Thursday, December 8, 2011


Before I begin let me make a quick comment on time. Turns out I don't have as much of it as I originally thought or I am just not keeping good track of it. Either way I have fallen behind on my "reviews" considerably and for that I do apologize to my fellow readers. I can't promise that I will be more regular with my posts but I can promise that I will feel bad about not posting them. Now on to the show.

I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine regarding the "Hipster" craze that is "sweeping the nation." (Note: that irony is a big tool of the hipster culture so there will be sarcasm abound in this post... "enjoy".) The conversation continued until it reached the point that we had decided that we were both hipsters in one way or another. He likes to listen to albums on vinyl records while wearing a vintage rock shirt. Occasionally we will have a "blue collar beer" night and bring the crappiest beers we can find and do blind taste tests. Why? Because it's fun with irony, thats why.

I too find myself in the hipster category. Some people say that my beard is ironic. While it may have started that way it turns out it just looks good so those people can shut it. However as I am writing this I am wearing a western shirt with a Cavs "trucker hat", ripped jeans, and a shirt that references the "California penal league" from the movie major league. On that basis alone I could be considered a hipster. However, I don't think of this as a bad word anymore. Hipsters are beginning to bring a lot to our culture through out this country and more specifically in Cleveland. To prove my point I present Exhibit A: Ohio City and Exhibit B: Tremont. 10 years ago you would not want to live in Ohio City and you could barely see Tremont as a cool place to live. Fast forward to today and they are by far the two "hottest" neighborhoods in town. You can feel the history as you walk around and you can also feel the sense that it is still a work in progress. But it's ok because people are committed to the idea of what this town can become and that is pretty "hip".

Now there are a few bad things about the "hipster invasion". My favorite bar ABC has become overrun with these ironic guys and gals and it makes it difficult to move around it. Don't get me wrong I am happy that my favorite bar is doing well and I don't think it has hurt their service at all but I feel that it's not as easy to get a seat at the bar as it once was and there is a bit of a line for the bowling machine on the weekends. At least it's not getting infested by the d-bag's from W. 6th.

Now with the drawbacks there are also some great "side effects" and one of those things are AMAZING food choices throughout this town. Places that preach eating locally and farm a lot of their own stuff. One of those places is called Lucky's Cafe and I must say it is one of the finest places for breakfast or lunch in town!

I went there on a beautiful fall day a few weeks ago with my girlfriend and I am pretty sure we made more "mmmmmmmmm" sounds than any other meal we have had together. Allie had gingerbread waffles with very fresh whipped cream and a side of warm cinnamon apples on the side. These were by no exaggeration the finest waffles I have ever put in my mouth and I'll be damned if I ever take back that statement. I would have eaten all of hers if not for the fact that I ordered the baked mac and cheese.

Now there are a few foods that I considerer myself a connoisseur of. The first are wings, I know wings better than most people and I know what makes a wing good and what makes a wing great. The second is creme brûlée. When I have room for desert and that is available it is what I am having 9 times out of 10. (The best by the way was at the river city cafe in NYC Thanksgiving day 1996.) The last thing is mac and cheese. Until recently there was never even a question as to where to find the best mac and cheese and that was Lola on E. 4th. The creamiest dish that was just rich enough to savor every bite but not to rich that you wouldn't be trying to lick the bowl when no one was looking. Add the chicken that is nicely roasted and seasoned perfectly to go in the sauce and you have yourself one of the finer dishes of mac and cheese in town.
I say this with my reputation as a connoisseur on the line but the mac and cheese at Lucky's cafe is better. Four cheeses go in to this not to mention cream and brioche bread crumbs (add the bacon if it's available). It WILL fill you up. There is no doubt about it. Unlike the lola mac and cheese if you are licking the plate after this meal you are a better person than me. Don't get me wrong no matter how full you think you are you will still finish this meal. It is that good. I swear two thirds through the meal I was full but my brain would not tell me to stop eating. I knew I was full but I didn't care. Not many dishes can make that claim in my book but that is one of them.

Oh and in case you were wondering we also had the bacon. It's local, pecan crusted with brown sugar on one side baked in an oven for 10 minutes and not at all greasy. It is wonderful. I honestly could go into another three paragraphs about how good this is and how much I would be willing to sell my soul and the souls of other respected individuals just to have a piece appear right in front of me. However, there are somethings that must be experienced and don't translate into words. This is one of those things.

So to all you hipsters out there in our fair city I thank you for making Cleveland your home and bringing your fine food culture with you. I look forward to trying more of your creations while wearing an ironic T-shirt about "dead mans curve".

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Not gone anywhere.

Been a bit since I posted last. Sorry about that but I have been a bit busy as of late. New posts are sure to come soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


You may wonder what those numbers stand for? Go ahead and google it, I'll wait here.

Pretty cool huh? Anyway, on to why these numbers are important. (Or more importantly why one of those numbers is important.)

Throughout history there have been many rivalries. The English vs. the French, North Korea vs. South, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh, and Congress vs... well Congress. Great divisions occur due to these conflicts. This is not one of those but it is very important to how we view the landscape of this fine town. 81.693679 is the longitude that separates the East and West side of Cleveland and although it might not carry the weight of a massive rivalry but there is certainly a division.

