Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Wait for Michael Symon's Mabel's BBQ Continues

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely been part of the crowds trudging past the still-shuttered former La Strada storefront on East Fourth Street sniffing the air for a hint of barbecue.

Cleveland sweetheart chef Michael Symon claimed the empty restaurant next to Lola Bistro last year, promising to turn it into the go-to spot for Cleveland-style barbecue (and if that's not enough to warm your belly, you might like to know it's named for his late pooch, Mabel, a bullmastiff).

We reported in our July issue feature on Symon by managing editor Kim Schneider that Mabel's "coming soon" sign would be replaced with "now open" by the end of summer. In a recent press release, Symon confirmed the long-anticipated location will open its doors by fall.

According to Symon, who is famed for his love of all things four-legged, barbecue has its own regional flair, meaning brisket from Texas isn't quite like the mutton in Kentucky or the pulled pork sandwiches in North Carolina. His goal is to put Cleveland on the map, drawing out our local preferences for applewood smoke, ballpark mustard and maple syrup.

And we've been hearing about the scrumptious goodies to come ever since, but repeated delays have foiled our plans for smoked meats slathered in sauce, burnt ends and beans, trays toppling with brisket.

It's been a long wait, but we'll go to great lengths for Symon's signature carnivorous cuisine.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In the Mood for Food Trucks

Image provided by Fairview Park Recreation Center
Summer is quickly slipping away. Capture the sun with a day of fun and food at the Fairview Food Truck Festival, Aug. 1 from 4-9 p.m. It’s free to attend (food and drinks extra) and packed with nearly 20 food trucks, live music, inflatables and cornhole. A sprayground and $5, 16-ounce beers will keep you cool in the 80-degree weather.

Here are our picks for a few of the lines worth waiting for, and what to order when you do:
  • Stone Pelican Rolling CafĂ© (Norton, Ohio): Try the pickle fries ($5), deep-fried dill pickles with a side of “awesome sauce.” 
  • Boca Loca Burrito Factory (Cleveland): The Supermodel ($8), a big-ole burrito for vegans made with zucchini, squash, bell peppers, onion, cilantro-lime rice, black beans and habanero salsa.
  • Premier Crepes (Akron, Ohio): Sweet tooths will want to dig into a nutty version of a S’mores crepe ($7) made with marshmallows, graham crackers and nutella.
  • Proper Pig Smokehouse (Cleveland): Demolish your hunger with this adorably adorned mobile eatery’s Proper Slopper ($12), a monster sandwich of beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, bacon and cole slaw.
  • Off the Griddle (Cleveland): Grab an iced coffee made with Rising Star brew. A 16-ounce pour is just $3.
Fairview Park Recreation Department at the Gemini Center, 21225 Lorain Road, Fairview Park,

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Jenny's Wedding

Cleveland may not be the maid of honor, but it’s certainly part of the bridal party in Jenny’s Wedding. The Katherine Heigl film, shot here in fall 2013 and set to debut in select theaters nationwide July 31, uses familiar settings such as the 5th Street Arcade and Zagara’s Marketplace in Cleveland Heights as the backdrop to a conflict between suburban ideals and modern reality.
As Jenny, Katherine Heigl is a compassionate woman who, after years of locking the truth underneath a layer of dutiful daughter platitudes, decides it is finally time to come out to her parents and marry the woman they thought was her roommate. Her father and mother, played by Tom Wilkinson and Linda Emond, are stunned, their selfish misconceptions about their gay daughter molded by suburban fear: What will the neighbors think?
Filmed throughout the city in fall 2013, Jenny’s Wedding suffered a bumpy post-production ride involving an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that led to its world premiere July 10 at Outfest Los Angeles. Cleveland is a very visible backdrop to this family drama, hosting a rousing, self-aware speech in the Arcade by Jenny and a confrontational outburst from Jenny’s mother directed at the neighborhood busybodies in Zagara’s. It also contributes to golden moments of comic relief, including one earnest debate over the virtues of taking Interstate 90 versus Carnegie Avenue after 4:30 p.m. on a weekday. While same-sex marriage was not legal in Ohio until long after filming, the issue is — somewhat prophetically — left untouched.
Jenny’s Wedding is neither extreme in its message nor gaudy in its execution. And although the music may rise a bit overdramatically at poignant moments and the wedding finale may put the pieces together a bit too perfectly, the film is nuanced, relatable and gritty. Jenny’s family could be anyone’s family.   // Sarah Rense

Tour de Course

There's no stopping Zack Bruell. 

