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Spring Fling 

Hits and misses in the vernal season.

Spring's bounty should start piling up on our plates any minute now -- a seasonal reality that always makes me appreciate our region's food-related wealth. Here's a rundown of what I've been digging (and dreading) of late.

I love . . . buying locally grown produce at the North Union Farmers' Market . . . strawberry-picking at Hilgert's Berry Farm . . . Lake Erie Creamery goat cheese . . . hot-from-the-tandoor naan . . . freshly made gnocchi . . . restaurants where Euro-pop plays in the background . . . wild salmon paired with fresh asparagus . . . guanciale . . . shopping for cocktail-party noshes at Trader Joe's . . . Killbuck Valley's oyster mushrooms . . . shady, landscaped patios . . . pink Hawaiian sea salt . . . tequila tastings . . . a medium-rare bone-in ribeye served with rosemary-scented frites . . . Willamette Valley pinot noirs . . . Ferrante Winery's Signature Series chardonnay . . . Indian beer . . . Rosati's frozen custard . . . pastry chefs who take chances . . . hot pastrami sandwiches from Mister Brisket . . . beignets . . . bounteous breadbaskets . . . and, always, a sense of value, regardless of price.

On the other hand, I could gladly do without "seasonal fruit cups" featuring hunks of hard, tasteless melon . . . farm-raised salmon, with or without asparagus . . . dining rooms where '60s pop plays in the background . . . dustlike Parmesan sprinkled out of a box . . . restaurants that don't have websites . . . restaurants that don't take reservations . . . diners who think tipping is optional . . . "soft serve" . . . menus with ads (Cheesecake Factory, I'm talkin' to you) . . . pricey joints that don't crumb the tables . . . cheap joints that don't clean the tables . . . and diners who mistake quantity for quality.

Flour power . . . Ask baker and business-gal Kim Henderson about her training, and she'll declare herself a Food Network grad. "Paula Deen would be so proud of me!" laughs Henderson, the gregarious owner of Baby Cakes (2154 Taylor Road, 216-321-1399), a Cleveland Heights bakeshop that opened March 2. We had scarcely stumbled in the door on a recent Saturday morning before Henderson handed us one of her yummy strawberry-lemonade confections, frosted with sparkling swirls of pastel buttercream. Other specialties include red-velvet cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting, each $1.25. Snag one from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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Calendar

Staff Pick Events

  • North Union Indoor Farmers Market @ Crocker Park

    • Saturdays. Continues through March 30
  • An Evening with Claudia Rankine @ Cuyahoga County Public Library-Parma Snow Branch

    • Wed., Jan. 23
  • Wine and Dine in the Dark @ Mallorca

    • Thu., Jan. 31

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