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The Crest Gastropub Makes the Grade

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 13, 2013

outside

About two months ago, the night before I dined at the Crest Gastropub for the first time, I had a quick meeting with a well-known Clintonville Curmudgeon. We sat at O’Reilly’s as I shared that I had tried to get into the Crest but it was too crowded. To which he said (at least the gist, I was not taking notes), “Yeah, the place is OK, but it does not deserve to bear the name of the Crest.” “That place is just the shell of the building, everything else is different”. I could feel the pangs of nostalgia in his words. Unfortunately I could not share his feelings, I never connected with the Crest in my visits there. It always seemed like a place that could be much more than it was with little effort. I know from oral history there were many high points and a great community within those walls in the decades it was open but I never viewed the place as an asset to the community or I place I would want to go. (Pauses….waiting for the outraged comments to come).

When new owners took over there was a lot of excitement about Gastropub. Advance renderings were shared with the public, there was plenty of information shared about the food, the beer list and the plans to use lots of local, organic goodness throughout. Although some were concerned I was being a hater, I merely disagreed with one aspect of their marketing. I drove by daily watching the progress. After the Gastropub opened I drove by at night to see the place packed. That makes me happy.

parking

One my first visit, the past and the present intermingled again. As I was finishing my meal a late 50’s chronic alcoholic couple walked into the Crest and joined me at the bar. They admitted they were already drunk and acted accordingly. They both had the emaciated look and smell of deepwoods methheads. The couple was intent on loudly sharing their stories of their 42 years of patronage of the former Crest. They knew one set of past owners, admired the work that has been done on the place, asked how the rehab went as far as dodging around the old Edison era wiring and etc. They generally annoyed the undying shit out of me. The purpose of their trip seemed to be to sniff out the place, get a quick shot (of booze) and offer some suggestions on improving the parking woes. Their rightfully true observation was….this place is not the Crest. No siree. As the Clintonville Curmudgeon had stated the day before, “this is the Crest in name only”. (Please note, I am not typing to typecast former Crest patrons just showing that yes….things have changed). I will also note the staff handled these potential customers and definitely lifetime neighbors very well and professionally. Even though some have commended my own patience, I would have been hard pressed to endure these two professional drinkers for any size tip or any length of time.

bar

The building was gutted and rumor has it nearly one million dollars was invested in the building to make it something that is absolutely not the old Crest Tavern and very definitely a Gastropub in look, feel, decor and mission. The interior is full of recycled, repurposed and re-imagined items. Other than the exposed bricks in the walls and few critical structural pieces, I doubt much of the former Crest remains. RIP The Crest. All Hail The Crest Gastropub.

The place received a lot of attention in the early weeks. A little too much attention in my opinion. You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t critique a new restaurant based on what they can or can’t do in the first week of operation. For a place like this – with all of the pre-opening expectations and the ongoing love affair with the place and space – multiple trips over time were warranted.

Let me run through my observations, my meals and why I believe The Crest Gastropub makes the grade.

The beer and spirits menu is deeply stocked full of local and Ohio craft beverages. In my visits I have counted 15 – 20 at any given time. The beverage list changes…. a lot. That can be frustrating to some and on occasion, I have had my heart set on having one beverage only to find it was gone. However in the world of multiple taps (60 here) – beer than moves fast stays fresh and tastes better. Also, that means the Crest is probably making money, that helps with sustainability. When you have just dropped a giant wad of cash on a business…..sustainable profit is great. You can be idealistic later after you pay the bills. In addition to a host of buckeye brewed beers the menu features local favorites likes Brothers Drake, Middlewest Spirits and Watershed Vodka. You will find a few wines on the list as well. Cheers!

Speaking of the bar, it looks good. It looks inviting, it looks…..expensive. The bar top is copper-topped. The chairs are sturdy and comfortable. There are six 32 inch television screens mounted near the ceiling, so there is enough to support people who want to watch a game but not so many that it feels like a sports bar. To counter balance the TV’s – there are purse hooks strategically mounted at knee level at bar side. Purse hooks are important, all of my female friends tell me so. As for the rest of the decor, the bathrooms look great – small but functional with lots of tile. They (well at least the men’s room) have the look of a 1930’s tavern in the heart of Chicago or London. The inside dining area is a mix of high-backed booths, high topped tables and lower placed four tops. There are plenty of seating styles and arrangement to meet the needs of the solo gourmand, the party of seven or the family of three. All of the spaces are filled with items such as windows from a former school, wood from a barn and so on, creating a place that while just a few months old has a character of an establishment much older. The patio is perpetually filled and covered with plenty of umbrellas for protection from the elements. On the outside there is a bike rack (which seems continually full) to comfort bike enthusiasts and Millennial hipsters alike. So The Crest Gastropub may sound busy to readers and let me assure it is….to the point where the neighbors have grown a bit irked by the lack of easy parking access in front of their homes. The owners have made an effort to be good neighbors to their neighbors by asking guests not to park on certain streets near the business.

bikesmeanshipster

Some of you, maybe several of you, wince at the term gastropub. And according to the traditional definition of a gastropub the Crest….fits the mold. The menu is varied with choices suited from brunch, lunch, dinner or bar snacks. The ingredients are simple. Presentation is upscale. The end result are selections that are very good most of the time. Two items I would like to highlight are the Ohio Cheeseboard (with jams and nuts) and the Brezel Pretzels…with a twist (insert groan).

goat cheese

burger and fries

The Crest Gastropub makes an effort to source locally as often as practical which is reflected and showcased on some menu items. They do have a roof top garden, as well as a patio and parking lot community garden so they have put their money as well as a lot of soil as well as a parking space or two where their mouth is. Some of those garden greens are starting to make their way onto plates now. More than just a gimmick, the gardens add to the character of the business and the aesthetics of the exterior. Throw in some rain barrels and a ladder that leads to the rooftop garden (not sure how sustainable that aspect is) and they have added quite a bit of green to urban Clintonville.

menu

The kitchen is on the smaller side but it packs a punch. The menu is reasonable in size but limits choices to one page which is a good idea for any restaurant but especially a tavern with limited cooking capacity. The best and most consistent bets will be the burger selections. The honey-glazed cheese balls (that would be with flash fried goat cheese) are my consistent starter of choice. The only main menu item I have been disappointed in so far was the grilled cheese. The grilledness (my own invented word) of the bread and how the varied ingredients comingle do not quite mix together.

gardenJPG

There are two things I can’t reconcile about the Crest Gastropub. It is really hard not to say….The Crest instead of the proper name of The Crest Gastropub. I am not sure how to resolve that. Three words is too much but just saying The Crest seems to be tempting the ghosts of the bar of the past and hurting the feelings of the Clintonville Curmudgeon. The second aspect of the Crest Gastropub I have a hard time abiding is the serving of most items on wooden cutting boards. It looks kind of cool but it is not practical, is probably a bitch to clean all of those and just too bulky on the tables. I have not been back in a while so maybe those were 86’d. Another note, service has been a bit spotty (especially if you read Yelp) but I would expect that for new staff in a new place and when I had less than ideal service I always felt the server was trying to the best of their ability. Overall a very promising start for a place I think will continue to improve and refine over time.

2855 Indianola Ave
Clintonville
614.261.7128
FB: TheCrestGastropub

The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

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Posted in bar, Clintonville, Gastronomic Stimulus, Locally Sourced, restaurants | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

CLEWeek – A Maker and a Shaker: Sam McNulty

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 14, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I meet so many people who have a passion for something but lack the focus or sense to make it work. Many have a passion for food but not a lick of business sense. And as many people are so focused on every cent they create a soulless business that can’t keep a customer. It is a rare spirit that can blend the two – a focus on fun, a directed passion but just enough common sense and structure to make the dream a reality and to keep the whole thing fresh, financially afloat and sustainable. I truly believe that a business that connect with their community stands a much better shot at sustainability than one launched by someone with a riveting business plan and a MBA to boot.

The heart of Ohio City is West 25th Street. The soul is definitely West Side Market but epicenter of growth and vibrancy has been fueled by alcohol, passion and good food on West 25th. Bier Markt was an early entry (2005) on what is now a brewery district by any other name. Ask any passerby to name a favorite spot on the street and they are likely to mention one of more of the following: Market Garden Brewery, Bar Cento, Speakeasy or Nano Brew. What do all of these spots have in common other than good libations, good food and distinctive style? The answer Sam McNulty. The key to the success of his enterprises – there are several and he would have all on a cool key ring no doubt.

