Best of Cleveland 2003

Best Fashions

What's the best look for a night on the town? And how much do you need to spend to get it? It turns out that a couple can dish out as little as $283 (for everything from shoes to gloves) or as much as $12,143 (our cover look). It all depends on where you shop. To find the best fashion in the city, we turned to free-lance makeup artist and stylist Lisa Adams, represented by IMI Talent and John Roberts Hair Studio and Spa, who scoured the racks at both posh and vintage boutiques to put together fabulous looks for an evening out.

Black Upscale Look

Halter-style dress: $1,200 by Leila Rose at Winds of Change in Moreland Hills

Classic Armani suit: $1,495 by Armani at Kilgore Trout in Woodmere

On Buying Vintage

"You just have to really use your imagination and use creativity," Adams says. "Don't let what's sitting in front of you dictate your choices, because you can easily change with a little bit of dye or some sewing." When Adams purchased the vintage dress shown here, for example, it was canary yellow and stained. She dyed it black. The shoes worn by our male model were originally white.

Vintage Look

Antique satin dress: $35 from Suite Lorain in Cleveland

Faux sharkskin suit: $50 from Suite Lorain

Best Market

Since 1912, Clevelanders have shopped at the West Side Market for the ingredients for our melting pot: food from every nationality in Cleveland, from pierogis to salsa. It's even more of a public square than Public Square, the best place to mingle in a crowd and run into friends, strangers, campaigning politicians and homeless people selling the Grapevine. So it wasn't enough to call it Best Market. We've compared favorites with frequent marketgoers to give you a guide to the best of the Market itself.

Best water tower — It's 137 feet tall and used to have a steel water tank inside for flushing out the Market and in case of fire. The tank was dismantled during World War II. A man climbed the tower's stairs every week to wind the clock until it was automated in 1954.

Best perch: the second-floor balcony — The perfect place to eat your lunch. Look down at the crowds gathering their daily bread, or up at the exquisite architecture few people notice. The stairs to the balcony are hidden behind City Roast Coffee and Tea.

Best salsa: Orale! — The fresh green and red salsas this Mexican food stand ladles out are as good as any you'll find in a local restaurant, and so much better than store-bought salsa that you'll never settle for Ortega again.

Best taste of New Orleans: Muffaletta relish at Rita's — Get a little container of the muffaletta relish (an olive salad) at Rita's, then tour the other stands to assemble the other ingredients of New Orleans' favorite sandwich: Italian bread, provolone cheese, ham and salami. For even more Cajun flavor, grab some spicy andouille sausage from one of the meat vendors.

Best chicken: Kaufmann's — Their all-natural birds are the juiciest around, according to Kaufmann's loyal following. Their chicken sausage comes in several flavors, from Italian to apple.

Best pasta: Ohio City Pasta — Red pepper cilantro, chipotle pepper — you can buy so many flavors of fresh pasta, sold in one-serving bunches that keep for five days, that you'll have to come back several times just to try them all.

Best spices: Narrin's — Exotic flavors in a bottle, whether it's daredevil hot sauces named Jamaican Hell Fire or Mega Death Sauce or traditional Asian spices. Narrin sells her own sauces, too: teriyaki and Thai peanut.

Best produce vendor: Calabrese Produce — Market regulars say the Calabreses sell the most consistently fresh fruits and vegetables of all the produce vendors. They've been at the Market since 1933, and attract a steady flow of customers even on quiet weekdays.

Best falafel: Maha's Falafil — Sam, the bespectacled man behind the counter, may be the Market's friendliest face, and some consider his falafel sandwiches the best in town.

Best Revitalized Neighborhood

Every year, the streets around the market grow more vibrant, attract new shops and restaurants, and fill with more people on sunny and even wintry days. Here are our favorite spots in Ohio City's little downtown.

1 Not only have the braumeisters at Great Lakes Brewing Co. given us microbrews Cleveland can proudly export, they run one of the city's friendliest, most atmospheric restaurants. You can sit on the patio or sidewalk tables, drink in the bar and dine near the brewing vats or in the brick-walled basement.

2 Talkies coffeehouse, which celebrates its movie theme by playing the AMC channel on the big screen at all times, is a center of social life for Ohio City residents.

3 The Market Avenue Wine Bar is tiny, cozy, old and romantic — the perfect atmosphere for sipping wine at the end of an evening out.

