Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's for the Young and Young at Heart

When I think of New Year’s Eve, I think of ridiculous party favors draped and strewn among drunken partygoers holding half-spilled beer and a Champagne toast to a memory that'll probably be lost by morning.

Enjoying the holiday with kids can be an alternative to the typical New Year’s celebration. Several family-friendly spots in Cleveland offer New Year’s Eve extravaganzas ranging from relaxing to adventurous to picturesque.

Great Lakes Science Center
New Year’s Eve, Eve

Dec. 30, 7-11:30 p.m.
Eager holiday celebrators can enjoy the new year a night early, with a scientific twist. Visitors to downtown Cleveland’s science center can make their own supply of fake, fluffy, white snow to take home as a souvenir, watch fruitcake detonations, eat liquid nitrogen ice cream samplers, drink a ginger ale toast and see a balloon drop to end the second-to-last day of the year.
$24 per person, $20 for members

First Night Akron
Dec. 31, 6 p.m.-midnight
The main streets of downtown Akron will bustle with families strolling past flame twirlers, stilt walkers, illusionists and ice sculpting specialists. Eighty artists and performance groups will appear at the event, including a Beatles tribute and Celtic music from Fergie & The Bog Dogs. Several downtown eateries will be open, including The Lockview, Spaghetti Warehouse and Cilantro Thai and Sushi. Horse-drawn sleigh rides and free Metro bus rides will take people around.
Admission buttons $10, children under 10 free

Mapleside Farms
Kids New Year’s Eve Bash, New Year’s Eve Grand Buffet

Buffet 3-8 p.m., kids party 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Mapleside Farms in Brunswick has recently revamped its old-fashioned persona and is welcoming the New Year as a stylish, modern gathering place and eatery. Kids can celebrate the New Year with a toast from a fruit punch fountain in plastic champagne glasses. A buffet dinner will feature carved prime rib, walnut-crusted salmon, a salad bar and a chocolate fountain.
Party: $25, $15 for children 2-12; Buffet, $31.95, $18.95 for kids 5-12, free for kids 4 and under

Progressive Field
Snow Days

Noon-1 a.m.
The Cleveland Indians’ home stays open past midnight for 2012's arrival. It’s part of the Indians’ Snow Days, which has transformed the stadium into a winter wonderland, with three ice-skating rinks and the 200-foot Batterhorn tubing hill for those in the need for speed.
Admission $5, children 2 and younger free

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Noon Year’s Eve

10 a.m.-1 p.m.
For kids who can’t keep their eyes open until midnight, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo welcomes a pre-jamboree at the stroke of noon. The zoo’s festivities include a wild animal show, ice-sculpturing performances and animal-costumed characters greeting visitors. The 1260 AM Radio Disney Road Crew will play hits from 2011. And as the clock finally strikes noon, the Zoo’s ball will drop to ring in the New Year. Bundle up; most of the activities will be outdoors.
Free with zoo admission: $7 adults, $4 children 2-11, free for 2 and under

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

0 to 100 in Six Bites

I don’t eat fast food. If I munch on junk, it's because I don’t have time for a sit-down meal or there’s nothing better available, I’m always sorry afterward. I like to get my nutrition in the form of real food, well-prepared and minimally processed. But sometimes life makes that difficult. Good Greens has a solution: an energy bar. So what, you say. There are plenty of energy bars out there to choose from. But this one has three reasons to recommend it.

They are made in a factory in Girard, Ohio, by Purus Health, a company with offices in Launch House, a business incubator in Shaker Heights. Supporting local enterprises, especially small startups, is important. Basically, buying these power bars energizes your body and the regional economy.

The nutrient profile on this product is pretty amazing, especially given its iPod-like dimensions. Each bar measures only 4 inches by 1.5 inches and is about 1/2 inch thick but contains 10-12 grams of protein and 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which deliver a bounty of vitamins and antioxidants. They’re low on the glycemic index, gluten fre and vegan. No trans fats but lots of fiber and probiotics. The secret is a patented powder (also available for purchase and used in smoothies at Liquid Planet) that has more stuff in it than most people’s pantry and fridge combined: 52 ingredients to be precise. Sort of like nano-technology applied to food.

And lastly, they taste pretty good. Sunflower seed paste holds everything together. It has a nice nutty flavor and contributes to a soft chewy texture. Three of the four flavors (raspberry, coconut and peanut) are covered in chocolate (can’t go wrong there, and in fact the one version without it, wildberry, does seem lacking compared to the others). There’s a slight grittiness I’m not crazy about in all of them and a little palate coating effect that bugs me, but these are tolerable considering the payoff: something I can eat on the run that seems like dessert, quells hunger and is actually good for me. The regular Good Greens bars are soy based, but there is another kind made with brown rice that I have not tried. I was told two new flavors are in the works. The bars are available at Marcs, Heinens, Mustard Seed Markets and Murray Hill Market. You can order them online from Amazon, too, or the company’s website. Prices vary, generally between $2 and $3 each. Seems like a good investment to me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gordon Square District Goings-On

The husband and I decided to start off our evening with a stop at Happy Dog last Friday night. We parked across Detroit, on West 58th Street and noticed lights on inside Spice Kitchen and Bar, the soon-to-open restaurant on the corner. I went up close for a look and spotted Ben Bebenroth, chef and owner, hard at work. He put down his paintbrush to unlock the door for us.

With his dad’s help, he was just about done applying the final coats of taupe, beige and white to the once candy-colored walls. They were putting in some extra after dark hours because the pressure’s on to ready the place for a special New Year’s Eve Preview Pop-Up Dinner. There will be two seatings for the five-course prix fixe menu. Four Bells Sparkling will be on tap for the event, just one of the festive beverages available.

Bebenroth, and his food, have quite the following, so tickets have been selling fast. But as of five nights ago, there were still some spots available. Call 216-432-9090 for prepaid reservations.

Then he’s closing to finish the makeover and organize the staff, but only briefly if all goes according to plan (does it ever?), the restaurant should be completely ready and serving meals Tuesday through Saturday toward the end of the second week in January.

It was nice chatting with Ben, but we were hungry, so we headed on to Happy Dog. The bar was wall to wall people, a rowdy crowd gathered to enjoy the particular peculiar pleasure of DJ Kishka and his annual Christmas show (he does his thing there monthly). I was in need of food, not polka tunes, and I feared the servers would never find us in the bouncing boozing mob. Luckily there was an alternative close at hand: Underdog.

The proprietors of the tavern cleaned and remodeled the basement, turning it into another seating area and underground playroom for grown-ups. It’s been open just a couple of months. A long shuffleboard runs parallel to the bar. There are three old-fashioned pinball machines and a large screen for cartoons. On Thursdays only, a limited number of burgers, 24 to be exact, are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. The rest of the time, it’s the same menu as upstairs: hot dogs and your choice of 50 toppings (as many as you want) that run the gamut from traditional (house-made ketchup, dill pickle and baked beans) and ethnically eclectic (Brazilian chimichurri, Korean kim chee, and Thai chile and garlic sauce), to gourmet (Brie, black truffle honey mustard and wasabi aioli) and kind of out there (chunky peanut butter, caramel applesauce and chipotle hollandaise).

