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.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BurgerFi opens so have a look

My BurgerFi cheeseburger was really, truly one of the best I'd even eaten. As franchisee Doug O'Brien said, the proof is in the taste. It's all natural beef, with no antibiotics or hormones and humanely raised, he told me.
Full disclosure: I only eat about three hamburgers a year so may not be the best of judges.
I visited the day before the Grand Opening when they were trying things out on family members and invited guests. The place is at the edge of my Old Mentor neighborhood so I've watched as the transformation from the long vacant Little Mountain Farmer Market took place. I was happy see roses planted around the perimeter and a lawn installed in front, next to Mentor Avenue.
The BAD burger, seen almost devoured in the video that accompanies this blog, stands for Breakfast All Day and includes maple syrup, a fried egg, hash browns, grilled onions, hickory bacon and American cheese atop a Black Angus burger. It costs $6.97, a dollar more than the cheeseburger I ordered.
It's nice to know that this place offers local craft beers and wine, priced at about $5, which is close to the price of onion rings or fries.
But I have to wonder about yet another burger place. There probably are a dozen places to get a hambureer within a mile or two of this place at Mentor Avenue and Little Mountain Road. And every time I turn around I've met someone else who is embracing a largely meatless lifestyle, including quite  few folks calling themselves vegans.
And even though the recession may officially be over, whether it's from downsizing or no raises a whole lot of us are earning less than we were five years ago, so dining out choices become more and more limited. And this is a place where it's easy to spend $30 for dinner for two.
But the food is really, really good and the service is friendly. So I hope it all works for BurgerFi.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Long awaited BurgerFi to open on Tuesday

I've just spoken to Doug O'Brien who will open his new BurgerFi restaurant in Mentor on Tuesday. While we sat at a patio table and spoke,  people kept coming in off Mentor Avenue and trying to order. Apparently they missed  the signs out front announcing that Tuesday was the big day.

They've  done an amazing job of remodeling the former Little Mountain Farmers Market, which must have been a nightmare given that in the distant past it  was a corner gas station  The menu is limited to hot dogs and hamburgers and O'Brien is proudest of the fact that he offers the best meat available - grass fed beef that's been humanely raised with no antibiotics. A Kobe beef hotdog on the menu over the counter caught my eye.

 Despite the fact that there are no salads on the menu, everything from tables to napkins is very green, he said ---    made of recycled plastics.  One big difference between this place and others is its menu of craft beers and wines.

 It's in a prime location at the edge of Old Mentor on the corner of Little Mountain Road and will be open every day..  I'll have more details for Monday's paper.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Win tickets to Vintage Ohio

Win a pair of tickets to Vintage Ohio.

Tweet and fill in the blank:
“Ohio wines are great because ________ #nh140”

Tweet as many times as you’d like by 5 p.m. Wednesday, when we’ll pick 10 winners. To be eligible to win, you must follow @newsheraldinoh on Twitter, and you must include the hashtag #nh140 in your tweet.

Each winner will get a pair of tickets to Vintage Ohio: One adult sampler ticket and one designated driver ticket. Winners must be able to pick up their tickets at The News-Herald (7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Aug. 1 or 2.

The 19th annual Vintage Ohio Wine Festival is 1 to 10 p.m. Aug. 2 and 3 at Lake Metroparks Farmpark, 8800 Euclid Chardon Road, Kirtland. More information at

And remember to upload your Vintage Ohio photos in our Northeast Ohio Festivals gallery:

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July Travel: Louisville bourbon to Disney plus an Ohio budget waterpark and golfing WVa

A bourbon with champagne drink served in a flute glass is a house specialty at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville.

Traveling vicariously or planning future forays away? Today's travel section will inspire you and give you the tools you need to make it reality..

Consider Louisville, six hours or so away, and bourbon comes to mind. Find out why that is and how bourbon is not only a part of the infrastructure but a huge draw for visitors from here and away. The same limestone that makes bourbon good was used to build the states roads and bridges, leaving behind a vast underground cavern that is today strung with ziplines. It's brilliant really because ziplining here can be year round since the "cave" is a constant  58 degrees summer and winter.  Learn about the urban bourbon trail and how to make the iconic Hot Brown, which is far from good for you but yummy to many.

Charred oak wood barrels can only be used once in the making of bourbon, so one cottage industry that has sprung up is the aging of salt, vanilla  and other foods in the used bourbon barrels.

Then head west to a new waterpark with a Maui motif that's positioning itself as a less expenseive family friendly place. Staffer Betsy  Scott's kids loved it. Who can't benefit from this news?

And sports editor Mark Podolski's little boy, who's only 4, told his dad he wanted to live at the "Cars"-themed Disney hotel when they arrived in Orlando  and that was before he'd even stepped into the Magic Kingdom. The entire family was enthralled and his boy's grandmother came along and got to witness the whole thing - which the elicited goosebumps  that others have described when a dream comes true.

Staffer David Glasier finds almost heaven in West Virginia  links where he golfed courses ranging from budget  getaways to high end resort -  the illustrious Greenbrier, no less.  Get the lowdown on each and even if everyone in the family is not a golfer you'll find great inspiration.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Helped needed for upcoming Atlantic City visit

In two weeks I'll be heading to Atlantic City to see what's up there. I'm taking one of the Fly Borgata charters which promise NEOhioans they'll be checking in at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa within a little more than two hours after leaving home. They're using 30 passenger charter jets to do that, flying from a private charter terminal at Cleveland Hopkins to bypass the TSA waits and need to check in early.

Click on the underlined text above to go to the story I wrote a week or so ago that prompted plans from this visit.

I'm going with a couple of girlfriends who, unlike me, didn't need someone to explain what a casino loyalty card was. I'm told that some seats remain if you want to join us.

I am not a gambler and don't have a loyalty card, but my friends take weekend trips to NYstate, Michigan, Niagara and other closeby casinos including Cleveland and know their way around the gaming floors. All I really know about casinos is they don't permit photographs inside them... something I learned the hard way on a visit to Las Vegas.

I hope I can stay up late enough to catch one of the shows, because I understand they are a far cry from the Englebert Humperdink type productions I saw when I was last there, maybe 15 years ago. The debut 10 years ago of Borgata apparently began a trend to LasVegasize this part of the Jersey shore, which still hosts the Miss America pageant every year.

I'm hoping my friends and regular readers can perhaps help me do a good job on the story I am planning as a result of this trip. Tell me what you want to know, what you need to know and what I should look for while I am there. I'll do fine on the non gaming end, checking out the spa, the restaurants and the gift shops  as my friends gambling.  But I need a little help from my friends for the rest of it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Step into a Kentucky distillery for look at bourbon making

Barrels of aging bourbon can be seen through the windows of the the 1881 Warehouse C at Buffalo Trace Distillery. The barrels are rotated from the bottom  to the top of the building so each gets a chance to absorb the hot humid Kentucky conditions which caused the bourbon to soak into the charred interiors of the oak barrels.

 Buffalo Trace Distillery, in business more than 200 years, was the favorite distillery visited by Dr. Emil Paganini on his Bourbon Trail Tour of Kentucky with a group of other men. You’ll read about him in a story I’ve written for Monday’s paper.

His curious scientific mind embraced the many things this distillery is doing to craft and improve the bourbons including experiments in bourbons made in a single oak barrel, and collectible bourbons such as Pappy Van Winkle, Eagle Rare and Old Charter. Paganini has acquired some of these for his own bourbon collection.

The September to April distilling season was over when I visited in May, so I wasn’t able to take the behind the scenes hard hat tour that Paganini so enjoyed. He was able to see the microstill where Buffalo Trace’s award winning experimental collection whiskies are made.

But my tour gave me a good overview, and like the others, was free.

All the tours  end with a taste of distillery’s flagship whisky. During my tour I learned that this distiller, which has had other names over the years wasbuilt on this site in 1857,  was one of the few to remain open during Prohibition. It had a license to make medicinal bourbon.

 The distillery has won many awards as Buffalo Trace, which pays tribute to its location in the countryside where it's located.

It takes its name from the  nearby trail made long ago by herds of buffalo heading to the Kentucky River along the edge of the property. Explorers followed on the Trace, which made their walking easier.
Barrels on racks in the warehouse exude the fragrance of evaporating bourbon, called the "angel's share."s

Stepping into Warehouse C, built in 1881, the most amazing aroma surrounded us. “It’s called the angel’s share,” our guide told us. “Its the scent of bourbon evaporating.”

Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon is done mostly by hand. 
We walked over to the Blanton’s Bottling Hall, where workers on a line were hand bottling Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. Some of their work even included handwriting the labels.

 Other tours include one that’s framed around post-Prohibition bourbon product, and a ghost tour, to try and spot the ghost of early distiller Col. Blanton, reputed to be haunting the Stony Point Mansion where he died in 1959.

Should you be in north central Kentucky, make some time for an hour-long tour at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Even if you are not a fan of bourbon, you'll enjoy the tour.

The tours are free and not all of them take place every day, so call 800-654-8471 or see its website

Stop in at this blog in the next few days for more about my visit to Louisville, And be sure to watch for the Travel section coming on Sunday, July 14.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dreams of sailing inspired by Tall Ships

I dreamt of skimming across the water last night, cutting through waves as the sails above me filled with the wind and land receded from view.

Writing about the Cleveland Tall Ships Festival that continue through Sunday certainly inspired that dream, but so did my long ago sail on Lake Erie with the HMS Bounty.

