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A Tale of Two Cities Pizza Company, Mason

Posted by CMH Gourmand on July 19, 2019

While pizza was a possibility for the day, actually any day in our household, Two Cities Pizza was not on our radar because we did not know it existed. The CMH Family was wrapping up a full 24 hours of activity in Cincinnati: (The Duke Energy) Children’s Museum, Gameworks (so CMH Griffin could play his first game of Pac Man), The Hampton Inn in Newport which is a convenient five minute walk to the Newport Aquarium which was our destination for the following day and EnterTrainment Junction (a chance discovery the year before). Of all of those experiences, the one that CMH Griffin enjoyed the most was….the Hampton Inn. In fact, he was very upset when we loaded up the car to leave after the aquarium. He thought we were going back to the hotel and repeated over and over for the next 10 minutes….I want to go to the hotel, I want to go to the hotel…….. When I debriefed him about his love of the hotel the next day he explained that he liked the elevator, the view of the city and the free cookie at the hotel. Consider that a five star review. If you are going to the aquarium and making a day of it in Cincinnati, I would suggest Hampton Inn as well.

After EnterTrainment Junction (Trains, Trains, Trains, a play area and currently a wonderful exhibit on marbles) we were hungry and wanted to have a good meal after a slightly disappointing trip to a bakery earlier in the day. I did not expect to get a great recommendation from the staff of EnterTrainment Junction (since they have in house food) but we asked the right guy in the toy store there and he suggested Two Cities Pizza and a few other places on Main Street in Mason. I was skeptical about Two Cities, it sounded like a gimmick – a pizza place serving both Chicago and New York City Pizza. However, when we pulled up I was instantly smitten. Two Cities Pizza Company is located in a 1930’s Art Deco building. Old Yellow Cabs which look like they were pulled out of NYC or the Windy City sit awaiting delivery orders. The interior has a great bar set up, plenty of industrial vibes and elements of New York and Chicago intertwined throughout the decor – signs, posters and a restroom area that looks like it was pulled from a subway station. Keeping the two cities motif going, beers from both cities are features in draft and well as select Ohio craft beers.

We started with Bootleg Bread – a mound of fresh dough, baked to be pulled apart with in fist sized chunks. The hard hat sized loaf is infused with garlic, herbs and cheese – both gooey and crispy. It is served with marinara and house made ranch dressing. The ranch was so deliciously dilly (with plenty of fresh dill embedded in the base) CMH Spouse bought a jar to go.

Moving on to the pizza we order a small New York style and a small Chicago style, both with pepperoni. We were playing it safe because we were not very hungry after the bread even though the specialty combinations looked amazing. We were pleased with both of our choices. Getting a personal sized pizza works against the core attributes of a NYC pie. The size of our pizza precluded the distinctive crust ring but everything else was true to style – the dough was dense and chewy with great flavor.

The Chicago style pie was spot on as well. The flaky, almost pastry like dense crust was true to Chicago tradition and featured a chunky tomato sauce with a touch of spice and plenty of depth from top to bottom. Any Windy City Pizza purist would find no fault with this pizza.

Our experience was great across the board. As a trained restaurant mystery shopper, every check box on my list received a check plus. Our service was great. Hearing this was our first trip to Two Cities, the operating manager came to talk to us and shared a treat from the kitchen. We studied the menu selections for future trips. It is my hope that on future trips to Cincinnati, CMH Griffin will say his trip to Two Cities was his favorite part with the Hampton Inn a close second. A dad can always have hope.

Two Cities Pizza Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

Kennedy’s Cakes and Donuts “A Full Line Bakery” and An Odd Emporium (Cambridge OH)

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 18, 2013


Let me begin by providing a disclaimer for the Dining Duder. While donuts will be briefly mentioned in this post and they were sampled, this is not an additional installment as part of the Ohio Donut Trail Series.

There are two bakeries with the name Kennedy in Cambridge, OH. One is located in downtown Cambridge and looks like a classic small town Ohio Bakery from the 1920’s to 1940’s. I thought that was on the only one. I was wrong. While on my way to the 25th Annual Ohio Bigfoot Conference, I happened to drive by the other Kennedy Bakery while looking for an ATM. Looking at the exterior, I wondered if it was an abandoned building or a converted flea market, but curiosity got the best of me as is my nature, so I pulled into the gravel driveway to investigate. Based on the locations having different websites and my intuition, I do not think the two Kennedy Bakery locations share anything other than a name, at least in the present.

I was still not convinced this was an actual bakery. Through the windows I could see many things that did not look like baked goods. However I saw this (see below) and decided I would venture inside anyway. Against the better judgement of my Designated Diner for the trip I proceeded through the door. Afterall, only thirty minutes earlier we had visited Donald’s Donuts in Zanesville so other than exploration, there was no need to dine on more donuts.


Walking in, I spied a lot of used restaurant equipment on shelves. Then I saw display cases of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys and others similar trinkets. If the old Hobart mixers on the floor had not caught my eye I would have done a quick about face….but then, I saw a man walk out with an overflowing box of buns. I headed opposite the direction he was going and found shelves of discount baked goods (some looked like they might be from Valentine’s Day or Easter). At this point, I continued on.


Walking by more showcase encased Happy Meal Trinkets, I finally found the Bakery part of the building. Having visited a few too many bakeries in my day, I can say that the length of area that the display cases of baked goods at Kennedy’s is more expansive than anything I have encountered in my days. However, I was hindered by a couple or more circumstances. I was saving my $22 of cash for the Bigfoot Conference. The Designated Diner continued to look at me with the expression of “Oh my god I can’t believe we are in yet another donut place after having the best donuts of my life at Donald’s Donuts what is this dude’s problem.” In emoticons that would be written as :-(crap. And, I was not hungry. Not in the slightest. What was a fella to do? Then the game changer happened. I saw a sign that said: Pepperoni Rolls and Meatball Rolls. Press on young Gourmand. Press on.


Walking back and forth looking at the displays at Kennedy’s it is quickly confirmed that this is indeed a “Full Line Bakery”. Among the items noted were: cookies, cakes, pies, Gingerbread Houses, various breads, bagels, donuts, fried pies, giant blue fish shaped cookies and on, and on, and on. A few donuts were purchased. There were no fewer than twenty varieties to choose from, including some infrequently witnessed flavors. There was a small sample tray for trying bites of donuts. Later in the parking lot, we did try a few and they were respectable, not Ohio Donut Trail noteworthy, but respectable. I was most intrigued by the Raised Glazed donut. Interesting, very interesting. I pressed on.


Then my attention was caught by a sign for Paczki. Huh? What is that you might ask? It is a Polish pastry in the spirit of a donut but not quite a donut. In one of the most lightly populated counties in the fair state of Ohio. In an area not cited for a large Polish population or enclaves of Poles and possibly, not so open to diversity in general, this place had Paczki. Not just one variety but six….maybe more, the place is big, there could have been Paczki hiding anywhere. And then I saw the sign.