I had the opportunity to tour all of these locations with McNulty back in October of 2012. I have done many meet and greets with restaurant and bar owners. Most are short, somewhat forced and canned and usually not so memorable. Not the case for McNulty, he spent many hours with the group of writers in my pack – on a busy weekend night. He walked us through every nook and cranny of each of his businesses. He told us the history and inspiration of each. My notes were extensive and throughout his genuine caring for his community, employees and partners shined through. He knew every employee by name. How did he begin the evening – he did not talk about himself, his “brand”, etc., he asked where else we had been and when we mentioned CROP – he raved about the place, how his competitor’s restaurant was so good for Ohio City. When we asked him what was his next project – he shared the next focus would be whiskey, rum and bourbon distilling…..which led to him raving about Middlewest in Columbus.

smile at the brewery

Many of the little things that set his places apart, start to turn into big things. There is definitely a desire to increase the DIY capabilities of all operations by creating a space for fermentation, aging cheeses and charcuterie and more. McNulty shared that he started to think about the carbon foot print of bringing Italian prosciutto to Cleveland. Then he asked himself, why he was doing it when Cleveland had everything he needed to do it in-house? He has the right people and ingredients. Then he broke the process down into the small steps to make it a big idea: build relationships with local farms to source the right types of pigs, then find the right way to process the hogs, build out a curing room and…… Although a lot of work, the end result is that because he now knows where everything is coming from and who is putting it together, he feels better about serving it. he can serve something that is Ohio to the heart and what his neighbors would want and what his chefs like to create. Another key to making this work (and why all of this works) is he finds the right people who share a passion for what they do – cooking, brewing, serving and he lets them take risks and pursue these projects with the resources they need and the freedom to experiment.

cured meats

What inspired each concept – mainly the people of Ohio City. McNulty lives within steps of his establishments. When he moved to Ohio City he ditched his car for a bike and a scooter. When not working in or on one of these spots, he is roaming Ohio City as an informal mayor and ambassador. He asks himself and his Ohio City peers what they like….and creates what reflects their values. If you go to the right juice spot in West Side Market and ask for a McNulty – you will get a special blend created for his high energy / hectic lifestyle. A telling aspect of his muse comes from the newer kid on the block, Nano. Since McNulty and his neighbors are so pedal happy, he decided he needed to create a new kind of biker bar….but this time for cyclists. Nano sports an inside bike repair station while the outside features a repurposed shipping container that was built as a bike parking area (to keep his customers bikes from getting wet). Cool and inventive, sure, but it also required working with the city to get a variance to make it work – not the easiest path but it created something unique that is distinctive for the space and for the customer.

bike station

McNulty takes care of his staff – mainly by giving them the tools and environment to succeed but also supporting them. Nearby Black Pig is operated by one of his former chefs. And for employee appreciation – here is an example and benchmark to aim at for those in the restaurant trade. McNulty closed operations down the Sunday before Super Bowl (2012) and created a space for four food trucks to serve his team. Then he hired four party busses to bar hop his group around town which he paid for deep cleaning of the kitchens while they were out having fun. If you are in the food biz, having some fun at someone else’s place then coming home to a clean workspace, can’t be beat. Take care of your people and they will take care of your business and your customers – an easy lesson but missed by many.

So take the above and a lot more and that is how one builds sustainable businesses in Cleveland and elsewhere. There are many of McNulty’s peers doing the same but of those I have met to date, no one does it with the vigor and radar guided smart bomb focus of Ohio City’s favorite resident.

umbrella

(Two side notes) During our tour it was raining heavily. McNulty grabbed a patio umbrella from one restaurant and used it to keep his guests dry moving to the next destination. A young McNulty delivered newspapers to Michael Ruhlman for ten years, and the esteemed Cleveland food writer was noted to be a good tipper. McNulty might give Ruhlman a tip or two these days.

Posted in beer, CLEGourmand, Locally Sourced, Ohio, Road Trip | Leave a Comment »

CLEGourmand: The Itinerary and The Challenge

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 6, 2012

I am at the 1/2 way point in my Palette to Palate Tour of Cleveland with Positively Cleveland. I am touring with writers from LA, Detroit, Baltimore, Toronto and Columbus. Our collective opinion so far, we love Cleveland. Not a big surprise for most of us. What might be a surprise is that in spite of all I am doing, there is so much more to do and see and especially eat, that I am not even scratching the surface of this city. Another surprise, I have now been up here enough times to feel like I can advocate for what is great about this community with some authority. In the back of my mind, I can’t avoid the inclination to compare and contrast Columbus with Cleveland. My track record shows that I am a champion of my city of birth but on this trip, even though not completed, I will say that the culinary community of Cleveland kicks that of Columbus in the ass. Cleveland may have a little more in the quantity, I would say a head to head tie for quality, but where the win occurs in the spirit of collaboration and cheerleading among chefs here for each other and a desire to keep raising the bar. I had similar thoughts two years ago but now I say this notion is a firm belief.

This is my itinerary:

Thursday
Dinner at The Greenhouse Tavern
Tour of Spaces Gallery
Desserts at Sweet Moses

Friday
Breakfast at Muse in the Ritz Carlton
West Side Market tour with Richard Sören Arnoldi from Muse
Tour of the Ohio City Urban Farm
Lunch at Sokolowski’s University Inn
Visit to Aperature in Tremont
Dinner and tour of Crop Bistro
Ohio City Brewery Hop with Sam McNulty (Market Garden Brewery, Nano Brewery, Speakeasy & Bar Cento)

Saturday
Breakfast at Presti’s Bakery
Tour of Lakeview Cemetery
Lunch at Accent
Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland Botanical Garden
Dinner at Fire Food and Drink
MOCA – Museum of Contemporary Art
Melt Bar and Grilled (late night snack)

Sunday
Breakfast at Lucky’s Cafe
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
West Side Market Street Festival (in honor of the centennial of the market)
drive home with car stocked with West Side Market purchases

What else do I bring home with me? I have a too long list of places to visit that can not be done in a weekend. My must dine list includes: Lolita, Spice, Black Pig, Fahrenheit, Dantes, Happy Dog, Momocho, Pura Vida, Bar Cento, Speakeasy (when in session), a return to Tommy’s, SOHO and more.

The question coming up I-71 was how did I fee about going to some of the places a second time. My answer was I was happy to revisit the past when the names were Greenhouse, Lucky’s, Muse and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I can also say that I have another revelation on this trip. As a person that never thought I would always live in my home city, I can can say that I have truly come to love it over the last decade. I have also mentioned that Athens has become my second home. I can say with authority that if fate was to find me placed in Ohio City or Tremont, I would gladly plant my roots and call this area home. That does say something because after 48 states, 16 countries and too many cities to count, there are just a handful that would consider living in for the long-term and Cleveland is now on that list.

This CLEGourmand Series will feature several restaurant reviews but a healthy heaping of philosophy too. There is a different food culture up here (I am writing this post from University Circle) and it is something I want to better understand, dissect and bring back to the Capital city because Cleveland is kicking our ass when it comes to collaborations.

On a final note: If you are reading this late Saturday night or early Sunday morning (Oct 6th or 7th), come up to the Cleveland for the Centennial Celebration for the West Side Market. The planned festivities look amazing.

Posted in CLEGourmand, Locally Sourced, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Explorers Club: My First Expeditions

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 23, 2011

I am pleased. I am happy. Darn it, I might even use the word ecstatic! I have waited ten years and two months for this sign.

So what is the big deal? The Explorer’s Club is open. Yes, it is a restaurant. Ricky Barnes is cooking in the kitchen and Tracy Studer is guiding the front of the house. If you don’t recognize these names then you probably did not dine out in Columbus from the early 1990’s to 2001 (The Galaxy Cafe, Lost Planet Pizza and Pasta, Ricky’s Galaxy). Ricky and Tracy describe the Explorer’s Club as the Galaxy grown up. A few of the dishes and all of the flavors of Galaxies past are on the menu. The menu, decor and focus on service reflect changes in Tracy, Ricky and the rest of us during the last decade.

So a blast from the past has returned. Many eaters from the Columbus dining scene of old have fond memories of Ricky’s culinary accomplishments. Another element adding to the bigness of the deal is the location. I have discussed growing downtown dining and why this is important to the city. A good restaurant can be a foundation or launching point for a community (for example Yellow Brick Pizza and Angry Baker in Olde Town East). The Explorer’s Club is located on South High in Merion Village. The plucky neighborhood has limited eating options within their community, so a successful restaurant with good food can be a vibrant asset to the area. A past effort in the space, Coyote Jane’s, was a horrible disappointment (Did I just write something negative? Yes, and readers know I never do that. I will say the food, service and, well, everything was memorable, but not because it was good).

So with all of this good karma swelling up I must admit I had some trepidation. This was like revisiting an old flame. Are things ever as good as we remember them? I changed, they changed. Was the awesomeness of the Galaxy just a fond memory I had built up over the years. What if I did not like it? More importantly, what if you don’t like it. I don’t know if I can deal with the Galaxy imploding again the Explorer’s Club closing it’s doors.

I visited during a dry run night and ate for free. I went the next two days for brunch and was happy to pay for meals just as good at a good value. The verdict: YES! wonderful, near perfect, exciting, tasty. The menu may have an aspect of nostalgia but the flavor is there and a explorers spirit of pushing the limits. Considering the Explorer’s Club was open just to test drive the menu, train new servers and cooks and for experimenting with a few ideas, the end result was spectacular. I typically don’t try out a new restaurant for at least a month after opening so they can work out any kinks and I can walk through the door with reasonable expectations. On paper the Explorer’s Club should not have had much of a chance to blow me away based on my fervent loyalty of the past. I am looking forward to what the Explorer’s Club can do with a more seasoned staff and a few weeks of menu enhancements. Changes are already in the works. A bar menu is in the process of development as well as a limited selection of cocktails.

The food and the music is impressively sourced locally when possible. Here is a list of some of the local purveyors used:

Used Kids Records (the genres of music mix well with the menu)
Growers First / Crimson Cup (Coffee and Tea)
Shagbark Seed and Mill Company (from my food first favorite Athens, Ohio)
Gerber cage free, organic vegetarian fed chicken
OSU Agricultural egg hormone and antibiotic free pork
Stutzman Farms (grains/flour)

Not local, but definitely reflective of the restaurant, is where the artwork is sourced from. Most of the prints are by Jeb Loy Nichols, Wales UK.

Nichol’s portraits of famous or infamous names you may have heard include: John Coltrane, Amelia Earhart, Hank Aaron, Wendell Berry, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Harvey Milk and Woody Gutherie. All were pioneers in their fields and times. The tagline of the Explorers Club is Simple – Pioneering – Flavor. The Galaxy was a pioneer in Columbus dining in the day and today, Explorers Club has taken that spirit and refined it. Staking a claim in Merion Village could be pioneering as well, I hope others will follow to add to the spice of this neighborhood.


So after all of this historical and philosophic foreplay, it is time to focus on the food.

Dinner was my first experience (note a few menu items may change of get tweaked by the time you travel to the Explorer’s Club. The item I hoped to see the most was black bean hummus. It is on the menu and is now served with garlic citrus pizza bread (looks and tastes like the best pita bread I have ever had). The hummus is great. I do miss the giant pool of garlic sauce that topped the 1993 – 2001 version but since that causes significant “personal space” issues for me, I figure it was omitted for the safety of the general public.

I also ordered the chicken quesadilla with charred salsa and sour cream. The salsa packed some significant heat but paired with the cool sour cream accentuated the flavors of everything on the plate.

The winner of the dinner entrees selected was the beef brisket (with black beans, redskin potatoes and jalapeno slaw). The brisket fell apart with very light pressure from my fork. It has a complimentary mix of flavors in the broth to spice things up. My dining companion is not a fan of the jalapeno but she found the proportion of pepper to slaw to be perfect balance of heat and cool.

For dessert there was only one choice I could allow, another blast from my past, Mrs. Barnes Pumpkin Dessert (I recalled this being called Surpise). Oh, yes. This is no pumpkin pie. It is served with cream and fresh berries. It might best be described as a fusion of cake, pie and cheesecake. It is good, that is all that matters.

I woke up the following day and got some of the old gang together to go back from brunch (after college a group of six to ten of us were there almost every Saturday for one or two meals). Longtime readers know I have little interest in breakfast with very few exceptions, Explorers Club is on the short list. I liked my group meal so much I went back the next day solo to sample the only item I did not try the day before.

Another menu item I was passionately, desperately, pathetically hoping for was museli. This simple dish was the hallmark for all other museli experiences in my life, with the exception of a serving I had in Zug, Switzerland every subsequent museli left me wanting and musing about why Ricky would create something so good and take it away. The 2011 version is as good as any and quite photogenic.

Next was the Sophie’s Choice of toast: Cuban French Toast with fruit vs. Grilled Cinnamon Bread with fruit and cream. The Gourmand approach to problem solving goes something like this, “when in doubt, get both”. It was the right choice. Both get “best of show” in their classes. I can not advise you to pick one over the other. The crunchy, funnel cake like batter on the French Toast is borderline addictive. French or not, Cuban bread is the finest way to experience this dish. As for the Cinnamon Bread, the cream was great – I would love to see more on teh side next time.

(I mean really, how could you choose?)


All the breads are made in-house at Explorers Club. The bread is fresh, hearty and serves as a great base for many of the dishes or a compliment for dipping sauces on the side. One their best uses of bread is the Fried Egg sandwich served on Ciabatta with Muenster Cheese and Jalapeno slaw with redskin potatoes on the side. This is a bit messy to eat but who cares, it might be the best breakfast sandwich (non-traditional category) in town.

Love at first bite? In my case, they had me at OPEN. Trying to be objective, would I feel the same way about Explorers Club without the prior history? Yes. If anything my expectations and hopes may have made impressing me more difficult. Considering that more additions and improvements are in the works for the coming weeks, it is easy to believe their grade of A going to A+. The Explorer’s Club is worth exploring. I would suggest going for both a dinner and brunch to gauge the potential that is here.

I will be writing about the Explorers Club more for sure. I am interested in what the bar menu will have to offer as well as the variety of cocktails appearing behind the bar. Did I mention I was really happy?

The Explorer’s Club opens the doors to the world on October 28th, 2011.

Explorers Club
1586 S. High Street
Merion Village / South Side
614.725-0155
Facebook

Explorers Club on Urbanspoon

Posted in CLOSED, Locally Sourced, restaurants, sandwiches, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

The Coop Flies into Baja Clintonville

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 9, 2011

The Coop
2701 Indianola
(Corner of Cliffside and Indianola, just north of Hudson)
Clintonville
614.581.9353
Tues-Fri Noon-8
Sat: 9-5

The Coop opened up on September 8th with no fanfare and a light rainstorm. The first day went well. The chef in The Coop worked at Alana’s for over two years. The menu is still being developed and the regular hours and days of operation are being figured out. There will be Facebook and Twitter addresses for the Coop sometime soon.

News of this new trailer was verified on site by our friend Dave from Weber Cam who said……

Sorry I didn’t get all the details, but the wing I just stole before dinner was sublime. I can’t tell if fried or roasted, not greasy, the meat was very, very nice. Not hot, just the sauce over it was a typical vinegary hot sauce, and a sprinkle of blue cheese and some really, really good coleslaw on the side.

All packaging biodegradable (this part I find fascinating, it’s very cool, polylactide I believe).

Using the power of e-mail, I was on the scene within the hour. The Coop is a former Cinnamon Roll fair cart that has been repurposed as something better. The Coop also has a fair share of chicken wire added to the frame for barnyard aesthetics. The food is not far from the farm at this trailer either. The eggs and poultry come from North Market Poultry and Game. Other North Market vendors are sourced as well. The cheese is supplied by Meadowmade. The chef and her assistant shop for produce at area Farmers Markets on Mondays and Tuesdays. And for a touch of environmentally friendly vending – the carry out containers, forks and such are Earthaware – as biodegradable as there is.

Two menu’s are shown below. The chicken and eggs sampled were prepared perfectly. We will see what develops with The Coop and will update this post as new information comes in.


Posted in Clintonville, CLOSED, Locally Sourced | Tagged: | 4 Comments »