CMH Gourmand – Eating in Columbus & Ohio

Dining, Donuts, Dives and Diatribes

  • Recent Comments

    Plooj on The Return of (G.D.) Ritz…
    cmh gourmand on Dante’s Pizza Serving Cl…
    Jenny Barton Johnson on Dante’s Pizza Serving Cl…
    cmh gourmand on Product Review: Folios Cheese…
    mjb on Product Review: Folios Cheese…
    Chris on Another Elite Eating Hack: Roc…
    Chris on Product Review: Folios Cheese…
  • Categories

  • Top Posts

  • Archives: August 2006 to Now

Archive for the ‘Sky Gourmand’ Category

Captain Montagues B&B: Food Coast Base of Operations

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 14, 2012

To begin, I must apologize to my hosts the Tann’s. This post is eight months overdue. Although there have been some mitigating circumstances none individually or collectively can account for the delay. However, I think the timing may work out for the best, so that my readers can replicate my first visit to Captain Montague’s Bed and Breakfast.

Before I begin, allow me to digress. In leading up to this post, I have written about some of the places I explored on Ohio’s north coast as part of the SKY Gourmand series (search the categories to the right). Combined with the CLE(veland) Gourmand Series, I think the north coast deserves a name change, so I am dubbing the Lake Erie Shores with a new name, the Food Coast. I build my case below.

My lifetime in the Buckeye State had taught me to connote just a few activities with Lake Erie: Cedar Point, Put-In-Bay, Fishing and a long drive on 23 North. In my adult life, I have found better and more scenic routes to the north. I am allergic to fish, so that is a leisure time rule out for me. Cedar Point and Put-In-Bay as fun as they are for most people, make me cringe at the thought of throngs of hot, sweaty masses fighting me for personal space on a roller coaster or at the Round House Bar. I have learned a secret – The Food Coast is my culinary amuse bouche-ment park for eating. The fall is now my time for the lake and my time to feast.

Using Captain Montague’s as the base of operations for Food Coast adventures – there is a lot to see, discover and of course, devour near the shores of our Great Lake. I will list a few below. I hope to write about a few more soon.

Captain Montague’s is located in Huron, Ohio which as luck would have it is the heart of the Food Coast. See my list of exhibits below.

Chez Francois is 20 minute coastal drive to Vermillion

Cheese Haven, the largest cheese shop in our state is 25 minutes away in Port Clinton

Firelands Winery is an easy 20 minute drive near Sandusky. (Note: the region nearby hosts many wineries including: D&D Smith, Norwalk, Hermes Vineyards, Sandusky
John Christ Winery, Avon Lake, Klingshirn Winery, Avon Lake, Matus Winery, Wakeman, Mon Ami restaurant & Winery, Port Clinton, Paper Moon Vineyards, Vermilion, Quarry Hill Winery and Orchard, Berlin Heights and more)

Toft’s Dairy 20 minute drive to Sandusky

Zinc Brasserie is 15 minutes away in downtown Sandusky

Or in the Spirit of CLE Gourmand, heading east you can enjoy the following as an afternoon drive.

Chef’s Garden just 10 minutes down the road. I think a great night would combine a Veggie U. Earth to Table Dinner with a night at Captain Montague’s and a long walk the next morning to work off the meal.

Melt – an easy one hour drive away in Lakewood, Ohio (West Side of Cleveland, this is the original and best location of the Melt Empire)

Westside Market is one hour away, take cooler to stock up.

So from a culinary viewpoint, Huron and the North Coast offer plenty of tastes, treats and temptations.

I will also point out that mistress of the house of Montague, Judy Tann is no slouch in the kitchen. Feast your eyes on this breakfast below.

Having, hopefully, sold readers on the merits of the area from a Gourmand’s point of view, let me digress again, to expound on the Bed and Breakfast experience.

My previous Bed & Breakfast experiences were limited to Ireland and New Zealand. I did wonder if the B&B experience abroad translates to the shores of our country and in particular my state. Abroad, the B&B experiences offered a great value and kept me from feeling like a stranger in a strange land. As a non alien resident of Ohio, I wondered if a B&B would have anything to offer a fellow countryman. I am glad my first continental B&B experience was at Captain Montague’s. The Tann’s and the home have connection to the Emerald Isle, which I felt as the walked through the door. In fact, my stay did remind me of my Irish Bed and Breakfast experiences in Ireland many years ago.

