Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Victory at Waterloo

If you're not a Collinwood regular — and there's plenty to attract food and culture explorers of all stripes to this up and comer of a neighborhood — then this Sunday is the perfect time to get acquainted. R+ D Sausage, a veritable institution for 25 years in what is now called the Waterloo Arts and Entertainment District, is hosting a meat and greet from noon to 3 p.m. The buy local Got Sausage! event is meant to promote the area, the shop and the kind of traditional culinary arts that are oh so Cleveland.

There will be live entertainment, cooking demos and, of course, samples to taste. Presiding over it all will be master of cured meats and stuffed casings, store owner Joe Zuzak. Originally from Croatia, he makes a pan-Eastern European array of options: Slovenian bratwurst; Polish krakova, Hungarian hurka (rice ring); and sunkarica, a Balkan style bologna. He smokes his own bacon — used across the street by Chef Brian Doyle at the Beachland Ballroom, a great spot for Sunday brunch — cottage hams, pigs feet and pork loins. It's worth a trip just to step inside and catch some smells.

Zuzak's the real thing, not a trendy copy. Alenka Banco, who works with the Northeast Shores Development Corporation, describes him as devoted to his craft, authentic and involved in a labor of love that is now considered cool. He's watched and survived the neighborhood's changes and the future looks good. But his business and the others on the surrounding blocks could use a little extra love right now — they've been hurt by being in the middle of a construction zone. The streetscape improvements will be wonderful, when done, but until then it's a bit of an orange barrel obstacle course. Don't be daunted. Good things await the intrepid visitor.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Butter and Fold

It started with trips to Paris. Former nurse Debbie Holzheimer became obsessed with croissants — the real thing, so crisp on the outside that they crack and flake at the merest pressure — and not the flabby faux variety sold in plastic containers at the grocery store. It took her years of research and much trial and error to get the technique right. In 2012, she quit her day job, dubbed her efforts Metro Croissants and got serious about baking the buttery pastries.
At first she did all the work in her Parma home, pulling six at a time from the oven, and sold the results to friends. Last season, she had a stand at the Tremont Farmers' Market and couldn't keep up with the demand. She's there again this year every Tuesday evening, but spends all day in the kitchen at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ across the street where she can turn out batches of 75.

She makes plain ones, filled ones and a vegan version that is, at least to me, a contradiction in terms since the most important ingredient in croissants is butter. She also makes a French-inspired morning bun that resembles a cinnamon roll, only better. Asked what her secret is, Holzheimer replied, "I had to learn to be patient. The dough's the boss, not me. You can't rush things. It lets you know when it's ready."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rice is Nice, Sake is Better

What looks like vodka, is brewed like beer, but drinks like wine? The answer is sake, the ancient and traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice.

Locally, there's no better place to learn about it firsthand than SASA Restaurant in Shaker Square. The restaurant has more than 40 different kinds of sake on the menu. Every Tuesday night, 300 ml bottles are half price, or you can opt for sake flights or sake cocktail specials. Owners Scott and Brenda Kim also host three-course sake tasting dinners on the last Tuesday of each month (advance reservations are required).

But at 6 p.m. April 22, there's an opportunity to go a little deeper. Artisan sake expert Norikane Kira will be on hand to provide a guided tour through five imported varieties of Jizake, distinctive regional versions of the rice beverage produced in small batches. Each will be paired with a small dish that is sure to be wonderful. The event will cost $15 per person, plus tax and gratuity not included. Seating is limited and reservations are essential. My husband and I are already on the list and looking forward to some liquid education.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fizzy Math

Photo courtesy of Suzuran Photography
Mike Gulley has a plan, a partner and a product. He's run the numbers, prepped countless test batches and — after three years of development, false starts and testing the water efforts — he's ready to make his small batch, all natural, less-sweet pop commercially available under the new brand name Old City Soda, which was formerly known as Cleveland Soda Works. The goal is to launch this summer, and he hopes there will be a storefront cafe-type location, too. But you don't have to wait that long to taste his stuff.
Gulley will set up shop at the first Cleveland Flea of the season. On Saturday, April 12, he'll be pouring and selling his non-alcoholic ginger beer — a drink that explodes on your tongue and leaves a tingle behind — as well as Cinchona bark and lemon grass tonic, fruity flavors like grapefruit and a cinnamon version.
Photo courtesy of
 Suzuran Photography
The pop-up market, held in the parking lot and garden of Sterle's Country House on East 55th Street, is a terrifically fun event dedicated to all things local, handmade, vintage, repurposed, artistic, edible and curious, making it the perfect match for his liquid creations. A bartender by trade, Gulley will also be mixing up some adult-only cocktails, featuring his own carbonated beverages including a Moscow Mule and a wonderful version of the Dark and Stormy that I've had the pleasure of tasting. And if winter continues to resist giving up up its grip, he promises there will be hot toddies, too.
Right now, Gulley's soda-making is a side venture and he spends most nights and weekends as fruit peeler, brewer and bottle filler. But the 29-year-old hopes that soon he'll be able to concentrate on bringing us "the most unique crafts sodas out there." Just thinking about it makes me thirsty.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cleveland's Marvel-ous Movie Premiere

Cleveland natives Joe and Anthony Russo directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, out Friday. 

Tuesday night at Cinemark at Valley View, about 1,500 people all witnessed an incredible underdog story good enough for Hollywood, but made in Cleveland. We're not talking about the movie screened there, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the blockbuster's directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. Read our April issue for the full story.

