Polpetta at Porco gets the ball rolling

Meatballs make me happy.  They’re a comfort food, a version of which can be found in nearly every cuisine.  Saucy, savory and satisfying.  And when you base a menu entirely off these Sunday supper staples, you’re on to something.  Enter Polpetta at Porco.

polpetta-meatballs

Friends and fans of Porco Lounge have long loved the potent drinks and party atmosphere of the Tiki Room.  But until now, they’ve only offered things like nachos and tacos for food at the W. 25th St. location.  Now Stefan Was (of Porco), Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick (of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti Social Kitchens and Dinner in the Dark) have teamed up to bring a fully functioning kitchen in to the kitschy place.

Bostwick tells me he’d been thinking about the concept of a meatball menu for sometime, thinking primarily about a food truck, initially.  But during their recent trip to New York City, to cook at the James Beard House (see previous post, Cleveland Chefs take New York) they dined at The Meatball Shop.  The idea was reignited, and Bostwick says they spent the entire drive home talking about meatballs.  That’s a conversation I want in on.

The concept was fast tracked when they decided to combine forces with Porco for their first location. (no need for a complete build out, only the addition for some shiny new kitchen equipment)  The menu is fast casual, kind of like the ones you see at Barrio, Noodlecat or Happy Dog.  Pick a meat, pick a sauce, pick a side.  All of their meatballs are gluten free, and they even offer a vegan variety.

They’re sourcing everything they can from local makers, like beef and chicken from Ohio City Provisions, produce from Fresh Fork Market and pork from K and K Butcher Shoppe on Warren Rd.

They soft opened on Monday, and will be expanding daily, Bostwick says.  Polpetta will always exist in Porco, but the plan going forward will be to establish more of the chef-driven concept in other locations.  With the captive audience that already flocks to Porco, they’ll establish their following, then spread their flavors, and balls to other parts of town.  Chef Bostwick says there isn’t a food you can’t convert into some kind of “ball.” So I can’t wait to see the creative concepts and fusions they generate at Polpetta.  The scratch kitchen is open Monday-Thursday 5pm-Midnight Friday and Saturday 4pm-1:30am.

It should be noted that I wrote this entire post without making any “balls” puns.  Tough to do. But ownership says there are plenty already being “tossed” around in the first few days of operation.  They’re even thinking about starting a book with all the balls jokes that customers come up with.  Bostwick says food should be fun, and I agree.  🙂

Advertisements

Dinner Lab: Antico E Moderno

As I reflect on my third Dinner Lab, experience a single word comes to mind, synergy.  It was a truly collaborative effort of creative minds and local leaders.  And it was pretty exciting.

Dinner-Lab-St. Thomas

The location of the September event was the most interesting of all of the Cleveland dinners so far.  The site was St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sanctuary that won’t be around much longer.  Brickhaus Partners intends to turn the property on Lake Avenue into a collection of luxury townhomes, and call it 95 Lake.

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

Photo courtesy Brickhaus Partners Instagram

So as part of the experience, the developer, Andrew Brickman, and Cleveland City Councilman, Matt Zone, were on hand to talk about the big plans for the neighborhood.

Dinner-Lab-band

And as an added bonus to the evening, there was entertainment this time.  City Councilman, Kevin Conwell and his band, The Footnotes, played during cocktail hour and through most of dinner service.

Dinner-Lab-Mytro-menu

The menu and the concept belonged to Chef Matt Mytro, (coincidentally, the same guy behind our Chef’s Table from last weekend.)  He and his partner at Flour Restaurant, Paul Minnillo, like to combine old school Italian cuisine with the occasional modern touch.  Mytro took this opportunity to take his modern approach to the next level.

Dinner-lab-burrata

First course was a warm burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream) with vanilla infused potato chips and pickled chili.  Innovative and tasty.

Dinner-Lab-beet-salad

The second course was a mock beet salad with pistachio, whipped ricotta, dried olive and sorrel.  It was definitely a favorite at our table.

