A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Opinion, Uncategorized

Let’s Take a Break at the Lake: Another Quick Little Post.


The East 55th St. Marina lookng West.

One of the reasons I haven’t been able to write as much as I wanted is because of all the things that have been happening at once. This does not include what is being shown on the news everyday. Last Sunday there was an afternoon with Jerry Springer in Bainbridge Ohio.  Friday, a planning and zoning workshop in Warren Ohio.  This week block watches and ward club meetings once I get home from the job.    I have to use the lunch break on the job just to read the Washington Post Daily 202 just to get my bearings with what the heck is happening to this country.   I wound up listening to NPR’s broadcast of the James Comey hearing in my car as I drove from work to get ready for my dental appointment.

To think that two years ago we would be at this point right now boggles my mind.


A view of the marina looking West.

So, when things are spinning around you and you shoe horn things into your daily routine so they can get done, what do you do?  Well, in my case drive to the East 55th St. Marina Saturday night to hear a band and hang out by the water.   A waitress at a local diner told me about this and in some ways it’s one of Cleveland’s best kept secrets.  The marina, just west of the remains of Gordon Park  and the now demolished First Energy Power Plant, hase been driven past by thousands of commuters from Eastern Cuyahoga and Lake Counties daily as they head downtown to work or go to the West Side.  It’s that easy to miss since it looks like a blur of docked boats with an ugly structure at the end of a parking lot extending into the Lake.   However, there’s a little more to it than what meets the eye.


View of the restaurant/shop from the dock.


Looking North from the shore.

Every Saturday night in the summer, the marina is host to a series of bands just like those held at Edgewater Park on Thursdays or at Wade Oval at University Circle on Wednesdays.  However, with a smaller crowd and ample parking, the ones at the marina seem more appealing.  Also, instead of a bunch of food trucks, there is an outdoor bar and restaurant people can order from.  While the place may not have the bottles of champagne in wine cases that I saw Friday at Warren’s Avalon Inn, there is a pretty full bar there and soft drinks too which is what I settled for.  The menu is basic but from what I see just as good as what you can find at Wendy Park on the other side of town. There’s even a little shop.

Since they took over, the Cleveland Metroparks have taken measure to improve the maria (as they have the other parks and beaches they acquired like in North Collinwood).  However, I think that more can be done.   As I stood on that pier jutting out into the water I looked across to the breakwall.   For some reason, I can see at least six boathouses like I saw up in the Muskoka Lakes Region of Canada being built there.   I can also see a water taxi to downtown and Edgewater Park or better a tour boat like I saw in Erie PA going out on Lake Erie from there going to, let’s say, Grand River Ohio for lunch.  You can dream up a lot of things standing at the end of a dock.

Another crazy week in the news coming up.


Photographs by James Valentino




Get Away to Put-in-Bay.


The Perry Victory and Peace Memorial on South Bass Island.

It seemed like every summer growing up, when my parents talked about “going to the islands” they referred to Lake Erie Islands, and more specifically Put-in-Bay.   We would head out usually early on a Sunday Morning, drive the freeway across the Sandusky Bay, and spend most of the day there, the ride on the ferry-boat being half the fun of being there.  I has been years since I made the last boat ride over there and so, last Thursday, I decided to hop in the car and go back.


South Bass Island seen from the ferry.

Put-in-Bay, located on South Bass Island, is a place of contrasts.  Home to the Perry Victory and Peace Memorial and the Aquatics Visitor Center, Put-in-Bay is also known locally as a Key West North with the number of bars and eateries lined up near the harbor loaded with boats.   Roughly an hour and a half from Cleveland, the inhabited islands on the US side of the border draw millions of visitors each year.  They range from day trippers, college students working there or spending a wild Saturday Night on the harbor, to those spending the summer in their cottages. When I went a recent Thursday afternoon, the crowd was a lot less rowdy, senior citizens slightly dominating the visitors embarking on the Mill Boat Ferry from Catawba Island which is, ironically, on the mainland.


The Boardwalk Restaurant from Put-n-Bay Harbor.


Inside the Boardwalk restaurant.

The Boardwalk restaurant in Downtown Put-in-Bay has a remarkable view, and personally that took precedence over the food.  For a weekday in September, it was doing brisk business and my server had to handle more than one table besides my own.  Famous for its lobster bisque, I wound up getting a good cheeseburger and onion rings which was just right for my budget.  It is a very nice space and looking out at Gibraltar Island and the Lake beyond was spectacular.   Across the street Mossback’s, located in an old wooden commercial building, is where I would go when I was much younger with the parents.  Looking at their website, and a few others, the prices are all comparable and, let’s face it, at a tourist meccas like Put-in-Bay, they can price their menus any way they wish.


