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The Thrifty BonVivant celebrates in Cleveland

20 Nov

The BonVivant is not a cake lover, but is a cake admirer and wishes these had supplied birthday cheer to all her pals

This past week made me formally a year older, and some external celebrations were in order–I wish I could have had bigger parties, but these little excursions were November delights. So live vicariously, and if you don’t know these Cleveland stops, put them on your radar! And please take a slice from one of these inventive birthday cakes–although they didn’t grace my table, they provided a digital feast for my eyes.

I needed to renew my driver’s license, and my friend Miss D suggested a trip to the Brooklyn DMV might

This gets the idea across

prove quick. It was incredibly fast and pleasant, and–I can’t phrase it any other way, though it does date me–a hoot! Because the strip mall location does not prepare the motorist (no, I don’t drive, but I do have a license and want to keep it!) for the exotically pink, black and zebra-accented interior that is this

bureaucratic stop. It made me grin and I got a great license picture as a result! Why oh why

Buon appetito!

did I neglect to take a photo? You must see for yourself!

After the swift and successful license renewal, it was time for lunch, and three of us decided nothing would do but Bruno’s Ristorante, at 2644 W. 41st St.  From the outside it’s an unpretentious place, and the interior is pleasant and restrained (with a great-

Two-fisted culinary love for perch!

looking bar), but it supplies one of the city’s best dining experiences. Because it’s about real service and delicious food. Not “Hi, I’m your waiter John” pseudo-sincerity of the type that doesn’t mind interrupting an intense conversation for an inane inquiry. No. Real service to go along with your cloth

But not for long, Chicken Marsala

napkin. Service that’s pleasant, inobtrusive, attentive but not hovering. The kind Dino or Peter Lawford would have enjoyed. Professional service. Oh, and fantastic food, beginning with the still fresh-baked warmth of the delicious bread with REAL HERBED BUTTER. Funny enough, I was just talking about how much I liked herbed butter in Europe, where it’s made commercially, wrapped in metallic foil like a bigger version of a diner’s butter. Bruno’s had me so reentranced with it that I made it at home the next day, with a little oregano and garlic powder; I’m thinking of getting one of those small shaped rubber ice cube trays at the dollar store and molding some to freeze and give out at Christmas. Anyway, all the recipes at Bruno’s were concocted by a true Mamma from the Old Country, and she knows her stuff. The table had a variety of tasty meals, all automatically with side dishes (kitchen-made soup or salad with a delicious balsamic dressing plus pasta). I was the veal parm, Miss D was the chicken (or was it veal?) marsala, and Mr D was breaded perch. I was so satisfied that my meal was over before I thought to take a photo, so I will entertain you with theirs. Mr D said he had never had better fish–and he eats plenty of it. Miss D loved her Italian Wedding Soup and marsala–but she saved

The Strange Case of the Vanishing Tiramisu

room for the tiramisu, which she had an intimate acquaintance with. Mr D took a forkful and almost fainted from bliss. Not only did the whole experience please me no end–Italian is my favorite cuisine–I loved the nostalgia it produced. There were a couple of guys (lawyers?) gesticulating in the corner as they wolfed down their food, Frank was playing softly through the speakers, and there were butter mints, toothpicks and MATCHES at the door. I haven’t seen imprinted matches in ages, but everyplace used to. Bruno’s is a place with neighborhood swagger that it well deserves. They cater, toom and are priced nostalgically–thank you, Bruno!

This once was a Walleye Sandwich

Lunch for three was under $45.

This once was Christmas Ale

A few days later was the actual bday, and it was time for lunch at the West Side Market Cafe. I have been there many a time, and never disappointed. Again, excellent service in a busy spot. Mr. D could not resist his favorite, the breaded walleye sandwich, while I embraced the pulled pork sandwich. Everything fresh, hot, plentiful, and with flavor far surpassing what the luncheonette appearance would suggest. This spot, like Bruno’s, piles on the value for money. In a festive mood, it was time for Christmas Ale from Great Lakes Brewery, but the cafe does something with it that the Brewery didn’t (at least not on Halloween)–they dipped the glass rims in cinnamon and sugar. Yes, ask for it!

Horizontal books--ideal for the thrifty book explorer! Surprising treats!

We roamed about a bit–have you been shopping at W. 25th’s Horizontal Books? They deserve your custom! With both current bestsellers and remaindered works, their size is just right–good selection, not so big that you can’t look at most sections. Their pricing policy allows 50% off the first book, 60% off both if you buy two, and 70% off all if you buy three. And I just noticed as I tracked down the link that they have free shipping. Can’t beat that! Please support them so the city’s easily reachable bookstores stay easily reachable–none downtown except for textbooklands.

On to the Capitol Theatre, the restored 1921 wonder on W. 65th just off Detroit. What a

The West Side's Cedar Lee--but with an authentic early lobby

gem! We were there in the late afternoon on a weekday, so only one other couple shared the viewing with us, and there was a deal on popcorn. We saw Tower Heist, a fun film with Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Heavy D in a small role (RIP), Casey Affleck and Alan Alda–what a distinctive voice that guy’s got! A good popcorn film, and one certainly enhanced by a big

Downtown can't beat Luxe for atmosphere or creative dishes--warm almonds anywone? Veal-stuffed olives?

screen.

Dinner? My favorite spot, Luxe. Just across Detroit. I’ve loved it since it opened–it’s an ultra-stylish place that in NYC or Philly would be overpriced because of its imaginative dishes and appetizers–and drinks–and its funky eclecticism. But here in Cleveland it’s exceedingly reasonable. The bar (where one can also nosh) is always hopping, but the dining room is quieter (same great mix of DJ’ed background music, though). If you want fancy cocktails, they have inventive

When pizza is served on a silver salver, it deserves the knife & fork treatment

Hearty onion soup is as Luxe as anything

ones–I opted for a non-alcoholic one this time, and it was equally splendid: lavender-infused carbonated lemonade with a blueberry syrup drizzle. Oh, yes. I wanted the margarita pizza and wolfed its basil deliciousness down like a goat. Mr. D was overfull from the popcorn and stuck with the onion soup, which he drained with deep satisfaction. Lucky for me, they were out of blood orange sorbet, or I might still be there.

I love going to new places and trying them out, but this birthday was about familiar and favored stops. Tried and true, still atmospheric with three moods. You won’t be disappointed if they become your choices.

Flying SoLo! Makeover of a Shoddy City Street

12 Nov

The SoLo temporary storefront at 3204 Lorain--get your two cents in!

Yep. Shove over, SoHo–Cleveland’s now got SoLo (South of Lorain–and Lorain Ave. itself), and the real estate’s far more affordable. Last night I hopped the #22 and rolled over to 32nd and Lorain for another of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative charrettes. I’d found the one for the EcoVillage terrifically stimulating, and this one was to take in my expanded stomping grounds–Lorain Ave between W25

The Guardians should be guarding a treasure--time to treasure up, Lorain Ave.! Shake off the mustiness

and W52, as well as the area south of the avenue up till the freeway. It was really all about the thoroughfare, though, and it needs to be. Lorain is one of Cleveland’s main arteries, and follows the path of an old stagecoach route. Cross the glorious Art Deco WPA-built Carnegie-Lorain bridge, with its wonderful Guardians of Transportation, and what’s your destination? Oh, the West Side Market is terrific, Crop Bistro is urging the W. 25th St. crowd around the corner, but the area between W25 and W.–oh, 80 or so is spotty. Parts are very seedy, full of used car lots, poor lighting, layers of posters on deserted buildings. It has its charms, no doubt about it, but they’re scattered, with plenty of detritus in

St. Ignatius High School--an educational gem on Lorain Ave.--and the boys behave well on RTA, too

between. Many spots are windowless or shuttered, mysterious small factories or warehouses (What IS Seamus O at 4700 Lorain? What do they make? Are they still open?).

