Archive | April, 2012

Triple D Road Trip and My Three Sons

19 Apr

Ostensibly, this post is NOT about the Triple D Road Trip – it’s about my sons.  The impetus, is of course, the Triple D road trip.  I have to count myself among a very tiny minority of exceptionally lucky people who have teenaged children that a) would want to go on a road trip at all (“17 hours in a compact car? Like, whatevurrrr …”); b) would want to go on said road trip with Dad, of all people; and c) would make the highlight of that trip two big museums, and the featured city of said road trip, Cleveland, OH.

Yet, I hit the lottery on all three.

As I’ve stated before, Spring Break is not anything special for us, between Robin working for an accounting firm, and now with Joel, the oldest, at school, not having even coordinated spring breaks.  So in years past, just to get the kids out of the house and away, we’ve packed up for Iowa and headed to my mom’s home, where the guys would hang out, be bored, play video games, occasionally go to the Y to burn off steam, and I’d eat and drink too much with my mom and our friends out there.  Therefore, this year, when the guys asked me, “so, when are we going to Iowa this year during spring break?” my answer was “well, actually, I was thinking we’d do something different.  Let’s Road Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (aka Rock Hall).   And that was met with “Hey, that sounds fun!”

On road trips, our guys are long accustomed to them – as I’ve said before, we’ve been a road tripping family since they were born, with 4+ annual trips to my mom’s in Iowa (5 hours) and multiple trips to Boston/Cape Cod, New York, Colorado, etc. – they feel like anything short of 3 hours there’s not even a reason to stop the car, and 5 hours is just a lob. So, a trip of this length wasn’t new territory for Alex and Brian.   And, I did make this Road Trip friendly for them as well – A&B, by the nature of being twins, have always been on the short end of the travel accommodations stick.  On trips where we’ve stayed in hotels, they’ve always had to share a bed – which as teen boys now, isn’t so fun for them.  They’ve always been the passengers, not the directors of the trip.  On this trip, I made it different.  For our hotel, we stayed in an extra-large suite at the Embassy Suites in Cleveland (overall hotel rating?  Meh.) – when we checked in, we got to the hotel, I said “you guys have the bedroom” – they pop open the door to the two queen beds and “Hey!  We’ve got our own beds!”   And they had an active hand in every decision on the way – from when we would stop for the bathroom, to buying road food (Jerky.  Road food of champions.), to destinations, the Triple D restaurants, etc.  And they were champs.  There were zero conflicts between us, between them, etc.  And other than “ugggh … I’m so full!” after yet another Triple D restaurant stop, no complaining either.

This trip really reminded me of this – I feel truly blessed with my sons – and this includes Joel, my oldest, of course.  Somehow, in the lottery of parenting, where nothing quite goes as planned, we are blessed with three sons who count long family dinners, sitting at the dining room table, time spent hanging out with mom and dad, time spent hanging out with mom and dad’s friends, and time spent with family in general, as among their favorite things.  I’d love to say it was all in our parenting style, but there’s got to be something more to it.  Clearly, all we did was raise them as our parents raised Robin and me, so maybe it’s that.  Maybe they are genetic anomalies that are born without the “whatevurrrr” gene.  Maybe it’s because that yes, while as their parents, we treat them as our children, we also recognize that they have a pretty much equal voice in our household and their votes do count.

I’d be remiss without spending a bit of time on them individually here.

Let’s start with Joel.  Since I’ve been writing a lot about A&B for the past few posts, Joel gets some “inches” here.  We’ve known since pretty shortly after he was born, that Joel was indeed a unique animal. He is scary intelligent, with an analytical brain and a memorization capability like none I’ve ever encountered.  The kid was making lists and organizing things since he was two.  As a little boy he was a HUGE NASCAR fan –  Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, the Labonte brothers, the Waltrip brothers, etc. – all his idols.  And so, he had a huge collection of the little 1/64th (“Matchbox” sized for those of us of a certain age) scale NASCAR toy cars and he’d have races on our dining room table with them.  He’d set them all up on the middle of the table like they were in the garages in the infield, literally grouping teams of them together (he knew all this info at like 3 years old, by the way), and then he’d have them qualify, methodically writing down the qualifying order, then he’d line them all up, and he’d have a race.  Somehow moving 30 or more cars around and around the table, and the best part was giving audible play by play as if he were the booth announcers.  I really am sorry I don’t have this on video.  As he got older, and got into sports, and video games and sports video games, he’s pursued the same thing in those areas – pressing the capabilities of those systems to create games, seasons, schedules, tournaments, etc.  He’s an engineering major at Illinois now – the car thing has carried over, he’s actively involved in building race cars at University of IL.   Joel was always our challenger – when you’re that smart, and that independent, it’s hard to grow up and still be a kid.  And well, it was hard for us as well – his senior year in HS was rough around the house – and well, we all didn’t get along.  He was pulling hard at the ropes and we were hanging on for dear life.  It was because we hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he really was already an adult. The best thing that happened in our relationship was him was him going off to school.  Now, he gets us, and we get him.  There’s still some battles of course, and normally it’s because, well, we’re still not quite ready to cut all the ropes yet.  That said, of my three kids, I worry about Joel the least.  He will make a great living, he will be a great husband to the lucky girl that gets him, and will be a great dad to his kids.

Alex has always been our complex one – he is also brilliantly smart, but instead of being analytic, he’s expressive.  Both he and his twin brother have embraced Rock music as much as their old man, and took several years of guitar lessons.  I’d love to see them pick it back up and continue with it – they were both becoming pretty accomplished players and they can still pick up the axes and jam with the old man.  Alex also has become a huge lover of film – and again, same with Brian.  I’m not sure if there’s a “who was first” thing there – but the way they analyze movies, film, etc. and by extension now, web video is amazing.  Lastly, Alex is positively hilarious – he never, EVER fails to make me laugh, and his humor is wacky, dry and amazing.  On our road trip, he was definitely the supplier of the wacky wit.  Alex also has a quiet intensity about him, he is amazingly handy, and has always been the “no problem” guy – you ask him to do something, it just happens.  Between his love of film and the internet, I’m thinking he will find his way into doing something in the internet content world – and in video.

 

We’ve always called Brian our “hippy dippy man”.  One of our favorite phrases has been to say to him,  “Dude, what color is the sun in your world.”  He looks at things from a different perspective.  He is the embodiment of “Hakuna Matata” – no worries in Swahili, always being relaxed and carefree.  Now, that has its ups and downs – school doesn’t come that easy for him, although he’s just as intelligent as his brothers – but hey, he’ll get to it.  But the thing with Brian is,  he is one of the most happy guys I’ve ever met.  Things just don’t seem to bother him – he finds the cool in everything and cool in the little things, he is relaxed and easy going, he has great friendships, he’s artistic and more.  He LOVES children and little kids – he’s really found a groove as a swim counselor at the camp where the boys work in the summers.  When we took a family vacation to Hawaii back several years ago, there was a guy working at our hotel that was the “beach concierge” – literally a hotel concierge, situated on the beach.  He could make you dinner reservations and also sign you up for the surfing classes, the snorkeling, etc.  He was the most easy-going chill guy ever, with huge local knowledge and was an instant friend to anyone he met.  We continually say that that would be the ideal situation for Brian – he makes friends instantaneously, he is extremely comfortable talking to anyone and he loves helping people.  And he’s mellow.  So, he could be that guy.

Anyway, in closing on this, we are just incredibly blessed with these three guys.   And the Triple D Rock Hall trip, and the trips that we take as a family, and just us guys (Indy 500 in just over a month – all four of us.  Look out.) and, most often, family dinners, continually prove that to me.

This ends the Triple D road trip saga.  Now I have to find something else to write about.

As you were,

Stew

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Triple D Rock Hall Road Trip – the Museums

18 Apr

Well, it took me more than a week to get back to writing about the trip – sorry about that!  But, real life does intervene now and again.  So, let’s talk about the destinations on the journey:

My kids were laughing about how on this trip, it really was “let’s visit Stew’s favorite things” – and those favorite things would be great food, Rock-N-Roll, fast airplanes and fast cars.  On the trip, we visited the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, forever referred to going forward in this space as the Rock Hall – in Cleveland, then we visited the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, near Dayton, OH, and finally, made a pit stop (literally) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame/Museum in Indianapolis.  And of course, the great food was the Triple D restaurants we visited in between.

The original destination of the trip was the Rock Hall – in planning the trip, Robin and I were talking about what I’d like to do with Alex and Brian for spring break – something different than going to Iowa since there won’t be many more of these – and I thought of the Rock Hall in Cleveland.  So the original plan was to just drive there one afternoon, stay overnight, do museum and drive back.  Then, I did a bit of checking on my hotel points accounts and realized I have a ton more points than I thought, so we decided to add a night to the trip. That gave rise to thinking about an interesting dinner one night in Cleveland, which, in between viewings of “Triple D”, inspired the Triple D eat-a-thon.   Then I began thinking of where else we could go – Robin has an aunt and uncle in Dayton OH, and we’ve been to the USAF museum there before, so that got added, and finally the Indy museum literally was a snap decision made the day before we left, as we wanted to stop in Indianapolis and visit the kind elderly woman who owns the house where we park every year for the 500.  Got all that?  Yeah, I’m still figuring it out myself.

So, the Rock Hall – first of all it’s a positively stunning building – designed by architect I. M. Pei, on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland.  Interestingly, it’s not that big of a thing – a pyramid of glass that’s maybe 200 feet or so on a side – not the typical big and monolithic building one associates with museums.  We got to the Rock Hall right as it was opening, spent about 4 hours there, took a break at 2:00 PM and then came back for another hour and a half until it closed at 5:30 PM.