I grew up in Shaker Heights. If you're not familiar with the Cleveland suburbs it is located on the east side and is, for the most part, one of the more affluent neighborhoods surrounding downtown. While growing up I didn't know too much about the west side of Cleveland. In fact I can only recall a handful of times that I ventured further than the west bank of the flats until I was out of high school and had access to a car. I will not lie, growing up in Shaker we turned our noses at the west side. For me Shaker was the epicenter of my universe and nothing would change my mind about that. I generally thought that people from the west side, their culture, and their food were not worth the time of day. So did a lot of people from Shaker. So we stayed on the east side and did not bother to see what was beyond 81.693679 longitude.

When I returned from college I had a new appreciation for people and life in general. So when it came time for me to find a job I started working on the west side of town at a shoe store in Strongsville. While there I found that the disdain that us eastsiders had towards the westsiders was mutually met. They considered us elitist and stuck up, which was not too far from the truth, and did not care to venture to our side of town either.

However, something strange happened... I made friends. And once I made friends, they introduced me to their side of town and the endless amounts of culture that are available. This experience left me very conflicted. I grew up thinking that the east side was the "the side" to be on. But I realized that in reality we are all the same no matter what side we are on. I also realized why we were led to believe such things in the first place. It takes a REALLY long time to get there.

When Shaker Heights was developed it was built on the idea that mass transit would be the solution and that people would simply take the train into work downtown. The result was some of the most confusing streets in northeast Ohio. What's more the idea of a highway anywhere near the east side's largest suburbs was, for some reason, frowned upon. The result is it takes anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes to get to a highway. Then once on that highway it takes another 25 to 35 minutes to get to the major west side suburbs. So the two sides are segregated from each other not by different ideals or cultures but just by the fact that it takes too long to get to one another.

So I propose an idea. Ignore the fact that it might take you an hour to get to where your going and simply go. And while you're going, why not go to a place that deserves your attention...

The other day my girlfriend (who lives in Parma thank you very much) turned to me and asked the ever important question: "Where do you want to go to dinner?" I gave it a few moments thought and simply stated "Fathead's." She quickly looked back at me and said, "That's EXACTLY what I was thinking." Proving two things. One, my girlfriend and I are truly on the same wavelength and two, this place is so good it can transmit its awesomeness to our subconscious at the exact same time. So off we went.

Fathead's not only has the distinction of being the first restaurant that I am talking about on this blog which is located outside the city limits but it is also the first (and possibly only) not to be headquartered in the state of Ohio. In fact its first location was Pittsburgh, PA (boo) and I went to it on the suggestion of old roommate (and former chef at Lola) Aaron. We had spent the previous night catching up and drinking ourselves stupid. So when I did finally start eating it was not so much to enjoy the food as it was to recover from the massive hangover I had developed from too many Yuengling's. Needless to say the experience was less than memorable and although he tried to convince me of this restaurant's greatness I was not blown away. Granted at the time Wendy's would have seemed like a four star meal so this clearly was not the moment to judge it. I do however remember the "headwiches" were quite large.

Flash forward a few years and my boss mentions to me this place that opened near his house in North Olmsted. So upon his recommendation I traveled with my girlfriend and had an amazing experience. The beer is about as good as a small micro brewery can be. Honestly I could probably waste another 1,000 or so words just describing the various styles that are offered but instead I will let their awards speak for themselves. Honestly they had me at "cask conditioned beer," but the options are wonderful. Plus on top of what they brew themselves your are always guaranteed a wide variety of unique micro brews on their guest list that can put a lot of bars to shame.
But wait there's more!!! The food is wonderful. It's standard bar food... ON STEROIDS! Seriously the portions are giant, and you will find yourself full halfway through only to find you're still eating because it's that good. The "headwiches" are massive and unique as the name they are called. They even have one that was named "one of the top 5 sandwiches in the USA." But I don't care. For me there is only one thing on the menu that I want... Smoke house wings.

I will refer you to earlier in my blog when I mentioned that I will be naming some of the "best in Cleveland" things, the smoke house wings are one of those. In fact I am pretty damn sure that if these wings were in a competition for best wings in the country they would probably win. First, they are absolutely giant. They don't separate the wing so you get the whole thing, I think it has something to do with flavor. Speaking of flavor, they slow smoke them for an unbelievable flavor. The meat pretty much just falls off the bone and is just melt-in-your-mouth awesome. Then you get the sauces. There are plenty to choose from but for me I only have eyes for the hot buffalo sauce. It's just the right amount of flavor and heat. If there is a downside they are unbelievably messy, but quite frankly I could care less. Perfect in every meaning of the word and I will eat my own shoe before I take away that distinction.

So is there a downside to this experience? Yeah. Obviously this place can get VERY busy. When we went last Friday the wait was over an hour for a table for two. Now granted that was during peak times on a Friday and fortunately we found a nice couple who gave us their bar seat so we only waited about 10 minutes. The music is a little bland but that is hardly a major complaint. And it's far (unless you live in North Olmsted then you're right there). But is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

So westsiders and eastsiders unite! We have so much to offer each other as long as we are willing to take the time to travel. After all we are all Clevelanders no matter which side of 81.693679 we are on.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


No. Not that one.

That's the one.

