Friday, May 31, 2019

Zero Zest

I've been in Cleveland for over 11 years. That's exactly how long I've been on the hunt for a good soft serve ice cream, and more specifically...a Flavor Burst. It's what I grew up on in NY, and it's been impossible to find in OH.

But then I saw Jill from Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Eats post a photo on Instagram of a Flavor Burst cone. And it wasn't too far from home!

That led to a Memorial Day Weekend stop at Zero Zest in Parma.
Finally, I had one in hand (small Black Cherry pictured).
While it was a far cry from the rich, creamy vanilla base of my favorite stop in NY, it satisfied the craving and brought back a flood of summer memories.

Mr. H had the Chocolate Covered Pretzel Avalanche. The best way to put it, it was lacking any "zest" and was almost flavorless. Much like the weak vanilla base of mine.

I may stop again if the craving really hits, but some of you all have been chiming in on Twitter and Instagram with other local Flavor Burst joints, so we'll be trying those first. For having "zest" in the name, it certainly didn't deliver that.

6096 State Road
Parma, OH 44134
(440) 886-6473

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

V's Gourmet Chicken

V's Gourmet Chicken has gotten the reputation for "best fried chicken" in Cleveland, so it had to make its way onto my 2019 To Dine Challenge list. But this is a takeout-only spot, so be prepared. A reader had tipped me off, and suggested waiting until summer and then taking it over for a picnic at Euclid Beach Park.
A free evening where we didn't feel like cooking just happened to take place right after Cleveland Metroparks unveiled the new Euclid Beach Park Pier.
The sunny, warm evening just begged for this excursion across town. But I had no idea we could expect Adirondack chairs and views of Downtown.
After deciding bringing back dinner to the park was a good plan indeed, we called ahead with our order (20 minute wait, everything is cooked to order) and then we headed there to pick it up after spending some time on the pier.
Look, it's not the best neighborhood, and you could easily drive right by this discreet corner shop, but it may just be worth a stop.
In addition to Fried Chicken with seven different types of seasoned breading, they have ribs, fish dinners, wings, sandwiches, salads, appetizers, and sides.
I had searched a couple of "foodie" Facebook groups I belong to in advance, and knew that many claimed the Seasoned and Honey Crisp were the best two for the fried chicken. We each got a 3-Piece Breast, Thigh and Wing and did some sharing.
I favored the Honey Crisp and Mr. H preferred the Seasoned. Just look at that gorgeous, crispy, golden breading!
The meal comes with two small sides and a corn muffin. I enjoyed the Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and Macaroni and Cheese. Both had spicy seasonings in them that I couldn't identify, but were unique. The sides were fine, but the fried chicken was clearly the star. The only thing I didn't care for was the corn muffin, as it was too dry. For $7, it was a lot of food, and I had plenty to take home as leftovers for lunch the next day.

I'm no fried chicken expert, but it was probably the best I've had in Northeast Ohio. Worth the drive over and the hassle of takeout only? Probably not for this west-sider, but I would happily pick it up again for a picnic at Euclid Beach Park or for a catering order.
I think the pup and Mr. H would agree that the evening was a near-perfect taste of what summer in Ohio will be.

Another one ticked off the To Dine list. Where should I head next, and who's joining me?!

15418 Lake Shore Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44110

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dodd's Hillcrest Orchards Farm-to-Fork Dinner

I was recently invited out to the Dodd family's Hillcrest Orchards for one of their Farm-to-Fork Wine Dinner events.
The weather wasn't participating, so it was held in their rustic barn amid picnic tables, fresh cut flowers, twinkling lights, and a chandelier.
The setting was gorgeous and the tables were set for a wine-paired dinner featuring Trinchero Family Estates Winery.
But before we settled in for the meal, we did get the opportunity to tour the orchard on a hay ride. We got to see some of the older apple trees and how they were traditionally farmed.
And the newer, modern way of growing apples. All with a complimentary signature cocktail in-hand.
Once we got back to the barn, the Dodds welcomed us and shared a bit about their family's orchard. 5 generations are currently involved with the orchard in one capacity or another, including the Dodd's son-in-law, who was our chef for the evening.
We kicked off the meal with a spring soup and then a Fresh Spring Vegetable Salad with asparagus, beets, baby carrot, radish, spring onion, micro greens, Lake Erie Creamery Herb Chèvre, and fresh herb vinaigrette. It was paired with Bieler Pere et Fils Rosé, France, which was one of my favorite wines of the night and we took home a bottle. 
I really enjoyed the Pan Seared Halibut with cauliflower purée, potato leek mushroom hash, and lemon herb truffle butter. This one was also paired with one of my favorite wines of the night, Terra d'Oro Barbera, Amador, Sierra Foothills, California. Two bottles came home!
The last savory course of the evening was a Herb Grilled Colorado Lamb Rack with snap pea and tomato salad, feta, caper balsamic vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts.
Truly, the food was beautifully plated, thoughtful, and well executed. This wine dinner could stand up proudly next to any similar event we've attended in Cleveland.

But, you can't duplicate that setting! They just renovated the event barn and added this gorgeous patio. It was a wet and dreary day, but I could easily picture sipping a glass of wine overlooking the orchards on a sunny day.
Despite the weather, I still wanted to sneak out to take in the stunning apple blossoms.
In addition to all of the traditional orchard activities like apple picking, market, u-pick pumpkins, hay rides, a maze and more...they also have their wine retail and liquor licenses, so on top of great events like the wine dinner I attended, you can also stop in on Fridays (4-10PM) and Sundays (11AM - 6PM) and their bar and patio is open. Live music is featured, and you can purchase wines by the bottle to take home if you enjoy what you've had from the bar.

Their next dinner event is a Father's Day Craft Beer Pairing Dinner on June 15th at 6PM. This locally-sourced, 5-course dinner will feature craft beers paired with each course. Then there is another wine dinner coming up on July 13th. Enjoy the Summer Wine Pairing Dinner out in the orchard.

We found this gem last summer, thanks to friends that had told us about a wine dinner they planned to attend. We enjoyed a fabulous evening last summer, and this spring's trip just reinforced how special this family's orchard is. We'll be back for a future wine dinner, and to sip some wine on that patio while enjoying live music some Friday or Sunday this summer.

Hillcrest Orchards
50336 Telegraph Road
Amherst, OH 44001

Disclosure: I was provided with two event tickets in exchange for my honest review and social sharing. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Event Recap: Silver Spoon Awards Party 2019

Mr. H and I had the chance to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the best food events in town recently, Cleveland Magazine's Silver Spoon Awards Party. Held at The Hilton, there were more than 50 restaurants and beverage purveyors to sample from. Many of my favorite things were in the room at the same time, like Luca's famous Sacchetti and Porco's tiki cocktails (both in VIP Room).
I may have had three(!) that night.
Of both!
Attendees got to sample food and drinks from award finalists and winners, like Michael Symon's Mabel's BBQ...
...Lakewood's Thai Thai...
...and one of my favorite bites of the night, a Galley Boy from Swenson's. This may or may not have led to a stop for dinner last week.
While the night brought us all kinds of good food, we were there to raise funds and awareness for a good cause. The Arthritis Foundation is leading the fight for the arthritis community. The Arthritis Foundation helps conquer everyday battles through life-changing information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections.

This party may only come around once a year, but it's one you don't want to miss! They know how to throw one heck of a party.

Disclosure: I was provided with two VIP tickets in exchange for my assistance in promoting the event. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Pie Punks

A new bakery quietly opened in our neighborhood, Pie Punks, near the corner of Memphis and Pearl.
Like so quietly that you can't even find them in a Google search, Facebook searches get you nowhere, and the website listed on their products' packaging is not live.

But, their doors were open and the cases full!
They had a variety of whole pies in a couple of different sizes, quiches in the same sizes, cookies, and pastry bars.
We snagged three small Quiches and each were really fabulous heated up. I also picked us out a small Peach and Cherry Pie, which we warmed up and added a scoop of vanilla ice cream to. I'm not a big dessert person, but I kept digging in for "one more bite" before I shared with Mr. H.

I'm not sure what this mysterious business' story is, but their stuff is good, so I'll keep coming back.

Pie Punks
3434 Memphis Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44109

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Van Aken Market Hall

The Van Aken District is just exploding on the east side. Local business favorites like Cleveland Clothing Co., Mitchell's Ice Cream, and Room Service have opened locations, and shoppers can also enjoy additional boutiques like Whiskey Grade and Luster. The restaurants have also flocked, and I personally look forward to trying Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (now open) and the soon-to-open Jonathon Sawyer spot.

In the heart of it all is the Van Aken Market Hall.
In addition to the sit-down restaurants, the area now offers a 21,000-square foot food hall. It's a great place to gather, with a little something for everyone. We recently met our friends and their two young children there for dinner on a Friday. There is plenty of room for the kids to run around, a couple of food stands to choose from, and Craft Collective where the adults can grab an alcoholic beverage.
We sample a bit of everything, including the Mac and Cheese with Focaccia Bread Crumbs ($8) from Scorpacciata Pasta Co. (one of my little friends' personally favorites)...
...and their Carbonara ($14) with black pepper fettuccine, Ohio pancetta, yolks, and arugula.
We've always enjoyed the poutine and cased meats from Banter on the west side, so we just had to dig in to a couple of the Sliders, which you order individually.
They did not disappoint. That's a jalapeño popper on top of that beef slider pictured above! An order of poutine graced the table too.
A couple of takeaways from our experience...
  1.  I am falling in love with a Food Hall concept. It's great for groups or families, because everyone gets to choose what they want or you can mix-and-match a couple of small things from more than one place to make a meal.
  2.  When the garage doors on the Van Aken Market Hall can be open in the warmer months, the flow and vibe will be really cool.
  3.  Ohio City Galley has the logistics and atmosphere figured out much better. First, the positioning of the restaurant stands and designated seating areas are more clear and cohesive. Second, their liquor license includes the entire space so you're not limited to where you can enjoy an adult beverage (Craft Collective space only here).
  4. The food was all solid and no real complaints, but the food quality and flavor are better at Ohio City Galley. 
  5. Timing. The food flies out at Ohio City Galley, but the waits were around 45 minutes at Van Aken Market Hall (after you waited in line for quite a bit) on what seemed like a steady but not slammed night. 
  6. Mitchell's Ice Cream is right across the street, and made for a perfect end-of-the-meal treat!
What are your thoughts on food halls? If you've been to both, which do you prefer?

3441 Tuttle Road
Shaker Heights, OH 44122
(216) 491-8800

Monday, May 13, 2019

Event Preview: Silver Spoon Awards 2019

It's Silver Spoon Awards week! One of the absolute best ways to sample dishes from all over the city in one place, and all for a good cause.

The 25th Anniversary Cleveland Magazine Silver Spoon Awards Party, to benefit the Arthritis Foundation, is a strolling food and wine tasting event and one of Cleveland’s finest social and culinary evenings. Guests will sample delicious signature dishes from nearly 50 of Northeast Ohio’s best restaurants and several international wineries. All participating restaurants are 2019 Cleveland Magazine Silver Spoon Award winners and finalists.
It will take place this Wednesday, May 15th at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown from 6-9PM. The event also includes an exclusive VIP Lounge, a highly-anticipated silent auction and exciting raffles. Complimentary valet is offered for all guests and tickets include a year subscription to Cleveland Magazine.
But, let's be honest, it's all about the food! This is one event where you have to pace yourself and be strategic about stations to stop at, because you simply can't taste them all.
Event proceeds fund critical arthritis research and support local services for the 1.3 million Northeastern Ohioans with arthritis and related diseases. Arthritis is the nation’s #1 cause of disability. Join the organization in becoming a Champion of Yes for the more than 50 million Americans, including 300,000 children, with arthritis.

Tickets are still available. It's not too late to join!

General Admission: $125 Event Day
VIP: $175 Event Day

But if you can't be there, you can support the event by making a donation online or bidding on their silent auction packages. Online bidding means you can take home one of the fabulous prizes, right from your couch.

Disclosure: I was provided with two VIP tickets in exchange for my assistance in promoting the event. All opinions stated are 100% my own. All images above provided by CLE Weekly / @orvillemceachronphotography. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Stella's Music Club

We recently headed to East 9th's Stella's Music Club for an influencer event with CLESeats.
This bar was 'built by musicians, for musicians" and the ambience, events, and even some of the names of menu items all reflect that passion and purpose.
They have a full bar, and one bartender in particular that made several of us different "surprise" craft cocktails that did not disappoint.
There are several great small plate Snacks to start with, and we dove right in to the Corn Dogs ($10) that are cornmeal battered bites with a tomato aioli and stadium mustard. It was a generous portion, and a perfect ratio of batter to dog.
Mr. H was feeling like a burger so he ordered The Jam Burger ($14) with Great Lakes yellow cheddar, double-cut bacon, and your choice of a brioche or pretzel bun. Served with a side of fries. I went for the Grilled Chicken Tacos ($13) with queso fresco, valentina aioli, sweet peppers, onions, and cilantro. They could have used a bit more seasoning or something to really impress, but they were a solid choice and apparently a menu favorite.
The team at Stella's were very generous and brought out several Snacks for the group to try, and then three Pizzas as well. I didn't snag a sample of the pizza, but the Chicken Wings and Bavarian Pretzels were both good versions and easy to share. The mountain of Stella's Nachos also looked pretty darn good with a tower of toppings, including pulled pork, but I didn't sample them.
Then the real fun of the night kicked in. A round of Jello shot syringes appeared...
...and Live Band Karaoke started. It was my first time experiencing karaoke with a live band, and man what a difference! Our night's fearless leader, Lauren, slayed it up on the stage.
Opened in 2018, I had not yet discovered Stella's Music Club (across the street from Progressive Field). But this live music venue has a lot to offer with a full bar, menu with food coming from Brickstone next door, events, and more. Maybe not my usual "scene" but a great stop on a future Indians game night. Hopefully, on Live Band Karaoke night again. Such fun!

2217 E 9th Street
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 202-1002

Disclosure: I was invited to attend a tasting event with a guest where all food and one drink was complimentary. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

CVI: Chef for a Day Experience

The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio is home to fine dining events featuring visiting chefs from all across the country, using seasonal ingredients grown right on their James Beard Foundation award-winning Chef's Garden grounds.

In addition to the events held monthly, a select few can "upgrade" their experience by purchasing a Chef for a Day package, which gives you a full day of access to this beautiful kitchen equipped with every tool and toy you can think of...
...and the opportunity to prep, cook, and serve right alongside the CVI and visiting chefs. This time, we worked with the team from JUST. Go read more about their plant-based products.
Sounded right up Mr. H's alley, so that was his birthday gift this year!
They even let me have a knife! 
He's still all smiles, even several hours into trimming and cleaning mushrooms.
After working for a couple of hours, you settle in for a fabulous private lunch and chat with CVI Executive Chef Liaison Jamie Simpson.
Seriously, it was almost too pretty to eat. And our mushrooms made their first appearance! That green item on the left is chicken. The skills and techniques of CVI Chef Tristan Acevedo blew me away during this lunch. He whipped this all up in what felt like minutes.
The carrot sorbet to end the meal was a highlight for me.
We were put back to work for a little while longer in the kitchen, but then popped out to the Chef's Garden grounds for a brief tour and to clip some of the edible flowers to use as garnishes at the evening's event.
I could have wandered through their greenhouses for hours.
But it was time to pop back to freshen up for dinner in the rustic and picturesque dining room. Your package includes two tickets to the dinner, but you can choose between sitting for the meal or staying in the kitchen to help finish cooking and plating.
The evening kicked off with the delicate signature cocktail of the evening. I had to get a second, it went down so nicely! Wine, beer, or wine pairings are also available for an additional charge.
Then the courses from JUST started to roll out. This was their version of Crudité, with this amazing vertical Kalamata olive crisp that we got to watch them make.
The Waffle course included crispy chicken, slaw, and a JUST waffle.
Our mushrooms made their second appearance next in the Pasta course with JUST egg noodles (no eggs were harmed in the making of this pasta), lemon beurre monté, and mushrooms. This dish was so good that Mr. H took a crack at recreating it the following week, and it turned out pretty darn good.
The team from JUST couldn't have been any cooler to hang out with that day, and the chefs at CVI were wonderful about working with us even though we're at very different skill levels in the kitchen (a.k.a. I'm useless and Mr. H is a whiz). The servers later that day also embraced us crashing their training meeting, and continued to check on us all evening. I was a little sad to see the day end. But I did confirm that I'm not cut out for a 12-hour day in the kitchen!
It was such a unique experience. One that we'll never forget. But I don't need to see another mushroom for a little while. Mr. H had a blast, and happily cleaned mushrooms a few days later.

12304 Mudbrook Road
Milan, OH 44846