Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Add Some Sparkle to Your Soirees

For years, I found the idea of drinking champagne much better than the actual experience. The taste was disappointing and the toasting always left me with a beastly headache. That’s because I was filling my flute with inexpensive bubbles. Turns out, I wasn’t quaffing the real deal- which comes ONLY from a specific district in France and can’t be had for anything close to $20 a bottle. Even the quality equivalent of Two Buck Chuck
or Yellowtail costs $40-$50. I didn’t know that cheap champagne is an oxymoron. Doesn’t exist. Anything that purports otherwise is a bad imitation, a poseur in a bottle.
Photo by Barney Taxel

Then I discovered prosecco. And popping the cork became much more pleasurable. This sparkling wine comes from northern Italy and is made primarily from a white grape native to the Veneto region in the foothills of the Alps. It’s clean, crisp, light bodied, and fizzy with a flavor that marries citrus to honey. Happily it is easy to find and there are many good choices in the $12-17 range.
I turned to local expert Bob Fishman, owner of The Grapevine, an excellent wine store in Cleveland Heights, for some specific recommendations this season. He’s raving about Ca’tuillo, a dry prosecco that retails for $14.99, and a slightly sweeter version from Bortolotti at $15.99. Another option is their less bubbly, lower alcohol cousin frizzante- try the San Simone for $12.99. Someone else is supplying the beverages for the New Year’s eve party I’m attending but in preparation for what I hope will be many celebrations of all sorts in 2010, I plan to keep all three on hand. Other sparklers I'm just beginning to explore are sekt from Germany and Spanish cava. My education will involve much glass clinking.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Baricelli has a Big Birthday

Over the years, the Baricelli Inn has been the scene of so many celebrations. People have chosen the charming manor house setting to mark anniversaries and graduations, toast brides and grooms, honor achievements and milestones. But last week, the place itself turned twenty five and the event provided the prompt for a party. That kind of longevity in this industry is quite an accomplishment and a testament to chef and owner Paul Minnillo’s talent and determination. He was preparing extraordinary food long before guys in the kitchen had the cachet of rock stars. Many of Cleveland’s most prominent younger chefs, including Michael Symon, acknowledge his influence and the importance of his contributions to the local dining community.

Minnillo’s quarter century adventure began when he purchased the 19th century stone mansion on the corner of Cornell Road and Murray Hill in Little Italy from the Baricelli family estate. It had been empty for years and his son John, who now works with him as front of the house manager, told me it was in utter disrepair without functioning electrical or plumbing systems. The renovations required four years to complete. My twin sons were born the same month Paul opened the restaurant. I was thinking about both those new beginnings, and all that’s happened since then, while enjoying the wonderful birthday dinner he and his staff created for family, friends, and fans.

The menu and pairings were outstanding: lobster bisque/ Robert Foley Pinot Blanc 2007; duck sugo (a stewy sort of slow simmered sauce) on pappardelle/ Jos. Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2006; braised lamb shank with celery root puree and wine reduction /Domain La Roquette Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005: artisanl cheese plate/ Chateau La Vielle Cure 2004; and pear tart tatin/ Warres 10 year Tawny Port.

This was without a doubt a very special occasion. But don’t wait for one of your own to visit. A couple of years ago, responding to changing preferences and economic realities, Minnillo retooled his approach, moving away from a purely fancy fine dining model to one that is includes more casual and moderately priced options. So any night’s the right night to enjoy what this landmark restaurant has to offer, no event or reason, other than a desire for something good to eat and drink- required.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brass band plays Christmas music at West Side Market

The West Side Market filled with deafening, bombastic Christmas cheer today as a nine-piece brass band performed holiday carols from the balcony. I photographed the hornblowers as they oompahed through "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." At one point they raised half-full plastic cups of what looked like a blond ale and toasted the crowd in a language I didn't understand.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

These Competitions are Sweet

The Mitchell family has been selling their wonderful chocolates in Cleveland Heights since 1939. I’ve been a fan (with a special soft spot for their dark dipped apricots and orange peels) ever since moving to the neighborhood 30 plus years ago, and there are many like me. I once carted a box of Mitchell's candy all the way to mountains of northwestern Panama, protecting it from customs inspectors and the vicissitudes of three plane flights, because it was the birthday gift of choice for a local expat who runs a fabulous boutique eco-resort there called Rancho de Caldera.

Chris and Penelope opened the first store at the intersection of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, next to the movie theater. Now Bill Mitchell and his mother, who carry on what Chris began, sell their handmade barks, pecan turtles, truffles and nut clusters from a shop on Lee Road.
To celebrate the business’ 70th anniversary, they’re sponsoring two writing contests. The author of the winning essay about a favorite Mitchell’s memory will be rewarded with a two pound box of chocolates. The best submission in answer to the question “What was your family doing in 1939?” earns the writer a whole gift basket of goodies. Both entries must be 250 words or less and submitted- in person, by regular post or email- no later than January 16th. Complete details online. Personally I recommend stopping in at the store in the next couple of weeks. to find out everything you need to know about the contests. That way you can multi-task, also picking up gifts for all the lucky chocoholics on yourholiday list, and get yourself a tasty little something special to spark creativity and start those literary (and salivary) juices flowing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Talking Twilight with Chaske

On Saturday Chaske Spencer was at the Lake Erie Monsters game at the Q Arena. I caught up with him to talk about his character in The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Sam Uley, as well as other aspects of starring in the smash hit.

What was the workout regimen for New Moon like?
We went and worked out with this guy named James Metropolis, and he helped out on the 300. And so we did a lot of muscle confusion, and it was pretty intense training. It was a lot of circuit training, so it burned fat as well as put on muscle. So, we were pretty jacked by the end of the shoot. During the middle of it we were all working out, and we could see our veins popping out. Kinda cool. First time I’ve ever seen anything like that.

What do you think of the character of Sam?
When I was reading it, I thought he was a very tragic figure. He’s the beta wolf, and the beta wolf is the second in command, because Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is the rightful leader. And [Jacob’s] not manning up to take his alpha destiny, so I’m sort of taking the place. So I look at him as a guy who’s doing the best he can for the job he’s given. He never wanted to be a werewolf — none of them really did — but his story is that no one was there to help him become a werewolf. It just started happening; he freaked out, didn’t know what was going on with him.

Do you find you have a lot of female fans?
Yeah, I have a lot of female fans. A pretty big gay following too. The more the merrier. But it’s cool. I know we are beefcake, we are the objects, which is fine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Don't shoot your eye out, Chicago!

