Monday, May 16, 2011

Back to the Future @ Sweet Moses

Two and a half years ago, at a marketing trend conference in the very trendy Miami, I had the unique pleasure of personally meeting chef-star Anthony Bourdain. His discussion, on the history of food, and his overall presence – no PowerPoint, no show and tell, just the man, fully in the moment – left a life-long impression with me. Anthony’s secret to success, both culinary and in life, lies primarily in his authenticity. The man on TV is the man in person. This food artist speaks about his craft with the same vivre that Leonard Cohen recites his poetry. And, when one of the many consumer good product managers in the audience raised her hand and asked Bourdain the needed yet, simultaneously, eye-rolling question of “Where are food trends headed?” Bourdain, calm and confident, surprised the corporate client, as well as the rest of us, by saying, “We will be eating the food of our grandparents.”

His quote has lingered in my mind like a bell tower, ringing daily at noon. The reason? Ever since, everywhere I turn, I see the world operating in some sort of anachronistic vacuum. Like a series of micro time machines – in food, in media and in culture – people are looking back, unapologetically: Black and white photography. Mad Men. Boardwalk Empire. Vinyl records. Millinery shops. Sewing clubs. Knitting circles. Fish heads. Head cheese. Barber shops. Bowling leagues. Mumford and Sons. Betty White. The list goes on. Is it truly a sense of nostalgia? Or the human race’s incapability and secret disinterest in keeping up with the post-modern, always-connected, real-time world? Perhaps a bit of both?

We want to slow down. We want to reach out. We want to feel the innocence of our youth and live in the perceived community of a simpler time.

And we want to drink our milkshakes.

Sweet Moses Soda Fountain & Treat Shop, which opened March 26 in the resurrecting Gordon Square Arts District, provides the desserts and the atmosphere of this retro lifestyle. With its antique brass-like cash register, wooden over-sized mirror, marble soda counter, wait staff in matching white aprons and pointy hats and numerous posters of vintage Cleveland, the new eatery could easily belong in a Norman Rockwell painting.

And, people are flocking to stand in line for one of the many temptations. From gourmet chocolate to root beer floats to flavored popcorn, Sweet Moses features a tempting menu of tasty delights, providing the perfect technology reprieve for adults and kids alike. Whether a weekday or weekend, afternoon or early evening, patrons of all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnic groups, relationship status and economic means arrive at the dessert oasis, ready for something new. They also secretly hope that, after a very long and wet season, perhaps, eating a hot fudge sundae will finally bring sunshine and warmth to Cleveland.
The handmade delicacies offer a rich flavor, one so savory that it actually does make us want to slow down, to take it all in, one delicious sip at a time.
In fact, the lingering feeling of joy this place infuses brought me back three times in one week. Each time, with different friends and, on one occasion, even running into my neighbor and her dad and niece, who were both visiting from England. All three individuals, and generations, enjoyed their American goodness.

Whenever I review a local food establishment, there’s one staple dish I look for each time. Blame it on Pulp Fiction‘s memorable Jackrabbit Slim scene, but nothing will come between me and my $4 milkshake. And, I will go on record and say that Sweet Moses has the best chocolate milkshake I have ever had – in N.E. Ohio, in the States and in the world.

With the much welcomed addition of Sweet Moses, the Capitol Theater in full swing and the rest of the neighborhood revealing new gems to explore, this summer, Gordon Square will be the place to be, to watch, to eat, to shop to stroll and to run into your friends and neighbors, sit down, relax, talk, laugh, discuss and be present. Our grandparents could not be more proud.

Additional information about Sweet Moses is available on its Facebook page and can also be viewed at

Reprinted with permission and gratitude from

Friday, March 11, 2011

Klezmafour @ Anatolia Cafe – The World Converges in Cleveland

Once in a rare moon, you find yourself in a place and time where you have no concept of year or geography… where everything blurs into some sort of creative vacuum, one most often found while watching an engaging movie. Except, in these surreal moments, you begin to realize the you are the character on screen and that, perhaps, somewhere behind the walls or through the ceiling, a series of hidden cameras captures everything. And during those temporary escapisms, you just surrender to the atmosphere and enjoy the ride. Tuesday, March 8 was one of those nights.

Anatolia, a Turkish restaurant filling its new location in the Cedar-Lee area, blocked a narrow room with two vertical rows of tables, giving the sense of an old-school dining hall. As patrons filled the space, representing the various populations of this culturally diverse region: at least four different languages — English, Russian, Polish and Turkish — echoed in the tight rectangular room. People of all ages and occupations — from entrepreneurs and architects to law students and even a prominent New York City film producer — quickly found their seats.

The waiters, prompt and courteous, squeezed their way through the only walk path, between the two lanes of tables, bringing Turkish delights such as dolma, hummus, warm pita, babbaganush and other appetizers, many made with garlic and additional spices. With the hors d’oeuvres and spirits on the table, the post-work crowd began to loosen up, smile and converse with neighbors to the right and to the left. Stomachs and moods happy, we all sat in anticipation of the core reason we all showed up, some last minute, to this Cleveland Heights destination: To listen to Klezmafour.

Klezmafour is a band of musicians from Lublin, Poland: five young guys playing traditional Klezmer music and bringing their energy and joy to anyone willing to accept the great vibe. The band, together for just over a decade, takes the traditional century-old melodies and infuses everything from reggae to Arabic influence. A promoter first discovered the band in Amsterdam and has since brought the musical artists to North America, where Klezmafour is currently touring.

As we sat in anticipation waiting for the band to begin its first set, none of us could have predicted what happened next. The musicians found their tiny corner, picked up their instruments and began to play. At first, the clarinet, violin, accordion, stand up bass and drums warmed up with classic Balkan melodies, familiar to any of us who either had ancestors from “the old country” or were actually born across the ocean and then brought here for a better life.

Klezmafour eventually took it up a notch, adding poly-rhythmic structures, complex intonations and incredible syncopation all the while preserving a volume that, in the small space, felt powerful yet not deafening. These guys have killer control over their instruments and their craft.
When Klezmafour broke for intermission, the waiters quickly brought us main dishes including hearty lentil soup, lamb shish kebab, shavarma — served with a cucumber yogurt sauce — beet salad and flavorful rice. Friends, new and old, shared the bountiful treats, even eating off of each other’s plates, bringing back that warm and unpretentious comfort that we usually can only experience in our own homes with our own families.
By the time Klezmafour began its second set — intense, risky and transformative — I expected the crowd to get on the tables and dance. This would have been the only logical choice of behavior given all the stimulants and surrounding vibrations that transcended beyond the present.

Sometimes art imitates life. And, if we’re really lucky, life is art.

As one of the patrons wisely commented that evening, “Christian musicians playing Jewish music in a Muslim restaurant.”

How American. How very Cleveland.

Anatolia Café is located at 2270 Lee Rd. in Cleveland Heights. 216-321-4400. You can also follow Anatolia Café on Facebook and on its website: You can follow Klezmafour’s music and tour info on its website and its Facebook page.

Bottom Food Photo: Anatolia.

Reprinted with permission and gratitude from

Friday, February 25, 2011

XYZ Tavern: Good Cheer, Cleveland Style

XYZ Tavern, Gordon Square

If last Friday’s soft opening of XYZ Tavern is any indication of the new pub’s success, then Cleveland’s newest tap house is poised for a bright future.

Located off W. 65th and Detroit, in creatively cultivated Gordon Square — also home to the Cleveland Public Theater, the recently renovated Capitol Theater, Luxe, Gypsy Beans and Bakery and other local burgeoning businesses — XYZ, sister to W. 25th ABC Tavern, offers a Cheers-like atmosphere where, at least on one night, everybody knew everybody’s name.

Alan Glazen, proprietor of both taverns, as well as of Erie Island Coffee (East 4th and Rocky River locations) worked extremely hard opening the new venue, showing delicate patience as everything — from the marquee sign to the industrial garage door, which, in warm weather, will open to an intimate outdoor seating area, to the final touches and interior artwork — came together for February. And, the wait has been worth it.

XYZ Tavern, Opening

Alan, a media expert who, in addition to his dining establishments also teaches Art of Story at Tri-C, has a feel for what the locals crave, especially after a hard day at work — whether the office or the classroom — and offers up the specialness, in generous abundance: a welcoming environment, flavorful appetizers and a wide selection of spirits, all presented with the friendliest service.
Packed corner to corner during its first soft opening evening, the crowd at XYZ represented the best of Cleveland’s cultural community: artists and writers, professors and business people, lawyers and entrepreneurs, all mingling, eating, drinking and celebrating together. And, unlike some other C-Town bars, XYZ doesn’t feel like a fraternity party; it’s very much a place for adults, including those young at heart.

If anything, the atmosphere at XYZ, with its dimmed interior, black and white historical photography and brick walls, feels more like the kind of place, that, twenty years from now will still send off a timeless vibe, one that recognizes its patrons and provides exactly what they need most: a place to unwind and to recharge.

Stop by XYZ and raise a glass or two. Chances are, you’ll know somebody there. And, if not when you arrive, you will by the time you leave.

