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Archive for the ‘Ohio’ Category

LaRosa’s Pizza – Greater Cincinnati

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 27, 2018

In some previous posts or ramblings depending on your point of view, I have alluded to an inability to connect with Cincinnati. Oddly, my first ever intentional food only trip was to Cincinnati around 1994 or 1995. During a day trip I went to Camp Washington Chili, Gold Star Chili and LaRosa’s Pizza and a few places I have forgotten. The subsequent year I skirted the suburbs with a trip to tour the United Dairy Farmers Ice Cream Plant and Aglamesis Brothers Ice Cream, both were exceptional. Otherwise future trips were mainly limited to Jungle Jim’s runs. I have watched and studied the growth of LaRosa’s Pizza which has been a southwest Ohio institution for many decades. Even though there is now a location in Dublin, I decided that since CMH Family was in the metro area to visit the Newport Aquarium we might as well give LaRosa’s a visit. Two other deciding points: although we avoid chains in the food education of our son, my wife and I do find the large booths of chains are CMH Griffin friendly (mainly for containment); and we have been experimenting with a Gluten-free diet for the young fella and LaRosa’s has Gluten Free Pizza. We found a LaRosa’s near EnterTrainment Junction (a great family spot) and decided to explore what LaRosa’s had to offer via a late lunch.

I lead a pizza tour and as part of that ask people about their favorite pizza places. Whenever LaRosa’s comes up people always mention the sauce. My vague memories of a pizza consumed over twenty years ago was that the sauce was sweeter than even Columbus style pizzas. This is definitely still the case.

We ordered a regular thin crust pizza Buddy’s Deluxe (named after the owner): pepperoni, sausage, spicy sausage, banana peppers and capocolla ham; a gluten-free Hawaiian Pizza and an order of Rondos – oven-baked blossoms (sheets of balled dough) brushed with garlic-pesto sauce, stuffed with provolone cheese and pepperoni. I’ll start with the last item because it was my favorite. A Rondo is reminiscent of a mini calzone or pepperoni roll. These were light, fresh and filling. A group of six come with a side of sauce. Our server mentioned that (at least in Cincinnati) for about 1 month each year specialty Rondos are available with Montgomery Inn Pulled Pork and other toppings in them. She said these were very popular and sell out fast. These also held up well as next day snacks. Our regular pizza was OK. The toppings were higher end, premium ingredients. The gluten-free pizza was also OK, it is hard to get excited about Gluten Free – but there are some exceptions (a later post) but this was not one of them. Overall, we found the pizza to be better than average but not something to rush back for. If we are near a LaRosa’s in the future, we will come back for more Rondos and try some subs.

However, there were a lot of things that I liked about LaRosa’s and thought they did really well to the point it is worth writing about (I rarely write about a chain). Our service was good and we really liked the gigantic kid friendly table mats with a side of crayons.

Other little things I liked added up to a lot. Each table was well stocked with shakers for Parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and oregano. A riser is provided at each table to place your pizza on. The paper napkins are a dense, high-grade of fancy paper napkin which I am sure cost an extra cent or two. Several varieties of locally made Husman’s potato chips are available to buy at the pick up counter. The lobby has a variety of neighborhood and LaRosa’s history posted on the walls. This location, since it was in Mason, had information on the famous, 500,000 Watt WLW radio station. Collectively these small items which show an attention to detail and attempt to localize a chain makes a place that serves average pizza worth mentioning.

LaRosa's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Silverton Donut Shop, Cincinnati: The Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 26, 2018

Followers of the Ohio Donut Trail may falsely believe that the roads of these adventures are paved with sugar and carbs and everything nice. However, the Donut Trail and blog posts in general are not always the non-stop joy they seem to be. Sometimes the trail can lead to intense disappointment. There is a long wind up to this pitch so get comfortable. When my Ohio Donut Trail adventures started it was as a distraction during a time I felt lost. People I had worked with for over seventeen years, people I had helped advance in their careers, served loyally and in one case, helped move, very casually decided to fuck me over and destroy my career without warning or cause. Not for anything that I did, but so that they could unseat someone who had been out to get for years and hid a personal grudge as a departmental change. Instead of dealing with one person, they reassigned an entire department. I was the collateral damage. My brain could not process how or why this could have happened and how these people I had supported for years could each allow me to be ground up by this train wreck of a political decision. So I did the only thing I could – invested my time into numerous side projects that I thought might distract me from my rage. Ultimately that did not work. So that is part of the origin story. Next, I have never been able to connect with Cincinnati in the way that I do with Athens, Cleveland or even Dayton. Cincinnati has never felt like Ohio to me, it has always felt somewhat foreign to the Midwest. In addition, I have always hated driving in Downtown Cincinnati, the ribbons of freeway create some elaborate Rube Goldberg Device designed to create confusion, chaos and death. However, the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few or the one, so I felt a duty and calling to fill in the holes on the Ohio Donut Trail and many of those left are in Cincinnati. Now, finally, for the current disappointment, when I pulled up to Bonomini Bakery on Blue Rock Street I saw this……….

It happens more often than one would think. I often visit places that I opt not to write about and sometimes, I just can’t get into a place. So my only alternative was to go to the next place on my list, Silverton Donut Shop about 15 minutes away.

This shop has a bit of back story to it. It started as Pleasant Ridge Donut Shop in 1989 and then moved on 2011 to become the Silverton Donut Shop. It should be noted that this is a certified Kosher Bakery (which may be the first of this kind on the trail to date). The shop is pretty generic on the outside and barebones on the inside. I was happy they still had donuts left since many online reviews indicate they often run out early in the day. The signature donut here is called the Klunker (sometimes called Clunkers at other shops). Klunker’s are German in origin (and Cincinnati has deep German roots). These are muffin sized donuts without any holes that are encased in a thick sugar glaze.

CMH Spouse has a hierarchy of donut needs which follows this order: Blueberry, Eclaire, something creme filled or something with fruit. Using this criteria as well as what was left on the shelves, I obtained a Bavarian Cream Donut for her and a Buttermilk Glazed donut to round out the trio. My wife thought her donut was OK. I liked the Klunker and the Buttermilk donut but was not moved to any emotional or irrational exuberance by what I tried. This is a good, basic donut shop that has a reputation for having great coffee. The most notable feature for me, is the proximity of an Esther Price Candy Store only one minute away which allowed me to stock up on some hard to find Dayton area chocolates (and these shops offer plenty of free samples including a gummy army man for CMH Griffin).

There will be more Ohio Donut Trail adventures…..but it will be a while.

Silverton Donut Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in bakery, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Happy Dog, Cleveland

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 24, 2018

If you read my various posts in the CLEGourmand category you know I am a BIG fan of Cleveland. The people and the neighborhoods have an unquantifiable character that Columbus does not have. A part of it is pride, a big part is loyalty (supporting the Browns, Indians and Cavs is often very hard) and other elements that would best be labeled je ne sais quoi.

What led me to Happy Dog was a text from a native Clevelander. To say the text was provocative and inflammatory would be an understatement. The texter is a lifelong friend of the Grumpy Old Man (a “victim” of some Gourmand southern Ohio adventures) and in spite of being a corporate man has some very left leaning tendencies. He too has experienced a three lunch afternoon with me in Athens and knows my unwavering devotion for O’Betty’s Hot Dogs. In spite that (and in spite of him being at least a lukewarm fan of O’Betty’s) Mr. Suit stated (profanity, swagger and other off-color commentary edited to protect the innocent) Happy Dog is better than O’Betty’s.

Clearly these were fighting words so I requested photographic documentation and asked for less graphic commentary. I also did a lot of Googling and researched this so-called better than O’Betty’s Hot Doggery. Online, Happy Dog looked to have some merit although this assertion of “better than O’Betty’s” was clearly the rantings of a mad man but I placed a visit high on my to do list for my next Cleveland trip. Eventually, I made my way to the hallowed doors of Happy Dog.

