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Meading is Fundamental: Dragonmead (Warren, MI) and Schramm's (Ferndale, MI)

Mead ranks as one of the, if not the oldest, alcoholic beverages known to man, dating back to at least 3000 BCE. Columbus residents are quite familiar with this ancient beverage if they are acquainted with the fine versions put out by the Short North's Brothers Drake, which was covered on this previous blog post.

Many people may not know that to a number of meaderies lie to the north of the Columbus metro area. In Ohio, you can find several to the northeast in the form of Meniru, Crafted and the Bottle House, and to the northwest you can cross the border into Michigan, which has just under 20 meaderies or breweries who also produce mead scattered through the state.. On a recent gathering with relatives, we made a journey up north to sample the meads of two of those producers.


Dragonmead: This Warren-located microbrewery is to the Michigan state craft beer scene what a brewery like Elevator or Barley's is to Columbus' own. When auto industry veterans Bill Wrobel, Earl Scherbarth, and Larry Channell opened the then microbrewery in 1997, there were less than twenty such ventures in the state (per the Brewers Association, the state was home to just under 160 breweries as of 2014.) After maintaining 3-barrel-capacity microbrewery status for several years, the brewery expanded to a larger facility in 2014 with a new 20-barrel system.

As one might gather from the brewery's name, the interior sports a decidedly English pub/medieval theme, enhanced by the pub-like setup (the longish bar area is the first thing seen as you enter the space), wooden bench-style seating, and other scattered artwork and media along the walls. Beyond the bar area, plenty of additional seating is found as you go further into the space, and if you head to the bathroom area, you can peer inside the facility's production space.


What one might not guess from the name is that mead is NOT the most prominent item on the alcoholic beverage menu. Dragonmead sports a large swath of brew; in fact, the five flags hanging above the brewery specials chalkboard depict the five countries (United States, Germany, Belgium, England and Norway) whose styles of beers are available for the beer drinker. All-in-all, there are roughly 40 taps of Dragonmead's beer to choose from, meaning the more local you are to this brewery, the more likely you'll be able to sample the brews and find the gems. While we were here mainly for the mead, our group did sample a few brews and we found the English-styled beers we tried to be quite traditional and overall credible efforts.


Of course, we were all here to try their mead, and Dragonmead had five listed on their menu. Our group tapped out their Cherry Mead (well-liked by all), which was replaced on tap by a fairly unique Banana version. After a slight bit of wariness, we found their banana mead to be a pleasantly and even surprisingly tasty. But by far our favorite mead of the bunch was the Old Guy Gunpowder Meth, whose unique flavor combination centered on ginger, rosemary and a "very flavorful honey" (to quote the menu) and was savored by all.


Dragonmead offers (no surprise) pub-styled favorites, centered around loaded waffle fries and BBQ flatbread pizza variations flanked by a variety of appetizers. The variety of items ordered (the Loaded Waffle Fries, with chopped bacon, bacon beer cheese, sour cream and green onions, was particularly tasty and filling, not unlike something you can order Columbus-based food truck Tatoheads) provided more than adequate gustatory accompaniment and appetite satiation for the group.

Dragonmead Brewery and Pub
14600 E. 11 Mile Rd
Warren, MI  48089
(586) 776-9428
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Schramm's: My homebrewer brother-in-law, who has cranked out some tasty meads in the past, warned our group that Schramm's held within its walls a deadly lass in the form of their Black Agnes. He warned that one sip of this black currant mead, named after the lady (Agnes Randolf) who successfully defended a Scottish castle from a several-months siege by the Earl of Salisbury, could potentially ruin any future mead experiences, it was that good.

The bringer of tears (of joy)...Schramm's Black Agnes
This Ferndale business is the baby of renowned mead maker Ken Schramm. Schramm, the author of all things mead making in The Compleat Meadmaker) has made a stellar reputation for himself and his meads since he started learning to be a homebrewer in 1987.  According to a website Eat It Detroit, Schramm noticed the appendix section of his primary resource at the time (Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing) highly extolling the virtues of this ancient beverage.

Suffice it to say, Schramm has not looked back, helping start a mead-only competition in the Mazer Cup and authoring the previously mentioned book, which still remains the primary tome for anyone venturing into this field. His company now grows their own fruits and has had years to perfect their choices of honey, spice and other mead ingredients for both their standard and seasonal varietals.

To be honest, my first glance at Schramm's location (opened in 2013) in a modern-styled strip mall in downtown Ferndale seemed a little odd (the general feel of this section of town reminded me a bit of Uptown Westerville, or perhaps even Rockridge in the San Francisco Bay Area.) However, the interior was nicely attired yet simple, pretty much along the line of your typical small-scale wine tasting room. Along with the bar area, a smattering of tables and stylish art prints dot the textured yellow-beige walls within the interior.


As one gathers quickly, Schramm's meads are on the pricey side, and you figure they better be top of the line if you're going to be paying $8 to $24 for a 5-ounce glass and not surprising when the most sought after varietals go for around $100 or more per the bottle. Thankfully, Schramm's gives visitors a relatively inexpensive way to sample their offerings with two different three-mead flights, and we were quite happy to find that the Black Agnes was included in the slightly more expensive "Black" varietal sampler.

My spouse and I went opted for these flights first, but my brother-in-law's experience with and description of their mead convinced pretty much everyone else to go straight for the gusto immediately with a glass of the Black Agnes itself.

