An evening at Blossom with the Orchestra

100_0733Probably the thing I was most looking forward to when I moved back to Cleveland after living in Germany for six years was spending the evening at Blossom Music Center listening to the world famous Cleveland Orchestra or the Blossom Festival Orchestra.

Appetizers - crab dip, whole grain crackers and soppressata

There is simply nothing like listening to the world-renowned orchestra while listening to birds chirp under a blue – and later starry – sky. Unlike other concerts at Blossom, chairs, umbrellas, blankets and alcohol are allowed.

Lobster roll, cole slaw and sea salt potato chips

I grew up enjoying the Cleveland Orchestra with my parents, and they taught me how to do it right. Mom would make some elaborate picnic dinner involving some kind of shellfish or other picnic-friendly meal. We would lay out a blanket, grab a glass of wine, and enjoy an orchestra that is consistently ranked one of the top ten in the world. Now I have a wheeled cooler packed and ready to go with plates, silverware, cloth napkins, plastic wine glasses, wine stakes, binoculars, a cutting board and knife, Off, and a citronella candle and lighter.

KFC 2 piece grilled chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans

Everything goes on the lawn. You can high-brow it or low-brow it. You see folks with tables, candles, and elaborate spreads to buckets of KFC and family servings of mashed potatoes, cole slaw and green beans. No one will judge you, but if you have something especially yummy you may see folks coveting your food.

Wine stakes in action - both the bottle and the glass stakes

We usually have a three course meal – with appetizers and the main meal before the performance and then dessert at intermission. The photos here are our meals last weekend. My mother and father had the lobster rolls, chips and cole slaw served on paper plates, while I purchased KFC on the way to Blossom and ate off my melamine plate.

One must-have are wine stakes. Since the lawn is sloped wine stakes allow you to keep your wine glass and wine bottle upright while sitting next to you. Most people use blankets or lawn chairs (people with tall lawn chairs have to sit closer to the back). The most popular chairs are beach chairs or sand chairs. They allow you to sit close to the ground and yet not impair the view of those on blankets behind you.

Lawn tickets will only set you back $19-21 depending on the show. Individual pavilion tickets range from $19 to $42 a piece. You can also buy a book of tickets for the season. However, if there isn’t a chance of rain I suggest you try sitting on the lawn for a little ambiance. If you choose to sit in the pavilion you will have to leave your picnic dinner and wine at the entrance to the pavilion for the concert. Contact the ticket office at 216.231.1111 or just visit

The Cleveland Orchestra viewed from the lawn

Balaton at Shaker Square

Balaton is a Hungarian restaurant on Shaker Square. It has been in business since 1964 and is known for its Wiener Schnitzel and Chicken Paprikash. For 000_0008those who are not familiar with Austro-Hungarian cuisine, Wiener Schnitzel is a veal cutlet pounded flat and battered and fried to a golden brown. It is traditionally served with spaetzel (delicate dumplings made of flour, eggs and water) and applesauce.

My German group met there recently and enjoyed a delightful dinner on a Friday 000_0010night. We were a fairly large group and the restaurant was full, but we had no problems with the service. They seated us at an L-shaped table by the window.

Wiener Schnitzel with spaetzel

The salad was swimming in dressing, but it was a light European oil and vinegar blend. It was just your typical iceberg lettuce salad, but it was good – as was the bread, which I unfortunately did not take a picture of.

Hungarian Platter with spaetzel

I had the Wiener Schnitzel and spaetzel, which was delicious. The first time I was there I ordered the Hungarian platter, which features the schnitzel, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. I enjoyed it too, but the stuffed cabbage was not like my grandmother’s. But then again, her stuffed cabbage was Ukrainian and tough to beat. If you are there for the first time though I highly recommend getting the Hungarian platter to try all three of their specialties.

Everyone there really enjoyed their meals. We ordered just about everything off the menu, from the Hungarian Lecso (a summer stew of

Chicken paprikash and mashed potatoes

yellow bell pepper and tomato) to the various combinations of paprikash (veal or chicken) and goulash (beef or pork).

Hungarian Lecso

Most of us were too full for dessert, but I can highly recommend the strudel and (my personal favorite here) the Napoleon. I am also a sucker for Palacsinta, which are crepes with apricot, walnut, sweet cottage cheese, or poppy seed fillings, but I haven’t had Balaton’s yet. I remember a delicious Eispalatschicken in Austria, which was a crepe filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce and Grand Marnier that was then lit on fire. I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was twenty years ago. It was that divine. If Balaton were to add that to the menu I would eat here at least once a month.

Cherry strudel

Contact info:

Balaton Restaurant
13133 Shaker Square
Cleveland, Ohio 44120

Stouffer’s Thrift Store


When I was younger my mother used to drive from the West Side of Cleveland to the East Side to stock up on cases of Stouffer’s French bread pizza at the Stouffer’s thrift store. That was twenty years ago. I now live about two miles from the Stouffer’s thrift store in Solon and occasionally stock up on Stouffer’s dinners, Lean Cuisines, Hot Pockets, and Nestlé frozen cookie dough and Drumsticks.

Stouffer’s outlet store, at 5750 Harper Road, is located right inside the Stouffer’s U.S. headquarters. Take Interstate 480 eastbound to Route 422 eastbound. Exit at the first exit (Harper Road), take a right, and Stouffer’s is right next to the exit ramp. Visitors to the Thrift Store need to park in the first set of parking lots. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

You can get Lean Cuisine entrees that normally cost around $4 for about $2, family size lasagnas with meat sauce for $5.99, and a case of French bread pizza for $21.99. I went this morning, picked up 5 items, and spent $11.18 A box of Pepperoni and Mushroom French bread pizza is $2.40. My single serving meat lasagna was $2.20 (discounted another 22 cents because it was in the 10% off bin). Dinners like spaghetti with meatballs, chicken bakes and tuna noodle casserole are $2.20. It’s cheaper for a reason. Nestlé says its thrift food is certainly wholesome, but less than perfect.  The box may be crumpled, the recipe might be discontinued, or there might be too much or too little of some ingredient. That said, I have never once been disappointed by the quality.

Not all of the items are available all the time. For example, it is often hit or miss whether macaroni and beef (my personal favorite) is available. However, I never leave the place empty-handed. And there are usually always family size lasagnas available and other industrial size portions. It’s the perfect place to stock up if you are having a family reunion or need something to bring to a party or potluck. This morning there was a guy buying 10 family size lasagnas and cases of chocolate chip cookie dough. There is always something good available, so be sure to check out this “hidden treasure” in Cleveland.

Update: You can only buy the cookie dough in cases. I tried to buy an individual package today and was denied. Still, a case of cookie dough for under $7.00 is a great deal.