Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More Dirt

Last week I wrote a post titled One Night [Farm] Stands about a couple of special fieldside dinners. Turns out there’s a veritable bumper crop of chefs going rural this summer. More meals cooked and served where animals are raised and produce is grown are scheduled for August, so I’m spreading the word.

Jim Denevan, founder of Outstanding in the Field, is the unofficial granddaddy of the forks-in-the-field concept. He started doing it in California in 1999 and later took the events on the road, partnering with acclaimed regional chefs around the country. The bus (there really is one) stops at Thaxton’s Organic Garlic, a picturesque 10-acre spread in Hudson on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011. Fred Thaxton, a science teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and wife Lisa, in the same profession, started planting as a hobby in 2000. They now harvest a dozen varieties that are prized by local chefs and sold at area farmers markets. The menu is in the more-than-able hands of our own Jonathon Sawyer, of Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat fame, so no doubt the food will be extraordinary. garlic harvest at Thaxton family farm

But be prepared for some sticker shock: The price, $180 per person, is set by Denevan’s organization, not Sawyer. If this doesn’t scare you off, best to make your reservations immediately to be sure of getting a seat at the communal table.

Next up is an Emerging Chefs shindig on the evening of Friday, Aug. 19, with Kimberly McCune. She’s the founder/owner, with partner Scott Roitblat who’ll be cooking with her, of Vine and Dine, a company that offers catering and personal chef services with an emphasis on healthy, locally sourced products. They’re calling this casual family-style supper in Geauga County ReHival because McCune is introducing her very own microbrew, ReHive Ale. It will be produced by Buckeye Beer Engine and available to the public in September, which just happens to be national honey month. But guests at this “Return to Earth Dinner” on Meadowlane Farms in Newbury, five minutes from Chardon, will get first sips of these suds along with dishes made from ingredients gathered within a 50 mile radius of where you’ll be eating. Go to the website to purchase tickets ($69.57 each and get information about overnight accommodations.

Plated Landscapes, the on-the-farm dinner series created by Ben Bebenroth of Spice of Life Catering, has been going strong since 2006. These well-planned and perfectly executed multicourse feasts combine the trappings of fine dining with the laid-back beauty of natural settings. He has three scheduled for this month that aren’t sold out … yet: Saturday, Aug. 13, Muddy Fork Farm in Wooster; Friday, Aug. 19, Auburn Twin Oaks Winery in Auburn; and Friday, Aug. 26, Morgan Farm Stay in Ashland. To make reservations, get driving and ask questions about the menus, call 216-432-9090 or email with the subject "Plated Landscapes." Check out the online calendar to see what’s planned for September and October.
Muddy Fork Farm, Plated Landscapes, 2010

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mango Hometown Tour challenges chefs from Crop, Moxie

With the help of 160 mangoes, one Cleveland chef's true talent will come to fruition.

His talent for cooking with mangoes, that is.

The National Mango Board will bring its Mango Hometown Tour to Cleveland this Friday, July 29. Chef Steve Schimoler of Crop Bistro & Bar and Moxie chef Jonathan Bennett will face off from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Moxie. Each will create a mango-inspired seafood dish with a Cleveland flair, and three local experts will judge to determine a winner.

Bennett, who often creates desserts, salads and sauces with mangoes at Moxie, will be making a combination plate.

"My dish includes a mango and crab fritter with mango ketchup and a green mango slaw," he says.

While Bennett and Schimoler cook, guests will learn how to cut the fruit and get the chance to taste different mangoes and mango-inspired drinks.

"Most people should go to this event to learn how to cut a mango," laughs Bennett. "They're not the easiest things to cut, but I truly think they're the most sensual fruits."

Attending the Mango Taste-Off is free to the public with a reservation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Night [Farm] Stands

Over the past couple of years, the practice of dishing up fine meals out where the ingredients are grown and the animals graze has become a nationwide trend. The idea is to encourage people to eat locally by taking them to the source of their food and introducing them to the growers that live and work in their own backyards. Real chefs bring their professional expertise along with utensils, servers and place settings. Tables are arranged in meadows, barns or orchards. It’s restaurant dining without … the restaurant. The experience offers a new way to enjoy a dinner. It’s caught on in a big way here, and two area chefs are jumping on the hay wagon this month. They’re inviting guests to trek beyond the city limits for fun and feasting. The beautiful settings are provided by Mother Nature. Think of these events as fancy picnics where someone else does the work. All you have to do is show up, eat and watch the sun set.

The first of these forks in the field evenings happens on July 25 at Covered Bridge Gardens in Ashtabula County. Your hosts are The Prochko’s, Mick, Kay and their son Steve, who own the 160-acre farm, and Brian Doyle, a personal chef and caterer. Long an advocate for eating seasonally and locally, Doyle put a twist on his latest venture, Sowfood, an urban farm and CSA (community supported agriculture): He not only plants and harvests fresh produce for shareholders, he also cooks it. The dinner is a fundraiser for Autism Speaks, an organization that helps raise awareness of the prevalence of autism locally and around the nation. Cost is $95 per person and includes wine. The night starts with a tour of the farm. Freshly picked fruit, vegetables and herbs will inspire the night’s menu. 440-862-1682 for reservations.

Covered Bridge Gardens is also supplying produce for a July 28 shindig dubbed Dine with the Vines. It takes place right in the vineyard at Grand River Cellars, a winery in Madison, and owner/manager Cindy Lindberg will do a walk and talk through the rows of grapes and handle the wine pairings. Mick and Kay Prochko will be there to chat about what’s on your plate. Those plates, five courses worth, will be created by Jeremy Esterly, currently Executive Chef at Paragon, a bar and eatery in Euclid. The banquet style meal kicks off at 6 p.m. with Ohio artisinal cheeses and wines. $75 per person and reservations are required, 440-298-9838.

Seating is limited at both dinners. So don't dawdle. Get on the phone right this minute. But if there isn’t a place left for you, don’t be too upset. These folks are planning to do more dinners like this.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Death of a Salesman: Borders To Close Its Doors Permanently

In an era of e-book and iPad obsession, it’s no surprise that Borders, the nation’s second-largest bookstore chain, expects to go out of business by September. The company began its downward spiral when it declared bankruptcy in February, and on Friday it’ll begin liquidating its remaining 399 stores.

The Borders in Fairlawn closed in March 2010.
George Bilgere, director of John Carroll University’s writing program, seemed to predict this fate in "Beyond Borders," his personal essay for our Voice section back in April.

“The days when you could drift through acres of books, sipping a latte and parking yourself with a magazine in an overstuffed chair near the gas log fireplace, are coming to an end,” he wrote gloomily.

As one student told him that she downloaded her class reading assignment onto her iPad, a feeling of dread overcame Bilgere. “A year from now [the students] would all be sitting in front of me with their glowing screens, staring with pity at the old guy shuffling through his primitive pages,” he said.

While some take pride in their nifty gadgets, others recognize the timeless value of books. Dave Ferrante, owner of Visible Voice in Tremont, told Bilgere that a book — as in one made of paper — is technology in and of itself. “It doesn’t break if you drop it. It doesn’t need batteries. And anyone can get one for free from the public library.”

Is this the apocalypse for the printed book? No, but Borders’ closure does mean more than 10,000 people nationwide will lose their jobs. Only five Cleveland-area stores remain open for now: Westlake, Solon, Beachwood, Strongsville and Tower City.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Overflowing Praise for Fountain

She had me with the invitation. It arrived by mail, rolled up like a scroll with a cork in the center and tied with raffia bow in a rectangular box lined with orange tissue paper and a toss of roasted coffee beans. I was impressed by the creative effort, curious about the meaning of these pieces and parts, and eager to know more. So I instantly RSVP’d yes to the grand opening event for Fountain, a European-inspired café and gastro-lounge (proprietor Iris Wheeler’s descriptive tag for her new venture). After spending a couple of hours at the Moreland Hills spot last Wednesday night, I came to understand that the package I’d received was full of cues and clues revealing what this place is all about, the imaginative thinking behind it, and the extra effort they’re putting into everything.

Fountain — and there are two actual ones, a classic version on the patio and the other, a modernist cascading wall of water — is coffee shop and lunch stop by day, a wine bar serving small and shareable plates and desserts until late (midnight Monday to Wednesday, 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday). When I first heard about the concept, it made no sense. I couldn’t visualize such a multi-purpose kind of a place. There’s a reason for that: we don’t have anything else like it around here. Now that I’ve had a look and met the vivacious German-born Iris, the idea makes perfect, lovely sense. What ties the various functions together is her vision of a sophisticated gathering place with a morning, noon and night selection of refined, high quality food and drink.

The front of the big room, where you step up to counter to order a pot of French press, a fruit smoothie, a scoop of gelato, or something from the pastry case, is flooded with natural light. But a few steps further in and things get pleasantly dark — damask drapes frame the windows; the walls are a deep warm terra cotta, and the lighting is low. Beyond a long wooden bar, the space opens up and is furnished with comfortable couches and chairs, not restaurant tables, arranged in small groups. Each seating area represents a specific European country — black and white photos of famous landmarks let you know whether you’re sitting in Austria, Spain, Italy or the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). There are some nooks and private corners perfect for tête-a-têting and even an area to dance when the DJ’s in the house.

Donna Chriszt, an accomplished chef and fine dining veteran, is in the driver’s seat when it comes to the kitchen. She’ll be curing salmon, making her own rillettes and terrines, and beefing up sandwiches and salads with house made spreads, dressings, and condiments. Sweet and savory crepes will be a specialty. I tasted some absolutely wonderful things during the party that are on her menu — patés, shrimp with a chorizo dipping sauce, truffled egg custard, and vegetables in aspic, along with some of the cheeses and charcuterie that will be available on platters and boards.

Attention to detail is in evidence everywhere. The menu books include a magnifying glass and a light. Bartenders have a handheld aerator for filling a glass with red wine. George, the pro who poured for the husband and I, was as smooth and charming (and knowledgeable) as they come. The lists of imported beers and wines are large and eclectic with short but quite helpful descriptions of flavor attached to each selection. I sipped on a splendid dry Riesling-Selbach-Oster Weissburgunder Trocken (2008).

Writing this has me eager to get back, bring friends, taste more and spend some leisurely time soaking up the chic civilized ambiance.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Invasion of the Nerds

Last weekend, Cleveland was stormed by nerds on bikes. The strange sight was not random. It was the first ever nerd ride hosted by Crank-Set Rides, a nonprofit that organizes themed bike rides.

The 180 geeks, dweebs and dorks rode about four miles on Saturday from the Root Cafe in Lakewood to a nerdy dance party in Cleveland.

"People have been loving this," says Lindsey Bower, organizer and co-founder of Crank-Set Rides. Decked out in oversized black glasses, knee high tube socks and pink polka dotted suspenders, she said the group attracted the attention of onlookers wherever they rode. Some just stopped and stared, wondering what was going on, while others pulled out cameras and started filming.

Nerds faced off in a trivia match that tested their knowledge of geeky subjects from Boba Fett to pi at the Happy Dog in the Gordon Square Arts District. Joe Milan, above, out-smarted the other nerds, winning the first round. Milan, dressed in a bowtie, glasses and suspenders, exclaimed that his outfit was authentic. "I didn't have to go shopping for any of this stuff," he said.

After two rounds of nerd trivia, the two winners faced off in a Math-a-thon. They had 30 seconds to do 60 multiplication tables. As the winner was named, the crowd celebrated by chanting "Nerd! Nerd! Nerd!"

Riders stepped outside the stuffy hotdog joint to cool off, even though the temperatures on Saturday rose to the upper 80s. As cars drove by and witnessed the gaggle of nerds, drivers honked and hollered. The nerds all took off at once for their next location, Joy Machines Bike Shop on West 25th Street.

Crank-Set is using proceeds from the $5 participation fee to purchase new bike racks for Cleveland. Its next events are the hot pants ride on Aug. 20 and the second annual zombie ride on Oct. 22.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In the Market for Something Good

I was at Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City Thursday night. The size of the after-work crowd inside and out — suggested they were giving away beer. (To be clear, they weren’t.) But obviously word had spread quickly about this long-awaited spot that has been in the works for two years but open only a few days. It looked like half of Cleveland had come to check out what idea man and founder Sam McNulty and brewmaster Andy Tveekrem have accomplished.

The pair started with two empty and unexceptional buildings. Now, after major renovations and thanks to help from a veritable army of others, they’re presiding over a microbrewery that turns out a dozen different beers, a sprawling brew pub and a restaurant, and they'll soon be distilling onsite and pouring their own spirits as the first place in Ohio licensed to do both. Leave it to McNulty, a relentless beverage entrepreneur who already operates Bier Markt, Bar Cento, and Speakeasy (all directly across the street) to hit upon the trendy concept. According to an article that appeared in USA Today in May, pairing craft brewing and distilling is a nationwide phenomenon.

It was a glorious evening — blue skies, warm but not hot and a bit of balmy breeze — so the husband and I wanted to be in the beer garden, an appealing and convivial patio. It faces the alley running parallel to the West Side Market. (Equipped with a wood burning fireplace, it should be equally nice when cold weather returns.) By the time we arrived at 6:30, it was packed, but luckily our son Nathan had gotten there earlier and secured a corner and three stools at a long communal table that encourages conversations between friends and strangers alike. There wasn’t an empty seat out front either on West 25th Street and few unoccupied spots in the two interior rooms, each with its own bar. Sliding glass doors seamlessly connect patios and dining areas. The layout, with spaces flowing seamlessly together, makes it seem as if everyone is part of one big party, no matter where you are.

Amongst the curious and the thirsty, the husband and I saw quite a few people we know, which reinforced that impression. On our personal who’s who was Kevin Scheuring, of Spice Hound and manager of the Coit Road Farmer's Market (spotted but not greeted); Samantha Fryberger, director of communications for Jumpstart, who was with a friend from Positively Cleveland, her former employer; Natalie Ezzie, who is with St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, and her sister Nadine Ezzie, an attorney; Josh Taylor with Twist Creative; Joe Mosbrook of Cleveland State University; and Kurt and Barbara Zoss, owners of Zoss the Swiss Baker and our Cleveland Heights neighbors. They make the excellent soft pretzels on the brewery menu. The timing of their arrival was perfect; they stopped by to say hello just as we were polishing off an order.

I went there for a professional peek and some social time with my son and husband. I got both plus something more: a sense of community and an infusion of excitement. I felt happy for myself and for my town, happy to have a new business investing in the neighborhood and the city, happy for the energy and activity it brings to the street. I’m glad when good things happen here. I take it personally. And the opening of Market Garden Brewery definitely makes me want to celebrate.

photos by Stephanie Sheldon

Friday, July 1, 2011

Drake to help celebrate Cleveland's 215th birthday

This year’s Ohio Homecoming celebration is about to be the best we’ve ever had.

Hip-hop star Drake, whose hits include “Best I Ever Had,” “Fancy” and “Find Your Love,” has been added to the lineup of the July 20-24 Ohio Homecoming celebration. (Click here for our story on the event.) He'll join Cleveland’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony for the “Bone and Drake By the Lake Concert” at the Port of Cleveland Docks 28 & 30, behind Browns Stadium.

Last year’s event, celebrating Cleveland’s 214th birthday, featured Shaker Heights native and rapper Kid Cudi (who performs at the Q tonight). That concert, which drew thousands to downtown Cleveland's malls, was free with the purchase of an “I Am OHIO” T-shirt or a ticket to the other Ohio Homecoming events. However, Drake fans will have to pay a higher price. Tickets to the “Bone and Drake by the Lake” concert and events range from $45 to $75.

The Dredgers Union: Reviving Downtown's Shopping Scene

The Dredgers Union on East Fourth Street has the hip feel of Urban Outfitters, the sophistication of Banana Republic and the flair of Cleveland.

Various vignettes of apparel, accessories and home goods — what owner Danielle DeBoe calls “narrative merchandising” — greet visitors. “They’re supposed to tell a story,” she says.

It's a story about the past being the key to the present. DeBoe cites the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution as inspirations for Dredgers’ ambiance. There’s a hint of the past within the scattered odd gifts of old-fashioned shoe polish and drawer knobs, but then I’m brought back to the future as I browse through skinny jeans with Vampire Weekend playing overhead. That fits. Dredgers is a breath of new life in downtown’s once-booming, now nearly nonexistent retail industry.

DeBoe, who owns The Dredgers Union with Sean Bilovecky, says business has been booming since the store’s soft opening June 17. “It’s just been bananas,” she says animatedly. “We didn’t have super high expectations before the soft opening. But we’ve had a tremendous surge of people coming in.”

Dredgers offers men’s, women’s and kids' apparel, as well as home items such as bedding and cooking utensils. Prices for men’s and women’s shirts range between $30 and $90, and jeans go for an average of $110. Like Urban Outfitters, Dredgers stocks an array of gift ideas, such as paper airplane pendant necklaces and globe paperweights. Some of the merchandise is surprising, from the cutesy hammers made especially for women to candles that smell like men’s cologne. The store stocks items from more than 110 vendors, including American-produced brands that are scarcely seen in the Cleveland area.

The brand that stands out is the store’s private label, designed by Bilovecky and women’s designer Dana Hardy right here in C-town. Though Dredgers' merchandise is a bit pricier, Clevelanders will feel good knowing they’re supporting their hometown. “It’s a very difficult thing for retailers to carry a ‘made in the USA’ label these days,” she says.

The women’s clothing at Dredgers is a bit more summery and bright than the men’s, but both have an urban-chic edge. “We did not want an overtly feminine store,” says DeBoe. “We wanted to create a space where both men and women would feel comfortable.”

The store’s next big thing is its grand opening on July 8, which coincides with DeBoe’s Made in the 216 event — a celebration of Cleveland-based designers. The event will be a circus-themed party with music, beer, cotton candy and about 50 Cleveland-based vendors.

DeBoe says she hopes Dredgers will encourage other retailers to set up shop downtown. “I want to keep the creative endeavors in Cleveland,” she says.

To read Colleen Smitek’s profile of Danielle DeBoe in our June issue, click here.