Will the Turnpike get clogged with Chicagoans road-tripping for Cleveland Christmas cheer? Maybe so, after the Chicago Tribune's rave this week about our little home of holiday pop-culture obsession, the A Christmas Story House.

Writer Phil Marty really got into the Ralphie-iana, referencing the leg lamp, tongue-freezing fence, and even the Lifebuoy soap that washed the F-word out of our hero's mouth. He gave would-be Christmas pilgrims good advice for finding the museum, in the anti-posh south end of Tremont ("don't think you're lost when you find yourself driving through a nondescript neighborhood"). He was in-the-know enough to send visitors to two other local highlights, the West Side Market and the Rock Hall's Springsteen exhibit.

But he left out a few obvious recommendations for visitors on a Christmas Story quest. What about the live stage version of the Christmas Story story, playing at the Cleveland Play House for the (allegedly) final year? Or Cleveland's official drink of December, Great Lakes Christmas Ale?

Finally, I cannot fail to recommend the eating and drinking establishment just a few doors down from the House, the Best Throwback Bar in Cleveland Magazine's 2009 Best Of issue: the Rowley Inn.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Local Restaurants Earn On Air Praise

Have a listen to a great piece on National Public Radio about the local dining scene. Of course I've been saying the same thing for a few years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Musing on Carols and Chestnuts

Although most people don’t actually eat them, let alone roast them over an open fire, nothing says Christmas like chestnuts. An expression of the kind of irony that makes real life so much funnier than anything imagined, the 1944 song that forever after linked chestnuts to Santa Claus, Jack Frost, and mistletoe was written by two Jews in July. Nonetheless thanks to the iconic holiday tune, chestnuts on the table are just the thing for getting into a December state of mind. You can do it in style downtown at Muse at the Ritz Carlton where they’re the featured ingredient on this month’s Farmer’s Market Menu.

Chef de Cuisine Constantine Vourliotis, recently promoted to head up the kitchen, has put together a three course tasting to show off the nuts’ unique qualities. It begins with a chestnut almond bisque, sea scallop, crispy prosciutto, and toasted brioche. The entrée is roasted chicken breast and braised thigh meat ragout with Brussels sprouts and chestnuts. And for dessert there’s chocolate chestnut torte with vanilla raspberry compote. The prix fixe dinner is available nightly for $30 per person, $45 with wine pairings until January except for Christmas eve, Christmas day, and New Year’s eve, (when there are other special dinners and overnight packages scheduled).

I ate at Muse in November when the Market Menu featured mushrooms, and was very impressed with the originality and quality of Chef Vourliotis’ food. So I have no doubt that his celebration of chestnuts will be exceptional. Throw in the glow from the fireplace that warms the room all winter and maybe the velvet voiced Nat King Cole providing a soundtrack and you’ve got the makings for a merry and memorable meal. Yuletide spirit is optional.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pick Pier W

Pier W, that landmark Lakewood culinary destination with stunning lake views (gets my vote for best place to watch a storm-- rain or snow-- in full squall), and impeccable service, has just debuted a new something-for-everybody winter menu, marking the first big change in the selections since the restaurant was remodeled and reinvented four years ago. Executive Chef Regan Reik, a culinary perfectionist, told me he spent many months developing recipes that broaden the offerings beyond the seafood (for which the place is so justly famous) to satisfy meat-eaters and vegetarians, plus provide for those who want simpler, more approachable and affordable dishes.

The top quality oysters, lobster tails, and king crab legs are still available. You can spend big on a surf and turf combo or a prime 14 oz NY strip. But now you can also choose a less expensive flat iron steak, pork tenderloin with creamy polenta, or the Lamb trio, pictured above, that includes braised shoulder meat, a rib chop, and a sausage in a savory herbed jus.

I sampled a number of his creations and found much to like. Among my faves were Reik’s playful lobster sliders- scoops of a lusciously chunky and creamy lobster salad were stuffed in a buttered and toasted brioche style “hot dog” bun. The beef in the short rib pierogies is slow cooked for 15 hours and the result was outstanding. Humble talipia got a tasty upgrade with a pistachio almond crust and a puddle of lavender honey butter, surely among the most extraordinary and delightful flavors I’ve encountered.

The breaded Japanese eggplant served with tomato jam, a spray of watercress and Parmesan shavings atop gnocchi with marinara sauce and a drizzle of basil oil was fine from first bite to last. (Chef said the kitchen can tweak to make this suitable for vegans). And if dessert is what really gets you going, don’t miss the housemade ice creams and truffles.

T’is the time of year when dining out is about more than just eating. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the season with friends, family, and colleagues. Pick up the tab and the meal is a way to say thanks. Wrap up a restaurant gift certificate and you’ve got a present that will definitely elicit squeals of joy. And of course, enjoying good food in a lovely setting with a staff that’s paid to take care of you offers a great lunch or dinner break from the annual marathon of shopping, cooking, and creating happy holiday memories for others. Take it from me, Pier W is the perfect place for all these purposes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vidstar, top independent video store, to close at year's end

Vidstar Video, the independent video store on Cleveland Heights' Coventry Road, is closing Dec. 31 after 26 years in business. It's a huge loss for local film fans.

Vidstar, the best video store in Cleveland, prides itself on huge selections of classic, foreign, and independent films as well as current Hollywood releases. It has a section devoted to the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Movies list and entire shelves set aside for great directors and legendary actors: Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Humphrey Bogart. Its cult classics section was dedicated to the memory of B-Ware, the long-defunct Lakewood video store (Vidstar bought some of its inventory).

An employee who broke the news to me last week blamed the usual suspects: Netflix and downloadable movies. So yes, this is a lament that our changing economy and consumer habits have done in another locally-owned cultural outlet.

But it's also a tip for movie-lovers who will miss Vidstar and stores like it: Its entire stock -- thousands of movies on DVD and VHS -- is for sale, most of it for $10 or less.

If you take pride in your video collection, or if you're looking for some rare or lesser-known movies, I recommend a trip to Coventry Road this month.