I was restrained, choosing a modest three, and relatively conventional in my selections (Guinness sauerkraut, caramelized onions and barbecue sauce) and very happy with the result. I washed it down with a cold Shiner Bock. The husband ventured into more creative territory with Oaxacan red chile and chocolate mole. An order of tater tots arrived and disappeared in short order too.

We ate, we drank, we ran into people we know and were glad we’d decided to cross the river and make a visit to one of Cleveland’s coolest up and coming neighborhoods.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Something Sweet

I dropped in at Bonbon Pastry and Café last week for the first time and was thoroughly charmed. It’s a lovely place for breakfast (and brunch) any time of day or night, from early in the morning until long after dark. The corner spot on Lorain and West 26th Street with two walls of big windows just opened about a month ago, but it feels like it’s been there for a hundred years. The look is modern with touches of 19th century Parisian patisserie: a marble countertop with pastries displayed under glass “bells,” wooden tables with ornate old-fashioned metal pedestals, church pew seating along one side of the room.

Courtney Bonning is the woman behind this new addition to the burgeoning Ohio City culinary district, relocating her business (started in 2009 and formerly known as Bonbon Bake Shop) from the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. She’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America’s Baking and pastry program and is famous around these parts for competing and winning in the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars last summer with teammate Becca Ritterspach, now her bakery manager.

You can get coffee in all its variations and muffins, scones or croissants to go, or settle in for a leisurely meal of chocolate French toast, cinnamon pancakes or herbed omelette. There’s also a burger, a wrap, a couple of salads and a few heartier entrees, plus a luscious lineup of dessert options. I was on my way to drinks and dinner and couldn’t indulge in a serious tasting but couldn’t resist a mug of warm cider and fig bar, made with am excellent shortbread crust and dense fruit filling. I noticed two long shelves of wine and martini glasses, reinforcing the message, on the menu and repeated to me by Courtney, that a liquor license is expected very soon. Corn beef hash and cabernet anyone?

For now, focus on hot chocolate and bring the kids (your own or somebody else’s) this Saturday, Dec. 17. There’s a large and beautifully decorated gingerbread house. It evens opens revealing two levels of cookie- and candy-covered rooms. Santa will be sitting beside it at 4, reading aloud from The Polar Express and T’was the Night Before Christmas. Courtney, who plans to be here serving sweets and brunch for a long, long time, hopes it’s the start of an annual tradition.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

George Bilgere, Cleveland Magazine Contributor, Appears on Prairie Home Companion

George Bilgere, poet, professor, and Cleveland Magazine contributor, appeared on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show this weekend.

The John Carroll professor read three poems, "Bridal Shower," "The Table," and "Snow," and provoked rounds of laughter from the audience at New York City's Town Hall.

"A poet who knows how to blend the sentimental and sarcastic," the show's website calls him, capturing Bilgere's appeal. His narrative poetry, its line breaks crackling with wit, is a nice complement to Keillor's equally precise, drier humor.

The podcast of the show is up today, and you can listen here. (He comes on at 78:40 and 111:47.)

We've been publishing Bilgere and writing about him for years. So if you enjoyed his radio appearance and are googling for more, please check out his work in our archives:

"Single Guy," November 2011, about his brief vacation from his marriage

"Dawn Patrol," July 2011, about the summertime community at the Cleveland Heights pool

"Beyond Borders," April 2011, anticipating the decline of the big-box bookstore

"Poetry in Ruin," September 2010, on the beauty of Cleveland's architectural decay

"My Weirdest Meal," for Feast!, Summer 2007, a memoir of a meal of mystery food in Tokyo

"A Garden of Poetic Delight,"
February 2006, Bilgere's review of Akron poet Elton Glaser's book

"Ode to the Road," December 2004, Bilgere's poem about I-480, commissioned by Cleveland Magazine for our "East Side vs. West Side: Get Over It!" issue

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Cheesy Gift Idea

What do you buy for the cheese lover who has everything? Brandon Chrostowski, sommelier and fromager at L’Albatros, recommends sending your friend on a trip to cheese heaven via the restaurant’s new Cheese of the Month program.

Club membership (available on a monthly basis) provides a delivery of seasonal cheeses, each hand-selected by Chrostowski. The package includes three half-pound pieces of cheese, accompanied by hand-written descriptions of the selection and suggested wine pairings.

Chrostowski’s established relationships with cheese mongers across the United States ensure that his clients get the best of the best.

“They’re giving me top wheels,” he says. “I’ve been working with these people five or ten years, some of them.”

The fromager is not new to the cheese scene himself, having worked in restaurants in Chicago, Paris and New York before accepting Zack Bruell’s offer to develop a cheese board at L’Albatros.

The club’s cheeses come from across the homeland and abroad. Recently featured were Rush Creek Reserve from Wisconsin and Mimolette from France, both of which were delectable enough that Chrostowski sent them to club members without a second thought.

The selection offered through Cheese of the Month is at times similar to the restaurant’s cheese board but often features unique and hard-to-get wheels. Discerning members can request a specific type of cheese, but less certain members can rest assured that they’re in good hands.

“You’re going to get three great pieces of cheese that are seasonally perfect and ripe,” Chrostowski says. “It’s a little taste of heaven every 30 days.”

The Cheese of the Month club is $60 per month plus shipping. To sign up or send a membership as a gift, call L’Albatros: 216-791-7880.

Hunt in the 216 Sends Shoppers Scavenging

Downtown's new retail store recently had shoppers vying to solve mysterious Cleveland-centric riddles in pursuit of a grand prize.

Sean Bilovecky of Dredgers Union spearheaded Hunt in the 216, a scavenger hunt for the store's fans. Riddles were posted twice a week on the store's blog and Facebook page, leading Cleveland-savvy hunters to locations around the city. At each location, participants found one of four cards that formed a secret phrase. The winner was the first person to get to the store and recite the phrase.

“It was a fun way to incorporate our Facebook followers and put a little bit more of an exciting spin on a holiday giveaway,” says Bilovecky.

Creating the riddles nearly stumped him.

“I was getting ready in the morning and was like, ‘Maybe I’ll just write ridiculous poems about it,'” says Bilovecky. “It kind of makes it whimsical and doesn’t make it too dark and evil, like the Da Vinci Code movie.”

The hunt began on Nov. 14; the final clue was posted on Black Friday. Only 20 minutes after the store opened that day, the grand prize was claimed. The winner, identified as Kelly F. on the store's website, took her lunch break at 10 a.m. to ensure she’d have enough time to figure out the clue, says Bilovecky. She received a $100 gift card to the Dredgers Union. She'll also get to choose the name of one piece in Dredgers Union's spring 2012 collection and receive that item in her size.

Here are the riddles and solutions:

1. From the heart of downtown I headed due West.
I was craving a hot dog, and wanted the best.
After 58 blocks I entered this place,
and saw a peculiar bulletin space…

2. From the heart of downtown East I must go,
To see an independent moving picture show.
Next to the theater stands an Irishman’s bar,
within it a cigarette machine, to the back but not far.

