Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Strong Drink

Richard Read is many things: husband, father, British transplant, medical scientist and cider lover. That love launched a pastime, making the dry alcoholic English style drink from home that he pined for and couldn't find here, and then a side business. Read started Griffin Cider Works three years ago, operating out of the basement below J.W. Dover a retailer of beer and wine making supplies, in Westlake. He's bottling and kegging a variety of hard ciders, all made with select blends of Ohio apples, that are sold at bars, restaurants, and shops around northeast Ohio.

In the next few days, the busy brewer is releasing a very special product. Called Strong Woman, it's a pink colored, cherry flavored cider. He's producing it in limited quantity and it will only be available in March and October. Read wants it to sell very well but he doesn't expect to pocket a penny. Profits will go to The HOPE Program at Lakewood Hospital that provides free mammograms to uninsured women. "Everyone," Read tells me, " knows someone who's been affected by this disease. My own grandmother was a breast cancer survivor. I wanted to do something to help and decided I could use my cider to raise awareness and money."

You can be among the first to taste Strong Woman at the noon release party Saturday, March 2, at West Point Market in Akron , where they'll also be pouring Griffin Original, Burley Man, and his new Honey Oak cider. Strong Woman will also be available, while supplies last, at most Heinens and Giant Eagle stores, and at Melt Bar and Grilled.

Read's plan is to do this fund-raiser annually and his dream is that other local beer brewers and wine makers join him in the effort. In the meantime we can all do our part by buying a bottle and lifting a glass.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Market Repair

While the fire that struck the West Side Market Jan. 30 has long been snuffed out, Cash Mob founder Andrew Samtoy is inviting Clevelanders to help him spark an economic boom at the beloved landmark this Saturday.

When Samtoy heard an overnight fire left a trail of smoke damage throughout the market, contributing to thousands of dollars in lost food, he sprung into action. Samtoy and his crew decided to host a cash mob to get the vendors back on their feet after losing out on profits (including major revenues from Super Bowl weekend) while they were closed for a $276,000 cleanup from Jan. 30 to Feb. 17.

Samtoy, who co-engineered the cash mob idea that started an international trend, (read our 2013 Most Interesting People profile on him) welcomes people to come out during all hours the market is open, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but he recommends coming before 10 a.m. or after 2 avoid crowds. He simply asks attendees to spend $20, meet three new people and have fun. Although he is only asking people to spend $20, Samtoy expects many people will drop more cash than that.

“People know this is going towards the vendors and helping them get back on their feet,” he says. “The one concern that we have is that some of these vendors are actually going to run out.”

Although there is still a lot of work to be done before the market completely recovers from the setback, Samtoy believes this cash mob is a starting point. You can find out more information about the cash mob on a Facebook page Samtoy started for the event.

Samtoy's cash mob is one of many efforts to revive the market. Others have jumped on the relief bandwagon, including chef Michael Symon, who announced a national campaign on his television show, The Chew, and is hosting a benefit for the market Feb. 27. To find out more about his efforts and to donate, visit his website

We wrote about the market's 100th anniversary in our November 2012 issue. You can read the stories here. (To link to this article on social media, use:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Timeless Dram

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
Age is the defining characteristic of quality scotch and bourbon. At least it has been until serial entrepreneur and marketing genius Tom Lix came up with a patent pending process that transforms the making of brown spirits. It truly creates the taste and smoothness of age without the time. He can produce a bottle in under a week that can compare to a 10 or 12 year old version.  I wouldn't have believed it was possible if I hadn't visited his downtown distillery and tried his Cleveland Whiskey for myself.

Photo by Barney Taxel
It's dark in the bottle, a gorgeous honey-amber hue in a glass. The aroma was rich and complex. It had none of the bite or harsh alcoholic "heat" - though it is 100 proof- that usually comes with young  (and therefore inexpensive) whiskey. The mouthfeel is round and silky. An added splash of water smooths it out even more. This is comparable to a very fine high end bourbon. And it will sell for a fraction of the price.

This hometown product is a kind of miracle. Certainly something revolutionary and new. Lix calls it "a disruptive technology and a game changer." I call it amazing. And the timing couldn't be better. Whiskey is trendy. The demand for brown spirits is high and growing, and manufacturers can't keep up.

