I tried to go vegetarian once.
It was during grad school. (Everyone experiments with something during college, right? I just happened to choose a different kind of plant.)
Things went well for about a week: Ramen noodles and mac and cheese were already a big part of my economically challenged diet; plus salads are cheap and easy to make.
But by week’s end, I needed a burger with all the force of a seven-day caffeine headache. And in a one-and-a-half-pound flash of chargrilled goodness, my veggie experiment was devoured on our backyard deck.
That was the end of it, until my interest in the idea was sparked during a story brainstorming session with our managing editor extraordinaire, Jim Vickers. Here’s how it happened (or at least how I remember it):
Jim: We need another feature story for the October issue, and we’re running out
(Jim’s in charge of making sure we meet our deadlines. I frequently need to be reminded of deadlines.)
Me: How about a food feature? Seems like it’s been awhile since we’ve had a good feature like that ... and we could get it done rather quickly.
Jim: I like it. (I figured he would.)
Me: I remember this fun “best steaks” tour we did back in the 90s ...
Jim: We really are a meat-and-potatoes town, but maybe we need a twist.
Me: Right. What if we made someone eat completely vegetarian for a week?
Jim: [Blank stare]
Jim: I think it would be really tough to eat vegetarian at a different restaurant every night for a week in this city. But maybe that’s the challenge, we find one person to eat vegetarian for a week and one person to eat meat-and-potatoes for a week.
All we needed was a Cleveland everyman and an adventurous spirit to face off in our dinner table tussle. Luckily, associate editors Andy Netzel and Amber Matheson were up for the assignment ... and the free meals.
When we set out on “The Great Steakout” 10 years ago, David Wasserstrom’s task was to “carve into Cleveland’s best steakhouses to separate the fat from the fillet.” At the time, his list included John Q’s, Cleveland ChopHouse, Hyde Park, Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris. But by Day 6, he’d been cowpoked into visiting Outback. Day 7: Longhorn. By Day 8 we’d discovered ... Ponderosa!
I wanted to guarantee our 2008 version said something meaningful about our town and who we are as a city. Suffice it to say, our choices for red meat have certainly improved. We passed over as many quality steak joints (Delmonico’s, Cabin Club, Red, Ferris Steak House, Metropolitan Cafe) as Wasserstrom included.
But even in our evolved culinary state, eating vegetarian seems tougher than growing tomatoes during winter. “It’s deplorable,” advised Elaine Cicora, former food critic at Scene, of our town’s veggie choices. (She must have somehow missed the Ponderosa salad bar.)
So what did we learn in our little experiment? Guess that depends on which side of the table you’re on: Andy’s or Amber’s. But be sure to try them both before you decide ... or you won’t get any dessert.
Jim: And they have the expense forms to prove it.
Jim: Except for Brasa Grill, no respectable meat-centric restaurant should have a salad bar.
Jim: Yet I seem to remember some incarnation of that “salad bar” having chicken wings.
More great stuff: Don’t miss our third annual Best of Cleveland Party Oct. 10 from 7 to 10:30 p.m. at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. For more information, visit clevelandmagazine.com/bestof. Also, senior editor Erick Trickey (check out his story, “Porn, Fighting and the Fall of Pat O’Malley,” on page 126) will be covering politics in a new blog (clevelandmagazinepolitics.blogspot.com).