Showing up to a holiday bash empty-handed is unforgivable. Almost as bad? Arriving with a bland, forgettable token. This season, resolve to be the bearer of sweet and delicious tidings. Your hosts will thank you. Better still, they likely will invite you back.
Tom Herbruck is only the third person in Ohio to successfully bring to market a micro-distilled product. His matchless apple brandy — or applejack — has just hit the shelves of local spirits providers. Made from Ohio apple cider, which is fermented, distilled, and laid to rest in charred oak barrels, Tom's Foolery brand applejack ($33) is one of the few local agricultural products that packs a legal buzz. If your shop doesn't stock it, they can special order it. For details, go to applejackohio.com.
People like pickles, what can we say? But chef Doug Katz really loves pickles. He's been cooking up big batches with his pop since he was barely kitchen-counter height. It is a cherished family tradition that has long outlived the tooth fairy, Hanukkah Charlie, and backyard catch. In late summer, Katz, Katz, and the kitchen crew at Fire Food and Drink cram bushels of local pickling cukes into Mason jars along with hot peppers, garlic, and flowering dill. After curing in the coolers for months, "Dr. Katz' Pickles" are sold by the jar ($8) year-round at the restaurant. Fire is at 13220 Shaker Square; learn more at 216-921-3473 or at firefoodanddrink.com.
Très Bon Bonbons
Show up with an assortment of Lilly Handmade Chocolates and prepare for a hero's welcome. There may be no finer confection in the region than these carefully crafted truffles from Amanda Montague, Cleveland's pink-coiffed Willy Wonka. Flavors include Boozie Susie (kirsch-soaked cherries, double-chocolate ganache), Southern Gentleman (Maker's Mark, buttered pecans, milk chocolate), and the seasonal Bob (Drambuie-spiked caramel, apple cider reduction). Assortments come six ($11), 12 ($22), and 24 ($44) to a box, which itself is damn near pretty enough to eat. Lilly's is at 761 Starkweather Ave.; for more information call 216-771-3333 or go to lillytremont.com.
Pie in a Pint Glass
Not to knock Great Lakes Brewing Company's Christmas Ale, but the stuff is anything but rare and seasonal, being offered practically year-round in local bars. That's why when we want to impress a thirsty host or hostess, we stop by Indigo Imp – or any number of retail outlets – for a sixer of the seasonal Winter Solstice ($9.99). This bottle-conditioned brew sports a rich amber hue, toasty malt flavor, and just enough spice and citrus to qualify as a seasonal ale while stopping short of pumpkin-pie disease. Visit indigoimpbrewery.com for a complete list of retail outlets.
Pumpkin pie is for suckers, says Diane Sikorski of Humble Pie Bakery. Okay, not exactly: "Pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies are favorites for holiday tables, but tart cherry and other summer fruit pies make a fun gift for pie lovers," she says. Sikorski uses organic flour, local hormone-free butter, local farm-fresh eggs, local fruit, and fresh (non-hydrogenated) local lard when cooking up her righteous pies ($15). "Other than a little salt and lemon juice, nothing else goes in the fillings. I like the fruit to sing and be the star." Find her at winter's farmers markets in Tremont and at Old Trail School in Akron, or call 440-360-0050 for delivery.
Pick Me Up
Nothing gets folks moving toward the door at the end of a long night like the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. It's a subtle reminder that while you need not go home, you can't stay here. Launched in 2003, the Cleveland Coffee Company is a small-batch roaster of 100-percent fair-trade Arabica beans. Next time guests overstay their welcome, break out a pound of their dark and nutty organic Sumatra, or the robust Bright Side Blend, a full-bodied brew that benefits the Bright Side of the Road Foundation; each is priced at $11.95. The coffees are available at A.J. Rocco's, Zagara's, and Rego's. Learn more at clevelandcoffeecompany.com.
Muddy Paw Semillon, from Trebets Estate Wines, certainly is not the only locally grown and produced wine. But it is likely the first to forward proceeds of each bottle to an area humane society, in this case Geauga County's benevolent Rescue Village. The label is a new undertaking for Debonné Vineyards' chief winemaker Edward Trebets, who is joined in the biz by wife Gina. Their locally grown Semillon is a crisp white that features notes of ripe summer stone fruit. Pick up a bottle ($19.99) or two at Chalet Debonné in Madison, or various retail outlets. Go to muddypawwines.com to learn more.
Sad truth: People are greedy, especially when it comes to dessert. Tom Clark of Blackbird Baking Co. has solved the riddle of the incredible shrinking slice by offering single-serving pies. These mini apple galettes — free-form tarts, really — are made with pie crust, fresh fruit, and buttery streusel topping. Each is an exercise in pint-size perfection. Pick them up at the shop for just $3.50 apiece, but be warned: The little morsels tend to sell out early, so calling ahead is not a bad idea. Blackbird is at 1391 Sloane Ave. in Lakewood; for details or special orders, call 216-712-6599 or go to blackbirdbaking.com.
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