4 It's about time Cleveland got a soup shop. Open for about a year now, the Souper Market offers a rotating schedule of six hot and two cold soups, plus assorted salads.

5 Market 25 boasts the best collection of eclectic food, vibrant art and rare imported gifts joined into one bustling center, designed as an incubator for small businesses. A few have already graduated to larger digs.

6 Marianna Halassy learned the art of the truffle in France and Germany before opening Séshart Chocolatier in Market 25. Try the mocha truffle.

7 A 1920s-era movie theater now houses Modä, a year-old nightclub that attracts nationally renowned electronica and house-music DJs. When the place gets too hot inside, jets shoot out clouds of nitrogen-cooled air.

8 The Environmental Center, the former Cleveland Trust building on Lorain at Fulton, is the first-ever commercial "green" building in Ohio retrofitted from an existing historical structure utilizing affordable and sustainable building principles.

Best Seats

We found the most memorable seats in Cleveland's stadiums, arenas and entertainment halls: some that season-ticket holders staked out long ago, and some you can grab the next time you go to the theater.

Cleveland Browns Stadium

Football is a game of attrition — sometimes more so for fans than players in Cleveland, since Cleveland Browns Stadium sits on the lakefront without a shield from those pesky Alberta clippers. So the weather helped us decide on Section 134, Row T, Seat 1. You're on the 50-yard line, beer and hot-dog kiosks are less than 30 yards away, and the wind is kinder on the north side. Plus, you're within shouting distance of the home-team sidelines. Sure, Section 334 offers club-level amenities and a slightly better view. But this is football, not golf, dammit. Of course, if you're raucous, a glory hound, and carry some extra insulation in the seat of your pants, nothing will beat the Dawg Pound bleachers. But that goes without saying.

Jacobs Field

These are a real baseball fan's seats: Section 165, Row A, Seats 1 through 4. Third-base line, at the cut of the infield, just outside the Tribe dugout. A little swinging gate is the only thing separating you from the players and fresh-cut greenery at the Jake. Take your eye off the ball to chat about something unimportant — like business or the kids — and you could end up with a nasty reminder of how close you are to the action. "You have to watch every pitch," says Chris Smith, of Aon Risk Services of Ohio, which owns the seats. You can see into the Tribe dugout and hear the often-abusive chatter between opposing players and coaches. Before the game, it's a great place to catch the players during batting practice or take in all the women trying to pick up Omar. You're near a kosher hot-dog stand. And you're right next to the camera bay, which could land your mug on the giant JumboTron screen or on national TV. During a Sunday-night ESPN broadcast a few years back, a foul pop headed for Smith's lap. But Smith leaned back to give Travis Fryman a better chance at making the play. Fryman did, and the replay was aired several times, as ESPN announcers commented on Cleveland's great fans and its home-field advantage.

Gund Arena

Ever bring a radio to a ballgame? For Cavaliers games, we found the one spot where you won't need one: Section C126, Row 15, Seat 8; the north side upper section, across from the western foul line, and right at the elbow of Joe Tait, the Cavs' vaunted voice of the past three decades. "If you're interested in seeing the game, that's the best place in the house," says Tait. He refuses to sit on the floor to call home games, because the coaches and referees get in the way. Some fans who've sat nearby have brought Joe homemade cookies and other gifts. In this seat, not only do you get the grand amenities of club seating — a wait staff, restrooms close by, cup-holders on the seats — but in quiet moments, you can listen to Tait do what he does best. "If it's at all noisy, they can't hear me," Tait says. "I'm loud, but I'm not that loud."

Playhouse Square Center

Main floor seats have nice views at the State Theatre, Playhouse Square's largest, especially around Row M, where you begin to see the rise of the stage. The best seats by far, however, are loges 604 and 607 at the center of the second level, where there's nothing between you and the performance.

At the Ohio Theatre, home to Great Lakes Theater Festival, Ohio Ballet and the Children's Theatre, Row C, seats 206 and 207, showcase the entire breadth of the stage without the vulnerability of being in the front row, the spot where caustic comedians find their victims.

The Allen Theatre is the most intimate, and so is often used for solo performances. With its variably angled seating, almost no bad seats exist. We picked Row P, seats 210 and 211, which fall nine rows back and dead center to the stage, or a spot in the loges: Row A, seats 606 and 607, front and center.

In the Palace, the jewel of Playhouse Square, the best seats are in the President's Box: the center loge of the upper level, the only section reserved by Playhouse Square. These loges have their own wait staff.

Severance Hall

Finding the best seat in Severance Hall is a tremendous struggle, since the house was built to make such a search nearly impossible. The sound is almost perfect from anywhere in the hall. The best seat you'll probably never sit in is Box 1, dead center in the first rise above the main floor: the Severance family's private box. The view makes you feel like ýoyalty. From the enclosed terrace, you can take in the renovated stage, complete with the newly restored Norton Memorial pipe organ. Our second and more accessible choice is also the prettiest place to sit: Row AA, seats 601 or 701, in the Dress Circlei the few rows closest to the top tier's railing. Silver vines embossed into the convex ceiling accentuate the Dress Circle's formality. Unconfirmed rumor has it that the pattern reflects the lace of Elisabeth Severance's wedding dress.

Cleveland Play House

This fall, the Play House intends to auction off the two best seats in the Bolton Theatre, which have never been available to the public before, for the Nov. 21 opening of "Plaid Tidings." They're on a private balcony just outside the director's booth.

Our favorite seats on the floor of the Bolton (the newest and largest CPH theater, with 550 seats) are rows H through M, near the middle. Theatergoers fight for the aisle seats.

The Drury Theatre's best seats are in the balcony, which is so close to the stage that the three-quarter angled view is perfect to take in the scope of any production. We recommend sitting in Row A by the railing and along the aisle for the extra knee space.

All of the Cleveland Play House's theaters are designed for intimate performances, but especially the Brooks, which hosts ensemble and student theater and fits 130 people at most. You're practically onstage wherever you sit, but we picked Row G, seat 6: right in the middle. Seats are divvied out on a first-come, first-served basis, so be prepared to arm-wrestle your neighbor for them.

Taste Test
Best ice cream

Give six moms-to-be eight pints of Cleveland's best ice cream and you'll get a mouthful of opinions.

õo to get the scoop on Cleveland's best frozen treats, we put four of our town's top purveyors to the ultimate test: the sweets-craving students of the Fast Forward Lamaze-Basic Prepared Childbirth Class at Fairview Hospital's Wellness Center.

While our expectant mommies didn't sugarcoat their comments, they sure warmed up to the icy winners of our blind taste test.

În the chocolate ice-cream category, Weber's of Fairview Park rated a chip above the competition (maybe it was the home-field advantage). "It's light and sweet," says Dawn Bellflower of Middleburg Heights.

Honey Hut's submission came in a second by the width of a chocolate bar. "The others were just too chocolaty," says Kathleen Dillon of Brook Park, who preferred Honey Hut's smooth, creamy version of the old standard.

Mitchell's finished third. "It's good, dark chocolate, but thick when it melted," says Bellflower. Ice-cream giant Pierre's disappointed our group with its "store-bought" taste.

We also let the shops pick their best pint for intense scrutiny from the pregnant pack. Mitchell's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup emerged victorious. The peanut butter tempered the deep chocolate flavor, the women agreed. "It's very creamy and rich," enthuses Tara Foote of Brunswick. Mitchell's beat out Honey Hut's Honey Pecan and Weber's Butter Pecan. Pierre's, frozen in its Moose Tracks, came in fourth.

The moms recognized Mitchell's winning concoction and Honey Hut's trademark flavor right away.

"I think I know what this is," one admiring judge claimed, tasting Weber's chocolate. "It tastes like Dairy Queen."

Sorry, ladies, only Cleveland ice cream on those spoons.

— Stacey Higgins and Erin Ward

Best grease and grease

South East Harley-Davidson
23105 Aurora Road,
Bedford Heights, (440) 439-5300

Hungry for a good burger? Is your low rider giving you trouble? Head to Bedford Heights, where you can enjoy a delicious Ultra "glide" cheeseburger smothered in bacon, mushrooms and all the fixin's, while yards away, motorcycle mechanics work on your Hog. After you're done munching on kickstands (mozzarella sticks) and side salads, stroll the indoor boardwalk with an ice cream. South East Harley is a restaurant, motorcycle repair shop and bike-memorabilia shrine that includes an impressive collection of antique bikes and Elvis Presley's next-to-last ride, a 1975 white Electra Glide.

Best meal that just might kill you

Fugu at Akira Sushi and Hibachi
Uptown Solon Center,
6025 Kruse Drive, Solon, (440) 349-6850

If it could be your last meal, shouldn't it be fugu? That's Japanese for Japanese tiger puffer fish — a blowfish with bite.

