Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Staycation Dinner at Moxie

If they were handing out free trips to New York City, I’d elbow the young and the elderly out of the way so I could be at the head of the line. Once I got there, my primary activity would be eating with some arts and culture pit stops along the way. But alas, no one’s offering me such a no-cost junket and it’s a staycation summer for me. From what I hear, I’m not the only one.

So imagine my delight when I learned that Chef Jonathan Bennett and the folks at Moxie have arranged to bring a little taste of New York to Cleveland. Actually it’s a taste of Istanbul by way of Midtown. On Monday night, August 2 the acclaimed master of Turkish cuisine Orhan Yegen will step into the Beachwood kitchen to cook a five course dinner. Bennett and staff will get hands on experience preparing such traditional specialties as tarama (fish roe spread), cacik (yogurt and cucumbers) and lamb shanks. Those lucky enough to get a place at the table will be served dishes that echo the menu at Sip Sak, Yegen’s Manhattan restaurant. (You can also follow his entertaining blog here.)

Yegen is famous for his food which he’s been making in this country since 1977 at more than a dozen different restaurants he’s opened (and sold, closed, or left). Over the years he’s earned kudos from the James Beard Foundation, Food and Wine Magazine, Gourmet, Newsday, Forbes and a long list of other publications. Yegen is equally famous- or to be more accurate, infamous- for his opinionated, unedited and eminently quotable remarks. The media typically describe him as a quirky character- that’s code for unpredictable, highly entertaining, and occasionally insulting. I think he sounds like a fascinating fellow who operates without a script or handlers, and that rare sort of person that is willing to tell you what he really thinks.

The prix fixe dinner starts at 7 PM. Cost is a reasonable $50 per person including wine pairings plus tax and gratuity. Reservations required. Call 216-831-5599. Maybe Orhan Yegen, who dislikes being called a chef, will have time to visit with guests, an experience that has the potential to be memorable. And no doubt the always charming Jonathan Bennett will make the rounds of the room to insure that everyone is happy. This could be the first dinner in a series: Moxie may host more of these events featuring out of town chefs bringing their style and skills to our town. It's a whole new way to think about culinary tourism.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ingenuity's Speakeasy 2.0 lights up the catacombs with '20s flair

Ingenuity threw a benefit party Friday night, building excitement for its September festival inside the Detroit-Superior Bridge with a theme that played off the hidden-ness of the old lower-level streetcar route: Speakeasy 2.0.

The party's early-evening $100 tickets promised a trip back to the '20s, with a swing band and swing lessons.

I showed up for the $15-$20 post-9 pm version. The crowd still included lots of flapper girls and pinstriped gangster guys.

A crowd of hundreds, maybe thousands, descended into the catacombs under Massimo di Milano, the spooky old underground streetcar station below West 25th St. and Detroit Ave. Where trolleys once turned south to head down 25th, a replica of one now blocks off the tunnel. You might recognize it from the cover of Cleveland Magazine's August 2007 Hidden Cleveland issue.

For the late-night party, swing gave way to electronic dance beats and a light show played off the 93-year-old bridge's columns and ceiling beams.

This electronic graffiti wall, designer by local interactive developer Chris Yanc, allowed visitors to draw their own swooshes of color across a screen using hand-held lights. It'll be back at the main event.

Ingenuity returns to the bridge Sept. 24-26 for its full-fledged, 6th-annual festival celebrating art and technology.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Beef in a Box

There’s something wonderful about driving up to your house and finding steaks waiting for you at the front door. It’s an experience I recently had for the first time and it came courtesy of the folks at Certified Angus Beef Brand. The Wooster based company, dedicated to promoting this select line of premium beef, invited me try their new online ordering and delivery service and tell them what I think. It couldn’t have been easier and I have to say I liked buying meat in my pajamas.

And not just any meat. This is the stuff served at high-end restaurants around the country.
I chose four 12 oz. strip steaks, typed and clicked my way through the purchasing process, and quickly received an email confirming my order, and then another with a tracking number. They arrived frozen three days later, each one vacuum sealed, in a cooler packed with dry ice. There was even a handy little grilling guide. Getting packages in the mail is always fun- like having an extra birthday. Getting a box of something so good to eat makes me ridiculously happy.

I was in charge of sides for dinner on Sunday. There was corn on the cob, bought the day before at the North Union Farmers Market, a salad with tomatoes from the garden, and baked beans that we had slow smoked last week. But the strip was the centerpiece of our meal. We dry rubbed with Chef Brandt Evans’ Killer Steak Crust spice blend and cooked over an open fire.
Photographer, resident flame master and husband Barney Taxel was in charge of achieving a rare interior for the beautifully marbled meat and a picture perfect sear. He did both very well.
There's plenty of grilling days left in the season . Next time, I'm going to gift myself with a rib-eye. Home shopping has never seemed quite so appealing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

10 Reasons to Love Cleveland

TV3's Good Company asked us to come up with a quick list of 10 Things We Love about Cleveland. Easy, right? You bet.

Every month, the Cleveland Magazine is filled with things to love about our town, so the only problem was limiting it to 10 (we cheated a little and dropped in a few cameos of old faves). We take pride in bringing our readers what's new and interesting about the city -- or at least seeing old favorites in a new way. So, our list might surprise you -- but that's the point. Feel free to add your own, oft overlooked reasons to love Cleveland as well.

10. Accordion Museum — Every knows and loves the Rock Hall, but not as many know about Jack & Kathy White, whose love of the accordion, turned their Rocky River basement into the largest collection of accordions in the world (more than 450). Cleveland has a rich musical history with the accordion, where Frankie Yankovic was the polka king and in the 1920s and '30s, Cleveland was home to four accordion manufacturing companies. Polka not you kind of music? Hit the Beachland Ballroom or NightTown for great live gigs.

9. Jonathon Sawyer’s Crispy Chicken Wings Confit — We all love Michael Symon’s infectious laugh and his food, but Sawyer’s wings (and his Greenhouse Tavern) make us really smile.

8. Cleveland Museum of Art’s Chalk Festival — Coming up in mid September, the chalk festival is the perfect place to express yourself & a great excuse to see the museum’s new galleries. More than 40 are on view including the new East Wing. Or just make a day of it and hang out in University Circle.

7. Danielle DeBoe’s Made in the 216 Events — Proof that you can be creative and succeed in Cleveland. She had about 60 Cleveland-based designers at the June event and even timed them up with the Discover Gordon Square Days and Parade the Circle (you could take a trolley to University Circle and vice-a-versa) and partnered with Happy Dog (another thing we love — ½ off dogs during happy hour all month long) for after parties, etc.

6. We used to be rural. — Our proximity to farms gives us access to an abundance of farm-fresh delights, everything from the Chef’s Garden in Huron, where Farmer Jones ships his produce across the U.S. to some the country’s best restaurants, to Mackenzie’s Creamery in Hiram, where they make artisan goat cheese, to creative brews at Great Lakes Brewing Co., where locally grown pumpkins are used in the pumpkin ale. Yes, we have great farmers markets too.

5. Festivals that help us rediscover our town — Ingenuity Festival — annual festival of music, art and technology — is moving to the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge this September, to take inspiration from the architecture of the bridge and the fascinating ruins of the W. 25th subway station. Their preview party, Speakeasy 2.0, is July 23, next Friday night, in the bridge and subway. Also, the Burning River Fest, next weekend, July 24-25, at the old Coast Guard station at Whiskey Island, another underused landmark. Green living, bands, and Christmas in July: Christmas Ale.

4. Green City Blue Lake movement — Whether its our pursuit of wind energy and green manufacturing jobs or the efforts of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability or the push to add a special lane for bikes and pedestrians to the proposed Inner Belt Bridge, the shift in mentality from old industrial to looking at a more sustainable future for our town. And since we’re on the topic …

3. Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park — We’ve got a lake, a completely awesome body of water, enjoy it. The Fairport Harbor beach is smaller that Mentor Headlands or Bay Village’s Huntington Beach, but there’s an open water swimming lane, dog swimming area, kayak rentals and plenty of places for the kids to play.

2. Towpath Trail from Brecksville to Peninsula — Manageable distance (about 12 miles) with a lot of different terrain all squeezed in between. Stop about half way at the Boston store for and continue on to the finish for your reward at the Winking Lizard in Peninsula. Don’t overindulge though, you’ve got a 12 mile trek back.

1. Dan Gilbert — While we may not completely agree with his “open letter,” he expressed what we were all feeling in the wake of “The Decision.” And no one is going to question his will to win.

Correction: Viva Fernando

Viva Fernando was listed among the restaurant closings in the July issue of Cleveland Magazine. The restaurant remains open. Viva Fernando is located at 24600 Detroit Road, Westlake, Ohio, 440-808-0000.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Prog [gress] on Detroit

True to the spirit behind its name, Prog (as in the post psychedelic British music sub genre) Gastro Lounge is all about pushing boundaries and staking out new ground. In this case it’s food- bar food to be precise- rather than rock-n-roll that’s being elevated and expanded beyond the standards. Instead of choosing to be either a restaurant or a watering hole, owners Steven and Amy Bodek, who opened the place in May, decided to be both.

First impression walking into the dark space is that this is a drinking establishment, a place where locals and regulars come to toss back some cold ones with friends. There’s a long bar, some hi-top tables, and a chalkboard list of specialty beers.
But settle down in a booth on the opposite side of the room and read over the menu and it becomes clear that there’s more going on here. The selection features small and sharing sized plates of creative, eclectic globally inspired fare that just might get foodies punching the address into their GPS. There are meat-on-a stick satays, kebabs, and tacos with unconventional fillings. For those who like burning bites, the grilled jalapeno poppers are off the charts hot. Shrimp bon bons were my favorite- think deep fried macaroon- especially nice with a pour of the house made pineapple mango infused vodka. I also became an instant fan of the corn fritters with a sweet/spicy sauce.

The d├ęcor is as fun and funky as the eats, a sort vintage elegance meets tree lawn treasures. The couple applied a lot of elbow grease and vision to restore and remodel the former grill and concert club. Just bringing back the beautiful old tile floor required Herculean effort and much scrubbing. And the work is not done yet- there’s actually a second room with a stage in back that they hope to refurbish soon.

Amy grew up in Parma but left town after high school and only recently returned here, by way of New York and Mexico, with her husband. In addition to their two kids, they brought an entrepreneurial spirit and their own kind of cosmopolitan coolness. Let’s give them a real Cleveland welcome and show support for their venture. All you have to do is pick a night, head on over to Detroit Avenue on the Lakewood side of the border, and enjoy yourself .

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar, 1939-2010: Cleveland's honest eye

Harvey Pekar did not do small talk.

In fall 2003, I drove him and his wife to Tommy’s for an interview, my chatty banter utterly failing to dent their impregnable grouchiness. American Splendor, the biopic about Pekar’s life and underground-comics career, had just made Pekar the everyman hero of indie cinema, but the experience had only nudged his mood-needle ever so slightly.

“This was kind of an exceptional time for me, a diverting time,” he said over sandwiches, his huge, dark eyebrows in full weedy bloom. But he was “kinda depressed” it was ending, since he had to hustle for writing jobs again. Maybe the movie would help, he allowed. “Then I’ll be happy,” he said — and caught himself. “At least as happy as I get, which is not too happy.”

I respected that. Pekar’s gloom gave him an artist’s vision of Cleveland, like a painter going through a lifelong gray period.

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff,” went his credo, and paging through the anthologies of Pekar’s American Splendor comics showed that his realist’s eye caught something about the town by focusing on his file clerk job, his favorite cheap diners, his bohemian’s taste for jazz and klezmer. Over breakfast in a diner, cartoon Harvey chatted about the yuppies moving into Ohio City, driving up rents. Telling a story about his family, he looked up at a two-story house with a double porch and told his readers how Cleveland was once filled with big immigrant families who’d share a home -- one generation below, kids’ or brother’s or nephew’s family up above. His collage of West Side Market images showed the characters, the crowds, and the hucksterism of the barking vendors. “Ever see anything prettier?” one asked, holding a handful of cherries out to the reader.

The filmmakers took Pekar’s vision and let just a little sunlight in. “If you’re looking for romance,” he warned viewers, “you’ve got the wrong movie” — yet the film distilled Pekar’s relationship with his wife, Joyce Brabner, into a misfits’ love story. Shooting in Cleveland and Lakewood, the filmmakers discovered the town’s character in little bakeries and empty warehouses and brick apartment buildings, spots unchanged since at least the 1970s.

Pekar didn't change either. When I met him, Jane Campbell, then mayor, had just dissed his recent New York Times op-ed cartoon. “An air of depression pervades the city,” he'd written.

“Harvey’s been attacked for that for years,” Brabner told me. When he appeared on Late Night with David Letterman in the ’90s, some locals complained he didn’t join the comeback-city cheerleading and talk about the new Jacobs Field.

“There are people who like me to talk about Cleveland the way it is and be honest,” Pekar said.

Exactly. Pekar had to be relentlessly unsentimental to achieve his art: Seeing Cleveland's essence in everyday life.

(art from

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Postmortem

Now that we all know how Lebron filled in the blanks to our "Choice Words" article in this month's issue (many of our choice words for Lebron can't be printed here), the Cavs brass put a happy-face Band-Aid on the gaping wound left in the organization by LBJerk's departure at today's 1 p.m. press conference.

"Even without LeBron this team has more talent than the two teams I took over in Jersey and New Orleans," offered new head coach Byron Scott.

Scott took the Nets to the NBA Finals in his second ('01-'02) and third seasons on the New Jersey bench. In his fourth year in New Orleans, he guided a Hornets team that had won 18 games in his first season to 56 victories in '07-'08. (Part of that must be credited to the addition of Chris Paul after that first season as well.)

Scott says those lessons should serve him well as the Cavs move forward without Lebron. "Yeah, I think I'm the perfect guy for the job."

In case you're not as optimistic, take a read of Esquire writer and former Clevelander Scott Raab's pre-decision doomsday scenario (you know, since it came to pass and all ... but be aware, there's some pretty brutal language in there about Art Modell. Feel free to substitute Lebron's name for those references in the future).

Then go back and read Dan Gilbert's manifesto in comic sans again just for fun.

To Shoe Or Not To Shoe

I recently did an inventory of my closets (yes, I have more than one) and came to the realization that I have way too many clothes and an obscene number of pairs of shoes. I guess that would be just fine if I actually wore these items but I don't. Many of them I haven't worn for years for one reason or another and dare I shamelessly say forgot that I have a lot of it. Because of this, I have issued myself a challenge: NO NEW SHOES! I am challenging myself to shop in my closet and wear the shoes that I have. I have committed to not buying a new pair of shoes for the entire summer. Now if you love shoes, you know that this will be quite a painful obstacle since shoe divas tend to live, breathe, and dream of shoes. However, I will be strong even as the shoe sale demons taunt me with unbelievable summer clearance sales. I will keep you posted on my progress and hope that you will join my NO NEW SHOES! challenge.

Fashionably yours,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Decision

We're hardly doomsayers, but it cannot be a good sign that LeBron is calling tomorrow's primetime free-agency announcement on ESPN "The Decision." He knows our painful lineage with two-word phaseology (The Drive, The Fumble, etc.), so here's predicting that his big announcement won't be "I'm staying."

Yum Me

Matt Mytro likes to mess around with food, taking ingredients and diners to places they’ve never been before. Sure he can do straight up cooking- his resume includes chef time at Boulevard Blue, Paladar, and currently a temporary gig at Touch. But he’s driven to color outside the lines and take us Clevelanders off the eaten path. That kind of thinking has led to a series of numbered events that combine culinary experimentation with a party vibe.

I went to Yumm 1.2 in June. Using dry ice, liquid nitrogen, agar-agar and other components and techniques from the molecular gastronomy toolbox, Mytro and his minions worked their magic, “poaching” ice cream that burned the tongue if consumed before cooling, turning coconut and jalapenos into bubbles, and dishing up futuristic mojitos that looked like jello shots.
Behind the bar Mike Gulley was also pouring his maple bacon Old Fashioned (breakfast bourbon anyone?), now being served at Dragonfly where he shakes and mixes most nights of the week.

Yumm 1.3 is scheduled for July 12. Like all the other food happenings Mytro’s been cooking up lately its presented by Stove Monkeys- the company he founded with partner Anthony Lynch to market their cool cooking inspired t-shirts. Show up at The Mercury Lounge on West 6th Street in downtown Cleveland between & 11 PM to sample corn on a stick, “jellied” ravioli, tomato basil and mozzarella salad candy, vodka encased in meringue and other surprises. Tickets are $7 in advance, $10 at the door. (Drinks are priced separately at $3 each).

And that’s not all. Mytro’s also taking would-be gastronauts flavor tripping on July 19 at the B-Side Lounge. Guests pop some Miracle Fruit (don’t worry- it’s safe and legal) that temporarily changes taste perceptions.. What is usually experienced as bitter, tart or sour seems sweet, smooth, and pleasant. The berries come from plants indigenous to West Africa and eating under the influence has been all the rage in cities on both coasts for a couple of years. If this kind of night out is your kind of catnip, make reservations online at Stove Monkeys or by calling 216-394-8706. Bon Apetit!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Mission' signs at E. 9th and Euclid

"We want to keep him at home," said the woman at East 9th and Euclid wearing a T-shirt that read "Home" and carrying a sign that read, "Mission." She and three other black-clad mystery figures staked out the intersection's four corners at lunchtime today, the first day of LeBron James' free agency.

A few blocks up East 9th, LeBron himself sat in the IMG Building, meeting with Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and hip-hop star Jay-Z, owners of the New Jersey Nets. New York Knicks representatives passed Jay-Z's towncar on his way out. (See's story here.)

The signs and shirts bore the familiar designs of the More Than A Player publicity campaign aimed at convincing LeBron to stay in Cleveland. It's the same group that launched last month's Tower City flash mob.

The sign lady wouldn't give her name. The sign guy across East 9th wouldn't even let me take his picture. They said they were volunteers. But the Plain Dealer's basketball reporters wrote that Cavs employees made up a sign-waving crowd staking out the IMG Building. Sounds like Dan Gilbert's not waiting until Saturday to lobby his star.