Category Archives: The Flats

Giveaway: A Night of Wine, Food and Chocolate at Locavore

NMSS Ohio Buckeye Chapter's Locavore - September 27

NMSS Ohio Buckeye Chapter’s Locavore – September 27

I think it’s safe to say most (if not all) of us love eating local. There’s something about a meal prepared with fresh, local, high-quality ingredients that just tastes better.

For all of you local culinary lovers who missed last week’s Taste of the Browns giveaway, today’s giveaway features another great food event raising money for an excellent cause.

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Get Inspired by Locavore + Cleveland's Other Fall Feasts

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I love seeing Clevelanders – especially young Clevelanders – finding inspiration and getting involved in a cause that matters to them.  Whether it’s the arts, the homeless and hungry, the preservation of a historic landmark or building awareness for a disease — if you see an organization or an issue that needs your support, get out there!

Recently, I’ve found inspiration from Charlene at Life in the CLE who is helping to organize the National MS Society’s Locavore fundraiser this September.

When she was 18, her best friend Adam Reidy – who was poised to qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics – was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Although he missed his opportunity to compete, he’s faced the life-long challenges of MS with a positive attitude.

Inspired by Adam’s journey, Charlene has become deeply involved over the years with the National MS Society’s mission. After reading about Adam’s story and the MS Society’s upcoming event on her blog, there’s no way I wasn’t going to share it.

Image of Adam Reidy from

On September 7th at Windows on the River, Locavore will raise funds to support the Society’s mission of finding a cure for multiple sclerosis, while also supporting the thousands of Ohioans who live daily with MS.

Locavore will feature local food and drinks grown or produced within 100 miles of Cleveland. Wine and beer will be paired with Lilly Handmade Chocolates, as well as treats from AMP 150, Carrie Cerino’s, Corleone’s Ristorante, Indulgence, John Palmer’s Bistro 44, Momocho and Nosh Eatery.

Event tickets are $75 and Patron tickets are $95 (which includes an exclusive champagne tasting). All proceeds from the evening will be used to provide programs and services to more than 20,000 Ohioans who have been diagnosed with MS.

Tickets can be purchased here. For more information about the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, visit


Over the coming weeks and months, there are a full slate of events like Locavore that will keep attendees’ stomachs full and tastebuds happy. However, because of my blog vacation, I realized I’m not going to have enough time to cover them all.

So before I leave, enjoy this roundup of a few other culinary events I’m looking forward to:

Founder Todd Gauman leads an NEO Food Tour in Shaker Square

NEO Food Tours
Aug. 28 and Oct. 16

There are only 3 tours left in NEO Food Tours’ 2012 season and one is already sold out.

On August 28, explore the history and food of Cleveland Heights and the Cedar Lee District at NEO Food Tours’ next guided restaurant tour. The Mayor of Cleveland Heights will be co-hosting and stops will include The Wine Spot with a special presentation from FarmShare Ohio, Taste and Lopez Southwest Kitchen.  Tickets available at

Because September’s Ohio City tour is already sold out, your last chance to experience an NEO Food Tour won’t be til Oct. 16 in Chagrin Falls. Although the restaurants haven’t been announced yet, each stop will feature a presentation with the chef/owner and a small plate and beverage pairing designed especially for the evening.

Graphic courtesy of Emerging Chefs

Emerging Chefs
Aug. 31, Sept. 29 and Oct. 28

This Fall, Emerging Chefs has a “Flavorful Trifecta of Feasts” lined up.

After their heralded turn at Dinner in the Dark this week, The Black Pig on W 25th Street is hosting Emerging Chefs’ Midnight Brunch at the end of August. When the clock strikes twelve on the evening of August 31, Chef Nowak will introduce his twist on the “fourth meal” with a multi-course celebration featuring rare meats, cheeses and drink pairings. This will be a fun way to check out one of Cleveland’s newest (and already buzzing) additions!

With the arrival of autumn, comes Emerging Chefs’ Harvest Moon on September 29. This culinary celebration of all things Fall will showcase Chef Ben Bebenroth and one of my favorite restaurants that opened this past year — Spice Kitchen & Bar. Bundle up in your fall sweaters because (weather permitting) guests will be dining al fresco on Spice’s patio for what may be the last time this year.

