Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kids These Days

2014 Youth Voices Conference: Food Justice
Cleveland Botanical Garden | Oct. 17 & 18, 2014

We’re used to critiquing trendy restaurants, exploring culinary trends and hobnobbing with the city’s most creative food minds, but we thought it was important to take a moment to highlight an issue that's even more relevant to the Cleveland food scene: Food justice, or the idea that everyone is entitled to access to good, healthy food. The Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corp program seeks to address the gap by employing youth aged 14-18 (approximately 75 per year) in its urban gardens, teaching them sustainable agriculture, leadership and community engagement skills while growing produce for its farm market stand.

I sat down with Green Corps members Daniel Lewis, 17, and Renee Boyd, 16, to talk about this weekend’s Youth Voices conference, which will bring in other youth agriculture groups from throughout Ohio as well as Oakland, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Chanhassen, Minnesota, to discuss issues surrounding food justice and urban farming. Both are second-year veterans of the program with strong opinions about the local food scene as they know it.

CM: What made you want to participate in a group like Green Corps?
DL: I joined Green Corps to, like, build on my [skills] in making a garden. I want to be a chef when I’m older, so I thought if I could grow my own vegetables and fruits and stuff, I won’t have to rely on people to buy or supply them.

RB: Cut out the middle man.

CM: A chef? Where did that idea come from?
DL: When I was younger, my family always got together and cooked, and I always get happy when they’re cooking. That made me feel nice about it, so I thought if I could make people have that same joy that I have, then I could give back.

CM: So what's going on with the conference?
RB: We’re putting together a presentation about our group, our urban farm. And basically the reason for the conference is because there are other programs like ourselves, all over the country, and you know, like, working together is better than working alone. It’s a way to share and learn different things, learn from others.

CM: What do your friends and neighbors think about what you're doing?
DL: I really don’t think a lot of people know about it, because they don’t want to know, or nobody’s had time to tell them.

RB: When we do markets, we try to get as much word out as possible. ... I’ve been in that area, the Fairfax area, for a long time. ... I know there’s a lot of convenience stores more than you see farms. And it’s like, people talk to you, not necessarily from the neighborhood, but this group talked about food deserts, because there are all these convenience stores, there’s processed foods all over the place rather than real food from the ground that’s probably — it ACTUALLY IS better for you than processed foods.

CM: But you're teenagers. How do you really feel about junk food?
RB: I see a lot of people eating processed foods because it’s cheaper, and it’s closer to them. I could probably say there are about four convenience stores within walking distance of my home. Grocery stores? It’s a little bit of a longer trip.

DL: It’s the aspect of what they’ve grown up to. When they are growing up, they went to the corner stores and got some chips. It’s like a routine for them. They, usually when they had money, they’d go to the corner store and buy chips and a drink.

RB: It’s a matter of not knowing.

DL: They’re used to it.

RB: What we need to do is inform people. Show people that the youth DO care about this.

CM: Have your own diets changed as a result of your work with Green Corps?
RB: When I started, I was eating junk food, and my mom was trying to find a way to get us all eating healthier. Then I brought home some food from my garden that I grew in my own little plot, and my mom — this wasn’t her first health kick — so she just took it on, and we started going to the West Side Market, and we did this diet thing where we ate only food from the ground for a couple of months.

CM: How did that go?
RB: It was tough! I'm not going to say it was easy. The second week I broke down and had chicken wings. The ones in hot sauce [she laughs].

DL: Oh, the buffalo ranch ones?

RB: [Sighs] I did have the salad, though. But it was worth it. I felt a significant change in my body. I had more energy.

CM: So food is pretty important to your whole family?
DL: My parents, they made us stop eating cereal when I was young.

RB: Oh, don't worry! We don't drink pop at our house.

DL: When I was younger, we watched this video about food being bleached and stuff, like potatoes being bleached. And that changed everything, so we had to start eating organic. That made me mad because I had no cereal. ... After that I got used to it. So when I joined my farm, I had to walk to work, but when I got a bike, that’s when I started noticing change. I lost a lot of weight.

CM: What are you looking forward to the most from this conference? You have a lot of fun outings planned.
DL: That too, but I’m looking forward to learning what other gardens in other states have to say.

RB: I’m looking forward to the discussion. We came up with some questions that we thought might —

DL: “Are you hungry or are you starving?”

RB: That one can go anywhere.

DL: That was my question. Everybody thought it was a good question.

RB: Are you starving for real, healthy food? That's what I get from the question. We’re eating food, but it’s not really food.

DL: Even though, my dad says, “You've never been starving in your life.”

To support Daniel, Renee and other youth working to even the field, visit Cleveland Botanical Garden to purchase tickets to the Saturday event. Tickets are $15 for youth, $45 for adults.

The 3 F's

In January, Julia Moskin wrote an article for the New York Times about female chefs starting to get their due in the kitchen. I actually explored the same topic, with a focus on Cleveland's culinary lady lights, in a piece published back in 2006. Three of the women I wrote about — Karen Small, Pamela Waterman and Donna Chriszt — along with Ruth Levine and Britt-Marie Culey, will come together Dec. 4 to show off their prodigious talents in support of the Cleveland International Film Festival. They'll be serving dishes inspired by childhood favorites, playing off the theme "just like mom used to make." Dubbed Chef, the event will be a night to celebrate food, females and film. And it's also great fun.
Photo, Taxel Image Group
Karen Small, longtime chef and owner of the Flying Fig in Ohio City, really needs no introduction. Pamela Waterman left the restaurant world and now runs Duet Catering in Rocky River. I recently blogged about Chriszt and her new gig running the kitchen at Table 45, as well as about Culey and Coquette Patisserie, which she opened at the start of the year in Uptown. Levine, almost always seen in a white coat and apron, owns Bistro 185 with her husband, Mark, in Collinwood. Janine Poleman,​ founder and director​ of Agencie Campaine​, a wine sales and marketing company, also joins the lineup.
Photo, Taxel Image Group
My husband and I are hosting this shindig at Taxel Image Group, our Prospect Avenue photography studio and culinary prop heaven, something we've done seven other years. After everyone's had time to mix, mingle, eat, and drink, I'll introduce the women, give them a chance to talk about themselves and then lead them in a conversation on the theme and down memory lane with lots of audience participation.

This is part of the Film (and other Arts) Feasts series. We always get a full (and enthusiastic) house — and all the programs sell out fast — so the time to get your tickets is right now.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Draft Days: Three Can't Miss Cleveland Beer Week Events

Bottoms up, Cleveland! Tomorrow kicks off the sixth annual Cleveland Beer Week, a nine-day celebration of Cleveland’s hopping craft brewery scene with more than 350 events. Need the abbreviated tour for your liver’s sake? Here are Winking Lizard co-owner and Beer Week co-founder John Lane’s must-attend events:

1. Great Lakes Tap Takeover: Sat. Oct. 11 @ 11 a.m.

Great Lakes Brewery takes over the Winking Lizard Lakewood’s taps with 43 different Great Lakes beers. Yes, you read that correctly. In addition to the Ohio City brewery’s standards, Great Lakes' brewers have been stashing special elixirs and planning a few surprises to keep the beer flowing in the name of Lake Erie. A handful of beers will only be on tap for a few hours (or as long as it takes for the tap to run dry), with the last one hitting the bar at 5:30 p.m. “We are tapping a barrel-aged Christmas Ale. That’ll be the highlight of the day,” says Lane. “Christmas Ale is already revered in this city, but to have it barrel-aged is superb.” Winking Lizard Tavern Lakewood, 14018 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, 216-226-6693,

2. Culture Yourself, Tue. Oct. 14 @ 6-9 p.m.

What’s better than beer? Beer and cheese, of course. This ticketed event ($40 for 20 pairings) will feature 17 breweries — including local favorites Brew Kettle, Buckeye and Great Lakes — for an evening of beer and cheese pairings at the West Side Market in Ohio City. “This is the first time the West Side Market has opened their space for [any group] other than themselves in its entire history that we know of,” Lane says. One of the cheese stands will be open for some expert help. Lane’s favorite combo? “I love when you get a nice stout with a really nice blue cheese,” he recommends. “I’m a freak about blue cheese.” West Side Market, 1979 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-664-3387,

3. Brewzilla, Sat. Oct. 18 @ 6-10 p.m.

“A Monster of a Beer Tasting” is this event’s subheading, and for good reason. “We’ll have probably 120, 130 different breweries,” says Lane, with many breweries offering several types of beer. In the past, Brewzilla has been Cleveland Beer Week’s culminating event. It’s followed for the first time this year by a bluegrass festival on Sunday, but this is still the king of beer events. VIP tickets are already sold out, and general admission tickets ($50 per person) are going quickly. 5th Street Arcades, 530 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-583-0500,

For tickets or for more information about the nonprofit Cleveland Beer Week or the Malone Scholarship Fund it supports, visit

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sanctum Sanctuary

Sanctuary, the new restaurant and wine bar that opened this week on the ground floor of the Doubletree Cleveland Beachwood location, represents a shift in direction for national hotel chain restaurants. Rather than lackluster, no-name, by-necessity-only places designed to fill bellies after a day on the road, this hotel has managed to snag a new concept by the Driftwood Restaurant Group (headed by Chris Hodgson and Scott Kuhn). It's part of a growing trend in adding local flair to otherwise carbon-copied lodging. It's a great way to show visitors a little something about the city with barely having to leave their rooms.

The soft opening, held this Monday, Oct. 6, attracted a fairly large crowd. And while it showed that there are still a few kinks to work out (a few overlooked details like beverage service and a plodding pace), the restaurant lived up to its name fairly well, with serene gray-green walls (inspired by carpets in India), sparkling lighting, mounted driftwood art and distinct dining areas that allow the ability to cozy in or see and be seen.

As with most of Hodgson's culinary creations, the food at Sanctuary was approachable and rooted in nostalgia. For instance, we were met with Hanky Panky appetizers, a decades-old staple made with sausage and cheese on toast. This one used chorizo with an added a touch of fig jam to keep it modern. Fresh ginger, bourbon, honey, lemon juice and a touch of St. Germaine liqueur made up the signature cocktail, the Beehive, reminiscent of the '60s if only for its name and bourbon base. The next course was a blue crab hushpuppy topped with cucumber and "Old Bay'onnaise."

Blue Crab Hushpuppy: Crunchy outside, creamy inside
In general, the food was tasty but not overly inventive, which may actually be an advantage for road-weary travelers looking to settle stomachs without sacrificing atmosphere. Our next few courses rated above average: a wedge salad with pickled red onion and white French dressing, a crisp (but slightly cold) sea scallop over butternut squash and caramelized apple risotto and my personal favorite, hangar steak with chimichurri, garlic-herb fries and malt vinegar aioli.


Any restaurant in Beachwood will face stiff competition from its neighbors, but Sanctuary's location (in the former Capers nightclub space) and built-in clientele should give it an edge. Cheers to traveling local-style.

Brewing Up More Neighborhood Development

Sam McNulty calls him the "Donald Trump of Lorain." The guy who's successfully built his own food and drink empire on W. 25th Street is referring to his friend and fellow entrepreneur Justin Carson. The three of us were chatting at Platform Brewhouse, which opened in Ohio City this summer. Platform Beer Co., the name of the parent organization, is featured in this month's Best of Cleveland feature. Carson owns the building, along with a few others along the block, and moved the offices of his company, JC Beer Tech, from Medina to space on the second floor. A massive clean-out — the previous owner was reputedly quite the hoarder — and a complete gutting and rehab created the ground-level setting for the brewery and tasting room he and Paul Benner partnered to create.

Photo by Barney Taxel
The tanks are integral to the decor of the sprawling brick-walled room, and the taps feature an ever changing lineup of beers made on the premises and representing a variety of different styles. Flights and growler fills are both available for the asking. Patrons have recently had the chance to weigh in on criteria — types of yeast, style, alcohol content — for a Platform recipe that will be released during Cleveland Beer Week Oct 15.

There's a long bar and multiple communal tables, an old bowling machine and a high-tech jukebox, and a patio where dogs and smokers are welcome. The vibe is hyper-casual and organized around drinking. Management is focused on its hop-powered mission, so no wine or spirits. And rather than prepare food, they let various area restaurateurs and vendors set up shop — one per night — and sell their stuff.

Photo by Barney Taxel
The guys are also positioning this location as beer business incubator. With their brewmaster (and co-owner) Shawn Yasaki, they offer free training for beer-making hobbyists who dream of going pro. And the suds students can even try out their lagers and ales on Platform's customers and solicit their feedback.

The Cleveland Brew Shop, another Benner venture, which stocks beer-making supplies for the home enthusiast, is moving at end of this month from West 14th Street to another piece of Carson property right across the street from Platform. At the risk of inducing a sigh for my punning, I have to say things are really hopping on Lorain.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Year Round Oktoberfesting

I was driving down Chester Avenue last Thursday and noticed that workmen were putting up letters on the side of the new Hofbräuhaus Cleveland. Billed as a German microbrewery, beer hall, restaurant and beer garden, it's clear this will be a suds-centric establishment. Although we have no shortage of fine, locally brewed beers and drinking establishments, this spot fills a real lack on this side of the CSU campus neighborhood. It's scheduled to open quietly Oct. 9, and with some fanfare Oct. 22.

Management promises great food and live music. I'm not sure if the sounds will all be of the oompah-pah variety tradition (and if they are, just how popular they will be with Northeast Ohioans). But those with an appetite for hearty Old World fare will definitely find the menu appealing. Among the offerings are schnitzel, sauerbraten, smoked pork chops, potato pancakes and bread dumplings.
Once a distinctive place, Hofbräuhaus is now a brand. The structure they've put up here replicates the design of the one in Munich, Germany, built in 1897 — albeit with numerous modern amenities — and there are duplicate outposts in other cities around the country. The American establishments may look similar to the massive German tavern, but I lived in Bavaria in the 1960s and went to the original Hofbräuhaus on the Platzl, and it had a character that only time and the particularities of location can create. But authenticity is the buzzword for the enterprise and no doubt at least the beer, brewed to exacting and long established standards, will deliver on the promise.

But there is one thing I wonder: Will the servers resemble the fraus and frauleins from the iconic taproom? These sizable ladies with muscled arms who really filled a dirndl could carry three full steins in each hand. That sight is among my most enduring memories and it would add significantly to the general gemutlichkeit if such women were on the scene. The other lingering memory — and one I hope not to see here — is men with bad legs and big bellies in short leather pants.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Flights of Fancy

Tonight is the third and final class in the Zack Bruell Wine School: Tour de France series at Cowell & Hubbard. Exploring the Rhone and southern regions, the tasting dinner promises a true French experience: bouillabaisse, braised lamb shoulder, canapes, cheeses and, of course, tiny chocolate mignardises (which means "cute" in Old French). The wines will be served and explained by Bruell's sommelier, Robert LaBuda, while the menu is created by chef de cuisine Andy Dombrowski (along with the chefs at Cowell & Hubbard).

Dombrowski says each class presents at least three courses with three wines each, which allows participants to more fully experience subtle variations in wines within a single region.

That way, he says, guests get to "have some fun and play around with it, as opposed to just saying, 'Here, this is a Bordeaux, and this is what you should taste, and this is what it goes with. Would you like to buy a bottle?'" 

Featured wines will range from run-of-the-mill bottles to higher-end or lesser-known makers for a more robust exploration of the Rhone and Southern regions of France. "We’re showing our guests the difference in taste not only from a quality [perspective], but educating them on the regions," he says. "It’s kind of a neat and different way to do a wine dinner."

(We'll be live Tweeting our thoughts and tastes along the way, so stay tuned, and send us any questions along the way.)

"You don’t have to be bashful about asking questions," promises Dombrowski. "It’s a very welcoming environment ... an open forum, and that’s kind of how we treat our restaurants as well."

If you're already asking, 'When's the next one?" check out the Giro di Italia series focusing on Italian vintners at Chinato in October, or January's New World series at Parallax, which will explore wines from North and South America and the Australian continents. Call 216-298-9080 to make a reservation for the Italian series or 216-583-9999 for the New World. Classes are $90 each or $250 for the entire series. One participant from each series will win dinner with Bruell and a guest.