Counter Culture

IMAG5821I attended a two-day event for cheesemongers and sellers this past Sunday and Monday. I learned about it in late March from one of the food forums I belong to. It was sponsored by Culture magazine. Two six hour days learning about cheese, free samples, lunch and two free drinking events for $0. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, and I am so glad I did!

I arrived at Market Garden Brewery on Sunday morning unsure of myself, because I was not “industry.” I never mentioned that I was a local food blogger and was not approached by them in any way to write about this event. I signed up through Eventbrite when I heard about it in March. I checked in and grabbed a seat with a bunch of cheesemongers from Heinen’s. They were a fun bunch to sit with, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Another one of the women at the table works for the Cleveland Clinic and IMAG5824makes her own cheese on the side. I was definitely in my element. I soaked up the information like a sponge, as translators often do. I figure if I can translate a coffee table book on Bordeaux wines and vineyards someone might conceivably contact me to translate about cheese. Hey, a girl can dream.

This event was amazing. They had a tasting table available all day both days featuring the different cheeses and products. We were able to go to the tasting table during the breaks throughout the IMAG5823day to load up on lots of different cheeses, jams, jellies, honeys, crackers, charcuterie, dried fruit, cornichon, and Bacon Mousse and Truffle Mousse. The lemon curd was particularly divine, and I unfortunately forgot to note the name. There was so much food I didn’t have room for the boxed lunch provided by Market Garden Brewery. I ended up taking it home on day one and foregoing it on day two, running out for a small scoop of Mitchell’s in the sunshine for lunch instead.

The first day started off with an hour presentation on Cheese Science and Styles presented by Lassa Skinner from Culture magazine. We learned about the various rinds (you are supposed to eat the rinds – it was a revelation) as well as the different types of cheeses and how they are made. It seemed like most of IMG_20160417_101303the cheeses were sheep and goat milk cheeses, which I appreciated since I often have an allergic reaction to cow’s milk.

The first cheesemaker to present was Rob from our very own Mackenzie Creamery (see top of photo on the right). I was already familiar with Mackenzie as a Fresh Fork subscriber and frequent farmer’s market attendee. I love their Pumpkin Chèvre and Sweet Fire and Apricot Ginger chèvres already. They offered us three samples to try – the garlic and chive, cognac fig, and sour cherry and bourbon chèvres. The sour cherry and bourbon chèvre is made with Jack Daniel’s and is IMAG5830fantastic. It is reminiscent of a Manhattan, which was the inspiration for the chèvre. They will be launching it very shortly. I was also really impressed by the garlic and chive chèvre. I am going to start buying this regularly. It was just a delightful soft cheese. The creamery gave a very good impression. Rob explained how it was a family affair, started by his mother, “JeannieGoat” when she tookIMAG5829 a cheesemaking course in 2007. Rob joined her in 2010 and has never looked back. It made me want to drive out to Hiram to check out their creamery.

The next presentation was Central Formaggi, which is based in Sardinia. They focus on sheep’s milk cheese, as they have sheep in the mountains. They brought one of the handwoven baskets that they use to store the cheese (see podium above), which was a really great touch. The company started in the second half of the eighteenth century and modernized in 1974 to become 100% Sardinian. They centralized the many small dairies scattered all over the area into one large production center in Nureci and now produce more than 50 different cheeses (primarily pecorinos) using 15 million liters of milk. We tasted four cheeses. IMAG5833Their most popular is the Molitano, which is hard or semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese. I was particularly impressed by their softer cheeses, including the Montefiore (?) and a beautiful cheese with an herb-coated rind that they have not yet released. The herb-coated cheese stuck with my palate a long time in a good way.

Lunch was either a vegetarian caprese sandwich on ciabatta or a turkey sandwich on rye. It was nice, but it was hard to eat without silverware. I IMAG5834poured the blue cheese dressing onto a lettuce leaf and used it as a kind of wrap. As I said before, I was also so full I took most of it home. I went out for a small pho for dinner to counter all the cheese.

