Looking for Redemption at Shawshank: My Own Amazing Race Without the Need for a Permanent Reminder

Sometimes you come across things by chance. The initial plan on the way from Cleveland to Columbus was to hit one of the many Amish buffets that populate mid-Ohio. However, I still super full from the previous day. Curious about the weather, I flipped on the news to look at the map and get the forecast and saw that the town of Mansfield, Ohio was about halfway to Columbus travelling down highway 71. After a quick internet search, I discovered two things; Mansfield, in particular the Ohio State Reformatory, was the venue for the 2019 Inkcarceration tour featuring the likes of Godsmack, Five Finger Death Punch and a whole lot of tattoo artists which, as a guy who’s skin is a blank canvas, wasn’t particularly appealing. Second, the same prison was the hub for the filming of the Shawshank Redemption which hit theaters 25 years ago. Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this movie, which follows the wrongful conviction Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) has achieved cult-like status. That year, it couldn’t compete with Forest Gump and the Lion King but surprisingly, it didn’t even crack the top 50 in box office earnings that year and was even beaten by the likes of Beverly Hills Cop III, Richie Rich and the Schwarzenegger classic Junior. Nonetheless it was nominated for 7 Oscars including best picture (at a a time when there weren’t 17 candidates), best adapted screenplay and best actor for Morgan Freeman. It failed to win any. Also, it seemed a fitting tour stop given the fact I stomped around Bangor, Maine last year posing near numerous landmarks referenced in Stephen King’s “It” so why stop now.

One can tour the reformatory for $15 and we got lucky because it was the first day it was open following the concert (they were still disassembling the stages and cleaning up the grounds when we arrived). The tour is a peek into the history of the Ohio penal system with a number of Shawshank references scattered throughout. One gets a bit gobsmacked (or is it Godsmacked) viewing things like the electric chair, shanks (made from spoons, pencils and other routine prisonware) and the eerie symmetry of the numerous cells stacked on top of each other. In regards to the movie, you can also the warden’s office, the infamous “Brooks was here” room, the solitary confinement area where Andy spend a lot of fine as well as the tunnel that was used for his escape. Cardboard cutouts of various characters including the ominous Captain Hadley are strategically placed throughout the grounds to recreate many of the movie scenes.

Other movie scenes scattered throughout the town of Mansfield itself which are identified by Shawshank Trail signs which made me feel like I was competing on the amazing race. These included the building who’s front facade was the movie’s halfway house and the green bench Brooks rested and reflected on after his release. There is also the Food Way(now a convenience/grocery store called the KV market) which was used in the movie. It was purchased by a Brampton family and now looks nothing like the market Red was employed at following his release. I had a nice chat with the owner’s son about life in rural Ohio and whether the Honey Jalapeno Fetty Wap chips were any good.

The Shawshank trail also scoots up to Upper Sandusky (which is south of Sandusky….). Here you can see the courthouse where Andy was originally sentenced in the movie as well as the workshop where many of the prisoners worked throughout the movie. Other than that, it is a quaint Northern Ohio place with a picturesque central street where you can get a decent coffee and a friendly small town smile at a place called Beca House Coffee Co.

Given I stumbled across Mansfield by fluke at the 11th hour, I didn’t have a chance to venture to Ashfield or Butler to sit under the “Shawshank oak tree” and ponder why I might want to get “Brooks was Here” tattooed on my forearms in sanskrit. I guess I don’t really have to; I bought the beer koozie which I can nicely tuck it away in a drawer when the novelty wears off.

Symon Says if You Don’t Eat yer Meat you Can’t Have Any Pudding While Waters’ Version of Meat is a Pig named Donald Trump

I’m going to take take advantage of any rock music reference I can make when I’m anywhere in the vicinity of Cleveland. Rest assured, the reference will likely not include the likes of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, is worth discussing. With a father and uncles who grew up in this era, I was constantly exposed to second hand Floyd mixed among some of the other compounds circulating the air at the time. As a result, I’ve come to appreciate the impact this band (and their individuals) have had on musical progression, politics and my ear drums. Inducted into the hall in 1996, their rather subdued and almost somber performance of “Wish you Were Here” with Billy Corgan made you wish Rogers Waters was there (he refused due to long standing tension between band members).

