Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pairing Up

Some things are just meant to go together: Socks and shoes, Tom and Jerry, food and wine.

Amp 150 played off the latter with a special dinner for 30 guests — pairing wines from Argentina with chef Jeff Jarrett's inventive cuisine.

"We're here to have a good time and eat some good food," said Jarrett.

Each of the five courses were teamed up with wines selected by Wine Trends' Andy Moore, who was on hand to educate all of us on his selections. "A lot of winemakers from Italy are learning that Argentina is very similar to Napa Valley," said Moore.

The first course of fois gras on a crispy brioche, topped with lychee and an apricot chutney might have been on the smaller side, but packed a lot of flavor. Sips of the citrusy Zuccardi Serie A Torrontes balanced the rich, decadent dish. "This is a great fruit wine," said Moore. "It's an ABC wine — anything but chardonnay."

A take on surf and turf, the second course of shredded short ribs and scallops came with a tangy beet puree and a crispy potatoes (above). I constructed the perfect bite on my fork, making sure I had all the different textures and a healthy dose of the vibrantly colored puree. Moore paired it with Santa Julia Organica Chardonnay, a wine with notes of pineapple and pair and hints of vanilla.

Next up was a whole grilled quail served with a pomegranate reduction and a sunny side up quail egg. Moore again selected a wine from Santa Julia Organica — this time a malbec. This savory wine gave off hints of cedar, lavender and black cherry

For me the best course of the night belonged to the fourth course (above). Every single component on the plate worked so well together — the tender bison, tangy red currant puree, slices of pickled plum, asparagus and crispy potatoes (or potato glass as Jarrett called it) — that I quickly devoured the dish before anyone else at my table. 

Moore picked another wine by Santa Julia Organic. The cabernet, which was probably my favorite out of the three (and I am not a huge red wine fan) has a nice, deep ruby color and lighter, soft finish with hints of oak and berry flavors.

To wrap up the meal, Jarrett prepared a peach trio: a grilled peach with mascarpone, a peach granita that was refreshing and deep and the unanimous favorite at the table — a peach cobbler. It reminded me of walking into my grandma's kitchen just as she pulled one of her pies of out the oven to cool.

Moore ended the night with a glass of Norton Cosecha Tardia. Harvest late in the season, the wine has aromas of flowers and peaches and was definitely my favorite of the evening. I will be searching for a bottle of this the next time I hit up the grocery store.

To find out more about Amp 150's next pairing dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 2, visit Jarrett was still finalizing details, but did tell us he will partner with a brewery this time around.

The Taste of Fusion

Chef Steve Schimoler knows how to blend cooking and science as well as anyone. His definition of simplicity, however, could use a bit of work.

“[The dishes] are actually deceptively simple. I don’t overcomplicate stuff,” said Chef Steve of his culinary concoctions. “The smoked trout, we finally got it perfected now. It only took me 15 years to get it right.”

It is that commitment to his craft that has lifted the current owner of Crop Bistro & Bar in Ohio City to national notoriety, warranting showcases such as The Fusion of Food and Science at the Great Lakes Science Center on Monday night. Chef Steve, who has been featured on Food Nation, the PBS MasterChef series and served as a two-term president of the Research Chefs Association, is notorious for his innovative creations that mesh food and science in order to attain distinctive dishes that are both tasty and healthy.

“The whole foundation of cooking is science. It’s all about heat transfer and physics and chemistry,” said Chef Steve. “What we’re going to do is get more in-depth to understand the physiological and psychological connection of how we eat.”

The evening, which played host to more than 125 VIP guests from prominent local businesses, began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The two specialty drinks featured were a watermelon margarita and a Caprese salad “appitini” — a fusion of a food appetizer and a martini.

Caprese salad "appitini"

Cherry tomato veggie bombs (stuffed with vegetable cream cheese), Cropspacho shooters (with yellow peaches, carrots and cucumbers), steak truffled mushroom crostinis (with grilled rib-eye, asiago and goat cheese, and a trio of mushrooms) and the now-perfected trout cakes (with smoked trout, celery, apple and horseradish crème fresh) were just a few of the creations accompanying the beverages.

Cropspacho shooter and smoked trout cake

This was followed by a quick culinary experiment for those in attendance, using vanilla and different milks and creams to examine the impact fat content has on taste. Each attendee was presented with 2 percent milk, half-and-half and heavy cream. Using a dropper, small dribbles of vanilla were placed in the 2 percent milk until it reached a distinctive vanilla flavor for each individual. The same amount of vanilla was then added into the half-and-half and heavy cream before being tasted, displaying how the higher the fat content, the less vanilla flavor that came through. Chef Steve was able to show and tell how a lack of fat, sugar or salt in a dish does not also invoke a lack of taste.