The Bounty was supposed to have been at the Tall Ships Festival again this year but she was lost last year off North Carolina as her captain headed out to sea to escape Hurricane Sandy.

 In recalling  my own Bounty voyage from Toledo to Cleveland in 1989 I also remembered when I tried to sign on as crew for the Saga Siglar, a replica Viking knarr built to retrace the long ago route of Leif Ericcson. That was in Newfoundland in 1983 where I went to welcome the ship to L'ans aux Meadows, an ancient Viking community believed to have housed Ericcson and his compatriots around 1000. It had sailed more than 4000 miles passing both Iceland and Greenland, as Ericcson surely did.

I searched out the stories I wrote back then, more than 30 years ago, and the memories came flooding back.

I'm so glad I had those experiences, but I'm not ready to hang it up yet and relegate them to dreams and memories.  I am going to try to return to L'ans aux Meadows again to see how it's fared as a declared historic site and I'm going to try and find the Saga Siglar.

I want to go back to sea again. But now, perhaps, I'll sail on a captained charter in the Virgin Islands -  maybe the Greek Islands I visited last year, or perhaps the Seychelles,  where I've never been.

Perhaps it's my Norwegian ancestry that makes me want to return to the sea.

But  I know deep in my soul we're all defined by our horizons as well as our dreams.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Eight dishes made with whiskey

When Emil and Loretta Paganini host their whiskey dinner next Wednesday, the menu won't be confined to bourbon but every dish will include whiskey in its creation.

Emil will guide a tasting of exquisite bourbons he sampled last year along the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, while Loretta will be busy in the kitchen preparing the food. If you thought that only barbecue is enhanced by the addition of whiskey, you'll likely be surprised at the evening's menu.

 Start off with crab cakes napped in roasted corn and red pepper coulis and a smoked tomato chowder served alongside a salad of grilled vegetables. Move on to handmade fettucine with duck ragu and caramelized onions, drunken flat iron steak and garlic smashed potatoes. Then finish off with chocolate whiskey cake and pecan tassie cookies.

Cost for the July 10 dinner and bourbon tasting, which begins at 6 p.m., is $75.
It's at Sapore, one of the area's fine dining secrets. It's tucked away next to the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking  at 8623 Mayfield   Road, just east of Route 306 in Chester Township. It's an intimate space and is sure to sell out quickly, so make reservations at 440-729-1110 or online at

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Bourbon: as American as Old Glory

A bartender at the Seelbach Hotel's storied bar in Louisville stamps a Passport for a traveler on the Urban Bourbon Trail.  To be part of the trail, each bar must have at least 50 different bourbons available. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time at the Seelbach.

My mind has turned to bourbon as we prepare our July 14 travel section. I mean, of course, that I'm thinking a lot about bourbon since it's interwoven with everything about Louisville, where I traveled in May to learn more about why that is.  A declaration by Congress made it the only distinctly American spirit and its contents and the techniques to create it are rigidly controlled. It must, for instance,  be at least 51 percent corn and be aged for at least two years in new but charred white oak barrels. But distillers manage to find variations to make their bourbon different from that of their neighbors, such as single barrel distillations, and that is part of the fascination with bourbon. It's a fascination  that has spread around the world in recent years, making sales of the American spirit skyrocket.

Sea salt and vanilla are among the products aged in used bourbon barrels.
 Since only new barrels can be used, that means there's a lot of leftover bourbon barrels around - something that inspired  Bourbon Barrel Foods entrepreneur Matt Jamie. He ages his own soy sauce in repurposed bourbon barrels and has found the process to be just as successful with Worcestershire sauce and vanilla. I brought back some of his bourbon infused salts and spices and they've brought a great bourbon flavor to foods from the grill. These uniquely Kentucky flavors make great gifts. Find them at the Butchertown Market in Louisville or order at

The majority of the used bourbon barrels are purchased by the Scots and Irish and sent back overseas to be used for aging Scotch and Irish whiskys. Sounds to me like a win-win scenario for everyone.  
Emil Paganini, a retired nephrologist and husband of my cooking school friend Loretta Paganini, is one of those who traveled Kentucky's Bourbon Trail with a group of friends and came back smitten with collecting bourbon. It sounds a lot like the Urban Bourbon Trail I took between bourbon bars in Louisville, Only those with 50 or more bourbons are allowed to be part of it.

Loretta and Emil are collaborating on a Bourbon dinner set for Wednesday July 10 at their Sapore Restaurant in Chester Township. You'll meet Emil in a story I'm planning for Monday's paper, but once the paper hits doorsteps and newstands the dinner will likely sell out quickly.

So I'm giving those who follow my blog a heads up in advance. Book that dinner and learn a lot about bourbon at

 Then be sure to watch for the July 14 travel section, which is sure to deliver some surprises.

Labels: , , ,