As part of his sixth annual Tour de Bruell — an epicurean adventure where guests visit all five of his fine-dining restaurants between Memorial Day and Labor Day, collecting stamps along the way — the culinary pioneer hosted 10 guests who were the first to finish the journey.

While he shared his impressive story on how he's successfully opened Parallax, Table 45, L'Albatros, Chinato and Cowell & Hubbard throughout the night, each dish reminded us why he's one of the best chefs in the city. It also got us excited about the opening of his new spot, Alley Cat. Located on the east bank of the Flats, Bruell thinks the seafood spot will be ready in about two weeks. 

Until then, let one of these Bruell dishes tide you over.

Parallax's chili-orange marinated shrimp paired with a roasted beet and watermelon salad and avocado mousse makes great uses of seasonal ingredients for a cool, refreshing dish. Pro tip: Make sure to snag a table on the Tremont spot's patio. 

Get a double dose of vegetables in this Chinato pasta. A rich roasted cauliflower puree complements carrot fettuccine and ricotta salata. Pro tip: Sip on Chateau Campuget rose, known for its fruity notes of raspberries and black currants. 

The French-inspired Cowell & Hubbard crosses borders with a serving of chili-rubbed Latin braised pork paired with anasazi beans, fresh avocado and cilantro. Pro tip: End the night with a meringue ice cream sandwich. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Neon Trees Are Poppin' Up In Cleveland

Photo credit: Mathew Hartman
 The Neon Trees are getting intimate. After three years away, the alt-pop band returns to Cleveland this Friday for its new small venues tour, An Intimate Night Out With Neon Trees, at the House of Blues. Although the band hasn’t released an album since 2014's Pop Psychology, the mostly poppy, slightly rocky band released its single, “Songs I Can’t Listen To,” earlier this May. “The most important thing for us has always been to write and record and play music that we all enjoy,” says the band’s drummer Elaine Bradley. We tune in with Bradley to see what the band will be turning up on its latest tour.

Q: Why did you decide to take the tour to more intimate settings? 
A: This tour was kind of a selfish venture. We just kind of, almost last-minute were like, We don’t want to not tour this year, and we kind of want to see the fans, and we want to play music. And so we just decided to do a smaller tour for people that care. And also, there’s like this, raw energy that happens when you play in a smaller venue and don’t use all the bells and whistles and all the production and all the stage pieces. It’s just you playing your music, and people enjoying your music. There’s something really cool about that.

Q: You recently announced that you’ll be adding a third little one to your family and are currently touring while pregnant. What’s that been like for you? 
A: First of all, being on tour pregnant basically just makes everything less comfortable. It’s one of those things where my husband and I are on the same page. He really loves being a stay-at-home dad, and I really love playing music. And so long as that works where we’re on the same page, then we do it. And it’s one of those things where I don’t really see myself being a touring artist until like, 50 or 60. So you do the sacrifices up front to have more time later. But for now, it works and maybe the kids will think it’s cool. The problem is your own kids don’t think you’re as cool as anybody else does.

