A Grab Bag from America’s Back Roads – The M Things #AtoZChallenge

In 2018 I  will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada.  I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.

 

Mystic Pizza – Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT with my sweet wife

Moon Township, PA

Township of Moon, PA

Muscovy Duck – Damascus, Virginia

A unique Muscovy duck in the river in Damascus

Mammy’s Cupboard – Natchez, Mississippi

Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, MS
Mammy’s Cupboard Dining Room – Much bigger than it looks on the outside

Mail Pouch Barns – Brinkhaven, Ohio; Friendly, West Virginia; Hargett, Kentucky

Mail Pouch Barn in Brinkhaven, OH
Mail Pouch Barn in Friendly, WV
A rare Mail Pouch barn sighting in Hargett, KY

Billy Tripp’s Mindfield – Brownsville, Tennessee

Sumoflam at Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN
A portion of the Mindfield Cemetery in Brownsville, TN
Mindfield Cemetery, Brownsville, Tennessee

Mr. Roger’s T-Rex Statue – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Mr. Rogers T-Rex

Mountain Bluebird – The Badlands National Park, South Dakota

A Mountain Bluebird perched on a fencepost in the Badlands

Mac the Moose – Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Mac the Moose in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Monument Valley – Utah

Monument Valley, Utah
Enjoying the splendor of Monument Valley in southern Utah and Northern Arizona around 1983

Monongahela Incline – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Welcome to the Monongahela Incline
Monongahela Incline going up
Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh

Maid of the Mist – Niagara Falls, Ontario

The Maid of the Mist at the bottom of Niagara Falls filled with tourists

Melt Eclectic Cafe – Cincinnati, Ohio

Melt in Cincinnati
Melt Cafe

Metal Green Bay Packer – Pagac’s Bar – Ashland, Wisconsin

Robotic scrap metal quarterback. The guy in the bar said you can plug it in and it actually moves!

Mayan Ruins – Tulum, Mexico

Enjoying a visit to the Tulum Ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

Midlothian Castle – Burk’s Falls, Ontario

Midlothian Castle
Headstone on one of the Gates to Midlothian Castle

Home of Mayberry – Mount Airy, North Carolina

Snappy Lunch – Mt. Airy, NC
Mayberry on Main
Mayberry Cheese

Mount Rainier National Park – Greenwater, Washington

Entering Mt. Rainier National Park on WA 410 south of Greenwater, WA
Mt. Rainier in Washington – visited in 2015
A ferry passes by us in the sound with Mt. Rainier in the background

Migrating Snow Geese – Arkansas

Snow Geese everywhere
Ran into a HUGE flock of migrating snow geese in central Arkansas

Medicine Hat, Alberta

Giant Teepee in Medicine Hat, Alberta

Mickey Mantle Statue – Commerce, Oklahoma

Mickey Mantle Statue in Commerce, Oklahoma

Memorial Falls near Great Falls, Montana

Memorial Falls near Great Falls, MT

Meerkats at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska

The Meerkats are my favorite animal at the zoo. This one posed for me!
Lounging Meerkats at Henry Doorly Zoo

Metropolis, Illinois

Welcome to Metropolis, home of Superman
Giant Grocer Statue in Metropolis, IL

Dinosaur Tracks – Moenave, Arizona

Moenave Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City, AZ
The kids at the Dinosaur tracks in Moenave, AZ near Tuba City (July 1993)

Mama Santa Pizzeria – Little Eatery – Cleveland, Ohio

Sumoflam with Mama Santa’s owner Papa Tio
Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta from Mama Santa Restaurant in Cleveland, OH

Montour Trail – Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

Montour Trail – Canonsburg, PA

Miner’s Memorial Mural – Ironwood, Michigan

The men in Miner’s Memorial Mural represent the thousands of men who worked in the Gogebic Range Mines of Michigan and Wisconsin.
A section of the Miner’s Memorial Mural in Ironwood, which was completed in 2012

Mt. Fuji – near Fujinomiya, Japan

Enjoying wintertime at a resort at the base of Mt. Fuji, near Fujinomiya, Japan in 1987
Mt. Fuji, Japan as seen from my airplane seat in 1990 as I flew to Tokyo from Oita.

Multnomah Falls – Multnomah County, Oregon

At Multnomah Falls in Oregon

Mud Street Cafe – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The unique and quaint Mud Street Cafe in Eureka Springs, AR
Cozy Mud Street Cafe

Memphis Egg – Memphis, Tennessee

With the famous Memphis Egg in 2007

Mothman Museum – Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Glowing Red Eyes of the Mothman
Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant, WV

Mel’s Diner – San Francisco, California

Sumoflam at Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco

Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Shop – Mapleton, Ontario

Taxidermy and Cheese Store
Taxidermy and Cheese

If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

 

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P is for People – #atozchallenge

I am enriched by people. They inspire me, they teach me, they bring me joy.

I have often been told that I have never met a stranger. And it’s true. I am unabashed around people. Whether it’s joking with a person in line at a grocery store or interacting with the person at a table next to me in a restaurant, I always feel comfortable.

Having a huge elephant ear with friend Robert Phinney in Dayton, WA
Got to meet Nelson Campbell, Director of the well know documentary Plant Pure Nation, in Louisville, KY

The same goes with my travels. I have been blessed to have met hundreds of unique individuals from all walks of life.

The diversity of people enriches us.

Unlike my other posts in this series, I am stretching far beyond the boundaries of back roads in America. This post will take the reader to Japan, the Philippines, Canada and beyond. As a tour guide in Flagstaff I got to interact with 100s of nameless tourists from all over the world. Working in Japan in the late 1980s, I met more unique folks from the far corners of the earth.

Met the Seattle Smile Guy along the way. Didn’t want money… just wanted smiles
Motorbike Quartet in Cebu, Philippines
Street Person – Cebu

First off, there are the “random people.” The people I have photographed on the streets while traveling. Here are a few, including some from the Philippines during my trips there in 2007. From the loneliness of street people, to the unique shots I would see from the car as I drive by in some small town, these people add color.

 

Siesta Time – Cebu
Belly Rubbing – Carbon Market – Cebu
Street Person – Toronto
Walking by the Art – Toronto
Relaxing – Weatherford, Texas
Standing – Antlers, Oklahoma
Old Man – Paducah, Kentucky
Sleeping on a Bench – Lexington, Kentucky
Street Person – Dallas, Texas
Meditation – San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, Arizona
Hanging with Ukranians at Fat Smitty’s in Discovery Bay, WA
Sumoflam and Antsy McClain

For years, I have worked and often traveled with singer/songwriter Antsy McClain to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful musicians, some very well known, others not so well known. Many I have gotten to know well…not as musicians, but as people.

Many of the musicians I have met are genuine.  They are such neat people…not pretentious at all.  It is nice to talk to them about life.  One of them, Bobby Cochran, who played guitar for Antsy for a few years, was also the lead guitarist for the band Steppenwolf in the 1970s.  I saw him as a fan back in 1975 and never imagined I would be traveling on the road with him talking religion, politics and life.

Hanging with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY in 2011
Sumoflam and world renown guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, c.g.b.
Sumoflam and GUITARIST EXTRAORDINAIRE Edgar Cruz from Oklahoma
One of my favorite people – multitalented musician Bruce Wandmayer, from Santa Cruz, CA
Hanging with my Aussie mate, multiinstrumentalist Pauly Zarb.
Have become good friends with the lovely former country rock singer Patti Hall, who now sells real estate in Phoenix
Sumoflam and guitarist Michael Kelsey from Indiana – he is one of my favorite guitarists and musicians. He is also a fabulous person.
“Crafty” Jack Burger from Lethbridge, Alberta

Another Antsy fan I met in Lethbridge, Alberta. Crafty Jack is a carpenter and master luthier. I spent two days with he and his sweet wife “Little Debbie” back in 2008. He taught me and my son about guitar making and took us on a nice adventure to Vulcan, Alberta to learn about Star Trek. Also, while in Lethbridge we enjoyed a dinner with him and Debbie in a converted water tower.  What a trip! Our visit with him was out of this world!

I have spent time with Crafty and Debbie in California and also on a cruise to Cancun.  We strolled the historic site of Tulum in Mexico together.  So blessed to know these great folks.

Sumoflam at the USS Enterprise Monument (with Crafty Jack) in Vulcan, Alberta (2007)
One of many Flamingoheads

Along the way I have become close friends with many Antsy fans. These “Flamingoheads,” as they are called, are also a diverse and lovely flock of folks. Some have become lifelong friends.

A couple of these Flamingoheads took great care of me on a visit to California in 2015. “Christmas Carla” and “Princess Ione” provided housing, touring and transportation for nearly a week. I got to know them, not as fans of Antsy, but as the real people they are with their unique life stories.

Enjoying the ride in California with “Christmas Carla” (she was born on Christmas day.
Ione (L) and Carla (R)…kissin cuzzins!!
BBQ Pitmaster Oliver Zuder showing off his trophy at the Oshawa Ribfest in 2008 in Ontario

My travels across Canada and the US have led me to others. Take, for instance, Oliver Zuder, a BBQ pit master from Ontario. I met him at Camp 31 BBQ in Paris, Ontario in 2013 and we became friends soon. I went to BBQ competitions to watch him and his brother Davor make people smile with satisfaction.

In the past couple of years, Oliver has started a new BBQ business called Uncle Sam’s BBQ, also in Ontario.   We keep in contact and my mouth waters every time I think of him.

Davor Zuder and some smokin’ ribs at Oshawa Rib Fest in Ontario in 2008

Crisscrossing the country I have met and chatted with cafe owners and shop owners. Their colorful stories enrich.

Carrie Fields, owner – Tightwad Cafe in Tightwad, MO
Tonya Floyd, current owner of the Wigwam Drive-in in Ravenna, KY
Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta from Mama Santa’s Restaurant in Cleveland, OH
Donating on of my “MARDUP” license plates at Carhenge. I wonder if it is hanging on the wall…

I have also had my brushes with celebrities in my travels. As a tour guide in Arizona in 1983, I once met Alice Cooper in a restaurant parking lot in Sedona. We talked Golf and politics for 30 minutes. No selfies, no autographs. Just two people chatting.  On another occasion, I was attending a solar conference in Kobe, Japan in 1991. At lunch I sat with some other non-Japanese from Norway. We chatted a while and then I was introduced to Morten Harket, who I immediately recognized as the lead vocalist for the group A-ha (Take on Me). He happened to be a huge advocate of solar energy. We talked about many things. No pictures or autographs. Just enriching conversation.

David with Nadia Comanci – spent three days with her as her personal guide in Kyushu

One of my fond memories was being on the road for three days in Kyushu, Japan as the personal guide and interpreter for Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. I spent hours listening to her harrowing escape from the Communist regime in Romania. Though a national hero, she was also a prisoner to dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Fascinating stuff.

 

Sumoflam and Swamp People’s Troy Landry…one of the friendliest and most personable guys you’ll ever meet (Troy that is…)
Sumoflam with Troy Landry – 4 years after saying I would meet this guy

Back in August 2010 I watched the first episode of the TV show Swamp People. Already an avid traveler and travel writer, I became fascinated with the show, which featured Gator hunters in Louisiana. One of them, Troy Landry, was quite a character. I told my wife “one day I am gonna track him down and meet him.” In 2015 I did just that. I visited his bait shop and crawfishing facility in Pierre Part, LA. He happened to be there buying loads and loads of crawfish from fishermen. We talked and chatted for 30 minutes or more while he worked. Friendly and outgoing, and totally good natured, he told stories of Gator hunting, told me about the crawfishing business and the let me “choot him” in a selfie.

Hanging with Danielle Colby from American Pickers at Antique Archeaology in 2012

On another roadtrip, this time into Iowa, I visited the small town of LeClaire, on the Mississippi River. This was the home to Antique Archaeology, the Antique shop made famous by the hit TV Show American Pickers. While there in that hot July afternoon, I was told that Danielle Colby, one of the cast members, was around and was always happy to meet fans. She is the tattooed friendly gal that works with the pickers on the show. During my visit, I learned that she had her own business creating unique clothing and had a shop across the street. I went over there and we chatted about her work, her roller derby hobby and her work as a burlesque dancer. She welcomed a selfie too.

Under one of Clyde’s massive creations…his 12 foot tall dragon
Clyde Wynia, the creator of Jurustic Park and the artist behind all of the work

Not so famous, but just as unique, was my opportunity to meet 80 year old Clyde Wynia, the creative mind behind the amazing Jurustic Park in Marshfield, WI. This former attorney turned his welding passion into a unique menagerie of metal creations, including giant dragons and small spiders. He gave me a personal tour and told some amazing stories.

Clyde tells stories of his various pieces of art

I also can’t forget to mention my encounter with “the one and only JFK,” James Frank Kotera, the Twine Ball Man of Lake Nebagamon, WI. (See full story and video HERE.)

Sumoflam with JFK, “Mr. Twine Ball” and “Junior” – August 2007

My travels have also led me to chance meetings with individuals with similar interests. And social media, especially Facebook, has extended that opportunity.

Portrait and landscape photographer Derek Ace (photo by Jeff Dostalek)
Derek Ace self portrait

On a trip to Wyoming in 2013, I stopped at a place called Hell’s Half Acre. A unique geological formation, it was a must see photo stop for me. I struck up a conversation with a young hot shot photographer named Derek Ace, from Madison, WI. We hit it off and I got his contact info. Derek and I have been Facebook friends ever since and I have been enlightened and enriched by his amazing photography, especially his desert works and his off the chain shots of abandoned buildings, rusted cars and sundry other forgotten treasures left behind.  See his Rural Ruins page for some great photos.

Author, travel writer, lecturer and musician Tui Snider of Azle, TX
Sumoflam and Tui Snider, June 2014

As an avid blogger of quirky things, I had a chance virtual encounter via the web of Texas Travel blogger Tui Snider. We exchanged notes about offbeat and quirky places in Texas and soon became good Facebook friends. On a subsequent trip to Texas in 2013, I finally met this amazing individual and her husband Larry at their gothic-accented home in Azle. Besides quirky things, Tui is also fascinated by the paranormal and has also become quite the expert on cemetery gravestone symbolism. She has published numerous books and articles. I count her as a dear friend.

Sumoflam with Shelly Cumbie in front of the historic Denton County Courthouse for a tour of the “Ghosts of Denton”
Writer, Radio Host, Sacred and Mysterious Site Traveler Teal Gray

Through Tui I have met ghost tour guide Shelly Cumbie in Denton, TX, who has provided many fascinating stories. I have also become a virtual friend of writer, blogger and podcaster Teal Gray.

Teal has actually done a live podcast interview with me on her internationally syndicated podcast.  She also recently write an article about my travel blogging and photography for the Dallas Entertainment Journal (see the link here)

Teal Gray Worldwide

The podcast can be heard in its entirety here:

Even my local staycation trips have led me to fascinating new friends, such as local bird and nature photographers and enthusiasts.  See some great photos by the members of the Jacobson Park Photographers Group which I started on Facebook. (see the site)

Photographing Wildlife with some of the Jacobson Park Photographers

I have also had the opportunity to meet local chefs that have been on Food Network competitions such as Cutthroat Kitchen or Guy’s Grocery Games. Ranada Riley, co-owner of the Lexington Diner, was one of these. Her “amazing” hairdo and unique cooking style have made her a local celebrity. But there is so much more to her beyond the cooking, whether it be her faith, her love for life or her diverse lifestyle. Meeting her in person and then following her life through social media has been a great adventure.

Ranada Riley, owner of the Lexington Diner in Lexington has been on television Food Network Competitions such as Guy’s Grocery Games and Cutthroat Kitchen

What more can I say? People bring me great joy and it is so fun to meet new folks every week!

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Cleveland’s Little Italy – A Trek Back To 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.

Little Italy Historic District in Cleveland
Little Italy Historic District in Cleveland

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.

Murray Hill and Paul in Little Italy. I was born in the house on this corner in 1956
Murray Hill and Paul in Little Italy. I was born in the house on this corner in 1956

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.

Stay 3 or more nights & save up to 25% now! At participating hotels

Reflection of address on old tile floor of Murray Hill Hill Market
Reflection of address on old tile floor of Murray Hill Hill Market
Sumoflam at the place of his birth
Sumoflam at the place of his birth
My first home - 2072 Murray Hill Road, now home of the Murray Hill Market
My first home – 2072 Murray Hill Road, now home of the Murray Hill Market
Murray Hill Road, still a red brick avenue, is the name sake for the Murray Hill Neighborhood
Murray Hill Road, still a red brick avenue, is the name sake for the Murray Hill Neighborhood

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.

