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The Taste Food Tour :: Little Lakewood Pasta Company

Peas and carrots. Peanut butter and jelly. Pasta and meatballs. Some things just go together.

So, when Chef Megan Manning decided to launch a cooking competition at her business, the Little Lakewood Pasta Company, she didn’t have to think much further than that third pairing. She knew it would bring home cooks out of their own kitchens and share their prized creations in hers.

“Meatballs are a good fit with pasta,” she said. And, with that thought, the first Lakewood Community Meatball Competition was born.

In late February, 10 home chefs faced off in a battle to determine who made the city’s best meatball, surrounded by, what else? Dozens of bags of Manning’s own, small-batch pasta she mixes up and sells in her shop at 15613 Detroit Ave.

The event combined two of Manning’s loves, pasta notwithstanding — cooking and civic involvement.

“Cooks always enjoy a little friendly competition,” Manning said, as she prepped contest entries for public sampling in the shop’s kitchen area. “I’m also big on being involved in my community and bringing people together.”

Competitors — who had to live in Lakewood — paid a $15 entry fee and brought their cooked meatballs with them to the shop for judging. Bystanders — myself included — paid $5 to sample the entries for the “People’s Choice” award. (I’ll admit I had a tough time making my selection of the 10 entries.) Manning donated all of these participation fees to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank (GCFB). The event raised $200.

An official panel of four judges from Startup Lakewood, the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce, and from Taste of Lakewood participating restaurants Buckeye Beer Engine and Jammy Buggars, awarded prizes to the top three meatball chefs. Winners took home a mix of Lakewood-focused prize packs, one of which included two VIP tickets to the Taste of Lakewood set for June 5 at Madison Park.

Neighboring restaurant Jammy Buggars then turned the winning meatball entry into a hoagie, offering it as its March special. The sandwich featured baked Italian meatballs drenched in tomato-basil marinara, served on a fresh, baked hoagie roll and topped with fresh mozzarella and a fresh pesto drizzle. Jammy Buggars also donated $1 from each hoagie sold to GCFB.

More importantly, the competition also introduced these avid Lakewood cooks – and the community – to Manning’s newest endeavor, the Lakewood Community Kitchen. Manning and her husband, John, installed a double convection oven, double-door commercial refrigerator, several mixers, a three-part sink and a warming oven at the back of the shop to create a fully licensed commercial kitchen. Not only does the space serve as her pasta workspace, but community cooks and entrepreneurs also can rent it on an “as-needed-basis.”  Manning also is willing to assist her tenants with marketing their food products.

Fostering this incubator concept allows Manning to give back to the community that has embraced her as an entrepreneur. She understands the process. As recently as three years ago, she made her pasta at home and sold it only at farmers markets. Manning has said the commercial kitchen in her shop allowed her to expand her offerings to include such things as egg noodles and ravioli that she couldn’t make and sell from home. She rotates out the pasta varieties and flavors on a regular basis.

Now, one year into running her own bricks-and-mortar store, she still sells at farmers markets but has expanded her reach. You’ll now find Little Lakewood Pasta at The Grocery OHC, Nature’s Bin, Rego’s in Rocky River and Whole Foods, not to mention her own storefront, if you want to give her pasta try.

Manning said she hopes to hold more cooking competitions to keep engaging with the community around her and build awareness in Lakewood’s cool food scene.

“This is just the start,” she said, as she dished up meatball samples to hungry guests and talked about her ideas. “What about a chicken paprikash-off?”

I say, I’ll come and sample!

In GOOD FOOD and community,

Robin

The Little Lakewood Pasta Company will be at the Taste of Lakewood on June 11th in the “Good Stuff” Merchant Market. Lakewood Little Pasta Co. is open Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The shop can be reached by phone at 216.889.7966 or by visiting littlelakewoodpasta.com.