Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Buon appetito

   I recently had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Scott Kuhn at Cibrèo Italian Kitchen, his brand new restaurant in PlayhouseSquare.Visibly proud and excited about this new venture, he makes clear this is a project he's personally passionate about, an expression of his love for Tuscany and its food, which he first discovered 10 years ago on a trip there.

   Before we sat down to eat I got a guided tour of the sprawling space. The bar and two dining areas look out onto Euclid Avenue, but the decor puts them worlds away. All the visual tropes of the medieval Italian town, such as stucco and stone arches, wooden wine barrels, a fireplace and rusticated furnishings, are present in abundance. Kuhn chose all the materials himself.  Adjacent to this, on the other side of a set of closed doors at the far end of the bar, is a large, completely separate and utterly unique private event room. The space, still being renovated when I saw it, is the former 14th Street Theatre. The original columns and ornate decorative plasterwork are being refurbished. There's a small stage and a connecting passageway to a full bar with its own street entrance on  East 14th Street. Kuhn tells me that taking on this part of the building wasn't in his original plan, but once he saw it and realized its potential it was a challenge he couldn't resist. It's obvious the almost 37 year old likes a challenge  as he currently oversees a multifaceted organization of seven restaurants (with another fast food joint called Rothschild Farms on the way right around the corner from Cibrèo,) a catering company and a food truck.

   With good smells wafting from the kitchen and the clock approaching noon, I was ready for some table time. I let my host do the ordering. First up was an excellent bean soup, rich and thick with a hint of spice, made with Porcini mushrooms and bits of sausage. Next we had a fine risotto funghi, made with vegetable stock, and served with shaved truffles in a traditional clay cooking pot. Over delicious plates of pasta carbonara, revved up with guanciale and and radicchio, and pappardelle bolognese, Kuhn explained the process of creating the menu.

"I wanted to re-create dishes I've had in Tuscany," Kuhn says. "A year ago I started working with our corporate chef, Chris Johnson, our executive chef here, Eric Martinez, and our consulting chef, Chris Hodgson, to bring those culinary experiences to our customers. We developed our concepts, practice the execution and now we're ready."

  There are a few familiar Italian-American favorites on the menu, because that's what some customers want: lasagna, veal Parmigiano, fried calamari, as well as the requisite steaks, salmon and scallops. But much of what's on offer will be more authentic. pasta in a boar and Porcini ragu; spaghetti with pesto and potatoes called Cinque Terra; and one of Kuhn's favorites, orrechiette Sienna style with rapini, pine nuts, and Parmesan broth; and porchetta with polenta. I'm eager to taste my way through much of the antipasto, insalata, risotto and gnocchi, pastas and secondos sections of the menu. The mostly Italian wine list has much that's appealing too, and I'm intrigued by the six prosecco cocktails.

   Everything tells me this will be a place people want to dine, whether they're coming downtown to see a show in one of PlayhouseSquare's gorgeous theaters or just looking for a very good Italian meal.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Progressive Field Dixieland Band, Including 95-year-old Bandleader, Ready For Playoffs

The Progressive Field Dixieland Band played their last gig of the regular season yesterday. But if the Indians make the playoffs, they’ll be back, performing in the food court outside the team shop, as they have for 19 seasons.

The band, led by 95-year-old clarinetist Andy Veres, romped through a set of Dixieland jazz standards yesterday. Their signature song: “When the Tribe Goes Marching In,” a slight rewrite of a New Orleans classic. They added another twist to the lyrics yesterday: “I want to be in that number/When the playoffs go marching in.”

Veres also led the band through “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” the Browns fight song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and a few polkas so the accordionist could shine.

Veres and a rotating cast of musicians have played stadium home games since 1995. But if you usually get to the gate just before the first pitch, you may have never seen them. They play from a half-hour before game time until the National Anthem at Friday, Saturday and Sunday home games – and at all home playoff games.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bean Bonanza

Erin Molnar and Elizabeth Macek nurtured a dream and developed a business plan while hoeing rows of vegetables as apprentices at Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath. They agreed to start farming together under a hot summer sun and this year they actually did it, leasing just under an acre of land in Macedonia. They call the venture Ledgewood Larder and are focusing on filling a niche for eating local year-round by raising and drying beans and lentils.

  In spring, they planted 15 varieties of legumes, some common and others lesser known but particularly delicious (among them pinto, red kidney, cowpeas, cannelini, Turkey Craw and borlotti, French blue and Petite Crimson lentils. Harvested beans are dried whole on screens, agitated to break the pods. Molnar told me they do it the old-fashioned way, putting them in a pillowcase and beating it with a stick, and finally sifting and sorting by hand. Both still work full time at other jobs so they've scaled aspirations to hours available with the intention of expanding as demand increases.

