Best of Cleveland 2011: People & Places

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Best Urban Farmer

Tim Smith

Two years ago, Tim Smith was screening documentaries for the Cleveland International Film Festival when he saw one that featured an urban greenhouse project in Milwaukee dedicated to providing healthy, affordable food to inner-city residents. "That's what I want to do with the rest of my life," he said, then he set about making the Cleveland Greenhouse Project — now renamed Community Greenhouse Partners in anticipation of eventual expansion — a reality. He assembled a team of believers with skills ranging from fundraising to aquaponics. And after 18 months of searching for a suitable site, he struck a deal late last year with the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland to purchase the closed St. George parish property, where work is progressing toward GCP's first growing season.

Best Sustainability Champion

Great Lakes Brewing Co.

The titan of local brewing says it all with its house policy known as the "Triple Bottom Line": Great Lakes is dedicated to making its money via means that are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable for the community it serves. Likewise, the nonprofit Burning River Foundation is devoted to education on sustainability issues, and other efforts include locally grown organic crops, recycling, and use of alternative fuels. Perhaps best of all are Great Lakes' more conventional fuels: the beers that make Clevelanders swoon.

2516 Market Ave.; 216-771-4404;

greatlakesbrewing.com

Best YouTube Video

Parma State of Mind

Chad Zumock of WMMS' Alan Cox Show concocted this twisted ode to Parma that took on a life of its own on YouTube. A knockoff of "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, "Parma" name-checks everything from Rent-a-Center strip malls to ubiquitous 10-cent wings and dollar drafts. "Can't front on this, Strongsville." No doubt.

Best Comedian

Mike Polk

The Kent State grad and co-founder of the Last Call Cleveland comedy troupe has reconfigured his comedy empire as a YouTube sensation — amassing some 20 million views with an assortment of video strangeness. There was "One Semester of Spanish — Love Song," an ode to Kim Kardashian that blew up on Telemundo; then there was "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video," which blew up here. His new stand-up CD, No One's Even Listening, came out earlier this year, and Polk is about to hit the stage again in early April — in the title role of Last Call's Michael Stanley Superstar, a demented rock opera that puts the ass in "cult classic."

Mikepolkjr.com

Best School District

Rocky River

Take a peek at the key numbers here and you might swear this was a private school system: 9 out of 10 students who pass through the halls of Rocky River advance to college. It achieved the highest possible ranking — "Excellent With Distinction" — on the most recent annual State of Ohio Report Card. And it blends a small-school atmosphere with the programs of a much larger district. River has implemented a series of objectives with a target of 2014 — and it appears they've arrived there a handful of years ahead of schedule.

21600 Center Ridge Rd., Rocky River; 440-333-6000; rrcs.org

Best Entrepreneur

Matt Fish of Melt

Sometimes the most brilliant ideas are the ones that seem so simple. Matt Fish had only modest expectations for his grilled cheese and brewski enterprise in Lakewood. What's resulted is a food phenomenon the likes of which cable TV can't even comprehend. With a Cleveland Heights location joining the Lakewood flagship, and a third Independence spot slated to launch this fall, Melt has enslaved the taste buds of Northeast Ohio and provided employment for nearly 200 locals. It's sheer brilliance that Fish would pair Cleveland and beer and cheese this way — and remarkable that it took three centuries to think of.

14718 Detroit Ave., Lakewood; 216-226-3699

13463 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights; 216-965-0988

meltbarandgrilled.com

Best Scenic Drive

Cleveland Metroparks

In how many cities can you duck off the urban path and be eyeing deer and majestic stone formations within minutes? There are sometimes quicker ways to get where you're going, but there's never a more bucolic way to get there than a leisurely trip through the Metroparks. Which route to take? It hardly matters. Bask in all of nature's beauty, but keep an eye out for bikers and joggers. They're allowed to soak in the scenery too, after all.

Clemetparks.com

Best Place for People Watching

Tower City

Though it goes quiet after quitting time, midday at Tower City is a Whitman's Sampler of humanity — from professionals to panhandlers to tourists, and every flavor in between. We still dream of Tower City nightlife, but till then there's plenty to take in during the day.

230 West Huron Rd.; 216-623-4750; towercitycenter.com

Best Kept Secret

Loganberry Books

The secret here isn't necessarily the expansive collection of old and new books; it's more about the vitality of Harriett Logan's circa 1994 store — from the musical performances and artist visits, to the book club meetings and social group gatherings that fill the sun-dappled space with joy and warmth on a regular basis.

13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights; 216-795-9800; loganberrybooks.com

Best Place to Take the Kids

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

You ever schlepped your family to the zoo in some other cut-rate metropolis around the country? Try it once — or don't! — and you'll fall in love with Cleveland's zoo all over again. What sets it apart? Its sprawling grounds and countless exhibits that truly feel one with their surroundings, unlike the procession of cages that make up so many other parks. There's the sheer mind-boggling breadth of different creatures awaiting your visit, the countless kiddie attractions that keep the fun rolling long after the bears and giraffes lose their charm. There's the all-weather appeal, from bucolic summer days spent strolling the park to cozy winters defrosting in the Rainforest. And there's a zillion other reasons to love Cleveland's zoo, but maybe none so potent as this: A year-long family membership will set you back no more than what you'd blow on one forgettable day at the movies. But forget the memories you'll make at the zoo? Nope, ain't ever going to happen.

3900 Wildlife Way; 216-661-6500; clemetzoo.com

Best Jewelry Maker

Erika Originals

You might say the works of Lakewood artist Erika Laine Hansen are wearable little pieces of modern art, but each one traces its origins to something decidedly vintage: old skeleton keys, trinkets, maps, and other found materials that she unites with her handmade glass beadwork. The results are unique necklaces and other jewelry that's making a splash in area shops and shows.

216-571-4677; erikaoriginals.com

Best Museum

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

The first time anyone uttered the words rock & roll museum, there was surely some righteous weed circulating the room. But between those decades-old dreams and our modern reality on the lakefront, the notion of a rock museum has matured beyond belief. Dedicated to educating the world on the history, significance, and continued influence of rock music — and, not incidentally, to be perhaps the most fun you'll ever have at a museum — our beloved Rock Hall has become an iconic symbol of Cleveland, a linchpin of our cultural community, and the first thing visitors crave when they set foot on our fair shores.

1100 Rock and Roll Blvd.; 216-781-ROCK; rockhall.com

Best Cleveland Neighborhood & Best New Place to Live

Tremont

In the first half of the 19th century, Tremont came into maturity thanks to the effort of incoming Irish and Germans, Poles and Russians who migrated here and constructed what are still some of the region's most inviting homes and breathtaking churches. With its blend of vintage architecture and upscale new housing, its bohemian vibe fueled by art galleries and other small businesses, its reputation for good times after hours, and its veritable army of outstanding chefs and eateries, it's no wonder that everyone who isn't in Tremont is clamoring to get there. It's good news for all that competition is cropping up in burgeoning neighborhoods all over town, but venerable Tremont will always hold a special place in Clevelanders' hearts.

Best Photographer

Herb Ascherman

If modern gadgets have made everyone a photographer, they have also accentuated the artistry of Cleveland's Herbert Ascherman Jr. A black-and-white portraiture specialist whose career has spanned four decades, Ascherman favors platinum printing, the 140-year-old process by which a negative of the image is placed on platinum-coated paper and exposed to ultraviolet light. You don't find that at the Walgreens photo lab, and talents like Ascherman are equally rare.

216-464-6800; ascherman.com

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