In my head I heard (I don’t often hear voices, but when I do they are always in an accent), in the style of DeNiro. You want Paczki? I’ll give you some #*^%$#* frickin’ Paczki. I did not try one. I was too full. I continued on and found the pepperoni rolls. One was purchased and then sampled by myself and the Designated Diner. The DD has only had one pepperoni roll ever and that was from Omega Bakery at North Market so this entry stood no chance. I have consumed a much wider range of the Hillbilly staple so I was inclined to evaluate this pepperoni roll on the wide spectrum of the genre. It was wretchedly horrible. I had hoped that the proximity to West Virginia might add a certain terroir to the pastry, but alas no.

There is another shout out I should give this place in the arena of full line bakery. Some of you who grew up as one of the 99% may be familiar with the staple of McDonald’s and Hostess (RIP?), the fried pie. Rarely seen outside of a fast food franchise, Kennedy’s had enough to feed a small army or militia. The flavor choices of the fried pies was more extensive than the Paczki’s (at least fourteen flavors counted) including lemon, peach and blackberry. I would be interested to see what the Kennedy version of short line bakery would offer.


My final thoughts? I did not sample enough to know if this is or is not a place I would want to go. I can say, it is not just a bakery, it is an adventure. And now, for the first time ever, a new feature: “When Blogs Collide”. Near the bakery, in an overgrown lot, located in a pile of rubbish, I found this. Will I go back? I think so. Why might you ask? First to try a fried pie and second because in addition to offering what seems like 1001 types of baked goods the place has over 1 million milkshake flavors.


Kennedy’s Cakes and Donuts
75 Southgate Parkway
Cambridge, OH 43725
740 439 2800

Kennedy's Cakes & Donuts Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Bonus Content: What happened after the bakery? Being unable to get into the Bigfoot Conference because it was sold out, it was decided to drive a mere 100 miles away to Athen’s to dine at O’Betty’s. Along the way we attempted to visit the Shenandoah Museum (closed), attempted to find the Shenandoah crash site (secretly hidden in the area I believe Deliverance II will be filmed in), stopped at Marietta Brewing Company for a root beer, found an Indian Food Truck from Parkersburg serving students in Marietta and finally dined at O’Betty’s – the best hot doggery in Ohio. And you wondered why the Designated Diner would ever glare at me with a :-(crap.


Posted in bakery, Ohio, Road Trip, Travelfoodalogue | 2 Comments »

PGH Gourmand: An Introduction, Preview and An Explanation

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 31, 2012

This was meant to be the first of a series of posts about my PGH (Pittsburgh) Gourmand Adventures from fall of 2011. Yes, of 2011.  I don’t have an ideal explanation for my procrastination (It’s not my nature).  I did start a new job which was very time-consuming right after my return.  I was overwhelmed by Pittsburgh in some ways.  I visited for five days and was sure I could cover everything I wanted to do in that time.  During the planning process, I was even concerned that I might be spending too much time in the “Steel City”.  I was way off mark on that assumption. I returned with a lot of notes, way too many photos and no clear idea about where to begin. On the ride home I was thinking that there were so many things I still wanted to do there or do again.


A couple disclaimers before I start. I did contact Visit Pittsburgh before I visited and asked for assistance in places to go and write about. They were kind enough to research some places for me in advance as well as helped me secure a discounted rate at a hotel and provided with a pass good for admission for two to many of the Pittsburgh Museums. Kristen Mitchell, in particular was of great assistance before, during and after my stay. She and the rest of the @vstpgh team did a great job of keeping in touch during my adventures. When you visit Pittsburgh do spend some time researching your trip on their site – it will be worth it. If you are a Twitterer – you my find my PGH Twitter list helpful. I used the hashtag #PGHGourmand for many of my trip Tweets. I also received many great suggestions for Pittsburghers on twitter while I was there.

My previous visits to Pittsburgh were short overnight trips and of course absolutely food or task oriented. I never had a chance to explore and enjoy the city. I am glad that I did go for five days. I could use another five and hope to do so 2013.

I guess another thing that threw this series behind schedule was that it was hit by a bus. A Megabus that is. A critical element of my original series was to show how easy it was to visit Pittsburgh using the Megabus. My round trip was $11. The pick up and drop off points were very convenient to the point where I considered using the service just to go back to Pittsburgh for just three hours so I could eat at one of my new favorite restaurants, Meat and Potatoes and catch up on some writing on the way there and back. I was stumped because Megabus dumped their Columbus to Pittsburgh Route. The ease and short travel time made it the perfect on the fly vacation. I then read that Greyhound launched an express service in Columbus which I hoped went to Pittsburgh – but it does not – I waited too long for that to be come an option for a recrafting of the adventure. I would have been more realistic hoping for a train.

cultural district meat and potatioes

So throughout the next month or two, I will be writing about some PGH Gourmand adventures and observations. I do feel somewhat vindicated that I talked a friend into doing a solo Megabus trip to Pittsburgh before the route was cancelled and she loved it. And afterwards I strongly suggested that several people go to Meat and Potatoes and all reported it was and still is awesome.

I wrap up this intro post with two lists – a list of what I want to go back and do again and what I missed on my October trip that s essential for my return visit.

What I want to do more and again: Meat and Potatoes (restaurant), all the museums especially the Heinz, the south side, Fat Heads (which is now in Cleveland), Fortunes Coffee Roasters, Caliban Book Shop, Salt of the Earth, Beehive Coffeehouse and Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor. And in case you did not get the point – Meat and Potatoes (did I mention three or four meals there?).


What I want to do that I did not: more walking, biking trails especially using Golden Triangle Bike Rentals and their tour of the city, as a hot dog enthusiast I need to visit the Franktuary, Lava Lounge, a beer tour(s) of Pittsburgh and use The Priory as my base of operations.

Pittsburgh is a city of districts of distinction and neighborhoods in the ethnic tradition of New York and Cleveland so the key is to map out an area you like and spend a day their exploring it on foot at ground level. I will complete my post on Meat and Potatoes which has been almost done for a year and perhaps knock out a post of two more. For those of you worried (Clevelanders) about Pittsburgh getting a mention – have no fear – a slew of CLE Gourmand posts are being constructed in a timely manner for early 2013.

On a final note, Megabus – suck it, the people of Columbus need a route to Pittsburgh…and one to Cleveland for that matter get on it.


For more information on Pittsburgh:

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

Super Taco Nazo

Posted by CMH Gourmand on December 23, 2012

Do not be alarmed….you did not click on the wrong blog. In my attempt to get my writing output back to 2010 levels I have been investing a lot of time on some other writing projects and getting posting frequency back to weekly here. Also – let this serve as a reminder to read Taco Trucks Columbus and Street Eats Columbus as well as listen to WCBE Foodcast (the podcasts are longer and sometimes have real “gems” in them). This is a post that will go live on Taco Trucks Columbus soon but is getting it’s world premiere here. Enjoy.

super taco nazo

2200 East Dublin Granville Road (Near Lev’s Pawn Shop)
Look for Walgreen’s sign
NE corner of SR 161 and Maple Canyon
Phone: 614.390.6346
Summer Hours Monday to Saturday 10 am to 10 pm
Winter Hours Monday to Saturday 10 am to 8 pm
Phone: 614.390-6346

We first wrote about Taco Nazo in 2009 when this Taco Trucks Columbus launched – and we have not had a chance to update the post since then. It is interesting to compare the 2009 listing with many listings we have created since then as our knowledge has grown and so has the sophistication of the taco trucks of Columbus. No Latino Mobile vendor epitomizes that more than Quicho from Taco Nazo…..I mean, Super Taco Nazo.