For a main artery, it has little consistency. There is the glory that is St. Ignatius, the best high school by far in the Cleveland Metropolitan area, which marks one side of the tract. I wish I had a son just so I could send him to Ignatius, with pocket money to hop across the street for a burger at Wendy’s. I love it that Ignatius has built a performing arts facility, the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, across the street from the main campus, and that other

The Urban Community School

organizations schedule performances there, too–Inlet Dance Company has a performance there at 8 pm tonight, with $20 tickets, and the Polish company Zatanczmy will perform “Let’s Dance” on Nov. 19 at 6 pm for just $15, along with plays and concerts that appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Other arts destinations on Lorain include Morrison Dance, a modern company at 4201 Lorain, Pink Eye Gallery/Rag Refinery hosting funkier events and exhibitions at 3904 Lorain, artist studios, the newly-installed Ohio City Writers, which will be helping K-12ers with personal and academic writing (and is looking like a terrific venture!), and others, dotting the avenue until the sector’s other educational anchor at 4909 Lorain, the

West Side Catholic, without the daytime crowd

newish Urban Community School. This Catholic school has a fine reputation, and it has helped revitalize the west end of this Lorain stretch, with companion developments like Appleseed Learning Center (daycare) and the Open Yoga Studio.

Much of Lorain has its grit because it serves the poor and the sometimes displaced or newly arrived. There are a lot of hard-working agencies and community-oriented centers, like West Side Catholic Center and its neighbors–a place where decent clothes, food, and a shower can be had. The street in lined with other community and social

Voted Cleveland's best thrift store!

service organizations, such as the Spanish American Committee, the McCafferty Health Center, which includes veterans’ services, nearby Providence House and more. There are also many spots selling cheap

Crop Bistro's mural--incredible high ceilings and arched windows, too

furniture, used appliances, and second-hand goods. Some, like Unique Thrift, are a clothes hunters’ dream. Arranged by color, clothes for the whole family vie with small appliances, shoes, toys and other objects.

There are entertainment destinations, like Touch Supper Club (I miss Rain, which also had dancing and live music), and a number of dining options, from the ultra-elegant

This gorgeous, painterly photo is by David Ploenzke--a simple and direct statement that a movie should be filmed here.

Crop Bistro by the Market to Palookaville Chili to the two battling hot dog spots that take you back in time. Steve’s chili dogs are famous, but I like my franks unadorned, so can’t speak for or against. Ohio City Pizza, Wendy’s, the Souper Market–but perhaps you want to make a meal at home or take a little nosh back for dessert?

Lorain’s immigrant-destination status has a history, and its residue includes foods you don’t find at Giant Eagle. Farkas‘s pastries are

Hungarian Dobos torte--I don't even like pastry sweets and my mouth is watering!

Hungarian wonders, the legacy of a Budapest master pastry chef. Hansa Imports has a slew of pickled fish, Bahlsen cookies, German and Austrian beers, as well as every variation of chamomile tea known to man. Supermercado Rico has Latin specialties and the occasional botanica goods as well.

So, all in all, this side of Lorain has some great spots and some big warts, reminiscent   of a beautiful but aging dame who’s removed half her makeup and loosened her girdle. There’s a lot of beauty there and tons of possibilities, but some creative intervention is definitely desirable. Ohio City, Inc. did well to invite in the CUDC. I missed their preliminary meeting, but last night’s presentation wasn’t really an end game–there was less time for the students and faculty to do on-the-spot research and come up with solutions. The process is therefore ongoing, and the pop-up

Standing-room only crowd at the charrette--great turnout for 5:30 on a Friday!

storefront is open this afternoon for a Chili-Off, scheduled for 2. Bring your appetite and share some ideas.

Nonetheless, the intelligence gathered was formidable, and CUDC’s director, Terry Schwartz, ably laid out the challenges and potential solutions, always keeping the comments and desires of the citizenry at the core. She divided the endeavor into four sections: Public Infrastructure, Green Space Connects, Real Estate Development and Wayfinding/Marketing/Identity.

Public Infrastructures: Some big ideas here. One of the biggest is the proposal that Lorain Avenue might abandon its rush hour ban on parking and become less of a throughway. This would enable parking for the growing number of businesses, and slow down traffic. Corner bumpouts would allow for some tree clusters (many of the previous plantings have died) and creating some gateway impulses. This effective reduction to two lanes would provide a safer environment for students and other pedestrians, and also allow for a cycling lane. This would also allow for some designated bays to serve as bus pull-outs. I was delighted to hear my W. 25th/Lorain/W. 65th/Detroit trolley circuit idea mentioned, with a great coda–an EVENING trolley. Perfect! Ohio City Inc. director Eric Wobser clarified this wouldn’t be anytime soon–that RTA wanted to expand their trolley service in a ripple-like manner, first connecting downtown with W. 25th, then the Market Area with EcoVillage/Gordon Square. Encouraging nonetheless.

Residents had concerns about sidewalks and streets–not just potholes and maintenance problems in and of themselves, but unequal code enforcement.

Monroe Street Cemetery in Ohio City

Green Space Connects: Connecting pocket green spaces with parks like Fairview Park and Monroe Street Cemetery could be a matter of posting signs marking a trail route and mileage of a walker or runner, with a possible extension to Zone Rec in EcoVillage. Major intersections could have corner bump-outs to both slow traffic and provide mini green  spots, visually softening the corridor. CUDC suggested Fulton and Lorain be realigned so as to create a tiny park that could also serve the transit population. Residents put in bids for a dog park, bike paths and biking repair stations.

At night, few cars on Lorain and rarer buses--can be creepy for the pedestrian.

It also might be a matter of greater safety along the road. If those at the Urban Community School are afraid to have their kids walk the short distance to EcoVillage’s Zone Rec Center, there’s a safety problem. If parents of Ignatius kids are stretching to even let their kids cross the street to go to Wendy’s–forget about further afield, there’s a safety problem. And it’s not just a matter of perception, as one meeting-goer put it: two rapesalong western Lorain have occurred in the past month, and there have been attempted and successful child abductions along Lorain as well. Robberies by and of pedestrians and cyclists are not an utter rarity. Sections of

the street have abandoned structures and narrow passageways that allow for lurking, as well as numerous other unsavory activities. Waiting for the bus in the winter mornings can be a frightening exercise.

Gather 'Round farmers as they transform asphalt to soil.

Real Estate Development: Further discussion is ahead regarding attracting business, the area’s potential as a SID (Special Improvement District), marketing initiatives, etc. The SoLo storefront had a fun concept–speed dating for properties. Photos of vacant spots with their price and profiles were posted on the wall, in the hope of generating suggestions or even a match. Community suggeations for numerous types of new businesses include a pharmacy, a business center, a hardware store, garden center, health food store, art/craft supply store, outlet stores, community center, outdoor music amphitheater. A sub-post office might be useful, too.

CUDC suggested a multi-storied combo police/fire station in front of Unique as a possibility, though that would rob Unique of both its visibility and parking lot. The vacant Hollywood Video site was proposed as a mixed use site: retail ground floor, residences above, as were areas around Friedrich Bicycles.

Agrocentric development, a key point of CUDC’s EcoVillage thoughts, was a central idea. Grouping homes around a farm is becoming a popular direction in some regions, and they suggested that if the Bodnar Funeral Home is indeed coming up for sale, this would be an ideal spot for such a core–and one that would generate interest from its street visibility. You think you know your neighborhood? I’ve been busing down Lorain for eight years and had no idea 3919 Lorain housed Gather ‘Round Farm, which is five years old. This is a grass roots, volunteer-run place that transformed a parking lot into a rich garden of vegetables, flowers and chickens,

Portrait of a vintage Lorain Ave sign by "Scottamus"

pulling in adults and kids in a Whole Earth Catalog kind of way. That’s one of the things I love about Lorain–it’s a place that demonstrates a lot of personal initiative, with a lot of seat-of-your-pants efforts–the type that builds true community.

Wayfinding/Marketing/Identity: Branding a neighborhood as hip, trendsetting, green, what-have-you is a real estate agent’s dream–as long as the adjectives stay positive. CUDC reported that residents love their distinctive retro signage and historic architectural detailing, and some TLC has transformed certain blocks, such as those anchored by

Many intriguing architectural bones on the Avenue

the West Catholic Center, Palookaville Chili and, now, Ohio Writers. The more infill and retail, the more Lorain will be less a throughway, more a destination.

Certain quick, low cost measures can make a huge difference. The quirky alleys could

Ikea solar lights could be installed innovatively to illuminate alleyways

be better lit to celebrate them (and discourage professional loiterers). Additional signage could alert visitors to neighborhood sights. Hanging baskets and window boxes are a perfect way of inserting color, an organic touch, and beauty into a concrete haven.

Hanging flowers give Cleveland Hts Coventry a welcoming Old World feel

The water tower visible from Ohio City came up as a branding opportunity. Though some residents liked the thought of it draped in greenery,

The area is being marketed as foodcentric, so some of these water tower ideas link in. Examples from Sweden, Lakeland FL, Stanton IA and Junction City OR

CUDC director Schulz pointed out this might create maintenance problems. She showed some painted towers from other locations, suggesting the varied Ohio City population might brand the tower through a series of neighborhood faces. I’m wondering whether LED illumination might work, and one resident suggested that windmills, a la the CSU engineering project, might dot the surface.

Other Thoughts: Ohio City Inc. wants to create a rec program, even if sans building, and build youth baseball, soccer and other league teams. A businessman got to his feet and vowed he would pay for referees and uniforms for a team, and there’s

There's something so visually appealing about the Lorain & W 26th Allstate Hair Styling and Barber College

likelihood others would join in such an endeavor. Residents want more art programs. They’d like Tri-C to fulfill a thought by its president, Jerry Sue Thornton, to put in some satellite restaurant training in Ohio City (sorry, it’s already downtown), or hold some English as a Second Language courses; it’s be the perfect lab for CSU’s Urban College, as well.

CUDC is going to continue developing and refining its report, and plans on pulling in more of the community, as well as emailing the draft out to those who participated. Other forums for public discussion are on Internet bulletin boards, and Joe Cimperman, the region’s councilman, is a responding tweeter @joecimperman

Lorain Avenue has many desirable destinations, many notes from the ages. It wouldn’t take a lot to push it from gap-toothed ragamuffin into a boulevardier, worthy of a stroll, flower in buttonhole.

A jaunt to Vermilion, OH–“A Small Town on a Great Lake!”

4 Nov

Summer lingers in Vermilion, even in November

Autumn should always be so sunny and carefree! My friend Miss J and I were free as birds and decided to hop westwards to Vermilion, just 45 minutes from Cleveland. What a joy! Route 6 may just be the perfect lakefront road, with views of great houses and boats and tiny resort homes, industry and orchards. If the weather holds–and it’s supposed to be sunny and in the 50s again tomorrow, the 60s on Sunday–I suggest you take a trip there this weekend as well. Vermilion is a charmer, but it gets more visitors in the summer months. They’re missing out! Fall foliage and loads of flowers combine with historical structures and a real sense of place.

The interior of the Knotty Pine. Many nice culinary touches, as well as fresh flowers and perfect service

We headed straight for lunch at the Knotty Pine Eatery, recommended by a friendly shop owner. Its food was tasty indeed, the hamburger on a delicious ciabatta bun with veggies and dip (Miss J had a vegetarian dish and pronounced herself deeply satisfied). The town has numerous dining options; The Old Prague is a Czech spot that

Yes, it revolves just the way it's supposed to

had Wiener schnitzel on the menu, there’s a taphouse, a pizza spot, deli, bar and grille, a coffee spot, and Quaker Steak and Lube right on the water. The most enchanting just might be Chez Francois. Closed for lunch, it has some lovely landscaping and looks directly onto the river. A peek through the window revealed spotless tablecloths and an ambiance meant for a proposal. A short walk took us from the main intersection to the lake, but it was a walk with lovely views, turn-of-the-century houses that made me think Penrod might be around the corner, the Inland Seas Maritime Museum in an old mansion, and an intriguing shop/place of refreshment, called Decidedly

Where's my cerulean blue and a canvas?

Different. We did not escape unscathed, but were exceedingly content with our highly reasonable purchases of loose tea (chocolate mint) and a distinctive necklace apiece. The beach is small and was empty, but the seagulls seemed pleased to watch the waves with us.

While the lake is always a draw, it’s the river and its “lagoons” that were enthralling. Vermilion’s been in business since the early 19th century, initially home to fishermen who built huts along the Vermilion River and Lake Erie‘s shores. As the century wore on and the railroad swept through town, the fish export business picked up further.  Commercial fishing grew to be the town’s biggest industry, and Vermilion was home to many Lake captains, who built their landlubbing bases there. In 1985, Ohio outlawed gillnets; commercial operations ceased and recreational ones blossomed. Yachting had

Some of the Lagoon houses across the water.

become popular much earlier, because harborage was developed in the downtown area by Clevelander Louis A. Wells (1891-1965). Wells, who was born in the village of Wellsville near Columbiana, OH (itself outside of Youngstown), was “in the tub-boat business and in sea front break-water and land recovery in the Lake Erie and St. Lawrence sea-way areas” (courtesy online genealogies). His older sister, Beulah, was a pediatrician, and he went to Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, later serving on its Board. Wells moved to Cleveland in the 1920s, and by 1930 was a Shaker Heights resident. Like many city dwellers, Wells dreamt of cool breezes during hot summers before air conditioning. He bought marshy land fronting Lake Erie and the river in Vermilion, drained it, cut “lagoons” (regularly laid-out canals), and had the area landscaped and planned so that each house–conceived of then as a resort home–would front the water with its own dock, while also having auto access to the town’s main

Foliage still much in evidence, willow trees think it's July.

road. The average price for a lot of 50 feet was $2200, and buyers were responsible for building homes to an architect’s approval: all were to be Cape Cod style, and today they are still all white and picketed. The first was completed by 1931, and most were erected 1940, although construction continued in the 1950s.

Ships and insurance--Lloyd's of London found it a winning combo

Most houses are used all year now, and several are currently for sale–they certainly look tempting, but one four-bedroom house is currently marketed at $839,000. Alas!

We wandered around the town some more, admiring the displays in the candle shop (what is it in Yankee Candles that makes me go running for the door? Some scent note I just can’t stand), and checking out other spots. Plenty of antique spots and a great consignment spot, The

The Paper Moon Winery's outer room--the inside has a beer barrel table setting with a big fireplace.

shops on Liberty Ave. (Rte. 6) almost all have little historic marker noting their previous lives as banks or places of commerce. The old-fashioned lettering on a lawyer’s window didn’t look hokey–nor did the fabulous wooden ship models decorating it (for more photos of Vermilion, click here).

Also roses and...a dandelion who apparently can't tell time.

Just south of town (via Main St and Route 60) is the Paper Moon Winery, a spot where trials of thirteen wines are possible (fifty cents each). Armed with hearty and deliciously rosemaryed cheese bread, we tested three each: Miss J loved the Old Vine Zinfandel, while I voted for the Chambourcin. It must be lovely to sit in the outer room in the summer, surrouned by life preservers and looking out the window toward the vineyards.

As we headed east, we made a quick stop at a small supermarket, the Farmer’s Market, well worth a look, since it is not a carbon copy of every chain grocery in the country. Prices were good, there were plenty of specialty items, and it was awash with the scent of apples and pears worthy of a still life. Miss J suggested I might like to retire in Vermilion. No, though I would

An appealing sliver by Chez Francois

like to visit over and over. It’s a delightful place, everyone was exceedingly pleasant, and I’d love to stop at a bed and breakfast here. But it didn’t have a very diverse-looking population, and when I checked at the end of the day, the census stated “100% white.” Where’s the Americana in that? Still, it’s brisk breeze makes it heaven to be a flag or a sail, and it can’t be easily topped for a short day trip! Visit now, and see the flowers in their subtleties and last hurrahs.

Autumn on Cleveland’s Near West Side–Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

31 Oct

A small splash of color on my street

Did the Halloween eye result from the Curse of the Mummy Pumpkin?

Seasonal. That’s the word that kept flitting about in my mind today. It’s been a true autumn day, and a real Halloween (that’s opposed to a sprinkling of unseasonable 60 degree Cleveland Halloweens in the past decade). Admittedly, the foliage is wonky; plenty of trees are still green and vigorous, and relatively few are colorific. Still, there’s a rich, earthy scent in the air, a golden glow around dusk(when it isn’t raining), and enough of a chill in the air to keep the RTA fairly spare of bus stop malingerers. I don’t remember many Halloween decorations in my PA childhood–with the exception of a tp’ed house, soaped windows, or chalked sidewalks (we had both Chalk Night and Mischief Night the two days before the holiday, and I would trick myself out in dark clothing, armed with the hose, ready to face any miscreants who might be walking by, egg in hand. Unfortunately, my night as protectress never garnered any young hooligans). Of course, we did have real pumpkins with real candles–I have a fabulously malicious demonic pumpkin right now, courtesy the art students’ organization at CSU–though he is not a lantern, I love him nonetheless.

The Thrifty BonVivant earlier this week, looking mysterious for Halloween--eye intact

The shudderingly gruesome Halloween Eye

I discovered my first year on the Near West that kids in this neighborhood don’t trick and treat–they go to the now-renovating Zone Rec Center for a big party (in fact, I can hear the little ghouls passing right now). Is it because of chainlink fences and nasty dogs? Too high a percentage of registered sex offenders? They sound cheerful, but I miss seeing costumes. No matter–I’m going out in a minute to light the grill and enjoy a last non-shivery barbecue. But I’ve already had plenty of Halloween today. This weekend I discovered a…ughh…lumpy pimple near my eye, along brow bone skin. Did I remember my mother’s dictum to “just leave it alone”? Of course, but I ignored it–though I was not too interfering with it. But it hurt, and I took advice to regularly clean it with alcohol (being careful not to get it in my eye, of course), and dab peroxide on it. This would weed it out! I complied–ouch. But it was a mistake. By yesterday, the skin below my eye and the lid had swollen, and had not receded  by this morning. Since I couldn’t get to a CVS Minute Clinic yesterday–talk less of Kaiser–it was time to visit the clinic at work this morning. My doctor checked me out thoroughly, told me to listen to my mother, and said it wasn’t really an allergic reaction–that my body had perceived my gentle prodding as trauma, and promptly padded itself with edema, much like a boxer who’d taken a punch. A mild antibiotic (for the gross and disgusting pimple) and cold compresses were advised. Nonetheless, said swelling has presented me with a built-in, evil makeup job a la Lon Chaney. I could definitely scare children with this temporary eye. Look at the picture!!! Still shaking?

But to fiendish bank robbers, isn't every day potentially a holiday?

Ohio City's Market Ave--treat for the eyes in sun-dappled summer, snowy winter--anytime.

But the medical jaunt had me out and about, and I decided to see what Ohio City was up to on a fine Halloween. Ohio City Burrito‘s skeleton sign looked mighty chipper, and even the warning on the Ohio City Savings door was tricked out in seasonal colors.  A festive lunch was in order! And what better place than Great Lakes Brewery, just as it opened. Actually, I was there before it opened, as were quite a few other people. A chilly day and 11:15 in the morning, and customers are already clamoring? Oh, you’re doing something right! The Brewery’s a great choice for Fall. Not only does it have a cozily warm atmosphere (the indoor/outdoor room has a lovely fireplace in cold weather), but the street view is enchanting. Its short, narrow street, Market Avenue, is terrifically inviting. Part of that has to do with its destinations: the Cleveland Film Society, The Flying Fig restaurant (had a great duck dish there last winter), the Market Avenue Wine Bar (another cosy place, best a deux), and a cafe I’m dying to try. But even before all these were in place, it was still inviting. It’s the proportions, the architecture and the view, for it looks onto the Market Square Park (which is under mysterious reconstruction right

When colors and textures align, it's time for placemaking! Djenne, Mali

now–however, a small cement stage has already been created on the north side). It’s not that the architecture is so spectacular in and of itself, it’s that it has a consistency of color and texture–old red brickwork. All the best places have that kind of consistency, with variations in shape, proportions and details to keep things interesting. In Italy’s Assisi, everything is made from the same pink stone. In Mali’s Jenne, the buildings earthen walls match the ground, and seem to emerge from it organically. This is something contemporary architecture can rarely match, because its growth patterns and standard materials are so different. But when you stumble on it in a city, its allure and charm ensnare you.

James, one of Great Lakes Brewery's kindly yet gruesome (today) waiters

Oh, and seasonal? It was a tough choice between a glass of Nosferatu ale (and the extremely pleasant and competent James was my waiter, all tricked out like Nosferatu himself) and the now-available Christmas ale, but the latter’s lovely red tones won out. Matched with a margherita pizza, a splendidly hearty choice. Side notes–why do most American versions of the margherita use sliced tomatos? That’s not the Italian way–though it tasted just fine. Why margherita? After Italy’s one-time Queen Margherita and the patriotic colors oThe pleasures of the season at Great Lakes Breweryf the Italian flag: red sauce, white mozzarella, green basil leaves. Which makes me digress once again–a first date took me to Luxe some years back. I love Gordon Square‘s Luxe (my favorite Cleveland restaurant, which I persist in pronouncing the French way, counter to the restaurant itself). I’d been raving about Luxe. In my verbal anticipation, I kept repeating on the way, “Oh, I can’t wait till I have a margherita!” When we were seated and the waitress came for our order, I puzzled him when I asked for iced tea. Words and their confusionistic power! Anyway, the pizza at the Brewery is delicious! Luckily for me, the waiter tried to tempt me with cheesecake, which I don’t like. In checking the website, however, I see there is now, courtesy of Mitchell‘s, a new seasonal ice cream to be had: Christmas Ale Gingersnap Ice Cream. Now, I know I will be putty in its hands–and will visit it on my

Yes, they have taffy apples, too. But there's a reason the lipstick color is called "candy apple"! One of the red beauties is now mine, all mine.

next round of seasonal lists.

After lunch, a quick round at the West Side Market. I needed my dried peaches from the dried fruit girls–far better than dried apricots, and for under $17 you can get a huge quantity that will last even the profligate  bon vivant for over a month. I also needed a Halloween candy fix, and only one thing would do–not the Midnight

Heart-warming mice at Campbell's Popcorn in the West Side Market

Milky Ways that I could get anytime (frozen….mmmm), and that aren’t available at the market anyway. No, it’s a red candy apple or nothing. For some reason, these are hard to find in Cleveland, which apparently prefers caramel (or as we used to call them) taffy apples. But Campbell’s Popcorn, an indoor stall near the Lorain side), has them year round, and one is awaiting me on the counter right now, its glossy cinnamon crust calling a siren song. My eye was caught by their adorable cookies–particularly the mice with almond ears. There are some real artists in the world of Cleveland pastry, and I will update you on their offerings as the seasonal marchdown continues.

A Halloween feast for the eyes at Campbell's Popcorn

What then? The bus stop and home, James. I see Ohio City has fixed some Halloween/Thanksgiving decorations along Lorain in the form of cornstalks. It really is a beautiful thing to mark the seasons, and is yet another reason W. 25th is a great destination for a stroll and several stops. If only there was destination entertainment there…just think if the wine bar or cafe hired Cleveland Institute of Music students or CSU music majors for regular background performances? I know I’d want to linger to hear a violinist one night, someone singing bossa nova another, a klezmer clarinetist a third. Or put that trolley in and make it easy to jump from lunch to a movie at Gordon Square’s Capitol Theatre, or from dinner to a play! In the interim, Happy Halloween! Rustle a leaf pile and breathe that bracing air.

Tasty Cleveland enclaves in the New Urban: a corner of Old Brooklyn

29 Oct

There's nothing like a place with character--Murray Hill's Algebra Tea House has plenty of it!

Part of what makes mostly-residential neighborhoods destinations are the little shops and restaurants that dot them. Not chains–chains are deadly, and they only (with the exception of fast food) avoid cities like the plague. Is there an Olive Garden or Outback in any American downtown? I’ve never seen any, and I’m delighted. These are the places that create pleasant little surprises for visitors, and oases for residents–a favorite luncheonette, a great ethnic food supplier, some middle-aged lady with a dream and a little money put by who finally decides to open that quirky shop. This is what made W. 25th before lots of restaurants moved in–you could swing into City Buddha and drool over a hand-painted Indonesian film poster and grab your Temple Spice incense and some fascinating little tschotchke to brighten up a room at home (City Buddha left us some time ago, relocating to suburbia with none of the dimly-lit mystery they used to have in Ohio City).  It’s what made Coventry back in the day before some chains and higher-end spots moved in. Little Italy has a lot of it, as does Tremont. Reasons to go someplace other than visiting family or friends.

A cycling event last summer sent pedalers to Old Brooklyn's Michael's Bakery

One of my pals recently moved to Old Brooklyn, which I knew only from Art House and the zoo. She’s still settling in, but her foundational sense of gastronomic inquiry had already enabled her to uncover two treasures on Broadview Road, which she introduced me to yesterday. One was Michael’s Bakery, at 4478 Broadview Rd. Obviously its charms are known to residents–it was packed at 3 pm on a work day, full of folks getting bread, kuchen, other pastries and cookies. Why oh why didn’t I take photos of the adorable Halloween sugar cookies? Yes, there were purple-sprinkled moons and other delectables, but the giant ones shaped like candy corn and delicately colored with an ombre progression of yellow through orange…oh, that deserved visual commemoration. The place made me realize how long it’s been since I was in a real, old-fashioned family bakery–small, packed, and full of its own treasures. No one wants a calorie count on the cookie “sandwiches” packed with delicious creamy goo! Luckily, my downfall does not come in these forms; I was a virtuous bread buyer. Even the outside has its charm–late-blooming fuschia geraniums were nodding at hot-pink benches, and they gave the place identity.

La famiglia Gentile (it means "nice", and they are)

A miniscule stroll away is Gentile’s Imported Italian Food–a danger zone for me in every way. I’m not Italian, but I grew up in an Italian-dominated area, food-wise, and it shaped all my tastes. College? Study abroad in Rome. Grad school and after? Research trips to Venice, Siena, Limone, Naples, Florence, Turin, and many little towns–and the big one, food-wise: Bologna. Did I have a week’s flirtation with the cutest Italian waiter ever, Agostino Caputo? I sure did (and remember his name 30 years later)! Did his sympathetic boss at one of the best high-end restaurants in the city allow me to eat highly-subsidized meals my student budget would have never been able to afford. Si!  Well the Gentiles senior aren’t from Bologna, but they did come to Cleveland from Molise province, southeast of Rome, and whoever taught Mama how to cook should be beatified. Two generations work in the place, which has several divisions–the bakery, full of many a cookie (my friend Miss D had to have several types of almond temptations, including one punctuated with pignoli (pine) nuts) and with attractive sample wedding cakes on the counter; the store (imported pastas, olive oils, bruschetta spreads, balsamic vinegars); the deli (a genoa salami tempted me, but there were many cold cuts); a catering operation (I wish I had an occasion for them!); and…pizza. What care I for any of the rest, if pizza be present?

After lunch, not a pizza crumb remained on our Gentile's table

Now, Cleveland and I have our pizza differences. That anyone could think Mama Santa’s in Little Italy even has EDIBLE pizza is beyond me. A disgrace, with its oversweet sauce and rubbery crust. I’m happy with Angelo’s in Lakewood or Rascal House during moments of intense hunger, but can they stack up with the most average Philly or Jersey Shore pizza? No, they cannot. Any spot with a wood-burning oven (even Macaroni Grille!) does a respectable job, but, in general, Cleveland’s pizza makes me wary. As we placed our order, my head snapped: I saw the generous cheeseless rectangles (can be bought as singles), I’ve seen in Italy’s tavolas caldas; we weren’t getting that variety, but this was promising. And it delivered. By far, my plain old cheese pizza (the best way to comparatively test) was the best I’ve had in Cleveland–by far, I say (Miss D was scarfing down her artichoke number, and seemed deeply satisfied, but had no inclination to talk). The cheese was real mozzarella, the kind that stretches and stretches until it’s a mere thread, and still doesn’t want to let go. You don’t see it much nowadays, anywhere–it’s too expensive. The crust had just the right blisteryness–oh, it and the sauce were delicious.There are three or so tables in the place, and they close at six (and are closed Mondays), so plan well. You can call ahead at (216) 351-1161; during the week they close at 6, Saturday at 5 and Sundays at 2–closed Monday.

In a college town like Bloomington, IN, you can munch on a bagel in the Runcible Spoon's wildflower-filled front yard. Why not encourage more small-time spots in Cleveland's downtown and midtown?.

These are the kinds of spots that are family-run, family-vetted, delicious, and very special. We’ve got lots of empty enclaves in the city, particularly on Euclid stretches near Reserve Square or up by CSU, and spots like this are rare. CSU’s going to be breaking ground in January on a big new development north of Chester–dorms, apartments, retail, food, entertainment. This is great–much of that area, particularly around Payne, is a human wasteland right now; it will tie in with Tower Press and some of the live/work artist units on Superior, places that haven’t had lots of dining options. If only some natural developments could accompany the inevitable plastic, commercial ones. In university towns, they’re a natural.During my recent Bloomington trip, it was hard to choose between a Tibetan restaurant owned by the Dalai Lama’s brother and a Turkish spot with pillow-cushioned seating options; old houses with wildflower front yards, that had been there since I was a student, were still going strong with their funky mix of student waiters, mismatched cutlery, and delicious food. The ambiance is fun in places like that, the feel is genuine. It’s be great if some generous–or crafty–local landlord would break down an empty warehouse into smaller units with fairly low rents and limited leases. Perhaps an entrepreneur could start up thriftily, do well, and move to bigger digs, while another circulated into the space. A stomach can dream.

 

Learning at Dave’s Market, One Week’s Menu–Could be $25/wk or $33.89, depending

26 Oct

A one-week menu experiment--$25 to hand over to Dave

I completed a challenge some weeks back that forced me to come up with the best weekly menu (of things that I eat) I could that amounted to $25–but that menu was costed per meal and prorated. This time I’m challenged to do what many of us are faced with: go off to the grocery store WITH $25, and come up with a non-starvation menu for a week. One big caveat–I’m not counting things like spices, salt, oil or teabags, since those kind of staples don’t have to be bought on a weekly basis. I chose Dave’s Market in Ohio City, my go-to supermarket, for this challenge, but I’m going to try an identical one in future that relies on the West Side Market alone. A second caveat–I’m a very picky eater, and this is a busy working week. If I ate eggs, some delicious omelettes could be on the menu, or some tasty rice dishes if only I weren’t a pasta freak. If I had time, I could take some cheap cuts of meat/poultry and create more all-day, low-heat wonders. I also tried to keep this as nutritious as possible, fitting in fresh fruits and raw vegetables, ensuring protein levels weren’t too low (borderline anemia).

Constantino's of the Warehouse District--great if you don't cook!

Before delving into general observations and the menu itself, I want to thank Dave’s for being committed to the city. As I mentioned the other day, none of the nurse-practitioner clinics that CVS, Target and Walmart have are located in Cleveland proper, nor are any Kaiser facilities. Grocery stores have many similar attitudes. Yes, there is now a Giant Eagle (really TOO giant for quick shopping) on W 117th St, on the Lakewood border, and 117th’s Target, as well as that of Steelyard Commons and its neighboring Walmart do carry food, but more centralized options are slim pickings. A large and fairly new Asian grocery is Park to Shop at 1580 E. 30th, and the Warehouse District has Constantino’s Market at 1278 W. 9th, but these are specialized markets, as are the many small Arab groceries on the West Side. How is Constantino’s specialized, you say? Well, it caters to the young with no time, so it’s strong on prepared food and filler foods, weak on a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetable, certain staples. Marc‘s has some locations way out west on Lorain and on Puritas, but they aren’t easy for a non-driver to reach. Admittedly there are other pocket groceries–Sav-a-Lot, which I’ve never been in, Rico‘s on 45th & Lorain (limited size, but some fruits and veg), specialist Indian and other niche shops, but regular old standard groceries? Now that the Reserve Square grocery has closed, Dave’s on Bridge Ave by W 25th  in Ohio City, Dave’s in Chinatown at 2201 Payne, his Supermercado on Ridge Rd., and other locations on Shaker Square, in Slavic Village, at Harvard & Lee, and on E. 40th, as well as in the suburbs. That’s commitment to and investment in the city, and I for one am very grateful. Plus their fried, prepared chicken is incredibly good.

The well-stocked shelves of Dave's Market--the city dweller's savior!

Okay, some general thoughts about this project. Cooking for one on this kind of challenge is deadly boring–two people at $25 each would allow much more variety and some perks. With one person, there are no snacks except popcorn. NONE! This may be an excellent challenge for those trying to limit calories as well as expenditures. There’s a high degree of repetition in a one-week experiment, too. The good news is that there are leftovers–extra spaghetti sauce to freeze, some buns and hot dogs for the next week, cereal that carries over, and so on. Over a longer period of time, the frozen goods and partially used items introduce more variety, and hand cooked items deeply from scratch (bread!) would be fit in to times that weren’t so frantically crowded. That being said….

Menu Day One:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: hot dog and bun (hey, I split them and grill them all at once for a delicious smoky flavor–a minute in the microwave brings that all back). A third of the cuke, sliced thinly in vinegar and water with lemon pepper and salt
Dinner My recipe for spaghetti sauce with meat and angelhair pasta, generous portion

Menu Day Two:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: Bowl of chicken noodle soup and lots of Zesta saltines
Dinner: Hotdog and bun, big salad with lettuce, a little cucumber, part of the red pepper

A lot of habanero heat for less than 50 cents--you can put them right into the freezer, whole

Menu Day Three:

Breakfast: oh, the last banana and bowl of puffed rice–it works because the banana is very filling, and those little puffed rice grains have to be corralled onto the spoon, which gives you time to feel full.
Lunch: Peanut butter crackers galore!
Dinner: My “hot mess” with pasta. The hot mess is a quick meal–get out the cutting board and put water on to boil. More-or-less dice up the Roma tomatoes and much of the onion, chopped, along with (be careful with your fingertips!) one to one and a half habanero peppers. Put oil in the bottom of the pot–not deeply, but maybe an 1/8 of an inch or so. Heat the oil till its quite hot, throw your vegetables in and stir, adding salt and plenty of basil, a dash of dried ginger, and other herbs if you like. Turn the heat down; by the time you finish cooking the pasta, the hot mess is ready, delicious and spicy (not for the faint-hearted).

Menu Day Four:

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple cut up into slices on the puffed rice, sprinkled with a little cinnamon and brown sugar.
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Five

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice
Lunch: Chicken soup with crackers
Dinner: More hot mess with pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Six

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with peanut butter crackers (peanut butter sticks to your ribs!)
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Seven

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice; four peanut butter crackers to finish
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Last of the hot mess with pasta, large salad to finish off the fresh ingredients.

Purchases:

  • Zesta saltines (only item not bought at Dave’s–Dave’s may still sell them, but Saltine brands are grouped with their manufacturers’ cookies (an odd conceit) rather than banding together, so I couldn’t find them. Package was bought out-of-town at $1.79 on sale.
  • Dave’s brand hot dog buns, 8 to a package $1.29.
  • Ball Park all-beef hot dogs, 8 to a package $3.99 (on sale from their usual $4.99)
  • 3/4 pound ground round 85/15 @3,89/lb.  (normally I would buy ground sirloin for a higher price; ground beef at 80/20 was $2.99/lb, and at 72/27 was $2.88/lb) for $2.92.
  • 3 bananas @54 cents/lb. for .74 I can’t stand them after they’re ripe and get spots, so have to stick to a small number
  • Honeycrisp apples (they restored my faith in apples after scientists tinkered with and ruined the Red Delicious of my childhood) @ $1.99/lb for $3.40–pricey, but worth it, since it’s Fall! Not available all year round, which makes them special.
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce (I don’t care what you say, I still like it better than other lettuces because it crunches!) for $1.69
  • 1 English cucumber (wash it well and you needn’t peel it–good nutrition in its dark green exterior, and sliced thin not noticeable) $1.99
  • 1 package Lipton Ring O’Noodle chicken soup (2 packets inside; each has 4 servings for a total of 8) for $1.59
  • 1 bag of substitute Puffed Rice for $1.79 (the Food Club brand had 6 oz; the Quaker was 6.4 oz., but $3.39, and the difference is infinitesimal)
  • 5 Roma tomatoes @ $1.99 (unusually low price for Dave’s this week) for $2.33
  • Jif’s natural peanut butter, 18 oz. for $3.19
  • 1 small can Contadina tomato paste for 79 cents
  • 1 large can Valutime stewed tomatoes $1.58
  • 1 red onion @$1.49/lb for 77 cents
  • 5 habanero peppers @$3.99/lb for 40 cents
  • 1 big red sweet pepper @$2.49/lb for $1.27
  • Special on Gia Russa brand angelhair pasta–a 2 lb. box for $2.29

Oh, Honeycrisp, my flavorful love! Must I sacrifice you on the altar of frugality?

“Wait!” you say. “That doesn’t add up to $25–in fact, it’s $33.89!” And you would be correct–but…this is how I looked at it. You have considerable leftovers: Three hot dogs to go–and their buns, spaghetti sauce with meat left for FIVE servings (freeze it or have a friend or two over), lots of puffed rice left, plenty of peanut butter, likewise crackers, no pasta left–I looooove pasta (hot mess and spaghetti sauce taste fine with rice, if you prefer it–how do pasta and rice prices compare these days?), chicken noodle soup, still had some habaneros. Those leftovers certainly are worth the $8.89 difference, aren’t they? If not, what do you cut and what does that do to your nutritional value? There are much cheaper hot dogs out there (Dave’s weekly flyer for Ohio City this week has five packages of one brand for $5–MUCH cheaper) but they may not be all beef or as tasty as Ball Park. There are cheaper peanut butters. Maybe you don’t need a big red sweet pepper (sniff!) in your salad, since you’re getting plenty of vitamins from all the tomatoes. You could up your fat intake but slightly reduce your costs with cheaper ground beef. You could forget apples and go with bananas all week. What would that bring things down to? I’ve got it to $27.50 now, still with leftover hotdogs and buns (or sometimes during the week you could eat two at a time), leftover peanut butter, crackers, spaghetti sauce, habaneros, puffed rice, and chicken noodle soup. But I’m still $2.50 over! This is where many families have to cut the fruit and vegetables, or go for canned rather than fresh–applesauce, anyone? With that adaptation, you can get to $25 and still have some leftover foods, but you’ve given up the tastiness and texture of fresh, as well as some vitamins.

You can't eat like a self-indulgent rabbit when you're on a budget. You must be selective.

Food prices are rising, and in some arenas much higher than others. Snacks? Forget those delicious potato chips or crunchy other things–at Lays 2 for $7 (WHAT! Boycott with me!), Dave’s makes them unreachable on a budget and outrageous for anyone. I say Dave’s, because you can get them for less elsewhere, but most of the responsibility lays with the Frito Lay company. Fresh fruits and vegetables are desirable, but a free hand with them makes budgeting difficult. While this budget works for a picky eater like me who loves her pasta, it’s hardly variety-packed, and it’s more suited to a dieting female than a male. Sigh. No perfection anywhere. But as the winter closes in, I’m not only going to see what the same amount of money can bring me at the West Side Market, I’m going to look at a variety of possibilities for breadmaking, batch making, looking at other world cuisines for hints about stretching a budget yet filling up. So, let’s keep learning something our immigrant great-grandmothers were all too familiar with.

As a footnote, there are some great specials, if you can get to Dave’s this week: 2 boxes of Bigelow tea for $5; two Pillsbury flaky Grand biscuits (in the cardboard rolls it’s so much fun to flack open, even though they warn against it) for $2.39 (half-price); Crystal Farms mozzarella slice were 50 cents off at $3.49; in-store bakery-made Kaiser rolls were two packages of 6 for a total of $2.79 (half-price); package of 7 Steak-Umms (don’t judge me!) for $4.69, a dollar off their usual price; and, best of all, Klondike bars on sale–two for $7. Even three Kellogg’s cereals for $10.

Further afield–Megabus adventure to Indianapolis and Bloomington

18 Oct

Gorgeous restored building, but seedy feel nonetheless

I hadn’t been back to Bloomington, IN, site of my grad education at Indiana University, in a very loooooong time, and while there I’d rarely been to Indianapolis, only an hour away (Rick James concert excepted). But there were some critical exhibitions I needed to see at the Indianapolis Art Museum, and a trip was in order. Megabus time! Unfortunately, the Megabus to Indy leaves only from Columbus, so some Greyhounding was necessary. The taxi driver who dropped me at Greyhound after work said it best: “I don’t know you, and I’m not a psychotic, but you could be my wife, sister, daughter, mother–I wouldn’t want you to be in that Cleveland Greyhound station. It’s just seedy!” Remarkable how a building that is an Art Deco cherishable, and kept quite clean, is indeed seedy. It’s the people, I suppose–many of whom aren’t travelers. It’s also the price gauging at the snack bar, the poor lighting, the gritty block, the tired-looking, mussed-hair travellers and weeping children–just something about Greyhounds generally (although I must compliment Columbus on a su

perior and cheery, well laid-out station with seats by the traveling

doors).

Booking with Greyhound these days is much like booking a flight. When you’re online, you have advance pay, online and regular options, some refundable, some not. I went for the cheapest fare for the round-trip Cleveland-Columbus jaunt. My work timing and theirs didn’t jibe, so I decided an overnight stay in Columbus was the best option. I’m happy to report

Columbus's fabulous Book Loft--alas, for another trip

that Rascal House Pizza DOES deliver to the Cleveland Greyhound station, so I had my dinner while I waited in line for a bus that way nearly an hour late. My feet weren’t happy, but my stomach was satisfied. Columbus included one other stop, and was about two and a half hours away–just about the perfect maximum bus ride length. Pleased to report that some of the Greyhounds on the Cleveland route now have plugs and wifi–this one did, and what a difference it can make to a journey.

Double decker Megabus to Indy, where patrons to Chicago filled it up

I didn’t know Columbus at all, and used the Hotwire/Priceline lottery system to get a hotel. As it happened, it was the Sheraton Capitol Square, about a block from Greyhound–travelling light allows these happy coincidences to be taken advantage of. Unhappily, the lateness of the hour and some rain kept me away from German Village and the Brewery District. I’d wanted to stroll there and take in the bookstore I’d heard so much about in German Village–The Book Loft, an independent that takes up an entire block and is clearly a charmer. Despite its accommodating 11 pm closing time, there was no time. Sigh. Another trip, maybe–Columbus certainly has none of the depressed look of our downtown area (yes, it’s improving, but facts are facts), and I would have loved a look around. An LGBT event was going on, and the elevator was filled with 6 foot redheads and attractively made-up men; the rooms were lovely, all was well. The morning saw a quick stroll to Au Bon Pain–I like to stay away from chains, but their croissants are tasty, and I knew I could pick up a sandwich for the lunch-bridging trip (plus, it was just around the corner). Reasonable cab ride to the corner for Megabus leavetaking; it was a kind corner with two park benches. Though our bus was twenty minutes late, we made up the time. There’s a cheery fellowship amongst Megabus riders, who are predominantly students. A cheer went up at the sight of the double-decker. It’s handy to note that these have some facing seats with tables on the lower level; perfect when traveling with friends or using a laptop. Columbus has a second stop on

Copper mask from Ife, Nigeria, 11th-15th c.

the OSU campus–very handy.

Gorgeous terracotta head of a female royal from Ife, Nigeria

The trip to Indy was quick, through as many cornfields as I remembered. Not much in the way of brilliant foliage, which is just a weather factor–it can be a glorious season on this trip. The hotel lottery had resulted in the University Place Hotel on the IUPUI campus, a respectable choice. One of their pleasant features consisted in bowl fruit in the lobby and elsewhere in the hotel–as pretty as flowers and tasty as well. I hadn’t realized Indy has a monorail, but there was no time to take a ride. After meeting up with friends, it was a quick trip to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, handily open till 9 on a Friday night. The museum is free–a rarity like our own Cleveland Museum of Art–and the special exhibition on Ife art was $8 and well worth it. These bronze, terracotta and stone beauties from the 11th-15th century were all rarely-travelled masterpieces from Nigeria. The few that have been in the US before were here 21 years ago, and most had never travelled. They are exceptional, rare examples of highly naturalistic (though idealized) African art, many depicting royals. The excellent exhibition, “Dynasty and Divinity,” included not only royal heads and figures, but also shrine images depicting elephantiasis and grotesqueries linked to supernatural medicines, as well as comparative early artworks from the Benin Kingdom, Ijebu, Esie, and Nupe villages. Besides this special exhibition, there was a great internal show of worldwide textiles, and an extremely fine African collection, as well as wonderful-looking galleries we didn’t have time to see.

Huge hanging by El Anatsui, made from liquor bottle caps

Afterwords? Dinner courtesy Urbanspoon. Urbanspoon is a godsend in a strange city. A free app for phone or iPad, it allows you to lock in combinations of region, food type or price, then spin the dial for choices. The reviews are fabulously practical and useful, and patrons often take pictures so you can see the menus as well. At 92%, we stuck to the spirit of the evening and went to Jiallo’s, a Senegalese/Caribbean restaurant in a strip mall. Ambiance? No. But the chef/waiter/owner was as spectacular as the reviews had said. He bent over backwards to make sure everyone was satisfied with their delicious meals–frankly, each plate could have served three, and there were many leftovers. Two members of our party had baked tilapia, and declared this unboned fish the best they’d had

Antique room at IU's Biddle Hotel, conveniently on campus

anywhere. The other two had jerk chicken–oh, it was wonderful.

Great food, international university atmosphere at Cafe Turkuaz

Urbanspoon led us to a great lunch space on the Indianapolis outskirts–Rick’s Cafe Boatyard, where the briskness of the day made it a happy time to be a flag. With a lovely view of the river, my companions made short work of fish stew and a highly reasonable lunchtime menu in a spot that was pricier at night (we thrifty bon vivants must do research to relax and enjoy such places at the appropriate time). We then took the one-hour trip to Bloomington the next morning. Greyhound services the route, but with only one trip a day, it makes for a screwy schedule; had I but known, there’s a shuttle from Bloomington that travels several times a day. I had booked the Biddle Hotel at the IU Student Union, sinceI’d admired it since I was a student. It’s the largest student union in the world, equipped with hairdresser, movie theater, billiard, bowling alley and delicious bakery, as well as plenty of  places to drink coffee and carb load. The rooms are of varied sizes and prices–I went for the antique room. Though my priciest choice at $122, it had free parking, even for your guests (unlike most hotels–and this can add a hefty pricetag on a stay, since some hotels in urban areas don’t have in-and-out privileges). The room was lovely, and the convenience priceless. I took a stroll to my old department and revelled in this very beautiful campus. When everyone was ready, we dined out at a funky Turkish

Showalter Fountain and the Arts Plaza, one of many beautiful spots on the IU campus

restaurant, Turkuaz Cafe. I wasn’t very hungry, and just opted for hummus and pita–but what pita! It was flaky like a proper croissant, and I just wanted to eat bushels of it. Friends had pide, a pizza-like dough “boat” with varied fillings, as well as grilled fish, and all were deeply satisfied. Then off to Cafe Django, a jazz club where the Keith Karns trioplayed Hancock and Monk and other pillars of the genre in a highly-satisfying manner and great atmosphere.

Nafana mask from Ivory Coast at IU Art Museum

The next day meant breakfast at the Runcible Spoon, an adorable, flower-filled spot that was there when I was a student. For the second time in my life (the first being the day before), I had applewood bacon–you could really taste the difference in the smoked flavor. Then a trip to the Union’s Sugar and Spice bakery, where I rushed to be sure that the heirloom gingerbread men were still available. They were! And just 99 cents each. The website advised (paraphrase here) that “if you eat them feet first, they can’t run away.” Their little cinnamon buttons…mmmm. We spent hours in IU’s Art Museum, with its particularly strong collection of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art, and back to Indy. Because of previously planning the Megabus to match the Greyhound schedule, the bus wasn’t going to leave till 2:20 am; the kindest of friends decided they were booking a Hotwire hotel and a cozy space could be had till they drove to the Megabus spot–bless them! Hotwire delivered a fantastic choice–less than $75 with tax. It was the Crowne Plaza Union Station, right downtown. Built in the old railroad station, it had “ghost” sculptures scattered throughout–images of passengers in days gone by. Best of all, some of the rooms are restored Pullman car suites! A special site, and a hotel restaurant with the best chicken fingers I’ve ever tasted.

Ghost rail hoppers at the Pullman suites at Indy's Crowne Plaza Union Station

The Megabus was packed with students heading for Cincinnati, another city I’ve only seen once, and which is plainly pulling development from Cleveland. We have the advantage of being able to use creativity and imagination, since there are plenty of blank spaces downtown waiting for innovative infrastructure. Disembarkation in Columbus, a walk across the street to the Hilton for a cab, and an early morning ride to the Holiday Inn for breakfast and a restroom stop, since it’s right across the street from Greyhound. Again, the apps led me to the right spots. Trip back to the CLE, and a nap.

Verdict? Fairly economical, highly enjoyable, delicious and ultra-reasonable dining. Great time!