Monday, June 30, 2014

David Giffels and Scott Raab Read at Brews + Prose Second Anniversary

(Courtesy David Giffels)
To David Giffels, the Rust Belt is a promised land of grit and rust — a place where he unequivocally belongs.

On Tuesday, a pilgrimage to Ohio City and a brush-up on Giffels’ book, The Hard Way on Purpose, might inspire similar feelings in readers. Giffels, a University of Akron professor and former Akron Beacon Journal columnist, will read alongside Scott Raab, author of The Whore of Akron, writer-at-large for Esquire and occasional Cleveland Magazine contributor. The event, a second-anniversary celebration of the Brews + Prose reading series, will doubtless fill up fast.

We asked the Akron-born Giffels about LeBron, "ruin porn" photography and what to expect at the packed-house reading.

Q: What are you looking forward to about reading with Scott Raab?

A: We have this LeBron James connection, because I’ve written about it and he’s written about it in very, very different ways. I really want this to be a showdown. I think that’d be great if he was game to do that. Tuesday, who knows what could be happening with LeBron, so it could be kind of an electric kind of moment.

Q: Is the LeBron James as metaphor thing as important as it’s made out to be?

A: I’ve been constantly asking that question. I think it is. He represents such an interesting intersection, him being born just as the Rust Belt notion was beginning and to have been here, then through a weird twist of fate, to have stayed and begun his career here. All of that was at a point where Akron was at the lowest point of its sense of identity. Not that he would be our identity, but that he would represent a new identity, or part of a new identity. I think that’s fascinating.

Q: In your book, you talk about good and bad ruin porn. Does that concept glorify ruins in the wrong way?

A: The issue with ruin porn, especially in the specific Rust Belt ruin porn that I’m writing about, [is that] a lot of those photographs are being made by people who are exploiting it. They’re being made by people who aren’t from that place, who aren’t documenting something with any sort of social or civic or cultural intent so much as just to take fascination in the image itself. I think that’s shortsighted.

Where those images are useful is where the context is opened up, when they’re taken by people that understand it -- whether they’re from the place or they’ve taken the time to really understand it.

Brews + Prose, Market Garden Brewery, 1947 W. 25th St., Cleveland, July 1, 7 p.m.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fans Unite on Wiggins Pick

Next year may have come early. The Cavs No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins may just be the change-up our team needs.

"I love it. That was the best thing they could have done for Cleveland,” says James Gatson, a supervisor at 55 Public Square, during a draft party at The Q Thursday night. Gatson thinks the choice of Wiggins will help convince free agent LeBron James to come back. The return of the King was on many fans’ minds, but largely the night was about Wiggins – and the busy, floral print suit he donned for the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center.

When the night began, the question on people’s minds was whether the Cavs would pick University of Kansas freshman Wiggins or Duke University freshman Jabari Parker. Thousands of fans, mostly dressed in wine and gold, spent the time leading up to the draft shooting baskets on the court, getting autographs from Cavs legends Campy Russell and Jim Chones and noshing on stadium fare – but the tension was building. When Wiggins’ name was announced over the broadcast from New York, the entire arena cheered in unison.

“He’s going to be a good match for the team,” says fan Loren Delaney.

Wiggins is considered by many to have more long-term potential than Parker, who ended up being drafted second by the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Honestly, if we wanted somebody now, we would have said Jabari, but we’re looking toward the future,” says Rahmel Johnson, a senior at Bedford High School. “That’s the best way to go.”

Any pick is a gamble, seeing as the team surprised everybody by drafting Anthony Bennett with the first-round pick last year, and he only averaged 4 points per game last season. He did average 16 points per game in college, however.

“[Wiggins] was a good college basketball player,” Johnson says. “He averaged 17 points a game, which is very good as a freshman. It’s just his aggression. His last game, he only had four points and he only shot like six shots.”

The Cavs also drafted University of Virginia shooting guard Joe Harris with the 33rd pick in the second round.

You never know with Cleveland sports, but with a new coach and general manager, getting Wiggins and James rumors, things are looking up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Coop Tour Unscrambles Negative Connotations about Owning Chickens

Live in Cleveland Heights? Your neighbor may have a secret: a feathery, egg-laying friend. Normally, the cluckers would stay cooped up from the public eye, but on June 21 10 poultry enthusiasts opened their backyards for the 2nd Annual Cleveland Heights Coop Tour.