This is an early image of Little Italy from the 1920s
This is an early image of Little Italy from the 1920s or 1930s.  This is Mayfield Road.

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.

Mayfield Road in 1953, a couple of years before I was born here.
Mayfield Road in 1953, a couple of years before I was born here.
Another scene of Little Italy in the 1950s
Another scene of Little Italy in the 1950s – includes Guarino;s and Mama Santa’s (see below)

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.

The Laurienzo store in the 1950s. My grandfather Carmine is on the right
The Laurienzo store in the 1950s. My grandfather Carmine is on the right
A look down Mayfield Road in May 2016
A look down Mayfield Road in May 2016

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.

Holy Rosary Bell Tower
Holy Rosary Bell Tower

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.

With my sister Nicole Laurienzo, who owns the Mayfield Smoke Shop.
With my sister Nicole Laurienzo, who owns the Mayfield Smoke Shop.

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.

GUARINO’S

(see http://www.guarinoscleveland.com/)

Old Sidewalk plaque for Guarinp's
Old Sidewalk plaque for Guarinp’s

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 sign in 1964
Guarino’s sign in 1964

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.

Guarino's patio deck in 1966
Guarino’s patio deck in 1966

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.

Old rustic stairway down to the decades old basement kitchen
Old rustic stairway down to the decades old basement kitchen
Guarino's Basement Kitchen ca 2016
Guarino’s Basement Kitchen ca 2016
Sumoflam in Guarino's kitchen. The oven behind me has been used for over 90 years.
Sumoflam in Guarino’s kitchen. The stove behind me has been used for decades.

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.

Mama Guarino making pasta in the kitchen
Mama Guarino making pasta in the kitchen

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.

Some of the old grapevines that were originally brought from Italy and planted by Mama Guarino.
Some of the old grapevines that were originally brought from Italy and planted by Mama Guarino.
Outdoor patio seating under the decades old grapevines at Guarino's
Outdoor patio seating under the decades old grapevines at Guarino’s

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.

Cozy waiting area at Guarino's
Cozy waiting area at Guarino’s
Fine dining at Guarino's
Fine dining indoors at Guarino’s

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.

Full Bar at Guarino's
Full Bar at Guarino’s
Comfortable Decor at Guarino's
Comfortable Decor at Guarino’s
Poster in Guarino's honoring Jim Guarino
Poster in Guarino’s by Jim Guarino
A painting by a local artisit of the Guarino's Store front.
A painting by a local artist of the Guarino’s Store front.

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.

Alley relaxation area on the side of Guarino's
Alley relaxation area on the side of Guarino’s

Mama Santa’s

http://mamasantas.com/

Mama Santa's Pizzeria Restaurant in Little Italy
Mama Santa’s Pizzeria Restaurant in Little Italy
Mamma Santa sign ca. 1960s
Mamma Santa sign ca. 1960s

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
Mamma Santa

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.

Sumoflam with Mama Santa's owner Papa Tio
Sumoflam with Mama Santa’s owner Papa Tio Starvaggi

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.

 

Home Made Pizza Dough rising at Mama Santa's
Home Made Pizza Dough rising at Mama Santa’s
Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta
Sumoflam with Nancy Starvaggi Schaffer, showing off the AMAZING homemade sausage and pasta

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.

Mama Santa's has a full menu of mouth-watering delectable HOME MADE Italian food.
Mama Santa’s has a full menu of mouth-watering delectable HOME MADE Italian food.

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!!

imageNancy 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.

 

Mama Pina making her homemade pasta (courtesy of Mama Santa's Facebook)
Mama Pina making her homemade pasta (courtesy of Mama Santa’s Facebook)
Mama Santa's pizza includes homemade sausage, sauce and dough. Doesn't get much better.
Mama Santa’s pizza includes homemade sausage, sauce and dough. Doesn’t get much better.

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…..

Home made Italian Sausage and home made pasta
Home made Italian Sausage and home made pasta
Penne pasta with homemade Clam Sauce - WOWZERS
Penne pasta with homemade Clam Sauce – WOWZERS
Home made ravioli with a homemade sauce that was breathtaking
Home made ravioli with a homemade sauce that was breathtaking
Homemade pasta with homemade pesto sauce
Homemade pasta with homemade pesto sauce
Homemade fettucine - pasta and sauce. Mouthwatering and heart warming
Homemade fettucine – pasta and sauce. Mouthwatering and heart warming

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!

Homemade Meatballs infused with Sicilian bred wild anise
Homemade Meatballs infused with Sicilian bred wild anise – yummiferous
Mama Santa's Tiramisu
Mama Santa’s Tiramisu

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.

Mama Santa's is cozy
Mama Santa’s is cozy

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.

The old reliable dough mixer at Mama Santa's has been around for decades apparently
The old reliable dough mixer at Mama Santa’s has been around for decades apparently.  Nancy was proud of this reliable device.
Mama Santa's atmosphere is made all the better with the hand painted murals on the walls
Mama Santa’s atmosphere is made all the better with the hand painted murals on the walls

If you get anywhere near Cleveland, you must make your way to Little Italy just to try Mama Pina’s homemade pasta!

Mayfield Smoke Shop

http://mayfieldsmokeshop.com/

mayfield1

Mayfield Smoke Shop in Little Italy
Mayfield Smoke Shop in Little Italy (photo courtesy of Mayfield Smoke Shop)

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.

With sister Nicole (R) and "adopted sister" Michelle (L) who assists at the shop
With sister Nicole (R) and “adopted sister” Michelle (L) who assists at the shop

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.

The Mayfield Smoke Shop is an inviting place...a gathering place for all. (Photo courtesy of Mayfield Smoke Shop)
The Mayfield Smoke Shop is an inviting place…a gathering place for all. (Photo courtesy of Mayfield Smoke Shop)
Mayfield Smoke Shop carries dozens and dozens of varieties of cigars
Mayfield Smoke Shop carries dozens and dozens of varieties of cigars
Mayfield's offers an old Cigar Store Chief, among other unique things to see
Mayfield’s offers an old Cigar Store Chief, among other unique things to see

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!

TOLI – Tavern of Little Italy

tavernoflittleitaly.com

TOLI on Mayfield Rd.
TOLI on Mayfield Rd.

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.

Visiting with Dominic Gogol of TOLI
Visiting with Dominic Gogol of TOLI
Though small, TOLI is big on taste, brew and personality
Though small, TOLI is big on taste, brew and personality

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.

Hand built walls add to the personality of TOLI
Hand built walls add to the personality of TOLI

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.

TOLI Restroom and the history of Little Italy
TOLI Restroom and the history of Little Italy

 

Busy in the TOLI Kitchen
Busy in the TOLI Kitchen

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”.

View of the T - where Murray Hill Rd and Mayfield Road meet -- as seen from TOLI
View of the T – where Murray Hill Rd and Mayfield Road meet — as seen from TOLI

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.

Italian Bakeries

Corbo's Bakery
Corbo’s Bakery

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!

Presti's Bakery, Little Italy
Presti’s Bakery, Little Italy
Corbo's Bakery, Little Italy
Corbo’s Bakery, Little Italy
Italian Yumminess in the case at Presti's
Italian Yumminess in the case at Presti’s
Sweet goodies
Sweet goodies

Other Eateries

La Dolce Vita, Little Italy
La Dolce Vita, Little Italy
Trattoria on the Hill, Little Italy
Trattoria on the Hill, Little Italy
Murray Hill Market, Little Italy - located in the house I was born in on Murray Hill Road
Murray Hill Market, Little Italy – located in the house I was born in on Murray Hill Road

Other Sites in Little Italy

Old Church on Murray Hill Road
Old Church on Murray Hill Road
Victorian Rooftops in Little Italy
Victorian Rooftops in Little Italy
Christopher Columbus in Brush Park
Christopher Columbus in Brush Park
Random Road
Random Road
Old Hotel Front - The Mayfield
Old Hotel Front – The Mayfield
One of the Statues on top of the Holy Rosary Church in Little Italy
One of the Statues on top of the Holy Rosary Church in Little Italy
Tratorria Mural Little Italy
Tratorria Mural Little Italy
Old Mayfield Theatre, now closed
Old Mayfield Theatre, now closed
Maydfield Theatre in 2009
Mayfield Theatre in 2009
Inscribed Plaque on old church on Murray Hill Road
Inscribed Plaque on old church on Murray Hill Road
More Statues on Holy Rosary Church in Little Italy
More Statues on Holy Rosary Church in Little Italy

 

 

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