The things that struck me about the museum was the level of incredible detail – and the small little artifacts that illustrate Rock music.  This really is a museum about a cultural shift, as much as it is a hall of fame for the performers of Rock Music.  There’s an entire section devoted to various efforts to try to “put down” Rock music – much of which sounded like the same sort of “we have to stop this …(name your outrage here) before it ruins our country” that is being spewed by the Republican Party at all times.  There’s a wall devoted to rock radio, there’s a wall devoted to venues, to cities, to the midwest, etc. etc.  All really covering what Rock music has done to our culture as much as the music itself.  Positively fascinating.

The detail in all the displays is stunning.  The unexpected little details like a lyric idea written on a cocktail napkin, an entire gymbag full of hotel keys (remember those … versus today’s key cards?) collected by Joe Perry of Aerosmith during years of touring, hand-written lyrics from every artist imaginable.  Here’s a “huh, who knew??” for you:  Jimi Hendrix was a well-recognized youth artist in his teens and won all sorts of awards and contests.  There was a whole display case of his sketches and  drawings.  One of the things that really got me was reading the hand-written lyrics, by Joe Walsh, of one of my favorite songs – Life’s Been Good.  That song came out in 1977 and my pal Phil Hadley and I played the grooves off that record.  But it wasn’t seeing that – it was seeing Joe’s handwriting.  Now Joe, in my view, is sort of an outlier – a wacky guy, who is both humorous and an incredibly talented musician.  For some reason, my “mind’s eye view” of his handwriting would be that it would be messy.  Like mine.  Nope.  He had beautiful cursive script, with flourishes not seen anymore.  I pulled out my iPhone, cued up “Life’s Been Good” and played it – reading along with the lyrics in Joe’s own hand.  Pretty cool.  Also on the lyrics theme as well, there were numerous instances where the song was clearly a “work in progress” or the paper displayed was “working sheets” – with scratched out words and phrases.  There was one Beatle’s tune where a phrase that we all know and love had at least 6 different scratched out versions before the final.

One thing I guess I did but did not expect was the theaters playing concerts and the amount of video content.  There was one theater, quite big, with the most amazing sound system and acoustics.  Outside of the theater you could hear music coming out of the doors, so it caught your interest but it wasn’t like it was disturbing anything else – but you walked in, and in the center of the room, it was big, loud and awesome – damn near concert-level loud, and most certainly “hey, turn that down!” loud.  That theater was playing the U2 induction concert from Madison Square Garden, and U2 played with Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Will I. Am and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, and many more.  Very, very cool.  Another neat “watch” was in the entrance to the inductee’s hall where they had a constant flow of inductee speeches – and what was funny here was the sign on the wall:  “Caution, these videos contain adult language. Enjoy, but viewer discretion and evaluation for age-appropriate content is recommended.”  I’d characterize these videos as “Drunk rock musicians demonstrating artful uses of the F-Bomb.”  Adult language indeed!   Finally, in the Beatles section, there was a video wall that represented all of their albums released over their career, and video/film of the recording sessions for all of them.  We literally spent more than an hour watching that content, divided in two stints.  Amazing.

And then it got personal. I was standing in front of U2’s display case, which was dense with 75 or so items of memorabilia, when a word jumped out at me:  Ames, IA.  This was on the explanatory cards at the bottom of the case.  I bent down to read it, and it talked about how the item displayed was a window promotion card that was displayed on campus at Iowa State University, promoting the gig that U2 played there in their early days in 1981.  I scan up and there’s the card:  “Columbia NEW WAVE recording artists U2 (picture), at the Fillmore, Friday, April 10, 1981.  Below the picture, in small type, it said “With Special Guests: Jonesen” (sic).  HOLY SHIT – I about jumped out of my skin.  Jonesin’ (as the correct spelling goes), was a band from my hometown, Newton, IA, consisting of guys about 5-6 years older than me and they played all around the Central IA area at the time.  I knew or knew of most of the guys in the band and had even taken a guitar lesson or two from their lead guitarist!  And it was right there at the Rock Hall.  Awesome.  Never expected that.

I could go on for hours about the Rock Hall – all I have to say is, you should go if you are at all a fan of Rock music.  It is a really cool walk through the culture.

The USAF museum is again something I could write for ages about – but won’t.   It is an incredible collection of aircraft from huge to small, and again, just dozens of little details, from all eras of the USAF’s journey – every war, every era.  My favorite thing to do in this museum, and it’s one of the few where you CAN do this, is just walk around underneath some of these monsters – the big ones, you can do that.  B1 bombers (Pictured is a B-1B), B-52s, C-147s, etc.  Amazing that these beasts fly, and fly they do or did.  One of the most stunning things there isn’t actually in the museum, but is outside – the memorial garden.  It is more or less a grave yard (although no one is buried there) with monuments to individuals, squadrons, battles, etc., all donated or erected by those involved. It is a very solemn thing to visit there.  The USAF museum should be a must visit for pretty much anyone.  It is a both a demonstration of the incredible sacrifices of our military, and a visual demonstration of the immense capabilities and power of our country, when we can put our collective minds to it.

Finally, our pitstop:  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and Hall of Fame.  We didn’t actually pay the admission and tour the museum, we just stopped and hit the rest rooms.  We go every year to the Indy 500, and love every minute of it.  We’ve actually “not done” the IMS Hall of Fame yet, though have stopped by there (they have a big “fan fest” outside of it every year), and we’ve done the van ride around the speedway.  But, it’s pretty cool to go there when there isn’t a race going on.  It is a positively HUGE space and it seems even bigger when there’s no one in the stands, no cars parked everywhere, etc.  Folks who don’t go to the race don’t understand just what an event it is – 300,000+ attendees (which is down quite a bit from years past but still immense), and the speedway facility itself is positively huge – a 2 1/2 mile per-lap track.  The distance from the back of the North Vista stands (overlooking turns 3 and 4) to the South Vista stands is more than a mile.  Folks that have gone with me and haven’t been before are somewhat calibrated to sports venues on the scale of large football stadiums.  Something like 15 typical large football stadiums would fit in just the infield.  So anyway, we stopped, we gawked, we pee’d and we hit the road again.  I think this year, when I take my sons to the 500, we’ll go to the museum.  Should be pretty cool.

I would highly, HIGHLY recommend all of these stops to anyone looking for an easy weekender trip in the midwest.  Great stuff.

Next:  Awesome teenaged sons.

As you were,

Stew

Triple D Restaurants – Epic Road Trip

6 Apr

Time for installment #2 of Stew, Alex and Brian’s Epic Road Trip, AKA “we visit Stew’s favorite things”, AKA “one lap of Ohio and Indiana”.

So, this is the Restaurants.  In order to make this make a bit more sense, I’ve copied and pasted the content from my blog post last week below that gave the restaurant info, and then have added in my own commentary and pictures to this.  That way, if you stumble on this post or if you’ve googled “Triple D” or something, you’ll get the whole picture and this post will be actually useful for you.

Here’s where we went:

Lunch on Weds:

South Side Soda Shop & Diner
1122 south Main Street
Goshen, IN 46526
(574) 534-3790
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/withX9C85A0

Copied from my previous post:

The South Side Diner is about 3/4 of a mile south of the town square on Hwy 15/33 in Goshen – Main Street.  It looks a bit like a train car at the front, and inside is pure vintage diner – black vinyl booths, laminate tables, authentically vintage marketing signs and local school spirit signage.  Goshen is close to Notre Dame in South Bend, IN, as well, so plenty of Fighting Irish stuff too.  The owner of the diner, Nate, is so proud of his place and couldn’t stop talking about it.  Once he heard we were on a cross country “Triple D” trip, he spent 10 minutes talking to us, telling us about his home made bread, their award winning pies, how he imports his hoagie rolls from Philadelphia, etc.  Wow.

When you walk in, instead of a typical greasy diner smell, we were met with the overwhelmingly wonderful smell of freshly baked bread and pies.  They had just pulled out a large sheet pan with 10 or more big loaves on it and were cooling them on the counter – they bake much of their own bread.

They are very proud of their Philly cheese steak sandwich, their chili, their pies, their liverwurst and bacon sandwich, and their bread.  I was so enthralled with the bread that I had to go simple.  We ordered – Alex got a Philly Pizza sandwich – a Philly cheesesteak with pizza sauce, Brian got a New Englander Burger, which was a burger on homemade English Muffin bread, and because I had to have some of that wonderful bread, I went simple -a grilled ham and cheese.  We added to that a basket of their special curly fries and a chocolate shake to share, in addition to our soft drinks.  The food started to quickly come out, and last out was the shake.  The Philly Pizza sandwich was immense, the burger less so, and my ham sandwich was stacked tall but not obscene.  My sandwich was incredible – I had the “Swedish” bread which was pinwheel rye and pumpernickle with a great crust.  Ham was carved off the bone of course, and the cheese was melted perfectly. Heaven.  Their curly fries are different – they are flat swirls of fried potatoes, and honestly, needed an additional fryer run for crispness.  The shake was wonderful – we had a chocolate malt and it was that perfect thickness.  We capped it all off with a slice of Lemon Meringue pie.  Wonderful – creamy, tart curd with a huge mountain of meringue.  The bill was all of $32.00 before tip – and as we were checking out, we realized we were part of 3 different families there doing the Triple D thing – a family going west from Hoboken NJ, and another dad and two sons headed east – though they were going to the football and baseball halls of fame, versus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Funny final note:  This lunch was $32.00 – with tip, the bill was $38.  Starting a theme.

Dinner on Weds:

Geraci’s Restaurant
2266 Warrensville Center Road
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 371-5643
YouTube: http://youtu.be/SVb-ctwxMRM

Wonderful pizza/Italian restaurant on Cleveland’s southwest side.  All hand-tossed pizzas and the 80-some-odd year old owner is still tossin’ the pies, and her daughter runs the place with iron fists made strong by kneading pizza dough! Copied from my previous post:

Geraci’s is an old-fashioned family Italian restaurant.  According to the Triple D segment, it is owned by an old couple in their 80s, and their daughter, in her 50s,runs the place. Didn’t see any of them there tonight.  A decent sized crowd was there.  We ordered a large pepperoni pizza, an order of their Chicken Parmesan and meatballs – the ChixParm came with a side salad, which I promptly ate up.
First out was the pizza and OH MY GOD.  This is seriously among the best pizzas I have ever had – it’s not thin crust nor deep dish – a crisp-bottomed crust that was nicely thin but not cracker like, thick chunky tomatoes, and the pepperoni was obviously hand-sliced off sticks. Their ovens must be really hot – the crust had a good crunch on the bottom, and the cheese and tomatoes were browned and caramelized on top, and the pepperoni was curled and browned.

Next was the Chicken Parm – again, OH MY GOD.  The sauce was thick tomato-basil sauce with a unique, meaty flavor. We found out the reason for that in a moment.  The cheese was special mozzarella that they have made for them, and the chicken had a wonderful crust with a bit of a crunch, and was perfectly cooked and not at all dry.  The final item to come out was the meatballs – we ordered one but they brought two.  These are handmade every day out of a mix of beef and veal, with a substantial amount of Romano Pecorino cheese, plus seasonings.  Then they are first roasted in the oven to brown them, and then they pour tomato puree with basil and onion over them – and cook them the rest of the way – and that’s when we found out the secret of the sauce!  It’s the sauce they make the meatballs with!  Everything had such broad and bold flavors, but perfectly balanced.  Fantastic food.  I would seriously make a trip to Cleveland from Chicago just to eat at Geraci’s.

Final note – again, $38 bucks with tip.  I didn’t order alcohol as I had had two glasses of wine at the free cocktail hour at our hotel.  There’s a theme starting up here.

Thursday Lunch:

Melt Bar and Grilled
14718 Detroit Ave Lakewood, OH
(216) 226-3699
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/0TtkfwFders

Full disclosure – we managed to NOT go to the location that Guy Fieri went to … on the way to Geraci’s on Wednesday night, we passed by this Melt location on the east side of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights.  We all turned and said “That place looks cool” and then all went “Oh, hey, that’s MELT!”  The next day for lunch, we just drove there without even looking up the address we had saved, and had lunch.  I discovered the issue when I went to the bathroom and was reading a flyer on the wall that noted their THREE locations in Cleveland.  Ooops.  Oh well … doesn’t change the outcome.

Melt is seriously one of the best things ever.  The space is cool – sort of a retro-throwback look – tin ceiling, funky furniture, a bar where the liquor shelving is all fronted with the glass title cards from stand up video games from the 80s, a huge shelf along one side of the restaurant covered with plastic, lit up holiday yard things – snow men, pumpkins, Santas, etc. etc.  Lots of vintage merchandising on the walls as well.  The menus are old album covers – Brian had a Doobie Bros. album, Alex had Mike and the Mechanics and I had a Talking Heads album – they glue the menu to the back.

The menu is grilled cheese sandwiches in 30 variations.  Let’s be clear, these aren’t just grilled cheese sandwiches – these are sandwiches made on thick, crusty, made-in-the restaurant  fresh bread and of course cheese, grilled.  But that’s where that ends – they are full-on sandwiches made with a plethora of ingredients.  We decided we needed to try an “old school” plain grilled cheese – what they call “The Kindergartener” – so we ordered that as an appetizer.  Big mistake.  More on that later. It was completely delicious, but had nothing to do with enhancing our appetites – quite the opposite.

The menu ranges through all kinds of meats, cheeses and all kinds of unusual fillings.  I was considering one of the two sandwiches that Guy made with the owner – the “Parmageddon” – which is a potato perogi with a crunchy hot “vodka-nappa cabbage” slaw that is vinegary and amazing with cheddar cheese and grilled onion, or the Tokyo Tuna Melt – a large portion of rare-seared sushi-grade tuna with lettuce, tomato, muenster cheese and wasabi-tofu mayo.  Went with the Parmageddon.  Alex ordered the “Chorizo Hash” sandwich – loaded with a corned-beef hash-like stuff made from fresh-made Chorizo and diced potatoes.  Brian ordered the Wake and Bacon – a fried egg, bacon and cheese sandwich.  All came with a mountain of crunchy, double-fried, hand cut fries that were incredible, and a big mound of freshly made creamy cole slaw.