Our food experimentation station

The final treat of the night was a demonstration by Chef Steve on how he prepares his crème anglaise, as well as a bit of his own background and history in the “food-science” field.

“My father was a veterinarian, and I grew up very heavily involved in science and biology. The cooking part was because we entertained a lot,” said Chef Steve, all while preparing his signature dessert sauce. “I was always intrigued by the influence of science and food. From an early age, I tried to understand what, 35 years later, I’m doing tonight.”

Each guest was able to try the crème anglaise poured over a dessert of cornbread, mixed fresh berries, cracked black pepper, basil, tarragon and balsamic syrup. Chef Steve’s crème anglaise uses less eggs and 2 perent milk instead of cream to bring the fat content down, while also mixing in fenugreek, a rare spice found in curry. The trick of fenugreek is that it adds a maple smell and taste to the dish without adding any unwanted fat or calories.

The cornbread and berries dessert, covered in créme anglaise

A quick Q&A session was interspersed among the bites of dessert, with Chef Steve continuing to stick to his simplistic guns.

“People take for granted the most basic things: Boiling water is science,” said Chef Steve. “When you look at how we approach cooking, I look at it more analytically in the sense that I’m trying to understand what impact those roles — the physics of cooking — play.”

Even with Chef Steve Schimoler’s guidance, understanding the scientific aspect was still a tad challenging. But tasting the difference? That was easy. 

Remembering Sergio

I still have — and use — a rolodex. With paper cards. It’s around 20 years old. I like its substance, solidity, it’s 3D-ness. I can trace family, friends, and colleagues over the years — their travels and journeys from job to job and home to home by the lines drawn through old addresses and phone numbers and the new ones that replaced them. But sometimes my rolodex makes me very sad. That’s when I pull out a card and throw it away. I have done this for people I no longer wish in my life. But more often I have had to do it because a person dies. This happened on Saturday when I learned that chef, restaurateur and friend Sergio Abramof passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last Friday night. I looked at his cell number written out in blue ink and it hit me — I could never call him again. He wouldn’t pick up anymore and give his endearing girlish giggle when I said something that amused him. No more conversations. No more turning to him as a source for an article I was writing, as I had done often in the past. No more. All the possibilities, his possibilities, gone. His birthday was Aug. 23. He was younger than me.

So I want to bring attention to him one last time. To say he was important and did things that mattered. To put his name in print. Sergio Abramof. He was born in Brazil. He graduated from Cleveland Heights High School — just like my three sons. He opened his first restaurant, Sergio’s in 1994. He had another restaurant, Sarava on Shaker Square. Both were popular and wonderful, like the man himself. Playing the drums gave him joy. So did his son, Julian. He hosted a Brazilian dance party one night that I will never forget. He was a good cook, a good guy, a smart businessman, and he tried to do the right thing when it came to his industry and his community. When our mutual friend Annie Chiu, chef/owner of Sun Luck Garden, hit a rough patch a couple of years ago, he organized a fundraiser. I helped, and his generosity was inspiring. We liked and respected each other.

As of this writing, no information has been made public about exactly what happened. It doesn’t really matter. The significant fact is that Sergio was here, with us, and now he’s not. I thought it might be appropriate for this public tribute and farewell to include an edited excerpt from my last interview with him and his mentor and former boss restaurateur Carl Quagliata in 2010 for Cleveland Magazine’s May Silver Spoons issue.

Sergio: I started in ’78. I’d worked for a very short time in a restaurant I really hated. It was my first restaurant experience. I asked my wife, who’s a native Clevelander, what’s the best place in Cleveland to learn to cook. She told me about Quagliata’s White House in Mentor. I went out there to talk to Carl [Quagliata] and asked for a job with no experience basically. He said I just opened this place in Beachwood [Giovanni’s] and I need a cook. Come in tomorrow. I showed up the next day and that was the real beginning of my career. I was there 14 years.

Carl: I hired Sergio because I needed someone in the kitchen. But when he started working I saw right away what kind of person he was. He had character. And the other things you need to succeed in this business: he wanted to please people, he enjoyed making them happy. It has to come from your heart.

