Friday, July 11, 2014

Beer-Filled Donuts, Craft Classes & Modern Art: 5 New Things LeBron Can Do in Cleveland

A lot has changed in the years you've been gone, LeBron. Enjoy the new, cool Cleveland. Here is your to-do list:

1. Brewnuts: This Tremont shop fries donuts using C-town brews in the batter. And they're making you your very own boozy treat. It'll likely be a long john-type donut named King James. Suds to be decided....

2. Gotta Groove Records: Gotta Groove presses 70,000 records a month in an old elevator factory downtown. They'll preserve your crooning onto 7-inch or 12-inch vinyl. Staff will even give you a tour if you call ahead.

3. Cleveland Flea: The city's hipsters unite one Sunday per month from May through October for a crafty street market. The group also hosts underground dinners to which you are invited, LeBron, as well as DIY classes where you can learn to make your own craft cocktails with habanero-flavored salt.

4. Cleveland Museum of Art:  Fresh off a whopping expansion, this place will blow your mind with rock star works from Impressionists, Picasso and surrealists. Bring your mobile device, because the museum makes sweet use of digital technology.

5. Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland: MOCA is where you can get your fix of Belgian video artists and feminist performance artists, LeBron. If nothing else, gape at the shiny new building of geometric black steel.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Signs of the Times

If you're driving through Cincinnati, Ohio, and you pass an old parachute factory with a giant genie beckoning out front, stop. It's the American Sign Museum, chock full of flashing neon beacons that will sear your retinas. Vintage drive-in marquees, the Frisch’s Big Boy and Charo's Vegas billboard ("The Can-Can goes Cuchi Cuchi") are among the cache of nostalgic novelties. 
The museum was born from one man's passion and collection of salvaged signs. A neon-making shop onsite guarantees a future for the industry.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The King's Last Stand

I've written about Indianapolis' offbeat attractions before: the rejection letters at the Kurt Vonnegut Library and brains in jars at the Indiana Medical History Museum. Add the Elvis marker to the list.

Elvis Presley played his last-ever concert in Indy. It happened 37 years ago almost to the day, on June 26, 1977. The city put up a plaque to mark the spot, and buried the King's scarf underneath in tribute. The neckwear was part of his outfit for that final show, along with a gold and white jumpsuit.

Alas, critics panned Elvis' performance as sloppy and lethargic. Seven weeks later, on August 16, he was found dead on his bathroom floor.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Paczki Day(s) in Chicago

Sorry, blog. I abandoned you last year while I was off to other projects. But I'm back now, and what do you think has prompted the return? Donuts.

Or paczki (POANCH-kee), to be precise. They're the sugar-coated, jelly-filled Polish pastries that have become a much-gobbled, pre-Lent tradition.

Paczki are denser and eggier than typical donuts, and their deep-fried goodness has spawned an eponymous holiday. Paczki Day is celebrated the Thursday before Lent in Poland. The custom blended with local Mardi Gras traditions when it came to the US, and immigrants began marking it on Fat Tuesday.

In Chicago, which has one of the world's largest Polish populations, we honor both days. This means we munch paczki - in all of their cherry, strawberry, apricot, prune, custard, chocolate and raspberry-plumped incarnations - from Thursday through Tuesday. And then Lent begins, when many folks give up such sweet indulgences.

Top 3 bakeries to get sugarcoat your face?

* Delightful Pastries: When you dream of paczki, it is Delightful's pillowy dough-balls that pop up. Delightful will bake 20,000 paczki for the six-day "season," and they'll bake many of those with booze. The joy of chasing a whiskey-and-chocolate-custard donut with a vanilla bean-vodka donut cannot be overstated.

* Bennison's Bakery: Evanston's popular pastry shop makes a mean enough paczki that contestants want to shove trays of them down their gob for the Annual Paczki Eating Contest. Last year's champions look a little woozy in this video, but hey, they won $300.

* Bridgeport Bakery: The South Side stalwart is not kidding around, with heaps of cheesy, creamy, fruity paczki options for a butt-cheap 95¢ each.

Click here for a map of more places to buy paczki around Chicago.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cow Pies and Cheese Castles in Wisconsin

Wisconsin embraces its cheesiness with udder dignity. Take the state's most prevalent candy bar: the Cow Pie. The pecan-chunked chocolate mound is modeled after a bovine poo. How many other states have that sort of chutzpah?

Then there's Mars Cheese Castle. It is a real castle (well, a hulking turreted building with faux drawbridge) stocked with 300 types of cheese. Cheddar curds sell best, along with beer-mug-shaped hunks. Cow Pies get lots of shelf space. As do foam-rubber cheese wedge hats. And a giant pie-eyed mouse wearing a cheese wedge hat watches over it all.

You might as well embrace the theme when visiting. These random facts can help:

* The state considered making "Eat Cheese or Die" its official motto.
* Of the 2.6 billion pounds of cheese Wisconsin produces annually, 34% is mozzarella and 21% is cheddar.
* The state law requiring restaurants to put a slice of cheese on apple pie? It's a myth (though Wisconsin did flirt with the idea).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

3.14 Pie Thoughts on Pi Day

Every year Pi Day gets more popular, with math geeks hopped up to celebrate the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter (aka 3.14) on March 14. For the rest of us, it's just a cheap excuse to discuss crust, fillings and flaky matters such as:

1. Why do more states have an official dinosaur than an official pie? Seriously Oklahoma: you name flesh-ravaging Acrocanthosaurus Atokensis as a Sooner symbol, but you can't bother with pecan pie? (It's listed only in conjunction with the "state meal".) Eight states dub official dinos. Only Indiana, Florida and Vermont bake a certified pie.

2. Why is Boston Cream Pie called a pie, when it is actually a spongy, custard-filled cake? Historians think it's due to the cookware used in the mid-19th century during the treat's genesis: bakers had pie tins available, but not cake pans.

3. Who makes the best pie? It's impossible to crown one particular shop, but we're going to say the Midwest wins for dreamy, creamy regional excellence. Little roadside shops slice thick slabs of banana cream, sugar cream, sour cream raisin, coconut cream, chocolate cream, peanut butter cream - you don't have to be hit on the head with a fork to get the gist.

.14. Consider the photo's message (above). It's an original artwork from the now defunct Pie of the Month Club.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Midwest Round-up: 7ft Sausage & Chloroformed Dummy

Painful speculum
Passed out from chloroform
The Midwest is always weird and wonderful, but some weeks are weirder and wonderful-er than others. Like this week:

* Guido, the Milwaukee Brewers' 7ft-tall racing sausage mascot, was stolen during a gig at the city's Curling Club. Local mustard and sauerkraut companies offered condiment rewards for his safe return. The costume eventually turned up in a bar. "Like I didn't just see two guys plop a sausage on a barstool," the bartender said about the anonymous drop-off. More on this immortal Wisco story here.

* The annual Sock Monkey Festival rolls in Rockford March 2 and 3, with monkey-making workshops, the Sock Monkey Hall of Fame inductions, and healings at Sockford General Hospital. This earlier blog post has the lowdown.

* Chicago's International Museum of Surgical Science remains as creepy as ever. The ancient Roman vaginal speculum stays "fearsome looking" (according to its placard), the chloroformed female dummy is still passed out, and the murals of blood-spattered surgeries continue to be available as postcards in the gift shop. All pics per my recent visit. Yeah baby!