Well, the big mistake was the Kindergartener – we all battled through our sandwiches, and Brian seemed to posses the right plan – he quit after half and saved his for breakfast the next morning.  Mine was incredible.

And incredibly filling – I felt like I was OD’ing on carbs between the potato/cheese pierogi’s in the sandwich, the bread, and the fries.  Honestly, wish i’d gone with the Tokyo Tuna.  Alex loved his, ate most of it, but said the heat of the Chorizo built up in his mouth and did him in.  That and the Kindergartener.

The boys each ordered two root beers, and I had two great beers from their 40-or-so selection of beers on tap.   The total bill after tip, was $50.  Those drinks were $12.  If we had not ordered them … $38 … Woo …

We waddled out of there at 3:00 PM, wondering how in the hell we’d ever eat again, much less in 5 hours when we went to Sterle’s Slovenian.

Thurs Dinner:

Sterle’s Slovenian Country House
1401 E 55th Street
Cleveland, OH
ph. (216) 881-4181
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/kItZ9-L7AV4

German/East German comfort food – I hear the Chicken Paprikash is the express train to Flavortown!

At 7:30, the guys were half-sacked out in a carbo-load coma in their room when I went in and said “Time for dinner!”  I was also probably too full to eat, but we were on a mission from G-d, and by G-d we were going to eat Paprikash.  Come hell or high water.  More on that to come.  We all agreed we had to go, even though none of us were hungry.  Hopped in the car and made the short drive to the northeast side of Cleveland and Sterle’s Slovenian House.

Sterle’s is on 55th Street, just south of St.  Clair, in this area that’s more industrial than anything else, and well, a bit dodgy.  The building is this big brown affair and you drive under an archway that carries the name of the restaurant and into a parking lot that could host five soccer games at once.   There was only one car parked there.  Uh oh.

We were looking around – is it closed?  Then we noticed there was a cardboard “open” sign next to the door, which was also propped open.  Well, we’re here … let’s go in.  You enter down this long hallway past all these glass display cases featuring 8×10 pictures of all the polka bands that have ever played there.   At the far end of the hall, we spot Guy Fieri’s stencil that he leaves on the wall of every restaurant.  Ok, we’re in the right spot.

We enter an immense dining room with exactly one table occupied – and they are all up at the band stand taking pictures.  The decor is 1964 Polka Hall and we are greeted by a friendly 30-something woman – “Yes, we’re open, we’ll seat you.”  They give us the menus and …. NO CHICKEN PAPRIKASH … WTF???  I call the hostess over and she knits her brow and says “Oh, that’s a lunch special.  But I think we had it today.  I doubt we have any more, but I can check the kitchen.  Hang on. ”  While she’s checking that, and fetching our drinks, this waitress straight out of central casting for German grandmas rolls out of the kitchen – she’s a solid 250 lbs or more packed onto a 5-foot-nothing frame, big round German face. (That’s her at the top of this section, we didn’t get an exterior shot of the restaurant.)  We all look at each other and she says “hi” to us and starts servicing the other occupied table.  We decided her name was Helga.  At that point, the hostess returns and says “No Paprikash.”  Well, Helga hears that and hustles over to our table and scolds the hostess – “There is so

Paprikash, it’s right in the walk in” – she looks at us and pronounces “Three Paprikash coming up!” and hurries to the kitchen.  We all look at each other and then at the hostess and say “umm …not three – one – please …” – she hustles back to the kitchen to flag down Helga, who comes ambling back out.  “Ok, you only want one Paprikash?  What the rest of you gonna eat?” – gesturing to Alex and Brian.  I said “Well, we were thinking a half-order of Weiner Schnitzel” – Helga  would have none of that “What, the full order is a dollar more.  You’ve got two boys.  Full order” – and she turns on her heel and she’s off.  We all look at each other and crack up, and the hostess, who stood there during this whole exchange just shrugged her shoulders and chuckled.

In nothing flat, she’s back with the soup AND salad that came with our meal – the guys dive into the soup and I have the salad – dying for something green to cut all those carbs from lunch.   And shortly after comes the Paprikash and the Schnitzel.   The Paprikash was incredible – roasted chicken, cooked without skin, and well seasoned, and then covered with an incredible brown gravy that was spicy with garlic and paprika.    It came as a drumstick, thigh and breast – all huge, and then a big portion of these long finger-shaped potato dumplings.  Fantastic!  The schnitzel was delicious as well, but as basic as basic gets – boneless veal, pounded flat, double dipped in flour and eggs and fried.  Basic – served with a side of hot sort of sliced roasted potato dish which we barely touched.  We ate all the chicken and then kept dipping the schitzel in the gravy.  And the bill?  $38.  AGAIN!

