CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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Bono Pizza (or Jake 2.0)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 8, 2017

Bono Pizza

Bono Pizza has a long, storied history of being found in the most unlikely of places. At the current (Jake 2.0) location, the tradition of improbable places continues. Today’s Bono is hidden in an apartment complex right next to another pizza place (Cowtown Pizza) and a bar. To better understand why this is not unusual new readers will need to go way back in time.

In 2008, I outlined some of the history of Bono and it’s first owner / visionary, Bill Yerkes. Bill is known for many things – some of which I should not put into print but it is indisputable that he is a pizza Picasso. He spent many years in Italy and used that time to perfect the art and craft of making pizza. After a return to central Ohio, he eventually set up near Delaware and developed a strong following. Then he made his way to the Short North where a cult-like following boosted Bono to new heights. After a long hiatus including a creative approach to crowdfunding called Bono Bucks, Bono 3.0 started in part of a convenience store in the Grandview / 5XNW area. This is where current owner Jake Wilch came on board as an apprentice of sorts. Towards the end of the lifespan of Bono 3.0 Jake was the full time owner and Bill faded into the sunset so to say. Mirroring his mentor, there was a bit of a hiatus between Bono 3.0 and 4.0. When the current location launched there were some fears it would sink, but Jake persevered and pizzaed on. Thank goodness.

It is hard to describe the Bono experience to non visitors. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. Bohemian does not fully reflect the spirit of the place but a new term I thought of comes close: Bono-hemian: “having informal and unconventional social habits” but formal training and intense passion in the art of pizza production.

Bono location

Bono features several tables, a giant Pac-man / Galaga combo sit down video game, quick access to the bar next door and other amenities like comic books to keep one occupied. The wood fired pizza oven is located near the rear door out of sight of customers. Jake did not miss a step at Bono (4.0). The pizzas and salads are as good as I remember them from Bonos past and as close to pizzas that I consumed in Naples and other parts of Italy (side note: Naples is a pit) in the past with a few upgrades. The focus on a quality dough and (pizza) peeling a nice bit of char in the bottom crust at Bono is great however the real game changer is Jake does not skimp on the quality of ingredients. Each item showcases the finest quality meats, cheeses and vegetables Jake can source. There are few meals where I savor every morsel of every bite as much as I do at Bono.

Here are a few examples to whet your appetite.

I never met a salad I did not want a second serving of at Bono. Ingredients are always fresh and complement each other. There are never too many items or too few flavors mixed together, they are always the right combination or everything

At one time or another I have sampled every Bono concoction. I’m fairly certain that one evening at the Short North location, I consumed one of every pizza on the menu with the dedicated help of the namesake of the San Rolando Bono pizza. I will take a moment to list out the toppings of a few of my favorites. The previously mentioned San Rolando is one of the simplest of pizzas at Bono: fresh tomato sauce, pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. The Greek Boy features tomato sauce, mozzarella, feta, kalamata olives, spinach and a bit of oregano. Those are just two of the twenty combinations on the menu. Like the secret menu at Chipotle, insiders have special combinations of different pizza types (two or three of the styles fused together in both ingredients and name) that Jake will honor…if you get the “secret” name right.

For the full Bono experience, one must dine in. First, you need a rest after making all of the effort to find the place. Second, you need to soak in the ambiance to fully comprehend what I mean by Bono-hemian, Finally, Bono is often ordered to go, but I find it is never quite as satisfying when it has a chance to cool and an opportunity for some of the smoke and char from the oven to dissipate during the trip by car from Bono to back to your point of origin.

Bono Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Creole Kitchen 2.0 (Dine in Seating)

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 3, 2017

It was a long time coming and a long time in getting around to writing about it, but something big happened in late 2016. Creole Kitchen expanded to offer dine in seating. That might not seem like a big deal but if you read my original post from 2013 you might be inclined to agree with me. If you need a bit of icing on that cake of convincing, then try a serving of -> this.

We don’t have many creole options in Columbus. My first introduction was Harold’s Cajun Glory Cafe in the 1990’s which closed many years ago. After several years of Cajun purgatory I stumbled upon Creole Kitchen. As a largely carry-out operation in a lightly traveled part of the central city, Creole Kitchen stayed off most culinary radars. That was OK in my blog/book, I was happy to keep it to myself and minimize my wait time in line. When I spied the sign in 2013 indicating a dining room would be opening soon, I knew it would be a game changer for Chef Butcher and his kitchen. But 2014 and 2015 came and went. At the beginning of 2016, I was still cautiously optimistic. Towards the end of the year, the good news came to me the space was finally open. Nearly one year later, I was able to finally have the full Creole Kitchen experience. And just to be safe, I made sure to try it out twice before writing about the experience.

The food remains the same. The advantage of the new space is seating. This means more chairs, but more importantly, the right type access for those that would not seek out food in a styrofoam container. The carry out side of the business remains business as usual, the space is unchanged. A year later, at least for the lunch crowd, I think the community us still getting accustomed to an eat in option. The space is simple, nice but not fancy. The dining room is open with tables spread out instead of crammed in to maximize profit. There is a relaxed atmosphere throughout that is mirrored by staff. There are no “faux” creole, Cajun, etc., knick knacks mounted on the wall. In lieu of something not connected to the heritage of the place there is artwork reflecting the community and the musical history of the neighborhood.

One change in service with the restaurant, when asked about the level of heat for each dish the scale is presented as 1 to 5. Five is hot, but at Creole Kitchen heat is about flavor not how many taste buds can be burned out from heat.

The is only one significant difference between the carry out and the dine in experience, how the food is presented. In some instances, it is downright pretty. Another difference, that depends on your disposition and that of your fellow diners is that you now have a chance to talk to someone else about what you are going to have or what you are having. In my two visits to the new space, I have had the pleasure to share conversations about what I like and what I want to try next with those around me.

I’ll share some of my meals below.