While the Black Agnes did not spoil my future mead tasting experiences (I and my spouse especially do enjoy drier meads), I must say that if you are into complex but sweet, extremely fruit-forward flavor profile, this mead may do just that very thing. Unlike meads I have had before, the honey was more of a luxuriant framework for the hugely fruit-forward rich currant flavor. It reminded me a bit of a port wine, but unlike a port (a wine I do not care for), this was a sweet profile I could enjoy, albeit over an extended period of time. Everyone in our group was impressed to varying high degrees with the Black Agnes, with one of literally in tears from the deliciousness she had just tasted.

A glass of Schramm's delicious Apple Crisp cyser, a view of
their two mead flights, and a grilled bleu cheese sandwich
with dried Michigan cherries on cinnamon bread 
In truth, all the mead we tasted from Schramm's were all quite worthy. The creations with the "black" fruits have gained the higher reputations overall, but even their more non-fruit-based mead creations like their nutmeg and ginger were quite good. Any mead maker would be proud to put these under their own label.  Swept up by the delightful brews we were drinking, my spouse and I shared one more glass of their quite enjoyable seasonal Apple Crisp cyser.

On the food side of things, Schramm's has a concise menu of fancier small plate type dishes. While these items are not gut-fillers by any stretch, the selection of appetizers, sandwiches, salads and desserts offer visitors a way to provide a food/mead pairing to their liking, Our waitperson showed he was more than capable in terms of suggesting menu items (we ended up with perfectly palatable grilled cheese sandwiches accompanied by a small side salad) as well as describing the available mead varietals themselves.

Schramm’s Meadery
327 W. 9 Mile Rd.
Ferndale, MI 48220
248-439-5000
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Schramm's Mead Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Four Ohio Winters, Three Residences, Two Trips to Asheville...

My automobile, still two years from its unexpected retirement, didn't
appreciate its first taste of the Ohio-styled winter weather four years ago.
...and a Hatchback in a Junkyard.

The end of the year and the Christmas season in general always seems to be a topic for every style of blog, and this one is no exception.

It's been almost four years since I made the 2,000 mile trek over to the Buckeye State, packed to the gills with my most important belongings in a somewhat smallish hatchback car along with my then girlfriend-now-spouse. In a weird way, I've come back full circle - despite the picture above, the winter by Ohio standards was a pretty mild one. This year's winter has seen temperatures here that I might expect in the Bay Area around this time; in fact, the number of 60+ degree temperature days have been more or less equal between the two cities, based on a quick check on Accuweather.

While my spouse and I are not adverse to snow, we are definitely thankful for the relatively mild temperatures so far this winter. But in reality, the mild weather is much more of a cherry on top of the proverbial sundae of a pretty good year for both of us.

Of course, the thing we're incredibly thankful for is our new house. While we are learning the subtle details about what a money pit a house really can be (thankfully, more in the way of upgrades versus unexpected repair needs), we couldn't be more happy with our purchase, the surrounding neighbors and the neighborhood. Perhaps most importantly, the house has given us a certain sense of permanence that has given us more incentive than ever to engage with and in the local community.

Another thing we are thankful for are the love and camaraderie of the people in our lives, from our family members to our friends, both long-time or newly met, and even one-time chance meetings at the places to which we have traveled. Our wide circle for the most part has had a fairly healthful year like we have, and we certainly hope things trend that way in the year to come.

From this blog's standpoint, we both have been thrilled to see the continued vitality, creativity and growth shown by many aspects of the Columbus metro area. While I do still pay attention to Bay Area matters and visit the area, it is Columbus that has become the preeminent focus of my life. What has really struck me personally during my experiences and encounters with the people behind the arts, music, culinary, social media and other community-oriented efforts in this metro is not the fact that these folks are hard working; in reality, that kind of goes without saying.

Rather, what has struck me is that how truly nice and gracious the people within and behind the scenes are, from my fellow bloggers to restaurant chefs, musicians and craftspeople, business owners and organization heads, and so forth.

And the support these folks show to each other and the wider creative community as a whole is a pretty wonderful and special thing to witness. Granted, this is something of a general gut feeling, but it is reflected and confirmed in folks like Angela Perley, the lead singer for her band The Howlin' Moons who were just voted as the "Best Local Band in Columbus" for 2015 by the web-based media site Columbus Underground.  Perley, who I have had the pleasure of meeting, stated in the previously referred to Columbus Underground article, “I’m not sure what it’s like in other cities, but in Columbus there’s a strong community where creative people bounce ideas off each other and people are really supportive of each other,”

To all of you, I wish you all a truly wonderful Christmas and holiday season, and may the new year bring you success and prosperity.


At The Diner On The Corner: Wildflower Cafe

The entrance to the Indianola Avenue-located Wildflower Cafe
Sometimes inexpensive home-style diner food is what you want, and Columbus has more than its fair share of options in that category.  During our move this year to a new house, we found our new travels to work and back took us by McCarthy's Wildflower Cafe on a regular basis, and we figured it was time to drop by for some regular visits during breakfast.

Started by members of the McCarthy family in the early 2000s, Wildflower Cafe's space is set back from the main street a bit, giving what looks to be a somewhat odd-looking parking lot a bit of unfortunate prominence in determining whether you want to drop by or not. However, this parking lot is often full of cars early in the day and especially on weekends, giving you the opposite dilemma of whether or not you think you can find a parking space.

