Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Father and Daughter Fermentos

  Molly Murray arrives for our meeting on her bike. I was already there, waiting for her on the loading dock of the Hildebrandt Building, the former home of the family run provisions company that supplied generations of hungry Clevelanders with hot dogs and lunch meats. That operation shut down many years ago but these days space in the sprawling complex is rented out to culinary entrepreneurs and artisans. Wake Robin Fermented Foods, the business she started with her dad, Pat, in 2012, is a tenant.

   We head down to a basement kitchen, where the constant cool temperatures are ideal for the big blue plastic barrels of bubbling and carbon dioxide burping cabbage.  Through a process called lacto-fermentation the vegetables are on their way to becoming sauerkraut and spicy kimchi (the Korean version of the German staple). Molly explained how it works. "We provide an environment that  natural good-for-you bacteria, called lactobacilli, really like. So they multiply, eating sugars and producing lactic acid as they metabolize them. The result is something tart and tangy. This is the way yogurt is made."

  A form of pickling also known as culturing, this technique for preserving foods has been practiced around the world since ancient times. Molly, 29, got into it as a hobby. After Pat retired, the former Metro physician wanted a new challenge, and the two teamed up to launch this venture. It's an excellent fit for a doctor. "Live cultured probiotic foods are very healthy," says Molly. This is not news to me. This summer, I read Michael Pollan's fantastic new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. There are four main sections and one is all about fermentation in its many aspects and variations. In it he writes, "Medical researchers are coming around to the startling conclusion that, in order to be healthy, people need more exposure to microbes, not less: and that one of the problems with the so-called Western diet, besides all the refined carbohydrates and fats and novel chemicals in it, is the absence for it of live culture foods. The theory is that these foods have a crucial role to play in nourishing the vast community of microbes living inside us, which in turn plays a much larger role in our overall health and well-being than we ever realized."

   Thanks to the Murrays, we have a local source for these beneficial microbes. I peeked into coolers filled with jars of their classic kraut, kimchi, zesty jalapeno spiked carrot escabeche, pickle chips, and my personal favorite Ruby Rüben, a combination of beets, apples, turnips, and cabbage. You can find them all in Annemarie's Dairy case at the West Side Market (which has a certain small world kind of symmetry considering that these things are produced in a place that once kept the Hildebrandt stand at the market stocked with meats), Constantino's Market downtown, Nature's Bin in Lakewood, Mustard Seed Market in Solon and starting next week at Heinen's stores around town (Complete list of retailers on the website.) They will even pack and ship special orders for customers that call or email her directly.

   Pat was out of town when I visited. But no doubt his daughter spoke for both of them when she told me, "It has been a lot of hard work, but it's great to be in this together. We're having fun, learning from each other and about each other. We're proud to be the first in Cleveland to do live culturing and excited that word is starting to spread."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hanging Out in Hudson

   My dining travels tend to be more city-centered than suburban. But friends who wanted a dinner destination somewhere between Cleveland and Akron suggested we rendezvous at North End in Hudson, a wine and beer bar, retail shop and restaurant. Never heard of the place but the husband and I were happy to oblige. It turned out to be a pleasant discovery.

  The front door opens into a compact beer bar with eight on tap, more in a cooler and a TV on the wall. To the left is a bright spacious wine store with more than 1000 bottles on display. Tables are scattered throughout the room among the shelves, racks and wooden bins with seating for about 55. The walls are decorated with wine-related posters and brand banners.

  The menu, which changes seasonally, has some nice nibbling options, plus a small but solid lineup of entrees. We began with a shared cheeseboard, not the most unusual selection I've encountered but a respectable array of quality products. I moved on to a nicely done salad of charred romaine hearts in an herbed vinaigrette with shavings of Parmesan. The husband chose a burger in large part because it came with pierogies, though the cheddar, peppered bacon and garlic aioli definitely had its own allure and gave the combo a definitive two thumbs up. Based on our companion's enthusiastic recommendation, I ordered the braised short ribs sauced with a port wine reduction and sided with gnocchi.  I took most of what was on the plate home, not because I didn't like it  since I absolutely did  but because I was just too full and too busy drinking some very good wine.

