Tag Archives: local food

Cleveland Restaurant Week

9 Mar

Cleveland Independs is a group of locally-owned and locally-sourced restaurants around Cleveland and northeastern Ohio.  (See my previous post for more about Cleveland Independents.)  One of the big promotion events Cleveland Independents holds is the idea of a “menu fixé”.  Each resturant has a meal line-up of several courses for a fixed price.  The price varies slightly, but line-ups seem to run from $15 to $40, depending on the place and if it is a lunch or dinner line-up.

To be perfectly honest, researching how exactly to define the “Restaurant Week” concept was no easy chore.  I had to search each even individually to make an appropriate summary of the event.  This past “Week” has lasted for nearly 2 weeks and is the 6th annaul event.  After investigating past events, it appears as if this “Week” is often more than 7 days and occurs once in February/March and often again in November.  Its popularity has caused it to increase from a small amount of restaurants downtown with one meal line-up to over 50 restaurants with dinner and lunch specials.  To encourage customers, parking has been reduced to $2 downtown in past events.

The idea of Cleveland Restaurant Week is to encourage people to dine at local places to help stimulate Cleveland’s economy.  After reading some comments online, I can conclude that many, many Clevelanders look forward to this event and a large portion of them spend hundreds each time by taking their families out.  It’s a great way to bring the community together while simultaneously improving the Rust Belt city’s economic situation, one stride at a time.

The event current at the time of this article’s publishing is the 6th annual week, held March 4th through March 16th, 2013.  Restaurants are subject to change with each event, but all current event information and menus can be found at www.clevelandindependents.com under the Events tab and listing.

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Cleveland Independents

9 Mar

This unique group, called Cleveland Independents, is a group of around 90 independent and locally-owned restaurants that work together to promote their businesses and impetus for locavore lifestyles.  Cleveland Independents is Cleveland’s version of EatDenver in Colorado or Louisville Original in Kentucky, to name a few.  Kudos to the group for not only inspiring people to support Cleveland’s local economy and small businesses, but also for facilitating eating local in meals that go beyond our own kitchens.

Navigating Cleveland Independents’ website (http://www.clevelandindependents.com/), you are given the option of four main categories from the homepage: About Us, Restaurants, Events, and Shop.  The About Us page reiterates the incentives of the Cleveland Independents group and its support of northeast Ohio.  An option is also given to sign up to become a member restaurant.  For those already a member, a log-in widget is available on the sidebar.  The Restaurants tab provides  an alphabetical listing of its members, their addresses, phone numbers, gluten-free availability, and reservation links, if such a mean exists for that restaurant.  Many of these restaurants I have written about under my “Restaurants” tab; the ones I haven’t are ones I intend to visit!  Next, the Events tab is a brimming list of specials, wine tastings, parties, and anything else you can imagine that is happening at these various locations.  One of these events is the Cleveland Restaurant Week, which I will feature next in my “Green Initiatives” category.  Finally, the Shop tab enables users to buy gift cards and gift certificates to the “Cleveland Independents” as a whole.  What better way to promote local eating than to enable selling gift cards that can apply to any of these places?

This is an example of the kinds of cards that can be ordered from the website.

If you’re from Cleveland or just visiting, check these restaurants out!  And if you’re into local food as much as I am, consider it a must for any Cleveland-dweller to dedicate themselves to these places whenever looking for a place to eat!

 

Fire Food and Drink

8 Mar

This past week, my brother and I decided to venture just up the hill to Shaker Square.  I had seen Fire Food and Drink many times, being from the area, but I never tried to make a reservation.  I had heard that the place can be pretty packed in the evenings.  However, we managed to make an online reservation within an hour of our dining time.  The dress is business casual, so I had to convince my little brother to ditch his athletic shorts for a pair of khakis before driving up.  A valet took our car for us as a complimentary service to our dinner.  Inside, our coats were checked and we were immediately taken to our table.

