Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hot Diggity Dog

Why should carnivores have all the fun? Faced with classic baseball fare, there’s not a lot that vegetarians can stomach. Enter Field Roast Grain Meat Co.

Progressive Field began offering the company’s vegetarian franks on July 5. It’s the third major-league baseball stadium to sell the Seattle-based company’s veggie Frankfurter, along with Safeco Field in Seattle and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

“The veggie dog category is pretty old in terms of being established in the industry,” says Field Roast’s president, David Lee. “Those products were very kind of pasty, heavily emulsified, and they really, I thought, gave vegetarian products a bad name.”

Field Roast makes its veggie dogs from grains, tomato paste, paprika and fresh onion and garlic. Thanks to the tomato paste and paprika, the dog has a reddish-orange tint similar to a flavored kielbasa. It costs $9.50, or 75 cents more than a traditional hot dog.

Lee started Field Roast 15 years ago to provide meatless products for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Its vegan Italian sausage is the hot dog alternative at the Happy Dog in Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.

“There are a lot of people out here who are veggie-friendly, not necessarily vegetarian, but who enjoy vegetarian products and know it’s a healthy way to eat,” says Lee.

Instead of fueling up before games, Cleveland vegetarians can come hungry to Progressive Field.

“I never knew there were any veggie options here [at the stadium], so I would just drink beer and eat pretzels,” says Cody Pike, 29, from Euclid. He’s a volunteer for Veggie Happy, an advocacy group that encourages baseball stadiums to offer vegetarian and vegan food.

“I think it’s very impressive that we are included with San Francisco and Seattle as the only three [offering Field Roast’s veggie dogs],” says Pike, who is raising his 8-month-old son vegan. “It’s a pat on the back that we’re paying attention.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Things are Heating Up for Accent

I had lunch last Friday at a private, one time only pop-up along with my husband Barney and the Taxel Image Group crew. We were at Ace Fixtures on E. 61st Street and our hosts were Scott Kim and Michael Lyons. The occasion was a thank you for super-effort my husband and his team put into making photographs for Accent, the University Circle restaurant the pair are opening sometime in September, now up on the newly launched website.

It was also a chance for the Kim, who owns SASA Japanese Bistro on Shaker Square, and Lyons to continue experimenting with the Robata Grill and the Josper Oven. These two pieces of equipment will be the focal point of Accent’s kitchen and menu. They burn special low smoke hardwood charcoal, can be used indoors and get up to 1000 degrees. This intense high-heat dramatically changes the cooking process and the two chefs admit they are still learning about its potential…and problems. “This is our fourth practice run,” Mike told me. “The first time we crashed and burned, literally.” “We didn’t really understand the incredible power we had at our fingertips,” Scott adds.

We were the first “outsiders” to get a look at the three tiered grill and the ceramic lined oven, and to taste what they can do. It was quite a feast (with a sound track provided by guys at work and the hum of a motorized forklift). There were grilled Korean short ribs, steaks, mackerel fillets, green and yellow squash slices (plus an amazing sauce made with grilled tomatoes and red onions); roasted fingerlings, Brussels sprouts, corn brushed with a cilantro butter, chicken flavored with a spicy Asian bbq sauce, and Portobello mushroom caps stuffed with lamb (they’ve perfected a vegan version of this dish using tofu). The speed at which all this cooked was astonishing. But even more astounding was the texture and taste: vegetables browned and caramelized without being soft, watery or over cooked; meats, poultry and fish were lush, displaying that appealing combination of moist and juicy flesh beneath a crispy seared exterior.

These are the kinds of things they’ll be serving at Accent so my experience- without the warehouse ambiance- can be yours, soon. Scott believes Accent will be the first, and only restaurant in the country to have both the Robata Grill and Josper Oven. From my initial encounter I’d say they provide a powerful motivation to give this new place a try when it opens. Factor in the talents of Kim and Lyons, the fantastic location in the emerging Uptown development, and –based on the architects’’ renderings that I’ve seen- the fabulous setting this promises to be one of the most exciting places in Cleveland to eat.

photos by Barney Taxel

Friday, July 20, 2012

Czeching Out Czech Day

Meet Frank: a small, slightly balding 91-year-old man who likes to smile and occasionally wink at girls.