Q: You’ve been touring for over a month now. What’s the most exciting thing to happen so far?
A: There’s just been an energy and a vibe and so many people have shown up and been singing every word. ‘Cause you know, this is more for fans. So I think the shows themselves have been the most unique and exciting part, and just seeing people’s reactions. It’s always confusing to be at a Neon Trees show and look out at the audience and you’re like, These people seemingly have no ties to each other. They’re all different types of people. Like, they didn’t come together, you know? But it’s so cool because it’s the music they came for, and it creates a very cool vibe when you have a bunch of different types of people enjoying the same thing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Local Hidden Treasures Uncovered by 'Antiques Roadshow' Crew

In 1902, a blue-and-white stoneware bowl engraved with the words “Love is the Sweet Wine of Life” was commissioned as a wedding present for a couple to be married later that year. A century later, the same bowl showed up in Cleveland at the 2002 Antiques Roadshow where it struck a chord with executive producer Marsha Bemko. “It had these words on it that will endure forever,” says Bemko. “You get jaded as a Roadshow producer. We see things of things of tremendous value. It’s the stories that start to rock my boat.” On July 11, Antiques Roadshow filled the Cleveland Convention Center with more hidden treasures, family heirlooms and rare trinkets for appraisal. Of the 6,000 Northeast Ohioans who carted their antiques through the long appraisal lines, only a small portion will be featured in three upcoming one-hour episodes of PBS' Antiques Roadshow. These three regional finds made the cut.

Louis Baus Sketches

Photo by Meredith Nierman for WGBH, (c) WGBH 2015
Born in 1875, Louis Baus was a well-known photographer for The Plain Dealer. Before capturing 40 years of Cleveland history from behind the camera lens, a 15-year-old Baus drew intricate color sketches of American and Players league baseball teams, including the Cleveland Indians. Grant Zahajko appraised a collection of these sketches for $1,500-$2,500. “In 1890, that’s all they had,” says Zahajko. “We take it for granted today that we can just pull out our smartphones and take a picture.”

Mahoning County Harvest Jug

Photo by Meredith Nierman for WGBH, (c) WGBH 2015
Wes Cowan, a Cincinnati-based appraiser with an auction house in Warrensville Heights, was most excited by a Mahoning Valley clay jug from the 1880s. The jug, appraised for $4,000-$6,000, is special because it was inscribed with the names of its maker and owner. This type of pottery was called bluebird pottery because when bluebirds returned to the area for the season, the clay was ready to be mined. “When the bluebirds come, it’s time to get out and get in the kiln and make some pottery,” says Cowan. “When the bluebirds leave, you’re done.”

Indians World Series Ticket Stubs

Photo by Meredith Nierman for WGBH, (c) WGBH 2015
In 1920, the Cleveland Indians won their first World Series against the Brooklyn Robins. During Game 5, the Indians hit the first ever Series grand slam, and they pulled off the first and only Series unassisted triple play. Today, two ticket stubs from the Series-winning game are worth $2,000, according to appraiser Simeon Lipman. “World Series tickets from 1920 are very scarce,” says Lipman, “and it was Game 7, the last game, the winning game.”

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review and Pics: The "Trainwreck" Premiere Barrels Into Akron

LeBron James hosted the Trainwreck Akron premiere to show off his hometown to the stars
and share the experience with his family, friends and fans lined up outside.

This is how LeBron James hosts a movie premiere: He takes over Regal Cinemas Montrose, plasters the exterior walls with a Trainwreck poster and massive image of his face, and replaces all of the movies in the marquee with the declaration: "I promise I'll never forget where I came from." Plus, he rolls out the red carpet and brings stars Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Cleveland native Vanessa Bayer and director Judd Apatow. Oh, and it's actually the world premiere (the Manhattan premiere is July 14 and the theatrical release is July 17) of the raunchy rom-com that he plays a significant supporting role in. And LeBron James knows how to show off his city: He took the stars to Swensons for a round of Galley Boy cheeseburgers and banana shakes. Here's our review.
As a high-heeled Amy Schumer slowly descended the movie theater steps for the
screening, she joked, "I'm like an elderly person."
Yes, Trainwreck is a romantic comedy. But it's not quite tied in a bow; it's actually incredibly messy, awkward and undone. And since brazen comedian Amy Schumer wrote the film loosely based on her life, you can expect boldness and several lines to be crossed. The female protagonist, Amy, is unfiltered and unforgiving for being open with her sexuality and not wanting to have the picket fence future being pushed on her. The male love interest, Aaron, played by Bill Hader in his first romantic leading role, isn't your typical bulging muscles Channing Tatum type, instead he's gawky and endearingly sweet.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, native Bill Hader deadpanned the Dillard's
in Akron reminded him of his hometown.
And in place of the typical douchebag wingman, Trainwreck offers Cavaliers star LeBron James — who Schumer wrote into the movie because she claimed he was the only basketball player she knew — as a goofy version of himself and a best friend to Aaron. The scenes with James and Hader are gold as James constantly spouts off-base advice from quoting Kanye West's "Gold Digger" to likening Hader's romantic situation to James' being accepted back to Cleveland — yes, the Cleveland scene made the final cut. And there is a can't-miss game of one-on-one basketball that ends with a chalk toss.

Director Judd Apatow brought his family to the premiere
including (left to right) daughter Maude, actress wife Leslie Mann and daughter Iris.

While the advanced screening crowd couldn't stop laughing (especially with the stars sitting in the same theater), the comedy is actually surprisingly complex and emotional in a candid way, with some even shedding tears at scenes of Amy and her sister (Brie Larson) caring for their ailing dad.

Clevelanders, should see this movie to witness James' hilarious performance, but it's also a great flick for anyone looking for a heartwarming, funny and honest film that depicts a more closer-to-real-life version of an imperfect relationship than we're used to getting from rom coms.

The screening was a homecoming for Cleveland native Vanessa Bayer,
who brought her dad as her date. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Q & A with Chris Rose of ABC's BattleBots

Photo provided by ABC
Chris Rose describes ABC's BattleBots as boxing meets mixed-martial arts meets March Madness. Only with explosive robot action.

Shaker Heights native Rose normally appears on MLB Network and the NFL Network co-hosting a variety of shows, but his latest gig as BattleBots' play-by-play man has him covering a sport that is nothing like anything he's tackled before.

"When I walked in on the first day, there was this one bot called Warhead that looked like something out of an alien movie," he says. "It had a tail and wings, and this spinning dome on top of its head. You're just sitting [there] saying, 'Holy crap, if that thing ever got loose, that's a horror film waiting to happen.'"

We went toe-to-toe with Rose to talk about what makes BattleBots exciting and his projection on this year's Cleveland sports scene.

On Bot Building:
These builders are pouring their heart and soul into these things. They take sometimes six to eight months to get their bot exactly where they want. They go to work just like any of us do and then they go to work on their passion. I don't know how you are, but I get queasy around an electric screwdriver. Just the fact that these people can figure out a way to make these and be better than their opponent is fascinating.

On the Dark Side:
There was a guy named Ray who built a bot called 'Tombstone'. He is the guy who we kind of call the 'Darth Vader' of BattleBots, and he embraces that role. He walked the pit area, which is where all the bots are built. He was looking at all of the other bots and said 'Yea, this might make a good little appetizer' and 'That's a cute toy for my bot'. That was great to see and there were people that were intimidated by him, no question about it.

On the Cleveland Indians:
This is as disappointing a campaign as I can remember. Corey Kluber hasn't been great. Carlos Carrasco has been so-so. Trevor Bauer has been pretty good and earned a spot in the rotation. The bullpen hasn't been as good as it was a year ago, and the offense stinks. It's really, really tough to watch. That being said, they can still make a run, but I wouldn't be shocked if they were seller [at the trade deadline].

On the Cleveland Browns:
The quarterback situation is a joke — it's awful. They went up and got [Johnny] Manziel and when they drafted him, we all cheered. I was watching the draft with one of my brothers and we were excited, but he's not doing anything. I don't see him as an NFL quarterback. Their starter for 2017 is still not on their roster in my opinion. Until they get that figured out, the best they can really be is an 8-8 or 7-9 team. And I think they are building the team the right way. What they've done with the offensive line is good. Defensively they are a pretty good group — they could apply a little more pressure to the passer, but until you get the most important position in sports filled, you're just going to be spinning the wheels.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cookies for Kids

During the school year, more than 21 million children in the nation's food-insecure homes qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches at school. But that begs another question:

What do they eat over the weekend?

