The DEFEND Cleveland Show

A taste of ‘Taste of Tremont’

Historic Tremont, Ohio. You’ll never find a more mixed hive of here and there throughout the cardinal state than in this borough just south of downtown Cleveland. And I’ve quite happily called this place my home for the last 8 years.

Starting with some artists and artisans, their vision, their work, that’s helped to rebuild this neighborhood for over 30 years now after too many decades of neglect, to the professionals, trenders and yuppies that now live in newly built condos and refurbished lofts that all helps to pour money into this ongoing cleanup effort, to the splashes of Polish, Greek, Turkish and Slovenian (and even still a few Irish) that have called this place home longer than all others, and finally the high ends and low ends you’ll find anywhere that is anywhere, rounding it all out. There’s lots of dogs and cats too. And more than a few hipsters. Which are sort of like pets, but some aren’t as domesticated.

If you don’t live here you’ve likely heard of or been to Tremont not because of the sum of its individuals, but more from the sum of what they’ve produced that’s equated to the best pound for pound collection of chefs and restaurants any place on the planet could wish to offer.

From the anchor of it with what Bernie, Mary and Mike are doing as the 3rd generation of Sokolowski’s to own and operate their families namesake which has been here since 1923 (Soko’s is so my favorite), to Iron Chef Michael Symon who moved Lola out to downtown leaving Lolita here in its stay (favorite), to Zach Bruell’s Parallax (way my favorite), on to more recently, Heather Haviland and Lucky’s (even though they’ve long needed to take down all the signs of “Guy was here” detritus they have posted everywhere…still, big favorite). And that’s barely scratching the surface with Fahrenheit, Istanbul GrillBistro on Lincoln Park, Bắc, Prosperity, Taphouse, DanteTy Fun, Edison’s, Fat Cats, Lago and South Side here too (all my favorites). Not to mention the half dozen or so other options that I simply don’t frequent because there’s already so many other places to gush over.

Then add in Lilly Homemade Chocolates, Cookie and a Cupcake and Scoops for dessert (favorite, favorite, favorite). And all you will have still left out is a slew of great bars, art galleries, coffee shops, antique stores, clothing stores, record shops and one superb book store, that all combined makes this list (that is also all individually owned), which is Tremont, all the more staggering in how unique and sensational it is.

This is what exists here everyday. We call it ours. And it fits into a less than two mile radius all surrounded by easy access to every highway there is in and out of town. It’s quite the sum total. Honestly, right now I can’t imagine living anywhere else that wouldn’t require me having to obtain dual citizenship so I could still come back and freely live in Tremont whenever I wanted too.

Once a year in mid July now for the past 8 summers, Tremont parades all these wears down its main runway of Professor Avenue for what is called, ‘Taste of Tremont‘. From noon till 8pm and held on a Sunday it’s a truly great event each and every year. In fact each day of the last 5 years or so I’ve noted it to be the best Tremont offers up all year and have gone on air to do my show quickly the next day to praise it. What has grown more and more obvious with each passing year though, is that this event is what it is almost solely thanks to these sum of its parts, and it could be so much more.

The one day event of ‘Taste’ that attracts upwards of 20,000 people to this home of only 8,000, apparently has no real idea of what to do with itself outside of renting tables, chairs (to which there both aren’t enough of), and also then the tents that the restaurants and vendors have to rent (for a fee of course) only to have set up right out in front of their respective spots. It works, but that is all the effort beyond collecting more sponsors each year that the coordinators of this event seem capably evolving even as the attendance grows. Oh, they make sure there’s port-o-johns too.

Problem one, the show. Or as they have it listed, the “Entertainment”. There’s only two things on that list, a couple bands, and cornhole. Okay, first off, if you have an event that’s anything bigger than a BBQ in your backyard and for the entertainment you have two things listed with one of them being cornhole; you suck. Seriously. What, did you really want to get a pinata but the party store was all sold out? Afraid beer pong might encourage underage drinking?

I’m all for the safety first version of horseshoes, but if you’re going to list something as trivial as having cornhole you might as well say there’ll be hoopers there too. Only because you can’t have any free outdoor gathering during the summer without a few stinking trust fund hippies wandering around wearing what looks to be tie dyed burlap, selling roasted hemp seeds and twirling hula hoops. Throwing a couple planks of wood and some bean bags into a minivan to bring as marquee entertainment for 20,000 people is only entertaining in as far as you’ve had the audacity to list it as such.

It honestly would have only made sense if cornhole was actually the name of one of the bands playing. But that could never happen judging from the fact that the same few bands listed are the same few bands that play every year. ‘Cornhole’, most likely could never get on the bill.

That’s another issue with the show. The music bill. Not that the bands that play are bad, it’s just that they aren’t that great. And more, again, that they’re the same ones that play every year. So even though they’re not horrible, they’re certainly not anywhere near good enough to be the same couple bands that are the only ones that get to play. It reeks of bad nepotism it’s so skewed. My bet is someone in the band must had to have gone to grade school with the person to get booked for this. By the way I have the DC Show odds-o-meter on this set at 2-1 if anyone wants in on the action.

Tremont, home to a disproportionate amount of artists, artisans and talent. The census doesn’t give these figures but a friend of mine joked that one in every five people that live here is in a band. And the funniest part of it is, that can’t be too far off from the truth. Do any of them get booked? Nope. Best part though, there is a band that’s good enough to play every year, and they do. But they’re not even listed.

The Boys From County Hell‘ are a local Pogues cover band that are as such, world renowned for it. They’re so good that Spider Stacey (co-founder of the Pogues) upon hearing them hired them to be his backing band for a tour, basically, as the actual Pogues.

Each year ‘The Boys’ play the Treehouse which is an Irish pub that sits right in the middle of Professor Avenue. In other words, right in the middle of ‘Taste of Tremont’. And every year out on their patio people stand on top of one another to watch ‘The Boys’ play. Moreover what’s so great about this is it’s not listed in any way apart of ‘Taste of Tremont’. Neither the location, or band. Even though year after year it’s clearly the only real added entertainment of the whole day.

Seeing as how they aren’t listed though, which probably just means they didn’t see fit to play along to the arbitrary rules and rent an official tent -and since they steal the show in addition -I’m pretty certain that the event planners of ‘Taste’ and the folks of Treehouse don’t much get along too well. 

This is all almost as trivial as the whole cornhole-ing affair however. It’s not a music festival and the “entertainment”, whether it is or isn’t entertaining, is not what people have come here for this day, and nor should it be. People come to ‘Taste’ to do just that, to sample Tremont and all its flavor.

The real problem is that the restaurants that take part all consistently have the modern convenience of climate control. Outdoors in Cleveland doesn’t. Never will. In fact it’s most noted as miserable for not having consistency. Sitting down to a plate of hot and creamy Mac-N-Cheese from Lolita for happy hour may always sound wonderful. Indoors. Yet somehow eating it under the baking sun of a July afternoon atop asphalt with nowhere to sit besides a curb doesn’t sound as good.

Which leads us to the last issue and about the only thing that could be labeled wrong in all of this. Timing. Which of course, is everything.

Picture this: It’s the summer. Middle of. It’s ‘set the controls to the heart of the sun’ hot outside and you’re planning to go to the beach for the day. You decide to pack along some food. Do you pack the standard hot summer dishes of pierogies, eggplant parmesan and spicy Thai noodles? “Hey honey, I got the swimming trunks, beach towels, sunscreen and a case of Sterno. Is that everything, should I bring the Crock-Pot and La Crueset?”

Of course not.

Just like you don’t bring ice cream, flip flops and an air conditioner to go snow skiing. By having this event in the middle of July, and in the middle of the day, that’s exactly what the coordinators are pushing on you. Absurdity.

I know a person who’s one of the event’s planners that when asked about ‘Taste’ commonly refers to it as being, “(their) event”. Last year when it was 92 degrees and felt like over 100, I asked them why they held this outdoor food festival during the hottest time of the year. Inquiring politely in thinking of course the reason had to be something logistical or for licensing or some other nonsensical bureaucratic obstacle. Their reply was, “Why does everyone always ask that question?”

The response certainly didn’t convey their not understanding why this question was being asked, it was more with a tone of frustration of having heard it too many times than anything. But don’t you just hate when people answer a question with a question?

I poked around and heard of it being asked again after this year’s was yet another 90 degrees go of it (shocking and shocking), and the reply from this same person was, “because that’s just when it’s always been”.

How about this, since you might not actually have a good reason for not holding ‘Taste of Tremont’ whenever you want. By using some pretty pedestrian common sense in how you can understand that it would be an all around improvement, even aside from the fact that you hear and see people unnecessarily suffering through the day because it’s ALWAYS INSANELY HOT IN ALL OF THE MIDWEST IN THE MIDDLE OF JULY, why don’t you just make the move. It really would be easy.

Make it the first Sunday of September. You’ll even get the bonus of six out of every seven years landing the date on Labor Day Weekend, which means you can push the hours of it throughout the day and well into the night with people having the following Monday as a holiday. And the NFL season doesn’t start up until the second Sunday of every year so you’ll even be good there too. That is until they make the season longer than 16 games which they will eventually do (and for those of you who’ve been wondering when I was going to get around to mentioning something about sports with this).

The longer event, the best suited weather, and you’ve probably just doubled your attendance. Easily. Even if you continue to offer only cornhole and your friend’s band. Either way, doesn’t that seem like a better idea than stubbornly sticking to an antiquated way of doing things? Not making a change to fix an obvious problem and giving the answer of you’re just used to doing it a certain way is like saying, “I have an old copy of the yellow pages laying there next to a 1950’s set of encyclopedias, why would I ever need the internet for anything?”

According to studied weather patterns for this area based on historical record, the month of September has the least amount of precipitation and best temperate averages of any other month of the year. I looked that up on the internet. It was easy too.

Make the move, and all you will hear is applause.

I would enjoy this whatever day it was held on, but the history of Tremont has long been dreaming big and then working for it to make things better. For itself and others. It’s what this neighborhood was known for, and is now known for again more strongly than ever. If not for this fact, ‘Taste of Tremont’ wouldn’t even exist. ‘Taste’ should best reflect why it is the sum of its parts, and not ever look like it’s possibly just capitalizing on them. But this is only my idea and how I envision it as a better way, and I’m just a hard working dreamer who lives in Tremont, Ohio.


-Mike James




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Posted by on Jul 24 2011. Filed under Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “A taste of ‘Taste of Tremont’”

  1. jenny

    Well spoken, as usual. I agree with everything about this. Being someone who is a vendor in this event, I have pondered these same concerns every year. First weekend in September would be outstanding even if that were the only improvement. But like you we enjoy it nonetheless… hot, sticky, repetitive steel drum version of Kokomo lulling us into our food comas has become the norm.

    • Mike James

      Right? Definitely setting sail on the ship with Captain Obvious for this one, but I felt what needed to be said needed to be more than just a rant on my show. Thank you, Jen.

  2. Christine

    I LOVE the idea of Taste of Tremont but it took going just ONE time to never do it again. You are absolutely right about the timing of it. Too hot. That is why I have never gone back.

  3. Terrific post about a great neighborhood. Oh, and I agree 100% about changing it to the first Sunday in September – good call.

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