Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Literary Muse: Author Les Roberts pens new thriller

Following 2011’s The Strange Death of Father Candy, readers called, emailed and even stopped author Les Roberts in Giant Eagle to ask when Youngstown assassin Dominick Candiotti would return.

Wet Work author Les Roberts
In Wet Work ($14.95, Gray & Co.), Candiotti makes a violent, sudden shift from hunter to hunted when he questions the purpose of his jobs and attempts to retire, causing his mysterious boss to send paid killers after him. Candiotti travels the country to outrun the assassins, leaving a list of dead in his wake.

“I haven’t hit anybody out of anger since I was 11 years old,” Roberts says, “but I love to write the violent stuff.”

Roberts has published 29 books to date, including 17 novels led by Cleveland private eye Milan Jacovich. “I’m an addict when it comes to writing,” he adds. We check in with the Stow resident to see what other local writers inspire him.

Scott Lax

“It’s style. [He puts] words together beautifully,” Roberts explains. A Chagrin Falls resident, Lax is the author of Vengeance Follows and The Year that Trembled as well as a playwright, biographer and teacher. “I love the fact that really good writers try to use the best possible words.”

Thrity Umrigar

“I couldn’t possibly write the kind of books that she writes. I’m not sure if she could write one of mine,” Roberts says. “... I just think differently than she does, and I admire it tremendously, and I love reading her.” In addition to being a novelist who recently released The Story Hour, Umrigar is an English professor at Case Western Reserve University and a journalist.

Lisa Black

Black, a forensic scientist, writes suspense novels featuring Cleveland forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. “When somebody writes about Cleveland, I like to look at it from their point of view,” Roberts says. “If you read Lisa Black ... her Cleveland is very different than my Cleveland. I like reading somebody else’s feelings and take on something that I feel very strongly about.”

Give A Warm Welcome to a Cool Couple

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
I can't get enough ice cream when the weather's hot. Those days are behind us for the next eight or nine months, but some ice cream is just too good to be merely a seasonal pleasure. The luscious stuff Jesse Mason makes falls into that category. And Mason's Creamery now has a brand new home, open year round, in the former Ohio City Ice Cream on Bridge Avenue. Neither snow nor sleet nor cold temperatures will keep me from enjoying it.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
I wrote about this quickly successful and wildly popular upstart business in July 2013. After breaking into Cleveland market as nomads, peddling their frozen wares at farmer markets and special events like the Cleveland Flea, Mason, a local man returned from the West Coast, and Helen Qin, his partner in ice cream and all things, took over the shuttered stand earlier this year. They put in a lot of time and sweat into remodeling the place and have done a bang-up job. It looks great, but like many such undertakings, it was harder than they expected and took longer than they thought it would. Instead of opening in the spring as planned, they couldn't officially welcome customers until last week. I was there earlier with my husband for a private, friends and family soft opening. I can say it was worth the wait.

There's a nice roofed-over patio out front (heaters going in soon) and plans for a garden space in back. There's still a walk up ordering window, good for people with dogs, but now you can also walk inside and check out what's in the cooler. They've even managed to fit a few small tables inside.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
We sampled an intense and fruity Apple Cider sorbet, two ice creams, a chunky peanut butter smores and coffee and cream — which I just love — made with custom-roasted Rising Star beans. Old City Soda, another local start-up, will supply the necessary fizz for floats

There's still some good weather days left when eating ice cream is a natural. And when the thermometer does read below zero, and the very idea of dipping into a chilly treat makes you shiver, consider this: Mason has created the perfect winter flavor: Hot Chocolate with Marshmallow Fluff.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kids These Days

2014 Youth Voices Conference: Food Justice
Cleveland Botanical Garden | Oct. 17 & 18, 2014

We’re used to critiquing trendy restaurants, exploring culinary trends and hobnobbing with the city’s most creative food minds, but we thought it was important to take a moment to highlight an issue that's even more relevant to the Cleveland food scene: Food justice, or the idea that everyone is entitled to access to good, healthy food. The Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corp program seeks to address the gap by employing youth aged 14-18 (approximately 75 per year) in its urban gardens, teaching them sustainable agriculture, leadership and community engagement skills while growing produce for its farm market stand.