I’m not going to go into detail about the food, the photos speak for themselves (and my old blog posts) but I am going to offer a few suggestions for dining in. First, whatever, you order, make sure to get a side of macaroni and cheese. It is the perfect starch to pair with anything on your plate. I’d also suggest a side of bread. This is used to soak in any small amount of sauce that does not cling to your meal. An order of bread ensures nothing is wasted or left behind. Another thing you can do in the restaurant side of Creole Kitchen…is tip. Tip big because the servers waited a long time for a chance to serve you.

Creole Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Tis the Reason(s) to Choose Watershed Distillery & Kitchen for the Season

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 20, 2017

During the holidays, I prefer to have all of my shopping completed before Thanksgiving. My lifelong goal, is to shop at as few places as possible and if at all possible, only one. However, I like my gifts to be a unique and original fit for the recipients. I don’t get out of the house much nowadays. I’m no longer the go to guy to get intel on all the new places and up and comers in the food world. With this as my criteria and my growing lack of hipness a big liabilities, what is a fella to do? Go with what I know well, Watershed Distillery. Although they do not know it, the gang at Watershed has worked hard to solve my holiday gift giving challenges by consolidating my needs into one entity.

My knowledge base of Watershed goes way back to 2013. I started running tours that showcased Watershed as one of our up and coming local businesses. Popping in a few times per month for almost four years, I experienced the equivalent of a time-lapse slide show of their growth. Every time I would bring in a group I would see a new piece of equipment or a wall knocked down or hear about another new spirit being distilled. Seeing how hard everyone worked, it was a true joy to see Watershed gradually realize success for their efforts. And one sure sign of “making the grade” is having a detailed overview of your business on Wikipedia. If you are new to the Watershed story, read a summary of their history and endeavors on Wikipedia -> HERE.

In sharing some more of that story, I make the case for how my holiday challenges are alleviated by what Watershed has to offer. Let’s start with the business. Two local guys create a local distillery that sources a fair amount of local ingredients. Supporting local businesses, that supports other local businesses is always a feel good decision and when those products are given as gifts, it certainly reflects well on the gift giver.

My first break out spirit from Watershed was their bourbon. Some would say bourbon can only be made in Kentucky, those folks are incorrect and may be suspect of spreading fake news. Watershed Bourbon, like the company, has evolved a bit over the years. From the start, Watershed bourbon has been a bit different from the corn squeezin’ crowd. In particular, Watershed double distills their bourbon (less common) and uses a four grain malt bill of corn, wheat, barley (much less common) and spelt (almost unheard of). Multiple grains are not unique in the world of distilling but the addition of spelt is a rare thing. Ohio is a major spelt producer so sourcing it for bourbon adds to the unique flavor and terroir of this barrel aged beverage. The version bottled today (late 2017) is aged three and one half years and is shifting to barrels crafted in Jackson, Ohio. The proof has shifted from 94 to 90. All of this combined gives the bourbon something that won’t get picked up by most palates or in reviews. Watershed Bourbon has a lot of the heart of Ohio mixed in to it. That ensures it will taste just a touch better. It will be interesting to see how Watershed Bourbon evolves over time since they have a goal of eventually aging each barrel 6 years.

My next Watershed moment was the addition of Nocino to the lineup. As you can read -> HERE, I am a fan. Nocino is a black walnut liquor that we can all thank a guy named Charlie for. The 2017 version will be released shortly after I post this so you should seek out and probably stockpile it before it is gone. It’s smaller bottle size makes it perfect stocking stuffer and its smoother, sweeter taste makes it an easy ice breaker for any gathering.

But wait there is more! Watershed recently added another unique spirit to their growing cast of local alcohol all-stars, in the form of apple brandy. Released in October 2017, Watershed brought apple brandy back after a one hundred year absence from the shelves of Ohioans. Made with Ohio apples, this brandy packs at punch at 80 proof. Each batch is aged for a minimum of two years with charred oak barrels. When I first caught a whiff of this in 2015 I knew it would be worth the wait, let’s just say I was smitten. The brandy is not in a climate controlled barrel house so the old style expansion and contraction of the wood in the barrels ensures this product has character and some old-timey goodness to it.

I picked up this little tip of how introduce others to this tasty treat, courtesy of Chris who works with the Watershed gang.

A great place to start for those who are not familiar with apple brandy or brandy in general is to switch out bourbon for apple brandy in a classic cocktail like a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. Here are two quick recipes that we served at the launch party.

The Big Apple
1.5 oz Watershed Apple Brandy
.5 oz Watershed Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
3 dash Angostura Bitters

Old Granny Smith
2 oz Watershed Apple Brandy
.25 oz Simple Syrup
3 dash Angostura Bitters
3 dash Molé Bitters

So that gives you three spirits to seek out for the holidays but don’t just take my word for it, let Watershed help you feel even more secure in your choices. Last year, Watershed added a restaurant their operation. Watershed Kitchen and Bar adds a needed element to the Watershed experience, an immediate way to sample their spirits in their preferred habitat, a cocktail glass, instead of as thimble sized sample served straight during a tasting. The bar offers well thought out and hand crafted cocktails to show off what the spirits can do when they team up with other ingredients. The kitchen crafts exceptional food so you can enjoy a meal, while ensuring your have the fortitude to try out more than one cocktail and educate yourself on what you might do with several of their base concoctions.

On two visits to the Watershed Kitchen I have found the food pairs well with libations. If your mom always told you to eat your brussels sprouts, this is the place where you will do so with glee. Let your mom know and she might just take you off the naughty list.

So this is my fool-proof plan to help you cover all of your holiday shopping in one short visit and treat yourself at the same time.

