CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

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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 enjoy a few local beers, a great lunch and 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 30+ 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 Beer Hall is adjacent to the Bikeway. After my meal which included samples of hard to find and newer breweries such as Sixth Sense Brewing in Jackson, I decided for 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.

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    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 »

    Rockmill Tavern in the Brewery District

    Posted by cmh gourmand on December 29, 2016

    rockmill

    Rockmill Brewery opened to the public in Lancaster in September of 2010. I was there shortly thereafter in November of 2010. It is interesting to reflect how much the world and in particular my world has changed in the span of just six years. In the world of local craft beer, imagine if you will the thrill when Rockmill nudged central Ohio breweries closer to the number ten. At my last count, we can expect to see well over forty microbreweries in Central Ohio by spring.

    With all of these changes afoot, owner Matt Barbee knew he needed to get a bigger footprint in the Columbus market and he realized the best way to do that was to establish a taproom(s). An attempt to open a location in German Village fizzled out but another location he had in the works in the Brewery District found some solid traction and uncommonly launched close to on time.

    Rockmill Tavern opened it’s doors to the public at the end of October this year. This was pretty amazing turn around, the previous occupant, World of Beer closed without warning on October 31st 2015. Barbee had much of his attention devoted to making the prospective German Village location come together so the Brewery District tavern was fast tracked as the other project got sidelined. The space has a lot of history that fits well with his concept. The space was literally made for beer. The original occupant of these hallowed brick walls was Hoster Brewing Company. Up until 1919 this address on Front Street was part of one of the largest breweries in the state churning out up to 500,000 barrels of beer per year. Rockmill’s production is a bit below that number (by about 490,000 or so). The particular space the tavern fills was once part of a stable for 125 horses for Hoster Brewing. So it is fitting that Rockmill’s logo is that of a horse. This truly was a match that was meant to be.

    I am excited about this development for many reasons. I have stayed in touch with Barbee since our first meeting years ago and have always been impressed by his vision and focus on how he wanted to grow the brewery and engage with the community. As for the Brewery District, I feel that the opening of Rockmill Tavern marks the official rebirth (3.0) of the Brewery District. If you are not a native of Columbus then you are probably not aware that the Brewery District was the place to be in the 1990’s. And in the early 2000’s it very quickly became the place to flee. A few businesses stuck it out and in the last year the area has seen a significant upswing with the success of Copious, Arepazo and other new hot spots.

    The main downfall of the World of Beer location was a lack of food. Some failed attempts were made to try to coordinate with food trucks but those efforts were…uncoordinated. Barbee saw the potential in the space but knew the key was to squeeze in a kitchen to churn out something better than fried fare and wings if he wanted guests to stick around for more than one beer. He ensured a slam dunk for food by engaging great talent in both the front and the back of the tavern. In particular, Chef Andrew Smith, most often cited for his work at Salt and Pine but in my book, well respected for his work at the Rossi.

    As for the food, they have nailed it. Open a short two months, I have seen Rockmill Tavern listed as the best new restaurant of 2016 as well as noted on the short list of best overall. Not bad considering they have just started cooking. I can only speak to the lunch menu but looking at dinner and brunch offerings I see nothing to fear in this line up. I shared lunch with a few members of the Columbus Ale Trail team and was lucky to be in the company of two young ladies that share the same affinity for Brussels sprouts and beets that I do.

    I’ll start with the sprouts. While they seem to be ubiquitous to any new menu in town I rarely find them executed to my liking. Those that I sampled at Rockmill Tavern were cooking to my loving. The portion size was perfect. They had just a bit of char to them and a trace of carmelization. They tasted fresh and flavorful with just a hint of crunch and chewiness.

    brussels

    Moving on along, the beet salad was a slam dunk. I don’t often fret about presentation but in the case of this salad it certainly looked good enough to eat but more importantly the layout of the ingredients made the salad easy to enjoy. The goat cheese was an ample portion and placed in such a way that I could easily control how much or how little I wanted with each bite. The beets themselves were cooked to pure perfection. I could not have been happier and I commit to ordering this salad whenever I am at Rockmill Tavern, even when I am not there to eat.

    beet-salad-1

    Here is an insider tip. I usually don’t get excited about biscuits. In my world I associate them with breakfast more often that lunch, brunch or dinner. More importantly, I encounter bad biscuits 90% of the time. Finally, I found a biscuit worthy of this quote -> Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. – Carl Sandburg. The addition of a bit of cheese and a lot of love has produced the finest biscuits in the city. And since readership of the blog is down, I am going to give my readers a little insider knowledge (but don’t spread this around). If you know Cheryl Harrison (and you probably should because she is a good idea) then you should know that she LOVES these biscuits. If she had her way, they might become a form of currency.

    biscuits

    And last, but not least, the Tavern burger – made from good ground beef and not dolled up too much but I did appreciate the ciabatta bun and the bacon jam. It continues along my burger mantra of keep it simple to make it special. A burger should just be a burger but most places threw this belief out the window years ago. Don’t pitch this burger, pinch it in your hands and hold on to it for dear life until you finish it.

    burger

    In conclusion, most importantly, I am very happy for Matt Barbee. The Rockmill Tavern is a place and space that truly reflects his passion(s), not just for beer but the design of the interior and the rugged feel it projects connects with both the history of the building and the history of his brewery. When I met him six years ago, I enjoyed a great afternoon at a time when I really needed to reconnect with the good things he had going on in Lancaster and I feel all of those elements have successfully landed in this Brewery District space. (And extraneous note, I am writing this piece sitting next to my co-pilot on that first Rockmill trip – my dog CMH Tobias). Go for the food and stay for the beer and equally important, stick around in the Brewery District and help rebuild the area, one beer or bite at a time.

    Rockmill Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

    Posted in beer, restaurants | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

    Main Eatery, McArthur

    Posted by cmh gourmand on October 4, 2016

    img_5276

    Discovery of Main Eatery is linked to three important things: donuts, hot dogs and an itch to roam. Readers have read much about my explorations on SR 56 this year. What started as an alternate and much longer way to get to O’Betty’s in Athens, with a tacked on excuse to try out what turned out to be one of the best donut spots in the state turned out to be a journey of discovery. On my first trip through McArthur I drove right by Main Eatery without taking note of it. This is an easy thing to do. Fortunately, the Grumpy Old Man was with me on the first drive-by and he happened to spy a sign for a 21 piece shrimp basket. Our next trip through town, resulted in a very brief drop in which gave me enough information to want to block out time to explore this cinder block treasure trove of comfort foods again.

    As alluded to before, the Main Eatery is easy to bypass. It is a small block building that is ubiquitous to many rural and suburban areas of Ohio. Typically these shacks push out soft serve ice cream and some secondary or ever afterthought items like hot dogs and a few generic sandwiches. They get the job done and tend to be seasonal businesses. From a distance Main Eatery could easily blend into this category. The eatery is easy to miss and dismiss due to minimal, generic signage and a bland exterior. There is noting outside to suggest what the menu has to offer within.

    Main Eatery is definitely a shake shack (so to say) offering well over 100 combinations of milkshake flavors. I’m not sure what type of ice cream they scoop but I can vouch that the sum of all the shaken and stirred parts is exceptional. I sipped on the best Pumpkin milkshake of my life while driving back to Columbus from McArthur. The flavor was great and the thickness perfectly balanced. I expected good from Main Eatery but not incredible.

    img_5277

    The extensive assortment of dairy delights is just a preview of coming attractions on the main menu. Over six pages long, it is packed with an assortment of sandwiches, entrees, snack foods, subs, wraps, baked potatoes, a Cuban sandwich, all types of pork dishes and a lot more. I’m not sure how they pack so many ingredients into such a small place. Even more surprising, how can so much, be done so well, in such minimal square footage. Much of the menu is made from scratch. The pork is slow roasted. A fair amount of ingredients are locally sourced when possible. I would have never guessed or expected this. I am glad I sleuthed it out.

    Main Eatery does have a disadvantage it is always the fourth, fifth or sixth spot on one of my journeys of discovery so I have not been able to do in-depth investigation. I am certain, beyond reasonable doubt the eatery has the best Cole slaw south of 70. I sampled it twice now and was beyond pleased both times. The texture of the shaved cabbage, the balance of sauce and spice and just the right amount of carrot shavings make this mixture hard to beat. On this scouting mission, I ordered the “Hop Slop” to go. Included in this dish: homemade (made to order) potato chips, slow roasted pulled pork BBQ, cheese sauce, cheddar cheese, sour cream, a side of Cole slaw and a pickle spears. I had a few of the chips before the wheels hit the road and I ate the rest of the dish three hours later. I was very happy with my selection.

    Although my research time and subjects at Main Eatery have been constrained I’m still confident in my endorsement. Service has been friendly and informative on each of my trips. If you have time to linger you do have options. The space is simple. There is an eating area on the porch. A few tables dot a small eat in space inside. The walls are decorated with a mix of old milk bottles for various Ohio diary from days of yore, an assortment of pop bottles and various knick knacks. Their next door neighbor is a service center for at risk youth in Vinton County. Main Eatery is an unlikely diamond in the rough inside a small town that is easy to breeze by on your way to the Hocking Hills but it is well worth dropping in to visit. Based on the potato chips here as well as those just down the street at Mama Renie’s Pizza it is fair to say McArthur is the homemade potato chip capital of the Buckeye state.

    Main Eatery Menu

    Main Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

    El Ranchito and My Southside Adventure

    Posted by cmh gourmand on November 26, 2015

    A friend of mine started raving about a Mexican Restaurant over the past summer. Since the world of Taco Trucks and authentic Mexican cuisine are in my domain and because I sustained a 7 month internment in Grove City he assumed I was aware of all south side establishments of this ilk. The more he talked about it throughout the summer the more I became intrigued. The downside, this friend does not pay much attention to restaurant details (well let me be honest, most people do not to the level I do – because they are, well, normal) so he had no name and a vague sense of location. Fortunately, I have experience going off on adventures with little to no information and perhaps the possibility of danger such was the case for my south side adventure.

    If the south side was to have a mascot, it would the character Pig Pen from Peanuts. No matter where you go – there seems to be a little cloud of dust floating around nearby. The area is a little rough around the edges but in my eye that only adds character. However, neither aspect of the area helps when wandering around looking for a Mexican Restaurant. But my persistence paid off eventually and near the intersection of Brown Road and Hopkins Avenue I found El Ranchito.

    IMG_3343

    The small lot was full and the place had rustic look that usually is a sign of potential good food but while swinging around the rear to look for a parking space I found a surefire sign that this place would be at least well above average……a little bit of culinary history.

    IMG_3346

    It seems the original Taco Nazo food truck has been in storage here for over a year and the owners know Quicho, the owner very well. While they have no plans of running a food truck, they do offer a taco truck style menu and do quite well with it.

    IMG_3339

    The kitchen is small, not much bigger than a food truck and the menu is the same size. This spot just does the basics but they do them well. If you are looking for a taco truck experience but you want to sit at a table to wait and dine this is the place you have been looking for.

    IMG_3341

    So, that was not much of an adventure, just a lot of driving, however if you are going to head to the south side you might as well make a day of it, so I should note that just next door to El Ranchito is D & E Z O’s Pizza. This place gets high marks from many in the area and when I used to offer the Pizza Grand Prix we could always plan on someone making the trek to Old North Columbus to share D & E Z O’s with the masses. So I’s suggest ordering a pizza while you eat a taco then taking the pizza home for later.

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    But wait there is more. I drove by a sketchy bar call Bullshotz. I had a compulsion to check the place out. Good sense would have caused me to drive on but something in my DNA fueled by more than a few missions to locate my father in bars like this, drove me back to the parking lot to check this place out. Parking in the lot, I found a nice watch lying in the mud, which gave me an excuse to walk in….and have the ability to walk right out….so I proceeded in spite of a bit of fear. Please note, if you go to Bullshotz there is a one foot drop from the door to the floor. My guess is this is a cheap security system or litmus test however I have good balance and no one was looking as I nearlt toppled to the floor so I still had the chance to mix in the with crowd. It took about ten seconds to determine that I could never blend in at a spot like this. I did turn the watch into the bartender who looked like a fairly attractive professional ultimate fighter just starting retirement. I also discovered that the place features a regular lunch and dinner menu, that looked OK. Now you are prepared for your own South side adventure. Good luck!

    Posted in culinary misadventure, restaurants | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

    R.I.P. Rigsby’s Kitchen / Cuisine Volatile

    Posted by cmh gourmand on November 9, 2015

    Rigsby’s Kitchen or Rigsby’s Cuisine Volatile if you have been around town a while, closed it’s doors this past weekend. It had a good run lasting from February 1986 to November 2015 in the same location and with the same owner which is impressive in the restaurant game. And when the doors closed the food was still good, the reputation still in high regard and the experience still special. Rigsby’s did not die out due to a loss of food quality or falling behind the times. While many reasons have been speculated on, a part of the demise is due to the success of the restaurant and the area it helped grow around it. Rigsby’s was a pioneer in the Short North in an age when the neighborhood still had shades of a red light district and the shadow of the Short North Posse in its aura. In an era before the Convention Center and downtown living, setting up business on the Short North was a risk. Owner Kent Rigsby took that leap of faith and in the process helped draw new people and new development to the Short North.

    I won’t go on about meals I’ve had or for some of you readers meals you may not have had a chance to enjoy. I only wrote about Rigsby’s once – and I wish I had done so more. For me, Rigsby’s was a favorite place to eat during an OSU home game when I could plan on having the spot to myself.

    Instead of food I’ll mention a few things that Kent Rigsby contributed to the Columbus dining scene during the lifetime of the restaurant, so in no particular order: he helped bring the Mona Lisa mural to the Short North, A James Beard Award Nomination in 2012, K2U, Eleni-Christina Bakery (named after his daughter), The Flatiron, Tasi Cafe, serving on the board of Dine originals, many top 10 of Columbus Dining awards and Ray’s Living Room (an art gallery).

    Rigsby has never been one to toot his own horn or maintain a status quo for too long so I am sure the end of Rigsby’s means something creative and/or culinary somewhere down the line from Kent Rigsby.

    If you care to share your own memories or comments on Rigsby’s, I’d love to hear them – comment away.

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

    Louie’s Daybreak Diner: Eating Lunch at a Breakfast Spot

    Posted by cmh gourmand on July 5, 2015

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    Old School advertising brought me to Louie’s Daybreak Diner. During my daily walks with CMH Tobias I walk by the sign you see above. This battered banner is right in front of a church / school so during the school year and every Sunday, hundreds of people walk by this sign. In the age of social media, SEO, etc., you have to respect someone with the thought to try some old timey marketing. Granted, I have walked by this sign for almost a year, but it worked.

    Another thing that inspired me is the proximity to Susie Sub Shop, the best place for subs in town.

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    My first visit was on a Wednesday, which did not work out so well because the business is closed on Wednesdays – but looking at the menu on the door, it seemed like they had some good specials. On my next trip, I took a very pregnant Mrs. Gourmand. She has the BLT which she reported was exactly what she wanted: well toasted Texas Toast, crispy, meaty bacon, lettuce and tomato with a little mayo on the side. I ordered the Reuben. I must admit I was very disappointed. The Reuben is $8.00, the version I had was worth $4.00. It was generic wheat bread, with three slices of corned beef, some cold sauerkraut, an afterthought of melted cheese and a volume of salad dressing from a bottle which had greater weight than the meat, cheese, and bread combined. My report, it was a let down and a definite “meh” sandwich. On the other side of the plate, the hand cut fries, although a trifling portion, were among the best I have had anywhere. Mrs. Gourmand agreed. I can’t fault the place, only myself. I violated the a cardinal rule: only get a Reuben from a Deli.

    In spite of the fries, if I come back to the area for lunch, I’ll be going to Susie’s next door. However, I will be heading back for breakfast sometime. The breakfast menu is extensive and has two off the beaten path menu items. The first is Bill’s Breakfast Rice: Rice, sausage, Onions, mushrooms, soy sauce, with cheddar cheese and served with toast. Intriguing to say the least. The second item f note is the Panhandler: choice of pancake, french toast or biscuit on the bottom then sausage gravy, hash browns, two eggs, then cheddar cheese and choice of meat.

    A final point of interest. I noticed there is a service window connected the diner to the sub shop next door. I asked our server / grill cook about it and she shared that the owners of both businesses and best friends and that family members work shifts at both locations. These two places definitely put the neighbor into neighborhood business.

    Louie's Daybreak Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

    Posted in breakfast, Diners, restaurants | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    My Take on Hot Chicken Takeover

    Posted by cmh gourmand on May 14, 2015

    Well, it took a while, but I finally caught up with what all of the cool kids have been talking about, Hot Chicken Take Over. It started out as a pop up and then popped over to the North Market. Things started hot and have gotten hotter with long lines and chicken selling hotter than hot cakes. The origins go to Nashville where hot chicken has been a thing for generations. (Authors note: I had hot chicken for the first time with Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood fame back in 2007). The concept is simple so I will walk you through it with photos.

    Step One:
    Go to the North Market (early) and stand in line. The folks at Hot Chicken Takeover will count down the number of pieces left on a chalkboard so you can figure out your odds of getting chicken.

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    Step Two:
    Study the simple menu and make your selections. If you are not sure what you want, you can gaze at the communal picnic tables full of people eating various types of chicken so you can eyeball what seems best for you. Choices are light and dark, sandwich or dinner, hot or hotter.

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    Step Three:
    After you order you can self-serve a beverage for yourself and then step back to soak in the ambiance and gloat that you have ordered while others are just starting to stand in line.

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    Step Four:
    Wait for this guy, or another guy or girl to bring you your chicken, they will call your name.

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    Step Five:
    Get your chicken (check to make sure you have the right box, it will have your name and order written on it).

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    Step Six:
    Eat the food.

    This is the sandwich. It comes with a double order of mac and cheese. A bit of cole slaw (which I called cold slaw or slop until I was 10). It comes with 4 pieces of bread. It also has a couple of pickles, they are a nice addition. I will also say the mac and cheese is exceptional – creamy, cheesy and tasty. Mrs. Gourmand who has a significant obsession with this dish found it exceeded expectations.

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    These are the wings. Note the trend, they come with bread and pickles.

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    This is the dinner, it looks a lot like the sandwich but it has two less slices of bread and does not have double mac.

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    And this your dessert option – banana pudding.

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    A word about the chicken. It is hard to find good fried chicken in town. Even harder to find hot chicken. The verdict – well done. The breading is just the right amount and holds he hot sauce well. The chicken is moist and tender with plenty of flavor. Check it out….and go early.

    Hot Chicken Takeover Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

    Posted in restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

    Lake Hope Lodge – Not your typical dining hall

    Posted by cmh gourmand on April 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    lakehopelodge.com/menunew

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

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

    Lake Hope Lodge on Urbanspoon

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

    Hounddogs Three Degree Pizza: Revisited, Reviewed….Revived

    Posted by cmh gourmand on February 28, 2015

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    Reviewing the extensive archives of CMH Gourmand, I find a few references to Hounddogs but nothing extensive. Of course there is a brief listing in the Slice of CMH section of the blog and back in 2012, there was the Nerd Night Clintonville Pizza Challenge, but that is it. That is an oversight on my part so I’m going to fix that.

    I have always been a fan of Hounddogs but I have become even more of a loyalist over the last year. I lead a tour of four of the best pizza places on the city with Hounddogs as one of the stops. There is a big change of perspective when one shifts from a fan to a pizza docent focusing on what is great about a place. Over the past year, I have learned much more about a business I have patronized for over 20 years and it spite of that, I still feel I have more layers to peel off of the onion that is this pizza place.

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    Ultimately, what makes Hounddogs stand out from the pack is variety. It starts with the crust, there are three to choose from: Thin crust, Smokin Joe’s style (a thick garlic butter crust right paired with a mild, sweet sauce) and a Gluten free crust. All are good, but the people (Hounddogs is “pizza for the people”) go with Smokin’ Joe’s style 70% of the time.

    Then there is the sauce, well, make that sauces, the five choices: pesto, Joe’s (mild, sweet), regular, spicy, and howlin’ hot. There are also some interesting speciality pizzas to choose from in case all of the options available make creating your own, overwhelming. Three speciality pies that pop out to me are: The hot mama, pesto pie and BBQ chicken. The hot mama combines smoked, sliced Cajun hot links, ham and bacon with sauerkraut. Yes, sauerkraut, think of this as a Reuben with pizza sauce and it works. The pesto pie is a vegetarian pie that is a carnivore’s delight. There are mounds of provolone, mozzarella, tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese over pesto sauce on thin crust. The BBQ Chicken pizza begins with a spicy garlic BBQ sauce with chicken, red onions, bacon and cheddar cheese.

    I could go on, but then I would be giving the tour away for free. There are so many stories in the place from the murals on the wall to the beer cans collections in the bar. There is a lot to look at in between bites. However two recent changes are true game changers for the business. First, the iconic black limo that was used for deliveries was finally sent the the scrap year after sitting in the back lot for years. It could not be repaired and they need the parking spaces. The good news is the Hounddog mounted on top was removed and may appear on another classic car for delivery in the future.

    Most importantly, 24/7 service has ended. Hounddogs made a name for itself and kept it by being a 24 hour pizza place since 1992. That changed January of 2015. I have posted a photo of the new hours below. While the place has always been a destination for an eclectic mix of guests, the new hours and other changes have made it a destination for families over the last year or so. If you have not visited here since college or before 4 am, you may want to drop in and reacquaint yourself with pizza for the people.

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    Hounddog's Three Degree Pizza on Urbanspoon

    Posted in Best Pizza in Columbus, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »