In The Loop

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Good music stores, like bookstores, are hard to find in the age of iTunes and digital downloads. Even the big-box stores that once carried a decent music selection are now limited to top-of-the-charts and flavor-of-the-day pop. And if I’m paying money for music, I want something I can hold in hand, not just electronic files on a computer that might crash or otherwise be lost forever.

For those in the Tremont area, The Loop serves that purpose well. As an additional treat, it also serves as a coffee shop and art shop.

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Searching for vinyl becomes a treasure hunt in The Loop. The shop offers a large selection of new releases, gently used old stuff, and the $1 bins. On my last trip I found some Quincy Jones for a dollar.

The store’s mix, focused mainly on the rocksy/jazzy/folksy/hip-hoppy set, is somewhat unpredictable. Flipping through the records and CDs you may not find something you’re looking for but stumble across something you never thought of.

The Loop is very much a music savant’s store. Plenty of indie and lesser known artists line the walls and record bins.

And the art screams Cleveland. Work from local artists lines the store’s walls, many featuring Cleveland skylines or themes. All can be purchased at the store.

Like the neighborhood in which it’s located, The Loop is all about art, whether for the eyes or the ears.

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Rest Stop

In Cleveland’s history there are the names that linger and echo influence through the years.  What if someone could gather all those figures in one place?

Lake View Cemetery has done that, in a way.  An afternoon walking—and driving…it’s a big place—through the cemetery becomes a history lesson.  Rockefeller, Wade, Stokes and Hanna made Lake View their final resting place.

The Garfield Monument may be the best starting point from Mayfield Road.  It’s hard to miss a big sandstone building on a hill in the middle of a cemetery.  Plus you can pick up a map there for easier grave finding.

DSC_0101 DSC_0106Another easy to find site is that of John D. Rockefeller.  Just look for the 70 foot tall obelisk.  Behind the monument rests several members of the Rockefeller clan.  At the center is the grave of one of the wealthiest men in American history.  And in death, he still makes money.

DSC_0108 DSC_0115I love traditions and the history behind them.  The quirkier the better.  J.D.’s grave has its own.  The story goes that during the Depression, Rockefeller would hand out dimes to people on the street.  Now people leave dimes and other change on his headstone in remembrance.

DSC_0119Police historians, beer enthusiasts, or Untouchables fans will find their way to the central lagoon.  Alongside is a marker for the Eliot Ness.  Although not actually buried at the site, the stone serves as a memorial to the man who brought down Capone and ran for mayor of Cleveland.

DSC_0122Right next to Ness lies another Cleveland legend, a pleasant surprise that wasn’t listed on the Lake View map.  The headstone for Harvey Pekar is simple and unpretentious, like the man himself.  The only thing that really stands out is his quote on the stone.  “Life is about women, gigs, an’ bein’ creative.”

DSC_0123As I paid my respects the situation struck me as ironic.  The absolute opposite of what he’d want to see.  Imagine an embodiment of Harvey seeing people visit the site.  In his raspy voice, he’d say something like, “Why are you spending time with all these dead people.  Go do some living.”

Leaving Harvey to his rest, I had one last stop I wanted to make.

Ray Chapman’s grave jumped out from its spot, even though it sat away from the drive.  The piles of balls, bats and caps made it easy to see.

DSC_0128Now Chapman is not a hall-of-famer.  He’s probably not even well known outside of baseball historians and Clevelanders.  And his fame is tragic…the only Major League Baseball player to be killed by a pitch.

If not for that fateful moment, he may have been known as a member of the 1920 World Series champion Cleveland Indians.  Still Chapman is cemented in Cleveland baseball history.

What amazes me are the tributes people lay at Chapman’s grave.  The man died in 1920…it’s not as if those leaving their memorabilia saw him play.  Chances are most of them weren’t even born.  Still, Chapman means something to them, as part of the Indians history and Cleveland history.  Enough for them to honor him nearly 100 years after his death.  And that is pretty cool.

Whirlwind Tour

Summer is coming to its end which means the vacation season is too.  We had the pleasure of hosting some out-of-town family this year, which I enjoy.  It gives me a chance to show what Cleveland has, all the little things that people might not expect.