Less than two minutes after we arrived at the annual Cesky Den, or to us, Czech Day, he had us dancing. One-by-one he whisked both of us into a spirited polka. Amidst other dancing couples, the faint smell of sauerkraut and the folksy music of the Fred Ziwich Band, we tried to keep up with the man. Let’s just say several toes were stepped on.

You wouldn’t expect more than some squirrels and old houses tucked in the woods of Auburn Township. And for the most part, you’d be right. Yet last Sunday, hundreds of Czechs gathered at the DTJ ("Delnicke Telocvicne Jednoty" or "Workers' Gymnastic Union") Farm for Cesky Den.

A polka band complete with an accordion and wooden claves stood coolly playing at the front of the room as elderly couples twirled around center court. At tables on either side, people ate foods ranging from goulash to tripe soup.

We decided to try the goulash dinner, for $11, served over dumplings, allowing for the savory gravy to soak into the bread. Dinner was topped off with kolacky, a doughy pastry. We tried the ones with apple and raspberry filling. It was like visiting a Czech grandmother in her hometown and eating the meal she cooked before sending us to polka again. We wanted more kolacky for the road, but within 20 minutes, most of the giant trays were empty.

Czech Day proceeds go to three local Czech cultural centers, including Cleveland’s Bohemian National Hall, built in 1896.

“There is a big Czech community in Cleveland; there always has been,” said Deborah Gehring, who’d just come from the dance floor. (The Czech population is one of the city’s oldest and largest, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, with 37,000 people in the 1990s.) Both of Gehring’s parents are from the former Czechoslovakia, and she attended Czech school for six years: two hours after her normal school day, twice a week, to learn Czech songs, dances, history and the language.

The makeshift bar was still crowded as the songs and dancing were winding down at 6 p.m. As we were buying a Cesky Den T-shirt, we ran into a familiar face: Frank again, requesting a final dance. We happily obliged and were pleasantly surprised by his vivacity, though being of extremely slight Eastern European heritage, both of us still had a hard time keeping the pace.

A few miles down the road, we decided we are definitely coming back next year. — Allison Gray & Katie Naymon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shining a Light on Dinner in the Dark

How can you not love these people? They work on their day off for no pay. They prepare incredible food, giving guests a truly unique dining experience. And they donate the profits from the sale of tickets to a local charity. I’m talking about Dinner in the Dark, the roving meal events organized by Brian Okin of Luxe and Amp 150’s Jeffrey Jarrett, and the participating professionals. Each month a mixologist and six or more chefs come together at a selected restaurant and each one prepares a course. They’re free to color outside the lines, flex their creative muscles and cook whatever they wish. The roster’s always changing. I was a guest at the July dinner benefiting The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland held in Crop’s basement vault and was impressed from beginning to end both with what was served (as well as the wine pairings) and the spirit behind it all.
A welcome cocktail arrived moments after I was shown to my seat. Nathan Burdette (Crop), whipped up what he called a Sangrita Construct featuring aged Herradura Reposado tequila, flavored with Peychaud’s Bitters, lime, and a gelatin foam cap that made me think of whipped cream on jello. An ice cube made from tomato juice, orange juice, and orange cordial spiked with ancho chili powder, chipotle powder, onion powder and lime zest added character. The Amuse Bouche by host Steve Schimoler was an excellent crab salad with white truffle, fennel, and red onion on pain au lait.

Course #1 really knocked me out: smoked sturgeon done sous vide in bacon fat and smoked butter with red currant jam, smoked creme fraiche, chicken cracklins, fennel fronds, chile. The fish was just plush and I couldn’t get over how well all the flavors came together for a wholly original taste experience. Credit for it goes to Andrew Gorski, someone I knew nothing about even though he’s been cooking at the Tremont Tap House for the past 13 months. This Culinary Institute of America grad has some impressive names on his employment history including David Burke’s Modern American Cuisine, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, and Alain Ducasse’s Mix. Came back to Cleveland, his hometown, to live near family. I have no doubt he’s a talent to watch.