Sergio: I know it sounds corny but that is probably the most important thing, and as good a manager, as good a trainer or a teacher as any of us are, those things are not teachable. You have to have a warm heart, the desire to take care of other people, to give hospitality.

Carl: Sergio had it all — the creativity, the mechanics, the managerial skills, the heart and the character. He was the best.

A public memorial service is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 3. 11 a.m. at Berkowitz-Kumin-Bookatz Chapel, 1985 S. Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Worth A Drive

The husband and I just had a lovely weekend get away along the Lake Erie shore. We stayed in Port Clinton at a really nice B&B called The Five Bells: historic home, a pretty piece of property with a great deck overlooking the water. We did some bike riding in East Harbor State Park, soaked up sun, and had picnics in pretty spots. A couple of delightful hours were spent poking around a flea market where we made two excellent finds- a 101/2 inch cast iron skillet for $5 and an old-fashioned hand-held stereoscope viewer with 15 cards- the original version of 3-D bargained down from $95 to $45.

Another happy “find” was Zinc Brasserie in Sandusky. It was highly recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust when it comes to food. (Thank you Marilou). In an area that doesn’t have much to offer in the way of creative cuisine, this place is an oasis and a gem but it would be a stand-out even if the competition was stiff.

It's owned by the husband and wife team of Cesare and Andrea Avallone. He’s the chef and his house made charcuterie platter- the first thing we had- convinced me that he has what it takes to run with the big dogs of Cleveland. That night he offered duck prosciutto, country pork pate, a creamy chicken liver mousse, and seafood mousseline “corn dogs,” with pickled vegetables. The rest of the meal was just as impressive- bucatini with confit duck, butternut squash and asiago; crab cakes; truffle frite. The menu is seasonal with an emphasis on local- so local there were herbs and kale growing in the window boxes on the street front patio- French inspired and pan-Euro styled. Even the bread was excellent. We were willing to splurge on a bottle of wine- and we got something we love, an Amador County, California old vine zin- but it only cost $28. The list has lots of fine options- ranging from $23-$400- and the mark up is much less than most restaurants. You can buy bottles retail to take home too.

The long narrow dining room has an aura far removed from 21st century northeast Ohio. There’s a pressed tin ceiling, reproductions of old French food and drink posters on the walls along with multiple Wine Spectator awards and a chalkboard listing the daily specials in true French bistro fashion. The back bar is all gleaming polished wood and the zinc clad bar top, from which the restaurant takes its name, invokes the traditional Paris café look, which is completed by red velvet drapes at the windows facing the sidewalk. Though the pace was slowing down the restaurant was still busy when we left at 10 PM.

The Avallones also operate Crush, a wine bar featuring small plates almost directly across the street. We didn’t go but I hear it’s also very good. I have every reason to believe that’s true, and even more reason to head out this way again.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cleveland Browns Score a (Culinary) Touchdown

As Brandon Weeden and Co. were warming up in Green Bay last night for their second preseason game, I was stretching out my taste buds at Cleveland Browns Stadium. My goal? To taste all of the new gourmet food options on the club level from three of Cleveland's most popular chefs — Michael Symon, Jonathon Sawyer and Rocco Whalen.

While season ticket holders, who were also invited to the event, lined up as B Spot chef Matt Harlan served up Lola fries (sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt) and the Fat Doug (a burger with coleslaw, pastrami, Swiss and mustard) — I headed to the newest concept, Sawyer's Street Frites.

Chef Sawyer, who was on the line, paused to chat with guests while sporting an awesome Browns hat, posed for pictures and even kicked back with a cold one. "This is a dream come true for both me and Rocco," he said. "We've been dreaming about doing this since we could sit upright."

I grabbed one of Danko's Donuts — a sweet and yeasty beast of a dessert topped with a sticky but delicious sauce — and the gravy frites. An avid cheese connoisseur, the cheese curds are what did it for me. The spicy gravy mixed with the creaminess of the cheese somehow kept the fries crisp instead of soggy, which I wasn't expecting. This was the one dish I completely finished and even contemplated getting more of. (Trust me, it tastes better than it looks.)

Rosie and Rocco's had the most options of the evening with a variety of salads, pizzas and meatballs. Rocco also worked the line, dishing out a variety of meatballs that guests could either sample solo or eat in a sandwich. Knowing that these meatballs were inspired by his mother's recipes, I had to try them.

While Momma Rosie's Meatball with veal, pork, beef, parmesan and marinara was tender and juicy, the one that caught my eye was Rocco's Mozzarella Meatball with fresh basil and parmesan. Lucky for me, I was eating alone, so I was easily able to sneak off into a corner and drink some of the tangy sauce. It was that good. 

