Last year at this time: Thanksgiving 2015 in Tokyo and Manila (Part I)

Japan Connecting Flights

Thanksgiving last year was unlike any Thanksgivings of past. The previous holiday (2014) passed me over after getting the news of my mom’s passing and her wishes to be buried 24 hours after her death which made a trip to attend the funeral impossible. So in 2015, I made an effort to visit her on her one-year death anniversary which is an important date in Filipino culture and marks the end of the mourning period.

In August I booked two tickets roundtrip from L.A. to the Philippines for a five-day trip— an insanely quick trip because of our freelance work (we have no vacations) and other obligations (like our dog).

Paul had just returned from the Reno Comic-Con and had only Monday to recover before we set off on the international trip on Tuesday. Our flight was at 11 AM and at dawn we set off in my car to LAX to avoid any pre-Thanksgiving rush. Lucky for us, things went smoothly; not a lot of people were leaving on international trips and we breezed past security onto the plane with no problem. After 12 hours on the airplane, first stop was Narita Airport in Japan. 

I had purposefully planned a long layover and looked forward to the 16-hour Tokyo excursion before the big emotional reunion. We had very short list of things to do and we had planned not to sleep during our stay in the city so we wouldn’t miss our connecting flight the following morning at 9 to Manila.

We packed light for the trip and once we landed we stowed away our belongings in an airport locker instead of lugging it around with us. Narita is about 44+ miles outside of Downtown area and we took the commuter (aka cheaper) train to the city to our first stop: Shinjuku.

Tokyo Ramen

Our first order of business: food. It was raining and cold and there was no other thing I wanted more than ramen. I hadn’t had it on my last trip to Tokyo and ramen was at the top of my list to eat. We finally chose on a nondescript place where Paul ordered a pork tonkotsu and I went with the spiciest thing on the menu to warm me up. We sat on the second floor of the restaurant (where Paul almost slipped down the stairs) and watched as the rain continued to pour.

Godzilla from far away

Paul and Godzilla

Hotel Gracery Godzilla Floor

After filling up, we wandered around a bit in the rain with our tiny collapsible umbrella to look for the Hotel Gracery, also in Shinjuku. Tokyo is known for all kinds of crazy, memorable buildings but this one is set apart with Godzilla perched on top. Once you see the building, it’s easy to see spot and we took the elevator up to the 8th floor hoping to get up close and personal but found the patio was closed because of the rain. If we had extra time, you betcha I would’ve reserved a spot in their special Godzilla room.

Star Wars display from far away

Star Wars display upclose

As we were wandering to our next stop, we spotted this special Star Wars display for a department store from the across the street. 

But look closer, you’ll see it’s not the familiar Star Wars characters. It’s actually a creative design trick using common items to create an illusion that you’re seeing Chewbacca, R2-D2, et al. Truly amazing.

Hachicko statue

Hachiko Mural

Also on our list was looking for Hachiko statue in Shibuya. People were lined up, even in the rain, to take a photo with Japan’s most devoted dog who waited every day to meet his owner from the train — even for many years after he passed away — until Hachiko died himself. Weirdly enough, we had been at that very spot more than a decade earlier but didn’t know the statue existed.

Paul and I had this plan to wander all night and it was soon approaching midnight so we made the decision to head back to the Narita before the trains shut down for the night. We made it — almost.

We got as far as the train would take us and took a cab the rest way to the airport. The airport was also closed for the evening so we couldn’t fetch our bags. With 9+ hours until our flight, we decided to stay at a capsule motel at the airport instead of huddled under an umbrella outside in the rain.

H9 exterior

Security escorted us to the front of the 9 Hours. The name stands for the maximum number of hours you can stay in the hotel. It was well past midnight by this point and we couldn’t just ask for 5 hours, we were charged the full 9 hours which was about $49 per a person instead of the $15 per an hour. Once we paid, we given a small mesh bag of toiletries and shown the entrance for the men and another area for women.

It’s around this time Paul starts to freak out. What if we miss the plane? How will I get in touch with you? We find there’s free Wifi and are able to communicate via text messaging. Whew. 

H9 Sign Directions

H9 Sign
9H-toiletries

Back to the capsule motel. The first place I enter is a locker room to stow our stuff. In the mesh bag is a button-up gown, slippers, toothbrush, mini toothpaste, washcloth and towel, plus a numbered key assigning a locker and sleep capsule. 

