Rockin’ Cleveland [classic article]

Do you ever dream of totally immersing yourself for a few days in rock music and the rockstar lifestyle? You can make it happen in Cleveland. As the song goes, “Cleveland rocks!”

I got the opportunity to do just that and to see the unique live performances at the 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, broadcast on HBO May 5.

The cool part about the city is that everyone gets into the rock heritage. There are lots of places to check out to get the insider’s feeling for the music. The term “rock ‘n’ roll” was an old blues musician term for sexual intercourse. Cleveland DJ Alan Freed first used the term to describe his radio show’s music to white audiences.

What to do: Visit the mind-blowing Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and its museum. The interactive booths of music are an intense learning experience unto themselves, showing the roots of rock, with various artists’ influences and who they went onto influence.

The costumes, guitars and other cool relics gave the real flavor of the bands in the “permanent” but always evolving exhibits.

With rock music, it isn’t just the sound, but the whole package that takes it into a different realm from other music. The Grateful Dead and their stage objects figure in the museum’s current temporary exhibit.

Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights is an old-school record store/head shop. As hippie as the vibe is, the surrounding neighborhood is filled with mansions.

The Beachland Ballroom is a small venue that features bands like Punch Brothers and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers. Beachland’s bar isn’t just an afterthought of barkeeps throwing beer.  It’s a real cocktail lounge with a late ‘60’s feel.

For some extra fun between sets, visit the vintage clothing and record store in the basement. Other record stores/vintage clothing stores are on the same block, and often open during shows, including Blue Arrow Records and Boutique.

If you call ahead of time, you can tour Gotta Groove Records, one of the last vinyl record pressing plants in the world.

Where to stay:  For a full immersion rockstar experience, book a room at the Ritz-Carleton/Cleveland, with world-class, discreet service. Non-guests can get a hint of rockstar treatment at Lounge on 6 in the lobby, which runs a weekday happy hour special with $6 cocktails Rates for the hotel start at the mid $200’s.

Even the Holiday Inn by the airport gets into the music scene. Your wake-up call involves a guy singing the weather set to ‘50’s early rock tunes. By booking at least two weeks in advance, you can get rates in the $88 range per night.

Where to eat: Indulge in the cuisine of Dante Boccuzzi. His flagship restaurant, Dante, fuses American, Italian and Asian influences in a menu that encourages tasting portions. The mix is not surprising, considering he’s worked for the likes of Nobu Matsuhisa, Charlie Palmer and even designer Giorgio Armani.

Dante’s menu is fresh and simple. A “must-order” is the Linguini alla Carbonara with poached egg and house-made pasta and pancetta. This is a twist on the classic.  Dante’s version is served with a barely poached egg, and the dish is silky and luxurious.

Cleveland’s AMP 150 stands for “American Modern Palate” but it’s also a play on words with “amp” and Cleveland’s status of being the site of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Everything on the menu, from small plates to sharing plates to entrees, is all under $20. Each item is lovingly thought out and creatively conceived, like the Watercress salad with fig, Marcona almond, L.E.C. Blomma and vanilla vinaigrette.

AMP 150 may be in an airport hotel, but it doesn’t have any smack of chain restaurant or corporate sterility.  On site is a quarter acre farm land where the kitchen grows a great deal of their produce and herbs, including okra, beets, corn, peas and ramps. There’s also an apiary on the roof for honey.

Cleveland’s West Side Market houses the West Side Market Cafe’, a favored breakfast stop for decades. This is not a market of mostly prepared — and thus, more expensive — foods. It’s a place where you can really fill your refrigerator and freezer. There are many different meat, fish and poultry purveyors.

I tried some of the beef jerky from Czuchraj Meats, beloved by Iron Chef Michael Symon and featured on the Food Network. Their jerky isn’t like the stuff you find in a truck stop or souvenir store. It’s juicy and “meaty.”

Melt is the creation of former touring musician Matt Fish. He has dozens of different grilled cheese sandwiches and cheeseburgers.

Garden-fresh watercress salad at Cleveland’s AMP 150

The portions are huge and all the sandwiches are served on thick slices of Texas toast. Hand-cut fries are seasoned with salt and pepper. Stadium Mustard — a local creation and favorite brown mustard — is set on the table. If you’re hankering for something sweet, order deep fried Twinkies.

The restaurant has been featured on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, Maxim, Esquire and more. People drive hours to come to Melt. If you get any of their three official logos tattooed onto yourself, you get a 25 percent discount for life.

House of Blues in Cleveland is located on 4th Street, a lively entertainment corridor. The Cleveland location is more intimate than others in the chain, as they have kept the historic character of the former Woolworth’s store. The menu is designed by Chef Aaron Sanchez, a star of the Food Network, so you’ll find Southwestern touches like shrimp and grits, as well as bourbon bread pudding in the offerings.

Cleveland’s Happy Dog is a favorite spot for musicians, music lovers, businesspeople during the day. The place is open every day until 2:30 am.

James Beard nominated chef Eric Williams created the food concept: the menu consists only of hot dogs, veggie dogs (vegan Italian sausages), tater tots and fries. The kitchen offers more than 50 toppings for them, including black truffle honey mustard, (local) Marcella’s grape jelly and chili sauce, Guinness sauerkraut, house-made chunky peanut butter, and bright green “Alien” pickle relish for the classic Chicago style hot dog.

For a cool neighborhood hangout that attracts people from all walks of life, all ages for their ambiance, food, live music and arcade bowling, head to Prosperity Social Club in the Tremont neighborhood.  It’s built in what was a 1938 ethnic social club, with a super eclectic array of menu items.

You’ll find everything from pierogies to fried oysters with remoulade and a wild fusion of Greek salad with nachos.  The Reuben is served on potato pancakes and topped with house cooked corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island.

Tuesdays and Saturdays are live band nights at Prosperity Social Club, with a good selection of local and regional roots rock/alt-country/folk-pop bands. Ohio still allows smoking on public patios, which Prosperity Social Club has.

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