Comfort and Joy

Local restaurants bring holiday cheer to dozens of families in need.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Abioethicist by training -- but a restaurant insider by experience -- Michelle Campoir has become the catalyst behind a grass-roots effort to deliver holiday cheer to dozens of local disadvantaged families.

Campoir, who holds a master's degree in medical ethics, recently accepted a position as senior research assistant at CWRU's Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. But before her return to academia, she had been a part of the city's restaurant scene, first helping to launch the Fulton Bar & Grill and then moving on to the exclusive Velvet Tango Room, where she mixed a mad French 75.

When Campoir began pondering ways for CWRU's Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education to implement its charge of strengthening families, visions of an earlier holiday at the Fulton -- when staffers informally adopted a local disadvantaged family and showered its members with gourmet food and gifts -- started dancing in her head. A few phone calls to former sidekicks was all it took to get the ball rolling: In less than a month, Campoir had recruited more than 45 local restaurants eager to sponsor one or more needy families.

"It's huge!" Campoir exclaims. "We've gotten so much support from local restaurateurs [including members of the newly formed Cleveland Originals, the local chapter of the Council of Independent Restaurants of America] that we'll be able to help dozens of area families."

Each of the households, identified by the Jewish Family Services Association and the Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services, can expect to receive gifts and a full holiday dinner from one of the restaurants in mid-December.

"This has really brought my worlds together," Campoir says. "It not only validates all my years in the [food service] business, but it's a wonderful way to bolster CWRU's role in the community."

For the most current list of participating restaurants, go to When you consider where to lay down your holiday dining dollars, that list might be a good place to start.

Play with your food? . . . Is there anything that says "Christmas" louder than Wiener schnitzel, strudel, and a glass of Egri Bikavér? Oh, never mind. Just head over to Cleveland Public Theatre (6415 Detroit Avenue) this Saturday, Dec. 20, at 6 p.m., for a Hungarian Holiday Binge, followed by a performance of Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, an off-center, food-filled saga that rips the Dickens out of It's a Wonderful Life, The Gift of the Magi, and A Christmas Carol. As for dinner, which will also include mashed potatoes, green peas, and salad, it's a production of Cleveland chef-caterer Attila Salka, owner of The Schnitzel Company. The dinner-and-theater package will set you back $55 per person; call 216-631-2727 for reservations.

More gourmet gifts . . . So you can't afford $300 per person to have chef Michael Symon (Lola Bistro) come to your house to cook? Here's the next best thing: Symon's gourmet sauces, now available at most Heinen's Supermarkets and at Giant Eagle in Legacy Village. There's balsamic steak sauce, roasted garlic mustard, five-pepper relish (which Symon says he likes on scrambled eggs), and spicy ketchup (our fave and swell on burgers). All are handsomely bottled and ready to gift-wrap. Best of all, the sauces -- priced at less than $10 each, and soon to be found on shelves nationwide -- are as inexpensive as they are tasty . . . Is it rude to ask the price of the evening's unwritten specials? Is it okay to request a doggie bag? Veteran Arizona restaurateur David Rothschild digests these questions, and more, in his newest book, The Main Course on Dining Etiquette ($14.95, plus shipping and handling, from ). Unlike most etiquette mavens, Rothschild writes from the perspective of an industry insider, and his advice -- while not always conventional -- strikes us as eminently practical and particularly well-suited to young adults just venturing into the world of serious dining. Are you listening, parents? We're thinking stocking-stuffer here.

Small bites . . . Sassy chef Brian Doyle is easing out of the kitchen at Jack's Steakhouse and stepping into the wonderful world of personal chefing. His new venture, World's Fare Culinary Services (440-622-5071), specializes in Home Meal Replacements, a service that involves providing customers with a freezer full of custom-made dinners as well as handling all necessary grocery shopping, cooking, and cleanup chores. As for Jack's "progressive steakhouse fare," the chef says that the post-Doyle menu will be "a hybrid of old and new." . . . Faced with the already dismal dining situation on the east bank of the Flats, restaurateur Francesco Ruffa is cutting his losses and closing his little Italian place, Calabria, for the winter months. Look for him to reopen in April.

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