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.