My hosts Judy and Mike Tann were exceptional ambassadors for Huron and the house. They are knowledgeable about the neighborhood, region and most importantly, where to eat. They approved of my intention to eat at Zinc but mentioned several other dining options that I should add to my list for the future. Two fellow guests use Captain Montague’s as their pre and post dinner lounge for dinner at nearby Chez Francois. Their tales of dinners past and present made me wish I had made a second reservation for the evening but good sense and a swat from my photographer du Jour ended that plan before I could dial the phone.

For first time Bed and Breakfast guests (anywhere), the whole experience might seem a bit intimidating. You are staying in a person’s home, which in the Midwest, we typically limit to holidays with the in-laws, and even then, only with great reservation. The Tann’s easy-going demeanor and attention to detail allow guests to feel at ease and at home. The house is a showpiece but not so dainty as for one feeling the need to be afraid to walk about and enjoy the creature comforts of staying in a home instead of a drap and dreary, generic hotel.

The Tann’s entered the world of Bed and Breakfast tending by a twist of fate. In 1994, they were looking for a condominium the area so they could enjoy their free time, instead fate decided to put them in the path of a Bed and Breakfast to consume them. They moved on to restore one room at a time for the next decade. Fortunately for the guests, they stayed and have brought the Captain’s domicile back to its former glory and made the house a home.

Here is a bit a history on the house. “Built in the late 1870’s by the owner of the local lumberyard and master shipbuilder,…… Great Lakes captain, Charles Montague, purchased the property in 1890. He and his family lived in this grand house until the mid-thirties. The Montagues made their home famous for its grand parties and receptions. It has its roots in hospitality.”

What else does the B&B have to offer? How about pillars and white picket fence in a residential neighborhood (known as The Old Plat) filled with historic homes just minutes from the Lakefront Park and the Huron Harbor Lighthouse. Ohio’s oldest continuous summer stock theater, The Huron Playhouse, is in production for five weeks beginning in July and just around the corner.

Captain Montague’s Bed & Breakfast
229 Center Street
Huron, Ohio
419 433.4756 ‎
captainmontagues.com

For more ideas take a look at:

Lake Erie Shores & Islands website

Disclaimer: My lodgings were provided to me at no charge – they would be worth every penny paid and in fact, since this post is so delayed, I have sent a portion of my room fee to the owners to make up for my sloth.

Posted in CLEGourmand, Ohio, Road Trip, Sky Gourmand | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

SKY Gourmand: Zinc….Why you should add it to your diet.

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 5, 2012

Located one half block from the shores of Lake Erie, Zinc Brasserie has made a name for itself with north coast culinary hipsters, tourists, residents and food enthusiasts. Reading the numerous very positive reviews on every rating tool I can find, each reads about the same. (Paraphrased) – “I can’t believe there is a place like this in Sandusky, the French styled menu exceeded my expectations, I really loved the Beet Salad”. On the surface, I would say exactly the same thing. Digging deeper, I will write a bit more.

First, non residents of Columbus often say “I can’t believe I found something like this in Columbus, Ohio”. A good restaurant can be anywhere and it can serve anything. The basics are the same – food, service, atmosphere and exceeding expectations in each of the previous categories. Zinc Brasserie does well in all of these areas.

We are all prone to discount small cities and towns as not being urbane enough to spawn a good restaurant. I wonder why that is? Jackson Hole boasts several great restaurants due to the influx of people passing through to enjoy the area. It is possible for a good or great restaurant to call any locale home, many tend to write off fly over country or any place with only one zip code. Granted the probability is overwhelming but it is there. In retrospect, we should expect a restaurant like this in Sandusky, maybe a few of them. The north coast of Ohio offers a bounty of fresh and local produce, great purveyors, fish and The Chef’s Garden is just a corn hole toss away in nearby Huron (I spied a few familiar looking micro greens on my plate). Sandusky is no Metropolis but it does have a sizable population and a flood of visitors flowing through six to eight months per year. The city hosts one of nearly every restaurant chain known to man as well as several independent restaurants. My philosophy is “if you cook well, they will come”. And come they do, to downtown Sandusky. Cleveland is not so far away. In fact, Zinc Brasserie is listed among the Cleveland Independents, a group of some of the best restaurants in the greater Cleveland area. Cleveland is close enough for Zinc to see where the culinary bar is raised to. Chef Cesare Avallone and his wife Sarah saw the bar then jumped over it.