There was a special meal deal (prix fixé) for Cleveland Restaurant Week by the Cleveland Independents (see more about this under the Green Initiatives section), a $33 three-course meal that my brother selected.  I chose to select a number of other dishes.  Our order was taken quickly and we were surprised by how casual our waiter was with his language and humor.  I personally liked the way his informality contradicted the pristine atmosphere and dress restrictions of the place, but I could see how others might find that offensive.  The restaurant itself is in a unique, open room with windows facing the Square.  The chefs are visible to the customers as they cook over an open fire.  The floors are hardwood and there is little clutter apart from the furniture crammed into the relatively small space.  The tables are very close together, with little divisions beyond a periodic column.  The lighting is very dim.  My brother joked, after washing his hands in the restroom, that the artwork decorating the sinks was photos of faucets nicer than the ones in the actual sink.

First, we were poured water and given olive oil and wholegrain bread – a trend I have noticed across most locavore restaurants in Cleveland and beyond.  We were also informed of all the changes to the menu.  There was a substitute for some of the fish kinds and other ingredients due to shortages and availability.  Fire Food and Drinks supplies locally from the North Union Farmer’s Market and participants.

bread

I ordered an orange martini from the drink menu (which is not complete on their website).

martini

I split the artisanal cheese plate appetizer with my brother.  It came with “seasonal” fruit (orange slices), nuts, jam, and crustades, and four kinds of cheese.  Two were soft, two were firm, and none were identified to me.  I did, however, recognize one as a brie and one as a goats’ milk base.  Again, this seems to be the standard in my experience at Cleveland restaurants with locavore food and cheese platters.  The nuts were pecans and pistachios.

cheese

My brother’s first course included his choice of the clam chowder soup (Penn Cove Manila) with Yukon potatoes, oyster crackers, and chives, topped with bacon.  (The alternative was a roasted beet and radish salad with tangerine-mustard vinaigrette, chickpease, local goat feta, and tarragon.)  It was very good, although the bowl was extremely shallow.  There was much less in his bowl than what appeared to be there.

soup

For our main courses, I had the goat cheese agnolotti (basically, ravioli).  The sauce is defined as a “meyer lemon cream sauce” and it is served with pine nuts and “winter greens”.  These greens were probably some kind of kale, a popular winter crop in the area.  The agnolotti were extremely creamy, delicious, and rich – almost too rich to have many.  The serving, however, was tiny considering the $19 meatless expense.  If you like goat cheese, I definitely recommend this dish.  It’s not spicy or sweet, but simple and complimentary to the flavor of the cheese.

pasta

My brother’s second course was a fish with a side of seasoned spaghetti and a light sauce.  The original restaurant week menu describes this as a “Pan Seared Maine Haddock”, coated with crispy Roesti potato, accompanied by a celery root-Meyer lemon slaw, and topped with a creamy Soubise.  (The alterative was “Braised Shortribes”, served with creamy polenta, pickled cabbage, golden raisins, sautéed spinach, and shallots.  The local crops are evident in this dish.)  I did not try the fish dish, but I know he liked it – and yet its portion size did not come close to filling him.

fish

Finally, the third course came: a blood orange tart.  (The alternative was a choclate coffee and whiskey “Cappuccino”, made with chocolate cream, espresso-whiskey granite, and whipped cream.  My brother had no interest in the alcohol, being underage, and I had my martini already, thus we opted for the tart.)  The tart was decorated with toasted meringue and a candied orange slice.  The dark chocolate blood orange cream filling was more like a pudding than we were expecting, but the crust was light and soft.  The dish was not too sweet to finish.  The standard dessert menu includes things like ginger crème brûlée, mousses, apple tart, and even a popcorn ice cream sundae, reminding me of the popcorn appetizer at Market Garden Brewery.

tart

I had a cup of coffee to go with the dessert.

coffee

With the conclusion of our meal and the presentation of our bill, our waiter gave us two tiny, spiced, chocolate-chip cookies.  It was a nice surprise.  The chocolate was very rich, like most of the ingredients we experienced throughout the meal.

cookie

PROS: I really like that this Shaker Heights restaurant buys its ingredients from the North Union Farmer’s Market and that it changes its menu as supplies change.  I also liked the variety of the menu considering its simple ingredients, as well as Fire’s ability to not overwhelm the senses in a single dish.  The service was fast and friendly, and the seating was not uncomfortable.

CONS: Our bill came out to be about $100 with the tip.  Had the portions been more generous, I could have understood.  I feel like this place is a little overpriced, despite its strides to provide a decent price for good food.  I would also like to see a few more vegetarian options on the entree menu.  Lastly, I wish Fire would better promote itself on its menu.  I feel like a cover page with an introduction on who they are and what they do would serve them better than the bare-minimum look their menu currently has, with only one line dedicated to their locavore service.

menu

I would definitely recommend trying this place out to locals interested in promoting the locavore revival in Cleveland.  It would be interesting to hear back from others on their experiences as well!  Fire is open open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner and Saturday and Sunday for brunch.  Visit http://firefoodanddrink.com/about/ for more information.

Johnny Mango World Café & Bar

24 Aug

While I was out visiting some farmers’ markets in downtown Cleveland, I had a little time to kill and decided to search for places with margaritas near Ohio City.  Momocho, a nice Mexican restaurant with flights of margaritas, came up at the top of a quick Google search – but it was closed so early on a weekday!  I found a page of reviews for margaritas in Cleveland, and the next recommendation behind Momocho was a place called Johnny Mango’s.  I decided to check it out.

Little did I realize, Johnny Mango’s is actually right beside Momocho.  It can be found at 3120 Bridge Avenue Cleveland, Ohio 44113.  I had a lot of faith in finding good food at this place just because Ohio City is known for its great bars and restaurants.  It’s a quaint and rather classy part of town, if you can ignore some of the shady bits that come with most any section of Cleveland.  Sure enough, I walked into Johnny Mango’s and felt instantly its unique, classy flair.  (I used some pictures from Google reviews.)

You might be wondering why I’m writing in a green Cleveland blog about a random restaurant that I went to for margaritas.  Well, here’s why: Although I randomly stumbled upon this place, I walked in and found out that this restaurant is in fact a very “earthy” place!  Not only is the menu healthy and lists both vegan and gluten-free options (of which there are many), but they cook and blend drinks with fresh food from the West Side Market!  Woo for locavores!

The decor is very ecclectic; a mini world figurine hangs from the ceiling with a moon across the room, under an old metal tile ceiling painted like a dark, cloudy sky.  The opposing wall when you walk in is covered with bright wooden cutouts of lizards and flowers.  You seat yourself when you walk in, either at one of the many tables in the big room, at the long bar between those tables and the plasma screen TV, or on the sidewalk outside.  From inside, the kitchen is fairly visible.  This and the cramped sensation of the room unfortunately contributes to negative reviews on the noise levels and acoustics, but the outdoor seating has only positive comments.

One of the first things I noticed was that the sugar bowls were filled with packets of Sugar in the Raw and Truvia – no refined sugars or artificial sweeteners.  Even within 30 minutes of opening on a Thursday morning, the place had a regular flow of customers.  A giant white board behind the bar flaunts the specials, including the vegetable of the day straight from the West Side Market.  Unfortunately, eggplant isn’t exactly appealing to me, so I avoided that on my visit.  Instead, I settled for a lime-mango margarita (which I think might be made from West Side fruit!) and the Caribbean “fries” appetizer, which is really just plantains.  My meal:

For those who don’t know, plantains are basically bananas that have a less sweet, tangier taste and a consistency a little closer to a mushy potato than a banana.  They were pretty good (although a little greasy for my taste – I had to dab them), and the pico de gallo that accompanied it was the perfect, unexpected combination!  The margarita was good, but it was on the rocks and not very cold at all.  It tasted more to me like warm, watery juice with a strong presence of tequila.  But I am no margarita aficionado!  If only I’d have had a bigger appetite, I would have tried for some pad thai or fried tofu dish.  So many good options, and not terribly expensive!  And besides the alcohol bar, there is also a juice bar with lots of different healthy options!

Interested in checking out Johnny Mango’s yourself?  They have a website: http://www.jmango.com/index.html.  The various menu pages are listed along with other information on specials, etc.!  FYI, I hear their mojitos are amazing.  Enjoy.

 

Tremont Farmers’ Market

22 Aug

Yesterday, I decided to visit my first Cleveland farmers’ market! I decided to check out what Tremont had to offer… and, let me tell you, it’s not what I’m used to! But it was still quite the experience!

The Tremont Farmers’ Market, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/tremontfarmersmarket or http://tremontfarmersmarket.com/, is located at Lincoln Park, just south of downtown Tremont in the Cleveland area. It’s generally open May through October each year. The hours of operation are Tuesdays, between 4pm and 7pm. (Last year, they apparently added a winter location at the Holy Ghost Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church and Cultural Center, 2420 West 14th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44113 on Tuesdays, November 1 through December 20, 2011 between 4-7PM, and I expect they’ll do that again.)

The farmers’ markets I’m accustomed to are a bartering and/or selling business of mostly produce, but then some eggs and other small crafts on the side as well. Here at Tremont, I arrived at about 30 minutes after set-up to find there were only a few produce stands. Most of the stands were offering obscure products, like ones for coffee, flowers, pierogies, and even massages!

Plus, there was live music! I described this to my mom, who is familiar with the markets at home and those ones only, and she replied with, “Sounds more like a festival than a farmers’ market!” And that’s how it felt.

The streets on all sides of the market were lined with cars. There was a constant flow of people down the sidewalk. I slipped around, eschewing much attention, and attempted to discretely take some photos of what I saw. I noted only one stand had an Amish family selling, many of them seemed to be company-ran rather than small farms, and that not all stands were set up yet.

I’m sure this week is different from many others. Nonetheless, one stand had cantaloupe already for $2.50 a melon… and it smelled so ripe and wonderful! I wanted to buy one, but I had to drive to work without the means of cutting it… so sad…

I checked into the market on Foursquare and realized the mayor was in the house… so you can bet this is the place for regulars!  I’d definitely go there all the time if I lived close.  I hope to check out a market at Shaker in the next hour. I hope you enjoyed my scoping out this market!

The Greenhouse Tavern (GHT)

20 Aug

The GHT is an unexpected gem buried in the heart of Cleveland.  Located at 2038 E 4th Street in downtown, this locavore restaurant with its ever-changing French-inspired menu was the first certified green restaurant in Ohio.  The Sawyer family opened GHT in 2007 alongside their other restaurant, Noodlecat, operating by the following two principles: “the idea that the proximity of the farm and soil to a restaurant correlates to the quality of its food and that environmentally conscious or green business practices are fundamental.”  (For more about their mission, read this page http://thegreenhousetavern.com/press/GHT-SUSTAIN.pdf).  They got me with “green”, so I took my mom to try it out last night.

E 4th Street, where GHT is located, is a very quaint and attractive part of town.  The restaurant is not far down to the left when you walk off of Prospect:

We chose to sit outside on the patio.  The restaurant isn’t very big, so we were all kind of packed into the same space.  It made it difficult for private conversation as well as for waiters to weave around to us, but this is a typical patio experience.  The interior was decorated with a classy “eat local” flair and a lot of the tables had a wooden farmhouse furniture look.  My mom made a comment that the upstairs bathroom was a bizarre unisex set-up, whereas I checked out the one downstairs and found myself going right past the food preparation to get there.  Honestly, I felt a slightly uncomfortable arrogance while navigating the place.

Looking over the menu, I noted that the meals ran from $15 to $59, those being from the “thirds” section.  There were also a number of appetizers (“firsts”), smaller dishes (“seconds”), and sides (“halfs”).  We were given a libations menu and, later, a dessert menu, which came after our meal.  Being that I am vegetarian, I had only 9 options on the menu of 36 total items (these options are indicated by a radish symbol on the menu).  Two of the carivore dishes were sold out.  Although the “Warm Bread & Butter Board” is not listed with a radish, we decided to try that for an appetizer and I avoided the spreads with meat:

The grilled bread was much like the bread given when you sit down.  The house cracker had an interestingly soft and layered texture.  The country bread was our favorite: extremely fine, smooth, and warm.  The pain d’epi – the one braided like wheat tassels – was good as well, but a little tougher and not as fine.  I only tried the spreads on the two hearty breads, then ate the grilled bread and cracker on its own.  Certain spreads matched one bread better than another.  The spreads themselves were very interesting: one had chicken, which my mom said didn’t taste like chicken at all; one had beef, which she said was extremely beef-tasting; one was vanilla bean, which I liked a lot; one had lemon zest, which I also liked a lot even though it was very overwhelming; one was made from beets and was unusually sweet; the orange one, neither of us could recall what it was and it did not have a distinctive taste.  The spreads were good, but all they really were were bizarre butters.  The appetizer was $15.

For drinks, I tried a Chardonnay – which I love – and my mom had a classic apple cider by Luk, much like the traditional kind served in Montreal.  For my mom’s meal, she got the “Salt Cured Walleye Fettucine w/ fingerling potatoes, broccoli rabe, garlic, lemon zest & bread crumbs”.  Her first reaction was “How can you have potatoes with pasta?”  (This was latered seconded by an older gentleman behind us as he asked the same question.  Remember, you can hear others very easily when you’re so close together!)  Well, the did have potatoes in the pasta.  It was decent; I tried it as well.  My mom did, however, complain that the flavor overwhelmed the fish and that the red cayenne overtop was too spicy.  She picked off most of the flakes.  The dish was $21:

I went light and stayed with one of the “halfs”: “Ohio Corn w/ padron peppers, house made kim chi & lime” for $6.  I was baffled how I should eat it.  They literally served me an ear of corn quartered lengthwise.  My mom suggested I not eat the cob, so I sloppily chewed off the kernels while trying to hold the corn on my fork.  Don’t get me wrong – the flavor was great!  I really liked the lime and the spice.  But why was it on the cob?  We determined it was merely for presentation:

Finally, it was time for dessert.  We decided to share the “Johnnycake” (which is the Midwest and New England term for what I know better as a “hoecake”).  This Johnnycake (or hoecake) is just a cornmeal cake, then, for the dessert, they added “dolce de leche, cream curd, hominy ice cream & sea salt” for this $9 little dish:

Honestly, it was delicious.  Being from Pennsylvania, the first thing I thought of when I ate it was Penn State’s grilled stickies.  If you’re born into State College tradition, just understand that it’s got some kind of breakfast, cinnamon bun, can’t-quite’-put-a-finger-on-it taste of goodness.  However, it was extraordinarily small for the price and the waiter took ages to pick up our payment.

(from vesperbistro’s WordPress)

My honest assessment: GHT is an excellent idea.  I’m very supportive of restaurants who try to “go local” and who celebrate the locavore movement.  My one complaint with this movement, however, is that it seems to come with some kind of arrogance.  GHT tries very hard to be a classy place, but I don’t like the idea that “upscale” is always associated with “local food”.  The foods were also very unique but, unfortunately, they did try to combine a lot of flavors that often overwhelmed the dish itself.  To summarize my opinion, you don’t need to “class-up” local food to make a point.  It’s just food: the idea is that you’re doing right by the planet and supporting local farms.  The presentation was frustratingly a priority, but it is culinary art.  Besides, the food came out very quickly and was extremely fresh!  That being said, don’t be discouraged to give this place a try yourself!  I didn’t think it would appeal to kids, but there were families with young children dining while we were there. If you’re willing to pay $30-$40 for a good meal, come see what GHT is all about!

See for yourself: Check out this restaurant at thegreenhousetavern.com and take a look at the online menus!

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