Regardless of how the Browns do this year or how much it rains and/or snows, I know I will continue to sport my brown and orange and cheer on the home team — especially with dishes like this to comfort me along the way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Zack Attack

"There's a joke in the food business," says Zack Bruell, as we climb into a limo bus. "What did they do? Just let a bus out in front of here?"

That's exactly what the chef of Parallax, Table 45, L'Albatros, Chinato and Cowell & Hubbard had on the menu for last night.

As part of his third Tour de Bruell, a contest encouraging customers to visit all five of his restaurants from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Bruell hosted a progressive dinner, with one course at each of his restaurants for five winners who completed the tour early. I was lucky enough to score a seat on the bus.

We started off at Table 45 for a first course of sushi, including the popular Table 45 Roll made with tempura shrimp, tuna, cucumber mayo, scallions and a spicy sauce inside, all topped with red tip clams.

While the limo bus chauffeured us around, Bruell shared tales of his culinary journey (for more, read our October 2011 feature: "Does Zack Bruell Finally Have Your Attention?"). He says Cowell & Hubbard has been the hardest restaurant to open due to the size of the space (it's the largest of the five) and menu (it's the biggest and most ambitious). But you'd never notice any of that struggle based on the entree served as part of the tour's second stop — a stuffed poblano pepper filled with shrimp and ricotta cheese. The lime butter sauce was so delicious that even Bruell used his bread to soak up his extra sauce.

"Cowell & Hubbard's menu is reminiscent of what I did in my last life," he says of his first restaurant, Z Contemporary Cuisine. "That restaurant sort of changed the dining scene. People who ate there never forgot it."

While we enjoyed fusilli with oxtail and beef tongue at Chinato and ended the night with cheese and wine pairings at L'Albatros, it was Parallax that offered up my favorite dish. The roasted peaches topped with ricotta were light and refreshing. The arugula salad of pickled red onions, candied walnuts and lemon balsamic vinaigrette were delicate and sweet.

"This place is a little more free-wheeling," he says of his oldest restaurant. "We have a little more fun here."

I joked with my fellow diners about how this dish seems so simple that I might even be able to re-create it at home, but then I realized it's easier (and probably safer) for me to just enjoy whatever Bruell creates. I will be back to have this dish again. And that, at the end of the day, is all the man is after.

"The goal is to make people feel good when they leave," he says.

Mission accomplished.

A Night Out

We wanted a west side location, open on Sunday for a casual after dinner get together with our son and daughter-in-law. We ended up on the patio at Reddstone on W.76th and it proved to be a fine place for late night drinks with lots of August atmosphere.

It’s a really pretty spot, with strings of lights twinkling overhead, plenty of greenery plus a couple of big old trees that provides a leafy canopy. The surrounding fence separates it from the street, providing a sense of intimacy and privacy. Tables are scattered at different heights and angles and there’s a long bar in one corner. While the pub can’t take credit for clear skies, bright stars, and a temperature in the 70’s, they added to the ambience already on tap.

The minute I saw Death’s Door Gin as an ingredient in a cocktail they call the Cucumber Collins I had to have one. I had an opportunity to taste this spirit a couple of years ago when I did some research for Cooking Light Magazine about artisanal products made in the Midwest. This comes from Wisconsin and at that time was not sold in Ohio. The company sent me a bottle to try. I really liked the taste and the story- its distilled from organic sustainably grown and harvested red wheat and foraged juniper berries from Washington Island, plus organic malted barley, coriander and fennel sourced from within the state. You can pick up the botanicals, even in a mixed drink. In this case the dry London style gin was combined with muddled cucumbers, sour mix, and 7-UP. While not necessarily the most sophisticated creation or representative of the high art of from-scratch mixology- it was delicious, not too sweet and so refreshing, I just had to have a second one.
Being a family that shares, my daughter-in-law passed around her mason jar filled to the rim with a mixture of muddled clementine slices- hence the name My Darling Clementine- fresh sage, 360 Georgia Peach vodka and Izze sparkling juice. It too rated high on my personal pleasure scale.

