Local chefs, restaurateurs, and foodies will have a great opportunity to see and be seen when the Cleveland Chapter of the American Culinary Federation hosts the organization's annual Northeast Regional Conference, March 11-14. Cleveland Chapter Prez Michelle Gaw, executive chef of the Watermark (1250 Old River Road), says she expects as many as 700 top chefs from 13 states, including New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland, to attend. While most of the conference events are for members only, nonmembers will get at least two shots at sharing the excitement. On Sunday, March 12, from 2 to 5 p.m., all food-industry insiders -- ACF members or not -- are invited to attend the conference's 68-booth trade show at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, featuring the latest in professional kitchen equipment and food products. And on Friday, March 10, the ACF, the Greater Cleveland Restaurant Association, Food Rescue of Northeast Ohio, and the Greater Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau will co-host an open-to-the-public fund-raiser featuring the culinary talents of Team 2000, the ACF's representative to this year's International Culinary Olympics in Berlin. The $150 per-person chowdown at the hotel runs from 6 to 9 p.m. and will support the Spirit of Hospitality and the Culinary Phoenix, two local programs that train disadvantaged adults for careers in the hospitality industry. For ticket info, call the restaurant association at 216-381-3800.
Propping up Flat business . . . The problem with building a Cleveland entertainment district around the joys of lurching from bar to bar is that lurching loses much of its luster come the sharp winds of winter. And so it is in the Flats, where summer's revelries fade into February's deserted sidewalks, and restaurant owners struggle to stay afloat until the return of drink-and-puke season. Not surprising, then, that thoughtful folks like developer Bart Wolstein, owner of House of Brews (1087 Old River Road, 216-623-BREWS), in the spot formerly occupied by John Harvard's Brew House, are hoping to shepherd the East Bank into a long-overdue maturity, developing a more family-friendly environment and, not coincidentally, building a year-round clientele. In addition to lobbying officials for more streetlights, better traffic patterns, and more security, Wolstein has encouraged staff at House of Brews to beef up the menu for more grown-up palates. A number of new, reasonably priced entrées join the restaurant's more traditional pub fare of wings, calamari, nachos, and beer-battered fish and chips on Chef Frank Zingale's menu. As far as decor, the restaurant has recently turned its venerable brick walls into a sort of shrine to Cleveland's past, mounting a gallery of photos and artifacts from bygone breweries like Leisy, Standard, Sunshine, and the Pilsner Brewing Company, and paying homage to old Municipal Stadium, the Terminal Tower, and the effects of the legendary Flood of 1903 -- which destroyed all that was left of the Ohio and Erie Canal and devastated the Flats. All this is not to say that there is nothing lurch-worthy to be had here: Brewmaster Joe Marunowski turns out upwards of 10 in-house brewed beers, and the restaurant stocks more than 100 imported and domestic bottled brews.