Here in Northeast Ohio, children make up roughly 30 percent of the total population (more than 574,000 people) served by the Greater Cleveland and Akron-Canton Regional food banks. In partnership with Feeding America, the food banks offer a backpack program which distributes bags of food to children to help them access nutritional foods on days they're not in school.

Yet because of a constant struggle for resources, these bags are not available over holiday weekends or over the summer. During the summer months, hungry kids must travel to designated spots throughout the city to receive a meal.

"If you're near a community center you can go and get [food]," says Myra Orenstein, president of Cleveland Heights-based advertising firm CATV and acting executive director of Cleveland Independents. She'd like to see more of these sites to make it easier for kids to access.

Seeing the need and feeling inspired to help alleviate hunger in the community, Orenstein worked with the restaurant collective and area food banks to organize a one-day cookie drive, which takes place this Thursday, July 9 at select Cleveland Independents restaurants — including Bistro 185 Fahrenheit, Flying Fig, Luna, Moxie, Toast and the Willeyville (see the Cleveland Independents home page for a full list of participating locations).

For two and a half bucks, you can get a chef-made cookie such as Fire's oatmeal and chocolate chip version, Corky & Lenny's oversized chocolate chip cookie or Nuevo Mod Mex's Mexican chocolate cookie. In the process, you'll sweeten the pot a little for children in need: Dollar for dollar, that small price will provide 10 meals, according to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

One hundred percent of money raised during the drive will go to the food bank closest to the participating restaurant to help support the backpack program. And while one drive alone won't solve these problems, it's a much-needed influx of cash to help food-assistance programs like the backpack program.

"I was shocked to see the need," Orenstein says. "[Hunger] is just down the street, it's not a foreign country. This is Cleveland."

Feeling a little post-holiday-indulgence guilt? Save the calories and just donate cash through the virtual food drive.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Brews & Prose Turns 3 with Mary Norris and Paula McLain

Photo by Josef Astor
Author Mary Norris has a deep appreciation for the tools of her trade. "The part I enjoyed most was writing about pencils," says Norris, referring to a chapter that recounts a beloved visit to Ohio's Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in her new book, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Currently a query proofreader for The New Yorker with decades of experience, the Cleveland native returns Tuesday, July 7 for the third anniversary of Brews & Prose at 7 p.m. at Market Garden Brewery. Norris will read excerpts from her first book, Comma Queen, which combines grammar expertise with quirky tales from the halls of The New Yorker. Norris is joined by The Paris Wife author Paula McLain, a local who is releasing Circling the Sun at the end of this month, at the reading series we named Best of Cleveland in 2013. We chat with Norris about her authorial debut and what's on tap for her return to Cleveland.

Q: What was it like writing your first book?
A: What made the book difficult was that I did not at first understand that the proposal for the book was not the blueprint for the book. ... And so I wrote a lot about The New Yorker thinking that's what the publisher wanted, what the editor wanted. And in fact, he wanted something that was broader than The New Yorker audience for the book. So he kept having to tell me to broaden it out, and I kept having to fall back on the fact that, that was my experience.

Q: How did you handle the different reactions to your book?
A: Certainly for reasons of publicity, any review is a good review. You know I mean if it appears anywhere, then at least it's getting noticed and that's good. So I didn't quibble with anything anybody wrote. And you know, maybe I should have because the people who like this kind of thing love to quibble.

Q: As a Cleveland native coming back to the city, what are you looking forward to about the event?
A: Well, I am looking forward to being on the West Side in a venue that is well-established there and now. I'm very flattered to be on a bill with Paula McLain, whose book I'm reading right now. And, and I like it also that the people who run Brews & Prose are young and they're not like old-school connections of mine. Although I hope a few of my old-school connections will be at the event, I feel like I'm also reaching a new audience in Cleveland — people that I've never met before and who didn't go to high school with me. So that's exciting to me. I'm also looking forward to drinking some of the beer.