Eric Williams (Momocho) did Course #2: chicken and turkey albondingas (meatballs), with a vibrant tomatillo mole that was lick the bowl delicious. Adam Lambert (Bar Cento) was responsible for Course #3, an intriguing presentation of twenty-six hour brined beef tongue accented with powdered caraway and pickled mustard seeds. Next up was a refreshing salad of homegrown mixed greens, ricotta salada, roasted Ohio peaches, pork cracklins from Mike Nowak who will soon open The Black Pig on W. 25th Street.
Nolan Konkoski (SOHO Kitchen & Bar) really showed what he could do with a Brunswick Stew of chicken, rabbit, duck, and vegetables in broth and finished with an egg yolk- the dish managed to be rich and nuanced while also feeling light and summery. The ending, courtesy of pastry chef Lindsey Auten (Crop), was delightful brown butter and blueberry financier (cake) with lemon cream cheese frosting, lemon curd, and blueberry coulis. No one in my line of sight left even a crumb on the plate. Every cook came out to tell us about his or her preparations, heralded by Schimoler banging on a pot with a spoon to get our attention.

Portions were just right- small enough so I didn’t get full too soon but enough so I could enjoy the dish and really experience what the chef intended. Some tables are full of couples and friends. Mine was mostly strangers but we introduced ourselves and came together with a starting toast to food and fun. In the three hours that followed the conversations never flagged. I didn't learn until the very end that I was seated near Andrew Gorski's dad Peter, who proudly presented his to me as we were saying our goodbyes. It was a memorable evening in every way and one I won’t soon forget. Tickets are already on sale for the next Dinner in the Dark, to be held at The Black Pig August 13th. Get yours now. I mean right now. Before it's sold out. You’ll be so glad you did.

All photos by Tom Noe, courtesy of Dinner in the Dark

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This MOCA Isn't Coffee, and It's Coming to Cleveland

Jill Snyder gestured to a dirt lot scarred with tire marks and dotted with piles of gravel, explaining how in just a few months, that same space will be occupied by a tree-lined plaza.

Snyder, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland’s executive director, was one of about 50 people mingling and marveling at MOCA’s new house of art in University Circle during its “signing off” event yesterday. Donors and members of MOCA’s board signed the building’s stainless steel cladding with permanent marker, marking the completion of its exterior.

The building is an odd shape. It resembles a bulging Chinese takeout container, but one for a king, or maybe Batman. The outside, although black, reflects the sun and the surrounding environment, giving it a look that’s dark and edgy, yet somehow colorful and interactive at the same time. The chic exterior almost teases passersby, with windows showing off only certain segments of the museum.

The new building, at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road, opens Oct. 8, replacing MOCA’s old house in the former Cleveland Play House complex in Midtown. The move is a product of “opportunity and necessity,” said Stewart Kohl, a MOCA board member and co-chair of the building campaign. The old location “wasn’t convenient to our constituency.”

The building itself is a work of art that will complement the pieces on display. A virtual tour shows broad white staircases, Navy blue outer walls and light fixtures illuminating art on white inner walls.

The $35 million project involved a decade-long effort from brainstorming to completion, but only took 16 months to construct. More than 60 donors gave $25,000 or more, with several more contributors at lower levels.

The museum is expected to be a central fixture in University Circle’s Uptown district, a new retail and residential neighborhood.

Snyder and Kohl addressed the small crowd, which Kohl dubbed “MOC-ites.” They ranged from elderly art lovers to yellow-vested Donley’s construction workers clad in hard hats. Many ate Sweetie Fry ice cream as they stood in the sun. One woman described the move as “wonderful.”

“I love the architecture,” said Elaine Harris Green, an abstract painter who donated $10,000 to the effort. “I can’t wait to go inside and see the art.”

Kohl, who had just returned to Cleveland on a flight from New York, noted how he could see the building “clear as a bell” from the sky, which prompted some ooh-ing and ahh-ing from the audience.

“And the finishing won’t just be the bricks and mortar, but it’ll be the lights and the program and the people that this is going to generate,” Kohl said.

“This is going to become one of the most exciting corners in Ohio, if not the U.S.”

Brunch a La Lithuanian

Chef Vytauras Sasnauskas (Americano) invited me to join him for Sunday brunch at his club. But this was no ordinary omelets and pancakes meal with a view of the golf course. We met on E. 185th Street in the dining room of the Lithuanian Village and Community Center. The buffet featured traditional ethnic dishes from his home country. Before we set the date, he checked in to be sure that I like pork, potatoes and bacon— what he called “the three Lithuanian food groups.”

The spread is nothing fancy and would not qualify as light, but dishes are full of heart and history. Everything was tasty, plentiful, and out-of-the-ordinary for me. Luckily I was part a group that included Paulius Nasvytis (owner, The Velvet Tango Room) and Kristina Kuprevicius Dunn (VP Marketing, Judson) who like Chef V grew up eating this way. They provided a guided tour for every bowl and plate, telling me about the versions made by their own mothers, fathers, and generations of forbears, sharing the ins and outs of koseliena (think head cheese, which is not a dairy product…enough said) and zemaitiski blynai (crepes).

One of the best bites was the simplest: slices of bread pan fried in oil, rubbed with raw garlic and sprinkled with salt. Dangerously addictive. The feasting began in earnest with cold beet soup, served with roasted potatoes and sour cream on the side. Then we moved on to cepelinai, aka zeppelins, a reference to the shape of this stuffed potato dumpling; kugelis, a potato pudding that’s cooked with bacon, onions and eggs and served with more onions and bacon plus sour cream; cabbage rolls stuffed with ground pork; and koldunai, sort of mini-sized pierogi, also filled with ground pork and dressed in…bacon and sour cream.

There were many different Lithuanian beers on the table (only members can order alcohol). The fact that I tasted all of them probably accounts for my inability to remember the name of even a single one. According to Chef V, the groundwater there is high in minerals and very good for brewing. It tastes better drunk in in-country, he explains, before trans-ocean travel and warehouse storage. With any luck, someday I can find out if this is true.

For dessert we had “tree cake.” It could be said to look like a evergreen. But to me it had the appearance of a beach construction— the sort of chunky tower made by dropping blobs of wet sand. To create the this bit of confection, a sweet and buttery batter is baked in layers on the same sort of rotisserie used for gyros. You can actually buy the cakes online or order via email

The wood paneled dining room features intricate carvings and ethnic artwork. The place seems both out of time and far from its North Collinwood address. It’s open to the public for brunch every Sunday from 11:30 AM-1:30 PM. And there is no better deal in town: the cost is just $10.75 per person for all you care to eat. Parties larger than six should call to make reservations, 216-531-2131. It’s located at 877 E. 185 street right next to post office, but entrance is in the back of the building, off the parking lot.

Friday, July 6, 2012

From Talent Show to the Rock Hall: Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings Plays Summer Series Wednesday

In 2008, Dylan Baldi was one of many students playing an instrument in Westlake’s talent show, The Green and White Revue. The program included a blank page for autographs, an idea that seemed laughable.

From the catwalk hanging over the audience of Westlake High School’s Performing Arts Center, I shined the massive spotlight on Irish dancers, baton twirlers and cute four-foot-tall elementary school pianists who punched the ivory keys as if they were those of a typewriter. What were the chances that any of them would produce a signature that someone might actually look back on?

No one knew that just a year later, Baldi would drop out of Case Western to begin writing songs. Or that his band, Cloud Nothings, would become one of the country’s fastest growing indie bands, featured in the New York Times and Rolling Stone and touring the United States and Europe. Or that, this Wednesday, Baldi, will play in front of the temple of musical greats: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Cloud Nothings just returned to the United States after playing two shows in Japan, performing in Osaka and in Tokyo before a crowd of 2,000.

“They actually know who we are, which doesn’t make any sense to me,” Baldi says. “It was pretty weird to go over there and play for that many people.”

Cloud Nothings’ live set relies heavily on their newest album, Attack on Memory, recorded in Chicago and released this Jan. 24. Baldi describes it as more complex than his previous record.

“Every time I sit down to write a song, I want to do something new with it that I haven’t tried yet,” he says. He hopes to keep moving farther away from his start, determined that experimenting with sound will push his music to a better level. Cloud Nothings’ edgy, alternative style is certainly a product of evolution from where he started as a little kid: piano lessons and the saxophone.

Now music is Baldi’s full time job. His songs, once written solo, are now truly a collaboration. “I write the words and the melody and my guitar part, but whatever [the other band members are] playing, they figure it out on their own for the most part.”

Attack on Memory recently made MTV’s "Best Albums of 2012 (So Far)" list. An autograph no longer seems far-fetched.

Cloud Nothings will kick off the Rock Hall’s Summer in the City Series this Wednesday at 7 p.m. with Herzog, another Cleveland indie rock band. The free concert will take place in the plaza outside the museum, or inside in the event of rain.

Weekend Tour is Only Chance to Explore Bridge & Subway This Year

Tomorrow from 9 am to 3 pm, the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge opens for its annual free tour.  The  old streetcar level is one of the city's strangest, most fascinating places, and Saturday is the only day the bridge will be open this year.

Exploring the bridge, officially known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge, has become a staple of Cleveland's summertime culture. The Cuyahoga County public works department has been offering tours on holiday weekends for about ten years -- three times a summer for a while -- and the bridge also became the Ingenuity Festival's home.  But Ingenuity is moving to the docks behind Browns Stadium this September, and the engineer's tours are down to one a year. July 7 is your only chance to visit.

Visitors can walk the entire mile-long lower level and explore Cleveland's "subway," the underground streetcar stations at West 25th and West 9th streets. The stations, closed off when streetcars stopped running in 1954, have the spooky look of ruins but the grandeur of classic engineering and a time-capsule feel.

Various exhibits will line the bridge, and streetcar films will play in a theater-like alcove near the entrance off Superior Viaduct. The Bridge Project, an organization that wants to open the lower level as a pedestrian and bike corridor, will stage meetings inside the bridge during the tour.

To see more pictures of the bridge during the tours, see this blog post.

To watch Jasper Wood's "Streetcar," a short film from the 1950s that shows streetcars crossing the bridge and passing the West Side Market and other landmarks, click here.

For our blog coverage of past Ingenuity events on the bridge, from a speakeasy party to a 130-foot waterfall, click here and here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Emerging Chefs Take Their Tasty Treats to Tremont

When I envisioned the location of the Emerging Chefs event, “The Last Tango in Tremont,” I thought of a beautifully structured restaurant I’d spot immediately. Turns out, I passed it twice before seeing a small neon sign in the upper-left corner of the tall window that read “The Velvet Tango Room.”

The brick building looked like every other house on the street. I wasn’t positive I was at the right place until I opened the door and was overwhelmed by the vision painted in my head weeks earlier by Michael DeAloia, co-owner of Emerging Chefs, a Cleveland based pop-up restaurant company.

“There’s little black holes everywhere in Cleveland, and this is one of them,” said Jennifer Rome of Willoughby. Her table of five, including husband, Matthew, and Velvet Tango fan Kimberly Morris of Ohio City, are regulars of Emerging Chef events.

The July 2 event, the 17th for Emerging Chefs, featured the culinary skills of Chef Brian Rosander, owner of Rosander Ice Cream Parlour and Sweet Shoppe in Berea.

“He’s an underdog chef,” said DeAloia. “That’s the point of Emerging Chefs, to spot upcoming talent and give them the opportunity to take the next jump.”

There were five small courses, or acts, as the menu called them.

“When people eat smaller courses, they feel more rested,” said Rosander. “It allows you to eat more food.”

Each pairing consisted of a chilled dish with a complementing cocktail. Rosander prepared the dishes while the Velvet Tango Room selected the cocktails.

“We give the chef total creative control,” said Rick Turner, co-founder of Emerging Chefs. “We trust the chefs to take it and run with it.”

Act 1 was a summery pea bisque, served with fresh crab, and a White Lotus cocktail. The hint of honey and lemon in the drink illuminated the light, creamy, smooth mix of sweet taste in the soup.

Morris was in awe of the cherries served in the Manhattan, which accompanied American and Purple Majesty potatoes with Toulouse sausage topped with a blue cheese froth.

“They may be the highlight of the night,” Morris said as her friends nodded in agreement.

It was a great pairing, as long as you like bourbon. If you’re like me, it’s not quite my style, but my taste buds sang when a White Russian was served with a ginger fruit tartare and rosemary ganache to end the evening.

As tantalizing as all the pairings were, there was one act that outshined the rest: The tomato tarte tatin served over chicken mousseline with an Apricot Lady cocktail. I’m not a fan of chicken. It’s usually too dry, tasteless. However, this chicken is something I’ll talk about for years. The juices in the tomato soaked through the meat and created a dish so moist and full of flavor that it left everyone who tasted it feeling on top of the clouds.

This was my first Emerging Chefs event, but definitely not the last. Being of Italian heritage, I’m especially looking forward to the next pop-up restaurant at St. Rocco’s Church on August 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. This event will capture the talents of Chef Jeff Fisher as he prepares large dishes spread out on communal tables to immerse the audience in a genuine Italian family dinner.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

King of the (Bar Food) Jungle

Motivated by a combination of three things – proximity, hunger, and the buzz about this unusual spot – four of us decided to do a spontaneous drop-in at the Lion on Lorain.

Here’s what we knew: it was on the west side, (127th and Lorain Road), and so were we; it was open (on a Sunday); we craved bar food and had heard that what they did here was way better than average; we didn’t have to dress up and wouldn’t spend a lot of money which was exactly the kind of evening out this group had in mind. What we found was even better than what we expected and guaranteed that we’d all be returning, soon and often.

Jason Wagner took over the former shot and beer venue after it had been shuttered for four years and reopened it last July. The place defies categories and cannot be easily pigeonholed. Is it a watering hole for sports fans, a bikers welcome hang out, a neighborhood tavern or a gastropub? It is no one of these but a bit of all of them, a surprising and welcoming hybrid with a nothing-fancy look, paper lined plastic baskets instead of china, and a kick ass menu of stuffed and stacked sandwiches, inventive burgers and dogs, tacos, and fried potatoes at prices that were astonishing for the quality and quantity.

We started off with some trikes, three smoked rib bones and sauce, and a basket of onion rings to share, both delicious, plus beers— the selection’s outstanding and full of interesting craft brews. We agonized over what versions of meat-in-bread to order because just about everyone was appealing. Final choices were:
- The Mississippi, a smoked and barbequed pork panini with cheese sauce and a fried egg
-The Irishman, a burger with smoked corned beef, crispy potato, cole slaw and Swiss cheese
-The Cuban, slow roasted pork loin, ham Swiss, pickles, bacon, house mustard
-The West Park, the corned beef and crispy potato with jalapeno slaw, Swiss, and fried egg

These are mostly big, man vs. food sized monsters requiring two hands and some mouth stretching to get a full top to bottom bite. And they are so so good. Wagner deserves the credit for coming up with these crazy combos. But they’re even better because he recently partnered up with Walter Hyde and Scott Slagle, the guys from Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia(much as management at ROC Bar did- I wrote about that in May. These two do the slow cooking and smoking out there and haul their most excellent meat into town. Hyde’s two sons, Ryan and Devin are now manning the Lion kitchen so the two independent businesses have become, according to Wagner, one big and very happy family.

I’d been told the sweet potato tots were not to be missed. Sadly, they were out of them by the time we arrived. I was planning to get them next time but Jason told me they’ll likely be gone. “When we started with that idea nobody around here was doing anything like them. Now they’re everywhere so I have to dream up something really new and different.” No doubt he will.

Update. Just found out three things: The Lion's now serving Sunday brunch; they're throwing themselves a one year anniversary party, with live music, July 19; and Wagner just got word that an executive producer with the Travel Channel is planning to stop by in August.