Fleming’s Happy Hour

This is a review of a restaurant based on a free evening for invited bloggers.  I did not pay for any of the food or drinks mentioned. I also received a wine gift pack at the conclusion of the evening.

Late last week I got an email from @Vasilicious asking me to attend a “complimentary wine and appetizer tasting at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Woodmere”.  The very first thing I did was squee a whole lot over my very first invite from my blog.  Seriously people, never in a million years did I think I would get an invite through this blog.  I don’t post here to get anything in return, and honestly I was super-flattered just for the invite because it means my little old blog has readers! I don’t claim to be a food writer, as my category tag says I am a foodie wanna-be, so I was excited and even nervous about the prospect of going.

Anyway, the second thing I did was Google Fleming’s because I had never heard of it.  In all honesty when I realized it was a chain my heart sank a little.  If you know me in real life you know I am an independent restaurant snob. Every place I have ever talked about on this blog is a locally-owned restaurant. I always recommend a local independent when asked where to go and even though it’s close to my house I had never even noticed Fleming’s. So I mulled the invitation over the weekend, with the new Blog With Integrity movement and “swine of swag” BlogHer09 talk in the back of my mind. Come Monday I responded to Amanda with a yes because I knew I would give an honest review, no matter what happened – and it is possible for chains to have good food.  I also asked her if I could bring a friend along because I am shy and had no idea what to expect. So my very outgoing boss/friend joined me for the evening. And frankly I am so happy I went.

Fleming’s has a happy hour menu titled “5 for $6 ’til 7” and that is what we would be sampling. When we arrived they had an area of their patio set up for us and Cliff Cravens, Operating Partner was there to greet us and set us up with drinks. My impression of the inside happened very fast as we were whisked out to the patio quickly.  It seemed typical steakhouse – dark woods, cozy atmosphere, polished bar.  The patio is a small area overlooking the ETON Chagrin Boulevard parking lot and includes a few cushy outdoor couches around a fire pit along with a handful of linen draped tables. Despite being next to the parking lot the space is surprisingly intimate thanks to being tucked into the corner of the shopping center and the big black market umbrellas.

As others arrived I was excited to meet new bloggers and put a face with a blog I already knew. I met Amanda, Tom, Kelly and José, and the folks from Cleveland Sandwich Board. I was also happy to finally introduce myself to Tricia (and her husband and sister-in-law) – the woman who has awesome giveaways on her blog. Drinks were ordered and chatting commenced. It was funny to watch Sue, who is pretty foreign to the world and vernacular of blogs and twitter try to make sense of it all. She and I both had a Basil Lemon Drop which was delicious – much like a mojito but with a lemon flavor. The basil added a great aroma and cut the sweetness of the lemon perfectly. I’m really liking herbs in my drinks and am going to have to experiment with this more at home.

Chef/Partner Eli Kratzert started sending out plates of food and we sat down to Sweet Chili Calamari and Tenderloin Carpaccio. Unfortunately both were victims of having sat on the table too long as we were all chatting and sipping cocktails.  The calamari had good flavor – just enough heat blananced with sweet to make them to my liking, but they were cold and the breading had lost its crunch. My hunch is that this would be a great item when eaten fresh from the kitchen and the portion was huge for a $6 appetizer. The carpaccio was just okay; the toast points were too hard from sitting out and the carpaccio itself had little flavor.  The big hits of the evening for me were the Wicked Cajun Barbecue Shrimp, the Seared Ahi Tuna and especially the Prime Sirloin Burger. The shrimp were cooked very well and were very spicy without being all spice and the bread was nice to soak up the sauce. I really enjoyed the tuna but I seemed to be the only one. It was perfectly rare and mild flavored and was served with a spicy mustard sauce, wasabi and ginger so you could layer the flavors to your liking. The knockout of the evening was the burger – it was juicy and rare and topped with a bacon that we were all talking about. Turns out they rub it with spices and sugar that give it a hint of “heat and sweet” that make a perfect pairing with the succulent burger below.

Cliff told us that while Fleming’s is a chain he and Eli are local boys. They met while working at the Hyde Park location down the road where Eli worked his way up from a dishwasher to a Chef. When the opportunity arose to become owners of the local franchise for Fleming’s and “take on their old boss” at Hyde Park they took it. While the menu itself is controlled by the company all of the sauces, breads (except the burger buns) and accompaniments are made in-house.

