Before bidding State College goodbye, we had one more stop to make first thing this morning and it involved a highly anticipated bit of local cuisine.
When planning the trip, the regional visitors bureau clued us into a delicacy served in these here parts called the Grilled Stickie (capitalization ours, not theirs). It involves a log-like sticky bun (dough, cinnamon, syrup) that is sliced, slathered with butter, and grilled. Savor that thought for a moment... we'll wait. We actually couldn't figure out how we had gotten as far as we had gotten in life without having heard of such a thing but we considered it genius and had to have one.
Ye Olde College Diner is the epicenter of the Grilled Stickie universe so we stopped and got one for the road. It was as good as we had hoped for, gooey and warm and kind of crispy from the grilling with hints of the butter still lurking in between the sweet spots. We're going to start making these back home, waistlines be damned.
It had just started to rain as we were leaving the hotel this morning and that followed us a big chunk of our rather uneventful dash from State College to Cleveland. Rick is not much of a fan of driving interstates on these trips - he is easily bored and we're here to tell you that Interstate 80 across Pennsylvania will never be confused for a carnival ride, although the scenery remained pretty as we continued through the mountainous western part of the state. But we wanted to get to Cleveland on the early side and this was the fastest way to do it.
On our way into to town we were going to stop at a restaurant recommended to us by the local convention and visitors bureau but both the restaurant and the hotel in which it was located seemed a little more finely attired than we were, and besides we knew there was a LOT of food coming toward us in the next few hours.
We hooked up with Plucky Hubby, aka Mary's husband Steve, who will be joining us for the next couple of days of the trip as our official Plucky Passenger, and then headed off to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Located right on the shore of Lake Erie, this glass pyramid of a structure is a shrine to all things they consider rock, some things soul and R&B, a few things hip hop, and a country bit thrown in here and there just for good measure.
The place is loud and chaotic, which is very Rock and Roll, we suppose. But a nagging feeling persists: how can you have an institution celebrating a movement that is ostensibly all about rebelling against institutions.
The museum certainly holds a lot of stuff, sort of like a Hard Rock Cafe on steroids, but it doesn't go into much depth beyond displaying said stuff. It's artifacts without connections. It should be showing the evolution and impact of rock.
There are some rather disappointing omissions. The History of Soul was comprised of one 20 foot long glass case in a hall on the second floor. Granted this is the Rock Hall and not the Soul hall but the two are inexorably tied and many of the artists claimed for the Hall of Fame (James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Ruth Brown) are more R&B than the genre known as rock according to most people who categorize such things. And iTunes. And Mary was taken aback by the lack of love for the Los Angeles punk scene. You know, the one revered by tattoo artist Bill, 3,000 miles away in Baltimore, lest anybody think she's showing a regional bias.
We understand that there is a great deal of ground to cover and only so much floor space, so ruthless decisions about what to display have to be made but do you really need a huge display of old stage costumes at the expense of showing anything about Prince? Admittedly, spotting the black toe shoes that Stevie Nicks wore on the cover of "Rumors" made Mary's inner 14-year-old girl squeeee, so we certainly don't want to deprive others of such a pleasure, but on the whole we find ourselves quoting that famous, absent, rock and roll figure Peggy Lee... "Is that all there is?"
Then again, Plucky Hubby Steve is a real live Rock Critic (capitalization his, not ours) and his reaction was "Who cares what it's like, my name is in it!"
Really, it's in the second floor display of Rolling Stone Magazine. Bring a magnifying glass.
After the Rock Hall, we had a rare afternoon and evening apart as Mary went off to visit with family and Rick went to go explore more of Cleveland.
We'll have more of Mary's exploits in tomorrow's post along with some pictures, so the rest of today's post follows Rick as he went to the Taste of Cleveland Festival being held along the river about a mile from the Rock Hall. More than 30 local restaurants had booths set up offering everything from barbecue to Asian to Greek to gumbo to desserts, plus games, a concert pavilion (featuring Peter Frampton, Cowboy Mouth, etc.), and more.
The name of thing practically commanded that Rick taste as much as he could and so he did, starting with a Caribbean jerk chicken spring roll with a coconut rum sauce and then moving on to pulled pork then BBQ beef and finally a gyro. There wasn't a bum note in the bunch, with the beef and especially the gyro being the real standouts (as good as he remembers from having during a trip to Greece a bazillion years ago). The one disappointment was that the place serving gumbo was out when he got there and not expected to have more for quite awhile, which was a particular bummer when he heard that they won the voting for best restaurant at the festival. Next year.
Oh but wait, he wasn't done. There was also an Andes mint cupcake from one bakery and a chocolate raspberry roll from a Hungarian specialty shop, both of which were as close to perfect as you can expect at a festival like this.
The skies were threatening and his pants were getting tight, so Rick decided to hoof it back to the hotel, about a mile away. Timing, being what it is, was not on his side and as he was walking up about a million steps from the river front the ominous clouds let loose with a virtual torrent of rain. It didn't last for long, but by the time he made it back to the hotel he was wetter than he has ever been in his entire life and that includes bathing activities.
Speaking of the hotel, our accommodations for the evening are at a really grand place, the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade. The Arcade was built in 1890 and is recognized as the first indoor shopping mall in the United States. Hyatt turned the property into a hotel a few years ago but retained many of the shops and boutiques, which line the first two floors of a multi-tiered atrium under a 300 foot long glass skylight.
Some rooms are in twin nine-story towers on each side of the gallery - that's where Mary and Steve are staying, but the second, third, and fourth floors of the former mall have been converted into hotel rooms as well. Rick's room is here and features windows that look out to the atrium, a small nook with a writing desk, and a decent size bedroom with a very comfy bed, a big TV, coffee service, a safe, and more. The furnishings are modern without being out of place in such a historic building and everything is as well-kept as you would expect from the brand.
Downstairs, in addition to the shops and restaurants in The Arcade, is a fitness center with exercise machines and weights, a full-service spa, a bar, a restaurant, and a whole bunch of other amenities that are too numerous to list here.
All of this and its location within walking distance to the bulk of the major tourist attractions in Cleveland make this a perfect choice for visitors even before you factor in the notion of how cool of a structure it is. In a time when many companies would rather knock down the old building and put up something new and soulless, we salute anyone who wants to rescue a historic building and put it to good use.
After looking around this part of Cleveland, we have to say we have found yet another small city that is charming, beautifully maintained, and full of lots of potential fun. We wanted to do more but the rain hampered our exploring options. Add it to the list of places we want to come back to someday.
Tomorrow, more Cleveland, a couple of offbeat museums, and on to Pittsburgh plus Mary's tales of fabulous relatives and envy enducing Hungarian food.