3. From the heart of downtown a bit South I would travel,
To trees and grass where nearby clues would unravel.
This open air space in honor of old Abe,
Has as its neighbor a beanery in its shade.

4. In the heart of downtown this time I will stay,
On this glorious, victorious, final clue day.
To a street formerly known as Sheriff I will go,
And find a place that sells a “crush,” and the stuff we call Joe.

Then I’m gonna book it to DU and win!

1. The Happy Dog. The clue was located on the bulletin board by the door.
2. Parnell's Pub, next to the Cedar-Lee movie theater. The clue was located on top of the cigarette machine.
3. Civilization, a coffee shop off Lincoln Park in Tremont. The clue was located near the fliers.
4. Erie Island, the coffee shop next to Dredgers Union. (The "crush" refers to Erie Island's name for its paninis.) The clue was located by the cash register.

Bilovecky says he hopes to have three or four Hunts in the 216 in 2012.

You can read about Dredgers Union in our December issue and check out a profile of store co-founder Danielle DeBoe in our June issue.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do Good for Baked Goods

If you believe in supporting local food; small, locally owned businesses; artisanal craftsmanship; and good people. Or, if you just believe in giving to those who need help, now’s the time to step up. Michael and Marika Feigenbaum, owners of Lucy's Sweet Surrender, a bakery on Cleveland’s Buckeye Road, have their backs against the wall and are asking the public to lend a hand.

They’ve been robbed, mugged and shot at the store multiple times in the past two years. Two of their vehicles have been stolen from the parking lot. It’s just not safe to do business at their present location. More than the financial loss, the couple worries about each other all the time. The stress is awful. Imagine if it were you or someone you love in this situation. Michael bought the bakery, originally opened in 1957 to serve the Hungarian clientele that populated the neighborhood, in 1994. No longer a bustling ethnic enclave, the area’s been down on its luck for years. But Michael stayed, hoping for a comeback and trying hard to make that happen. But things have gotten worse, not better And so with great reluctance (Michael loves the little shop with the long history), it’s time to go.

They’ve found an ideal location: the old Chandler and Rudd store, another spot with a storied past, at Van Aken and Chagrin. They hope to be in by early February and have a grand opening for Valentine's Day. There is, however, a major obstacle to achieving this goal: money. The hardworking couple have leveraged all their assets just to keep the doors open on Buckeye Road and don’t have the resources to cover the expense of moving and setting up in the new space. They've managed to get a small grant from Shaker Heights and a loan, but it's not enough. So they’re asking for donations to raise an additional $20,000. Between now and Dec. 25, you can contribute to Lucy’s Moving Fund, using PayPal, by clicking on the Fundrazr button on the left side of the bakery’s Facebook fan page.

By way of thanks, those who give $100 or more will receive half off a custom cake order, a minimum $40 value, good starting March 20, 2012. But everyone who gives, in any amount, will get the satisfaction of knowing you’re like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Glenda the Good Witch all rolled into one. Of course, another way to help is to buy, buy, buy: wonderful tortes, pastries, cookies and breads. The bakery is open until Christmas.

I’ve known these people personally and professionally a long time. They don’t come any better. It’s been tough for many small businesses but especially difficult for this one. They’re an important and valued part of our unique food community. Please rally round and make it possible for them to continue to do what they do so well.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Successful Pekar statue drive closes; his Cleveland book coming in March

It's official: The Harvey Pekar library statue will be built.

His widow Joyce Brabner's fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter closed Sunday night with $38,356 in pledges. Brabner says she hopes to dedicate the Comics as Art and Literature Desk inside the Cleveland Heights-University Heights library on what would've been Pekar's next birthday, Oct. 8, 2012.

"It's great to take this thing that hurts and turn it into something that could matter," Brabner says.

Pekar, Cleveland's legendary underground comic-book writer, died last July at age 70. The memorial is Brabner's response to an earlier idea for memorializing Pekar: Some fans wanted to erect a statue over his grave in Lake View Cemetery.

"When Harvey died, there were all these New York folks banging the drum, saying Harvey needs a statue, he was a working class hero, a literary lion, our man," says Brabner. "I thought they were nuts."

Brabner and Pekar felt a person's works should be celebrated after death, not the person. So Brabner took the statue idea and turned it into a practical memorial dedicated to creativity: a desk and small statue dedicated to comics, the genre Pekar did so much to elevate into a serious form of literature.

The desk will always be filled with pencils, paper, and art materials from the art supply company Faber-Castell. Rising from the desk will be a bronze plaque of a comic book page. A small statue of Pekar, shrugging his shoulders, will step out of it. Two Pekar quotes about his artistic philosophy will be engraved on the memorial: "Anybody’s life story is potentially the source of a great novel, comic book, or movie," and, "Comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures."

"If somebody sits down at the desk and starts to make the connection that their stories are worth telling, that’s an important message," Brabner says.

Pekar is on Clevelanders' minds because a preview of his forthcoming book, Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, ran in Monday's Plain Dealer. Unfortunately, the accompanying article erroneously reported that the book came out Monday, causing readers to deluge Pekar's favorite bookstore, Mac's Backs, with phone calls. Actually, the book comes out in March.

The article was right about this, though: Pekar fans can still contribute to the memorial project. Donations will cover incidental expenses, everything from installation and legal fees to shipping gifts to pledgers. (For instance, Brabner has promised to create and send Harvey Pekar dolls to the 29 people who donated $125-$199 to the Kickstarter campaign.) Any proceeds left over will go to expanding the Heights Library's comic book collection. To contribute to the campaign, send money through PayPal to, or a check to The Estate of Harvey L. Pekar, P.O. Box 18471, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.

To read the obituary for Pekar on the Cleveland Magazine blog, click here. To read our essay about him in Cleveland Magazine's December 2010 cover package, "Our Miserable Year," click here.

(art from

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Say [Mascarpone] Cheese

Mascarpone is a gift from the food gods. It’s slightly sweet, rich and buttery, silky and smooth. I discovered the fabulousness and flexibility of this Italian double or triple cream cheese late in my cooking life and started using it only about five years ago. I’m not a very skilled baker, but with mascarpone, I’m now able to make one cake that always pleases and impresses my guests. I can’t tell you anymore about what goes into it because I’m submitting the recipe to a contest sponsored by the Wisconsin-based Crave Brothers Farmstead Classics Cheese.

There are separate competitions for chefs and home cooks, and three categories: appetizers/side dishes (includes salads), main dishes and desserts. Each will have a first place winner that receives $200. The Grand Prize winner will be awarded an Apple iPad 2. You have until January 13, 2012, to submit your recipe. It’s not essential, but they’re encouraging entrants to include a one-minute (or less) video demo of your recipe for the Crave Brothers website. Send recipes and videos by email to or by mail to Crave Brothers, Attn. Alise, W 11555 Torpy Road, Waterloo, WI 53594. photo of Strawberry cheesecake courtesy of Crave Brothers

Of course, they’d like you to use their award-winning mascarpone (but it’s not a requirement). Order it online. Other brands are available at many stores around town. Or you can make it yourself. More like yogurt than a real cheese, mascarpone is a cultured dairy product.