Waters’ tumultuous personality continues to shine (on you crazy diamond). Since the advent of the Trump administration, he has targeted the POTUS more cynically than Alec Baldwin on SNL. I mean you have to respect a guy who can piss off Trump so supporters so bad that they storm out of the venue after paying a few hundred dollars for a ticket. Just watch the near 11 minute updated video for Pigs (Three Different Ones) to see what I mean.

Day two entailed a lot of walking through the wide streets of downtown Cleveland. Once a victim of a slowing of American industrialism and one of the primary members of the Amercian “Rustbelt”, Cleveland’s recent reinvigoration was due in part to a major investment in the city’s downtown prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention in which Donnie J was elected king of the castle. In addition, there are other city landmarks of note including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Progressive Field (which had just hosted the 2019 MLB all-star game), a waterfront on the south side of Lake Erie which was home to the tall ship festival and downtown’s Soldier’s and Sailor’s monument designed by Levi Scofield (spoiler alert….Mr. Scofield will come up again in the next post). There were also a number of musical venues such at House of Blues ( with Carly Rae Jepsen playing that night) and Sunday Reggae at the Music Box.

Another popular spot in Cleveland is East 4th street in the heart of downtown. Called a shopping and dining experience, this pedestrian way houses the likes of the aforementioned House of Blues as well as celebrity chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon’s flagship restaurant Lola and her sister Mabel’s. I opted for the latter for two reasons; a more casual experience and a huge bourbon list. Living in Ontario, the LCBO tends to strangle imports such as fine American Whiskeys and Mabel’s offers a wide array ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars including private barrel selections. I went for a $16 New Riff 4 year old CBC (Cleveland Bourbon Club) #26 a which was a little smoky a little sweet and a little smooth.

Mabel’s is called Cleveland barbeque, meshing American smoking with Eastern European influences including kielbasa, sauerkraut and spaetzle. At the time of my visit, the website boasted a Sunday happy hour but this has recently changed to Monday-Friday and wasn’t updated so I was stuck ordering wings and cracklings (puffy pig skin) at full price. I threw a half pound of smoke turkey and some baked beans into the mix which arrived on a metal tray along with pickles, rye bread and chip dip. I felt the four choices were like the cardinal directions on Mabel’s map representing a bit of everything BBQ. In particular, the turkey was a far cry from the normally dry holiday mess and was full of subtle smoky flavour. Personally. the chip dip was unnecessary and the bread was a slightly dry and unneeded touch that weren’t as appreciated as the rest of the condiments. The banana pudding for dessert was spot on but I’m also highly biased based on my unnatural love for nilla wafers. Looking back, Nilla would have been a cool name for my daughter but I would never her tell her she was named after a cookie or that her name was short for vanilla although it may be a compliment given the fact the vanilla bean seems to be the frankincense or myrrh of this millennium.

Now that I think about, Cleveland has become a Mecca for both governmental and musical politics. It did host the nomination of the most controversial president in US history and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has no shortage of politics itself whether it’s the inductees (ie. Bon Jovi), the no shows (Sex Pistols, Thom Yorke) or the numerous failed attempts at reunions between jaded ex-band members (ie. Dire Straits/CCR etc). That said, Pink Floyd’s famous lyrics ” if you don’t eat yer meat you can’t have any pudding” continue to resonate a life time changing from a literal meaning as a child to a figurative one as a adult. Perhaps Trump just sees it as another brick in the wall.

Mabel's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Crossing Cleveland’s Cuyahoga from a Faux Jewish Deli to a Real Italian Joint with a Flight in Between

After a bit of a break, the request to pay my $25 renewal fee for my web domain reminded me that I need to at least attempt to justify the cost to keep the name and a recent jaunt down to the Midwest seems a perfect start to the new fiscal year.

The intent was to eat my way through parts of Ohio starting in Cleveland and ending in Columbus.  As usual, these gluttonous escapades usually encompass a combination of James Beard nominees, triple D’s and some degree of celebrity chef stalking. I’m no stranger to the city of Rock and Roll but the Buckeye city is new to me.