Quicho took what he learned from years in the Taco Truck trade and incorporated that knowledge into the Super Taco Nazo Trailer. He has a better layout inside that has a lower serving window and less hassles than his original truck. He is working on the original Taco Nazo to make it a true mobile Taco Truck for corporate lunches and catering.


A brief note about the food, it is among the best in the category of standard Taco Truck fare, easily in our top ten, probably in the top five of at least one of the Three Taco Trucks Amigos. Taco Nazo always wins in consistency. This is a frequent introductory trip for first time Taco Truck adventurers and especially those that are skeptical of mobile Mexican Cuisine. The large quesadilla has never let me down when hoping to have a gringo greenhorn try out a truck and want to come back for more.

english sign

For the Taco Truck Columbus creators our relationship with Quicho and the truck goes long and deep. Although we have not updated the listing for Taco Nazo in years, this vendor has been the most frequent flyer for mentions on the website and in the community as well. Join me for a trip down memory lane.

There are two counterintuitive and unwritten laws for Taco Trucks: 1) Most of the vendors are not mobile 2) Due to a combination of language barriers, cultural differences and etc., many taco truck owners are not the most, shall we say, consistently time conscious. Quicho from Taco Nazo has always been there when we needed him to help spread the word about these mobile kitchens. Quicho is no slouch when it comes to customer appreciation, every Thanksgiving, he hosts a Dia del Pavo (Turkey Day) with free tamales, atole and other goodies for old and new customers alike.


When we needed a truck to be open at 5:30 am for an early morning television show – Quicho was there and ready to serve. It also connected us with new-found pal and now Foodcast comrade – Johnny DiLoretto. Anytime we needed a vendor for a bike and car Taco Truck tour event – Quicho was ready, willing and able to participate and add to the festivities often with some incredible cakes.

The highlight of the early years was pairing Rick Bayless with Quicho for a special event. We are not sure which one was more thrilled with their meeting but we think it established some major street cred for Taco Trucks in our community. An article by Columbus Alive allowed us to do a tour of several Taco Trucks, including Taco Nazo and cemented a connection with G.A. Benton and photographer Jodi Miller.

All work and no play makes the Taco Truck website a dull read, so when Taco Drew conjured up a David vs. Goliath Taco Truck vs. Taco Bell Challenge – Quicho was ready for the battle. We don’t have to tell you who won that one.

We have observed, in many of our community connections that most successful businesses make a habit of giving back to the community they serve. Quicho continues to do so in his support of the Latino community as well as youth soccer leagues. Quicho is also one of the first to go with mainstream advertising for his business. On an end note (not final note, because Taco Nazo will continue to be on our blogs and in our tweets as the business keeps growing) it has been interesting to watch Quicho share his space and his wisdom with a new Indonesian mobile food vendor in the lot he has occupied since he started. Quicho has embraced the diversity of a new competitor as a collaborator and from the perspective of a peer and coach instead of with fear and distrust that he encountered when he started his kitchen on wheels years ago.

super taco nazo guy

Taco Nazo on Urbanspoon

Posted in culinary knowledge, Travelfoodalogue | 1 Comment »

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

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

The Cooker  on Urbanspoon

Posted in Ohio, Road Trip, Sky Gourmand, Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Funcoast Gourmand: Eating My Way Along The Lake Erie Shores

Posted by CMH Gourmand on April 25, 2012

As a kid growing up in Columbus, I thought I was aware of what the north coast of Ohio had to offer: Put-In-Bay, Cedar Point, Kelley’s Island and chilled early morning fishing trips with my dad (it took several years to figure out I was allergic to fish). If the fishing was good and we were ahead of schedule I MIGHT get to go to Phil’s Inn in Port Clinton for spaghetti before driving home. The north coast was a long day trip resulting in a tuckered out pre-Gourmand at the end of the day.

Flash forward a decade or two. My definition of fun has changed significantly now plus I can control my own destiny because I can drive myself. No more would I suffer the torment of driving by The Cheese Haven, cool looking diners and all varieties of interesting food options. Honestly, while the thought of heading back to this part of the state for culinary discovery had crossed my mind on occasion, I never made the effort. Then I received an e-mail which piqued my interest.

The message came to Gourmand HQ from the owner of the Cooker. Yeah, that’s right The Cooker. If you lived in Columbus from the mid 1980’s to about 2004 you were aware of the Cooker and its hey day in the early years. It was the fast casual place to go for everyone, especially in the Bethel Road area – dates, business lunches, family events, etc., that was the place to be. The chain grew fast and furious and like many of its Columbus cousins (Damon’s, Hoggy’s, Max and Erma’s, The 55 Group. etc.) of the era to expanded too far, too quick and lost it’s focus and following.

The universal memory of any Cooker customers is the same: the biscuits and the brocoli and cheese casserole. The Cooker was returning and had a location in Sandusky. Would I like to come? Absolutely, for nostalgia alone but also to see if the menu could be replicated to my memories. So thinking of our north coast, I started to plot other activities I might engage in. I recalled my earlier adventure to Chef’s Garden, I wanted to go there again. A childhood of Cheese Haven torment could be corrected. I had been to Toft’s Dairy back in 1998 researching ice cream in Ohio and really wanted to get another lick at that place. I had a short list of restaurants I had been tracking in the area and a long list of wineries, including Firelands. Clearly in-depth research was called for.

I had a very ambitious agenda for a day trip. My minions will tell you that I can pack a lot of driving and eating into a day, but even I realized I was going to need more than 24 hours to scratch the surface of what the “Funcoast” could offer.

I was put in contact with Jill Bauer at Lake Erie Shores and Islands. She provided me with even more reasons to explore the area and enough of a reality check to at least temper my ambitions to a few stops along one section of the coast. She then connected me with a perfectly situated base of operations for my target area – Captain Montague’s Bed and Breakfast.

I charted my drive on Ohio’s back roads, complied my to eat list and set off on my journey of rediscovery. Along the way I found a food truck in Norwalk, some incredible road side eateries, great small towns (watch out for the speed trap of Crestline) and even avoided the magnetic pull of the Blue Hole.

I took my trip back in November so to bring you up to speed, I am ending my procrastination with a series of Funcoast posts over the next week to ten days with highlights from my expedition. Stay tuned for dispatches on the best bed and breakfast in Northern Ohio, The Cooker, Zinc (the Restaurant, not the mineral), Toft’s Dairy and maybe more.

I know I came back wanting to go back and do much more including a first trip to Chez Francois which was highly recommended by my B&B hosts and fellow culinary house guests.

Posted in Ohio, Road Trip, Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Rockmill Brewery: An Introduction

Posted by CMH Gourmand on November 21, 2010

In my original plan, Rockmill Brewery was going to be a thirty minute detour on my way to a big day of bliss in Hocking county. Over three hours into my tour of the Rockmill Farm with all it has to offer, I realized that yet again that what I think and what happens are two different things.

Rockmill Brewery debuted in September of this year after over two years of meticulous work, planning and lots of brewing. What little I knew was exciting. The beer is brewed using water from a natural spring on the property, the beers are certified organic and brewed in the spirit of Belgian beers from the Wallonia region of Belgium. Again – pretty cool. I figured a quick tour, a few samples and off to Athens. Wrong.

Veering onto Lithopolis Road away from Lancaster, I realized I was in for something different from my expectations the moment I pulled into the driveway of Rockmill Farm. The space did not have the feel of a brewery, it felt like a winery. Looking at a house and a small stable, I was not even sure where a brewery might be housed. On a whim, I had brought my loyal dog known to you as CMH Tobias along for the day. We were immediately greeted by Scooby the gatekeeper and ambassador to Rockmill Brewery. A sniff and a lick indicated our credentials were accepted. We were then welcomed by Matt Barbee, the brewer of Rockmill.

As a quick aside, the house at Rockmill Farm is warm and inviting. It also features the essentials for the full Rockmill experience – a brick pizza oven and a dog bath (CMH Tobias got really muddy….as did I). The space is also adorned with art and photography from local artists and/or people with a local connection. Matt poured samples of his four Belgian style beers: dubbel, witbier, Saison and Tripel. I enjoyed each. The witbier was spicy with the characteristics I expect from a good wheat beer. The dubbel conjured up visions of monks crafting it. The Saison had the strongest flavor with the richness of toasted malt coming through with each sip. My favorite was the Tripel. This beer would pair well with creme brulee or any dessert for that matter. There is more than a hint of coriander in each sip.

Matt’s path to brewing Belgian style ales in Central Ohio was far from straight. He grew up in the area, attended college at Miami, worked in Chicago in the wine industry and in securities, then he moved on to LA as a talent management agent to the stars. He decided he wanted to come home and do something different. Maybe destiny did play some part in the genesis of Rockmill Brewery. His grandfather had a winery years ago. His stepdad, Dennis just happens to be a hydro-geologist who just happened to discover that the spring on the property had the same basic composition as the waters of Wallonia. Dennis and Matt started building a brewery from scratch in a converted former house stable. Along the way, there has been a lot of trial and error, dumped batches of beer and some interesting and ingenious macguyvering of equipment such as crab cooker burners (330,000 btu) which have converted well to the art and science of beer brewing.

Matt described the facility and the process as nano-brewing. Each beer is made one batch at a time in one 55 gallon barrel. Matt walked me through the brewing process and entire facility in about ten minutes. This is artisan, craft production at a truly small scale. The water comes from a spring over 100 feet below ground level. The manner the rock filters the water as it springs to the surface to become beer has to add a truly unique element to these beers. I kept thinking of the wine concept of terroir. The geology and characteristics on the Rockmill Farm and the eleven acres of the land it rests on are infused into this beer. Although the style is Belgian and the ingredients come from all over, this is truly a central Ohio beer.

Matt, Scooby, Toby and I roamed the rolling landscape of Rockmill Farm. It is a microcosm of the best of the Hocking Hills region – it has streams, waterfalls, a rope bridge, chapel, access to an ancient gristmill, rock outcroppings, acres of trees as well as wildlife and an absolute overdose of nature. Toby was in heaven. He was running, sniffing and swimming his way through the area as Matt and I talked shop. I can not think of any other brewery tour that included a hike, rock climbing and connecting with the facilities in such a special way. When Matt is brewing he can open a door or window and see the almost pristine wilderness. Inspiration my not be an ingredient listed on the label but there is no way that this place and the atmosphere it exudes does not influence the brewing process.

The label of each Rockmill beer features a horse as a tribute to the former purpose of the farm and the brewing space. Matt is looking forward to horses coming back to the property as well as the restoration of the nearby gristmill and for all of these great things to grow and expand as the bottling line-up does too.

There are two places I instinctively go (like a salmon in season) when I need to recharge, revitalize and clear my mind after bad things happen – Athens and Australia. I was on my way to Athens when I visited Rockmill Brewery. I never made it. I didn’t need to. This is truly a unique space and I see how it is inspiring something very good. If I don’t make it back to the brewery soon I can at least get a shot of inspiration from the beers.

Where can you find Rockmill beers:
House Wine – Worthington
Whole Foods – Dublin
Tutto Vino – Dublin
Shaws Restaurant – Lancaster
(more places to come).

To arrange a tour, tasting or to keep track of what growing down at RockMill Farm
Rockmill Brewery
Matthew Barbee
5705 Lithopolis Road
310 755 4097
Rockmill Brewery web site
Rockmill on Facebook

Posted in beer, culinary knowledge, Ohio, Road Trip, Travelfoodalogue | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

#CLEGourmand: I’m in Cleveland this week

Posted by CMH Gourmand on October 6, 2010

I received an e-mail from Positively Cleveland asking if I would be interested in coming to Cleveland for a Culinary Press Trip in October. I mulled on this for less than one second most likely replying: “YES, YES, YES! So they said yes and here I am.

Your can follow the play by play on twitter here – CMH Gourmand. I will mark most tweets #CLECourmand to avoid confusion.

Below is my itinerary from Positively Cleveland, copied and pasted (without editing, which saves me a load of time) for those of you following along on twitter.


4 – 9pm Check-In at the Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland (Downtown)
• 1515 West Third Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44113, 216.623.1300,
• The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland recently completed a major renovation of the 206-room hotel located in the heart of the city’s downtown. From the spacious guestrooms and suites to the exclusive Club lounge with expansive views of the city’s skyline, the award-winning hotel has received a complete makeover.

8:30pm Welcome Dinner at MUSE at the Ritz-Carlton
• The award-winning MUSE, located in the Ritz-Carlton offers a menu of contemporary American cuisine that is designed to offer meals as wholesome and fresh as they are appetizing, artistic expressions.
• You will be enjoying a variety of wines from Northeast Ohio.
• Meet-and-greet with Ritz-Carlton chef


9am Breakfast at Lucky’s Café (Tremont, West Side)
• 777 Starkweather Avenue, 216.622.7773,
• Start your morning out right at Lucky’s Café. Perfectly situated in the artsy, blue-collared neighborhood of Tremont, Lucky’s Café is brimming with charisma and quirkiness with its home cooked breakfasts, lunches, pastries and coffees.
• Meet-and-greet with Chef Heather Haviland.

10am Drive to Sandusky/Huron Area

11:30am Chef’s Garden
• 9009 Huron-Avery Road, Huron, Ohio 44839,
• What started as struggling family farm recuperating from a destructive hailstorm in Huron, Ohio is now the Chef’s Garden, the leading grower of artisanal products in the United States for the world’s top chefs. In fact, Chef’s Garden grows more than 600 varieties of heirloom vegetables, micro greens, micro herbs, specialty lettuces and edible flowers in seven different stage of growth. By using sustainable agricultural methods in loamy soil, each and every product offers exceptional flavor, lasting shelf life and enhanced nutritional content.
• Meet-and-greet with Farmer Lee Jones.

2:30pm Lunch at Light Bistro in Ohio City.

4pm Dessert at Lilly’s Handmade Chocolates (Tremont, West Side)
• 761 Starkweather Ave., Cleveland, 44113, 216.771.3333,
• Lilly Handmade Chocolates is an artisanal chocolatier that specializes in pairing fine wine & craft beer with their handmade, fresh chocolate confections. Lilly is owned & operated by Amanda & Joshua Montague, who are both classically trained chefs. Their chef background is reflected in their creations; while there is some throwback to traditional, the chefs aim to create individual “dishes” for you to savor, through layers of flavor both sweet and savory.
• Meet-and-greet with owner, Amanda Montague.

About Tremont:
• Historic Tremont is has a reputation as one of Cleveland’s hidden hotspots for art and dining. A blue collar neighborhood with a rich cultural heritage, Tremont’s newest residents are urban professionals and artists. Just off of Lincoln Park, the neighborhood’s landmark epicenter, you’ll discover hidden galleries and boutiques, award-winning restaurants and pubs the locals would like to keep to themselves.

4:45pm Lake Erie Goat Cheese Creamery (West Side)
• 216.961.9222,
• Located in a renovated factory located on an urban stretch of road just neighboring downtown Cleveland sits a tiny goat cheese creamery operated by a husband and wife team. While the plant is 40 miles from the nearest goat, the plant produces hand-made, lightly salted chevre from gently pasteurized, small batches of goat milk. The goat milk comes from local goat farms and breeders in neighboring communities. The award-winning cheese is sold in some of Cleveland’s trendiest restaurants like Lola, The Greenhouse Tavern, Flying Fig and Fahrenheit.

5:15pm Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Downtown)
• 1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard, Cleveland, 216.781.7625,
• Contact: Margaret Thresher, Director of Communications, 216.515.1215,
• Pay homage to rock icons and see video, artifacts, memorabilia and other cool, “one-of-a-kind” stuff on display at the Rock Hall. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is dedicated to exploring the past, present and future of the music and the cultural context from which it emerges.

7:15–8:15pm Downtime at Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland

8:30pm Dinner at The Greenhouse Tavern (East Fourth Street, Downtown)
• 2038 East 4th Street, Cleveland, 44115, 216.443.0511,
• Chef Jonathon Sawyer evokes the farm-to-plate movement in his new restaurant, the Greenhouse Tavern. Sawyer believes that the proximity of the farm to the restaurant direct correlates with the quality of food. This new restaurant exhibits this concept and is the first Green Restaurant Association Certified Green restaurant in Ohio. Chef Sawyer is a semi-finalist for the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef.
• Meet-and-greet with part-owner, Jonathan Seeholzer.

About East Fourth Street:
• Quickly becoming a nightlife destination of choice, this narrow brick street is packed with upscale eateries and entertainment. Take in a show at the House of Blues. Laugh along with your favorite comedian at Hilarities. Bowl at the upscale Corner Alley. Savor a pint at Flannery’s or dine at Chef Michael Symon’s Lola.

10:15pm Nightcap at Velvet Tango Room (Tremont, West Side)
• 2095 Columbus Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113,
• Recently rated as one of the “Top 10 Places to Slip into a Modern Speakeasy” by USA Today, the Velvet Tango Room is reviving the art of a well mixed cocktail. But if you ask any food critic, they’re changing lives daily. While each of their unique cocktails begins at $15 a piece, guests will soon realize that it’s a small price to pay for changing their entire perspective on cocktails. Try the Apricot Sour (light, airy and smooth) or the Dark and Stormy (spicy, homemade ginger ale finished with Black Seal rum).


9am Breakfast at Tommy’s Restaurant (Coventry Village, East Side)
• 1824 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118, 216.321.7757,
• Head to Tommy’s for a burger and milkshake! While the shakes and menu stayed the same since it opened in 1972, Tommy’s is now in a much bigger venue and is always filled with customers – vegetarians, vegans, meat-eaters, health-conscious and the just plain hungry.
• Because we love them so much, expect to enjoy a milkshakes at breakfast!! Meet-and-greet with owner, Tommy.

10am Big Fun (Coventry, East Side)
• 1814 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, 44118,
• Fun is packed into this store with cards, kitsch and collectibles from lunch boxes, blow-up advertising toys, Barbie dolls, and reproduction and original classic toys. Prices range from under a buck to thousands of bucks. This one’s fun for teens, too.

About Coventry Village:
• With a music club, street festivals and ethnic restaurants, Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights on Cleveland’s near east side retains some of the counterculture atmosphere that made it a magnet for the area’s bohemians in the 1960s and ‘70s. Cool and eclectic shopping options ranging from the vintage toys of Big Fun to offbeat book stores, round out this hip ‘hood.

11am Cleveland Museum of Art (University Circle, East Side)
• 11150 East Boulevard, University Circle, 216.421.7340,
• One of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the city is the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the United States’ most important art museums and the only major museum in the country to still offer free admission to its permanent collection.

About University Circle:
• East Boulevard, Cleveland, 44106, 216.791.3900,
• Each year, more than 2.5 million people “find themselves in the Circle.” Just four miles from downtown Cleveland, University Circle is one of the most concentrated square miles of arts and culture in the nation, home to more than 20 artistic and cultural venues.

12:45pm Dessert at Presti’s Bakery (Little Italy, East Side)
• 12101 Mayfield Road, Cleveland, 216.421.3060/
• Presti’s Bakery in Little Italy offers homemade pastries, cookies, biscotti, cannoli, tira misu and cakes for any occasion. Or, tempt your tastebuds to some delicious Italian gelato. Open for breakfast and lunch, Presti’s menu also offers deli items, breads, pizzas and paninis.

About Little Italy:
• First settled in the late 19th century by skilled Italian artisans, Little Italy (also known as Murray Hill) has retained much of its Old World charm and tight-knit sense of community. A blend of art galleries, shops and restaurants, Little Italy offers some of the finest Italian dining in Cleveland Plus.

1:45pm Lunch at Slyman’s
• 3106 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, 216.621.3760
• While certainly not the “haute couture” of upscale culinary, the renowned Slyman’s Deli has been serving Cleveland’s most coveted corned beef sandwiches for countless generations.
• Meet-and-greet with owner, Freddie Slyman.

3:15pm Tour + Tasting at Great Lakes Brewing Company (Ohio City, West Side)
• 2516 Market Avenue, Cleveland, 216.771.4404,
• Great Lakes Brewing Company, which is comprised of a brewery and brewpub, was the first microbrewery in the state of Ohio and today remains Ohio’s most celebrated and award-winning brewer of lagers and ales.

5:15-6:30pm Downtime at the Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland

7pm Dinner at Moxie, The Restaurant (Beachwood, East Side)
• 216.831.5599,
• Often referred to as the east side’s “crown jewel,” Moxie’s imaginative yet simple menus are developed by nationally acclaimed Executive Chefs Jonathan Bennett and Peter Vauthy, both known for using the freshest and best ingredients in the world. Peter says, “We order and work with the best. If we don’t have what the world says is the best, we search for it until we track it down. We don’t deal with second-rate ingredients here.”
• Meet-and-greet with Chef Jonathan Bennett.

10pm Nightcap at Morton’s The Steakhouse (Downtown)
• 55 Public Square, Cleveland 44113, 216.621.6200,
• World-renowned steakhouse serving prime beef, fresh seafood and shelfish. Enjoy an award-winning wine list during a special wine event occurring with the three generations of Mondavi family members.


10am Breakfast + West Side Market (Ohio City, West Side)
• 1979 W. 25th Street, Cleveland, 216.861.5250
• If you’re covering the culinary scene in Cleveland, you absolutely cannot leave without a visit the West Side Market. Built in 1912, the West Side Market is the largest indoor/outdoor market in the country. This marketplace was once where turn-of-the-century immigrants found their native foods and spices. Today, it features 180 booths with the freshest selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, produce, bakery, ethnic foods and international delicacies. Only open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
• Tour the market with Richard Soren Arnoldi, Executive Chef from MUSE at the Ritz-Carlton.

11:30am b.a. Sweetie Candy Company (Parma, Southwest)
• 7480 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, 44129-1104, 216.739.2244 or 888.267.9340
• From wax lips to PEZ dispensers to gourmet jellybeans, this amazing store has every delight for every sweet tooth. You have to see it to believe it.

1pm AMP 150 (West Park, Southwest)
• 4277 West 150th Street, Cleveland, OH 44135, 216.252.5333,
• This hip, new restaurant located in the recently restored Cleveland Airport Marriott, AMP 150 is the newest destination restaurant by chef Dean James Max. The farm-to-plate movement comes to life through menu consisting of local artisan products and hand-crafted cuisine much to the liking of critics and locals alike.
• Meet-and-greet with Chef Ellis Cooley.

Posted in Road Trip, Travelfoodalogue | 2 Comments »

Gourmand in the Gourmet Ghetto

Posted by CMH Gourmand on March 21, 2010

Alternate Titles:
OAK Gourmand
Back to Berkeley
Why hasn’t Jim moved yet?

View from the UC Berkeley campus

There are a few places in the world I would be quite content to reside full time: Melbourne Australia, Kaikoura, New Zealand, Portland, and Austin. The geographic point which may be the most viable for my lifestyle is the section of Berkeley known as the Gourmet Ghetto. On my latest sojourn, I took residence in this neighborhood to reacquaint myself with old favorites and to discover a few new ones.

Michael Pollan is a respected writer that lives and works in Berkeley, California. I agree with his writings and concepts. However, on my latest trip I discovered an inconvenient truth. As a result I must say to Mr. Pollan – YOU LIE! The Omnivore’s Dilemma is not about how we should approach eating food in a system that has become over industrialized and is in fact is often creating food that is food in name only. Mr. Pollan’s writings are fine food for thought and discuss a path we must incorporate into our lives sooner instead of later. However, his idea of an Omnivore’s Dilemma is not accurate nor accurate to his own surroundings. The true problem, in the very city where he lives, is this: How in the hell does one decide where to go to eat? With only five days to incorporate 3-6 meals and snacks per day, how could I be expected to constantly make Sophie’s Choice level decisions about my next meal. The Bay Area is my heaven with the Gourmet Ghetto being my Garden of Eating.

On my previous trip to Berkeley, I made many discoveries which resulted in being overwhelmed and paralyzed by writers block. I tried to write about my adventures but for the most part I could not articulate the depth of my experience there – as shown by the feeble attempt linked here. I was hard pressed to even get photos posted of my favorite places.

This time, I will merely to attempt a cliff notes version of my trip and endeavour to mention a few things that may be handy if someone opts to replicate my excellent adventure. I think you may understand why this is such a daunting task for me. Please note, you are likely to develop a repetitive stress injury just by clicking on the links in this field report.

First, a note about getting to my destination. I love the San Francisco airport. It is clean, efficient, well designed, offers good food options, displays wonderful art and has an excellent aviation library/mini museum. I have passed through SFO numerous times on my way to the South Pacific (including one eleven hour layover). However, if you are going to be bouncing around the Bay Area the better airport option is Oakland.

Flights tend to be cheaper going into Oakland. Weather tends to be less of a factor there as well. There is a shuttle which will deliver passengers to the Oakland Coliseum Bay Area Rapid Transit station for three dollars. BART is awesome. The Downtown Berkeley station is just a few stops away so total Berkeley to airport door to door time is 30 to 60 minutes depending when you board BART. My entire holiday was planned so that I was no more than a 30 minute walk and/or BART ride to my dining destinations. This was my first iPhone powered trip so I had a BART map and timetable loaded in my palm or pocket for perfecting my transit plans at any moment and according to any whim.

My base of Bay Area operations was the Downtown Berkeley Inn. This small hotel is located in the heart of Berkeley within one minute of three movie theaters and an excellent thrift store (Crossroads Trading Company), a two minute walk to the BART station and the edge of the University of California at Berkeley campus and easy access to farmers markets, microbrews, bakeries, restaurants, groceries and hippies.

On to the food (finally).

Gourmet Ghetto and North Berkley

Where to begin? Shattuck is the street serving as the epicenter of culinary Berkeley. Those places that were not dined at were stared at longingly. I studied the menus and/or asked questions of staff to help me decide and conquer during my next time in town. Here are the places I did go to.

The Cheeseboard Collective
This worker owned enterprise offers superior breads and an assortment of over 100 cheeses. Their cheese counter and knowledge of their Cheesemongers are among the best in the country. When you walk in take a card with a number and wait your turn at the counter to sample cheese. While you are waiting, grab some bread so you can make all of your purchases at once and have the option of snacking on bread and cheese when you leave.

The top attraction at the Cheeseboard and their neighboring pizza outlet is the daily pizza special. Each day one pizza choice is offered to the public and the masses consume it until there is no more. On Friday and Saturday expect long but fast moving lines (one choice allows for very quick turnaround time) and be prepared to try to deal with no pizza if you arrive late in the production window. Is the pizza good? Absolutely, I would say it is among the best in the country – perfect crust and the finest ingredients. The pies offer no frills. They are served in plain natural cardboard boxes with a recycling station designated for the empties by the door. The dining room area fills quickly as does the grass median in the middle of Shattuck lined with impromptu picnickers munching on perfect pizza.

Here us an insiders tip just for you. Pass the grass strip and pop into the Epicurious Garden across the street. Additional entrees and drinks can be acquired here. There is a tea gardenesque dining area here that is perfect for a mixed pizza dinner (I opted for a mole enchilada as an appetizer). There is also a publicly accessible restroom here which is rare in a community wary of the homeless population. The garden is a destination itself for a relaxing eating space. Among the many culinary choices are cooking classes if you have the time to sign up for one.

I am a coffee snob. By which I mean, I am a snob about not being controlled by a need for coffee. I do have addictions: eating too much and being hypervigilant searching the ground for loose change ($2.18 so far this year). I drink about one coffee per month, usually some girly, frappy, whip creamy concoction. However, I love the smell of coffee and I respect the history of the beverage. That being said, before there was Starbucks, there was Peets. And before Peets, it appears that American coffee was crap. I always have two or three Peets when in the Bay. The Peets at Shattuck and Vine was the first I sipped their brew and it is the location of the first Peets ever. The backroom has a mini museum of the company history including a short video to watch while waiting for your order. The regulars and irregular hippie types have been hanging out at this location for up to forty years and make for good people watching.

Vintage Berkeley
Across from Peets is a wine shop. The selection is not huge but there is a well thought out variety of wines to choose from, weekly tastings and some of the best wine notes in the business. The staff are friendly and if you are looking for wine to go with your meal or a snack, this is a convenient place to fill that gap. The building is a former pump house which seems appropriate for a wine business.

Saul's brisket sandwich with au jus

Sauls Deli
Saul’s Deli has all of the characteristics of an old school deli. Saul’s has a fifty plus year heritage of Kosher cuisine. The owners also respect the history and tradition of authentic deli’s, a rear wall is lined with old, framed menus of some of the most renown delicatessen’s of North America. Of course there is a Berkeley twist here: smaller portions, local sourcing of organic meats, Acme bread, homemade natural creme sodas and such.

Triple Rock Brewery
This microbrewery serves selections of their own beers as well as an array of regional, national and international beers. A popular Thursday happy hour special is a one liter bottle of their Monkeyhead beer which is high in alcohol content and low in cost. That is what I chose.

Triple Rock was good. Jupiter is better. This is interesting since the owner of Jupiter was the founder of Triple Rock Brewery. The atmosphere and beers are a little more heavenly here. The food is good as well, including the wood fired pizzas.

Moving from breweries to bakeries. There are two exceptional choices on Shattuck.

Virginia Bakery
Make sure not to confuse Virginia Bakery with Virginia Cleaners which is just a few blocks down the street. This bakery was founded in 1934 and continues to focus on a foundation of traditional baked goods. Virginia Bakery proves that old school basics can keep all generations happy. I enjoyed each item sampled here. The best was a Belgian coffee cake.

Masse's Bacon and Maple Macaroons

Masse’s Pastries
The variety and the presentation of the pastries in this small shop is amazing. The quality of fancy baked goods and the creativity of the flavor combinations continue to content the masses and even make the Yelpers hard pressed to find fault in this culinary find. And yes, Bacon and Maple macaroons – WOW!

Walking far away from Shattuck but still focusing on incredible baked goods I made may way down University Avenue to the far west side of Berkeley for a return to the finest diner in the world. As you might surmise, this place impresses me. So much so that I will eat breakfast (my fourth favorite meal) here.

Bette’s Oceanview Diner and Bette’s to Go
While I was hard pressed to articulate my impressions of my first trip to Berkeley, there was one place that I was able to get into print. I was able to channel the special qualities of Bettes so well that it got the attention of Jane and Michael Stern. I had met them in Nashville and passed my Bette’s impressions on to them as soon as possible. They loved the place too. You can read all of our impressions in the link above. On this trip I had another great breakfast and had room for what I missed from before – macaroons. The woman who bagged my Chocolate Espresso Twinkie promised that each bite would provide five minutes of bliss. It took ten seconds to consume. It did make me very happy for at least ten minutes.

What else does Berkeley and the Gourmet Ghetto have to offer… a lot, including a Thursday (North Berkeley) and Saturday (in the heart of downtown) Farmer’s Markets.

In addition to Berkeley and North Berkeley, I also took some BART fueled field trips to explore the Bay Area. My first dining detour, was two stops away. I don’t like to backtrack when I travel, so I decided to take BART to El Cerrito Plaza which is just two stops away from downtown Berkeley. Before I started the 15 minute walk along the Ohlone Greenway I saw a See’s Candies and dropped in to pick up a few samples as emergency supplies for the journey.

The trail took me to the middle of Solano Avenue in the heart of Albany. The area is a more suburban extension of Berkeley; more yuppie than hippie but still equally food focused. Walk to the far west end of Solano Ave, up the crest of a slight hill and you will see a great view of the bay. Solano Avenue is crammed with all types of eateries including: Nepalese, Himilayan, tons of Thai, incredible Indian, an old school hamburger and ice cream diner, two toy shops, high end Vegetarian/Vegan and more food options. If you walk to the far east end of Solano, you are technically back in Berkeley and definitely near one of the top ten pizza places in the country.

My first meal of day one was at Zachary’s in the form of two slices. I walked about 35 minutes to get there and I was able get a table which is a rare thing. My last full meal of the trip was at Zachary’s as a carry out deep dish pizza. Zachary’s Chicago style pizza in slices, as a whole pizza or deep dish has won every pizza award in the Bay Area for over a decade and in spite have having a full plate of choices, I had no doubt I would eat here twice. On the walk back to the main drag of Berkeley there are plenty of places to plop down to eat a slice of pie (one good place is Live Oak Park). You can also walk through a tunnel and explore the side streets on the way back to the center of the city.

I had another side trip in mind. I was a housesitter during my first trip to Berkeley. In the home, there was an old poster for a restaurant called Bay Wolf. I was intrigued by the artwork but I had never heard of the restaurant. The homeowners returned the evening before I left and told me stories of the origins of Bay Wolf. They endorsed it was one of the best eateries they had tried in their thirty years of Bay Area exploration. Unfortunately, by the time I heard their tales it was too late to eat there. I was determined to dine at Bay Wolf on this trip, even if I had to go to Oakland (which is where it is at). It was an easy journey. I took BART to the MacArthur station and then walked about 10 minutes on 40th Street to Piedmont.

Bay Wolf
Bay Woolf was everything I wanted it to be. The service was great. The menu was filled with fresh seasonal ingredients and featured unique cocktails. My meal consisted of a pear Mojito, carrot soup, fresh fried oysters with goat cheese and a half serving of oxtail ravioli. I paired a Ginger Portini with a trio of housemade sorbets (Tangerine, Grapefruit and Chocolate) for my dessert. I respect Chez Panisse but with one trip to each, I give Bay Wolf the edge.

During my meal, I recalled my friend Robin lived in Oakland, so I gave her a call. She welcomed me to town by letting me know she was moving to LA in twelve hours. Conveniently, Robin was wrapping up a farewell dinner with friends at a pizza place 100 feet away. We were able to meet up so I could help her finish packing.

My time with Robin convinced me I needed to come back to Oakland to explore so I did so the next day. My first stop was at Pizza Pazza where we met the previous evening. My slice of pizza here is very good. This is also the only combination pizza shop and antique store I know of. I then started to explore Piedmont Ave. This street reminds me of the High Street strip in the Short North. Piedmont features a variety of restaurants, specialty food stores, several comic book shops, cool book stores and more.

An Oakland landmark is Fenton’s Creamery in the center of the length of Piedmont. Fenton’s is the epitome of an old fashioned ice cream parlor. It may also be the home to the creation of the orginal Rocky Road ice cream. I tried the ice cream (very good) but had to hightail it out of the front door after a quick survey since there was a birthday party of forty plus four year old children monitored by four rapidly decompensating parents.

My mission of exploration had a destination – Mountainview Cemetery. It is a bit of a walk to the top but it is worth it. The grounds lining the road to the summit are lined with almost two centuries of Bay Area history in the form of tombstones. The view from the crest is phenomenal, you can see the entire bay – both bridges, Oakland, San Francisco and everything else.

Oakland as seen from mountainview cemetery

So you may have heard about a place called San Francisco? How about a wine region known as Sonoma? I was determined to spend some time in these places as well. I added on a side trip to Muir Woods with the assistance of Extranomical Tours.

I like to take tours with small, independent companies – in addition to having a way to drink without driving this also allows me to meet interesting people from all over the country and sometimes the world. Our day tour took us to Muir Woods for an hour. Then we visited three Sonoma wineries: Cline Cellars, Kunde and Jacuzzi Wines. Um yeah, Jacuzzi, the same family that made a fortune in hot tubs. Jacuzzi was the best of the three wineries visited. My favorite pour of the tour was Jacuzzi Moscato Bianco. This choice was supported by most of our group. Jacuzzi has a Tuscanesque tower one can climb for a great view of all of Sonoma county. Jacuzzi also samples their excellent olive oils (including a jalapeno infused oil) for free. In between wineries we had lunch at the Sonoma Cheese Factory where they are happy to give out samples of cheese, fudge and gelato. On my previous trip to California I had visited Napa and Sonoma back to back. I had decided that I liked Sonoma wines and the attitude of that region a bit more. The one overlap from my previous exploration was the Cheese Factory so I was happy to drop in again to fortify myself for more wine tastings.

The tour bus dropped me off at the Ferry Building near the Embarcadero BART. There are many, many reasons to visit the Ferry Building market. I am going to list four.

Taylors Automatic Refresher
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher is a famous landmark in Napa. Fortunately for me, they have a second location in “The City”. Taylor’s serves up everything one would expect from a classic diner but there is a twist, actually, a lot of twists. Taylor’s uses Niman Ranch beef, recyclable greenware, serves Mahi Mahi fish tacos and takes their comfort food to a gourmet level.

The encased cured meat products sold here are so good they could tame a bear or maybe the devil himself. I arrived after the shop’s posted closing time of 6 PM but the friendly staff sensing my salami deficiency let me buy a few items they could ring up easily.

Cowgirl Creamery
One of our Ohio dairy heroes, Jen Bhaerman used to work here. Jen is now the marketing maven for milk evangelist Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery. Jen knows cheese so if she thought the Cowgirl Creamery was worth working for then I knew it was worth eating. We were both right. This is superior cheese.

Acme Bread Company
Take some artisan meats from the salumeria of Boccalone, slice up Cowgirl Creamery triple cream Cheese and blanket with really good bread and you have: the best midnight snack sandwich consumed in the United States on March 12th 2010.

I wrapped up my Bay Area adventure catching up with my gal pal the Beer Wench at Bobby G’s for four or five pints of west coast microbrew, a board game, a slice of pizza and culinary shop talk. The Wench started her site in Columbus. We met in 2008 while teaming up for a couple beer tasting events. Ashley is doing well and says hello to her friends here in Columbus. Even though she gets to experience the fooder’s bounty of the Bay Area every day, she says she misses Columbus and the can do attitude of our town. I think that is quite an endorsement and it was an interesting idea to think about as I pulled myself away from heaven.

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PHX Gourmand

Posted by CMH Gourmand on February 23, 2010

En route from Puerta Vallarta to Port Columbus I had a six hour layover in Phoenix. That was not my original plan but it did become my fate when USAir altered my flight. The change required an early morning departure which is not my way of ending a vacation but I decided to look on the bright side and use the forced downtime to explore a city I have not seen in fifteen years. After some quick research I discovered there is a Phoenix Light Rail system that connects to the airport and I sleuthed Phoenix Rail Food, a blog devoted to restaurants within easy walking distance of the rail stops. This was all I needed to feel good about how I could enjoy my Phoenix free time.

A free shuttle runs from the airport to the light rail stop every 12 minutes. There are stops at each rail station about every ten minutes. The stations cover an expanding area of the Phoenix/Tempe metro area with each stop connected to an easy to use bus system. A day pass cost $3.50. I picked a few potential restaurant options and set out on my journey of discovery.

The ride allowed to to see the heart of the city. There are stops at all of the significant downtown destinations. It took about 10 minutes to arrive at the Central Avenue and Van Buren station near Arizona State University downtown campus. It was a five minute walk to my lunch selection, Cibo.

Cibo is a perfect lazy lunchtime hangout. It is located slightly off the beaten path in a residential setting. The restaurant is in a restored, historic house crammed full of character, charm and well crafted woodwork with a big brick wood-fired pizza oven in the center. The outside features a large, tree lined patio. The menu offers a medium sized selection of pizzas, sandwiches, salads and a few sides. All of the wines are well chosen Italian selections while the beers are mostly Arizona area microbrews (I sipped on a Nimbus Dirty Blonde). The atmosphere was ideal. My service (a team approach is used) was good except for my emotionally detached server who submitted the wrong sandwich order for me. However I was so hungry I ate what I was presented and enjoyed it. Cibo is known for their crepes and I was not disappointed by a succulent Nutella crepe which filled me until the next day.

603 North 5th Avenue
(602) 441-2697

On my way to the restaurant I saw a market in the distance and decided to investigate on my return journey. My curiosity served me well. If I was to create the CMH Gourmand Emporium, my model would be the Phoenix Public Market. (Well mostly. I would add in elements of The Cheeseboard in Berkeley because I am a sucker for great cheese and fresh, artisan bread). There is a modest selection of organic foodstuffs at the market, not enough to meet all your shopping needs for the week but all of the right items for the weekend. In addition to groceries there is an adjoining fair trade coffee shop, a four seat wine bar featuring only Arizona wines and a deli with a variety of items including baked goods, gourmet goodies as well as plenty of lunch entrees and carry out food.

One area where this market excels and exceeds even my high expectations is in the marketing of the stories of purveyors and staff. Every section features signs sharing the history and origins of the wine gal, the farmer that grows corn, the cattleman that tends and butchers his cows and etc. Most of the foods are local. Customers instantly know where it comes from and who at the market can guide them in their additional education and choices. There is a special connection that is created when one can to connect all of the links in the foodchain from farm to market to belly. This market hit the mark.

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