Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fire, Music Light Up 'Live Art' Party

The Live Art event thrown by Ctownartparty reached its peak last night after dark when three fire acrobats performed. They ate fire, twirled it, ran it against their arms and tossed it in the air. The Riverbend Brothers' powerful, tuneful songs, played from an old loading dock, heightened the experience.

Live Art is going on again today until 11 pm at the Hildebrandt Building complex at 3700 Clark Ave. south of Ohio City. Street parking is available on Clark and on side streets west of Fulton. Look for the towering smokestack with HILDEBRANDT painted on it.

(photos by Adam Smith)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rib Cook-Off Turns 20, With the Help of 263,000 Moist Towelettes

This weekend the smell of fiery coals and sweet barbecue sauce will fill the air along the Cuyahoga River yet again, as the Great American Rib Cook-off turns 20 years old. Ten grill masters from across the country will face off for the coveted title of “Best Ribs in America.”

The classic Cleveland event, which moves to Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica this year, is expected to draw more than 100,000 rib enthusiasts, who’ll indulge in 47,000 slabs of ribs, 25,000 rolls and 3,600 gallons of baked beans and wipe off the sticky barbecue sauce with the help of 263,000 moist towelettes.

Beyond ribs, the cook-off also serves up moderately well-known musical headliners. The lineup this year includes rock bands Seether, Collective Soul, Bullet for My Valentine and ’80s pianist Bruce Hornsby. (Past acts have included Ringo Starr, Pat Benatar and former American Idols Ruben Studdard and Elliott Yamin.) Local show choirs will compete in a Glee-style showdown for a chance to see the stars of the Fox show when they perform at the Q on June 14.

If you’d rather devour baklava and gyros, the Tremont Greek Fest takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Festival-goers can watch local Greek dance troupes and bands perform My Big Fat Greek Wedding-style or browse Greek art, jewelry and clothing.

If quaint and intimate is more your style, the Berea Mayfest Saturday at Coe Lake offers tons of art and food and a performance by emerging artist Victor Samalot. We blogged about Cleveland's newest Memorial Day weekend festival, Ctownparty’s Live Art festival, earlier this week.

(photo of 2009 Rib Cook-Off by Keli Shiny-Penny at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ctownartparty's Live Art Festival to Showcase Live Painting, Fire-eaters, Food Truck, Film

A former meat-packing factory will be packed with art this weekend. Ctownartparty, a 3-year-old arts nonprofit, is holding its first Live Art music and art festival Saturday and Sunday in the Hildebrandt Building just south of Ohio City.

"We have jewelry-makers and ceramic artists in addition to normal fine artists who normally don't come out to events," says PR director Rachel Hunt. "We not only have crafters and fine artists, but we also have music and local filmmakers."

The event runs noon to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. It'll take place inside the Hildebrandt Building at 3700 Clark Ave., and in a courtyard outside the building.

The festival will include live painting, stilt walkers and fire-eaters, short films, more than 30 artists and crafters, and more than 20 bands and DJs throughout the day and night. Umami Moto, the food truck, and Foodgazi, a vegetarian and vegan catering company, will satiate hungry festivalgoers. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged.

"We hope [everyone] buys as much art as possible and has as much fun as possible," Hunt says.

Ctownartparty is committed to connecting people to art regardless of their economic status, Hunt says. "In a very accessible way, we hope to show people that may not have been exposed to this what we have going on in our city."

First Look: Pura Vida

I attended an invitation only kick-off party last night for Pura Vida, Chef Brandt Evans’ new restaurant downtown on Public Square. The last time I was there, at the end of September, it was all sawdust and hanging wires. Wearing hard hats, Evans and I sidestepped workmen and piles of 2 X 4s as he outlined his vision for a hip happening place that could go from early morning breakfast to happy hour, changing character and ambience with the time of day.

