Greenfield Berry Farm in Peninsula, and cheese made by Middlefield Original Cheese Co-op. Chefs Douglas Katz of fire food & drink; Tony Smoody with Bon Appétit; and Ben Bebenroth, owner of Spice of Life Catering will be turning this local treasure trove into a four-course meal.

Everything happens rain or shine. Maybe we’ll be lucky and Mother Nature will beam down on this gathering of her locavore fans with a big bright sunny smile.

photos by Dave Brown Images, courtesy of Cleveland Botanical Garden

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Play House's new home, renovated Allen Theater, debuts

The Cleveland Play House welcomed theater fans and curious downtowners into its new home, the renovated Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare, last night. Hundreds came to see the renovated theater, departing on tours every few minutes.

The Allen, which began life in 1921 as a cavernous 2,800-seat movie house and hosted Broadway plays, ballet and opera over the past 20 years, has been remade as a comfortable, intimate 500-seat theater. Inside the now-smaller theater, the historic ceiling and walls are still visible behind acoustic reflectors. The new seats are soft and huge, the leg room generous, a big change from the cramped rows of the Play House's former theaters at its location near the Cleveland Clinic.

Tour-takers walked through the classic 1921 lobby and into a new inner lobby, a very contemporary-looking space with moody lighting and glass partitions, created where the Allen's distant rear seating used to be.

The renovation is daring, a big change to a historic theater. But the Allen has been little-used in recent years, and its 2,500-seat capacity wasn't a good fit for the Play House. The new, smaller space has about the same number of seats as the theaters in its former home.

The tours explored the seating, the stage, and backstage areas. In a dressing room and an alcove, master's degree theater students from CWRU enacted scenes from plays that professional actors will put on later in the season. Two undergrads from Cleveland State, which will also use the new theater, performed a scene from Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist classic No Exit. Not part of the tour were the Allen's new second stage and lab space, still under construction.

The Play House's season begins Friday with The Life of Galileo. To read more about the Play House's move, read our article from the September issue, "Second Act."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Muses inspire at Pandemonium as Cleveland Public Theater receives $1m grant

The muses flitted onto the stage in sparkling, raggedy dresses, upstaging the proper professor droning on about Urania, the Greek muse of astronomy. “No need to look to the past!” a muse intoned, and the professor beat it, ceding the stage to a multiplying troupe of dancers evoking the leaps of creativity.

“Muses are everywhere,” the lead muse declared. “Be a muse for each other. Remember, the muse is you!”

From there, hundreds of guests fanned out across Cleveland Public Theater’s campus at Pandemonium, the theater company’s annual fundraiser. The event, held Saturday, is one of the biggest parties in Cleveland, and this year, the occasion for the nonprofit's announcement that it's received a $1 million grant.

The theater’s supporters mingled with 250 performing artists, including costumed muses, jesters, black-clad winged fairies, birdmen with beaks angling from their foreheads, Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons, and haunting Mardi-Gras style giant puppets.

Twenty-two indoor and outdoor stages each hosted performances pretty much nonstop for two hours. Early rain sent crowds indoors. In the former orthodox church’s lower level, renamed the Bruise Me Basement, we were turned away from Stephen Farkas’ short play “A Peculiar Case of Execution” by a barbarian with a blood-tinged eye. The prisoners’ cell was very crowded, he explained, but he invited us to return a few minutes later. “We execute them about five times tonight,” he said.

Outside, as the rain died down, Ray McNiece and his band Tongue-in-Groove performed The Revenge of Cleveland, a blend of music and poetry. McNiece’s spoken-word rant, set off by a tiny nouvelle-cuisine dinner in Boston, became a paean to local comfort food, including “a meal as profound and murky as an immigrant cathedral” and a chicken dumpling soup with floating fat globules “like the hundred suns that never shine in gray Cleveland.” Then the full band, including an insistent harmonica and horn, propelled his “Love Song to Cleveland,” which got the Mexican skeletons dancing.