  And those reds and whites are really what makes this spot a real find. Owner Scott Kuebler keeps a large and interesting stock and makes buying a better bottle for sipping in-house very affordable by only charging $10 over the retail price. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays even that, which is essentially a corkage fee, is waived. Guests, like shoppers, can choose anything in the store to pair with their food. They're also encouraged to create their own flights: 2-ounce pours of four wines for $15. It's an excellent way to sample some unfamiliar varietals, vintages and vineyards. Not to mention a perfectly delightful way to spend an evening.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fire Starters

Things got heated at Shooters in the Flats this past Saturday. More than 1,500 spectators watched as 21 people become human candles to raise money for charities. The feat set a new Guinness World Record for the most people simultaneously performing full-body burns.

"The whole thing is nerve-wracking — your adrenaline's pumping, it's really just an amazing experience," said Hotcards CEO John Gadd of being set on fire. "But when I was lit, it actually became calming. I was just focused on moving my body and watching the people around me."

Two months prior to the event, trained stuntman Ted Batchelor of Chagrin Falls helped prepare each individual burner by lighting their arm on fire and then demonstrating a full-body burn himself.

In 2009, Batchelor oversaw and took part in the previous Guinness record, where 17 people were simultaneously set on fire in South Russell. Prior to that, Batchelor also had set a Guinness record of longest full-body burn without oxygen in 2004. "I felt so comfortable with Batchelor as our stunt coordinator," Gadd said. "He was incredibly methodical during the entire process, always assuring us there would be no room for error."

Originally, 20 people were supposed to be lit. At the last minute, however, mayoral candidate Ken Lanci was added to the group. With only a month to train for the event, Lanci enthusiastically took up the challenge. "We had a stand-in just in case someone were to back out," Batchelor said. "But literally seconds before we began lighting, everyone pulled through, and I made the decision that everyone that was suited up be lit."

Accompanying the burners were their own personal ignitors. Each ignitor was responsible for dousing the burner with fuel and lighting them with a three-foot wooden torch. Once ablaze, each burner walked back and forth across the parking lot, waving their flaming arms and legs for 32 seconds in a scene that looked like it could have been pulled from a horror movie.

"It's one thing to have your arm being lit on fire during the practice sessions, but when it's your whole body, that's when I got a little nervous." CEO of Fresh Brews Tees Tony Mandalone said.

Other burners included Archie Berwick, morning show host from 87.7 Cleveland’s Sound, Jenna Conforti, director of marketing at Scene Magazine, Scot Lowry, Fathom CEO, minister Mark Simone, an attorney and other Chagrin Falls residents, who took part of Batchelor’s 2009 record event.

For many burners, their motivation for getting torched was helping a good cause. The proceeds from the event benefited the Cleveland Foodbank and Brick by Brick, a nonprofit organization that helps impoverished women and children in South Africa, run by Simone. “For charities like these, I told myself, You know what, I’m alright with losing a layer of skin,” Berwick said after being extinguished.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Buzz Worthy

The Commonwealth is keeping a blistering pace, cranking out three albums over the last two years. Their most recent release, Urban Soul (Cellar Door Records, $8), brings the band’s mellow, heady rock sound to an orchestral tipping point. It's a perfect primer listen before heading out to catch the band at a free Heights Music Hop concert at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Phoenix Coffee Co., followed by a Seafair performance at 9 p.m. The multi-band and multi-venue hop is one of the events that kicks off Cleveland Beer Week.

For Commonwealth drummer Nicholas Kuhar, local shows are where the band is most at home. “We definitely like intimate performances,” he says. “Similarly, playing a smaller room is always inviting because you can actually see the faces of people. We do enjoy playing those more intimate gatherings.” We spoke to Kuhar, who also plays percussion and piano, about what makes the Commonwealth tick.

CM: What role does Cleveland play in your music?

NK: Any metropolitan Midwest city has a lot of touchstones similar to Cleveland, so I think it’s about just experiencing adult life in a place like that. And trying to really, legitimately be an adult … trying to set up a life for yourself that’s real, where you’re trying to be good to people and you’re trying to make sense of some of the things in life. I think that’s what the album’s really speaking to.

CM: How is Urban Soul different from Emerald City Blues?

NK: The first song [of Emerald City Blues], “Ichabod,” there’s lyrics that reference like “This has been done to me”, not necessarily “You are to blame for this,” but it’s very much more looking outward and trying to identify where the is the problem. I think that might have been more the tenor of our first two records. Where as this one, I think the stories, or the lyrics, are just more interesting, more complex and 3-D when you talk about, “What am I doing that’s not completely functional?” [and] “How am I culpable in any of my conflicts?”

CM: Where do you want to go as a band?

NK: Artistically, we’re trying to push even more the orchestral elements of the band. We really respect bands like the National or Bon Iver where it’s like a tiny orchestra on stage. It’s like, wow. We’ve seen the National live twice, and they’re so incredibly powerful and rich and have so much dimension to them. That’s really where we want to be.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sibling Success Story

Sometimes great places just fall off my radar. There's no good reason for it. But what's new overshadows the familiar. Or a spot isn't located along my usual routes or in a neighborhood I frequent often, so I forget about it. That's what happened with J. Pistone, a market and cafe, or gathering place as Joan and her brother John Pistone like to call it, on Warrensville Road in Shaker Heights.  But I recently had a meeting out that way and walked out after two hours of talking with a big hungry hole in my stomach and another appointment to get to in less than an hour.  I almost drove by before I realized I was within sight of a dependably good and quick lunch.

  The three-meal-a-day cafe has a regular menu of sandwiches, wraps, soup and salads. But I was drawn to the gorgeous prepared foods display. The guy behind the counter was ready to take my order, but I had a tough time deciding what to eat because there were so many appealing choices: cold pasta and grain dishes, brightly colored vegetables of all kinds, chunks of salmon and slices of beef. After keeping him waiting for too long, I settled on soba noodles in a zesty peanut sauce and roasted cauliflower, both sold by weight.

  It was one of these warm Indian summer days we've been having, so I grabbed a sidewalk seat and a server brought my food out to me.  I spent the next 20 minutes enjoying my meal and happily eavesdropping on a pair of older guys, friends since childhood, lingering over their lunch as they reminisced about parents, buddies, and growing up in Cleveland circa 1950s.

In addition to ready-to-go entrees and sides, you can get everything needed for a complete meal from house-made baked goods to packaged gourmet foods and fine wines. As the holiday season approaches, it's worth remembering that Joan, John and their staff create food gift baskets, party platters and cater events and meetings. I grabbed a copy of the catering menu and it's impressive, with creative restaurant-style options such as lobster mac and cheese, country pate, beef bourguignon, Thai pork, cassoulet, eggplant torta and wild mushroom tart. The siblings, who have the restaurant business in their blood and between them claim more than 40 years of experience, have been doing this together since 2000. My brief visit this month reminded me of just how well they work together, and why I should keep this place in my sights.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rockin' It at Rockefellers

Chef Jill Vedaa's food got my husband and I into Rockefellers, while the restaurant's cover-free, live music kept us there for three delightful hours. We sat at a lounge area for a view of Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Kenny Davis, and crooner and keyboard man Harry Bacharach. 
Our pick from the wine list — 2009 Howling Moon Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California, chosen because we visited there and enjoy this varietal — turned out to be quite good, and a steal $20 for the bottle. It was expertly decanted by our server, a sommelier-in-training.

We decided to take a grazing approach to dinner. By the time the check came, my husband and I had shared and sampled our way through a bowl of mussels; a plate of grilled bread with garlic-laden white bean puree and green olive tapenade to spread on it; mini mahi and avocado tacos in soft corn tortillas with pickled jalapeno, tomatilla salsa and citrus crema; and a vegetable tart with pickled ramps and fig jam. All was excellent.

Vedaa came out to chat, and I found out two important things. First, there's a new and very competent manager on board. And second, Vedaa has redone her menu for fall and winter. It just launched yesterday, but I got a sneak peak of what she'll be cooking.

photos by Shelley Pike Polewchak,
MultipleXposure Photography
There isn't a single dish on the new menu that I don't want to try. She's changing up the white wine and lemon mussels we had to a version done with roasted tomatoes and herbs. Bruschetta will be topped with butternut squash and truffle honey — a divine combination — plus shaved Parmesan and pecan dust. I'm especially lusting after the chicken livers with apple ginger chutney, pancetta and arugula. And those are just her starters. She's offering an intriguing salad composed of bibb lettuce, grapefruit, shaved fennel and house-smoked trout in a coriander vinaigrette. The entrees include duck legs, a pork chop with caramelized cabbage, swordfish with edamame puree and cucumber sesame slaw. I was happy to find that Vedaa's signature coconut milk glazed fried calamari with cilantro remains on the menu.

Whether you're a first-timer, someone who had a less than stellar experience here in the past, or a regular, there are plenty of reasons to come have dinner at Rockefellers now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lola Bistro Pastry Chef Takes to Twitter to Unveil Fall Dessert

Originally it was the the “#prototype” hashtag that caught our attention in Summer Genetti’s tweet. But when we saw what the Lola Bistro pastry chef was working on — a new dessert for the fall menu — we needed to know her inspiration and when we could try it. — Interview by Jon Miller

Cleveland Magazine: The dish looks great; what does it consist of?
Summer Genetti: Goat cheesecake with sweet potato sorbet, whole-wheat shortbread crumbles, poached cranberries, cashews, dates and a red wine caramel sauce drizzle on top.

CM: How did you come up with the dish?
SG: Well, it was originally supposed to be a sweet potato pie, but I thought adding the sorbet into the mix would be something different. We at Lola Bistro aren't ones to lay out a simple slice of cheesecake or pie. We have to put our own twist on it, and this what we came up with.

CM: Do you have a drink recommendation for it?
SG: [Today] we'll be introducing a new cocktail that will consist of apple cider syrup, from Ohio's own Rittman Orchard, and Oyo Vanilla Honey Bean vodka.

CM: Can we expect this on the new menu this season?
SG: Absolutely. Expect this item on our dinner menu this entire fall season, and possibly our winter menu as well.

CM: Are there any other ideas in the works?
SG: I'm always experimenting. We've also just introduced a new sweet potato pierogi with sour cream-based filling, five pieces of spiced candy and raspberry cream drizzled on top.

Follow Genetti on Twitter at @summergenetti. Lola Bistro, 2058 E. 4th St., Cleveland, 216-621-5652,

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reel Time

The Canton Film Fest might not be on the top of your must-do list this weekend — but we ask you to reconsider the intimate festival, housed at the historic Canton Palace Theatre going on today through Oct. 6. 

Photo courtesy of Canton Film Fest

Here are three reasons to take the trip down 77 South:

1. The — albeit limited — lineup includes a showing of indie film A Fish Story, followed by a Q-and-A with its star and North Canton native, Eddie McClintock. Support a locally born star. Also on tap: Showings of Wagonmasters, Thirteen and O and The Sax Man (To read our profile of its star, Maurice Reedus Jr. click here.) with accompanying Q-and-A’s.

2. If you’ve never been to the Canton Palace Theatre, now is your chance. The landmark was erected in 1926 and still evokes that era’s opulence and grandeur. What better place to view films than from the Palace’s plush red seats, surrounded by its gilded and ornate walls and ceilings?

3. Tickets range in price from $5 for a film screening to $35 to participate in a Saturday-only pre-film reception. Head to any other local movie theater, and you’ll be faced with ticket prices that teeter toward $11. Who could resist a steal — err, deal — as good as this?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Feeding People

   Mike Dunlap is a trained chef and butcher, a licensed meat processor, and one very busy guy. The first time I call him, he can't talk because it's the day he spends with his kids. (I love that he puts them first, even though he could use the publicity I'm offering). The next time I reach him, he's in his car driving to inspect a farm where he hopes to pasture some bison.He raises the animals and then sells the meat. Dunlop runs Fresh, a cafe, deli and butcher shop in Broadview Heights where he offers locally raised beef, bison, pork, lamb and poultry as well as his own house made sausages; keeps a smokehouse cooking out back; sells his stuff at a few farmer's markets; and heads up a catering company,  He's also a guy with a conscience and a desire to do good. So in 2012 he partnered with the North Royalton/Broadview Heights Rotary to launch a program that helps feed the hungry in this area.

   It's called Meat the Need. Hunters donate whole, tagged, field dressed and legally harvested deer bringing it to Dunlap's store. "Game like this is a natural free range source of healthy meat," he says, "and other cities and counties around the country are doing something similar. We're the first to try it here."
   Animals that conform to a set of strict food safety standards are processed and the venison is ground and packaged. This year it will be distributed through both the Broadview Heights Food Bank and the Cleveland Food Bank and Dunlap will make some available as sausages. "The first donations came in last night," Dunlap told me on the phone yesterday, "and it was only the second day of hunting season. Members of my staff and I were here until 11:30 processing six deer. We were pushing to get the work done because the Broadview Food Bank was out of protein and we wanted to be sure they could get the meat to families by the weekend."
     To encourage sportsmen to participate, Dunlap offers a discount on additional deer they want processed for their own consumption. Those who are not skilled with guns or bows can donate cash: every dollar counts, according to Dunlap, and sizable gifts earn the giver a Fresh gift card. For more information on the program and how it works call him at 440-740-1099 and check out the group's Facebook page for updates.
   Since many have no idea how tasty venison can be or how to prepare it, the Broadview Heights Human Services Department is sponsoring a free cooking class and tasting at Dunlap's store on November 7 at 7 PM. Attendance is limited to 25 and you must sign up by calling 440-526-4074.
   But even if you can't get there that night or get a seat, there are many reasons to go visit Fresh. You can talk vension with Dunlap, eat lunch (the menu is fat with tempting sandwiches and soups and you can see it online), purchase chops, roasts, whole fryers and turkeys, and side dishes made in house.
   And then there's his charcuterie. Listening to Mike describe what he offers and how he makes it had me salivating. "I do the traditional ethnic sausages, like kielbasa, Italian, chorizo, brats, and even hot dogs. And I create my own versions too. One of the most popular starts with a local Peking duck. I confit the legs, pull off the meat and combine it with pork, that's local too, and season the mixture with cranberries and sage I pick from my garden." You'll also find his own line-up of chicken sausages, jerky and smokies in a variety of flavors, hurka, goose liver, smoked head cheese, corn beef and pastrami.
  Although he's been in business for about four years I have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I only recently came across his name.  I mentioned that to him and he said that without a budget for advertising he's had to rely on "his mouth" and the goodwill of his customers to spread the word. I'm happy to be in the loop now and happier still to share his story and promote Meat the Need so that more people have the chance to sit down for a good meal. And if you know any hunters, please share this post with them before the season ends in December.  "You'd be surprise  how many folks out there have good hearts," Dunlap says.  He clearly is one of them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Still Life In Sharp Focus

When we watch the news or read the newspaper, we sometimes forget the people behind the camera. But photographers have an important job — and their profession is the centerpiece in Dobama Theatre’s fall opener and Tony Award nominee Time Stands Still, which runs through Oct. 6.

Sarah, an accomplished war photographer, returns home from the Middle East after a near-death experience. As she recuperates, she is forced to confront life at home in her Brooklyn flat, which she shares with her partner James, a war correspondent. But these tense scenes, crafted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, are cleverly balanced with much needed snarky, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-esque jabs between the couple and another pair.

With the Syrian conflict still very much on the forefront of current events, the play inadvertently situates itself in the center of nearly everyone’s conscious. The timing couldn’t be better. But if that isn’t enough to get your drama juices going, then here are three other reasons why you should catch this play:

Photo by Steve Wagner

Push/Pull Factor: Sarah is an adrenaline junkie. Time spent at the center of horrific war zones gave her a sense of purpose and excitement.  Despite the nightmares and symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder she experiences, Sarah is relentless in her attempts to go back out, even if it costs her everything she has back home. But a conflict arises because those moments of running from bullets and bombs have long faded for James, who is ready to settle down and have children. 

From the Front Lines to Brooklyn: The play begins by projecting war images on the glass of the couple’s Brooklyn flat. The imagery is powerful and fast, but more importantly, effective in immediately throwing the audience into the eye of the camera. What strikes the heart of this narrative is the question of the exposure to violence — where do we draw the line? By the end of the play, you may be asking yourself where you stand.  

Cast: These are first-rate performances executed with great depth. Each member of the cast exhibit qualities that we can all relate to in some way or another. During a Q&A before the show, Director Nathan Motta touches upon the complexities of Sarah’s character, saying, “Despite the people she cares about, she has to look through this rectangle, time stops around her, and I think we all know people like that.”

For more information on theater this fall season, check out Cleveland Magazine's Arts & Entertainment Fall Preview here.