Speaking of bars, Zinc sports a good one. The counter area looks like a classic bar from the early 20th century. While the bar presents well, it is not a case of form over substance. The drink menu features well crafted cocktails, a deep wine list and a satisfactory selection of beers including some north coast all-stars. Speaking of bars again, located across the street at 145 Columbus Ave is the Avallone’s second venture Crush Wine Bar. I would link the website but it is pretty obnoxious (note to web designers, music on a restaurant web site is a major fail in the world of social media, or any media for that matter). I scouted out Crush status post Zinc. It serves a smaller tapas style menu, adds more cocktails and wines that Zinc can’t find room for and serves as a pre or post destination for those dining across the street. Speaking of additional venture…. the Avallone’s are opening a third restaurant in Sandusky this summer. It is called Dockside Cafe. It sits right on the lake and is accessible by foot, bike, car or boat.

Now back to Zinc. The space is small, cozy (at some tables cramped) and does have an old and French bistro feel. The menu reflects the current season and also changes frequently due to a focus of local and in farm fresh ingredients. I could wax on about my specific entrees and how good each dish was….but most likely my meal no longer exists with the same combination of ingredients so I will just engage in some food blog porn below (I hope I am not swatted by a pretentious bear). ((The first person to guess what I am alluding to in the previous sentence gets a prize of some manner)). A few dining notes: there are good reasons why so many reviews include the word beet; Zinc Brasserie does a great job with presentation but not to the detriment of anything in the menu, especially those dishes featuring meat; and dessert…do it.

Zinc Brasserie

142 Columbus Avenue • Sandusky, OH • 419.502.9462

Zinc Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Crush Wine Bar
145 Columbus Ave.
Sandusky
419.502.WINE

Posted in cocktails, Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip, Sky Gourmand | 1 Comment »

SKY Gourmand: Toft’s Ice Cream Parlor

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 3, 2012

The last time I visited Toft’s Ice Cream Parlor in Sandusky was in 1998. Note to self, this should be a yearly visit at the least. At the time I was writing an article about the best ice cream parlors in Ohio. I still firmly believe this is one of the best. I visited last fall during my extended tour of the Lake Erie Coast. I made it a point to go to Toft’s because I still had a great memory of the place so many years later (because in 1998 I arrived near the end of the day and I had already been to several area ice creameries on my quest).

Let’s begin with some back story. The Toft family started selling milk from their farm in 1900. By 1940 the company had grown to selling a wide range of dairy products throughout a large part of Northeast Ohio and built a new plant with the addition of an ice cream production line and a parlor to scoop out their new ice cream products.

In 1985 the company moved to the present location at the intersection of Venice Road and Edgewater Drive. Toft’s is still locally and family owned…a rarity in the business and it is he oldest continuously operating dairy in Ohio. Milk is purchased from local diary farmers and is free of growth hormones.

Considering all of the above, it could have been easy for the company to ditch the parlor to cut costs and employee expenses. However, the parlor persists and it is easy to understand why. First the parlor is a showcase of their products and the company is very proud of what they make and how they make it. In addition to scooping ice cream, other Toft’s products are sold here including milk, half and half, whipped cream and more. The much-loved and hard to find Ballreich’s potato chips are on the shelves.

The parlor scoops thirty plus ice cream flavors to the public. The flavors vary from the standard vanilla to more exotic flavors such as Graham Central Station and Yellow Cake Batter. The scoops are gigantic…close to a pint in size and weight. Truthfully, I could not finish one full scoop of ice cream. I suppose scooping from a parlor attached to the production plant makes the employees extra generous with their ice cream allocation. I also can’t think of any other ice cream operation with lower scoop prices than Toft’s (three scoops at Jeni’s would buy almost the entire flavor selection at Toft’s). The ice cream is obviously freshly made. You can also buy pints, gallons and some three gallon flavors to take home. Outside of The Anderson’s which has a limited selection, there is no other place to get Toft’s in central Ohio, so if you go take a cooler and stock up.

