Thursday, April 26, 2007

darrow, then death row

Defender. Hedonist. Champion. Adulterer.

A myriad of names is used to describe Clarence Seward Darrow, considered by many to be the most famous lawyer in history. It was Darrow who represented the teacher John Scopes in the famous "Skopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, after he was arrested for lecturing on the theory of evolution in a public school in Tennessee.

Darrow was born in Kinsman (Trumbull County) in 1857, last week being the 150th anniversary of his birth. After receiving his law degree from the University of Michigan, Darrow's first place where he practiced law was in Youngstown.

In celebration of this event, two plays have been circulating the state in April, with its final stops to take place in Northeast Ohio this weekend: on Saturday in Cleveland, and on Sunday in Youngstown.

On both days, starting at 2pm is Clarence Darrow: The Search for Justice, a one-man extravaganza performed by Gary Anderson.

Accoring to Mr. Anderson, Clarence Darrow had two passions . . . "to do all he could to make sure the law protected everyone, no matter how popular or unpleasant; and to prevent the State from taking the lives of its citizens, even those who had taken the lifes of others."

Here is a quick video of Anderson in the role, contemplating the bible and Darwin:

Of course we don't have to worry about intelligent design in today's society. In fact, an excellent article in this week's The Economist explains how the intelligent design and anti-evolution movement is gaining ground across the world.

But aside from this debate, the performance is wonderful.

I sat there in amazment, thinking how an individual could deliver with such passion and directness the life story of Clarence Darrow, evoking the spirit of this man who lived so many years ago.

The two-act event spins through Darrow's childhood, his early career, his fights for justice, his weaknesses as a person, and his ongoing attempts to defend those causes he believed to be just.

Simply a great way to spend an afternoon.

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Then later in the evening at 7:30pm will be another performance, this one named Lucasville - The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising, written by Anderson and Staughton Lynd.

Mr. Lynd is a Mahoning Valley celebrity-resident, attaining his PhD in history from Columbia University, teaching at Spelman College with Howard Zinn, then teaching at Yale, then receiving his Law Degree from the University of Chicago.

From the Staughton Lynd Collection at Kent State University . . .
"The Lynds relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, in the heart of the Rust Belt. Staughton Lynd was an essential participant in the struggle of the late 1970s to keep the Youngstown steel mills open. Despite the eventual failure of these efforts, the Lynds have continued organizing in the Youngstown area. He has also been extremely active as an attorney, taking on a wide variety of cases, including those of disabled and retired workers. In recent years, Lynd has also turned his attention to international issues, such as Nicaragua and the West Bank. After nearly a half century of activism, Staughton Lynd still stands as a beacon of light for non-violent radicalism and community organizing."

Lucasville is centered around the stories of five people - all who are currently sentenced to death row for their alleged roles in the 1993 uprising at the Lucasville prison. Two of the actors who play the five inmates are former prisioners themselves, with a majority of the cast living in the Mahoning Valley.

After the show, there is a question and answer session with Mr. Lynd.

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Looking for something to do this weekend? Then check out . . .

April 28th - Cleveland
Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ
2592 West 14th Street

April 29th - Youngstown
First Unitarian Universalist Church
1105 Elm Street
(east side of Wick Park)

2:00pm - Clarence Darrow
7:30pm - Lucasville

Sunday, April 22, 2007

whirlwind architecture tour

Kudos the staff of Metro Monthy for putting this up:

Saturday, April 21, 2007

crazy week

This has been a crazy week with deadlines from sunrise to sunset.

The weekend is almost here, which means THE STAGE is tomorrow night.

Come to THE STAGE tomorrow and see the unveiling of The Real Time Digimob (Experimedical Electrauma Music)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

creamy or crunchy? a new blog

This is the last weekend for the Book of Liz, now playing downtown at the Oakland.

The final two shows are one Friday and one Saturday, both at 8pm.

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plus, the next STAGE will take place on April 21st

UPDATE: In the six hours since posting this story, a new blog about The Stage was created.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

emerging from the chrysalis

The Intelligent Alternative - Brainfood from the Heartland.