H9 Locker Room

H9 Wash area

I hadn’t showered since San Diego but had energy to wash my face, brush my teeth and take off my contacts in a separate wash area and find my way to the capsule area.

H9 Slippers outside

H9 Inside sleep capsule

I was completely dark by the time I enter the sleeping area and I’m the only one crawling into bed. I fell off a step and tried to muffle my scream so as to not wake anyone sleeping. Somehow I made my way into the capsule leaving my slippers outside by like everyone else.

Each capsule included shades to draw down in the front for privacy, plus lights, a power outlet and some kind of white-noise machine imitating waves. The buckwheat pillow and the rest of the bed was pretty comfortable.

Between catching the flight and being in a weird place, I only slept for a few hours and Paul was messaging me that he’s dressed and waiting in the lobby for me. (Note: Paul unlike me, didn’t pack extra underwear, medicine, etc. in his walkaround backpack so he’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes.)

H9 Toilet

H9 Toilet Controls

By the time I get up, the ladies’ side is busy with women of all ages and nationalities getting ready.

The wash up area also included toilets and shower stalls. Like Japanese toilets throughout the country, these toilets are top-of-the-line and the showers aren’t too shabby either with shampoo, conditioner and body wash inside pump dispensers. The towels, gown and slippers were returned and tossed in a hamper.

Narita Breakfast

We gathered up our luggage, grabbed some breakfast of French toast, eggs and sausage and made our way to our connecting flight to Manila.

Next up: Not quite 48 hours in the Philippines

Comic-Con 2016: A Tale of Two Stents

Comic Con 2016

San Diego Comic-Con 2016 is finally over and quite honestly, we’re not sad to see it go. If you were one of hundreds of people who stopped by the table to say ‘hi’ and buy a book or shirt, you likely got a story about Paul’s current medical condition. He has a kidney stone but it’s not that malady which hampered him this year— it was the two stents opening the passage from his kidneys to bladder that caused him the most discomfort these days and two months preceding the event. So he wasn’t his usual chipper self, standing up and talking. Until his surgery to finally remove the kidney stone and stents in mid-August, we’re keeping things on the down low.

Setting Up Table

But on to comic-con… I had a new book this year and sold all but two copies that we reserved for the show! We’ve restocked and will add it to the Cool Jerk store soon. In addition, we’re planning for a San Diego signing for those people requesting a copy but didn’t have tickets to the big event. To everyone who I talked to and bought a copy — thank you! I’m extremely touched and so sorry for the sad ending but life goes on.

Pins

This year I fell hard for enamel pins and bought several for myself. ‘Fuck Cilantro’ was gifted to me by a friend and sold out during the ‘con! I went back and bought ‘Part Bread’ from Night Cake, a company based out of Los Angeles. Those two pins were supplemented with a boba pin and Sriracha pin by Giant Robot. One pin — the handsofrespect.com pin — was designed by Stan Lee and has nothing to do with food. It was priced at $10 for two pins: one for yourself and one that you give to another person.

Me John Lewis

I bought the Stan Lee pin shortly before running into Congressman John Lewis who was there to sign his graphic novel, Bridge, at the IDW booth. It was earlier enough in the day when he wasn’t surrounded by an entourage and we were able to take a selfie. If you don’t know who John Lewis is, do a quick search and you’ll see he’s one of the original superheroes of the civil rights movement. It was quite an honor I tell you.

Enfu

Aside from pins, I was quite taken with a selection of stickers by enfu. The stickers featured doughnuts, slices of layer cake, ramen, sushi, breakfast, etc. There were lots of stickers to choose from and if you wanted to upgrade to a full-sized print, they offered a menu. Clever!

Sarah Kuhn

My goal this convention was to get Heroine Complex signed by friend and author extraordinaire Sarah Kuhn. I have so much I want to say about this book because it touches me in so many ways. Aside from the Asian superhero protagonists, super hot sex scenes, food references and nods to fashion, it’s everything I ever wanted in a book where male characters fall to the wayside and strong women are featured front-and-center. I’m slowly taking my time reading this book until the two follow-ups are released next year and the year after. In short, buy a copy!