I sat down with Green Corps members Daniel Lewis, 17, and Renee Boyd, 16, to talk about this weekend’s Youth Voices conference, which will bring in other youth agriculture groups from throughout Ohio as well as Oakland, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Chanhassen, Minnesota, to discuss issues surrounding food justice and urban farming. Both are second-year veterans of the program with strong opinions about the local food scene as they know it.

CM: What made you want to participate in a group like Green Corps?
DL: I joined Green Corps to, like, build on my [skills] in making a garden. I want to be a chef when I’m older, so I thought if I could grow my own vegetables and fruits and stuff, I won’t have to rely on people to buy or supply them.

RB: Cut out the middle man.

CM: A chef? Where did that idea come from?
DL: When I was younger, my family always got together and cooked, and I always get happy when they’re cooking. That made me feel nice about it, so I thought if I could make people have that same joy that I have, then I could give back.

CM: So what's going on with the conference?
RB: We’re putting together a presentation about our group, our urban farm. And basically the reason for the conference is because there are other programs like ourselves, all over the country, and you know, like, working together is better than working alone. It’s a way to share and learn different things, learn from others.

CM: What do your friends and neighbors think about what you're doing?
DL: I really don’t think a lot of people know about it, because they don’t want to know, or nobody’s had time to tell them.

RB: When we do markets, we try to get as much word out as possible. ... I’ve been in that area, the Fairfax area, for a long time. ... I know there’s a lot of convenience stores more than you see farms. And it’s like, people talk to you, not necessarily from the neighborhood, but this group talked about food deserts, because there are all these convenience stores, there’s processed foods all over the place rather than real food from the ground that’s probably — it ACTUALLY IS better for you than processed foods.

CM: But you're teenagers. How do you really feel about junk food?
RB: I see a lot of people eating processed foods because it’s cheaper, and it’s closer to them. I could probably say there are about four convenience stores within walking distance of my home. Grocery stores? It’s a little bit of a longer trip.

DL: It’s the aspect of what they’ve grown up to. When they are growing up, they went to the corner stores and got some chips. It’s like a routine for them. They, usually when they had money, they’d go to the corner store and buy chips and a drink.

RB: It’s a matter of not knowing.

DL: They’re used to it.

RB: What we need to do is inform people. Show people that the youth DO care about this.

CM: Have your own diets changed as a result of your work with Green Corps?
RB: When I started, I was eating junk food, and my mom was trying to find a way to get us all eating healthier. Then I brought home some food from my garden that I grew in my own little plot, and my mom — this wasn’t her first health kick — so she just took it on, and we started going to the West Side Market, and we did this diet thing where we ate only food from the ground for a couple of months.

CM: How did that go?
RB: It was tough! I'm not going to say it was easy. The second week I broke down and had chicken wings. The ones in hot sauce [she laughs].

DL: Oh, the buffalo ranch ones?

RB: [Sighs] I did have the salad, though. But it was worth it. I felt a significant change in my body. I had more energy.

CM: So food is pretty important to your whole family?
DL: My parents, they made us stop eating cereal when I was young.

RB: Oh, don't worry! We don't drink pop at our house.

DL: When I was younger, we watched this video about food being bleached and stuff, like potatoes being bleached. And that changed everything, so we had to start eating organic. That made me mad because I had no cereal. ... After that I got used to it. So when I joined my farm, I had to walk to work, but when I got a bike, that’s when I started noticing change. I lost a lot of weight.

CM: What are you looking forward to the most from this conference? You have a lot of fun outings planned.
DL: That too, but I’m looking forward to learning what other gardens in other states have to say.

RB: I’m looking forward to the discussion. We came up with some questions that we thought might —

DL: “Are you hungry or are you starving?”

RB: That one can go anywhere.

DL: That was my question. Everybody thought it was a good question.

RB: Are you starving for real, healthy food? That's what I get from the question. We’re eating food, but it’s not really food.

DL: Even though, my dad says, “You've never been starving in your life.”

To support Daniel, Renee and other youth working to even the field, visit Cleveland Botanical Garden to purchase tickets to the Saturday event. Tickets are $15 for youth, $45 for adults.

The 3 F's

In January, Julia Moskin wrote an article for the New York Times about female chefs starting to get their due in the kitchen. I actually explored the same topic, with a focus on Cleveland's culinary lady lights, in a piece published back in 2006. Three of the women I wrote about — Karen Small, Pamela Waterman and Donna Chriszt — along with Ruth Levine and Britt-Marie Culey, will come together Dec. 4 to show off their prodigious talents in support of the Cleveland International Film Festival. They'll be serving dishes inspired by childhood favorites, playing off the theme "just like mom used to make." Dubbed Chef, the event will be a night to celebrate food, females and film. And it's also great fun.
Photo, Taxel Image Group
Karen Small, longtime chef and owner of the Flying Fig in Ohio City, really needs no introduction. Pamela Waterman left the restaurant world and now runs Duet Catering in Rocky River. I recently blogged about Chriszt and her new gig running the kitchen at Table 45, as well as about Culey and Coquette Patisserie, which she opened at the start of the year in Uptown. Levine, almost always seen in a white coat and apron, owns Bistro 185 with her husband, Mark, in Collinwood. Janine Poleman,​ founder and director​ of Agencie Campaine​, a wine sales and marketing company, also joins the lineup.
Photo, Taxel Image Group
My husband and I are hosting this shindig at Taxel Image Group, our Prospect Avenue photography studio and culinary prop heaven, something we've done seven other years. After everyone's had time to mix, mingle, eat, and drink, I'll introduce the women, give them a chance to talk about themselves and then lead them in a conversation on the theme and down memory lane with lots of audience participation.

This is part of the Film (and other Arts) Feasts series. We always get a full (and enthusiastic) house — and all the programs sell out fast — so the time to get your tickets is right now.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Draft Days: Three Can't Miss Cleveland Beer Week Events

Bottoms up, Cleveland! Tomorrow kicks off the sixth annual Cleveland Beer Week, a nine-day celebration of Cleveland’s hopping craft brewery scene with more than 350 events. Need the abbreviated tour for your liver’s sake? Here are Winking Lizard co-owner and Beer Week co-founder John Lane’s must-attend events:

1. Great Lakes Tap Takeover: Sat. Oct. 11 @ 11 a.m.

Great Lakes Brewery takes over the Winking Lizard Lakewood’s taps with 43 different Great Lakes beers. Yes, you read that correctly. In addition to the Ohio City brewery’s standards, Great Lakes' brewers have been stashing special elixirs and planning a few surprises to keep the beer flowing in the name of Lake Erie. A handful of beers will only be on tap for a few hours (or as long as it takes for the tap to run dry), with the last one hitting the bar at 5:30 p.m. “We are tapping a barrel-aged Christmas Ale. That’ll be the highlight of the day,” says Lane. “Christmas Ale is already revered in this city, but to have it barrel-aged is superb.” Winking Lizard Tavern Lakewood, 14018 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, 216-226-6693,

2. Culture Yourself, Tue. Oct. 14 @ 6-9 p.m.

What’s better than beer? Beer and cheese, of course. This ticketed event ($40 for 20 pairings) will feature 17 breweries — including local favorites Brew Kettle, Buckeye and Great Lakes — for an evening of beer and cheese pairings at the West Side Market in Ohio City. “This is the first time the West Side Market has opened their space for [any group] other than themselves in its entire history that we know of,” Lane says. One of the cheese stands will be open for some expert help. Lane’s favorite combo? “I love when you get a nice stout with a really nice blue cheese,” he recommends. “I’m a freak about blue cheese.” West Side Market, 1979 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-664-3387,

3. Brewzilla, Sat. Oct. 18 @ 6-10 p.m.

“A Monster of a Beer Tasting” is this event’s subheading, and for good reason. “We’ll have probably 120, 130 different breweries,” says Lane, with many breweries offering several types of beer. In the past, Brewzilla has been Cleveland Beer Week’s culminating event. It’s followed for the first time this year by a bluegrass festival on Sunday, but this is still the king of beer events. VIP tickets are already sold out, and general admission tickets ($50 per person) are going quickly. 5th Street Arcades, 530 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-583-0500,