Such is the description of the Louie Free Radio Show, and three of us local bloggers were guests on Friday's show.

You can listen to the hour long interview here, which begins one-fourth of the way into the sound file. We are on after ex-congressman Tom "da hammer" DeLay and Peter Stone from National Journal. Louie was kind enough to use some Gogol Bordello as our music at certain points throughout the interview.

And being our first joint media appearance, a myriad of thoughts emerged, including:

- waiting for japanese food at a taco bell
- the starfish and the spider
- trash-talking over kickball
- how using crack does not alter your political future
- the similarities between the drug trade, the mafia, and IBM
- abandoning infinite breadsticks on route 224
- consuming vs. creating a city
- the difference between a hierarchy and a network

A special Shout Youngstown acknowledgement goes to to Tim Ferris, from whom I heard the last point for the first time. I ganked his thought for the response to a question.

And much thanks to Louie for the opportunity, and his opinions from his own blog.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

kickball anyone?

Have you seen these posters around downtown?

They are advertising the creation of a kickball league in Youngstown.


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So here's the skinny:

The league is open to anybody 21 years and up. You grab some friends and sign up, or sign up as an individual and get placed on a team, thus meeting new friends. The season starts April 25th, and continues every Wednesday for a number of weeks.

From their website: "No skills are needed, just a desire to come out and have a good time."

Each individual pays $45 to enter the league and you will receive:
- A Kickball League of Ohio t-shirt
- A minimum of 7 weekly games of Kickball, plus play-offs (All teams will make it!)
- Drink and food specials after the games at sponsor bars
- Plenty of opportunities to hang out with old friends and meet new ones

According to their website, the first 8 teams that register get a $100 bar tab.

The pictures shown above were lifted from the Kickball League of Baltimore site, and the peeps from Maryland are providing assistance to get the Youngstown league started. They manage a league in Baltimore with 172 teams and 3200 people - so the experience is there to help the Kickball League of Ohio get off the ground.

I wonder what the kickball environment is like in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Akron? I'd like to see the Cleveland Bloggers form a team, drive the hour, and meet us on the field.

Get ready to eat dirt, George.*

This may be your only opportunity to nail the Youngstown Bloggers with an inflatable rubber ball.

You can find the Youngstown league's main website here, and their MySpace page here.

They also will be having two "Happy-Hour/Sign-ups" - one this Thursday April 5th at bw3s in Niles, and another the following Wednesday April 11th at bw3s in downtown Youngstown. They were orginally going to have the Youngstown one be this Thursday, but the Ludacris concert at the Chevy Centre will be that night.

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Ludacris and kickball leagues competing for the same space downtown.

who would have thought this was possible even five years ago?

this is another great sign of the emerging youth movement in this city. unite!

*George is a good guy, just engaging in some virtual cyberspace trash-talk.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

one for sorrow

The tracks led into the downtown through a valley that had once been a bed of industry, and we followed them until we came out of dead space and into the valley. Under the cover of real night, we entered the city and lights began to spread in all directions like a sea of strange, glowing pearls.

The valley itself was a wasteland. Vacant factories with smashed-up windows. Black scars on the ground where steel mills had been demolished by their owners years ago. Yellow-brown weeds and thorny bushes. Leftover machine parts. Rotting car frames and engines. Rusty metal workings. Toilets covered in strange stains. Broken forty ounce beer bottles. Couches with springs curling out of the stuffing. And far too many stones to look at and be reminded of Gracie.

The dead roamed here also, trudging through the thin layer of snow that had fallen. They wandered the rubble of the mills, leaving no footprints as they went. They lingered in doorways, smoking cigarettes, nodding as we passed. Most were men wearing grease-stained jumpsuits; others were young women wearing long tweed skirts, carrying folders pressed to their chests.

A whistle shrieked once, twice, a third time, and the dead lifted their heads in its direction. A moment later they poured from the abandoned factories, and others materialized to take their places and begin their shift. The mills had closed years and years ago, but the dead still came here, even though it was clear that what they wanted didn’t want them.

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That haunting piece originates from the book One for Sorrow, written by the author Christopher Barzak.

With some of its scenes set in the Steel Valley and downtown Youngstown, the book is available for pre-purchase from Amazon and will be published this summer by Random House.

This has been a good year for Chris, as besides being picked up by a major pulisher, another work of his titled "The Language of Moths" has been nominated for a Nebula Award in the category of Best Novelette (a work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words). The Nebula Awards revolve around the science fiction and fantasy fiction genre, and the 2007 award ceremony will be held May 13th in New York City.

cool. good luck Chris.

Shout Youngstown tracked down Barzak for a quick interview. He is also the author of the Meditations in an Emergency blog, detailing his thoughts on a life lived on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

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Shout Youngstown: Please describe your recent path, from Youngstown to Japan to back in Youngstown.

Chris Barzak: I did my undergraduate and graduate degrees both at Youngstown State University. What I recall about those years between 1994 and 2004 is that the community couldn’t even recognize itself as a community. There was very little effort made, or at least taken out and put into the hands of the people, to bring us together, to feel as if the city was ours. People passed through the city or went around it in some cases; they didn’t live in it. I lived in it, but it felt very similar to living in a vacuum. My best friends were the books in the university library. I spent more time there reading things that weren’t even assigned for my classes, looking up from a space where people in some other place in the world (and some other time, in many cases) felt it was important to think and to put thoughtfulness down on paper, to leave it behind for others to use it if they could. The city I saw when I looked out the windows of the top floor of the library, though, hadn’t been treated in the same way. It had been used and abused by people, corporations and big businesses and corrupt organizations and politicians over the course of a few decades, and people - the citizens of the city - had allowed it to happen. They had forgotten or chosen to pretend it was their duty to protect the public space they lived in. The disintegration of not only the physical world of Youngstown but the communal bonds of the people living within and around it eventually became so oppressive to my spirit that I decided to leave.

I moved in the summer of 2004 to a rural area of Japan that was only forty-five minutes from Tokyo by train. I had the best of all the stratifications of Japanese society: teaching in a rural area, living in a suburb, and being only a short ride away from a huge urban center. Japanese society was good to me. It healed many of the bruises and hurts I’d accumulated by living in a community like Youngstown for so long. The hopelessness and despair I felt before I left really did weigh heavily on me, in ways I couldn’t even recognize at the time. After a few months of living in Japan , being surrounded by a culture that prides itself on community and living as a group rather than emphasizing the individual, I began to feel the strangest thing: I felt like I was becoming happy, and healthy too. I was losing weight (previously I’d fought with it while living in the States). I was wanting to be out in the world with people, to be active. People, strangers, were so kind to me for no apparent reason that I’d often find myself tearing up when I thought about how unkindness and a mentality where one looks out only for themselves, a sort of social Darwinism, was the template by which Americans lived.

When I came back to Youngstown, I was afraid I’d find nothing had changed and that I’d want to return to Japan very quickly. And though it did take me some time to readjust to living in my own culture again, I was immediately heartened and filled with hope for other reasons. The city, it seemed, had changed to some extent while I was gone. The downtown was open, people were actually walking in it - not just people who worked downtown either. There were businesses open - a music store, a gorgeous martini bar that is just as good if not better than any bar I’ve frequented in New York City or Tokyo, a fashionable and hip nightclub, and there was this amazing group of young people meeting at the Oakland Center for the Arts to hold this event called The Stage, where people could show off their talents - in art or music, literature or dance, standup comedy, acting, drag performance, anything at all really, and everyone was supportive of each other. It felt like a real community to me. I couldn’t believe it at first, but these were the first signs of life I saw in Youngstown again, the first signs that a real community was beginning to form out of the wreckage and ruin. I thought maybe the place had lain fallow long enough, and there was fertile ground again, and there were also what’s even more important: people, regular people with families and ordinary lives like all of us, becoming leaders, creating a public space for other people to enter and live in and become their better selves. All of that I found suspiciously absent, or too dispersed to achieve anything at least, before I went to Japan.

There’s always the flip side of this coin you could examine, though. I’ve wondered at times if perhaps Japan didn’t change me to the extreme that, when I returned home, I could now see the good that was here. Maybe progress for the betterment of the community had always existed, and only going away and coming home again enabled me to see it all happening around me.

