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 CafĂ© 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.

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