I immediately took a shine to the place. The location I visited is in the Gordon Square neighborhood, which has a fair number of hot spots (like Brewnuts) but is still rough enough around the edges to have some character and a sense of communal community. The outside is nondescript other than covered bike parking and a sign that could easily be mistaken for a dive bar or dog groomers. The inside had an old, multi-generational, pleasantly battered feel so familiar to many of my favorite Cleveland haunts. I scooted CMH Spouse and CMH Griffin into a booth so we could begin the critical and crucial work of determining our order.

The Happy Dog menu is both extensive and simple. Step One: choose a base of hot dog (100% beef or vegan), burger, tots or fries. Step Two: review a list of fifty plus toppings, dips and etc. to add to your hot dog or whatnot. These include but are not limited to items such as Japanese Yum Yum sauce, top-secret Fry sauce, bourbon pork and beans, pimento mac & cheese, vegetarian lentil chili, Fruit Loops and so on. You then take an order sheet and check off what you want added to each item you care to dine on. The depth and variety of toppings was impressive but I do have one criticism. As a graduate of Hot Dog University and a visitor of the Mustard Museum, I am concerned that only three mustards are listed on the menu. Cleveland alone to home to two hot dog worthy mustards – Bertman’s Ballpark and Stadium Mustard and I could see neither on the menu. Less than ten offerings of mustard goes against the underlying philosophy of Happy Dog. This could be rectified with the placement of a variety of mustards in a communal area.

An eclectic order of hot dogs, fries and tots were ordered and found their way to our table.
The CMH Family found all to be satisfactory. My wife, who holds high standards for many things and who maintains a very high tolerance for my advocacy for food adventures in establishments and neighborhoods she finds to be both suspect and questionable approved of Happy Dog. She is on the record as stating, with equivocation, their fries are the best she has ever had. Both she and I concurred that the fries were better than O’Betty’s. We liked the diversity and quality of the toppings. I thought the vegan hot dog / sausage I had (I ordered a regular hot dog too…..duh) was the best vegan / vegetarian fake encased meat product I have ever consumed. (I tried a lot – especially during a two year period when I was a five day per week vegetarian). I would have liked the buns to have been steamed or lightly toasted (as is the O’Betty’s way). I am still of the opinion that O’Betty’s executes a slightly better total hot dog but Happy Dog is a strong number two for best in the state. Also, it is not fair to compare the two especially since Happy Dog has at least seven times the square footage as O’Betty’s and my Athens hangout has more experience in the hot dog trade. So while Mr. Suit was wrong, he was right is determining that Happy Dog is a most superior spot for hot dogs and much more (live music, cocktails, deep beer list and while most items are locally sourced, because they want the best, they vegan dogs comes from Seattle). We all win when we go to Happy Dog or O’Betty’s. And we all lose when we put ketchup on a hot dog.

I visited Happy Dog on Detroit Ave. in Gordon Square.

Posted in CLEGourmand, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Brewnuts, Cleveland: The Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 19, 2018

I have been an advocate of pairing donuts with beer since at least 2010. Being a peripheral member of the craft beer industrial complex, it was inevitable that Brewnuts would come on my radar. While I wish I could say it was love at first bite, for years I had to be content to love Brewnuts from afar for alas, my life is in Columbus and Brewnuts was born in Cleveland. The description from the Brewnuts website provides some insight as to why I love what they do. I would say I “got them” the first time I heard about them.

Brewnuts is the lovechild of two Clevelanders – Shelley & John Pippin – who gave up their jobs working for “The Man” to pursue their three favorite things: donuts, beer and Cleveland.

Long story short, one night Shelley bolted up in bed and asked John what he thought about the idea of making craft beer based donuts. After a long pause he said “I like that.” The next day we went out and bought a countertop fryer and got busy hatching our plan to make Cleveland’s most unique and delicious donuts

The donuts are made with beer. They are hand crafted, in small batches without pre-made mixes. The varieties are inspired by the local beers they pour into the mix. When Brewnuts started they could be found in limited quantities in select places in Cleveland like Phoenix Coffee. When I saw they were building out a storefront that would also be a local craft beer bar I knew I had to get there somehow, someway, someday soon….but I had to wait a very long time to make my donut Haj. Brewnuts was everything I wanted it to be and more the second I walked through the door.