XYZ Tavern is located at 6419 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland. Hours are Fri – Sat: 5PM – 2:30AM. You can also follow XYZ on Facebook and on its website:

Reprinted with permission and gratitude from

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Adirondacker

There is a beauty in hamburger that most people don't really understand.  Ground meat is as versatile as pasta. I will often just mix in dices leek, Worcester Sauce, bread crumbs, egg, and chopped garlic.  Just the variety of cheeses that could go on a burger can make the flavor change drastically.  There is nothing like a good Jalapeño cheddar!   I really love to hear about other people's creativity with their burgers.  For this reason, I am an avid fan of Rachel Ray.  She has a feature recipe in her magazine each month devoted to the nuance of the burger.  Bon appetit indeed.

(Source: Rachel Ray Magazine, Februrary 2010)

The Adirondacker


  • 8 slices smoked bacon
  • 2 pounds ground sirloin
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces shredded or sliced extra-sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped chives (a generous handful)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped dill (a generous handful)
  • 4 crusty kaiser rolls, split
  • 1 bunch watercress or arugula, chopped


  1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Discard all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the sirloin, Worcestershire sauce and horseradish; season with salt and pepper. Form into 4 patties. Heat the bacon fat in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef patties and cook, turning once, for 8 minutes for medium. Melt the cheese on top of the patties during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, parsley, chives, dill and lots of pepper.
  4. Place the cheeseburgers on the roll bottoms and top each with 2 slices bacon and some watercress. Slather the bun tops with the sour cream sauce and set into place.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Business and Burgers: Two Dads' Diner

DSCN2719 Before moving to Cleveland in 2003, I spent two years in upstate New York, working hard earning my M.B.A. at the Simon School. The winters of Rochacha, as it’s referred to by the natives, are cold, snowy, gray and the city rests just south of one of the five Great Lakes. Sound familiar? To keep the energy going, the school would sometimes host after hour events at the local diners, places where, for $10, you could order a three-course dinner complete with canned chicken soup, a burger and fries and even a piece of chocolate pie. The decor in these diners stayed true to its 70’s blue collar origins and the yellow lighting and solo customers sipping their sole cup of coffee before stepping outside for a smoke reminded you why movies, politicians and diners go hand in hand: there’s a quiet understanding of social distance and simultaneous friendliness, a contrast of decision-making suits enjoying cheap meals next to time-clocked people in uniforms. A good diner will serve you a cup of coffee, a sandwich and a side order of “Enjoy and carry on.”

As a frequenter of this type of dining establishment, I had to go and try Two Dads’ Diner on Detroit in Lakewood. Recruiting a couple of downtown Cleveland residents as my accomplices, we headed to the new restaurant on a casual workday evening. Parking right in front of the doors, we entered and, quickly, one of the waitresses asked us where we wanted to sit. It’s a diner, so, personally, nothing but a booth would do. The three of us chose one, towards the back, away from the draft of the front door. Hungry and cold, we immediately began to investigate the menu, but not until we checked out the space. Fabric-covered booths against the wall, muted green colors accenting the neutral surrounding decor, desserts staged near the register on inexpensive plastic pedestal plates with see-through tall lids and unpretentious and helpful, witty employees. Yep, this is very much a timeless, kitschy diner cafe.

We proceeded to order: chicken paprikash, hamburger with onion rings and, of course, a tuna melt with fries and a chocolate milk shake. Before the food arrived, the owner, John, one of the two dads, who made the rounds with the others guests, stopped by and chatted up with us. A tall man with an edgy sense of humor, he proceeded to give us the story. He and Frank, the other dad who is the chef, have known each other for years and, between the two of them, they have “two wives and eight daughters.” They wanted to go into business together and thought that opening this would be the perfect opportunity to do what they love.

John continued to entertain us until our food arrived, and, as our eyes were hungrier than our stomachs, we pretty much devoured our meals. For the most part, we enjoyed everything. My tuna melt, not a standard menu option, thus custom made, had a very distinct taste. The tuna salad, intended to be eaten sans the toast and hot cheese, surprised me a little with its extra kick. Beyond that, the meals tasted like the food one would expect at such a place, just better. That’s because the two dads do what they can to serve local produce. Even the meat comes from the butcher, directly across the street. Additionally, the portions are generous and the prices are incredibly reasonable. Finally, Frank prepares several of the staples from scratch, including the blue cheese dressing, the salad croutons – crispy on the outside and layered in flavor on the inside – and the home-made onion ring sauce, a combination of horseradish, mayo, Worchester, ketchup and other ingredients, giving it a creamy consistency with a vinegar-based sharpness. Two Dads’ Diner is diner food, plus.

During our conversation with John, I mentioned to him that his new restaurant reminded me of what the Theatrical Grill, (opened by Morris “Mushy” Wexler), may have once been, sans the jazz and the jars of pickles on the tables. John was stunned that I even knew what the Theatrical was and I reassured him that, as a non-native Clevelander, the only reason I knew about it was because it’s frequently mentioned in Crooked River Burning (by Mark Winegardner – the book should be the mandatory welcome manual to anyone moving here. But that’s another topic for another column). And, based on this historical novel set in this city, my impression of the former Vincent street legendary establishment is one of a place where politicians, mobsters and business people made their deals, quietly, and where big decisions that influenced the lives of Clevelanders occurred. Two Dads’ Diner, just down the street from a well-known congressman’s office and blocks away from numerous office buildings, while not a grand entertainment venue, gives off that same kind of vibe. It’s like “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets “Cheers.”

About a week after this outing, my neighbor and I stopped in to have some lunch at Two Dads’. Both dressed in casual sweats, sans makeup and really just there to enjoy a cup of soup and a sandwich before heading back home to work, we observed the incredibly kind service, the very fresh food and, a row down, the uber important looking men, in suits, discussing something, quietly. Mssr. Wexler would be so proud.

Two Dad’s Diner has no website, but does have a thriving and loyal Facebook Page. Info: 14412 Detroit Ave, Lakewood, OH, 44107 Phone: 216-226-3270 Hours: Mon – Sat: 7:00 am – 8:00 pm, Sun: 7:00 am – 2:00 pm

Reprinted with permission and gratitude from

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie is the definition of down-home decadence.  It is so rich and delightful that it has been years since I allowed myself the pleasure of enjoying this wonder.  To me, it feels as risqué as spending a weekend riding with a rough motorcycle gang.  Dangerous, self-gratifying, fun, and somehow out-of-bounds.  It is easily one of my favorite desserts, but I know that there can be no self-control with this bad-boy around.  It will haunt me until I am drunk with flavors so complete and complex that it forces me to press forward - just one more bite!  Just like so many haunted characters, this friend is surprisingly simple.  Beaten early and long, the golden exterior belies a soft, creamy underbelly that melts hearts and tastes simultaneously.  Stay away.  Stay away or be stricken with longing for the rest of your lives.  Please god, deliver me (another pie).

Banana Cream Pie


  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked
  • 4 bananas, sliced


  1. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Add milk in gradually while stirring gently. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is bubbly. Keep stirring and cook for about 2 more minutes, and then remove from the burner.
  2. Stir a small quantity of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks, and immediately add egg yolk mixture to the rest of the hot mixture. Cook for 2 more minutes; remember to keep stirring. Remove the mixture from the stove, and add butter and vanilla. Stir until the whole thing has a smooth consistency.
  3. Slice bananas into the cooled baked pastry shell. Top with pudding mixture.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 12 to 15 minutes. Chill for an hour.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Long Progression: Espresso

I find it interesting and amusing how there is this long progression of development in tastes in the culinary arts.  For instance, newbie wine drinkers usually start with something light and sweet, and after a long process of defining their pallet,  will eventually find that wine distasteful and instead go for a brutal, dry Cabernet Sauvignon.  At least I will.  Similarly, those who subsist on chicken fingers will never understand the delicate flavors and amazing complexities of a foie gras.  But frankly, I can enjoy either equally.  Maybe I need some more work on that one...

Espresso is one of these complex and full tastes that isn't easily appreciated without a long history with the coffee bean.  My first coffees were heavily spiked with cream and sugar.  It took many years before relaxing the cream and eliminating the sugar.  I still enjoy a bit of half and half with my morning cup.  But that cup is made from a darkly roasted arabic coffee bean.  Drinking coffee from robusto beans in a jaunty light roast feels like someone is robbing me.  Something is missing or something has been taken.

There is something to be said for how you are introduced to your tastes as well.  I had taken shots of espresso from local US cafes and it never really seemed to tempt my pallet.  It was experimental.  What about this espresso stuff?  There was no process.  Even a good wine requires a full bouquet, a good view through the glass, and the experience as each swallow piques the sensory specialties of each section of your tongue.  Understanding that food takes time.  We are not talking time in the perfunctory sense of the word, but time in the sense of really being present to the experience of not just the food but also the process of the food.

I am going to expect that this idea of being present to your food may be hard to swallow.  (Eh-hem)   After all, it seems that there are so few times in our days that we are fully present to our experience at all.  We are so often preoccupied with the pressure of our day, plans for the future, or worries around some drama that pure experiences get drowned out by the conversations in our heads.

I feel lucky that I was able to take a little time with a new friend one weekend in Strasbourg, France.  We sat at a outdoor cafe in June facing the awesome cathedral in this town and he ordered us each an espresso.  I watched him, fascinated by the care and precision with with he prepared and drank his tiny cup.  Naturally, I copied him and I have since never looked back.  I found that the best preparation comes from the simplest means, a $20 stove-top espresso maker, a can of Italian roast, and some tiny cups.  The hardest part is still slowing down to really experience and enjoy the flavor.