Dinner-Lab-John and Dani

My friend, Dani and I were still admiring the beautiful presentation when we noticed that her boyfriend, John, had already polished his off and was asking for seconds.

Dinner-Lab-swordfish

Course number three had easily the most tender swordfish I’ve ever eaten. Had to look up what “Alla bagnara” meant to understand how it was made…steamed in a garlic broth.  Aha!  That’s why is was so fantastic.

Dinner-Lab-rigatoni

The fourth course was hearty and satisfying.  Chef Mytro said they made the corn rigatoni fresh that day.  But to me the lamb neck sugo (a rich tomato sauce) was the star of this dish.  I could’ve eaten several bowls of that!!

Dinner-Lab-panna-cotta

Dessert was a familiar treat.  The panna cotta sweetened with cereal milk that we’d enjoyed at Mytro’s restaurant, Flour, on Saturday.  This time there was a toasted marshmallow, always a good idea.

Dinner-lab-jen and ben

I love these dinners for a score of reasons.  But I appreciate them because they give me a reason to sit down through a relaxing service and enjoy my husband’s company, as well as those of good friends.  Can’t wait to see what’s next. 

The Feast! Food, Faith, Family. Little Italy’s Feast of the Assumption

I’m stuffed.  And so very happy.  The Feast of the Assumption is my favorite food festival of the year.  It’s the marquee event of Cleveland’s Little Italy.  

the feast-madonna

It is a sacred event, commemorating Mary being taken up to heaven.  But you kind of feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven when you stroll down the street, taking in the delicious atmosphere and mouth watering food.

The Feast-Murray Hill

I count down the days until The Feast every year.  If I was smart, I’d fast in the time leading up to it.  Instead, I psych myself up like a competitive eater at Coney Island on the 4th of July.  In the end, since I can’t really pack away as much food as I’d like…I prefer to graze and share…graze and share.  That way I can sample, and experience, as much as possible.

The Feast-pizza and sausage

I always start at the “church lady” stands adjacent to Holy Rosary Church, the focal point of the four day event.  Italian sausage wrapped in a slice of pizza (as a bun) and topped with peppers and onions.  That I won’t share!

The Feast-natalies pizza

My girls opted for simple and classic slices of cheese pizza…which they ate in between turns on the carnival rides behind the church.

The Feast-ride with natalie

For a second course, I like to share a couple dozen steamed clams dunked in drawn butter.

The Feast-clams

Usually we sit outside on a patio, listening to Italian music sung by the same trio of crooners and button box player who appear on the corner of Murray Hill and Mayfield Road every year.

The Feast-italian singers

But this year…we were also treated to something special.  My brother’s fiance and her family invited us to her Great Aunt Sue’s home, just a stone’s throw from the church at the center of all the action.  She cooks for two weeks leading up to this event.  Friends and family chatted outside, sipping generous pours of the family’s famous home made wine.

The Feast-home made wine

The fun surprise of the evening was when the The Italian Band of Cleveland came to play a private set for the guests congregating in Aunt Sue’s driveway. (a testament to her own commitment to the neighborhood, and stature among those who call it home)

The Feast-Italian bandThe Feast-TubaThe Feast-Italian tuba

Full yet? Nope! Next it’s on to cavatelli and meatballs.  By this time, my eyes are usually bigger than my stomach.  But I can’t leave without diving into a bowl of this classic.  My girls didn’t argue.

The Feast-julias cavatelli

If the timing is right, in between courses (or during) you can catch a couple of tunes from folk singers on the street, dance to music from DJs, or tap your feet to live bands in tents behind some of the restaurants on the block.

For several of the restaurants in Little Italy, The Feast represents their year of profits.  And estimated 100,000 people attend.  They go all in for the event.  Beer tents are up, bands are blasting crowd-pleasing anthems, meatballs are served by the thousands, and pasta sauce is simmering in pots big enough to swim in.

The Feast-bocce

At the end of the street, you can hear the distinctive sound of bocce balls colliding and slamming in to the wood-framed courts at the Alta House.

Teams of four encased in clouds of cigar smoke and Old-World Italian accents.  Drink it in.

Couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of a statue of “The Madonna”  sitting solemnly in front of a rock band setting up on a ledge there.

The Feast-madonna at Alta House

Time for dessert.  Did you think we were done?  This I never falter on.  The sweet finish to this incredible feast must always be the tiramisu at Presti’s Bakery.  Of course there is cannoli, cassata cake and lemon ice at various booths.  But for me, dessert begins and ends with the best tiramisu in the city.

The Feast-tiramisu

I always leave The Feast of the Assumption full, in both stomach and spirit.  It makes me proud to be an Italian American and a Clevelander.  Mangia!

Old World bakery meets the modern kitchen

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not a baker.  Yeast intimidates me.  And I don’t own a KitchenAid stand mixer.  I sincerely appreciate those who are good with dough, batters and the like.  So I value good family-run businesses, like Orlando Baking Company, which cranks out quality breads and dough for remedial bakers like myself to cook with (and sometimes pass off as my own).

For this Cheftovers installment, I’ve teamed up with Orlando Baking Company (http://www.orlandobaking.com/) to review two of their newest offerings.  This is not a paid endorsement, I’m simply taking them up on no-obligation invitation to try out a couple of things they’ve just introduced to the market.

You can find both of their latest products in the freezer section.  They now sell frozen ciabatta dough (a variety of bread they’re known for) and frozen pepperoni rolls.

orlando pepporini bread box

I was pleased to discover upon opening the box of pepperoni rolls, that they are packaged in four separate rolls.  (This Cheftovers queen just hates wasting half a loaf of garlic bread because I have to cook the whole thing for just a couple of us.)  This allowed me to pop one or two in the oven at a time to test them out.  I also saw that they were fully cooked, so if you want to take one of these on the go, they’ll thaw nicely and you can eat it cold. However, I wanted mine hot. So I popped a pair in the oven and baked them according to the directions on the box.

orlando pepperoni bread sliced

For me, that wasn’t nearly enough time.  If you’re looking for melty cheese on the inside, you’ll probably want to leave them in at least three more minutes than the box suggests.  But that’s a matter of preference.  Same goes for a little marinara sauce.  I would love to the see the box come with a container of marinara sauce to dip it in.  Adding pepperoncini might be a nice touch too, but those aren’t for everybody.

more pepperoni rolls

For the sake of variety, I tried one in the toaster oven. (especially since it wasn’t a whole loaf and I didn’t need to fire up the big oven)  It was nice and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, just as it should be.

Overall, I think this is a quality product.  They’re the perfect size and shape for my little Italian-at-heart daughters to nibble on when dinner isn’t quite done yet.  And I would proudly serve these to guests an appetizer or a party snack.

orlando frozen ciabatta dough

For the ciabatta dough, I took it out of the oven and brought it up to room temperature, per instructions on the packaging.  I certainly want to respect the artisan dough that it is!  Once it was room temp, I also brushed it with oil as recommended.  However, I don’t have a pizza pan to bake it in like the instructions suggested, only a pizza stone (which to be effective should be heated in the oven first…and I couldn’t work the dough and add the toppings that way) so I chose to work on a standard cookie sheet.

ciabatta pizzs

I worked the dough out into the size and shape I wanted, which wasn’t hard at all (don’t know why I’m so scared to work with dough sometimes–fear I’m going to screw it up I guess) Then I topped it with a layer of pizza sauce, pepperoni, mushrooms, and onion, along with some spices and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

I made sure the crust had a nice coating of olive oil on it along with a light sprinkle of garlic salt.  I baked it as suggested and it turned out beautifully.

orlando ciabatta pizza

Nice and golden brown around the crust.  The outside was lightly crispy and the inside was chewy, just like I like my pizza and my ciabatta bread.  If you’re not too familiar with ciabatta, know that it isn’t going to be as light as other pizza dough.  I find it a little more dense, but I like it that way!

