Oh kind, dear readers of mine. If you are much like me, and I can only assume some of you are, then there are two things of which you are inordinately fond: 1.) searing but well-balanced hot sauce, 2.) chicken wings.
When these great tastes taste great together, a minor heaven is made. When you can also imbibe decent beer to cool your palate, it’s a paradise into which even the most discerning Virgil would merrily wander.*
The play of this most auspiciously warm day is Hot Wing Wednesdays at Sachsenheim Hall.
Wildly cheap, served only on hump-day, and appearing in an outlandish variety of sauces and rubs, Sachsenheim’s wings are the best I’ve enjoyed in Cleveland. And the hottest. Not every patron of this strange biergarten/dance hall/dive bar has to (or could) handle the spicier stuff on offer but those that dare will not be disappointed. They also might not be able to taste anything for a week. Luckily the scale of heat is sliding at Sachsenheim’s: 1 to 10. Find yourself roaming around Cleveland on a Wednesday night and you can decide just how brave you’re willing to be.
On my own visit to Sachsenheim’s for wing night I opted for a 7 of both a dry rub and traditional buffalo, and a side of the full force hottest sauce they had. I was very pleased. Especially so to have an enormous mug of icy German lager to accompany my spicy and delicious wings.
*What? Everybody can use a good Dante reference. That paradise involves, in this scenario, extremely hot wings is an added metaphorical inversion I particularly like.
Cleveland understands the value of drinking out of doors. Perhaps this has something to do with the extremity of the city’s winter weather. When spring finally comes with summer quick in pursuit, people feel an intense compulsion to occupy the spaces of their worlds that were long blanketed in snow and utterly uninhabitable.
There are few pleasures in life as entrancing as sitting somewhere outside, sipping something cold and alcoholic. This quotidian joy, if you happen to be itinerant me (or pretty much anybody else) is buoyed by good company and good conversation. Since the weather finally gave poor, pallid Clevelanders a break, I have spent the majority of my porch-drinking time talking about love and politics.
These are heady subjects, you might say, for casual social gatherings. But that is the beauty of the porch: the warm breezes and kind light mitigate what might otherwise prove antagonistic engagements. It’s so much easier to disagree, to debate, to all out stand opposed to those sitting across the table from you in such scenarios.
Don’t believe me? Well, the President of the United States does. So take that.
The point here is simply this: the environments in which we confront each other matter. The physical landscapes, the light, the architecture, the sound, the smell–all the textures that compose a moment–color our capacity to understand one another.
Perhaps this is no radical suggestion, but it bears outlining nonetheless. Our most productive, meaningful, even epiphanic insights about ourselves and the strange networks we inhabit are often connected to where they occur. And perhaps our grim political exchanges, both local and global, might be in need of alternative meeting grounds.
Besides: who doesn’t swoon at the thought of an afternoon, even with an enemy or two in tow, cooling the seasonal sun with a beer and trying to figure out what on earth we’re going to do with our lives/loves/countries/cities/cats?*
As a small token of my belief in the power of place to change the world and the self, I give you a list of just a few of my favorite neighborhood patios/porches/yards:
Prosperity Social Club: In addition to being in my neighborhood, Prosperity has a lovely, small outdoor deck in the back. It’s a diverse crowd and a full bar. And it’s called Prosperity Social Club. Obviously, they’re in my camp.
Tremont Tap House: There’s a fire pit. Need I say more?
Edison’s Pub: Pizza delivered right to your table. Dogs napping on the bricks. General camaraderie and beer.
My backyard. Known by my landlord and others as ‘chateau ghetto,’ I have a fire pit too. And often provide marshmallows for roasting.
So take someone you don’t understand outside for a drink. Because, tis the season for micropolitics.
*People worry about their cats a lot.
The Play of the Day, oh comrades of mine, is brunch.