CB Herb and Wood

I made every effort to connect with friends outside of the convention center and have a meal with them. On Friday night, Paul and I were graced with a dinner invitation by Marvel’s C.B. Cebulski. I had interviewed him several times over the years but this was quality time over a selection of dishes at Herb & Wood in Little Italy. We all talked comics industry, travel, kidney stones and food while sharing a bounty of small plates, entrées and dessert.

Ladies Lunch

Every comic-con, I have a standing lunch date with some really lovely comic book ladies— Wendy, Angela, Shannon and new girl Sonia. Previous years we hit up Puesto (where we spied Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd going to and from the now-defunct Pizzeria Mozza) and last year’s Double Standard. This year, we went to the new Carnitas’ Snack Shack by the Embarcadero, soaking up the cool air and views— and also hitched a free ride close to the convention center on a trolley tour bus!

The Crack Shack

Also becoming a tradition is a post-con dinner with friend, writer and artist Deb Aoki who visits every year to cover manga. This year, she had several panels as well. After the convention was shuttered on Sunday and we washed off all our ‘con stink, we delved deep into fried chicken goodness at The Crack Shack in Little Italy.

Ronald Thor

I don’t think any of my comic-con posts are ever really complete without at least one costume photo. In keeping on theme with food, here’s a mash up of Ronald McDonald as Thor with a Happy Meal Mjolnir.

New at San Diego Comic-Con: The Girl Who Kicked the Donut Habit

GirlWhoKickedDonutCover

By now I would have posted my top choices of where to eat downtown during this year’s comic-con. But you know what? I’ve been hella busy over at Zagat. More importantly, Paul and I pumped out a new comic book that we finished TWO WEEKS ago and we just received the order today. How’s that for last minute?

I think this comic is my best yet. It’s full of original content except for one page that I swiped off of My Burning Kitchen. And while funny, there are some sadder moments to it hence the title. Like the previous comic, The Girl With The Donut Tattoo, look for a commentary for each page as well as few recipes. It retails for $6 with $1 of every sale benefiting the Colon Cancer Alliance.

Page5Preview

If you’re still hungry for comic-con related content, check out this piece on Zagat San Diego of superheroes of the dining scene. The photos alone are worth a look.

Paul and I will be at the convention starting today until Sunday. Hope to see you there!

Frothy, Cold Brew Upgrade — At Home!

 

Frothy coffee

I’ve been making cold brew coffee at home lately. Aside from cleaning up the filter and waiting a day until it’s ready, cold brew at home is relatively easy and cost efficient as well.

If you haven’t noticed, cold brew is making waves all over the country — even Starbucks is selling their own version. There are posts all over the internet showing how to do it at home without a special carafe but I opted to buy Hario Water Brew Pot from Amazon. (It came free when I applied for the credit card.) Aside from the pot, all I need were some beans and water.

Coffee Setup

Depending on taste, you can use whatever beans you want and how long to brew. I have some really nice (read: expensive) beans at home but didn’t want to waste them. Instead, I used basic Trader Joe’s beans. Don’t buy the pre-ground stuff; you’ll want to freshly coarse grind yourself. The beans are then soaked at room temperature for 18 hours. Remove the grounds and you’re good to go.

Cold brew

Here’s where I make it special and has me convinced NEVER to buy cold brew again: I shake up the cold brew with vanilla cubes. I basically follow a modified version of this recipe for vanilla cubes — pour some coffee in a mason jar with simple syrup, shake and drink out of the damn jar like a hipster.

Shaking Cubes

The drinking is frothy and the shaking helps melt the vanilla cubes. And since making the vanilla cubes, I’ve discovered that there other uses… like cocktails!

Note: since the cubes use half-and-half, I recommend a special ice cube tray for easy retrieval. Or you can be like me and wait a few minutes until they’re soft and retrieve them using a butter knife.

Coffee Cube Closeup

Super Creamy Vanilla Cubes

1 quart half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar (add more if you don’t want to use simple syrup)
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Add milk and sugar in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium.

While milk is heating, split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds and add both to the pan. Heat until boiling and reduce to low. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring constantly and remove from heat.

Strain liquid into a bowl. Add vanilla extract and cool completely in refrigerator.

Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

Aldi is NOTHING Like Trader Joe’s

Aldi exterior

Grocery stores are a way of life for me. I like visiting unknown chains when I’m in a new city to see what’s cool and interesting. Since the closing of Fresh & Easy and many area Albertsons, I’ve been looking forward to new grocery stores to replace the empty space. News of one of them caught my attention: Aldi.

If you haven’t heard, Aldi is a sibling store to Trader Joe’s and I mean literal sibling. As the story goes, brothers Karl and Theo Albrech both founded Aldi in 1946, a supermarket chain based out of Germany. The siblings had a disagreement in the early 1960s and split the company in two: Aldi Sud and Aldi Nord. The latter eventually became the Trader Joe’s we know today selling private brand goods.

That bit of info piqued my interest. How cool that sibling grocery store is opening up their first shop in San Diego? Of course, I had to check it out. So with some free time to kill one weekday afternoon, I did the long drive to Vista.

Aldi shopping carts

Aldi deposit

Aldi is found right off State Route 78 in what appears to be a new shopping center. I guess I must have missed reports because there are absolutely no shopping baskets available at the store. Instead, there’s a lineup of carts outside locked together. To retrieve one for shopping costs a quarter. Don’t even attempt to use two dimes and a nickel or whatever you change you have, you must have a quarter. I must have made an audible fuss over it because the one of the employees gave me a quarter.

Aldi inside

Aldi cookies

Aldi candy

The first thing inside is the selection of cookies and candies — all right-priced at less than $2 but with brands I’ve never seen or even heard of. Brenton’s Cookies? Candy from Choceur? Since I’m a look-first type of shopper, I passed on these until I could get a ground plan for my purchases.

Aldi cheese

Aldi soda

Aldi Red Bull

Aldi frozen foods

Aldi luncheon meat

Aldi ice cream

The off brand trend continues throughout the store to include luncheon meat, hummus, frozen foods, etc. It was especially jarring to see Red Bull and Coke alongside off brands, toilet paper and other non-grocery items like lawn chairs and outdoor umbrellas.

Aside from the off brands, the most glaring difference between Aldi and Trader Joe’s is the availability of fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals. If Trader Joe’s devotes a quarter of the space to produce like green beans, broccoli, peas, etc. then Aldi only devotes an eighth or less, only sticking to shelf-stable items like tomatoes, onions, garlic and avocados. And if you go in hungry, you won’t find prepacked sandwiches or ready-to-heat chicken tikka masala. And here’s another thing to point out: while Trader Joe’s carries interesting products from around the world, Aldi seems firmly rooted in typical Americana cuisine.

At first pass, my cart was still empty. Between the 45-minute drive home and a quarter for the cart, I didn’t want to leave empty handed. I should also note that my objective was to leave Vista by 3:30 PM at the very latest to avoid the dreaded after-work traffic. I quickly picked up things I had my eye on earlier: a bar of chocolate found at the entrance, sardines, cherry lime soda, vanilla cookies and chips. With the exception of the pimento cheese and salami, nothing else was perishable.

Aldi checkout

Aldi paying at register

Checking out was an entirely memorable experience. I loaded up my meager groceries on the conveyor belt and was told to park my cart right by the cashier trapping her in. Reason was so she could immediately ring up the groceries and put them back in the cart. Bagging all my items happened outside where I transferred all the stuff from the cart into my reusable bag into my car.

Aldi plans to open more stores in San Diego County (I counted about eight in Los Angeles) but I’m sticking with my local Trader Joe’s for the long run.

1750 University Dr.
Vista, CA 92083
855.955.2534

Pepperhead Confessions: Wendy’s Jalapeño Fresco and Ghost Pepper Fries

Wendys Bag

There’s really no room in my diet for fast food. Aside from the occasional In-N-Out cleanse and Mc D’s vanilla cone, I avoid fast food like the plaque. My one exception is spicy food. My last write up on spicy food was Popeyes Ghost Pepper wings which were a huge disappointment. I didn’t get that familiar burning sensation on my lips or flashing regret that I may have just eaten my last meal. It’s an addiction I tell ya.

So when I saw Wendy’s advertising their Ghost Pepper fries, I had to make it a point to check it out soon.

Burger and Fries

At the drive-thru I noticed that Wendy’s was also offering a Jalapeño Fresco sandwich so the fries wouldn’t be by their lonesome. I wish I had the receipt because both orders racked up to about $8 total.