However, once inside, the space is smallish, cozy and bustling; on our visits, customers seem to stream in on a steady basis with only an occasional line-out-the-door effect like you often get at places like Northstar Cafe or Starliner Diner in Hilliard. The word "homey" and diner almost seem to go hand-in-hand; in Wildflower's case, its homey-quality is brought out by a combination of interior decor (a renovation to the building toned down the country kitchen touches but kept the down-home appeal, including subtle touches like stenciled floral designs from the owner's daughter), the friendly staff (service can be a bit slow at the back end when you're wanting to leave, but I've noticed groups here generally don't mind lingering a bit) and the clientele who dine there.

Wildflower Cafe features a smallish but otherwise homey interior space
As for the latter aspect, I've noticed plenty of family and friend groupings at Wildflower, often with a kid or two in tow, not surprising with the diner's nicely inexpensive kid-oriented menu. The random streams of conversation that I've caught (Wildflower can get loud at times, but really no louder than other places in town) have a hint of anticipation to them: a get together with the grandparents, a trip out to the Buckeye football game, a visit to a local festival or out of town to somewhere afar, and so on.  Not that Wildflower doesn't have a space for its solo diners - having done quite a bit of solo dining myself, I'm sure I'd feel right at home near the front at one their small number of counter seats.

The breakfast items we've had there are well-made, perhaps a half-notch higher than the Denny's or Scrambler Marie's of this world on an overall basis.  Considering the level, my spouse found their lox quite good (their bagel was of the Lender's variety, however) as well as their Sausage Gravy and Biscuits, and their Challah French Toast was a palate-pleaser to me. Their omelets and scrambles are also solid, if not particularly spectacular gut-fillers. Service can be a touch slow at times (more so on the back end when you're finished up) but Wildflower Cafe seems to be a place where diners like to linger a little longer than most.

From left to right clockwise: Wildflower Cafe's menu, Challah
French Toast with Ohio maple syrup, Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
Wildflower does have lunch and dinner options that tread the general home-style meal spectrum, with a few twists like the Indonesian Pasta Salad and Creole Shrimp and Grits. In addition, a daily special is available (including a Athens County Chicken and Egg Noodles on Tuesday and a Southern Fried Chicken, featuring chicken from Gerber Farms, special on Saturday) as well as a few vegetarian options.

Like many diners, their coffee tends to be on the weak side; we have found ourselves opting for other beverages here and grabbing a java later on in the day.  Beverages include all the usual diner juice and pop drinks as well as a select adult beverages (wine, cocktails and a small collection of domestic and locally-brewed craft beers (including Jackie O's and Columbus Brewing.) And of course, you can't possibly be a diner if you don't offer pie - an assortment of pies (including butterscotch and bourbon pecan), cheesecake and cakes are available by the slice or ordering to take home.

Wildflower Cafe
3420 Indianola Avenue (Clintonville)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 262-2233
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Wildflower Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Primos Carnales: Barrio (Cleveland) and Condado (Columbus)

What do you get in Ohio when you blend together fancified, customizable tacos, a good selection of adult beverages, and a restaurant space splashed liberally with Day of the Dead-styled motifs and similar decor?

You get restaurants like Cleveland's Barrio and Columbus' Condado.


The common denominator with these two kissing cousin eateries lies in one Joe Kahn. Kahn started up Cleveland's Barrio in 2012 in the Tremont neighborhood; its ncreasing popularity prompted a second Lakewood location in 2013. As it turned out, Kahn wouldn't be much longer for the Cleveland market after its opening, as he sold the rights to these restaurants to his partners with the intent of bringing the concept down to the Columbus area.

Since Kahn's departure, Barrio has since continued to grow, opening a third location at the 5th Street Arcades in the Gateway area of downtown right around (appropriately enough) Cinco de Mayo of 2014. Two-and-a-half hours southward on I-71, Kahn's Columbus-based Condado was setting up shop in the Short North, already the home of a very well-received and similarly fancy taco and adult beverage oriented Bakersfield.. Kahn opened the doors to Condado just over one year ago in November of 2014.

The interior of Barrio's Gateway location in downtown Cleveland
My first visit of these two eateries took place at Barrio at their newest downtown location. Sporting an outdoor patio area (perfect for casual dining in the warmer months) and a main dining area with a centralized bar area, it was evident that this eatery is a natural draw for some post-work libations for area workers: a steady flow of patrons filtered in after I took my seat at the bar area. Interior decor was dominated here by spiky-star light fixtures and a Day of the Dead mariachi band mural.

Condado sports its own festive interior at its Short North location
In contrast, Condado's interior decor is a bit more varied: what seemed to be a town fiesta mural dominated one side of the room, while the rest of the room was dotted with tilework, animal and human masks and skulls, and a large "Tacos Delicioso" sign. Here, the bar lies to the rear of the space; individual and longer bench-style tables, the latter featuring some neat swing-out stool seats, dominate the central area of the space.

Along with atmospheres geared for socializing, both places are equipped with adult beverage choices to help loosen diners' tongues. Margarita and tequila options as well as a good selection of craft beer on tap are available at both locations, with several handles devoted to local Ohio-breweries.

Like many similar restaurants, its easy to gorge too much on the pre-menu chips and salsa, and these are generally fairly addicting renditions. I also got the chance to try the basic guacamole at Barrio, which is both a notch better than most and a fairly large helping for the price paid.

Obviously, tacos are the main way to go at either of these eateries (though Barrio in Cleveland does now offer a brunch with a couple of non-taco items), and I imagine your decision will really be influenced with how hard you want to think. Both places offer both build-them-yourself or pre-designed varieties which they dub "Taco Suggestions."  With my first visit being to Barrio, I was dead set on mastering the make-it-yourself system, which is done with Scantron-like forms to mark off tortilla types, toppings and proteins.

The ordering forms at both reminded me of the Scantron forms
I used to take a myriad of exams at the college level
Though taco trucks are definitely my preferred source for tacos, I do like the opportunity to experiment with the multiplicity of options at both these eateries. In reality though, you as the diner are at least partially to blame if your combo doesn't quite work out taste-wise. Perhaps the best (and only) way to figure out what works long-term is through multiple visits and narrowing down what's truly appealing and what's merely ancillary.

In contrast, with my chances of dropping of Condado on any given day being a lot greater, I wanted to test out some of their items on their "Taco Suggestions" menu for future "don't want to think about it too hard" days. The pork-based "Poncho's Ghost" (a hard shell with pulled pork, red cabbage, onions and tomatoes, cheese and ghost pepper sauce) was the clearn winner from my batch of tacos, cementing my feeling from Barrio that the pork and flavorful ghost pepper sauce (despite the scary sound, this sauce's heat level is toned down a bit at both locations) are go-to items in future visits.

Experience with the taco ordering process at one of these eateries
will easily prepare you for dining at the other
In terms of other proteins, the chicken featured in tacos at both locations (at Condado, the chicken came with the Herve Villechaize, a soft shell taco featuring lettuce, onions, tomatoes, smoked cheddar, pineapple salsa and habanero mango BBQ sauce) was just a touch dry on its own but otherwise well-grilled. The story was similar with Barrio's chorizo: it sported less kick than I might have liked, but it was otherwise perfectly tasty.

The only quibble I have with Condado's vegetarian El Posada (featuring a flour shell, tofu, chipotle honey, jicama, queso fresco, salsa roja and pineapple salsa) was not so much with the taste (I appreciate that this option is on the menu; Barrio sports a similar item in their Saturday Night Live punnily-named "Curd Ferguson") but the size of the tofu. With the slippery interior, the tofu tended to come out whole from inside before I could bite through these big pieces. Perhaps I'll just have to try to master the art of eating tofu in a tortilla the next visit out, or maybe take a knife to cut those cubes to a more manageable size next time around.

Barrio
503 Prospect Ave (Gateway)
Cleveland, OH 44114
216-862-4652
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Condado
1227 North High Street (Short North)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 928-3909
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Condado Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Don't Throw This One Back: Little Fish Brewing Company (Athens, OH)

On the outskirts of Athens, Little Fish Brewing is easy to drive past on
State Route 682, but may well be an easy place to bike to in the near future.
The name recognition and success of Jackie O's Pub and Brewery almost made it a given that the craft beverage business would grow in its surround climes of Athens, Ohio. Indeed, West End Cider, focusing on the cider and mead side of the ledger, opened their doors to the public in May of 2014. On the craft beer side, Devil's Kettle Brewing set up shop in the north side of this college town with the debut of their taproom this June. Shortly after Devil's Kettle's opening, fellow microbrewer Little Fish Brewing Company opened their doors to craft beer lovers in July, and we were able to check their facility during their recent first-ever bottle release.

Started by local Athens' residents Sean White and Jimmy Stockwell, Little Fish Brewing occupies a warehouse type building out on Armitage Road on the outskirts of Athens near the University Estates subdivision. This location lends something of a clue about one of the main points of focus for this brewery - sustainability with a local focus. While the brewery may not be the easiest to get to by car (in fact, you can easily drive right by it if you're not paying attention), a planned extension of a nearby bike path (set to end on the grounds of the brewery) provides incentive for those within biking distance to use pedal power for a visit. In fact, their menu sports a "Bike Beer" red ale, a nicely drinkable, gluten-reduced(!) quaff brewed to celebrate the new bike spur.

One need not fret if you do have to drive here, like us Columbus-based visitors: Little Fish sports a fairly large parking lot, with additional off-facility parking located within easy walking distance.

Little Fish's sports a wide-ranging beer list in the taproom portion of
its production space; food is provided by a rotating fleet of food trucks
Other hints of this same focus are seen on that very same beer menu: the brewery's branded hoodies and other clothing are touted as organic, various brews are brewed with locally-based producers such as the pilsner (corn from local organic producer Shagbark Seed and Mill) and Poisson Grand (a saison using honey from Faller Foods.)  In the back, a garden with a variety of fruit and berry trees and bushes are evident: plans are to use the fruit in future brewing ventures. This locally-oriented focus gets down to the bare basics of brewing: as noted in this article posted in relation to the Tenth Annual Ohio Brew Week in Athens, Stockwell's microbiology background will be put to good use to cultivate their own "bacteria and wild yeast to put in their...beers."

This garden also adds a family-friendly aspect to the facility, with lots of space for the kids to run and romp, benches for seating, a BBQ grill, and games (including perhaps the biggest-sized Jenga game I've ever seen in person.)  While at least half of the interior is devoted to the production-side of the equation, more seating is available inside. as well both adult- and kid-oriented games and toys. Using a model seen with a lot of Columbus-area breweries, Little Fish sports a rotating group of food trucks to provide grub for patrons (on the day of our visit, Cajun and Creole was the order of the day via the Cajun Clucker.)  In general, the whole vibe of this space is relaxed and geared toward person-to-person interaction.