The frozen dough will run you about $2…a steal for the time and grief it will save you making your own, and less than other varieties of prepared pizza dough or crusts.  I bought the pepperoni rolls for about $6, which is also an inexpensive way out of a “I forgot we were supposed to bring something to the party” jam.

Both products are available at Heinen’s.  And the pepperoni rolls are also sold at Dave’s, Discount Drug Mart, Marc’s, and Zagara’s.

“sCRUMBtious” Shrimp

I like potato chips a whole lot.  And it always pains me to toss the end of the bag away, along with all those perfectly good crumbs.  But until this week, the only way I knew to consume them was through a very undignified method of upending the bag and pouring them into my mouth.  Not ladylike.

I love to take a whole Sunday afternoon and just experiment in the kitchen.  This week I was able to try out a handful of things.  Some things worked, some didn’t (I’ll spare you the details of the failures).  The results of what did work was pretty damned tasty.  Potato Chip Crusted Shrimp with a pair of dipping sauces, Honey Sriracha and Chipotle BBQ.

leftover Lays

I grabbed the remnants of what was a jumbo bag of Lays chips out of my cupboard and crushed them inside the bag (less mess!!) I used my hands and a rolling pin.  When then were almost the size of bread crumbs I was satisfied.

potato chip crumbs

Since the chips were already moist (and seasoned) and the shrimp I was working with were wet, I chose to skip the usual 3-step breading process: flour, egg and breading…and just go right to the breading.  The coating would probably stick better with the standard method, but I was looking to use up my calorie count with the chips instead of the flour and egg.  I coated the shrimp in the potato chips crumbs and thought it best to move quickly before they dried and fell off.

potato chip coated shrimp

A chef friend of mine, Brandt Evans, taught me how to make pretzel crusted trout, and one of his tricks was to add oil (about a tablespoon of canola) to a cold pan and then put the seafood in, to avoid burning the coating.  I tried that in this case, and it worked well.  It goes against what most of us know, but it’s the right call here.

fried potato chip crusted shrimp

This step just took a few minutes on the frying pan.  I put it on medium/high heat and they were golden brown in only about 3 minutes.  Now, prior to browning up the shrimp, I started experimenting with the dipping sauces.  First thought: Honey Sriracha.  I’m very in to “sweet heat” nowadays.  And it was done in no time at all.  I just put a couple of teaspoons of honey in a ramekin and heated it up so it would mix well with a dash of Sriracha, my new favorite hot sauce.  This step is up to you, however hot or sweet you want it.  Find your happy place.

chipolte BBQ sauce

If you don’t keep Sriracha in your fridge, try a Chipotle BBQ variety instead.  I just put a couple of tablespoons of BBQ sauce in another ramekin, and added a dash of chipotle chili, and the same amount of cumin for some smokey flavor.  I fired that up in the microwave to heat it up.  Both sauces were good.  But I preferred the Honey Sriracha.

The end result of this experiment was a great appetizer.  But you could certainly apply this to a larger volume of shrimp and be pretty satisfied!  I encourage you to try something in the kitchen this week…and report back!

Cheftovers Pantry Must-Haves

You can’t make Cheftovers magic without some must-haves.  I’m not suggesting you take this list, and go out and buy everything up.  However, these are the things I like to keep in my fridge, freezer and pantry, that allow me to successfully cobble together dinner or reinvent last night’s meal.

pantry must haves-pasta

Pasta.  Like any good Italian girl, I always have several pounds of pasta on hand.  Short and long, frozen and stuffed.  To me, pasta is the perfect canvas for a lot of things.  Think you only have enough chicken for one serving?  Not so, if you chop it up and toss it with a bowl of pasta and add a savory cream sauce or pesto.  Have leftover Chinese food?  Use some linguini to whip up a cold noodle salad/side for lunch the next day and toss in that excess beef and broccoli.

Tortillas.   Another great blank slate.  I love making a quick quesadilla for my kids.  They also take the edge off when I get home from work and don’t plan on eating dinner for a while.  So I always keep a variety of shredded cheese on hand to make ‘em melty, and marry the bits and pieces I have around from previous dishes.  These Mexican staples can also serve as a vessel for MYOP, or make your own pizza pockets…again, using things like veggies you’ve got around.

I made a risotto to celebrate our  anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini.  (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

I made a risotto to celebrate our wedding anniversary using arborio rice and wine from Santorini. (we honeymooned in Italy and Greece)

Rice.  White, brown, long grain and Arborio.  I love making a risotto with the rest of the expensive asparagus or artichokes I purchased for a dish earlier that week.  Sometimes I’ll stuff a green pepper when I’ve got a few extra in the produce drawer.  Stuff a chicken breast with long grain or brown rice, onion, garlic and spinach.  It’s tasty and filling.

Bacon.  Wrap almost anything in bacon and it makes it instantly and infinitely better.

Produce.  Not a day goes by when I don’t use several of the following: onions, celery, garlic, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, lemon, lime, tomatoes, corn, peppers.  Frozen: corn, peas, spinach, kale.

egg bake2

Dairy.  Sour cream, cream cheese, and butter/margarine are “duh” items.  I like to keep a lot of half and half in my fridge, not only because I like it in my coffee, but also because I can use it where you might want heavy cream in a recipe.  Most of the time there is skim milk and whole milk in there too.  Having a dozen eggs around opens up the possibility for a lot of delicious dishes.  I like to concoct egg bakes using what I’ve got around…a little leftover ricotta from lasagna, sun dried tomatoes from a pasta dish, spinach from a stuffed chicken recipe.  You get the idea.

Spices.  Building a good spice cabinet takes some time.  If a recipe calls for a spice I don’t have in stock, I’ll search for a substitute or I usually move on.  Things like garlic salt, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika, herbs de Provence, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, thyme, and parsley I always keep in my cabinet.  It’s rare I find use for things like turmeric or saffron.  But it depends on your taste.

Dressings/Condiments: mayo, mustard, dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire, hot sauce, peanut butter, salsa, and BBQ sauce.  These items find their way into many sauces, marinades or dressings that change yesterday meal into today’s “original” offering.

Almonds.  I use these as a nice substitute for most expensive and harder to come by pine nuts.  They also serve as a delicious stand-in for bread crumbs when breading chicken or fish.  But bread crumbs also make my list.  Turn leftover salmon from a cook-out into salmon cakes you can freeze (with some of the above mentioned veggies like corn and peppers, plus some cayenne or Cajun seasoning)

Stock or broth.  I go through this like water, literally.

Oils and vinegars.  Make a one-time investment in some of these and you’ll open yourself up to different dishes that you wouldn’t normally make.  I buy olive oil by the gallon sometimes.  Canola or vegetable oil is a must.  Sesame oil can is useful in many Asian sauces and marinades, plus you can make your own hummus with it.  Balsamic, red wine and white wine vinegar are pantry staples.  But cider vinegar makes its way into a lot of my recipes too.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren't going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

I combined a can of diced tomatoes with some fresh tomatoes that weren’t going to last much longer for the base of a fresh marinara.

Canned goods.  Black beans can “pinch hit” for a protein in one of my quesadillas, or be added to white rice, leftover fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime for a side dish, a la Chipolte. Various canned tomato products are enormously useful.  I try to stock the cupboard with tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste.  And because I’m part Mediterranean, I always like to have olives within reach.  They’re like a great culinary accessory.

I’m always interested in an ingredient or tool to make things tastier, or easier?  What are your pantry #musthaves?