CMH Gourmand

Culinary Discovery & Misadventures in the Ice Cream Capital of the World (Columbus)

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Archive for the ‘Road Trip’ Category

A Tale of Two Coney Island Joints in Mansfield (and a dialogue about Small Town Ohio)

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 20, 2015

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I was in Mansfield for business visiting Phoenix Brewing Company. I visited a brewery for work. Yes, that is pretty cool. I had only passed through Mansfield very briefly before. My inner nature is to explore any new place so I blocked out a little time to drive around downtown and get a feel for the place. About one minute into the journey I spied a sign for Famous Coney Island. Regular readers know that by the Code of Gourmand, I was obligated to stop – hungry or not. I did. I walked in 6 minutes before closing time (7 pm) to look around. The waitress (that would be the proper term here) asked me if I wanted to order. I said that I didn’t want to be a pain, so I would just look around. She said “sweety, go ahead and order it’s not problem at all.” There are not many places that would gladly welcome a customer that close to closing time. I also found out that the sign outside is somewhat new, the original sign was inside over the counter (from 1936) when coneys were 5 cents each (that is part of the reason they took the sign down).

Of course I ordered a coney. The coney dog is an institution in many towns, especially smaller towns and I always visit one when I can. There is culture to a Coney Island joint, the same as a diner. There are stools at a counter and a few booths. A simple menu and the banter of regulars served with the insights of the folks behind the counter that have been gained from decades slinging hot dogs or one liners at the same place. You can’t find that at many dining establishments. And those few places are disappearing every day.

The other thing I did was survey the menu for “the thing“. Just about every diner or Coney Island has an off beat dish that is unique to the place or a carry over from another time. A signature or iconic item that sets this place apart from any other place like it (and often there are a lot of place like it). Here the thing was pea salad. There was no description of what it was but I knew I was going to get it and probably enjoy it. The base of the salad was ice berg lettuce with a mayo based dressing, peas, shredded carrots, cheese, shredded cabbage and bacon bits. It tasted a bit like a seven layer salad. It was simple and it hit the spot. A comfort food classic.

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The place itself could have come from a Norman Rockwell painting. There was a small ice cream stall at the end. The walls were decorated with year books from the local high school, photographs from the old days, a soap box derby car, and the like. It was a decent meal. A respectable coney (no Oh Betty’s but what is) and a great pea salad. There are all types of culinary tourism. This type is where the food, while good, is secondary to the stories and the traditions. That is OK.

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I got back in my car, drove by a bakery that looked interesting, a place called the Squirrel Den (that sells candy and cards), an old school newspaper stand and a pizza place (Two Cousins) that claims to be the best in the world. All were closed. I would have liked to drop in to each. It took a minute to drive by those spots and that is when I saw something else on the other end of the square – Coney Island Inn. And oddly (it was after 7 pm) it was still open – until 8 pm, which in this case made it the Late Night Slice of Mansfield. I decided I needed another coney so I would know which was best.

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Coney Island Inn is a bit bigger, a lot less brighter and it has an in house Ohio Lottery sales counter. I grabbed a stool to survey the extensive menu – which may very well include every comfort food classic of the Midwest but I knew that I would only be having coney. I have standards, this was my second meal in 20 minutes. The dilemma I encountered was that they offer a regular coney and a King Coney (and foot long versions of each). It turns out the King Coney was a bigger, all beef hot dog and the coney was smaller and not all beef. I had to order both which I did with slaw and coney sauce. Then I asked the waitress if there was anything else I had to get and she suggested the rice pudding (with or without raisins and with or without whipped cream). The coneys were good (not Oh Betty’s good) and I would say better than what I had at Famous Coney Island (and less expensive). The rice pudding on the other hand was exceptional. I had good conversation with the other staff and the one other customer in the place (she sized me up pretty quick – “you’re not from around here are you, or you would know what to order”).

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I was glad I took a detour, I usually am.

So now for a short dialogue about small town Ohio. The impromptu adventure I had is something many people would avoid. Others would just write off these places or the places I could not get into as not worth their time because they figure the food is not up to their standard or because it is middle west bland. Sometimes the food might not be worth it, but again, each place has “the thing” and all have a good story or two that will connect you with the place. Both Coney Islands I visited have long histories in Mansfield and longer traditions.

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Actually Mansfield is not technically small town Ohio, but the town square sure feels like it so I’ll just use that as an excuse for my commentary.