One of the locals posing for the camera.


Put-n-Bay’s quieter side.

The Put-in-Bay Yacht Club, established in 1886, is one of the oldest ones on Lake Erie and apparently a hub of activity in the summer.  A well maintained place, the yacht club was a lot quieter at this time of year than even just a few weeks back.The Aquatics Visitor Center (a former fish hatchery) was also pretty quiet, with the boats moored in front of the buildings and one of the staff hosing down the sidewalk.   However, at the kiosk on their grounds, I discovered that tours of the Ohio State University Center for Lake Erie Aquatic Research’s. Stone Lab and the rest of Gibraltar Island are offered on Wednesdays from June 24 through August 12 which is something that I never knew before.

Put-n-Bay, September 10, 2015, the yacht club.

The Put-n-Bay Yacht Club.


Another view of the harbor with the Perry Memorial in the distance.

Naturally, there are plenty of things to do, from kayak rentals to the State Park on the Western end of the island.  There are also numerous bed and breakfasts along the Western end of the harbor. Many visitors rent bikes and golf carts to get around, though residents and over night visitors do bring their cars, or trucks for that matter.  As for me, I took the bus into town for $2.50 each way.

For a place just off the shore from the North Coast, Put-in-Bay is a tourist destination that seems a world away.


One last look with Gibraltar Island to the left.

Photographs by James Valentino.


Let’s Head for the Beach, North Collinwood Style.


The view East towards the Wildwood Park marina with the mouth of Euclid Creek in the foreground.

As many locals and community planners know, the one main asset of the North Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio is the fact that it’s on the shores of Lake Erie.  Except to a degree the Edgewater area, no other residential neighborhood in the city of Cleveland has such access to the water.  It helps that the Cleveland Metroparks now operates the collection of parks and beaches that surround the mouth of Euclid Creek and are considered part of its’ Euclid Creek Reservation.  That’s where I wound up Sunday afternoon..


The new pedestrian bridge.

The Metroparks has put in a significant amount of investment into Euclid Beach (located on part of the site of the historic amusement park of the same name), Villa Angela, and Wildwood Parks.  It’s cleaner and safer than when the State of Ohio operated them and the public has responded.  The parking lot was quite full and while the beach was quite, the trail on the cliff above was used by pedestrians and at least one cyclist.  The new pedestrian bridge built over Euclid Creek not only looks nice, but has gone a long way towards improving connections between the two halves of the park.  The parks have also received some media attention, as this Youtube video regarding Cleveland Metroparks Vision for the parks shows.

For me, as a lifelong resident, I’ve always been at the Wildwood Park section either heading down there with my Father in his car or on my own heading towards one of the breakwalls looking out towards the horizon, especially on those windy days when the waves kick up.  The place seems to be on an upswing again thanks to new management and I hope that when people think about moving into North Collinwood the realtors mention this as a major reason to think about the area.


The view to the West looking towards downtown and the Gold Coast of Lakewood in the distance.


Photographs by James Valentino


Adventures in Grand River Wine Country.

Grapes ripened on the vine.

Grapes ripened on the vine.

The Grand River wine country to the east of Cleveland Ohio is a well-kept secret for the rest of the nation. Straddling the Lake and Ashtabula county borders it’s a truly enjoyable day trip on a weekend afternoon. While it is a far cry from the world renown wine areas of the nation, Grand River is coming into it’s own and, these roads get quite busy with traffic from the nearby cities.  Route 307 and Doty Road are lined with fields of grape vines interspersed with woods, houses, bed and breakfasts like the Polly Harper Inn, and the occasional corn field. In the fall, air is heavy with the scent of grapes still on the vine.

Created in 1983, there are about 13-22 wineries in the Grand River Appellation. They include such local favorites as Chalet Debonne Vineyards, Ferrante Winery and Ristorante, St. Joseph Vineyard and M Cellars. Surprisingly, more than a few have won awards for the quality of their wines.

French-American hybrids such as vidal blanc naturally thrive in this area but also original grape varietals including pinot noir and chardonnay which benefit from the area’s proximity to Lake Erie to the North.  Many vintners have taken a cue from those on the other side of Lake Erie and produce ice wines which have a strong local following.

Chalet Debonne Vinyards

Chalet Debonne Vinyards

Chalet Debonne on Doty Road in Madison, Ohio, has been producing award-winning ice wines for years, including this year. “It has been busier this year than last because the economy was still slow,” an employee of Debonne told me recently when I went there. Her comment bore her out because, as I was leaving, two busloads of people were coming in.  It is well known locally for their special events, and hot air balloons taking off from its grounds.

Ferrante's on a Summer Weekend.

Ferrante’s on a Summer Weekend.

Ferrante’s Winery and Ristorante on Route 307 is another well known establishment to Clevelanders.  It too has won numerous awards for it’s wines such as gold medals for it’s Grand River Valley Vidal Blanc Ice Wine and Cabernet Franc.  However, it is the restaurant that really fills up the parking lot; especially since they have live bands performing on the spacious patio in the summer.

M Cellars Winery and  South River Vineyard (located in an old church) are the newer kids on the block, so to speak.   On my recent drive down South Ridge Road, it was encouraging to see that such new establishments, only created within the last decade, were doing excellent business.  M Cellars parking lot was filled when I stopped in their driveway and, from their website, seems to be getting pretty good local press.

This stretch of land south of Lake Erie has been known as a grape growing region since the 19th century. Geneva Ohio, is home of the annual Grape Jamboree which has been running strong for 51 years. However, it was table grapes or those destined for the jar of jam that historically predominated. It was only after 1970 that some grape growers, such as Debonne, began to seriously invest in commercial wine-making and in the past few decades it has taken off.

M Cellars Winery, South Ridge Road.

M Cellars Winery, South Ridge Road

According to Donniella Winchell of the Ohio Wine Growers Association in a recent phone conversation, things have been “crazy, busy out here, it’s insane,” but bears out her strong belief that the wineries such as Debonne’s are an economic engine for the county. The Summer Season, which has on average 10,000 to 12,000 people visiting the wineries daily, has extended to March to take in the enormously popular Ice Wine Festival with larger crowds arriving in the Fall Harvest season. Even on the coldest days of Winter, some 5,000 people head out there on a given weekend. This not bad for a an area running ten miles north and south of a small river.

Inside the Chalet

Inside the Chalet

Grand River Wine Country’s easy access to the Cleveland area via I-90, which is a boon to the wineries, also puts it directly in the path of development. Already Eastern Lake County has experienced a building boom as woodland and nurseries have been replaced by subdivisions, big boxes, and signs along the road selling fallow acreage. Will this area be able to withstand the onslaught of urban sprawl that relentlessly moves eastward?  It’s hard to tell the Grand River Wine area will be like a decade from now.  With the growing investment in wineries, and conservation easement programs offered by such groups as the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a Home Depot may never be built next to Ferrante’s.  What I would like see is it evolving into what a traveler encounters on the Niagara Peninsula.  Will St. Joseph’s ice wine be as well known as Inniskillin’s?  Will there be a summer stock theater in Geneva or nearby Unionville?  How about more boutique lodgings like the Polly Harper Inn?  That, I believe, would be an amazing view for the future.

Wine County September 27, 2014 Ashtabula

One last look.


Way Out East; North East to be exact.

Ashtabula October 12, 2014 rib dinner

A rib dinner at Baguettes Smoke House at Ashtabula’s Harbor.

West 5th Street in Ashtabula, Ohio.

You know how you decide to head out to one place and you wind up in another? I did this today at noon when I hopped in my car. I was going to drive out to Grand River Wine Country to work on my new piece but, wander lust prevailed. Right now along Interstate 90, the leaves are turning and it felt good to drive, despite the stretches of road construction. I wound up, of all places, in North East Pennsylvania. That section of I-90 past Erie PA has some breathtaking views of Lake Erie, and it always a sight to see. The town itself, one of the many old places you see along Route 20, looks a lot what you’d see in NE Ohio, with Mercyhurst College reminding me a lot like Lake Erie College in Painesville. However, there, the grape vines are everywhere and the air is filled with their scent. You can walk from a residential street and in seconds come upon a vineyard.  It was such a nice ride that I was surprised when, suddenly, I saw a Welcome to New York sign as I drove on Route 5.   So, it turned out I drove through three states on one Sunday afternoon.

On the way back, I stopped in the old Ohio port of Ashtabula where I stopped at their harbor front. Like other towns along the Lake Erie coast, Ashtabula has seen better times when it unloaded iron ore and other commodities for the booming industrial towns of the interior. However, West 5th St. has seen some significant investment with pubs, ice cream shops, eateries, and the occasional shop opening up in the old buildings. It was tough finding a parking spot and people were walking about this Sunday afternoon.