He planned to cure and smoke his own bacon, make butter, age cheese and serve what he described as “fun, sexy, push-the-envelope, but not too far, food.” Now, at last, he’s ready to go and it’s an exciting time for him and for all the rest of us.

The name Pura Vida has multiple meanings — Live Today, Not Tomorrow, To Life, a kind of salutation equivalent to Cheers or Salut, and Pure Living, as in good and wholesome. A reggae musician friend, he told the crowd, used it as a message sign off and Brandt felt like it captured the essence of what he wants this spot to be.

The restaurant is in the same building as Tri-C’s new Hospitality Management Center in the former May Company. The dining room is dramatic, all white with black and gray accents. There’s a bar, open kitchen, a long communal table, a section of seating that can be “privatized by a metal mesh curtain and big doors opening onto a Euclid Avenue patio. 26,000 LED lights create shifting moods with color splashed on white fabric panels suspended from the ceiling -- picture sails or clouds illuminated by sunrise and sunset palettes.

The place opens to the public June 6, serving breakfast, lunch, and early evening snacks. Dinner service will be added down the road. High quality, high concept take out food is an important part of what Evans is doing here and there are two coolers for his grab and go items. If the dishes we sampled are representative of the menu to come, diners are in for some very very good eating.

This venture, the first under the operating umbrella BKM Culinary Concepts, is the chef and entrepreneur’s fifth restaurant opening in six years and a step in another direction. He began with Blue Canyon in Twinsburg, and turned that concept into a multi-unit, multi-state restaurant group.

Surrounded by the latest expression of his creative thinking and boundless energy yesterday I remembered that Brandt once told me that in high school he was the underachiever nobody thought would amount to much. He’s been proving them wrong ever since. I suspect that with Pura Vida he’s going to do it again in a big way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Wheels Keep Turning for Food Truck Owner Chris Hodgson

The Shaker Heights native who's taken the concept of "meals on wheels" to a new level has made the news again. This time Chris Hodgson, owner of the popular Cleveland food truck Dim and Den Sum, has been featured on Good Morning America. In April, the 25-year-old launched his second food truck, Hodge Podge, as a part of the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race and has since ended up with other competitors and their trucks on the morning news broadcast alongside anchor Robin Roberts. Among his many popular menu items are the PBLT (pulled pork, bacon, lettuce and tomato) and his foie gras Tater Tots. However, Hodgson has more on his plate for the near future: While he's not helping other chefs begin their own food trucks, Hodgson is planning to open a restaurant, possibly in Lakewood, so his food truck fans always know where to find their favorite menu items. He told us about the restaurant, his most popular dishes and more when we talked to him for our May issue ("On a Roll").

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cleveland's street festival season kicks off

After attracting more than 10,000 visitors the first time, the Cleveland Asian Festival returns this year with one more day and two celebrities.

The festival celebrates Cleveland’s Asia Town neighborhood this Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Asia Plaza at East 30th Street and Payne.

Displaying surprising star power for a young festival, the event will feature Dat Phan, the original comedians from Last Comic Standing, on one of two outdoor stages. Yin Chang, the rising starlet seen in this month’s Prom and weekly on Gossip Girl, will do meet-and-greets.

This year the festival added a second eating contest to its lineup, giving guests two chances to watch competitors stuff their faces with samosas and egg rolls as fast as humanly possible. Guests who want to skip the stomach ache can put on an inflatable sumo-wrestling suit or watch a Vietnamese fashion show.

The festival is growing. It's already sold out of space for exhibitors and filled a waiting list. Organizers expect an even bigger crowd than last year's.

If you have a thirst for arts and crafts instead, the annual Hessler Street Fair takes place this Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to dusk on Hessler Road in University Circle. Going strong for 42 years, this fair is famous for hippie culture, on-site neighborhood art projects and musical performances every hour until the sun goes down.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Art and Eats

The press release for the new show at Spaces -- Farmed: The New Agronomists (May 13-July10), got me all excited. The actual exhibit- not so much. In fact, not at all.

Described as “the ideal marriage between art and local agriculture,” the artists’ work was to address themes related to production of food and other goods, exploring "the harsh realities of the economics, genetic and environmental concerns that farmers address daily.” Went to the opening on Friday night. The ideas behind the installations are interesting. The execution isn’t. This is conceptual art so that apparently is not supposed to matter. There are a small number of actual pieces and they are almost uniformly dry, sterile and intellectualized. Pardon the play on words but these subjects are by definition earthy and grounded -- it seems a travesty to render them in such a way that all the life and energy is sucked out. The two exceptions were real squiggly silkworms -- you can even take some home -- and a mixed media piece containing live plants.

Nothing spoke to me of food, except the snacks on the table, which I'm pretty sure were not part of the show. Mostly, I found the whole experience boring. Call me a philistine but I don’t get it. Maybe you do and I encourage all to go, look, and come to your own conclusions.

The evening was saved by a drop-in at Dragonfly, a lounge and restaurant a few blocks down W. 25th Street. Marlin Kaplan, who became a partner and took over the kitchen side of the business in March, has reengineered the menu. His theme is pan-Asian and the two dishes the husband and I tried- crispy lobster pot stickers and the OCD (Ohio City Development) roll made with spicy scallop salad, crab, and avocado- were clean-the-plate-great. Server did not need to ask if we were done- there was nothing, not even a drop or a drizzle of sauce, left. I wanted more- pork shoulder meatballs, spicy Thai wings, and a Chinese Bolognese (love the name and the notion) but we were heading to Tremont for Art Walk so I had to leave it for next time.

The bar continues to specialize in classic cocktails. A Singapore Sling was my drink of choice and I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of gin, cherry heering, pineapple, lime, Benedictine, and bitters. Just the thing for warm weather, if warm weather, which showed up briefly last week, ever returns.

Marlin gave me the penny tour. The dining side now has real tables (instead of the high-tops that formerly filled the room) and a nice curved booth dubbed the chef’s table. The tiny patio out back will soon be getting a major makeover. Plans are for a high lofted deck over the bar with seating for 60 and skyline views. I’ll definitely be back to enjoy that and more of Kaplan’s inspired culinary creations.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Meal With A Mission

Somewhere in the world a person waits for a wheelchair or a walker that could change their housebound life; a doctor is in desperate need of a stethoscope or surgical dressings; health clinic staff yearn for a portable x-ray machine and a few blood pressure cuffs. Such things are plentiful here and hard to come by in many third world countries and underserved communities around the globe. Medwish International, a local non-profit founded in 1993, recovers lifesaving, life changing surplus medical supplies and equipment and redistributes them to developing nations.

On May 21st, from 7-10 PM, the 40,000 square foot warehouse on Euclid Avenue where stuff is stacked and stored before being shipped overseas is also a party center. It’s the 2011 Band Aid Bash, the organization’s annual fundraiser. Guests get music, a video conference with a recipient hospital, and food. But no rubber chicken for this charity bash. This year’s fabulous eats are provided by the highly regarded Spice of Life Catering. Linking up mission and menu, Chef Ben Bebenroth prepares dishes from parts of the world Medwish serves: Caribbean jerk chicken and plaintains; African inspired breads and dips; Middle Eastern lamb vindaloo; and South American style grilled flank steak with chimichurri sauce.

Live and silent auctions include many unique and appealing culinary experiences:
-A wine- and cheese-tasting with Brandon Chrostowski, of L'Albatross, for you and ten of your closest friends
-Two seats at a Spice of Life Plated Landscape Dinner
-An opportunity to cook in the kitchen of "Fire," side-by-side with chef Doug Katz, and then enjoy a champagne brunch
-Dinner for four custom-created by Paladar’s executive chef Robert Cabrales.
-Tickets to the next Emerging Chefs event "Big Flavors. Bold Venues."

Think about this. You get your money’s worth in good food and good times. And what you’ve spent means babies and their mothers have a better shot at surviving, kids can grow up healthy, and their elders are more likely to reach a ripe old age. That’s quite a return on your investment. And those who focus their contributions on environmental causes should know that in 2010 Medwish kept 450 tons of medical surplus designated for disposal out of landfills by getting it to those who needed it. Tickets and info at MedWish . Those who don’t attend can get in on the giving-and some of the goodies- by making a bid in the online auction or purchasing a chance to win a classic sportscar.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

John Hyduk, Cleveland Magazine contributor, appears in Esquire

"One of the best writers in Cleveland," Esquire calls John Hyduk this month, introducing his essay, "The Loading Dock Manifesto," in its May issue.

"There's work in poetry, and poetry in all work," Hyduk writes in the piece, the story of his life and his job at a beverage distributor near Cleveland.

We've known about Hyduk's talent for a while -- he's a contributor to Cleveland Magazine. So after you read his Esquire piece, we'd like to send you to our archives to read more of his work:

"Born and Bread," February 2010, about his relatives' life on the near West Side and their favorite Italian bakery.

"City of Wonder," August 2009, recalling his years as a feature writer for the Free Times.

"A Zoo Story," April 2008, about his grandfather, who fed lions.

"The Long Goodbye," May 2007, his feature about serial killer Frank Spisak (executed this winter) and his victims.

"The Night Man," March 2007, a visit to a corner store scarred by murder.

"Wild At Heart,"
August 2006, his ode to West 25th Street.

(photo from

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Herschman in the Heights

Professionally, Michael Herschman is a rolling stone and you never know where will show up next. Since his former bosses at Menu6 didn’t seem to appreciate what this talented chef brought to the table, he moved on once again. He’s recently resurfaced as executive chef at Lopez on Lee and I stopped in for a first taste. My friend and I ordered four dishes — the line up is perfect for graze and share meals. Every one was a winner.

We had salmon ceviche-tiradito style which means it's almost like sashimi — with a crispy jalapeno pinon praline and some crema limon; sweet and sour calamari — the Asian influence is a Herschman signature — dusted with chile and cumin; and an eggroll stuffed with chipotle braised chicken that’s now been replaced with a lighter spring roll (he calls them cigars) featuring a vegetarian filling of smoked gouda, charred corn and black beans. The charred Caesar just might be the absolute best version of this ubiquitous salad I’ve ever had: he grills romaine hearts, dots with shavings of manchego, and replaces the croutons with anchovy masa corn fritters.

Lopez is a local dining institution, serving the community for 29 years. I’ve eaten there more times than I can count and can say with some authority and great confidence that Herschman has put together the most interesting, exciting and energized menu this restaurant has ever had. Never really a traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex place, Lopez calls itself a Southwestern food kitchen. He runs with that concept but ups the ante with a distinctly personal style, sense of imagination, antic humor (think chicken and masa-ball soup), and the kind of commitment to quality that means smoking bacon, brisket and tomatoes in-house.

He’s still tweaking the offerings, but it’s already clear that Herschman is reinventing Lopez as an exceptional dining destination. Some new additions that have me in a hurry to get back are beer braised ribs in a spicy mango mop; a bison burger with gaucho sauce and buttermilk onion rings; a Portobello and arugula taco; lobster enchiladas and a squash version made with pepitas; and a wet pulled pork burrito.

Lots of specials planned for Cinco de Mayo tomorrow night. If you’re a fan of margaritas, Tuesdays and Thursdays are always a good time to visit because tequila drinks are half price from 5-9 p.m. The bargain typically attracts a lively crowd. I predict Herschman's food will keep the place hopping every night of the week. And if warm weather and clear skies ever arrive again — and I’m starting to lose hope that will ever happen — the patio is a really nice spot to enjoy it.