Posted in Food For Thought, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Lake Hope Lodge – Not your typical dining hall

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 7, 2015

For no good reason, when I think about a dining in a state-owned park, cafeteria quality food comes to mind. While that may apply to many dining options with government oversight, such is not the case of the Lake Hope Lodge Restaurant. Lake Hope is a state park located about 20 miles from Athens. I have journeyed there at least once per year since the mid 1990’s and it very quickly became my go to state park (after a fair amount of vetting). While my tent camping days are probably over, my first cabin experience was at Lake Hope and now an “Iron Furnace” Cottage is as close as I get to roughing it. I can’t say we visited the lodge in the center for the park for anything other than picking up keys but I did visit shortly after it burned down around 2005 or 2006. The lodge was rebuilt in 2012 with a lot of attention to detail considered through the construction. The lodge is largely built out of locally sourced wood and stone. The design and decor reflect the history and heritage of the area – with photographs throughout the lodge showcasing the people, places and structures of the Lake Hope area from the 1800’s to the 1950’s. The restaurant in the lodge is privately owned and operated with a result that is both appetizing and appropriate to the current culture of the area.

The proprietor/chefs are Matt Rapposelli and Eric Lee, both highly training chefs with plenty of experience including gigs at Ohio University and operating Big Chimney Bakery among other ventures. The menu reflects the locally sourced focus that residents and visitors to the area prefer. The beef for the burgers comes from the Ohio State farm, chips in the nachos are sourced from local favorite Shagbark Seed and Mill, Raven’s Glen Wines add an Ohio option to the wine list and craft beers include Great Lakes and Elevator Brewing Companies. The meats are smoked on site and pizzas (evening only) come fresh out of the wood-ired oven. The menu is not extensive but is “right sized” to have just enough options with a selection of appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and desserts as well as a non insulting kids menu to provide a good choice for any picky diner.

On our visit we tried the nachos featureing a mountain of Shagbark chips, cheese, smoked pulled pork, lettuce and a more diced tomato de gallo than pico de gallo with a side of sour cream. The nachos were good but they would have benefited from more “goo” either more cheese, a side of BBQ sauce, or something to add some wetness to the dryness (not a bad dry) to the chips and pulled pork.

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I tried the Smoked Turkey, Bacon and Swiss sandwich with: smoked Ohio turkey topped with giant slices of cured bacon and Swiss cheese on freshly made bread. The smoked turkey was exceptional with great flavor and juiciness. The sandwich would have benefited from more and stronger Ohio Swiss cheese. The side of hand cut fries were very good.

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Mrs. Gourmand opted for the Warm Brisket and Bleu salad (opting to sub in cheddar due to her knocked up state) which included: slabs of slow-smoked, Ohio-raised brisket served warm on romaine lettuce with cheese, red onion, carrots and tomato. Mrs. Gourmand and I thought the brisket was very well crafted – tender and flavorful without being overly smoked. CMH Tobias also gave the scraps two paws up when he tried them later. The salad came with a fresh baked roll which could easily be converted to a sandwich bun for some of the brisket.

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For those with challenged digestive systems and eating preferences, the lodge does have a good veggie burger and gluten free pizza crust. For those that like BBQ you can buy all of the meats by the pound to enjoy at home or for a party (or to pretend you are “roughing it” at your cabin.

In addition to very good food, the lodge offers a great view of the lake as well as several good walking trails to allow you to burn off the calories after a meal. The lodge is obviously popular with visitors to the park whose nearest dining options are 15 miles away. But the lodge is liked by locals as well who drive the 40 mile round trip from Uptown Athens and beyond to dine. In fact, I ran into Kelly Sauber (Marietta Brewing, Fifth Element Spirits and West End Cider House Fame) who confirmed that Athens, Meigs and Vinton County residents are more than happy to head to the lodge for a meal.

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Drive time from Columbus is about 1 hour and forty minutes (or 1 hour 29 minutes in my old Subaru which handled SR 278 much better than my current cars). If you are staying overnight and want to explore the area in more culinary depth I can also strongly suggest and endorse the following in Athens: O’Betty’s Hot Dogs, Casa Nueva, Bagel Street Deli, Millers Chicken, Jackie O’s Brewpub, Avalanche Pizza, Purple Chopstix, The Athens Farmers Market and West End Cider House (and yes, I often visit almost all of those places in one day).

Lake Hope Lodge
27331 State Route 278
McArthur, OH 45651
740-596-0601

lakehopelodge.com/menunew

Winter Hours (end April 1st):
Monday & Tuesday: CLOSED
Wednesday & Thursday: 11am-8pm
Friday & Saturday: 11am-9pm
Sunday: Brunch Buffet 10am-2pm

For more about the history of the rebuilt lodge and the origins of the restaurant, click -> HERE.

Lake Hope Lodge on Urbanspoon

Posted in Athens, BBQ, Locally Sourced, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Roadtrip: Coccia House Ristorante & Pizzeria – Old School in Wooster

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 10, 2015

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As a citizen in good standing of the allied members of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, when Mary MacDonald asked me to moderate a panel on Effective Media Interaction, I said yes. When Mary was marketing director of the North Market and asked me to do anything, I said yes. That is a good habit to follow when Mary is involved. It has never steered me wrong. Now granted, Wooster in the winter might not be every person’s dream but in that it was the first Ohio Craft Brewers Convention paired with the first Ohio Hop Growers Convention how could I avoid standing in the middle of history?

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As is the per usual for me, when I am anywhere new and I have more than one hour for free time, I’m going to explore and see what the area has to offer and find an authentic spot to assimilate with the locals. While encamped at the local watering hole, the Great American Beer Festival awarding JAFB (which stands for Just Another Fucking Brewery – at least that is what I am told) Brewery I decided I had time to go on a food expedition, I had some initial research on where to get food but then I recalled I had an ace up the sleeve. I know Wooster’s Golden Girl, who now resides in Columbus ( she has a Ph.D and is a certified Policy Duder). I texted her to ask where to go and she replied Coccia House Pizza. This was promising because when I mentioned this to Cheryl Harrison, from Drink Up Columbus, who at that moment had allowed me to be part of her entourage, she too had been told Coccia House Pizza. Then, over the next 10 minutes, I saw several JAFB customers walk in with 2-4 boxes of Coccia House pizza. I then checked with the bartender and he too said……Coccia House Pizza. Finally, it was confirmed by one Angelo Signorino Jr. that in in 20 years of trips to Wooster his relatives had steered him to Coccia House many times. At this point, there was only one thing to do – call.

I called in an order for pick up (Coccia was only 1/2 mile away) and was given a one hour pick up time. I arrived 20 minutes early to observe this place in operation and following my standard checklist for likable small town Ohio haunts things looked promising before I even tasted a a slice of pie. Let us review the rankings on the S.C.L.S.T.O.H

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Restaurant located in an old house with multiple additions: Check

Parking lot full before 6 pm on a Thursday in poor weather conditions: Check

Pizza slingers instantly recognize me as a non local because I don’t know what to do when walking through the door: Check

Inside of house converted to restaurant is full of customers who every server knows by name while an endless string of pizza pick ups occur with each pizza slinger knowing each customer by both pizza preference and first name: Check

Photos of customer holding Coccia pizza boxes taken all over the world including places like Papua New Guinea: Check

Place is closed Tuesdays and open for carry out (Pizza, salads and Antipasta only) only on Sunday. Those non standard hours are the “You complete me” of small town haunts: Check.

Old menus and information about a place dating back to 1958 placed in the trophy case: Check

Three generations of ownership: Check

Ships pizzas around the world: Check

There appears to be at least one menu item that is not on the menu but known by all, pepperoni bread: Check

Noted on the menu: homemade bread and butter, anchovies (real) charcoal peppers: Check

Last and not least, with Wooster being just outside the Ohio Valley Pizza belt the place still abides by the rules of all Ohio pizza preferences: Topping on top of the cheese….or below, cheese charred, half-baked or unbaked: Check, Check and Checkmate!

At this point it did not matter what the pizza tasted like, this place was old school in all the right ways and I was glad I was putting money in their pockets to keep things going. During my 15 minutes waiting for my two large pepperoni pizzas I sat on a bench and watched these pizza slingers at work. They ranged from 16 to 22, working as an efficient team of four (one wearing sunglasses). The pizzas had big square slices of cheese on top. Pizzas were assembled in a frenetic yet focused manner. If pizza makers could rock stars these kids would have been the Rolling Stones.

Now on to the pizza. I quickly transported one pizza to JAFB while the other stayed in my car for delivery back to Mrs. Gourmand home in Columbus town. The first thing I noted was the weight of the pizza boxes. They were heavy from a high volume of cheese and a thicker than typical crust. I had one slice at the brewery and instructed the brewers to consume the rest (which is the only time I think they might listen to something I say). My initial response to my first bite, other than…TOOO HOTTT, was hmm. The topping to cheese ratio was proportionally pleasing. I thought the core crust was too crunchy. At this point it was time to head back to Columbus with the other pizza.

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Arriving home 90 minutes later. I found the pizza even more pleasing to my palate. The oil/grease had soaked into the crust making it more malleable for mastication. The rest of the pizza minus my assessment slice was placed on the refrigerator for the next day. The next morning, Mrs. Gourmand texted me to let me know she was very pleased with the sauces because it smelled and tasted like it had fresh tomatoes in it. Mrs. Gourmand is a bit of a hard ass when it comes to sauce so this boded well. I then spent the next two days assessing my pizza one slice at a time. I continued to find the cheese, the level of cheese char at the end of the crust ring, cheese ratios and pepperoni quality to be exceptional. Sometimes I liked the crust a lot and other times I just thought it was OK. The crust is about 3/4 inch thick. On the bottom these is a 3-4 mm thick browned crust and then from there to the top, the crust sometimes had a focacia quality and other times a dense, doughy toughness. The result, I like this pizza a lot but I have my feelings about the crust are still mixed. Not that I don’t like it but I don’t know how to feel about it. Doing some more research, I found the style in practice here is Abruzzi which is not too far from where Mrs. Gourmand’s old world people live, so that explained her satisfaction with the sauce. The only solution I can come to resolve my ambiguous feelings about the crust is to sample more. If you pass near Wooster, check this place out but be prepared for a long wait on the weekends. The wait is worth it and there is a lot to watch while you pass the time.

Coccia House Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in Ohio, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Leave a Comment »

Athens Adventures: Bagel Street Deli

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 2, 2014

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Mention three words to any Ohio University graduate from the last two decades and you will see their facial expression light up and a bit of drool slide out of their mouth. Those three words are Bagel Street Deli. Oddly, in ten years of intensive eating in Athens I’ve never dropped by. Mrs. Gourmand is a big fan so we opted to get a couple of sandwiches to go after our latest Athens Adventure.

Bagel Street Deli is not the typical college sandwich shop, but the place is not atypical to the Athens eating experience. The business focuses on using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible and collaborates with other businesses as well including sourcing bagels from Sammy’s and Blocks in Columbus and cookies from Fluff Bakery around the corner. Whether a carnivore or vegetarian there is plenty to fill the bellies of both here. They offer 20+ varieties of custom bagel sandwiches, over 10 different meat & tofu options, six specialty cream cheeses and forty different toppings choices. There are truly too many choices but it is often too crowded to stand and ponder what to order.

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The exterior is unassuming, the brick interior is filled with signs to guide you through the ordering process and maintain the cultural etiquette expectations of Bagel Street Deli. I was also intrigued by what appears to be an informal collection of mini tinfoil sculptures randomly placed and attached to the walls and others areas.

I enjoyed the experience (we arrived at an off-peak time and I have a veteran customer with me). The steamed bagel sandwich I consumed, was really good – plenty of ingredients piled on top of each other and flavorful cream cheese to hold it all together. I’d go again and have added it to my Athens to eat list. A bit of trivia to wrap up, Art Oestrike, the owner of Jackie O’s is also one of the original owners of Bagel Street Deli.

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Posted in Athens, Ohio, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

West End Cider House, Athens Ohio: This Cider House Rules!

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 30, 2014

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In other posts I’ve mentioned my approach to appreciating Athens which usually goes something like this: visit O’Betty’s, Casa Nueva, and Jackie O’s, then depending on time allowed repeat the previous and/or add in one or more of the following: Avalanche Pizza, Miller’s Chicken, Burrito Buggy, (new) Bagel Street Deli and then head home or repeat. I’ve added a new mandatory stop to the list, West End Cider House.

I’ve known Kelly Sauber for a couple of years. I met him in passing at Marietta Brewing Company many years ago and came to know him well when we started to put together the Athens Tour for Columbus Brew Adventures. Kelly is a whiz with all things brewed, fermented and distilled. He was a brewer for Marietta Brewing Company for about 15 years. He grew tired of the commute (about 1 hour) and decided to try his hand at distilling. Originally his distillery was known as Dancing Tree but there is another business with a slightly similar name so Kelly had to change the name to Fifth Element Spirits. Regardless of the name, Kelly crafts some divine distilled delights from vodka and whiskey to an extra tasty rum made with sorghum. I’ve never sampled anything I did not enjoy. Kelly is a wealth of knowledge so it is difficult not to spend at least several hours at his distillery (about 15 minutes southeast of Athens) when dropping in. Apparently Kelly found himself with a few hours of free time and was looking for another challenge so he partnered with his significant other to open West End Cider House in May 2014.

The West End Cider House is the sum of all of my obsessions: Athens + Craft Beverages + Block Pavers!

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I’ll just briefly mention the excellent integration of historic block pavers into the design and decor of the Cider House here and go into excessive detail on one of my other blogs -> Bricks of Ohio.

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Before we discuss the crafts of the business I’ll cover the details of the aesthetics of the building. The building itself dates back to 1880’s. It was once a confectionary or bar of some sort and it showcases some beautiful, original woodwork and cabinets from that era. The Athens area also serves as home to several great wood workers and they have had an opportunity to showcase their craft with some updates bar tops and other accoutrements. The block pavers I mentioned before are showcased on the back patio and the front of the building and include versions from about 20 or more Ohio brick / block making companies from the turn of the 20th Century. They not only look great but they highlight and preserve the history of the region. The space as a whole is just wonderful. It is easy to plant yourself at a seat at the bar and spend all day enjoying the space and what they have to serve.