For tickets or for more information about the nonprofit Cleveland Beer Week or the Malone Scholarship Fund it supports, visit

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sanctum Sanctuary

Sanctuary, the new restaurant and wine bar that opened this week on the ground floor of the Doubletree Cleveland Beachwood location, represents a shift in direction for national hotel chain restaurants. Rather than lackluster, no-name, by-necessity-only places designed to fill bellies after a day on the road, this hotel has managed to snag a new concept by the Driftwood Restaurant Group (headed by Chris Hodgson and Scott Kuhn). It's part of a growing trend in adding local flair to otherwise carbon-copied lodging. It's a great way to show visitors a little something about the city with barely having to leave their rooms.

The soft opening, held this Monday, Oct. 6, attracted a fairly large crowd. And while it showed that there are still a few kinks to work out (a few overlooked details like beverage service and a plodding pace), the restaurant lived up to its name fairly well, with serene gray-green walls (inspired by carpets in India), sparkling lighting, mounted driftwood art and distinct dining areas that allow the ability to cozy in or see and be seen.

As with most of Hodgson's culinary creations, the food at Sanctuary was approachable and rooted in nostalgia. For instance, we were met with Hanky Panky appetizers, a decades-old staple made with sausage and cheese on toast. This one used chorizo with an added a touch of fig jam to keep it modern. Fresh ginger, bourbon, honey, lemon juice and a touch of St. Germaine liqueur made up the signature cocktail, the Beehive, reminiscent of the '60s if only for its name and bourbon base. The next course was a blue crab hushpuppy topped with cucumber and "Old Bay'onnaise."

Blue Crab Hushpuppy: Crunchy outside, creamy inside
In general, the food was tasty but not overly inventive, which may actually be an advantage for road-weary travelers looking to settle stomachs without sacrificing atmosphere. Our next few courses rated above average: a wedge salad with pickled red onion and white French dressing, a crisp (but slightly cold) sea scallop over butternut squash and caramelized apple risotto and my personal favorite, hangar steak with chimichurri, garlic-herb fries and malt vinegar aioli.


Any restaurant in Beachwood will face stiff competition from its neighbors, but Sanctuary's location (in the former Capers nightclub space) and built-in clientele should give it an edge. Cheers to traveling local-style.

Brewing Up More Neighborhood Development

Sam McNulty calls him the "Donald Trump of Lorain." The guy who's successfully built his own food and drink empire on W. 25th Street is referring to his friend and fellow entrepreneur Justin Carson. The three of us were chatting at Platform Brewhouse, which opened in Ohio City this summer. Platform Beer Co., the name of the parent organization, is featured in this month's Best of Cleveland feature. Carson owns the building, along with a few others along the block, and moved the offices of his company, JC Beer Tech, from Medina to space on the second floor. A massive clean-out — the previous owner was reputedly quite the hoarder — and a complete gutting and rehab created the ground-level setting for the brewery and tasting room he and Paul Benner partnered to create.

Photo by Barney Taxel
The tanks are integral to the decor of the sprawling brick-walled room, and the taps feature an ever changing lineup of beers made on the premises and representing a variety of different styles. Flights and growler fills are both available for the asking. Patrons have recently had the chance to weigh in on criteria — types of yeast, style, alcohol content — for a Platform recipe that will be released during Cleveland Beer Week Oct 15.

There's a long bar and multiple communal tables, an old bowling machine and a high-tech jukebox, and a patio where dogs and smokers are welcome. The vibe is hyper-casual and organized around drinking. Management is focused on its hop-powered mission, so no wine or spirits. And rather than prepare food, they let various area restaurateurs and vendors set up shop — one per night — and sell their stuff.

Photo by Barney Taxel
The guys are also positioning this location as beer business incubator. With their brewmaster (and co-owner) Shawn Yasaki, they offer free training for beer-making hobbyists who dream of going pro. And the suds students can even try out their lagers and ales on Platform's customers and solicit their feedback.

The Cleveland Brew Shop, another Benner venture, which stocks beer-making supplies for the home enthusiast, is moving at end of this month from West 14th Street to another piece of Carson property right across the street from Platform. At the risk of inducing a sigh for my punning, I have to say things are really hopping on Lorain.