SY: Can you elaborate more then, on the difference in the city during your earlier years here, and after your sojourn in Toyko?

I’ve noticed that the people have come out to the streets again. This is always a healthy sign of life in a community. I’ve noticed they are beginning to insist on having a say and a hand in the creation and maintenance of their city and city life again. I’ve noticed that, though there are exceptions, many of these people are the young, the new generation. They are refusing to accept a life of stagnancy and “holding on”, waiting for someone outside their own community to save their community for them. We’ve put "the hope for some industrial giant to swoop in and save things" behind us, and really, thank God for that. We should find healthier ways to grow an economy here. Rather than allowing ourselves to become dependent on big business, we should encourage small business and entrepreneurship within the community and surrounding area itself. We will learn how to live by our own means, rather than be subject to a life provided for us by a few of the very wealthy in the nation, a life that isn’t something we should settle for anyway: living from paycheck to paycheck for back and spirit breaking labor demanded in trade. I’ve noticed a return of appreciation for intellectual thought and discussion, rather than the suspicion of thoughtfulness and education that was so present here before. If we grow all of those changes, if we can nurture each of these things not just in our own lives, but the life of the community also, I can’t help but see a beautiful, powerful, progressive college town community coming into being here in the near future.

SY: What do you want Downtown Youngstown to be like in five years?

I want Downtown Youngstown to be even more full of people than it is now. I want businesses to open that value creativity, community and civic awareness as well as businesses that foster economic trade. I want an independent bookstore, I want a place where local artists can sell their work by consignment to the public, I want a newspaper that attempts to engage with the people rather than just the politicians and business owners in the region. I want a fully functional Arts Center (the Oakland Center for the Arts would be the perfect place to grow this from, if the board of directors for the Oakland could be persuaded to see themselves functioning more in that way) that provides a space for all of the arts in the area: writers, actors, artists, musicians, encouraging them to come together and exchange ideas, giving them a place to display their talent and to act as an “incubator” for the artists and thinkers of the region, the way we now have the Youngstown Business Incubator. Which is also what I want more of: technology-oriented job growth in the area. I want to see a downtown with a grocery store, a dry cleaner, and affordable housing so that people can come out of their hidey-hole apartments in the cut-up sections of the city and come together again, where they can live and work together. I want more social activist groups to stand outside of the courthouses and the mayor’s office and raise their voices until they must be heard by the decision makers of this city. I want more than anything more members of the community to join those choruses of voices, so that we can all be heard. Without a forum for the community to feel as if it can be heard and attended to, without a process for the community to feel as if they have ownership of their city streets, any progress that’s made will eventually fail once again.

SY: Describe your perfect Japanese four-course meal.

A cucumber salad and mussel salad, miso soup, shabu shabu (thinly sliced beef and cabbage and tofu and onions and mushrooms that you cook yourself in a pot of boiling water at your table, with a special sauce to dip it all in--the name of the dish is an onomatopoeia, the actual sound of water boiling to Japanese ears) all followed by green tea ice cream and a anko-filled (sweet red bean curd) sugar bun.

And of course plenty of green tea, sake and Sapporo or Kirin or Asahi beer to wash it all down. Preferably with a trip to a karaoke parlor afterwards, for hours of singing with friends in a private booth, and all you can drink “sours”, a sort of Japanese version of the margarita, in my opinion.

SY: Is it possible for you to write a haiku about how you feel about Youngstown at this moment in time?

I’m a novelist and short story writer and only an appreciator of poetry, but here’s how I feel about Youngstown at this moment in time:

The wind on your neck,
breath calling you to turn and
see it never ceased.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Carbon emissions are declining precipitously . . .

and no, it's not magic."

Project for Public Spaces published an article with the above title in today's Making Places Newsletter. This edition of the newsletter is so thought provoking...I encourage everyone to visit their site and read some of the other articles. I promise you will find them educational and even a little bit funny. You see, carbon emissions aren't really declining, rather this headline is part of the PPS's annual April Fools edition of Making Places (jovially titled Faking Places).

I originally wanted to post a few excerpts from this article, but I just couldn't decide where to split it up. So, I'm posting the whole thing. The following is reprinted from Faking Places, April 1, 2017:

Last week, the EPA released its annual data on US greenhouse gas emissions. For the fifth time in a row, they announced a substantial reduction--to levels not seen since the population stood at half its current size. This represents a remarkable turnaround, one that has confounded all predictions of how catastrophic climate change would be averted.

Technology has not been the main solution--most cars still run on internal combustion. Nor have emissions declined because of widespread economic hardship--real median income has never been higher. Instead, the threat of global climate change has been met by an even more powerful force: a seismic shift in the American Dream.

As recently as seven years ago, American settlement patterns were best described as "sprawling," and nations including China and India seemed poised to follow our lead. The status and material wealth supposedly conferred by big cars and behemoth homes were still viewed as universal desires, leading to ever-more-extravagant private lifestyles. Then, quite rapidly, these trends lost their aura of inevitability.

Americans began driving less and living closer together. The ideal of a ranch home with a two-car garage and a spacious lawn gave way to something more sociable and intimate. More and more people began settling in places with a strong sense of community, where daily amenities could be found within walking distance. Somehow, the public realm had been elevated over private luxury.

As a result, many cities and towns are virtually unrecognizable compared to their former selves. Houston, to name a widely-cited example, is now served by more track-miles of light rail than lane-miles of highway infrastructure. Once known for its reflective skyscrapers financed by fossil fuel profits, it is now most famous for Discovery Green--a public square in the heart of downtown--and the dozens of smaller public spaces that have cropped up throughout its neighborhoods.

Detroit has managed a similar turnaround despite the continuing decline of the automobile industry. Small-scale businesses there have flourished in a tide of re-investment flowing to areas around Campus Martius Park and the city's new network of bike and transit boulevards.

Neighborhoods where poverty and hopelessness prevailed at the outset of the century are now growing in population and economic output, without a significant rate of residential turnover. These changes are taking place from the inside out.

Small towns and rural areas have completely defied dire predictions at the turn of the century that they were destined for abandonment. Instead we find small growers, many of them recent immigrants, becoming more numerous every year, supported by the continuing boom of local farmers markets.

Even suburbs are being transformed with infill development and new transit systems. For the first time since the (Bill) Clinton Administration, Americans feel more optimistic about the prospects of their children's generation than they do about their own.

Many theories have been proposed seeking to explain how both global climate change and a crippling energy crisis were averted. The favorite among most commentators is to point out federal legislation such as the Healthy Places Act of 2013, or President Richardson's mandate to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by 50 percent in 25 years, which introduced new incentives that directed resources away from sprawl-making and towards Placemaking. But how then to explain the near-simultaneous change in direction that swept China, India, and mega-cities throughout Africa and South America?

Indeed, the conventional narrative of top-down action tells only part of the story. If you talk to the people who actually drafted the laws, they will tell you the credit belongs elsewhere. That, as important as their efforts have been, they were merely latching on to a social movement already in progress.

"My constituents were trying so hard to mold their communities into better places to live, I just wanted to make it easier for them," says Congresswoman Donna Jacobsen (D-Texas), who represents the state's 18th Congressional District in Houston. "They were heading in this direction whether we greased the wheels or not."

Those in the know cite the release of The Value of Place in 2011 as a watershed moment. This document, the result of years of painstaking research compiled by teams of planners, architects, economists, and sociologists, was widely influential in transforming how local and state governments planned new development and invested in public institutions.

The report summarized the effects of demonstration projects that took shape in five metropolitan areas simultaneously: New York, Dallas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Tallahassee, Florida, and Bend, Oregon. Multiple sites were selected in each, carefully chosen to provide a comprehensive baseline of data. The selected places ranged from centrally located downtown squares to small parks to commercial main streets, in neighborhoods that fully represented the nation's cultural and economic makeup. Each professional discipline brought their skills to bear at each place, working side-by-side with local stakeholders.

Factors including vehicle miles traveled, pedestrian activity, local economic growth, obesity rates, and depression rates were measured obsessively before, during, and after implementation. Because the demonstrations were conducted gradually, and involved no big names or outsized projects, they attracted relatively little attention in the press at the time. But the evidence that emerged--which showed strong correlations between public space improvements and the positive outcomes observed--left a strong impression in many minds.

"When that report came out, it really grabbed the attention of local governments," recalls Senator Joe Riley (D-South Carolina), the former longtime mayor of Charleston. Indeed, soon many municipal governments were completely transforming the internal operations of their agencies. The boundaries that had kept different professions operating in isolation from each other started to buckle and fall.

"I think we were aware that this project could have a profound impact on climate change, but that was never our primary goal," says Meg Walker, co-chair of Project for Public Spaces, one of the organizations that spearheaded the research. "We were asking how cities and towns could foster more social interaction, a greater sense of connectedness between people. Depression and isolation were epidemics in this country at the time, and we attributed a lot of that to the fact that people didn't have much choice but to live in physical environments that limited their options—what to do, how to get around. We knew if people could free themselves from that situation then a lot of the rest would follow."

The success of the first experiments attracted funders who were interested in replicating the results in other cities and other nations. "People saw that this work had very broad applications," says Manuela Garcia, a program officer at the Gates Foundation. "Government reform, public health policy, economic development, you name it."

She ticked off a list on her fingers: "Your street network, your public institutions, your retail businesses, your waterfront, your parks and greenways--none of these exist in a vacuum, and they all converge at physical places. So once you change the frame of reference and start thinking about interconnected places instead of separate systems, then you can start shaping cities in ways that very tangibly improve many different aspects of people's lives. And once you've shown people what that looks and feels like, they want more of it; they want to become part of the process."

The widespread appeal of this approach to building neighborhoods, towns, and cities is quickly apparent in maps of settlement patterns around the world. The unmistakable trend for the past five years has been the growth of population centers and the decline of spread out development. Not all of these new concentrations are mega-cities. In fact, most are small towns and suburbs that have shifted away from the old sprawling forms and towards something more city-like, where walking and transit are the preferred modes of transportation. You can credit new laws and regulations for bringing this change about, but the truth is it never would have happened if most people didn't want it to happen.

in flan we trust

It's an insult to your taste buds if you eat any other Mexican food in the Mahoning Valley instead of Casa Ramirez.

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Just one opinion, but from tasting their food, one can tell it is the only true authentic mexican restaurant in the region.

The restaurant is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, founded by Carlos y Celerina Ramirez.

Inside are two well-decorated rooms, one with an elegant mural inside:

The food again is great. And the waitresses are cute.

The first time I had a *real* tamales wrapped in a corn husk was here, as well as my first delectible chile relleno. Their mole sauce is just incredible.

I wish I had that stuff on tap at my house.

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I forgot to take pictures of my food until half way through, but here is some mole sauce on my half-eaten potato enchilada:

And as usual that night, I had the flan for dessert.

Now listen up people.

This is flan the way it should be made. There is only one other flan in my life I have tasted as good as this one, at it was in the city of Utuado in Puerto Rico.

The custard is set perfectly. The caramel sauce is sweet, but not overpowering.

And it costs $1.95.

again, $1.95.


If you are coming from downtown, Casa Ramirez is the first restaurant on the right, just a few streets after the Mahoning Avenue bridge (the Frank Sinkwich bridge) which passes over Mill Creek Park. They must do takeout, because one of the sportscasters from wytv picked up a dinner while I was finishing my flan.

Say hello to Coach Hartzell for me, brother.

According to their sign outside, they are open from 11am to 9pm Mondays thru Thursdays, 11am to 10pm on Fridays, 2pm to 10pm on Saturdays, and closed Sundays.

google map here.
Casa Ramirez
1578 Mahoning Avenue
Yo., O. 44509
phone: 330.792.9920

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This blog is the first in a series of entries about food and dining in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. It will concentrate on great tastes and eccentric places.

And henceforth, the new foodie companion site for Shout Youngstown will be

Youngstown Dining will be searchable, including indexed tags, sorted by location and type of cuisine.