Monday, July 20, 2009

Youngstown Foodie Diaspora

A member of the Greater Youngstown Diaspora celebrates the culinary treasures of home:

You’re pretty much guaranteed a good, hearty meal with friendly service and reasonable prices if you pop into one the area’s many pizza or Italian-American joints, and most of the local bar & grill-type places have substantial menus that incorporate local flair in creative ways. I have in mind an awesome Italian-influenced sandwich I meekly attempted to finish at Jeremiah Bullfrogs in Y-Town that consisted of a monstrous meat-stuffed cubanelle pepper topped with marinated hot peppers, mozzarella cheese, and garlicky greens. Yum. Or the menu at my daddy’s favorite local restaurant, the Blue Wolf Tavern, which manages to incorporate Italian-American, barbecue, beer, and other American specialties in huge, affordable portions.

The most pleasant dining surprise I had when in Ohio most recently was an unassuming Hungarian restaurant in Youngstown. Paprika Café is Youngstown’s only Hungarian place and stays true to its Eastern European roots while conceding juuuuuust the right amount to its American audience. The décor is appropriately kitschy, with red and white checked tablecloths and Hungarian paraphernalia (some of it for sale) adorning the shelves and walls. The menu offers an astounding 27 varieties of pierogi, those moreish dough packages concealing all sorts of savory or sweet goodies. My mom and I ordered the standard potato and cheese pierogi and they came bathed in melted butter and sweet, slow-sautéed onions.

The description of Paprika Café is classic Rust Belt Chic. I'm talking about a restaurant that conveys an authentic sense of place, the essence of Greater Youngstown. For young adults, it is a lot like the ironic adulation of Pabst Blue Ribbon. (I've always suspected that the film "Blue Velvet" was responsible for the trend) I'm confident that cosmopolitan hipsters would love Youngstown. The trick is attracting them.

I propose starting an organization charged with that task. I got the idea reading the latest issue of Entrepreneur magazine. You know, the one celebrating Youngstown as one of the 10 best cities to start a business. A feature article details how entrepreneurs are rebuilding New Orleans. One of the vital actors in the city's renaissance is NOLA YURP:

In March 2007, Molly Reid, staff writer for the Times-Picayune, wrote an article about what she called "Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals." Thousands of young people had moved to New Orleans to help with the relief effort and needed a way to connect with the locals who were doing their own rebuilding. The mission of the NOLA YURP Initiative is to build a support and resource network to connect, retain and attract young professionals from diverse backgrounds for a sustainable New Orleans. For New Orleans to rebuild itself, we must invest in the people that will be here in the future.

Youngstown, as well as all of Cleveburgh, is attempting to rebuild itself. Talent is needed to succeed and the region is selling opportunity. Jim Cossler, in the same issue of Entrepreneur, explains:

The new generation is envisioning things we wouldn't have talked about 10 years ago. ... There's a radical transformation going on here right now.

My dream is to make Youngstown the headquarters of Rust Belt revitalization. In particular, I envision calling Rust Belt refugees to Youngstown to experiment with the shrinking city paradigm and take part in the vibrant innovation landscape that the Youngstown Business Incubator has helped to spawn. Read about what is going on in New Orleans and then imagine that going on in the Steel Valley.

1 comment:

  1. The food is one of the things I missed about leaving the Valley. Any kind of food, any time, no problem.

    Being of Hungarian descent (partially), it makes me happy to see that a Hungarian restaurant still exists at home. There used to be a really good one in Barberton, Ohio (but the name escapes me) and I would go over there for the chicken dishes.

    I have to laugh when people think of the Olive Garden as "Italian food". Just like Taco Bell is Mexican food, right? Go to the valley, get the real deal. You will never want Olive Garden again...