So what is my conclusion? Fleming’s holds it’s own against the only nearby steakhouse competitors: independent Moxie (which has never wowed me) and locally-based chain Hyde Park. I think this happy hour menu is great– all the dishes were solid and the burger was amazing. The price for the portion was more than reasonable and I think this would be a fantastic place to meet friends after work without spending a fortune (2 drinks and a plate of food big enough to share for about $22 with tip is not bad). I did not get a chance to look at their dinner menu but they do offer 100 wines by the glass, which would please someone like my father who loves to try new wines; and seasonal prix fixe menus for a reasonable price (right now its 3-courses for $35.95). They also have facilities for private events and play host to several fundraisers each year. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Fleming’s to someone seeking out a steakhouse or a great happy hour in the Southeast suburbs.

Ready

So I had a miscarriage back in early January.  Had that pregnancy survived I would be rapidly approaching my due date (August 18th, if you are curious). I can say absolutely now that the miscarriage happened for a reason and that while I mourned the loss I know for sure that it has worked out for the best family.  I was sick and now I’m not.  I wasn’t quite ready to think about having a baby again, but now I am.  We still aren’t where we want to be financially but I don’t think we ever will be in a “perfect” space when it comes to money.  And every time I see (another!) pregnant woman I just want to whine “why isn’t it me?!?”

We have been trying for 5 months now and it is absolutely KILLING me that I am not pregnant yet. We got M on the very first shot out of the gate. When I found out I was pregnant last December we had no idea when it happened because we were taking precautions.  When we lost the pregnancy we took a couple of months off then started trying again in earnest.  I have become one of those women who charts everything, I pee on ovulation sticks every month and track every move and (ahem) action on a calendar.  I have never had to do this in the past and it’s becoming a borderline obsession. When I read Casey’s recent post about the difficulties of not being pregnant around a bunch of swollen bellies I was nodding along as I read it.  I’ve only been at the game for a few months and medically I’m not even considered out of the norm; but for me and my (very limited) past not getting knocked-up on the first attempt is not normal. My heart breaks for those women who have been at this for 3 and 4 times longer then I have with no baby. Because this shit is hard.

I’m trying to not let it consume my thoughts, but it’s difficult not to get caught up in it. We’ve already gone way past the “perfect spacing” we (I) were hoping for when giving M a sibling.  As each month passes I count the months and ask if I was pregnant how far apart would our kids be? Every time I add a note to our calendar I start thinking about a spring baby. I watch M play and think about how awesome she would be as a big sister. Every twinge and craving, tired morning or bout of heartburn sends me to the drugstore for another pregnancy test.

But every time that damn stick denies showing me what I want to see. I’m trying to be okay with it, but I’m not resting on my laurels.  I have a (long overdue) extensive physical next week.  I needed one anyway since I honestly don’t think I’ve had one since the sports physicals of high school. I’m meeting with my OB next month just to be proactive. Right now every month that passes seems like a missed opportunity and I’m tired of feeling like a failure.

Weekend Road Trip

Last Friday as I was sitting at work I had the overwhelming feeling that we needed to get out of town.  Mark is working on the never-ending freelance project, the weather has been rainy and cool and we are still several weeks away from our “official” summer vacation. I had enough Marriott Rewards Points burning a hole in my pocket for a couple of nights stay so I started trying to figure out where we could go.  I wanted someplace only 2-3 hours away, a location that would be new(ish) to all of us and a place that was very kid friendly.  So after looking at the map and Marriott locations, I booked 2 nights in Pittsburgh. I have only been there once – for about 2 hours, and Mark hasn’t been there since before we met. I DM’d Kyle Roth on Twitter, a former Pburg resident and huge Steelers fan (brave man, living in Cleveland), for some ideas and within about 15 minutes I had a list of activities and recommended restaurants.  I love Twitter!

As soon as we a got home we threw together suitcases and hit the road. We were staying in the Shadyside neighborhood and arrived around 7:30. Despite all the great restaurants in the area and suggestions from friends on Twitter we ended up at Max & Erma’s.  I normally loathe chains, especially when traveling, but sometimes when it’s late, your kid is hungry and you are in a strange place  they are they easiest choice.  I will say that we briefly checked out a couple of other places which were either too busy (a wait for seating) or too fancy to take the girl before settling on M&E. After dinner we checked into our hotel where I had booked a king + sofa bed since it was the only thing available on-line.  I asked if they had any 2-bed rooms available and the desk clerk typed furiously on two different computers for a bit and finally said “I don’t have any 2-queen rooms, but why don’t I put you in a king suite? That way you can have your own room and your daughter can have the sofa bed in the living room.” SCORE!  The room was huge – kitchen/bar area, king bedroom and a living room.  I am so spoiled – this is really the ONLY way to travel with a kid for more then one night.