The Trifecta culminates with Emerging Chefs’ most extravagant event to date: Chef Steve Schimoler’s The Roaring Twenties – A Culinary Play in Three Acts. “Extravagant” is probably an understatement when it comes to this black-tie/1920s inspired gala on October 28. Only a handful of tickets will be available for the evening which will include period cocktails and champagne in Crop’s grand bar, a five-course meal straight out of the 1920s in their bank vault, and an after-dinner cigar and cocktail party.

Graphic courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation-NEO

L’Amour du Vin
Launch Party Sept. 6; Event Oct. 18

The 15th annual L’Amour du Vin will help raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation and features an evening of cuisine paired with wines from around the world. I’ll actually be sharing more info about this October event in the coming weeks, but in the meantime learn more at their free Launch Party on September 6 at Crocker Park’s 87 West.

Taste of the Browns
Sept. 10

Likewise, I’ll soon be posting details (and a giveaway!) about the return of one of my favorite Fall events: the Cleveland Foodbank’s Taste of the Browns on September 10. As a teaser, though, here’s my recap of last year’s event. Come back the week of August 27 for your chance to win tickets.

Dinner in the Dark
Sept. 10

I love Dinner in the Dark’s continued dedication to dining for a cause. Their next event is September 10 at Luxe and although the participating chefs and 6-course menu will not be revealed until the guests arrive, I would recommend anything involving Chef Brian Okin after last month’s extraordinary CLE Dinner Club. Plus, Dinner in the Dark just posted the charity that will be benefitting from the Sept. event: The Covenant Adolescent Chemical Dependency Treatment & Prevention Center. Tickets available at

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West Side Market 100
Oct. 7 and Nov. 3

Last — but certainly not least — are all of this Fall’s events celebrating the Centennial of West Side Market! The goal of WSM100 is to offer something for everyone while commemorating the history, tradition and importance of the Market.

On October 7, West 25th is going to be closed off all day long 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 from 11am to 8pm.

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 dancing and live music and family-friendly activities at the Ohio City Farm’s OC Harvest will help burn away the calories.

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The West Side Market Centennial Gala on November 3 not just marks the end of WSM100’s year-long celebration but will most importantly raise substantial funding for the care and growth of West Side Market in its next 100 years.

Organized by Cleveland’s Iron Chef Michael Symon and Food & Wine’s Best New Chef Jonathon Sawyer, the gala fundraiser will feature food sourced from WSM and prepared by an all-star list of national and local chef talent:

  • Cleveland’s Britt-Marie Culey, Chris Hodgson, Eric Williams, Paul Minnillo and Rocco Whalen (in addition to Sawyer and Symon);
  • NYC’s Andrew Zimmern, April Bloomfield, Andrew Carmellini and Karen DeMasco;
  • Philadelphia’s Jeff Michaud and Marc Vetri;
  • and Chicago’s Paul Kahan.

In honor of the milestone, WSM’s neighbor Great Lakes Brewing Company will debut the commemorative hand-brewed lager Butcher’s Brew.

More information about both events and Gala tickets are at While the street fest and parade are free, tickets to the gala are $250 with proceeds helping to ensure the future of this worthy Cleveland institution.

Happy eating!

Disclosure: I was asked to blog about Taste of the Browns in exchange for 2 tickets for myself and 2 to giveaway on my blog. I will be blogging about this event in more detail over the next few weeks.

Cleveland Aquarium's Shark Weekend + a Giveaway!

The Cleveland Aquarium’s underwater tunnel allows guests to get up-close to all angles of the Aquarium’s sharks and other sea creatures

One of the highlights of Scott’s and my first visit to the Cleveland Aquarium was the underwater shark tunnel.

Designed by Marinescape, the Seatube is a a clear, 145’ walk-through tunnel that allows guests to get up-close to all angles of the Aquarium’s sharks and other sea creatures (as well as a few scuba divers!).

In this and other tanks throughout the renovated Power House, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium houses over 18 sharks, including nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, sand bar sharks and black nose sharks.

To celebrate sharks worldwide, the Aquarium is hosting its first Shark Weekend this coming Saturday and Sunday (July 28 and 29).

Sand shark at the Cleveland Aquarium

Because of activities like shark finning (which is responsibile for killing up to 2,500 sharks every 30 minutes), shark populations are in a global decline with their numbers falling by more than 80% in many cases.

To help build awareness of the problem – as well as how everyone can help sharks through their personal actions and buying choices, the Aquarium’s Shark Weekend will feature the free event SHARKS: Draw the Line.

SHARKS: Draw the Line is a community art project that will take place in the parking lot adjacent to the Aquarium on July 28 and 29.