   "We've gone from dreaming to doing," says Molnar, "and it's exciting. We're offering something new and different to people that want products grown close to home. These are so different in texture and taste from what you find at the grocery story. They're so good, and good for you."

  The women's first crop is ready for sale and these next weeks are a good time to stock your pantry with their product. Find them at the Countryside Farmers' Markets in Peninsula and Akron's Highland Square. "After all our hoping and planning," Molnar crows,  "this is really happening."  And I see some wonderful, local bean-based soups, chilis and cassoulet in my fall and winter future.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Eaters Welcome

Photo by Barney Taxel

   Urban dweller Joe Gramc likes to take advantage of all this city has to offer. One of his particular enthusiasms is dining out. He's a regular at numerous independent, owner operated and chef driven Cleveland restaurants;  is gung ho about those that stock the kitchen with local products and is always eager to try new places.  The fine meals he's had have made him an outspoken fan and active booster of our food scene which, he says, stacks up against those in other cities. Three years ago Gramc decided it would be fun to get other people to join him in his culinary forays, and so the Cleveland Dinner Club emerged on Twitter.  It was a way, he explained, to support these restaurants and help them be successful. He also saw this as a chance to network, bring old friends together, and make new ones.
  Ten showed up for the first "drop-in" event at Dante. They ate from the regular menu and he tweeted about it. That pattern repeated with subsequent outings. Interest in what he was doing grew.  Now Gramc, who has a full-time job as VP of Finance at Five Star Trucking Inc, the family business in Willoughby, puts in around 16 (unpaid) hours to plan and promote each monthly gathering. The format has evolved to  feature special prix fixe menus created just for the group and reservations are required. He asks that chefs try to include some vegetarian and gluten-free options.
   Until it's time to come to the table, this is a totally online project. "I tweet out what we're doing- I now have around 3000 followers- and send invites to 150 names on the Club's email list," he says.  There's a link to an event site I create where people can rsvp. The Club is open to all. Anyone can attend an event as long as there is space available in the restaurant." Typically each gathering attracts 20-30 people, sometimes less, occasionally more.
Photo by Barney Taxel
 Dinners are always held during the week, when business tends to be slower and the restaurants can handle the crowd.  The next one is Wednesday, September 18, and I'm excited to be part of it.  I'll be the guide for an after-hours tour of the West Side Market, sharing some little known facts and debunking a few popular myths. Guests get a signed copy of my book, Cleveland's West Side Market:100 Years and Still Cooking.  After our ramble in and around the building, we'll head next door for a meal at Market Garden Brewery. The dishes Chef Andrew Bower and the crew are preparing make for a mouthwatering read: heirloom tomato salad with country ham; duck breast with apple and fennel; seared scallops with roasted corn and crab risotto...  and there are (optional) beer pairings with each course, including dessert. There are still seats available for this but you must purchase tickets in advance. Please consider joining Joe and I for this unique Cleveland Dinner Club outing. No doubt a good time for all. And if you can't, be sure to become a Twitter follower so you're sure to know what he's got going on in the months to come.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cleveland Public Theater shines with drama, comedy, song at Pandemonium

The doctor stalked the stage, spouting hokum. Three sexy assistants in white lab coats flitted around him, checked his chalkboard theories, and danced to mambo music as they set up a tall ladder near a giant, inert light bulb.

The stage went dark. Performers on the balconies, illuminated by hand-held spotlights, quoted Shakespeare, e.e.cummings, Walt Whitman, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Langston Hughes. The light bulb glowed, and the doctor returned, now an old, bearded man. “Light! Liiiight!” he bellowed, like Dr. Frankenstein celebrating his creation.

That absurdist yet earnest theatrical mishmash set the tone for last night’s Pandemonium, Cleveland Public Theater's fundraiser and performance extravaganza. The introduction illuminated the night’s theme, “Shine” – dedicated, said executive artistic director Raymond Bobgan, to “the artist that shines inside each one of us.” The annual event seems designed to overwhelm patrons with the creativity of CPT-affiliated artists and supporters, with 17 stages hosting comedy, drama, music, spoken word, installation art and dance.

“There’s pressure to see everything,” partygoer Don Pavlish said. But that’s impossible. The most you can do is see a few intimate performances and keep moving at a quick pace.

Orthodox, the former church on CPT’s campus, hosted a rotating vaudeville show, including “Shhh! Alice is watching,” a short play that imagines director Alice Guy-Blache directing a scene from a century-old silent film. It’s played as a farce, with Guy-Blache’s pride at her pioneering accomplishments undercut by her assistant’s slapstick awkwardness and a creeping knowledge that the audience doesn’t know her. The play achieves a retro-magic when a wordless actor and actress take the stage in ashen black-and-white makeup. The assistant manipulates them into place like mannequins, and they pantomine a courtship scene as lights flicker like the sprocketed flashes of silent film.

Outside, on old outdoor staircases attached to the Parish Hall building, Carolyn McNaughton and Dana Hart enacted “The Lighthouse Keeper,” a tale of lost love on the sea inspired by the traditional folk song “House Carpenter.” The lighthouse keeper blew a bosun’s whistle and scribbled notes at the top landing as a young woman in a raggedy dress, in an alcove below, collected messages and objects in a pail. Now and then the lighthouse keeper pulled the pail up by rope and examined the contents for clues to her whereabouts.

At one point the young woman ascended the stairs and handed me a shell. “If you see him, will you give this to him?” she asked. “He needs to know I’m sorry.”

At length the lighthouse keeper descended. I handed him the shell. He gave me a note sealed with wax. “If you see her, give her this,” he said.

Several minutes later, I spied her wandering forlornly through the crowd and gave her the note. “Does he know?” she asked. He does.

Across CPT's campus, in an upstairs room, singer Juliette Regnier also evoked elusive love. Regnier’s French cabaret act ranged from a quirky comedic song about a spurned woman, with the plot explained by cartoon placards, to an emotive version of the ultimate French love song, Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” – one verse in French, one in English.

Three guys from the comedy troupe Last Call Cleveland – Aaron McBride, Mark McKenzie and Matt Zitelli – entertained on an outdoor stage near the local chefs’ tables. Their act included the least sexy R+B love song ever, a sendup of every seductive crooner of the last 30 years. No one can really make love all night long, the singer admitted, and proceeds to lower his lover’s expectations further and further as he went along. Later, claiming they were running out of time on the bill, two of the guys performed as simultaneous standup comedians, the joke being that almost every standup act is pretty much the same.

The performances ended back in the main theater with Pandemonium’s now-traditional finale: an aerial silk dancer, Heather Hammond of Heliummm Aerial Dance and Entertainment, twirling in knotted sashes to the music of Spectrum and Florence + the Machine.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Devil's Advocate

Dan Miraldi has come a long way since recording his first album, Thirsty, in a living-room-turned recording-studio in 2009. The Cleveland singer-songwriter has graduated to laying down tracks at Undertow & Loud Studios with Grammy nominee Chris Grainger (Wilco, Switchfoot) in Nashville for his upcoming EP, Devil At Our Heels. “I feel like I’ve improved as a singer and as an arranger," Miraldi says. " I’ve had different opportunities to work with various producers and recording engineers, and each time, we learn new tricks."

Dan Miraldi and the Albino Winos will play a release show at 9 p.m. Sept. 7 at Mahall’s 20 Lanes. Devil at Our Heels will be available online Sept. 10. “I would describe it as a pop-rock album that embraces a lot of music of the past, everything from the Beatles to early punk ... but is footed in the present,” says Miraldi of his new EP. Miraldi talks to us about what inspired the new EP, growing as a songwriter and his favorite local bands.

Cleveland Magazine: What inspired Devil At Our Heels?
Dan Miraldi: I wanted to have an EP that connected with last year’s Sugar and Adrenaline, and I wanted to somehow draw upon some of the motifs that you would hear in that record. The song “Lovebomb!” comes from a few years back. I was having a bad day, I had done poorly on a test and was just in a particularly bad mood, and I felt the need to write a song to cheer myself up. I tried to summon the most happy-sounding melody I could think of. That’s what made “Lovebomb!”

CM: How does Devil At Our Heels differ from your previous recordings?
DM: I think the track that has the greatest differentiation is the second song, “Girl, You Made Your Mark.” Where as the darkness might just have been in the lyrical references, this time you actually get some of that in the instrumentation. My overall goal was to make something that showed growth. The song “Devil at Our Heels” is a work of fiction because I’ve never really been running from the law. I’ve pulled from personal experiences, but I’ve also found ways to write from different perspectives  to now be able to write songs about outlaws instead of just writing songs about girls.

CM: What are some of your favorite bands in Cleveland?
DM: Offhand, I’m a big fan of Thaddeus Anna Greene and also the Modern Electric. I think Brent Kirby is very talented, and Attack Cat. And Oldboy  they’re playing with us [at Mahall’s], and they’re a great band. There is a lot of great music out there.

Watch Dan Miraldi and the Albino Winos' just-released, official music video for "Untame," the first single off  Devil At Our Heels

For more about Miraldi's music, read our article "New Directions" about his Rock N Roll Band! EP and our review of his last full-length album, Sugar and Adrenaline

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sugar High

The first time Chagrin Valley Little Theatre opened their season with the Murder By The Falls event 20 years ago, a fake body was dumped into the Chagrin River as a prop. Held this year Sept. 6 and 7, the annual audience-participation benefit brings less shock and more sweetness with Cereal Killer, a satire featuring our morning mascots as mobsters and gamblers entangled in a sticky murder mystery. Set in the mostly fictional Horseshoe Casino, high-rollers Count Chocula, and Boo and Franken Berry meet their demise on the betting floor, leaving Inspector Gotcha to solve the serial ... uh, cereal killings. Director Greta Rothman gives us three reasons why Clevelanders should check out this sugar-coma-inducing thriller.

Star Struck: Jan Jones, known for appearing on The Morning Exchange, is a Murder By The Falls mainstay appearing this year as seedy gambler, Mini Wheats. After seeing YouTube videos of past years' shows, NewsChannel5 news anchor Leon Bibb auditioned for the part of crime novelist Grayson Bran. Bibb is already comfortable in front of a camera, says Rothman, "but now he's on a stage, looking up to the actors as the professionals. It's the flip side of what we're used to."

Local Limelight: Don't just watch the ridiculous cereal-themed characters flounder for clues,  but become a private eye yourself. Audiences members group into squads of deputies to solve the crunchy slayings. Businesses join in the fun, so you could find yourself canvassing downtown Chagrin Falls for gooey evidence. Officials such as Chagrin Falls Mayor Thomas Brick also pop in for cameo appearances. "Incorporating different levels of experience is the true essence of community theater," says Rothman.

Full Plate: For the price of a ticket ($60, $30 of that is tax deductible), theatergoers get to nosh on hors d'oeuvres, a dessert buffet and can partake in a cash bar. You may walk away with a door prize, and if you're a sleuth on one of the best teams, you could win tickets to more CVLT shows. "It's a good night out," Rothman says. "After a few drinks, people are ready to have fun and laugh at bad puns."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Stinking Rose by Any Other Name...

   Garlic is one of those fundamental ingredients, a thing no cook can do without. I love the taste-from biting to sweet depending on how it's handled but never thought much about the kind of garlic I was using or where it came from. Then I started buying locally grown heirloom varieties and discovered how much better- and more varied- it can be. A few years ago the husband got interested in growing our own, in part because the neighborhood deer were devouring everything we planted and he'd heard this was one crop they didn't find appealing.
Thaxton's garlic, Taxel's photo
   He bought and planted a starter selection from Thaxton's, a certified organic garlic farm in Hudson. The results were so fantastic and the effort so satisfying that garlic has become his new enthusiasm and the mainstay of our backyard kitchen garden. Which is why we recently found ourselves in Fred and Chris Thaxton's aromatic garlic barn.
It was time for new seed stock. The choices- hard necks and soft necks, big heads and little ones, pure white skinned and some kissed with purple, in 12 distinctive varieties- were hung in bunches, long stems still attached, row after row on racks that stretched from floor to ceiling. The couple, who started growing garlic on their property 15 years ago for their own use and to share with family and friends, now tend to three acres of the stuff and operate a thriving business, delivering to area chef's, and selling at the Hudson Farmers Market, directly from the farm (by appointment only) and online. They guided us towards a mix that included a peppery Spanish Roja; Khabar that's hot when raw and goes mellow with cooking; the robust Extra Hardy German White; and Georgian Crystal, that Chris told us is excellent for roasting.
  She still teaches at Hudson High but Fred retired from his science teacher job at Cleveland Heights High School last year to give the venture his all. Business is booming. What started as hobby landed them on the pages of the New York Times in May (and brought the paper's food writer Julia Moskin to their house for a picnic dinner that Fred says it was one of the best nights of his life). He gives Chef Jonathon Sawyer, a longtime customer and fan, a lot of the credit for pushing them onto a national stage.  And Sawyer's doing it again by featuring Thaxton's Music garlic in a pasta dish he's serving at The Greenhouse Tavern through Oct 31 as part of the James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) Taste America® Local Dish Challenge. The restaurant will donate $1 from each dish sold to the JBF Taste America® Education Drive, which supports the foundation's educational programs.
 Now that I've got you thinking about garlic, its a good time to mention the Cleveland Garlic Festival, sponsored by the North Union Farmer's Market, happening this weekend, September 7 and 8, on Shaker Square. Lots of garlic laden foods to try, garlic products to buy, live music, chef competitions, and a chance to pick up some  "stinking roses"  from the Thaxton's.

Thaxton's garlic, Taxel's photo