Saturday morning we got up, ate breakfast out of the food we brought and headed over to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum to be there when it opened.  It is such a fun place!  I loved the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood area …they have an actual sweater and pair of his shoes!  The whole place was great – especially the studio art area and the waterworks play area.  Mark and I were in awe of the fantastic re-use of the old buildings. We spent about 3 hours playing before we headed back to the hotel for a nap.  In the afternoon we headed over to The Strip area and strolled around. It is full of ethnic markets, knick-knacks shops, more ugly Steelers crap then you can imagine and lots of characters.  Unfortunately we got there just before most of the stores were closing.  Next trip we will go down on a Saturday morning to enjoy the markets. We checked out Kaya and while it looked very good, was not what we were in the mood for. So we headed back to Shadyside and went to Harris Grill (which was the one with the wait the night before); it’s been around since 1927 so we figured they were doing something right. They have an awesome patio and a menu filled with pub food – sandwiches and appetizers – exactly what we were after. The menu is very funny to peruse and Mark and I both got sandwiches with sides of mac & cheese.  Very good, hearty food and you gotta love a place that has “bacon night” when baskets of crispy bacon are free at the bar. They also had a great beer and cocktail list.  We were there early, but it had started to fill up when we left.
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Today we got up and arrived at Pamela’s Restaurant right as it opened and it was already just about full.  I had the flapjacks and they were everything they are said to be. Yum!  I can see why they have devoted fans of those pancakes. By the time we left there was a line about 4 tables deep. We went back to the hotel, packed up and had plans to spend a good chunck of the day at the Duquesne Incline and downtown followed by lunch at either the Original Hot Dog Shop (aka The Dirty O) or Primanti Brothers (which is very much like what we can get at Panini’s in Cleveland) before heading home. But we packed up our car in a downpour and the skies were grey and rainy in all directions.  We decided to still do the incline (which M loved; the industriousness of the people who came up with that thing is amazing) and then since it was still rainy and grey we headed home.  Of course about 10 miles out of town the skies cleared and the sun came out.
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All in all it was a great trip – lots to see and do, beautiful vistas and great food.  It’s a very easy drive and we will be going back soon, maybe for just a day trip. The only two negatives I can think of is 1) parking sucks everywhere and 2) you can’t go a block without seeing fugly Steelers junk for sale.

Of course on the way home we stopped at the new(ish) Sonic in Streetsboro and managed to spill not one, but TWO Diet Cokes all over the inside of my car. So getting home early allowed me time to scrub, wash and vacuum it all out. Welcome home!

Pottery and Willow and Leather, Oh My!

Nine years ago today I married my match. It is said that 9 is the number of patience, of harmony. It is the reward of tests, the expression of perfection. It is associated with the complex, immortality and eternity. Three are also nine levels in Dante’s hell, heh.

We’ve been through a lot together – houses, jobs, moves, family. He knows when to tread lightly given my mood and I know when I need to scoop up our girl and give him some space.  We are as comfortable as old friends, but can be as giddy as a new couple. He can make me laugh without saying a single word and I can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t the first I rushed to when I had some bit of news.

If you had told me 10 years ago that in 2009 I would be celebrating my 9th anniversary I would have told you that you were crazy. But here we are, 9 years later and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Looking For My Tribe

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard

In Toledo we always had a passel of friends and never had a lack of people to spend time with. I never remember a time where I had to make an effort to find a friend. At work both Mark and I were quick to establish the kind of relationships with co-workers where you would go out for drinks or meet up on the weekend for something. From the moment we moved into an apartment in a great, close-knit neighborhood we had people to hang out with. It was seriously like living at college with better apartments and beer – there were other couples our age and we sat on our decks almost every summer night sipping cocktails and telling stories.