It is easy to miss the parlor since it is attached to a large manufacturing facility, but it is worth dropping in even if you are full. The place is fun and it is refreshing to see a company create a sense of playfulness in their place which serves as their face to the public. The rear wall is lined with chairs made just for the purpose of sitting and eating ice cream that were part of the old Toft’s parlor on Monroe Street. The chairs moved to the new plant on Venice Road when it was built. They have attached desk arms to allow a place to sit to ponder your flavor selection or rest while you are trying to complete a full scoop. (Credit for clarification to OAFDawg). I really enjoy the cow filled mural along the walls as well.

If you are in the area or close by, make some time to drop into Toft’s but think twice about ordering two scoops.

Toft’s Dairy
3717 Venice Road
Sandusky
Parlor Phone: 419.625.5490

Other stores in Port Clinton and Fremont

Toft Dairy Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon

Posted in ice cream, Ohio, Road Trip, Sky Gourmand | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

SKY Gourmand: The Cooker is Back and a Trip Down Fast Casual Memory Lane

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 8, 2012

To begin, we must go to the past. Flashback to the golden age of fast casual dining in Columbus the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The Cooker stood out among an array of “bling filled” choices, many of them locally based including Max & Erma’s, Damon’s, The 55 Group, Salvi’s, etc., as Columbus was transitioning from Fast Food Capital of the World to the Fast Casual Capital. The Cooker Bar and Grille launched in 1984, was incorporated in 1986, started to sell stock in 1989 and at the peak employed nearly 3000 people in several states. I knew several people who started out as bussers and found themselves as corporate trainers in less than two years with the company. Although founded in Nashville the company had a strong Columbus following and connection. As was the case of many restaurants started or based in Columbus area during the time period, the Cooker expanded too quickly without firming up assets and died a slow, painful death in a market clogged with Applebees and Chili’s. The last Columbus Cooker, on Lane Ave., near The Varsity Club shuttered and padlocked the doors in 2004. One interesting statistic from the era of the Cooker, the focus on service: “Cooker’s policy was to offer a money-back, satisfaction guarantee, or to give away free meals if customers were dissatisfied. In 1992, Cooker gave away $750,000 in free meals to back up the guarantee and justified that expense as a positive advertising strategy. The restaurant began as a made from scratch restaurant and was based in Columbus for a long time. Ask anyone in town that remembers this era and one word speeds out of their mouths: biscuits. Cheddar filled biscuits to be exact, these were revolutionary in their time, decadent, buttery and served on the table (with refills) with each meal. Come for the biscuits, stay for the rest. Others that remember the early, early days of chain, before it had too many links fondly recall the Pot Roast.

Flash forward to last summer. I received this e-mail.

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Steven Schuster and I was a multi-unit manager for the Cooker Bar & Grille in the 90’s. Like many, guests and crew members, I was shocked and amazed when Cooker went to sleep in 2004.

Over the years, many people shared their love of the Cooker brand with me. So much so that in 2007, another former multi-unit manager and I bought the brand name and recipes with plans to re-ignite the brand.

We did just that last November. The Cooker Bar & Grille reopened in Sandusky, Ohio. How we got here is in the story below. Our final website goes live this month. Until then, we do have a temporary web-site up with menu and pictures available for your perusal at http://www.cookerbarandgrille.com

In addition, you can see the energy for the brand first hand on Facebook and Twitter.

With all the great attractions in our area: Cedar Point, Kalahari, the Lake Erie Islands, we would love for you to come here, enjoy the great Cooker food that you know and love, then spend some time enjoying everything our area has to offer. We would be pleased to send you certificates for complimentary food. (Also, if you are interested, our friends at the Lake Erie Shores and Islands Welcome Center can arrange complimentary accommodations for your visit.) If you feel the free food would compromise the integrity of your article, I completely understand but would still love for you to experience the southern inspired recipes, great service, and chic ambience that made the Cooker famous. Please ask for me when you are in. I can fill you in on more details for your story and I would enjoy meeting you.

The Cooker was back? In Sandusky? Hmm.

