2010 Best of Cleveland: Oddities

It's not just the LPs and 45s that draw retro music fans to Blue Arrow Records. People stop by just to look at the floor. Pete Gulyas created his own rock 'n' roll walk of fame in his Collinwood shop by transforming 1,100 cardboard album sleeves into floor tiles. Gulyas took the idea from his previous store, Renaissance Parlour, in Coventry. "I had lacquered rock flyers and posters to the floor, and it was a big hit," he says. With no technique in mind, Gulyas recycled the records and spent a month and a half dressing the floor, one album for each square foot. Now, customers step across classic album art by Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Chuck Berry and no less than a dozen Rolling Stones albums. Some stand awestruck, pointing out their favorite 12-inch squares of nostalgia. 16001 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, 216-486-2415, bluearrowrecords.com

He's stood at attention for 45 years with his bow tie just so, his blue pants neatly pressed, his right hand raised in greeting. He's the towering image of roadside hospitality. But now, the 22-foot-tall fiberglass gas station attendant hides from passersby on Broadway Avenue behind Bryan Jedinak's racing-car repair shop. He's part of a lost race of highway figures created in the 1960s to welcome visitors to restaurants, service stations and muffler shops. Steve Dashew, who ran International Fiberglass, a Venice, Calif., manufacturer, thinks it's probably a modified version of a Texaco Big Friend, a line of cancelled, mostly destroyed behemoths. "This one must have played dead and escaped," he jokes. The Big Friend hung around Canton's Raff Road Raceway for a while after his retirement. Jedinak bought him in the mid-2000s. Internet buzz occasionally brings roadside America hunters down Jedinak's driveway, including a recent truckload of women on the way to Niagara Falls. "These gals all came bouncing out," Jedinak recalls. "It was hilarious: I can't believe we found it!' " 26290 Broadway Ave., Oakwood Village

Hotel Garden
Chef Ellis Cooley strides confidently through his quarter-acre bursting with tomatoes, corn, peppers and a weird variety of cucumbers that resemble alien eggs. The veggies on the vine this afternoon will end up on the plates of diners at the Marriott Cleveland Airport Hotel's Amp 150 Bar and Restaurant this evening — leaving the tiniest of carbon footprints in the shadow of Hopkins International Airport. "We're harvesting so much out here right now," Cooley says. "There's probably 20 items on the menu right now that have some part of the garden in them." His garden, nestled between a parking lot, the highway and a row of houses is massive in scope and ambition, despite the compact size. Cooley now has 400 stalks of corn, 86 tomato plants and vegetables planted in shifts so he can harvest from June through October. Next summer, he'll add beans across the back fence and single-species gardens in the parking lot's small, grassy islands. 4277 W. 150th St., Cleveland, 216-706-8787, amp150.com

Mechanical Band
You won't see it when you first walk into Luigi's. But if you look over your shoulder at the very top of the door, you'll notice a box with a gold lam curtain. You sit down to order, and "Can't Buy Me Love" starts playing over the speakers. The curtain on that box above the door opens, revealing — are those dolls? It's a Chicago Coin's Band Box — a mechanical, all-doll band sold with some jukeboxes in the early 1950s. This one has been outfitted with seven Ken dolls and one Barbie that all move and groove to whatever tune is playing on the jukebox as they have been for the past 50 years. It's kitschy, it's a little creepy, and it's most certainly memorable. 105 N. Main St., Akron, 330-253-2999, luigisrestaurant.com

Scary Dish
The bright orange stew comes to the table in a boiling froth, the little black pot like a cauldron. Quick, before it cools off: Crack the egg, plop it into the stew, and stir until the egg cooks. Now, if you dare, you're ready to try soon doo boo, or soft tofu soup. The orange glow comes from red pepper paste, a hot contrast with the tofu's silky texture. All three Korean restaurants in AsiaTown serve good versions of soon doo boo. But at the bright, modern Ha-Ahn inside Golden Plaza, it comes with the egg and an especially artful, rotating array of Korean appetizers (including garlic string beans and salty strips of fish cake when we last visited). Of the six varieties, including beef, pork or dumpling, try seafood — squid, clams and shrimp — for the most exotic adventure. Some clams come in their shells (pick em out with chopsticks). A giant prawn is submerged inside each serving: Bite into it shell and all, like a soft-shell crab. 3030 Superior Ave., #108, Cleveland, 216-664-1152

Stuffed Animals
Think twice before gifting one of these fanciful felt creatures to a youngster. Jordan Elise's Horrible Adorables are more for the adult crowd. "They have a cutesy element but also kind of a horrible side to them," says the 24-year-old freelance toy designer. She's talking about the taxidermy glass eyes and her wall mounts that resemble a real-life catch. As a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Elise explored the history behind curiosity cabinets — the practice of collecting artifacts, fossils or oddities — and was inspired to make her own line of wonders. Today, she sculpts the scary yet playful animals out of foam before layering the hand-cut pieces of felt like fur or feathers. There's the Kitacorn (a kitty and unicorn hybrid) and Kiwdo (a sweet purple and blue bird with large, haunting eyes). "They all have such personality," she says. "They're all my babies." horribleadorables.etsy.com
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