As kids, the self-taught filmmakers from Cleveland's East Side first picked up a video camera to film the family vacation at Disney World. This time, Disney bankrolled the brothers to shoot The Winter Soldier for six weeks in their hometown. About $80 million (of the estimated $150 to $170 million budget) was spent in the region, Joe says. The local cast and crew, along with the Russos' family and friends, were invited to the Cleveland premiere, which followed screenings in Los Angeles, Paris, London and Beijing.

This was the Russos' third time making a film in Cleveland. The first was a darkly comic student film Pieces, which premiered on the wall of their parents' garage. That led to the caper comedy, Welcome to Collinwood. Then the always affable directors were approached by Ron Howard to make Arrested Development. Though they won an Emmy for directing the pilot, the show was eventually canceled due to dwindling ratings and has been rebooted by Netflix. Their biggest success, Community, airs on NBC Thursdays at 8 p.m.

The Winter Soldier was spectacular, but you'll have to see for yourself Friday when it hits theaters nationwide. No spoilers here. It's no secret Marvel has already negotiated with the Russos to film the next chapter in Captain America's saga. Before the film, a live presentation appeared on all five screens, in which Ivan Schwarz, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, mentioned the possibility of that film being made here, too. "If you want to make that promise today, it's cool," he told the brothers, only half-joking.

Joe and Anthony stole the show, thanking the state for providing the $9.5 million tax credit, the city for putting up with the West Shoreway shutdown, and of course, their family, which probably filled up half the theaters.

Afterward, Joe was out in the sea of people, where he is most comfortable, getting his picture taken and hugging everyone who walked by. Anthony, who prefers a more quiet environment, hung back by the theater doorway and talked to people one-on-one.

"We really feel like we made this movie for ourselves, like we're the audience," Anthony said. "To be around other people, to see them react the same way we did to the film, was just really exciting, especially because they were people so close to home."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Good Fit, Close Quarters

Without planning on it, I seem to be on a tear about small spots. Last month I wrote about Tony's Southside in Tremont and Orale in Ohio City. Now I've got a third one, this time on the East Side. Gigi's on Fairmount opened in Cleveland Heights, a few doors down from On the Rise bakery, in late 2013. A labor of love for husband and wife Gia Ilijasic and Jim Patsch, who explain their new venture as the natural outgrowth of their personal enthusiasm for good food, good drink and good times, the pretty little place bills itself as a wine cafe. Based on how busy it was on a recent cold and blustery week night, it looks as though it's just what the neighborhood needed.

 My girlfriend and I found a nice, reasonably priced bottle of Italian red and shared an artisan cheese platter that included jam, dried fruit, nuts and — best of all — a pool of lavender honey. We also got a mix-n-match bruschetta board, selecting four toppings from a long list of options: white bean and kalamata olive tapenade, house-made trout pate, shredded roast pork flavored with lime and cilantro, and caponata made with lamb and feta. All were quite tasty. The kitchen also offers a daily soup or two, salads, overstuffed pannini, charcuterie and a couple of entree style specials nightly.

I really like Gigi's, but so do lots of other people and that's the problem. It was incredibly loud and 45 seats are crammed uncomfortably close together. It felt like we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the people on either side of us. Private conversation was not possible and by the time we left my throat was sore from shouting over the din. I'm looking forward to the warm weather when they'll expand to the sidewalk out front.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Geek Cred

When Joe and Anthony Russo were seeking an endorsement to become the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they asked Steven Soderbergh. The Oscar winner, who had produced their Hollywood directorial debut Welcome to Collinwood, had a simple question: “Tell me why you want to do this movie,” Soderbergh recalls.

He wanted to confirm the upstart indie directors he discovered at Slamdance Film Festival in 1997 weren’t just trying to advance their careers by taking on a high-profile property.

“You don’t understand,” they responded. “We have a comic collection worth [$60,000]. We’re obsessed with this stuff. That’s why we want to do it.”
Joe and Anthony Russo field fanboy questions at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International
Soderbergh called Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and told him, “I think they’ll totally deliver for you.”

Marvel believes they have. The two sides have held negotiations for Captain America’s next adventure, too, says Anthony.

“You need to have some street cred in terms of your knowledge,” Soderbergh says. “The fans of that stuff really smell a dilettante.”

Joe’s knowledge has been building for 32 years.

“My uncle Ron gave me a box of 100 comics from his collection from when he was 10,” says Joe, who collected for about 20 years. “I read 'em all in a few days.”

And like with any good origin story, there was a dash of foreshadowing.
“One of the first was 'Marvel Team-Up' with Cap and Falcon, ” Joe remembers. “When we found out we were going to do this movie, it was very resonant for me. It felt like it had come full circle. You laugh because you think of all the money you spent on comic books as a kid actually came to fruition.”

Joe and his uncle would add to their collection a few times a month, digging for rare finds at comic conventions. Most memorably, he struck geek gold at a garage sale when he was 12.

“I bought The Incredible Hulk No. 181 for 25 cents at a garage sale,” Joe says. The issue features the first full appearance of Wolverine. One copy fetched $150,000 at a 2011 auction. “I felt guilty, because at the time it was worth a couple hundred bucks. So I asked her, ‘You know what this is worth?’ ”

“She said ‘I do. I just want to share my collection with kids, so take it.’ ”

Joe was blown away by the gesture, which stuck with him. “One day, I’m going to sell everything in my collection for a quarter at a garage sale to a bunch of kids.”

The Cleveland premiere of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is 6 p.m. tonight at the Cinemark at Valley View. Tickets are required for the event. More information can be found at The nationwide release is April 4.