Wendys Burger Closeup

Here’s what you get: The Jalapeño Fresco sandwich layers five levels of spice according to their advertisement. From the burger, I could see cheese and what looks to be a neon orange Ghost Pepper cheese sauce on top with chopped jalapeños. The bun is described as a red jalapeño but the toasted variety I received appeared to be a regular old bun. Reading about it more, the breaded chicken patty is infused with spice (that’s number four for you people counting at home) and the fifth level of spice comes from the Colby pepper jack cheese. The only veggie aside from the peppers is a slice of purple onion.

As for taste, this packed a wallop. If I was a good food blogger, I would have eaten each ingredient separately and reported which item the spice came from but I was pretty hungry. Honestly, I’m surprised I even took photos.

Wendys Fries Closeup

Now onto the fries. Upon first glance, it looks to be like regular cheese fries but with that neon orange sauce drizzled on top, and again, here they go with those chopped jalapeños. From this taste, I can assume that the heat from the burger was from the orange Ghost Pepper sauce since the fries had a nice spice. Not overwhelming but satisfying for pepperheads like myself. The build up is slow and doesn’t overwhelm. Plus the size was enough for two people to share. (Paul had a taste and could not deal.) In all, I think the sandwich and fries offered a lot in diversity of food but I’d like to see them offer Ghost Peppers in something other than cheese sauce.

I have a feeling that these are limited-time-only items so if you’re craving a spicy fast food option that’s worth a taste, head over to Wendy’s soon!

Cutting Corners and Making My Own Caffeine Drinks

Coffee and tea

Here’s a revelation for you folks reading this: I pay for my own food. In my last three plus years of doing the professional food writing gig, I’ve spoken to a few dozen people who do the same thing as I do and discovered that whatever they eat out for work, it comes out of their own pocket. Shocker, right?

In doing filing taxes this year, my total food costs in relation to my job was approximately one month of pay. Don’t even get me started on tips — a item that is also tax deductible — I like to tip well and often. No need to make someone else suffer.

This has nothing to do with a “boo hoo is me” theme. It’s quite the opposite. I’m not going hungry and thankfully have a spouse who is able to pick up part of the mortgage. And while I would like to eventually upgrade both our cars or just get my radiator replaced so I can drive without fear of breaking down, we live modestly in our townhome with our sole dog child.

On the other hand, we try to cut corners whenever possible. Vacations usually revolve around business (again, so we can write it off) and I don’t eat at extravagant restaurants unless I can write about it. The biggest money drain is drinks— specifically coffee. There’s no denying I love my cold brew but it adds up quick. But I’ve found few ways to still get my caffeine fix without handing over a few dollars for every serving.

My favorite is Vietnamese coffee — a super-charge caffeine jolt that moves me from “nap time” to “you better get your ass moving so you can churn out stories” mode. Usually priced around $4-5, it’s waaaaay cheaper to buy a filter and make it at home.

Buy some Cafe Du Mode (usually around $4) and condensed milk and you’re set for more than a dozen servings. Now that’s a fantastic deal!

Matcha Green Tea

Another favorite is green tea matcha. In doing last year’s taxes, I spent nearly $200 on coffee at 85º Bakery on their salted mountain green tea. Yikes! If you spend a little time at Trader Joe’s, look for their Matcha Green Tea Latte. It runs about $3 per a container and makes about 8 servings. Meant to be hot, the tea can easily be transformed into a refreshing iced beverage.

That’s my rant. Now who wants to meet me for coffee?

IKEA Not: IKEA Now Sells Candy

Ikea Display How to Pick

Late last year and early into this year, I was in a frenzy to get our bedroom into tip top shape. That includes upgrading our full-sized bed – yes, full! – into a queen, buying a bed frame and installing floating shelves to save space in our tight quarters. This involved multiple trips to and from IKEA to either buy things or exchange them for something else. Whew!

Ikea Display from afar

Wandering IKEA and comparing the MALM bed frame next to the BRIMNES and picking up some LACK shelves of three different lengths can make any shopper hungry. And knowing hot dogs, meatballs and cinnamon rolls await me at IKEA, I knew I would never go hungry. In my last trip spotted a candy display in the marketplace.

Ikea Candy Display PeppermintLicoriceChalk
Scandy Fish

The colorful display drew me closer for inspection where I discovered a pick-and-mix kind of setup. Pinks, greens and all the colors of the rainbow were represented in a choice of 32 types of candy in with an English names as well as Swedish. Most of them like the rainbow rolls (a sweet and sour tape-like candy) and raspberry hearts were familiar but there were some I had never seen before. Swedish skulls, rambo strawberry, Swedish beans and lemon rhubarb logs – whut? I had to get at least one of everything.

Ikea Weight Display

IKEA pick-and-mix candy costs $7.99 a pound. The process is simple: pick your candy, weight it and a printer automatically prints out the price.  In case you’re wondering, one of everything (with the exception of small things like jelly beans) racked up to be $7.03.

Ikea Candy Purchases

Laid out, the candy is very pretty. My favorites were anything fruit related like IKEA’s Scandy fish (a riff on Swedish fish), fruit snakes and sour tongues. Chocolate and chocolate-coated anything was an entirely different matter. It was grainy and not the best chocolate if it was even “chocolate” at all. The worst of the entire bunch is the peppermint licorice chalk. Let that flavor combination sink in. It’s exactly what you think it tastes like.

Ikea Candy Hand

It’s a lot of candy for two adults to get through! I can’t imagine what kind of sugar high kids get from this stuff.

Candy Wrench

In terms of shapes and sizes, the skulls were the cutest. But IKEA’s so-called sour strawberry apple wrench looked oddly phallic. I think I notch in the bulbous part of the candy would have helped the wrench shape come through.

If you’re looking to check out some candy yourself, find you can find the display at the only IKEA in town (Mission Valley).

All The Guts and Glory

Vomit Gnome

Here’s something I thought I would never ever write about: gut health. But considering my job requires me to keep my tummy in tip top shape, I always have my gut in mind.

I hate to even utter the words ‘food poisoning’ because I haven’t suffered a case in about 3 years. In addition, have a proud anti-puking record. Minus the extreme case of vertigo a few weeks ago that caused me to regurgitate my burger lunch, my puke has been on the down low. (Side note: I’ve just discovered I really enjoy typing out puke.)

But there are things that set me off – Cajun food, I’m looking at you – and I’ve recognized the onset of symptoms that have sometimes prompted me to delay restaurant visits until my stomach is at 100%. Since I’ve been doing the professional food thing for almost four years (even longer if you consider my blogging career is now at the 12 year mark), I’ve realized that a consistent diet consisting of fiber and water keep me running smoothly.

WasaCrackers

It all starts with a breakfast of Wasa crackers. I got hooked onto these dry crackers last year training for the 10K. There’s no sugar and two crackers rack in 80 calories! Depending on how I feel, I top the crackers with peanut butter, cheese or if I’m really hungry, scrambled eggs. Think of it more like a concrete lining for my stomach. Since the crackers are so dry I try drink a lot of water to keep myself hydrated.

Culturelle

My morning crackers are followed by probiotics. I’ve tried a variety of probiotics with mixed results. They either tended to be too expensive or were in yogurt form. The ones that seem to agree with me are created by Culturelle. Last year before my trip to Asia, Paul and I prepped our guts by taking one in the morning and evening. Now when my stomach begins to feel a bit off later in the day I take a second one as insurance. It’s a steal at Costco and available in packs of 80 capsules for $29.99.

Brown Rice and Veggies

After my breakfast of crackers, anything can happen. Sometimes it’s followed by a lunch visit to a restaurant, but more often it’s badly chosen snacks like potato chips. The few times I’m able to cook at home, I stick with brown rice and steamed veggies. (I really enjoy green beans with light douse of Trader Joe’s Green Goddess dressing.) Boring I know but it jump starts my appetite when I’m feeling palate fatigue and keeps my system running.

One Final Visit to Cleveland: Indian Food, Ice Cream and Doughnuts

Cleveland View

In an effort to catch up with posts, I thought I’d write about my visit to Cleveland last year. My brother was moving from Ohio to Kentucky later in the year so I made it a point to make one last visit before he and my sister-in-law packed up and left the state.

The visit was bittersweet. I hadn’t seen him in a while even after my mom died. Also too, I realized it would be my very last visit – that’s unless I’m sent to the city for an assignment. In the ten years since my brother has lived there, I’ve visited at least five times and the last time was with our mom. Who would’ve guessed that I would be so connected to Cleveland??