I figured there was no better place to start than Ohio City, the trendy Cleveland suburb on the West side of the Cuyahoga river. The plan was to head to the Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, a deli nominated as a James Beard semifinalist in the best new restaurant category this year.  Set in a old firehouse, the interior looked like a library of hipster libations. Bottles of homemade palatable potions lined the walls and the utensils were shelved atop an antique stove tucked away in the corner. Despite the cooler full of kosher pickles and deli salads, it’s hard to call this a true Jewish deli.  Sure, I could have ordered gefilte fish or rugulach as well but there was no shortage of pork on the menu either.  In fact, I opted for a from scratch pork shoulder Reuben.  The bologna sandwich, which I assumed contained some sort of non-cud chewing creature but was too afraid to ask, was also unorthodox…at least in Cleveland terms.  It seems a standard Cleveland Bologna sandwich is adorned with lettuce, tomato and mayo whereas Larder’s take used carrots and old (sharp) cheddar.  Despite the deviations, both sandwiches were creative and thoughtful and demonstrated the from scratch mentality reminiscent of the phenomenal Reuben at Lucky’s cafe a few miles down the road.

Satisfied with foodstuffs, I wanted to tickle my thirst sensors with a jaunt back down the road to Bookhouse Brewing on W 25th.   This time the walls were donned with books instead of bottles and games instead of gherkins.  It seemed sensible to opt for a sampler of drafts which included Life in a Northern Town (the word northern is certainly subjective given my home town is over 800 km north of Ohio City although it could be paying homage to the 1985 Dream Academy song), Study Session IPA (a reminder of the many university exam cramming sessions that ended up with a pint in hand), Bricks and Mortar (such a hipster term)  and a brilliant Key Lime Three out of Five Gose. The experiment lead to a couple of Crowlers (specifically the first two), a 32 ounce emperor can spun to seal after filling.  I figured downing a half gallon of Key Lime would have been like eating a whole pie vs just a slice.

I had no idea as to the importance of summer family reunions in US culture.  Upon checking into the Embassy suites that night in Cleveland’s Beachwood area, I realized the lobby was inundated with red, yellow and green shirts representing a few clusters of families from all over America.  When I asked the bartender later that night, she informed me that a chunk of summer banquet business are family reunions and outlined the normal itinerary; meet, mingle (plus/minus argument), picnic, formal dinner, church and/or depart depending on the amount of time it takes to get home.  In fact, she was not attending her own reunion given the fact it was in Jacksonville, Florida which was too far and much too humid.

Dinner plans included a conquest of my only outstanding Diner, Drive-In and Dive in Cleveland.  Geraci’s, a long standing Italian joint originated in the University Heights area, recently opened a second location in Pepper Pike.  Although not the original and official DDD location, I chose the latter because it was a lot closer to the hotel and took reservations.   I felt like a little less of a cheater when I saw Guy’s smiling face hanging on the wall.

Geraci’s followed the classic Italian restaurant blueprint; bread, salad (Americanized with shredded mozzarella cheese), pizza, pasta and a handful of classic Italian desserts.  However, with a number of clever cocktails and craft beer on the menu, they did colour outside the lines a bit which did remind me that I wasn’t at the likes of  Tony V’s in Sudbury.  For example, cute clothes pins and Ohio’s own Raspberry-infused Watershed Gin resulted in a creation that was another notch on my pink drink bedpost.

Guy’s promise of great pepperoni was fulfilled on a simple pizza with some added sausage.  The crust was a bit on the crunchy side and overall the excessive saltiness was somewhat saved by the fresh vibrant sauce.  The same sauce was the basis of a very classic and delicious lasagna which would be the same way to describe the tiramisu.

In the end, it was a good day with a game of true and false, some sudsy studies and an old school Italian place which had a family vibe that partially replaced being left out of the multitude of family reunions at the hotel I was at. With the Cleveland core surrounded, day two would involve a trip downtown in search of another brew or two and a maybe a game of Symon says.

DDD:Cleveland:Momocho Mod Mex

Another old yelp post with a few updates…..

It was a swell night and I was sitting in a hotel at the Cleveland airport. I called down to Momocho Mod Mex and they assured me I would get in without too much of an issue. I arrived to be told it was a 30 minute wait but was seated after about 15. I opted for the patio which provided lots of room in nice backyard type surroundings.

I started with a michelada ( beer and hot sauce wit some lime and salt on the rim). Well done and good price point ($4.50) and  I liked the ability to choose from any of the numerous Mexican and non-Mexican beers on the menu. I opted for an old school Tecate. There are also plenty of margarita choices on the menu as well.