Both drinks has certain summery quality and that got me thinking that the season is already in its final five weeks: fall officially begins September 22. All too soon the heat- which was often miserable this year- will be replaced by biting winds and wet stuff falling from the sky and piling up on driveways and decks. So make time to visit some patios now. There are plenty to love on both sides of town. In addition to Reddstone my personal recommendations- as much for the quality of the food and drink as for the lovely outdoor settings- are, in no particular order, Momocho, L’Albatros, Georgetown, Washington Place, Spice, Greenhouse Tavern rooftop, and of course the one and only Velvet Tango Room

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hip-Hop Zone

Matt Zone (center) and fellow members of Project 5 with singer Claudja Barry, mid-1980s

In 1982, when Matt Zone was 19, he visited his brother in New York City, witnessed break-dancers on 42nd Street and was instantly in awe.

Back home in Cleveland, Zone created Project 5, a hip-hop group inspired by what he had seen in the Big Apple.

Thirty years later, Zone, a Cleveland city councilman, is reuniting Project 5, the city’s preeminent break-dancing crew for the first time in 25 years. This Saturday, they’re opening for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Grandmaster Flash at the House of Blues to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Progressive Arts Alliance.

Be prepared to see some tabletops, backspins, windmills and flares as Zone and other Project 5 members complete synchronized routines and individual dances.

“For us, it didn’t matter about where we came from,” says Zone. “It was all about your craft and what you could do on the dance floor.”

Project 5 is a diverse group; three original members are Puerto Rican and one is African-American, while Zone is white. “It enhanced my skills as a leader,” Zone says, “and what I do today, working with diverse individuals.” Break dancing also connected Zone with his wife; they met at a performance in 1984.

Founded in 2002, the Progressive Arts Alliance is a non-profit organization that inspires young people through the arts and 21st century media. At the alliance's anniversary bash, employees of local workplaces such as Bonbon Pastry and Cafe and the Cleveland Public Library will battle it out on stage to see who has the best dance moves. Guests can learn how to scratch a record by hand, create a custom graffiti hat and make a screen-printed T-shirt.

Although Project 5 disbanded in 1987, Zone says the group is ready to perform again.

“It’s like riding a bike. It wasn’t long until we shook off the rust,” says Zone, who has been rehearsing for the past three weeks.

“We put together what I think is a very solid routine. I think people are going to be quite surprised with what we do.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


For 55 years St. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights has been hosting a summer celebration of Hellenic heritage. This year’s Greek Festival runs, rain or shine, August 23-26. There’s music, dancers, and a flea market, but the biggest attraction for many is the food. What makes each portion of dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava special is that everything served and sold is made in the church kitchen by an army of dedicated volunteers.

They begin gathering weekly, every Monday morning at the end of June. Each session focuses on a particular dish and two big walk-in freezers gradually get filled from floor to ceiling with large foil pans. The diminutive woman in charge is named Aggie and she is undaunted by 50 pound bags of flour and 25 gallon containers of oil.. She’s been running things in the festival kitchen for 17 years and her mother did it before her. I was invited to join these hard-working women (and the few men who also show up to help) for a couple of cookie baking sessions and count myself very lucky to have been there.

I sat with ladies at long tables, shaping dough— one day it was the braided biscuits called koulourakia and the next time it was finikia, ovals dipped in honey syrup and dusted with walnuts. The goal was to produce around 5000 cookies. The money from the sale of all the food goes to charity

Some teenage girls participated but my companions were mostly middle aged and older. The ones who know taught those who don’t. “Make a ball like this, roll it out, then fold like so.” “Don’t handle it too much.” “The secret is a light touch.” “Watch, I’ll show you a better way.” “This is how my grandmother did it. She was a great baker.” Maria, beautiful white haired and impeccably dressed, demonstrated her method of pinching and folding to me— I watched, then imitated her movements and suddenly my cookies looked good enough to take their place on the big baking sheets along with the others.

The big social hall where we worked hummed with multiple conversations, in Greek and English, punctuated by laughter. I eavesdropped on exchanges about children and grandchildren, vacations and health. Some sought me out to be sure I got the story right.

“It’s not me, it’s not her or her. All this food happens because of everybody, the whole group. We could not do what we do here any other way. Each one, from the oldest to the youngest is important.”

“We ladies come in like gang busters, ready to work. “Where’s the dough, the spinach, the cheese? We rest up for these Mondays. Now some bring their husbands who are retired and we need them. Those full pans are getting heavier every year- and every year we make more of them- and we can’t lift them as easily as we did 20 years ago.”

Each gathering ended with lunch that a few prepared for all the rest. On this past Monday, someone put on some Greek music and a few women responded by lifting their hands up over their heads, snapping their fingers, and swaying their hips. It was wonderful to be among these women, to briefly be a part of their community and their effort. I felt a rare and special joy, a sense of connection that warm and enveloping. The room was filled with a beautiful energy and even though I had deadlines looming, articles to write, and interviews to schedule, I did not want to leave. For me the Festival had already begun.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Browns Introduce New Owner Jimmy Haslam

Video courtesy: WKYC

A billion dollars bought Jimmy Haslam a new watch — and an NFL team.

Thirty-three days ago, the new majority owner of the Browns — pending National Football League owners' approval — was a minority shareholder in the Browns' blood rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yesterday, Haslam reached terms with Randy Lerner to buy the Browns for nearly double what Lerner's dad, Al, and Carmen Policy paid for franchise rights in 1998.

And yesterday, with that deal in place, Haslam slipped off his old timepiece, donned a Browns watch, and put the Steel City in his rearview mirror.

Photo: John Reid, Cleveland Browns
“This is a great day for the Cleveland Browns,” said Browns president Mike Holmgren inside the team's chilly Berea practice facility, introducing his new boss, whom he had just met yesterday. The whole transition has been a whirlwind affair. Dressed in an orange tie and plain, powder blue suit, the personable Haslam greeted the Cleveland media in an accent with a just a hint of drawl that conveyed the truck-stop magnate's Tennessee roots. He recounted meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who said he had never seen a deal for a franchise sale come together so quickly.

And for once, it's a bright day for Browns fans. Thousands of hard-bit true believers turned up to Browns camp to watch the team practice on this sweltering afternoon. Despite the muggy weather and a tough allergy season, they were breathing easily for the first time in years. Inside, during the half-hour introductory press conference, Haslam was quick to show his new colors.

“We have one mission,” said Haslam, “to bring winning back to Cleveland.”

Unlike the team's previous owner, Haslam is a proven winner. He made the money for this major investment running Pilot Flying J, the country's largest truck stop chain, which was founded by his father, James Haslam II, with a single gas station in 1958. By the time Jimmy took over, it was a thriving national business, and it has only grown since.

If it's possible to turn around the Browns' dismal record as quickly as it changed hands, Haslam believes he has the team to do it. He cited Holgren's Super Bowl ring and called him a future Hall of Famer, but said he wouldn't comment on any personnel matters, from front office to minority owners, until his ownership is formally approved by NFL franchise owners, tentatively in October.

Haslam described the beleaguered Browns as a “great, iconic, storied franchise.” While he was quick to praise the Pittsburgh team as “a great organization” run by “class people who do things right,” he warmed up to the hometown press by refusing to use the words “Pittsburgh” or “Steelers.”

Haslam also avoided using the following phrases to describe the Browns' record in recent years: “soul-sucking disappointment,” “underachievement” and “wasted opportunities” – though he did note that only two of the teams' 10 previous first-round draft picks are on its current roster, and the team has to do more with its opportunities.

Haslam did predict a new, different business approach for the Browns. In addition to a winning, he anticipates an increased emphasis on marketing. The home field might not remain “Browns Stadium” much longer. Naming rights are just one business opportunity the new owner wants to explore.

He wouldn't rule out updating the team's traditional uniform, either. “The reality today is that we live in a marketing world,” said Haslam.

Now a billion or so dollars poorer, Haslam needs to work more. He anticipates remaining as the president-CEO of his travel-center business, in addition to being a “hands-on” owner.

With his wife Susan “Dee” Haslam and father in attendance, the new Browns boss said he's already looking for a Cleveland home and will split his time between the city by the lake and Tennessee, the headquarters of his other business. While he's no newcomer to the NFL, he said successful owners including the Patriots owner Robert Kraft have already offered to give him a crash course in how to run a team the right way.

And Haslam, a lifelong sports fan and former athlete who already knows his new roster, thinks Cleveland will finally have a contender, and Pittsburgh will once again have a real rival.

“There's no reason why this can't be a winning team,” he said. — D.X. Ferris

Sex, Booze and Short Vincent Avenue

Robert McDermott wasn’t famous, but he added flair to the history of Cleveland’s Vincent Avenue  one spring day in 1975 when he drove his car through the front doors of the Theatrical Grill. He got out of his car and ordered a drink. When questioned about his behavior, he explained that he was looking for a shortcut from Vincent to Superior Avenue.

It's just one of the many unbelievable stories found in Alan Dutka’s book, Cleveland’s Short Vincent: The Theatrical Grill and its Notorious Neighbors, and retold at Dutka's book-release party at Pickwick and Frolic this week.