Final note on this one – I wouldn’t go back.  It was a bit.  I think it does have good food, but there are so many awesome restaurants in Cleveland that if you’re going, don’t bother with this one.

Friday Lunch:
Skyline Chili
2805 Centre Dr
Fairborn, OH 45324-2670

Well, on Friday, we left Cleveland and headed to Dayton.  Since the three of us love Cincinnati-style chili, we decided to give the Cinci favorite, Skyline Chili a try.  It was fantastic … at the end of the day, it’s fast food.  But really good chili on a bed of spaghetti and covered with cheddar cheese – that’s the three way – I ordered the 5-way, which added beans and diced onion.  Loved it.  We also left with a “go-box” of their fantastic oyster crackers and a 4-pack of the canned version of this.  Gotta have at home.   That said, I have made home-made Cinci chili before, and well, mine is better than this.  Still, Skyline is really good – wish we had these up in the Chicago area.   And would have tasted better half-hammered at three in the morning though!

Friday Dinner:

Tank’s Bar and Grill
2033 Wayne Ave
Dayton
www.tanksbarandgrill.com 

Given the trip we were on, Robin’s Aunt and Uncle, Linda and Steve, whom we were overnighting with in Dayton had to take us to their version of a Triple D – Tank’s.  Tanks is near the University of Dayton, about 4 miles southeast of downtown Dayton, where Linda and Steve live.

My view on this place – not a Triple D, but should be!  Alex and Brian were craving protein, and when they heard that they had great wings, they ordered a platter of 20 of them.  I added 10 to that to share between Steve, Linda and I and then we added fries, and Steve and Linda shared fried chicken and a bowl of chili.  The wings were fantastic!   Fried without breading, tossed in a traditional Franks Red Hot Sauce and butter, to the original Buffalo recipe.  The chili was delicious too, as well as the fries, Mac and Cheese et. al.  A great stop!

Friday Ice Cream:
Graeter’s
Many locations in Cincinnati and Dayton OH
Far Hills Blvd., Dayton, OH

Even though it’s not Triple D, this is worth writing about – Graeter’s is a Cincinnati tradition (and of course Dayton mirrors the Cinci culture) – outstanding locally-made ice cream. They make it in small batches, 2 gallons at a time, in-store.  We were at the Oakwood store on Far Hills Ave in Dayton.  And the ice cream is just heaven. You just gotta try it to believe it!

Saturday  Lunch

Triple X Family Restaurant
2 North Salisbury Street
West Lafayette, IN
ph. (765) 743-5373
YouTube:  http://youtu.be/GxqW4ereOfM

This is it – our final stop.   Triple XXX is a classic “drive-in” restaurant of the highest order.   Funky orange-and-black striped building with the classic drive-in carport parking, and inside, nothing but counter seating at a counter that winds back and forth through the place.  Watch the video!!  The food is all super-fresh made with all fresh, non-processed ingredients (unless you count American cheese), and made to order.  Their speciality is “chopped steak” burgers – it is ground-in-store sirloin burgers, which are then machine portioned into thick discs in this diabolical machine that they show on the video.  Before they grill the burgers on the flattop, they hand-flatten them, then dredge them first in flour to seal the juices in and grill them on a hot flattop.  And juices there are.  Then served simply with cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato on request.  All condiments are “put ’em on yourself”.

We got there at 1:00 local time and there was a crowd outside waiting to get in.  A girl who must have been hired expressly for her ability to shout loudly was keeping the wait list and told us “20 minutes”  … while cold out, it was a fun and festive atmosphere, and, well, after 850 miles of driving, we sure as hell weren’t getting back in the car.  The crowd in the restaurant and outside was a combo of mostly hung-over college students, locals and then at least two other traveling families doing the Triple D stop.  One couple had their dog, which got a lot of attention from us as we were all missing Sprite.  Then we were called in – we took our three seats at the counter near the front with a great view of the grill master taking pre-formed 3″ wide by 1 1/2″ thick discs of burgers, hand flattening them, then dredging them in flour and tossing them on the grill in front of him.

And this place has perfected the art of the perfect burger. We each had the “double” with cheese – the individual patties are just under a 1/4 lb., so a “double” is just over 1/3 of a pound, on a really fresh bun.  We ordered two sides of fries, a basket of onion rings – hand battered of course, and big, individual rings, not a big lump of an “onion loaf”.  And each of us had a cold mug of the Triple XXX root beer on tap.  Fantastic.  What a finish to our day.  Big, juicy, lots of cheese.  Perfect.

Triple XXX has been a Purdue University fixture for  eons and it’s easy to see why – tons of food at a very reasonable price – the perfect place for a college campus.

We pointed the GTI north for home at this point, and that was it!

So, one question that has been asked of me this week a lot:  “So, how much weight did you gain”?  Honestly?  I lost two pounds on the trip – has to do with being active, and the fact that while each time we ate, it was delicious, the reality is we did a LOT of splitting of stuff, and so the portions we ate (except at Melt and Triple XXX) were probably less than usual.  Go figure!

The other frequent question:  Was there an over-arching theme to these restaurants?  Yes, absolutely – and the word is “fresh” – everything in these places is fresh, home-made-style, using the best ingredients.  Proving over and over my mom’s axiom:  Put good things in, get good things out.  These guys all do it right.

Next post: The Rock Hall (with a bit about the airforce museum).

As you were,

Stew

For all the trip photos:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/stewpix/sets/72157629362357736/

Triple D/Rock Hall Road Trip – We’re back!

1 Apr

Well, we’re back from our epic Rock Hall/Triple D road trip – rolled in the driveway yesterday afternoon about 4:00 PM.  After writing the blog post from Wednesday, and that took me more than an hour in the evening, I decided to put off blogging about the trip until I got home – sorry about that!  And this morning as I sit here thinking about writing what I want to about this, I realize I have three core topics to cover – the Triple D restaurants, the Rock Hall (as those in Cleveland call the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame), and well, the reflections of what it’s like to travel with two awesome teenaged sons who truly both wanted to be on this trip, and truly enjoyed it and how special that is.

I do have to say that I’ve always loved road trips – we never flew on family vacations growing up.  For a family that had aviation in its DNA with my grandfather having been a pilot, because of where we lived, and the sheer cost of commercial air travel, I didn’t take my first commercial flight until I was around 11 or 12 and traveled with my mom to New Jersey to see my grandparents.  It was always the road.  And my folks did road trips right.  We weren’t one of those families that did the “let’s drive all night” thing.  The journey was always part of the destination.

We rarely drove more than about six or seven hours per day, either.  Our summer trips to New Jersey to see my grandparents included an overnight stopover in the Chicago area at our relatives, the Coxes – to hang and play with our first cousins, Tom and Doug, and then usually another overnight in Western or Central Pennsylvania.  Our Colorado trips always had a stop somewhere in Nebraska – Grand Island, York, North Platte, or Kansas – Salina or Lawrence.  About the only place we did the “straight through” drive was the years we went to Northern Minnesota and the fishing cabin.

Robin and I have done the same thing now as well – we’ve taken great driving trips with the family – twice to Cape Cod, twice to Greenwood Lake NY, once to Colorado, as well as countless driving trips to Iowa and Wisconsin.  We rarely cover more than 8 hours (although Colorado we did 12 hours in our first day, albiet with a full hour lunch stop at my mom’s in Newton, IA), we always made sure with the kids that we got to the hotel in time for an enjoyable dinner and a swim, etc.

On this trip, we drove 1040 miles and what was so fun about it was the trip WAS the destination.  Our first stop, about 2 1/2 hours out, was a Triple D restaurant.  That left about 4 hours of driving to Cleveland.  Cleveland to Dayton was another 3 hour run, then coming home yesterday, although the day’s total (like Wednesday) was about six hours, taking more than an hour break in West Lafayette at Triple XXX Drive In, as well as a 45 minute stop in Indianapolis to pee at the IMS Museum, and visit Mary Anne, our parking hostess for the 500 every year, really broke up the drive.

I come home having a great appreciation for a number of things:  1) My sons – more on that later, but they truly are great traveling companions.  They are funny, silly (different than funny), never putting on the sullen teenager act, they appreciate food the way I do, and we were all in sync the entire trip.  2)  Our country – this sounds strange, but the ease of which we can travel and cover great distances cannot be ignored.  While the highways can be smoother (and don’t get me started on the Republican’s goal to defund federal highway funding), and the traffic can be less, I nonetheless love traveling around our country and it truly is amazing that you can drive 1000 miles and really only tour around a small section of our country; 3) Music – if, besides eating, there was a single thing that defined this road trip, it had to be music.  We had a constant flow of great tunes playing, whether in the car or at the Rock Hall.  Between iPods/iTunes and Sirius Satellite Radio (Classic Vinyl was our favorite channel), this trip’s sound track was pure classic rock … with an hour-long dose of Jackopierce – the acoustic duo I recently discovered thanks to my pal Professor Troutstream.  4) Driving – while this is sort of a “well duh” item, let’s face it.  I love to drive.  I drove 18 of our 19 hours and never got sick of it.  Doesn’t hurt to have an awesome car to drive in my little VW GTI – that thing just eats miles and spits them out, all at 33 mpg going nearly 80 mph.  Awesome.

So, onwards.  I have a bunch of business travel this week, which means, inevitably, some serious downtime in which I’ll have time to write about the restaurants, about the Rock Hall, and the Air Force Museum, and about what it meant to me to travel with a pair of 16 year old boys who are both little kids and great grown men pals at the same time.

As always, the best part of a trip is often coming home.  Robin and Sprite were both very happy to have us home. We were done traveling yesterday.  But I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.

As you were,

Stew

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