After mulling over the array of guacamole (there’s everything from goat cheese to crab), I opted for the jicama/pineapple ($8.50). It was a big portion, was fresh and tasty but not as unique as I hoped. Maybe it was my choice!

The tamale dumplings ($8.50)  were ordered as a side and were very authentic although served with the same side as the taquitos.

momo tamale

From the mains, I ordered the Machaca (brisket)  ($15.50) and atun (tuna) ($17.50) taquito plates at the recommendation of the waiter.  The tuna was a perfect medium rare and the brisket was tender and flavourful.  The highlights were definitely the  brisket   and the blood orange marmalade that came with the tuna. The chile rajita served on the side was good but not spectacular.

Atun Taquitos (Tuna $17.50)
Atun Taquitos
(Tuna $17.50)

Brisket
Brisket

Dessert was the Capirotada ($6). Despite the unique menu description (gingersnap and jalapeno) and promise by the waiter, I would say it was an average bread pudding.

Dessert
Dessert

Decor inside was unique and very tasteful. Cozy in and out even though some of the art is a bit creepy!  Service was slow at times but the staff was pleasant.

My Take

All in all, a nice experience in a relaxed environment with refined, modern Mexican food, although the flavours became a bit monotonous as the meal progressed. The guacamole was a tiny let down, either because it was so highly touted or because I went conservative and shied away from the trout, crab, goat or blue cheese.  This place is an atypical DDD  in both cost (I found it a little pricy) and decor.  Plus, I swear Guy Fieri was one of those strange masked men in the pictures hanging on the wall. It didn’t blow my mind but I also didn’t leave disappointed although I do believe,based on the pictures inside, I had a few nightmares of masked Mexican wrestlers administering full nelsons on me while screaming “Mi comida es la mejor del mundo” in my ear.

Verdict: 4 Guyz

Momocho Mod Mex on Urbanspoon

DDD:Cleveland:Lucky’s Cafe

Despite living in Ontario, I’ve been there three times and have thoroughly enjoyed it.   Each visit is an experience.  It’s a bit outside the normal definition of a DDD, but still maintains the fact that food is delicious. I’ll let the pictures do the talking regarding  Lucky’s, which is located in Tremont, a posh neighbourhood in Cleveland.  It has all the elements of a great breakfast/lunch place.

Lucky's Herb and Vegetable Garden
Lucky’s Herb and Vegetable Garden

From sweet to savory, anybody’s taste will be satisfied here.

The “biscuits” dish is surreal, with sausage gravy I can only describe as some sort of nectar of the porcine gods.  Both the biscuits and the eggs are light and fluffy like clouds where these gods reside.  The potatoes and grapes are perfect sides, especially when you douse the former with their homemade hot sauce. One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.

Biscuits
Biscuits

Perhaps the only thing that could make the above dish better is bacon.  In its own creative style, Lucky’s offers pecan coated bacon which bring some sweet into the natural saltiness of this iconic meat.  Although a buck and a half a slice, all you’ll need is a slice or two.

Pecan Bacon
Pecan Bacon

The gingerbread waffle floated like a magic carpet carrying Aladdin in the form of maple apples and honey whipped cream.  According to the new menu, this waffle has been replaced with a lemon one.  Needless to say, I don’t doubt it will be equally good.

Waffles
Waffles

For the tree huggers, there’s a granola and yogurt offering, complete with fresh fruit (although I don’t think the bananas were grown within 100 miles of Tremont).

Granola and Yogurt
House-Made Granola and Yogurt

For the savory at heart, the Reuben is fantastic. Other than the cheese I believe the entire dish is house-made, from the bread to the sauerkraut, including the potato salad. I ordered it with the soup which was equally delicious.

Reuben
Reuben with Carrot-Ginger Soup

Lucky's Potato Salad
Lucky’s Potato Salad

The Verdict

Instead of my normal banter, I’ll rely on the visuals to get my point across.  Lucky’s is a friendly, consistent and quality cafe in the heart of a city not known for a plethora of culinary genius  (well, except for Michael Symon who made an appearance during the taping of Lucky’s on DDD). It’s a can’t miss spot for me with every visit to Cleveland. The food is amazing,  it’s clean and the service is friendly.  Ask Zagat, who rates it  27, 20 and 24 respectively.

5 Guyz!

Lucky's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Diners, Drives-Ins and Dives: The List

As mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  The closest I have come to meeting Guy Fieri  was through a window during a recent filming in Toronto.  I also managed to meet his signature red Camaro in a parking lot across the street.

Guy Fieri at Lakeview in Toronto
Guy Fieri at Lakeview in Toronto

Standing beside Guy's Camaro during DDD filming in Toronto.
Standing beside Guy’s Camaro during DDD filming in Toronto.

In my quest for great food, I have managed  to hit a number of DDDs in a number of different cities over the past couple of years.  My favorites are listed in order below.  Each will be reviewed under its respective city in the not too distant future.  In general, I have thoroughly enjoyed each experience and encourage everybody to support the locally owned establishments which exist along the path in your journey for love and passion on a plate.

The List

  1. Arnold’s Country Kitchen- Nashville
  2. Lucky’s Cafe- Cleveland
  3. Honey’s Sit and Eat- Philadelphia
  4. Dottie’s- San Francisco
  5. Silk City Diner- Philadelphia
  6. Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen – Detroit
  7. Union Workshop- Detroit
  8. Chap’s Pit Beef- Baltimore
  9. Pastabilties- Syracuse
  10. The Tamale Place- Indianapolis
  11. Tomahawk Restaurant- Vancouver
  12. Bluewater Seafood- San Diego
  13. Sip and Bite- Baltimore
  14. Blue Ash Chili- Cincinatti
  15. Voula’s Offshore Cafe- Seattle
  16. Polish Village Cafe- Detroit
  17. Mulberry Cafe- Buffalo
  18. Red Wagon Cafe- Vancouver
  19. Meat and Bread- Vancouver
  20. El Indio- San Diego
  21. BopnGrill- Chicago
  22. Blue Moon Cafe- Baltimore
  23. Wallace Station- Lexington
  24. Milktooth-Indianapolis
  25. Peaceful Restaurant- Vancouver
  26. Flytrap- Detroit
  27. Lakeview- Toronto
  28. Georgia’s Greek- Seattle
  29. White Palace Grill- Chicago
  30. Hopleaf- Chicago
  31. Marlow’s Rib and Restaurant-Memphis
  32. Terry’s Turf Club- Cincinatti
  33. Jethro’s Fine Grub- Vancouver
  34. Momocho Mod Mex- Cleveland
  35. Kitty Hoyes- Syracuse
  36. Kuma’s Corner- Chicago
  37. Fresh, Local, Wild- Vancouver
  38. Senate- Cincinnati
  39. Falconetti’s- Vancouver
  40. Zest!-Indianapolis
  41. Studio Diner- San Diego
  42. Melt- Cleveland
  43. Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub- Buffalo
  44. The Barking Dog- Indianapolis
  45.  Nana’s- Chicago
  46. Showdogs- San Francisco
  47. Empire Brewing Company- Syracuse
  48. Bakersfield- Cincinnati
  49. Big and Little’s- Chicago
  50. Sophia’s- Buffalo
  51. Panozzo’s Italian Market- Chicago
  52. Steer-In-Indianapolis
  53. South of Beale- Memphis
  54. Yankee Lobster Company- Boston
  55. Tommy’s Joint- San Francisco
  56. Bizarro Italian Cafe- Seattle
  57. Miller’s East Coast Diner- San Francisco
  58. Tioli’s Crazee Burger- San Diego
  59. Good Dog- Philadelphia
  60. Parkette Drive-In- Lexington
  61. Funk n Waffles- Syracuse
  62. Hob Nob Hill- Philadelphia
  63. Lake Effect Diner- Buffalo
  64. Save on Meats- Vancouver
  65. Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder-Toronto
  66. Athens Family Restaurant- Nashville
  67. Alcenia’s- Memphis
  68. Bro’s Cajun Cuisine- Nashville
  69. Saus- Boston
  70. 3 Sisters Café- Indianapolis
  71. Parkview Nite Club- Cleveland
  72. Taste of Belgium- Cincinnati
  73. Joe Squared Pizza- Baltimore
  74. Byblos- Syracuse
  75. Pizzeria Luigi- San Diego
  76. Mike’s Chili Parlor- Seattle
  77. Traffic Jam and Snug- Detroit
  78. Sterle’s Country House- Cleveland
  79. The Ace- Toronto
  80. Memphis Taproom- Philadelphia