I saw this idea used on a Disney blog called Main Street Gazette, itself based on the idea of the Travel Channel’s The Layover.  If you had a short time in a place, what are the key things to do?

So in only two and a half days, what are the key things to see and places to go to get the full flavor of Cleveland?  Given all the options, it’s tough to narrow down.  There are obvious choices, the places plastered on the front of Cleveland and Ohio travel guides.  But how do you balance those with the smaller places that really define the city?

And timing is an issue.  In fall the list would no doubt include Browns tailgating on Sunday.  Summer means spending time on the lake or in the parks, winter means avoiding the stiff lake wind.  Then throw in all the shows, exhibits, festivals, so forth that are here one weekend, gone the next.

All that in mind, here are my guidelines…picking a weekend assumed as “normal”, not based on festivals or events that require a certain weekend.  I will use a summer time frame, because I’m still in summer mode and I don’t want to think about cold weather yet.  I’ll also assume nice weather, no rain or storms.  That’s about it.  So here we go.  My perfectly imperfect Cleveland weekend:

Friday-
Once settled, off to the East Side and University Circle.  First make a stop at League Park to visit the site of some Cleveland sports glory.  While in the Hough (no relation) neighborhood, stop by the African-American Museum, driving past the corner of 79th Street and Hough Avenue along the way to see the spot where the infamous Hough Riots kicked off.

From Hough head to University Circle.  Wander around Wade Lagoon, the Museum of Art, and Wade Park.  The Natural History Museum is right there, or head to the Western Reserve Historical Society to see how the well-to-do Clevelanders lived in the 1800s.

For dinner, it’s Little Italy.  Pizza, pasta, cannoli…all in one stretch.  Enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells along Mayfield Avenue and Murray Hill Road.  Browse the shops and buy some treats at one of the two bakeries.

Saturday-
Start off with breakfast/brunch at West Side Market, maneuvering the packed aisles to find some interesting dishes.  Eat there or while walking along West 25th.  Check out the stores along West 25th before doubling back to Great Lakes Brewing Company for a beer.  Head to Farkas Bakery on Lorain to pick up some Eastern European pastries.  Across the street is Hansa Import Haus, giving off the flavor of the German heritage that settled the area years ago.  Going west on Lorain, check out the architecture of Saint Ignatius High School.

Take Abbey Avenue into Tremont.  Admire the churches and walk through Lincoln Park.  Stop in Visible Voice to browse the book selection then head to The Loop to check out the huge music selection and artwork from local artists.  Try to find something from a Cleveland band. I suggest some Dead Boys.

Continue down West 11th to University and get to Sokolowski’s for dinner.  It’s best to get there at least 15 minutes before dinner service starts at 4 o’clock if you want a seat.  Enjoy the mix of hearty Eastern European favorites.  Before leaving the neighborhood, make the side trip to Starkweather Avenue and look over the valley at the steelyards to see what built the city.

Jump on I-90 west and get off at Columbia Road.  Take Columbia to Lake, and finish the day at Huntington Beach.  Sit on the beach and watch the people while the sun sets on the lake.  At the top of the overlooking cliff, get some Mitchell’s Ice Cream and enjoy the cool breeze.

Sunday-
Take the Rapid into Tower City.  See where Loki, Iron Man, and Captain America stood in Public Square.  Also check out the statue to founder Moses Cleaveland and Old Stone Church.  Walk down to East 4th to grab coffee at Erie Island Coffee.  Stop in the CLE Clothing store for a souvenir to remember your weekend and profess your newfound love for the city.

Around the corner from East 4th, grab a table at Noodlecat for the all day happy hour.  The pulled pork steam bun is a favorite.  Then go to the lake either by Waterfront Line or walking (if you walk, be sure to go through the Arcade for Victorian-era glitz).

On the lakefront, take in Voinovich Park for good views of the city and the lakefront.  Walk past the museums, the Rock Hall and the Great Lakes Science Center, stop in if you wish.  See the William G. Mather docked next to the Science Center, another reminder of Cleveland’s industrial past.  And end the weekend where the city began, taking the Waterfront Line to Settler’s Landing Park.

The Brunch in the Tre(mont)

While Tremont offers up one of the best concentrations of restaurants in the city, one stands out for its focus on brunch.

100_4315Lucky’s Cafe sits away from Lincoln Park and the center of Northern Tremont.  The parking can suck with only street spots, the place is small, and it closes at 3.  But after trying the food, all that is overlooked.

First up, the extensive drink menu.  House blend, mochas, americanos, black jacks, so on and so on.  The Thai ice tea jumped out at me, a blend of teas, milk, and spices.   It tasted a bit like an iced chai, but with a more pronounced black tea taste.  Refreshing for a summer day.

Speaking of chai, Lucky’s serves up one of the better chais I’ve had.  Strong presence of spice but not overpowering, a subtle sweetness, and altogether balanced.

Lucky’s menu isn’t big in number of choices, but that doesn’t make choosing any easier.  With the options diners have to decide, brunch or lunch, sweet or savory.

Difficult as those choices were, none of my decisions let me down.  The Shipwreck contained all sorts of goodness: cheese, home-fry style hash browns, bacon, zucchini, and egg, rolled into one big all encompassing breakfast dish.  All it needed for the ultimate morning meal was pancakes and syrup.

100_4310But instead of pancakes, they had a sweet corn griddle cake on the daily special.  The hybrid pancake/johnnycake had the floury, cakey taste expected with pancakes, but with the slight sweet from the ground up corn.  A plateful of honeyed whipped cream, blueberry compote and candied walnuts finished the dish.  The whipped cream got to be a little overwhelming in such a large quantity, but the blueberries added the right amount of flavor to enhance the dish without covering the taste of the cakes.

If you find a seat near the front, the pastry counter will entice as you eat.  Rows of torts, cheesecakes, scones, and other goodies make an easy sell.  I recommend both the coconut blueberry scone and the mini key lime pie, but perhaps most notable are the s’mores.

100_4313A layer of graham cracker crust with texture like a pumpkin bread, topped with marshmallow and covered in melted chocolate, with a marshmallow to top it all off.  The Lucky’s version doesn’t have the same feel or consistency of those campground s’mores.  This is a more sophisticated s’more.  Sophisticated, but not stuffy.

That’s how the restaurant feels in general.  The food is hearty and portions are good.  While Lucky’s may be pricier, figure $10 to $16 for a dish, you get your value from it.  And chances are there will be leftovers to take home.

Most impressive is their focus on food quality.  They source from local farms and even have their own garden set up behind the patio.  Many of the sauces or jams are homemade.  Even the graham crackers and marshmallows for the s’mores are homemade.

That effort and dedication show through and make Lucky’s well worth a visit.  Or as many visits as it takes to try everything.

Breaking New Ground

I’ve always seen Hansa Import Haus as an under appreciated gem of Ohio City.  It sits there, just out of the focus lavished on the Market, West 25th and Great Lakes, a great reminder of what Cleveland was and is in the area once inhabited by many German immigrants.

Something charming about the chalet-style building, which doesn’t fit in at all with anything around it, always drew my curiosity.  Like a cottage from a Grimm fairy tale, it appeared both magic and mysterious.

For anybody of German descent or just interested in German food and culture, it is a playground, filled with bakery and food products straight from the Fatherland.  Even for adventurous foodies, the place holds treasures not likely to be seen in the supermarkets.

And this week, the place has gotten the public love it deserves with the groundbreaking of what will be an expanded store/restaurant/brewery.

The Art of the Comeback

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Who doesn’t love a good comeback story?

A year after missing a season to surgery, Peyton Manning became the NFL’s darling once again.  Many people, myself included, wanted to see him win the Super Bowl.  But the Ravens killed that dream, with Ray Lewis an accomplice at the scene.

While another famous Broncos comeback left scar-tissue in the minds of Browns fans, those same fans reveled in the Kardiac Kids not quite a decade earlier.  Comeback even became a rallying call for Cleveland… “The Comeback City”

A less glorified comeback took place over near Gordon Square.  That’s the story of 78th Street Studios.

100_3505A building that once housed another Cleveland icon, American Greetings, has been converted into a hub of artists and “buy local.”  The building is beautiful in its ugliness, pure industrial.  Pure Cleveland.

100_3504The building could have been torn down, destroyed.  But visionaries saw more, what it could be, and it now hosts artists’ studios and showrooms as well as events like Bazaar Bizarre.

100_350378th Street Studios isn’t much to look at, and it certainly isn’t flashy.  That’s Cleveland for you.  Gritty.  Artsy.  Making the best of the surroundings.

New in the CLE

Almost hard to believe that it is almost the middle of July already, but there are plenty of things still going on in your wonderful city!

Taste of Tremont – Sunday, July 15, 2012

Almost forgot about this one! The annual Taste of Tremont takes places this Sunday from 12 PM – 8 PM. It is free to attend, and there is plenty of street parking to be found around Tremont. It is probably one of the most fantastic ways to get to know a neighborhood that has been on the rise for years. Great food, and great people!

More Info: Taste of Tremont

4th Annual Scene Ale Fest – Saturday, July 28th

Tickets are still available for this wonderful beer drinking festival taking place at Lincoln Park on July 28th. You can pre-order a ticket online for $30, or just show up and pay $35 on the day of the event.

I have never been before, but I made sure to snatch a ticket early. Definitely pumped about this one!

More Info: Cleveland Scene Magazine Ale Fest

Cleveland Wine Festival – Friday, July 27th – Saturday, July 28th

I don’t know if I will be able to make it this year because of the Ale fest, but for people who love wine, or for beer drinkers looking to expand his/her horizons, the Cleveland Wine Festival is a wonderful outing. The event takes place at Voinovich Park directly North of the Rock Hall on July 27th 4 – 10 PM, and July 28th 3 – 9 PM. Tickets are $28 in advance, and $35 at the door.

More Info: Cleveland Wine Festival

The Cleveland Bridge Project

Do you know the Detroit-Superior Bridge (Veteran’s Memorial Bridge)? You know, the blue bridge?! Did you know it has a lower deck that was once used for Cleveland’s street car system? If not, no big deal. Not many people actually know that Cleveland had one the most advanced street car systems in America. The system was eventually shut down and eventually “replaced” with the Rapid in the 1950s because of the emergence of the automobile. When the system closed, attempts were made to convert the lower deck of the bridge for automobile use, but eventually it was just abandoned. In previous years the lower deck has been home to Cleveland’s Ingenuity Fest, and occasional city tours, but now plans are developing to convert the space into something special for public use. Think bike trails, shops, parks, etc.. This could definitely be Cleveland’s version of NYC’s High Line.

More Info: Cleveland Bridge Project

Kyrie Irving

This kid has been turning a lot heads lately at Team USA practices for the Olympics. This is why:

Ironically, he is wearing #23 in the video…

Patchwork Cleveland

I talk about Cleveland’s cultural diversity quite often, whether through festivals (Italian fest this weekend, by the way), radio or food.  But it can’t be denied that that diversity is a major part of Cleveland history and Cleveland pride.

The various ethnic groups are celebrated around the city, and all together in one stretch along East Boulevard and MLK in the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

Every time driving past, on the way to or from University Circle, I wanted to take the time to walk through them.  That time came today.

The Banana Costume

This past weekend was probably one of my favorite Cleveland weekends ever. My friend, Emily, was coming up from Cincinnati for a visit, and while searching for things we could do, I stumbled upon RTA’s “Search the City Scavenger Hunt”. The event would take place on Saturday, June 2nd. For only $60, teams of 2-4 people would have to run around the city collecting clues, competing in challenges, and earning points in hopes of eventually winning the grand prize of $250 and tickets to the Indian’s Social Suite for the night’s game. Regardless of who won, every team that participated would get t-shirts, and general admission tickets to the game. Emily is extremely competitive and this sounded like something right up her alley.

After a little bit of recruiting, I signed us up as a team of 4 with me, Emily, and two of our mutual friends: Alex and Sarah. I was even able to find us a little competition. After telling my cousin, Mike, and his wife, Ashleigh, about the event, they eagerly signed up too.