Little Fish Brewing's bottle-released ales were the focus of our first visit
While Little Fish sports the gamut of beer styles, we as newcomers were interested in the tart and farmhouse ale styles being bottle-released that day in special barrel-aged versions and comparing it to their original renditions. In each instance, the aging from either cabernet and chardonnay barrels gave what we thought were already very solid renditions of a saison, berliner weisse and biere de garde much more complex and appealing taste profiles, and enough so to take home a bottle of each style. In addition, we sampled the previously mentioned Bike Beer as well as a tasty pawpaw rendition of a finalist for the our favorite-named beer of the year, the Reinheitsgewhat!? (a playful stab at the Reinheitsgebot, a Bavarian purity law that states beer can only be brewed with malt, hops, yeast and water.)

Little Fish may be relatively small in size; however, the brews we sampled this day and the family-friendly, relaxed atmosphere makes us think that this catch is a keeper for the longer term.

Little Fish Brewing Company
8675 Armitage Road
Athens, OH 45701
740-589-7364
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Cinema Paradiso: Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse

Studio 35's current appearance, along with a photograph found in the
lobby under a previous incarnation (Marzetti's Studio 35)
One of the first items I noted in my mental notebook as I was learning about the Columbus area was a theater in along an avenue named Indianola (at that time, I was still quite unfamiliar with street names and where they ran in the metro area, and this fairly unique street name caught my eye.) I noticed that the theater offered what seemed to be a pretty good selection of craft beer along with a movie. I knew that a few of the modern multiplex theaters in the Bay Area had started to venture into that realm, so I asked my spouse about it. She confirmed that the beer selection was indeed quite nice, but added that despite driving by the theater many times, she had never seen a movie there.

We made it a point to drop by one night to check it out, and found there was a lot more to Studio 35 than just a mere beer and a flick. So much more, in fact, that it has become one of our most favorite local destinations.

Don't let this guy sell you a movie ticket...
The first thing you notice about this Clintonville neighborhood landmark, at 77-years-old the oldest independent movie theater in the area, is the red marquee towering over the simple but tasteful white exterior of this single-screen theater. Venture closer to the entrance and you'll notice the ticket window. We found out on this and later visits that this booth is almost exclusively occupied not by an actual human but rather a Hollywood themed figure. Vampire? Zombie? Minion? They've probably stood watch in this booth at one time or another. Of course, we had not realized this fact during our first visit, but we eventually got the hint from other arrivals that we just needed to walk inside the double doors.

The bar in the lobby acts as the center of activity at Studio 24
As you come inside, guests will notice the pièce de résistance, if you will, right away. Studio 35's bar area, which acts as the theater's lobby by default, is the center hub for numerous activities including buying tickets (or checking in if you pre-purchased them) and grabbing some adult beverages (more on this later) This area, along with much the theater's interior, was renovated to its current spiffy appearance back in 2012. TV screens ring the area as well as the bar seating; additional tables and seats for larger groups of people lie off to either side of the space.

Menu items available for order at the bar, courtesy of Pizza Primo
Food is also available as well. Along with staples like popcorn, pretzels and candy (a note suggests that the M&M's are the perfect thing to dump into and enjoy with those fluffy kernels), a menu of selections from just-down-the-block Pizza Primo can also be ordered. This pairing works quite well: pay for your order at the bar, get an estimated time of arrival on your order, and come back at the appointed time to find your freshly cooked-up grub. Pizza Primo probably won't win any "best of" awards with their assortment of pizza, calzones and related items, but their food provides more than adequate grub to nosh on along with your beer and movie.

Also within the lobby area, one can get a gander of some of the most clever and creative movie-themed posters. Save maybe for the outside poster displays, Studio 35 does not rely on the Hollywood studio produced promo posters generally speaking, and this is to the credit of theater co-owners/husband and wife pairing Eric Brembeck and wife Rita Volpi. These media pieces, which I heard were the fruits of some fairly extensive searching on the Internet, caught my eye on our first trip in and remain a must see for me on return visits.

Studio 35 sports some of the most clever movie posters within its
lobby/bar area (in this case, "The Big Lebowski" and "Weird Science.")
Those who order food to go with their movie have a nice option within the main seating area of this single-screen theater (a smaller second-screen in the upstairs portion of the building is currently in the works) - several of the rear rows sport tables, perfect vehicles to place your pizza boxes, popcorn containers or pint glasses, among other items. Similar to the lobby area, the main seating area was redone to cut the number of seats in half in return for a more comfortable viewing experience.

The rear area of the theater features tables for movie-goers
Aside from the first-run movies, Studio 35 is the home for numerous other crowd pleasing big screen viewings, some of which are completely free admission. From broadcasts of sporting events to the recent political debates, Bad Movie Nite to midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Summer Kids Movie series and special beer tasting and movie pairings, it's hard not to find something you would enjoy watching on the big screen here.

The special beer tasting and movie pairings especially provide a unique way for the craft beer aficionado to sample a plethora of beer styles or brewery offerings in one setting. As previously referenced, Studio 35 offers adult beverages with your movie experience, including one of the better brew selections in the metro area at their bar. Certain pairings of movies and beer have become popular annual events, including the "Dude-A-Thon" pairing featuring cult classic "The Big Lebowski" with a selection of beer (the popularity of this event has led to three events next January, which at the time of typing of this blog post all officially sold out.)