When we bought a house nearby the camaraderie continued. We met more and more people; we had parties, went to parties, joined others for drinks on front porches, and always had someone to call to join in our fun.  Just taking Mac for a walk ended up in stopping every few houses for a conversation or to accept an invite to something.  We partied with our mailman. There were retirees and new families, couples, singles and everything in between. Everyone watched out for everyone else, and there was always something to do.

In Toledo I was also blessed to be part of the most amazing group of women I have ever known. A friend I had known for a couple of years had decided to gather a bunch of women together for a book club.  What she assembled 8 years ago is still going strong today and most of the original 10 women (minus the 2 of us who moved away) still get together on a monthly basis to discuss a book and, more importantly, discuss their lives. Together we witnessed new houses and new jobs. We watched relationships progress from the first date to marriage. Several of us bloomed with pregnancy and we all watched as those babies grew. The women ranged in age by 20 years, some single, some married; some with kids others without. Some of us worked full time, some stayed at home with the kids.  Liberal and conservative, wine drinkers and beer drinkers – on paper it shouldn’t have worked, but it worked beautifully. I didn’t realize until I moved how much those monthly meetings meant to me. I was a night to just be myself – not employee or wife or daughter or mom.  I just got to be Kate.

When we moved to Cleveland in December of 2007 I was fairly confident that I would meet new people pretty quickly.  One of those couples from the apartment building in Toledo was here raising their family and I was recruited to my new job by someone I’ve known for over a decade, thus instantly establishing some roots. But outside of those to friendships I’ve found it really, really hard to connect with anyone here. Maybe it’s because when we made previous moves we were kid-free and had more time to meet and mingle. Maybe it’s because we will never be able to re-create the magic that was found in the Old West End. Perhaps I just don’t know how to make friends as an adult. Whatever it is I just feel so ungrounded here.

We’ve both made some good friends through work, but everyone is so scattered across the region it’s hard to get together. Last year while I was training for the 3-Day I tried reaching out to others training in my community but really found no one reaching back. I’ve found some great local blogs to follow which have helped me feel more connected to our new city.  But while reading and chatting online can be fantastic, it’s just not the same as a glass (or 3) of wine with the girls and endless hours of talk.  I think I need some new strategies to find my tribe here, because boy do I ever miss it.

So tell me – how did you find your tribe?

OMG! She’s Talking About Restaurants Again!

We are making slow progress through our “restaurants to try” list – no small feat considering the number of fantastic places this town has to offer. Next month, my parents are taking M for a week for “grandma & grandpa camp” during her daycare shutdown. We are going to be kid free for 5 nights (the longest ever – gulp!) and plan to sample a new place every evening. The list of the select 5 is ever evolving. As I’ve said before, M is a very good diner most of the time so we do try many places with her in tow. As we continue to edit down that “top 5” list we are trying to keep it to places we wouldn’t want to take her. Zócalo Mexican Grill & Tequileria on East 4th Street has been on our list but we figured we could take M with us, so tonight we gave it a shot.

We really didn’t research this place at all. We figured that the way they throw around Aarón Sanchez’s accomplishments (James Beard Award nominee, Food Network appearances, finalist on Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef”) that it would be pretty good. We also thought that given the caliber of other places on E 4th that any restaurant would have to be very good to draw the kind of crowd Zócalo always seems to have.

So we arrive about 5 minutes early to our 6:30 reservation to find it very full and lively. The hostess is pretty snippy as Mark checks in with her. She seems annoyed at something, but we figured it had already been a busy evening given the baseball game that was just getting underway. As she starts to lead us downstairs she stops abruptly, mid stairs, to reach over the railing and answer the phone on the hostess stand. Um, okay…she just about made all three of us run into her and we were all blocking the stairs which the servers were trying to use. She finally seats us in a booth, throws down the menus and says a server will be with us. Chips and salsa are delivered and we dig in as the review the menu. I was not a fan of either the chips or salsa. The chips were very thick, had little or no salt and were greasy. The “salsa” seemed to be chopped tomatoes with a few diced onions thrown in. The whole bite together was oily, watery and bland.

After waiting at least 10 minutes, a server comes by and tells us of their drink specials. I opted for the classic margarita while Mark got the Key West version. They were huge and while Marks at least had some flavor (pretty much all coconut) mine was very watery and overly salty – maybe I should have dipped the unsalted chips in it!