Sharks: Draw the Line takes place July 28 and 29

From 10am-4pm on July 28, volunteers will use plywood templates to draw 2,500 silhouettes of various shark species, ranging from about 3 feet to 6 feet in length.

The collection of shark silhouettes on pavement will make clear the epic ecological loss that shark finning causes as each hour passes.

Then on July 29 from 10am-4pm, visitors may pick up colored chalk and fill in the line-drawn sharks, creating a bright mosaic to help turn the tide in public awareness.

In addition to the art project which was created by Northeast Ohio sculptor and graphic designer Jim Gundlach, the Aquarium will host other outdoor activities and entertainment. And a local and international petition will be available for attendees to sign that will be sent out in hopes of providing better protection for all sharks and their ocean ecosystem.

This weekend, help the Cleveland Aquarium raise awareness of sharks’ plight and save 20% on admission after the event

As a thank you, the Aquarium is offering 20% off same-day admission to any person who participates in SHARKS: Draw the Line that would like to visit after the event. GCA Passholders can also bring 1 free guest on Shark Weekend.

And to celebrate Shark Weekend, I’m also giving away a 4-pack of tickets for the Greater Cleveland Aquarium!

With this 4-pack, you can treat your family or gather a group of friends anytime of the year for a trip to the Aquarium. You can even use the Aquarium tickets for a fun double-date to beat the summer heat!

Fun at the Aquarium with SMITTEN…in Cleveland and Blog-The New Black

There are 5 Easy Ways to Enter the Giveaway

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

1) The Aquarium is home to an assortment of sharks and other marine life. What’s your favorite lake or sea creature?

2) Like “Greater Cleveland Aquarium” and “Clue Into Cleveland” on Facebook and leave a comment letting me know you did both.

3) Follow @CLEAquarium and @ADHicken on Twitter and leave me a comment letting me know you did both.

4) Twitter users can get an extra entry each day for tweeting: “Celebrate Cleveland’s 1st annual Shark Weekend and enter @ADHicken’s giveaway for a 4-pack of @CLEAquarium tickets:”  (Each day you do this, you must leave a new comment.)

5) Subscribe to receive Clue Into Cleveland blog posts in your inbox or Google/blog 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 Monday, July 30 at 11:59PM to enter. On Tuesday, July 31, 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 provided 4 tickets to give away to a reader. As always, the opinions I share are 100% my own. All images except the last one are courtesy of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.***

Beating the Heat at the Cleveland Aquarium

The Cleveland Aquarium opened back in January after a massive revamp of the FirstEnergy Powerhouse

After spending all afternoon in the sun yesterday for a wedding rehearsal and bbq, I think it really struck me for the first time how incredibly hot this summer is going to be.

It took every ounce of self-control to not go running into the nearby river to cool down. I can’t imagine what the day would have felt like had we not been so close to the water.

Scott did not have this internal conflict because he doesn’t like to swim. He completely agrees that being near water helps keep down the heat, but for him there isn’t much to do except stare at them. So the question becomes: on a 90 degree day, how do we both find cool water that’s interesting to be around if you’re not in it?

Easy!  Go to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium!

Aquarium exhibits are nicely incorporated into the historic Powerhouse while still maintaining much of the building’s brickwork and passageways

Scott and I have been eager to see what Cleveland’s Aquarium offered since it opened in January.   However, because I tend to avoid attractions (and the crowds that accompany them) immediately after they open, I waited until very recently to take a trip to The Flats and visit it for the first time.

I’m not going to lie – as much as I love Cleveland, the only times I visited the Flats and the Powerhouse previously were when I was dragged there for something with work. But thanks to the Cleveland Aquarium, I actually had a reason to want to go.

While Scott was most excited to see the aquatic life (especially the turtles!), the biggest draw of the Aquarium for me was seeing how they transformed the historic Powerhouse building.

Working with the Cleveland Aquarium, Marinescape – who has developed 23 major aquariums throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and Russia- revamped the entire Powerhouse to bring their first aquarium to North America.

MarineScape’s designs include an underwater tube where you can get close to the sharks and other aquatic life (we even caught a few photo opps with the scuba divers)

I was not disappointed in seeing how they incorporated the Aquarium into the old building. Within the Powerhouse they squeezed in over 70,000 square feet of aquarium space, including 10 exhibition areas with 30+ tanks and Marinescape’s Seatube – a clear, 145’ walk-through tunnel.

Tanks are tucked inside recessed archways, and exhibits move through long, brick passageways and coalmining tunnels. Even the building’s smokestacks are incorporated into the design with a glimpse of the sky through one of the exposed stacks and ”sky lobsters” (my term – not scientifically accurate at all) in another.

I loved this unusual view of lobsters in the Aquarium’s smokestack tank

Our visit started in the Ohio Lakes & Rivers exhibit, where they showcased walleye, dace, slider turtles and other aquatic life that can be found in our backyard waterways. From Weird & Wonderful to the eels in the Florida Keys, the other exhibits showcased more exotic fish.

My favorite part, though, was the slightly daunting but impressive underwater Shark Tunnel.  I really enjoyed how immersed you are within it and we had a bit of fun with the scuba divers who wanted to get in on the photo-taking action.

Overall Scott and I enjoyed our experience and found it relaxing and comfortable.

For instance, I was happy to see they added a few benches as well as an assortment of Adirondack chairs in the rays’ touch tank area after a friend of mine visited opening weekend and reported she couldn’t find a place to sit.

The staff was also very helpful and patient with visitors – especially when it took  me 5 attempts to pet the rays thanks to my squeamishness.

The Ohio Waterways exhibit where we learned about what’s swimming beneath the surface in Lake Erie and our local rivers

I think the only thing we wished is to have been able to spend more time there. It takes only an hour to an hour-and-a-half to get through the variety of aquatic life found in the Aquarium. However, seeing as it’s not even a year old, there is time for the Aquarium to continue to grow its offerings.

The plus side is that because of its close location to downtown, Ohio City and Gordon Square, you can make a day of exploring Cleveland by squeezing in a few other attractions after a morning at the Aquarium.

Admission costs $19.95 for adults; children 2 through 12 cost $13.95, which is a few dollars less than most aquariums. While parking is $3 Monday through Friday ($5 on the weekends), there is some free street parking in the area.

The addition of seating areas like this one at the touch tank make it easier for anyone who needs to rest during their visit

The best deal, though, is the Annual Pass, especially for a family of 2 adults and 2 children. At $130, this Family Pass is the route to go if you plan on attending at least two times a year. A single pass for one adult is $50; couples are $90.

In addition to unlimited admission for one year, passholders get express entry, extended hours, discounts on aquarium programs, and invitations to pass holder parties, exhibit openings and special events. The Nautica Queen also offers a 10% discount on cruises and Just Add Water provides a free Discover Scuba Experience for passholders.

During our visit we got to see the Aquarium’s not-very-camera-shy baby alligator; numerous programs are offered that allow guests to meet and even sleep with some of the fish

Although the Aquarium opened only six months ago, they’ve already started hosting a handful of programs which is what will have me coming back.

Free animal encounters and feeding times take place throughout the day in the shark, freshwater and touch tanks. For an extra $10 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, guests can tour behind-the-scenes with an expert aquarist to see the food prep area, water quality laboratory, and dive zone and learn how the Aquarium cares for marine and freshwater species.

My favorite (and possibly the creepiest) fish I saw during our visit to the Aquarium

And it’s not all educational programs (though there are plenty of them!). On the first Monday of each month, the Aquarium offers Toddler Time for passholders, featuring activities with the Aquarium’s Pygmy and Sharky mascots, snacks and story time with Captain NEO.

At their Red, White & Brew party on the Fourth of July, guests of all ages can enjoy the Aquarium’s exhibits followed by entertainment, beverages, and a great view of downtown’s fireworks. The Aquarium has also hosted fishing clinics for dads, yoga in front of the Shark Tank, and their Zzz’s with the Sea overnights.

Did I have fun during my first visit to the Cleveland Aquarium? I think this picture of me right after I got a high-five from a ray answers that.

When I first moved to Cleveland five years ago, I kept hearing about the city’s previous attempts to bring an aquarium to the city.While I think there is room to grow with it, I’m glad to see we finally have one that uniquely uses its space and gives new life to a piece of Cleveland history.  Just consider the Family Pass for your best deal.

Disclosure: A guest and I were invited to attend a Bloggers Breakfast and tour the Aquarium in exchange for sharing my opinion about my visit. All opinions expressed here are 100% my own.

Joining the Conversation with The Civic Commons

Civic Commons - Join the Conversation at

Check out NEO Food Tours’ blog: Today I shared a review from a first-time food tour adventurer as well as a recap of our E4th Tour.  Our next Signature Tour is one week from today in Shaker Heights!


Since starting Clue Into Cleveland, I’ve enjoyed writing about ways to get out into the city, find something fun to do and get engaged. Today, though, is all about a way you can get start getting engaged in what’s going on around and within Cleveland from your computer.

The Civic Commons started as a project of The Fund for Our Economic Future, where social media and journalism would be used to bring more people together to focus on issues that affect the whole region.

Similar to how Twestival was using ‘social media for social good,’ Civic Commons is ‘social media for civic good.’ The site’s an open platform where anyone can “Join the Conversation” about the civic topics important to them. 

There are conversations about sustainable communities, Cleveland school cuts, the debate over Oakwood Commons, and suburban sprawl, among many others. Users have the option to comment, rate a remark as Persuasive, Informative or Inspiring, or start a conversation if there’s something new they’d like to get people talking about.

And because the site is about transforming these conversations into civic change, you can suggest an action to take. With a variety of community leaders involved in the forum, you’re sharing your feedback and suggestions with those who are often involved in the issues offline.  

To make it easy to navigate through topics and find what’s important to you, the team behind The Civic Commons organizes and manages the platform. You can browse through the conversations that are most active, newest, popular and featured. Or if there’s a particular issue you have in mind, such as the Ohio State budget, The Civic Commons aggregates all of the conversations and resources for that issue into one sub-space.

Beyond organizing content, The Civic Commons promotes 7 principles within the individual conversations which ensure the conversations are capable of being productive collaborations. Through diversity, civility, transparency, credibility, entrepreneurialism, participation, and realistic optimism, the site creates an environment where each user feels as comfortable as possible sharing their opinions — even when they are challenging ones.

The redevelopment of the Flats is one of the issues the Civic Commons is greatly involved in. They're looking for input and ideas at

One of the topics I’ve been particularly interested in since joining has been The Flats Forward project. When I moved here a few years ago, the Flats was not one of my favorite neighborhoods.  There weren’t a lot of places there that piqued my interest and I found it difficult to navigate to (my first trip – where I was even using my phone’s GPS – resulted with me driving in circles for 45 minutes and ending up on the wrong side of the river).

When I heard about the revitalization efforts, I’ll admit I was a little cynical about whether or not it would happen or if it was just a pipe dream.  It’s not unattainable, though, and hopefully with some of the different approaches the city and some stakeholders are taking to the development of the neighborhood, there will be more chances for the community as a whole to get involved and express their opinions.

The Civic Commons is a huge part of a joint effort to promote this involvement. Resources are available that educate citizens on current and future land use, the history of the area, and the challenges due to the area’s infrastructure. Additionally, the site has set up a variety of conversations to address the questions involved in the project. 

They want users to discuss what we like that’s already in the Flats, what’s missing that we want to see in the end result, what are our concerns about the execution of the project, and what infrastructure needs and solutions are out there.  And by conducting engagement activities and community meetings for residents, property owners and organizations in the Flats, The Civic Commons has been doing an excellent job of moving the conversation forward on the streets.

It has definitely helped amend my original opinion of the project.  While there are clearly many challenges to moving the Flats Forward, the city seems to be trying to take a better approach to addressing them. I’m looking forward to see what will rise from it. 

It’s really easy to get involved in The Civic Commons.  Registration is a few short steps.  As part of the push for transparency, you do have to provide your full name so that everyone is equally aware of whom they are dialoguing with. And the terms you agree to adhere to their 7 principles, which ensures the conversations are productive and respectful.

At one time or another we’ve all thought that we didn’t have a place to share our voice where it could make an impact.  Now, when it comes to some of the projects going on in our backyards, we do.

The Civic Commons 411:

(Photo sources: Logo –; Flats Forward – Knight Foundation; used with attribution through the Creative Commons license)

Event Recap: Emerging Chefs' Mardi Gras en Mai

Inspired by the huge sculpted masks hanging in their latest venue, Emerging Chefs put a creative spin on New Orleans flavor at Mardi Gras en Mai.

I’ve been running full-steam the last couple of months and have desperately needed a break so I was happy that this Memorial Day Weekend kicked off a week-long vacation filled with family, parties and just general relaxation.  And what better way to get it started than with a trip to New Orleans at Emerging Chefs‘ Mardi Gras en Mai?

Each month, Emerging Chefs partners with a local chef to design a wildly distinctive event. With names like ThEATrical and Sacr-licious, their “big flavors, bold venue” dinners find unique inspiration in very different concepts.

In April I attended my first Emerging Chefs event, Dinner by Design (read the review here), and when they announced this month’s Mardi Gras en Mai, I looked forward not just to savoring another delicious meal, but to also see how different the event would be compared to last month’s.

For Mardi Gras en Mai, Emerging Chefs teamed up with Executive Chef Chris Quinn, whose background in the restaurant industry has led to his current consulting role as the divisional corporate chef of U.S. Foodservice in Cleveland.

The open venue offered guests the exciting opportunity to watch Executive Chef Chris Quinn and his team plate their flavorful dishes.

The bold venue for the evening was 2020 Center Street on the West Bank of the Flats. As soon as Scott and I walked in, we could immediately see where the idea for Mardi Gras en Mai came from. In the sprawling open space, huge sculpted masks adorned the walls and multi-story windows filled the room with the beautiful light of a late-May afternoon.

Encouraged by this setting, Chef Quinn took the big flavors of New Orleans’ hugest party and put his own seasonal twist on them to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of Cleveland Spring.

We were welcomed to the event by David Moss, one of Emerging Chefs’ partners (he’s joined by Rick Turner and Michael DeAloia), who had really gotten into the spirit of the event and donned a jester’s costume.

After such a festive greeting, Scott and I picked up a few pairs of beads and joined WhyCLE?, Hungry in Cleveland, Cleveland Food and Brews, Poise in Parma, The Journeyman Cook, and Edsel Little at a table.

Amuse Bouche: Jambalaya Puree and MicroGreens

After settling in, Chef Quinn presented an amuse bouche of microgreens with jambalaya puree and fleur-de-lis cracker.  As he continued to prove throughout the evening, he has a very fine grasp on heat — with the jambalaya’s flavor slowly and evenly building as you sampled it.  It was the perfect balance for those who like spice (me) and those who favor a milder dish (Scott).

Ettoufee Pierogi

As the evening progressed, each course that followed offered a completely different flavor — fitting of NOLA’s vast culinary richness. In the first course, Chef Quinn put a twist on the classic Cajun ettoufee by serving an ettoufee pierogi with an herbed creme fraiche and crispy crawfish tail. The smooth freshness of the creme fraiche was an excellent touch – pairing very well with both the spicy filling of the pierogi and the sugar-encrusted crawfish tail.

Muffaletta Points with Sea Scallops

The second course, Muffaletta Points with Sea Scallops Mousse, was my (and most of my tablemates’) favorite of the evening. Inspired by the muffaletta loaf and olive salad used in New Orleans’ signature sandwich, Chef Quinn put together a bite size version that packed a taste just as big.  Instead of deli meats, though, Chef Quinn’s own take included a scallop seared with a bit of tangerine sugar and a sea scallop mousse. I cannot say enough about this dish – the sweetness of the sugar and mousse coupled with the saltiness of the olive tapenade made this the evening’s savory winner.

Smoking Voodoo Chicken

While introducing the third course, Chef Quinn reflected on how New Orleans is known for its great music, delicious food and voodoo. Well, he did his own bit of culinary black magic with his Voodoo Chicken dish. With the help of some liquid ice, smoke billowed from the bowl giving off a mysterious air. However, the spell weaving didn’t stop at the plating — although I’m not a huge fan of chicken, the corn meal encrusted okra and tangy Southern Comfort infused marinade added a lot of taste.

Intermezzo: Mango Habanero Popsicle

Next up was the Intermezzo. One thing you can always say about Emerging Chefs is that imagination runs free in each dish. And Chef Quinn’s Intermezzo won for the most playful of the meal. When the menu was released a week before the event, I knew that the Mango Habanero Popsicle was going to be something different.

The neon-colored popsicle rested in a glass filled with mango salsa. And whether or not you chose to dip the popsicle in the fresh chunks of fruit, each bite popped in your mouth. First, the icy touch of the popsicle hit your tastebuds, followed by the freshness of the mango. Then the heat of the pepper sneaked up on you. It was fun, complex flavor wrapped on a stick – an excellent break in the meal.

Veal Strip Loin

With our palates cleaned by the popsicle, we could enjoy the fourth course – a veal strip loin with an espresso rub and bourbon and Dr. Pepper glaze. Chef Quinn is known for his Dr. Pepper glaze with good reason. Combined with the dark flavoring of the rub’s coffee beans, brown sugar and Cajun spices, the glaze flavored and moistened the meat making for a very rich, delicious dish. It was accompanied by haricot verts, a corn fritter filled with zucchini and other fresh vegetables, and a skewer of Dr. Pepper jelly beans — a creative complement to the evening’s main course.

Joe DeLuca's Deconstructed Hurricane

Every course was paired with a creation from the imaginative mind of Joe DeLuca. Joe had been at IngenuityFest’s Cocktail Party Redux in March and again blew me away with some daring drink choices. Throughout the evening, he took us on a journey of reinvented NOLA cocktails – from a deconstructed Hurricane (the alcohol and rim sugar were in jello form to be mixed with the grenadine in a glass) to a modernized Sazerac (although a bit strong for Scott’s taste, I loved the bite once I figured out how to sip it).

I think my favorite, though, was the ramos gin fizz. Made with gin, egg white, orange flower water, and sugar, DeLuca and his team painstakingly filled empty eggs with the concoction. The time and effort spent were worth it because it wasn’t just delicious but so much fun to drink. DeLuca’s mantra of drinking well and drinking what you like was very easily accomplished with the cocktails they served up on Friday night.

Ramos Gin Fizz in an eggshell

Because we also had plans to see the Rare Birds perform at the Beachland that evening, Scott and I had to sadly miss the last course – homemade beignets served with melted chocolate ganache, cream anglaise, and flavored sugars.   However, before I left, I did have a chance to grab the evening’s takeaway — mini king cupcakes which I enjoyed later.  It was an excellent reminder of another delightful night out with Emerging Chefs.

With June right around the corner, Emerging Chefs is moving outdoors for their next event — Sushi at Sunset on June 16. I will have more details up soon so keep an eye out for how to get your tickets.  And if you’d like to read more about the festive Mardi Gras en Mai (including the last course I had to miss), check out WhyCLE, Poise in Parma and Cleveland Food and Brews‘ reviews.

Emerging Chefs 411:

**Disclosure: I was invited to attend Emerging Chefs Mardi Gras en Mai with a Media Pass.  Scott’s admission was paid for on his own.  As always, all opinions in this post are 100% my own.***

Emerging Chefs' Mardi Gras en Mai Tickets on Sale

Earlier this month I went to my first Emerging Chefs dinner after hearing so much about it from friends. You can read about Dinner by Design here – the experience definitely exceeded my expectations.

If you’ve missed previous Emerging Chefs events (or are already a fan and want to see what they have up their sleeve next), you can join me in beading up for their next dinner Mardi Gras en Mai.

On Friday, May 27 from 6-9pm, Emerging Chefs will team with Executive Chef Chris Quinn to put together a feast full of festival flavors.

Although Mardi Gras is usually celebrated to welcome in Lent, the Chefs are tweaking the recipe – for a culinary celebration of hard-earned Cleveland spring-time revival and renewal. Plus, with Mardi Gras en Mai, you don’t have to worry about waking up the next morning and fasting for Lent.

Master of Ceremonies Chef Quinn will be creating a seasonal menu inspired by the unique excess and merriment of Mardi Gras.  His career started 17 years ago at the Red Tomato in Hudson where he quickly discovered the finer arts of the kitchen. Since then he has contributed to other restaurants including a partnership at Akron’s La Cucina Italian restaurant and as Executive Chef at Pucci’s in the Valley.

Chef Quinn now continues to influence area restaurants and food fans not just in a consulting role as the divisional corporate chef of U.S. Foodservice in Cleveland but also through his recipe blog “The Q Spot” which was created to share his culinary journeys.

Of course, as I discovered at Dinner by Design, food is only half of Emerging Chefs’ “Big Flavors and Bold Venues” equation.

I was blown away by last month’s event at Tyler Village, one of the largest downtown redevelopment efforts ever undertaken in Cleveland. The raw, unfinished space of Building 44’s top floor was transformed by the Emerging Chefs team into a chic dining experience.

This time around, Mardi Gras en Mai will take place in the historic 2020 Center Street Building. Located in the West Bank of the Flats, Emerging Chefs is promising a surreal, yet charming experience.

Tickets for the Chef’s Table are $65; general admission tickets are $55. And with the number of courses, quality of daring food, and flowing drinks, the ticket price is a deal.

You can purchase tickets for Mardi Gras en Mai online and I would recommend getting them early.  Emerging Chefs dinners typically fill up fast and sell out.

After you are amazed by Emerging Chefs’ culinary feats on May 27th, get your fill of Cleveland rock and roll by heading to The Beachland.  The Rare Birds and Mr. Gnome will be performing that night in the Tavern starting at 9pm.

Guitarist and singer for The Rare Birds, Rusty Boyer, is not just a friend of Clue Into Cleveland but joined Scott and I at Dinner by Design. I know he’s bummed to be missing Mardi Gras en Mai, but their concert at The Beachland will be an excellent way to keep the night’s festivities going.

Emerging Chefs 411:

*** Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Emerging Chefs for the Mardi Gras en Mai event.  For every ticket purchased from the link above, I earn 5% of the ticket price. 

However, the opinions in this post are 100% my own. ***

Cleveland Winters May Not Be Warm, But They're Looking Brite-r

Clevelanders gathered in Hart Crane Memorial Park on Saturday to celebrate winter at the Brite Winter Festival

From Sparx City Hop to IngenuityFestival, Clevelanders enjoy celebrating their city outdoors. Of course, most of these festivals happen when it’s warmer outside – the summer and fall see the bulk of them. When winter rolls around, it means it’s usually time to escape inside from the blustery cold.

The organizers behind the Brite Winter Festival wanted to change that when they put the first Brite Winter together last year. With art, music, and games, they wanted to highlight the creativity that abounds in Cleveland and to promote the idea that it is possible to have fun outside in the middle of February.

For more background on how the event got started, there’s an article on Fresh Water Cleveland worth checking out. Personally, I love how the idea came about after one of the founders was asked “What are you doing when you graduate and leave Cleveland.” Fighting brain drain (i.e. keeping college students from leaving post-graduation) is a problem in a lot of cities, but I’ve found it to be the case in Cleveland in particular.  I’m really happy that Brite Winter started as a few students’ proactive approach in encouraging others to stay by giving them something else to do on the weekend.

After being a huge success at last year's Brite Winter Festival, over-sized skeeball was back.

After last year’s successful debut, this year’s Brite Winter Festival took place on Saturday night at Hart Crane Memorial Park. Scott and I headed over for a couple hours to enjoy the festivities.

Scott mastered the giant claw machine enough to win a travel mug. Between the wood, string, levers and pulleys, it was a really fun contraption.

What got me out to the Flats was the promise of mini-golf and over-sized skeeball because I’m a sucker for games. Brite Winter did not disappoint as I got in a round of putt-putt and launched a soccer ball down the skeeball ramp a few times.  Although the mini-golf course was designed to have snow as the turf, players adapted to Saturday’s snowless surface. The obstacles were a fantastic mashup of wood planks, pipes, rocks and other recycled refuse.

While I was able to hold my own with putt-putt (brushing up on my rusty skills from when I actually played golf), my skeeball attempts were not so stellar.  I was able to launch the soccer ball up the ramp a couple times but couldn’t score.  After trying our hand at that, we warmed ourselves by the fire, made smores and Scott mastered the giant claw machine – an interesting contraption of string, levers and pulleys – to win a travel mug.


Uke player Amy Fishbach entertains in an up-close concert in one of the 'Ice Cubes' - inflatable decompression tents scattered throughout the Festival.

Of course, it’s not a festival in Cleveland unless the event features some of our excellent music offerings.  There was the main stage under the bridge which featured a number of bands throughout the evening. In addition to that there was the ‘bubble stage’ in one of the ‘ice cubes’ or inflatable decompression cubes scattered throughout the festival.  The bubble stage hosted a rotation of solo and small group performers.

My favorite part of the evening was being treated to an up-close concert with ukulele player Amy Fish.  She played a few bluegrass tunes and chatted with the handful of people who were in the cube with her.  She also invited any ukulele players to join her and the rest of the Ukulele Club on the last Tuesday of every month at 7:30pm at the Coventry Library. It’s open to players of all skill level to meet up, play and share their love for the instrument.

Although the putt-putt course was designed to have a snowy turf, organizers and festival-goers both adapted to the snowless terrain to have a lot of fun.

Although it was slightly disappointing the snow had all melted earlier in the week, the organizers and volunteers of Brite Winter adapted to the weather and made everything work. While I couldn’t stick around for the whole evening or the Tequilla Ranch afterparty (as a non-native Clevelander I’m still working on improving my resilience against the cold), we had a great time. It was another example of an inventive community coming up with a clever idea and having a good time while they put it into action — my number one reason for loving this city as much as I do.

Brite Winter Festival 411: