About a month ago I got made fun of for wearing a sweater and jeans in 80° weather. This is a yearly problem for me come the end of August. I am just itching to get into sweaters, jeans, boots and maybe a jacket. Fall is my favorite season hands down. Our family orchard is in full swing, the trees dripping with fruit ripe for the picking. Maybe being a part of this family means a certain genetic predisposition to love this season but it can’t be helped. Honey crisp, Gala, Elstar, Swiss Gourment, Mollie’s Delicious and McIntosh’s are all jumping off the trees into our hands for enjoyment. The leaves will soon start to turn, mimicking the fruit they bear; some a little green with a flash of scarlet racing across the skin. Today I stopped by the orchard to snag my favorite apples — the more old-fashioned varietals — Elstar and Swiss Gourmet. The first bite I popped off the Elstar created a heart shape and I couldn’t help but chuckle. I guess they learn after 125 years on the same orchard. How well the apple knew its consumer.
Tuna is a crazy overfished…fish. It’s enormous. Way bigger than the little tin can or convenient foil pouch you scratch the flakes out of, this fish has dominated American life from cradle to grave. As a kid, I loved eating the sandwiches on hikes with my Dad and at home for a change from PB&J (a life partner) with my mom. High school provided the warm cat-food smelling tuna casserole that I actually adored and devoured. At college, Middle Ground Café made a zesty refresher course of traditional mayo/celery/chicken of the sea by replacing mayo for vinaigrette and opting for ginger instead of celery.
Coming back from the whirlwind of graduation, I found myself sleeping for a week, watching Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion and listening to 90′s songs. But I also was eating a lot of tuna. Was it the protein I was so lacking at school for 4 years or a shameless wallowing in nostalgia for the good ol’ days? Frankly I don’t care, and I can’t stop eating the stuff. It’s become my on-the-go snack on my road trips to Chicago so I don’t have to kill myself with McDonald’s or the incredulity of the KFC Express/Pizza Hut. I love it plain from the pouch with a fork, in salads, in lettuce wraps, on English Muffins, in a bowl with Miracle Whip and a hefty portion of mace or on a sandwich with my own arugula/radishes/blueberries and cheese.
Whichever way you cut it, the world and I are going to have a hard time if this great fish disappears and yellowfin isn’t going to be the answer.
“Zack Bruell be my boyfriend, are you married?”
“I want to be best friends with lardo.”
These were the one-liners rolling off my tongue as I ate bite after bite of excruating beauty at Chinato, on E. 4th Street. I’ve lived in Milan, my mother has lived in Bologna and Florence but an evening at Chinato brought us almost to tears. Here was Italian food, dare I say, better than or on par with the pinnacle of Italian gastronomy in Italy. The price point is well, on point! I ate here again just tonight with a friend and with a crudo, an antipasto, an entree, a dessert, a cocktail and a glass of wine WITH tip and tax was $52. Not to mention the service was outstanding (our waiter from a few weeks ago was our waiter again and remembered us), the wine choices impeccable, we were visited by the chef himself and treated to Damilano Chinato (a digestif) following our meal.
We started with a crudo, tuna with lardo and our hearts melted a little. My mind was racing to figure out how I could make and eat lardo every day, even if that meant my body would take the name and shape of the delicious slivers that were melting in my mouth.
Next we shared the fresh sauteed sardines with parsley, olive oil and lemon — the nostalgia of eating fresh fried sardines in Genoa when I was 20 washed over me and pulled me, like the strong oceanic undertow, back to that fleeting moment. After, an exquisite salad of julienned pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, arugula, goat cheese, roasted turnips and balsamic dressing. I don’t even want to describe the dish because then it’ll just give away the ending.
Our entrees: for me, the fritto misto of sweetbreads with fried caper berries (our country is at least a trillion light years behind every country when it comes to our definition of bar food — because this would blow those pee covered pretzels and peanuts at the bar out of the water), for my mother the veal breast with polenta unlike any kind of polenta you’ve ever had and salsa verde (parsley, olive oil, anchovies).
Dessert was the best almond panna cotta I’ve tasted and also a lemon polenta cake with a scoop of cherry gelato. This is Italian comfort food, the peasant food, the cheap cuts of meat or fish and making the most out of them by perfecting the cooking technique, letting ingredients speak for themselves and coaxing flavor out of tough cuts. The result is something like magic.
I’ve taken to listening to TED podcasts in my car on the way to work, and they have a great catch phrase: “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Recently I came across one that just spoke to me so clearly. This time it was Chip Conley, who spoke about how we should re-evaluate what we value: GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or GNH … Gross National Happiness. Surely, a restaurant such as Chinato is a focused human lesson in what we should appreciate and what counts. What is the logical outcome of people loving what they do and creating what they love for others’ enjoyment? An intangible measurement, with a very tangible result. I don’t think it folley to say the lessons in Chinato are ideas worth spreading.
Last week was my second time working at Buckeye Brewing this summer. Two weeks ago, all I did was wipe down the bombers before packaging them in cases and transporting them to the coolers. As boring as that may sound, no task is menial at a brewery and it allowed me to keep my ears open and ask a lot of questions about the brewery and its history. My second time round, I worked a 9 hour day: the first half went the same as the previous week and the second half I got to bottle. I was doing alright until I mixed up the buttons. The bottling machine works by placing 2 bombers under the fillers and pressing 2 black buttons at the same time. Then you move the bombers over to the capper and press 2 yellow buttons and 1 bottle is capped at a time.
However, I managed to accidently press the black buttons instead of the yellow when no bombers were under the fillers and so 2 bombers of Hippie IPA went spraying all over the machine, the table, the floor and me while I yelled, “NO NO NO!!! STOP STOP STOP!!!” I pressed the stop button and called over the owner who was very sweet and told me “It wouldn’t be a brewery if you didn’t get soaked in beer at some point”. To insure it didn’t happen again, I wrote in red sharpie on the back of my hands, “Black Beer” and “Yellow Cap”.
That was one highlight of the day, but the real highlight was being shown and allowed to dry hop the Hippie IPA with Cascade pellets for aroma. Hop pellets are so funny looking, they remind me of gerbil food from 5th grade science class. However, they offer brewers a great advantage in that they are more consistent in their bittering and aroma capabilities and more stable during the boil than regular full hops. Anyways, the point of this little story is that even after my little accident I came away feeling like a big girl and one step further on the brewing yellow brick road.
Between the Travel Channel, TLC and the Food Network, I don’t know which channel to blame for making me ravenously hungry at inconveniently late hours. And they always seem to coincide with an empty fridge, lack of cakes and absence of gargantuan novelty menu items in my home. Such a bummer for me. Anyways, Man v. Food is a show that can either turn my stomach in that I’m-about-to-hurl way OR it turns my appetite on in a big fat way.
He recently came to Melt Bar and Grilled in Lakewood and I missed the show. But whatever, because I’ve had the pleasure of eating there in person already, dying and going to Heaven. I’d tried once at their new Cedar Road location but the wait was so long even at 9:30 pm on a Thursday that I bailed for another night and their original location on Detroit Ave. It was a religious experience to say the least. I ordered the Smoky Russian — don’t worry I knew what I wanted before I got there because I’d already perused the menu online about 20 times, while I mopped the drool off my face.
The sandwich alone is ridiculously good, like I don’t want to talk to you until I’m done with this good. The kind of good that makes you chuckle to yourself because you’re so happy and you can’t believe you have the good fortune to be eating this right now good. But the sandwich is part of a trifecta: the vodka kraut slaw with pickles on top and double fried fries complete the plate, beautifully complimenting its buddies. The beer selection is also very good, obviously not close to the Beer Engine’s offerings but still very respectable. The ambiance reminded me of my dorm rooms: Cranberries playing, plastic light-up lawn ornaments over the bar and a Miss Pac Man cooler for bottled beer. Not to mention the really beautiful blue pressed tin ceiling. If this place isn’t on your list; you’re either crazy, stupid or have just had open heart surgery and don’t wanna push it. I repeat: DROOOOOOOOL WORTHY.
I spent some time over spring break in West Side Market up in Cleveland where I got my hot little hands on quail eggs and duck breasts. These two ingredients were key to a recipe I’d been concocting in my dreams and of which I was terrified. Sadly pomegranates are not in season and so couldn’t be the color, crunch and sweetness to this dish – which I believe was part of its downfall. Not that the dish wasn’t yummy, it just wasn’t there yet and needs some tweaking. Also there is nothing in this world cuter than a little quail egg or even a dozen.
It’s very simple: place duck breast skin down in a skillet after scoring the skin and let the fats of the bird cook it to perfection while you prepare some stock (either duck or chicken), throw in leeks and shallots in the pan with the duck, serve over pappardelle with fried quail egg on top. I cut the shallots length wise and peeled away the little cups of shallot to create a nest for the quail yolk which formed the center of a flower of sliced duck breast over the pasta, then poured the stock over top. Next time I’d love to use rag cut noodles. It’s more a winter than spring dish and is very comforting but could use some more work. I consoled myself by pairing it with Southern Tier’s Gemini whose sweet hoppy notes complimented the rich game nature of the duck and its buddies.
When you create an account with Ratebeer they ask you your favorite style of beer. In the beginning, I was a barley wine girl then a fruit lambic lady and now I feel like I might be delving into the world of sours. Barley wines were appealing, and still are, because of the high abv and they tend to have interesting sweetnesses going on. Fruit lambics were of particular interest because they produced flavors reminiscent of those found in our family orchard and the lambic style is so varied and surprising. Sour ales also fall into this category of surprise and a variety of flavors that can vastly differ from one to the next. My recent excursion to Lola had the added bonus of Jolly Pumpkin’s sour ale, La Roja. I hadn’t had one since July and it was such a pleasant reminder of the greatness of sour ales. Off to expand the horizons once again.
The Line Up
I wrote about this weird yet great sour earlier in “Salty Bitches” but here’s a run-down again of my notes on it. Straight from the bottle enjoyed on a summit over Lago Lugano, Switzerland. This was recommended to me by the wife/owner of A Tutta Birra in Milano as her favorite. Most interesting beer I’ve had so far in Italy. The aroma reminded me of rotting trash and at first sip so did the flavor. Further sips revealed sour cherries, dark fruits, apricot and vanilla. Incredibly smooth on the palate, absolutely no kick at the end. Much too sweet for me, almost could be considered a dessert beer in the same vein as dessert wines.
Pours a muddy purple/red with no head. On the nose: same white grape tartness as lambic gueuzes but the flavor is really watered down. Flat but crisp. Don’t get the cherry taste but more lemon and white grape. Love the crisp cool character and the slightly boozier aroma of this as compared to the guezes. Very drinkable but not very complex.
On draft at Beer Engine Sour Ale tasting. Pours a dark brown/black with ruby tinges on the side. No head. Nose: cognac as is the flavor with that white grape/almost smokey aftertaste. Flat, slightly tart and crisp. Yum. The tartness is really present in the corners of the mouth which inspires you to keep sipping away.
Bottle at The Beer Engine: Color: same as Rochefort 8 with no head. Aroma is funky bleu cheese and sour white grapes. Smooth slightly tart but boozier flavor at the beginning of the sip then tart bite at the back of the palate. Very refreshing and completely different than the last Flemish Red I had, Duchesse de Bourgogne. Love the diversity of this style – it felt like a borderline lambic.
750 at Lola into white wine glass. I love the label as I love all the Jolly Pumpkin label but this one is just great. The color is simply beautiful like a cross between a hoppy IPA and a mead. Fluffy orangey/tan head with a nice fruity aroma almost a kin to red wine sangria. Flavor is similar with some dark wood background notes and again that really nice fermented fruit sweet/sour combination. Such a delight.
Finally went here for lunch the other day and it’s another great restaurant started by Michael Symon – a native Clevelander. The beer list includes more macros than micros, however he’s offering really nice micros: Erie Brewing Railbender Ale, Jolly Pumpkin La Roja, Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura, Leelenau Brewing Co. Amber Ale, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold and another GL I can’t remember along with a few others. On Dec. 21st, Lola had a beer dinner featuring: FFF Alpha Klaus, Breckinridge Christmas, Aventinus, Heavy Seas Winter Storm, De Dolle Stille Nacht and Redstone Winter Solstice.
The food is awesome: this man loves meat. Beef cheek pierogies, incredible desserts like corn pudding with butter ice cream or french toast with maple/bacon ice cream. Pig roasts every tuesday night. E. 4th St. is a really small but cool spot with tons of little restaurants offering yumminess. Lola is actually pretty large, the service is awesome, atmosphere posh but relaxed. It’s a happy spot if a little pricey (lunch with soup, pierogies and pint: $35+tip). Parking all around, tops $8 at the parking garage a few blocks down and valet at Lola. Cleveland is a city that gets a lot of heat but for those who live there, the golden spots are all around you just have to look for them.
Unfortunately, if I don’t eat every two hours my hands start to shake, I get grumpy (even a little weepy if it’s been a very long time) and sleepy. The hunger shakes struck when I was out running errands and so before I got really nasty or passed out we stopped at Swensons for some blazing hot tater tots. It’s a family run, strictly Northeastern Ohio drive-in burger joint that has a special spot in most every NE Ohio native’s heart, unless they’re a total Scrooge. By the time we got home I was still hungry which catapulted exponentially after browsing through Paste Magazine’s 15 best food movies. So, I whipped up a BLT.
Fried 2 strips of bacon, and once I flipped them I threw in a handful of halved grape tomatoes. While those were bouncing all over the place, I stuck 2 pieces of wheat bread in the toaster, then turned the burner off under the b and t. Next a little miracle whip spread on one slice of bread, tomatoes over top, 2 slices of havarti — one on each slice (or you can put the cheese over the tomatoes while they’re still in the pan until it melts a bit), then the bacon halved so it makes 4 pieces. A scoop of horseradish on one slice spread over, or under, the cheese, then a big wad of crisp romaine. Crunchy, creamy, bacony goodness — really nothing beats a BLT in a pinch: ”So shines a good deed in a weary world” (courtesy of Willy Wonka).
Just woke up from a killer food coma, thanks to dinner at L’Albatros with the fam. The recent addition to the Cleveland restaurant scene has taken up residence in the old That Place on Bellflower. Great ambience, friendly and intelligent staff and food that blows the mind. I’m just coming off finals week and therefore have averaged maybe 8 hours of sleep in the past week, so I’ve been eating cereal and crack. That said, today was a total reversal of that routine: prato misto and a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout at Sergio’s and at L’Albatros; escargot, cassoulet and a canalé with cherry compote and a Reissdorf Kölsch.
L’Albatros has a decent beer list with some Great Lakes, Orval, Duvel, Old Speckled Hen, Gavroche but with LINDEMAN’S! I have such a pet-peeve when places try to offer lambics but then offer the MOST crap one. Ok that aside, the food is to die for and you’ll be fighting off the “itis” before you know it, but in such a good way.