From the '30s into the '70s, Vincent Avenue was a downtown hot spot full of money launderers, strippers and questionable club owners who gathered at colorful yet trashy joints. Today the one-block street is home to a parking garage and the back entrances to PNC Bank and a Holiday Inn.

Some of Short Vincent’s most memorable moments, retold by Dutka, include the 8,000 person party that was almost destroyed by a tornado in 1953 and a showgirl who sued Frolic’s bar in 1961 for $35,000 after a shot glass, thrown by an angry customer, hit her in the head. Norman Khoury, who owned 24 clubs, including three on Short Vincent, outraged citizens when a state liquor agent caught a 17-year-old girl soliciting drinks in one of his establishments.

“The great thing about Short Vincent is that so many people know about it, even if they didn’t experience it themselves,” Dutka says.

“Some of the stories really hit home,” says Carol Johnson, who grew up in the area. “My first date was at Jean’s Funny House.”

Police raided the funhouse, a joke shop frequented by children and teenagers, in 1940, collecting a carload of obscene magazines, songbooks and peep show devices.

In the 1960s the funhouse became much more than a funhouse, featuring an “adult only” room with nickel and dime peep shows of barely covered or naked women, a “back room” equipped with 25-cent machines that showed two-minute explicit movies and behind the counter sex toys.

“We used to cut school and go down to Jean’s Funhouse,” says Clevelander Michael Baron. “It was so exotic, like it had the feel of New York.”

Short Vincent is full of shady historical moments that Dutka explores with detail. His daughter, Diane, says her father has always been interested in Cleveland’s past.

“When I was nine or ten my dad used to take me down to library to look through old newspapers,” she says. “He’s been doing research for about 20 years.”

Dutka, also the author of East Fourth Street: The Rise, Decline, and Rebirth of an Urban Cleveland Street, is working on another project involving Doan's Corners. The book, Uptown Cleveland: The Amazing Neighborhood Centered at Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street, will describe what was Cleveland's second downtown, now a part of the Cleveland Clinic campus. It is scheduled to be released in fall 2013.

 (photo: night view of clubs on Short Vincent, 1964, from

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Sighting of the Devil

The Devil’s Carnival, a dark musical, is not a passive, comfortable film-going experience, but with Darren Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) as director, that's expected. Tonight at 10:30, Bousman joins guests in Gothic and clown-like attire and makeup at the Capitol Theatre for the Cleveland premiere of his latest film.

“It’s like Tales from the Crypt meets anti-Glee,” Bousman says.

In the tradition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, guests are encouraged to take part in the show, dance in the aisles and sing with the music. Costume contests and prizes also take place throughout the night.

“It’s a rowdy group, but it embraces everyone,” Bousman says. “From the freaks, to the high school cheerleaders, to the nerds: the music speaks to everyone.”

Audience members will participate in a two-hour show that features an opening act of burlesque dancers, performance artists and clowns, never before seen footage of REPO! The Genetic Opera (a horror-rock opera directed and produced by Bousman), the 60-minute Devil’s Carnival and a Q-and-A with Bousman and lead actor Terrance Zdunich.

Other cast members include Sean Patrick Flannery (The Boondock Saints), Jessica Lowndes (90210), M. Shawn “Clown” Crahan (Slipknot), Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) and Ivan Moody (Five Finger Death Punch).

The Devil’s Carnival is based on a modern retelling of Aesop’s Fables.

Episode one is the focus of the tour. It takes place in hell and is based on the sins gullibility, greed and grief. Episode two, which is currently being written, will take place in heaven.

Bousman said he expects The Devil’s Carnival to turn into a television show, though that wasn’t the point of the project.

Repo! The Genetic Opera wasn’t a success, but it started a following of people who wanted to see more,” Bousman said. “It became a cult hit based on interaction, which inspired the creation of The Devil’s Carnival.”

Unlike the Saw series, this project belongs primarily to Bousman. Millions of dollars were spent on Saw billboards, posters and trailers. The Devil’s Carnival, with a smaller publicity budget, is lucky to get a couple write-ups per event.

“With this, I control everything,” Bousman says. “If I fail, I fall very far.”

The tour, which has done 25 screenings in 27 days so far, is scheduled to end August 18, but Bousman said the shows will continue as long as people keep showing interest.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Adam Scott Looks To Repeat At Akron's Bridgestone Invitational

On the same day President Obama was speaking to a crowd of thousands at the John S. Knight Center, the best golfers in the world were preparing to hit the links only a few minutes down I-77.

