Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rating the Suburbs on TV

Fox 8 did a good piece about our Rating the Suburbs issue. Check it out here.

(Sure, they mispronounced my name, but that's probably not the worst thing being said about me & the issue -- which usually raises the ire of some local public officials -- about this time.)

The story raises the question: How can a suburb, like Chagrin Falls, be near the top of the list one year and then fall down the list the next?

The answer is simple: Each year's rankings are based on that year's data. Also, the shades of difference in the Top 20 are pretty small.

As for Chagrin Falls (which ranked #20 overall this year, down from #13 last year), it slipped from #1 in education last year to #2 this year. (Certainly, there's no shame in that.)

Similarly, the town's housing numbers (median home sale price increase) over the last 10 years, while still good, didn't place it as high as last year: 55% last year vs. 30% this year. Still making the top 20 is a great achievement.

What's all this mean? We're blessed in Northeast Ohio with many great places to live and finding what's right for you comes down to what you value most in a town -- that's why we interviewed residents from all 76 suburbs for a personal perspective on each.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Positively Cleveland announces hastily made video winners

Positively Cleveland has chosen the winners of the Hastily Made Video contest, its response to Mike Polk's ridiculously viral Cleveland-mocking YouTube clips.

The two videos, picked by Polk himself and four other judges, didn't try to fight humor with humor. They're low-fi, cinema-verite sweeps through the best parts of the city set to poignant music. (one uses "Cleveland" by Jewel, the other an original song).

I like how the first video starts with an appearance by Vinyl, the black cat at Music Saves in Collinwood.

The winners are Marissa DeSantis & Kevin Hornsby, who are both local singer-songwriters (different Kevin than the co-owner of Music Saves), and "OHMommy," aka Pauline K. of the Classy Chaos blog, who seems to have cast herself and her three kids in the video as well as her blog. They get pretty cool prize packages.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good News about the Markets

My garden grew madly while I was away last week. The poppies have burst into bloom, the butterfly bushes are leafing up nicely, and the clematis is climbing. In the edible category, there’s arugula and chives ready for the salad bowl and that reminds me that northeast Ohio is finally into harvest mode. I'm hoping to find asparagus, greens, peas, rhubarb, and maybe even broccoli at the farmers market this weekend. I’ll be doing my shopping at the Countryside Farmers’ Market in Peninsula. I don’t usually drive so far for my vegetables- especially with North Union’s Shaker Square Market just five minutes from my front door- but this Saturday, May 30, I’ll be down at the Peninsula Market selling and signing copies of the just published update of my book, Cleveland Ethnic Eats, from 10 am to noon. The event is part of opening day festivities for the new location at Howe Meadow in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

I love bringing home bags of earthy scented fresh picked produce. I did a lot of that last spring, summer and fall. Combining business with pleasure, my husband, photographer Barney Taxel and I were on assignment, exploring some of the many farmers’ markets in the region for a story that appears in the June issue of Cleveland Magazine. It will help you find out where to go and show you how to get the most out of your market experience as well as introduce you to a few of the fascinating farmers and vendors who set up for business under tents in fields and parking lots. Food writer Russ Parsons of the LA Times also offers some advice for market goers. In his piece , he suggests that shoppers ditch lists and recipes- an approach echoed by everyone I interviewed for my article- and improvise just like a jazz musician. It's a sort of hot licks, cool cooking philosophy that's based on working with what you find.

Any farmer's market regulars out there with tips for us about being a savvy shopper? Please share them here.

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mike Polk to judge hastily made Positively Cleveland contest he inspired

Positively Cleveland has picked five judges for its Hastily Made Tourism Video contest -- and one of them is Mike Polk, the comedian whose YouTube rips into Cleveland inspired the competition.

Polk's hilarious faux-tourism videos spread across the Web as virally as swine flu this spring, attracting 1.2 million views between them. Their focus on our city's poverty, job loss, drifters, seagulls, dead fish, and cloud cover surely convinced an unknown number of those viewers to never visit, no matter what Drew Carey once told them. So our city's actual tourism bureau, acting on the optimism embedded in its name, came up with a contest -- first revealed on this blog! -- to attract funny, clever videos that might actually convince someone to vacation here.