I just got back from my while-I-can splurge: I raided the Bogart section for The Big Sleep and the Casablanca-esque Passage to Marseille, then scored copies of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil ("the best B-movie ever made") and Beauty and the Beast -- the 1946 Jean Cocteau version, not Disney.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

America's Best According to Esquire

I attended a great party at L’Albatros last week. The French bistro with an Ohio heart made it onto Esquire’s annual list of Best New Restaurants for 2009 and a crowd of friends and fans that filled two rooms gathered to celebrate. The twenty picks from around the country are detailed in the November issue and the write-up about Zack Bruell’s brasserie appears on page 83 with a photo of sautéed walleye and lobster quenelles (fluffy dumplings) in a buttery sauce Americaine. Happily, executive sous chef David Uecke was cooking up that the very dish for guests at the shindig while his boss was kept busy enduring a steady stream of hugs, cheek pecks, handshakes and back slaps. John Mariani, the magazine’s longtime columnist and food critic and the guy who decides which places are worthy of a spot in the line-up, came to town for the occasion.
Cleveland hasn’t always been on his radar. In fact the professional eater didn’t see much reason to come here until 1999 when he got an invitation from his colleague Stephen Michaelides to attend the opening of Moxie, which thoroughly impressed him. It was the first step in an ongoing campaign launched by Michelides, who had been editor and then associate publisher of Restaurant Hospitality from 1970 to 1998, and his wife Jeanne to make Mariani aware of all the great local places they thought he should at least consider when assembling his yearly roster of noteworthy new restaurants. He’s returned regularly since then to check out the dining scene, and has put praises in print for 3 Birds; Red, the Steakhouse; Fahrenheit; Lola; and Zack’s other two ventures Parallax and Table 45.

Mariani, who chronicles his dining adventures in a weekly e-newsletter called The Virtual Gourmet, no longer entertains any doubts that this city is home to some very talented chefs making food as good as anything found anywhere in America. It feels good to have him in our corner, and to know that his readers are getting the real story about Cleveland. It feels even better to live here and be able to have dinner at such superb spots every night of the week.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Witness Protection Program

If you're the sort who's concerned about the lack of good decisions in local government lately, be reassured by the fact that Cleveland's design and review committee was reluctant to bow to Nike's proposal to replace the "We Are All Witnesses" 10-story billboard near The Q with a "Prepare for Combat" billboard featuring James shirtless with skin resembling body armor. Besides, the whole Kellen Winslow-ism of comparing sports to war when Americans are risking their lives in real combat every day, there's something troubling about Nike's decision to switch up its LeBron billboard downtown.

The current billboard has become a landmark. It is a rallying point, a source of pride. Yes, we know it's an advertisement, but a really good one - the kind we're used to Nike delivering.

There's something just plain empty about the "combat" billboard. Before, Nike was selling a product, sure, but it was wrapped in the phenomenon that is LeBron James. The current advertisment just seems to be selling ... well ... is it shorts they're selling? Who knows.

The design committee sent the matter to the planning comission for further recommendation. The comission meets Friday morning. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 11/20 @ 1 p.m.: Planning commission give it a big 'no' on this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Convenient Truth

How weird is this: I didn’t know about an innovative Cleveland project to bring good food to city residents until I saw a reference to it in the national media. The local food scene is my subject and I’m as linked-in, facebooked, and well-connected as anybody but the article in the New York Times about the Healthy Corner Store Initiative was news to me. Apparently it was also discussed on American Public Radio’s Weekend America though I didn’t find out about that broadcast until I did some follow-up research.

It’s an important effort co-sponsored by CWRU, OSU Extension, and the Cleveland Department of Health. The goal is to improve the “food environment” of urban neighborhoods and make healthy products readily available to people where they live and shop. The method is to stock convenience stores, where shelves are typically filled with salty, sugary, high-fat snacks and beverages, with a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course, getting customers to buy and eat the stuff is a whole other thing. That’s why the project is also organizing on-site cooking demos and giving away free samples. A long range goal is to source much of that produce from local farms. In a perfect world, those farms would be located in the same communities as those corner stores, with empty land converted to agricultural production. The result would be a grand sustainable closed loop food system that would bring many micro and macro benefits.

The Healthy Corner Store Initiative is a good thing for Cleveland and its residents, and an undertaking deserves attention and support. The country’s already heard about it. Now it’s time to spread the word here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"I will stay if ..." comes to Cleveland

It’s a cold, cold day in Cleveland when the next local initiative is titled, “I will stay if …” The campaign, led by the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE), gives Clevelanders a chance to voice their ideas about how to polish up our city. It launches tomorrow night at Speakeasy on W. 25th Street, below McNulty’s Bier Markt, from 5:30 until 8:30 p.m.

City councilman Matt Zone will talk about shaking Cleveland’s rusty image, along with Randell McShepard of the think tank PolicyBridge and Lillian Kuri of the Cleveland Foundation. There’s no fee, but you can donate $5 to the cause (includes drink discounts, a coupon for Bianco Pizza, raffle entry and participation in campaign photos).

Clevelanders have already picked up on the idea and given some feedback to the campaign. Some responses were trivial: “I will stay in Cleveland if the city finally coordinates its traffic signals and takes down the 300 that are completely unnecessary,” one woman said.

Another resident cited more pressing issues:“(I will stay if) we stop talking about sustainability and start talking about environmentalism.”

Though we’re not exactly strolling along the Flats’ East Bank these days humming “Cleveland Rocks,” other Rust Belt towns are in similar straits. Before the campaign came to Cleveland, it paid a visit in two other teetering cities: Pittsburgh and... Detroit.

Besides not being Detroit, there are many great reasons to live in Cleveland. We chose 112 favorites in our October issue, but here are 10 more awesome reasons we should all love our city:

1. Our resident Iron Chef Michael Symon and his three restaurants.

2.We're close to Put-in-Bay, which makes for a great weekend trip during the summer.

3. Phenomenal pierogis.

4. The Cleveland Clinic is ranked number one in heart care in the nation, and fourth overall by U.S. News and World Report.

5. The Browns Cavs

6. Jonathon Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern, Ohio’s first certified green restaurant.

7. We’ve capitalized on a burning river.

8. LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal.

9. The Great Lakes Brewing Co., specifically Christmas Ale.

10. We’ve got nine more reasons than Detroit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Original Dawg Hanford Dixon comments on Browns games at Scorcher's

Can’t make it to the Browns Stadium to watch Cleveland take on Baltimore tonight? Try Scorcher’s at Reserve Square downtown, where the father of the “Dawg Pound,” Hanford Dixon, will be commenting on all things Browns.

Dixon, cornerback for the Browns during the ‘80s, is manning a microphone at Scorcher’s (1701 E. 12th St., 216-696-4649) during every Browns game day this season. His commentary starts tonight at 8, a half-hour before kickoff.

Dixon, who played in three Pro Bowls and is tied for eighth place on the Browns’ all-time career interceptions list, earned his beloved place in Browns history for his habit of barking at opposing quarterbacks and bestowing the Dawg Pound name on the end-zone bleachers in Municipal Stadium. Game night specials at Scorchers include the “Dawg,” named after the cornerback turned commentator: an all-beef hot dog smothered in chili, onions and cheese for $4.95.

Despite the Browns’ 1-7 record, tonight’s game could be dramatic: Brady Quinn gets second shot at starting. (Here’s hoping it goes better than his first one.) Though the Ravens soundly beat the Browns in their last meeting, they’ve lost momentum, with four losses in their past five games. But if it doesn’t go well for the Browns, at least you’ll have an ambassador of a better era in Browns history -- and Scorcher’s Wall of Drafts -- to console you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Get Lucky

The idea of serving a wonderful home cooked, everything-made-from-scratch Thanksgiving dinner has universal appeal. But not all have the time to live the dream and there are those, let’s be honest here, that are just not up to the challenge. Heather Haviland can help. She’s offering a full line-up of sides, sauces, and desserts to go. Many of the dishes feature local produce, including fruit and vegetables that she and her staff put up during the summer. There’s jalapeno scallion spoon bread; green bean casserole with fried shallots; sage scented stuffing; winter squash soup; caramelized sweet potatoes; pumpkin black current brioche bread pudding and apple pie with pecan praline crumb topping. Heather told me that the gravy, made with a demi glace from turkey stock that’s reduced and reduced until it turns into a thick rich concentrate, is so good “you’ll want to bathe in it.”

The full menu is available online. Food MUST be pre-ordered by November 19 and can be picked up on the west side at Lucky’s in Tremont or on the east side Vine and Bean on Larchmere with instructions for re-heating and serving.

Whether you chose to tell your guests where the food came from or opt to let them think you spent days chopping, mixing and baking is a personal decision. But while she’s happy to supply all the “go-withs,” Haviland leaves her customers to their own devices when it comes to the turkey. “You have to roast the bird yourself,” she insists, “to get your house smelling just right.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

How to eat fresh, local foods — even in the snow

Another cold Cleveland winter will soon be upon us, and the brilliant yellows, reds and greens of bustling outdoor farmers markets are fading away. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up sustainable, savory and nutritious foods during the winter months. And why would you, considering the soul-warming possibilities of homemade comfort foods, perfect for frigid temperatures? From stews to soups and chili to pot pies, warming up is more delightful when you have fresh, tasty ingredients to work with.

Beth Knorr, the farmers market manager for the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, shares some tips so you never have to forfeit your healthy summertime eating habits, even when the weather outside is frightful.

1. Freeze it. It “does take a little bit of planning if you know that you want to continue eating locally throughout the winter,” Knorr admits. “Freezing things when they’re in season certainly will make that easier.” So buy a surplus and prepare for the long haul.

2. Make new friends. If you’ve established a positive relationship with the farmers at your summer market, keep it up over the winter, suggests Knorr. Ask your favorite vendors if you can contact them directly to purchase produce during the off-season to tide you over until the weather warms up again. Thanks to new technology, there’s a decent chance that vendors will have a steady supply of leafy, juicy, vine-ripened, organic and otherwise wholesome foods available, even when it’s below freezing and icy out.

3. Seek shelter. Though not nearly as plentiful as markets in July and August, indoor farmers markets do exist during the winter. At Happy Days Lodge on State Route 303 in Peninsula, for instance, farmers markets will be held on the third Saturday of every month from now until April.

All of these tips will take a little bit of time and planning to put to good use, and it might be easier to just open a can or heat up a TV dinner after trudging home through the snow and slush. So why should you stick with fresh, local food? Well, if not because it’s good for the environment, the local economy and your health, do it for the taste. The amazing flavor of fresh, local food keeps people craving it all year long. “It’s really not even comparable to what you find in the grocery stores,” Knorr says. “It’s unmatched.”

Missed the markets this summer? Check out the farmers market guide from our June issue and see what you can look forward to next year.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Keller is Coming

Thomas Keller is coming to Cleveland. And make no mistake- this is a very big deal. A world famous chef and author, he presides over multiple highly acclaimed restaurants. He has won seven James Beard awards and earned more Michelin stars than any other American. But Keller is much more than the sum of such facts. Known as a fanatic perfectionist, an exacting teacher, and a creative genius, he’s a man whose exacting dedication to what he does is legendary. His approach to food attracts passionate fans, acolytes, and disciples. And if you don’t find all this sufficiently impressive, consider his Hollywood credentials. Keller was selected to mentor the creators of the animated feature film Ratatouille about a rat with gastronomic aspirations, and created the movie’s signature recipe.

Keller will be on stage Friday night, 7 PM, November 13 at the Fabulous Food Show at the IX Center, talking about how ordinary home cooks can apply some of his techniques in their own kitchens. This is a rare and exciting opportunity to be in a room with one of the most renowned culinary figures of our era and hear what he has to say. The program, dubbed “A Conversation with Thomas Keller” will be moderated by writer Michael Ruhlman, who is his friend and a collaborator on multiple book projects. There is no extra charge for attending his talk- it’s included in the regular admission fee.

The appearance kicks off Keller’s national tour to promote his latest cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home, a collection of family style, comfort recipes.
There are a limited number of special $60 packages for advance purchase that include admission to the show, the book, which retails for $50, and a guaranteed spot in line for the book signing that follows his presentation. Books will also be available for sale at the Show. There’s a nice review of it and a recipe for leek bread pudding in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Friday is great day to come to the Fabulous Food Show. There will be a tasting of Fair Trade coffees, cooking demos featuring grass fed beef and heirloom poultry, and workshops about how to eat locally, sustainably, and economically. Some area farmers and artisan producers will have their goods on display for this one day only. It’s fitting that Keller will be the star of the show that night because he has long been a champion of the farm to plate ethic.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day advice on Issues 5 & 6, Cleveland mayor and council

Next door at the Cleveland Magazine Politics blog, I'm offering some Election Day advice.

See this post for advice and links about Issue 6, which would replace Cuyahoga County's government with an elected executive and 11-member council, and Issue 5, which would establish a charter commission to write a different proposal.

