Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Previewing new Mentor Melt

I'm pretty sure the crowds won't allow me to get near the new Melt Bar & Grilled after it opens Friday. So I'm glad I was invited to a preview of the new eatery in Points East at Route 306 and 20.

Chef proprietor Matt Fish has encountered a few bumps in the road, including a fire last month and a power outage on Monday, when the soft opening was to have been held. But assorted movers and shakers, retail neighbors and lots of other invited guests gladly returned last night to see the great do-over of the former Jalapeno Loco, taste the food and sample the beers, 40 of which are on tap.

Soft openings are planned to work our last minute kinks, give staffers real-people experiences and let management know what kinds of questions they'll be fielding once the general public arrives. The three other Northeast Ohio Melts always are packed and waits are common. No reservations are accepted, but carryout is a reality, I was told.  A mural of black and white renditions of famous Clevelanders, from Ghoulardi to Drew Carey to Mister Jingaling fills a wall, drawing folks to search out old friends. It's a clever way to amuse those who are waiting for a seat, although I couldn't find Dorothy Fuldheim.

Remembering its past life, my friend ordered a Big Popper, combining fresh jalapeno peppers, cheddar and herbed cream cheese into a sandwich of giant proportions. It was then cut in half and the entire thing was deep fried before it was served to her with mixed berry preserves.

It's impossible to imagine the size of these sandwiches until you have one. A table full of Melt's food could feed a small village, and I kid you not.

I removed  the bread  from half of my mushroom melt, ordered a vegetable side instead of fries and took the rest home for another day. The vegetable side that day was a huge portion of snap peas in a delicious garlic sauce. It's today's lunch. 

The beauty of this place is that you don't need to do that. You can order things as you want them and even skip the cheese altogether to choose a salad or homemade soup. The starters and snacks list is more my speed for dinner anyway, so that's probably the menu I'll use when I order carryout. Think pierogies, crab cakes, goat cheese quesadilla.

It's to be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. so is good for lunch or dinner. Since Melt Bar & Grilled is just a long block away from my office and on my way home,  soon I'll be able to let you know if carryout is as efficient as the service we experienced. In the meantime, check it out in person or online at

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Friday, October 26, 2012

A fresh look at Baltimore

It's funny how you can come to a town to visit relatives and think you know it   but come back for another purpose and discover  lots more you didn't know. That's how Baltimore is for me. I  come fairly often to see my daughter and grandson, but am here now as a travel writer.

Today I discovered a north side neighborhood called Hampden Village,with its mix of individually owned shops, restaurants, and boutiques, mostly along 36th Street. There seem to be no chain stores and funky residential neighborhoods surround what once were old mills, which originated in the early 1800s,  for making cotton canvas to be used for sails on ships.
 The mills have been repurposed into interesting places, such as a glass blowing operation we visited today that itself is pretty unusual. Under the tutelage of experts each of us blew our own glass pumpkin from molten glass. Each was slightly different and since our breathe went into the glass to form it, they are truly one-of-a-kind works . Tomorrow we go back to get them. Groups of 2 to 100 book time here to do substantially what my small press group did.

 We then convened for dinner at The Food Market, which opened last spring and by the looks of the crowd has been embraced by Baltimore. It's blue collar food with white collar sensibilties,  according to its chef, an affable, and very talented, young man  who stopped to chat at each table. The dish that likely most illustrates that concept were the meat loaf fries... french fry sized slices of meat loaf dipped in a batter of rice flour, black pepper and seltzer water then deep fried and served with sides of gravy and catsup. I'll have details about these places and others soon, so stand by. Or check them out yourself at and

Meanwhile, keep your fingers crossed that the storm dubbed the Frankenstorm is not going to hit this area. I'm due home Sunday, but if my flight can't take off I can hole up with my daughter and regale her with my Baltimore discoveries.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Outer space to a cruise: find it soon in Travel

Only a few passengers are around the pool as the Crystal Serenity sails into the beautiful bay of Kotor,, Montenegro which is surrounded by mountains.

This month's Travel will introduce you to a Madison man who spends months on cruises dancing with women who love to dance. One of them is a woman who sold her house to live aboard a cruise ship where she dances as much as she wants. That story will introduce a winter-long series about my recent cruise of the southern Mediterranean. aboard Crystal's Serenity.
The travel section, in the Sunday Nov. 11 paper, will also take you to Spaceport in the New Mexico desert where sub-orbital flights will propel the first civilians into space next year. You'll also visit Mobile, Alabama, a deep south destination replete with history, Mardi Gras and oysters.
All the stories will include videos with the online versions, which you can see a few days before readers of the newspaper. That's what is meant by the Digital First philosophy the News-Herald has embraced for the last year or so. 
I'm having a great time preparing this section for you  to read.  I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

wash DC food trucks

Discover where to find them in today's story at where I reveal other strategies for making the most of your visit to the nation's capital

Friday, October 12, 2012

Awaking in Istanbul

A multitude of masks is showcased in this shop window in Venice.

Waking in Istanbul early Tuesday ended my magic carpet ride through the southern Mediterranean with the longest day imaginable. It ended at midnight in bed in Mentor after 26 hours elapsed time en route, factoring in the multiple time zones

A wild ride at more than 80 mph punctuated our 3:30 a.m. departure from our central hotel to the Istanbul airport by taxi, (Taksi in Turkish).  Despite telling our driver we weren't in that big a hurry, he roared pass  an ambulance with sirens blaring complete with a police escort.   Air France to Paris was almost four hours, followed by an 8-hour flight from Charles deGaulle Airport to Washington Dulles, aboard the Airbus 380, a 500-some passenger aircraft I first flew last June. Scroll down through these blogs to see my account, complete with photos, of that adventure.