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The cider is made in-house with the tanks featured in the middle of the space. Kelly typically has 4-5 of his (constantly rotating) ciders on tap with 3 to 4 guest ciders featured as well. The bar features cider samplers with detailed descriptions of each. The beverage choices also include a few craft beers (notably a selection of harder to find beers from Portsmouth Brewing Company) and plenty of local/ regional craft spirits, wines and locally inspired cocktails (like the Meigs i can). While there is no kitchen, there are several locally made bar snacks available and they often pair with local mobile vendors to have food near by. And, it is only a two-minute walk to Millers Chicken.

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So yes, this Cider House is the perfect Athens area hangout, you won’t have to steer around students cramming in cheap beer but you are still close enough to the other local hotspots that you can walk (if you need to) to pace out your evening (or day) while in town. Oh, the the bathrooms are cozy and pretty cool to boot (note the sign below).

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You can check out what is going on at the West End Cider House at their Facebook Page below
West End Cider House

Posted in Athens, bar, cocktails, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ohio Donut Trail: Jack Frost Donuts – Cleveland

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 27, 2014

After extensive south of 70 research of Ohio’s bountiful selection of donuteries I finally had an opportunity to start exploring what Northeast Ohio has to offer. What I describe for you next may sound like a fantasy – but it did indeed happen. On my way to the Ohio Craft Brewers conference in Ohio City I had a little downtime and decided to check Jack Frost off of my list. The place had come in as a reader suggestion and in several online searches. I’m glad I made time for donuts. Well let’s be honest, I’m almost always glad to make time for (good) donuts.

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The first thing that Jack Frost has going for it is how conveniently located it is to Ohio City (which is the best square mile of food and beer in Cleveland). Located on Pearl Road, it only took a few zigs and zags through neighborhood streets to get back on track on Pearl Road and more tasty treats after I left the parking lot. The next plus, was close proximity to a windmill. Yes, nothing panics me more when looking for a new place than not having some easy to find landmark as a reference point in case I decide to drop in on a whim in the future. A windmill is an easy thing to remember. The next thing that made me feel warm and fuzzy before I pulled in to the parking lot was the exterior. A bit beat up, weathered and industrial, this was no foo-foo donut shop, Jack Frost was clearly an old school neighborhood hangout. Confidence was high for scoring a classic donut before I walked through the door.

I was worried as well. It was past 3:30 pm on a Tuesday and I was concerned that the cupboard might be close to bare (they frequently sell out). Fortunately, the shelves were packed with too many choices (Jack Frost was conveniently open to 8 pm) and ready to fill boxes for people heading to 2nd shift jobs or heading home. In fact, there were so many choices I was overwhelmed.

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Also adding to the pressure, this was my first trip into Northeast Ohio Donut research and I had just found out the place was voted best of Northeast Ohio (competing against more than a baker’s dozen other donuteries) the desire to get one of each was squelched by the fact that they had 35 – 40 different varieties ready to serve and I still had three breweries, Mitchell’s Ice Cream and a Mansfield Pizza place to visit (as well as some possible random stops) before I was call the day done. So I opted for eight different donuts to try. This was quite a Sophie’s choice – trying to decide on which donuts would go home with me, knowing it may be months or years before I would be back. I opted to go with: Salty Carmel, Maple Bacon, German Chocolate, Blueberry, glazed, Raspberry, Maple with peanuts and Peanut Butter cream. Oh, My, Goodness they were good. The kind store clerk also threw in a couple of complimentary donut holes as well, she mentioned they were a fan favorite and based on my (many, many) questions, she figured I might appreciate them.

The first thing I noted about the donuts is that they are just a bit smaller than the typical donut. However based how the massive amount of toppings and extras piled on to each, I felt no reduction of value, if anything the smaller donut may be a public service, in theory, less bulk could mean more consumption. Their cake donuts (my preferred style) were light and fluffy but sturdy enough to bear the weight of the toppings.

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I picked up two blueberry donuts for Mrs. Gourmand since it is her favorite donut variety and her litmus test for donut quality. She liked the blueberry flavor in them but still gives DK Diner the nod for best in (Blueberry) show.

The absolute best of what I sampled was the German Chocolate donut. It was full of rich flavors in both the donut, the German Chocolate base and the regular chocolate intermixed in the frosting. This was exceptional. A close second was a tie between the peanut butter donut and the salty caramel. Jack Frost has been in the business since 1937. I do not think the business has had the same family of owners for the entire history but whatever has been handed down during the decades is impressive. The base donuts are old school good – simple and true to style. The flavor combinations are much more modern, riffing off of what gourmet cupcake places wanted to be but typically did not deliver on during the cupcake crave bubble of the early 21st century. If cupcake places had the flavors of Jack Frost with the prices to match – they would be as ubiquitous as Starbucks. If you are heading to Cleveland or nearby, this place is well worth a small detour. Note: By report their Paczki are legendary resulting in the need for a tent and pre ordering during Easter time.

Posted in bakery, CLEGourmand, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Donut Trail: Holtman’s Donuts, Over the Rhine, Cincinnati

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 24, 2014

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I made an accidental discovery on the donut trail. And those are often the best scenarios for finding good donuts. I was in Cincinnati to explore four breweries: Rhinegeist, MadTree, Listermann’s and 50 West. I had an elaborate plan of visiting the new Jungle Jim’s, Aglamesis Brothers Ice Cream and the Senate before meeting my contact in Cincinnati for brewery exploration. However, there was a snag in the plan. I was driving to Cincinnati, on a Friday, in the rain. That was a recipe for inefficiency. I had forgotten what a shitstorm the freeways of Cincinnati are. En route I-71 was stalled due to a semi accident and then the rain started and then Mrs. Gourmand and I hit the 275 belt right at rush hour. As the duder would say, “Suck It.” It became clear that the plan was not going to work and I might be lucky to make it just in time to start the brewery tour.

While looking for a parking garage in The Over The Rhine I spied what looked like a promising donut shop but donutery research was not on the plan…or the timeline. As luck would have it, we got to the Senate minutes before it opened, so we had just enough time to head back in the opposite direction to Holtman’s Donuts. I’m glad we made that detour.

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Looking at the outside of Holtman’s, I had a good feeling that they would deliver. It was a simple storefront with the hours posted in the door. Holtman’s is open seven days per week which is always a good sign. Another good indicator was that they are open to 9 pm Tuesday to Saturday…so they recognize that people NEED donuts past noon. Another good sign was the donut with a bite taken out of it logo as the iconic image over the threshold. I was excited the moment my hand touched the door.

Just to the left of the entrance you can see the enclosed bakery area. Most donut shops block the line of sight from the counter to the production area. Letting customers see what happens in the art of donut making is a sign of pride in their craft. So at this point, not even 4 steps past the door, my donutry confidence rating scale (D.C.R.S) was registering off of the charts. Then I saw the two super comfy chairs for extended donut eating and the wooden communal table. The table has four stools attached to it with old hardware that allows the seats to swing out in many directions. Cool, retro, comfortable and practical…yep, I was simpatico with this place and I had not even made eye contact with the donuts themselves.

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So now, over 400 words in to this story…on to the donuts. There was not an overwhelming selection available which is my mind is a good thing. At places like Bill’s and Donut World I have sometimes been perplexed by having too many choices. Also since it was late in the day, a good amount of the inventory had been decimated by roaming herds of Over the Rhine hipsters. I spent a long time staring at the donuts trying to make the best selections. Exhibiting more contemplation than would be considered normal or socially acceptable I finally decided on the following: Blueberry (cake) glazed, Blueberry Cream Cheese, Cherry Fritter and Maple Bacon Blueberry Cake.

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Hot Dog (read this with the tone and inflection of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life)! Using Mrs. Gourmand as an assistant sampler, we evaluated and deconstructed each donut in great detail. We found the best elements of all of the donuts were the glazes and icing. The Cream Cheese icing was the best I’ve encountered in my adventures in donut hunting. The regular glaze featured on the other donuts we sampled was equally impressive. The standout was the fritter. And while I only tried one, I can say with some degree of confidence, that Holtman’s has the best fritters in Ohio. They make what I call the Goldilocks Fritter which balances all of the critical elements a fritter needs to knock it out of the park. The fritter is neither too thick or too thin. It is crunchy on the outside yet incredibly soft, moist and fluffy in the inside. Each bite was a taste of perfection with the proper balance of everything an old school fritter should constitute. That alone, warrants a trip to Holtman’s. Welcome to The Ohio Donut Trail Holtman’s, I look forward to another visit.

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Holtman's Donut Shop on Urbanspoon

Posted in bakery, donuts, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Whoa: Moe’s Original Bar B Que exceeds expectations

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2014

It has been a long time since I felt I had a new discovery or that I had beaten to the scene the other online and offline choices you have for your culinary voyeurism. After a long dry spell, I have a scoop. The thrill of the chase is the ultimate reason why most food writers blog. That moment of discovery when you walk through the door and find that you have found something worth writing about and that you get to be that person that opens a door to a new adventure for someone else. So here we go with Moe’s.

Moe’s had a few things going against it. It is a BBQ joint. So many in central Ohio have tried but so few have succeeded at doing BBQ well. And by doing it well, I mean doing it right. BBQ joints frequently excite me at the beginning then quickly disappoint me at the end. The next challenge is the space. Moe’s is in a spot in downtown Granville has witnessed several concepts come and go. The one successful concept in the spot occupied by Moe’s was long ago a place called Brew’s Cafe. You may have heard of that place – everyone loves it and fills the place day after day after it moved down the street.

Business took me to Granville and one of the bonus’ of owning your own business is being able to pick where you meet and who you dine with. The original plan was to meet at Brew’s but while checking the hours of operation I found that a new BBQ place had just opened down the street. This changed the plan.

I hoped for the best but prepared my palette for the mediocre. It is not fair to visit a restaurant open less than 2 weeks and rate what they can or can’t do, but I was ready to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m happy to report this rookie delivers.

The first sign of potential was the sign at the front door – see below.

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That’s right a Thanksgiving sandwich! Take the best food day of the year and compact it into a sandwich by using a simple bun as a base then adding smoked turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce and a drizzle of white BBQ sauce. I had to get this….but I was conflicted. I mean I can’t properly judge a BBQ place by a smoked Turkey Sandwich so I decided to go in-depth into the menu. Fortunately, Moe’s menu is set up to make grazing easy. So here is what else I ordered in half pint servings: baked beans, mac’n cheese, marinated cole slaw, potato salad, banana pudding, collard greens, skillet corn (relish) , Mississippi Mud Pie (Pudding), squash casserole, corn bread…..and a side of ribs.

Take a look at my spread below:

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Before I go into detail on the above let me share with you why some people consider me the devil. My lunch companion is working with a personal trainer and by ordering the same sandwich as I did – he had already broken all of the rules he with given for the day for calorie consumption. Then I had him help me try the sides. (Then later in the day I took him to wineries and a Moonshine Distillery). Maybe I am the devil, all I know is the devil in the details and Moe’s does the details right. I did offer to write a note to his trainer explaining that his client had no chance by hanging out with me.

The place looks and feels like a BBQ joint (or kind of like a BBQ themed Chipotle restaurant). There are rolls of paper towels on each table – all real BBQ places add that touch. The aesthetics are all rural, industrial and music themed. The furniture is sufficiently wooden, etc. Moe’s could be in North Carolina, Texas or ……Alabama. That’s right greenhorns, Alabama. There is an Alabama style of BBQ which I was schooled in several years ago by the Coop Dawg and O’Pa (might sound like a sitcom but they are real people). Moe’s does “Bama BBQ” as intended. Want a sandwich “Bama style”? Here is how you do it add: BBQ Sauce, White Sauce, slaw and pickles. White sauce uses Mayonnaise as the base instead or tomatoes and/or vinegar.

The owners go by the name Gallagher and they have bounced around BBQ country a bit but they missed Central Ohio and wanted to come home. The way for them to return was through owning and opening a BBQ restaurant. So taking stock of their different backgrounds the menu reflects their history by mixing several styles. The main dish BBQ entrees are Alabama style. The side dishes are inspired by the kitchens of North Carolina and the ribs are strictly St. Louis style. Regardless of what style you subscribe to the whole of the menu is greater than the sub of the parts, or the sides.

So back to the food. The Thanksgiving sandwich was exceptional. The turkey was perfectly smoked – just enough smoke in the meat to add flavor but not enough to dry out the turkey. As for the sides each one reflected the style one would expect at a picnic in North Carolina. My favorites were the Mac ‘n Cheese and the corn relish. Both were properly seasoned and flavored and if going up against other of their ilk they would have come in best of show. The mac in particular, had just enough sear and crunch caressing the cheese to make it just right for me.

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The slaw was a mix of long shards of cabbage and a sweet yet sour dressing. The banana pudding featured an out of the box vanilla wafer on top in a manner I would describe as old school. The St. Louis style ribs were true to the style, expertly rubbed and with meat that was tender and easy to pull from the bone. The cornbread had a corn muffin quality (which is how I prefer it) and paired perfectly with all of the sides and all of the sauces.

And about the sauces – there are several styles and levels of heat and all are made in-house. Also in the house – a great bar on the second floor and plenty of local beer including Buck’s from Newark and Homestead from Heath. There as a lot to like about this new kid on the main block of Granville and I look forward to the Gallagher’s growing their business and refining the menu to meet the meat needs of the community. I think this place is going to be a hit. And I was so glad to find a Bar B Que joint that did not disappoint.

Moe's Original Bar B Que on Urbanspoon

Posted in BBQ, Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Zen State – Brunch: Purple Chopstix; Athens, Ohio

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2014

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Over the last few years, I may have gotten a bit cocky about my knowledge about eating in Athens – my North American Home away from Home. In fact, as you will read in a later post, I developed a very happy rut of a cycle of places that I visit over and over again. Until one day when Dr. Balbo, Medicine Woman mentioned “why didn’t you go to Purple Chopstix?” “Purple what the who?” Apparently it is the Bees Knees of downscale hippy dining in the locavore mecca of Athens. Not only had I never eaten there, I had never heard of it. On my recent Bachelor Sabbatical to Athens, I was determined to try out the place. Unfortunately, I started my journey of discovery in a non Zen like state. Purple Chopstix Sunday hours on their website indicated that were open to 1 p.m. and I was running late in picking up my companion for the trip, the vice president of marketing and creative endeavours for Ohio Pop. In theory, we did not have time to make it before closing, but I was focused on meeting my need to dine at this place. Thank goodness for the Nelsonville Bypass, light traffic and good weather because we made it a few minutes before 1 pm. I was happy to see that the proprietors had hand written on to the hours sign closed….1:30 pm which allowed me to not feel like a complete douchbag for coming just before the door shut.

Upon arrival, my companion was a bit skeptical about my choice of dining establishment for first lunch. He was very hungry to the point of pre-crankiness and by nature he is very focused on the appearances of things and design. The exterior of the place would best be described as unassuming. While I am a variant of hippy my companion is anything but and I think he experienced minor discomfort when we saw the sign below.

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So of course I banged the gong. We waited quite some times and the gong was not responded to so I barged into the room and asked the most hippy looking person if it was OK to seat ourselves. It turned out that person was a customer but a very pleasant young lady then took care of us and gave us her favorite table for two. You can see the table below, the booth we sat in reminded us of an old train car dining station. I am happy to report I could fit in. Looking out the window I saw a peaceful, babbling brook, many trees, some interpretive art and an odd assortment of eclectic items decorating the landscape including numerous block pavers (expect a post about that in Bricks of Ohio Blog soon). I knew the second I sat down I had found my new spot.

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However, Purple Chopstix only offers a buffet on Sundays and we were arriving at the end of service. Some of the dishes were already wiped out and the rest looked unassuming at best. I was concerned that my dining companion would be displeased but to the contrary after we loaded up on our first plate he was completely in a blissful state I rarely see him in unless we are both intoxicated. The first item he sampled was a mini crepe which was exquisitely well executed. My first bite was a curry dish with vegetables and tofu. We quickly devoured our first round of breakfast items, salads and biscuits and returned for more. While my dining companion enjoyed coffee, I went out the patio area to explore and check out the landscape. I was pleased to see there were a few patio tables for use in better weather. I was pleased indeed.

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I’d write more about the food but our friendly server shared that the buffet is different every week. We stared at the regular menu long and hard then made a verbal pact to come back in the future for three days in a row so we could explore the dinner menu in the depth it deserved. My colleague Jared from Nothing Better to Do, wrote a fine post on this spot a few years ago which I will share -> HERE. The next day we ran into our server again at Farmacy, where she also works and she once again served us well by helping us find the best place in town to restock our supply of spirits for the rest of my sabbatical. I look forward to writing about Purple Chopstix in-depth later this year. In the meantime – please share your experiences here and let me know what to order on day one.

Purple Chopstix on Urbanspoon

Posted in Athens, Locally Sourced, Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Back on the Donut Trail: McHappy’s, Athens Ohio

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 2, 2014

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While this is bad news for the Dining Duder, the donut trail is back. And this was as unexpected for me as you. I was minding my own business with no intention of consuming a donut when I noticed that McHappy’s offered donuts. I was visiting a new Athens favorite, Purple Chopstix (suggested by Dr. Balbo, Medicine Woman) when I noticed that McHappy’s was open via a sign advertising donuts. While I have driven this stretch of Richland Ave. many times, I never noticed McHappy’s nor did I have an inclination to look – I was always on my way to somewhere else. I’m glad I dropped in.

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Dropping in was a pure whim. In fact my passenger tried to dissuade me from doing so because we had just filled up on a buffet. The place does not look like much from the outside and we had a challenge finding the door since is largely a drive through business. However, I was focused on finding out what this bakery was all about and I needed to stockpile provisions for our next several days at Lake Hope State Park. The moment I waked through the door, I was glad I did so. The first doughnut my eye spied was an Ohio classic – maple glazed cake donut. It was at this point I decided a full dozen was in order. In addition to two maples, I added several other varieties including a new one for me – Applesauce. I also picked up a cinnamon roll, a apple fritter and a peanut butter egg. This mass of sugar was a good value. If you are even more value oriented, McHappy’s sells bags of day old doughnuts for $1.99.

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To cut to the chase, in comparison of all of the other Ohio Donut Trail entries, McHappy’s rates a solid B. None of the regular donuts stood out or where craveable. I expected a lot, perhaps too much from the Applesauce donut since that style was new to me. It was good but what I think I liked the most was it’s star like shape. The winner of everything we tried was the apple fritter. It may place in the top five in the fritter category to date. I should note a few disclaimers about McHappy’s. We purchased the donuts around 1 pm and we did not try any until about 5 pm so they were not at their peak freshness. McHappy’s is a five location chain operating in Athens, Belpre, Marietta and Parkersburg. And for some reason, which no longer makes sense we nicknamed the lady that served us Biscuits McGillacutty.

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McHappy's Donuts and Bake Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Posted in desserts, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | 2 Comments »

 
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