Cleveland is deciding whether to replace Mayor Frank Jackson with challenger Bill Patmon. City council elections may determine whether Jackson ally Martin Sweeney remains city council president, or whether rival Matt Zone can unseat him. For links to reports about the mayoral candidates and the contest for the council presidency, click here.

The polls are open until 7:30 p.m. To look up your voting location and see a sample ballot for your precinct, click here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The holiday buzz returns

Great Lakes Brewing Company has given us an early reason to be merry: the return of Christmas Ale.

The brewery kicked off the holiday season early with a tapping party in the bar Tuesday at lunchtime this Tuesday and an official release at midnight last night. Faithful fans were allowed to buy one case each until 1 a.m. last night at the brewery gift shop on Market Avenue, across from the West Side Market. Six-packs are now available for purchase there.

Chances are, you haven’t forgotten the taste of this Cleveland tradition, but let us refresh your memory just in case. The brew includes honey, ginger, and cinnamon, mixed together for a spicy flavor that lingers long after it’s been consumed (as does the buzz). The popular ale has been a hallmark of Cleveland's Christmas seasons since about 1990, and the suspense we feel throughout the remaining winter, spring, and summer months has made beer-lovers crave and demand it every year since.

The beer hits stores Monday, but it's already available on tap at the brewery. The shortages of years past are unlikely — for a while, at least. We hear production has increased 22% this year, with thousands of barrels to go around.

So bring your thirst over to Market Street and rejoice.

To read our article about Christmas Ale from the magazine's December 2008 Cleveland beer package, click here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Give, Learn, Eat

Some great food themed fundraisers and classes coming up in the next few weeks. Mark your calendars, line-up a spouse or a friend to bring along, and take advantage of the opportunities to donate, discover, and dine.

Cuyahoga County Community College hospitality students go toque to toque for the “Cleveland Culinary Challenge” on Wednesday, November 4th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm at the Metropolitan Campus of Tri-C. There are five teams, each made up of two aspiring chefs. In preparation for the competition, each group got some coaching from a pro: Doug Katz, fire food and drink; Sergio Abramof, Sergio’s and Sarava; Zach Bruell, Parallax, Table 45, and L’Albatros; Marlin Kaplan, One Walnut and Luxe ; and Steve Schimoler, Crop Bistro. While guests nibble hors d’oeuvres and listen to live music, the kids will prep a dish featuring a special ingredient. I’m one of three judges deciding which masterpiece is the winner. The event is co-sponsored by Positively Cleveland and proceeds support paid culinary internships for the program’s students.

For those who want to get in on the action themselves Tri-C ‘s hospitality faculty are teaching hands on classes evenings and weekends for non-professionals. There are one time, how-to sessions in Knife Skills I and II, November 7 and 21; Winter Holiday Desserts, November 10; Pies and Tarts, November 14; and Italian Feast, November 17. Information and registration at or 866-933-5178

Dames Dish for the Holidays is the annual fundraiser for the Cleveland chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an organization for women of achievement in the culinary and hospitality professions. Find inspiration for your own entertaining menus (and take home recipes), as you sample appetizers and desserts made by local chefs and Les Dames members accompanied by wonderful wines. It will be held Friday, November 6th from 5:30-8:30 PM at the Trevarrow Kitchen Showroom in Parma. Full disclosure- I am a Dame and will be cooking for the event, and I don’t want to deal with any leftovers. The money we raise goes to help projects promoting local sustainable food and agriculture. Pre-paid reservations required. Call 216-831-3767 and ask for Angela Williams.

Nurture the baker in you by signing up for a Film Feast dubbed the Cookie Jar at Sur La Table on November 21. Chef Bob Sferra of Culinary Occasions is leading this family-friendly Saturday afternoon class in the art of cookie decorating to benefit the Cleveland International Film Festival. Reserve a seat for the sprinkle and icing tutorial online or by calling 216-623-3456, ext.14.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cocktail Culture Swap

Reality tv has given us “Wife Swap” and “Trading Spouses.” These shows hold no attraction for me, but there is an upcoming exchange that has me all excited. On Monday and Tuesday nights, Oct 26 and 27, gin slingers from Chicago’s Bar DeVille are taking over at The Velvet Tango Room, Cleveland’s shrine to fine spirits.

They’ll be shaking up some signature cocktails to give us locals a taste of what their guests get back home. I’ve heard they do one with chartreuse called the Songbird, named Best New Cocktail this year by the Chicago Reader. They’ll also give us their take on classics like the Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy that are VTR staples, (“They take a more interpretative approach than we do,” says Paulius Nasvytis, the man behind the Velvet), and will create a special drink to commemorate the event. Media folk like me get pre-sips at a private reception first. Pouring for the public starts at 8 PM.
Carol makes it happen at the VTR

Next month, on November 9 and 10, VTR bartenders will do the same, plying the liquid arts for the Windy City crowd. No doubt they’ll wow them with a combination of finesse and flair. But this is no mix off. There’s nothing competitive about the switch and everybody wins, especially those who belly up to the bar at either location to buy one of these carefully crafted libations.
The DeVille Pour

The two places, I’m told, share a philosophy – and details of décor- that makes the switch seamless and natural. Both endeavor to return cocktails- and those who enjoy them- to a better time, before shortcuts and cheap imitations became the norm. Every drink embodies a sense of elegance and class, the best ingredients handled with the best intentions. If the bartenders from Chicago are indeed motivated by the same quest for perfection as those I know and admire at the VTR, then the experience they’re bringing to Cleveland promises to be deliciously memorable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Michael Symon’s New Arena

We had lunch with Iron Chef Michael Symon in downtown Cleveland today, but it wasn’t at his signature Lola. It was 400 feet away inside Quicken Loans Arena where Symon is putting a gourmet spin on stadium food, opening two food stands, each modeled after his newest suburban restaurants — both in menu and rustic design.

The deal between the Cavs, food and beverage provider ARAMARK, and Symon has been in the works for eight to 12 months, says Symon, who was sold on the concept for one main reason: “The Cavs are arguably the best team in the NBA, and we like to be affiliated with the best.”

Open for all Cavs home games and most arena events will be The B Spot on the main concourse level next to the team shop and Bar Symon on the club level on the fourth floor.

The B Spot boasts a modest menu of four burgers, not quite the 12 varieties Symon promises at the Eton location in Woodmere, due to open in November. But Symon says he kept it small to keep it fresh. “If we did 15 different hamburgers on a mass level here, the quality could suffer. Instead, we’re still going to use the same quality of product, but give fewer choices,” he says. “We’re going to give the basic burgers, then have a really expansive condiment section so you can build your own.”

At The Q’s B-Spot, you can choose from four burgers, a simple plain Jane with or without cheese ($7.50) to a Symon Says burger with fried bologna and slaw ($8.50), Cleveland bratwurst ($7) and even his famous Lola fries with rosemary ($4.75). Then, top any of it off with of house made pickles, picked onions, jalapenos, sweet and spicy pickles and Lola sauce.

Upstairs at Bar Symon, the menu is a scaled back version of the one found at the Avon Lake restaurant with a pork pastrami sandwich ($8.50), Symon fried chicken ($11) tossed with parsley and spicy honey, mac-and-cheese ($12.50) with rosemary and goat cheese, house made chips with a choice of two cheese dipping sauces ($4.50) and popcorn, tossed with either chili flakes, feta and oregano or smoked paprika and white cheddar ($4.50). All of these at prices similar to what you’d pay for nachos or a stadium dog — not a bad deal to enjoy signature Symon.

Also at either stand, you can wash it all down with a premium selection of beer including Rogue Dead Guy, Victory Hop Devil or Thirsty Dog.

Suite holders can opt for a few extra treats from Symon including duck confit sliders, a board of assorted sausages and picked vegetables, chilled shrimp with orange, fennel and olives and a root vegetable salad (featured in the Silver Spoons package in the May issue of Cleveland Magazine).

“It’s our interpretation of stadium food,” says Symon, an outspoken advocate for eating local and using fresh ingredients. But is there room for fresh ingredients in mass-produced stadium food? Symon told us yes. He spent the last several months working closely with ARAMARK to ensure the food at his stands offers the same fresh quality ingredients you’ll find outside of the stadium. In many cases, he adds, they are even using the same providers, specifically the same hand-ground burgers and home made bratwurst.

Best of Cleveland Party -- the Monday after

We feel loved. Hundreds of people turned out at the Rock Hall Friday night for Cleveland Magazine's fourth annual Best of Cleveland Party. Attendance keeps growing year to year -- Angelo's, one of our featured best-ofs, had to send in more pizza to feed the hungry crowd. Hollywood Shuffle and Skinny Moo played on the Rock Hall's first-floor stage.

Metromix, the events website, posted more than 50 photos from the event. Check them out here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Readers predict Mangini will last two seasons as Browns coach

The results are in from our blog's readers' poll. Asked to predict beleaguered Browns coach Eric Mangini's future, 47% of you chose the most cynical answer in our multiple-choice survey: "He'll manage to last two seasons, though he'll deserve to be fired after one."

A few of you agreed with the Sports Illustrated writer who asked whether Mangini was the worst NFL coaching hire ever: 29% agreed with the statement, "He'll get fired before the season's over."

Voting trends shifted a little after the Browns traded Braylon Edwards to Mangini's former team, the Jets. Dumping the combative wide receiver within 48 hours of his downtown fisticuffery helped boost the vote to cut the coach a break -- 23% of those voting chose: "His discipline will pay off, and the Browns will improve and earn him several years in the job. Coaches, like quarterbacks, need time to get better."

No one chose the fourth prediction: "He'll be gone right after the season's ignominious end."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Buffalo soldiers documentary premieres at Cleveland library today

Inside Buffalo, a new documentary about African-American and Italian soldiers fighting together in World War II, premieres in Ohio today at the Cleveland Public Library.

Free screenings are at noon and 3 p.m. in the Louis Stokes Wing auditorium, East 6th St. and Superior Avenue.

Directed by Italian-Ghanaian filmmaker Fred Kuwornu, Inside Buffalo tells the story of the 92nd Infantry Division, a segregated division of African-American soldiers, fighting in Italy during World War II. They teamed up with Italian soldiers to liberate Italy from Fascist rule.

Mayor Frank Jackson helped bring the film to Cleveland. "The significant contributions of Italian and African-American soldiers to the overall war effort deserve to be recognized," the mayor said in the library's press release. "As an Italian African-American, I am very proud to have contributed to the effort of relaying this heroic story to the people of Cleveland."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleveland Beer Week opens tonight with ceremonial keg-tapping

This is the kind of event we can get behind. The first annual Cleveland Beer Week opens tonight with a ceremonial tapping of the keg at the Winking Lizard in Independence, featuring Jimmy Malone of WMJI and state Sen. Tom Patton.

(We'd be there, but we're heading to Cleveland Magazine's Best of Cleveland Party tonight.)

The rest of the week includes a dizzying lineup of tastings, tappings, talks, brewing demos, beer dinners, an IPA festival -- and, next Saturday, Brewzilla, a 50-brewery mega-tasting at the Euclid Arcade downtown.

To get into the festive spirit, and to remind you of all the malty liquid goodness of Cleveland's brewing culture, we recommend "Beer Ye, Beer Ye," our December 2008 package of stories celebrating the 75th anniversary of our constitutional right to beer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Case of the Vanishing Server

You go to a highly recommended restaurant, a place where you’ve heard the chef and the vibe are amazing. You’re primed, excited, and ready for a special experience. The menu looks good. You order. You eat. But at some point, or many times, during the meal- whether it’s early on between the aps and the entrees, or at the end when waiting for the check- your server is nowhere to be seen. If the disappearing act happens more than once over the course of an evening or lasts way too long, it becomes annoying, aggravating, and, at worst can even take some of the shimmer off an otherwise perfect outing.

My server was noticeably absent and incredibly slow Friday night at Momocho. A friend and I went there for dinner and had great food: blue crab guacamole, carnitas, and Vera Cruz style calamar, washed down with margaritas. We weren’t in a hurry and didn’t demand a lot of extra attention. But throughout our two hours at the table, our guy was just gone, unavailable to refill water glasses, invisible when we were thinking of ordering a second drink, and seemingly on a cross town trip between taking our credit cards and returning with receipts to sign.

So what gives when this happens? A cigarette break or a smooching in the storeroom? A sudden need to text or talk cell to cell? Or something more sinister- say alien abduction? I might have entertained such questions, and gotten in a snit about his apparent and repeated desertions, had I not recently read a post about the subject on Slashfood . It offers an education about what else might be happening. Check it out before you dine out again and don’t forget to scroll through the comments.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bruce to play Born to Run album at The Q Nov. 10.

Bruce Springsteen announced through Live Nation this morning that his Nov. 10 stop at Quicken Loans Arena will include a performance of his classic album Born To Run in its entirety. Springsteen and the E Street Band recently performed the entire album in Chicago. Enthusiastic fan feedback led the Boss to perform the albums Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. at various nights during his recent Giants Stadium run.

So, you want a ticket to Born To Run in Cleveland? Some seats have just been released at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Garry Trudeau speaks at Ohio Theater on "Doonesbury in a Time of War"

Last night, "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau, one of the greatest political cartoonists and comic-strip creators of our time, made a rare appearance at the Ohio Theater in Playhouse Square.

Trudeau started reminiscing about the extraordinary story of his arrival in comics as a college-age prodigy -- then shifted away from himself to a bigger subject, "Doonesbury in a Time of War": how he has depicted American soldiers' wartime experiences throughout his 40 years in cartooning.

As a thinker of his generation, Trudeau is first-rate: He can still make the amazing but oft-told story of the baby boomers' intellectual revolt fresh again. He started off with vivid memories of what it was like to live in the early '60s -- "the last moment in the history of Western culture when being young was viewed as a burden," as he put it, paraphrasing novelist Ian McEwan.

"My friends and I grew up yearning to join the adult world at the earliest possible moment," Trudeau said. He even sent away for adult plays for his youth theater groups to perform. Then he reached Yale at a time of chaotic upending, when he and his peers wanted to undo all convention. He took notes, created a fresh and irreverent and daring college-paper comic strip, and was hired right out of college to represent youth on the nation's funny pages.

Even today, baby boomers revere their own youth, Trudeau noted: A poll of boomers defined "old age" as age 80 -- "two full years past life expectancy!" he observed. "The new 'old' is death!"

After 13 minutes on youth and age, he segued into his talk's true subject with images of his early-'70s cartoons of Vietnam. In the most memorable storyline, infantryman and main character B.D. (based on St. Ignatius/Yale football star Brian Dowling) met friendly Viet Cong terrorist Phred. Mixing pride in his peace-activist past with admirable self-scrutiny, Trudeau called his B.D.-Phred strips a "hippie fantasia," in which B.D. learns how much he has in common with the bad guy, and the enemies develop a mutual dependency -- even though, "in our entire time in Vietnam, nothing remotely like this had ever once happened."

He spoke for an hour about his treatment of the soldier's experience in the strip, from the 1980s invasion of Grenada and bombing of Libya to the two Gulf wars. In 1991, a military officer who was a fan of his work secreted him through Saudi Arabia into Kuwait, where he interviewed soldiers about their battlefield experiences.

This decade, after Trudeau had B.D. lose a leg in Iraq, the Pentagon gave him open access to the Walter Reed medical center, where he's spoken at length to wounded soldiers. He's used those conversations and other encounters with vets to depict B.D.'s struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and to create two other Iraq war vet characters: Melissa, who is recovering from military sexual trauma, and Toggle, who is coping with traumatic brain injury.

Trudeau is known for giving few interviews and making few public appearances, yet he came off as very poised, intelligent, and affecting. He is now on a tour of sorts -- appearing in North Carolina tonight as I write this -- and an art exhibit, also entitled "Doonesbury in a Time of War," is on tour as well.

Trudeau referred so often to his interactions with the "military treatment community" (disabled vets and those who care for them) that I wondered if his interactions with them have drawn him farther out in the public eye -- if when he set out to research his strip, he soon found himself explaining his motives and his art, first informally, and now to his audience.

Braylon Edwards traded to Jets -- did we speak too soon about Mangini?

OK, maybe Eric Mangini isn't so bad after all. reports that the Browns have traded Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets.

The trade comes just two days after Edwards allegedly punched promoter and LeBron buddy Edward Givens outside the View nightclub on Prospect Avenue at 2:30 a.m. Monday morning.

This tells us two things. First, this town isn't big enough for LeBron and anyone hating on LeBron's buddies.

It also tells us that, whatever you might think of Mangini's rocky start as coach, he acts swiftly when a player's bad attitude causes a distraction. The deal was with the Jets, Mangini's previous team, which seems a sign that Mangini had a big hand in the move. Will it cause a shift in our poll about Mangini's future? (See the right side of the page.)

"The Jets agreed to send key special teams player Jason Trusnik, wide receiver Chansi Stuckey and a pair of draft picks to Cleveland," ESPN reports.

Far East on the Near West [Side]

Chef Zack Bruell invited me to come sample some dishes on the new fall menu at Parallax. Continuing to express his fascination with Pacific Rim cuisines, he’s put together a freshened line-up of Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese inflected dishes. I was wowed by the spot-on balance of flavors in everything I tasted: the flawless meeting and mating of sweet with sour, the just-right saltiness, the richness of meat and seafood offset with spice, vinegar, and citrus. One word describes Bruell’s culinary concepts, the ability of his kitchen team to execute them, and my experience last Friday night: impeccable.

I let the in-house experts choose glass pours to go with each dish and the selections- white with meat, red with fish- surprised and pleased. The pours, based on sauces and seasonings, rather then the traditional paradigm, really brought out the best in the food.

Here’s what I ate and drank:
-lettuce wraps filled with slow roasted pork, served with spicy Korean kimchee and pickled onions and peppers
2007 Von Buhl Armand Riesling Kabinett
-braised short rib pot stickers
2008 Hiedler Grüner Veltliner
-roasted beet and ginger salad with curried cashews
2006 Soave Classico Inama
-seared scallops with pickled plum sauce and coconut rice
2004 Maison Faively Pinot Noir
- fennel-coriander crusted seared tuna with pickled shiitakes and red ver jus
2006 Castello Sonnino Chianti di Montespertoli

Tried two desserts, both outstanding and noteworthy for a light hand with the sugar: lemongrass crème brulee and ginger cheesecake with grapefruit almond crust.

Lunch is also now available at the W.11th Street spot. Dine Asian on sushi, a Vietnamese sub, and Japanese fried chicken or stick to more all American- though definitely scaled up- fare like a cobb salad, chili dog, or walleye sandwich.

If you haven't ever been to Parallax, or haven't been there in a while, I'd say now's the time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Brady Quinn spotted at Common show

Common, the rapper/actor who hails from Chicago, put on a great performance at the House of Blues Thursday night, albeit for a high price tag. (Who's got $43 bucks to drop on a weeknight show?) But the rapper is worth it in my opinion and reminds me what's good about true hip-hop. And by that I mean hip-hop that isn't in the played-out radio rotation.

The most memorable part of the night was when Common dropped Brady Quinn's name in his freestyle bit as he pointed to where the Cleveland Brown's now-benched starting quarterback was seated in the upper level. Guess Brady Quinn and I have something in Common. Ooh, bad pun, I know.

Check out my sighting of Quinn below.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mangini: worst coaching hire ever?

Now that Tribe manager Eric Wedge is about to become history, it's time for frustrated Cleveland sports fans to focus our frustration on another hapless team leader: 0-3 Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Last week, Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated's Web site asked if Mangini (pictured) was the worst NFL coaching hire ever:

I cannot stand the lack of respect he has shown for the team's history, the Mickey Mouse game he plays with quarterbacks, the amazing knack he has for getting his players to not play hard for him or the stupid fines he hands out like he's Principal Vernon from "The Breakfast Club." Don't mess with the bull, young man, you'll get the horns. Posnanski admitted it was a burst of fan hyperbole ("fanbole," he called it). But would he still qualify his statement today, after Mangini's announcement that he's replacing Brady Quinn with Derek Anderson as the Browns' starting quarterback?

OK, we'll admit, this blog has shown some Quinn bias before. But the quarterback-controversy consensus here in the Cleveland Magazine offices is: You've got to give your young talent time to learn and get comfortable, not pull them after 2 1/2 games. Troy Aikman went 1-15 in his rookie year, and the Cowboys didn't bench him. OK, so Quinn might not be an Aikman, but Browns fans know what Anderson can and can't do by now, even if Mangini doesn't.

So how long will Mangini last as coach of the Browns? Please vote in our blog poll, at the top of the right column.

(To read Kim Schneider's January 2008 profile of Quinn and Joe Thomas, click here.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Far Will You Go?

Now that the G-20 Summit has come and gone, travel restrictions in and out of Pittsburgh have been lifted. The strategically placed barriers are gone, the anarchists have moved on, and the downtown streets are back to business as usual. Though not invited to share my thoughts on the world economic situation nor being paid to report on the gathering, I was in Steel City last week for a combination of business and pleasure. A high spot of my visit was a meal at Sonoma Grille.

The wine-centric restaurant is the creation of a French chef Yves Carreau, who fell in love with California’s progressive melting pot food and grape culture. He brought that sensibility East and made it the inspiration for this place. There are 115 wines by the glass: no place in Cleveland offers this kind of selection in single pours and it’s a wonderful way to experience new labels and special vintages. In addition, there almost 300 wines by the bottle, plus a separate list of 60 cult bottles at prices that would make most of us think twice. All are from the West Coast and the variety is truly astonishing. Two that I tried and enjoyed: a 2006 Washington state L’ecole no.41 semillion, and an Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir from Sonoma.

Food was absolutely top-notch, and I love the way the menu’s organized to help make pairing easy. Dishes are grouped not by courses, but in categories according to the wine type that complements them: Subtle/Delicate; Tangy/Lively; Fruity/Jammy; Fleshy/Hearty; Spicy/Muscular. Most are sized between small plates and full entrees.
Three of us shared a fabulous five dish feast. It began with an ahi tro, featuring three different tuna preparations- a taratre with white truffle and wasabi mayo, seared with spicy green mango kuchela (kind of a pickle), and a spring roll. Next up were diver scallops wrapped in La Quercia Farms proscuitto with sherry papya gastrique, and the multi-part Study of Duck- the bird was presented smoked, as a confit Benedict with a sunny side quail egg on top, and cured like pastrami. Then we polished off a plate of braised beef short ribs.

For a glorious finish, we had apple bread pudding and Grand Marnier cheesecake.

The restaurant, located near the Convention Center adjacent to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, is so good that I’d say it’s worth making the two hour drive just for dinner. I don't think that's too far to go for an extraordinary meal. But there are so many other interesting things to see and do on Pittsburgh that you might just want to stay a couple of days. (Then you can go back to Sonoma Grille for lunch).
Photos by Barney Taxel

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life of the Party: an in-depth profile of Jimmy Dimora

Life of the Party
The most social of leaders, Jimmy Dimora built a career on connections and loyalty. It helped him turn Cuyahoga County’s Democratic Party into a nearly unbeatable machine. It may also be his undoing.

My newest feature, an in-depth profile of Jimmy Dimora, is now online. It tells the story of the embattled county commissioner's 32-year career and the federal investigation encircling him. It also appears in the October issue of Cleveland Magazine, available at bookstores now and other newsstands next week.

I'll be talking about the story on the radio tomorrow morning on 90.3 WCPN. It's one of several topics on the agenda for the Reporter's Roundtable, from 9:06 to 10 a.m.

Tour of the Town

Cleveland got nice ink in Saturday’s New York Times travel section. Writer Brett Sokol’s piece 36 Hours in Cleveland spotlighted some of the great places to spend time in this town. The eating and drinking establishments that got a shout out- Lolita, Sokolowski’s, The Velvet Tango Room, Lily’s Handmade Chocolates, the West Side Market, Tommy’s and L’Albatros- are all deserving and I’m glad to see them praised in the national print media. And the absence of so many unique and wonderful restaurants, watering holes, and food shops- the ones those of us who live here know about and love- only goes to show that 36 hours and 1300 words isn’t nearly enough to do us justice.

But. And there is a but. Actually a few points I must take issue with.

It’s a very positive story. Nonetheless in the first paragrpah, the writer felt compelled to mention the burning river (yawn). Will that story never die? Besides the fact that it happened a long long time ago, it’s a cliché, an overdone hackneyed tale, a cheap and easy way to characterize a complex past that requires neither thought nor creativity.

The section about the West Side Market is headed Farm Fresh. Mistake. I love the Market, don’t get me wrong, and shop there often. But, with a few exceptions, what vendors sell is not fresh from the farm. Like what you find at the supermarket- it’s trucked into the Northern Ohio Food Terminal from all over the country.

In that same section about the West Side Market, Sokol suggests that visitors pull up a chair at Crêpe De Luxe’s counter. Which reveals he’s never been there. The busy aisles offer no seating and the chest high counter is standing room only.

Maybe next time some out-of-towner wants to write about Cleveland, they’ll come hang out here, go exploring, talk to a few genuine local experts, and get more of the real story.