Jonathon Sawyer hits Italy for inspiration for his next restaurant: Trentina

Italian Reconnaissance 

Jonathon Sawyer hits Italy for inspiration for his next restaurant: Trentina

For Jonathon Sawyer, opening a new restaurant always involves travel. We're not talking about a short trip, parachuting in to check out the markets and hit some restaurants, but rather a complete immersion in the region's culinary culture. It's how you nail down the authentic details.

Sawyer lived in Rome before opening Bar Cento. He partied in taverns in the South of France before opening The Greenhouse Tavern. He traveled to Tokyo before opening Noodlecat.

So, when Sawyer decided to open a restaurant featuring food from Trentino, a province located in northeast Italy, step one was a 40-day sabbatical to the unique region.

Why Trentino? Sawyer's wife Amelia's family is from Trentino, making Amelia a "Trentina" among the locals. She also spent some time there during college.

And Trento, the capital of the province, is more like Cleveland than you'd think. Sawyer likes to refer to it as, "a mountainous Cleveland." Same latitude, similar climate. And Trento's version of Lake Erie, the largest freshwater lake in Italy, is stocked with trout and pike, which locals pickle in jars.

"The people of this region enjoy their anonymity and autonomy." Sawyer says. "Though they wouldn't mind sharing their salume, cheeses, wines, olive oils and pastas with the rest of the world."

If you happen to be related to the Sawyers or count them as friends, you'll get a taste of the Trentina menu on Christmas. If you're like the rest of us commoners, you'll have to wait until next year, when Sawyer hopes to open the new space.

Until then, he leaves you with this Trentino proverb: La bocca non l'è stracca se no la sa da vacca. Translation: "The mouth is not tired until it smells like the cow."

Meals on Wheels: Move over, food trucks — two diner cars will be merging onto the Cleveland's ever- burgeoning food freeway. At the wheel will be Doug Katz of Fire Food & Drink and Provenance, his latest venture in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The two diner cars, located at 1975 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, were originally bought by Steve Presser of Big Fun in 1995 and transported from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Since then, they have been the sites of several unsuccessful ventures in the past decade, from Dottie's Diner to Chris & Jimmy's, from Clyde's to Flavor Bistro.

Katz plans to open Doug's Diner in one car by spring, and use the other for special events, while running his catering business out of the 3000-square-foot kitchen in the back of the cars as soon as February.

Doug's Diner will continue his well-established slow food tradition of using the freshest local ingredients available in Northeast Ohio. Although his menu is not completely set, look forward to Doug's twist on popular diner foods like tuna melts and meatloaf.

The Brief Vegan Controversy at Happy Dog is Over Now, Thankfully: In what feels like a plot ripped straight from a Portlandia episode, there was a vegan controversy surrounding Happy Dog, the veg-friendly home to hipsters. Wienergate! Yeast murderers! Where's Carrie Brownstein?

Let us explain.

The Happy Dog Facebook page erupted with comments from angry vegans last week after someone said that while the veggie hot dogs are vegan, the buns surrounding the vegan morsels were not. Prompt the angry social media posts. You've been lying to us!

Admittedly, Happy Dog's flippant response was not the best damage control tactic, and further, it was incorrect. There are no eggs in the bun — just flour, water and yeast. But someone thought yeast was a problem for vegans and thought eggs were an ingredient, so voila! — the buns became non-vegan and vegans took out their wrath.

A sample of the indignant feedback: "Thank you for selling me food advertised as Vegan for the last two years that was infant not. I will never spend another dollar in your business and think you should be ashamed of yourself."

Happy Dog belatedly came out with a full explanation on Facebook: our bad.

"We realize our initial response when the question came up was incorrect based on a misunderstanding on our end, and looking back on it, the tone of the response was too flip," the restaurant wrote. "Due to a misinterpretation and miscommunication on our end — the guy posting the response thought there were eggs in the buns and thought yeast didn't qualify as vegan — we put out some bad information. We got defensive in our initial response because we were reacting to what felt like an accusatory tone in the initial question - it was a mistake to react so defensively."

Ah, the joys of social media.

"Would like to apologize for my last comment," wrote one apologetic and formerly angry vegan in response. "I was misinformed and I will now continue to support you guys. Sorry. That's what you get for listening to second hand facts."

Your Last Meal: Predictions about the end of the world thus far haven't panned out. But the killer, literally, is that someone only has to be right once.

And now comes the thoroughly debunked and routinely misunderstood Mayan prediction of the end of times on December 21, 2012. It's phooey, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take all precautions to make sure your belly is sated the night before. Just in case.

Michael Nowak, chef/owner of The Black Pig, and his staff have given the Mayan prophecy some thought and have come to the only logical conclusion: cook a sumptuous final feast for Thursday evening, December 20, to celebrate.

Nowak graciously extends the invitation for a six-course meal paired with six champagnes to everyone, whether they believe it will be their last meal or not.

Call 216-862-7551 for reservations. Seating is limited. Cost will be $75 per person.

File Under: Worthy, Delicious Causes: While her fundraising goal — over $900,000 — is pretty ostentatious, we're rooting for Mary Poldruhi, who is crowdsourcing donations through indiegogo.com to try and resurrect Parma Pierogies, the business she started 20 years ago. Famous for being a pit stop on Bill Clinton's campaign trail in 1992, the Polish palace closed after just eight years. If you were a fan, or if you simply like pierogies, Poldruhi is looking for your contribution.

Hey, Cleveland, Meet Our New Food Editor: My earliest memories involve food. We came to this country from a small town in Sicily on the Mediterranean Sea when I was five years old. My parents never had a lot of typical American luxuries, but we always had terrific food. Looking back, that's all we needed, though a convertible would have been cool, too.

My parents never ate out, however, and rarely deviated from the cuisine they knew and loved. But I discovered early on that I craved the world beyond those walls. At first, it was simple things like French fries and Pepsi — alien substances to a young immigrant. Eventually, it was anything edible. And now, I'll be eating Cleveland on your behalf.

I look forward to sharing my ongoing journey with food in these pages and online. Feel free to get in touch with feedback, news tips, or French fries and Pepsi: msweeney@clevescene.com.

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