  • Step One: Visit Watershed Kitchen and Bar to sample all of their wares.
  • Step Two: Buy some restaurant gift cards for your friends that love food and/or do not drink.
  • Step Three: Pop into the Watershed store to stock up on bottles for you and for others. They even have some helpful recipe fliers to guide those that did not make it to the bar on how to craft cocktails to their liking. Pick up one for yourself and a few to go with your gifts.
  • Step Three Point Five: If you are pressed for time, the nice people at Watershed can create some gift packages for you to hand out as your own spirited Santa. Add in a flask, handy wooden crate, a t-shirt or whatnot to add to others holiday cheer. Your hard thought out efforts will much appreciated this holiday.
  • Drop in to Watershed Distillery, Kitchen & Bar.
    1145 Chesapeake Ave, Columbus, OH 43212

    Posted in beverages, culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, Locally Sourced | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Brewed on the Bikeway ABC’s: Athens, Beer, Cider & More

    Posted by cmh gourmand on November 12, 2017

    When I heard about Brewed on the Bikeway, I saw this as a way to combine two things I needed more of: riding a bike more often (as in cycling more than the 5 minutes I have biked each spring for the last three years when I fill my bike tires with air and test them out) and I needed to drink more beer. Well, not just beer, craft beer specifically crafted in Athens. So when I was offered a “partial scholarship” of sorts to explore Brewed on the Bikeway I was excited for an opportunity to blend beer and bikes.

    Breaking down what Brewed on the Bikeway is, the name speaks for itself. A while back, a few sharp-eyed and forward thinking individuals noticed how close the many Athens area craft beverage makers are to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. The bikeway follows the former pathway of the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad and the former Hocking Canal, often parallel to the Hocking River. The trail offers almost 21 miles of scenery connecting Nelsonville with Athens. Another amenity the trail offers is quick access to: Multiple Brewing (Nelsonville), Devil’s Kettle Brewing, Little Fish Brewing, Jackie O’s Taproom & Production Brewery as well the Eclipse Company Store. The trail is just a short hop from the original Jackie O’s Public House (which started the brewery explosion over a decade ago) and West End Cider House. Any one of these destinations is worth the trip – all of these combined makes for a great day. I was excited to explore how this all comes together.

    But then, I felt trepidation. I am in horrible physical condition. Instead of Brewed on the Bikeway, I started the to fear the title of this post might be Fat Dude Sprawled out on the Bikeway. However, I was determined to stay the course. I quickly discovered the Bikeway is all about ease and convenience.

    Having explored Nelsonville in-depth and with a short time frame to complete my “mission”, I skipped the northern 11 mile leg of the trail connecting Nelsonville to the nano community centered around The Eclipse Company Town in the Plains. The Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall was the perfect place to prepare for my Brewed on the Bikeway ride by enjoying a few local beers, a great lunch with a base of operations to spread out my maps and materials to plot out my adventure.

    Walking through the door, I was immediately smitten with the place. I chatted with owner Sean Kiser about the wonderland he has created in what used to be a small company town general store. At the Eclipse Company Store Beer Hall, a well curated collection of 40+ mostly local (Ohio) beers are paired with an impressive menu of pub grub incorporating many local ingredients. This is a relaxed, comfortable and sprawling space that is as conducive to chatting to people biking the trail or listening to live music inside or out. The menus offers many sandwiches, salads and entrees with a focus on smoked meats (Kiser also operates Kiser’s BBQ in Athens).

    The Beer Hall is adjacent to the Bikeway. After my meal which paired with samples of hard to find and newer breweries such as Sixth Sense Brewing in Jackson, I decided on a quick elliptical stroll around Eclipse before starting my ride. I popped into the Shop Athens Ohio store across the street to peruse the local products offered in a former row house. I found many interesting items, including pint glasses of closed Athens area watering holes to help former Ohio University Bobcats relieve their glory days.

    My next destination, just a few feet away was Black Diamond Bicycles. The shop sells and services new and used bikes and conveniently offers reasonably priced bike rentals. After a quick check to make sure my bike was a good fit for me, I headed off on the bikeway.

    As I approached the trail, several observations calmed my fears of a posting about the “fat dude subdued by the Bikeway”. The trail is in incredibly good condition and well maintained. Following a former railroad bed, it is largely on flat, level terrain. There are maps at many of the trail heads as well as mini bike service stations where you can check your tires and perform minor maintenance on your bike.

    In a very short time, I found myself at my first brewery destination, Devil’s Kettle Brewing. Located on Columbus Road, the brewery is not adjacent to the bike trail but if you know the lay of the land, you can figure out how to get to it with minimal disorientation. I had a directional advantage because I have conducted many “research” visits to Devil’s Kettle in the past. To help out for your Brewed on the Bikeway adventure, if you see the bridge below, you are getting close (this is also the only significant elevational challenge I had on my ride and I easily bested it).

    At Devil’s Kettle I was impressed by all of the changes the owners have made to their space in the short time since opening a few years ago. The brewery has progressed from a very raw, industrial space to being almost fancy. The one bit of infrastructure I was most excited to see was the solar panel array the brewery installed to supply much of the energy needed to run the operation.

    I have always enjoyed the assortment of beers served at the taproom here, but as a PSA, I would be remiss in not mentioning that Devil’s Kettle usually offers one or two sodas they craft as well, including a really exceptional Ginger Ale. If you are visiting all of the breweries on the Bikeway and looking to pace yourself, an occasional craft soda, and a lot of water, is aways a good idea.

    I then continued along the trail on my way to what I cautiously share is my favorite brewery in Ohio, Little Fish Brewing. Having been a frequent visitor to this brewery as well, I spied a short cut that shaved 10-15 minutes off of my ride. I am not ready to give that short cut away, or to lure you off what is a really good section of the trail, but if you are pressed for time and every minute counts, an astute eye and good off road tires can be helpful. Again, (taking either path, and I did both) I was mildly shocked at how close Devil’s Kettle and Little Fish are by bike. I did not even break as sweat.

    A craft beer fan would be hard pressed not to enjoy every beer on the Little Fish menu. In addition to a cozy indoor and outdoor space, Little Fish, has a little farm, where they grow some of their ingredients, a dedicated space for the many food trucks that serve at the brewery and because this is Athens and it is a brewery, solar panels. Among many notable notes regarding Little Fish, it was one of the first breweries to serve a beer with all Ohio ingredients (malt and hops).

