Tag Archives: Northeast Ohio

Sweetie Fry

5 Sep


I’d been living part-time on the east side of Cleveland for five years when I realized this week that I still hadn’t tried Sweetie Fry. After years of going to Lee Road in Cleveland Heights for nachos with the team after a league game or hitting up the ATM, I finally swung by the shop around Labor Day to see what it’s all about. I had high expectations for unique ice cream and a small appetite. Here’s what I found:

Sweetie Fry is not just an ice cream joint but rather as the name sounds: a fry place.  I’m not a junk food person so fries don’t really appeal to me (even though I’m lactose intollerant and ex-vegan, I still prefer ice cream!)  I simply had no interest in the over-loaded, bacon-covered options.  I had difficulty understanding the board when I ordered, but I decided to go with the Goat Cheese ice cream as soon as I saw it.  My favorite pie is a goat cheese basil blueberry almond pie from a restaurant in North Carolina, so my hopes were high.  This dish was served with honey and sweetened walnuts.  The serving was a reasonable (small) portion and the first bite was good and strong, but the toppings were a little too sweet for me and I also detested the fact that there were traces of mint, lime, and other overpowering flavors that had been on the scoop used to scoop my dish.


All in all, I was not very impressed with this shop.  It could do a lot better.  It simply pales in contrast to Jeni’s, which uses a similar concept of local ingredients and unusual combinations.  However, the flavors weren’t always so quirky.  The list given on Sweetie Fry’s website includes the following signature flavors: Cookies and Cream (which relies on Oreos to add flavor), Vanilla Bean (which advertises vanilla beans from Madagascar as what “give[s] it a classic American flavor”?), Deep Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Brown Butter Walnut, Strawberries & Sour Cream, Key Lime, French Toast (one of the first odd flavor attempts), Maple Bacon, Chocolate Raspberry Marmalade, Peanut Butter, Turkish Coffee, Goat Cheese, Mango Sorbet (using Indian mangoes?), and NYC Cheesecake.  So, yes, Sweet Fry advertises local ingredients but also brags about importing from around the world.






Great Lakes Biomimicry

7 May

Here is an article I wrote for The Observer at Case Western Reserve University.

BIOMIMICRY: Ancient Lessons for the Future
by Kayla Wiinitam’ikwe-DeVault

            With talk of global warming and Earth’s nearing carrying capacity lingering behind every political issue, it’s no wonder that scientific and industrial leaders are focusing ever harder on sustainable practices.  But cleaning up our act isn’t always the solution; in fact, as author Janine M. Benyus argues in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, the real problem lies within not what we’re doing but how we’re doing it.

Wes Jackson, a biomimic interviewed by Benyus who works on developing sustainable farming at the Land Institute in Kansas.  Photo from Richard Harris (http://www.npr.org).

          “The real survivors are the Earth inhabitants that have lived millions of years without consuming their ecological capital,” argues Benyus in the first chapter of her book.  “We come not to learn about nature so that we might circumvent or control her, but to learn from nature, so that we might fit in.”  Benyus’s excellent piece develops a strong argument for how humanity is aggressively destroying the natural balance of the planet, ignoring the sustainable lessons Earth showcases daily.  One of Benyus’s many examples is green energy development.  While we’ve been expending considerable time and money researching how to produce expensive photovoltaic cells, our complex photovoltaics are merely a less efficient reinvention of what nature has already perfected.  Benyus argues that our expenditures would be better spent if we dismissed our 20%-efficient reinvention of the wheel and instead studied the biochemical processes of chloroplast cells in plants, which operate at a 95% efficiency rate within a smooth niche in the global ecosystem.

Janine Benyus delivering a speech on biomimicry.  Photo by Mychelle Daniau (AFP).

           Modeling after nature’s intricacy is the study that has been dubbed “biomimicry” and its horizons are rapidly expanding.  Biomimicry delves far beyond studying photosynthesis; even farmers are beginning to turn to biomimicry to solve erosion and crop resistance problems while industries are seeking nature’s “patents” to mimic spider silk or abalone shell, materials strong enough to develop bulletproof vests and nearly invincible tanks for the armed forces.  In this “Green Revolution”, researchers long to steer clear of petrochemicals and are turning to biomimicry to develop more sustainable materials.  For example, understanding how mollusks build the bysuss that glue them inseparably yet flexibly to rocks may provide us with biodegradable solutions to sealants and adhesives of various applications.

The spinning process spiders use to generate high-strength silk fascinates researchers who are working to replicate it.  Photo by Glen Peters (www.asknature.org).

          “Nature has been solving problems and innovating solutions for over 3.8 billion years,” says Don Knechtges, the Managing Director of Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise and leader of various other entrepreneurial organizations.   “By emulating nature, companies can tap into a tremendous pool of knowledge that they can use to enhance their bottom line with sustainable profits.”  It’s now job of Knechtges and other biomimic converts to spread the word about how this new scientific approach might redefine our region and our planet.

How You Can Get Involved
          Northeast Ohio is currently a hotbed for biomimicry thanks to Holly Harlan of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability.  Harlan recognized the potential biomimicry has as a sustainable tool for growing the economy in Northeast Ohio.  With Benyus’s assistance and additional assets from local universities, museums, parks, etc., biomimicry has begun to boom in the region over the last decade.  Great Lakes Biomimicry, a startup organization located downtown, is actively advocating biomimicry in industry and university research.  Thanks to the dedication of these local entrepreneurs, the University of Akron, in partnership with the Cleveland Institute of Art, currently holds the first and only PhD program in Biomimicry.  In addition, the program is accompanied by a fellowship program to push students straight into industrial applications.
Getting industrial companies in Cleveland involved in biomimcry is a key first step to cleaning the city up sustainably.  But it’s more than just nature that is benefiting.  As Knechtges points out, by being an industry sponsor of a Fellow in the PhD program, companies are making history and bringing “passionate young talent from around the world” to Northeast Ohio to develop unique and sustainable solutions in their fields.  These solutions not only allow companies to move away from petrochemicals and inefficient practices, but they garner the respect of environment-conscious consumers.
Research in biomimicry has been slowly infiltrating the interests of the faculty at Case Western, as evidenced by recent advances led by Dr. Shihao Hu in adhesives modeled from the sticky feet of geckos.  “Biomimicry is in its infancy at CWRU; while many faculty perform nature-inspired research with an eye toward sustainability, it has not yet taken on the mantel of a formal discipline or program of study on campus,” explains Lisa Camp, Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives at Case.  Camp works closely with GLBio and other regional initiatives, observing the interests of researchers on campus and monitoring research funds.  “There will be a moment when faculty interest in biomimicry and regional needs collide,” she explains.  “When that collision occurs, it will be incredibly powerful; CWRU researchers always bring a value-added component to community efforts.”  Her admiration for GLBio comes from its passionate dedication to the field.  She adds, “It was built for ethical reasons, not for profit.”  When asked why biomimicry is so important to the startup, Carol Thaler, the outreach direction at GLBio, had an immediate response.  “For me, learning from nature just makes so much sense,” says Thaler, her passion for biomimicry radiating.  “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say solving problems learning from nature will change the world.”

For more information, e-mail Carol Thaler at cthaler@glbiomimicry.org.

Phoenix Coffee Company

12 Mar

Local Coffee Tastes Better. Born in the 216. Phoenix Coffee Company direct trade coffees.

“Local coffee tastes better – roasted in the 216.”  This is the mantra’s to Cleveland’s small coffee chain, Phoenix Coffee.  With three locations (East 9th, Coventry, and Lee), Phoenix strives to support both its local work force as well as a “direct trade” for its coffee beans.  Coffee is a huge import to the States, due to its demand and lack of local growing ability.  (The only place to grow coffee in the US is Hawai’i – and that’s still a huge energy cost to import!)  Until it can become trendy and widely acceptable to drink something other than coffee (like roasted dandelion roots!), companies like Phoenix Coffee serve their communities and hard-working farmers well.   PhoenixOutside

Phoenix from the outside as you walk up Coventry Road.

The Phoenix Coffee Company has been in Cleveland for over 20 years.  The company’s roastery is downtown on St. Clair Avenue, but the beans are imported from various FairTrade and organic coffee farms and co-operatives around the world.  Recently featured was a “Direct Trade Burundi Bukeye Coffee” from the Buhorwa region of Burundi (south of Rwanda) and a “Direct Trade Uganda Gibuzaale”, boasting what Phoenix claims as “subtle notes of butterscotch, cashew, and tomato”.  Phoenix hires baristas, roastery workers, and coffee machine technicians.  Not only do they have their three coffee shops for lounging with a drink, snack, and free wi-fi, but they also cater and have wholesale for supplying coffee to offices, restaurants, cafes, and shops across northeast Ohio as well as the US.

PastriesEtcFront counter menu and food selections.

I periodically visit Coventry’s Phoenix Coffee shop, preferring it over Starbucks because of what it stands for more than just price (although they have good prices).  I have also visited the Lee shop.  I have yet to see the one on East 9th.  There is certainly something unique about the Coventry shop which draws just the right crowd.  The store is located towards the top of the hill, right beside the Mongolian Barbeque.  When you enter the shop, you in fact enter an open room above the customers and have to descend a few steps to reach the front counter.  The baristas are always very cheery and polite, and usually fit the stereotypical “hipster” look.  With the grungy music selection, simplistic photography, and well-worn furniture serving as chairs, “hipster” is clearly the intention of Phoenix Coffee.

Hardwood and stone-tile floors, old furniture,…and a guy with his dog!

At the counter, you can order from a variety of hot or iced beverages, including tea (bubble tea, too!), coffee, and espresso drinks.  Soy and syrups are additional options, just like in Starbucks.  There is also a “French Press & Pourover” option, where you can select your strength with any of the coffees available, as well as ice cream shakes.  Don’t forget the pastry and baked goods selection behind the glass.  There are also cold drink choices and gifts available, including shirts tied together with coffee sleeves!  I think one of my favorite things about Phoenix is the fact that their cups, sleeves, and plastic lids are completely biodegradable!  Shouldn’t every place be like that??

My salted caramel soy latte with its compostable to-go cup, sleeve, and lid.
Very strong, very fresh, and very good!  Not at all too sweet.

Phoenix accepts all major credit cards and is open every day of the week at varying hours from as early as 6am to as late as 11pm.  To learn more about Phoenix, check out their website at http://www.phoenixcoffee.com and see why they claim to be “Cleveland’s artisan coffee roaster; born in 216, saving the world by serving a damn fine cup of coffee.”

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.

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!


APOC: A Piece of Cleveland

13 Dec

A couple of summers ago, I shared my apartment with a student from the Cleveland Institute of Art.  My roommate was keen on my loves.  One day he drove me to see a house surrounded by tiger lilies.  Another day, he gave me a wooden cutting board stamped with the letters “apoc”.  “It’s a pretty cool company,” he said.  “CIA partnered with them on some projects, that’s how I heard about them.  I think you’d like the work they do.  They recycle scrap wood from the city and make it into furniture and art.”

My cutting board, featured first on heartsmartandpennywise.wordpress.com with my urban garden cooking day.

And that is how I learned about A Piece of Cleveland.

APOC was formed in 2007 by two individuals seeking to heal the city in a creative, new way.  First, there is Chris Kious, a former Cleveland community development organizer who recognized the misfortune in the City of Cleveland’s Building and Housing Department’s aggressive destruction of once-beautiful, antique homes as a desperate attempt to mend a dilapidated economy.  Second, there is P.J. Doran, an artist and craftsman with a knack for recycling what is essentially junk and sculpting from it functional and beautiful work.  Together, the two saw an opportunity to take what the City of Cleveland had let rot and thrown out, salvage it, and resell it as new, perfectly useful furniture, kitchenware, and even interior design pieces.

An example of non-furniture APOC work.  (www.good.is)

What’s more is, when the buildings are being demolished, photographs and other personal items are often uncovered.  Kious and Doran attempt to return these things to family members when at all possible.  When the unique and ancient slabs of pine, oak, and fir are taken from a house and reshaped, the leaders of APOC also include a “certificate of birth” with these items to salvage the history of the piece as well as the contents.  I think it’s an excellent concept, not only because it is a sustainable practice but because its deep-rooted symbolism maintains the post-Civil War housing boom and character of the city.  I encourage all Clevelanders and northeast Ohioans to check out their collection, especially if you need a cutting board or a new table in your house!

FUN FACT: Mitchell’s ice cream has a new location on the Case Western Reserve University scene.  I visited it once last month and witnessed their tables are in fact from APOC!  You can tell from the famous APOC stamp with which the products are all adorned:


To learn more, visit apieceofcleveland.com with links to APOC’s Blogspot, too!

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