Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Urban Farmer Blogger Round-up

Last night, twenty lucky bloggers (including me!) were invited to Urban Farmer- Cleveland's Steakhouse for a five-course tasting of their menu. Even though I had to miss the Cork & Cleaver pop-up dinner at Toast, I really wanted to go. I've been hearing nothing but glowing reviews of the food, cocktails, and atmosphere, but I hadn't had a chance to dine there myself yet. It's been a busy summer! I'm so glad that I accepted the invitation, because the food was exceptional.

We started the evening on the patio with a cocktail and charcuterie spread. The cheeses, meats, and oysters were all very good. The Oysters are typically $4 each, and Charcuterie is $13 or $21.

Then, we moved inside to their private dining room for the five-course tasting menu. This room is available by contract, and a really fun space to host a small event. The feather chandelier and crazy animal wallpaper alone is worth the food and beverage minimum.

The first course that we received was their signature Beef Tartare with beef heart and deviled egg.
I'm kind of on a tartare kick here lately, and this one was very good. This dish you can find on their regular menu under "Chilled" First Course.

Next up, a Chilled Lobster salad with tomato, avocado, fennel, mint, and verjus sorbet.
This was a favorite course of many at our table, and it can be found on the restaurant's regular menu (also under "Chilled" section). The use of avocado and the refreshing sorbet was what really kicked this dish up a notch. I could eat an entire entree-sized plate of this.

Our fish course was intended to showcase some of the things that they are doing at the restaurant. It can't be found on the menu, but pieces and parts of it are there. It was a Seared Scallop with corn, candied bacon, and roasted tomatoes.
I'm a sucker for anything with Ohio sweet corn in it during the summer, and I'd love to know how to create this creamed corn at home. It was packed with flavor, and complimented the scallop and crispy bacon well. The creamed corn can be found on their "Sides" and they have a scallop dish under "Fish" on the menu.

Next up, STEAK! I mean, they are a steakhouse after all. We were treated to the Roasted 21 Day Dry-aged Strip Loin with boulangere potato, summer squash, and tallow.
You won't find this dish quite like this on the menu, but the 21 dry-aged is part of the New York Steak Tasting and "New York" section of the steak menu. It had an amazing crust on it, and the texture of the steak was divine. It left me wanting more, and plotting a return visit to the restaurant. "R" would love it.

We finished the meal, already stuffed beyond belief, with the dessert course. We had the Great Lakes Malted Barley Custard with malt balls and honeycomb.
This dish can be found on their regular dessert menu. I'm not a dessert lover, but this was delicious! The honeycomb in particular was a pleasant surprise, and reminded me of toasted s'mores.

We also enjoyed a few expertly paired wines with the meal, and exceptional service. It really was a fantastic meal, and overall experience. It certainly left me with a wonderful impression of the restaurant, and a craving for more. I think that was the point!

They focus on sourcing locally, building relationships with the farmers and producers, and knowing where the food is coming from. They pride themselves on wasting as little as possible, using as much of the cow as they can and often pickling local produce that would typically go to waste. They firmly believe in the relationship between land and plate, and if this is what that tastes like...then yes, please!

Based on my experience, and what I've been hearing from other diners, go check them out on East 6th/St. Clair Avenue in the new Westin Hotel. It's a tad pricey, but worth the splurge. Anyone want a steak date?

Urban Farmer- Cleveland's Steakhouse
1325 East 6th Street
Cleveland, OH 44114

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this complimentary blogger round-up. All opinions stated are 100% my own. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pillars Lakewood Wing Crawl 2014

What a weekend! In some ways, it went by too quickly. Saturday is an example of that, because we spent eight hours crawling through Lakewood eating chicken wings. I'm talking about the 9th annual Pillars of Lakewood Wing Crawl. This "Best Wings in Lakewood Contest" had 11 restaurants/bars slinging chicken wings from 1-7pm as hundreds of people walked up and down Detroit Avenue (a free shuttle service was also available).
The list included:
Around the Corner
Bobby O's
Booths Tavern
Humble Wine Bar
Harry Buffalo
Merry Arts
Plank Road Tavern
Quaker Steak & Lube

I had agreed to act as one of the official judges for the contest, tasked with taking at least one bite of each kind from each place. The participating restaurants/bars had to serve one "Buffalo" and one "Open" (or chef's choice) wing. Your ticket got you two of each at each stop. Early on, "R" and I were just splitting one order of four at each place, and I quickly moved to just taking one bite of each. But, it was still a lot of chicken wings!
I've never seen so many wings in my life.
I loved that it brought us to places that we haven't been to before, like Plank Road Tavern and Merry Arts Pub & Grille.
Quaker Steak won for best presentation of the wing station, which included extra sauce, vegetables for dipping, blue cheese and ranch dipping sauces, crazy straws, candy and...wet naps. Why were they the only place with wet naps during this sticky, messy, saucy wing crawl?!?
It should be mandatory, and they were very much appreciated. I've never washed my hands so many times in one day before.

It was fun to see restaurants/bars participating that don't usually sell chicken wings. Deagan at Humble Wine Bar was trying his hand at chicken wings by baking them in their pizza oven. I heard from other crawlers that some of the wings there didn't hold their crispness, but mine did, and the Garlic Parmesan wings in the "Open" category should be perfected and kept on the menu. They won best wing in that category, for me, based on the flavor. But, I'm a garlic-lover.
There were beers had along the way.
Chicken wings and beer just go together like peanut butter and jelly.

We had a great day crawling through Lakewood. There were only a few really bad wings, like Vosh (tiny and dry) and Bobby O's (meaty and crispy, but served in crock pots with bottled sauces).

Here is how I voted:

Best Buffalo-
1. Riverwood
2. Booths Tavern
3. Around the Corner

Best Open-
1. Humble- Garlic Parmesan
2. Merry Arts- Jamaican Jerk
3. Plank Road Tavern- Asian Sesame

So, who has your favorite chicken wing around? Here is the list of official winners, both People's Choice and Judge's Choice. Every participant was encouraged to vote, and had a chance of winning a Great Lakes Brewing Co. package.

Have you attended this event before? Would you? For $20, I think it was a deal, and a fun way to spend the day. However, it will be a very long time before I want to see a chicken wing again.

Disclosure: I was provided with two passes to the event and a T-shirt, in exchange for acting as an official judge. I was not asked to blog about this event. All opinions stated are 100% my own. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

#HeinensGrill- Recipe: Grilled Jerk Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers

Sundays in the summer often mean "grilling" for us. It's a time when we can throw something on the grill, relax on our patio, and gear up for the coming week.

Heinen’s is currently doing a promotion around #HeinensGrill. They are celebrating all things grilled! They have been sharing inspiration, tips, tricks and recipes on Instagram and Twitter, and you are encouraged to do the same. #HeinensGrill focuses on showing creativity using the grill, and from grilled lemonade to beer can chicken, followers have already demonstrated that grilling doesn't mean just marinating a steak anymore.

I agreed to partner with Heinen's in this promotion, to show off how we grill using fruits as one of our favorite summer staples. The first recipe that I want to share with you was adapted from Closet Cooking.

Recipe: Grilled Jerk Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers

1 lb. of peeled and de-veined shrimp
2 slices of pineapple
jerk marinade

Jerk Marinade (Total Time: 10 minutes; Servings: 4):
1 scotch bonnet pepper (warning- hot!)
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 green onions
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 orange, juice and zest
1 lime, juice and zest
3 Tbsp. dry jerk seasoning mix (We used Penzeys Spices blend.)

1.Puree everything for the marinade in a food processor.
2. Put the marinade in gallon plastic bag and add uncooked shrimp.
3. Let marinade for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
4. Cut pineapple into 1" pieces.
5. Remove shrimp from marinade bag and alternate on skewers with pineapple.
6. Grill for approximately three minutes on each side.
7. Enjoy!
We also threw some halloumi grilling cheese on the grill, and made a Grilled Caprese Salad as our side dish. Fresh basil from our home-grown plant (thanks, Mom!), local tomatoes, and a balsamic glaze drizzle.

Now, that's summer on a plate!

What is your favorite fruit to grill with? Tell me in the comments below, and you'll be entered to win a tote bag of grilling supplies from your local Heinen's store. I'll select a winner on Thursday, using random.org.

Disclosure: I was provided with a gift card to purchase our grocery supplies for this promotion. Heinen's is providing one tote bag of supplies to a winner. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Friday, August 22, 2014

#ThisisCLE Culinary Tour: Part Three

After two days of total overindulgence, how could we possibly handle more? But, we had one more day to complete of the Positively Cleveland #ThisisCLE culinary tour.

I picked up our visiting food writer, Sarah from EatPGH, bright and early on Saturday morning to head to one of our area's best farmers markets--- the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square. I wanted to show her this great pocket of restaurants/shops on Cleveland's east side, and explore the weekly Saturday farmers market (8am - noon).
I picked up fresh Ohio sweet corn, our first of the summer, and some HUGE beets for beet salads during the week. I also purchased a bouquet of bright and cheerful sunflowers for our kitchen table. My last "score" at the market was Curry Pork Terrine from Melissa at Saucisson. This French forcemeat loaf similar is to a pâté, and she suggested making Bahn Mi sandwiches with it. Which we did on Sunday, and they were absolutely fabulous! You can catch the "Queen of Pork" at several local farmers markets, so check out her products if you haven't done so yet.

After our tour and shopping at the market, I swung home to deliver my goods before heading into one of my favorite Cleveland neighborhoods. I couldn't let Sarah leave without showing off Tremont. Our destination: Dante Boccuzzi's new Dante Next Door.
Located on Professor Avenue, next to his other restaurants (Ginko and Dante), there is free street parking and valet service in the evenings. They settled us into a table right by the window, and we were finally hungry again.
What's with the ugly country curtains? It doesn't really feel like Dante's style.

A box of house-made pastries was sent out from the kitchen (Box of four for $7, or $2 each).
I love the presentation, and I immediately dug into a Chocolate Croissant.
The only one that I didn't care for was the Dirt Bomb (pictured top left). It was too sweet, dry, and dense for me to enjoy that early in the morning.

The kitchen also sent out their special salad of the day.
The watermelon, proscuitto, and arugula paired well together, and it was a refreshing bite to our heavy brunch.

I had the server choose between two dishes, and she suggested the Crab Cakes Benedict with soft eggs, ham, and lemon Hollandaise ($16).
Loved this dish! It may have even been better than the version down the street at Press Wine Bar. I'd order it again. We also ordered the Maple Syrup Black Pepper Bacon and Blueberry Sausage Links ($4 each).

Completely full, and ready to call "uncle," we were still smiling (which is hard to believe). Thanks for the picture, Crystal!
We wrapped up the afternoon with some shopping in Tremont. I picked up a gorgeous peach clutch from Banyan Tree, and a bracelet from Evie Lou. I also sent Sarah home to Pittsburgh with sweets from Lilly Handmade Chocolates and A Cookie and a Cupcake (two of my favorite Cleveland treats!). I hope that she enjoyed them as she thought back on her trip to our fine city.

I think this T-shirt from Cleveland Clothing Co. sums it up well.
Vacation in Cleveland, you're gonna love it.

Our culinary trip came to an end, and Sarah said the nicest words to me..."I'd never know that you were a Cleveland transplant." I may not have been born and raised here, but I'm pretty darn proud of this city that I now call home.

Ok, I also seriously didn't eat for about 24 hours after the three-day culinary extravaganza. Wowza. I hope that you enjoyed following along during our adventures.

The list is long, I'm sure, but what did I miss? Where would you have taken her?

Disclosure: I partnered with Positively Cleveland to host a blogger for a three-day culinary tour. All meals, admission tickets, and transportation costs were paid for. I also received a goodie bag of Cleveland items, and a film crew followed us all day on Saturday for later use. All opinions stated are 100% my own. Thank you to Positively Cleveland for this amazing opportunity! #ThisisCLE

Thursday, August 21, 2014

#ThisisCLE Culinary Tour: Part Two x 2

When I last left you, we were getting some rest and freshening up for dinner on Day Two of our Cleveland culinary tour. Sarah, from Eat PGH, and I had quite the evening planned for Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. It's one of my favorite areas of the city, and it certainly has a lot of great dining options.

I chose to take her to my personal favorite, The Black Pig. It also happened to be their Two-Year Birthday that day, so they were in full celebration mode.
Besides the food, one of the things that I love most about The Black Pig is their unique rooftop patio. With a nice view of Downtown, secluded and small, it's perfect for a fun dining experience.

We wanted to share a couple of small plates to start the meal. I absolutely had to order the Braised Pork Belly ($11) for us.
The preparation changes often on their menu, but the pork is always cooked to perfection with a crispy crust and melt-in-your-mouth belly meat. The peaches this time were a great summery combination of flavors.

We asked our server to select the other small plate for us to share. She chose the Crispy Chicken Thigh ($10).
The chicken itself was only okay. I think it's hard for chicken to be a "star," so her selection was curious.

Luckily, this course quickly redeemed itself when Chef/Owner Michael Nowak sent up some complimentary Pork Rinds ($5) with salsa verde and Parmesan.
They were still cracklin' on the plate for quite some time! So crispy and delicious, we happily munched away.

We both selected the fish special, a Swordfish. Every day they do a Market Fish special.
This meaty fish was prepared very well, and the spaetzel paired well with it.

Nowak couldn't let us leave without sending out a sweet bite to finish the meal. It was a chocolate sampler, and a perfect ending to the meal.
It was an outstanding one overall, and one of my favorites during our three-day tour.

Then, we walked for a bit and ended at Crop Bistro. We were a little early for our dessert reservation, and they were slammed, so we settled into a high-top table in the bar area. Our frazzled and gruff server made a poor impression, in my opinion, but we made do. I wanted Sarah to see the beauty of the converted bank space. Although, the high ceilings and use of marble make for a very loud setting when the restaurant is full.

Our sweet tooth was satisfied by the chocolate tasting from The Black Pig, so we ended up ordering a Cheese Plate from their Daily Cheese Selection (five cheese for $20 or three for $15).
We also ordered their signature Balsamic Popcorn ($6) so that Sarah could try it.

Service continued to be an issue, and it was extremely loud in there, but the food was fine and we enjoyed ourselves. We were both dreaming up copy-cat recipes to do the popcorn at home.

The night ended with a drink at Velvet Tango Room. We had originally tried to head to Porco Tikki Lounge, but the parking lots were packed and we couldn't find a spot. Great to see! The prohibition-style VTR is certainly worth showing off as well, so I wasn't too disappointed. The $18 price tag on the cocktails may seem steep, but they can be well-worth it. Still not feeling it? Stop in for happy hour prices.

Completely whooped from our day, and bellies quite full, we called it a night. One more day to go!

Disclosure: I partnered with Positively Cleveland to host a three-day culinary tour for a visiting food writer. All meals, admission tickets, and transportation costs were paid for. All opinions stated are 100% my own.