The year 2016 was not a banner year for travel for me as there were no super long cross country trips taken like I had done form 2012-2015. However, over the course of the year we did take a number of smaller trips and a couple of fairly long trips. I visited 11 states during the year and made it to some places where I hadn’t been for nearly 30 years. Even made it into towns from A (Abingdon, VA) to Z (Zanesville, OH) and one with an X too (Xenia, OH)!!
Here is a map that includes many of the places:
During the course of the year we visited a few major cities including Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We also visited Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.
A good portion of my travel in 2016 was related to rails to trails bike trails that my wife Julianne had desired to ride. We visited some lovely bike trails in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. While Julianne rode, I would take the back roads and meet her along the trails. This was until I got my own bicycle on my birthday in October.
We took one flight during the year which was to Houston to celebrate a calling for my son in church and to visit our grandsons. In late October, we also drove to Fort Worth, Texas for the funeral of my father. Not as joyous a trip, but we did visit a few locations along the way for fun.
Our trips to Cleveland and Pittsburgh were predominantly because Julian sister Laura had moved from Idaho to the Pittsburgh area. So she met Julianne on a couple of the bike ride trips. She and Julianne also attended a conference at the Kirtland Temple and while they were there, I visited my family in Little Italy in Cleveland and also took some tours around the city with my sister Tina and her husband Jim.
Then we visited Laura in Pittsburgh, we got to see a number of wonderful things in Pittsburgh including the Monongahela Incline, hey unique rail type system that pulled us up to the top of Mt. Washington where we had spectacular views of the city of Pittsburgh and the three rivers down below.
The year ended on a high note as we took a long trip to Ocean City, MD where we stayed with Julianne’s sister and her husband Richard and their daughter for about a week on the beach. It was a wonderful trip! It was during this trip that we also visited Washington DC and the large LDS Washington DC Temple with all of its amazing Christmas lights. I also made my way up to Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, both of which I had not visited since the 1980s.
Of course, whenever we take road trips I always try to find the unique and the unusual whenever possible. And most of our trips were not immune from my searching to do so. On our trips visited such wonderful places as Friendly, WV, Prosperity, PA, Novelty, OH, Happy, KY, Eighty Four, PA and a few other unique named towns as indicated in photos below. I even located a Yellow Brick Road in Ohio and a Bliss Happens Lane in Maryland!
During the year we often ate at places that were focused on bicyclists and motorbike enthusiasts. One such location was in Oregonia, OH. It was way out of the way to get to. Then there was the place on the Virginia Creeper Trail which was almost impossible to get to my car but was built specifically for the bicyclists coming down the Virginia Creeper Trail.
In August, we got to visit Nashville and hang with my good friend and musician Antsy McClain. He took us around with a few other “field trippers” and showed us some of the sites of Nashville including music Row, some music dives and some good places to eat including the oldest diner in Nashville. We also have the unique chance to sit in a recording studio with Antsy and sing back up vocals on one of his songs!
During the course of the year, I also took a few “staycation” trips within Kentucky. This included one on the bike trail with Julianne, but also to Ravenna, where I visited hey famed café called the Wigwam. I also took a fun trip with my grandchildren and my daughter Marissa down to Cumberland Falls and then on into Corbin to visit the Harlan Sanders museum and restaurant which is where the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken got it start. During the fall I took a solo trip up into Red River Gorge to get pictures of the fall colors. I was about a week too late to get most of them, but that was because we were in south eastern Virginia on the Creeper Trail to see the beautiful colors down there.
Some of the other more unique places that I got to see over the past year would include the “Birthplace of Superman,” which was in Cleveland, as well as the house where the movie “A Christmas Story” was filmed. Also while in Ohio, I visited the world’s largest geodesic dome in Novelty, OH. That was fascinating.
Of course, I can’t neglect to mention the visit to Little Italy to see my birthplace and family. I ate fine Italian cuisine at Mama Santa’s and had a great time seeing other sites there. Its the best Little Italy in the US!
During the year I also visited two fast food restaurants that had included museums in them. The Wendy’s restaurant in Dublin, OH had a whole section built in there with the history of Wendy’s and a large statue of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. In Canonsburg, PA, there is a McDonald’s restaurant that includes dedications and memorabilia of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton, both of whom grew up in Canonsburg.
It was fun for me to visit Xenia, OH and see the murals and the architecture and then also travel around some of the other areas nearby with Julianne and her sister and/or our grandchildren who rode their bikes along some of the bike trails including the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
We visited the Little Miami Scenic Trail twice and each time had a great time.
Overall, I have to say it was a wonderful year. I saw dolphins swimming at sunrise on Christmas morning in the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland. We got to visit some of our great national historical sites in Washington DC. On many of the trips, it was fun to travel with the grandchildren and see the delight in their eyes they saw big waterfalls, giant statues and other interesting places.
On a final note, I have to say that we did visit a few interesting places to eat. A great taco place in Houston, and, as I mentioned before, the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY. Also of note were the Crabcake Factory in Ocean City, MD and a Japanese place with a unique name Saketumi, in Rehoboth Beach, DE.
As I start a new position in new venture 2017, I look forward to traveling. The new company (PrecisionHawk) is in Raleigh, NC and so I will be taking a trip there in early January. Who knows what other delights I will find in 2017.
Following are a few other random shots from my trips in 2016:
I recently made a trip up to Cleveland to visit family in Little Italy (see the post about the Little Italy neighborhood HERE). While there, I got to spend a day with my sister and her husband visiting sites in and around Cleveland as well as a few small treks on my own. With the challenge of only a couple of days, I made it a point to visit some of the quirky and offbeat sites as well as a couple of historic things. We saw a good deal of Cleveland and also visited the Kirtland area, which will be added to a different post.
I started off one of my mornings by going to Lake Erie at Kenneth J. Sims Park in Euclid, which is right on the lake and offers some nice views. It is also home to the Henn Mansion Historical Site. and getting some marvelous photos of the sunrise over the lake and saw some geese and a blue heron. Those that follow my blogs and Facebook posts know that I love nature as much as I like traveling and seeing quirky sites.
I next made my way into Cleveland to go visit the “birthplace” of Superman. In the 1930s, teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both of whom went to the same Glenville High School and both had the same love of science fiction stories, either as novels or comic strips, and even lived only a couple of blocks apart, created a comic book hero named Superman. Siegel ended up writing the original stories and then Shuster would put them into comic book form. (See a more complete story about these two HERE.)
Nowadays, the neighborhood is actually kind of a scary part of Cleveland. It has suffered a great amount of urban decay as some of these photos below indicate. But the neighborhood and the street that Superman memorial is on, is generally well-kept. It is a predominantly African-American neighborhood now and the people in this neighborhood take good care of their homes despite the age of the buildings.
Both the house that Superman was “born” in and then Joe Shuster’s house as well have a big superman S on the front of the fence along with a big plaque commemorating the history of Superman and the stories of Jerry and Joe. Obviously, when you think about Metropolis for Superman, or Gotham City for Batman, the cities are old and dark much like New York, Chicago or even cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
I got a chuckle out of the street names for both the street that Superman “the story” was created (Kimberley) and then Superman “the comic book character” (Amor) was drawn. In both cases they have street signs with the original names of the artists. And both streets come off of Parkwood, also known as “Lois Lane.”
After my visit to the Superman sites, I joined much of my Laurienzo family for a big breakfast at a place called Alfredo’s at the Inn in Mayfield Village. Though known for their Italian Cuisine in the evenings, they also have a nice breakfast menu and buffet. It is really a good place for big groups like ours.
After a nice breakfast, my sister Tina and her husband Jim took me on a grand tour of Cleveland including Downtown and some of the surrounding areas. It was nice to spend an extended time with them and get to know them better. My sister Tina, the second oldest, always seems to have a bright shiny countenance. Jim is also lots of fun.
Cleveland is an old industrial city and thus there are many old buildings and lots of old housing districts. There is the old steel mill section that is now been refurbished in there trying to use it as a shopping or entertainment district now. And, being both a Lake Town (Lake Erie) and a River Town (the 100 mile long Cuyahoga River — the river is famous for having been so polluted that it “caught fire” in 1969. The event helped to spur the environmental movement in the US.), there are many bridges dotting the city.
The two Art Deco style sandstone sculptures on the bridge (shown above), known as the “Guardians of Traffic,” were created by New York sculptor Henry Hering. There are actually eight of them. They were completed in 1932 and were named by the bridge’s engineer, Wilbur Watson. Each guardian holds a different ground vehicle.The Cleveland Magazine had a very nice writeup about the Guardians in a post in 2009. It is worth a read and can be seen HERE.
I have always been fascinated by bridges, especially large viaduct types of bridges. Cleveland has a couple of these. The Detroit–Superior Bridge (officially known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge) is a 3,112 foot long through arch bridge over the Cuyahoga River. Construction began in 1914 and the bridge was completed in 1918. At its completion, the bridge was the largest steel and concrete reinforced bridge in the world.
Until 2007, the Main Avenue Bridge was the longest bridge in the state. Though no longer the longest, the bridge is still considered to be the longest historic bridge in Ohio. The total structure length of this historic bridge including ramps is 8000 Feet The bridge’s clearance over the river is 100 Feet.This bridge is a significant example of a deck cantilever structure, and represents a significant engineering achievement of the time. Five people were killed during the construction of this bridge.
The city is also a treasure trove of some unique statues and monuments. Most notable is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. This monument to Civil War soldiers and sailors from Cuyahoga County is located in the southeast quadrant of Public Square in downtown Cleveland. It was opened on July 4, 1894. It was designed by architect Levi Scofield, who also created the monument’s sculptures.
I never knew about this amazing monument. The monument consists of a 125-foot black granite shaft erected on a square base constructed of rough-hewn granite blocks trimmed in sandstone and housing a memorial building. The shaft divided by six carved bands which list the names of battles in which Cuyahoga soldiers fought and is topped with a bronze statue of the “Goddess of Liberty” signifying loyalty to United States. Four bronze groupings at its base depict the four branches of the Union Army— the Navy, Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery.
Following are a few more photos from the monument —
Inside the memorial building are a series of marble tablets listing 10,000 Civil War veterans that served with Cuyahoga County regiments or were from Cuyahoga County.
Also in the building, above the tablets, on the east and west walls are the bronze busts of officers who were killed in action. Above the north side door is the bust of General James Barnett, and above the south side door is Captain Levi T. Scofield. The foundation of the column centers the room. On each of the four sides are bronze relief statues portraying the Beginning of the War in Ohio, The Emancipation of the Slave, the Northern Ohio Soldiers’ Aid Society, Sanitary Commission, and Hospital Service Corps, and The End of the War.
Just a couple of blocks from there is the Peace Memorial Statue. Better known as the Fountain of Eternal Life, and sometimes also called the War Memorial Fountain and Peace Arising from the Flames of War, this statue and fountain was designed by Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks and dedicated on May 30, 1964. The sculpture, which honors Cleveland residents who served, died, or were declared missing in military service, is situated on Veterans’ Memorial Plaza as part of the Cleveland Mall. The centerpiece is a 35-foot tall bronze figure representing a man escaping from the flames of war and reaching skyward for eternal peace. The bronze sphere from which the figure rises represents Earth. There are also four granite carvings, each representing the geographic civilizations of the world and these are placed around the sphere. The entire structure, including the base, is about 46 feet tall which ranks it as one of America’s 50 tallest statues.
We soon left the downtown area to make our way to the neighborhood of another iconic, yet quirky, location. The 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” was filmed in Cleveland and they now have created a gift store (see their website HERE), turned the house into a memorial, and the famous leg lamp is shown prominently throughout. Some of the old cars that were in the movie and other things are all in the store and it was a lot of fun to go visit a site of a movie that I watched with my children in the 1980s and now with my grandchildren. A Christmas Story is certainly one of those classic Christmas movies for the family.
To continue the “quirky” stops, we next visited Cleveland’s Theater District, known also as Playhouse Square, to visit the “World’s Largest Outdoor Chandelier” which adorns the corner of 14th Avenue and Euclid. The chandelier is 20 feet tall and has 4,200 crystals (actually made from acrylic resin) on it. Playhouse Square is considered the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York. The entire square looks like a fun place to visit in the evenings when the theaters are all live and active and the chandelier is all lit up.
Of course, if looking for the offbeat and quirky, one cannot miss out on another Cleveland’s iconic “sculptures,” that being the giant FREE Rubber Stamp. Located in Cleveland’s Willard Park, near the Harbor and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this large sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen is 28 ft. 10 in. x 26 ft. x 49 ft and made of steel and aluminum. It was commissioned in 1982 and installed in October 1991. Oldenburg and van Bruggen are well-known for their large scale sculptures of everyday items (See a gallery of them HERE). I had the opportunity to visit their Shuttlecocks sculptures in Kansas City in 2010 (see the link HERE).
Throughout our travels this day, I also snapped a variety of other shots around Cleveland. There are a few murals, some unique shopping districts, interesting storefronts and more. Here is a small collection of scenes from Cleveland.
To end the day, Tina, Jim and I stopped for a late lunch and then headed towards Little Italy again to visit the famous Lake View Cemetery – a 265 acre memorial park and also home to the 180 foot tall monument to James Garfield, the 20th President of the United States and also the Rockefeller Monument and the Wade Chapel.The Garfield Monument sits on top of a hill and at one time one could look out over all of Cleveland. Now you need to go to the second floor balcony to catch a five-mile view of downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie.
Cleveland is a fascinating city and is certainly well worth a visit. My next visit will include more than a couple of days as there is so much to see in this lovely city….my birthplace.
My thanks to the following for their assistance in this post: Anthony Gambatese, Nicole Laurienzo, Ray Kristosik, Nancy Phillips, Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, Dominic Gogol and my great Laurienzo family.
Nearly 60 years ago I was born in the neighborhood known as “Little Italy” in Cleveland. I was not there for long as my mother took me and left when I was nearly 9 months old in 1957. My first trip back there happened around 1993 or 94, and I haven’t visited but only four or five times since, and typically for one or two hours at a time as I passed through to another destination.
In mid-May 2016 I had the opportunity to visit for an extended time and get to know the neighborhood that I could’ve grown up in. I spent time with some of my half-sisters and half-brother and visited a number of businesses in the area. I was also able research some of the history of the place of my birth.
This post is not really about me, but is about the neighborhood known as Murray Hill or also as “Little Italy.” What is the neighborhood like today? What was it like 60 years ago when I was born there? These were all questions that I had.
The “neighborhood”, as the long-time residents call it, has been around since the late 1800s. It is located from E. 119th to E. 125th streets on Murray Hill and Mayfield roads. Some stories say that there were 20 original Italian families that settled there and it’s one of the few “Little Italy’s” in the country where the people actually live in the neighborhood as well as have businesses there. Some historical notes say “By the late 1890s, many Italian immigrants had settled in the Mayfield-Murray Hill area and worked in the nearby marbleworks, one of which, the Lake View Marble Works, was founded by skilled stonemason Joseph Carabelli.” Carabelli was an Italian artisan who came to Cleveland via New York to open his sculpting and stone masonry business. His early employees developed reputations as expert stonemasons due to their contributions to monumental works at nearby Lake View Cemetery. The residential space to the south of the cemetery became occupied with numerous Italian families near the turn of the century.
In 1911 it was estimated that 96% of the inhabitants were Italian-born, and another 2% were of Italian parents. Many of these Italians were Neapolitan and were engaged in skilled lacework, garment making, and the embroidery trades. The largest group came from the towns of Ripalimosani, Matrice, and San Giovanni in Galdo, located in the Campobasso Province. My grandparents, Carmine Laurienzo and Maria Nicola Spuzzillo migrated from Matrice. Carmine arrived on the SS Cretic from Naples in Febuary 1921 along with Angelantonio Spuzzillo. An earlier member of the Spuzzillo family had arrived in 1907. In 1932 the Carmine (also known as “Nick”) formed a partnership with Nicolo Spuzzillo and opened up a storefront at 2072 Murray Hill Road (where I was born) as a grocery store. It was named Lorenzo and Spuzzillo’s.
Today, Little Italy is one of the few city neighborhoods attracting thousands of suburban shoppers that visit to enjoy the historical charm and the trendy, upscale art, dining, and
gracious living. In the community where the macaroni machine was invented in 1906, visitors will find the Little Italy Historical Museum, the Alta House and Library, Murray Hill School, the Holy Rosary Church, numerous restaurants, and artists’ studios and shops. In 1993 the community dedicated Tony Brush Park, named for champion boxer and Little Italy resident Anthony Brescia, at Mayfield and Random roads.
As it did in the early years, much of life in Little Italy centers around tradition. The Feast, which is a huge celebration at the historic Holy Rosary Church, is an annual event that is in planning stages all year round. Other events center around art walks today.
The Alta House began as a nursery and Kindergarten agency for the neighborhood. Carabelli approached the agency about expanding social services to the community. By 1898, contributions from John D. Rockefeller provided programs and facilities in the name of his daughter, Alta, to serve the immigrant community assimilating to American society. Both Holy Rosary and the Alta House remain as central religious social forces in the neighborhood today.
Currently, my sister Nicole, carries on the family tradition in the center of Little Italy with her own store front, Mayfield Smoke Shop, which she has run for 20 years (as of 2016).
With Nicole’s kind assistance, I was able to visit a number of folks in Little Italy and “get a taste — literally” of what this historic neighborhood is all about.
I started off with her two neighbors — Guarino’s, which is the oldest restaurant in Cleveland, and Mama Santa’s, an amazing pizzeria offering a massive variety of home made pasta and pizza.
My first stop was a visit with Nancy Phillips, the current owner of Guarino’s. She and two of her children (Scott & Rachel) have continued this family business and evolved the menu and atmosphere. They have taken strident efforts to preserve the history of this Cleveland establishment for nearly a century. Many of Nancy’s seven children and fifteen grandchildren have served at the tables, poured the drinks, cleaned the dishes, and even cooked the dinners for over twenty years since she took over.
Guarino’s Restaurant is generally recognized as Cleveland’s oldest restaurant. They have been open since 1918 and have never closed, never drastically remodeled, and never changed their commitment to high-quality Italian-American dining at affordable prices. It has stayed in the family, which has kept Cleveland’s oldest restaurant cooking for nearly a century.
Founded as a speakeasy during the prohibition era, Vincenzo Guarino used to serve liquor in coffee cups along Mayfield Road, and his wife affectionately referred to as “Mama Guarino” did all the cooking in the basement kitchen- which still exists today. The family lived upstairs and in the rear of the building, which although is now fully occupied for the uses of the restaurant, still strongly resembles home.
On my visit to Guarino’s I was fortunate enough to go down to the basement kitchen, which is still in use. I could barely stand up straight. It amazes me that this kitchen has been used longer than I have been alive.
In the early 1900s, when Mayfield was a much less traveled road, the story goes that Vincenzo Guarino left his native Sicily to seek his fortune in America in this newly settled Italian neighborhood of Cleveland. Within just a few years, he realized his dream of a business of his own, a tavern and pool room, serving food. It was patronized by the brigands of the times as well as professors and musicians from the nearby cultural and educational institutions. During prohibition, he served liquor in coffee cups to the elite of Cleveland, while his mother-in-law had a thriving wine business on the next street.
Vincenzo had actually brought grape vines with him from Italy and planted them in the patio area behind the old bar. These are still growing and have spread across much of the outside garden dining area in the back of the restaurant.
After Vincenzo’s marriage to Mama Guarino, they began to serve more and more food, and in turn became a full restaurant and bar. He turned the apartment above the restaurant into the family home which became an elegant fifties townhouse housing three generations of Guarino’s. The comfortable garden dining area opened in 1959 and still holds the trumpet vines and grape vines he brought from Italy.
In 1954, after Vincenzo’s death, his only son Sam decided to carry on the family business. In 1963, Sam decorated Guarino’s as it is now, in the Victorian era with antiques, special wallpaper, etc. After Mama Guarino and Sam passed away, Marilyn (Sam’s wife) and Nancy Phillips (a close family friend) took over the business in 1988. They remodeled the upstairs townhouse into an elegant dining room with early Victorian decor. The Victorian Parlours, as they have been named, can seat up to fifty people and have been the location of many rehearsal dinners, company banquets, and various parties.
Just two doors down from Guarino’s (next to the Mayfield Smoke Shop), is Mama Santa’s Pizzeria and casual Italian Restaurant. It is one of the only places in Cleveland that still makes their pasta, pizza dough and sauces from scratch, not to mention their sausages and other items. Almost everything on the menu is home made (and in some cases even home grown!)
Mama Santa’s was established by Guido and Nancy Scaffidi July 25, 1961. Before launching the restaurant, Guido worked as an auto body repair man and Nancy as a hair dresser. Guido served in World War II and was a prisoner of war. Shortly after World War II, Guido and Nancy emigrated from Gioiosa Marea, Sicily and settled in Akron before moving to Cleveland’s Little Italy. The restaurant is named in honor of Nancy’s mother, Santa Ignazzito, who was born on All Saints Day, November 1, 1908. Santa used her recipes straight from Sicily to create the authentic Sicilian menu.
Mama Santa’s has been in the same location since its inception. The building is more than 100 years old and was used as a bank, clothing store and a cafe before ultimately becoming Mama Santa’s.
Guido and Nancy’s sons, Anthony and Danny, began working at the restaurant as teenagers. They have overseen the daily operation of the restaurant since Guido retired in 1996. Today, the restaurant remains a family operation; Anthony’s wife Pina and her Sicilian friend Angela make all of the homemade pastas, sauces, and dough for the restaurant daily. Anthony’s four children all work at the restaurant — daughter Nancy manages the business today.
I was sent over to Mama Santa’s by my sister Nicole, who runs the Mayfield Smokeshop next door. We had just inhaled a large homemade pizza from them about an hour earlier and I had to wait for the lunch rush to get over to speak with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, the daughter of Tio and Pina. Nancy basically runs the business now while Tio directs the customers and Pina makes her amazing homemade pastas, sauces, meatballs and sausages. I was told that I absolutely had to try out their home made pasta, so I was excited for the opportunity. Little did I know what I was in for!!
Nancy ushered me to a table and told me they would bring me a “sampler” of some of their items. I was envisioning a large plate with three or four items to taste test. Boy was I wrong.
Soon Mama Pina was at the table to tell me about her trip from Sicily to Cleveland. She had learned all of her skills growing up in Sicily and brought her talents with her (along with some local seeds for her home garden). As she spoke the “Sampler” began arriving…plate after plate…with practically full portions of their “Spaghetti di Casa” (their famous homemade thick spaghetti pasta noodles), cheese ravioli, meat ravioli, white clam sauce on pasta, fettucine alfredo, homemade sausage on spaghetti and more. It was all I could do to not be rude and stuff myself with the ABSOLUTE BEST Italian food I had ever had in my nearly 60 year life (no kidding..really). Then, Mama Pina said she had to go turn over her meatballs and would be right back.
Let your eyes force your mouth to water folks…..
As if the seven sampler plates were not enough, Mama Pina was next walking out with a sampler of her homemade meatballs with her secret ingredient… As I tried to find a place to put it and a way to deal with all of the tantalizing tastes rolling over my tongue, Pina explained to me that she adds her own home grown herbs into her food and, in her meatballs she adds some wild anise from her garden. The wild anise came from seeds that she had brought from her village in Sicily when she came to the United States. So, in essence, I was getting the authentic tastes from her faraway Sicilian village right there in Cleveland. And I had never had anise in meatballs. WOW!
I was full to my toes and fingertips (remember, I had also had some of their pizza just a couple of hours earlier). But then I hear Mama Tia speak in Italian to her daughter Nancy, and I understood her telling her to bring me some of their Tiramisu. I tried to be nice and say no…that I was sooooo full form their “sampler.” But Mama Tia, in her sweet Italian way, would not say no. Soon I was handed a plate of a small portion (thank goodness) of their dangerously delectable Tiramisu. I found a way to get it in me….smooth, creamy and chocolatey.
The owners and staff are proud of their wonderful little restaurant. The neighborhood is as well. The place is typically packed with lines out the doors.
I don’t think I have ever been as full as I was after leaving the wonderful atmosphere of Mama Santa’s. But before I left I got to visit the backroom a bit. Unfortunately, it was not homemade pasta day. They do that on Mondays.
If you get anywhere near Cleveland, you must make your way to Little Italy just to try Mama Pina’s homemade pasta!
Nestled between Guarino’s and Mama Santa’s is my sister’s Mayfield Smoke Shop. Admittedly, I don’t smoke anything but turkeys on my Big Green Egg grill at Thanksgiving. Though some of the best food is just a couple of doors down, I discovered on this trip that the neighborhood gathering spot is at the smoke shop. One of only a few places in all of Cleveland that sells cigars and other tobacco products, it is perhaps one of the most well known and visited. There is a back room for neighborhood folks to gather and chat and play cards. There are comfy seats in the shop to sit and relax (which I did for a couple of hours just to see the constant flow of people form both inside and outside the neighborhood.
My half sister Nicole Laurienzo has been the proprietor of this shop for 20 years. She is a mainstay of the neighborhood and provides her loyal customers (hundreds, if not thousands, of them) the tobacco products they need along with the only spot in Little Italy to carry lottery tickets, candy, energy drinks, sodas and a few other things. But, more than all of these items, Nicole provides a smile to all of her visitors and many come, sit a while indoors or out and chat, share information, tell stories of the neighborhood, tell jokes, talk politics and more.
Even if you don’t smoke, if you are in Little Italy, please drop in and say hi to Nicole. Tell her Sumoflam sent you!
My sister Nicole also sent me down to one of the newer spots in Little Italy – the Tavern of Little Italy, also known as TOLI. I am not a drinker, but I heard they have good eats and that the owner Dominic Gogol is one of the nicest guys in the neighborhood. So, I meandered my way down to visit Dominic and check out TOLI.
The story of TOLI began when a group of friends decided to bring something new to the historic neighborhood. Some deep-rooted, others newly-planted, together they created a hard to define tavern where red wine meets 14 taps of craft beer – where meatballs meet fish tacos. The time, sweat and talent “from the hands of many” gutted, built and renovated a 100-year old home that is now the Tavern of Little Italy. A 30-foot bar, surrounded by rustic design, creates an air of familiar comfort.
Before I got to talk to Dominic, I was told to make sure to catch the restroom…a totally unique experience. You can read the walls…and the history of Little Italy on the walls.
On the food front, TOLI is more than a neighborhood bar. Its kitchen is dedicated to local fresh and imaginative cuisine. Its beer selection, both on tap and bottled, has been carefully selected with the hope of offering both diversity and established flavors.
TOLI features multiple, high-definition big screen TV’s for faithful Cleveland sports fans. A private dining room is available for groups of 50 and under. There are also three different outdoor eating spaces, from sidewalk to alley to back patio. TOLI is located in the heart of Cleveland Little Italy, where Murray Hill Road meets Mayfield Road – “the top of the T”.
Other sights from around the neighborhood
I only had half a day to really visit with folks from the neighborhood. But, I spent the morning walking around capturing photos to bring a feel of Little Italy. Following are a few more shots from my visit to this wonderful place I call my birthplace.
Honestly, there are not many sinfully delightful treats than an homemade cannoli. Little Italy has a couple of places that compete for the best including Corbo’s Bakery and Presti’s Bakery. I have tried both and they are too close to call!