Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Indians regime arrives with optimism

The Indians began their winter press tour at Tangiers in Akron on Tuesday, reminding Clevelanders that our coldest days will soon give way to spring.

New Tribe manager Manny Acta, right-handed pitcher Jensen Lewis and outfielder Michael Brantley spoke with reporters about the Indians’ chances in 2010. Dressed in a pin-striped suit with a matching pin-striped fedora, Acta was the center of attention.

He said he looked forward to competing in the AL’s Central Division.

“It’s wide open, and that’s what’s so attractive about our division,” he said. “This division is just the most balanced one.”

After last year’s disappointing season and mid-summer trades, many Clevelanders have already written this year’s team off. Acta did his best to reassure them.

“These guys are already high-energy, high-character guys,” he said. “All I have to do is come in here and create the right atmosphere to get the best out of them.”

Brantley, like many reporters and fans, was getting to know his new manager for the first time.

“He’s a down-to-earth guy,” Brantley said. “We had about a 10- to 15-minute conversation already, and I look forward to playing for him.”

Inexperience will be the Indians’ biggest obstacle this year.

“We have the right group of guys,” Acta said. “They are just young, and they’re developing at the toughest level to develop.”

Brantley agreed. “We don’t have that much experience on both sides of the ball,” he said. “But at the same time, we have some of the veteran guys who are going to help us.” Brantley says he turned to star outfielder Grady Sizemore for advice after coming up from the minors in September.

With the team in transition, a lot of younger players will have a chance to make the roster, Brantley noted.

“There is always competition everywhere,” he said. “You have guys coming up through the minor leagues right behind you, so you just can’t take a day off.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fun Four Ways

Mark your calendars, make your reservations, and get your tickets. There are places to be, things to do, and stuff to see for foodheads and culture connoisseurs coming up in the next couple of weeks. Some of it’s free and all promises to be good fun.

-Feb 2
Not content with being known as an extraordinarily accomplished-and cool-chef, Jonathon Sawyer decided to get into beer making. He partnered up with Buckeye Brewing in Lakewood to ferment something special for Greenhouse Tavern customers. They made a Belgian style farmhouse ale, and selected Groundhog Day, Feb 2, to tap the first seven barrels of Saison de Maison. To make it even more of an event, Punxsutawney Phil will be on screen all day and Groundhog burgers (don’t ask) are on the menu.

photo of Groundhog Jay courtesy of Greenhouse Tavern

-Feb 8
TV celebrity Guy Fieri came to town many months ago and filmed a lot of footage. The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives segment spotlighting Melt Bar and Grilled, the place that has redefined the word sandwich, airs on the Food Network Feb 8. Owner and big cheese Matt Fish, dubbed one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People, will host a viewing party at the Detroit Avenue restaurant. Check the website for details.

behind the scenes photo courtesy of The Food Network and Melt

-Feb 6
CityMusic Cleveland, the acclaimed chamber orchestra, known for the extraordinary quality of their music making and free performances, is joined by celebrated cellist Matt Haimovitz. Led by conductor Danail Rachev, the group will play pieces by Schubert, Shostakovich, and Mozart at five different locations Feb 3-7. But Haimovitz likes to bring classical music into unlikely and nontraditional venues. So on Saturday night, starting around 10:15 PM, following the concert at the Shrine of St. Stanislaus Church in Slavic Village, he’ll be playing the Vivaldi Cello Concerto at Anatolia Café, the Turkish restaurant on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. CityMusic’s calling it a jam session so I suspect other musicians might show up, instruments in hand. This could be one of those nights you talk about for the rest of your life. Plus you get to eat and drink while listening. If you want a table, reservations are recommended (216-321-4400).
photo courtesy of

-Feb 9
The husband and I are having our second annual Taxel Creative Group Loft Party- Food for Thought- to benefit the Cleveland International Film Festival at our Prospect Avenue studio. We’ve invited three great chefs- Michael Annandono of Michaelangelo’s, Matt Mathlage of Light Bistro, and Jonathan Bennett of Moxie and Red –to come talk about the "ah ha" food moments and experiences that put them on the culinary career path. They’ll share stories about what made them realize that food is wonderful and cooking the thing they wanted to do and then answer questions from the audience. Not only are the guys generously giving us their time, they’re bringing food too, and we’ll have beverages on hand so no one will go thirsty. We start pouring and passing at 7 PM . Ticketing info at the Festival website

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Coondog O'Karma destroys Tucky's hot dogs

Coondog O'Karma, competitive eater and Cleveland Magazine contributing editor, recently engulfed five hot dogs in 1 minute, 44 seconds, establishing a new record in the Division Dog Challenge at Tucky's, a downtown hot dog spot. Michael Heaton narrated in a video on the subject. The video is embedded below (way below -- sorry for the technical difficulties).

To read Coondog's essays for Cleveland Magazine on his competitive eating career, click on these links: "Dog Eat Dog" and the sequel, "Coondog O'Karma Goes to Japan." To see Coondog compete with Lakota the pizza-eating bear on the Big Chuck and Little John Show (this one never gets old), click here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Must Make Reservations

Deciding where to go out to eat just got harder- much much harder. Cleveland got two new restaurants in the past two weeks. I was invited to pre-opening meals and I can report that the food at both places is nothing less than wonderful- thoughtfully conceived, well executed, and representative of each chef/owner's particular style.

Restaurant Dante, the long awaited re-debut of Dante Boccuzzi in Tremont, officially unlocked the doors last week. The former bank has been beautifully renovated and reinvented with a bar, intimate dining area, and sleek tiled kitchen that features a special chef’s table where guests can watch the cooks in action. There’s a special private table in the vault with a “window” in the back wall offering a view of the housemade proscuitto and salamis hung up to age in another room. There’s also a glassed in garden room with fireplace but it wasn’t quite ready for company when I visited. Happily the oysters on this menu- spiced up with hot pepper puree and yuzu- reprise the ones Boccuzzi served out in Valley View My table of four shared everything and among the many other things I tasted of special note were a braised fennel gratin with arugula, oranges and hazelnuts; spaghetti alla chitarra with garlic, broccoli and house cured anchovies; polenta with garlic braised rabbit and parsnips; and pancetta wrapped duck breast. I love that many items on the menu are available in tasting, appetizer, and entrée size portions and others can be ordered singly or in pairs. The only glitch in the launch was the pacing- the kitchen could not keep up with the demand. It took an incredibly long time- three hours from seating to entree- for each course to arrive the night I was there, and a friend said same thing happened to him on Saturday. I am sure that as the staff settles in, learns the menu and has a chance to iron out the wrinkles of cooking, assembling and plating all the dishes- many of which are layered and intricate- this problem will disappear. In the meantime, cut these folks some slack, be patient, and give this fine chef and his people more than one chance to wow you.

Zack Bruell’s Ristorante Chinato on East 4th Street welcomes the public tonight. This corner spot has been empty and decaying for ages- and the transformation is amazing. The design of the space and the furnishings are Euro-chic and contemporary. The food, Bruell told me, is not the nostalgic, Americanized version of Italian cooking we know, but what you find at sophisticated restaurants in cities like Milan, Florence and Rome. The meal got the right start with chunks of good bread, a plate of olive oil with the green tinge and slightly grassy taste that is a sign of quality, and a little bowl of pink sea salt to sprinkle on top. Throw in a bottle of good red wine, which the husband and I did, some interesting conversation, and this is my idea of a good time. We have only compliments for everything we ate but I especially liked the Tuscan onion soup; a light, bright lemony mushroom salad; an unusual pappardelle pasta with creamed cauliflower, pecorino and pepperoncini; the zesty zuppa de pesce filled with clams, mussels, octopus, squid, shrimp, and scallops each cooked just to tenderness; and a round of polenta cake. This first encounter gives every indication that Zack has got it right yet again.

We’re lucky to have Boccuzzi and Bruell in Cleveland and their latest efforts only add to what is already a hot happening and highly impressive local dining scene.
Photos by Barney Taxel

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cleveland Orchestra strike may end soon

The Cleveland Orchestra's musicians, who went on strike yesterday rather than accept a pay cut, have a tentative agreement with orchestra management and will vote on it today, WCPN and others report.

Today's New York Times carries a story (registration required) about the strike, noting it's a sign of tough times for classic music ensembles everywhere. But it also notes the special challenges of maintaining a world-class arts organization in Cleveland's long-contracting economy:

Cleveland presents one of classical music’s great anomalies: a top international orchestra in a shrinking city, an ensemble in a Rust Belt town that plays with the greatest of ease among the Viennese. ... Old-money families are dispersing. Ticket sales have declined, although loyalty remains fierce.

“The orchestra is living off of historic wealth,” said Edward W. Hill, a professor of economic development at Cleveland State University.

Audio pieces on include interviews with orchestra executive director Gary Hanson, two musicians, and a CWRU professor, as well as a clip of an orchestra performance.

We've been following this story for a long time. For some perspective, take a look at Andy Netzel's 2007 Cleveland Magazine article, "Harmony and Discord."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Family Values

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I’m not about to start talking cultural politics here nor am I planning to stir up controversy by voicing my opinions on some hot button socio-religious issues. Fact is the highly charged buzz words were chosen by the folks at Moxie to describe what’s going on there this month.
The Beachwood restaurant, not exactly known as a bargain dining destination, is offering special prix fixe meals until January 30. And what a price it is: $50 (plus tax and gratuity) for two people AND just $20 (plus tax and gratuity) for each additional person. This is a deal that’s hard to refuse, especially when the food’s coming from Chef Jonathan Bennett’s kitchen, so bring your parents, the in-laws, the kids, the cousins…
The Family Values Menus change weekly but always include a salad, entrée, two sides, and dessert. Here’s a sampling of what you can expect…but be warned, reading the following list will definitely make you hungry: baby spinach & dried pear salad with warm date vinaigrette and goat cheese; buttermilk fried Bell & Evans chicken; all day pot roast with natural jus; roasted carrots with thyme glaze; garlicky Tuscan kale; Yukon gold potato cheddar gratin; pecorino risotto; lemon meringue pie; chocolate baked Alaska; de-caf tiramisu.
If you haven’t ever gotten up close and personal with a plate of Bennett’s cooking, now’s definitely the time to try it. If like me you’ve visited this stylish restaurant before and already know how talented he is, then there’s extra motivation to make a reservation. Other members of Cleveland Independents, an association of locally owned and operated restaurants, are also offering their own version of bargain meals. No matter whether your voting tends to swing left or right, these are Family Values everybody can support.
Photo by William Beck

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'60 Minutes' to feature Cleveland's man who can't forget

Is that tick-tick-tick the stopwatch on CBS' 60 Minutes, counting down the seconds in an hour? Or is it the sound of Rick Baron's brain, flipping through the calendars in his head, the days of each year since 1968?

Baron, one of our Most Interesting People for 2009 (click here, 2nd person down), called yesterday to say he'll be on 60 Minutes this March. He's one of four people in the world known to have hyperthymesia, a super-memory of their own life, day by day, as well as world events.

"It’s like your own private time machine," Baron says.

CBS flew him out to California last month to meet with two other super-memory guys, take quizzes, get MRIs taken of their brains, and be interviewed by 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl. The segment will likely air in March.

Scientists at the University of California-Irvine say Baron's encyclopedic memory comes from his caudate nuclei, a part of his brain that's seven or eight times the size of most people's.

"Anything -- especially numbers and dates -- anything you read, hear, or see just sticks on your head," he says.

Baron, a human almanac, never tires of being tested. Ad-libbing, I ask him the date that the late Alabama governor George Wallace was shot. Arthur Bremer shot him on Monday, May 15, 1972, he says. (Correct.) Who won Super Bowl XVI? The 49ers, he says after a second's pondering: They beat the Bengals, on January 24, 1982, in Detroit, in the first cold-weather Super Bowl.

Ever seen a perpetual calendar, which keeps track of the seven ways a regular year and a leap year can start? Baron has that in his head: 1982 has the same calendar as 2010, he adds after his Super Bowl riff. (Yes, this Jan. 24 is also a Sunday.) It's the template for his memory. (That file-by-date process might also cause an occasional imperfection in his recall. I think I hear him say the Super Bowl XVI score that Jan. 24 was 24-21 -- actually, it was 26-21, Google tells me.)

So far, Baron's talent has earned him an appearance on NBC's Today Show as well as lots of trivia contest victories and free vacations.

"I get paid for some things," he says: "Speaking at medical events, corporate events." He hopes to parlay it into a nightclub act or comedic game show, with prizes based on how many times a contestant can stump him.

ey’ve put me on the Bob Rivers radio show in Seattle," he says: the station offers "a trip anywhere in world if they stump me twice." No one has beaten him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Holmgren keeps Mangini as Browns coach

The Browns' four-game winning streak at the season's end has preserved coach Eric Mangini's job. New team president Mike Holmgren says Mangini will stay on as coach in 2010.

Here at the Cleveland Magazine blog, we've been a bit hard on Mangini. But we warmed to Mangini after those Ice Bowl wins, just like much of Cleveland has. He inherited a crazy system that needed some discipline and structure, and a roster that needed some house-cleaning. He provided it. Those league-maximum fines early in the season that seemed so ridiculous paid off. So did shipping troublemaker Braylon Edwards out of town after his fistfight with LeBron's buddy, even if that left Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson with no one left to throw to. Sure, 5-11 is not a stellar record, but here's a clearer sign of improvement: the Browns went from the NFL's second most penalized team to the third least.

The dissenting opinion holds that Mangini's dawdling on naming a starting quarterback was a sign of indecision and weird stoking of media frenzy, and that he hasn't proven his disciplinary and play-calling systems work. In this view, Mangini doesn't matter nearly as much as re-signing Josh Cribbs.

Even the staffers who wanted Mangini to return are agnostic about his long-term fortunes. No one thinks he's proven himself. It's more: OK, you've earned another year.

Our blog's reader's poll in October looks eerily prescient so far. When we asked you about Mangini's future, none of you picked the option, "He'll be gone right after the season's ignominious end." 29% said he'd be fired mid-season. But the real contest is between the 47% of you who picked, "He'll manage to last two seasons, though he'll deserve to be fired after one" (hmm, how many of the 47% still feel that way?), and the forgiving 23% who 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." Let's hope so.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Shaq, Betty Sutton, Matt Fish, and 27 more: Our Most Interesting People

Henri Ngolo funds an African orphange. Matt Fish is the restaurateur who opened Melt. Betty Sutton is the congresswoman who authored the Cash For Clunkers bill. Mike Polk unleashed the Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Videos on YouTube. They're all featured in Cleveland Magazine's 2010 Most Interesting People issue, at newsstands this week and now online.

Each of our 30 mini-profile subjects has accomplished something fascinating that caught our attention in the past year. Some, like cover guy Shaq, need no introduction. Others, we would be happy to introduce you to, such as Jason Rohal, 23-year-old designer of an underwater hotel.

The Parker Effect

Parker Bosley was talking about the importance of cooking with fresh, seasonal, local ingredients and working with small farmers around northeast Ohio to supply the restaurants he ran long before such practices became the reigning mantra of the food world. A culinary educator, activist, and agricultural advocate as well as chef, Bosley’s had a tremendous influence on those who cook professionally around the region. A family tree of Cleveland area chefs would reveal that many trace a connection to him and his way of thinking.

He was a man with a mission-driven menu for 20 plus years but in 2006 Parker left the restaurant business to work more closely with growers and producers, exert influence on public policy, and do his best to reinvent the way we think about and source what we eat.

Bosley’s vision and accomplishments will be celebrated on Sunday, January 24 during a brunch held at St. Ignatius High School. The event is a fundraiser for Innovative Farmers of Ohio, a group dedicated to sustainable food production. Tickets are $50 per person, and I’ve already bought mine. I very much want to be there to show support for all he’s done, but I must admit that knowing the meal is being prepared by such kitchen luminaries such as Heather Haviland, Ben Bebenroth, Karen Small, Andy Strizak, and Doug Katz makes the occasion even more enticing.

$125 gets you brunch and an invitation to a private reception before the event at Light Bistro.

Seating is limited so if you want to attend you need to act fast. The original deadline for buying tickets has been extended to January 14. View details and make reservations using Paypal here or go to Checks made out to Innovative Farmers of Ohio can be mailed to Parker Tribute c/o Mary Holmes 1800 Berkshire Road Gates Mills, Ohio 44040. Email questions to or call 440-423-859.