I had a limited time to explore since I had a child melting down and a spouse that was literally melting from the heat. I had just enough time to explore the place inside and out as well as to order two donuts. Long time readers of the Ohio Donut Trail adventures know I am a cake donut man, but in this case, I was happy to consume yeast donuts….and I liked it.

I tried one cannoli donut. It tasted like some of the best cannoli I have sampled anywhere. It was fresh, flavorful and clearly used premium ingredients. I also tried one Limoncello donut. This tasted like some of the best Limoncello I sipped in Italy years ago. This donut was also super fresh. As the menu board noted, it did contain alcohol. For most of the donuts, the ABV part of alcohol is cooked out in the donut making process but for the high-test stuff, a trace off alcohol remains. It this case it just added more flavor to the donut. Both donuts were exceptional. If I had time (and a budget) to try more I would have gladly studied these in-depth seated at the bar while creating craft beer pairings for hours on end.

Speaking of craft beer, the selections showcased the best of what Cleveland craft beer has to offer and the beer menu would rival any other craft bar in the region with a similar number of taps. Brewnuts does everything right. It is a great addition to the Gordon Square neighborhood. And it is yet another reason why I love the CLE. Donut Mess with Cleveland.

Brewnuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in bar, beer, CLEGourmand, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Donut Scene, Strongsville: The Ohio Donut Trail

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 18, 2018

The Donut Scene was suggested to me by the esteemed and effervescent Liz Martin – a local super food focused person and event maker. Ohio Donut Trail research is being bolstered by some family trips to Northeast and Southwest Ohio this summer. This is good news for some of you that like a good donut and bad news for the Dining Duder (aka ChairmanL) who detests words wasted on donuts.

The Donut Scene is a bit nondescript, buried in the exact middle of a small retail strip off Pearl Road. This is a 24 hour operation, which makes it a popular donut destination for 2nd shift workers and late night revelers. The place opened in 1983 but looks much older. The decor is classic donut shop – simple counters, stools and because this is Ohio, a big American Flag draped on a wall. My teen-aged counter person was friendly and upbeat. I tried a wide range of donuts in order to be comprehensive.

This was my first donut research mission without my beloved porchhound CMH Tobias but this was the first joint team assessment (reluctantly) with CMH Spouse and (with great enthusiasm) CMH Griffin.

My wife’s go to donut is generally a blueberry cake with maple glazed a close second. Both of these were sampled and she found them to be satisfactory but unexciting. She thought the maple had a slight pumpkin flavor to it.

CMH Griffin, sampled a small piece of a cake donut with sprinkles and a small piece of a cherry donut. These were consumed with significant gusto. Over the course of the next 24 hours, CMH Griffin consumed about 1.5 donuts. Considering we have been experimenting with a no gluten diet and low processed sugar diet for him, this was a poor decision on my part. CMH Spouse was quick to point this out with her trademark sarcastic disdain. This was warranted because CMH Griffin was wound up for the rest of the evening so neither of us slept more than a few hours.

The Donut Scene has a large variety of cakes, cookies, apple fritters and such as well. I did not notice this until I left, but in reviewing my photos (see below) I spied a food item I have not encountered before: Kilatchy. Had I seen this at the time I would have ordered one. I think it may be a very interpretive spelling of Kolache. If you go to the Donut Scene, please find out for me and post here to let me know the story.

My favorite donut was a chocolate glazed French Cruller. Before I started down the strange, long and sugary path of the Ohio Donut Trail, the cruller was my favorite donut style but it lost some of is hold over me since they are harder to find in Columbus and rarely very good. This cruller was the best I recall having in this decade.

I asked about customer favorites and was told that Devils Food and Sour Cream were the top-selling donuts. If I had looked before asking I would have noticed the rack/trays for both were three times bigger than their peers.

All in all, the Donut Scene is worthy of the Ohio Donut Trail.

Donut Scene Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in donuts, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | 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.

