Friday, May 1, 2020

Tales from Social Distancing...

For the most part, I'd say we're settling in to our new "normal" these days. I work from home and rarely leave the house for anything other than exercise outdoors, and that helps keep my anxiety lower. Mr. H's business is essential, so he's still at work full-time but finds ways to unwind. Often through fun in the kitchen, like this homemade Ramp Linguini
We also threw some ramps in with a boxed wild rice for a quick, easy weeknight meal with scallops and roasted broccoli. I love that they can really be tossed with almost anything. If you're still looking for some, check out Greg's Produce at the West Side Market.
By Saturday, we knew that we had to stock back up on proteins for our freezer. I was actually pretty proud that we had gone over a month without needing to. But, when we did, we headed to Saucisson. You can order online starting Wednesday for Thursday-Saturday curbside pick-up. The shop is also open for two customers at a time. 

In addition to their locally-sourced and house meats, they have ready-to-eat meals, some pantry items, and even desserts from Dramatic Snax like this Fudge Brownie. It was rich, moist, and HUGE. 
We stay committed to ordering takeout from The Black Pig once a week, and last Saturday we had a decadent night in with Osso Buco over Polenta with Roasted Vegetables, Salad, and Squid Ink Cavatelli with Shrimp & Crab
We're just trying to do our part to support our favorite restaurants during this time, so I was totally shocked and a bit teary-eyed when they had some gorgeous flowers waiting for us at pick-up. It was incredibly thoughtful, and the vase brightened up my home office all week long.
Over the weekend, we also got some outdoor time with the younger pup. She's loving (and so are we) the secluded walks in the woods. 
And we all enjoyed the addition of a fire pit in the backyard! We recognized that we'll be spending a lot more time at home this summer, so it was worth purchasing for those nights when we need some zen.
I want to also put a reminder out there that it is not only the local, independent restaurants that are suffering from the stay-at-home order. Don't forget about your favorite boutiques, specialty shops (I miss you, Lakewood Plant Company!), and other small businesses that you're used to shopping at in-person.

Take a look at their websites and social media accounts, as they may have options like curbside pick-up, online shopping, or delivery if you're not comfortable going there in-person as things open back up this month. 

I've collected quite a few pieces from my favorite vintage shop, Helm Collective. I've had my eye on this sweet (pun intended) little honey jar ever since I saw it on her Instagram account months ago.
I sent a message to ask if it was still available and she shipped it to my house for a small fee. It'll join some of the other pieces from there on a shelf project I'm working on in our breakfast nook. More on that soon! 

How are you doing? What have you been able to get out and do now that the weather is cooperating more? Are you getting into a routine that feels better now?

2801 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

5324 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Tales from Social Distancing...

What a difference some sunshine can make, especially right now in these more stressful and isolating times. Even though the temperatures were still a bit chilly last weekend in Northeast Ohio, Mr. H and I were able to get outside and it instantly improved my mood.

We headed to the Brookside Reservation to take in the Cherry Blossoms, which bloom around this time each year for only a brief time. We took the pup and had a nice, short stroll through the park.
That left me wanting to see more signs of spring, so we took a drive over to Lake View Cemetery (my first time!) and battled the crowds at Daffodil Hill. This is only a tiny portion of the gorgeous rolling hill of sunny blooms.
The next day, we headed out with the pup again for a 2 mile hike in Richfield.
She got to run through some creek beds, traipse over wooden bridges, and scout out some ramps. Everyone was happy.
We also had some fun with food over the last week, including more of Mr. H's home cooking.

But on Saturday evening, we ordered the Dinner for 2 carry-out from The Black Pig. The meal was fancier than usual, so I secretly set the table with all the fine crystal, candles, and place settings it deserved while Mr. H picked up our meal. 
The filet, crab cakes, roasted potatoes, broccoli, and shrimp cocktail (not pictured) set the stage for a fabulous evening at home that still felt special and "date night" worthy.
I am extra grateful that they started offering dessert carry-out two weeks ago, because it's something that we don't make at home and felt like such a treat. We're both still dreaming of the Peanut Butter Mousse and Flourless Chocolate Cake.
In addition to supporting The Black Pig once a week, we're also rotating in other favorites around town. This past week, it was Thai from Banana Blossom.

They have the best Crab Rangoon I've ever had, because the shape allows for a better filling to wrapper ratio. It's a must-order item when we eat there.
I also like their Pad Thai, and it hit the spot on a chilly, windy day last week. The only dish I don't care for that we've tried is the Massaman Curry, as I've had much better around Northeast Ohio.
During this past week, I also felt motivated to start dabbling with my New Year's Resolution to learn a new hobby in 2020. I was gifted several items over the holidays to help with this goal, including a deck of tarot cards from Mr. H. So I busted them out and did my first reading!
How are you staying busy lately? Anything fun you've cooked up in the kitchen that you'd like to share? Any great take out you're enjoying?

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 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

Friday, February 21, 2020

Great Lakes Brewpub and Beer Garden Renovations

In its 30+ years of business, the Great Lake Brewing Co. facility on Market Avenue has grown, expanded, and made upgrades. But they recently shut down for two weeks (a lifetime in the restaurant business) to make major renovations to the Brewpub and Beer Garden.

The first noticeable change is where the first floor dining room used to be is now an open space for more casual beer drinking with views of two original brewing tanks that are still used to brew pub-exclusive beers. The brewpub and taproom are now called "Brewhouse No. 1" in honor of these tanks. The main entrance has been relocated, so this room is now the first thing you see.
We settled in at a new high top table in the Brewpub for some flights and to try a bit of the new menu items.

The renovations were designed to enhance the guest experience, but also designate very unique spaces within the brewery that now offer different menus and varying types of seating.

We primarily ordered from the Brewpub menu, and dug in to the GLBC Board ($22) with house pickles, local cheeses and meats, artichoke crock, Kalamata olive ciabatta, and Burning River Pale Ale Pepper Jam.
Their original Cheese and Charcuterie Board was always good (and it's still on the menu), but this new version kicks it up a notch by adding pickled items and the warm artichoke dip. The meats and cheeses will change, but you can't go wrong with this easy-to-share item.

We also ordered one of their Flatbreads, the Short Rib ($18) with Stilton blue cheese, arugula, black garlic herb oil, pearl onions, and roasted grapes.
The thin crust was still nice and doughy, and we really liked the combination of flavors and textures. I also want to get back to try the Crispy Pork Belly version.

Normally you can't order from the Beer Garden or Bar Snacks menus in the Brewpub, but our server brought us out her favorite dish from the new Bar Snacks menu. Boy, we were glad she did! The Sriracha Cheese Curds ($6) with avocado ranch sauce were phenomenal. I'm still thinking about these days later.
Executive chef Shorty Coleman, who has been there for 15 years, is overseeing the changes. They also have a completely renovated kitchen with new floors, ceiling and cooking equipment. Additional changes to the patio are scheduled as well.

It had always been my opinion that the food quality didn't quite live up to the beer quality and atmosphere of the brewery, but this visit proved that these changes to the menus and dining concepts are raising the bar. I'll be more inclined to head there myself and recommend it to others!

One thing that I love about actually going to Great Lakes Brewing is the opportunity to try brews that are only tapped there. We included a couple of those in the flights we sampled.

Mr. H is really loving their new Bierwolf. Have you tried it yet?
In addition to their beers and the new menus, there's also weekly entertainment like Euchre, held every Tuesday in the Beer Garden at 6:30PM. This will include a weekly trophy when tournaments officially start in mid-March. It is free to play and registration will be open soon. Also, Bingo is held every Wednesday in the Beer Garden at 6:30 PM, with multiple rounds of prizes.

They did a beautiful job of honoring the history of the space and the brewery, but it certainly feels refreshed and more open and cohesive. Go check it out for yourself.

Great Lakes Brewing Co.
2516 Market Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-4404

Disclosure: I was invited for a tour and tasting of the newly renovated Brew Pub and Beer Garden spaces. All food and drink were complimentary. All opinions are 100% my own.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Tapatia's Taqueria

It was time to kick off the 2020 To Dine Challenge, so Mr. H and I headed to Tapatia's Taqueria for some authentic street tacos on a Saturday for lunch.
Mr. H was immediately happy when warm tortilla chips and salsa arrived at the table!
I ordered the Combo Taco Special ($8.99) with your choice of two taco fillings (excluding seafood) and sides of rice and beans. There are 11 fillings to choose from.
Then you get to take your tacos up to the magical Taco Salad Bar and fill them up with all kinds of goodies like fresh salsas, cilantro, onions, lime wedges, pickled red onions, sour cream and more.
Now I've admitted this here before, I'm a flour tortilla kinda gal. But these housemade corn tortillas were pretty darn good and also didn't split apart or get soggy despite my efforts to overload my tacos. I may prefer La Plaza Taqueria's slightly, but these were closer than any others I've had locally.

Mr. H ordered two Sopes ($4.25 - $4.75) and the thick homemade corn tortillas were a perfect mix of soft and crunchy, piled with your choice of meat and refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and crumbled cheese. He even preferred this over the tacos. 
A couple of checks in the "pro" column over La Plaza is that it's larger and has table service, a good sized bar, and a bigger menu. But no grocery store attached that you can shop at after dining! We'll be back.

Tapatia's Taqueria
12501 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44111
(216) 600-5505