Tag Archives: Christmas Ale

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.

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.