I have always categorically subscribed to the notion that brunch, when effectively executed, is the hands-down best meal of the week. I believe in mimosas on Sunday any time at or after 11:00 a.m.* I think sweet and savory are more readily and enjoyably combined in a meal that is intended to serve as both breakfast and lunch. I am committed to the idea that meals other than dinner should last for over an hour and include both coffee and alcohol. I adore the groggy, lazy, laissez-faire attitude of the meal. In short: I am really into brunch.
Last Sunday I had one of the best brunches, perhaps, of my short life on this planet at a Cleveland joint in Ohio City called Soho.**
I had: Chicken Fried Pork Salad. The dish is what it sounds like, meaning amazing: why aren’t we always chicken-frying pork and covering it with greens and avocado? Plus, it was accompanied by three deviled eggs. These were deviled eggs of a spectacular variety–delicate and tangy and pretty. Perfect deviled eggs. Good lord.
My companion had: Shrimp and Grits. These were a high class version of the standard Southern delicacy. Perfectly butter-poached little crustaceans, a modest amount of andouille sausage, and asparagus atop the creamiest, loveliest grits. Oh my god.
Both dishes, and the scratch biscuits and rosemary butter that joined them, were totally, ridiculously, fabulously delicious. The fact that we wandered from brunch to the outdoor patio of Market Garden down the block on the first truly lovely Sunday of the season didn’t hurt things either.
Sigh. If only every Sunday could be spent thusly…***
*I blame this on my father who may or may not be the antichrist but certainly did lead me to believe that Sunday drinking is superior to Sunday prayer. But why not both? Brunch is the sort of institution at whose alter I can worship.
**The restaurant claims its name is short-hand for “southern hospitality.” I find its title neither clever nor particularly effective. But if Soho is poor at self-naming, it is really, really good at brunch.
***If you ever do find a Sunday to thusly spend in Cleveland, other fabulous brunching locals include the spectacular Flying Fig. They do a number there where it appears that they encrust and fry a poached egg. Uh. Yeah. Amazing. Also incredible: The Black Pig. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself there for their brunch, get anything on the menu with pork in it.
I will herein recall to you one of the best days of my life:
In a small, rented flat in the 3rd arrondissement we awoke, thanks to jet lag, in the early morning hours before the sun rose. We walked down the block to the Carrefour grocery to pick up some basics: fresh grapefruit juice, real French butter, yogurt, coffee, wine. We bought two croissants at the boulangerie next door to the flat and spent the morning nibbling and sipping, considering the day’s plan.
We roamed around the 10th, near the neighborhood where I once briefly lived. I had the distinct pleasure of not being lost in the city and the strange sense that, now six years since my departure, Paris is both very much the same and still very much a city in transformation.
After the requisite mid-morning coffee at a brasserie nearby, we wandered to the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. This museum is incredible. In addition to an enormous collection of taxidermy, antique hunting rifles and cabinet displays devoted to different sorts of prey and their scat, there is too a handful of contemporary art installations (my favorite of which is pictured above). The only place I could potentially liken it to that I know of elsewhere in the world is the equally astounding Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.
Post-museum exploration, we picked up some haricot vert and poulet rôti for lunch and (again, jet lag) took a nap. We passed the early evening people-watching over a half bottle of wine like any good Parisians would and then headed for a late dinner at Bones.
The too-many-courses-to-count meal that ensued was perhaps the best I have ever eaten. Some highlights: uni toast, duck heart with horseradish, seared scallops, some sort of roasted foul… Paired with a bottle of red Touraine La Tesnière and served to us by extremely attractive hipster waiters, the food at Bones was legitimately glorious.
Basically, the whole damn day was swoon-inducing. If I could snag one of those bearded, flannel-clad waiters as my mate, I would renounce my U.S. citizenship and never, ever leave Paris again.