The trip was a last minute one occasioned by Crystal Cruise Line discounting its seven day southern Mediterrean cruise segment to $1,595 for those booking before Oct. 31. My daughter rarely travels because she's afflicted with a puzzling  neurological condition that blindsides her when she least expects it. But she was able to find us flights into Venice and back from Istanbul for around $800, making this a deal we couldn't pass up.  I've cruised Crystal before and was fully confident that the Serenity, its extraordinary amenities and  staff along with  my careful observations of  my daughter would make this trip possible.

An unanticipated surgery for me 10 days before our departure made things somewhat iffy with thoughts of the blind leading the blind, but we departed on time on Sept. 29.
The beautiful fijord of Kotor, Montenegro is reflected in the Lido deck window for passengers enjoying an outdoor breakfast aboard the Crystal Serenity.  

We visited Sergio, my favorite mask maker in Venice; a medieval village on the boundary of Emilio  and Romagna in Italy; popped in on the multiple cats on the streets of  Kotor, Montenegro;  fell under the spell of enchanting Corfu,  explored the ancient birthplace of Apollo on the sacred island of Delos; ate freshly caught sardines in Mykonos; and shopped till we dropped at the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Spicie Market in Istanbul. I'll bring you those stories in upcoming travel sections, but for now conquering jet lag is my major challenge.

My usual  tactic of lots of fresh air and exercise added to yesterday's dazzling sunshine is doing the trick. I'm still waking at 3 a.m. and falling asleep by 8, but it's already Friday and  I am feeling human again.

Feral kittens along a street in Kotor play with a sardine tossed their way before realizing it's good to eat. 

Meanwhile, be sure to catch Sunday's Travel with lots of closer to home options for celebrating the season's spooky choices and my own story about the views from the Old Post Office in Washington. D.C.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why cruise Crystal?

We’ve met many passengers who have cruised multiple times with Crystal, shopping among itineraries offered by both the Serenity, which I’m on now, and the Symphony, which I wrote about in 2006. It’s easy to see why they have the loyalty they do, especially now since the cruise line has adopted an all-inclusive policy. On most other cruises passengers are encouraged to tip $25 or more each day with gratuities fro everyone from the waiter to th housekeeper, including the sommelier, , bartenders and what sometimes seems like a cast of thousands. Drinks, even soft drinks, have a way of adding up over the course of a seven day cruise, adding hundreds to the total at the end. But on Crystal these things are included. So unless you choose to buy a bottle of wine that’s not on the included list or  purchase  photos  shot by the ship’s photographer in port or at dinner, or gamble away your evenings in the casino, what you pay is what you get.. .I thought perhaps service would suffer, knowing that lots of ship employees aren’t very well paid and count of their tips to achieve a basic wage but the same extraordinary service remains.. 
The cruise line also gives passengers a lot of choices, including the choice of dining at a table for two or joining a larger group. We’ve asked the maitre de Leo to seat us with a different group each night knowing that diners might one of the specialty restaurants -  Prego or Silk Road- for dinner Last night one of our dining partners was a woman who will soon take her 100th cruise with Crystal.  She told us that the Mediterranean itineraries are her favorites  and that she plans to cruise many more years with this cruise line. She knows all of the ship’s staff by name and share the photos of her grandchildren wit them when she’s on board. Another woman, affectionately called Mama Lee by the ship’s staff, sold her home four years ago and hasn’t left the ship since. She books back to back cruises and sees her family members when they come aboard while the ship is in port or join her by booking their own cruises. When they tease her about being homeless, she responds with a wry “I may no longer have my house, but you should just see my yacht.“

Thursday, October 4, 2012

By sea to Montenegro

The Crystal Serenity is now at anchor in the  Bay of Kotor, outside the walled town of the same name in Montenegro. It’s one of the world’s newest countries, established in 2006 when it voted to separate from Serbia. It is also Europe‘s poorest country with a monthly per capita income of  just 426 euros, about $541 at today‘s exchange rate.
 The reason I haven’t been blogging is that the minimum wi-fi fee aboard the ship is $50 per half hour, and the internet speed is so slow that my daughter got off just 2 rather short Facebook posts before she got a message that it was time to renew.  Knowing that most ports have wi-fi somewhere for less, I’ve been waiting to find one. Yesterday we were at sea all day and today, when we went ashore, I found a wi-fi hotspot right outside the medieival city’s walls. But of course I  hadn’t carried my Ntebook ahsorewith me. So now I’m back in  the stateroom writing with plans to go back ashore to send this.

This cruise is very well priced and it’s all inclusive ,meaning that tips and wine with dinner are included. So in theory I should not have to spend anything at all. But with such high internet fees I could easily spend money I hope top use for shopping in the Gran Bazaar in Istanbul. So I’m taking notes, shooting video and planning to give a  full report when I get home, accented by an occasional  blog when I can find a wi-fi signal.

This town is verry very pretty with a maze of cobbled streets leading up and around the mountain it’s built on to squares perfect for catching  your breath or taking notes over  a cup of coffee. There are lots of sweet kitties, including fairly  young kittens all around town. A fisherman had thrown small fish to one colony of maybe 7 cats and we watched as they devoured them. I stepped into an old Orthodox church and met the bearded, black robed priest  to ask if I could take pictures. Hanging candles, enclosed in decorative lamps, made it appear as it probably did several hundred years ago.

We are about 100 miles south of Dubrvonik, another beautifully  preserved walled city, which Ive visited in Croatia. I had a strong sense of déjà vu early yesterday as we cruised pats islands on the starboard side Sure enough, they were some of the same islands I visted a few years back on another voyage-- that one aboard a 100-foot wooden sailing ship. In contrast this ship has about 1000 passengers and a crew of more than 600.

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