A Little Ribbin’

I hope everybody enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial kick-off to summer.  Not that the weather made it feel very summer-like around the North Coast.

But the late May chill didn’t keep people away from the Berea Rib Cookoff at the Fairgrounds, drawn by the smell and smoke of cooking meat.

100_4254We tend to stick with our favorite, the platter from Desperado’s BBQ & Rib Company from Hinckley.  Their platter offers three or four ribs and a mound of brisket and pulled pork, along with their coleslaw and baked beans.  And the cornbread of course.  Cornbread makes everything better.

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Tap the Keg

While I’m sad to see summer on its last legs, late August is good for one thing.  That’s right, dear readers.  It’s officially Oktoberfest season.

Unfortunately I missed the first event last week at Lenau Park.  But last night I visited the Heimatland Oktoberfest in Brunswick.  (Full disclosure: I am close with the family that runs the event.)

We loaded up on some German food.  All the typical, high carb and meat, good for drinking German dishes.  Schnitzel, wurst, potato salad, sauerkraut, and cabbage and noodles.  All very tasty.

Under the big tent, we ate and listened to traditional German music from Spaß.  The band had the dance floor going, full of people.  Some in dirndls and lederhosen, and others in shorts and sandals.

Then Derek and our buddy Brian convinced me to join the Masskrugstemmen competition.  For $20, I entered the competition and got a nice liter stein filled with Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest.

We were ready to go for the win.  Then we saw this guy…the one in blue:

His name is Jerry Karn from Strongsville.  Not only is he incredibly German looking, he’s also the national champion at this.

So I set my goals a little more reasonable.  Don’t be the first one out, and don’t go out before the girl.  Beating Derek was a nice little extra perk.

Derek, myself, and Brian (l to r) rest our arms before Masskrugstemmen.

After, we got some pastry from Reinecker’s Bakery.  The German chocolate cake made for a healthy breakfast this morning.

The event will run through Sunday.  Then next week is the big one at the fairgrounds in Berea.  And my stein-holding arm will be healed by then to catch some Glockenspiel schwag.

Under the Azzuri Sky

My summer of festivals continued this weekend with the Italian-American Festival at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds.

But the Sunday seemed quiet to me.  Whether because of the heat, or it being the last day, or Italy playing getting slaughtered by Spain in the Euro Cup, the attendance was sparse.  I was also surprised that there weren’t more exhibits or activities about the culture.  That I saw at least.  Also bummed I missed the bocce tournament.

So what was there?  Food.  Lots of food.  And lots of good food.  Some of the local Italian places had trailers or tents set up.  Seeing the Corbo’s trailer made my day.  Cavatelli and cannoli.  All a test run for the Feast in just over a month.

Overall, the festival felt more intimate.  You could hear the old men speaking flawless Italian with each other, as if they knew each other for years.  They probably have. It was more neighborhood community party compared to the wildness of, say, Oktoberfest.

I most enjoyed the outdoor Mass.  And it was almost entirely in Italian.  I followed along pretty well, although I had to just sit back and soak in the atmosphere for the Homily.  Padre said it best… “Italian is a musical language.  For those of you who don’t speak Italian, just sit back and enjoy the music.”

In the Summer, In the City

The wonderful Memorial Day weekend has come and gone yet again.  It was a fun-filled weekend of seeing my new favorite band, Gravity, eating ribs at the Berea Ribfest, and cookouts with family and friends in perfect sit-around-and-drink-beer weather.

What’s more, summer is unofficially officially here.  So get ready for lots of fun summer events around the area.

The Plain Dealer has made it easy to plan with their 2012 Summer Festival Guide.

No better time to explore all the variety Cleveland offers than in the summer.

Brewzilla!

Last week was Cleveland Beer Week. I must say, it could become my favorite time of the year. Cleveland has a vibrant Beer/Brewing scene, and it is amazing to see the how the city celebrates it.

The events span throughout the city. Some places have tastings, other places tap a special keg, but Brewzilla is just a gigantic Beer tasting night. It is really something special.

Brewzilla has been taking place on the final Saturday of Beer Week at the Galleria downtown. Over 80 Breweries attended this year, and most brought two or more samples for everyone to try. $40 bought you a general admission ticket, 25 tasting vouchers, and a 3 oz. official Beer Week tasting glass.

My friends and I had a great time trying to try as many beers as possible. Some places took our tickets, and others did not, but it would be hard for me to say that we each tried more than 25 beers. I know…very sad…but the beers were a lot more filling that we ever could anticipate!

Complimentary food was provided by the Winking Lizard, and it was actually pretty good: Bratwurst Burgers and Black Bean Burgers.

Definitely a great event. I am already looking forward to next year!

Harvest Time

Went to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens on Saturday for Ripe! Fest.  This year was the second year of the budding annual event.

Having arrived later in the day, we didn’t have much time to linger or enjoy everything offered.  And looking at the schedule, the event was made for lingering.

Demonstrations throughout the weekend ranged from beekeeping, pickling, beer and wine tastings, and cooking techniques.

An “Ohio Spirits Tasting” presented by Middle West Spirits

Tents stood across the green, filled with local vendors offering food and organic products.  Candles, honey, maple syrup, tea, all that and more.  The sellers were eager to talk about their work and the pride they had in what they made.  They also provided samples, which I was eager to try.

The most unusual?  Organic beet and balsamic vinegar gelato from The Sweet Spot.  I had to try something that sounded so bizarre.  It tasted like frozen beets.  But it worked somehow.  The beets gave enough sugar to make the gelato sweet, but balanced with the earth-tones and slight tang from the vinegar.

Hoi, Hoi, Hoi

My favorite of all the Cleveland international festivals is Oktoberfest.  Around Northeast Ohio, late August and early September bring about a number of celebrations in different communities and German cultural centers.  But the big one takes place at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds over Labor Day weekend.

Sand sculpture from local artist Carl Jara

German bands and dancing groups entertain in the makeshift beer gardens, while festival goers eat their wurst, pretzels and strudel.

Fred Ziwich’s International Sound Machine performs in the main tent

Beer lovers can also sample and vote for their favorite beer in the Oktoberfest Microbrew Competition.  This year’s winners included Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest, Goose Island’s Summertime Ale, and Brew Kettle’s Smoked Marzen.

The centerpiece of the festival, and something to be seen at least once, is the festival’s Glockenspiel.

At the top of every hour, members of the STV Bavaria Schuhplattler group (slap-dancing as most of us know it) ring in the hour and perform little skits.  After they perform, they throw out beads, hats, key chains, and other goodies to the crowd below.

But after four days and 35 Glockenspiel performances, the weekend ends.  “Ein Prosit” still ringing in my head, the next Oktoberfest can’t come soon enough.

Buona Festa!

Driving down the sidewalk, I wondered if I made a mistake trusting the sweet old ladies directing our car. But they insisted; parking on the grass would be closer and less of a walk to the festival on a fickle-weather Cleveland day. Why not? At least it would give my cousins, visiting from Alabama, something to talk about.

The sun, which we saw for the first time all day, quickly disappeared behind clouds. Rain fell once more as we stepped out of the car. But the on-again/off-again rain may have helped us. It kept the crowds down at the ever popular Feast.

Every August, the Cleveland’s Italian population celebrates their Catholic faith and Italian pride with the Feast of the Assumption. The main event takes place in Little Italy, along Mayfield Road on the city’s east side. While it is one of Cleveland’s not-so-hidden gems, I had never made it to the Feast before.

White canopies lined the street, representing all the neighborhood’s restaurants. Everywhere we walked the scent of wood-fired pizzas and grilled sausages enticed us to come over for a taste.

But we knew what we wanted first. A slice of pizza at Mama Santa’s near the foot of Murray Hill. “Some of the best pizza I’ve ever had,” I told my cousins. They agreed. “Now you’ve ruined pizza for me,” one said. The chains just don’t compare.

Satisfied with our slices, we wandered back along the tents, searching for something else. One piece of pizza wasn’t enough, despite its generous size. And this was the Feast…we showed up to eat.

Tent after tent offered cavatelli. Being not-at-all Italian, I didn’t know what it was. What I knew is, if every place sold it, it must be a popular choice among the locals. When in Rome…

The tent from Trattoria Roman Garden stood in front of us. In a flash, the girl behind the table served up a warm bowl of the pasta with Italian sausage on top. The pasta, homemade of course, tasted brilliant, though the sausage was a little dry.

Italian vocal music from Holy Rosary bled with a bass beat from one of the restaurant patios creating an odd soundtrack as we ate. Our hunger soon faded, but we wanted dessert too. So we walked more to digest.

A small carnival had replaced the church courtyard. Games of chance allowed people to try their luck to win stuffed animals, goldfish, or cash. A suspect looking, flippy carnival ride sat tucked into a back corner. It may have been my imagination but I think the riders crossed themselves before loading in, praying the thing would not fall apart around them. Being close to the church may have helped. The ride held steady…that time at least.

Twenty minutes seemed long enough to wait for our dessert. Like the pizza, this choice had been made beforehand. Back down the street to Corbo’s Bakery. Printed on the bakery’s window are Clemenza’s famous words from The Godfather. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” What else was I going to get?

As the rain picked up again, the four of us stayed under the bakery’s awning and ate. The crisp pastry of the cannoli shattered into my mouth with each bite, followed by its smooth filling. My cousins approved of this, their first cannoli, and of the day despite the weather.

Huddled together, the hybrid music still drifting along, as rain streamed down, everything seemed a distorted sense of perfect. A bowl of pasta and creamy cannoli among friends can make even a rainy day beautiful.