by Beau Cadiyo
I got down to the FFS today; here are my notes.
First, there are a lot of stands charging for samples. I may be part of the older generation, because when I was young, samples were free. In fact, I think that's part of the definition of a sample - something you give away for free to let people try whatever product you're pushing. At the FFS, though, people were actually charging for samples.
This practice must stop. Period. If you charge for something, it's not a sample. From now on, I would recommend a policy at any food convention: no charging for samples.
I naturally wouldn't pay for anything, but I'd definitely pay attention to the places with real samples. Here are the ones we found:
1) Distillata Company. No sandwiches. They have water, of course, but their stand also had these single-cup coffee brewing machines. To use them, you have to use their coffee packets, but the German Chocolate Cake coffee was absolutely amazing and they had free biscotti.
2) Just Pizzelles. No sandwiches. These are little cookie-type things; I'd never heard of them, but they were tasty. The first one I tried was the Jalapeno Pizzelle; it was mild, and then spicy, but in a way that warmed your whole mouth evenly - it was a very interesting sensation. When I asked if they had sandwiches, she pointed me to the PB&J Pizzelle; it definitely tasted like grape jelly and peanut butter, but the grape jelly flavor was a little too chemically. Christina, the girl who talked to me, was sexy in an unconventional way which I couldn't quite put my finger on. If someone can identify it, please let me know.
2) Cajun Island. No sandwiches. I had the chicken with the Jerk sauce, which was tasty, but nothing absolutely mind-blowing. I asked about a sandwich they'd recommend, though, and they said Ciabatta bread with chicken, green onion and provolone, with their sauce, which sounds amazing.
3) Alcohol Killer. No sandwiches. A drink that apparently helps with hangovers and has nutrients or something. The pretty girl who was put out front to lure in guys described it and then got sullen when we didn't actually buy any.
4) The Olive Orchard. No sandwiches. I did taste a pepper-stuffed olive and some olive oil. Nobody said anything to me, though, or asked me if I needed anything. Compared to the other booths it was very noticeable.
It was after the olive orchard that I saw a black man walking down the aisle and realized that the crowd was overwhelmingly, crushingly white.
5) Robert Rothschild. No sandwiches. However, I tried the buffalo bleu cheese; Frank asked me, "How is it?" and my answer was, "Minus the chicken."
6) Alaska Seafood Marketing. No sandwiches. However, they did have salmon on a few greens which was delicious, and I was intrigued by the fact that they were simply marketing Alaskan seafood as a PR move.
7) Northwest Pears. No sandwiches. A stand marketing pears from the Pacific Northwest. Delicious, tender pears from the Pacific Northwest. It reminded me of the year I spent working on a gubernatorial campaign in Portland, Oregon; the candidate needed something to give to the county Democratic parties, so I made a pear-infused vodka using almost exclusively ingredients from Oregon and she gave it out as if she'd made it. These pears were magnificent - juicy, tender, with that tiny grittiness that comes when they're ripe.
It was at this point that I lost Franks Hoxha and Ciepiel. While walking around, I realized that it's much more fun to eat with other people than alone. Frank texted me that they were near the beer stand; when I got there, he was about to buy a beer before he realized that it would cost six dollars. Seriously, six dollars? It wasn't even a microbrew - I think it was Miller Or Bud or something. He didn't get one.
8) Frickaccios Pizza Market. No sandwiches. John, one of Frank's friends, was handing out samples of pizza bagels, which were oddly delicious, if not very bagel-ly.
9) Cookie Cupboard. No sandwiches. They did have gourmet dough, though, which is like Pillsbury but "good." I liked the white chocolate/macademia one myself.
At this point in my notes, I was reminded of my carnie days in Oregon, traveling and setting up across from either the cutting board people or the salsa makers (both of which were owned by the same guy, who I really respected for employing people at carnivals and state fairs and making hundreds of thousands of dollars every summer. I wanted a salsa maker.
10) Sorcerer Seasoning. No sandwiches. We did have some fried provolone cheese, though, which was delicious. The lady, with flaming red hair and bright eyes under her bangs, was attractive, but in a charismatic, enchanting magician sort of way.
11) Little Dipper Co. No sandwiches. We did have the red chili pepper and spicy Italian dipping sauces, which were delicious.
12) Big Dipper Food. No sandwiches. Unrelated to the Little Dipper Co. The peanut brittle popcorn and the cashew brittle were both outstanding. When I asked questions, the father would look at his son and the son would answer quietly, so that I had to lean in to hear him. I got the sense that the father was allowing his son to talk to people, encouraging it, to help his son get over shyness or something. It was done in a very brave, paternal way which I thoroughly appreciated - the father may have sold more if he'd done the talking, but was willing to let his son do it to develop his skills. I liked it.
13) Hot D Wakeup Juice. No sandwiches. Bloody Mary mix with energy supplements; they served them in little cups with tiny sticks of celery, which was a great touch.
14) Shearer's. No sandwiches. The buffalo bleu cheese chips were tasty.
15) Hay's Orchard Original Juices. No sandwiches. The Pomegranate Apple Juice was my favorite, followed by the Concord Grape, which was a little too sweet for me. I was waiting for the apple, but a rather large woman said "EXCUSE ME" loudly and I moved out of the way and then lost interest.
16) Stancato's. No sandwiches. We had pasta with the Rosa Maria sauce, which was...well, I can't taste the difference between sauces, usually. I mean, when I get a four-cheese sauce, I want to know where the cheese is, and I want to see it, melted and stringy, over my pasta, which it never is. Where is the cheese in four-cheese pasta sauce? Anyway, to me, sauces are pretty much the same, and I like Ragu.
17) Dennis Farms. No sandwiches. However, they had Maple Creme and Orange Maple Creme, which is like semi-solidified maple syrup. The orange was surprisingly amazing - definitely a good stocking stuffer. With its deliciousness, I was surprised there weren't more people flocking around the booth.
There were lots of Amish people walking around, which was interesting. We learned later that, like with the Alaskan seafood and PNW pear stands, there was an Amish stand, complete with buggy. The kids were very cute.
18) Bubba's Q Hot Sauce. No Sandwiches. Pretty good. However, having eaten at Hot Sauce Williams earlier in the day, I wasn't in the mood so much.
19) Saeco. No sandwiches. This is another coffee maker company, but they make espresso. Instead of needing coffee from their company, it uses, regular coffee, has a self-contained grinder and makes some strong stuff. I went up fast and crashed just as hard, getting extremely sleepy on the way back.
20) Almondina. No sandwiches. The guys looked like they were trying to pick up girls rather than sell stuff - it was a good strategy, as there were a lot of cute girls around. A LOT of cute girls. The cookies themselves were, to me, dry and airy.
21) Ashtabula County. No sandwiches. Ashtabula has the longest covered bridge on the US, 20 wineries and grows 65% of Ohio's grapes. They also serve delicious mussels in a butternut squash sauce, which could be a soup, really. The chef had picked the ingredients himself earlier that day (well, not the mussels).
22) Emerald Necklace Inn. No sandwiches. They do have a whole range of tea-derived products, including a pesto green tea/sundried tomato sauce served over bowtie pasta. I love tea; I founded a tea appreciation society in college, actually, and drink gallons of the stuff. However, I didn't like the taste of this. It's not horrible, but I don't know that it's good. It's just different.
There were smaller stages with amateur chefs performing. One, a Latin-looking man, was next to us as we waited in line for fresh-cooked food from a couple of cafes. It struck me that his stuff was actually amateurish and kitschy...but, at the same time, that it was no different than what other celebrity chefs did. To pretentiously overanalyze it, the phrase "celebrity chef" puts "celebrity" before "chef." These people are more actors, performers, entertainers, than chefs, and the celebrity part matters to people. I mean, most of the recipes that these people make are roughly comparable to each other, and most people will never make the dishes that they watch made on television. It is the communicator that really matters.
23) Heck's Cafe. Sliders. The bread is the same sort of bread you get at CostCo, but it was a little dry. The meat, though - herbed ground beef topped with what tasted like Provolone cheese. They were well-done, probably to ensure that bacteria are cooked out. Compared to Denny's Beer Barrel Pub these were absolutely heavenly. Ciepiel and Hoxha also noticed the high quality of the beef, and similarly relished this Moment of Sandwich.
This was my first slider ever; I had actually considered going to White Castle last night, as I passed by one on Euclid. Sliders are such a strange, quirky idea.
24) Grumpy's Cafe. No sandwiches. Jambalaya. Dry.
25) Cleveland Museum of Art. No sandwiches. However, there is a special "Luxury" exhibit right now through January, and they had what tasted to be luxurious chocolates that looked like tiles. The volunteers were very nice and recommended a couple of sandwich spots that I may review in the near future.
We glanced into the main event area. The whole time we were walking around we kept hearing waves of applause and hooting; they came from this separated section. Inside were rows and rows of chairs and some bleacher seats, half-filled with people. I didn't even know who was playing - having even half-filled seats to see a cook seemed surreal. I guess it's just entertainment, though.
As far as conventions go, this was one of the better ones. At least the subject was something that is useful and necessary to people. You may as well enjoy the basic bits of life.
However, at the wine tasting, the ridiculous posturing started to get to me. It has always been a pet peeve of mine when people say that something is the "best (object) ever." By saying that you went to the "best Thai restaurant ever," or that you have the "best boyfriend ever," or that you had the "best phone call ever," you're saying that you've tried all the others and, with subjective tastes, you are judging something. The problem is that we all have limited experience, limited objectivity, limited judgment and the overwhelming need to be discriminating in some way, or in many ways. For whatever reason, wine is something that people want to be discriminating about, to be expert on, and which almost nobody ever is. "Oh," someone just said, "but I can taste the difference with my discriminating, well-trained palate." Maybe you can. But most people can't, yet they feel the need to present themselves as somehow experts.
That's part of the reason I liked having the Franks with me - they were open about their lack of knowledge, and asked for advice. I tried to be, too, but I finally admitted that there was very little difference between most of them that I could taste. Well, there was one that tasted like someone had infused tobacco smoke into it, but that was exceptionally bad.
I also started to doubt my own powers of objectivity about food. I mean, I am not "classically" trained in food. I looked back through some of my posts to see what I wrote, and if I should feel hypocritical by being irritated by wine connoisseurs.
The jury is out. I mean, the most criticized of my posts is also filled with facts: there were potato sacks on the floor and leaking oil at Burger Nuts, and I can't change that fact, no matter how many people say they've been a bunch of other times and that I am wrong. Several places have distinctive bathrooms. Yet I sometimes wonder if my judgment - that the barbecue beef at Slyman's is too vinegary, for example, but the corned beef is superb - is presented in too objective a manner.
I'll be thinking about that. Right now I'm tired, and I may go downtown. Tomorrow, Scarlet and her roommate are going to the IX Center for the last day of the Fabulous Food Show - and you should join them.