  In 2012, the city of Cleveland Heights hatched a plan to accommodate the birds by lifting a ban on raising chickens, as long as owners keep no roosters and don’t have more than four hens at a time bringing both support and opposition.

“When they made it legal, I just wanted to get people out to see it,” says Matt Wilson, one of the founding members of the Heights Chickeneers, an online group and blog for Cleveland Heights chicken keepers. “A poorly run poultry farm is disgusting,” he says. “It’s tragic.”

The coop tour set out to show how quiet, clean, and charming chickens can be. For folks worried about ethical treatment of animals? Well ... some of these hens lived in coops nicer than my apartment. The coops' architecture was as unique and diverse as the houses they stood behind. Some owners bought theirs ready-to-go from a farm store,while others had theirs made by local woodworkers (Timothy Riffle and Tim McLoughlin both build custom coops in the Heights) and one couple won theirs in a raffle at the Cleveland Garlic Festival. Maggie Schaffer and her husband built theirs  an $1,000-plus adobe complete with an electric sliding door, a tall run in the back, an electrical cord to heat water in freezing weather, and Plexiglas covering the windows for protection against winter winds.

If watching chickens gallivant and flutter around urban backyards wasn’t enough, the tour offered an incentive: Each destination handed out a sticker, and at the end of the tour, the Bottlehouse Brewery on Lee Road entered everyone with four or more stickers in a raffle to win a themed gift basket or backyard eggs. If you flashed your stickers at the table, you’d get $2 off of an order for a croque madame: a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do this was to dispel the idea that chickens are bad or noisy or stinky,” says Culey. The hens were nothing of the sort; they were fluffy and clean, social and whimsical. Minus the fluffy part, so were their owners: friendly, engaging people just looking to unscramble unfair negative notions of chicken farming.

A Cleveland Classic

Sitting alone in Prosperity Social Club waiting for a friend to arrive, I had time to pose myself a question: What do I love about this place? Quite simply — everything. But for those who'd prefer a more detailed catalog of particulars that make this Tremont bar and restaurant appealing, here's the list I jotted down until my companion showed up:

- The genuine, scuffed-up, been-here-a-long-time authenticity that no interior designer can create.
- The vintage beer signs and the recreation room-style paneled walls they hang on.
- The worn and well-used wooden chairs.
- The long bar rubbed to a sheen by countless elbows and even more swipes with a damp cloth.
- The funky arcade games.
- The unpretentious mix of people that tend to congregate here — though there are always those who work hard at appearing hip, there are more that just work hard.
- The good things to eat and drink, with options that can be healthy or not, comfort or creative, heavy or light.
- Its house-made potato chips, build-your-own mac 'n' cheese, stuffed cabbage and pierogies.
- The friendly greetings that don't include the servers name. (Establishments that train their people to come to the table and interrupt your conversation with a, "Hi, my name is Ashley and I'll be your server tonight," should rethink this silly practice. It always makes me want to say, "Hi, I'm Laura and I'll be your customer.")
- Its great happy hour deals.

Once there were two of us, I gave up musing on the assets and focused on enjoying them. We had a really outstanding summer cocktail — a combination of Pimms and ginger beer — a Greek salad, roasted vegetable empanadas, and a pound of mussels in a buttery, garlicky white wine broth so good that it was necessary to get a second order. There were no leftovers.

In a perfect world, Prosperity would be on the East Side, closer to where I live. Otherwise I wouldn't change a thing about this spot, where drafts have been pulled and shots have been tossed back since 1938.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cleveland Museum of Art Excites with Solstice

Parts of Solstice seem unreal at times. Vibrant patterns flicker across the south side of the 1916 Building like shadows passing through the night. Dancers move across elevated lighted platforms with great strength and dexterity. Partygoers in stacked balloon hats as tall as the top of the stage pulsate through the crowd to the beat of world music.

It's unlike any party you've ever been to  and it's something new each year. 

It’s no wonder why the sixth annual Cleveland Museum of Art gathering, held June 21, has become known as Cleveland’s signature summer party. Solstice is something truly unique  a cutting-edge global music festival held amongst centuries-old masterpieces that are part of one of the world’s most distinguished art collections. 

Photo by Thom Sheridan
This year, more than 6,000 people gathered to welcome summer at the exclusive cultural event. The night began with the glow of evening sun blanketing guests mingling on the terrace sipping drinks and nibbling on gourmet eats as Turkish DJ Arkin Allen spun electronic tunes. As darkness fell, images from Joshua Light Show began to creep across the century-old building, transforming the museum into a club. Crowds moved to music from young tabla artist Suphala, rhythmic Central Asian ensemble Salar System and Turkish composer, bendir player, disc jockey and producer Mercan Dede & Secret Tribe

Solstice raged on inside as DJs, including MisterBradleyP and Awesome Tapes From Africa, manned the atrium stage while colorful images floated across the interior north side of the 1916 Building.

Partygoers were among the first to preview Yoga: The Art of Transformation, which explores yoga’s visual history (special $15 exhibit fee applies during regular hours). More than 100 masterworks of Indian painting and sculpture as well as rare publications, photography and video offer insight into yoga’s practices, popularity and transformation over time. On view through Sept. 7, museum guests can also practice contemporary yoga styles during Sunday yoga classes from June 29 to Aug. 31 for $19 for both the exhibit and class, $12 for just the yoga session and $8 for members.

Photo by Thom Sheridan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Visual artists help Bethesda release new EP

A texturized acrylic portrait of a late grandfather. A silk-screen print of an hourglass wrapped in vines. A video installation displayed on a bed adorned with a mobile made of human hair and pig intestines. Indie-folk-rock band Bethesda’s new EP Dissolve inspired local artists to create all of these diverse works.

For its EP release party at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland Thursday night, Bethesda skipped a traditional concert and instead hosted a night that was more of a celebratory gathering of the local arts community. Trying its hand at curating an art show, the band asked 10 local visual artists to make pieces based on its new music.

“Whenever we do a release, we like to do things that reach out to the community around us and other artists,” says lead singer Shanna Delaney.

With shifting band members, Bethesda decided it isn't in a place to record a full-length follow-up to 2013's The Reunion. So band members opted to record an EP with two singles, “Wild Winter” and “Dissolve,” at Danger House Studio with Dave Douglas.

In true Bethesda style, the singles fearlessly confront the difficulties of life by rejoicing in them.

“I’m at the age where you realize most of life is a struggle. It’s a wild winter,” says songwriter and guitarist Eric Ling. “But there’s beauty in that too. Once you embrace that, it’s just a part of life.”

Partnering with Cellar Door, the night kicked off with a boot stompin’, beer swiggin’ set by folksy newgrass band Honeybucket including crowd pleasers “Honey for My Baby” off its self-titled EP and “Whiskey Drinkin’ Blues” off of its live EP.

Arlene Cassara Dance and Theater Center followed the high-energy show with a modern dance to an instrumental version of “Dissolve.” Then to a full crowd in the museum lobby literally got down to Bethesda's old and new music, taking in a live video accompaniment by Cory Sheldon with the debut of "Dissolve."

Despite the band being new to curating an art show, the members were impressed with the depths of the artist's work and the starkly different ways each interpreted the songs.

“I write the lyrics and it’s really cool to see people grab on to a certain line and relate it to life,” Ling says. “To me, that’s what making music is all about. Writing something in such a way that people can connect it to their own lives. They can actually physically see that not only did they connect, but it inspired them to create as well.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nature's Bounty

Ben Bebenroth's idea of bringing people out to area farms for dinner just doesn't get old. The chef and owner of  Spice Kitchen and Bar has been doing it since 2005, and I've attended these Plated Landscape Dinners multiple times, most recently earlier this month at Muddy Fork Farm near Wooster. It was as magical and memorable as ever.

The weather, the astonishingly good food, and grower Monica Bongue, who supplied just-picked ingredients including the asparagus served for our first course, made the event perfect, and that's a word I don't use often or casually. The long table, set up in a grassy space between the rhubarb patch, some fruit trees and the chicken coop, was covered in white linen and set with wine glasses and wildflowers. Six minute eggs and freshly made hollandaise came out of the temporary outdoor kitchen. Walleye, skirt steak and bread were grilled on a grate suspended over a campfire. Before the meal, guests got tours of the beautiful property from Bongue, who operates the farm with the help of her husband, as well as passed hors d'oeuvres and an excellent cocktail featuring ginger syrup and tequila. Well-paired reds and whites were poured with every course. Service, under the watchful, seasoned eye of Jess Edmonds, who favors dresses and cowboy boots, was impeccable. Ducks waddled by, the dog barked, the hens clucked, birds sang, breezes blew, the sun set with a gorgeous glow, the band played on and the world was a happy place.