One of the best things about living in Cleveland is the gustatory wonderland known as the West Side Market. In operation since 1840, this place is a spectacular labyrinth of edible goods: Butchers offer deals on meats of every cut and animal variety; fish and cheese mongers hock their smelly, perfect stuff. There are enough spices and dried goods to stock every restaurant in town. Then, of course, the pastries, bagels and fresh baked breads tempt shoppers. And all of this is not to mention the stalls that sell hot and delicious lunches. I’m particularly fond of the steam buns at Noodle Cat. But the falafel at Maha’s is also excellent, and people rave about the thin and perfectly browned crêpes at Crêpes de Luxe. All this housed in a beautiful Neo-Classical/Byzantine building that has been standing in the same place since 1912. Oh man. Swooooon.
I live about a mile from the West Side Market. So, weather permitting,* I can stroll there with a tote bag and return bearing the ingredients to make pretty much anything in the known culinary world.
Ohhhhhhhh boy. If you come to Cleveland and all you do is stroll through this magical market sampling treats, you will not have come in vain.
*Weather, at least at this time of year and likely through April, is rarely permitting. Sigh. I miss the sun. I really, really, really miss the sun. Have you seen it? I can only assume it still exists. Tell me, please, that it still exists and that we have not begun a quick march toward the apocalypse.
It would be fair to say, given my deep attraction to things edible, that my final weeks in the city of Los Angeles were unsurprisingly food-driven. Also predictable as a relatively young epicurean with a tendency toward hyperbole: I more or less spent the last month of my tenure as though each meal might find me, mid-bite, with the soft whispers of the Judas that was immanent departure tickling my ear. I returned to most of my favorite restaurants* (both low and high brow and everywhere in between). And, being as I am an itinerant adventurer, made sure to find tables at a handful of new spots.**
The play of the day is a fond memory now: an exquisite supper at one such new restaurant, Alma. So glorious, dear comrades, was this dining experience that I would choose it among them all as my last. I will recall the meal recorded below fondly whenever I think of the foodie wonderland I want so badly to call home; that wild city to which I wish always to return; my sweet, my lovely, my lush culinary jungle, my Los Angeles.
Here is what we ate:
1.) smoky eggplant dip, puffed onion
2.) snails, fingerling potato, bérnaise, pickled garlic
3.) seaweed & tofu beignet, yuzu kosho, lime
4.) English muffin, uni, burrata, caviar, liquorice herbs
5.) young squash soup, mussels, red ale
6.) pigeon, celery root, pear, cabbage
7.) lavender roasted duck, corn, mido, chanterelle, blackberry
The restaurant is small, sparsely decorated, lovely and downtown. It also lacks air conditioning and was, mid heat-wave, well, hot. But I’d eat that meal again over molten lava. If ever I’m sentenced by God or man to die, let me first wander through those ephemeral seven courses as one would hope to wander the seven heavens after the reaper really comes.
It was the perfect send off.
Good bye, oh my beloved city. Wait for me, I beg you.***
*Such as, but not limited to: Zankou Chicken, Bludso’s, The Park, Wat Dong Moon Lek, The Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, Sqirl, Barbrix, Proof Bakery, El Buen Gusto, Canelé, Umami Burger, Mother Dough, Cortez, and the backyards and kitchens of my culinary-minded friends.+
***Next post: Cleveland, Ohio. Readers, a new adventure has commenced!
+ See previous post.
A group of friends of mine, all of whom live within a three mile radius of my house,* often meet on Sunday evenings during the summer to cook and eat together. There is little peculiar about such gatherings, I imagine, but living in Los Angeles means a lot of outdoor dining. What is commonly known as the ‘Fortress of Ballertude’** serves as host with great frequency for our Sunday Summer Suppers. The most recent dinner there happened to occur, thanks to the late summer holiday and an epic barbecue,*** on a Monday evening.
What, prey tell, does this have to do with the city, you ask? Well, the back yard of this particular domicile is intoxicatingly Angeleno. Its residents laid red brick on the dirt floor of the small fenced-in back yard a few years ago. A partial canopy of bougainvillea which leans in from three sides of the yard gives way, if you look straight up, to a view of four waving palm trees. When the grill is going, they pipe music in from speakers wired through the walls. Those sounds combine with the noise from passing walkers and traffic.
It is as close as I have come to the plutonic ideal of what nights in the summer should feel like in Los Angeles. It doesn’t hurt that most of those in attendance are amazing cooks, so whatever they bring or create at the fortress satisfies the late, hot afternoon appetite.
But mostly what makes the Sunday Supper an institution is the city itself. If you make a home here, if you let yourself love the occasionally too-hot summer nights and the people with whom you choose to spend them, everything else will blossom to compliment you and it and them.
I leave the Sunday Suppers and often find myself stupidly grinning on the walk home in the kind warm breeze.
Palm trees are not native to Los Angeles. And the recent heat wave was likely man-made. Almost all of the folks who sit around the table are transplants from other distant cities. But after such good pot luck, I don’t care. I just love the city and its inhabitants. I love the summer. And wish I could stay forever.****
*This is extremely rare in Los Angeles. Particularly given that this group of folks are mostly friends I won in college. The sprawl and the job market has it that most Angelenos have a cohort more widely dispersed.
**Not my choice. I swear.
***See previous post.
****So, if you follow this blog or are thorough about your footnotes, you already know I’m leaving Los Angeles. For this, and the quickly waning days of summer weather, I feel I should be forgiven for all my swooning about the city until I depart.
This little number is very likely my new culinary sound track. It is also the play of the day.
I am a foodie (this is true) and am deeply appreciative of the so-called ‘finer-things’ in the epicurean wonderland we call Los Angeles (and, indeed, the global culinary landscape). I am also, however, ever-more appreciative in these troubled times of deliciousness on the cheap. Hence my adoration of all things “flamin’ hot.”
Think of it this way: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Brand Cheese Puffs* are a highly efficient food: very high fat and calorie content paired with potent, technologically advanced flavor chemicals. And so very inexpensive. Economy got you down? Spice up your life with the neon red-orange, space-age goodness of some flamin’ puffs!
*Look: I’ve gotten into this argument time and time again. Crunchy doesn’t do for you what puffy does. The puffs can be slowly dissolved in the mouth, searing their spicy brand into your already battered and weary taste buds. The crunchy version are a quick-bite solution to a slow and complex hunger-meets-capitalism-meets-culture problem. Puffs say “America: Oh yeahhhhh!” in an inviting, universally hopeful kind of way. Crunchy Cheetos just scream and point, convincing no one and alienating all but those who have already uncritically bowed to their apparent dominance.
…”thus, in Alton Locke: ‘They rowed her in across the rolling foam–/the cruel crawling foam.’
The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl. The state of mind which attributes to it these characteristics of a living creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief.”…*
In the late afternoon yesterday I stopped into Cafecito Organico for a shot of espresso with a sparkling water back.** The barista asked me if I was enjoying the weather. I said I was (one enjoys anything alternative to 75 and sunny as ‘weather’ in Los Angeles and the last two days have been hot, muggy and overcast. The heavy air is still and breathing it in takes effort. It feels like smoking). The barista replied, “me too. But, you know, this is earthquake weather.”
I did not know, in fact.
I conferred with my friend who, once also incredulous, told me that her husband had heard the same thing from a colleague: “earthquake weather.” Shortly after this colleague finished explaining the phenomenon (and I’ve checked with the source) an earthquake did, in fact, occur. The long joke for all those present for the event had something to do with being burned at the stake. But, apparently, such a thing as earthquake weather exists. And might, at least if colloquial knowledge could tell it, be a good way to know when the next big shake is coming.
Today no major seismic activity was registered. But there were shifts in the world, as there always must be. Some of them were mine alone.*** It felt very much as though the weather served as my warning for a few rough moments I had to work my way through. And, for this reason, it occurred to me that earthquake weather, like the other very Angeleno phenomenon known as the Santa Anas, might be this city’s particular sort of metaphysics, our own cult prophet: meteorological forecast as horoscope.
I am not the first to wonder about the very specific pathetic fallacy of Los Angeles. One might characterize a good chunk of the literature that has come out of this strange metropolis as devoted to exactly that aesthetic. L.A. noir, in particular, is full of dark and stormy nights personified, made alive to match the trouble brewing in a character or two.
The world we make of this city, perhaps because so many of us believe ourselves to be the center of it in one way or another, is one in which the wind and the rain, the heat, anything that shapes the light and temperature of the vast sprawl we call home, might be an omen of our own personal disasters or triumphs.
I like this about Los Angeles. It would be nice, though, if once in a while all the good weather that we don’t notice portended better things–if the vast majority of 75 and sunny days were communally read as an indication of nicer, kinder moments to come.
*John Ruskin, Modern Painters Vol. III. 1901 (pg. 156).
**This is how espresso should always be served, by the way. And if you’re in Los Angeles and in need, Cafecito is indeed the place to have a good shot pulled.
***I would tell you all about it but, come on, this is the Internet. What kind of media scholar would I be if I really believed in privacy and ‘social’ media as unproblematically co-extant?+
+But don’t worry. I’m well. The rough moments were navigable and I escaped only slightly scathed.
Sometimes, as a traveler, this sort of thing just happens. You turn a corner and are staring at some astounding monument and it is more than it should be. It is so much, in fact, that you can’t shake the uncanny feeling that you have mistaken the guidebook description for the real thing–that something has gone terribly wrong and you have landed somehow in a postcard of the place you are trying to understand, trying to navigate, instead of being in that place, at a particular moment in time.
It was late, my first night in Rome, and after the best spaghetti vongole I have ever eaten and a bottle of white table wine I went wandering with my friend, who knows Rome and speaks Italian. He led me, in a round about way, to the piazza in front of the Pantheon.
When we rounded the corner off a narrow, cobble-stone side street and I saw it and the inexplicably vacant plaza in front of it, the nearly full moon above it, I thought I might not be able to breathe.
A place like that should be anticlimactic. It should be vacated of all its power and history by the heat of high season and throngs of tourists. Or this is, at least, what I believed it should be, what I was sure it would be. But it wasn’t.
The enormous Roman thing stood there, in the well-moonlit, warm night and was so close to the gift my 18-year-old self imagined European travel to give that I stumbled. I did not believe it. I could not fathom that the stuff of novels I’d been reading since I was an over-emotional, self-obsessed and deeply romantic teenager could possibly reveal itself as real to an increasingly jaded, well-traveled and critical 31-year-old me.
“Oh, Rome!” (I hear myself saying) “I’ll never forget it!” And I cringe. But there are moments, as it turns out, when cynicism just fails–when you can weep at beauty long after you’ve stopped believing in it outside of its social construction, long after you’ve given up the idea that it might save us savage creatures from surely but slowly and violently destroying ourselves. The Roman Empire was no paradise, nor is the odd, frenetic, present-day city that stands in our global memory as its remaining vestigial limb. But for a moment, though it was brief, I understood why someone might believe a place to be holy. Why we (the communal, universal, human ‘we’) would long to stand in the shadows of our history and believe in greatness.
Now that the moment has passed I worry. I worry because what I think of is the Satyricon. I think of what ’empire’ meant once and what I believe it to mean now. I worry because I know too much and too little of history. And because while my 18-year-old self believed in History (Marxist teleology was my particular bent), my current self does not.
In the end I have decided just to be glad that the vestigial limb of my own emotional, historical and nostalgic former self is capable of flailing in the Roman night, wowed. It wasn’t like a postcard. It was me and my friend, in the very early morning, under a moon so big it seemed impossible. We were astounded, amazed, and happy that something in us was connected to something with such weight–this marble structure that bears history.
The academic in me is ashamed. The traveller, though, whom I think I may have more trust in, nods and is satisfied. Such contradictions are the very reason to wander.