The afternoon after the lunch break featured olives and olive oil distributed by Philosophy Foods. We tasted three fresh cured Losada olives from Seville, Spain, each with their own special features and flavors. I love olives, so I really enjoyed them. There was a large green cured Gordal olive with a fine pungent flavor and firm, meaty texture. The smaller olives were a Zorzaleña and a Cornicabra. The Cornicabra is a pale pink to dark purple color and is oval-shaped with a small horn on one side, which IMG_20160417_135737gives the name to this variety: Corni-cabra meaning “the goat’s horn.” The speaker called it a “gateway olive,” which had me laughing so hard I snorted. My favorite was the Zorzaleña, which grows wild on the side of the road in Spain. It has a firm flesh and a buttery flavor to it. I may or may not have taken more than my share of the Zorzaleña. The Zorzaleña is packed in O-Med olive oil. O-Med is a family-owned company. The olive grove and oil mill are in Acula (Granada) in southern Spain.  O-Med harvests and processes their olives for their finest olive oil in one day, which I found to be very impressive. We learned how to IMAG5839taste test olive oil by warming the cup of olive oil in our hands and then smelling it three times. It was a very flavorful olive oil, and I could see myself using it as a dipping or finishing oil.

The presentations finished with Forever Cheese, which is a distributor that sells cheese from Spain, Italy, Portugal and Croatia. Day one they focused on their Spanish cheese. My favorite cheese was the Leonora, which is a special goat’s milk cheese made by a small farmhouse producer who has only been exporting to the US for the past several years. It is lush, lemony and delicious. My second favorite was the Garrotxa, which is an artisanally produced goat’s milk cheese that is aged 55 days. It is the most famous Catalan cheese and I intend to try it shaved on a salad as the presenter suggested. It is distinguished from other cheeses, usually, by IMAG5853the mold growth on its rind. I cannot remember the other two, one may have been the Ombra. I enjoyed pairing them with the Spanish olives.

I skipped the Meet the Maker beer and cheese event, because I needed to feed my critters and didn’t want to brave the crazy traffic again from the Cavs playoff game, Indians game, West Side Market and just Ohio City in general on a gorgeous sunny Sunday. I also figured it was best to leave it to the pros to talk shop.

Day two started a little later (thank goodness) on Monday. I was very IMG_20160418_110332excited about this one because we started off learning about The Art of Mongering. I learned to keep cheese in special cheese paper or special cheese bags (by Formaticum) and not in plastic wrap! Washed rind cheeses, which are usually moist and tacky, should be kept separate from other cheeses and wrapped in paper. Cheese needs to breathe, and it is okay to let it age. “It lasts as long as it tastes good.” A little mold is good, just clean it off with either a knife or a toothbrush and you are good to go. A vinegar and water rinse works to get rid of the mold (on full cheese wheels only). It was fun hearing IMAG5843all the cheese sellers from Heinen’s, Whole Foods, and the West Side Market exchange tips and ideas.

The first cheesemaker presentation was Sartori Cheese out of Wisconsin. I liked their Montamoré cheese the best, but they also had a nice pungent Parmesan. The Montamoré is a sweet, creamy and fruity cow’s milk cheese that begins with a deliciously inviting appearance and finishes with a playful, tangy bite. They have several seasonal washed rind cheeses that sound IMAG5844fantastic, including the Pastorale Blend, which is a blend of cow’s and sheep’s milk that is hand-dusted with paprika, and a Cognac Bellavitano that is aged for 18 months and steeped in Rémy Martin Cognac for 7 to 10 days. The Pastorale Blend is available now and will stop being produced in May. The Cognac Bellavitano is a cheese available during the holidays.

The next presentation was by the owner of Vermont Creamery, and I have to say I fell in love with the creamery on day one at the tasting table and on day two when I learned that they have a solar-powered barn and dairy and their cheeses are rBST and GMO-free. The cheese was also absolutely luscious. They use both cow’s and goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is more expensive because goats produce less milk per goat and still IMAG5849require the same care. She gave a fantastic presentation that really went into the technical side of their cheesemaking with temperatures, aging conditions, wash conditions, the automatic bags to separate the curds from the whey, etc. It was very, very impressive. The products were divine. She had us first taste their Cultured Butter, and I could have kept eating it right off the spoon. It is made with creme fraiche and just had a delicious taste to it. I’m going to run right out and buy some. I can just imagine it smeared on some good On The Rise or Zoss the Swiss Baker bread. Their cheeses also blew me away, but my favorites were the Bonne Bouche, which is a goat’s milk cheese, and the Cremont. Bonne Bouche is the flagship of Vermont Creamery’s signature geotrichum-rinded aged goat cheeses, and its rind looks kind of like a brain. The curd is carefully hand ladled, lightly sprinkled with ash,IMAG5852 and aged just long enough to develop a rind. After about ten days, the cheeses are packaged in their individual crates and sent to market where they will continue to age up to eighty days. It has a pleasant yeast flavored rind and a creamy interior that becomes softer and more piquant as it ages. The Cremont is a mixed-milk cheese that combines local fresh cows’ milk, goats’ milk and a hint of Vermont cream. Its rind is not as pronounced, but it is also somewhat wrinkly. Both were absolutely spectacular cheeses. The back of her hoodie as she finished made me chuckle – “No Goats, No Glory.”

The afternoon featured Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese, which I was already familiar with through Fresh Fork. The owner was a bit intimated to follow IMAG5854Sartori and Vermont Creamery, but he did a great job showcasing his smaller farmstead creamery. He talked quite a bit about their trials and errors finding the perfect cows. A fifth generation farmer, he started producing cheese when his son expressed interest in cheesemaking. The son is now studying abroad, and it is up to the parents to continue the cheesemaking. If someone has a passion for cheesemaking they are looking for a good worker, as they had their best worker recently leave to join the Coast Guard. They are in Defiance, and their cheeses get their distinctive taste from the clay ground there. The cheese is crafted on the farm where the IMAG5857milk is produced from cows that are pasture raised there, so it is small and the definition of artisan. Their Charloe has won several awards. It is aged 2 months. It starts off with sweet cream and butter flavors it finishes with a toasted peanut essence. We also tasted the Wabash Erie Canal, Flat Rock and Black Swamp Gouda. The sales and marketing guy was blown away by the cheese (I saw him mouth “Wow, this is delicious”) and Culture magazine’s Lassa, who ran the event, was almost moved to tears by his presentation. They are just a great little local creamery producing amazing cheese.

The final presentation was by Forever Cheese, which took us to Italy. I was IMAG5861particularly impressed by the Lou Bergier Pinchin, which is a deliciously creamy cheese made from raw cow’s milk from Piemonte, Italy. I really enjoyed the flavor and will be keeping an eye out for it. In addition to a nutty pecorino romano, we also tried a Sottocenere al Tartufe from the northern Italy area of Veneto. Aged in a coat of nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, licorice, cloves, and fennel, the Semi-Soft paste is laced throughout with slivers of black truffle. One comment on the slide is that it is great on toast and in egg dishes. A little truffle goes a long way, but this is not as overpowering as most truffle products. It was quite nice. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed the Quadrello® di Bufala, which is made in Lombardia from water buffalo milk. It is a Taleggio, with a soft, ivory-pink washed rind with a deliciously creamy interior.

I again skipped the free beer happy hour to feed my critters, but could IMAG5863not wait to unpack my goodie bag. Check out all the loot! A copy of Culture magazine, several brochures, an apron from Central Formaggi, a baseball cap from Vermont Creamery, a cute little goat magnet, Bee’s Knees Szechuan Peanuts, Losada olives, Millefiori Honey, Effie’s Oatcakes, Rustic Bakery Meyer Lemon shortbread cookies, a Two Brothers dark chocolate bar, a cheese log, a mmetal cheese knife from Mackenzie creamery and the most adorable little cheese shaver. I am most excited about the cheese storage bags and the serving utensils. Not bad for an event that didn’t cost me a cent. I was completely blown away by this event and can’t wait until they return to Cleveland. Industry folks from out of town were very impressed by the West Side Market right next door and I told Lassa about EDWINS and L’Albatros’ cheese boards, so hopefully they will be back soon.

I can’t wait to subscribe to Culture magazine. The sisters behind the magazine and their staff were very impressive, and the magazine has lots of good articles, information and recipes. I will also be taking a trip to Heinen’s to find some of my favorite cheeses. What a great event!

I apologize for the weird lighting. The lighting in Market Garden Brewery’s basement is not conducive to photographing.

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Patterson Fruit Farm

IMAG4794Patterson Fruit Farm in Chesterland is great year-round, but it really shines in the fall. Families flock there for the pick-your-own apples, pumpkins, apple cider, doughnuts and apple fritters in a fall wonderland of changing leaves, corn stalks and bales of hay. One of my friends raves about the apple fritters. IMAG4793The place gets packed on the weekends, and they have overflow parking across the street. I made a spontaneous decision to check it out on a Tuesday to see what all the hype is about, and I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed every minute of drive out to Chesterland amid the colorful leaves and crisp air. Driving home through Gates Mills I even got to IMAG4798enjoy the smell of a bonfire. It truly is a quintessential fall experience and is just one more reason that Cleveland Rocks!

There are a ton of pumpkins to choose from outside, along with stands offering fresh kettle corn and lemonade. Inside the barn you can find all kinds of local culinary delights, from apple butter and Amish jams and jellies, pies, IMAG4796doughnuts, apple fritters, dried soup mix, pancake mix, maple syrup, popcorn toppings, and all kinds of cooking implements. The doughnuts, pies and apple fritters are made fresh using the fruit from the farm.

I ended up buying six doughnuts, because I couldn’t choose just one. They all looked amazing IMAG4797I ordered the maple bacon, apple cider, pumpkin roll, Samoa, chocolate glaze and salty caramel. I loved the maple bacon and apple cider doughnuts. The maple bacon doughnut was a nice blend of savory and sweet and the apple cider doughnut had a hint of autumnal spices to it. And the apple fritter is indeed divine – soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and with chunks of apple in the dough.

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Photo by Jaime P from Yelp

But the apples are the star of the show. Refrigerated cases hold apple cider, honey crisp apple cider (apparently only available for a limited time), milk and other refrigerated meats and cheeses. Hot apple cider is also available for purchase. You can buy their apple cider in most grocery stores in Cleveland, but there is just something special about drinking a hot apple cider at the farm.IMAG4804

If you are looking to buy some apples there are a ton of kinds to choose from, ranging from Winesap and Honey Crisp to Macoun and Jonagold and everything in between. They let you sample all of the apples available for purchase. They also offer big bags of seconds, which are great to use for apple sauce. I bought two kinds to make some apple sauce. I was so excited about trying the different kinds I forgot to take photographs. I boughtIMAG4801 winesap and honey crisp apples. I will use the winesap together with my apples from Fresh Fork Market to make the apple sauce. The honey crisp are just because they are my hands-down favorite apple to eat plain.

The orchard allows you to pick your own apples as well and features almost 20 different kinds. Not all varieties are available at once, but there are always several to choose from. They also offer pick your own strawberries and blueberries in season. The pick-your-own location is just down the street from the farm market at 8765 Mulberry Road.

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Contact info:

Patterson Fruit Farm
11414 Caves Road
Chesterland, OH 44026
(440) 729-1964

Pop-ups at the Katz Club Diner

IMAG0024When the Katz Club Diner Bar Car burned down many of us thought that would be it for the lovely old-fashioned diner cars on Lee Road. After the arsonist was incarcerated, Doug Katz focused his energy on rebuilding. They tore down the bar car, which was a total loss, and landscaped the area. He had originally bought the cars for the spacious kitchen, so I wasn’t surprised to hear he was going to use the space for his catering gigs as well as hosting pop-up dinners. IMAG4396His pop-up dinners have been quite popular so far, so it seems like a great decision on his part.

He has hosted a Vegetarian pop-up, Indian Street Food pop-up and Fried Chicken and Corn on the Cob pop-up, to name a few. I have attended the Lobster Rolls & Blueberry Pie pop-up and the Clambake pop-up so far. I am also looking forward to several upcoming pop-ups including an Oktoberfest, Spaghetti & Meatballs, a French Bistro, and Dim Sum. The food is amazing from start to finish. There hasn’t been a bad choice yet. He elevates even simple smashed potatoes into something delicious.

The dinners include tax and gratuity. Beverages are a la carte, and there are several PhotoGrid_1442026828003wines and beers as well as a featured cocktail and some sodas to order separately.

The first pop-up I attended, entitled Lobster Shack, featured popcorn spiced with housemade old bay seasoning, Maine lobster roll on a housemade buttered bun, smashed red potatoes, sweet and sour pickled slaw and local blueberry pie with housemade vanilla ice cream. I loved the Blueberry Thyme Collins, which was the cocktail selection for the evening. The blueberry thyme syrup was refreshing paired with gin, lemon and soda water – and I’m not normally a fan of gin. The lobster roll made me swoon. The bun had the perfect amount of butter and was an ideal carrier for the lightly tossed lobster filling. The smashed red potatoes and pickled slaw were great PhotoGrid_1442026730839accompaniments. The pie – although not actually pie but more of a buckle – was delicious, as was the homemade ice cream.

The most recent pop-up featured spiced peanuts, lobster bisque made with huge chunks of fresh Maine lobster, corn bread, steamed clams, local sweet corn on the cob, pan seared potatoes, housemade chicken garlic sausage and a bittersweet chocolate whoopie pie. Although I loved every course, my favorites were the bisque and that amazing whoopie pie, but even minor sides like the cornbread and simple pan-searedIMAG4402 potatoes were sublime. I enjoyed the sparkling clementine soda to start and a Sauvignon Blanc with my meal. We also got to enjoy an amazing sunset.

You can buy tickets for the upcoming pop-ups here and keep an eye on their Facebook page for announcements when the next pop-up is available to book. Tickets go on sale about one month beforehand and have sold out quickly, so act fast.

Contact info:

Katz Club Diner
1975 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH
(216) 932-3333

Night Market Cleveland

IMAG3927Night Market Cleveland is a summer event series that premiered in Asiatown June 26th and is held on the last Friday of every month through September. It was inspired by the Asian night markets, which originated in Asia as illegal “ghost markets” that bustled through the evening and vanished before daybreak. Night Market Cleveland is the brain child of Michael Fleming, Executive Director of St. Clair Superior Development Corporation. He got the idea when he was visiting Hong Kong. I wasn’t able to attend last month, but knew I wanted to check it out this month. I am so glad I did! I love Asian food and this embraced all different kinds of cuisines – from Nepalese to Japanese and everything IMAG3925in between! Organizers also invited outside fare not typically known for having an Asian influence, such as Pope’s Kitchen and Tremont’s Fahrenheit, with the caveat that they put an ethnic twist on their offerings.

They have found a great location for it – on Rockwell and E. 21st in front of Emperor’s Palace and the big parking lot across the street. Vendor booths line Rockwell as well as the parking lot and there are vendor booths and food trucks in the parking lot as well as a huge stage. Strings of lights, colorfully lit fake trees and glowing performersIMAG3914 lend ambiance after dark. It runs from 5 PM to 11 PM. They bill it as a family-friendly and pet-friendly event. I saw lots of strollers and a dog on a leash, so they weren’t lying.

I was lucky enough to find a spot on E. 24th just off Rockwell. When I left at around 7:30 someone was thrilled to quickly take my place. Secure parking is available for $5 in the Plain Dealer lot. Off site parking is available at the Tower Press parking lot and Hot Cards parking lot located right off of Superior Road as well as on-street parking throughout the area.

The star is undoubtedly the food. Lots and lots of street food IMAG3915ranging from huge combos featuring five or six different things for $7 to 3 pieces of dim sum for $2 or $3 or several pot stickers for $2. The longest line was for Han Chinese Kabob and Grill. It stretched down past two other vendors on Rockwell and that was at 6 o’clock before the crowds came. I started off with some shu mei and ginger sesame noodles from Li Wah for $10. The shu mei were my favorite savory bite of the night. They were moist and IMAG3917plump. I also enjoyed the noodles. Some people were adding protein like chicken to them. I saved my appetite for later.

The one vendor I knew I absolutely wanted to try was SnowBros Shavery. They debuted their traditional Asian snow cones featuring cream, milk and fruit in June. The newcomers hope to open a storefront in AsiaTown in the coming year. There were four “snows” to choose from: milk, taro, coffee and green tea. I chose the green tea and ordered the mochi at their urging as well as strawberries and then IMAG3918topped it with condensed milk and splurged for an extra topping of mango whipped cream. It was so worth it! Other toppings included boba (tapioca bubbles), red bean, sweet and salty cereal crunch, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi and blackberries. Dulce de Leche was the third choice for drizzle.

My friend ordered the taro snow (with a fun purple tinge), mochi, red bean and dulce de leche. She also enjoyed hers. She just lamented that the shaved ice she orders on the West Coast IMAG3920is much more plentiful, but maybe the food truck was limiting their volume. I first learned about shaved ice from her, so I defer to her judgment.

We then walked around, sampling various things like a virgin strawberry daiquiri and pomegranate soda from Pope Catering (both were delicious, but the pomegranate soda made with his homemade grenadine was divine!) and fresh coconut milk from a young coconut that was lopped open in front of me ($4) and checking out the vendors’ wares, ranging from ceramics, jewelry, stuffed animals, those cats that wave at you, essential oils and soaps. IMAG3921They even had a bar serving draft beer and Asian-inspired cocktails run by Watershed Distillery. My friend was particularly fascinated watching a vendor named Love Triangle make fresh takoyaki and onigiri, two Japanese delicacies. Unfortunately they were running low on rice and tapped out pretty early on. Other vendors included Szechuan Cafe, Flavors of India, Emperor’s Palace, Koko Bakery, Asian Food Co., Asian Grill, Siam Cafe, Mitchell’s Ice IMAG3926Cream, Fahrenheit and Wok and Roll – just to name a few. Their website has a full list of all the vendors.

I grabbed a bahn mi ($5) from Pho Thang Cafe and a fried rice and egg roll combo ($4) from an unnamed street vendor to go for later. One organizer-related vendor also offered to-go food kits for $20 so you can make monthly traditional Asian recipe at home. This month it was pork lo mein. I ran into a couple more friends on the way out and stood a while chatting while they all nibbled on kabobs and pot stickers. I was glad I got there early because I got my pick of food, but I am tempted to come after dark next time to experience the magic of the true night market. It must have also gotten crazy tonight, because the Critical Mass Bike Ride was scheduled to end there. I remember being stuck in traffic in Lakewood and Gordon Square because of the ride last year. The next Night Market is on August 28th, and the last one for the season will be September 25th. Be sure to check it out!

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Fire Food and Drink

IMAG2931If you ask me who my favorite chef in Cleveland is I will answer “Doug Katz” without hesitation. I have loved everything I have ever eaten at any of his restaurants, but his flagship restaurant Fire Food and Drink holds a special place in my heart. It is one of my favorite places for brunch in Cleveland – both inside as well as on the patio watching the world go by. But he alsoIMAG2938 does some great food at dinner and special pop-up dinners both at Fire and around Cleveland Heights (like a mussels demo or grilled cheese at The Wine Spot on Lee). He is planning to reopen the Katz Club Diner as a pop-up restaurant.

His Prince Edward Island mussels are delicious. He makes them with tomato, fennel and garlic and serves with it a piece of grilled, buttered  toast. Simple but delicious. The broth is a tomato broth and you can taste all the butter in it. Dipping the toast in the broth is one of my favorite parts about this dish. I was at his mussels demo for Le Creuset at The Wine Spot, and my friend and I loved them so much we drove straight to Fire to order a batch for ourselves. Paired with the popovers IMAG2933with local honey butter and the iceberg salad it was a great meal.

The popovers are light on the outside and custardy soft on the inside. They come as a set of three, so they are great to share. I tried to recreate the meal by myself the other day and ended up taking a popover and IMAG2934half of the salad home with me. If you order these you won’t need the bread and dipping oil service.

I have heard from several foodies that his Tandoor roasted pork chop from New Creations farm and Tandoor rib eye are among their favorite foods in Cleveland. The Tandoor oven ensures the meat is moist and flavorful.

Another thing I love about Chef Katz is that he supports local farms and local businesses and usesIMG_20110817_204050 local meats whenever possible. He also partners with Seafood Watch and uses only sustainable seafood at his restaurants. Dietary restrictions are also no problem. I confidently brought my mother here for dinner before taking the RTA to the July 3rd fireworks downtown a few years ago. She was having severe dietary issues (being gluten- and dairy-free) and at that time could not eat a number of other things due to ulcerative colitis. After consulting with the Fire staff on what she could and couldn’t eat on the menu she was able to enjoy a delicious meal and did not have a single problem.

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Grilled cheese pop-up at The Wine Spot

The photo above was my favorite course on the NEO Food Tour of Shaker Square a few years ago. He served a 4 oz. Tandoor roasted hanger steak paired with the most amazing leek bread pudding, sauteed spinach and porcino jus paired with a red wine. I wish the leek bread pudding was on the regular menu. If asked what I would choose as my last meal I would probably ask for this.

Doug is also passionate about community building. This I-Open interview is really fantastic and demonstrates his integrity and support for the local farmers and the local community. It’s just sad because the interview took place in the Katz Club Diner and came out just before it was set on fire.

Contact info:

Fire Food and Drink
13220 Shaker Square
Cleveland, OH 44120
(216) 921-3473

Dim Sum Crawl – Part Two

My friends and I did part two of last week’s dim sum crawl today. We met at 11:30 at E. 30th Street Cafe. It is at the back of Asia Plaza, off the parking lot with Park to Shop grocery store. We were the only table for a little bit, but a few other diners came after us. To be honest, I was nervous about the dim sum here, because no one ever talked about this restaurant or its dim sum. Last week there were only a few occupied tables, while Li Wah on the other side of the plaza was packed. I did some reconnaissance the night before and was pleased to see a very extensive dim sum menu of 50 items. I picked some ones that I knew no one else offered and was quite excited about the idea of a steamed chicken bun or cilantro shrimp dumpling; however, when we started ordering we were told that the restaurant had new owners and they had gotten rid of a lot of the dim sum. In fact, they were closing on the next day so they could renovate for 10 days and reopen as a new restaurant (Szechuan Cafe). We stuck with the dim sum, which was prepared in the kitchen and brought out as it was done.

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The original plan was to go light here anyways, so it made it easy to just stick to a few items. We ordered the stuffed eggplants (which were good with a quite chewy texture), sesame balls (smaller than what I am used to but good red bean filling), cilantro shrimp dumpling, and chiu chow dumplings. The chiu chow dumplings were my favorite dumpling here. They were filled with peanuts, chopped vegetables and pork. They tasted like the filling of a lettuce leaf wrap, and everyone really enjoyed them. Our two vegetarian friends split the curry vegetables off the regular menu and had a separate check. The bill for seven of us was $34.67, or $6.00 each with tax and tip. We left comfortable but not full, which is exactly what we planned.

The second stop was Bo Loong. This was our cart experience for the day. The service here was pretty lacking, but that might have been because we were off the main room. We asked for a knife to cut the buns, which we never got. They gave us forks and we had to ask for chopsticks. I ended up using the forks to cut the buns and to serve things like the sticky rice. We ordered Pu Li tea to start, because someone on Yelp had recommended it and I like trying new teas. It was okay, but most of us preferred the black tea they served us automatically. There was no lazy susan, which meant we needed to pass the dishes around and I had to keep reminding one of my friends to stop talking and pass the food.

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Food service was quick as the carts came around, but our poor vegetarian friends who ordered off the menu finally got their food almost when we were finished. And we had to remind the waiter that I had also ordered pea shoots with garlic. The dumplings were good, and we had a ton of them, ranging from Sue My (aka shu mei), Fun Goa (steamed dumpling with chopped veggie, shrimp and pork), a dumpling with scallions and some kind of meat, xiao lao (soup buns but they had sat too long and the soup had escaped from them – they still tasted good though and was the favorite dumpling for most of us) and Sin Joe Gin (fried tofu skin stuffed with sausage). We had two buns – 4 Sue Bough (baked BBQ pork buns) and 4 Guy Me Bough (a bun with coconut). I cut them up into four pieces each so we could all try them. We also ordered one sticky rice in a lotus leaf, which I normally love, but I was really disappointed with it here. Despite being packed with various meats it lacked profundity and most of all flavor. The pea shoots and garlic was delicious, and it came with a side of rice. Our bill came to $60.75, which broke down to $10.50 a person including tax and tip.

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One of my friends wanted us to stop at Asia Food Company – specifically Asia Tea House, which is tucked away in the back. I was completely unaware of the Asian Town Center complex until today. I’ve driven by it several times, but have never really paid attention to it. It has several parking lots, and I was glad they had a sign pointing to the main entrance. I had read about Asia Tea House several months ago when Doug Trattner wrote about it in the Scene Magazine, but I still hadn’t checked it out. The grocery store was huge and had a wide variety of items. I plan on going back again soon to take my time and browse the aisles. The fruits and vegetables were huge (including a jackfruit that was bigger than my head) and looked very fresh. They sell live crabs and lobsters, butchered meats, fresh kim chi, frozen and dried rice noodles, and a wide selection of sodas and juices, just to name a few. We were more interested in the little restaurant tucked in the back. At this point none of us were hungry and some of my friends were done for the day, so we just popped in to check things out. They had roasted meats hanging as well as a huge variety of dumplings (and samples!), savory and sweet buns, and pre-wrapped bahn mi sandwiches. If you want to sit in the table area you order your soup or from around 17 entrees at the register and they will bring you tea and your food when it is ready. I grabbed a sticky rice and a bahn mi to go for tomorrow. Some other friends grabbed a couple of buns to go. We were too full to order anything and sit down. I’ll be back soon to try some of their soups.

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Five of my friends continued with other plans, while four of us decided to stop at Koko Bakery. My vegetarian friend had left after Emperor’s Palace last week and lamented having missed the desserts, so I wanted to make it up to her. I thought about ordering a smoothie, but decided to order a Taiwanese shaved ice ($5.35 including tax) instead. One of my friends thought it sounded good and ordered the same thing I did. They shave the ice, top it with three toppings (I ordered lychee, mango and kiwi), and pour condensed milk over it. It was very refreshing on this 78 degree day. I also felt I was getting some vitamins to balance out the dumpling overload. My vegetarian friends split the mango cheesecake, which I had a bite of and really liked.

Overall, it was a successful dim sum crawl spread over two days. We got to try some old favorites as well as some new dim sum offerings and discovered a couple places along the way. I would not recommend doing it all the time because it is really filling, but this was a great way to spend an early afternoon on a Sunday. I highly recommend it.

Contact info:

E. 30th Street Cafe (now Szechuan Cafe)
Asia Plaza
2999 Payne Avenue #142
Cleveland, OH 44114

Bo Loong *Warning: the website is really bad. A more extensive menu is here.
3922 St Clair Avenue NE
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 391-3113

Asia Foods/Asia Tea House
Asia Town Center
3820 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114

The Velvet Tango Room

vtrThe Velvet Tango Room (or VTR) was just named one of the ‘Best 150 bars in America‘ (hint: it’s no. 90) – and for good reason. I love the VTR. Proprietor Paulius Nasvytis is just coolness personified, and the bartenders there really know how to shake a cocktail. The VTR opened in 1996 in a building that was once a speakeasy. It is located on Columbus Road on Duck Island, just a block or two from the West Side Market and the RTA station in Ohio City.

There are more than 80 cocktails on the menu. They serve classics like Manhattans, the Flip, Tom Collins, Sazerac, the Highball, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Old Fashioned, and sours like the Pisco Sour and the Amaretto di SaronnaIMAG1751 as well as their own house creations like the India Lime Fizz (which Michael Symon talked about on the Food Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Drank), the Lady in White, the Apricot Lady, the Cleveland Rose, and the Rust Belt. There is a drink to match every taste and mood. Every cocktail is completely fresh and made from scratch. Each cocktail uses the finest ingredients, the juice is squeezed as they make your drink, and mixers like bitters are made in-house. The ice cubes are made in a special 100_0395machine to be 1.25″ square and are frozen at -30 degrees, so that they stay cold longer and dilute the cocktail less. The cherries are imported from Italy. Once you taste them you will never eat maraschino cherries again. They’re delicious!

My favorites include the Lady in Red (vodka blended with the Tango Room’s own red wine reduction and adorned with marinated grapes), the India Lime Fizz (a rich, creamy, and powerful cocktail that combines gin, rum, flora India limes, vanilla, and a whole egg), the Moscow Mule (in the metal cup of course), and the Pisco muleSour.

Even if you are a hater of eggnog, their version will change your mind. It is the third drink photo here. It is so dense it casts a shadow on the cocktail napkin. Paulius whips it up during the holidays with fresh cream and eggs, brandy and dark rum. I had it during the holidays, when Paulius makes gallons of it and runs out, but they are happy to make it for you any time.

If IMAG1753you can’t decide they offer cocktail flights. As the menu explains, the “flights are groupings of three signature cocktails designed to create a harmonious progression of flavor experiences. Each cocktail’s flavor profile and finish, gently introduces and compliments the next one in the series. The opening cocktail is full-sized, followed by a slightly smaller tasting size cocktail before the final coup-de-grace, another full-size cocktail.” It’s a great way to try several at once. I’ve had the White, Light and Spicy (Lady in White, Rangpur Gimlet, and Dark ‘n’ Stormy) and the Fruits, Herbs and Spices (Lady in Red, Lady in White, and Bourbon Daisy).

The joint is classy 1929284_89667701349_7751357_nfrom start to finish, but it isn’t pretentious. There is a dress code (no shorts, t-shirts, or anything disreputable), but as you can see in the photo to the right they don’t ban jeans. The customers are friendly and not at all pretentious.

The ceiling has bullet holes from its speakeasy days. The bar and back bar are made of refinished mahogany. There is a sitting room with a grand piano where live jazz musicians play. The back room is tucked away in a hallway and to get to it you have to walk through a mirrored door in the coatroom. lastwordYou need reservations for the back room, and there is a two drink minimum. The backroom has buttery soft leather chairs and sofas and a fireplace for the winter months and a great patio for the summer months. There is another baby grand piano in the back room for special events. You can check out the photos on their website.

The food is limited, but high quality. You can order savories like Warm Olives and Almonds, Speck on Rye (which I highly recommend), an Artisanal Cheese board, Swine and Cheese (local goat cheese with Courvoisier fig sauce IMAG1598and a mound of prosciutto and crackers), or a Charcuterie plate or sweets like gelato, chocolate truffles, chocolate fondue, and Bananas Foster. We were lucky enough to be treated by Paulius to his Crepe Suzette, flambeed table side. It was a treat for the eyes and the taste buds.

There is no other place in Cleveland serving fine cocktails like the VTR. They serve cocktails and only cocktails, so check out the menu before you go to make sure you like what they are selling. There is no beer, shots or wine served here. The drinks are pricey ($18 for one drink), but they are only $10 during Happy Hour. The Happy Hour at the VTR runs from 4:30-7 pm on weeknights (my friends usually meet there on Fridays). There are no reservations in the front. It’s first come, first served. There are sometimes free nibbles put out during happy hour, but don’t count on them. As one Yelper said, “It doesn’t have to be a “special occasion” for a stop at VTR. VTR is its own occasion and can make any day better.”collage-2015-05-01

Contact info:

The Velvet Tango Room
2095 Columbus Road
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 241-8869