Down the theater’s catacomb-like side passageways, one small space hosted back-to-back sorts by local playwrights David Hansen and Eric Coble. Hansen’s “DO DO that VooDoo,” set at Cleveland Heights’ Alcazar Hotel in 1936, is built on actual lines from Plain Dealer theater critic William McDermott’s florid, condescending, deeply ambivalent review of Orson Welles’ all-black Macbeth. (Copies of McDermott’s review were handed out to the audience after the short.) The play imagines Welles, at the Alcazar’s bar, duping a starchy yet tipsy McDermott into handing over a telephone so he and an assistant can dictate the review – an almost believable explanation for McDermott’s writing style.

Coble’s “Waiting For the Matinee,” performed by two actresses sitting in the first row of seats, imagines an audience of two waiting to watch a production of Waiting for Godot. The first and last lines of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play (“Nothing to be done” and “Let’s go”), and presumably the last stage direction (“They do not move”), frame the short. In between, it’s an entertaining satire of the rewards, trials, hopes and disappointments of frequent theater patrons.

Back in the main hall, executive artistic director Raymond Bobgan shook up the usual acknowledgments and thank-yous with a big reveal. He announced that the Kresge Foundation has awarded CPT a $1 million grant for upkeep on its theaters. The award, part of a $7 million fundraising campaign, addresses the avant-garde company’s challenges in mounting productions amid the Gordon Square Theater’s old-Cleveland run-down grandeur.

CPT staged a bit of political fence-mending as it honored city councilman Joe Cimperman and his wife, ParkWorks associate director Nora Romanoff, with its Pan Award. The theater invited Dennis Kucinich to introduce Cimperman, a surprise move since the councilman, once a young ally of Kucinich, ran aggressively against him for Congress in 2008. Kucinich seized the peacemaking opportunity, praising Cimperman’s sense of community and creativity.

For Pandemonium’s finale, CPT stuck to a successful trio from years past: a performance by an aerial acrobat in a silk hammock, a grand entrance by several human desert tables, and two kitschy-cool sets by singer Lounge Kitty, whose ever-expanding repertoire now ranges from Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” to Rick James’ “Super Freak.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Italian Thing

The husband and I just returned from two amazing weeks in Tuscany. Eating the local cuisine and drinking the region’s wines was a centerpiece of our vacation, and I’m already jonesing for those wonderful leisurely meals. We ate cheeses, fresh baked breads, incredible cured meats, a different kind of pasta every day and always added a pitcher or bottle of some regional red. I never got tired of any of it. We also sampled some extraordinary top tier wines during visits to three wineries, Argiano, Il Molino di Grace, and Rocca di Frassinello. Big thanks to Flour chef and owner Paul Minnillo; Rudy Basille of Vias Imports, which specializes in Italian wines; and Bill Barefoot with Grand Cru Wine Company for help in setting up these memorable tours and tastings.

photo of our first lunch by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group

Imagine how happy I was to hear that Barefoot will be pouring some VIAS wines at A Taste of Little Italy, the 14th annual fundraiser for Holy Rosary Montessori School, on Sunday, Sept. 18. Might be a chance for me to recapture some of my Tuscan joy. He’ll be in good company: A number of distributors will be showcasing their Italian and Italian-style California wines; restaurants from the neighborhood and beyond, will serve appetizers and signature dishes; and bakers are providing traditional breads and sweets. It all happens from 3-7 p.m. in the schoolyard behind the church on Mayfield Road.

There’s live music, silent and live auctions, and a raffle for a trip to Italy that includes airfare. Given what we spent to get there, this is a very big deal. $10 gets you a chance to win, and it’s a good investment in so many ways. Purchase online now, along with entry tickets that give you access to all the food and drink ($70 per person in advance, $75 at the “door”), or call 216-421-0700. Pony up: the school, the kids and your taste buds will say "grazie mille!"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pitcher Perfect

It's a fun day at Cleveland Magazine. Great Lakes Publishing chairman Lute Harmon Sr. threw out the first pitch at today's Cleveland Indians game against the Oakland Athletics.