I made the solo trip in in August and  when I arrived I noticed that all throughout the city  the preparations for the Republican convention in 2016.

Choolah shirts

Traveling East is hard! You basically lose several hours and to get in while its still day light requires you to leave on the earliest possible flight. I didn’t eat all day and one of the first stops was Choolaah Indian BBQ on Chagrin Boulevard in Beachwood, OH. It’s a fast casual restaurant featuring four tandoor clay ovens behind glass wall that you can view from the dining room. The signage was very sleek (think McDonald’s but with an Indian twist) – they even sell their t-shirts. Choolaah has only one location and it’s a restaurant I can foresee it going national.

Choolah Chicken Tikka

As per any visit with my family, we ordered almost the whole menu so I can try a little bit of every thing. My order was the chicken tikka masala that came with freshly made naan and mint yogurt sauce. An interesting fact: any dish incorporating cheese is sourced from local Amish farmers.

MItchells Menu

We followed that up with Mitchell’s, one of my favorite ice cream places that I’ve visited on previous trips and I always order the bing cherry chocolate chunk. The ice cream at Mitchell’s is sourced locally encompassing chunk elements in the mix. It’s reminiscent of Ben & Jerry’s before the brand went national while Jeni’s Spendid Ice Cream caters to trendy tourists types, Mitchell’s is a local place as evidenced by the lines outside the door.

Mitchells

Since I flew late in on Thursday, I tagged along with my brother to his place of work at the Cleveland Clinic the following day. For lunch, he took me to another place he thought I should check out: Sokolowski’s University Inn on University Road.

University Inn

Open since 1923, the cafeteria-style restaurant has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show for its Polish ethnic food. Grab a tray and fill it up with whatever looks good from the hot food bins.

Sokolowskis_decr Sokolowski's Salads

Sokolowski's chicken paprikash

That day, Sokolowski‘s featured their usual variety of salads and cakes. From the hot food bin was chicken paprikash, potato pancakes, mac ‘n’ cheese and fried fish just to name a few. It’s the kind of food that sticks with you all day.

Sokolowski's Potato Pancake fish mac nd cheese green beans

Here’s my fish (an ode to Paul since he couldn’t be with me during this trip) along with one potato pancake, a roll and side of green beans.

Sokolowski's sausage and dumplings

My brother went all out ordering Polish sausage with dumplings (pictured) and I tried a bit of his chicken paprikash.

Sokolowski's Dining room

Sokolowski's counter

Aside from the food, the decor looked like it was plucked out of time with photos of notable celebrities and regulars on the walls. If you’re in Cleveland, this is a definite must-visit.

One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was check out the Harvey Pekar banners. They were installed a month earlier at Coventry Park where the late comic creator liked to hang out. After some exploring around in the area in the blistering Cleveland humidity, we found the banners attached to the lampposts at the intersection of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights.

Pekar plaque

Pekar Banners Pekar Banner 3

Pekar Banner 2

Much of the rest of the weekend was exploring outside of Cleveland. I somehow got in my head that I wanted to find Amish doughnuts. My brother had no idea where to find some so we settled on Lerch’s Donuts parked outside of a small shopping strip in Smithville, OH. They’re known for selling sweets during summer fairs.

Lerchs Donuts Truck

Lerchs Donuts

To Paul’s chagrin, I also sought out his beloved Faygo and found them in several grocery stores where they were selling plastic bottles of it at a staggeringly $1 each!

Faygo

Despite my brother’s misgiving about Jeni’s Spendid Ice Cream, he took me to the scoop shop in Chagrin Falls. Chagrin Falls is one of my favorite places outside of Cleveland. There town is host to gorgeous water falls leading into a stream and also popular because it’s the home Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

Jenis Menu Jenis ice cream scoops

We were unsure if Jeni’s was open (throughout the county, production had stopped several times because of a listeria outbreak) but we were in luck.

Upon suggestion of the counter, I ordered Ndali Estate Vanilla bean with a scoop of milkiest chocolate while my sister-in-law went with a scoop of Wildberry lavender. The ice cream was fine but I have to go with the locals and agree that Mitchell’s Ice Cream is far superior.

I’ll miss Cleveland but I’m looking forward to exploring his new place in Lexington, Kentucky.

For my ancient posts on Cleveland, click here, here, here, here and here.