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Shining a Light 

20 chefs honor a fallen colleague

With unique offerings from some of the region's finest chefs, the monthly Dinner in the Dark series has become a big hit with area foodies. Each six-course dinner raises money for a local charity. But the upcoming May 23 edition aims a little higher.

"This event is special for a few reasons," explains Dinner in the Dark founding chef Brian Okin. "The money raised will go to a culinary school scholarship for a financially needy local."

Established in honor of 22-year-old Matthew Finkel, who died in a car accident last year, the scholarship will likely mean the difference between attending culinary school or not for one aspiring chef. It's a small measure of good to come out of a tragedy.

An innately talented cook and musician who grew up poor in the Bronx, Finkel went on to win a Food Network scholarship that gained him entry to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He earned his degree in baking and pastry management in May 2010. In October, he moved to Cleveland to be closer to his fiancée; in December, it all came to an end.

"Matt's father-in-law-to-be approached us after seeing what we do," Okin explains. "When we figured out a way to help, we got involved."

Set for May 23 at AMP 150, the dinner will boast a different format than usual: Rather than a sit-down affair, this one will be larger, looser, and will feature approximately 20 chefs serving from stations. It will also include "some serious names you haven't seen at prior events," the chef promises.

But as with all DITDs, those names will remain a secret until the big night. Auction and raffle winners can snag VIP tickets to a taping of Iron Chef America, among other sweet offerings. Tickets are $40 plus tax, tip, and fees. Order online at dinnerinthedark-mf.eventbrite.com.

When Cropicana opened on Whiskey Island for Cinco de Mayo, it was overrun with more than 1,000 eager eaters. These days, the sailing is smoother.

Changes to the former Sunset Grill include an expanded alfresco bar with roof, additional seating, and an outdoor kitchen. The restaurant's new smoker is kicking out chicken wings, pulled pork, half chickens, and barbecue ribs.

Prices are moderate: $7 for a clam roll; $9 for a burger; $3.50 for a hot dog and chips; and $14 for a half-slab of cherry-chipotle ribs.

With live music, cold beer, awesome staffers, volleyball, and a laid-back vibe, Cropicana is the summertime place to be. Find them at 2800 Whiskey Island Dr.; call 216-631-1800 or visit cropicana.com for more information.

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