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Blystone Farm and Butcher Shop (& Deli & Taproom), Canal Winchester

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 30, 2017

Blystone Farms sign

“Lord, I was born a rambling man, looking for a new lunch spot as often as I can. But when it comes to eating, I hope you’ll understand, as for now, I’m largely a homebound man.” By my makeup, I need to roam and explore, discover new things, etc. Over the last six months I have been adding a lot to my to read lists, to listen to lists, to watch lists, etc. As for my to eat list, it is extensive. When I hear about or notice a good candidate I start a blog post with the name of the destination and any bits that caught my interest others mentioned or based on a quick search of the interwebs. (I have 55 more places on my blog list). Canal Winchester has been a frequent topic of conversation over the last year due to Brewdog, and more than once someone would suggest Blystone Farm and Butcher shop as worth a visit. One guys description of a deli sandwich from the Blystone peaked my interest to the extreme, he loved talking about the sandwich almost as he enjoyed consuming it.

With the breaking of weather in the spring and the breaking of myself from a lack of adventures I opted to combine work with a little pleasure in May. I assigned myself the “southern leg” of deliveries for the Columbus Ale Trail Brew books. I plotted out an all back roads route to make deliveries to Grove City Brewing, Brew Brothers, Loose Rail Brewing, Brewdog and Combustion Brewery. It was a great day to drive and conveniently Blystone was just slightly off my plotted path on my way to Loose Rail. (As a side, note, I did find a cool Taco Truck called Taco Time by Don Carlos on SR 317 in a VFW parking lot about one mile from Brew Brothers, that will be a future post here or on Taco Trucks Columbus).

Blystone Farm deli

I did not have any expectations of Blystone and I could not find much online (other than a very good post by Columbus Culinary Connection) so I just knew it was a farm based butcher shop with a deli. As soon as I saw the place in the distance, I knew I would like it. The moment I walked through the door it was love at first whiff. Blystone offers a full service butcher shop offering a wide range and variety of cuts of mea, many originating on the farm. The shop is also stocked with a deep selection of craft beers, wines, Ohio and other cheese and local products such as Sophie’s Pieorgi. As I was walking around the ship enthralled by my choices one of the butchers asked if I needed anything so I replied, “a lunch recommendation.” He walked through what on the menu originated in the shop and suggested I try the ham and cheese, especially since he knew the ham had been freshly sliced an hour ago. He also said the wings may meet my fancy as well. He then pointed me to the new taproom / restaurant.

Blystone Beer Menu

I loved the rustic look of the attached dining area. Positioning myself at the bar, I spied the beer list on the wall and was impressed with the choices in a largely Ohio based tap selection. I asked a few questions before placing my order. The soup of the day was a Mediterranean soup with a mix of unusual ingredients so I ordered that as well as a Ham & Cheese Sandwich, chicken wings and a beer flight. The woman behind the bar was immediately impressed by my ambitions. In this case, even for me, I may have been pushing my own envelope which exceeds the good sense and tolerances of most mere mortals.

I cannot recall much about the soup other than it was flavorful and I liked it. I think that is because anything would have been forgotten in comparison to my two lunch orders. The Ham (house made) and Cheese (Ohio) sandwich was served on fresh thick Texas Toast style bread topped with homemade BBQ sauce and served with a pile of outstanding steak fries. The flavor of the ham stood out among an outstanding supporting cast of. The steak fries were perfectly executed, sturdy, firm, well salted and filling.

wings and sandwich

As for the wings, these are superior on all indicators. I’m not a big fan of wings in general. However, in the rare instance I find them to be the exception to the greasy, mediocre base line, I get a bit excited. The Blystone wings are clearly not dumped out of a frozen bag. These wings were big, filled with flavor and did not need anything to dip, bathe or a sauce to swim in. I’ll place these in the top three in Central Ohio with O’Reilly’s and Smokehouse being a strong tie and weak third place respectively.

My approach to lunch attracted a bit of attention. Everyone in eyeshot asked about the wings. A woman I think may have been one of the owners was very interested in my opinions of the meal and I think my server wanted to adopt me although I am older than her.

This spot warrants further research but my first impression is highly favorable and flavorful.

Blystone Farm

Blystone Farm
8677 Oregon Rd, Canal Winchester
(614) 833-1211
(3 miles from Brewdog, 4 miles from Loose Rail)

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

Mama Renie’s Pizza: McArthur, OH – Pie Post Script

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 15, 2017

My core readership of 137 may recall my various posts concerning McArthur Ohio or as I now call it the western oasis of the Hocking Valley and future home of my Southeast Ohio Bigfoot & Identified Bigfoot Sanctuary and Interpretive Center. Those said readers may recall my one lament about McArthur, not trying the pie at Mama Renie’s. Well last Thursday, I corrected that. I took two cohorts on a sales trip to Southeast Ohio to explore Family Donut Shop, Mama Renie’s, O’Betty’s Hot Dogs, Casa Nueva, Jackie O’s, Little Fish Brewery, Hocking Valley Winery, Brewery 33 and Loose Rail Brewing.

At Mama Renie’s the three of us walked in at lunch time and ordered three waters, two slices of pie and one order of chips, which seemed odd to our server as well as everyone eating in the establishment. However when I explained I was taking my colleagues on a progressive lunch through the Hocking Valley she recalled me from my previous visit, laughed and asked if I wanted ice cream with the pie. “Yes, Ma’am.”

The pie is made by a local pie maker that by report has garnered many awards at county fairs and the like. We sampled Peach Pie and Strawberry Pie. My two companions are very experienced eaters, both are from the restaurant industry, and their opinions aligned with mine. These were classic Ohio comfort food slices of pie. The fillings were simple and full of flavor, the crust was neither too flakey or too crusty, in the Goldilocks Zone of just right. And unlike the fancy, artisan, hipster pies of Columbus, these were not small slices for $6 but large slices for $2.99.

So, if you happen to be in McArthur and don’t have room for a pizza, pop in to Mama Renie’s for a slice of pie.

slices of pie

Posted in culinary knowledge, Ohio, pies, Road Trip | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

You’d Rather Rax, But Thought They Were Through

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 13, 2017

In December 2016 it was brought to my attention that Rax still existed. Crack business reporter Dan Eaton was my source. However, he did not respond to my request for an interview (you know how the liberal Elite Media are). I also contacted the owner of most of the remaining Rax Restaurants and did not hear back from him.

As a Columbus native, I have vague memories of Rax from the 1980’s. I often confused the brand with Arby’s. Both focused on roast beef sandwiches but in that era Rax had shakes that my female friends obsessed about and they had a salad and food bar that exceeded the depth of Wendy’s had to offer. Columbus was a fast and casual food boom town in this era with the likes of Wendy’s, Damon’s, G.D. Ritzys, Cooker, Mark Pi’s, Max & Erma’s, Charlie’s Steakery, BW-3 (back when we called it that) and more expanding throughout the Midwest and the world. In the case of most – they grew too fast, got top-heavy with management and big-headed on the need to saturate the market. Most died out through the late 1980’s and 1990’s, were restructured / went bankrupt multiple times and scaled down to a few locations instead of several hundred or were never to be heard of again……

Or maybe not. Cooker had a rebirth (and died). There is one G.D. Ritzy’s in Huntington West Virginia. My beloved Zantigo (so much better than Taco Bell) still exists in Minneapolis. There is always hope.

For Rax, let’s pop into the Wayback Machine for a quick Rax refresher. The restaurant concept began in 1967 in Springfield Ohio as Jax. (Note Arby’s started in 1964 in Boardman Ohio). The concept was sold in 1969. It was then known as RIX. It rebranded as Rax and opened the first franchise under the Rax name in Columbus of course. By the late 1980’s there were over 500 locations in 38 states. The death spiral started shortly thereafter with Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed at the end of 1992. Wendy’s started to acquire some locations to transform them into Tim Horton’s.

My current research shows that eight to 10 Rax restaurants remain. Several are owned by one company with one rogue / independent operation in Bellefontaine. Over the last two months my travels took me near two Rax locations so I decided to investigate.

rax-lancaster-outsidejpg

My first exploration took me to the Rax in Lancaster. The Rax location here is located a few miles east of Downtown. This may be an original location of from the glory days of the Rax empire. The phrase Endless Salad Bar which was a company slogan in the olden days is painted over on the sign. The furniture and carpet inside do look like they date to the 1980’s. The staff wear Rax uniforms. The cups also sport the Rax logo but everything else is generic – sauce packets, sandwich wrappers, etc. The menu seems to feature the core menu items of Rax of days of yore: baked potatoes, curly fries and shakes. There is also a special offered, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a bowl of chili. I ordered a regular Rax to test out the signature menu item. The roast beef was sliced paper-thin, has a light brown / gray color to it had a very specific smell and taste to it. My recollection of meals at Rax 30 years ago was that the key was to load up on sauces. I took that exact approach in the modern day, covering part of my sandwich in generic BBQ sauce, part in generic Horseradish sauce and I left a small section plain so I could fairly assess the sandwich.

rax-lancaster

I tried the twisty fries and a shake. All in all, OK.

Having not heard back from Dan Eaton or Rax World HQ, I decided I needed to try another Rax to see if I really would rather Rax.

Another opportunity presented itself on my way to Family Donut Shoppe and Wittich’s Chocolates. Traversing south on SR 23, I spied a bill board for a Rax in Circleville.

Pulling into the spot, I noted some indirect irony. I had to do some googling to confirm my suspicions. The original Rax location in Circleville was taken over by a Tim Hortons. The current Rax (circa 2011) replaced a former Wendy’s location.

rax-circleville

This location (being newer) was little more upscale than the Lancaster location. It featured more furniture. The signage and branded items (shirts, cups, etc.) were exactly the same, right down to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich with bowl of chili special.

I tried a regular Rax here and a BBC (Beef, Bacon and Cheddar) which is reported to be the big seller in the chain. I’m glad I scouted out Rax but mainly as an homage to history, I think I would rather Arby’s instead.

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Back to Family Donut Shoppe for a Burger…..

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 8, 2017

Readers may recall several mentions of Family Donut Shoppe in my multiple explorations of SR 56 on my way to Athens. I will come clean, in the spirit of glasnost (all hail President Putin), in addition to my normal investigations I have been scouting the area to buy property for a combination Bigfoot Sanctuary, Pony Ranch and Tiny/Little House court. Anyone that wants to donate to the cause, contact me directly for investment opportunities.

Anyway I vowed I would head back to Family Donut Shoppe for what looked to be a good burger. I did try on the day before Thanksgiving only to find…after driving all the way there, that a business that is open 24 hours a day…decided to close early and I missed them by 15 minutes. It was a long drive home.

I tried again last week with better results. The hamburger was well worth the $2.30 I paid for it. It was a handmade patty on a fresh bun and liberally doused in mustard, ketchup and pickles by request. You can see a photo below.

family-2

I saw a hand written sign for vegetable soup on the wall so I ordered that as well. It was well worth the $2.25 for at least a 12 ounce serving of soup in a reuseable plastic bowl. The soup broth was homemade with a large volume of frozen vegetables cooked into it and a very generous proportion of ground beef. There was some cabbage thrown in for good measure. Vegetarians beware, old school vegetable soup is often not entirely made of vegetables.

family-1

And of course I ordered a selection of a dozen plus donuts to take home to share. These donuts are exceptionally good. Fans of my Ohio Donut Trail may know that Family Donut Shop is considered among the top three donuteries of the thirty-three I have evaluated around the state of Ohio (to date). The dilemma with these donuts is that I have not been able to evaluate these head to head with Donald’s Donuts and DK Diner on the same day. I did take these donuts to a few hardcore fans of Donald’s Donuts who had tried some of those a few days previous. They too are torn. It is only 82.7 miles from door to door of these two spots so if I get DK Diner donuts before I leave Columbus and sample all three after arriving in Zanesville I may someday have an answer for this critical issue. In the meantime, we are certain that Family Donut has the best custard filled donuts (neither Donald’s or DK offer this style).

In you go to Family Donut Shoppe (only 15 minutes from Chillicothe) please call ahead. While they are open 24 hours, on the very odd chance they opt to close early you do not want to be left holding an empty bag at the mid point of your journey. Let me tell you it is a bitter drive home (but pretty if you take SR 93) without donuts or the satisfaction of a burger in your belly.

box of donuts

donuts at Family Donut Shoppe

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