Start with really good local cream, stir in tartaric acid, watch the curds form, and drain. It really is that easy. Leener’s, a do-it-yourself fermented food supply store in Northfield, sells the acid in 2-ounce packets. They also include it in a soft cheese kit that has starter cultures for chevre, crème fraiche and fromage blanc. If you’re into this sort of thing, or know someone who is, the kit makes a nice gift. (So does Crave’s Chocolate Mascarpone Pie basket which contains the ingredients to bake one.)

I’m thinking the holiday season, with its requisite entertaining frenzy, is the ideal time to perfect a winning recipe. But don’t get your hopes up. I want that iPad and am in it to win it with my cake.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Cocktails made with beer are a hot new trend. They’re serving a fine one at Amp 150, the bar and restaurant at the Airport Marriott. I had an opportunity to taste it at the start of a private dinner I attended a few weeks ago.

The purpose of the gathering was to introduce some members of the media to the new team: Executive chef Jeff Jarrett and food and beverage manager Nathan White. The take-away message and good news was that these two are continuing the commitment to keep a local focus when it comes to ingredients and products. And that was perfectly expressed in the refreshing drink that kicked off the evening.

It’s called The Rockmill, after the brewery in Lancaster, Ohio that supplies saison, a Belgian beer the bartender uses in combination with St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, and fresh lemon juice. Matt Barbee, founder and fermentation master of Rockmill Brewery (pictured below), is in a truly unique position, and I mean that literally, to make this traditional farmhouse ale.

The former horse ranch owned by his family where he works his magic with organic yeast, hops and malt is located upstream at the source of the Hocking River. His water is not just clean but has a mineral profile remarkably similar to what’s found in Wallonia, the region of Belgium where saison was perfected. Since water is the main ingredient in beer, his stuff has an authentic edge that others can’t match.

Barbee also does a witbier, a dubbel, and a tripel. The production is small and hands-on. His beers were the only spirits selected for this year’s Maxim holiday gift guide. When I spoke to him last week, he was in a truck driving to Cleveland with his first delivery to all of Heinen’s grocery stores. Bottles are also sold at Grady’s Fine Wines in Rocky River. In addition to Amp 150, the beers are served at B Spot, Greenhouse Tavern, and Buckeye Beer Engine.

Sam McNulty and Andy Tveekrem of Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City, which also pours Barbee’s brews, are cooking up a special Nose-to-Tail beer dinner for Tuesday, Nov. 29. I love the collaborative spirit behind this event. Executive chef Michael Nowak of Bar Cento, another of McNulty’s dining and drinking establishments, and his team are in charge of the food side, turning a pasture raised heirloom breed pig from Tea Hills Farm into four fabulous courses (out of five, counting a non-pork dessert). Guests will get to meet the brewers and be among the first to sample something new from Rockmill. Tickets are $45. Reservations are required: 216-621-4000. Glasses are raised at 6:30 pm.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ohio Knitting Mills' Pop-Up Shop Opens

Venturing to find vintage vêtements for your fashionista friends this holiday season? Look no further than the Ohio Knitting Mills’ Pop-Up Shop (a 2011 Best of Cleveland winner) located on the corner of West 28th Street and Lorain Avenue in Ohio City.

“Three generations of one family ran the mill from 1927 to 2004, when it finally shut down its production operation,” explains Steve Tatar, current president and creative director of Ohio Knitting Mills.

“I met the owner of the business, Gary Rand, who revealed a very, very large collection of historic sweaters that his father and grandfather had been saving since World War II. He kept one or two of everything they made from the 1940’s up through the 1970’s," Tatar says. "It became this tremendous collection of more than 5,000 sweaters.”

The holiday shop will have an assortment of these one-of-a-kind sweaters, skirts, vests and shirts on-hand ($48-$188). “We’ll have accessories (starting at $20) too — hats, gloves, scarves and mittens that we’re making here, out of our historic fabrics,” Tatar says.

The pop-up shop also has finds for those who prefer to hang their art rather than wear it. “We’re doing a project with the Cleveland Public Library to promote their vast collection of historic images of the region,” says Tatar. The 18 x 24 inch full-color posters ($20, featured above) will showcase an array of advertisements celebrating the city’s heyday. There are four different images available, including an ad for the seminal Cleveland Industrial Exposition of 1909.

New threads are in the near future for OKM, too. The company has designed a capsule collection of men’s shirts for spring 2012, which they will be offering exclusively at the Cleveland store before going national with the newly knitted numbers.

“You know, I think it’s time to put the Ohio Knitting Mills name on new goods,” Tatar suggested. “Let’s continue the tradition. Let’s continue to make amazingly patterned, colorful knitwear and really own it — own the brand.”

And you can own it too, when the OKM Holiday Pop-Up Shop opens this Friday at 6 p.m. for a special unveiling party, hosted by partner Twist Creative Inc. Don’t dawdle though, OKM will be closing up shop on Jan. 8.

For more info on OKM, holiday shop hours and online store, visit

Thursday, November 17, 2011

“Cosmic Collisions” Hit Natural History Museum This Weekend

The universe began with a bang, and the hits just keep on coming.

“Cosmic Collisions,” the newest planetarium show at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, opens Saturday and will showcase collisions within our universe from all points in time: past, present and future.

The show features supercomputer simulations of the collisions of galaxies, asteroids, comets and solar particles, as well as the collision between the Earth and a Mars-sized object that most scientists believe ultimately formed our moon.

Jason Davis, the astronomy programs coordinator at the natural history museum, says the simulations “are as accurate as we can get to the science.”

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City produced the show and made it available to all museums with the equipment to project it. Thanks to an extensive upgrade in summer 2010, the natural history museum is well capable.

Viewers will take in the awe-inspiring story of how our moon came to be and see how the Northern Lights are caused by solar particles’ collisions with the Earth’s magnetic field. The audience can also travel through space after the show, if they so choose. The planetarium operators can zoom viewers to any planet, star, or galaxy in their database.

“It could be as simple as a trip to Pluto, or as complicated as [a map of] the mass of the universe,” Davis says. “If asked to, I could show them every galaxy ever discovered.” Even though a large number of them will simply be data points, just seeing the vastness of the universe we live in is eye-opening.

Wednesday evening shows keep visitors a little closer to home. On clear Wednesday nights through December, the museum invites planetarium attendees to go up to the telescope dome after the show to gaze upon Jupiter and four of its brightest moons, the same four first discovered by Galileo more than 400 years ago.

“Cosmic Collisions” premieres at noon this Saturday, with shows at 2 and 4 pm following. It runs through December 31. For complete showing information, click here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Milk and Potatoes in Cleveland Heights

When he got pink-slipped by corporate America in a downsizing frenzy, Keith Logan embarked on a journey that involved cross-country travel and soul searching to discover what he wanted to do next. He found his passion and purpose in making good things to eat. The result is Sweetie Fry. There are just two options on the menu at this little corner spot: ice cream and french fries. It’s a clever choice since just about everybody in America loves one or both. In all kinds of flavors and variations that display his natural flair for culinary creativity, they are each made in small batches to the highest standards with the finest ingredients Logan can get his hands on. And they are equally, irresistibly delicious.

Logan gets his milk and cream from a local producer and uses an ice-cream-making process that, he explains, is superior to the standard approach because it intensifies the taste of whatever he adds to the butterfat. According to him, nobody else in Ohio does it this way. He learned the method from some acknowledged experts and perfected his technique at home until opening on Lee Road in October. After sampling many of the options on his chalkboard, which often change, I can verify that he’s doing something very right. His vanilla bean and butter pecan are the best versions I’ve ever had. The caramel pear is amazing, more so with a drizzle of his salty caramel sauce. Maple bacon, laced with bits of candied pork, will be my downfall because I live dangerously, conveniently close, and he keeps late-night hours.

If the ice cream doesn’t become an addiction, the fries will. It’s a seven-step, labor-intensive process involving some pretty high-tech equipment. And it’s the sauces on the side that take these tubers (Idahos waffle cut or strips, and orange sweet potatoes) to the next level: hot and sweet chipotle, barbecue mayo, Indian masala and toasted sesame. Then there are what Logan refers to as the entree options: baskets of fries tossed with shredded Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle oil (heaven); topped with chili and cheese (haven’t tried … yet); or paired with Tabasco and crumbled gorgonzola (didn’t think I’d like this but found I could not stop my hand from picking them up and putting them in my mouth). Order at the front counter, take a seat, and when they’re ready, Thomas Hathaway, a man who used to sell peanuts at the ballpark, gives you a hearty booming shout-out to retrieve them at the pick-up window in back. They come in a paper cone tucked in a cute metal holder with dipping cup attached.

Then there are the desert fries. These batter-based babies are in a class all their own. Reminiscent of funnel cakes but far superior to the greasy stuff sold at fairs and carnivals, they’re dusted with cinnamon and maple sugar. While chatting and sampling with Logan, I suggested we try dunking them in ice cream, something he hadn’t thought of before. Definitely a good idea and better as the ice cream gets soft and melty.

There are eight tables plus a little one for the youngest customers. Logan wants Sweetie Fry to be a neighborhood hang-out, a place where everyone (and that includes toddlers, high school kids, and adults of all ages) feels at home. He warmly welcomes each person who walks in the door and feels like he’s investing in the community as well as his business. Logan clearly likes what he’s doing, and his favorite part is watching the look of pure pleasure on people’s faces when they try his creations. Stop in and make his day. 2301 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Raab, Izrael Talk LeBron at Happy Dog

Last night, The Happy Dog was the scene of a debate of sorts between Esquire writer Scott Raab, author of The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James (read an excerpt here), and writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael, a supporter of LeBron's right to leave town. Plain Dealer columnist and WCPN 90.3 Sound of Ideas host Michael McIntyre moderated the event, which was dubbed The Derision but felt more like a good-natured debate between friends.

Raab started the evening by reading an excerpt from his book — a scene in which he meets Izrael at a black barber shop in Cleveland Heights, where Raab grew up, and the men discuss James' legacy in Cleveland, centering on race.

"It's late in the book," Raab said. "And it's the only time I try to face, head on, that issue."

Once Izrael took the stage, the early part of the debate was more a continuation of their conversation from that barber shop.

"A lot of people of color saw [The Decision] as a young man who had agency over his life," Izrael said. "That's something uncommon to black people."

"When I left Cleveland, I didn't inflict a severe emotional and economic wound on the town," Raab countered. "I didn't disappoint anyone."

Though Raab and Izrael disagreed, they were clearly chummy. This wasn't a knock-down fight by any means. As the night went on, those in the crowd proved to be the most outwardly passionate — be it for or against James. Raab and Izrael came off as pragmatic and reasoned by comparison.

An early questioner asked if The Decision hadn't happened, did Raab think people would still be as upset?

"The only circumstances under which LeBron would have left that I would not have been angry would have been after bringing a championship home," Raab answered.

A common theme in the crowd's questions was whether we as a culture take sports too seriously. One person made the comparison to the reaction of Penn State students to the firing of Joe Paterno.

"I know on one level it's only sports," Raab said. "People get worked up about seeing a painting or listening to music, but sports really does take on a meaning way out of proportion to its actual bearing on our lives."

Some questions were less reasoned, traveling to the outskirts of hypothetical sense: What if James had scored more points in a particular game? Is the lockout his fault? Would it have been any different if our NBA team was the Akron Cavaliers instead of the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Ultimately, McIntyre brought the discussion back around to Raab and his book.

"You said in the book that you were searching for the soul Lebron James." McIntyre said. "Did you find it?"

"No," Raab said. "I'm not calling him a soulless spawn of satan. The title and the subtitle — I wouldn't take any of this s--t too seriously."

The event benefited Ohio City Writers, a nonprofit youth creative writing center, of which Izrael is a board member.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Scott Raab talks LeBron, his book on our podcast

Scott Raab feels our pain. A native Clevelander, Esquire writer-at-large and author of The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James, Raab joined us for our November podcast to talk Browns, LeBron and his book (listen to the interview).

"I was hoping to write the happy book about our homegrown Moses leading us all finally to the Promised Land," Raab says. "I saw very quickly, as a credentialed journalist going to Cavs practices and games, that there was a level of dysfunction that was extraordinary ... From my point of view, the relationship between the media and LeBron, LeBron and the media, the team and LeBron. It was so screwy. It was so out of wack." 

The Whore of Akron will be released Nov. 15, and if you want to see and hear Raab in person, hit the Happy Dog Monday, Nov. 14, for "The Derision" where Raab will face off against Ohio City Writers board member Jimi Izrael, who has a very different opinion about LeBron's decision to leave Cleveland. Raab will also be at Visible Voice Books Thursday, Nov. 17. 

Holiday Shopping Pops Up in Gordon Square

A new gallery has popped up on the Cleveland art scene, but it may not be there for long. Double Feature, an eclectic pop-up gallery, is set to open today in the Gordon Square Arts District on the city's West Side.

Double Feature’s two-room space will play host to an array of fine art, a unique shop and various events throughout the holiday season.
The gallery is run by four friends, who came together through involvement with other artistic ventures around Cleveland, namely Ctownartparty. The group wanted to create a space that showcased local and national artists in a fun and casual environment, according to founder Rachel Hunt.

“We saw that there was this gap where we felt there weren’t a lot of emerging national artists being exhibited in Cleveland,” she says. “So we really wanted to start integrating national and local art, and to frame it on the same wall.”

With its attractive layout, foot traffic and established arts organizations, the newly renovated Gordon Square is a good fit for the small gallery. The four partners hope to return the favor by attracting new people and young talent to the up-and-coming area.

Double Feature already has a number of events planned for its two-month residency, including participation in Gordon Square’s “Bright Night,” children’s art workshops with local artists, and a holiday sweater show.

Despite an inclination to bring in outside artists, the founders emphasize that the gallery is “quintessentially Cleveland,” from its prices (the most expensive piece being $2,000) to its feeling of community.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” says Hunt. “You can buy art and be a part of the art scene. You’ll feel like you’re welcome to just kind of hang out with us on Friday nights like you would at somebody’s house.”

Join the friends of Double Feature in celebrating the gallery’s opening tonight from 8 p.m. to midnight.
1392 W 65th St, 440-263-2254

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Past Meets Present in Paintings of Fu Baoshi

Faced with political turbulence and the growing fear of westernization, post-war China looked toward painters such as Fu Baoshi for peace of mind. As one of the modern masters of the east, Fu Baoshi merged classical Chinese motifs with contemporary references to reveal a multi-faceted culture, one that was in touch with history yet cognizant of emerging philosophies and new ways of living.

“The act of moving a stagnant tradition entails imparting life, dynamism and an affecting quality to painting,” the artist once said. “[It’s] injecting warmth to enliven something that had long been frozen and hardened.”

He began his career copying subtle landscapes and semi-religious figure paintings from Chinese antiquity and giving these scenes a modern touch by including elements from contemporary poetry, as exemplified in Beauty Under Banana Palm (below), on view through Jan. 8 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, as part of a retrospective titled Chinese Art In the Age of Revolution, Fu Baoshi (1904-1965).

Drawing on his experience as a young artist-in-residence at Musashino University in Japan and his tenure as art history professor at Nanjing, Fu Baoshi merged the pale, spacious compositions of traditional Chinese literati painting with new Japanese forms of ink application.

In time, he developed a style all his own, spreading the brush bristles and applying strokes with respect to pressure and direction. He applied his texture-stroke not only to traditional landscapes, but to scenes of industrialization emerging in neighboring lands — surprisingly modern scenes, such as Irkutsk Airport, which depicts Chinese planes landing at a Soviet airbase in the winter of 1957, and Gottwaldov, a Czech cityscape enveloped in smog, evoking the shadow of urban life (top).

“Fu explored new subject matter related to revolution, socialist reconstruction and industrial development, which testified to his ongoing attempt to transform Chinese painting to serve new political needs,” says exhibit curator Anita Chung.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Something New for Canton

Downtown Canton got its first real chef-driven farm-to-table restaurant in July. It’s called Lucca. The husband and I had dinner there recently with people who supply some of the kitchen’s fine local ingredients. At the table were Mindy and Phil Bartholomae of Breezy Hill Farm in Homeworth, who raise an A-to-Z assortment of fruits and vegetables on their 23 acres, which includes three high tunnels so they can harvest year-round. The other couple was Jean Mackenzie and Jim Zella of Mackenzie Creamery, the award-winning artisanal goat cheese producer in Hiram (they had organized the get-together). It was a lovely evening of good food, good wine and great conversation in a pretty, contemporary setting.

Josh Schory, who put in time at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, was at the stove. He's young, just 29, and this is his first restaurant, owned in partnership with his father, who stopped by to introduce himself. Josh decided to name it after his favorite town in Italy and wants to reproduce the fresh, simple, seasonal dishes that are eaten in this part of Tuscany.
After sampling a variety of appetizers, salads, and a couple of entrees, I can happily report that he captures the spirit of this cuisine and infuses it with Ohio flavors and his personal style.

Bread from nearby Hazel Artisan Bakery dipped in an excellent imported olive oil whetted our appetites for a buffet of shared starters: fried calamari, lightly coated with semolina flour, with roasted garlic and lemon aioli; crispy flatbreads with Prosciutto di Parma, goat cheese and pear jam; and littleneck clams in a fennel pollen butter broth that had us begging for extra bread to sop up every last drop.

A caprese salad, with multicolored roasted beets standing in for the tomatoes, fresh pulled mozzarella, arugula and toasted pine nuts, was next for me. The husband and I shared my succulent grilled herb-crusted lamb chops, which came with housemade gnocchi in a cheddar sage sauce, and his simple but tasty linguini tossed with roasted garlic, toasted walnuts (a nice touch), arugula, basil and pecorino romano. The six of us passed around and polished off a nicely conceived cheese board to finish.

I’m always glad to discover a spot like Lucca, with a dedication to scratch cooking and local sourcing, in one of Northeast Ohio’s urban centers. Admittedly, its a longish drive from Cleveland just for dinner, but not out of the question, especially if you want to support a business like this. But if you’re in the area or live nearby, you'd be foolish not to take advantage of such an exciting and admirable addition to the area's dining options.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Answer This!

Christopher Farah was pretty concerned with how his movie, Answer This!, was going to do in its Cleveland premiere at the Cedar Lee Theatre last Friday.

"I have no problem saying that I am absolutely scared sh-tless," he told us a day before the screening. "I hope I make it out of there alive."

Farah, who wrote and directed the movie, isn't concerned because of the movie's content. He is concerned because of its sole setting — the dreaded University of Michigan.

"There really is a kind of weirdly personal rivalry between Michigan and Ohio," says Farah, who has also directed several shorts for the comedy website Funny or Die

The movie combines the world of pub trivia — a world with eccentric, outsized characters fit for a Christopher Guest mockumentary like Best in Show — with the world of academia. It's a combination that Farah thinks is perfect.

"The trivia world is obsessed with little facts," Farah says. "And sometimes, the academic world is, too. I wanted to explore that."

The movie is about something else, though. It's about a grad student who loses sight of why he hasn't moved on. He focuses too much on the big picture while losing sight of the small things — the trivial things.

Farah and his brother Michael, who is one of the movie's producers, are natives of Ann Arbor, Mich. Chris earned a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Michigan. They get the OSU-Michigan rivalry.

"To me, [the Cleveland screenings] are the ultimate test," Farah says. "When you get an OSU fan to say, 'I really like a movie made about Michigan,' you know you've done something right."

Answer This! is showing at Cleveland Heights' Cedar Lee Theatre until Thursday, Nov. 10.

To test your own useless knowledge, check out trivia nights at these local bars: Becky's Bar on Thursdays, The Fairmount in Cleveland Heights on Mondays and the Parma Tavern on Wednesdays.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Gavin DeGraw's "Sweeter" has an Edge

On Gavin DeGraw’s fourth studio album, he has done some evolving.

“The record as a whole, I think it’s just a little bit sexier than anyone’s ever heard before,” DeGraw says.

Sweeter was released in September, and Sunday he's performing at PlayhouseSquare's Palace Theatre, where he is co-headlining with American Idol winner David Cook.

DeGraw's first single from the new album, “Not Over You,” has gotten steady radio airplay, and it currently sits in the top 50 of Billboard’s Hot 100. Co-written and produced by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, the track is another example of how DeGraw’s style has changed.

“Every album I’ve made prior to this record I’ve always wrote alone. This particular album I thought it was important to just change it up a little bit,” DeGraw says. Having multiple producers helped mold the sound of this record, too.

On the title track and “Radiation,” locals will be happy to hear DeGraw pulled some inspiration from Akron natives The Black Keys by embracing a raw, edgier sound.

“There’s moments of romance on the record, but I also think that there’s moments of just straight up sex and masculinity,” DeGraw says. “Some of the things that really aren’t played within the so-called singer-songwriter realm. That bullsh-t safe term called singer-songwriter.”

On some of the tracks where he does get a little edgier, DeGraw said some people will say, “Holy sh-t, are you sure that’s Gavin DeGraw?” But that’s what he likes about it because that’s him, too.

He’s not a singer-songwriter — he’s an artist — and he’s unwilling to be pigeon-holed, he says.

“I’m not going to be romantic every time,” DeGraw says. “Sometimes I’m just going to get real with somebody and be like, ‘Yo, this is how I’m feeling.’"

Gavin DeGraw performs at the Palace Theatre Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. He is co-headlining with David Cook. Tickets are $10-$45. DeGraw photo credit: Patrick Fraser

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cooking Local

Vermillion author Marilou Suszko has a second cookbook on the shelves. The Locavore’s Kitchen: A Cook’s Guide to Seasonal Eating and Preserving was released earlier this year by Ohio University Press. It’s a nice follow-up to her first cookbook Farms & Foods of Ohio.

Suszko is my friend, and we’re collaborating on a book about the West Side Market, to be published next year. She even included a recipe from me, potato pancakes, in The Locavore’s Kitchen and titled it with my name. So, of course, I’m inclined to review her latest work. And I was really hoping I’d have a favorable opinion, otherwise things could be … well … awkward, to say the least. Luckily, I do.

This is a fine collection of appealing, doable recipes plus useful insight and tips from someone who really knows her way around the kitchen. Suszko’s ideas about what it takes to produce great dishes and memorable meals are inspiring. I often refer to her as a domestic goddess. Because although I pride myself on cooking from scratch, she’s way “scratchier.” It’s not uncommon for this very busy writer to find time to make her own butter, ricotta, crème fraiche and sauerkraut. One day she tried to convince me how easy it is to produce your own ginger ale. So in this book, she provides instructions for turning vegetables into pickles, milk into yogurt, fruit into jam and herbs into pesto. She gets you excited about infusing vinegars, drying chiles to grind into powder and coiling up some cider syrup. Suszko is also a good writer, adept at explaining the intricacies of how to achieve the perfect pie crust or cook grass-fed beef for optimum flavor.

She says the book is meant for beginners and not necessarily people like me with years of stove time under my belt and a longstanding practice of buying local ingredients. And it definitely meets the challenge of equipping novices with a wealth of valuable information about how to choose, store, use and preserve what our farmers provide. Even so, I learned many things flipping through the pages, from the subtle differences in flavor and texture of 11 varieties of squash to the definition of a slump (not the kind that often hits around 4 in the afternoon, but a sort of puddingy cobbler prepared on the stovetop with a steamed top that’s sort of like a dumpling).

Right now the only thing left in my garden is kale. And now that the nights have gotten cold, it should be sweeter than it was a month ago. So I’m excited about bringing it for Suszko’s kale and sausage sauté soon. I also have three red cabbages I harvested last week that are destined to be braised, as per her instructions, with apples, red wine vinegar, brown sugar and baking spices. And busy as I am working on that new manuscript, if I find some sugar pumpkins (the kind you puree not carve) at the farmers market this weekend, I feel like I must try her recipe for spicy pumpkin ketchup. The woman just makes you want to start chopping and stirring. I can’t think of a better recommendation for a cookbook.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

E. 4th’s Maron closes Envy, nightclub & problem tenant

Cleveland Magazine’s November issue has been out for about a week now, and Ari Maron, my latest profile subject, has already made one part of my new article about him obsolete.

Maron says Envy, the troubled nightclub on West 25th Street, has closed. Maron, Envy’s reluctant landlord, bought out the club’s liquor license and lease.

Maron’s company, MRN Ltd., owns most of East 4th Street and drove that block’s resurgence as a nightlife spot. Now, Maron, 33, is trying to bring a similar approach -- creative landlording based on ideals about cities -- to Ohio City and University Circle. Lots of high-profile tenants, such as Crop Bistro, have moved into the Maron family’s properties near the West Side Market lately.

Envy, a tenant MRN inherited on West 25th, threatened to upset the budding new resurgence. A man was shot to death outside the club in September.

Now, Maron intends to tear the former Envy down to create parking for a planned international traveler’s hostel. The Plain Dealer has the full story here.

To read “Urban Active,” my profile of Maron in the new issue, click here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Farewell to Vine and Bean

It’s always a good feeling to announce openings and new restaurant projects in the works. Happy to say I’ve been able to do a lot that the past few weeks. But reporting on a closing is sad, and that’s my job today. Heather Haviland, owner of the acclaimed and beloved Lucky’s Café in Tremont has decided to call it a day for her second satellite location Vine and Bean on Larchmere off Shaker Square. The sweet little spot had a good run, but it's time for the chef and her people to move on. This weekend will be the café’s last hurrah, and Haviland is making the occasion more of a party than a wake.

It’s business as usual on Saturday, but Sunday, Oct. 30 brunch will be served from
9 a.m. until 5 p.m. — just think, you can sleep in until some ungodly afternoon hour and still have a chance for one of her incredible breakfast burritos or some brie-laced mac n cheese. From 5-9 p.m., there will be all kinds of food and drink specials until supplies run out, live music, a yard sale of kitchen and tableware, and a raffle of Lucky’s gift certificates and other cool stuff.

Come say goodbye and send them off in style, with a toast to the future and whatever is next for this talented local chef who puts her heart and soul into everything she does and every plate she serves. It’s sure to be a fun time … and a chance to show support and give back to Heather who has always given so much to the community. 12706 Larchmere, 216-707-3333

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The ACCENT is on Euclid ... Or Will Be Soon

The good news just keeps on coming. Scott Kim, chef and owner of SASA on Shaker Square, called me last week to say that he and his wife, Brenda, have signed the lease for a second restaurant in University Circle. The building, part of the Uptown Development on Euclid Avenue at Mayfield, is still under construction, so it’s hard to pinpoint an exact opening date, but they’re hoping for late spring. I’ll keep you posted.

The Kims' restaurant will occupy the space adjacent to the Cleveland Institute of Art. Jonathon Sawyer, of Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat fame, has taken the opposite corner by MOCA. He’s keeping mum on his concept for it but had this to say: “I’m super excited to be neighbors with Scott. It’s going to be great.”

Kim, however, was more than ready to share. It is going to be a big place, about 300 seats inside and out, with a spacious bar the couple hopes will become a favorite happy hour gathering spot. The architect, Stanley Saitowitz, is designing a two-part interior: a playful lively lounge side with communal seating to encourage socializing and a quieter, more tranquil dining area.

The menu will be pan-Asian, reflecting Kim’s Korean heritage, his well-established expertise in Japanese cuisine, and his enthusiasm for Chinese and Thai food. But the talented chef doesn’t plan to let himself get boxed in by tradition or the quest to be authentic. The idea is to create original dishes that are inspired by this mix of styles and ingredients. The open kitchen will be outfitted with a high-tech version of robatayaki, popular in Japan, for charcoal grilling. Sushi won’t be available regularly, but he may offer some very unusual and original specials one night a week.

After wrestling long and hard with the question of what to call the restaurant, Scott settled on the name Accent. “I was inspired by the idea that we all come from someplace and everyone has their own way of speaking,” he explains. “The idea is that here, all people can come together, feel welcome, and get a better understanding of the food from these four different countries."