As the specially trained chef of Akira Sushi and Hibachi in Solon, Eddie Tse has the job of preparing your order, first carefully removing the pockets of tetrodoxin, a poison 1,200 times stronger than cyanide. One taste is fatal.

So why do diners call ahead up to a month for reservations during the fugu season, November through March? For starters, it's a delicacy. Tse says fugu has a distinctive taste, somewhat like whitefish, but chewier. But the real appeal seems to be the recklessness of eating something that almost certainly won't kill you, but ... who knows? Tse calls it "the fugu challenge."

Don't worry; no one's died yet. As a confidence-builder, Tse eats the first slice from every FDA-approved order. "It's good, safe, clean and enjoyable," he promises. Be forewarned, though: "My family keeps up my life insurance policy," Tse cheerfully admits.

Best abs

The belly dancers at Niko's on Detroit
15625 Detroit Ave.,
Lakewood, (216) 226-7050

The saganaki isn't the only thing that sizzles at this little Greek restaurant. On Friday and Saturday evenings, a lovely, bead-bedecked dancer sashays into the dining room. As her hips move, her middle takes on a personality all its own. This is no two-dimensional model's belly. It has character, unpredictability, panache. You will be riveted, and your wallet will be a few dollars lighter by the end of the evening.

Your own weight, however, should not be dwelled upon at Niko's. Most of the Greek dishes are delicious and decadent. The moussaka is a perfect blend of eggplant, ground beef and potatoes. More delectable spanakopita and pastitsio would be difficult to find anywhere in Cleveland.

Best place to cheat on your diet

Sokolowski's University Inn
1201 University Road,
Cleveland, (216) 771-9236

Don't touch that cookie. Put that doughnut back in the box. Falling off the food wagon? Do it right. Sokolowski's has been helping people put on pounds for 75 years. One meal can provide a week's worth of fats and oils for most full-grown adults. The sautéed pierogis rest in a slick of butter and onion. The baked scrod barely stays on the fork. The meat is bratwurst, kielbasa, ribs: good, tasty, workingman food served cafeteria-style. Think you're hungry for a sandwich? Don't be shocked by a sudden craving for beer-battered perch. Choosing at least one vegetable side dish? Not when you see the butter-brown baked macaroni and cheese. Skipping dessert? Just try to pass up the homemade cakes and pies. At Sokolowski's, being bad never tasted so good.

Best dining deal

Sushi Rock, Wednesdays
1276 W. Sixth St.,
Cleveland, (216) 623-1212

The music's kicking. The place is packed. It's hard to believe this is Wednesday night in Cleveland. But half-price night at Sushi Rock downtown brings everybody out. From 5 to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays you can feast on sushi and maki rolls, normally $3.50 to $6.50 an order, at prices you'd pay for fast food. Reservations are a must, says general manager Gordon Dinerman. For large groups, book a week in advance. Otherwise, make sure you're locked in by Monday or take your chances trying to get a seat at the bar. Don't be surprised if you're surrounded by a bunch of big eaters. Members of the Cleveland Browns offensive line frequently gorge at the largest table in the house. "Wednesday is 'beautiful people' night at Sushi Rock. That's what everybody tells me," says Dinerman.

Best gelato

La Gelateria
12421 Cedar Road,
Cleveland Heights, (216) 229-2636

In 1987, Valerio Iorio was working at a small gelateria in Sardinia. "I fell in love," he says. "I promised myself one day maybe I'd open a gelato place." That day came last August, when La Gelateria debuted in Cleveland Heights. Made with about 40 percent less fat than ice cream and considerably less air, gelato is denser and more flavorful. "The taste doesn't disappear right away in your mouth," Iorio explains. The shop also serves fruity sorbets.

Best Cleveland movie

"American Splendor"

"American Splendor" isn't just an affectionate biography of independent comic creator Harvey Pekar. It's also a valentine to Cleveland. The movie was shot here, and its landscape of beaten-down diners, corner groceries and stately old apartments is filmeü with a reverence toward the Cleveland of the 1970s and '80s, when the city and Pekar persevered through lonely obscurity and talk-show jokes. "American Splendor" doesn't show off the pretty new Cleveland-on-the-move that our city boosters talk up; it shows Pekar's Cleveland, where ordinary people's stories turn out to be extraordinary and loyalty is valued over appearances. The movie is what people thought Welcome to Collinwood" would be: the film that hows Cleveland's essence.

Best Cleveland book

"Crooked River Burning"

>t's easy to think you've fallen in love with mountains, beaches or Florence, Italy, Mark Winegardner writes in his 2001 novel "Crooked River Burning." But if you fall in love with Cleveland, that's really love. Winegardner knows. His epic love story of a working-class Old Brooklyn guy and a rich daughter of Shaker Heights follows the fated lovers as they go to Alan Freed's first Moondog Coronation Ball, meet for lunch at the Theatrical on Short Vincent and crash a car on Middle Bass Island. He navigates Carl Stokes-era Cleveland politics while she struggles in local TV journalism in Dorothy Fuldheim's shadow. The book proves that Cleveland is home üo epic comedies and tragedies. Which will it be in the end? We'll have to wait to see: Before Winegardner was picked to write a sequel to the "Godfather" novels, he was in our offices, reading our archives as research for the first of two "CRB" sequels.

Weekly Gigs

Now, there's no excuse for staying home. We've searched Cleveland's nightclubs for bands you can count on and come back to every week.

Mondays: The new Bop Stop hosts Jack Schantz's Jazz Unit, a 13-piece band made up mostly of music professors from local universities. 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, (216) 771-6551

Tuesdays: Ernie Krivda and the Fat Tuesday Big Band, Cleveland's reigning kings of swing jazz, hold court at the Savannah Bar and Grille. 30676 Detroit Road, Westlake, (440) 892-2266

Wednesdays: Robert Lockwood Jr. learned to play guitar from delta blues master Robert Johnson at age 11. Still going strong at 88, Lockwood channels that deep delta sound with his eight-piece backing band at Fat Fish Blue. 21 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, (216) 875-6000

Thursdays: Glenn Schwartz's guitar squeals, riffs, throbs and sputters as he hunches over, hops and howls at Hoople's. He points a bony finger at the crowd, warns them they'll roast in eternal hellfire, then plays the blues as if possessed. 1930 Columbus Road, Cleveland, (216) 575-0483

Fridays: Touch Supper Club gets hot every Friday, spilling Latin, samba and bossa nova grooves from some of Cleveland's best live salsa bands; come early for dance lessons from 9 to 10 p.m. 2710 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, (216) 631-5200

Saturdays: Nighttown hosts 19-year-old trumpet prodigy Dominick Farinacci's trio every Saturday, unless it's booked a national act. 12387 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 795-0550

Sundays: On a quiet night, on a quiet stretch of West 25th Street, the 2527 All-Stars play hot bebop and cool standards at the suave, semi-secret nightclub 2527. 2527 W. 25th St., Cleveland, (216) 771-2527

Best video store

3367 Madison Ave.,
Lakewood, (216) 521-2210

B-Ware Video provides a movie-mental experience like no other. It rents and sells rare underground films and out-of-print cult classics. B-Ware's collection ranges from the bizarre to the inane. With sections devoted to peculiar genres such as Mexican wrestling and "prison chicks," And directors from John Waters to Stanley Kubrick, you'll discover refreshingly offbeat entertainment not likely to be found in predictable chain movie stores. The shop is filled with vintage film posters and other oddball nostalgia items, making the selection process as fun as watching the movies.

Best local stand-up comedian

Mark Colella

"I think he's ready to break out," Bennie Hengel of Hilarities 4th Street Theatre says of Mark Colella. The Kent State grad hopes so. Right now, Colella's got a crappy car, no job and lives with his mother. "I've noticed Playhouse Square attempting a Times Square vibe," he riffs. "There's a big difference between New York City and C-town. New York City, we're talking Gucci, Prada, Nike. Here, we have Mr. Allen's, Your Ad Here, Buddy's Carpet. It's just not the same thing. But we do have homeless people. And you can't call them bums anymore. You have to be P.C. and call them 'City Campers.' I was talking with this one bu— … City Camper, and he said, 'Hey, at least I'm not out robbing and stealing and breaking into cars.' That's like Michael Jackson saying, 'At least I was only on the second floor when I was shaking my kid over concrete.'

"I've got a question for Michael Jackson: What do his kids wear on Halloween? They're always wearing those masks. Do they take them off on Halloween to reveal mutant elephant kids underneath? I think when they get old enough to have show-and-tell at school, they're just going to bring their dad in. 'Look, this beats Timmy's snake, Sarah's tarantula; this is my dad, man.' "

Best karaoke

Bo Loong

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