Category Archives: Ohio

Luna Bakery Cafe

Luna Bakery Cafe, Cleveland Heights

Recently, my good friend R.H. and I ventured into a new crêperie located in Cleveland Heights, Luna Bakery Café. For the most part, I’ve only positives to speak about the place and easily give it deux thumbs up (had I another hand, I’d make it three). My five rationales are noted below.

One: The Interior.
So simple and beautiful—white walls, a few wooden two-tops and in the middle of the seating area, a large six-seat community-style table.

Odd as it may seem, the latter detail is actually one of my favorite notables about Luna, in part, because of the forced interaction it encourages. There’s only one piece of framed art adorning the entire café, and it rests above the napkin and silverware counter across an encased display of baked goods. While I love the simplicity of the space, I think it would be cool if the café included framed local art. It would only complement the locavore feel of the spot.

Two: The Sweets.
Luna has a jointing room, home to Flour Girl, which serves up Luna’s cookies and pastries. The space is owned by Bridget Cavanaugh Thibeault, a former New York City food stylist who launched FG as a creative side business. Flour Girl also custom designs cakes and the boutique biz has even grabbed top picks by The Knot’s Best of Weddings and Little Black Book’s Style Me Pretty.

Inside FG is where eye-popping sweet creations take form under the skilled hands of genius pastry chefs. It’s where the French macaron prep occurs each Wednesday evening. These alone easily make a trip to Luna absolutely necessary. I’ve scoured the city in search of the delicate treasures, and it’s been a long, long hunt (note, Bonbon Bake Shop also serves them). The macaron flavors are clever—I recently saw one lightly dusted with cayenne pepper. Hands down though, nothing competes with my favorite: sea salt caramel.

It’s not just the macarons that make me smile with delight. Three words: carrot cake cupcakes.

Think what you will. The triple C is my ultimate favorite dessert (and future wedding cake, should that day ever come). But it doesn’t stop there. Brownies, chocolate croissants and lemon bars, oh my.  And then some. Point being, the sweets are perhaps worth a cavity because they are that good.

Three: The Outdoor Area.
Back to my seating fixation, Luna has a wonderful arrangement by the front entrance, a prime spot for people and cake watching. Yes. You read that right. One can view pastry chefs meticulously fashioning custom wedding cakes in the window front of Flour Girl. The outdoor area is also perfect for sitting with a book in one hand and an ice coffee in the other.

Four: City Roast.
Luna proudly serves City Roast Coffee, a local craft roaster of estate grown organic and songbird safe coffee. This means the environment in which it’s grown is protected from deforesting. Simply knowing that makes the coffee worth drinking even more. I recommend an order of ice coffee, which I’m told is City Roast’s South Side blend. It tastes slightly tart with a balance body and pairs quite well with the aforementioned desserts.

Five: The Day Menu.
It boasts unbelievably good crêpes, among them: nutella and banana, caramelized apples, pralines and crème fraiche and poached pears with mascarpone (there are a few others, however, these are my top picks). On the savory side, smoked turkey, provolone, spinach and tomato pesto or the roasted portabello mushroom with summer squash, goat cheese and artichoke pesto. The latter can also be ordered as an oh-my-god-this-is-too-good panini. Hmm, can you guess my typical order? And it’s also served with an ice cream scoop sized portion of quinoa.

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Iced Coffee Cool Down

It feels like Africa outside.

This kind of heat brings a streamline of sweat even while showering in cold water. Needless to say, I’m not drinking much hot coffee these days. My alternative: iced brew, a way to help counter the lava-hotness outside. Two of my favorite Cleveland spots for the cool coffee potion are Luna Bakery (serving City Roast) and Phoenix Coffee (serving self-titled coffee).

But, if you don’t feel like venturing out and about, try making iced coffee at home using a French Press. Check out the Magic Coffee recipe below, courtesy of food52.com. Not a fan of brown sugar and cinnamon? I’m sorry to hear that. Just forgo those two ingredients and steep the coffee grounds overnight. Then, simply add a splash of milk along with a few ice cubes, and you’re ready to sip and savor.

Coffee Base

  • 2/3 cups coarsely ground coffee
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Directions
Put ingredients into a French Press and stir. Cover (but don’t press it yet) and refrigerate overnight.

The Finished Drink
Fill a glass halfway with ice. Press the grounds and pour coffee until glass is approximately 3/4 full.  Add milk, half and half or cream to taste.


Phoenix Wake Up Call

I dread wake up calls, especially on a Sunday. It feels a bit sinful for an alarm clock to beckon your brain with one annoying alert after another during pre-dawn hours. After all, this is a day that’s labeled lazy. You should sleep in and nurse that hangover. You should leave the bed covers unmade because of said hangover. You should eat a crazy caloric breakfast to remedy the brought on headache from Saturday night debauchery. And exercise? Forget the word. It sounds dangerous.

That is definitely not how I spent my yesterday morning. Far from it. This lady awoke at an undesirable hour to prep for a half marathon. First thing’s first. Race day fuel: non-fat plain Greek yogurt, a banana, coconut H20 and a cup of coffee. Yes, it’s as boring as one can only imagine.

Having to forcefully wake up at 5 a.m. on the Lord’s day sure made me feel a little tipsy. My morning savior: Phoenix’s signature blend, a combination of Central American, African and Indonesian beans. The flavor is equally dynamic, rich, smooth and easily palatable—my perfect wake up call.


A Luxxe Package

Caffee Luxxe + French Press = A Match Made in Heaven

Last year, the travel bug bit me pretty hard and left me with enough frequent flyer miles worthy of three plane tickets. If it weren’t for endless excursions to Los Angeles, I never would’ve discovered the beautiful and elegant Caffee Luxxe.

Santa Monica’s heavenly café awakened me to a whole new coffee experience, which I detailed in a previous post. I only wish I could savor CL’s exquisite coffee and atmosphere on a regular basis. For now, I’m fortunate to have a vicarious taste, thanks to a weekend delivery, which resulted in a ceremonious Sunday.

This morning, my coffee cup married my French Press. The beautiful union was solemnized by a divine coffee clergy made up of mild, full-bodied Costa Rica-Helsar beans, delivered from 2,300 miles away.

The coffee coupling was made possible thanks to Caffe Luxxe. Traveling with said heavenly brew were wonderful accompaniments: Testa Rossa, Amaretti cookies, biscotti and crème pour les mains, all gifted from Caffe Luxxe co-founder and creative director, Mr. Gary Chau.

The lux package also supplied bountiful Caffee Luxxe bags, my sturdy supplement to the traditional lunch tote. As if said delights weren’t enough, there was an added touch—a handwritten note that included proper use of commas.

A reception will be held post-Bill Cunningham New York. All are welcome to sip, savor and toast Costa Rica’s citrus and cedar flavor—a sweet way to finish off a Sunday.


Caffee A Lot(te) at Phoenix Coffee

Phoenix Cafe, Cleveland

Yours truly has entered Salon’s “Great Coffee Art” contest…twice. Competitive is my middle name (actually, it’s Sharon).

Determined to place among the top five entries, I immediately did some fieldwork. Riddle me this: is it even possible to find cool, artfully decorated lattes in the Cle? You bet, and I cracked the coffee code at Phoenix, home to the best baristas in the city—actually in the country.

I’m not kidding when I say I’m a competitive person. In fact, when I learned about Phoenix’s Genius Baristas, both of whom compete in national latte art competitions, you can expect that I hunted them down.

Genius Barista #1: Antoine Franklin (left), Genius Barista #2: Wes Johansen (obviously right)

Genius Barista #1: Antoine Franklin

Style*: Calm, cool and collected; perfectionist

Location: Phoenix Cafe on Lee Road

Antoine created a couple of designs, one of which was a delicate tulip. It looked stunning, velvety and smooth. He revised a few times, which required pouring cup after cup down the drain. Naturally, I shuddered at the sight and cringed with guilt to see such beautiful brew go to waste—all for my sake. I guess I will have to punish myself by drinking equal amounts of coffee wasted for the commissioned latte art.