Just a hint of some of the movie and beer pairing events held
annually at Clintonville's Studio 35.
Additionally, beers that are hard-to-get or not readily available to the general public are occasionally available during these events. For example, the annual pairing of the movie "Major League" and Great Lakes Brewing out of Cleveland, gives Columbus-area beer drinkers a chance to have a taste of the typically Cleveland-only distributed Rally Drum Red Ale, produced only for the start of baseball season. Another movie pairing will treat you to variations on Columbus Brewing Company's popular Bodhi Double IPA. To cite a recent example, the just-held "A Christmas Story"/Christmas-themed beer pairing featured a cask version of Bell's much beloved Two Hearted Ale. Mix in brief humor-based clips on the big screen between pourings as well as plenty of swag giveaways, and you're pretty much guaranteed to be in a good mood once the actual movie starts up.

Even with Studio 35's recent renovation and current popularity, the fact remains that the single-screen theater will always be swimming upstream finance-wise versus the omnipresent big box multi-screen competitors. The just approved second screen will help maintain the theater's main money pipeline in the form of first-run movies; in addition, a similar business model is being developed at the old Grandview Theater in Grandview Heights (opening date is tentatively scheduled there for spring of 2016.)  We can only hope that these developments ensure that this staple Clintonville institution won't be running the end credits on its operations anytime in the foreseeable future.

Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse
3055 Indianola Avenue
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 261-1581
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The Ten Year Plan: Jackie O's Pub & Brewery (Athens, OH)

In its ten years of operation, Jackie O's of Athens has made a name
for itself  in the craft beer world within and outside the state of Ohio
During my long-distance dating phase with my current spouse, I was slowly but surely getting acquainted with the craft beers of what comprised the Columbus brewing scene at the time (for the most part, those were brews from Barley's, Columbus and Elevator.) I also grew familiar with some of the Ohio craft beer scene as a whole - for example, my first taste of Great Lakes Brewing's Edmund Fitzgerald Porter turned out to be my gateway in figuring out what my main preferred style of beer was. Lancaster's Rockmill Brewery helped open my taste buds to the farmhouse and saison styles of beer.

But there was another brewery's beers farther to the south in Athens that kept making regular appearances at family gatherings and beer-tastings. The unique art on the cans, a vessel that was not a common craft beer world item at the time, was fun and playful; and brews like Chomolungma, Mystic Mama and Razz Wheat were solid drinkers. Later on, bottles of their complex, right-up-my-alley porters and more heavyweight brews made my appreciation for craft beer grow that much more. And everything I heard or read from others about this southeast Ohio operation seemed to be almost universally positive.

Really, the only thing that was missing was a visit to the actual brewery itself, but we made sure that Jackie O's was on our itinerary our last couple drives into southeast Ohio.

Started in 2005 by owner Art Oestrike, what would become Jackie O's began with a takeover of a struggling brewpub (O'Hooley's Irish Pub) in the Union Street area of Athens just north of the Ohio University campus and began the process of producing their own beers with the assistance of head brewer Brad Clark. However, tragedy struck early in the process when Oestrike's mother was diagnosed with and tragically passed away from cancer. It was then when the brewpub's nomenclature became the familiar Jackie O's in tribute; other nods to her memory have been made with several of their brews, most notably their Mystic Mama IPA.

Since then, growth has been a constant at Jackie O's. In 2009, the brewery acquired the space next door to expand their kitchen and restaurant space, dubbing it The Public House (according to the brewery's website as of the writing of this blog post, The Public House's kitchen remains closed due to the November 2014 Union Street fire, but the bar space has reopened for music events and weekends.)  

Damage from the November 2014 Union Street Fire has cramped
operations at Jackie O's downtown anchor location; however,
that has not quelled the stream of craft beer fans from visiting
Jackie O's dark and brick-lined original space, which isn't the largest to begin with, can get cramped in general. Larger groups may also have to wait a bit for seating to open up. On the day of our visit, we were fairly lucky when our group of six (four adults and two kids) ended up nabbing a table in less than ten minutes. Other than the brick, wood dominates the interior both in the floors and tables; in fact, we noticed what appeared to be a neat-looking viking ship on the table we landed.


The downtown location has a full menu available of pub house favorites, but the loss of the Public House's kitchen has made food ordering here for now a bit of a controlled chaos exercise. Ordering is done at the bar, and finished dishes are placed on a table situated right next to the kitchen area (diners are notified via electronic pager.) We had heard great things about Jackie O's pizzas, which are prepared with their in-house spent grain crusts, but our hunger level was such that appetizers were the choice this day. Spent grain crackers and pita slices provided tasty dipping instruments and accompaniment for their cheese and hummus plate as well as the artichoke dip, while the fried pickled spears provided a neatly-battered, tangy counterpoint.

Jackie O's production/taproom facility on Campbell Street offers
more room to stretch out for visitors with outdoor patio seating
A couple years later, permission was granted for Jackie O's to use the old "cheese barn" building on Campbell Street to expand their production capacity. This facility opened up to the public the summer of 2013, and we also had the chance to drop by here on another recent visit to the area.

