The lucky little porkers marketed by northern California's Niman Ranch frolic in the sunlight, raise their babies the old-fashioned way, and dine on only the finest grains, all without ever seeing crates, hormones, or antibiotics. Not surprising, then, these heirloom hogs taste heavenly -- succulent, moist, and bursting with deep, rich flavor. That's why Niman's free-range pigs, raised by small family farmers throughout Iowa and the Midwest, are a favorite with top chefs like Alice Waters (Chez Panisse), Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter's), and Thomas Keller (The French Laundry). Now, add your local Chipotle Mexican Grill to the list of Niman Ranch customers. Since July, all 150 Chipotle locations nationwide have used only Niman pork in their burritos and tacos -- slowly braised and exotically seasoned with thyme, juniper berries, and bay leaf -- and the flavor difference is dramatic. Not only are diners in for a treat, but the impact of all that buying power on Niman's suppliers is going to be enormous. Bill Niman put it succinctly during a visit to Cleveland late last month: "By purchasing our pork, Chipotle alone will do more to preserve the rural landscape and support the family farmer than any 10 U.S. Departments of Labor."
Eric Petrus has joined Steve Parris and the team at the Fulton Bar and Grill (1835 Fulton Road, 216-694-2122) in the position of sous chef. The Fulton's menu, which relies heavily on organic and locally raised produce and hormone-free organic meats (including Niman Ranch products), will get a little hotter under Petrus's influence: Look for his chipotle-molasses-glazed short ribs and gingered cucumber soup on the newest edition . . . Luchita's (13112 Shaker Square, 216-561-8537) is looking sharp these days, especially since the addition of a colorful trompe l'oeil mural next to the bar. The handsome "view" of mountains, desert, and Aztec ruins through a faux stone-framed window was painted freehand by artist Cesar M. Vargas of Cleveland. On Sundays through Thursdays, guests who come bearing their same-day ticket stub from Shaker Square Cinemas can admire the work and get a 10 percent discount on their bill, through Labor Day weekend.
Only 139 shopping days till Christmas
Ever wonder what became of 1940s chanteuse Patti Page? Us, neither. But according to a recent press release, the singer best known for the timeless "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" has been hiding in a New England sugar bush for the past decade, slaving over batches of boiling maple syrup. The aging Grammy winner has even launched a mail-order business to peddle her certified organic syrup, pancake mixes, and maple cream. But what really caught our eye was "Patti's Syrup That Sings," a prime example of how technology can be turned against us. Who, exactly, was the evil genius who fixed it so that each time you twist open the cap on Page's specially made syrup bottles, you get serenaded by her original composition "Maple From New England"? Talk about your Sunday morning eye-opener! We're not sure if it's a promise or a threat, but the catalog says each reusable cap is good for "at least 500" renditions. At about $10 per pint, this could easily become the gag gift of the 2001 holiday season. Have to have one? Check it out at www.misspattipage.com.