Restaurant industry, pay attention and read the above again. I turn down almost every offer, inducement, etc., that I am contacted to write about. I make a few exceptions. In this case, to see the Cooker make a comeback had me intrigued, especially with the strong connection to Columbus. Second, this is a well written letter….not “To whom it may concern” or “Dear CMH Gourmand”, they took some time to review my site, find my name and laid out all kinds of helpful information for me. That my friends shows good research and some effort.

In exchange, I have to apologize. I make my journey to the Cooker last November and I am just writing about it now. My rationalization was that since it is now just the beginning of the Lake Erie migration season, it is much more topical to post this now that back in December. While, that is true, the reality is I overextended myself, my notes were buried and I procrastinated. I historically beat deadlines. I did not have a drop dead date for this post but my “worst possible case scenario” at the time was “I should have this out in January.” Fail, I missed that by a long shot.

To to Steven Schuster I say, thank you for the opportunity, your hospitality and for your patience. Finally, here is the update on The Cooker 2.0.


Clarification: Sandusky does have an airport and the designation code for it is SKY.


Honestly, I briefly debated if I wanted to go all the way to Sandusky for the Cooker. After a short bit of contemplation, I was sure I wanted to go, even if it meant going up and back in the same day. The Cooker really is a part of Columbus culinary history. From a nostalgic viewpoint you can never go home again” but if those cheddar biscuits and my favorite broccoli cheddar casserole were back on the menu, I was going. I checked the menu and…check! I found plenty of other things to do while in the area to make the trip a sure hit.

The Cooker is buried in a long, long row of what seems like every national and regional restaurant chain along one single road on the path to Cedar Point and Lake Erie. I literally started to make a list of the chains and stopped when I hit forty….even through there were many more. The Cooker definitely has done well to survive among all of the competition.

The (new) Cooker has much of the character of the original with some relics of the old days interspersed among the new decor. So cutting to the chase Columbus. Yes, The Cooker still serves the biscuits and they are still good, but a bit smaller than I recall from my formative years. The menu still has a focus on Southern Fare with comfort food influences. Some updates have been added such as a veggie burger option, a broad beer and cocktail list and plenty of sandwiches. An item I do not recall from the past, but I enjoyed a lot were the freshly made potato chips. These were thick, chewy and crunchy at the same time. Definitely more than an afterthought and a must try on the menu.

The Broccoli Cheese Casserole is still listed among the sides and pretty close to what I recalled from the days of glory – plenty of cheese with some occasional broccoli tossed in. I had forgotten the Cooker offers the option to get four side dishes as a meal. I saw that is still a selection on the current Cooker menu. In my day, was the choice I usually went with. Thank you for pulling that one out of the bullpen Cooker Bar and Grille.

The current Cooker location is kid friendly but with a few sports bar aspects to it however it retains a good amount of the feel and focus on service just as the original. The only miscue was the pot roast. It was passable but weak in the two aspects I look for the most: a lot of au ju juices and plenty of cut up, thick vegetables. There were some carrots mixed among the meat but not the large chunks of tubers and root vegetables I enjoy. I think we may have gotten the top or the bottom of the pot on ours because I did spy a heartier version at another table.

A new addition I that strongly support is the addition to Toft’s Ice Cream throughout the dessert menu. This is a great regional Ohio ice cream and Toft’s shows The Cooker’s support of sourcing local with this product on their menu.

Even though I snuck into the Cooker on the down low, Steve figured out who I was from my note taking and photos on the fly. He checked in with me, answered all of my questions and made me feel at home. Observing the flow of customers before he joined me, I saw him checking in with every customer on site. While The Cooker has name recognition and a history, Steve is clearly treating the Cooker 2.0 as a start-up restaurant and a relaunch of the best of the brand. He recognizes that good service is the key to repeat business in the sea of restaurants that surround him and a necessity to survive and thrive when Cedar Point is closed for the season.

The Cooker is worth a visit for nostalgia sake alone. It is also a decent restaurant on its own merit and among the better choices in the area, especially for family dining. See below for details.

Cooker Website
Cooker Bar & Grille
4318 Milan Road
Sandusky, OH
419.625.9700

The Cooker  on Urbanspoon

Posted in Ohio, Road Trip, Sky Gourmand, Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »