Cleveland Zoological Society’s Ambassadors’ Circle: A Fantastic Opportunity for Wildlife-Loving Young Professionals

ambassadors circle

If you’ve read Clue Into Cleveland for a while or know me IRL, you know that groups and events for Cleveland young professionals top the list of my passions.

I am incredibly grateful and lucky to have come across PlayhouseSquare Partners after moving to Cleveland because it’s given Scott and me a ton of opportunities to develop professionally and personally.

We’ve met fantastic friends, learned from some great leaders, and had a chance to give back to an institution that means a lot to us. And it’s something that I see not just in Partners, but across many of the city’s young professionals groups.

It’s why I’m so happy that the Cleveland Zoological Society is adding their name to the list of local organizations focusing their attention on the twenty-something to forty crowd.

When Scott and I attended last month’s Animal Attractions, the Zoological Society unveiled Ambassadors’ Circle, their new initiative designed to foster the next generation of Clevelanders who share a passion for animal conservation and wildlife.

Starting in May, the Zoo’s Ambassadors’ Circle will help host a series of events for YPs, including a Wine & Paint (May 7), ZippityZooDoo (June 5), the Twilight at the Zoo VIP Party (August 7) and my personal favorite Date Night at the ZOOvies (August date TBA, but tickets will go on sale June 15).

Just like Animal Attractions, these events help raise money and awareness for conservation efforts while giving attendees an opportunity to cut loose with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s very own party animals. 

Ambassadors’ Circle members will also get the opportunity to:

  • Participate in Urban Safaris — culture and education programming at different locations around town
  • Support animal care and learning opportunities for over 100,000 Northeast Ohio school children
  • Engage in the planning and implementation of Ambassadors’ Circle activities
  • Receive discounts on select tickets
  • Receive invitations to seasonal exhibitions and celebrations
  • And meet other like-minded animal lovers and young community leaders

The cost is pretty reasonable as well, starting at just $10/month for individuals and $15/month for couples, which includes 4 Zoo passes.

I’m really excited to see what the Zoo continues to offer with this group. For those who join it now, I think you’ll find the experience incredibly rewarding and will have the opportunity to shape the group’s growth.

If you’re interested in joining or learning more about Ambassadors’ Circle, email, call 216.661.6500 x4530 or read the Cleveland Zoological Society’s announcement

Disclosure: I attended Animal Attractions in exchange for previewing the event on my blog. I am also the chair of PlayhouseSquare’s young professionals group. All opinions here are 100% my own.

The 39th Cleveland International Film Festival: My Kind of March Madness

CIFF Image

For sports fans, March Madness means another thrilling college hoops tournament. But for fans of Cleveland and film, March brings its own brand of excitement: the annual arrival of the Cleveland International Film Festival.

As much as I love Saint Patrick’s Day, CIFF is tops on my March must-do list.

The festival opens tonight with an Opening Gala that includes a screening of I’ll See You In My Dreams featuring Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Rhea Perlman and many other amazing actors. It’s a star-filled way to celebrate the festival and cinema.

Over the course of the 39th festival, which runs through March 29, 190+ feature films and 220+ short films from 60 countries will be screened.

Although the festival’s main hub is at Tower City, films will be screened all over the area. A few of the 11 neighborhood screening locations include Chagrin Cinemas in Chagrin Falls, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium, and The Nightlight in Akron.

There are films for every interest. In addition to their main program, this year’s festival continues to present a selection of “sidebars” or themed film groupings focused around Pan-Asian Films, Focus on Disabilities, Family Films,  African Diaspora, Cinema en Espanol and many other topics.

One of the films in the Women of the World sidebar and two of the festival’s competitions is Semicolon; The Adventures of Ostomy Girl.

It features Dana, a 25-year-old woman who was diagnosed at age four with Crohn’s disease. It follows her and her mother as they travel between their home in Las Vegas and the Cleveland Clinic. Instead of viewing all of the surgeries, medications and close encounters with death as a tragedy, Dana tells her story with a grin and a sharp sense of humor.

To quote the film description: “SEMICOLON; THE ADVENTURES OF OSTOMY GIRL is not a story of disease and decay. This is a story of defiance and determination. Prepare to lose your heart as well as your inhibitions about not laughing at ‘certain things.’ Dana will teach you the meaning of courage, along with the value of a really good poop joke!”

With so many films to choose from, deciding what to do during CIFF can be overwhelming. Especially if it’s your first year. However, CIFF’s Film Guide, their website ( and social media (@CIFF and Cleveland International Film Festival on Facebook are just two) are excellent places to start. 

Fresh Water Cleveland also asked veteran festival goers like Eat Drink Cleveland what advice they’d give attendees. It’s a must-read.

Once you have an idea about which films you want to see, you can buy tickets online. Tickets are available for purchase online until 11 PM on the day before a screening. You may also purchase tickets by phone (877.304.3456) or in person at the Film Festival Box Office in the lobby of Tower City Cinemas.

Day-of tickets are only available for purchase in person at the Film Festival Box Office.

While you’re at it, head over to USA TODAY to vote for the Cleveland International Film Festival as the best film festival in the U.S.

The contest is part of USA TODAY’s 10Best Readers’ Choice travel awards and CIFF needs your help. Vote for them today and every day (one vote per person per day) through Monday, April 13th to show your support. It only takes two clicks:

See you at the movies!

Scott and I Jump Back to the Future at PlayhouseSquare’s #JBB24

As a longtime Back to the Future fanatic, Scott freaked out when this year’s Jump Back Ball theme was announced. The guy knew what his costume was going to be almost immediately. Because of this and because I’m chair of PlayhouseSquare Partners, the group that organizes Jump Back Ball each year, I figured a recap’s better coming from him than me.  After reading it, I was right. Enjoy!

Yeah. That happened.

Yeah. That happened.

Last month I partied like it was 2015.

And 1955.

And 1985.

And 1885.

If you’re like me, those years immediately bring forth one thought: Marty McFly’s adventures through time in the Back To The Future trilogy. Since its release, Back To The Future and its sequels have had a huge impact on me, and are three of my favorite films.

So, when the actual year 2015 rolled around, I couldn’t have been more pleased that PlayhouseSquare Partners didn’t waste the opportunity to celebrate Doc Brown’s time traveling DeLorean in style with the 24th Annual Jump Back Ball. It was, appropriately enough, entitled Jump Back To The Future.

Back To The Future movies encompass a wide range of time periods and settings, and I was extremely pleased that they were all captured throughout the party. The movies began in 1985, so it was only right that the evening’s starting place – the Connor Palace’s VIP Area – had 80s themed centerpieces, complete with flip-up shades and Rubik’s Cubes. The radical atmosphere was complemented by Driftwood’s delicious calamari, ice cream, and various bruschetta. Outside the theatre was a DeLorean that begged to be posed with (See above.).

I took that Rubik's Cube. It's mine now. And the colors are hopelessly mixed up.

I took that Rubik’s Cube. It’s mine now. And the colors are hopelessly mixed up.

1955, the year Doc Brown invented time travel while Marty’s parents fell in love, was perfectly encapsulated on the State Theatre stage. Jump Back’s version of the Enchantment Under The Sea dance was beautiful, with floating sea life, an ocean backdrop, and an ice sculptor bar. We were treated to a wonderful dinner by Chef Chris Hodgson, enjoying our champagne-complemented meal in the theatre seats before be-bopping it up on stage, daddy-o, with a 50s themed band. The singer came out amongst the dancers and had some great rapport, and when the sound blew out for a short time they began singing to people for birthdays and anniversaries.

The State Theatre Stage on Jump Back Ball set up day and during the party

The State Theatre Stage on Jump Back Ball set up day and during the party

1885′s Old West was spread throughout the party. Many of the bars were themed as saloons (featuring LaBatt’s Bourbon Barrel Ale samples). A locomotive engine, complete with smoking smoke stack, greeted the partiers as they entered through the State Lobby.

It was smoking at the party. I had to tattle on it.

It was smoking at the party. I had to tattle on it.

Back to the Future’s take on our current year had little touches spread throughout the party. Hoverboards floated behind the card dealers, a JAWS 19 poster was hung, and Mr. Fusions were ready to accept anyone’s trash.

Even the alternate timeline of 1985a was covered by Biff’s Casino in the State Theatre Mezzanine’s table games area.

As the evening drew to a close, a variety of partiers, Martys, Doc Browns, Biffs, and Jennifers from all time periods came together in the State Theatre Lobby to close out the night with music from our own 2015.

After 24 Jump Back Ball,s you’d think the process would be stale. I haven’t been doing it that long, but each year I’ve come in to find a group of people who just could not be more excited to make the next one happen. The challenges of the decor excite them, even when the task is overwhelming – like making a train engine that smokes. The enthusiasm — it, too, is overwhelming.

When all the building, and coordinating, and priming is done, then the party starts. It is so much fun to come in every year and see what people have worn. Even people who had nothing to do with the preparation show up in incredible outfits because they want to do something different and enjoy themselves.

Somebody had a highly-detailed hoverboard strapped to their back. Others showed up with glowing neon piping. Others were in complete Old West regalia. And you know what, if you were in a suit or a dress and just having a great time oooing and aweing at what other people wore, you were just as much in the spirit of things as anyone else.

It takes a special kind of party to let people do that. To just show up and let yourself find the fun in an evening. So yes, I am certainly proud of the decorations and details that had sweat and inspiration poured into them. I’m always eager for the food, and the drink, and the music.

But what makes Jump Back Ball great, even after 24 of them, are the excited attitudes of the people who show up to have a good time in a beautiful Cleveland landmark.

And as long as that keeps happening, I’ll always be happy to attend.


Disclosure: We were offered one ticket to Jump Back Ball in exchange for previewing and recapping the event. Amanda is also the co-chair of PlayhouseSquare Partners, the group that organizes Jump Back Ball each year. Opinions here are 100% Scott’s.

A Must-See in CLE: The Magic of PIPPIN at PlayhouseSquare

The Cast of the National Touring Production of PIPPIN, at PlayhouseSquare through Feb. 15. Credit Terry Shapiro

The Cast of the National Touring Production of PIPPIN, at PlayhouseSquare through Feb. 15. Credit Terry Shapiro

How many times have you watched a play, attended a concert or seen a painting and left inspired to take on greatness?

Art is magical in the way it fills us with the desire to pursue glory, revolt against whatever’s holding us back, and love with every inch of our body.

PIPPIN now playing at PlayhouseSquare until February 15, brings that magic to the stage in one of the most thrilling productions I’ve ever experienced.

As the curtain rises (well, in the case of this show, drops with a grand flourish), the Leading Player entices the audience to hear the tale of Charlemagne’s son Pippin.

Fresh out of university, Pippin doesn’t want to lead the sedentary life of a scholar. I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free. Got to find my corner of the sky,” he sings.

Lured from home by the Leading Player, Pippin tries his hand at battle, revolution, politics, and a lot of loving. But with each, he remains unsatisified. 

When he stumbles into ordinary life, he’s torn between his desire to pursue his daydreams and the comforts of a quiet family. It’s a struggle that resonates with all of us, and I wish I could go back in time to tell 20-year-old Amanda to see it.

Sam Lips as Pippin. Photo Credit Martha Rial

Sam Lips as Pippin. Photo Credit Martha Rial

The Leading Player and Pippin are brought to life in this production by Sasha Allen and Sam Lips, respectively.

Fans of The Voice and Camp will recognize Allen’s dynamic voice and magnetic stage presence. She’s perfect as the production’s ringleader. Lips, who understudied the role in the Broadway company, does a very convincing job of transforming Pippin from spastic, unsure teenager to a more settled (but at times, still conflicted) adult.  

However, as incredibly entertaining as Allen and Lips are – especially when on stage together, the performance that will stick with you long after the curtain is drawn is the Leading Player’s circus troupe.

From stunning acrobatics to showstopping musical numbers like No Time at All (beautifully sung — upside down on a trapeze! — by Priscilla Lopez) , the performances left my jaw on the floor. The trapeze work, stunts, and illusions the cast creates are worth the ticket price alone. In fact, describing them would ruin that magic.

Sasha Allen as Leading Player and the cast of the National Tour of PIPPIN. Credit Terry Shapiro

Sasha Allen as Leading Player and the cast of the National Tour of PIPPIN. Credit Terry Shapiro

After a fiery grand finale that left me breathless and a bit choked up, there’s no surprise that PIPPIN won Best Musical Revival at the Tonys and in my heart.

Run to PlayhouseSquare and see PIPPIN before it swings out of Cleveland. Tickets are going very fast and only a few performances remain. You really don’t want to miss it.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend the opening night of PIPPIN with a guest in exchange for sharing my experience. All opinions are 100% my own.

[UPDATE] GIVEAWAY: Cleveland’s Great Big Home + Garden Show

home and garden show

UPDATE: After removing two duplicate entries and placing the remaining number in, congratulations go to entry #15 – Laura B! Please reply to my email by 2/4 at 5pm to confirm you can attend.

home show winner

When I’m stuck inside for more than a few days, my eyes drift to those home improvement projects I need to tackle. With the snowy weather, I’ve been eyeing the bedroom and bathroom updates we need to finish.

Fortunately, February’s Great Big Home and Garden Show, March’s Cleveland Home + Remodeling Expo, and my giveaways for both are perfectly timed to my need to tinker!

Mark your calendars for two weeks of home and garden inspiration when the Great Big Home and Garden Show returns to the Cleveland I-X Center February 6 through 15. (And save the date for the Home + Remodeling Expo March 27-29 – I’ll be giving away those tickets later.)

This year’s Great Big Home and Garden Show will include:

Tom Silva (This Old House and Ask This Old House’s), Matt Muenster (Bath Crashers and HGTV’s 2015 Dream Home), and nationally recognized design/build contractor Ramsin Khachi will be among the guests appearing on the combined Main Stage and Loretta Paganini Cooking Stage.

The brand-new Danny Vegh’s Break Room will serve up pub food and give guests a chance to compete in ping pong and other table games.

This year’s model homes include a 2,400 square foot Idea Home by Blossom Homes, a 1,500 square foot Xtend Technologies Entertainment Home with an in-ground pool, and a Weaver Barns house.

More than 1,000 home industry experts and 600 exhibitors will be on hand showcasing their techniques and tips for cooking, gardening, home improvement and more.

My favorite part of every year’s show is the Garden Showcase, and it sounds like this year’s showcase will rock, literally. Northeast Ohio landscapers will tackle some of Cleveland’s landmarks with the theme Cleveland Rocks.

Photos from my favorite garden at last year's show themed around Ohio beer.

Photos from my favorite garden at last year’s show themed around Ohio beer.

See the show features and stage schedule for more details.

Tickets at the I-X Center box office cost $15, but buy them online and save. Online tickets cost only $12, plus take another $1 off by using promo code CLUECLE15 when you check out online.

I’m also giving away a pair of general admission tickets to the event. How to enter: Do one, some, or all five of the entries. A separate comment is needed for each. 

There are 5 Easy Ways to Enter the Giveaway
**You must leave a separate comment on this post for each entry**

1) What home improvement or gardening project is on your to-do list this year? Leave a comment on this post with your answer.

2) Follow @GreatBigShow and @ADHicken on Twitter and leave one comment on this post telling me you did both.

3) If you’re a fan of Clue Into Cleveland and Home and Garden Events on Facebook, leave one comment on this blog post letting me know. If you’re not yet a fan, you can become one here and here.

4) Tweet the following and leave one comment letting me know you tweeted:

I want to go to @GreatBigShow. Enter @ADHicken’s giveaway to win 2 tickets to #Cleveland’s home and garden show:

You can tweet once per day for additional entries. Just leave a separate comment each time you tweet.

5) Subscribe to Clue Into Cleveland via a feed tracker like Bloglovin’ or Feedly and leave one comment letting me know you did. This can also include signing up to receive email notifications in the top-right “Subscribe” section of this page.

You have until February 2 at 11:59pm to enter. will select the winner, which I will announce on February 3. Remember to leave a separate comment for each entry – good luck!

Disclosure: I was invited to attend The Great Big Home and Garden Show with a guest in exchange for hosting a giveaway. My choice to post about this and any opinions are 100% my own.

Pier W: Fantastic Food, Even Better Customer Service

Two pieces of housekeeping: 

1) Congratulations to entry #34 – Megan Kilway! You won two tickets to CIFF’s Get Shorty Film Feast. Please reply to my email by January 26 at noon ET to confirm you can still attend.

Don’t have your tickets yet to Get Shorty on January 29? Tickets can be purchased here. You’ll have a great evening out, while helping to raise money for CIFF 39.

ciff tinyu

2) A note about today’s blog post: At various points in both of our careers, Scott and I worked in some form of customer relations. Because of this, we love seeing examples of businesses that go out of their way to provide stellar service, especially in response to a misstep. No one’s perfect; it’s how a business handles a mistake that truly demonstrates the value they place on their customer relationships.

I say all of this because of a recent experience Scott had at Pier W. He asked me if he could share it on the blog. Take it away, Scott.

Pier W 1

There was a saying I often heard as a child:

“It’s not your mistakes that define you, but how you deal with those mistakes.”

Most of the time I find sayings like that trite and indefinable in real life, so when I come across an actual example of it I take note.

Amanda and I have been big fans of Pier W for some time. I’d long been interested in going thanks to the billboard that towers over the Shoreway (especially when the modern ad fell off and the awesome old Pier W ad was visible for a few days).

It’s one of the few places around Cleveland where this Jersey boy can get really good seafood. I was hooked after my first sip of lobster bisque at a happy hour.

Add to their food the lakeside location, view of Cleveland’s stunning skyline, an incredible layout (love the glass elevator that goes past a fish tank!), and live pianist tickling ivories with superhero movie theme songs, and you have one of the coolest places in Cleveland.

It should come as no surprise that when it came time to plan Amanda’s birthday dinner, Pier W was at the top of my list.

Unfortunately, a customer service glitch kept our group from having dinner there that evening. Amanda’s birthday still turned out fine, but like all plans gone awry one does feel somewhat hardened to what threw things off. I loved Pier W, and I didn’t want to have a smudge on my opinion of it. But that was the fact of the matter.

Thankfully, that issue will not be what defines Pier W for me. I reached out to the restaurant, and after I explained to General Manager Mark Kawada what happened, he was determined to make sure what went wrong was put right.

Shortly after the start of 2015, Amanda, I, and a small group of friends were able to have that birthday dinner at Pier W.

Pier w food smaller

Iced Seafood Tower, Lobster Pappardelle, Chocolate Mousse Cake

It was an incredible time, and this was thanks to the wonderful customer service of Mr. Kawada and the staff at Pier W. He was determined that one bad experience would not define my view of the restaurant.

His above-and-beyond work paid off. I could not have a higher opinion of Pier W than I do right now. It was a mistake well fixed. (The free glass of champagne that Pier W is giving all of their guests for their 50th anniversary didn’t hurt.)

As grateful as I am to Mr. Kawada, let’s not forget the true star of our dinner at Pier W: Succulent raw oysters, the Iced Seafood Tower, the salty juices of Alaskan Crab Legs, and of course the lobster bisque.

I know Amanda thoroughly enjoyed the Maine lobster pappardelle she ordered. It’s the addition of ingredients like red peppers and French green beans in the pappardelle’s rich cognac sauce that sets Pier W’s dishes above others.

We were all delightfully stuffed, but that didn’t keep us from some delightful dessert. Chocolate mousse cake for myself and refreshing housemade sorbets for Amanda..

I’m thankful Mr. Kawada was able to put Pier W back in my positive thoughts, because the idea of going through life without any of that again makes me very sad.

So that is my delicious illustration of a trite – but important – saying. Pier W has redefined itself to me as not only a fantastic Cleveland dinner spot, but a true believer in excellent customer service.

I can’t wait to go back and recommend the restaurant to anyone looking for a special night of exquisite food and service that matches. If you go during the first 100 days of this year, you’ll also get a free glass of champagne (and flute to take home) in honor of Pier W’s 50th anniversary.

Because I love any chance to pen a limerick, here’s one dedicated to Pier W:

There once was a man who liked seafood,
And desired some that was real good.
So he tried very hard not to drool,
As he looked at the menu of Pier W,
And when there he’s always in a fantastic mood!

Giveaway: Win 2 Tickets to Cleveland International Film Festival’s Get Shorty Film Feast


UPDATE: Congratulations, entry #34 - Megan Kilway!’s generator selected you as the winner of this giveaway. Please reply to my email by January 26 at noon ET to confirm you can still attend.

CIFF Winner

The thawing of ice, the sound of chirping birds, the return of the Cleveland International Film Festival. These are all signs that spring has come to Cleveland.

As much as I’ll welcome the warmer weather, I think that CIFF is the sign of spring I’m most excited for.

If you haven’t been to the festival before, here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago about it.

If you have been, you’re probably saying to yourself: “But, CIFF39 doesn’t start til March. We still have two, long winter months to get through.”

And you’d be right. The 39th Annual Cleveland Film Festival runs March 18 – 29, when 350+ films will take over Tower City Cinemas. (Even better — some of this year’s screenings will be coming to a neighborhood venue near you like the Beachland Ballroom, Cedar Lee Theatre, Chagrin Cinemas, the Akron Art Museum and more.)

However, although the festival is a couple of months away, you and a friend have the chance to enjoy an evening of films and food on January 29th for free!

On January 29 at 7pm, CIFF will host the Get Shorty Film Feast at the Capitol Theatre, and I have a pair of tickets to give away.

CIFF’s Film Feasts are a series of parties to celebrate the arts, cultivate new film buffs, and help raise money for the festival.

Get Shorty is an extra special (and one of the most popular) feasts because it gives you the chance to help program some of the short films that will play at the 39th CIFF.

That’s right: During Get Shorty, CIFF will screen a selection of short films; audience members will cast their vote for each; and the top scorers will be screened at the festival in March. 

And don’t worry about doing all of that “work” on an empty stomach. Before the screenings, Culinary Occasions will be serving food and drinks at the Arcade next door.

Tickets to Get Shorty are $100 each and available at; however, you can enter my giveaway to win two free tickets to the party!

There are 5 Easy Ways to Enter the Giveaway
**Do one, some or all of the entries. Separate comments needed for each.**

1) What’s your favorite film? Leave a comment on this post with your pick.

2) Follow @CIFF and @ADHicken on Twitter and leave one comment on this post telling me you did both.

3) If you’re a fan of Clue Into Cleveland and Cleveland International Film Festival on Facebook, leave one comment on this blog post letting me know. If you’re not yet a fan, you can become one here and here.

4) Tweet the following and leave one comment letting me know you tweeted:

Enter @ADHicken’s giveaway for tix to the Get Shorty film feast & help @CIFF pick the short films they’ll show #CLE

You can tweet once per day for additional entries. Just leave a separate comment each time you tweet.

5) Subscribe to Clue Into Cleveland via a feed tracker like Bloglovin’ or Feedly and leave one comment letting me know you did. This can also include signing up to receive email notifications in the top-right “Subscribe” section of this page.

You have until Friday, January 23 at 11:59PM to enter. On Saturday, January 24, I will select a winner using and will announce the winner’s name on my blog.  Remember to leave a separate comment for each entry – good luck!

Disclosure: I was offered complimentary tickets to Get Shorty in exchange for hosting a giveaway. My opinions are 100% my own.

Cuddle Up at the Zoo’s Animal Attractions on February 5

Animal Attractions Postcard 2015

Over the holidays, Scott and I celebrated our tenth anniversary together. I know that’s not so long for others (I marvel at my parents who have been married for over 45 and together for over half a century). But still, a decade.

All those mushy feelings make getting through the drabness of another cold winter much easier to bear. Because there’s nothing like a little bit of passion to warm the cockles of your heart when temperatures dip into the single digits.

The Cleveland Zoological Society knows what I’m talking about. This February 5th, join them in the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s RainForest for one of my favorite winter events, Animal Attractions.

Animal Attractions is an evening for adults only, featuring food, cocktails, and fun presentations on the birds and the bees … and lions and tigers and bears … oh my. ;)

In addition to the food, drinks, and presentations, some of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's animals will be on hand for up-close meet and greets.

In addition to the food, drinks, and presentations at Animal Attractions, some of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s animals will be on hand for up-close meet and greets.

From 6:00 to 9:00 pm, guests can enjoy a sampling of tastes from these area restaurants:

  • AMP 150
  • Butcher & The Brewer
  • Cleveland Cupcake Company
  • Creekside Restaurant & Bar
  • Great Lakes Brewing Company
  • House of Blues Cleveland
  • Merwin’s Wharf
  • Tremont Tap House
  • Whole Foods Market Cedar Center

I’m happy to see a few of my favorites from previous years’ Animal Attractions on the list (AMP 150 and Cleveland Cupcake Company are always must-stops for me!) plus new ones like Butcher & The Brewer, Merwin’s Wharf and Tremont Tap House.

An open bar from Samuel Adams and Rain Organics Vodka, plus wine tastings round out the evening’s menu.

You’ll also enjoy conservation education with a twist at Animal Attractions. In years past, Scott and I attended a 50 Shades of Grey presentation about the zoo’s elephants and a trivia game on the mating habits of bears.

All in all, it’s a wonderful evening out at one of Cleveland’s most beautiful spots. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s RainForest showcases more than 10,000 plants and over 600 animals from the jungles of Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Dr Chris Kuhar, the Zoo'S Executive Director, will be among the featured speakers at Animal Attractions

Dr Chris Kuhar, the Zoo’S Executive Director, will be among the featured speakers at Animal Attractions

With a 25-foot waterfall, research hut, and other interactive exhibits, the two-acre, two-level indoor space is a wonderful way to enjoy the Zoo — especially when it’s so cold out. Getting the chance to explore it after-hours is definitely another perk to attending Animal Attractions.

General admission tickets for Animal Attractions cost $65. Or save $5 on your ticket and get a bunch of other great benefits by becoming a member of the Cleveland Zoological Society. You can purchase tickets online at

The Cleveland Zoological Society is also hosting an Animal Attractions sweepstakes on their Facebook page. You can learn more and enter it here:

Disclosure: I was invited to attend Animal Attractions with a guest in exchange for blogging about it. I’ve attended this event in years past and opinions and the decision to blog about it are 100% my own.

Why Urban Farmer Has Been My Saving Grace These Last Couple of Months

Steak Final

Steak from Urban Farmer in downtown Cleveland

It’s been a while, I know. Between work and PlayhouseSquare’s Partners board kicking into high gear, I haven’t had time (or residual energy) to blog here.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been busy the past couple of months over on PR Newswire’s Beyond Bylines blog.  (If you’re a blogger, feel free to check out a few of my recent blogging tip articles here, here and here.)

All of this has meant a lot of late nights and working through lunch. I’m not complaining, though. Ever since Urban Farmer opened in the Westin attached to my office building, I have a delicious and terribly convenient go-to for a late after-work dinner or happy hour.

Enjoying a summer happy hour at Urban Farmer

Enjoying a summer happy hour at Urban Farmer

Scott and I have worked in the Penton Media Building for eight years and with the exception of the occasional restaurant in the Galleria like Winks, dinner near work usually meant walking to PlayhouseSquare or E4th Street. Especially if we were in the mood for something special.

Although that 15-minute walk isn’t the worst, I sometimes think twice about it when it’s February and a few feet of snow or ice coat the ground.

With Urban Farmer, the trip consists of one elevator ride and a short walk down the hallway into the Westin.

It’s not only the convenience that makes Urban Farmer amazing.

From a blogger dinner a couple months ago to numerous happy hours and lunch meetings, Scott and I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring their menus. Scott even picked Urban Farmer as his birthday splurge for the year — and there were no complaints from me about having to go there again.

lobster final

Even if you’re not a steak fan, Urban Farmer offers something delicious like this lobster with tomato, avocado, and verjus sorbet

Here are my five favorite picks when I eat there:

For Lunch: The roasted pork bbq sandwich. One of the best sandwiches I’ve had. Wonderful BBQ flavor, juicy. The brussels slaw really complements it.  While I’ve heard wonderful things about their fries from Scott, my recommendation is to go with their salad for your side. Always delicious with seasonal vegetables and quinoa on top.

For Happy Hour: This is my favorite time to go to Urban Farmer. I recommend sitting in the lounge seating instead of at bar. You’ll have table service and still enjoy the happy hour specials.

To drink, try a salted honey beer for $5. This drink is perfect – gin, pilsner, lemon and a honey rim. I wish that it was on their regular dinner drinks menu.

Pair that with: their deviled eggs topped with a large chunk of house bacon and maple; their bangers and mash dish with chicken cherry sausage and potato puree; and the bbq pork shoulder, shrimp and grits. Three fantastic small plates that range in the $5-$7 range.

For a Special Occasion: Go ahead and splurge. Urban Farmer’s steak selection rivals some restaurants’ wine menus. If you can’t make up your mind, go with the New York Steak Tasting (6 oz each of White Oak grass-fed, Creekstone corn-fed and Ohio Proud twenty-one day dry aged).

For the Non-Steak Fan: Although Urban Farmer really shines at steaks, they offer excellent pork, chicken and fish dishes. I actually went with a flounder special for Scott’s birthday and as someone who grew up eating fresh flounder we had just caught off a boat, this dish blew me away. I also love pairing a couple first courses and sides, such as the lobster, tomato, avocado, and verjus sorbet, their prime beef tartare, or creamed spinach gratin.

Save Room for Dessert: I never save room for dessert. Sweets are great, but I’d rather another serving of oysters instead. Not at Urban Farmer. Ever since they served their Great Lakes Barley Custard at the blogger dinner, I’ve been hooked. It’s a mild flavor with an undertone of hops.  And to top it off, a crunchy honeycomb.

Urban Farmer's Great Lakes Barley Custard

Urban Farmer’s Great Lakes Barley Custard

In addition to their food, I love disappearing into Urban Farmer’s beautiful surroundings after a long day. The restaurant designer has created an atmosphere that perfectly encapsulates the Urban Farmer name.

While of course it feels like a posh restaurant you’d find in any city – be it Cleveland, Philly or New York, there are elements that make you instantly comfortable like you’re sitting down to dinner with friends in a warm, comfortable farmhouse.

And although the restaurant isn’t actually that large, it feels huge with at least 4 or 5 interconnected spaces, all a little unique in their decor to one another.

Two of the spaces in Urban Farmer

Two of the spaces in Urban Farmer

I love it because there’s a level of familiarity whenever I dine there, but I also feel like I see the restaurant with fresh eyes each time. Which is good, because I plan on dining there a lot.

Urban Farmer is open seven days a week at the Westin in downtown Cleveland. They offer breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner Monday-Friday. On the weekends, join them for brunch and dinner.

If you’re looking for a special way to celebrate New Year’s Eve or Day, join them for dinner on the 31st before heading out to your NYE party (dinner will be served til 11pm) or enjoy a hearty brunch on January 1.

Disclosure: I attended a dinner for bloggers a few months ago at Urban Farmer, but have visited the restaurant a few times since to get a feel for the rest of the restaurant and their other dishes. All opinions are 100% my own.

Jump Back to the Future: PlayhouseSquare Partners’ #JBB24 Ticket Kickoff Party

PlayhouseSquare Partners' Jump Back Ball 24: Jump Back to the Future

The Back to the Future trilogy has a very soft spot in my heart.

Like most kids from the 80s, I watched the first Back to the Future a zillion times growing up. I don’t know whether it was my penchant for only listening to oldies music, but the Earth Angel scene was the one that stuck with me the most. The film also instilled in me a life-long obsession with Christopher Lloyd.

For some reason, though, I never saw the second installment and only a few scenes from the third on tv. So, when Scott and I started dating, he decided to remedy this.

For our first of many road-trips together, Scott bought a portable dvd player (this was before we could stream or rent movies on our tablet) and loaded it with the full trilogy. As we drove through the night, Scott and I watched the three films, back to back to back.

Back to the Future is also the reason I ended up joining PlayhouseSquare Partners when PlayhouseSquare showed it during their Cinema at the Square Young Professionals Night. I met Dawn and Robert, that year’s Membership Chairs, at the happy hour beforehand and that was it. I was hooked.

Five years later, I’m co-chairing the Partners board. So it’s sort of fitting that this year PlayhouseSquare Partners is jumping back to the future.

Of course that’s not the reason Jump Back to the Future is the 24th annual Jump Back Ball’s theme. In all honesty, I found out the theme the same time as everyone else. This is one reason why, though:

Screenshot from Back to the Future 2

Screenshot from Back to the Future 2

Yep, the future that Marty and Doc jump to in Back to the Future 2 is 2015.

For one night, you can pretend that time-traveling DeLoreans and hoverboards do exist. (Actually, a hoverboard of sorts is currently being Kickstarted.)

This year’s Jump Back Ball is taking place February 28, 2015 at PlayhouseSquare. While it’s still a few months away, you’ll want to get your tickets at the Ticket Kickoff Party on November 10.

Last year’s Jump Back Ball sold out in only 10 days – breaking another record for ticket sales for this event. So if you don’t want to miss this year’s Jump Back Ball, you need to get your tickets right away. Here’s the scoop on how.

Jump Back to the Future Ticket Kickoff

When? Monday, November 10 from 5:30-7:30pm

Where? Hofbräuhaus Cleveland (1550 Chester Ave.)

How much? $130 for Partners* and $165 for Non-Partners, a portion of which is tax deductible. Ticket prices increase by $15 plus handling fees the next day, so save the most at the Kickoff Party.

How many? Ticket limits will apply at the event. Non-Partners can purchase two tickets per person. Partners* can purchase two tickets at the Partners price and two at the Non-Partners price per membership.

Learn more about the Kickoff Party:

What’s all the fuss about? Read my recap of last year’s Jump Back Ball to find out.

*If your current membership expires before Jump Back Ball, renew on or before November 10 to be eligible for discounted tickets.

PlayhouseSquare Partners is also partnering with the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland at this year’s Kickoff Party.

Bring a new, unused personal care item to do be donated to Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland and be entered into a raffle to win an overnight stay at the Wyndham the night of Jump Back Ball, a VIP upgrade for yourself and a guest, and loge tickets to upcoming performances at PlayhouseSquare.

Here’s a suggested list of items to donate:

  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Soap
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Lotion

So, join me at the Hofbräuhaus on November 10 because once Jump Back Ball sells out, there’s no time machine to take you back.

Disclosure: I am a co-chair of this year’s PlayhouseSquare Partners board. I’m also a blogger for the event, offered one complimentary ticket in exchange for blogging about and purchasing a ticket to Jump Back Ball.