You can make reservations for your own enchanted evening. There are dinners scheduled through October. My husband, Barney Taxel, took photos that show why you should.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Locally Produced Sci-Fi Thriller The Signal Bends Genres

Courtesy Focus Features
Chagrin Falls native Tyler Davidson's latest movie brought him to New Mexico and back home to Northeast Ohio. The Signal, a sci-fi thriller that follows three friends from Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a road trip gone wrong, filmed in both locations last June including the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and the Cleveland Metroparks' Rocky River Reservation. Starring newcomer Brenton Thwaites, who will be seen later this summer in The Giver, the film was screened last Thursday for a special local audience in advance of its limited release this Friday at Cinemark Valley View. Following the screening, Davidson talked with the crowd about the director, defying genres and working with Laurence Fishburne.

Q: How was William Eubank, the director, a good fit for this movie?
A: His only prior feature was Love. It's pretty experimental. It was made on a minuscule budget, but what he accomplished was really mind-boggling. He built a replica of the International Space Station in his parent's backyard, and he built a Civil War battlefield. I thought, if this guy could do that with nothing, what if we could get him some resources? He was very hands on with The Signal, too. He and his brother did many of the special effects themselves. There's a sort of "Thunderfist" explosion scene, and they covered trampolines in cork themselves and hit them from below.

Q: This film had a lot of flashbacks to Nic's past. How did this fit with the rest of the story?
A: On a thematic level we wanted this film to be about a person's emotional self and not his logical self. We used the flashbacks to help communicate that, and we also mixed a lot of genres. We used The Blair Witch-camera style to maximize the suspense and horror factor, which worked well because Jonah [a character played by Beau Knapp] chronicled this scene with a handheld camera. This movie is a genre bender, there are so many different genres in here. You've got a college road trip at the beginning, then there's the horror scene, and after that there are some crazy sci-fi action scenes.

Q. Was Laurence Fishburne your first choice?
A: Lawrence was at the top of a very short list. He has the perfect voice for it, kind of a butter voice. He was a little apprehensive about spending six weeks in a hazmat suit in Albuquerque, but it worked out. He's such a veteran, and this is a pretty young cast otherwise.

To read more about The Signal and Tyler Davidson, check out our June article "Action Shot" featured in our annual Summer Fun Guide.

Unforgettable Feast

More than a month ago, my best friend and I ate at Valerio's Ristorante in Little Italy. It was such a lovely experience in every way that I have thought about it again each time I drive past the Mayfield Road spot.
It was a weeknight and late, so there were only a few other people still dining. The memory of our meal makes my mouth water. We had two brilliant salads-simple and perfect, the main ingredient playing the starring role: one nothing more than slivers of raw fennel in just the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette, and the other thinly sliced crimini mushrooms with garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Then we shared huge bowl of cioppino, a feast of scallops, mussels, cod, shrimp and clams in a tomato broth so flavorful that determinedly and without embarrassment we used shells and the over-sized serving spoon to get up every last drop.

We continued to sit, talking and laughing and sipping wine after the bill came. We didn't feel bad because no one was waiting for a table. Suddenly a plate of tiramisu was set before us, with the message, "It's on the house." It was sent over by owner and chef Valerio Iorio and delivered by his wife, Stella, who also baked this light and lovely version of the classic dessert.

Maybe he was trying to build some good will with a couple of customers he'd never seen before. Maybe the night was drawing to a close and he knew he wasn't going to sell that piece of cake. But we chose to think he saw us as kindred spirits, that he appreciated our ability to spend a leisurely evening Italian style, savoring good food, fine drink and the joys of companionship and conversation.

And we were right. We stopped to thank him and Stella on our way out the door and he confirmed that he did it just because our pleasure gave him pleasure. Happily it was not because he knew I am a food writer. Though he and I had met before, it was a long time ago and he didn't recognize me until I introduced myself. Our goodbyes included much heartfelt hand squeezing and hugging among the four of us. Compliments flowed back and forth, and my friend and I gave him our promise to return soon. It's a promise I am eager to keep.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Johnny on the Spot

Ask veteran Texas sportswriter Mike Shropshire to explain how Johnny Manziel plays football, and you will hear the words of someone who has witnessed a player from another dimension. “You really can’t see him go from here to there,” says the 72-year-old Shropshire. “It’s sort of supernatural.” Shropshire’s new book Johnny Football: Johnny Manziel’s Wild Ride from Obscurity to Legend at Texas A&M (MVP Books, $19.99) pulls back the curtain on the wizardry of the Cleveland Browns first-round pick. We talked with Shropshire about Manziel’s work ethic, his legend and his NFL prospects.

Q: Does Manziel have the discipline to adjust to professional football?
A: He has a reputation for controversy, whether he deserves it or not. Nobody forced Johnny to show up courtside at NBA games yukking it up with LeBron James and Drake. But nobody saw him sitting under a beach umbrella sipping margaritas during two-a-day practices at [Texas] A&M last summer.

Q: Manziel has become a modern media monster. How has this affected him?
A: The Manziel phenomenon is not going to go away anytime soon. After he won the Hesiman, was he really getting off on the spotlight? He went from being Johnny Football to college football’s answer to Lindsay Lohan. You can say a lot of things about Johnny but he’s no dummy – I’ll be very surprised if there are any off-the-field incidents during his pro career.

Q: Will Manziel’s college accomplishments translate to the NFL?

A: Sending him to Canton [and the Pro Football Hall of Fame] might be a little premature, but it doesn’t take Knute Rockne to figure out he’s a special player. He has an uncanny sense of anticipation, and that’s why he’s so remarkable. If the Browns can come up with a Robin to this Batman they’ve found, you’re going to see some serious excitement in Cleveland.

By Barry Goodrich

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Happiest Hour

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
The dining room at The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan was packed on Saturday evening. The vegan dinner, a first here, was a sellout, a fact that both amazed and delighted Anna Marie Harouvis, lead chef and creator of the Greek-inspired meal. Grinning and glowing, the exuberant evangelist of fruit and vegetable-centric eating told the crowd it was the happiest night of her life. She couldn't get over how many people turned out for what was a most unusual and esoteric menu. I'm sure she felt even better as they were leaving, when satisfied guests stood in line to offer compliments and congratulations.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
Harouvis, who produces Anna in the Raw fresh juices, had challenged herself to make dishes rooted in her family heritage without using meat, dairy products or eggs. It was also gluten-free, and some elements were raw. Not an easy task. But she pulled it off, serving her own versions of spanakopita, moussaka, rice pudding and a reinvented baklava with squash blossoms standing in for phyllo dough. We also feasted on olive "bread," and zucchini "muffins," pickled vegetables, hummus, cashew "cheese," grape leaves filled with minced cauliflower, mushroom cakes with spicy aioli and micro-greens, and raw ginger "ice cream" with strawberries and rhubarb.
It takes a lot of help to produce and serve beautifully plated food for 130 people. Harouvis had a stellar volunteer lineup to assist in the kitchen — a testament to how loved and respected she is in the local culinary community. Those volunteers included the new chef at CVI, Jamie Simpson, and his chef de cuisine Ulfet Ralph; Jill Vedaa, executive chef at Rockefellers, who brought along her new employee, Aubrey Johansen; Jennifer Plank, co-executive chef at Toast; John Selick, executive chef of Sodexo USA and his wife, Allysun Doty; Terry Bell, team chef for the Cavs; and Lanny Chin, formerly at Lago and soon on his way to Alaska. My compliments and apologies to all those hard working folks who I don't know and didn't name.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
The event was part of the Earth to Table series at CVI, a beautiful place to be on a summer night, with other chefs and other menus to come in June, July and August. CVI also used to be the site of an annual food and wine extravaganza to raise money for their educational efforts. But this year the Veggie U fundraiser will be held at Tri-C Hospitality Management Center and Pura Vida downtown on Public Square on July 19. No doubt it will be another not to be missed pleasure.