Idiot-Proof Love Connection

Five summer dates not even you can screw up.

Great summer dates
Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom
Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom
Ghost-hunting, crate-digging, and dickering over bushels of broccoli -- can you think of anything more romantic? We sure can't. And since we've got enough suave moves to last nine lives -- please, ladies, take a number -- we've decided to spill some of our secrets. Even you lifers can't botch these dates. (Although we ain't offering a six-month guarantee if you do.)

Handpick a Homemade Meal

The Score: A perfect candlelight dinner is all in the planning. Show off your social finesse by taking your date to Ohio City's West Side Market (West 25th and Lorain). The mission: Buy ingredients for a gourmet meal that you two lovebirds can prepare together. (Aw.) The market offers halls full of fresh fruits and vegetables, cold cases of meat and fish, handmade pastas and pierogies, and hot breads pulled straight from bakery ovens. Feel free to haggle with the old-country vendors, but watch that you don't come off as stingy.

The Meal: Before the wining and dining commences, warm things up at the nearby Great Lakes Brewery Co. (2516 Market Avenue, 216-771-4404) or Market Avenue Wine Bar (2526 Market Avenue, 216-696-9463). Relax on a rustic outdoor patio, sip locally brewed beverages, and talk hors d'oeuvres like you're Michael Symon.

The Cost: Researching recipes that sound fancy but are fairly easy to make (soy-glazed salmon, pan-seared filet mignon, lemon-garlic chicken, etc.) keeps the moola to a minimum. At Ehrnfelt Meats (stand F-4), you can buy two filets mignons for $18 a pound, or swing by Kate's Fish (stands F-12 and 13), and get a pair of Atlantic salmon filets for $10. Throw in some fresh veggies and a Great Lakes sixer, and you've got a full meal for the cost of two apps at Parallax.

The Knowledge: Pay attention to your partner's urban diplomacy skills. The ability to artfully bargain with street vendors (while being funny and smart, of course) adds bonus points to any Is He/She the One? checklist.

Class it Up with the Cleveland Orchestra

The Score: The Cleveland Orchestra's 2007 Blossom Festival (12 concerts running from July 3 through September 2) provides the perfect opportunity to show off your mature musical tastes. Spread out a blanket, pop a cork, and take in the pastoral beauty of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. After you've finished listening to Debussy's Ibéria, hike down to the famous Towpath Trail or its Great Blue Heron nesting grounds for a romantic, woodsy stroll. (FYI: Knowing your way around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park also means you're an outdoorsy, rough-around-the-edges type.)

The Meal: To stop the party from getting too highbrow, saddle up at The Winking Lizard Tavern (1615 Main Street, Peninsula, 330-657-2770) for some brewskis, buffalo wings, and valley views on the outdoor patio. For a swankier option, try the Japanese hibachi restaurant Otani (1684 Merriman Road, Akron, 330-836-1500); it's group seating, so you can watch how your partner jells with strangers.

The Cost: Individual pavilion tickets range from $20 to $51 apiece, but lawn seating ($40 to $44) is better, if it's amore you're after. Chairs, umbrellas, and blankets are allowed on the rolling green; booze is not. Contact the ticket office at 216-231-1111, or visit for a schedule.

The Knowledge: An outdoor orchestra date is a subtle way to gauge your partner's level of sophistication. Do they exude the requisite amount of cultural polish? Can they talk Tchaikovsky till the stroke of midnight? Or would they rather be rocking out to Poison and puking green bile? Use the IQ radar to weed out the uglies.

Get Down Double-Feature Style

The Score: While the movie date smacks of unoriginality, drive-in experiences often lead to flying sparks. The Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive-in in North Ridgeville (off the Ohio Turnpike) is one of the last drive-ins standing in Northern Ohio. Two giant screens play major box-office releases; for $5 extra, attendees can bring their own food and drink. Heavy petting is optional. Visit for show times.

The Meal: The antiquey, Italian-American Nemo Grille (36976 Detroit Road, Avon, 440-934-0061) is the best food spot for a retro movie date. Located in the historic French Creek District (about 15 minutes away from the drive-in), Nemo offers a solid mix of traditional (lobster bisque, rack of lamb) and progressive eats (pumpkin risotto, lentil-stuffed cabbage), including a number of vegetarian options. The extensive wine list features both whites and reds by the bottle, half-bottle, and glass.

The Cost: The Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive-in will set you back $14 for two tickets. For dinner, Nemo will clock in around the $70 to $100 mark, unless you want to woo 'em like Cary Grant by springing for a bottle of 2001 Opus One Meritage. In that case, you're looking at an extra 189 smackers.

The Knowledge: Find out how your partner reacts in a physically intimate setting. Is it an arm around the shoulder, a peck on the cheek, or straight to second base? Is he too grabby? Is she a prude? Or are you both in the back seat before the movie even starts?

Scare the Bejesus Out of 'Em

The Score: A spooky adventure is a decent bet for arm-clutching romance. Plan your date around the famously haunted Squire's Castle in the Metroparks' North Chagrin Reservation. From I-271, take the Wilson Mills Road exit to Chagrin River Road and find the entrance to the abandoned castle. (It's actually just a gatekeeper's lodge, but you don't need to play that up, Romeo.) Legend has it that Squire's is haunted by the wife of Feargus Squire, who broke her neck in the hunting room. With hands held tightly, walk your date around the structure at dusk, exploring the hollow windows and stonework, and slinking through darkened brush. Do your research on the history ( is a good resource) beforehand, so you know exactly where to look: Ghost sightings generally point to the upstairs windows, where the specter can be seen clutching a lantern.

The Meal: Stick with the kitschy fright-night theme by popping into Ohio City's Johnny Mango World Café & Bar (3120 Bridge Avenue, 216-575-1919) for a delectable and mysterious dinner. Over plates of veg-heavy vacation cuisine (fried tofu with Vietnamese dipping sauce, pad thai, jerk chicken, etc.), have your waiter tell the story of Mango's own ghost -- a woman named Margaret, who died when her trolley car plummeted into the Cuyahoga River.

The Cost: This date can be pulled off for $50. A meal for two at Johnny Mango's includes freshly squeezed juices at $3 to $4.50 a glass, appetizers from $3 to $7, entrées from $8 to $15, and pitchers of margaritas or other mixed drinks for $20 to $27. Canoodling couples are welcome to stay past the witching hour; the bar is open till 1 a.m.

The Knowledge: The supernatural date is the best way to assess what psychologists call the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience. Are they lovin' every thrill-seeking moment of your ghost hunt? Or do they just want to get back in the car? Are they creeped out that you're into creepy stories? Or are they giving you goose bumps of your own?

Hip it Out Like Roman Holiday

The Score: Take your date on a savvy city tour through Cleveland Heights' Little Italy and Coventry Village. Start by booking a Lady and the Tramp-style reservation at any of the strip's hidey-hole Italian joints, and then head down to Coventry for a little rocking and window-shopping. Not to be missed: retro toy store Big Fun (1814 Coventry Road, 216-707-1055), vintage vinyl at Record Revolution (1828 Coventry Road, 216-321-7661), or the near-nightly DJs at the B-Side Liquor Lounge (2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard, 216-932-1966).

The Meal: Guarino's (12309 Mayfield Road, 216-231-3100) is one of the oldest and best joints in Little Italy. The dining area is intimate, and Italian opera plays while you devour Sicilian delicacies built around veal, chicken, fish, and pasta. The lasagna is made with the same recipe Mama Guarino used decades ago. For dessert, try the authentic spumoni or the feather-light tiramisu. Reservations are a must.

The Cost: Dinner at Guarino's is relatively affordable. Chicken Parmesan will set you back $16, linguini with clam sauce is $16, and gnocchi and Italian wedding soup are $4 each. Admission to B-Side shows are generally no more than $10.

The Knowledge: Coventry is one of Northeast Ohio's artistic hotbeds and home to many in Cleveland's creative class. Find out whether your partner is similarly free-spirited. Does the sight of a head shop like Sunshine Too invite giggles or gasps? What types of music make them dance? Discover all sorts of important details -- everything from their favorite albums to their most beloved toys. (And if they don't have an answer for either, or the answer is NKOTB, you'll know they're a dumper.)

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