Polk, proving he can take and make a joke, has agreed to judge the finalists. The other four judges are Plain Dealer reporter and Tipoff funnyman Mike McIntyre, Marcie Goodman of the Cleveland International Film Festival, Ivan Schwarz of the Cleveland Film Commission, and Rick Batyko of the Cleveland Plus Marketing Alliance.

The public will choose the finalists by rating and commenting on their favorite contest videos at this YouTube site. The contest has 22 entries -- visit the site today and tomorrow to check them out.

The two winners will be announced Thursday at 2 pm.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A. Gully, Witness car hit Parnell's for Game 2

I walked up to Parnell's last night to watch Game 2 at the same time A. Gully and his Witness car pulled up.

His video for "Witness," his hip-hop track celebrating the Cavs and Cleveland, has gone viral on YouTube, probably because of his wild, hooptified "Witness" car. The track itself was played in Mayor Frank Jackson's Cavs rally at City Hall.

Fox 8 News has featured him several times. Scene did a story on him this week.

I was not prepared to report, so I offer you a fuzzy cell phone cam shot and an improvised interview recalled from memory.

The ride is a '87 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The checkerboard leather seats were customized by a guy in Collinwood, on Waterloo Road. The neon "Open" signs on the doors' interior are from Sam's Club.

A.'s disappointed with the Scene story, thinks it made him seem like an amateur with a gimmick, when he's been recording for three years. He's getting out the word about his music on his MySpace page.

Here's his new video from last night: the scene outside Parnell's after LeBron's miracle shot -- complete with a LeBron talcum powder tribute -- and the celebration downtown.

LeBron saves the season with miracle shot

Where were you? I was at Parnell's in Cleveland Heights.

If the Cavs go on to win the finals, LeBron's shot tonight will go down in history.

See the shot again (and again) here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Do you believe in [censored]? Puff the [censored] Dragon?

In the best PR ploy of the week, Majic 105.7 has abandoned its name for the duration of the Eastern Conference playoffs lest it inspire Dwight Howard or any other of the Orlando (Magic) players.

The Oldies station is calling itself Cavs 105.7 and it will be bleeping out the word in any song that plays.

If I wasn't planning on having Joe Tait on the radio during tonight's game, I'd be listening to some Oldies. I will make sure to turn the channel at halftime — I certainly don't want to listen to Earvin Johnson size up Cleveland.

Dough for Dough

Recently there’s been a veritable firestorm of conversation locally and nationally – much of it angry – about restaurants that are charging for bread. Just type the phrase into your browser and you’ll see what I mean. For starters, check out this thread on Chowhound. Some of the most recent ranting, raving, and even occasionally thoughtful commentary was sparked by Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic. In a blog post on the subject, he went out of his way to provoke readers, not merely defending the establishments that have decided to make diners pay for the bread they eat, but suggesting that it would be better if more places followed suit. In Cleveland, I know that Felice and Taste do it. At Boulevard Blue, there’s a cost for bread basket refills. There may be other restaurants I’m not aware of that are adding the carbo-charge.

Here’s my position. Restaurants are struggling to stay afloat in this economy and maintain the quality of their offerings. If this little tweak to business as usual helps, I say go for it. It's better than raising prices across the board, especially for those who choose not to have bread. Besides, it will surely lead to less of the stuff being thrown away and that’s important. Multiply all the complimentary bread that goes from the table to the trash, night after night and coast to coast, and we’re talking mountains of garbage a lot of resources wasted- just think of the fuel used to process, transport and cook the ingredients... and then cart them off to the dump.

Yes, I know paying for the bread we feel entitled to is a change and not a welcome one. But I predict that we'll get used to it. Just like we got used to paying extra to sit in the car while someone else pumped our gas. Now doing it ouselves seems normal and only people of a certain age remember that once upon a time it was free. And sure, I like to spend less money not more, just like everybody else. But I like good bread too and it doesn’t seem unfair for a chef or owner to pass some of the cost of it- which has risen dramatically over the past couple of years- along to me. My only caveat is that it should be clear upfront- printed on menus, and mentioned by servers- so I'm not surprised when the charge appears on the bill.

Anyone want to weigh in on the topic?

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cavs win the title? Nope.

Oh well. It was a hard-fought season. I thought it could have been our year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eat, Drink, and Say Bow-Wow

Dog days are those long, hot, slow-moving often muggy ones that happen between July and September that make you want to do nothing but sit and sip cold beverages. Some over-achievers and Type-A personalities may dread them, and say thank goodness for air conditioning. But not Chef Paul Jagielski, owner of Henry's at the Barn, a restaurant in Avon that specializes in Carolina Low Country cuisine. He not only welcomes the season but kicks it off early with his second annual Dog Daze of Summer Wine Festival, Sunday May 17 from 1pm-4pm. $35.00 per person plus tax and gratuity buys you the opportunity to kick back- out on the patio if the weather cooperates-with food, music and drink. He’s selected 25 wines for sampling, and will putting out a buffet of Southern delicacies- I tried to pin him down about what’s on the menu but he takes a more spontaneous approach and refused to commit, saying only, “I will be doing appetizers from cheese to ribs, shrimp and what ever comes to mind.” Acoustic guitar and vocals provide a soundtrack for the evening.

I’ll be getting into my own summer state of mind vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. So I can’t be there-much as I’d like to. But I know that Paul is a terrific chef and is sure to have found some excellent reds and whites to pour. He also has a knack for making guests feel welcome and showing them a good time. So my advice is to make plans to spend Sunday afternoon at his place.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Most Valuable Puppet?

We're posting this because, if you haven't seen it, you really should. This aired during last night's Cavs-Hawks Game 4. LeBron as a crazed, chalk-throwing muppet? What will those Nike guys think of next? They almost have us forgetting we're reposting a commercial. Almost. Enjoy ... 

Monday, May 11, 2009

One more reason to love the Cavs' Z

To walk into Close Quarters Pub, Zydrunas Ilgauskas has to contort. He cocks his head and slides in. The Avon Lake dive is maybe the size of a one-car garage. You’d have trouble fitting a 1950s Chevy inside, let alone a giant Cavalier. And walking around, he has to be careful. Some low-hanging areas won’t house all 7-foot-3-inches of him.

The bar only has eleven chairs, but it’s known to well-known folks out on the west side. Dick Jacobs has been in there before. He bought a round for the packed bar once, owner Harry Schindler says. It cost him all of $50. Schindler says Jacobs laughed when he told him how much he owed. The Conway brothers used to bring some of the first kegs of Great Lakes Brewing Co. beer out there to be served.

The first time Z was in was one of those crowded nights, the better part of a decade ago. Z stood along the back wall, then realized he could sit comfortably on a ledge others rested their drinks.
He fits in there. At least as good as any man too big for a small bar can fit. When he walks in, sometimes there’s a gasp, Schindler says. Not because he’s a millionaire. Not because he’s a basketball star. But because he’s seven friggin feet tall.

“The people in the bar are in awe of his size,” Schindler says.

But as he settles in the bar with his wife or a buddy, he slowly fades. “This is the kind of place you go to laugh, not talk about serious stuff,” Schindler says. “And he likes to laugh. We knew he’d fit in the first time he leaned back and laughed at the conversation.”

The bar isn’t far from his house. It’s the kind of place that would never be built today. It pre-existed zoning, and sits in a front yard of a home. Until 20 years ago, there was never a bathroom. The bar patrons just (attempted to) head to the house and use the john.

And I love the fact that of all the places Z could choose to belly up to a bar, he picks a place like this. It just further emphasizes the point made in Jeanne Roberts' piece on the big guy in this month's magazine: Z is Cleveland.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mike Polk on his Hastily Made videos, Positively Cleveland's contest, and haters

Fox 8 must be following us on Twitter! They got Mike Polk to talk about his Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Videos. "If we can all laugh at each other and with each other, I think it's rather cathartic," says the comedian and viral video creator.

He reacts to Positively Cleveland's competing video contest, which we reported on yesterday. "That's exciting," Polk says. "I hope that some people really submit some good things. And I hope that it's effective and everybody moves back [to Cleveland]."

Reporter Suzanne Stratford takes a laptop with her to get man-on-the-street reactions to Polk's videos. A guy at the Barking Spider says you ought to be able to make fun of your hometown. A guy on East 4th Street disagrees. "It's almost like a hate video," he says. "It's a travesty that someone who lives here would think that way."

Polk, tastefully clad in a wife-beater T-shirt, picks up on the hate theme. "I've actually gotten some death threats," he says.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Positively Cleveland vs. Negatively Cleveland: a hastily made contest

Have you seen these "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Videos" by local comedian Mike Polk? They're huge YouTube hits, and they've been flying across the Net for a couple of weeks now. Funny stuff. (If you're offended when comedians drop F-bombs, don't watch the first one.)

There's just one problem with the videos. A former intern for the magazine writes from Ohio University: "All of my roommates are from out of state and have told me that this has solidified their gut feelings to never come to Cleveland, ever."

So yesterday, while I was talking with staffers at Positively Cleveland, our ever-optimistic convention and visitors bureau, I asked what they thought of Polk's work.

"Clevelanders, that’s our sense of humor," says Positively Cleveland's communications director, Samantha Fryberger — "to poke fun at ourselves and have sort of a chip on our shoulder: ‘Why would anybody want to come here?'"

However, "The thing that frustrates us slightly is that outsiders, outside of this region, they’re only seeing the negative, funny part that we’re portraying."

So Positively Cleveland is launching a contest, online at

"We are going to ask Clevelanders to make a video that’s no more than two minutes long, spend no more than $2, and do it in no more than two weeks," Fryberger says -- "to use their cell phones, flip video cameras, and photography to make a fun, quirky, but slightly more positive tourism video for the region." The contest will run May 13 to 27, though the earlier a video gets posted, the more time it has to catch on online. Makers of the best videos will get prize packages that include hotel suites, dinners at restaurants, Beachland Ballroom tickets, and Indians tickets near home plate.

Positively Cleveland has been under a lot of stress lately, not sure if some of its funding, which comes from a tax on hotel stays, will be diverted to the Medical Mart. (See the magazine's politics blog, here and here.) "If our budget is cut, this could be the only way we can get our message out!" Fryberger joked.

Michael Got the Medal

At last. No more “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” for Michael Symon. Nominated for a James Beard award before, he finally was named Best Chef for the Great Lakes region on Monday night. The recognition is well deserved, a tribute to both his astonishing culinary talents and years of hard work. It’s a big deal for him- the Oscar/Emmy/Grammy/Gold of the food world- and by extension for Cleveland. What can I say but YEAH!

I wasn’t in New York city for the ceremonial shindig, but I did get the news early in the evening thanks to Jonathan Sawyer, chef/owner of The Greenhouse Tavern. He sent me a text to land line message at 8PM. The Borglike voice said “Symon won Beard.” I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself. Went the James Beard Foundation website
and discovered they had people live blogging the event and posting videos. So I joined in the fuss and frolic vicariously via all the updates Not anything like being there, but it was a way to connect.

On his blog last March, Symon wrote that he was honored just to be a Beard finalist. Imagine how thrilled he’s feeling today. And his good news is something we can all celebrate.
Great photo of Symon courtesy of Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mark "Munch" Bishop talks Cavs with Cleveland Magazine

How do the Cavs stack up against the Hawks? We talked playoff basketball with Mark "Munch" Bishop in our May podcast.

Here is a blog exclusive clip of the Cleveland sportscaster talking about how far Cleveland could go.

I love listening to Munch. If you enjoyed this clip, this month's podcast has a whole segment (not including this clip) with Munch. Click here to listen or go to iTunes and search Cleveland Magazine to subscribe.

And, of course, you can catch Munch on STO's Wine and Gold Zone.

Go Cavs!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ride the Tequila Train

Looking a fun (and maybe a little off-color) way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Check out Blind Pig's second annual Run for the Border 5K race tomorrow night. We had an unexpected blast during its first year last May. Anticipating the standard downtown 5K track along the lake, we were surprised when teams had to run wearing a sombrero, take a shot of tequila and then chug a Corona, each at separate check points throughout the three-mile run. (You could opt for an alcohol-free race by choosing to dance in a circle for 30 seconds shaking your maracas at each point.)

They've made a few changes to the route this year, as well as to the props (all runners get a sombrero and maracas included in their race fee, along with a Corona at the finish line). So, grab a partner (you have to compete in pairs) and head out on a mystery course through downtown. They give you the check points (and a green card to stamp), you decide your way. It's a whole new take on the idea of a fun run.

And with a 7 p.m. start, you'll be done just in time to grab a beer, take advantage of drink specials for runners and settle in to watch the Cavs play at 8 p.m. See you there! Or follow us on Twitter — we'll let you know how we finish!

LeBron is MVP

The NBA has named LeBron James its most valuable player for the 2008-09 regular season. He was scheduled to receive the award at his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, at 4 p.m.

Fox Sports Ohio had promised to carry it live on TV and online. Try this link (though it wasn't showing anything on my browser as of 4:15).

No Clevelander will doubt that LBJ is the rightful MVP. But if someone you know from out of town dares to question it, send him this YouTube clip of LeBron's spectacular shot, beating the first-half buzzer in game 1 of the playoffs. From ESPN analyst Jalen Rose's website:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Art + Clothing = Wearable Art

Around 100 fashion hounds and artsy types gathered at Metropolis nightclub downtown last night to experience unclothed: A Mixed Media Runway Event, one of the many highlights of Fashion Week Cleveland (this one using green sustainable materials to produce wearable art). The show did get a fashionably late start, but eventually the lights dimmed, the music pumped up and the show went on. Nine impressive designers showing everything from evening gowns made of garbage bags by Congduy Luong to denim overalls shackled in handcuffs by Tracy Kiefer strutted their creations down the runway. I loved the paint splattered Obama/Biden blazer by Paul Sadler, Kezia Pearson's Chinese flower printed gold silk mini dress with the short bustled train and Hannah Vaughan's red layered ruffled mini skirt, which resembled a rose in full bloom. The finale wedding dress by Vincent Quevedo (above) was outstanding. It was expertly tailored and the fabric was impeccable. So not typical as the jaw-dropping, eye-popping wedding dresses of past fashion weeks (i.e. fashion designer Darklord's gross, yet very memorable "blood" red paint splattered anti-war wedding dress). — Frenchye Bush 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tableside Service

If Zack Bruell was stuck on a desert island, it’s safe to say the two ingredients he’d bring with him are olive oil (French, of course, it’s got a more flowery taste and smoother finish than its Italian counterparts) and fresh lemon juice. The Table 45 chef topped off nearly every dish of last night's six-course dinner with the two — and the result was a great meal from start to finish.

The reason for the intimate gathering around the kitchen countertop table at Table 45 was two-fold. First, Bruell wanted to give our group of 10 a sampling of his favorite dishes from the recently unveiled spring/summer menu. But he also wanted to fill us in on the newest tableside service he’ll be offering at Table 45, one of this year’s Silver Spoon Award winners featured in the May issue. The action station cooking demo series offers a maximum of 10 guests the chance to watch Bruell and chef Rick Argoso cook, learn techniques, plate dishes and then feast on a prix fix menu.

We started with tuna carpaccio rolled paper thin and garnished with cucumbers, tomato, feta and mint oil. Next, we sampled a crab cake wrapped in crispy rice paper and served with spicy Asian remoulade. The Belgian endive salad offered a great blend of salty and citrus flavors thanks to tender prosciutto and orange and lime slices. 

It was followed by the halibut poached with olive oil, blanched leeks oregano, thyme, orange peel and some salt and white pepper. It was served swimming in roasted garlic and smoked paprika broth with ivory lentils, green beans, crispy croutons and saffron aioli. Next came Bruell’s more sophisticated version of a gyro — a Greek-style braised lamb shank (it fell off the bone perfectly during preparation) with cucumber salad, Tzatziki sauce and orgeno naan freshly made in a Tandoori oven right at the kitchen station.

I was surprised at the simplicity of the dish ingredients — “A little salt and pepper and that’s it,” Bruell repeatedly told us — and the complexity of the flavors that he was able to create. And I even picked up a few pointers along the way to use in my own kitchen: the right way to cut tiny orange slices and how to make sure your lentils don’t end up as a pile of mush (slightly undercook them because they’ll keep cooking even after you take them off the heat).

The plan is for Table 45 to start these weekly demos in June. And Bruell’s hope is to serve single walk-up dinners as well as large parties — just as long as the evenings are kept lighthearted, he says. “Food should be fun, not serious,” he told us. 

Catch Bruell and other top Cleveland chefs in two weeks at our Silver Spoon Awards party on May 14 at the InterContinental Hotel. Bruell will represent his two winning restaurants, Table 45 and L’Albatros. For tickets, visit us here.