Funcoast Gourmand: Eating My Way Along The Lake Erie Shores
Posted by cmh gourmand on April 25, 2012
As a kid growing up in Columbus, I thought I was aware of what the north coast of Ohio had to offer: Put-In-Bay, Cedar Point, Kelley’s Island and chilled early morning fishing trips with my dad (it took several years to figure out I was allergic to fish). If the fishing was good and we were ahead of schedule I MIGHT get to go to Phil’s Inn in Port Clinton for spaghetti before driving home. The north coast was a long day trip resulting in a tuckered out pre-Gourmand at the end of the day.
Flash forward a decade or two. My definition of fun has changed significantly now plus I can control my own destiny because I can drive myself. No more would I suffer the torment of driving by The Cheese Haven, cool looking diners and all varieties of interesting food options. Honestly, while the thought of heading back to this part of the state for culinary discovery had crossed my mind on occasion, I never made the effort. Then I received an e-mail which piqued my interest.
The message came to Gourmand HQ from the owner of the Cooker. Yeah, that’s right The Cooker. If you lived in Columbus from the mid 1980’s to about 2004 you were aware of the Cooker and its hey day in the early years. It was the fast casual place to go for everyone, especially in the Bethel Road area – dates, business lunches, family events, etc., that was the place to be. The chain grew fast and furious and like many of its Columbus cousins (Damon’s, Hoggy’s, Max and Erma’s, The 55 Group. etc.) of the era to expanded too far, too quick and lost it’s focus and following.
The universal memory of any Cooker customers is the same: the biscuits and the brocoli and cheese casserole. The Cooker was returning and had a location in Sandusky. Would I like to come? Absolutely, for nostalgia alone but also to see if the menu could be replicated to my memories. So thinking of our north coast, I started to plot other activities I might engage in. I recalled my earlier adventure to Chef’s Garden, I wanted to go there again. A childhood of Cheese Haven torment could be corrected. I had been to Toft’s Dairy back in 1998 researching ice cream in Ohio and really wanted to get another lick at that place. I had a short list of restaurants I had been tracking in the area and a long list of wineries, including Firelands. Clearly in-depth research was called for.
I had a very ambitious agenda for a day trip. My minions will tell you that I can pack a lot of driving and eating into a day, but even I realized I was going to need more than 24 hours to scratch the surface of what the “Funcoast” could offer.
I was put in contact with Jill Bauer at Lake Erie Shores and Islands. She provided me with even more reasons to explore the area and enough of a reality check to at least temper my ambitions to a few stops along one section of the coast. She then connected me with a perfectly situated base of operations for my target area – Captain Montague’s Bed and Breakfast.
I charted my drive on Ohio’s back roads, complied my to eat list and set off on my journey of rediscovery. Along the way I found a food truck in Norwalk, some incredible road side eateries, great small towns (watch out for the speed trap of Crestline) and even avoided the magnetic pull of the Blue Hole.
I took my trip back in November so to bring you up to speed, I am ending my procrastination with a series of Funcoast posts over the next week to ten days with highlights from my expedition. Stay tuned for dispatches on the best bed and breakfast in Northern Ohio, The Cooker, Zinc (the Restaurant, not the mineral), Toft’s Dairy and maybe more.
I know I came back wanting to go back and do much more including a first trip to Chez Francois which was highly recommended by my B&B hosts and fellow culinary house guests.