    Pedaling on, my next destination took me off the trail with a short ride to West End Cider House and a meeting with my pal cider maker, distiller and brewer extraordinaire Kelly Sauber. Kelly was a long time brewer at Marietta Brewing Company. Several years ago he created Dancing Tree Distillery, which later became Fifth Element Spirits. In spite of the demands of operating a distillery, Kelly siphoned off some time to get West End Cider House going as well. (Read my post on the Cider House ->HERE). Kelly is one of my favorite people in the industry so having some time to sample some of his ciders while he brought me up to speed on some exciting changes to the operation coming in 2018 was time well spent. If you are new or old to craft ciders, this is a true destination to expand your appreciation of this cider and spirits. West End Cider House also offers cocktails and area craft beers in a relaxing environment with a choice of locally focused snacks.

    I stayed/strayed off the trail, navigating the streets near Uptown, but was clearly on track for my next depot on the Bikeway, Jackie O’s Public House and Brewpub, the spot that started the craft beer explosion in Athens in 2005. What started as a small brewpub has grown into a local icon and Ohio Craft Beer Institution. (To fully appreciate the story of Jackie O’s read this great overview article from Good Beer Hunting). While I had great food options at the Public House, including pizzas made with spent grains from brewing and other dishes showcasing ingredients grown on the Jackie O’s Farm, I did make a small detour off the Bikeway to meal up at two of my favorite Athens eateries.

    O’Betty’s Red Hot serves what I consider to be the best hot dogs and fries in the state of Ohio. This tiny space seats about 20 in a cozy setting that also features a hot dog museum of sorts. Any trip to Athens requires me to consume two Mata Hari’s (hot dogs are named after famous Burlesque performers) with an order of fries.

    Just across State Street, Casa Nueva is another of my mandatory Athens area pit stops. Founded as a worker owned cooperative restaurant in 1985, “Casa” helped pioneer the local foods focus of the community. While I might not always have room for a third or fourth meal while exploring Athens by bike, foot or car, my minimum “drive-by” order is a House Margarita with a side of locally produced chips and house made salsas.

    Having fueled myself with encased meats and more, it was time to continue back in the Bikeway for the last stop, Jackie O’s Taproom and Production Brewery on Campbell Street. This space started in 2013 and now produces the majority of Jackie O’s beer. The attached taproom is a good place to wrap up the drinking portion of my Brewed on the Bikeway experience. And of course because it is Athens, and because the space is a brewery, the spot is largely solar powered.

    The return to Eclipse Company Store was uneventful. If I had more time and if it had been a day of the week when Multiple Brewing was open, I believe I had ample liquid courage to pedal the 11 miles to Nelsonville to finish the Bikeway in style with a turn victory lap.

    In summary, I survived Brewed on the Bikeway without any bruises to my body or self worth. The trail was easy for an old out of shape guy to navigate. The pacing of the stops helped maintain my courage to carry on. The ease of bike rental helped me avoid the hassle of loading and unloading my bike for the drive down. All in all, it was a great way to balance biking with exercising my 21st Amendment right to enjoy a few adult beverages.

    Here are a few tips for your own Brewed on the Bikeway adventure:

  • The Bikeway can be pretty busy on the weekends, so check ahead if you are renting a bike and allow a little extra time to navigate crowded taprooms.
  • If you are doing the whole route, know that Multiple Brewing has limited hours, mainly some weekend and evening hours, so call ahead. There is plenty to do in Nelsonville.
  • Some sections of the trail can be prone to occasional flooding, if that is an issue, the Brewed on the Bikeway social media team do a good job of getting the word out. Plan ahead.
  • The bikeway does not have any directional markers for the “brewed” destinations. Finding your way to the stops in often not intuitive, so you will want to take a look at a mapping site to orient yourself on how to get to some destinations that are a bit off the trail. Many are not within line of sight of the bikeway. For the organizers, I’d suggest some signage that on the Bikeway that could serve as prompts for some destinations. Something like “Columbus Road Spur” could help those not familiar with the area know that trail segment is the turn off to get to Devil’s Kettle without advertising the business or causing any legal awkwardness related to promoting an alcohol business on a public byway. Some embedded mini maps with suggested paths to the destinations not near the trail like West End Cider House and Jackie O’s Public House would be a good public service.
  • Whatever the amount of time you have budgeted for Brewed on the Bikeway, add another hour, or day, to your plan. You will still find there is much more you want to do and see in the area.

  • For more information on the area, visit AthensOhio.

    And to connect with what is going on while you are in the area, look for these hashtags during your adventure.

    #AthensOhio
    #BrewedOnTheBikeway
    #OhioUniversity
    #VisitAthens
    #Athens30MM (connecting you with locally focused eateries and events in the area)

    Brewed on the Bikeway is just one path of many that will allow you to enjoy all that Athens County has to offer. The area is a hiking and outdoor enthusiasts paradise. There are several wineries that are well worth the short drive and countless other ways to unwind and enjoy what Southeast Ohio has to offer.

    Posted in Athens, beer, culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Don’t Bypass Nelsonville, The Star of the Hocking Hills

    Posted by cmh gourmand on October 29, 2017

    image of nelsonville fountain

    Fountain in Nelsonville

    When a bypass of Nelsonville on State Route 33 was completed several years ago many wondered about Nelsonville’s future. Would people forget about what Nelsonville had to offer? Would the character of the community change? For me, as a long time fan of area, this bypass as well as several others created along the same route shaved a few minutes off my sojourns to Athens but they did not make me forget what else I loved about the area.. I did not miss getting stuck in traffic in Lancaster, Nelsonville and elsewhere along 33 while on my way to reconnect with all the Hocking Hills has to offer. I found the bypasses, created more byways to explore the region whereas before I was focused on a mission to endure to commute to get to Athens by a certain time to beat the traffic.

    Revisiting Nelsonville, I found a community that has even more to offer than I recalled. I found the lack of commuter traffic I was accustomed to from before the bypass was refreshing. The lack of cranky commuters streaming through the center of town made the community feel more intimate as well as inviting and in my case, much more relaxing. All of the things I enjoyed in my past visits to are still here and getting even better. Rhapsody the student staffed restaurant is expanding space and hours. Stuart’s Opera House, my favorite small concert venue in Ohio is being extensively renovated and will be even better in the near future. Nelsonville offers the ubiquitous small town experience (good enough for the movies if you have seen Mischief).

    The character of Nelsonville is defined by two key things: bricks and boots. Specifically Star Bricks and Rocky Boots. Let’s start with Star Bricks. This brick and many other bricks types define this part of the state. The Star Bricks were considered the finest sidewalk pavers of their era and any community or individual in the United States that wanted to showcase a walkway had only one clear choice, Star Bricks. You will find these in (pre 1930) upscale neighborhoods all over the country. The brick industry in this region paved the streets of the nation as well (in Columbus you will see how well these bricks have held up for over 100 years in German Village and The Brewery District). Stroll the Public Square of Nelsonville to appreciate the craftsmanship of Star bricks and the beautiful fountain in the center of the square. If you are an Ohio Brick nerd like me you will see exhibits about the bricks at different businesses in the area and you will see the Star brick image integrated into shirts and more.

    As for boots, those would Rocky Boots, a local company with a history that goes back to 1932. However, the real story is how this home-grown company beat the odds as an independent boot and shoe maker with innovative outdoor boots they created in the 1980’s. I drove by Rocky Boots for years, assuming is was just a factory outlet for boots. When I dropped in for a visit at the Rocky Outlet Gear Store I found much more than an outlet. The store serves as an outfitter offering everything you would need to provision yourself for exploring Hocking Hills. Obviously there is a tremendous selection of boots and shoes as well as outerwear, kids clothes, camping and hiking equipment, grilling supplies, etc. This outlet is more of a basecamp for any activity you would want to pursue in the area. As a little insider tip, on the top floor you can get some great view of Nelsonville and the surrounding area. The Boot Grill serves as the heart of the building and in many ways the community. In addition to offering their signature Bison Burger, the restaurant serves a wide variety breakfast, lunch and dinner options as well as a specialty “bar” every day with a different daily feature such as hot dogs, fried chicken, shrimp and etc. In addition to giving visitors the chance to fuel up for their next adventure the grill serves as a community meeting place with a core group of residents dropping by several days a week to catch up on what is going on in Nelsonville.

    After wandering around Rocky Boots for an hour and not feeling like I barely scratched the service, I set out to explore downtown Nelsonville. My first stop was Fullbrooks Cafe. The menu offers much more than would seem possible in this small, intimate space. In addition to a wide selection of coffee and drinks, Fullbrook’s serves serval backs goods, soups, sandwiches and several daily specials. Like many independent eateries in the area, they are focused on a menu that sources local foods as much as possible. I tried a fresh scone and was able to get a small sample of a delicious soup I caught a whiff of as soon as I entered the door. Fullbrooks is a great spot to catch a snack while traveling through the square. The shop offers extended hours for events in town or when there are shows at Stuarts Opera House.

    Exploring the town square, I took a quick tour of Stuart’s Opera House which is wrapping up renovations to expand the space while retaining the character and history of the building. Walking along the Star Brick paved streets I explored shops that sold all type of crafts, quilts, art and more. Many of the businesses focus on items handcrafted by locals or sourced from materials in the region.

    All of the above can be good diversions to entertain you while you wait for a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway. A variety of weekend train adventures are offered including the very popular Easter Bunny & Egg Hunt, Santa Train and Train Robbery where bandits board the train and rob you (on purpose).

    If two wheeled adventures are more your thing, then you have the HockHocking Adena Bikeway which will take you to Athens and back on a bike. And if craft beer is your even more your thing, then you can use this to explore craft beverage destinations in both locales via Brewed on the Bikeway.

    Finally on this adventure, I found the answer to a question that has been pestering me for over 25 years, what is the story of the cross on the hill overlooking the city. I have driven past this for decades and really noticed it on night time drives home when it is illuminated. I convinced my local guide to help me find my way to the top of the hill which is where I learned the story.

    The cross is a simple tribute from a husband to a deceased wife but also a monument to a community of people who helped the cross find a home on the hill. An interesting side note, an earthquake (really) knocked the cross down on the late 1980’s but several people worked together to get it reconstructed. There were many twists and turns on the road leading to the cross but when I arrived I was glad to chip another item off of my Nelsonville bucket list. (Note: by report this may be the largest illuminated cross in North America or the World, but I could not find documentation to confirm this. I can say, it is big.)

    To find out more about what to do in Nelsonville, Hocking Hills and the region, visit Athens County Ohio.

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

    Back to Lisska for Breakfast with Nick & Ginger & the Gang!

    Posted by cmh gourmand on September 7, 2017

    Just over two years ago I made my first trip to -> Lisska Bar & Grill on the east side. I recently received this comment on my blog from Ginger:

    Our family comes every Thursday morning for breakfast and enjoys the BEST BREAKFAST IN TOWN! Our late parents enjoyed Lisska’s when they were “courting” in the 30s! It is an AWESOME “gathering place” – join us any Thursday morning for a great time about 9:30 a.m.

    So how could I refuse an offer like that? As long time readers know, breakfast is not my bag as it is my fourth favorite meal, so I decided to have a consultant join me -> Breakfast with Nick. We checked our schedules for a Thursday that could work and then I contacted Ginger to let her know when we would be joining her.

    This “breakfast club” of sorts started almost five years ago when one of Ginger’s brothers passed away. At that time, the three surviving siblings decided they need to ensure they spent regular time together so it was decided every Thursday they would have breakfast somewhere in the city. Lisska was there second Thursday stop and they have not found reason to change-up the venue since they rediscovered the place.

    There are ten consistent regulars in this group with an ever-changing and eternally growing cast of special guests joining together at Lisska. On my visit, there were at least twenty affiliated members observing the passing of another in their cohort over the summer. Over time, certain traditions have developed in this cadre. They always say a prayer together before they start a meal. They rarely miss a Thursday unless an out of town visit family or a holiday gets in the way of one or more of the group, although Thanksgiving is no barrier to breakfast for this collective of breakfasters. Special bonus sessions recognize important life events such as birthdays and St. Patrick’s Day. Over time, Ginger’s go to breakfast was named in her honor. I’d call it a “Jack Benny Special” but at Lisska, it is known as The Ginger: half orders of Polish Sausage, toast (no butter), hash browns and one egg over easy (see below – as you can see, my camera has not had it’s coffee yet).