 The production facility is housed in a start-up incubator run by MAGNET (Manufacturing and Advocacy Growth Network) on East 25th Street, near Cleveland State University. I can smell his space before I see it- there's a yeasty smell from the grain fermenting in the mash cooker. Lix makes some of his base spirit, essentially "white lightening" or legal "moonshine" himself.  The still is a polished gleaming copper column and network of pipes. The liquid that comes out of it normally goes into a barrel. But not here and exactly what next is secret. Lix is willing to tell me, and other reporters he's talked to, about it but nobody is allowed to see the actual machinery. I can hear it humming behind a curtained wall. It reminds me of that scene in the movie when Dorothy and friends get their first audience with the Wizard of Oz. 

Photo by Barney Taxel
Lix holds up a used and charred barrel stave and explains how his trademarked pressure aging technology aggressively pushes the alcohol in and out of pores of the wood, speeding up what normally occurs during years in a cask. Since his focus is aging, and his ability to produce base spirit limited, Lix is also buying rough six month old bourbon and running it through his system to produce Cleveland Whiskey. The day I visited he had  6000 bottles are waiting to be filled.

After a long wait, he got final approval of his labels and is official listed with the State of Ohio Liquor Commission. Cleveland Whiskey should be in local bars and restaurants and in retail stores before St. Patrick's Day. Look on the website for more info on where to find it. It's adds another and most welcome way to buy local.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Jimmy Kuehnle Lights Up Cleveland

Photo by Rob Muller 
If you've seen a floating ball of light on your commute home lately, your mind is not playing tricks on you.

It's local artist Jimmy Kuehnle and his latest creation: approximately 3,000 Christmas lights woven around a steel rod attached to a tricycle. If you have yet to witness the kooky contraption — rest assured — Kuehnle will light up the Brite Winter Festival in Ohio City from 5-8 p.m. this Saturday.

Kuehnle, an assistant professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, designs colorful inflatable suits and impossible bicycles — wearable art that tests our perceptions of space and mobility — and is currently an artist-in-residence for the Spaces World Artists Program, which provides space and support for artists to create new work. We caught up with Kuehnle to chat about how his Twinkling Tricycle Tour of Enchantment is making Cleveland brighter this winter.

How does your light machine work?
It’s a workman’s industrial tricycle I bought from Craigslist from an old Ford factory in Indianapolis. [The Christmas lights] are powered by a 12-volt battery with a DC/AC power inverter because they’re just regular household Christmas lights. A quarter-inch steel rod armature supports the lights and forms a cloudlike shape so that the lights seem like they’re floating in the air.

Where did you get your inspiration for this project?
I’ve made many art bicycles and wanted to make one in Cleveland. It’s up north and cold in the winter, and I thought, What better way to be out and about and making people smile than a light-encrusted tricycle?

How have people reacted to you and your light machine?
People will stop in their cars along the street to snap photos. I've had people stop on their way home from work, circle back, come over and say 'Hi.' Complete strangers track me down to email me photos and videos [of me] from the Health Line. It's a great, all-around good experience.

What meaning would you attribute to your art?
It’s a reaffirmation of human ingenuity and the human condition. We're all basically meaningless in this big, fast universe of nothingness. If we take the time to realize we all have hopes, dreams and desires, and we're alive, maybe we could enjoy a bit of it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Barter for Your Larder

   Trading stuff is the oldest form of commerce. My dried fish for your stack of wood, these shells for those strips of venison jerky.  Countryside Food Swaps are the newest local expression of that time tested model. Hosted by the Countryside Conservancy, which also runs multiple farmer's markets in Peninsula and Akron, these gatherings give people an opportunity to exchange foods they make or grow with each other. They're held the third Tuesday of each month, 6-9 PM at various Akron area locations.
   January was the first meet-up. Participants included a few farmers, a  professional baker and numerous home and hobby cooks. They offered fresh produce and eggs, breads and pastries, flavored butters, pickled veggies, kale chips, condiments, honey, guanciale (cured pork cheeks) and even bottles of sweet vermouth and tonic syrup.
     No money changes hands. Swappers make offers to each other and negotiate mutually agreeable quantities; a  pint jar of jam might get you an equal amount of bourbon honey mustard, but you may have to pony up multiple jars to acquire 16 ounces of granola or some of that jowl bacon. If the beekeeper doesn't want your pesto, then you're out of luck. Everyone's free to accept or reject any offer. There's no pressure and no hard feelings. You can bring as much, or as little as you choose; multiples of the same item or a couple of different things. Food should be portioned and packaged for easy trading.