The PGA's annual World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational is taking place this weekend at Akron's Firestone Country Club, where a field of 78 golfers will compete for a $1.4 million first-place haul. Defending champion Adam Scott spoke to the media on the final practice day before the first round tees off Thursday morning. Scott, who has yet to win a PGA event since his victory last year in Akron, is coming off a devastating collapse at the British Open two weekends ago. With a four stroke advantage and only four holes remaining in his final round, Scott squandered his lead to Ernie Els, missing his best opportunity thus far in his career at winning a major championship.

But in spite of the disappointing loss, Scott was in relatively high spirits at Bridgestone on Wednesday, contending that there is more good to take away from his British Open experience than there is bad.

“I'm obviously playing well,” said the native Australian. “I should be confident here (in Akron) and try and build my own confidence and pick up some momentum as we come into a really important stretch of the year.”

The Bridgestone marks the final test before next weekend's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, the final major championship of the year.

If Scott does manage to pull off a back-to-back victory come this Sunday, he will be only the second repeat winner at Firestone since the event became part of the World Golf Championships in 1999. Tiger Woods is the other golfer to win more than once at this competition, nabbing seven victories in the past 12 years at Akron (the 2002 tournament was held in Washington state).

And even with his missteps at the British Open still fresh in his mind, Scott is concentrating on looking forward and defending his throne against the likes of Woods, Els, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the field this weekend.

“It's a great event. It's something that was a big win for me last year and brought a lot of confidence,” said Scott on playing Bridgestone. “It's really a result driven industry, and that's why we play — to win.”

Scott tees off his first round Thursday morning at 9:40 a.m. For more tee times and info about this year's WGC-Bridgestone, check out their website.

For updates on the tournament this weekend, follow me on Twitter at @Williams_Justin.

You Haven't Heard of Edwins...Yet

Lots of people go to prison. And they face serious obstacles once they get out when it comes to making their way, finding employment and establishing a normal life. The sad truth is that many end up back inside, caught in a cycle of recidivism that defines the rest of their lives. A small group of people in Cleveland led by Brandon Chrostowski, general manager, sommelier and fromager at L’Albatros, is doing something to change that story.

The project is called Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute. It’s a six-month foundational culinary industry education program for formerly incarcerated men and women. It will provide front and back of the house training and a working restaurant that is open to the public where on the job skills can be learned and practiced. The plan is to have an accomplished professional chef helming the kitchen. Participants will also do internships at other local restaurants. The non-profit group is taking a holistic approach: they’re partnering with a number of local agencies and organizations to integrate an array of support services such as counseling, financial coaching, transitional housing, literacy and medical care into the package. Specifics of what will be taught and details of all the other types of assistance offered are on the website.

The idea started in Chrostowski’s head and has been in development for almost ten years. Now he’s ready to go from concept to action. He and Matt Fieldman, who serves as Edwins’ President, and their board need are considering a location at 69th and Euclid in the MidTown neighborhood. The building is currently being renovated, and the restaurant build out wouldn’t happen until after that is completed. The goal is to open early next year. But reaching it depends on raising the necessary capital. According to Brandon and Matt nothing quite like this exists. There are, Matt told me, “re-entry cafes” in other cities that offer some minimal training. But this will be a fine dining establishment.

Edwins now needs friends and funds. At a kick-off event I attended earlier this summer, Chrostowski spoke eloquently to a crowd about his motivation and his dream. “This is about second chances,” he said. “I’ve made some mistakes in my life, and I was able to recover from them. The restaurant business taught me about teamwork, respect, and humility- things that made me the successful person I am today. This is a chance for me to give back, to provide mentors and opportunities, and to help people get back on their feet.”

Later in the evening Judge Dan Polster said a few words on behalf of Edwins that touched me deeply. “In the American system of justice the idea is “do the crime, do the time, then move on.” But unfortunately that’s not always what happens. Many are not able to move on.” He noted that with a job, the odds of staying out of jail are much much better than without one, and went on to explain that in his Jewish tradition, the highest level of righteousness is not give charity but to give people the tools they need to be self-sufficient. “This program aims to do that, to give an individual back their dignity and a way to succeed.”

This is a noble and important effort. It deserves this community’s support. And there are many ways to step up from writing a check and letting potential donors know about this effort to introducing the Edwins team to possible sponsors and collaborators. If we all do a little, a lot can happen.