I'm a design junkie, which is to say that I can get as excited about a paper clip as I can about a skyscraper. That is why I was charmed and intrigued by the new show at the Toledo Museum of Art titled "The Alliance of Art and Industry: Toledo Designs for a Modern America" (March 24 to June 16). The exhibit is certainly a booster for the small Ohio city: It demonstrates the high quality of the industrial design commissioned by enlightened Midwestern companies a few generations back, forcing those of us who think that good design can only be born on one of the coasts to think again. Some of the mid-century's most outstanding talents--Norman Bel Geddes, Walter Dorwin Teague, Harold Van Doren--turned out remarkable work for Midwestern institutions like Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass and (yes) the Toledo Museum of Art.
Like all modern design from that era, the Toledo style is clean, streamlined, without adornment. That's obvious from looking at the glasses Libbey commissioned in the '30s from Donald Deskey (of Radio City Music Hall fame) to spur sales during the Depression. The one called 370 pattern (1936), with a band cinching the waist, is as magnificent now as it was in 1941, when it was sold at Walgreens, two for five cents! The show also has a few moments of recognition, when you notice something you've seen all your life but never really thought much about. The shapely drinking glass always associated with Coca-Cola? That's the Safe Edge Bell Fountain pattern (1928), also commissioned by Libbey Glass.
Of course, many other designs came out of Toledo: Maytag washing machines, graphic packaging for Champion sparkplugs, the Skippy-Racer scooter. One of my favorites is a vision for a futuristic kitchen that looks remarkably familiar. In 1942, H. Creston Doner devised the Kitchen of Tomorrow for National Geographic: a joined kitchen and dining room with a glass-fronted refrigerator (like a Traulsen), glass-fronted cabinets (think IKEA) and a storage wagon for plates that could be wheeled to the table. Today many of these designs seem utterly contemporary, even forward-thinking. As a design geek, it makes me wonder: When will we envision something for tomorrow that doesn't look like yesterday? (Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St.; 419-255-8000.)
To research the new book Kaffeehaus, Rick Rodgers spent two and a half years exploring the coffeehouses of Vienna, Budapest and Prague. When he emerged, it was with some badly needed alternatives to the repetitious offerings of American comfort food. Some of the recipes in his book that I loved the most are humble, such as the zucchini bread, elevated by a thin apricot glaze and a shiny layer of bittersweet chocolate. But Rodgers has written his instructions so carefully that I was also able to pull off fancy cakes like the Dobos Torte (all five layers) and even make Kipferln, the Viennese crescent rolls known in the U.S. simply as Danish. I only wish I could give all the pastry chefs in America a copy of Kaffeehaus just to see what they would do with the Austro-Hungarian-Czech flavor palette. Would warm poppy seed madeleines and sour-cherry sorbets start appearing on menus?
Dunmore Beach Club on Harbour Island in the Bahamas has aspirations to become a culinary destination, a grand ambition for an intimate, 14-cottage, pink-sand hideaway set on an island so small it takes longer to eat lunch there than to stroll across it. But owner Tony Shogren won't be deterred: He recently brought in winemaker Luc Morlet of Peter Michael Winery to show off his wares, and he's making plans to showcase celebrated American winemakers and chefs during other weekend events. There's already a reason for food lovers to come to Dunmore: Richard Hamilton, 34, the resort's chef and general manager. Hamilton's repertoire runs from enhanced French standards (leek, potato and truffle soup) to island-fusion creations (grilled-papaya-marinated-duck hash) to down-home classics (lemon meringue pie). Shogren is determined to make his flower-bedecked retreat better than ever while keeping it as secluded as ever, so he should hope word of all that good cooking doesn't draw flotillas to the Harbour Island docks (from $445 per night; 242-333-2200).
Maury Rubin, the pastry genius at cult-favorite City Bakery in New York City, owes a debt to the Easy Bake oven, which must have inspired his new Bake-Your-Own line. Individual-size paperboard containers hold frozen batter for spice cake, corn bread and brownies; simply heat each for 10 to 15 minutes and eat straight from the box. Rubin prefers to slightly undercook the brownies so they come out of the oven with hot molten centers, for a snack that's as easy to like as it is to bake ($2.50 each; 212-366-1414 or www.maurybakes.com).
--Monica F. Forrestall
The recession can't be entirely bad; what else could explain the spate of new hot-dog shops? These, however, have a lot more style (and attitude) than your average Nathan's Famous ever could. Dawgs on Park in New York City's East Village serves turkey, tofu and Hebrew National all-beef dogs, deep-fried until they're crinkled and crispy, and dressed with a corn salsa or other unusual condiment (178 E. 7th St.; 212-598-0667). At Hot Doug's in Chicago, classic wieners are listed alongside specials like venison sausage and chorizo with chiles and garlic (2314 W. Roscoe St.; 773-348-0326). And Rosamunde Sausage Grill in San Francisco offers varieties made with smoked lamb, pork and beef, topped with a choice of beef chili, fresh and grilled onions and an assortment of imported and domestic mustards (545 Haight St.; 415-437-6851).
The Washington, D.C., design revolution began at Apartment Zero on 7th Street, with its funky "Let's pretend this is a home" style that almost shouts "Get your Alvar Aalto vases here!" That movement is bound to succeed now that women like Jenny Pedersen and Deborah Kalkstein have joined the good fight. Vega, Pedersen's curvaceous, off-white, feng-shui-ed showroom, continues the brightening of 7th Street, with tableware and furniture in natural materials (sisal, cashmere, resin, concrete) and graphic shapes: orange and navy woven felt table mats from Hey Sign in Germany; a blown glass and wood table from Ochre in London. "Texture is the new color," Pedersen declares. Meanwhile, Peruvian native Kalkstein has taken on the conservative environs of Bethesda, Maryland. At her loftlike Contemporaria, blond-wood tables from Riva 1920 and Former are among the Italian exclusives; then there's sculptural steel flatware by Mono from Germany and Canadian Martha Sturdy's supercool cast resin and brass dining accessories. Aesthetically speaking, Williamsburg, Virginia, can look forward to becoming as hip (maybe) as Williamsburg, Brooklyn (Apartment Zero, 406 7th St. NW, 202-628-4067; Vega, 819 7th St., 202-589-0140; Contemporaria, 4926 Del Ray Ave., 301-913- 9602).
Chef Wolfgang Puck has made frozen pizza respectable to nonteenagers, but his pies aren't the only decent ones you can buy at the supermarket. We did a blind taste test of 24 different brands, both the designer kinds and the ordinary versions; these four came out on top.
St. Patrick's Day has never been a sedate holiday, and Bunratty Winery's Potcheen--Gaelic moonshine--promises to make it more raucous than ever. Potcheen went underground in Ireland hundreds of years ago after it became heavily taxed by the British, who (frustrated by their inability to collect revenue) finally banned it in 1661. The spirit still can't be sold in Ireland but can now be produced legally for export from the County Clare town of Bunratty. Potcheen, which dates back to medieval times, was developed by Irish farmers who concocted it using a mixture of malt, barley, yeast, water and sugar, refining the recipe over centuries. Our editors, who graciously volunteered to taste this 90-proof spirit, found it smooth, light and surprisingly fruity. Sip it neat or in coffee on St. Patrick's Day and throughout the last raw days of winter ($24; 800-638-7720).