    Products are spread out on tables and attendees have time to browse.Products, which must be labeled with the item name, shelf life and storage recommendations, plus the maker's name, phone number or email, are on display along with an ingredient list. Samples are suggested but not required.
   Erin Molnar manages the program. She's excited about the opportunities its providing to connect with people that share your interests and to stock up on local products."The first swap went fantastically," she told me. "Everyone had a really great time. The atmosphere of the room was energetic and friendly.  We're creating this community of DIYers who can go to one another for advice and to share stories. We have a Facebook group so we can chat, share recipes, give feedback, share what we did with things and feel out the response for what we're thinking of bringing."  
     Feb 19 is the next swap. Molnar's heard that there could be root beer, chai tea concentrate, pimento cheese spread, fermented chutney and "some crazy-delicous sounding cupcakes." She's thinking of making clementine vaniall bean curd.  There's no charge to participate but you can't attend unless you have something to trade and have completed the registration form in advance. Space is limited. Some spots are still available for this month. If you don't get in this time around, be sure and register early for March and beyond.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Chef at Nighttown

Nighttown, the jazz mecca of Cleveland Heights, has always been known for offering cool music and a warm, cozy vibe. It has a well deserved reputation as a great place to hang out. But what it has not been known for is the food. Until now. Recently appointed executive chef Nathan Sansone is updating the menu, bringing his own style and lots of new ideas to the table.

I ate my way through a 7-course tasting that gave me a sense of what this Kendall College of Culinary Arts grad and Colorado transplant can do. There was a round "cake of salmon mousse  with mint gremolata, diced tomato relish and whipped lemon cream; ahi tuna with northern white beans, baby arugula and beurre rouge; and a filet mignon with mushrooms, gnocchi and rosemary cream.All were very nicely done- properly cooked, well seasoned, and attractively plated. I'd be happy for the opportunity to order any of them but none are currently available on a regular basis. Neither is the foie gras mushroom french toast with apple slices and berry gastrique, a rich and clever preparation that balanced sweet and savory elements and one I'd like to eat again (and again).

Happily two other preparations are part of the current line-up: an irresistible lobster pot pie is a grand puff pastry creation that features broccoli, fennel, and chunks of lobster meat in a creamy bisque; and a hearty braised Kurobuta pork shank served with caramelized brussel sprouts, oyster mushrooms and butternut squash.I finished off my very fine meal (and you can too) with a chocolate bread pudding that arrives with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Some other contemporary additions to the nightly offerings include duck confit and roasted corn empanadas; eggplant "cannolli" stuffed with white bean puree topped with red pepper marinara and sided with 5-onion polenta; and  fish tacos with pico de gallo and avocado aioli.  In a nod to the restaurants loyal following some longtime favorites, such as Dublin Lawyer, bangers & mash, and veal meatloaf remain.

Sansone impressed me and Nighttown owner Brendan Ring was wise to quickly promote him from sous to king of the kitchen. I'm eager to watch what the Sansone does in his continuing efforts to make this beloved institution a culinary contender on the local dining scene. Sansone knows the bar is high but is excited to take on the challenge and to become part of the community of Cleveland chefs.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cleveland Museum of Art and Bidwell Foundation Transform Historic Space

In the words of Transformer Station co-founder Laura Ruth Bidwell, "It's about time photo had its own space."

Nestled on the corner of Church Street and West 29th, this minimalist space is bringing a new vibe to the art scene in Ohio City.

Open to the public from noon to 9 pm today, with extended hours through the weekend, the Transformer Station invites visitors to explore the world of photography, as well as a piece of Cleveland history, free of charge. Where Cleveland Railway Company once powered streetcars running on Detroit Avenue, only the crane that once lifted the company's transformer into and out of the space remains.

Fittingly named, the Crane Gallery now holds the works of Vaughn Wascovich for its first exhibition, Bridging Cleveland. Using a handmade pinhole camera, Wascovich photographed the various bridges over the Cuyahoga then manipulated them with a mix of chemicals and creativity.

"They’re a love song to the Cuyahoga River," says co-founder, and Laura's husband, Fred Bidwell.


In the main gallery of the museum hang pieces from their collection, which Fred calls a personal overview of what's happening in photo-based art.

"Many of the works in here were delivered straight into storage," he says of the Light of Day exhibition. "So now they're seeing the light of day."

Viewers will find themselves amidst the works of established artists such as Hiroshi Yugimoto and Adam Fuss as well as young and upcoming artists. The Transformer Station, owned and operated by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation,  established in 2011 to support artists and arts institutions, will create half of the gallery schedule. The Cleveland Museum of Art, a partner in programming the space, will develop the rest.

The visual experience is pure, with natural light streaming in from horizontal rectangular windows near the building's high ceilings and no wall labels or other adornments to distract. Even the benches, made from the re-purposed pecan floor of an old Chrysler plant, keep it simple.

"The building has to get out of the way of the art,” says Laura. “Simplicity is good.”