Tag Archives: Gordon Square District

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant at Cleveland Public Theatre

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant may be a delicious mix of fine dining and theatrical insanity; however, as Conni's rule no. 7 instructs it is not dinner theatre. (photo from cptonline.org)

My friends know me well — or they at least read my blog — because they surprised me with an early Christmas present this past Saturday: 2 tickets to Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant at Cleveland Public Theatre. Regardless of whether they took a hint from ‘All I Want for Cleve-mas,’ they stumped me and found a show that wasn’t on my radar yet.

What is Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant?  Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I very briefly looked at Cleveland Public Theatre‘s site before I went, but all I knew was that it was going to be experimental theatre at its most ridiculous and I’d get a meal.  Beyond that, I planned on being surprised. 

As soon as we walked into the Cleveland Public Theatre, the fun began with us selecting a holiday persona from a tray of nametags. I chose to undertake the mantle of Ms. Mannheim Steamroller, while Scott – who loves a good pun – went with Mince ∏. The doors had opened a half hour before the show to allow guests to mingle in the lobby’s bar and sample a delicious roasted chestnuts and mushroom tartine appetizer. Hunter, one of the members of the ensemble, was our barkeep for the night, slinging beers and wine from behind the bar and sharing his opinions on the world.  Miss Goodi Two Shoes was also flitting about the pre-show party welcoming guests as would be expected of the gracious ballerina. A few moments before 7, we were greeted by a parade of all of our evening’s hosts, who laid out the rules for the night:

  1. Inside the Restaurant you are not a customer, but an invited guest of Miss Conni Convergence.
  2. There is absolutely no ordering, but you can ask for seconds.
  3. Referring to the performers as “waiters” is insulting, don’t do it.
  4. Everything in the world of the Restaurant is a set piece, backdrop, or prop.
  5. Share.
  6. What happens in the Restaurant stays in the Restaurant.
  7. And most importantly, this is not dinner theatre.

We walked into the Gordon Square Theatre where tables had been set up throughout, along with a kitchen and stage decked with the sign from Conni’s Restaurant. Although it’s nothing like your traditional dinner theatre, Conni’s Avant Garde has been hailed as a unique theatrical-culinary event mixing the ingredients of fine food, wine, and ensemble theatre that results in a loving send-up of avant-garde pomposity.

The plot of the show is fairly loose with the performers wandering throughout and a lot of improv mixed in:  It’s the holidays at Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, which isn’t a place but instead a troupe of avantgardists inspired by the legendary Miss Conni Convergence, a revolutionary teacher of the culinary performance arts. Miss Goodi Two Shoes, who aspires to be Clara in this year’s Nutcracker, is suddenly pregnant. And Mrs. Robinson, a washed-up, seemingly overconfident rocker who likes to switch pants with his dinner guests, has received what he thinks is an invitation to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, in Miss Conni’s absence, General Manager Sue James tries to keep Goodi, Mrs. Robinson and the rest of the wild crew in line with limited success.

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant answers the question “What would happen if a group of experimental theatre artists took over a roadside restaurant?” (photo from cptonline.org)

In addition to the crazy cabaret, improv comedy, nudity, death and violence, guests are treated to a five-course home-cooked meal and bottles of wine.  Using local ingredients (most of which came from West Side Market’s The Basketeria), the performers originate, cook and serve the meal.  Every course is prepared and served via a musical number (Goodi’s mysterious impregnation during the soup course was very entertaining). Because of this, the food becomes part of the source material for the evening’s performance.

Besides being thoroughly entertaining, the meal was delicious. In addition to the roasted chestnuts and mushroom tartine, we were treated to a curried butternut squash soup; herbed apple and fennel salad; maple-glazed ham with cranberry compote, brown-buttered radishes and sage-roasted sweet potatoes; and drunken chocolate bundt cake.  My favorite dishes were the soup and the radishes that accompanied the ham. I’m a sucker for butternut squash but the extra kick from the curry elevated this soup and the freshly baked bread they served was an excellent complement.  Also, prior to Conni’s, my radish experience had been limited to raw in a salad, so the tender radishes surprised me — I need to have them more often.

After seeing Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, I was curious about the backstory behind the concept and did some browsing through their website. While in residence for a production of As You Like It in coastal Maine, a group of actors fantasized about moving into an abandoned area diner called “Conni’s Restaurant.” With this, a running joke of “What would happen if a group of experimental theatre artists took over a roadside restaurant?” was born. For the last few years they’ve been finetuning and expanding the concept in New York – being awarded a grant in 2009 to build a theatre company on the model of a food business. Although the majority of Conni’s performers hail from NY, the Cleveland production ‘Feast of Miracles‘ also featured local talent including four actresses who played the Nurses and Chef Chef Bon Bon who oversaw the meal and provided the delicious bread and Bundt Cake via her Gordon Square Bonbon Bake Shop.