    As I was introduced to countless breakfast guests I was quickly indoctrinated into this tribe. I learned what HEC, BEC and SEC stood for on the menu: Ham, Egg & Cheese, Bacon, Egg & Cheese and Sausage Egg & Cheese. When I learned that the Polish sausage came from Kowalski’s in Detroit, my order was simple, one SEC on wheat.

    While I waited for my order, munching on a sample of homemade coffee cake (exceptionally good), I learned the stories of most of the members of this group while Ginger and I connected on her many stories of growing up in Clintonville in the 1940’s and 1950’s as well as her careers in the insurance industry, law offices, an employee benefit company and countless community causes over the years. She connected the dots on how these people intertwined with each other and how many of them are connected to others I have come to know over time. Listening to the background chatter amongst this group I do not think one Columbus area Catholic school or church missed at least one mention as updates were made on the multitude of charities and community organizations this group invests their time and hearts into.

    As I indicated before, breakfast is not my thing. I would be hard pressed not to find a dessert I would not love, a price that did not seem like a steal or a story that ran on too long sitting on a stool here. My meal was fabulous but that was a side-line/dish to the company I was keeping. Sometimes a eatery creates a community among regulars or on occasion a community decides to make a place their own. Either of these phenomenons are rare occurences in this era. You can’t create the “glue” that creates a community like this on social media, in a corporate establishment or a new restaurant, even if independent, that has a business plan, extensive branding and lacks a less than a decade of grease on the grill. It takes a long time for a place to create a character for itself or to find a soul in its bricks and mortar and even then, you need to right mix of people on both sides of the counter to make the whole greater than the sum parts on the menu. This is an old school breakfast club that we could stand to have much more of today, even if other meals are involved.

    I started writing about food because I was interested in the history and stories of the people behind the counter and because by talking about food and not myself, it was easier for me to connect with people. So this was a great opportunity to reconnect with writing with connecting with a new community. And I got to hang out with Nick for a while, something I have not done in almost a year. Thanks for the opportunity Ginger and thanks for creating a community space (by fate not intention) Lisska.

    Posted in breakfast, culinary misadventure | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

    All That and…..a Bag of Chips! (Putting Sandwich Week in the Bag)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 13, 2017

    Well, that wraps up Sandwich week. As I was doing my sandwich sleuthing a few trends started to surface. One involved what some view as the lowly potato chip. Not so low in my book, in fact, I started to see them as a last hold out of a dying localized food culture. I noticed bags of chips in many varieties at any of the diners and dives I was eating these regional sandwiches at. More often than not the branding was unfamiliar to me. However as I started reading the labels and sleuthing their origins I noticed that these under the radar chips were often made not so far away from the epicenter of these regional sandwiches, if you drove 25 miles in an opposite direction you were just as likely to get a puzzled look asking about a Horseshoe Sandwich as you were about _________ Potato Chips. These two food trends travel back several generations before the ubiquitousness of food programing, the Internet and the homogenization of local and regional food cultures creating an affinity for boring and bland national brands. Every small town had a dairy, a brewery, a bread factory and a potato chip maker. That started to change in the 1980’s with the blitzkrieg like growth of Frito-Lay but even today we see embedded, splinter cells of regional potato chip lines, especially in my home state of Ohio. I grew up with Buckeye Potato chips, which has since crumbled away, but there are still many regional potato chip brands within Ohio and many loyal fans that swear by their chip from the old block. Here are a few examples:

    Ballreich’s Potato Chips – Tiffin
    Conns Potato Chips – Zanesville
    Jones Potato Chip Company – Mansfield
    Mike-Sell’s – Dayton
    Shearer’s – Canton

    Grippos – Cincinnati

    Gold N Crisp – Massillion

    Why so many potato chip factories in Ohio (2nd in the country for production). Part of that answer is due to our waistlines but the rest is history. Potato chips have been pleasing our palates for the past 150 years.

    America’s love affair with this tantalizing treat began in the summer of 1853 when a patron of Moon’s Lake House on Saratoga Lake in New York sent his fried potatoes back complaining they were too thick. Cook George Crum sliced up more potatoes paper-thin and fried them to a crisp. They became a hit with the patrons and became known as “ Saratoga Chips.”

    The recipe soon spread to other restaurants along the East Coast, but in 1895, William Tappendon of Cleveland, began making chips in his kitchen and delivering them to neighborhood stores. He later converted a barn to manufacture the snack and is credited as the first potato chip retailer in the country.

    Posted in food | 4 Comments »

    Pittsburgh: Sammich City (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 12, 2017

    Many cities have an iconic food. Philadelphia has cheese steaks, New York is slow big it claims pizza, hot dogs and Reubens. Miami has Cuban Sandwiches and so on. An iconic sandwich may not come to most people’s minds when Pittsburgh rolls off the tongue but for me I think of the city with countless Sammichs to serve. There are a handful of cities, that when you say the name instant imagery comes to mind. One of this is Pittsburg: Steel, Carnegie, Heinz, Three Rivers, The Steelers, The Pirates, more Steel, etc. Today that image is, incorrectly, the rust belt. But this city of seemingly endless neighborhoods, hills and one ways streets always guarantees that you may need shift your belt a notch before you leave. There are countless sandwich shops throughout the city.

    The good people of the Iron City are known for an interesting interpretation of English with Pittsburgese phrases such as Yinz, Yinzer, Sees Ya and on occasion Sammich. In the Urban Dictionary, a Sammich is defined as a term for an exceptionally good sandwich and in this arena, Pittsburg delivers da goods.

    The original Primanti Brothers is looked in the Strip District. During the Depression, the diner was open to 3AM or later to serve late night workers, truckers and drinkers alike. Servicing this clientele meant having to create filling food that could be consumed quickly. So listen up Yinz, legend has it that a trucker came in concerned that his delivery of potatoes had frozen during the journey and might not be good anymore. He brought a few into the diner, so the cook fried some up to see if they were still edible. The spuds smelled great so other eaters asked for the potatoes to add to their sandwiches and a tradition was born. The archetypical Primanti Brothers Sandwich will have a grilled meat, an Italian dressing-based cole slaw (no mayo just oil and vinegar), two tomato slices and a mound of French fries between two pieces of thick Italian bread. See the photo at the beginning of this post as a visual aid.

    An iconic food of Pittsburgh is chipped chip ham. Loved and sought out with a vigor that many outside the city do not understand, Chipped Chopped Ham is a thinly sliced processed ham lunch meat that is often served as is, or lightly heated with some BBQ sauce mixed in. This style was made popular by another local icon, Isaly’s a largely forgotten Ohio purveyor of dairy and meats that was famous for the lunch counters before the 1960’s. Islay’s served….chipped chop ham throughout their chain of stores. This style of lunch meat has become so synonymous with the city that many residents of Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania often refer to this as Pittsburgh ham. You will still find sandwiches featuring chipped chop ham throughout the Pittsburgh.

    Fat Heads is well-known for their craft beers but their Pittsburgh Brew Pub is exceptionally renown for their intimidating sandwiches. My favorite, that is think is most reflective of the culinary loves of the city is the Southside Slopes Headwich. This monolithic sandwich consists of Kielbasa, Pierogies, American cheese, Grilled onions, Horsey sauce and two big, thick toothpicks with olives that vainly attempt to hold this together. It is served with fresh, homemade potato chips served with a wing sauce. The menu suggested washing ti down Wayne style with an Iron City Beer. Today, that may have changed to Fat Head Hop JuJu. (CMH Gourmand Note: I was surprised to see my old review of Fat Heads is still on -> Roadfood.com)

    Last and not least, because there are many, many more sammiches in the Iron City, let us discuss the Devonshire Sandwich. This was created by Frank Blaidi in 1934 (or 1935 sources vary) when he cooked at the Stratford Club (one block away from Devonshire Street). The components of this open-faced sandwich are: toasted bread, bacon, tomatoes and cheese sauce.

    I sampled modern-day versions at Dunnings Grill and Union Grill. My notes on Dunnings have disappeared. My notes on Union Grill have not. My memories of that sandwich have note disappeared either. I dragged a friend from Columbus for a day trip to Pittsburgh to eat sandwiches & hot dogs and this was the last stop of a very high calorie consumption day. The sandwich was so good, we did not have a problem pounding it down. What me here was the option yo split the sandwich in half for an extra two bucks. When it was served, we thought that made a mistake and gave both of us full sandwiches, we were the ones mistaken. It was the best and largest 1/2 sandwich of my lifetime. The sandwich used toast points as the base, and combined two generous strips of bacon, a whole Tomato slice, a lot of cheese sauce (some had carmelized and gotten crunchy), parsley flakes and a substantial dusting of Parmesan cheese. Great sandwich, great service and a great place.


    The Devonshire and the Hot Brown are two famous open-faced sandwiches but how do they differ? Not by much, below I have the typical recipe ingredients of each for you to compare. They only way to really sort this out would be to make each several times.

    Devonshire vs. Hot Brown

    Devonshire

    Cream Sauce:
    • 3/4 stick butter, melted
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1/4 pound Cheddar cheese, grated
    • 1 pint chicken broth
    • 1 pint hot milk
    • 1 teaspoon salt

    For each sandwich:
    • 1 slice good toast, crusts trimmed off
    • 3 slices crisp bacon
    • 5 thin slices cooked turkey breast
    • Cream Sauce, recipe above
    • Melted butter
    • Parmesan cheese and paprika

    Hot Brown

    4 oz. Butter
    Flour to make a Roux (about 6 tablespoons)
    3 – 3 1⁄2 cups Milk
    1 Beaten Egg
    6 tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese
    1 oz. Whipped Cream (optional)
    Salt and Pepper to Taste

    Slices of Roast Turkey
    8-12 Slices of Toast (may be trimmed)
    Extra Parmesan for Topping
    8-12 Strips of Fried Bacon

    Posted in sandwiches | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

    Beef on Weck – Western New York (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 11, 2017

    Beef on Weck is a popular sandwich in western New York including Buffalo and Rochester where Weck is considered an institution. The only major foray out of the state was during the origins of Buffalo Wild Wings which was initially called BW-3 when it started in Columbus (Ohio). The three W’s were wild wings & weck. Since most people did not know what Weck was and because it is a labor intensive sandwich to make, well… the third W quickly disappeared from the line up.

    A bit of background before we go into the meat of this matteer. Weck is occasionally known as wick. It consists of thinly sliced roast beef on a kummelweck roll. The top of the bun is soaked in the au from the roast beef and sprinkled with coarse kosher slat and caraway seeds. A hearty helping of horseradish os par for the course as well.

    The kummelweck roll (sometimes spelled “kimmelweck” or “kümmelweck”) gets it’s name from Kümmel a German word for caraway and weck or wecken which is a “roll” common in south-western Germany. The weck of New York is a bot different that what you would find in Germany or Austria, it tends to be softer. The origins of this sandwich are as hazy of the au ju that makes it an exceptional sandwich. We know it started in Buffalo. It may have been invented by a German baker named William Wahr. Legend has it, which is easy to believe, that a local bar owner felt the salty sandwich would encourage more bar business. Having consumed a few of these sandwiches myself, I can say, they pair exceptionally well with a cold lager.

    The best Beef on Weck I ever had was not at a restaurant by made by my friend Cliff Sawicki. A native of the Buffalo area, he made enough beef on wecks to feed 20 people for move in day at my first house back in 2002. I’m certain I ate enough to account for 10 of 20 person servings in the 3 hours it took to complete the move. As an expert on the region and the sandwich, I asked Cliff to chime on on his favorite haunts and he did indeed deliver as you can read below.


    Brunner’s Tavern
    3989 Main Street
    Amherst, NY
    (716) 836-9718

    This has been an Amherst tradition for a couple generations now. They serve a decent fish fry on Fridays and the kitchen is open for lunch and early dinner during the week. My favorite time to go is Saturday afternoon, the kitchen is closed, but the grill behind the bar is open. There are two things to get: the Steak Sandwich or the Roast Beef on Weck. Order the Steak Sandwich and the barkeep will throw a big chuck of beef on the grill, cook it to your liking, and then throw on some cheese, peppers and onions. For good measure, the sandwich is cut in half and served with wedge ridged potato chips and a pickle. MMM! Order the Roast Beef on Weck and watch the barkeep carve off slices from a fresh slab brought in just before opening. For good measure, some juice is ladled on the roll, the sandwich is cut in half, served with wedge ridged potato chips, pickle, and a jar of real horseradish on the side. If you want the Roast Beef get there early, they sometimes run out as soon as 12:30PM (although I understand they have been bringing in a second slab recently). Brunner’s is next to Ziggy’s.

    Jolly Jug
    797 Niagara Falls Blvd.
    Buffalo, NY
    (716) 836-9552

    I would give directions, but if you can read this, you are not drunk enough to believe the time warp, and thus won’t want to go. This is really a bar that also happens to serve a decent Roast Beef on Weck and Chili until 4:00AM. This was probably a hopping little neighborhood bar forty years ago, until the great super glue incident happened. Now, six or seven sixty-year old men have their elbows permanently affixed to the bar. All of these men are drinking Genesee Cream Ale. I have never heard of any performer listed in the juke box.

    I usually drag a couple unknowing friends down to the Jug around 3:30AM, go to the bar, order six Old Viennas, three Beefs, and three bowls of Chili. I then get some quarters, play the juke box and rack up a pool game. The barkeep is traditionally friendly, I expect because he actually gets to speak to someone who is alive. Everybody seems to enjoy the experience as it unfolds, but nobody has ever gone back with me. Oh, well, (they can go pound on the windows at Ziggy’s).

    My guess is theremay only be 1000 people that know about this place, 500 people that have been inside, 250 people that would admit they have been inside, and 100
    people who have thought to eat there….I only knew because an alcoholic
    took me there.


    In no particular order…

    Schwabl’s – Really good, I’ve only had the Beef on weck…I’d like to try
    some of the other stuff on the menu…old restaurant…old school. (CMH Gourmand Note; Schwabl’s is often noted to have the quintessential Beef on Weck).

    Bar Bill – The rave in the very small village of East Aurora…it’s a 30-40
    minute drive from the mainland, a very good sandwich, but if you need a fix
    there are equally good sandwiches with a shorter drive…the only reason I
    had ever been there was because my grandparents lived out there.

    Swiston’s – Been there a few times…. consistency isn’t always there. Their best efforts top the charts, but I’ve had an occasional average sandwichthere…one recent complaint someone told me about was too much fat on thesandwich…I’m torn about that comment.

    Anderson’s – Original location on Sheridan Drive has expanded into I believe locations in WNY. Still a decent quality sandwich, but would only be myfirst choice if I was going to top it off with some of Anderson’s frozen
    custard.

    Anacone Inn – I haven’t been here in some 15 years, the neighborhood hasgone way downhill, I’d like to give this one a shot again, but I would want to bring a posse along. BTW, they had a really good sandwich.

    Charlie the Butcher – Strangely, this is probably one of the most talked about Beef on Weckers, but I hadn’t tried it until this past summer…I wasnot impressed…Beef was a bit dry and not piled on very high….will probably try one more time just to confirm an unsupervised rookie didn’t make my sandwich.

    Posted in sandwiches | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

    The (Louisville) ((Kentucky)) Hot Brown (Sandwich Week)

    Posted by cmh gourmand on August 10, 2017

    The 1920’s was a very different time than today. Hotels were cultural hubs typically not only providing the best food in their home cities but the best entertainment. Such was the case for the storied Brown Hotel in Louisville Kentucky. During the Roaring 20’s the Brown was THE place to be featuring 600 rooms in 16 stories. The hotel offered nightly dance parties for up to 1200 guests that often continued well past the last evening so exhausted revelers often needed a hearty late night snack to recharge while resting up their tired dogs. The hotel’s chef, Fred K. Schmidt, created the Hot Brown in 1926 to fill up these guests so they could go home or go to bed. The sandwich became so popular that it was added to the daytime menu and at one time it was the menu choice of up to 95% of diners. The popularity of the sandwich soon found others spread throughout the city and the state.

    A Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich consisting of the following: a layer of bread, sliced turkey, bacon and then covered in Mornay sauce (a white sauce made with butter, flour, milk shredded or grated Gruyère cheese). By report a bit of Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on. This is baked or broiled until browned and ideally a bit of crisping occurs where the cheese meets the plate. When the sandwich is ready to serve it is topped with tomatoes and pimento.

    A spin-off version of the sandwich was also created at the hotel and was called the cold brown. The cold version consists of baked chicken or turkey, hard-boiled egg, lettuce and tomato served open-faced on rye bread then covered with Thousand Island dressing. There are two cousins to this sandwich: The Prosperity sandwich in St. Louis and the Devonshire in Pittsburgh.

    If one is only going to have one Hot Brown, then the only choice is to eat it where it was originated, at the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. It is still a favorite although today, it is not quite 95% of the dinner service tickets like the good old days.

    Of significant note and in my opinion, a mandatory pairing, is another Louisville icon, Derby Pie. The pie is a perfect combination of chocolate chips, walnuts and pie dough that is trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen. No one else can legally make or serve Derby Pie without violating the trademark. My pie had the word Derby Pie stamped into the pie crust ring to show it was authentic.

    Now, if you decided you are going to have at least two Hot Browns in your life, then there is (was) only one place to go, Lynn’s Paradise Cafe. (Update: sadly the cafe closed in 2013 so I’ve cut out most of my paragraphs on that so as to not be overly cruel). I’ll just say that the photo at the top of this post was one of their Hot Brown’s and it was truly an exceptional sandwich.

    Posted in food | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »