Monday, February 28, 2011

56 West

16300 Detroit Ave.
Lakewood, OH 44107
216-226-0058 (fax)

by Penny Panini

Frank and I went wandering around the Metroparks the other day, because the night before had brought a huge thunderstorm, and I wanted to take photos of all the overflowing rivers. We stopped by Berea Falls, and Olmsted Falls, and every other Falls we could find on the maps. It was cold, and the rapids were muddy and violent and intimidating. At one riverbank, we walked in the slushy snow and mud and slate all the way to the very edge of a giant roaring roll of water, and as it was like looking over a railing at a very high height, we both stepped back pretty quickly and automatically.

Later, we skipped the last Falls and jumped onto I-71 to try and avoid rush hour traffic. I always feel safer if I’m closer to the city when it's rush hour. First we drove to Lelolai's, because I wanted a Cuban, but there was a man in an overcoat staring mournfully at their glass door when we got there. The door was plastered with a flier about how Lelolai's was moving locations, and to add them on Facebook to get updates about their Grand Re-Opening. It was extremely disappointing, and I had a quick grab of panic in my chest that maybe they would close forever and I would never again have a coconut milk soaked rum cake. SIGH. There's no news on their facebook page and website; I checked, like, immediately. If that place closed because Cleveland didn't support them enough, I am going to be so mad at all of you.

So we got back into the car and talked about it a minute. We decided to go to 56 West, since it was near Frank’s house. The place was empty when we got there, and we got the two spot table in the window. The menu was nice looking, with just-interesting-enough sandwiches, burgers and salads. Frank got a salad called a French Kiss, with pears and blueberries and a thick, creamy balsamic dressing. The thing that caught my eye was a sandwich called “What the Doctor Ordered,” which is Dr. Pepper braised brisket on a pretzel roll with white cheddar and horseradish mayo. I know, right? Put Dr. Pepper into anything and I'll try it. I once had a Dr. Pepper flavored cupcake. It wasn't very good, but the point is, someone thought of that. And braising brisket in Coca Cola isn't unheard of. It makes you wonder about braising meat in, like, Orange Fanta or Sprite. Or, if this was my friend Frank cooking, Cheerwine. I would be willing to put money on there being a Cheerwine cookbook somewhere, with several meat recipes.

We ordered a side of sweet potato fries, and even though they were fantastic dipped in the salad dressing, I would have totally preferred them salted instead of sprinkled with sugar, which made them far too sweet. Also, dipping sugar in ketchup is unpleasant.

The sandwich itself was composed of sauce-drenched cuts of beef, charred on the edges, with melted cheese, all on a thick, sturdy yellow bun. I tried to eat it by hand first, but that was a sticky failure, so I forked it. The horseradish cut some of the sweetness of the sauce, but it was still exceptionally sweet. If you go in for sweet, this is your sandwich. I personally would have preferred more heat or vinegar, but man, that pretzel bun was great. I tell you what, what it really made me yearn for was a sopping cut of North Carolina barbecue. And a gallon of ice water.

I took half of it home and reheated it hours later as I tried to get warm. Once you stumble around in snow all day, I find it impossible to wash the feeling of snow off me until I shower. Ergo, I took a very hot shower, and put on the softest sweater I could find. Then I watched TV while I nibbled at chunks of brisket with my fingers. And it was pretty good. Because really, this sandwich is the ultimate junk food. That's why it didn't feel quite right at the restaurant. You need to be vulnerable and tired, with muscles aching for comfort food, with a DVR full of Community episodes and a fuzzy blanket, to really appreciate it. Oh jeez winter, just go already. Just go.

56 West on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Sandwiches.

by Fidel Gastro

Among my many colleagues of various circles I remain an outlier, an outsider and a pariah. It's true, you wave your hands and deny, but I reaffirm that it is so. And why should it be? Why should I be ashamed and made to feel ashamed and shamed by actions no court in the land would deem shameful? It is by my reticence to join the 'party' so to speak, my refusal to drink the Kool-Aid, that I shine the garish light of doubt on the enjoyment of the many.

You see, my friends are all food enthusiasts. They sit at tables marveling at how one food has a texture worth remarking on, how flavors in another dish scintillate or how some element of a third obscures some other palatable delight, all of which are obscure to me. When this happens, I say humbug, I. Shenanigans! It is shenanigans! The emperor wears no clothes; it's just food man! Here's how you know food is good:
1) It provides your body with the nutrients and calories that it needs to function.
2) It isn't poisonous (for once!)
3)... Well I have competing examples for 3 but none of them measure up to the weight and heft of one and two. Three might be any of the following: it's not ruinously expensive, it doesn't taste bad, it won't immediately spoil and can be kept for days, it doesn't produce an offensive odor in the house, it doesn't make your bowel revolt, it does no harm. Three is open for debate, but I think calories and not poison pretty much sum it up.

Now, you can ask me about sandwiches and I can tell you straight away that the best sandwich ever is two graham crackers with canned frosting smeared between. True story – you can make probably five dozen of those gentlemen for under $5. You know how many friends you'll make on the bus with that kind of offering? Now my food-enthusiast friends will scoff at this. They will point out that the frosting is from a can, the graham crackers from a box. I dunno man, at this point in American history industrialized cuisine counts as a folkway! It's an honest to goodness cultural institution. The guy who made Graham crackers wanted to invent a kind of human-dogfood, a food that was all you'd ever need to eat ever. It was to be a permanent meal. Now in the past I, like a lot of people, have experimented with permanent meals. Minestrone soup was good; I had that twice a day during my stupid vegetarian years. Then I ate rice for supper. For a while I had two or three cheeseburgers a day as a permanent meal, with Dr. Pepper to wash it down. That sickened me quickly though and I had to correct myself with the minestrone solution and the stupid vegetarian years. One summer I didn't eat at all! I drank those half-gallons of green juice made of broccoli and spinach and more apples than they probably want to admit. That was healthful I suppose. I felt like a spaceman the whole time. It was great.

Now? I don't care. I want my friends to enjoy their exotic tastes of the far lands. It’s fine. But if you ask me about sandwiches, there's really only two or three worth commenting on: the club, the Monte-cristo and the Reuben. Of these I nominate the Reuben as king.

Why? First of all, it fits the national character. It was invented in a competition (capitalism), it's made of industrial products (corn fed beef, mechanically separated cabbage etc.) and it incorporates elements of different European cultures (corned beef & cabbage, swiss cheese, rye bread, Thousand Island dressing) and makes them all much, much better. Now you might be asking yourself this: “what's this praise of a noble breed of sandwich got to do with your longwinded and frankly irritating preamble?”

Oh I'll tell you – I'll set you straight at the same time, too. See, here's my thing. You go to McDonalds. Or maybe you read a food blog and don't go to McDonalds. I don't drive so I rarely go there myself, (despite the quality of their coffee). But say you go there. You get the Big Mac because, hey, it's McDonalds and it's after breakfast. You know how at some McDonalds you're in a kind of crummy neighborhood and the people are sloppy about making your Big Mac but they're also over-generous and you get three meat patties instead of two? Or how if you're in some dingy suburb after dinner has been served and the lazy teens give you a Big Mac half melted from the heat lamp? Or at the truck stop – where you get the platonic ideal of the Big Mac – and feel as if you've entered the big leagues of the fast food franchise business where excellence (such as it is) is the only option. See there are the kinds and types and...well at the end they're all forgettable and equivalent and the same. They're all Big Macs – all prepared with more or less consistency more or less competence. They're the same. You see yellow (they're not gold, never were) arches – you know what you're going to get.

Now, I see my eating venue of most frequent choice and that is the diner. They have coffee all day and it's always fresh. There's a lady who is always, always about 10 years older than me (regardless of my age through the years) and she's pouring the coffee like it'll make me love her (it will). She comes by for my order and I have to consider carefully between sauerkraut balls and fried pickles, but when it comes to the main course, it is the Reuben. This is my permanent sandwich. I will follow it (follow it) follow it wherever it may go (oooooo). Now, a diner is a diner is a diner. It can be called anything, and it usually is; they can have TVs blaring (I discourage this practice), they can have the radio going, there can be a jukebox, they can be crowded, empty on a main road, on the highway, at the Shaker RTA station, greasy or clean, but whatever it is, you have a certain expectation. You expect rye bread (toasted), swiss (melted slightly), meat (not too lean, but not too fatty), and it should be a tall sandwich. Saurkraut should be gently applied but consistent; you want a bit with each bite. You will have thousand island dressing in a plastic cup on the side. You will note the pickle.

Now you'd think this isn't a hard thing to fuck up.

Well, enter the idiotic food-enthusiasts. I dunno, are you guys invented by the internet? I mean, now you're seeing balsamic saurkrauts or, God help you, coleslaw. Have you ever ordered a Reuben and it comes with coleslaw? Or turkey! This happened to me once! It was served on thick slices of white bread smeared with mayonnaise and coleslaw and it was just turkey. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. I mean, what is it, Thanksgiving? Who eats turkey? Or maybe you've had something with some kind of elaborate bread , because the best thing since sliced bread is...slicing your own bread? Cutting off big unpalatable hunks of some over-wrought bread idea? Or they're playing around with the sauces or they're somehow – and I defy you to explain this – excluding the pickle.

Now, I've blamed food enthusiasts, and maybe that's just mean talk, but I see the fingerprints where I see them and I point and blame you! I do! I mean, diner is a diner is a diner – you expect to get the big-mac of diner sandwiches, not some kind of french-fry stuffed concoction of forlorn ingredients slowly soaking into one another. You don't want that; nobody wants that. Nobody should have to have carrots in their sandwich without specially asking for them. And anyone who does should be stared at, and mocked behind their backs. And yet, without a word of apology, I've been served a sandwich with carrots in it by the purveyor of something called - but not matching the definition of – a Reuben. Consistency is the one thing you can demand and expect of food in our time. Factories make it! Exult in the liberty that you are afforded by the mechanization of food! It's cheap, it's commonly available, and it's everywhere. We should all be so lucky that we have enough to play with our feelings about it.

Continental Flight #6087 (operated by United)

by Beau Cadiyo

There was a sophomore at Georgetown on the plane sitting next to me. She was normally everything I’d want in a girl, physically speaking: of moderate height, slender, blonde, studious, smart, educated, wearing some sort of athletic sweatshirt that she'd actually earned by playing a sport.

Then she opened up her mouth. First it was about how she was going to be a lawyer but wanted it solely because of the social prominence it would bring her. Then, she just wanted to be a housewife and raise kids. Then, she bragged about how she’d shouted at a stewardess for trying to stop her from going to the business class to talk to her father, and how awesome she was for doing it in front of everyone else in business class.

After a week spent almost exclusively with Europeans, this was my reintroduction to Americans.

That wasn’t all: the sandwich that United served was soggy. Not just moist – it was as if the bread had been soaked in water and then chilled. I didn’t even eat it; instead, I ate the sides, then asked for some Scotch. I'd just wait to get back to the US and get something to eat at the airport. I didn't need food, anyways; I had a lot to think about.

la nena

Carrer Ramón Y Cajal, 36-38
08012 Barcelona, Spain
+34 932 851 476

by Beau Cadiyo

When I woke up on Saturday I ran out of the house to meet her at Diagonal. She was late, and I sat on a bench and wrote and watched the newspaper distributors compete to see who could give out the most free rags. She showed up and proposed breakfast, followed by two museums and then a walk, all of which I accepted with the only reservation that we had to meet Dominic and Anna at 1:00 p.m. to walk around and then go to lunch. She said that we’d be fine.

I love ambition in a woman.

It was almost too much for us to eat breakfast. We settled into a table at la nena near the door and, while waiting to order, she pulled down Pick Up Sticks from the wall and we played. While waiting for the coffee to arrive we got through a half-hearted game of Dominoes, and then, whilst setting up backgammon, our food came. I’d told her I wanted a bocadillo, but beyond that it was her choice.

She knew me better than anyone I can think of.

The coffee came with a croissant, which was incredibly dense and airy. "It is almost like the ones in Paris. These also use real butter, not the oil that the bakeries use down here." The sandwiches arrived with a few olives strewn casually on the plate; one sandwich was ham and one was cheese. We finished with hot chocolate, which tasted like pure melted chocolate; the fresh whipped cream on top was all mine, as she is extremely lactose intolerant. While we ate, kids pushed miniature strollers into the glass doors and parents watched, amused and adult.

All of these things made me realize that it was awkward. On Thursday I’d suggested that we talk, but we never had the opportunity since then, and the impending conversation was as large an elephant in the room as my impending departure. At one point we grabbed each others’ hands and I told her that I missed her, and we held hands and she told me how horrible I’d been for not contacting her much after I’d left – for breaking off communication totally. I agreed. She had deserved more. Yet that morning we weren’t sure where we stood in relation to each other. It seemed silly, really – I thought it was obvious that we were in love. I’m a shortsighted guy, though; she needed more, I think. In retrospect, I think. I don’t know. We didn’t really talk about it.

The night before, while drinking with my English friend Domingo, I’d asked him how he had decided to get married. Basically, he said, she was fucked up in all the right ways, and they’d become best friends, and “it’s amazing to fuck your best friend who’s a girl, and realize you’re fucking your best friend. Who is a girl.” Was he, a renowned player, going to miss sleeping with other girls, or did he feel that he was losing out on future conquests? “To be honest, that didn’t hit me until much later," he said.

That, really, was what I feared.


by Beau Cadiyo

The next day I got off of the metro near my old apartment in Vila Olimpica, then got water, jam and olives at my old local grocery store. I walked down to the beach, then kept walking – down pas the aquarium, to the water sports club, the new W hotel, then the docks and around up to Las Ramblas, where I got on the metro. I stopped at a few points to eat some olives. At one of these, I wrote in my Barcelona notebook, “Well this is a fine pickle I’ve gotten myself into. The intelligent thing? Talk rings.”

Dans de Noir

Paseo Picasso, 10
08003 Barcelona
+34 93 268 70 17

by Beau Cadiyo

Joan pushed it as a restaurant Francesca would love. I don’t know how he’d found out about it, or how he’d ever afforded it before, but it’s very possible that he didn’t actually pay – that his date paid, or he saw it on TV and got a gift card. Regardless, after patatas bravas at Bar Tomas and two ports at the Portugese bar, we were sitting in a beautifully decorated room that smelled like shit.

“It is very typical of this area,” Francesca said. “The buildings all have a bad odor.”

The host, Jaume, welcomed us in Catalan, Castellano and English – he’d lived in Oakland for a year (he actually said that he’d lived in, “Oaktown, what what”) and wanted to move back. He reveled in the opportunity to practice his English. When we had to wait for a few minutes extra he asked us if we wanted coffee. Then, he got really embarrassed when he couldn’t operate the machine. Francesca went over to explain it to him, and then we got some really, really strong coffee.

“It is very different than the coffee in America,” he said. Really, it was different than the coffee anywhere.

Along with one other couple, Toni and Mireille, we were the last to go into the dining area. This is how it works: a blind waiter comes out and the host introduces you. The blind man explains that there are curtains and a downward slant and a hallway, and you’ll follow him and he’ll show you your table. He also asks that you pay attention to the volume of your voice; people, for whatever reason, tend to talk much more loudly when it’s completely dark.

Like, completely dark.

And we’d be repeatedly reminded to be quiet when it got too loud.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in total, utter darkness. There are a few places that I’ve been in that were dark, but all of them had at least a sliver or crack of light in them, or a few stars, or at least the promise of light just beyond a blindfold. This place was totally dark – nothing, absolutely nothing, could be seen inside, and eventually even the false firings of my eyes subsided. We walked in and Jose, the waiter, put my hands on the back of my chair and I sat down. I felt the table: a knife, a fork, a napkin. While Francesca was led to her own seat I took the liberty of exploring her side of the table to see what she had; it was the same. No salt or pepper. The tables fit tightly together; there was nobody to my left and Toni and Mireille to my right.

We were served. I truly believe that being given the knife and fork was done solely to show people how ridiculous it is to expect blind people to use the tools of the sighted, or to impress upon us the immense skill that they have in understanding the dynamics of a plate. There was no question of us using them; I didn’t pick them up except to move them out of the way, and I didn’t hear the click of metal upon ceramic the entire night.

The food was delicious, and was all the more so because we didn’t know exactly what we were eating. The waiter simply brought out plates and we ate our food with our hands. In a lot of ways, it was like the trust games you play at summer camp, or at corporate retreats, except that the stakes seemed higher.

At some point – after the cava and the first or second glass of wine, but before the third – we started holding hands. As I got progressively more drunk, we got progressively more touchy and progressively more quiet, as if we were coming to some sort of understanding. Nothing felt awkward. We were communicating with each other and that was what we both needed. When we talked – in Castellano, French or English – I seemed to understand every word she said, and she tended to bring out the best in my linguistic attempts in all three languages, too.

Later, she got on the bus, making me promise to take a cab. I saw her off, then walked, as I’d intended to do the whole time. At one point, walking down Gran Via, there were no cars and a single leaf blew off of a tree and into the street. Gran Via without cars is one of the more apocalyptic things I’ve seen. I walked out without hesitating, picked it up, and walked back to the sidewalk, holding it. Later, when she saw it, she’d laugh at me for putting it in my suitcase, and I wouldn’t explain.

Anyways, I realized then that it was Thanksgiving day in America, and with the time difference my family was probably eating dinner.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Digues-li com Vulguis
Carretera de Collblanc 102

by Beau Cadiyo

Even though he was a former student, I always felt a certain kinship with Joan. The only reason he’d had me as a teacher was that he was failing English, not for lack of talent but for lack of trying. His father hired me after seeing a flier I’d put up, and I spent one night a week with him, hunched over a tiny desk in his tiny room, conjugating verbs and talking to him about basketball and Catalunyan independence and his fledgling teenage interest in girls. He’d ended up scoring the highest marks in his English class on some of his tests; when his dad told me, and Joan, with his normal modesty, gave me the credit, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d done something important with my life.

Meeting up with him was, as he might say, “Wow – incredible this.” He was bigger – big enough to lift me up in the air, and mature enough that I felt I was talking with an older friend, not a 21-year-old college student.

We met at the restaurant Digues-li com Vulguis, which translates to “Say what you Want” according to Google and “Tell him what you want.” It wasn’t meant as an invitation to order chicken fried in caviar; instead, they wanted to create honest, truly delicious food for their customers. The owner, Robert Bertriu was a long-time chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant north of Barcelona called El Cau, which means “The Cave” in Catalan. He didn’t know the world for Cave, so he translated it as “the place where lives the bears in the mountains.” He married a girl named Joanne, who is a feisty, beautiful half-Catalan, half-Pennsylvanian girl from Panama. Robert runs the restaurant and she runs the kitchen, constantly yelling out “Cariño” to him and “Guapo” to all of the male customers.

Robert brought out a bocadillo de Pernil (a type of cured ham) and a slice of Tortilla de Rellena. The latter was a tortilla special to the house; after being cooked as a normal tortilla de patata, though, they added a layer of ham and cheese, then another egg to bind it all together. Not this was absolutely common; indeed, it was an innovation of his.

What sets this bocadillo apart, according to Robert, was the bread. It had a very hard crust and was very soft inside; he said it was a result of being cooked at a high temperature for a short time, then warm for a long time. The first step developed the crust; the latter step made the bread. Inside was a ham that was a typical of Catalunya, but to me it tasted creamier and had a smoother texture than most of the ham I’d eaten before. The coffee was, of course, strong and delicious and punched me in the head.

Three hours later, Joan headed to class and I went to the Collblanc metro station to return to Franco’s apartment. Then, Franco called me when I was at Sants Estacio – did I want to come to the restaurant of his brother and eat lunch? I turned around and spent three more hours there with a selection of dishes that were part typical, part innovative, all delicious.

That night we were supposed to cook bread at Carla's apartment, but Barcelona was playing and some of her Greek friends were in town. We went to a Basque-styled restaurant to watch the game. Francesca left early, as she had to catch the train, and we all sat around smoking while Franco and the Greeks played "My balls are bigger than your balls." English was the common language, and Carla and I sat back and laughed at their posturing; then Franco and I jumped on his moto and left.

Later, at his apartment, he asked me what was happening with Francesca. "Nothing," I said. And that was the truth.