We learned that he hunt would begin at the Rapid station in Tower City a little before 11, where teams would receive their first clue about where to go first. Using public transportation or by foot, teams would have to travel around the city of Cleveland to various checkpoints gathering clues to where there next destination might be. At each checkpoint, teams would have to tweet a picture of at least half of their members, and possibly complete a challenge to not only earn their next clue, but points to help them win the hunt. Teams could also earn bonus points by posing in pictures riding in a bus, on a train, or with members of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. For an additional prize, teams were encouraged to wear costumes in order to win the “Best Costume” contest. Every team would have to complete the entire scavenger hunt by 5 and turn in their scorecards at Rally Alley next to Jacob’s Field.

We arrived early at Tower City with the mindset that we were going to win. Emily even wore her banana costume, hoping to steal a costume contest win as well.

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Our first clue led us to the Cleveland Police Academy/Museum downtown. There our challenge was to explore the museum and complete a test using only information that we found out in the museum. Alex and Sarah led us to a victory here, and within 15 minutes we had the next clue in our hands. With the first challenge behind us so quickly, we were sure that there was no possible way that the entire hunt would take us until 5. We proclaimed we would be done by 3! However, with each subsequent clue and challenge, we inched closer and closer to that 5:00 PM deadline. The RTA raced us to Playhouse Square, had us hoping the bus to University Circle, took us all the way east to Shaker Square and back west to Ohio City. Some challenges like counting the number of wagon wheels in a park were cake. However, other challenges like racing through the West Side Market trying to photograph items like Birdie (a type of bread by the way) in under 10 minutes left us screaming at each other to finish faster. Along the way we tweeted pictures of us riding the bus, the Rapid, and with as many Downtown Cleveland Alliance workers as possible. By the time we finally finished our last challenge at Fort Huntington Park around 4:30, we were exhausted. The whole day had taken a lot longer than we anticipated, and we felt that despite whatever place we had finished in, we definitely had competed for first. We arrived at the Rally Alley a little before 5, turned in our scorecard, relaxed for awhile, and met up with Mike and Ashleigh. They had finished a little before us, thought the whole entire event was an amazing experience, and felt confident that they had done pretty well.

It was not until 6:00 PM that the RTA tweeted out the name of the winner. By then my phone’s battery had died, and when I approached the members of the RTA to find how we had done, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we had won! We were ecstatic! They also loved Emily’s banana costume, but winning the scavenger hunt took us out of the race for best costume. Guess you can’t win them all!

The view from the Social Suite was fantastic, and the RTA was even kind enough to let us have two extra tickets for Mike and Ashleigh. Although it was a pretty poor showing from the Tribe, the RTA had a couple more surprises in store for us. Carlos Baerga and Candy Maldonado showed up half-way through the game to meet us and sign autographs. For those who don’t know, Carlos and Candy are both former players for the Tribe. Carlos Baerga was a big part of the 1995 Cleveland Indians World Series effort, and Candy Maldonado hit the first ever run for the Indians at Jacobs Field. Mike was absolutely giddy about meeting them, and when they arrived he quipped, “Carlos, you were part of my favorite Cleveland sports team of all time. Candy, you missed it by one year.”

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Even though the Tribe would go on to lose to the Twins, the night could not have ended on a better note. After the last inning, we were taken down to the visitor’s dugout. There we would watch the fireworks and get our pictures taken out on the field.

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Special thanks to the Greater Cleveland RTA. It was a great event, and we definitely cannot wait for next year’s scavenger hunt! For more pictures check out my twitter feed or GCRTA’s Facebook page.

Not Your Mother’s Ramen

Went to Noodlecat for the first time.  I heard so much about it, both good and bad, that I had to try it.

The place was fun and laid back.   The music was good and I got a kick out of the big Noodlecat manga on the walls.

For something new I tried the tempura soba dori and loved it.  Smoky, salty, a little fishy (in a good way).  And the vegetable tempura on the side was fantastic – a little like an egg roll, but better.

The fiancée went with the takahachi ramen.  Also delicious.  Salty with tender shredded pork and a hint of garlic.  Maybe too salty though.  Saltiness gets old quick.

But we enjoyed it.  Filling and not too pricey.  I hear they have good happy hour specials too.  Sake anyone?