Phoenix Cafe, Lee Road

Genius Barista #2: Wes Johansen

Style*: Happy-go-lucky; crafty

Location: W 9th’s Phoenix Cafe

Wes was all in for creating a design. We briefly chatted about some concepts (yeah, you know it!). Here’s what came to mind: a camera, something related to writing or running. Wes chose the latter and cleverly coined his creation,”Latte on the Beach.” A couple edits later, the perfection came to fruition (notice the footprints).

W 9th's Phoenix Cafe

I couldn’t let every revision go to waste, so the last one I felt necessary to taste-test. The flavor exploded like dynamite in my mouth. U-n-b-e-l-i-e-v-a-b-l-e. It’s coffee you’d want to sip with breakfast, lunch and dinner.

*Subjective observation


Caruso’s Coffee Tour

After a recent coffee tasting at L’Albatros, I had the opportunity to tour the roastery where the magic beans are nurtured to perfection.

Enter one of the nation’s premier specialty roasters, Caruso’s Coffee. Click the image to peek inside. In a later post, I’ll detail the experience, which concluded with a killer coffee tasting that left me amped for a couple of days.

 

Caruso's Coffee, Brecksville, Ohio


Dedicated Drinker: Coffee Tasting at L’Albatros

 

L'Albatros, Cleveland, Ohio

The dictionary defines obsession as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.” Let me think about this…I sometimes drink more coffee than water during the day. I order whole beans from across the country. I’d rather toast with a cup of coffee instead of beer. I even hydrate with caffeine before I workout. Obsessed? More like “dedicated,” Merriam-Webster.

My overt addiction recently routed me to 11401 Bellflower Road, home to my favorite Cleveland restaurant, L’Albatros. You’d never guess that sandwiched between Case Western U’s Zeta Beta Tau and Alpha Chi Omega Greek houses is a nationally-acclaimed Neo-French Brasserie + Bar, one of four impressive establishments invented by James Beard award nominee Zachary Bruell.

That little detail is among the dozens that make this place quite distinctive. Other notables: an extensive menu of contemporary cuisine, mod décor, and, of course, the exquisite after-dinner drink.

About the latter, I’m not referring to the spirits selection. I’m talking about the four dark amber French Press brews: Kona, Kenya, Jamaican and Sumatran. And it was at said stomping ground where I taste-tested the quartet java rainbow.

Yes, the Anthony Bourdain experience came to fruition one sweet Saturday, after an especially exhausting 90-minute Power Vinyasa yoga class. If you’ve ever survived a 90-minute class with Cleveland Yoga’s Parker Bean, congratulations. She was a substitute for this particular class, and it felt like boot camp for boot camp. I barely survived the punishment, having finished Savasana showered with sweat and in need of a serious energy boost (note, her classes are my favorite, so I guess that makes me a masochist).

What’s a woman to do? Easy answer: cup it up. Sure, I could have stopped at a number of quick coffee shops, but why bother? It wasn’t that kind of day. No, no. This day warranted something more to counter the especially cloudy, cold, grey and rainy Cleveland weather. I wanted something elegant and decadent. L’Albatros was the perfect match, and I marched right in like a woman on a mission.

I was seated next to a calm, cozy fire, accompanied by my dear friend Ms. Lariss. The 2 p.m. crowd was serene. Though I was brought forth a delicious menu, I already knew what was in order: a pick-me-up cup of coffee. Question was, “which of the four brews to choose?” The server couldn’t decide either, so Sean McNeil, the assistant general manager, made the executive decision and brought forth the most elaborate, extravagant sampling one could ever ask for: four French Presses of each aforementioned coffee, complemented with desserts: a warm chocolate brownie with crème anglaise and vanilla bean ice cream; an apple almond tart with burnt caramel ice cream; crème caramel; and (yes, the list goes on), a decadent serving of house-made goat cheese ice cream.

Initially, I was euphoric about the elegant eats. But despite the table full of sugar, the sweetest moment was admiring the beautiful four French Presses, place before me like prized trophies. For several moments, I stared as if insanely committed. Then, the St.-Patrick’s-style drinking began.

Cup One: Jamaican
A mild, fresh grassy flavor
Paired best with the apple tart

Cup Two: Kenya
Clean flavor, premiere African coffee with vibrant acidity, hints of ripe berry
Paired best with the warm chocolate brownie

Cup Three: Kona
Hints of light citrus, medium-body and naturally sweet, no dark roast
Paired best with…not gonna lie, all of the desserts

Cup Four: Sumatran
Chocolate and caramel notes, full-bodied, smoky finish
Paired best with the crème caramel

Each coffee was presented in a stylish glass and silver press, served perfectly temperate and undeniably palatable. The complementing white porcelain cups more than welcomed coffee after coffee after coffee…after coffee. Indeed, I was charged like the Energizer Bunny thereafter. Believe me, I definitely didn’t have a normal sleep pattern for a couple of days. All of the caffeine kept me wired enough to have run a marathon—and it was every sip worth it.

One may wonder how a petite Ms. could’ve handled such an indulgent spread. Two answers: elastic waistband, and an extensive time span. Of course, I’m kidding about the elastic waistband—I don’t don such dress. The tasting lasted like an Italian-style dinner—I went long and strong for two-and-a-half hours, chatting with Ms. Lariss, Sean and L’Albatros’ general manager, Brandon Chrostowski, about all things coffee.

Among the reasons why L’Albatros remains my favorite Cleveland restaurant is due in large part to the enthusiastic staff who check in with each guest with such mindfulness, you can’t help but want to return just to see their sincere smiles. The menu is undeniably creative, and the sophisticated ambience couldn’t be more inviting.

Back to the brew, Mr. McNeil spilled the beans as the where L’Albatros gets their beans: Caruso’s, one of the Midwest’s largest specialty coffee roasters. After coming down from seventh coffee heaven, I was afforded the opportunity to tour Caruso’s roastery. Check back for a follow up post.


Shots of Coffee at KP

A few days ago, I had the privilege of paying a visit to one of my favorite creative havens: Kalman & Pabst Photo Group. The premier commercial photography studio specializes in food, product and people. They also specialize in knowing how to have fun on the job. Case in point, Wednesday afternoon, during which I spent some time throwing black fish pebbles at a track spike.

Now, I know what you must be thinking, “You’re a strange, quirky Hawaiian,” and while that’s certainly true, such action was all part of my devised plan for a photo shoot I was directing for work. The 40 pounds of dirt and four rolls of 2×5 sod I brought to the studio also had a purpose—and everything worked out exactly as I’d intended (I’ll provide a sneak peek of the vignettes shortly).

Only at KP can I bring forth my offbeat creative visions. The studio’s artistic atmosphere welcomes such imagination and is infectiously full of energy that it’s an instant mood-booster—much like a cup of coffee. Naturally, I enjoy it. I admire the team’s passion for photography and like to absorb as much as possible whenever I’m in the studio.

Knowing my love for coffee and photography, one of KP’s highly-talented mastermind’s, Jeff, poured a cup so I could take a few shots. I only wish I could have tipped that cup like a thirsty frat boy downing his favorite beer. Unfortunately, I’m on the no-caffeine train, and I couldn’t be moving slower and as disoriented as NYC’s mail system. It’s all part of the torturous herbal cleanse I mentioned in a previous post. The coffee wasn’t for me to sip and savor. Rather, it was for me to experiment with some technical features on my Lumix camera. Most of what we discussed related to shutter speed and aperture, and Jeff also shared some cool words of wisdom when eyeing a subject. Click the image below to preview the coffee shots from my photo session with Jeff.

KP Coffee Shots

 


Gourmet Guzzle at Presti’s Bakery

Is 7:30 p.m. too late to drink a fourth cup of coffee? Never.

Like I said before, nobody likes a Monday, and 3/7 warranted copious caffeine. Cup one started at 7:30 a.m.—a French Press of Intelligentsia’s House Blend. Still struggling at 9 a.m., cup two, a Presti’s café au lait, flowed like Niagara Falls into my mouth. Mid-afternoon cup trois shall remain nameless. Cup four (believe it), back to Presti’s for The Challenge.

Presti's Bakery, Cleveland

Recall last week when I summoned D.M. to a coffee taste-off. Today was D-day, hence the streamline guzzle. To my surprise, D.M. showed up at 12101 Mayfield Rd. dressed in khakis—the man refrained from sporting his “special-occasion-only” pleated pants. He definitely didn’t hold back on the questionable styling glue, which allowed him to assemble Pauly D-like hair, not coincidentally his favorite Jersey Shore character. (D.M. denies he ever wears a neck chain, but I’m certain it was tucked under his circa 1994 tan sweater vest).

The set up: two small orders of Presti’s coffee.

Appropriately named the “Gourmet Blend,” I like to call it magical help, and Presti’s coffee vendor, the Van Roy Coffee Co., terms it their masterpiece. The brew’s flavor profile is a wondrous trifecta of distinct beans, each roasted at different spectrums before blended into a full-bodied, smooth and complex finish.

The taste-test: several sips, no talking.

Each grand gulp delivered a mildly bold, decadent flavor that had a slight tangy/citrus aftertaste. I was reminded of an orange-pomegranate flavor. The coffee was balanced and bold, easy to drink and far from bitter.

D.M.: “It’s good.” The look on his face read something like, “I like this so much, I’d hydrate with it during my weight room workouts while rocking out to Alice in Chains.”

D.M.: 0   S.G.: 1

Looks like I won this challenge.


Sunday Serving at Le Petite

Who really looks forward to a Monday? (Come on, be honest. You know you’re slightly lying if you say you definitely do). The glass half-full mentality: It’s a fresh start to the week! A chance to take care of business! Cross things off the list!

And then what happens? Well, after Tuesday, the remaining workweek initials spell what most of us are thinking: W.T.F.

Thank goodness for Sunday, a day when you can be as lazy as you want before facing the glass half-empty mentality of mourning Monday morning.

Such is why I frequently cozy up inside 1881 Fulton Road, aka Le Petite Triangle. This tiny nook houses approximately seven tables—a combo of inviting two- and four-tops attended to by a perky orchestration of fast-paced, friendly servers who gladly decorate each table with a can’t-go-wrong menu.

My heavenly haven preps me for two things: a long week and a long run. Regarding the latter, I’m currently gearing up for my second Boston Marathon, and the taxing training requires that I consume many more calories than I would normally. My Sunday splurge definitely takes advantage of my typical Michael-Pollan-style diet—and I like it.

Le Petite serves the most délicieux crepes in Cleveland. My favorite feasting is a lick-the-plate combination of Nutella, whipped cream and strawberries. Believe it, such decadent goodness isn’t the main reason why I habitually venture inside. It’s actually due to another pleasing pairing: the grilled fromage washed down with a café au lait. It’s every bit(e) worth it. Dijon, caramelized onions, swiss cheese and always-requested roasted chicken decorate this substantial sandwich, which I delightfully savor as much as the au lait, a whole-milk concoction combined with Crooked River Coffee’s Serious French Roast.

If you ever need a slap-in-the-face jolt, Crooked River’s SFR is a brew that absolutely brings it. Reason being, its strong profile immediately awakens your taste buds with of stream of slightly bittersweet and mildly acidic flavors. A cup of this 100% organic coffee is enough to exchange a lazy Sunday glass-half-empty mentality to one that’s all about getting back to the grind.

Le Petite Triangle, Cleveland, Ohio