This is definitely going to be exciting for them ... and the rest of us!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Christmas Ale Ice Cream Story

As if Clevelanders needed another reason to drink Christmas Ale, Great Lakes Brewing Co. and Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream are teaming up to bring sweet-toothed beer drinkers a little something extra this holiday season.

Great Lakes' highly desired holiday brew will be the primary flavor in Mitchell's Christmas Ale Ginger Snap ice cream.

"The ice cream definitely tastes like Christmas Ale," says Mike Mitchell of Mitchell's. "But it doesn't taste like you're drinking a frozen beer."

The ice cream maker is taking the small amounts of ale left over from the bottling process and adding more organic honey, Vietnamese cinnamon and homemade ginger snaps — flavors and ingredients already in the brew — to enhance the taste.

"It's a really good beer base for an ice cream because it has those Christmas and holiday flavors: honey, cinnamon and ginger," Mitchell says.

The ice cream will be available Nov. 1 at all Mitchell's locations as single scoops ($2.99), pints ($6.50) and quarts ($10.75). It will also be available at GLBC as a brewpub dessert ($5) or take-home pints ($6.50). The plan is to keep it around until the end of the year, but with Christmas Ale as an ingredient, supplies may dwindle fast.

Just in case that still isn't enough Christmas Ale, Lauren Boveington from GLBC suggests a pint of the beer as an ideal pairing for the ice cream.

"That's the best way to savor it," she says.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spicing Up the Options

I’m happy to be the bearer of some really good news. The recently formed culinary dream team of chefs Ben Bebenroth and Andy Strizak, both highly regarded champions of sustainable agriculture and the local food movement, are going beyond the catering they’re known for and the on-farm dinner series Plated Landscapes that’s done nothing but grow since Bebenroth launched it five years ago. The duo is starting a restaurant, a first for both. But the vision is for something that goes way beyond the ordinary arrangement of tables and chairs. Over drinks at Flying Fig, Ben and his wife, Jackie, shared the details of the multi-part, multi-phase project.

Spice Kitchen + Bar will open, once renovations are completed, in the spot at the corner of Detroit and West 58th Street that has recently housed a succession of restaurants (La Boca, Roseangel, and the short-lived La Boca Barrio). No date yet. But you can follow the progress of the transformation at The space became available unexpectedly, and as Ben tells it, “We saw this as an incredible opportunity that fell in our lap. But we had only seven days to react and make a decision.” They went for it. In keeping with the philosophy and made-from-scratch style the chefs are known for, expect a menu of simple, familiar dishes rooted in the best of what’s grown and raised in Northeast Ohio. Think of it as good in every way: good tasting; good quality; good for your health, the environment and the community.

In stage II, sometime in 2012, The Spice Rack, inspired by Karen Small's Market at the Fig, will be doing business in a small connected storefront, offering a selection of local, artisan food products, prepared items from the restaurant and maybe even some supplies for home gardeners. Conceivably, you could stop in to pick up a lunchtime burrito to go, a jar of salsa plus a pound of stone-ground cornmeal to use later that night and a package of heirloom tomato seeds. Then there’s the plan to reinvent the patio with edible landscaping in containers and raised beds so it can accommodate diners and also supply the kitchen, with more ingredients coming from a plot of land behind the parking lot that they’ll put under cultivation and the 10,000-square-foot garden, complete with two hoop houses to extend the growing season in Ben and Jackie’s backyard. All these agricultural efforts are grouped under the name Spice Acres.

This location is also going to be headquarters and home base for Spice of Life, the parent company for this whole family of brands and projects, including the well-established catering operation, Plated Landscape events, and farmers market food stands.

They acknowledge that their undertaking is an ambitious one. It’s going to be a slow, incremental, step-by-step process. Let’s wish them well, show our support by showing up when the lights go on and count ourselves lucky that these people are committed to pursuing their dreams here.

Image by Bloom Photography, courtesy of Spice of Life

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Hippest Parking Garage In Town

When you're planning your Saturday night, a parking garage is usually just a place to put your car. This Saturday, the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative hopes to change that. For one night, the parking garage at 740 Euclid Avenue will transform into the Hipp Deck, an open-air performance venue.

From 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Hipp Deck will host performances by electronic musician Freeze-Tag, local band Tastycakes and opera students from the Cleveland Institute of Music dressed in historical garb. A huge inflatable art installation by Jimmy Kuehnle may be visible from the street.

The event is also a book release party for the CUDC’s publication Cleveland Stories: True Until Proven Otherwise, which tells the narrative history of Cleveland’s architecture. The book will be available for half-price, $10. Food vendors such as Campbell’s Popcorn Shop and Tremont Scoops will serve treats.

The garage was built on the site of the historic Hippodrome Theater, nicknamed “The Hipp,” a nationally renowned venue demolished in 1981.

Hipp Deck is part of the CUDC’s Pop Up City initiative, which looks to use vacant or unusual spaces around Cleveland in inventive ways. The CUDC has been looking to do an event in a parking garage for some time, says David Jurca, a senior urban designer with CUDC.

“They’re kind of these spaces that are underused and maybe under-appreciated,” Jurca says.

The CUDC hopes to inspire others to hold events in surprising places.

“There’s a lot more potential here than we’ve really explored,” Jurca says. “There’s so much parking. Maybe we can collaborate with it instead of fighting it.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lake Erie Monsters Look To Start Season Hot

Wednesday at the Q, the silence between pucks tinking off the goal posts and clacking onto sticks was filled with the sound of fans. These fans were whirring, though, not cheering.

I was the lone spectator for the Lake Erie Monsters’ morning practice, and while there were some nasty glove saves and wrist shots, I would have felt awkward cheering.

The Monsters, Cleveland’s American Hockey League team, are returning to the ice this weekend after the four-year-old franchise’s best season. From their first-round playoff loss last year, they are moving forward—and with great speed.

Center Ryan Stoa says the coaches have been “harping on us to do everything fast.” Shooting and passing drills were so rapid that by the time I located the puck, it had already visited five players and been kicked by a left pad.

Stoa, drafted in 2009, has played 37 games with the Monsters’ parent club, the Colorado Avalanche. The 24-year-old is one of the 12 players from last year’s Monsters roster to stay with the team for the start of this season. When more than half of your 22- or 23-person roster is made up of guys the veterans haven’t played with before, it takes some adjusting.

Trevor Cann, in his third season goaltending for the Monsters, says the team is “jelling” during practices. As the players work on power plays, breakouts, faceoffs, defensive and offensive zones, coaches are developing the lines and seeing who works best together.

This kind of team development led to a standout 2010-2011 season. The Monsters finished second in the North Division with a franchise-best 44 wins. The team’s popularity among Clevelanders grew. The Monsters had an average attendance of 6,568, sixth out of 30 AHL teams, and a league-best average playoff attendance of 8,069.

Players say they’re excited for the season opener against the Abbotsford Heat Friday night. “There is no better feeling than getting a win and hanging out with the guys afterwards,” says Cann.

After two hours of practice, some stragglers were still skating and taking turns shooting at one of the goalies. Team communications manager Sarah Jamieson told them it was time to quit.

Like the child who doesn’t want to come in at dusk, a player skated up to the bench and pleaded, “Just one more drill?”

The Monsters start their season at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.