Located within stone's throw of the Hocking River on the east side of town, its not hard to see how this building had life prior as a cheese production facility. Unlike their downtown counterpart, space is more ample here, allowing for room for familiar bar staples like dart boards as well as outdoor patio space benches; indoor bar and table seating is also available. Also unlike their Union Street location, the food options are not as plentiful as a food cart provides a limited choice of small plate noshes. With that said, their nachos, made with Shagbark Seed & Mill corn tortilla chips topped with pork braised in our Brick Kiln barleywine, provided a delectable and filling pairing with our bigger ABV-beers we ordered at this location.

Jackie O's tapped beers range from their standards to the heavyweights
to unique one-offs (such as their Ground Cherry Berliner Weisse)
The beers we had at both locations did not fail to please. All the basics were available, but on both visits we were here to explore the more unique offerings. From their awesome Black Maple Bourbon Barrel Imperial Porter (a favorite for both of us) to their Wood Ya Honey (bourbon-barrel aged honey wheat wine) to novel one-offs like their Ground Cherry Berliner Weisse and their Chalmond Joy (Chomolungma brown ale with cacao nibs, vanilla, almonds and coconut), we got to thinking what took us so long to get down to this brewery (rated in the Top 100 Brewers in the World by ratebeer.com) in the first place.

Jackie O's Pub and Brewery is celebrating their 10th Anniversary this weekend, featuring unique brews, limited-edition swag, live music, and more. For more information on the event, please consult their event page on their Facebook feed.

Jackie O's Pub and Brewery
22 and 24 W. Union St
Athens, OH 45701
-and-
Jackie O's Production Brewery & Taproom
25 Campbell St
Athens, OH 45701
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Jackie O's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nostalgic Noshing: Clancy's Hamburgers (Sidney, Ohio)

The lone operating location of the now 50-year-old company 
Clancy's Hamburgers forges onward in the western Ohio town of Sidney.
In many ways, this trip went farther than the hundred or so miles that it took to get to this western Ohio town. The travel was really back in time a couple dozen years or more for my spouse, when a couple dollars and a couple blocks walk could get her and her siblings a tasty cheeseburger and fries.

I imagine this was the experience for quite a few small town Ohio residents who grew up near a Clancy's Hamburgers restaurant. Started in Noblesville, Indiana in 1965 by Carl Fogelsong, Clancy's tried to bring what seemed to be the fast food concept with extra dashes of quality, community involvement and hospitality to places where the still growing national chains at the time would not venture: small town America.

Perhaps the embodiment of the restaurant's initial intentions lies in its namesake mascot, Clancy the Keystone Cop. As detailed on the restaurant's webpage, when Fogelsong spotted the caricature in an old film, he thought Clancy was a perfect representation of someone who was a quality, well-liked and friendly individual, traits he wanted his restaurants to present to customers.

At its peak around 1980, Clancy's had 31 restaurants scattered in small towns in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, including but not exclusive to towns like Bucyrus, Tipp City, Fremont, Urbana and Galion. But surely enough, those more well-known, highly publicized chains did make their way into smaller corners of the country, and places like Clancy's slowly faded away due to the competition. My spouse's hometown outlet closed its doors by the time 1990 came around, and she thought that the restaurant chain and that familiar mascot itself had also become mere memories.

But lo and behold, a simply-curious-to-see search on Facebook revealed that the keystone cop was not dead yet. The company was still alive; in fact, it had held a 50th anniversary celebration in the town where the business originated. And one lone survivor outpost, planted in the middle of western Ohio in Sidney, was within about a two hour drive of us. We made a pact that if we were out that way, we would have to stop by for a bite.

The exterior and interior don't look like much, but little details
give little hints to Clancy's way of doing things
Architecturally, Clancy's doesn't look like much either inside or outside, but we discovered little details that hinted at the company's past at this lone surviving outlet. Flyers and ads for various community events and businesses were evident on the walls and the menus. Vintage overhead lamps, decked out with the restaurant's keystone cop mascot, provided the most eye-catching visual.

Also, Midwestern hospitality was evident from the staff behind the counter as well as the folks who had gathered for a meal. Seeing our obvious interest in the interior, they asked about us and proved truly interested in my spouse's bit of nostalgia for her local Clancy's outlet. These folks' pride in their Sidney-based restaurant was also quite evident.

Clancy's "Home Cooked Meals" daily specials offer a novel twist on the fast food concept. These offerings give diners the choice of all-you-can-eat options on the weekends (fish on Fridays, and fried chicken on the weekends) as well as a rotating international/manager's special option on Wednesday. The list of items offered on this day ranged from homey (creamed chicken and lasagna) to more intriguing options like regional favorite Johnny Marzetti and Native American (with a Cherokee Casserole and Fry Bread.)


With a somewhat tight time schedule and nostalgia bringing us here in the first place, we stuck with the fast food options. My spouse couldn't NOT order her traditional cheeseburger and fries, while I was struck by some food items I would never see in California fast-food joints (sloppy joes and fried bologna sandwiches) and went with a country fried steak sandwich.  My sandwich was merely okay, but the other two items did draw some kudos. From my research, Clancy's had a reputation for good fries and these medium-cut wedges didn't disappoint, with a great golden brown color and not a limpy stick in the batch.

And the burgers were good for the fast-food variety, in the general range (for me) of a Wendy's or even an In-N-Out burger. Clancy's prices are as inexpensive as you'd find at any of the big name chain places as well.

This lone outpost of Clancy's will always be a destination for those with fond memories of the little Midwest chain that for awhile could, and the community seems to give the restaurant more than enough economic fuel to keep the cooking fires going. Clancy's may not necessarily a destination drive in and of itself, but if you're driving through the area looking for a grab-and-go fast food meal, the slight detour into town will get you just as good a meal with a side dish of Midwest history

I do hear in some circles that purposely choosing a big chain over a place like Clancy's might be considered a crime. You might even be brought up on charges, but this guy will definitely be friendly about it.



Clancy's Hamburgers
1250 Wapakoneta Ave
Sidney, OH 45365
(937) 492-8820
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Clancy's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ninth Annual Cbus Jimi Hendrix Tribute Show (11/20/2015)/Brothers Drake/Tokyo GoGo Food Truck

This Friday, my spouse and I had the pleasure of a return visit to the annual Cbus Jimi Hendrix Tribute Show, held around the date of this legendary guitarist's birthday (Hendrix would have turned 73 years old on Friday, November 27th.) This gathering, put together by Theo Perry (of Theo's Loose Hinges), brings together a collection of talented local musicians to blaze through a number of both familiar and deeper Hendrix cuts.

Unlike previous years, a scheduling issue brought the show from its usual home at SoHud's Rumba Cafe to the sophisticated digs of Brothers Drake, located where the Weinland Park and Short North neighborhoods intersect. In addition, the show was forced to an earlier than normal time slot (the guitar strumming began in earnest during the meadery's happy hour.) These changes, however, didn't stop a large crowd from showing up to watch locally talented guitarists pay homage to a man who still holds incredible influence in today's music world.

Jeffro Jam of Jam Cave Productions led things off with a version
of Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" on his Keytar, and came back
with a Hendrix-styled montage that referenced artists
like Prince and Bob Marley

Veteran jazz guitarist Derek DiCenzo got to let loose some rock chords
on Hendrix favorites like "Manic Depression" and "Purple Haze"

.
Kenny Delicious, aka Kenny Caterer (drummer for Theo's Loose Hinges
and Lead Singer/Guitarist for Doctor Kenny Delicious), cranked out
the well-known "The Wind Cries Mary" as well as deeper
album cuts like "Castles Made of Sand" and "Red House"

Event organizer Theo Perry seemed to channel Jimi himself on his
renditions of "Machine Gun", "Crash Landing" and "Foxy Lady"

David Martinez of The Old Norths and Slight Rebellion finished out
the solo portion of the show with Jimi tunes like "Stone Free",
"Voodoo Chile" and "Bold As Love"
Columbus musical veterans Maxwell Button (drums) and
Nathan Smith (bass) provided solid backing throughout each set
All performers joined each other on stage for some final Hendrix
tunes, including a rocking version of Jimi's "Hey Joe"
For future information about next year's Jimi Hendrix tribute series (next year's tenth annual show, to be held sometime in November, should be a momentous one indeed), please refer to Theo Perry's Facebook feed.

Brothers Drake/Tokyo GoGo: I had previously blogged about Brothers Drake (and their sister meadery on the West Coast, San Francisco Mead Company) on this prior blogpost. We had become intimately familiar with their mead products over the years (and of course, we couldn't not order a mead drink or two on this occasion) but until this visit had no thoughts about exploring the cocktail side of the menu.

Brothers Drake's Meadhattan and Wild Sweet Annie, prepared with
care by one of the meadery's bar staff members
This new outlook on the mixed drink side of the adult beverage world was inspired quite a bit by revelatory experience received this summer. when we had a taste of the world-class cocktails during our fine tasting menu dinner at Delaware's Veritas Tavern. Since then, we've been willing to explore this world a bit more, and the unique mead-based offerings of Brothers Drake provided an intriguing opportunity. Indeed, from their Meadhattan (Wild Ohio mead, mixed with OYO Bourbon, cherry juice and Angostura bitters), the Wild Sweet Annie (my spouse's go-to this night, with Wild Ohio Mead, OYO Whiskey & ginger liqueur) and the Rosemary Fizz (a mix of their Motive Mead, Watershed Gin, lemon juice  and soda water along with a sprig of fresh rosemary) provided tasty accompaniment to the music this night.

Providing the food this night was what can be called Brothers Drake's resident food truck. Tokyo GoGo, operated by chef Miki Ashino, offers a selection of  Japanese-styled bar food items with a rotating selection of daily specials, as well as a special Ramen night on Tuesdays.

Clockwise from top: Karaage (flash-fried chicken thigh pieces), Pork Gyoza
Dumplings, and Korokke (fried potato balls with molten cheese interiors)


  
For just under $20, we picked up four different items that not only paired well with our mead drinks, but also were quite delicious in their own right. Their special of the night, fried tempura fish cakes, were nicely crispy with a pleasantly fresh-tasting, lightly chewy filet, while the Korokke balls and uniquely fried pork Gyoza dumplings (which came attached to each other in what seemed to be crepe form) were gobbled up with equal enthusiasm. However, our favorite dish by just the tiniest of margins so far is the Karaage - this crispy savory dish is a definite reorder again on a future visit.

As equally good as the food items were the variety of multi-profiled sauces that came with each item; we found ourselves enjoying experimenting with how the different sweet, spicy and savory taste profiles each item interacted with each dish. We look forward to another sampling of this food truck's offerings on another future visit to the area.

Brothers Drake Meadery
26 E. 5th Ave (Short North/Weinland Park)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 388-8765
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Tokyo GoGo
typically in the parking lot of Brothers Drake
(614) 916-6476 (MISO)
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Tokyo GoGo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato