Monday, April 6, 2020

Tales from Social Distancing

Like many of you, I'm in Week 3 of working remotely from home. Trying to find small joys every day to keep me sane and happy in very overwhelming and challenging times.
I suggest bringing in some of those spring flowers to brighten up your home, play some music you enjoy, and light a candle. All of these small elements have helped create a pretty pleasant home office atmosphere.

Mr. H has been cooking even more than usual through this. 
Sometimes tackling new-to-us dishes that take more time and care, and sometimes quick and easy is what fits us best. Like these Smash Burgers the other night while hanging out in the garage after some yardwork!
We've been getting a lot of use from the bread maker and the pasta maker my mom bought us this past Christmas.
We continue to try and do our part to support local, independent businesses through carry-out or delivery services. That even included stocking our fine cheese supply with a delivery through Mercato from Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. this week!
Which led us to trying to recreate their Raclette dish over baby potatoes, prosciutto, pickles, and their Pepped Up Mustard.
Alllllmost as good.

We committed to getting takeout from The Black Pig once a week, since it really is our favorite restaurant and we'd be devastated if it doesn't make it through this. They've done a phenomenal job with minimal-contact takeout, and I've felt very safe picking up our food each week. Every Wednesday, they announce the week's menu for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So far, we've enjoyed sharing their Burger and Pork Collar, then a family-style Taco night...
...and Sandwich Night this past week.
With the Italian and the Banh Mi, it was a smashing success in this household!
One day each week, we rotate ordering from other restaurants we love. This past week, it was Mexican from Cozumel in Independence.
They make my favorite Stuffed Poblano in town. I get the vegetarian version.

It may get challenging given the circumstances, but I'm still going to try and work through the 2020 To Dine Challenge. I think we'll be ordering carry-out from one of the spots this week, so stay tuned!

How are you balancing cooking from home and/or ordering out? Any local businesses that you'd like to give a shout-out to? Any great dishes you've tried making at home for the first time?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This Bites...

Look, there's no flowery way to put this. We are living through some truly wild times, and it's changing by the hour. I know we haven't even experienced the worst of it yet.

When news hit Ohio on Sunday that all bars and restaurants were being forced into mandatory closure (with the exception of carry-out and delivery), it really started to hit "home" and I began worrying about our friends in the business and how all of our favorite local eateries may or may not be able to weather this storm.
Now, I want to be clear that I agree with most of the decisions being made. Because, let's face it, people won't make the right choices for themselves and staying home is the only way to flatten the curve. (Umm Florida and West Virginia, what is WRONG with you?!) Honestly, I wish the government was taking more of an aggressive approach nationally. I've been proud to be a resident of Ohio, leading the way in many of the tough and conservative decisions.

But some people are just nutty with the panic and hoarding, and it's a real problem to get some products that are broadly needed or critical for our health care providers. I had to chuckle as Mr. H tried to buy some toilet paper in bulk for his small business (35 employees go through quite a bit quite quickly!), and Instacart made THIS a suggested replacement item...
That's certainly not something I'd want near my lady bits.

We had been out of the country for a week (gasp, I know), so we stocked up on groceries over the weekend with a focus on supporting our favorite local shops. That included stops at the West Side Market, Old Brooklyn Cheese Co., and Ohio City Provisions
I don't take it for granted that our budget allows for us to shop at places like these, and I hope we can continue to have that ability.

Restaurants are making tough decisions every day now about laying off employees, closing their doors indefinitely, or trying to stay open for carry-out and delivery on a skeleton crew. I'm doing my part to share information. Head to my Instagram and view the NEO Updates highlights for information on restaurants staying open.
I know not everyone feels comfortable with it, but for now health care providers are saying that it doesn't appear to be transmitted through food and not as easily on some surfaces. Just keep your safe distance (6' suggested) from delivery or restaurant employees and consistently wash your hands and disinfect items that touch other surfaces or people. 

We'll be doing our part by purchasing takeout, gift certificates to use at a later date, and retail wine/beer. Mr. H and I decided to focus our support on 3-4 of our favorite local spots, to have the most impact. 
I urge you to do the same during this time. It's our small, local businesses that will be hurt badly in this. At least it sounds like there are additional relief programs on the way. At The Black Pig, we called in our order, interacted with only one employee and she stayed at a safe distance (they'll also deliver it to your car), and they had hand sanitizer available for use after signing the check. 

We don't know what the future will look like, particularly our local restaurant scene. Please do your part, and I'll continue to share information on my social channels. 

In the meantime for this blog, you'll likely see more home cooking (from Mr. H, of course) and updates on local businesses we're trying to support in different ways. 

One beautiful thing we're witnessing in this is a renewed sense of community and humanity. People are helping each other, thinking of others, and doing more to reach out. Sometimes in really creative ways! A neighbor's child was turning 3 years-old this week, so another neighbor created a "parade" route and a collection of neighbors stood outside on their porches or walked to a spot across the street on the route to sing Happy Birthday and wave as she marched past.

Cleveland, I love you. We're in this together.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Twisted Taino Takeover at Opal

A new Restaurant Takeover event series kicked off at Opal on Pearl in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood. The first Monday of every month from now through July (fingers crossed for an extension!), a different chef/restaurant will take over the Opal kitchen and offer a special menu for the evening. You pre-purchase your reservation, but then the deposit is applied to your bill that night.

We couldn't make the first event in February, but we made it in with some neighbors for the Twisted Taino Frappé Bar & Grill takeover last week.
No brick-and-mortar restaurant yet (hint, hint come to Old Brooklyn!), but word on the street is that they are looking for a location. They currently do pop-events around town, and just finished up a stint at Forest City Shuffleboard

Mr. H and I started with the Bandeja Criolla ($12) with pork and chicken chicharrones, fried yucca, and tostones served with pink garlic sauce and Jaramillo sauce. I didn't care for the tostones as they were denser and drier than others I've had, but the other items on the sampler platter were excellent. The real star was the Jaramillo sauce! Rumor has it that they may look to have it bottled for retail. Yes, please. Everyone was asking about it.
I had the Chile Relleno ($15) with two stuffed poblano peppers in either a Crema sauce or Tomato sauce. I selected the crema.
It was spicier than poblanos often are, but I love heat so I was good with it. They were quite tasty. 

However, not as fun and tasty as Mr. H's La Torre del Cacique ($17).
This tower was made of mashed yucca, sweet plantains, mofongo, Spanish yellow rice and choice of meat. It was a large portion, and reheated nicely the next day topped with some hot sauce. Or so I heard...

For $20 a ticket, it was affordable and we really enjoyed the evening. The kitchen got a little backed up so food took a long while, but Tony and his crew from Opal were slinging drinks and we enjoyed our time catching up with friends.

Next month...Momocho! Chef/owner Eric Williams lives in the neighborhood. Actually just down the street from me, hey neighbor! Don't miss this one, guys. Check out the Restaurant Takeover tab on Opal's website or the Facebook event for more information. Will I see you there?

4250 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 417-2030

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Village Martini and Wine Bar

I had kind of a crappy birthday this year. It was just days after the 1-year anniversary of my dad passing, I was in NYC for a work conference and had to travel back very late at night on the actual day of my birthday, I had caught a terrible upper respiratory infection during the trip and was still feverish, and then I was still very under the weather once we got to the weekend celebrations planned with my friends. *cue the tiny violin*

Even Mr. H must have been feeling badly for how my birthday went down (because I'm also a BIG birthday celebration person for myself and anyone I love), because he decided to plan a surprise "birthday do-over" this past weekend.

All I knew was that I needed to be ready at 6PM. An Uber came to whisk us away, and the driver immediately said, "You're headed to Chagrin Falls?" and my mind started spinning with restaurants we hadn't dined at yet in one of my favorite quaint, east-side towns.

What Mr. H had up his sleeve was a pre-dinner drinks spot, the Village Martini and Wine Bar.
Had never heard of it!

Located outside of the center of town, this cozy restaurant and bar was tucked away in a small business complex. We settled in at the bar, and immediately I saw several delicious-sounding cocktails on their list.

Turns out, they do a lot of their own infusions (as you can see behind the bar) and the cocktail menu was really interesting. The name and ingredients of my first drink escapes me (having too much fun with my hubby!), but I think it was something like The Bohemian (??) and it had blackberry(??)-infused gin and some tropical juices.
Mr. H declared this Manhattan with Peanut and Chocolate Chip-infused Bourbon as one of the best drinks he's had in a while.
Which says a lot, because we were just in NYC at some great cocktail bars, Mr. H makes some dreamy ones at home, and we have several favorite cocktail bars around Northeast Ohio.

I enjoyed both of my cocktails from the Seasonal Cocktails section. The Winter Paloma was just as good.

We didn't try any of the food because Mr. H had a dinner stop scheduled too (more on that in the next blog post), but it looked really decent coming out of the kitchen. Charcuterie and cheese board, stuffed mushrooms, ahi tuna, pasta, big salads...it all looked above what you'd find at an average wine bar.

I'd like to go back in the warmer weather to try the food and enjoy some more cocktails (I'm sure the wine list is good too and they had a few craft beers on tap), because there was a patio out front of the restaurant.
It was twinkling in the fresh snow.

I love finding gems like this spot! You could tell that they have a lot of regulars based on how people were interacting with the bartender and servers. Plenty of free parking in the lot too.

Village Martini and Wine Bar
516 E Washington Street
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022
(440) 893-9463

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

West Side Market Cafe

I'd consider us pretty regular shoppers of the historic West Side Market in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. Our visits haven't been as frequent since great locally-sourced shops like Ohio City Provisions and Saucisson popped up over the last few years, but we still enjoy our outings to the WSM often enough.

With the continuing decline of occupancy, the poor structural conditions some of the vendors face, and other issues that appear to be on the rise with the management from the city of this treasure, we've been trying to do our part to shop there more frequently to support those that are still there trying to make a living. I encourage you to do the same.

However, I admit, I hate trying to shop there once the tourist crowds come in on Saturday. So I've always tried to get in and out before 10AM. Weekday shopping with the hours the market keeps just doesn't work for us.

But that means that somehow, for all these years, I overlooked dining at the West Side Market Café.
One quick look at the menu, and I figured that I wouldn't be making that mistake again.
I already want to head back to try the Hot Mess, Fried Egg Sandwich and Pierogi Melt.

But, I tried The Remedy Breakfast Sandwich with a fried egg, hashbrown patty, breakfast sausage, and American cheese on a pretzel bun and topped with sausage gravy. Holy moly, this thing was a beast. I barely ate half of it.
It just sounded unusual, and most of the ingredients were sourced from the West Side Market vendors. The pretzel bun was one of the better ones I've had. My only critique would be that the sausage was sliced links, and it seems like a patty would work better. Most bites didn't have any sausage. Doesn't really matter though, this is a knife and fork kinda sandwich!

Then we headed into the market hall for our shopping, and with full bellies we made much better decisions!

West Side Market Café
1979 W 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113