Like most successful ideas, this one started with a revelation.
Outstanding in the Field chef and founder Jim Denevan had been hosting popular farm-to-table dinners at a café in Santa Cruz when he got the notion to set one on an organic farm outside of town. That was way back in 1999.
Before long, dinners were being hosted at ranches, vineyards, and orchards throughout the Greater San Francisco Bay Area. Guest chefs were invited to come and create dinners using ingredients fresh from the vines, fields, and trees. The series proved so successful that Denevan decided to expand beyond Northern California. Today, the team hosts 85 dinners a year, traveling coast to coast in a "beautiful but cantankerous red and white bus."
On Saturday, August 25, that bus pulls into Thaxton's Organic Garlic Farm in Hudson.
"The idea is to bring the diner closer to the source of their food," explains Leah Scafe, Outstanding in the Field director. "We give them an opportunity to visit the farm, meet the farmers, and see what it all looks like in real life — plus to enjoy a wonderful meal."
Chef Brian Goodman of Greenhouse Tavern attended last year's event at Thaxton's; this year he serves as guest chef. Goodman describes the roving culinary adventure as "really organized and well run."
"They arrive in an old-school bus, pulling a mobile kitchen," he says. "They are like roadies building a restaurant, kitchen, and dining room in one day."
Denevan surveys the land, deciding where and how to arrange the one massive dinner table for the grandest view. When guests arrive, they mingle, have wine and apps, and go on a tour of the farm. They also bring along their own dinner plate.
"That's a tradition started from the very first event," notes Scafe. "The idea is it gives guests an opportunity to bring something to the table, and it makes the table look different every single time."
Defending the $180 price tag, Goodman says, "This is a full-on experience — like nothing you've ever seen before. You're on a farm. You're hanging with the chefs and farmers. And the food's going to be great."
Thaxton's is at 2710 Ravenna St. For tickets and more information, visit outstandinginthefield.com.
MARKET UPDATE: When Tom Szoradi closed his Juniper Grille on Carnegie three years ago, he told me he was looking forward to "doing something else somewhere else."
Four months ago, that "somewhere else" became the West Side Market Café, an eatery that has had more ups and down in its long lifetime than a game of Whac-A-Mole.
"I've always been a big proponent of the West Side Market and its vendors," explains Szoradi. "And I always felt that the Café should be utilized to showcase all the wonderful products."
To that end, the chef completely overhauled the menu, upping the amount of market-sourced product from just 25 to 85 percent. Additionally, vendors have been invited to produce custom ingredients for the café, like a breakfast sausage or smoked pepper brisket.
Szoradi's food — classic American comfort dishes elevated by top-notch ingredients and first-rate technique — is not only available daily during regular business hours, but also from midnight to 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The late-night breakfast fare includes omelets, pancakes, sandwiches, and other pub-style food.
"The area around West 25th Street is booming, and there's really not a lot of late-night food," adds Szoradi.
The café is at 1979 West 25th St. Learn more at 216-579-6800 or westsidemarketcafe.com.
(25241 Cedar Rd., 216-381-7200, gialairestaurant.com)
Back in March, we told you about a new Tremont ice cream shop that would open by the end of April. Well, better late than never, right?
Red on a Roll
Brad Friedlander and his partners Jonathan Bennett and Peter Vauthy have been on an undeniable roll lately. After coasting along just fine with Moxie for eight years, they began to pick up speed in 2006, when they opened Red, the Steakhouse, one of the city's best chophouses.
Three years ago the team opened a Red location in South Beach, which has grown to become one of the hottest tables in a red-hot town. Just recently, they opened two more restaurants in Boca Raton, another RED and a new Italian concept, Rossa-Italia.
Now, they have their sights set on downtown Cleveland. By spring, Red should be open in the Volk's building, a two-story property on Prospect Avenue. Located just east of Chinato, the building will be brought to modern standards by landlord MRN, Ltd.
"I looked at that area years ago to do something, but now, with everything going on, we figured it was a good time," explains Friedlander. "I think the more reasons you give people to go downtown, the better."
While considerably larger than its suburban kin, the restaurant will feature the same familiar design elements that give Red its signature look and feel. Red glass, stacked stone, steel and wood will lend a contemporary look to a century-old space. The same great steakhouse fare is all but guaranteed.
"A lot of these old building are built better than the new buildings," adds Friedlander, when asked if he had any qualms about opening in such an old structure.
As for whether or not the downtown locale would poach business from its Beachwood brother, Friedlander notes, "Many of our East Side customers are sports fans who hold season tickets, so on those nights when there are games downtown, we don't see some of our regular customers. Now we can give them the option of coming to Red. We also hope to add new West Side customers."
The restaurant will begin serving dinner only, before adding lunch service later on.