I have a few loves in my life. My family, my girlfriend, my friends, and my city. If you have been reading this blog up to this point you probably got the big picture about the emerging food scene set in a city that is rediscovering itself as a modern metropolis. It offers so much and asks only that you speak well of it when you leave. It's a place that I recommend you visit ASAP. And for those of you who have just moved or are planning to move here let me be among the first to welcome you. You have made an excellent decision in choosing this city as a home for you and your family for years to come. However, there may be something that was not on the brochure that we need to talk about. We kinda suck.

Two days after Christmas in 1964 the Cleveland Browns took the field against the Baltimore Colts and proceeded to beat the Christmas cheer right out of them 27 - 0. This was a game that Jim Brown (arguably the best running back ever) was held to only 114 yards rushing and no touchdowns. But it didn't matter fate was on our side and on that cold day in December The City of Cleveland had its champion. I can only imagine the parade that was held in the days after and the euphoric feeling of accomplishment that comes with it. I say that I can only imagine it because since that date in 1964 no Cleveland sports team has won a major championship. For those of you keeping score at home, it is 47 years since the Indians, Browns, or Cavaliers have won "the big game." Which means that anyone who was born on December 28th 1964 or later has no knowledge of such excitement. And unfortunately that would include myself.

Now were we just to lose in a cloud of mediocrity it would be one thing but we don't. We lose in SPECTACULAR fashion! For you reading pleasure I give you the following links (unless you're a native Clevelander in which case go ahead and skip this): The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Modell, Jose Mesa, and The Decision. And those are just the REALLY famous ones. There is also 1999 Red Sox, The 2003 Wild Card game against the Steelers, or the 2007 Red Sox (AGAIN!). We just haven't come up with creative names for those yet.

I could spend the rest of this article writing about how Art Modell is a ass or how LeBron is a traitor (I am trying to keep this clean but the words fuckbag or asshat kept popping into my head for some reason.) but you can probably get that from anyone in this city. Honestly, if you walked up to anyone in this city and mentioned any of the topics mentioned in the previous paragraph you would either get unbelievably sad eyes staring back at you, or punched in the face (often depending on the event and the amount of alcohol the fan has consumed). So it would be almost pointless to go over everything, and quite frankly I am not too keen on killing myself tonight so let's move on.

This brings us to today's question... "Why are you a Cleveland sports fan?" Well that's an easy and yet very hard question to answer. I guess the easy answer is this: I am from Cleveland; therefore I am. Simple, right? If you lived in Philadelphia, or Boston, or Miami(OK maybe not Miami, their fans could care less, but you get the point), you would say the exact same thing. "I am from X (where X= the city of your choice); therefore I am. So, yes it is quite simple. Except it's not. If you ask anyone from those cities they also would have heartbreaking tales of woe to tell you (except Miami who really can't be bothered by anything but the beach). Difference is all of those cities have had major championships in their last 10 years. While in Cleveland we have not seen a winner since 1964. So the answer gets really hard and I am afraid a little dark.

I remember two consecutive years in the 1980's the look of absolute pain on my father's face as somehow our Browns blew another chance to go to the Super Bowl. I remember the look of confusion and anger on the faces of my high school classmates as news traveled that Art Modell was moving the team at the end of the year to Baltimore. I remember yelling so loudly outside my dorm in 1997 as Craig Counsell rounded 3rd that I scared myself. And I remember the look of absolute astonishment on the faces of everyone at the bar at Whiskey Island as LeBron announced where he was taking his talents, followed by some random guy yelling "turn that shit off." This is why it is hard to be a Cleveland Sports Fan. Not so much the memories of the game or action itself but the images that stick with you until the end of your days.

So why do it? At the end (and sometimes the middle) of every season I ask myself the same question. Sometimes I will just smile and laugh it off saying things like "it's only a game" or "maybe next year" and sometimes I find myself a quiet corner and question my existence (depends on the year). But come April of every year I find myself watching the first pitch of a Indians game wondering if this might be our year. In September I have already decided that the Browns made enough moves and got enough young talent to surprise everyone and become the champions they can be. In late October I convince myself that the Cavs might sneak into the playoffs and then "who knows what might happen?"

Now I am a realist and I can assure you that these thoughts are fleeting at best but for those brief moments in time I can still wonder "what if? (©2011 Cleveland Indians)" and it sucks me in one more time. I believe Einstein once called insanity the act of doing something over and over again expecting different results. So by that logic I must be absolutely mad.

As I write this today the Cleveland Indians have successfully blown a remarkable season in which we were in first place for almost half the year. The Cleveland Browns managed to start off their season by blowing a 4th quarter lead The Cincinnati Bengals, a team every sports writer thought to be REALLY bad. The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently locked out with no immediate solution coming anytime soon. By all accounts a pretty average year for the life of a Cleveland sports fan. So why do I still check the scores and the schedules on a daily basis? Why do I still shell out the cash to sit in the stands and drink crappy beer? Why do I have one of the tabs open in my internet browser to the Cleveland Browns team shop looking at a new jersey? Because I am from Cleveland and therefore I am?

I love this town and its people. I love its recent innovations and who we might become because of it. I believe that this town could be a great example of urban renewal and a cultural beacon for the country. But right now it's still growing and it can be hard out there sometimes. Come February I will want to be about as far as I can get from the bitter cold and not come back until late April. In the middle of July even your sweat is sweating due to the 1,000% humidity levels. Our economy is climbing but it is a slow process that can stall from time to time. To live in this city you got to be tough because it's not always easy.