Service was pretty spotty, with another long wait to order. I got the Carnitas with Citrus Habanero and Achiote salsas. Mark got a combo of a beef burrito and a chicken taco. As we waited for our food we noted the decor. The center of the room was beautiful with a soaring 2 (3?) story ceiling and pretty lighting. A few stereotypical Mexican restaurant wall decor items were scattered about and for some reason there was TV in the corner showing Ghostbusters 2. It was around this time that we realized how loud it was; granted it was probably 90% full, but we could barely hear each other across the table. The music was competing for voice over all the chatter which lead to a pretty loud roar. We had to ask for water which was finally served to us in plastic cups – the waiter mentioned something about the kitchen having trouble washing the glasses.

When our food was delivered it looked good – no bonus points for plating, but appetizing enough. I was extremely disappointed with the carnitas. The pork was dry and chewy, there was no hit of the “adobo rub” the menu had promised and the marinated onions tasted like unseasoned fresh onions that got a quick sauté. Overall the taste was extremely insipid – there were no spices to kick some life into the bland meat. The citrus salsa added a bit of sweetness and some much needed moisture but couldn’t cover up the overcooked pork. The achiote salsa tasted like nothing other then cumin and had very little acid which was much needed. My black beans and rice we also both over-seasoned with cumin which made for a very flat pairing. Mark was not pleased with his selections, either. He said his meats were dry and tasteless and the “salsa” served with it was again the watery chopped tomatoes. I tasted his guacamole and found it to be – surprise! – flavorless. Again it seemed to just be avocado and a few sparse diced red onions. Mark thought his refried beans were okay and the ate most of his rice, but he wasn’t overcome by the plate of all cumin like I was.

The only bright spot of the whole evening was that our bill for 2 entrees, 2 drinks and a kids quesadilla (which was cheese and tortilla – nothing else) was $40. So we weren’t out a ton of cash, but I think for that kind of money we could have had a more flavorful meal at Chi-Chi’s.

In the future, when we want Mexican food we will stick to our local joint, Los Habaneros, for quick, inexpensive meals or the always awesome Momocho for when we want to venture out of the neighborhood. And the next time we are on East 4th there are plenty of other fantastic choices.

Ladies, Schedule Your Mammograms

Breast Cancer is a heartless bitch. This morning at work we were given the news that one of our coworkers will most likely not be returning to work as she again goes to battle with this disease. This is the second woman who has left this workplace to spend more time with her family as she fights since I started only 20 months ago.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.

Last year, as I prepared for the Breast Cancer 3-Day both of these fine ladies shared their stories with me. One had battled breast cancer before and knew in her gut that it had relapsed.  She had to push her doctors to get additional testing.  By the time they discovered the new lump the cancer had had metastasized and spread to her liver, lungs and bones. I watched her fight tooth and nail on a daily basis. I cried with the news that the cancer was gone after several months of radical and exhausting treatment only to cry again when she found that it was back, only a few short months later.

The other woman – the one for whom the announcement was made today – is so young.  She was first diagnosed after the birth of her first child in her early twenties. She fought hard and triumphed. She had a second child and shortly thereafter found a lump.  But all her doctors diagnosed that lump as hardened tissue due to breastfeeding and her recent pregnancy. Besides, she was still in her late twenties – lightening doesn’t strike twice! But it did and by the time they figured it out the cancer had spread to her bones. She’s been fighting an epic battle ever since and is only a few years older then me. With two young girls to take care of she has been in treatment – trying to buy every single day she could – for over three years.  For her there was no hope of a cure, just an endless fight to keep the cancer from spreading. This morning we learned that her cancer metastasized and spread to her liver and lungs and her doctors recommended she seek Hospice care. Not yet ready to give up and leave her family she instead has opted to undergo an extremely aggressive schedule of care.

Last year, as they both independently shared their stories with me they kept saying get checked early and often. And if there is a family history run, do not walk, to your doctor’s office and get a mammogram, and while you are there go ahead and schedule your appointment for next year.  Ask your doctor for an MRI and then get tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. And guys aren’t immune – they also need to do these things if there is a family history of breast cancer.

Someone dies of breast cancer every 68 seconds.

One in seven women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

This year 182,460 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. alone.  1,910 men will also be diagnosed.

Know your risk factors

Get screened

Make a donation (I’m not walking the 3-Day this year, but she is)

Get involved

Because while we may have fun dressing this disease up in pink boas while chanting “save the boobies!” the cold truth is that breast cancer is not a laughing matter. And those two precious little girls should not have to see their mommy go through this.