Friday, January 27, 2012

No Snow? No Worries

Winter, oh winter, where are you? Snow has been scarce this season, umbrellas and rain boots commonplace. Still, our "Explore Winter" package from December 2010 is full of ideas for winter activities that won’t be hindered by the lack of powder.

The Cleveland Metroparks Chalet toboggan chutes give daredevils a wild ride, with maximum speeds reaching 45 miles per hour. You don’t have to be at Cedar Point to feel the rush of a 66-foot vertical drop.

If speeding face-first down a steep slope isn’t your style, you can fill your travel mug with hot chocolate, perhaps bundle up in your favorite blanket and enjoy the countryside from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, this makes for a great date.

Ever thought about channeling your inner Michelle Kwan (or Wayne Gretzky, your choice)? If the feeling strikes, you can visit one of Cleveland’s outdoor skating rinks. What you may remember as a childhood hobby takes on an exciting twist once you hit adulthood — and no, it’s not like riding a bike.

Even Mother Nature needs a little assistance sometimes, and if snow isn’t falling from the sky, local ski resorts will create their own. The only catch? A minimum temperature of around 28 degrees is required at the time of production. The Boston Mills/Brandywine snow report shows both resorts are fully functioning tonight, so don’t hesitate if you get the urge to grab your skis or snowboard and hit the slopes.

OK, this last one is slightly contingent on snow, but the second snow does fall, you may want to grab a sled that best suites your style (classic wood, modern, tube, saucer, or something completely MacGyvered) and hit one of the many sledding hills that dot Cleveland.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Minnillo and Mytro Making Magic at Flour

Like the perfect couple, Paul Minnillo and Matt Mytro bring out the best in each other. The two chefs discovered they have great chemistry in the kitchen when Paul hired the younger guy last fall to fill the exec chef spot at Flour, his 9-month-old Moreland Hills restaurant. Evidence for what a good match-up this has proven to be is on the plates they’re sending out. Since the pair started cooking up a storm together, the hours have been extended to include lunch service, and I finally got there last week to sample some of what the new midday winter menu has to offer. If you’re short of time and don’t intend to read all the following paragraphs, let me give you the nutshell summary: Hurry up and go! The food’s marvelous.

The gray day was considerably brighter after the cara cara citrus salad arrived at the table. The mix of juicy red tinged slices of orange, slivers of white fennel and bright green pea tendrils dressed in a smoked tomato vinaigrette tasted as good as it looked. Same with a small skillet of sweet, meaty chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in pancetta and surrounded by a smooth, thick roasted red pepper sauce. I loved the dried olives that dotted the chop salad and the choice of Moody blue, a delicate, lightly smoked cheese.

Manila clams and mussels are cooked in the pizza oven, and something wonderful happens to the shellfish in there. They come floating in a parmesan broth with bits of sausage and pickled fennel. It's really an outstanding dish, served with flat bread to soak up all the liquid. Another excellent and season-hearty dish is the Calabrian stew, made with Italian sausage, perfectly tender white beans, parsnips and braised pork shoulder. A paste made from Calabrian chiles, a small spicy pepper from the region, gives a slight and welcome bit of kick.

And then there are the paninis: warm sandwiches that are elevated to something extra special because of what goes into them. Pickled red onions interact deliciously with Minnillo’s sausage and smoked mozzarella. Italian mustard is a nice touch with the housemade mortadella.

But the version that truly had me sighing with pleasure was one made with shredded short ribs. They’re slow simmered, Mytro told me, in chocolate milk (really). He explained that the sugars caramelize as it tenderizes the meat. The result is ridiculously good. Then they tuck it between slices of toasted bread with pancetta, a fried egg and arugula. Bites. Of. Bliss.

I'm happy to report that for those unlikely to visit the restaurant during the day, a number of these items also make an appearance on the dinner menu. But some, like the paninis are lunch-only options. My advice: Take a sick day. It's not a lie. Because no doubt you'll leave Flour feeling much better than when you arrived.
photos by Lisa Minnillo

Friday, January 20, 2012

MOCA's Last Hurrah on Carnegie Avenue

The end is near for the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland – well, at least for the museum’s current location.

MOCA reflects on its impending move from 8501 Carnegie Ave. to 11400 Euclid Ave. with its last exhibition, 8501 to 11400 (On Moving). The exhibition's opening night celebration, tonight from 7 to 9 p.m., debuts work from regional artists Corrie Slawson, Brandon Juhsz and Ben Kinsley, all of it exploring their perspectives and philosophies about moving.

Kinsley, known for his playful and engaging site-specific performances, has engaged two actors to play street preachers. One actor will stand outside at MOCA’s current location and announce, “The end is nigh!” while the other, in University Circle near the construction site, will proclaim “A new beginning is imminent!”

The actors debut the performance tonight and will appear on the street 12:30-1:30 p.m. every Sunday through March 24. They’ll distribute hand-written brochures to witnesses on the street that will contain testimonials about MOCA from visitors but never actually name the museum itself. Sound recordings of this quirky scene will play through the speakers in the exhibition space.

Slawson’s work explores the move through screen prints that mirror the streets and landscapes of MOCA’s current and future locations. A screen-printed mural on a glass partition depicts an evolving streetscape that viewers can walk along.

Juhsz is known for recreating and reshaping ideas by manipulating digital images into surreal artwork and then photographing them. His eye-catching work explores the theme of a moving transition, reflecting a balance between architecture and nature.

During the exhibit, a board on the wall will invite guests to share memories and moments of inspiration from MOCA’s old space.

“Guests can share what they like about MOCA and what they look forward to at the brand-new gallery,” says marketing and design director Tom Poole.

The exhibit will run until March 31, when MOCA shuts its doors for the move. It’ll reopen in early October at its new location.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cheering for Team Sawyer

Chef Jonathon Sawyer is ambitious in a good way. He’s always got something new going on, striving to advance his reputation, build his career and get people in the doors of his two restaurants, Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat. And he’s committed to bringing the whole city with him into the spotlight.

That’s why he organized a tweetup to coincide with his appearance as a competitor on Iron Chef America Jan. 22 at 10 p.m. Instead of a simple watch party, attendees are being asked to tweet about the action. The idea is to turn Sawyer into a trending topic on Twitter with Cleveland coming along for the coast-to-coast promotional ride. The free event to be held at Greenhouse Tavern booked-up fast, so another one was offered at Noodlecat. There’s no space left for this one either. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the experience. Invite friends over. Get takeout from either place or make something wonderful to eat while watching and tweeting (use the hashtag #teamsawyer) at home. Pop corn, toss with melted butter, salt and Parmesan and just enjoy the show, without worry about greasy fingers.

The culinary cook-off pits Sawyer against Geoffrey Zakarian, winner of The Next Iron Chef Season 4. The gray-haired contender, who heads up multiple dining establishments in New York City, Miami and Atlantic City, looks more like a natty businessmen than a stove jockey. And he definitely had his work cut out for him going up against the Cleveland team, which included Sawyer’s talented right- and left-hand guys, Jonathan Seeholzer and Brian Goodman.

Abiding by his ironclad contract, Sawyer isn't breathing a word about the secret ingredient or the final outcome of his Food Network battle, but he still has plenty he can say.

“It was hard to portray the entirety of the Tavern style in just five courses,”  he says. “There was so much we wanted to do, but we only had an hour and had to keep it simple. Even so, I am absolutely pleased with the food we produced and how it defined us and the restaurant.”

And, the chef continues, it should be big fun to watch.

“We were super entertaining, loud, laughing and enjoying ourselves in the kitchen just like we always do," he says. “I hope that comes across to the viewers.”

Noting that he’s been in the hot seat before as an assistant when Michael Symon took on the challenge, he adds, “It is awesome and humbling to be the actual competitor instead of the sous chef.”

Another thing Sawyer’s doing for his hometown’s dining scene is hosting pop-ups. He’s using his national connections to bring in really great chefs from other cities to cook in his kitchen and making room for locals to shine too. Three of these one-night-only experiences are scheduled for January and February at Noodlecat: Lee Anne Wong returns to prepare a lunar new year feast on Jan. 21; Fresh Street of Columbus makes Japanese street food on Feb. 2; and Cory Barrett, a trained pastry chef now serving as executive chef at Lola does desserts on Feb. 13. Reservations for Bricks and Mortar Pop-Ups required.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fresh Brewed Tees Catches Tebow Fever

Fresh Brewed Tees has entered a partnership with the NFL Players Association that allows the Cleveland company to produce apparel featuring the league's players. Founder and CEO Tony Madalone announced the agreement earlier this week and marked the occasion with the release of a "Tebow Time" T-shirt ($22).

The process of getting the NFLPA license took more than two months but was expedited by Fresh Brewed Tees' past experience working with Browns players such as Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Josh Cribbs, according to Madalone

"Our history of working with these players and probably a dozen others around the league in some capacity, along with the credibility of being introduced through an agent, allowed us to move forward quicker," he says.

The choice of Tim Tebow should come as no surprise following the Denver Broncos' surprising upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend.

"He was just named America's most popular athlete by ESPN, and broke the Twitter mentions-per-second record," Madalone says. "He's a big name right now."

The Tebow shirt will be followed by others, likely big-name NFL stars such as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, but Madalone can't get into all the details yet.

"We're working on some stuff I can't disclose right now," he says. "But we're definitely interested."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mondays with Moxie

Jan. 9 was the first Pizza Monday at Moxie in Beachwood. The new wood-burning oven was fired up and turning out wonderful pies. I was there to try them at the kickoff for this once-a-week-only special. Right now, there are three versions: a classic red white and green Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomato, Romano and basil; the Funghi made with oyster mushrooms from Killbuck Valley farm, Fontina and a toss of aurugla after it's baked; and a Calabrese topped with slices of spicy salami, fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and slivers of garlic. Don’t ask me to name a favorite because I thought all were superb. photo courtesy of of Michael McElroy

Executive chef Jonathan Bennett and his crew are making hand-shaped, Neapolitan-style rounds, each one beautiful in its irregularity. The crust is really outstanding — thin on the bottom, puffy at the edges, with the right crisp to chewy ratio. Charring, a characteristic of wood-fire baking (Bennnett calls it "leopardness" for the pattern of dark spotting) adds a dark, smoky note. Long-fermenting dough is one of his secrets. Another is a lot of trial and error. A pleasant tempered perfectionist, Bennett admitted to me that he’d spent the month of December experimenting to get every detail right.

“When you’re working with just a handful of simple ingredients, every little thing, every step matters,” he says. In addition, he got schooled in the craft at an intensive, four-day training course taught by certified experts with the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana in Marina del Rey, Calif., where he did nothing but make pizza for 8 to 9 hours each day.

I also had a great, not-your-usual salad composed of juicy marinated grapes, frisee, walnuts and sheep milk feta, and a bowl of heavenly warmed olives. I sampled the meatballs small plate too, not because I needed more food, but because I needed to taste them. Verdict: delicious. I discovered that dipping the thicker pieces of the pizza rim into the red sauce they come in is an excellent idea.

Another incentive to show up here at the start of the work week is that all bottles of wine less than $100 are half price on Mondays. It’s an incredible deal. The server helped me select the terrific Tikal Amorio malbec from Argentina that normally sells for $64.

With the Monday options of pizza and bargain vino, Moxie has managed to redefine when the weekend begins and ends. You might also want to come in on Thursday, Jan. 19. The restaurant is having a whiskey dinner featuring five courses paired with brown spirits from Ireland, Scotland, Kentucky and Tennessee. $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Reservations required, 216-831-5599 or here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Remembering Mary Zunt

The magazine cover is one of our favorites around here: Cleveland councilwoman Mary Zunt clad in an orange coat and hat, and holding a huge cigar. "Women Who Could Be Your Boss," shouted the March 1974 issue's main cover headline.

"People back then were shocked by my photo because they thought I looked outrageous," Zunt recalled with a laugh when we talked to her for our December 2007 35th anniversary issue. "I had to negotiate that shot with the powers that be at Cleveland Magazine. They wanted me to wear a Bunce Brothers suit, a fedora and smoke a cigar, but I said 'no' to the suit and hat. I didn't want to appear too manly."

Zunt died Jan. 6 in a hospital near her California home at the age of 72 (read The Plain Dealer's obituary).

She may be best remembered for her time at City Hall, but she also helped establish PBS channel WVIZ, started a construction company, studied wine-making in France, cooked at a monastery and helped migrant farm workers in California.

As a young woman, she also just happened to crash the inauguration of John F. Kennedy with Mary Rose Oakar. Zunt recounted that story in the pages of our November 2008 issue.

"The best way, we figured, was to attach ourselves to those who were invited," Zunt said. "Mary Rose walked in through the hotel kitchen on the arm of a Navy violinist, and I followed a Kennedy family member from the front entrance unnoticed. While the Navy band played 'Hail to the Chief,' we stood three feet from Jackie Kennedy, JFK, Lady Bird and LBJ, all in evening attire for Frank Sinatra's gala that night at the Armory."

In addition to Zunt's exemplary public achievements, she also raised four children as a single mom.

"It's been a wonderful life," she told us in 2007. "I'm delighted that our daughters have so many choices today, but I hope they appreciate what a tough road it was for us. Many men didn't like us back then — and even a lot of women — but we're here now and we're not going away."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Novelist Thrity Umrigar Kicks Off Book Tour in Lakewood Tonight

Cleveland author Thrity Umrigar appears at Rozi’s Wine House in Lakewood tonight, one of five local appearances she's making to promote her new novel, The World We Found.

The novel, released Tuesday, bridges her two disparate worlds: contemporary America and the India she knew in her youth.

Born in Bombay, Umrigar grew up in a home where books and flowers were considered indulgences.

“Every time I brought fresh flowers home, I would get a lecture on saving my money, not wasting it,” she tells Stuart Warner in "Life In Motion," Warner's profile of Umrigar in the January issue of Cleveland Magazine.

In 1983, Thrity Umrigar left her family and flew to the United States. Inspired by Joan Baez’s doleful song “Banks of the Ohio,” she headed to Ohio State University, where she received her masters in journalism. Umrigar turned to writing novels after writing for newspapers for nearly 20 years.

“There were things I wanted to say, worlds I wanted to describe, people I wanted to memorialize," she tells Warner. “None of that was possible in journalism.” Her second book, The Space Between Us, became an international hit.

The World We Found tells the story of four Indian women who grew apart 30 years ago. In their youth, they wanted to change the world, but life took them away from their youthful idealism. One made the bold decision to marry a Muslim, who became a conservative fundamentalist after. Another moved to America. Diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, she invites her friends to the U.S. in hopes of a reunion.

Thrity Umrigar will also be signing her book at the Woodmere Barnes and Noble (28801 Chagrin Blvd.) January 10 at 7 pm, the Hudson Library (96 Library Street) January 12 at 7 pm, the Berea branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library (7 Berea Commons) January 14 at 2 pm, and the Coventry Village Library (1925 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights) February 1 at 7 pm.

Tonight’s event at Rozi’s Wine House, 14900 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, is a benefit for the Lakewood Public Library. Tickets, $35, can be purchased online or at the door.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Something Southern on the West Side

We had a birthday to celebrate last week so the husband and I decided to take our son and daughter-in-law to SoHo Kitchen and Bar. The new Ohio City spot with the Southern accent has only been open since Nov. 17, and this was a first visit for us all. Definitely won’t be the last.

(By the way: it might seem to some that I write about this neighborhood often. Don't blame me. I'm not showing favoritism. It's just that so much has been happening in the area around the West Side Market lately. The district has become one of our most exciting dining destinations on either side of the river.)

Since toasts were on the agenda, drinks were essential. SoHo has an intriguing list of specialty cocktails. The only problem was choosing … and then convincing everyone else to give me a taste. On the table were the most excellent and seriously strong Corpus Christi made with moonshine (white unaged whiskey), tomato water, lime and hot sauce, topped with pickled veggies on stick and a salted rim; the fruity Coral Gables, mix of tequila, passion fruit, fresh orange juice, and pomegranate grenadine (dangerously easily going down); and the Savannah with tea-infused vodka, honey lemonade and hibiscus syrup that had me thinking sunshine, porch swings and summer sipping. Happily, though there will be no porches or swings, there will be seating outside for about 40 when the warm (I mean really show some skin warm, not just unseasonably, leave your mittens at home mild) weather returns. The husband chose a South Carolina IPA-RJ Racker’s Bell Ringer from the great list of microbrews that’s nicely organized by type.

Every table gets fluffy buttermilk biscuits (one per person) on the house. We slathered on the sea salted honey butter and apple-berry preserves and disappeared them embarrassingly fast. Luckily, the starters we ordered to share came soon after, but we devoured them quickly too, right down to the last crumb and crumble because one bite kept leading to another. It’s hard to take it slow when stuff is this good. See for yourself: Get the Pimento Cheese Dip with fresh BBQ chips or the S'uthern Snacks, a board of artisanal cheeses, shavings of country ham, the fine Surryano American prosciutto from Edwards & Sons, with pickled pluots (apricot plum hybrid), which Chef/owner Nolan Konkoski brines in vinegar, orange juice, cinnamon and a bit of Creole mustard.

I then moved on to, and loved, his duck gumbo with shrimp andouille, okra (done perfectly, no glueyness) and rice plus crawfish and crab fritters with spicy slaw. I also sampled shrimp and grits; buttermilk-fried chicken and sweet potato waffles, sloshed in bourbon maple syrup; and a bite of catfish Po' Boy with hot pepper remoulade. Stuffed but not daunted, we shared a plate of small beignets with dark chocolate and blackberry jam and pecan pie with bourbon-brown butter ice cream.

They are currently only serving dinner Tuesday through Saturday but will be adding Sunday brunch beginning Jan. 15 and Friday and Saturday lunches later in the month. Konkoski told me he’ll be starting monthly whiskey dinners in February, most likely on Monday evenings, throughout the year. I, for one, can hardly wait for these additional opportunities to enjoy his cooking and the special Southern hospitality he and partner Molly Smith have brought to us here on the north coast.