This was the first time I had a seen a production at Cleveland Public Theatre, though I knew about them as one of three organizations at the heart of the Gordon Square Arts District revitalization.  Known for producing adventurous and experimental theatre, CPT was the perfect place to hold the Midwest premiere of Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant. CPT’s emphasis on supporting new artists and non-mainstream works is what Conni’s is about — both in the content of the performance as well as the origination of the concept. 

Sadly, Conni’s closed its sold-out Cleveland run on Sunday so that they could return to New York to continue serving their delicious mix of insanity and fine food.  However, Clevelanders don’t need to fear for a lack of challenging, new theatre since CPT’s 2010-2011 season picks back up with the Big [BOX] ’11 Series on January 14. With 10 more pieces on this year’s schedule, CPT will be busy until June when they end the season with their original production Cut to Pieces, a solo show that blends live video feed, film, and animation. 


Cleveland Public Theatre / Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant 411:

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant

Cleveland Public Theatre

Rare Birds, Polka Happy Hour and Hot Dogs This Friday

Located at 5801 Detroit Ave., Happy Dog has mastered the art of the hot dog.


Although I’m looking forward to going on vacation, I’m disappointed that I’ll not only miss Saturday’s Sketch Crawl, but also the DJ Kishka Polka Happy Hour AND Rare Birds shows this Friday at The Happy Dog.  

Scott eating a Hot Dog with Potato Chips, Bacon and an Egg


The Happy Dog is worth a future blog post all its own for its sheer awesomeness.  Located at 5801 Detroit Ave. in the Gordon Square District, it has truly mastered the art of the hot dog.  Options range from tasty quarter-pound all-beef hot dogs to homemade falafel and Field Roast vegan sausage (for those who would rather go meatless). And although I’m a carnivore at heart, I can attest from personal experience that the falafel is ridiculously good.  However, the choices don’t stop there — as there are over 50 options for toppings.  

With all of the choices, you can mix and match to your indecisive heart’s content.  For the traditionalist, the black truffle honey mustard, sliced gouda cheese and chorizo chili is a great spin on the classic chili dog.  Or you could give yourself a heart attack with Scott’s favorite: potato chips, egg, and bacon.  And of course, for the truly adventurous, there’s always fruit loops, peanut butter and marcella’s grape jelly and chile sauce.  But that’s the best thing about create-your-own hot dogs — it’s completely up to you. Add on any of the 75+ beers they serve, as well as a side of fries or tater tots with their own substantial choice of toppings, and you have the makings for one of the more unique dining experiences in Cleveland.  

In addition to the food, this Friday at Happy Dog is shaping up to be an awesome night of entertainment.  First, from 6-9pm, there’s DJ Kishka‘s Polka Happy Hour. With three hours of polka music, DJ Kishka’s Happy Hour is something I’ve been trying to get to for months without any luck – since the last few times he’s been scheduled to perform, I’ve been unable to go. Nonetheless, everything I’ve heard about him is fantastic. A post on 52 Weeks of Cleveland talks about both DJ Kishka’s show and Clinton J. Holley’s Ohio City Opry (another regular at Happy Dog whose classic country music I have been able to enjoy).  

The Rare Birds - Rusty Boyer, David Leland Horton and Neal Campbell.


After polka, Good Touch Bad Touch and The Rare Birds perform from 9 til midnight. The Rare Birds are a local band featuring a friend of mine, Rusty Boyer, on guitar, as well as David Leland Horton on drums and Neal Campbell on guitar. Fans of the group Doctor Teeeth will recognize Rusty and Dave who also perform in that band. With a heavy soul and garage-based sound that’s coupled with layers of harmonized vocals from all three musicians, The Rare Birds are definitely worth checking out on Friday as they perform a couple of Hank Williams and Neil Young covers in addition to their own songs.  

However, for all you Rare Birds fans who are like me and can’t make it to the show on Friday, there’s no cause for alarm since they are also going to be performing on June 13th in the Rock Hall’s Chef Jam. Chef Jam looks to be yet another powerhouse combination of great food and Cleveland music, and I can’t wait until I get back home for it.  


The Happy Dog 411:  

The Food

The Music
DJ Kishka Polka Happy Hour
The Rare Birds