Category Archives: Gordon Square District

NOVA at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Big Box ’14

Cleveland Public Theatre's Big Box '14, February 6 - March 22

Cleveland Public Theatre’s Big Box ’14, cptonline.org

Cleveland Public Theatre is known for its year-round dedication to pushing boundaries and taking risks with their production choices (you can read about some of those performances here and here). However, when it’s time for their annual Big Box series, they push it one step further.

Cleveland Public Theatre’s Big Box celebrates audacious, local artists by providing a space and support staff for new workshop performances.

For the writers, directors and actors selected to take part in Big Box, it means they have an opportunity to focus solely on experimenting with different disciplines and new stories. For audiences, it means the chance to experience ten world-premieres in only seven weeks. 

First up is NOVA, a one-act opera that satirizes contemporary marketing techniques and how our society often treats people – especially women – as commodities.

Presented by Real Time Opera, producers of Harvey Pekar’s Leave Me Alone!, NOVA is running in the James Levin Theatre February 6, 7 and 8 (all performances start at 7 p.m.).

Presented by Real Time Opera, NOVA will be onstage at the James Levin Theatre 2/6-8 (Credit: Don Harvey)

NOVA, onstage at the James Levin Theatre 2/6-8 (Credit: Don Harvey)

If the Stepford Men’s Association had gone to robotics school, NOVA would have been their thesis project. In short, she’s a sexbot.

(Needless to say, this production is for adults only — leave children at home because it contains nudity and sexual language of a graphic nature.)

This show intrigues me because I’m two issues into Alex & Ada, a new comic about an emotionally detached guy who receives a sexbot from his grandmother for his birthday.

However, in contrast to Alex & Ada’s use of the android trope for a love story, NOVA is taking a much more scathing and reflective approach.

Paul Schick, who wrote the libretto, said he intends NOVA to deliver an indictment of “the superficiality of commercialized sexuality — essentially white, video-obsessed and gamingobsessed – in which our culture is immersed.”

I’m similarly interested in how NOVA twists the traditional opera format. While the production will include a chorus, they’re evangelists backing up the sexbot salesman’s unending pitch. The jingles they use quote pre-existing material and advertising campaigns. The show will also feature canned sitcom laughter from a “studio audience.”

It’s an interesting concept and I love that CPT’s Big Box provides an environment where local artists can take this sort of risk and get feedback from an audience. 

After NOVA, Cleveland Public Theatre’s Big Box series continues through March 22 with one to two shows per week. Tickets cost $12 on Thursdays and $18 on Fridays and Saturdays. You can read more about each week’s schedule at the links below: 

Guest Post: Bocce Ball – It’s Not Just for Your Grandpa

Because I’m out of town this week for work and my sister-in-law’s wedding, I asked Allison Kretz to stop by the blog and write about Cleveland’s newest sports league: Major League Bocce.

A bocce ball league is coming to Cleveland this winter

A bocce ball league is coming to Cleveland this winter

Major League Bocce, the nation’s largest organized bocce league, has found its way to Cleveland, bringing with it a fresh take on a sport steeped in tradition and heritage.  It’s true. You no longer have to be retired to enjoy this refined Italian game.  Major League Bocce is bending the rules and breaking traditions to make bocce ball available where and when it’s convenient to you – AT THE BAR! You were going to be there anyway…  Why not commit to 7 weeks of tossing balls and tossing back brews one night a week at a local watering hole?  Games are literally played right at the bar, on the court at Stone Mad Pub in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.

Not familiar with the sport of bocce?  Here’s a quick tutorial:  Two teams compete with four balls each, attempting to get their team’s balls closest to the target, a smaller white ball called the pallina.  Games are played for 45 minutes or until a team reaches 14 points.  Players can toss their balls closer to the pallina, hit the pallina to maneuver it away from an opponent’s ball or closer to their team’s balls, or knock opponents’ balls out of the way. And don’t forget, it only takes one hand to toss a bocce ball, leaving the other one free to hold a frosty beverage. 

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Shine Bright at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Pandemonium

Blogkeeping: Congratulations to entry #40, Megan McFadden. After removing one pingback and placing the other entries in Random.org, you won 2 tickets to Locavore. Please reply to my email by 9/5 or I will need to select another winner.

Locavore Winner

One of the things I love about this city is its desire to climb high. Dream big. Shine bright.

For over 30 years, Cleveland Public Theatre has lit up Cleveland’s west side with brilliant creativity and innovation. Every season they bring to the Gordon Square Arts District productions that embrace the risk and adventure of life, while also showcasing new, local talent.

They’ve aspired to – and succeeded in - celebrating the remarkable, the experimental, the weird in CLE.

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Ohio Blogging Cookie Swap: Recap and Recipe

Bit o’ Blogkeeping: You have until 11:59pm on Monday, Dec. 24 to enter my Damn Right I’m From Cleveland giveaway. I’ll announce the winner on Christmas Day!

Cookie Monster Heaven

As I’ve blogged before, my lack of cooking skills is a bit notorious. In fact the last (and only) time I ever baked something was a few years ago.

And even then, I wouldn’t really call it baking. I made cookies from those Pillsbury cookie dough rolls and still managed to burn them to a crisp.

However, last week I donned an apron once again when I got roped into decided to make cookies for the 3rd annual Ohio Blogging Cookie Swap.

I was told baking is more fun in the company of friends so when WhyCLE offered up her kitchen, I figured this was as good a time as any to learn how to actually make cookies from scratch.

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Cleveland Public Theatre’s Secret Social

Did you know a clandestine society makes its home on the shores of Lake Erie?

Secret Social at Cleveland Public Theatre now through Dec. 23; graphic by Sean Higgins

The 12 and 12 believe that the Grimms’ tragic 12 Dancing Princesses wasn’t just a fairytale and work to reunite the princesses and their suitors. Oh yeah, and they throw really great parties.

Earlier this week, Scott and I attended one
of their initiation ceremonies.

But don’t worry, I can share a bit of the secret rites that transpired.  Because the 12 and 12 isn’t a real secret society, but the heart of Cleveland Public Theatre’s latest undertaking – the highly immersive world-premiere
The Secret Social.

Playing now through December 23, The Secret Social is the latest brainchild from Cleveland Public Theatre and the award-winning Conni’s Avant Garde ensemble.

If you’re familiar with Cleveland Public Theatre’s work, you may have seen their previous collaboration with Conni’s during the last couple of holidays: Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant.

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Sunday Funday Plans at WSM100 + Giveaway Winner

Time to announce the winner for the Oct. 25th CCFA Movie Gala!

As I mentioned when I posted the CCFA Giveaway last week, my favorite excuse to visit Gordon Square’s Capitol Theatre is for their monthly Sunday Classics series. Thank you to everyone for sharing your favorite classics in the comments!

From old musicals (the most popular entry) to Harvey, Hitchcock and of course my fellow Audrey Hepburn fans, you definitely put me in the mood for a classic movie marathon soon.

After counting up all of these entries and removing a pingback and duplicate, the winning entry selected by Random.org is…

Congratulations, entry number 11 – Laura Brewer, for winning a pair of general admission tickets to the CCFA Movie Gala! Email me at clueintocleveland (at) gmail (dot) com by this coming Tuesday to claim your prize.

If you didn’t win, you have another chance through WhyCLE’s giveaway which runs through Monday.

It’s also not too late to purchase tickets.  Tickets cost $50 for an evening of food, two drink tickets and an evening of film screenings (VIP tickets include all of this + an open bar for $100). I hope you’ll join me in showing support for the fight against Crohn’s and Colitis. You can purchase tickets here.

I also hope to see everyone at another event I’m really looking forward to – this Sunday’s West Side Market Centennial Celebration:

Image source: WSM100.org

I know I’m not going to be around for the next Centennial (unless all that science fiction I read about cryogenically freezing someone turns out to be true! ;) ) so I’m going to brave the crowd and head down there Sunday morning.

Starting at 11am, West 25th is going to be closed off til 8pm for the West Side Market Street Festival and Parade.  A WSM-themed parade, featuring current and past vendors, neighborhood block clubs and community groups, will step off at noon, while music, food and more festivities will be going on throughout the district all day.

Plus the event will mark the first time in a decade that West Side Market has been open on a Sunday. In addition to freshly prepared foods from WSM vendors, festival attendees can enjoy two beer gardens and the Ohio City restaurants and food trucks that will be selling food along W. 25th Street all day.

After filling yourself with deliciously local fare, 3 stages of live music and family-friendly activities at the Ohio City Farm’s OC Harvest will help burn away the calories.

Image source wsm100.org

I’m thinking WSM100 and a trip to Put-in-Bay on Saturday for their Island Wine Festival should make up for what’s been a very long week.

 

What are you looking forward to this weekend?

 

Giveaway: CCFA Movie Gala with Luxe at Capitol Theatre

Capitol Theatre and Luxe partner to help the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America

Call me old-fashioned, but there is nothing like dinner and a movie when it comes to date night. And in Cleveland, the Capitol Theatre and surrounding restaurants in Gordon Square are Scott’s and my go-to.

Luxe Kitchen & Lounge, XYZ, and Stone Mad are all great dinner and drink options right around the historic Capitol, while Happy Dog, Spice, Reddstone, and Battery Park Wine Bar are just a walk away. If you’re in the mood for a well-crafted coffee, there’s Gypsy Beans. And Sweet Moses Soda Fountain is perfect to satisfy your sweet tooth.

On October 25th, one of Gordon Square’s finest – Luxe - is teaming up with the Capitol Theatre to present a night full of culinary and cinematic treats, raising dinner and a movie to new heights.

At the second annual Cleveland Movie Gala to benefit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, guests will enjoy gourmet food from Luxe, cocktails and staggered film screenings from 7 to 11pm.

I love the Capitol’s 1920s-era decor and architecture and think it’ll be a fantastic backdrop for the event. And with Chef Brian Okin’s creativity and skill in the kitchen, the food is sure to match (here’s my review of the CLE Dinner Club visit to Luxe if you want a glimpse at his talent).

CCFA Movie Gala: Oct. 25, 7-11pm

All of this will go to support the work of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.  CCFA continually works to find a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis while improving the quality of life for children and adults affected by these diseases.

From clinical research to educational programs and supportive services for those with chronic intestinal diseases, CCFA is there to help the 1.4 million Americans who are currently diagnosed (in Northeast Ohio alone, there is an estimated 20,000 people diagnosed).  This video from a young boy who just had surgery for UC really helped demonstrate the importance of CCFA’s work for me.

I hope you’ll join me at the CCFA Movie Gala and support the Northeast Ohio chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Purchase general admission tickets for only $50 for an evening of food, two drink tickets and a movie ticket (VIP tickets include all of this + an open bar for $100).

You can also enter my giveaway to win a pair of tickets!

There are 5 Easy Ways to Enter the Giveaway

**You must leave a separate comment on this post for each entry**

1) My favorite excuse to visit Capitol is for their Sunday Classics series. Watching Charade surrounded by the Capitol’s vintage aesthetic is a great way to spend a Sunday morning. What’s your favorite classic film? Leave a comment on this post for one entry.

2) Like the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation – Northeast Ohio Chapter and Clue Into Cleveland on Facebook and leave a comment letting me know you did both.

3) Post a link to this page (http://wp.me/pPIgG-1wW) on your Facebook wall and leave a comment letting me know you did.

4) Twitter users can get an extra entry each day for tweeting: “I want to win tickets to @CCFA_NEOhio’s Movie Gala. Enter @ADHicken’s #CCFAneo giveaway for your chance to win: http://wp.me/pPIgG-1wW”  (Each day you do this, you must leave a new comment.)

5) Subscribe to receive Clue Into Cleveland blog posts in your inbox or blog reader like Google Reader and leave a comment letting me know you did. This can also include signing up to receive email notifications in the top-right “You’ve Got Mail” section of this page.

You have until Thursday, Oct. 4 at 11:59PM to enter. On Friday, Oct. 5, I will select a winner using Random.org and will announce the winner’s name on my blog.  Remember to leave a separate comment for each entry – good luck!

Disclosure: I was provided 2 general admission tickets to give away to the CCFA Movie Gala and a pair for myself in exchange for this post. As always, though, my thoughts and the final choice of events I share are my own.

Pandemonium: Building CPT's House of Dreams

On Saturday night, Scott and I went on an unexpected adventure when Cleveland Public Theatre hosted their annual benefit and awards party.

What followed was the most unusual and remarkable party I’ve been to since moving to Cleveland. Part Fringe festival / part dance-party-on-your-last-night-on-earth, simply – and literally – put it was Pandemonium.

And. It. Was. Awesome.

As we pulled the car up to CPT’s campus to park, the show was already starting on the front steps. With the year’s theme being House of Dreams, it was only fitting that as we walked into the theatre we were surrounded by an art installation of performers “sleeping” around the entrance.

At check-in we were given a program for the evening and a map of all of the stages. In total there were 24 stages located throughout CPT’s campus, many of which were tucked away in corners, under staircases and in some of the 3-building campus’ most unusual places.

Every adventurer needs fuel before setting out on a journey, though, so before the performances started, guests could enjoy food from many of my favorite Gordon Square Art District and neighboring restaurants like Happy Dog hot dogs and toppings.

As the crowd finished filtering in, the party really started with their opening performance. Created by CPT’s executive artistic director Raymond Bobgan, the performance was a scene about being overwhelmed by our daily struggles that led into a dance-chant dream sequence with hints of last season’s Akarui.

At the end, the harried office-worker was transformed into the House of Dreams’ radiant queen who introduced Bobgan, the evening’s Morphius, and invited us to give into CPT’s mission of taking risks and approaching the evening with an adventurous spirit.

I was happy I wore my more comfortable heels that evening because it made it easier to scour CPT’s campus. My favorite part of the evening was that although there was no way you’d see everything, the art installations, plays, interactive performances and music were so varied that it became an evening of Choose Your Own Adventure.

A few of the highlights I enjoyed included:

  • Winsor McCay’s Slumberland, a short play by David Hansen of Cleveland Centennial adapted from the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland
  • The Reverie Oracle, a 2-hour long-form improvisation piece by Raymond Bobgan
  • Back from the Echoless Shore, an art installation created by mother/daughter team Faye and Joan Hargate which was a peaceful, comforting space to disconnect from the rest of the Pandemonium

Those who have seen my backyard will know I was also excited to see MorrisonDance’s Flamingo performance on the Lovecraft Lawn – they fully embraced the movements and grace of my favorite bird.

In the middle of all of this, we took a break for a few more bites from LUXE, BonBon, Touch Food Truck, Latitude 41N and XYZ like watermelon gazpacho, pork belly and a brussels sprout-bacon hash. The Root Cafe also had a delicious selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes.

After catching Last Call Cleveland’s final performance for the night and a few songs in the upstairs cabaret from Tara Hawley, we headed back to the mainstage for Pandemonium’s Awards presentation.

Created to recognize outstanding contributions to the arts and community, the 10th annual Pandemonium PAN Award honored local leaders and dedicated philanthropists Jakki and Fred Nance. In honor of their work, they were presented with a unique and beautiful award designed by artist Shawn Godwin. Each year, Godwin creates a piece inspired by architectural details from CPT’s theatre and the recipients’ bios.

If you thought the party was done, though, you were wrong. Aerialist Leslie Friend’s acrobatics and the living centerpieces of the dessert tables ignited the room for the second half of Pandemonium, a dance party that went late into the night.

In addition to fundraising for Cleveland Public Theatre, Pandemonium was the perfect way to capture the spirit of their 2012-2013 season, described in a word as “REMARKABLE.”

The season, which features 7 world and a number of regional premieres, will start on October 4 with two productions: the regional premiere of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays and the world premiere The Kardiac Kid.

From Oct. 4 through 20, Standing on Ceremony will play in CPT’s mainstage Gordon Square Theatre. Conceived by Brian Shnipper, it features vignettes from some of the nation’s best playwrights - Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Mo Gaffney, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright - about gay marriage rights and the heartfelt and sometime wacky moments surrounding the theme of “I do.”

At the same time, in CPT’s Storefront Studio, The Kardiac Kid will present a celebration of Cleveland, the Browns and the fall of 1980. In his one-man show, Cleveland’s own Eric Schmiedl plays a girl abandoned to her grandparents, a Roman Catholic priest (and his enemy, the parish dog), and a bookish skilled tradesman from the west side who thinks that he has discovered the secret for keeping the Browns winning. As football season gets underway, it’s a high-powered performance for Browns fans.

You can learn more and purchase tickets for the entire season at cptonline.org/cleveland-public-theater-performances-and-tickets.php.

CPT staff and the more than 300 artists and volunteers who came together to put on such an incredible and off-the-wall event deserve applause for a night that fully embraced the risks and rewards you find in the arts. And as I went to sleep that evening, exhausted from such a good time, I was happy to dream.

There were too many fantastic moments from House of Dreams to fit in a blog post, so if you want to see more of the craziness, here’s my full slideshow:

 

 

Disclosure: With my love for local performing arts, I was more than happy to share a preview of Pandemonium as well as a recap of my experience at the event. In exchange, a guest and I were invited to attend.

Pandemonium Celebrates Cleveland Public Theatre Season

Blogkeeping Note: You have until 11:59 pm on Sept. 4 to enter the Taste of the Browns giveaway - good luck!

Celebrate the start of the 2012-2013 theatre season with Cleveland Public Theatre on Sept. 8

Cleveland theatre fans, rejoice! The summer break is over and many of our local theatres are ready to premiere their new seasons. A few quick bits of note:

  • Football and theatre enthusiasts alike will love Cleveland Playhouse‘s Lombardi.
  • The thought-provoking, but comedic Milk Milk Lemonade is currently playing through Sept. 8 at the often-off-the-wall, boundary-pushing convergence continuum.
  • Beck Center for the Arts mounts the first locally produced run of Xanadu.
  • And community auditions for Near West Theatre‘s November production of Children of Eden just wrapped (they’re still seeking volunteers for backstage crew and front-of-house work — call 216-961-9750 if interested).

If you want to keep up-to-date on what’s onstage, Cleveland.com’s theatre page and BroadwayWorld Cleveland are my favorite sites to bookmark.

CPT’s Pandemonium features dozens of local theatre, dance, visual and performance artists

Cleveland Public Theatre, in particular, knows this time of year is one to celebrate. So before they roll out their 2012-2013 shows in October, they’re throwing their 10th annual Pandemonium bash on September 8.

At Pandemonium: House of Dreams, CPT invites you to “choose your own adventure” with an extravaganza that features dozens of local theatre, dance, visual and performance artists and fabulous food and drink.

At Pandemonium, performances will pop up (or drop in) in the most-unexpected places

Check-in starts at 7pm, where guests will receive a performance schedule for the night. From there the evening is up to you as innovative performances will be popping up in surprise spots throughout CPT’s campus:

  • Dance performances will feature Verb ballets, Inlet Dance Theatre, Wind and Sand Dance Company, Double-Edge Dance, Kevin Marr, Antaeus Dance and MorrisonDance.
  • Live music by We the People, Queue Up, Last Call Cleveland, and Bobby Williams.
  • Stand-up comedy by Ramon Rivas’ Accidental Comedy Feast.
  • Original work by CPT’s The Dark Room, Eric Schmiedl, Holly Holsinger, Greg Vovos, Opera Per Tutti, Theater Ninjas and dozens more.
  • Wandering performances by Talespinners Children’s Theatre, Ray McNeice, Robin VanLear, and Mark Zust.
  • Cabaret Acts featuring Paul Hoffman and Alison Garrigan.
  • Original performances by Raymond Bobgan.
  • And installations by Jeon Francis and mother/daughter team Faye & Joan Hargate.

Meanwhile, chefs from BonBon Bake Shop, Latitude 41 N, Luxe Kitchen and Lounge, Root Café, Touch Food Truck and XYZ Grill and Tavern will be cooking up an outdoor feast. Treats from Sweet Moses and tastings from AMP 150, Players, Light Bistro, Fat Cats, Vento La Trattoria and Tartine will also be available.

The evening culminates with music and dancing til midnight.

Pandemonium supports CPT’s mission of developing new, adventurous works and education programs that speak to contemporary issues and empower positive change in the community

Tickets can be purchased in advance for $135 ($75 of which is tax-deductible) and valet parking, unlimited food, drinks and entertainment are included – so indulge yourself as much as you’d like with no regrets (at least til the next morning ;) )!

Purchase Pandemonium tickets online or call 216.631.2727 x 212.

Still need convincing? Catch a glimpse of last year’s Pandemonium experience then go get your tickets:

 

Pandemonium 2011 from Ted Sikora on Vimeo.

Photo Credits and Disclosure: Photos credited to Steve Wagner. Graphic provided by Cleveland Public Theatre.  A guest and I were invited to attend Pandemonium in exchange for sharing about it on my blog.

CLE Dinner Club and GHT Pop-Ups: Cleveland Culinary Experiences that Satisifed My Tastebuds and Wallet

Chefs Jonathon Sawyer and Amanda Freitag at the latest Brick and Mortar Pop-Up

After a long day at work, there is nothing I like better than dining out. Although I’ve tried, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cooking is a fun past-time instead of just a chore.

Of course it’s hard to not want to go out to eat when there are so many great, local options.  At the end of a stressful day, I only need to walk a few blocks from work to find something to soothe my palate and nerves. And our drive home from downtown to Avon Lake is riddled with tempting culinary hotspots like Ohio City, Tremont and Gordon Square.

However, while my tastebuds may be happy, my wallet always isn’t. As Scott and I approach our thirties, money we used to reserve in our more careless carefree days for movies, dining out, and video games is now reserved for home improvements and savings.

And while the cost of a nice dinner out has always been more than justified by the quality of ingredients and the talent in our local kitchens, there are many more nights nowadays when I force myself to stick to a simple dinner at home.

At Greenhouse Tavern’s Brick and Mortar Pop-Up, guests could hang out upstairs on the rooftop and escape downstairs periodically to grab a bite to eat.

Every once in a while, though, we find an experience that makes both our wallets and our tastebuds happy.

Happy Dog’s entire menu, Noodlecat’s amazing happy hour deals and Hodge’s 2-for-$40 Tuesday special immediately come to mind.  And Cleveland blogger BiteBuff (a fellow novice in front of the stove) frequently highlights good dining deals that she’s encountered through her restaurant travels.

Recently, Scott and I attended a couple of incredible back-to-back dining events that were low on cost but overflowing in quality.

A selection of the offerings at Chef Freitag’s Brick and Mortar Cocktail Party.

Greenhouse Tavern tops my list of favorite restaurants in Cleveland (when Scott asked me where I wanted to go to dinner in a few weeks for my 30th birthday, GHT’s fifth quarter and pig’s head dishes immediately came to mind).

In addition to their standard fare, though, Chef Jonathon Sawyer will periodically invite visiting chefs to take over his kitchen for one night only.

These Brick & Mortar Pop-Ups have previously hosted Chefs Jason Roberts, Lee Anne Wong and Jeff Michaud. His most recent guest was Celebrity Chef Amanda Freitag of Food Network’s Chopped.

For her Brick & Mortar stint, Chef Freitag threw a cocktail party on Greenhouse Tavern’s rooftop.  After enjoying GHT’s rooftop on previous occasions, we knew it would be an excellent backdrop that could only be complemented by Freitag’s cooking.

We were not disappointed. Her menu featured a selection of bite-sized servings that may have been small in size but were huge on taste. A variety of these trays were placed throughout the mezzanine area of GHT and passed on occasion throughout the crowd on the rooftop.

Although I’m not sure if anyone was lucky enough to sample everything (I can attribute my sampling of most of the menu to Scott’s repeated trips downstairs to check for new trays), what we did taste we thoroughly enjoyed and we went back for a few seconds after everyone seemed to pass through.

The crowd was eager to try Chef Freitag’s dishes so trays quickly emptied. However, Scott and I bided our time throughout the night and managed to sample most of the menu by the end.

The herb-roasted potatoes with french onion dip, along with the 75 Day Aged Beef Sausage Double Down and Grilled Pimento Cheese Sammies were very appetizing, and I may borrow Freitag’s idea of mixing up kim chee butter next time I serve corn on the cob.

However, my favorite was the Heirloom Beet Borscht.  Everything about this dish — from the vibrant color to the rich texture and taste – resonated with me.  The small cups of borscht were complemented by a dollop of horseradish creme and micro greens on top.  The dish’s plating, taste and balanced ingredients won the night for me.

The ticket price for all of this food was only $19 and both the quality and quantity made this an instant value.

Cocktails, wine and beer were extra. And while you weren’t obligated to order any if you didn’t want to, I still came in under my budget when I ordered a Chef’s Special Smash cocktail.

Topped with a few sprigs of summer flowers, it featured tequila, raspberry puree, lemongrass and ginger.  Perfect sipping while enjoying downtown’s skyscape at the end of the night.

Chef’s Special Smash cocktail – as beautiful as a summer sunset

I wasn’t sure if anything could top Monday’s dinner, but then I attended my first CLE Dinner Club.

Twitter, where would I be without you? I had first read about these once-a-month Cleveland restaurant meetups through the @CLEDinnerClub twitter handle and reached out to cledinnerclub@gmail.com to receive updates on future events.

Joe G. works with local chefs throughout Northeast Ohio to offer a one-night $40 prix fixe menu that focuses solely on the food and chefs’ mastery. The end result is a low-key evening spent exploring some of Cleveland’s best restaurants in good company.

After not being able to attend the last few times, I was finally able to attend the most recent CLE Dinner Club at Luxe.

Luxe’s Chef Brian Okin started his CLE Dinner Club feast with these beautifully stuffed zucchini blossoms (this was also the cleanest my plate would be for the rest of the night)

My previous trips to Luxe have only been for brunch, and with Chef Brian Okin recently taking over in the kitchen, I had been very eager to try it out for dinner.

Chef Okin strayed a little from CLE Dinner Club’s typical format and served everything family style – giving us ample opportunity to get to know our tablemates while picking and choosing what we wanted to try.

There was no picking and choosing for me, though. I sampled everything – and there was a lot. 

Saying there was “a lot of food” doesn’t do this dinner justice. As Bite Buff described in her review, this was a case of “Man vs. Brian Okin.”

Before I knew we had so much left to the dinner, I helped myself to a second spoonful of pork belly and poached egg. It tasted too good to regret, though.

After serving a delicious and colorful selection of stuffed zucchini blossoms, crispy brussels sprouts, their trio of Mediterranean dips, pizza and pork belly with poached eggs, I was already full and ready to leisurely finish my cocktail before heading home.

I wasn’t the only one who was already content with what we had been served at this point, since a few of us refilled out plates with more of the savory pork belly before realizing we still had more dinner to go.  In fact, this was only the first of three courses for the evening.

This selection of plates was followed by three large salads featuring prosciutto and melon with arugula; kale with ricotta and avocado; and shaved asparagus and fennel salad.  All three highlighted dramatically different tastes but I think the kale salad was my favorite.

Chef Okin still wasn’t done with us yet, though.  Looking back I don’t know how, but I managed to make room for the evening’s main attraction: a 6-dish list of entrees that still makes my mouth water just reminiscing about it.

From walleye in a dill sauce to chorizo sausage with creamy risotto; chicken and mushrooms; Himalayan rice and beans; and shrimp and grits with Ohio sweet corn, each dish packed a lot of flavor and showcased the range of Chef Okin’s ability.

Bad blogger! I’m pretty sure this dish was the sausage and risotto but by this point was so overwhelmed by all of the tastes (and the food coma I was slipping into), I forgot to note it.

However, it was the kangaroo that was the evening’s adventurous masterpiece. While I usually don’t prefer particularly gamey meat, I was glad to take a chance on this dish which was paired with blueberries and caramelized onions.

It tasted like a more intense cut of beef and the onions and blueberries lent a subtlety to temper the kangaroo’s flavor. After discussing the dish with a friend who used to live in Australia, she said it can be very easy to ruin kangaroo meat. Fortunately for everyone at the table, Chef Okin’s was a success.

My only wish is that the kangaroo was regularly on Luxe’s menu so I could bring Scott back. Because after telling (ok, maybe boasting) about it, he’s on a desperate search for kangaroo now.

Kangaroo, blueberries, potato and caramelized onions made for a hearty ending to CLE Dinner Club’s evening

Similar to the Brick and Mortar Pop-Up, the $40 did not cover beverages — which I actually prefer.  It allowed me to make the choice of how much I wanted to spend on drinks (which wasn’t much since I was driving).

Simply put, Chef Okin outdid himself. I don’t know if I’ll ever sit down to a dinner of that magnitude again.  And definitely not for $40. While Chef Okin had us all calling uncle by the end of dinner, I’ll take a defeat like that any day!

Thanks to Chefs Sawyer and Freitag as well as Joe G. and Chef Okin for hosting 2 events that demonstrate I can still enjoy extraordinary dining in Cleveland while balancing my budget.