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Issue Date: Summer 2005

Food Facts & Feats

No joke, there's some good broth in town. Plus, the legislature trims the fat and the winners go to the diamonds.

David Budin

Soupy Sales

I would tell you to stop me if you’ve heard this one, but — ha, ha — you can’t.

This guy is about to turn 85, and for a birthday present some of his friends think it would be amusing to hire a call girl to visit him. His doorbell rings. He opens the door and sees a beautiful young woman. She’s wearing nothing but a raincoat, which she opens and says, “I’ve come to give you super sex.” The old guy thinks for a few seconds and says, “OK — I’ll take the soup.”

Get it? He thought she meant … oh, never mind.

But the guy probably made a good choice. Two recent studies — one by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity and one by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health — concluded that eating soup is good for you and can help you lose weight.

Lots of places around here serve good soup —many more than these — but here’s a top-five list to get you started:

1. The Souper Market (2528 Lorain Ave.) — six homemade soups daily, chili, plus salads and other items.

2. Susy’s Soups (138 Public Square) — eight soups and salads daily with chilled soup and tapas menu in season.

3. Phnom Penh (13124 Lorain Ave.) — Cambodian. The huge menu contains around 30 soups; with the spicy Hue Beef soup you learn the difference between hot and spicy.

4. #1 Pho (3120 Superior Ave.) — Vietnamese. Though there are many other items here, Pho does mean soup.

5. Corky & Lenny’s (27091 Chagrin Blvd.) — Eastern European. Can’t decide? Order the mish-mash matzoh ball soup; it also includes noodles and a kreplach. Its base is Jewish chicken soup, so it could also cure your cold.

High Five

Classics Restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel in Cleveland and Walden Country Inn & Stables in Aurora receive Ohio’s first Five Diamond ratings from the AAA Ohio Motorists Association. It’s the highest designation given to restaurants and hotels in AAA guidebooks and two of only about 50 such awards a year nationally.

On what does AAA look to base its judgment? Just about everything, say Classics’ sommelier Manuel Nieves and Walden’s co-owner Bonnie Barenholtz.

“Anybody can get a review from AAA,” says Nieves, “even if you have a hot dog stand.” (Now there’s a hot tip. The next time you’re waiting for AAA to come tow your car, call them back and tell them you want to be reviewed — they’ll be right there.)

“They have pretty thorough examination sheets that they go through, including things like extensive wine list, carefully prepared plates, wine professional on the floor.”

Walden’s Country Inn & Stables complex, including the inn and Barn restaurant, earned the award. “They make surreptitious visits and they fill out checklists,” Barenholtz says. “One of them said that the dinner he had at the Barn was the best meal he ever had.”

But the award encompasses more than just a good meal. Barenholtz points to Walden’s service, beautiful surroundings and special amenities such as 24-hour room service, as contributing to Walden’s success. Plus, “we instruct the staff never to say no,” she says.

Great! I’ll be right there.

“Unless,” she adds, “it’s something that’s impossible to accomplish. Or not legal.”

Oh. Cancel that.

Chef Among Chefs

One Walnut chef-owner Marlin Kaplan was named one of five finalists in Chef Magazine’s 2004 Chef of the Year competition, announced in its December issue.

Kaplan ultimately was not awarded the Top Toque, announced in the January issue, but he was pictured (as was one of his dishes) and written up in the December issue. Chef’s assistant editor, Abbie Jarman, says the award is based on more than food. “It’s based on their service in the food industry, mentorship, community involvement, plus the innovation of their cuisine,” he says.

“I never knew what the ground rules were, but I’m just pleased that I got acknowledged,” Kaplan says.

Kaplan’s long list of give-back projects include several annual dinners in Cleveland and other cities for organizations such as the James Beard Foundation and Share Our Strength. One Walnut even hosted a class and dinner for Lakewood public school students ages 10 to 15, and their parents, who were interested in the culinary arts.

“We taught the kids how to cook a meal and serve it,” he says.

Chef Magazine liked all of that — and his food. “It is a magazine of your peers, so it was nice to have this happen,” says Kaplan.

West Coast vs. North Coast

Rob Petrie — Dick Van Dyke’s character on the best sitcom ever produced, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — was way ahead of his time. His favorite snack combination, chocolate cake and grape juice, fits with the “new” trend in West Coast restaurants: seemingly strange pairings of non-alcoholic beverages with food. Try tagliatelle with black truffles and butter with a glass of Clover Stornetta whole milk.

Like most trends, it may be a while before this one makes its way to Cleveland.

“Maybe it’s because on the West Coast they’re so health-conscious,” speculates Moxie’s manager Michael Yih. “But in Cleveland we’re so meat-and-potatoes that it won’t really hit here for quite some time.”

Perhaps not at the upscale spots, but many ethnic restaurants have long been ahead of the trend. At Kashmir Palace, an Indian restaurant in North Olmsted, you can pair a mango milkshake with your order of tandoori chicken.

And La Tortilla Feliz, the Tremont home of Central American food, offers horchata, a sweet rice drink, and a variety of tropical fruit cocktails that won’t put you over the legal limit no matter how many you knock back.

Swingos on the Lake co-owner and executive chef Matt Swingos says that while it hasn’t gotten into pairings of non-alcoholic drinks and food, they do serve some non-alcoholic drinks. Swingos’ Mimosa colada, made with fresh pineapple juice, fresh coconut juice and grenadine, is part of their Sunday brunch.

“Someone asked me to make up a martini for a pregnant lady, so I made a maternity martini,” says Classics’ sommelier Manuel Nieves. (Try to say that after a couple of real ones.) “It was sour mix, cranberry juice, Sprite and grenadine.”

Did she like it? “She had about six of them,” he says. Well, she was drinking for two.

But the king of the local sommeliers, Pier-Luigi Gregori of Giovanni’s Ristorante in Beachwood, has the last word: “Wine and food is the perfect marriage,” he says, trying hard, with his well-known European charm, to remain polite. “We cannot deny that. It is part of a normal life to have some wine with food. And especially for myself, being Italian — we have so many proverbs about that; the most popular: Dove non ci è vino, non ci è amore: Where there is no wine, there is no love.”

In Good Company

Gourmet Magazine’s 2004 Restaurant Guide, published last October, included four Cleveland-area dining spots: Moxie in Beachwood, Lola in Tremont, Sergio’s in University Circle, and, of course, Nate’s Deli on West 25th Street. Wait — Nate’s Deli? Yep. The 18-year-old Middle Eastern eatery near the West Side Market was one of about 120 restaurants in the country to make it onto Gourmet’s list.

Not that it doesn’t serve great food; it’s just that the place is so unassuming, while the other three are so, well ... assuming, and, obviously, with good reason. So how did Nate’s rate such an esteemed position?

“We try to name a couple of high-end places and a couple of neighborhood places that might not get a lot of publicity, but that have great food,” says Gourmet’s executive editor John Willoughby. “It’s easier for us to pick out the high-end ones, but you don’t always want to eat at the high-end ones.”

And there really are Gourmet staff members stalking the city’s dining spots every year, but you never know who they are. The Cleveland reviewer grew up here and has done a lot of work for the magazine, says Willoughby. “We sent her there for several weeks to eat around and make sure she knew what was going on and had the right ones.”

“We’re a small mom-and-pop shop. To get national recognition like that is big,” says Ghassan Maalouf, Nate’s manager and son of owners Joe and Sally Maalouf. “It means a lot to us. And it’s really flattering to be with those kinds of restaurants [Moxie, Lola and Sergio’s]; they’re really high-class. We just get up, we come to work, we do our thing, and any recognition that comes our way makes you feel good. It makes you get up the next day.”

Did he get a call in the middle of the night, like Nobel Peace Prize winners do? “No,” Maalouf says. “It was a surprise to us. One of our customers came in said we were in Gourmet Magazine. We always seem to be the last ones to know when we’re written up in anything.”

Will someone please tell him about this article? Thanks. |!|

We All Scream

I guess they did the right thing, though I’m a bit disappointed. The Ohio General Assembly passed the so-called “obesity bill,” H.B. 350, which stops people from suing restaurants for their obesity problems. And this just when I was about to set the legal wheels in motion against most of the best places in town. What can I blame now?

Gary Lucarelli seems to think this new law is a good thing. “It wasn’t so much that there were lawsuits, but there were threatened lawsuits,” says Lucarelli, president of the Sweetwater Restaurant Group and the Cleveland Area Restaurant Association. “Just like with the tobacco industry, there was a large group of lawyers in Washington who got together and were working to make this the next big thing, like the tobacco suit, blaming restaurants for people’s obesity problems.”

Ken Myers, a lawyer, owns Strickland’s Frozen Custard on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights and Jacobs Field. And ice cream, I think I read somewhere, can make you gain weight if you eat enough of it. Of course, the same can be said of any food, if you eat enough of it. And I do.

“Everybody eats,” he says. “It’s not an acquired habit like smoking. You don’t start smoking three times a day from birth. Food is good for you, generally, because it keeps you alive.”

So here’s the solution: warning labels on menus (“The consumption of the products listed herein may cause ... ”).

Myers says Strickland’s has its own version of the warning label. “When people come in and want to know, ‘Is this low-fat? Is it low-sugar? Is it low-this or low-that?’ I say, ‘No, it’s a guilty pleasure. Don’t eat it every day three times a day. But have some now.’ ”

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