So as a city we turn our attention to our teams and we love them. We loved when Bernie Kosar would march the Browns down the field for another touchdown. We loved when Jim Thome crushed a homer to deep center. We loved when LeBron launched a game winning 3 from "waaaaay downtown". But most of all we loved them because without them this city might not be where it is today. The Cleveland Indians of the 90's are the reason we have a gateway district, the Browns are the reason we have a W. 6th, and as much as I hate to say it LeBron is the reason we have an E. 4th. Our culture is so much more than our sports but it is nothing without it.

So I will continue to go to games, and check the box scores for my beloved teams. After all perhaps this is "the year."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fun with letters.

I enjoyed many things about Las Vegas when I lived there. The fact that if you didn't want to wear anything but shorts and sandals for a year straight, you didn't have to? That is a great thing. On top of that I have made some great friends there that I always try to see when I make it back. But I mentioned in one of my earlier posts it seriously lacks culture.

Now my friend Chris who lives out there always challenges that statement. He says that Las Vegas has "Strip Culture" (referring to Las Vegas Blvd. and not so much the MANY strip clubs that litter the landscape off the strip), and I guess that's true to some extent. Don't get me wrong some of the best meals of my life have been in Las Vegas and I remember having some very memorably (or forgettable depending on who you ask) evenings out on the town. Now here is where the problems start popping up. First, it's too damn expensive to do pretty much ANYTHING on the strip! Seriously by the time you step on Las Vegas Blvd. you can immediately reduce your budget that you prepared for the night by half. If your gambling the fine waitresses will take their sweet time to bring you that watered down jack and coke. Sure it's free but it's really not if you think about it. (I once calculated that I spent $80 on a Amstel Light. ) But you may be saying to yourself about now "I don't like gambling I want to go to the clubs!" Good for you sir/madame you know that budget I mentioned earlier reduce it by two thirds of your original total. $20 cover charge (if your lucky), a Bud Light will probably run you about $7-8 and if you ever want to sit down you have two options. A, mortgage your house and your child's collage fund to get a "VIP table" or B, go to the bathroom and sit in the stall for a while. Now some of you could be saying "what about a bar?" Doesn't exist. The only bar's that are there are either chain restaurants that cater to the "beer crowd" or mini casino's that pose as bar's.

The mini casino's were the closest thing to a neighborhood bar that I ever saw. These were chain restaurant's/bar's that existed in the suburbs of the city that offered a slightly less expensive option to hanging out on the strip. They never closed (a bonus if your an alcoholic gambler), they let in ZERO natural light (great if your a shut in or vampire), there are no clocks, and the cliental seem to like it that way (which is an even bigger problem). I seriously almost got in a fight with some guy because I sat down at the bar to order a drink and it turns out I was occupying the area where his favorite video poker machine was. And if you want to shoot darts, well I have great news for you... you can't. You are more likely to see Beyonce and Jay-Z at a table in a casino (which I did) then find a "ACTUAL" dart board. If I sound a bit bitter about this it's because I am. With the exception of missing my family, friends, sports, seasons, and water; the lack of a decent local watering hole with a dart board was the deciding factor in my return to this city. In the entire state of Nevada I found ONE cork dart board, the rest was a "Dart Board" machine that would spit out these rubber tipped "darts" once you had sufficiently pumped it with money. To some up the bar scene I refer you to my previous statement. They don't exist.

When I came home I found a reprieve from crappy watering holes that don't provide anything but cheep beer and zero entertainment. Here every place has it's own character and style. For the most part every place I have written about to date is a unique dining and drinking experience. But, what about the "local watering hole"? Too many to list. They are all over town and I would say 90% of them are places I wouldn't step foot into unless I lived next door, and even then I may have some reservations. But there are a few that stand head and shoulders above the rest, and of those few there is one that never fails to disappoint.

In 2009 I was invited by a friend of mine (who I had some slight romantic feelings towards) to watch game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at The Q. There were three problems with this. First, the game itself was in Florida (they were just showing it on the big screen). Two, she brought another guy along with her. Three, we lost. In fact we lost so badly that I left early and joined up with a friend of mine at ABC The Tavern on W. 25th just to drown my sorrows. At the time ABC was a super run downed establishment that served PBR for a buck and had nothing but cheep liquor behind the bar. The TV's were old and small (by today's standards), the floor hadn't had a fresh stain (other than beer and blood) for more than 20 years, and even on a Saturday night when the Cavs were playing (albeit losing VERY badly) in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs the place was practically empty except for a few of my friends and some other Ohio City locals. It was great.

Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, and The Clash played on a real Jukebox (not one of those glorified iPods like in most bars). Pin up girls from the 40' and 50's were plastered on the wall by the kitchen. In the front was a old school bowling machine that only asked for a quarter per play. Upstairs was a pool table and on the wall was an honest to god cork dart board. I instantly loved this place. I loved it so much that for weeks after that whenever we would hang out in Ohio City I would want to go to ABC every time. Then sometime in mid summer it closed. No reason, no notification just doors shut and windows covered. Collectively we were all a little concerned about the fate of our little hole in the wall. Would it just be another causality of downtown Cleveland that no one would think twice about when it was gone? Or will it become some horrible dance club that will attempt to attract the W. 6th crowd? And for what would seem like an eternity no answer would come.

In early Fall there was a sign of life. The paper covering the windows came down and revealed the new and improved ABC The Tavern. The space itself didn't change too much. The floor was completely replaced with new wood and the bar was significantly cleaned to a mirror shine. Gone were the crappy old TVs, replaced now by 3 large flat screen's with Direct TV. Two new coolers behind the bar displayed craft brews and new taps that would rotate would offer some great options as well. But it was not so much what they added as it was what they left that truly made ABC what it was. The great Jukebox, the bowling machine, the dart board, and all the other little touches that made this place unique remained in place.

Now I often write about food in this blog as well and ABC The Tavern has a nice menu. Some unique takes on some standard bar food choices that are prepared quite nicely. A great highlight is the BLT. The bacon is actually a house cured pork belly bacon that is melt in your mouth fantastic. The Atomic Dog is also a great addition (although you may feel it in the morning) but as a late night option it is quite wonderful. Plus there are Hush Puppies with a srirachi aioli that are fantastic to nibble on. Is this the best restaurant in Cleveland... no. But, when you are out at the bar and you need some good food to soak up some of the booze it's a great place to go.

But what makes ABC The Tavern rise above most other bars in town is something completely intangible. Its people. Since it reopened in 2009 a solid staff of educated bartenders and cooks have come in to enhance the experience. Ask any one of them and they can make a beer or cocktail recommendation without hesitation. This kind of service has made ABC quite popular since it's return. However, what is quite amazing is that it hasn't turned into the trendy club like so many remodels that came before it. It remains a cool place for very cool people to just hang out sing along with The Stones and play some damn darts. It's Cleveland culture and I wouldn't change it for all the sand in the desert.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sam's Town pt. 2

So where was I?

In 2011 Sam McNulty opened his most ambitious project to date, Market Garden Brewery. Given his track record this was bound to be something special. It has all the ingredients to make up one of the best places to go in the ENTIRE city of Cleveland. A brewery, that is managed by one of the former Brewmasters of Dogfish Head and Great Lakes Brewery that promises to bring amazing craft brews with a unique blend. A distillery, that promises to be a first for the city and most of northeast Ohio. And a food menu, that is quite unique in its own right. Any one of these things makes it a must see. However, the combination of all three makes for a remarkable combination that is sure to leave an impact on the entire city. But do we need it?

First the beer. A rotating beer menu that is all brewed in house! Seriously you can go and see the tanks by the back bar. And what a beer menu! IPA's? Check. Wheat? Check. Pilsner? Check. They even had a wonderful ESB for a while before it sold out. But they also have a very nice Scotch Ale (if you're into that sort of thing), a lovely stout, A DARK WHEAT (that has the faintest hint of cherry), and a black IPA that is just marvelous. So what's the problem? Nothing really. They are all inspired beers that meet my highest standard.

However, I get the impression that they can't meet the demand of the public because by the time you read this a third of that list will be no more. I am not kidding when I say that I went there opening weekend and by the following week they were out of a good portion of the beer menu that I saw the previous week. Now they are quite good at subbing in new alternatives but you can tell that they are getting... "creative". A perfect example is a "Shandy" option which is just the Old School Lager with lemon juice poured in it. It's lovely, I am sure, and I had a friend of mine tell me as much the other day, but it seems just a touch on the lazy side.

So how about the food. I have not had a bad meal there yet. They have a starter of BBQ popcorn that is possibly one of the best snack foods in the history of snack foods. Seriously if Sam decides to sell it in stores, I will be there for the midnight release party. Just the right amount of spice and smokiness that delights your senses. The wings are good, not great but not anything to kick to the curb. (A word of warning: The hot is sneaky. It will get you in the end).

Then you get to the main courses. I have enjoyed the hell out of the sandwiches that are offered. The Cuban is quite nice and the Chorizo Joe is a great take on the classic sloppy joe. However, that's it. I would love to advise you on some of the other menu items but this being such a new restaurant, I just haven't had time to try everything.

So that brings us to the distillery. Well, it's not up and running yet due to permit issues. So that saves me from having to write a long paragraph about it. I will say this, I love the idea.
All of that being said I still haven't addressed the main question. Do we need it? The answer is quite frankly a bit vague. To be honest I have had some reservations about this particular post. On the one hand, Sam McNulty has created one of the most visually pleasing spaces in downtown Cleveland that we could ever ask for. In the outdoor courtyard you have steel beams as decoration with a view of the West Side Market as the background. It represents everything that is my city so well. The interior is also well presented and just as creative in every way. Soon there will be a rooftop patio and a basement added on to the property that has probably cost millions to create. And here is where the other shoe drops. When all is said and done Market Garden Brewery will hold 1,000 people.

The thing is that I love hanging with my friends and meeting new ones but 1,000 is just too much. We are talking wall-to-wall with people fighting for an inch of space trying to get the bartender's attention. Hour to two hour long waits for tables. Delays on food service. I don't care how well a place is run when you start pushing four digit occupancy, things are gonna suffer.

The final verdict... well that's hard to say. I love this place. I love its concept and everything it hopes to be and by all means you should go there... NOW! It has the potential to be exactly what Sam want's it to be, a beacon of hope for the city. But to be honest it is too early to call exactly what it will turn into. Will it be a great place that cannot be missed when you come to the city? Or will it be the "mega bar" that turns W. 25th into W. 6th? I guess time will tell on that one. For now I recommend it highly but mostly on the weekdays.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sam's Town pt. 1

In 2005 I was pretty much convinced that The Winking Lizard was the best place in town. An absurd amount of beers available with a decent quality bar food menu. This is what appeals to a 20-something guy living in Coventry, just a stone's throw away from the Cleveland Heights location. It was simple and a basic introduction into the world of craft beer at a price that was pretty reasonable, and the food was good enough to sop up the alcohol and prevent the world from spinning out of control. When I was leaving town in 2007, my roommate at the time had mentioned this place that popped up on W. 25th called Bier Markt. But it was too little to late for me because I moved to Las Vegas shortly thereafter and never got to experience it.

While I was in Las Vegas I somehow managed to raise The Winking Lizard to a biblical status. Nothing could compare. When I spoke of it, I talked about a epic food menu and a beer list that no one in culture-starved Las Vegas could begin to understand.

Flash forward to 2009 and I make my return trip home. Within days of my arrival I find myself bellied up to the bar ready to enjoy this "mythical" meal of great beer and food. When I go to order I realize how badly out of proportion I may have made this place out to be. Sure, the beer list is good but it hasn't really changed in the few years I've been gone. Plus the more standard fare of Budweiser, LaBatt, Miller, Guinness (Don't get me wrong. I love it; it's just standard.) and Heineken are now littering this once outstanding beer menu.

But never mind. Surely the food will be as good as I remember. It wasn't. The wings that I had so fondly immortalized were now, again, standard. Inconsistent quality of meat, uneven sauce distribution, and a increased price point soured me on what I once thought to be the "best wings IN THE WORLD."

Now this is not intended to be a knock on the Winking Lizard, as much as it is a knock on my own head. I still go there and still very much enjoy the place, I just see it in a different light now.

Meanwhile: In 2005 Sam McNulty opens Bier Markt, a Belgian style bar that has a wide variety of unique brews that are not always the easiest to find. Of course "2005 Moving to Vegas Me" could not be bothered with this, so I missed the boat completely. Then sometime in 2007 Sam opens Barcento a wonderful new restaurant with the help of newcomer chef Jonathon Sawyer (you may remember him from such blogs as ... this one) who takes the concept of bar food and throws it out the window. On top of that it is located RIGHT NEXT DOOR to Bier Markt, turning the two of them into "Super Restaurant." Again 2007 me was too busy preparing my self for two years in the desert that, again, I could not be bothered.

When I returned in 2009 I kept hearing things from friends about this place called "barchendo". They would say things like "have you been to barchendo?" or "when should we go to barchendo?" So finally I met a friend of mine there and I was quickly surprised by what I had been missing. First, that I was incorrect on how it was pronounced and spelled. (This is also coming from a guy who thought a Rum and Coke was really called a "Roman Coke." [Seriously. Say "Roman Coke" in a bar and no one will correct you].) Second was the fact that I had stumbled into one of the finer drinking and dining establishments in the city.

The "bier" menu is a trip across the globe to the country of Belgium, where the monks must be drunk off their collective asses 24/7 because they make some damn fine beer. Chimay Blue, Delirium Tremens, and La Fin Du Monde are pretty much old hat, compared to what Bier Market has on their list.

Ales, varying from dubbel to tripel are pretty common on the menu, but the fact that they sometime delve into quadruple makes the drinking experience unique. On top of all that, they pour the most perfect Stella Artois that you can imagine. (Water spritz the Stella glass, pour the beer with a nice amount of head, remove excess head with knife, and repeat when empty.)

All that beer can make you work up an appetite and luckily Barcento is right there to the rescue. Gone are the days of wings and potato skins, now there is a wonderful assortment of originals that feel like they should have been in my life much sooner. Perhaps a nice assortment of meats and cheeses presented with house-pickled vegetables for starters? Then a stunning array of pizzas that range from the traditional to the wild. (Pancetta, provolone, eggs, black pepper anyone?). There are, of course, mussels in a Belgian beer sauce with butter. That is never a bad thing. But the thing that most people talk about are the frites.

Now you will hear me talk about "best thing in Cleveland" a lot in this blog, and this is one of those moments. Pommes Frites, for those not experienced, are french fries. But not your ordinary fries. These giant "steak fries" are cooked to perfection and served wrapped in a cone made from the menu. I am not sure what they are cooked in but I am willing to go out on a limb and say it is some kind of fat (duck, goose, etc). What I do know is that they are seasoned with lots of garlic and rosemary. On top of that? Three dipping sauces of aioli and ketchup that add flavor but do not take away from the fries themselves. I am not kidding when I say that I have had entire meals and am full to the point of uncomfortableness, but I will still go back and grab just a few more fries because they are just that good.

So the combination of great food and a unbelievable beer menu (plus there is a wine menu of about 100 wines if you're so inclined) makes this a place not to be missed. However, there remains a downside to this greatness. The weekends are NEVER the time to go. Barcento might be ok, but getting a table can take a while and Bier Markt can get crowded to the point that it is uncomfortable. This place is good enough to warrant those kinds of crowds but you will find yourself happier going during the week or off hours. (The kitchen is open until 2AM 365). Also keep in mind, their happy hour specials apply to some of the more popular food items, fries being one of them. So take that into consideration when you are planning your trip but by all means PLAN A TRIP.

Then in 2011 Sam did something else... (To be continued)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mistake about the lake.

While growing up in Cleveland I would hear people refer to the city as "the mistake by the lake" and I never really understood it. I originally thought that it was more referring to our various sports franchises and their history of (bitter) failure through the years. However, a I grew older still and went to school in West Virginia I realized that some people took that a little more literally than others (I am looking at you Pittsburgh). They really thought "that town is a piece of crap and should be wiped from the planet." And during football season I can assure you I have the same feelings about our fair rival. That being said, I happen to like Pittsburgh. It's a cool town to visit with a great food and (although somewhat archaic) beer culture and everyone there is so very similar to us. So I was always surprised when people from "the burgh" would continue to refer to us as "the mistake by the lake" (again more so during football season but whatever). But this caused me to think about this statement a bit more. It's not really a "mistake by the lake" as much as it is a "mistake about the lake".

We have made a mistake with our lake. We don't appreciate it. It sits at our doorstep every day and we forget that it is there. We hardly ever visit it and, with the exception of boaters, we don't spend nearly as much time as we should in it. When growing up I could probably count on one hand the times that we went to the lake for recreation. So back in 2005 my parents went to a party right by the lake and my mom said "it's a shame that more people don't come here" about three months later they moved to a house right on Lake Erie and have not looked back since. I am fortunate to spend as much time as I do sitting right by the lake.

Unfortunately for most this is a problem that will continue for years to come simply because there are not a ton of public areas to hang out at. And unless Burke Lakefront Airport disappears it is unlikely that we will be getting any new waterfront space in the foreseeable future. But before you give up entirely I am here to provide you with hope. It's a small glimmer that can barely be seen but it does exist. It's called Cropicana, and it is just what the doctor ordered.

Down in Whisky Island there is a small marina located by Windy Park and just outside of that there is a small building no bigger than a medium sized house. It used to be called Sunset Grill but it was so overpriced and poorly run that it was pointless to go except for the view. This past winter however, Steve Schimoler (of Crop Bistro fame) took a hammer to everything. The interior went through a nice facelift with a more polished look. Outside is a nice sized outdoor kitchen and a good sized bar were built. This makes for a very pleasant area to hang out in most weather conditions.

When I originally went to this location when it was the Sunset Grill I though the food was overpriced and not very appetizing. I was skeptical when I saw the new menu that the result might be the same. 6 wings for $7??? Seemed a bit steep but I opened my mind (and wallet) and tried them. I do not hesitate in saying that they are probably one of my favorite wings in this town. They are smokey, spicy, and fall right off the bone. Also they are quite large so even with the $7 price tag you are getting good value for your money. The rest of the menu reads like "bar food fare" on steroids. Smoked salmon sliders, smoked cherry chipotle ribs, fish tacos, chorizo tacos, smoked chicken enchiladas, and in case you feel like dying a bit sooner they have a basket of fries with bacon gravy with cheese. I have had a good number of things there but I find myself going back to the wings whenever I get a chance.

Now there are a few downsides to this place. Parking sucks (I wish I could put that another way but it's the truth.) Although I find most of their items a good value it is a bit steep on the price for a lot of people. The beer selection is a bit standard and perhaps a buck or so overpriced. And if you are one of those people that attracts misquotes like nobody's business then stay way.

All that said when the Summer comes to our fair city there are very few places in town that feature our great lake as well as Cropicana. Now if we could convince about 6 or 7 more fine chef's to follow in Steve's footsteps perhaps instead of "mistake by the lake" we can go to "take me to the lake."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tapped out.

There are a few places in town that I find myself at more than others and the Tremont Tap House happens to be one of those places for many reasons. Reason the first: I LOVE BEER! Not in a d-bag drinking game way (although there have been those moments) but more in the way a sommelier loves wine. The various parings of flavor and aromas can make me all warm and happy inside (alcohol might help). Because of this the Tap House is a little spot of heaven right here in Cleveland. A rotating beer menu that has at least 40 beers on tap at all time is a thing of beauty. Add on top of that a very solid bottle list that remains consistent but has quite a number of unique finds (Rogue's Morimoto Imperial Pilsner would be a great example.) What's more they often find themselves right in the thick of things when Cleveland Beer Week rolls around.

As sacrilegious as it may sound coming from me the beer alone would not be enough to make me frequent this establishment as much as I do. For one thing I go there at least once a week starting in late September until mid May because my girlfriend's volleyball team is sponsored by the bar. Now don't get me wrong I would go there even if it wasn't, but the fact that I get to go so often is really just a bonus. The real reason to go is the food. Now the menu does not change nearly as much as the beer list but that does not change my love for the place. The theme of the place is Gastropub and as that style goes this probably should rate one of, if not, the best in the city.

For starters they have a pretzel that is for lack of a better word AWESOME. Now most of you are probably scratching your head at that statement so I will clarify. The pretzel itself is one of the better you will ever taste in your life, not too heavy but not too light either, that is just lightly salted and served warm. Alone it would be very good but the fact that it is served with a perfect beer cheese that, were it not for the fact that too much of it would kill you, could be a soup. What's more (and this may be the most amazing fact of all) I have yet to run out of this great dipping sauce whilst enjoying my pretzel. No matter how hard I try there is always just a touch bit of sauce left and I am not ashamed to say that I have spooned it up with my finger for that last bite. So again AWESOME is the word that will associate with this dish.

However, one could not live on pretzels alone. The burgers are quite good, not the best in the city, but very highly recommended. The chorizo tacos are really good and are often considered by my friends to be the highlight of the menu. (As you can tell from the above paragraph I may have other ideas.) Artisan cheeses? Yep, they got 'em. The pizza is decent but one of the things I wish they would update. The Mac & Cheese is always changing with whatever veggie happens to be in season at the time and is wonderful stand alone or with the chicken or chorizo option.

I could go on and on about the menu but I will say that the I (heart) Moule Frites is the other thing on the menu that must not be skipped. PEI Mussels in a Belgian beer sauce with blue cheese, bacon, and fries that for any mussel fan should be a absolute no-brainer. This dish has made me a happy man on a number of occasions and I do not hesitate in saying it may be the best thing to accompany beer since the invention of the glass.

On top of all that you have a great outdoor patio (fire pit for colder nights and movie screen for summer movie features) and a charming interior that will make you feel quite toasty come the colder months. The folks that work there are always friendly and usually quite well informed about the beers they sell so if you have trouble deciding, all you have to do is ask and you shall receive.

One last thing. I had brunch there the other week and it was very good. Now I have been told by many people that it is possibly the best brunch in town and I would not doubt that. However, I normally find myself occupied on Sunday mornings, either with sleep or work, so I do not have much to reference this with. I am working on that though and hopefully I can provide more insight in the future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Avenging Noodlecat

Earlier today I was watching Anthony Bourdain in one of his MANY visits to Japan and he was really digging on some soba and ramen noodles. Now I am not the worlds biggest fan of Asian foods (your standard fare of kung-pow chicken and wonton soup are the way I lean most of the time) but if I have learned anything from watching food programs, it is that you can, and will, get hungry for what they are eating. So I contemplated the various Chinese food options in my neighborhood and found my choices lacking. Then I remembered that Chef Jonathon Sawyer just opened a brand new restaurant called Noodlecat and today seemed as good as any to check it out.

However, standing in my way of noodle goodness were explosions, mass destruction, actors, and directors. It was day whatever of filming the new "Avengers" movie downtown. And as happy as I am that this is filming in my home town it was located about 3-4 blocks away from my goal of great noodles. Undeterred I hopped in my car and off I went. Traffic was not terrible and seeing all the crap that was in the street was super cool. I even passed the "trailer park" where the likes of Samuel L. were probably hanging out. There were also tons of crowds hanging around just trying to get a glimpse of Hollywood in Cleveland (Hollyland or Clevewood, your call).

I parked just off E. 4th st. and made my way over to Noodlecat. It was clear that the lunch rush was just ending so I had no problem getting a table. The service was excellent and although I do not remember my waiter's name he was quite helpful throughout the entire meal. I was originally going to order the Tsukemen Ramen but they were out. That's when the waiter suggested a Hokkaido style ramen with fresh corn and some Ohio roasted pork. I took him up on his offer and also ordered the Chicken wings (I am a sucker for this) that were just the right amount of spicy and savory.

When it was all said and done I had a VERY good meal. The broth with the noodles was just the right amount of spiciness (although I did add a bit of hot sauce near the end) and the noodles themselves were the perfect consistency. Combine that with great pork (although I wish there was a touch more) and fresh corn shucked off the cob and it made for a very enjoyable lunch. Honestly I can't wait to go back for more. If there is a downside to this it would be the size of the napkins, which are not big enough to handle the amount of slurping you will be doing.

I left happy and thought the world needs to know of this place. Also, if your getting your information from Yelp you are asking the wrong people. I have decided that most of the time they will shit on a restaurant before it even has a chance to get off the ground. Trust me on this it is a cool place to go and you will not be disappointed.

Hello Cleveland!

A few months ago I was talking about a great dining experience I had with one of my co-workers. She said "you should write a column for the paper about food/entertainment" which was flattering but a somewhat dated idea. Fast forward to today and I bring you "The New Clevelander" a blog dedicated to all things Cleveland, OH. I grew up in this town and I have witnessed (eh perhaps not the best choice of words there) great triumphs and tragedies in everything from sports to just a basic quality of life. Unfortunately there may have been too many "tragedies" and eventually it culminated in my leaving home in 2007 for Las Vegas, NV. Two phrases best represent this move "A great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there." and "You don't know what you've got until its gone." So in the spring of 2009 I returned.

However, the city I left had changed in small little ways that surprised me. This town of chain restaurants and fast food was moving in a new direction. Locally owned establishments with a flair for something different, craft breweries that are quickly changing the landscape of Cleveland's nightlife. All of these things plus growth in such neighborhoods as Ohio City, Gordon Square, Tremont, and to some degree Collinwood have led to a small renaissance in my fair city. So I went exploring. Trying new places and different things as much as I can. Some of these places are truly amazing and deserve as much of our attention as possible. Some will have a bit of a learning curve but there are great improvements in the future. Some... well some can be skipped.

This brings me to what I hope to accomplish here. I want people to explore my city and realize that it is not a "mistake on the lake" or the butt of so many other jokes. So when someone comes to visit my city (or is rediscovering) I might be able to provide answers to the question "what do you do for fun around here?" So welcome to my home! I hope you stay awhile.