Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas in Cleveland

As we near the end of 2011 and look back on the year that was before I head to Laywines to buy the 2012 insert for my Filofax (some habits die hard), I’m reminded of all the great spots I visited; most of the trips all too brief. But one in particular that stood out as a place that would be perfect to head back to around the holidays, is Cleveland.

Not only was this city a terrific culinary surprise, but they’re also coo-coo for Christmas. Part of it has to do with the fact that the perennial favourite, “A Christmas Story” was filmed there. (I even met someone who was one of the kids in line when Ralphie was pushed down the slide. He recalled getting 10 days off of school and making $60; a fond memory.) The house/museum ode to the movie is also quite popular.

Then there are Snow Days at the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field, which includes a regulation sized frozen diamond, a skating rink, snow tubing slides, and all sorts of fun wintry games.

There’s also the annual “How the Kishka Saves Christmas”, which includes wieners, polkas and the traditional stringing of the sauerkraut on the Christmas tree at Happy Dog.

Even so, while I was in Cleveland the Christmas-themed thing I heard about most was the short-lived, beloved seasonal Christmas Ale brewed up at the local Great Lakes Brewing Company. This stuff is made with gallons of honey, spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon, is 7.5% alcohol, and is known to make people behave very, very badly.

The brewery has several pub rooms, from the Taproom, with its 1890s-era Mahogany bar, to the Beer Cellar, which would be my regular haunt if I lived in Cleveland: It’s a low, intimate turn-of-the-century “rathskeller” with stone walls, brick floors and a wooden bar strung with twinkly lights. (Historically, it was the building’s basement for seed and feed.) The beer is fresh from the tap and the warm, salty pretzels are to die for. Certainly something to give thanks for in Cleveland this Christmas.

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