Sandwiches Around The Statehouse: Milo's Capital Cafe

With my recent post on our visit to Ohio's Statehouse, it only seemed appropriate to add another post to this mini-series of blogposts. However, this is a case where the more appropriate preposition is probably an "in" rather than "around."

Entrance to the Capitol Cafe at the Ohio Statehouse
Milo's Capital Cafe is probably one of the more unusual settings in the downtown area where you could chow your lunch down.  The original Franklinton-based Milo's was built to handle the overflow from nearby Tommy's Diner, with both businesses established by the Pappas Family in the late 1990s. Early in 2014, the original Milo's space was converted to handle all catering operations; meanwhile, restaurant operations focused not only on their Capitol Square space but also on their two recently opened spaces on the north side of town along the I-270 beltway on either side of I-71.

The dining space intermixed with views of the menu shot and coffee dispensers
Nestled on the lower level of the Statehouse, diners who eat in are surrounded by the substantial walls of limestone quarried back in the mid-1800s to provide the building's foundation. Some may feel a little claustrophobic with the tight ordering area and the formidable walls that surround them; however, the sense of being surrounded by history as well as modern touches such as TV sets and wi-fi access makes this atmosphere a uniquely winning one.

Cajun Chicken and Pork Belly Asian Wraps
The food menu for Milo's Capital Cafe consists of diner-styled breakfast and lunch items; with most of the regular lunch items are very reasonably priced, falling in the $6 to $7.50 range. Daily specials are also available at a slightly higher price range as well. Dessert lovers also have reason to stop by, as local favorite Jeni's Ice Cream is available for purchase for cafe-goers. 

Perhaps my expectations were somewhat lower than they should have been, but I've been really happy with my lunches here. The Cajun Chicken Wrap ($6.25) had a good savory flavor profile with a tender piece of chicken. On another occasion, I was slightly worried that my Pork Belly Asian Wrap ($7.95) might be too sweet, but it turned out to be well-balanced, with a nice salty-sweet mix and good balance of rice, pork belly and and crispy slaw.

Milo's has a few things that work against it. Not only is it located in a somewhat difficult to reach location, but it is also nearly impossible to figure out it exists on a casual walk-by of the Statehouse. In addition, its operating hours are definitely geared to the the downtown/Statehouse working crowd (7 AM to 3 PM Mondays thru Fridays.) Despite all this, Milo's is definitely worth a visit or two by anyone working in or visiting the Downtown area; this consideration level jumps up a few notches if your business takes you to the Statehouse itself.

2017 Update: Milo's Capitol Cafe has rebranded itself as the farm-to-table concept Graze Columbus, and its catering services have been consolidated into one location on West Broad Street.  The social links below have been updated to link to the current eatery and catering operation.

Milo's Capitol Cafe
1 Capitol Square (Downtown - Google Maps)
(Lower level of Statehouse nearby the Map Room/Gift Shop/Museum)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 728-9231
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Catering Services:
980 West Broad St
Columbus, OH 43222

Capitol Corridors: The Ohio Statehouse

In my first ever drive through downtown Columbus back in 2007, one of the more eye-catching features I noticed was the Ohio Statehouse, or more specifically, the flattop dome on top of the building. I figured that, similar to Ohio's uniquely shaped state flag (a burgee, for those who did not know,) there would be a story behind it.

The Ohio Statehouse is probably a place people see or pass by thousands of times, but generally only visit on very select occasions. As a young student in Ohio, you may have made a field trip or two over to visit this seat of state government. Anyone interested in a particular state bill or political issue may have dropped by here to hear the chambers in session. And in our case, as a person hosting visitors from out-of-state (like my parents), you might pay a visit to it as a tourist attraction.

Visitors to the Statehouse have the option of two different self-guided tours (via cell phone or podcast; just bring the appropriate device) at their own pace, or a free guided tour of approximately 45-50 minutes. These tours are offered on weekdays tours offered on the hour from 10 AM - 3 PM when the Statehouse is open to the public. There's even an option for those who cannot make the trip out to the grounds in person via a virtual tour, which is available via a visit to the Statehouse's website. After-hours tours of the Statehouse can also be arranged in advanced for a fee.

We opted for the regular daily guided tour and we found out it's just not possible to cover all 10 acres of the Statehouse building grounds and cover every little nook and cranny. However, we did get a good sampling of both the highlights and lesser-known aspects of this building, such as its modern (for the time) heating system and its use of windows to maximize the use of sunlight for natural illumination. In addition, as a California resident for so long, I found it interesting that the road to determining Ohio's eventual capital city was pretty similar to California's path in terms of various cities holding that distinction before a final decision was made.

Other interesting factoids learned here included the use of prison labor to construct most of the building, as well as details on the stop made in Columbus by Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession (with this city being one of the last stops prior to arriving in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois for burial, the body was not in terribly good shape as it was laid in state in the Rotunda area for mourners.

The following photos document some of the other more interesting details we encountered on our tour:

Looking up from inside at the cupola from the Rotunda. Our tour guide stated that the designers
wanted to keep true to the building's Greek Revival architecture and determined that
a cupola was the appropriate structure to top the Statehouse, not a dome (which is Roman in origin.)
The Statehouse Rotunda floor from afar; one does not get the pronounced rounded
convergence effect when you're standing on the surface itself
The George Washington Williams Memorial Room detailed the life of this multi-faceted
individual. Along with being the first African-American Ohio legislator, he served as
a soldier, author, minister, journalist and lawyer in his relatively short life (Williams
died at the age of 41.)
The Statehouse, which took over 20 years to build due to various delays, has a foundation
consisting mainly of limestone mined from a quarry on the west side of the Scioto River
Some of the elegance that flows through the Nathan B. Kelley-designed House
Chamber. Our tour guide said many thought these touches were over the top, but
they ended up remaining. A six-year restoration project started in 1990 brought
the chamber back to its glory, including installation of reproduction
chandeliers based on period sketches and modernized electronic capabilities.
A closer view of one of the Statehouse's limestone walls. Numerous fossils
such as this trilobite can easily be found.
The iconic "Perry's Victory" painting by artist William Powell, which hangs
in the Rotunda. Ohio Legislators balked originally when Powell asked for much
more than the agreed upon commission. However, after Powell put the painting
on tour and received a U.S. Government commission to paint a second version,
Ohio officials relented and bought the original.
Pete the Pigeon stands guard on the Senate side of the Atrium. Pete is a nod
to this area's former informal designation as"Pigeon Run."\ According to our
tour guide, people rushed between the House and Senate building
in this formerly outdoor area to avoid being unceremoniously dumped
upon by these feathered fiends. The Atrium was finally enclosed from the
outside for safer human passage in 1993.
Plaque that commemorates President Abraham Lincoln's first speech to
Ohio citizens in 1859. As he was not well-known at the time to state
residents at the time, his speech was heard by only a few-dozen people
Some of the graceful touches that populate the Grand Staircase in the
Senate Building. Our tour guide informed us the Senate was built several
decades after the original Statehouse, and was meant to be much more
elegant than its more simple, functional neighbor.
The Ohio Statehouse tour proved to be an informative and engaging look at what is obviously a prominent part of Ohio history. Having taken the same-style tour at California's house of government (as a tourist with my spouse,) I can safely say any Ohio visitors to the Golden State will get an equally intriguing look at the statehouse located in Sacramento.

And if you do pop over to visit California's capitol building, be sure to view all the paintings of past state governors. It is then when you can contemplate what it would be like to have, say, former Governor James Rhodes or current Governor John Kasich painted up in the same style as former (and current) Governor Jerry Brown did after his first terms in California's highest seat.

The Ohio Statehouse
1 Capitol Square (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 752-9777
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Double (Dis)Comfort: The Hell-O-Ween Challenge

Compatibility in couples is something I really didn't truly appreciate until I started dating Mrs. 614orty-Niner. In the food realm, we've found we like many of the same things, one of them being spicy foods.

In fact, since we've become official, our exploration in this field has grown more pronounced. The Fiery Foods Festival at the North Market has become a regular event for us, my spouse has delved into spicy Korean recipes, and this year my spouse experimented with growing Habanero and Thai chili peppers. However, this hadn't led into anything even close to considering an extreme food challenge until this last week, when Double Comfort announced its "Hell-O-Ween" spicy food challenge.

After hearing about their event, my spouse let me know about it. Before even thinking, I responded, "I'm game if you're game" and soon enough, I was calling the restaurant up to reserve our spots before I knew what hit me.

As I was giving the information to the folks at Double Comfort to reserve our spots, my mind started thinking ahead to that day. Suddenly, a certain phrase was repeating in my mind over and over...

"...for Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread."
- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1709)

Double Comfort plays up the rustic barnyard motif to very good effect
Open for just a scant three months, Double Comfort has brought a menu centered around the latest big thing in the Columbus dining scene (Memphis-style fried chicken) as well as other Southern staples like Po' Boy Sandwiches and Chicken Fried Steak. While we didn't sample their regular menu on this visit, we got an introduction to it anyway by the couple that was seated with us for the competition. One member, who was competing, had eaten at Double Comfort before and highly recommended the Po' Boy Sandwiches. The other member, who was a friend of the competing member, ordered up their Fried Chicken dinner while we tackled our challenge. She loved the fried chicken but did not care for the vinegar-based slaw. With that said, this type of slaw would be the preference of my spouse and I, especially if it's anything like the competition-created slaw we ate.

Also unique to Double Comfort is their proclaimed status as a "social enterprise." The restaurant donates a portion of the proceeds from each meal served to a local food pantry (in their case, this would be the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.)

Having been to Knead (the space's prior occupant) a couple times before Double Comfort's arrival, we noticed that the biggest change in the interior was in the decor. Double Comfort's went with an appropriately rustic, barn building style setup; in fact, the walls themselves were lined with re-purposed wood from a barn in Holmes County in Ohio's Amish country.

As one of the first people to arrive for the challenge, we got to chat with owner Mary Lyski as we signed our waivers and paid for our tickets. Mary couldn't have been a more welcoming host, and was genuinely excited to be hosting this first-time event for them. We were also very interested in seeing what Chef Dan Varga, whose food we had enjoyed immensely at Explorers Club, could create with the no limits on the heat content. Adding to the anticipation, the staff played off the energy of the Highball Halloween event just outside their doors; servers were either decked out in costume (including, of course, a yellow-feathered chicken) or in the T-shirts that those who conquered the challenge would be rewarded with for tolerating the heat.

Chef Dan and Mary announced the rules before we started. Chef Dan would summarize the dish for each round to everyone before eating commenced. Anyone who tapped out of the competition before its end would be rewarded with a Creamsicle and a loud but good-natured taunting by the restaurant staff. Those who survived to the end would be rewarded with the special edition T-shirt.

Our menu, our chef, and our six heat-laden food challenges
We started off with the Terrifying Russian Roulette Meatballs. Basically, all participant tables received a bowl of spicy pork and beef meatball equal to the number of participants. All participants would pick one, pop it in their mouth, and eat, but one unfortunate soul would get a meatball loaded with pequin peppers. As it turned out, my spouse ended up getting the loaded meatball, but the heat level was well within her range of tolerance. My non-pepper-laden version still had a pleasant kick, and is something I would enjoy either on its own or as part of a Double Comfort dish.

Next up came the sweet jalapeno johnnycakes dubbed the Double Comfort Hell Cakes. Topped with a habanero coleslaw, this dish turned out a bit lighter in the heat content then Chef Dan might have wanted. With that said, if this was on their regular menu, I would order this in a heartbeat.

At this point, we were feeling pretty nice and comfy with our chance, but the next dish (the Taunting Wings of Mass Destruction) proved to be our first good smack inside our mouths. These wings, tossed in cayenne and Ghost Pepper sauce, brought the competitors at our table first good sweat. The blue cheese buttermilk dipping sauce and celery relish didn't bring much in the way of heat relief, but they were delicious nonetheless.

Temperature heat, not the heat brought in by capsaicin, was the most daunting thing about the Scarrrr-y Trinidad Ghost Chili & Habanero Mac & Cheese, the amped-up version of the Double Comfort standard. A burned tongue would NOT have been ideal for finishing this challenge, so everyone made doubly sure to cool down their spoonfuls sufficiently, At the end, all three of us were breathing a bit of fire but still standing, but the scariest-sounding dish of them all was up next.

The Fire Breathing Etouffee was simply described as chicken and shrimp with "a menacing concoction of chilies." Chef Dan came by to give us the breakdown and, indeed, he threw pretty much the whole kitchen sink of peppers he had on hand in the etouffee here.

This one burned really good, and I could feel myself start to waver. The endorphin high, searing heat and a third, unforeseen occurrence (a near-full belly) were tag-teaming against my will to get through this dish. It didn't help that my spouse and our table's other contestant had finished as I was only halfway done. However, I just wasn't going to quit on this one, and with dogged determination I got down that final triumphant slurp, although I didn't feel all that triumphant at that time.

The final dish was a scrumptious victory lap of sorts - a scoop of homemade chocolate cayenne ice cream with a crispy shell was heaven. The cayenne was barely detectable in the form of heat, and the frozen temperature and dairy base of the ice cream was a perfect salve for our overheated mouths.

Double Comfort's Hell-O-Ween event proved to be a fun and spicy introduction to their fine cuisine. I think the thing that impressed both me and my spouse the most was how delicious the entire menu was, regardless of the heat quotient. I suspect next year, they'll probably crank up the heat quotient a bit (just under half of the participants on this night took home the grand prize) and I hope we'll be ready to take what they can give us by then.

But I'm sure we'll be back way before then to sample their Po' Boys and Fried Chicken, as recommended by the couple who joined us in our quest. And maybe we'll both wear these shirts when we visit.

2017 Update: Double Comfort closed its doors in March 2017. After a hiatus, it has re-emerged as a hot sauce company with a similar social mission as the restaurant. For more information, please consult their new website at Double Comfort Foods.

Double Comfort Restaurant
505 N. High Street (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH  43215
(614) 745-2183

Kruschiki Disposition: Mazurek's Bakery (Buffalo, NY)

Alas, this picture of Kruschiki, a Polish cookie traditionally made around the holidays, is the lone picture of what we ate from Mazurek's Bakery. But these tasty treats explain a lot of why we made this side trip to this long-standing Buffalo, NY institution in the first place.

On the day we were ready to return with our parents back to Ohio, we had enough gas in the car to make it out of Canada (thank goodness, with gas prices in the area around $5 per gallon.) It would be simply a matter of two things: 1) where to fill up the tank and 2) where do we stop to snag a quick grab-and-go breakfast.

As far as 1) we were able to creak into Pennsylvania before being forced to fill up the car again. But in regard to 2), I have previously mentioned before that Mrs. 614orty-Niner has some Polish heritage on her side of the family, and had grown up eating and loving quite a few Polish dishes. So when I stumbled upon Mazurek's in my research, my interest perked up. It perked up even more when I saw one particular item advertised on their menu.

"Hey dear, do you know that they have Kruschiki?" I've learned that this cookie had been made by her great grandmother for the holidays as she was growing up, and mere thoughts of them bring back delicious flashbacks from those days for her. Central Ohio, alas, just isn't a place where you can find these specialties quite easily

"Really?!" She glanced through and confirmed what I was seeing, and responded back, "Well, you know where we're going tomorrow, right?"

Mazurek's original shop, plus all manner of deliciousness
Buffalo had at one time one of the larger Polish-American bases by percentage in the early 1920s (these days, they comprise about 13% of the city's population)) with Mazurek's opening up near this peak presence in 1933. Despite a change in ownership due to the Mazurek family's retirement from the business, the new owners have kept both the recipes and the building housing their original South Park Avenue location (save for some minor spiffing up) more or less the same. In addition, Mazurek's has recently expanded to a location in the downtown area at the Market Arcade as well.)

On this day, it was the original store we visited, and the smells that hit us as we entered this fairly tiny interior were amazing (it made my mouth water almost instantly). Mazurek's is your basic old-school bakery with an Eastern European/Polish bent. Breads, "ordinary" donuts (the Polish variety of donuts, Pączki, are offered only Thursdays through Saturdays), cookies by the pound, pies, sweet rolls, cakes - Mazurek's has these and much more despite its limited space.

Everything we bought for breakfast (my parents went with the Cinnamon Rolls, I went with Coconut Sweet Roll with their homemade icing, and my spouse's Cherry Turnover) was quite delicious, and was scarfed down pretty quickly. We also got to enjoy some excellent Vienna Bread (a very soft bread with a delicate texture and taste) and two bags of those precious Kruschiki.

My spouse was able to send one of those bags of these Polish bow-tie cookies up to some very pleasantly surprised family members in the more northwestern reaches of this state. Mazurek's can now claim to have put big smiles on the faces of people living in three distinct parts of Ohio and California in the span of three days. I'd say that's a job well done indeed.

Mazurek's Bakery
543 S Park Ave (Google Maps)
Buffalo, NY 14204
(716) 853-7833
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World of Wander: The Circleville Pumpkin Show

In my time here in the Buckeye State, I've quickly learned that Ohio is the land of festivals. Here in Columbus, you can get everything from cultural (Asian, Greek) to food/music (Jazz and Ribfest) to neighborhood-based (Grandview Digfest; the Moonlight Market, and the Short North's Gallery Hop) and everything in-between (Red White and Boom, Comfest and the Columbus Arts Festival.) And if you go beyond the metro region, you'll find seemingly hundreds more celebrations.

Pumpkin-related products from beer to baked-goods seemed to arrive a bit too early on the market for my tastes this year, and at first I mentally rebelled. Perhaps it was related to my hope (as it turned out, in vain) that a somewhat mild summer would hold for a bit longer. Alas, autumn came in and kicked summer to the curb, and after a short begrudging, my mindset shifted into that vibe. This meant I was more than ready to do my first ever wandering at the self-proclaimed "Greatest Free Show On Earth" - The Circleville Pumpkin Show.

Operating since 1903, The Circleville Pumpkin Show now stands as one of the world's largest pumpkin festivals in the United States, always being held starting on the third Wednesday of every October. The town population swells to approximately 8 times its normal size on each day of the festival, as approximately 100,000 people each day from all over the world visit during its four days of operation.

However, I did not read any of these factoids beforehand. As I had never been to a similar-styled event before (the San Francisco Bay Area has the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, but it was just a bit too far to drive from where I lived to give it a go), I preferred to go into this experience free of any expectations.

I reached Circleville on this cloudy day approximately thirty minutes after the announced start time of festivities that day, and immediately got a sense of the potential crowd. I noticed that some dirt spaces close to the highway off-ramps were starting to fill up with cars, and after a little hesitation, I went with my gut and grabbed a spot. It turned out to be a good move: on the walk back from downtown, the line of autos to get into the parking areas closest to the downtown area had slowed to a tepid trudge.

Traffic wasn't too bad (yet) as I walked up Main Street into the Pumpkin Show
I don't what I was necessarily expecting size-wise, but I got a sense of how large a scope this event truly was as I walked around. This wasn't an event that covered a only couple of main streets in a sleepy small town; this was something that pretty much encircled the entire downtown Circleville area, with stands and other attractions on many of the side streets and alleyways. I ended up getting in much more of a walking workout than I ever would've figured to make sure I saw everything.

As I gathered in the scope of food options (of course, plenty of them were of the pumpkin variety, but there was plenty of carnival-style eats and a smattering of almost everything else), the arts and crafts collections, vendors, and the other assorted attractions (camel rides, autographs from Ohio State University Football alumni, music bands, etc.), it felt as if someone had airlifted entire county fairs from various locations in Ohio and plopped them onto downtown Circleville.

At this point, I think it's best to relate my day's experiences with a lot of pictures with a bit of select commentary.

Of course I had to have some pumpkin donuts; these beauties were fresh from the oven
of Circleville institution Lindsey's Bakery
Of course, you can't forget about the giant gourds; this young lad gives one a good idea
of just how large these pumpkins (first place weighed in at 1,964 lb) really were.
These colorful beauties were of more manageable size and were on sale for anyone needing a gourd to take home.
Wittich's Confectionary, opened in 1840, bills itself as the nation's oldest family-owned candy shop
I picked up some of their tasty pumpkin brittle to take home with me.
Historical marker detailing the origin of Circleville's founding on an ancient Hopewell Indian-era earthwork
These quilts were just part of the numerous submissions for the various arts & crafts competitions
This fun mixed-media pumpkin used circular lids of all sorts to provide the color
Pies (what else?) in the foreground; children's art submissions on the wall behind
I like buying my food from the local organizations at these affairs; the Circleville Kiwanis' version
of the Fried Boloney Sandwich was a perfect lunchtime meal
A youngster looks at the cornhole supplies from the Flipin' vendor tent
You can't have a Pumpkin Show without a pumpkin pie eating contest
The crowds were still building up by the time I left to head back north
After this first experience, I can see why the Circleville Pumpkin Show has evolved into the prime attraction that it has become. There's plenty here to entertain most anyone, especially a guy who's just in the mood to wander around for a couple hours with no real set plans.

The Circleville Pumpkin Show
Starting day: The third Wednesday of every October
Downtown Circleville, OH
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Oh, The Places You'll Eat: The Crafty Pint

The gastropub in general has become a little bit of a mini-trend in the Columbus area the past couple years, paralleling the rejuvenation of this area's micro-brewery scene. Places like 101 Beer Kitchen, The Crest and Bar 145 have been making their mark in this scene, and joining them in this group is the now five-month-old Crafty Pint, which occupies a location that has seen several restaurant iterations over the years (the last of which was Gallo's Pit BBQ.)

As implied by the word "crafty", this eatery uses a lot of whimsy for both practical and decor purposes. For example, old board games provide both those aspects in terms of entertainment (a random assortment of original edition Trivial Pursuit cards is available for guests to quiz each other during waiting periods) while old game boards provide the backing for their drink menus. Mini-lamps present at each table are made from Maker's Mark Whiskey Bottles. Finally, but certainly not lastly, your bill is brought to your table within a Dr. Seuss book. A quick glance inside these books informs the customer any creative commentary and artwork they can contribute on the pages within is encouraged. Personally we like this fun vibe, but I imagine there are a few out there who might find it a bit too cutesy and precious.

Clockwise from Left: Clue Board (the backside of a drink
menu) and regular menu; housemade crab cake; the
Chicken Churasco Sandwich
The "pint" part of their name is certainly lived up to in their beer offerings; a rotating list of 40 tabs featuring a mix of Ohio-based and national breweries is a draw for the beer aficionado, along with a selection of cocktails. The outdoor patio area has been dubbed "The Beer Garden" and flights of their beer are available as well.

The Crafty Pint's food menu is a fairly select one, but it seems intended to try to offer at least one or two items to please every palate. Prices can reach up near $30 (the Boneless Ribeye) per item but most items fall in the $8 - $15 range. Winning dishes that we've sampled include the Crab Cakes ($9; I'm not much of a crab fan, but even I enjoyed these) and the Chicken Churasco Sandwich ($12; unlike many preparations, the chicken was moist and was matched up well with a combo of smoked bacon, onions and gouda on a brioche roll.)

Clockwise from Top: Mimosa French Toast; Outdoor
Beer Garden area; Block O Belgian Waffles
In mid-August, a weekend brunch was added to their repertoire, which added some breakfast items to their normal lunch-time menu. Prices for all items here range from the $8 to $15 range.

The Block "O" Belgian Waffles ($8), with a red velvet doughnut glaze and topped with whipped cream, is probably a glazed doughnut lover's dream, but most likely is too sweet for most. Our waitperson gave a sage piece of advice by saying I could swap out one of the waffles for a side of bacon instead; this sweet and salty pairing made for a better eating experience. On the other hand, the Mimosa French Toast ($9) was a much more well balanced item. The orange bread provided a nice, zesty citrus tang, paired up with the champagne-based whipped cream and a bourbon-based syrup, it earned a definite re-consideration nod the next time we stop by for brunch.

The Crafty Pint
2234 W Dublin Granville Rd. (Google Maps)
Worthington, OH 43085
(614) 468-1675
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Bagels and Locks (Pt. 2): The Welland Canal Lock 3 Centre and On The Front Cafe (Ontario, Canada)

The mighty Niagara Falls provides a huge roadblock to all forms of floating transport (save maybe for a random barrel or two) between the lakes of Erie and Ontario. Lesser known in the States than the Soo Locks, the 27-mile-long Welland Canal in Canada, with eight total boat locks, has acted as the main safe passageway for commercial boat traffic to negotiate the more than 300-foot-drop between these two lakes since its completion in 1829.

Some of the sights at the Welland Canal Centre at Lock 3
My dad is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and we figured seeing ships up close again would be a fun experience for both him and my mom. Located a half-hour out of Niagara Falls, the Welland Canal Lock 3 Visitor Centre in St. Catharines provides visitors with an intimate view of the ship-raising and -lowering process through these locks via a viewing platform, similar to what we found at the Soo Locks. In addition, the Centre details the development of the canal and Great Lakes shipping in a similar fashion with various displays spread throughout the grounds.

The Puffin receives a lift on its way to Lake Erie
The Lock 3 Centre has only one lock at this location (versus three at the Soo Locks facility); however, the speed by which boats are raised and lowered here at Lock 3 is much faster than its Soo counterpart. Interestingly, we found out later as we were about to leave that the operators of the facility were going to test-run a new anchoring system that would use powerful suction cups to steady a boat as it was raised and lowered. This system would lessen the need for rope anchoring and further lower the processing time for boats through this single-lock system.

This facility has a few more unique features that raises its attraction level for the typical visitor. The St. Catharines Museum is one of the better of its kind we've encountered, and it's not afraid to feature more lighthearted topics. At the time of our visit, these included a display detailing the favorite museum artifacts and memorabilia of various staff members, as well as a section featuring the beloved holiday movie "A Christmas Story." Filming for school-related scenes of the movie, detailing the quest of a young boy (played by Peter Billingsley) for a Red Rider BB gun as his Christmas gift, took place at Victoria Public School in St. Catharines.

You won't shoot your eye out at this "A Christmas Story" museum display
These displays are balanced by those featuring more "serious" history of the city and the region, including one that gave the Canadian perspective on the War of 1812 between the British and the United States, as well as the Niagara region's role in the Underground Railroad and the role that the African-Canadian settlers played in the region.

Lest you think you got more than your money's worth (technically, everything here at the Centre and Museum is free, but a donation is suggested for those who actually enter the Museum itself,) visitors to this facility can discover the role that lacrosse has played in Canada and specifically the province of Ontario by dropping by the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum at this same location. Even those absolutely unfamiliar with the sport can find enough here to perk their interest, including a display explaining the sport's origins as a Native American game (the sheer scope of their games are fascinating reading on their own) as well as a netted cage where visitors can try their hand at handling a lacrosse stick and scoring a goal. I gave it a shot myself and I can assure it is not an easy task.

The Lacrosse Museum and other Historical Displays from the the St. Catharines Museum
As far as the "bagels" mentioned in the subject line, we found out based on our research that there doesn't seem to be much in Niagara Falls rising above the Starbucks level of coffee. Jonesing for something a little better on this morning, we ventured out to the quaint town of Thorold prior to our visit to the Lock 3 Centre to visit what looked to be a promising candidate for such,

As we discovered, On The Front has a vibe something like a MoJoe Lounge or Cup O' Joe stores in Columbus, albeit on a smaller scale. The interior has a select space that invites you to hang out awhile, replete with comfy couches, a TV and a gas fireplace, as well as free wi-fi.

Their menu offers house-made pastries, a couple of hot breakfast items, fair-trade coffee ($1.50 for a small cup of joe to $4.50 for a large fancy drink; all prices listed CDN) and lunch sandwiches, five of which were created in consort with the culinary staff of Ravine Vineyard Winery in nearby St. Davids.

We all ordered coffee and a mix of either breakfast sandwiches ($3.50) and pastries ($2). No complaints - the food was solid, the coffee was tasty, and the staff at the store quite friendly and accommodating. If a place like this was in my neighborhood, I'd probably hang out here every so often myself.

As we were leaving, we noticed the business next door, The Pie Man, had a sandwich board with a list of pies of the day. A little post-trip research showed they had a rather interesting collection of both sweet and savory pies; perhaps a return trip to visit both places might be in order down the road.

2017 Update: From all indications, On The Front Cafe & Eatery has closed as of late 2016.

Welland Canals Centre at Lock 3
St. Catharines Museum
and Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum
1932 Welland Canals Parkway (Google Maps)
Saint Catharines, ON  L2R 7K6
(905) 984-8880
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On The Front Cafe and Eatery
30 Front St S (Google Maps)
Thorold, ON  L2V 1W9
(905) 397-4734
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Breakfast with Dr. Breakfast: The Inaugural Columbus Food Adventures Breakfast Tour (Pt. 2)

(Note: Part 1 of this report can be found at this link)

Our tour group continued the inaugural Columbus Food Breakfast Tour, hosted by "Breakfast with Nick" blogger Nick Dekker, at a place that offered an ethnic twist on the first meal of the day.

Clockwise from Top Left: Cuco's Tacqueria sign; the Mollete Roll; Cuco's chilaquiles;
the newly installed outoor patio; a shelf of hot sauces for sale
Cuco's Taqueria: This Mexican eatery on the Northwest section of town started off over a decade ago as a market with a food takeout counter in the back; in fact, you can still pickup some assorted market items at their Henderson Road location, However, Cuco's has in roughly a decade's worth of existence emerged from those modest beginnings into a full service restaurant that is still evolving; the latest upgrades completed late this summer have added an extra dining area and an outdoor patio to their total dining space, and they have launched a food truck to introduce their eats to even more Columbus diners.

Cuco's offers the restaurant-goer the added bonus of both American and Mexican breakfast standards at fairly inexpensive prices (items range from $5 to $8.) On this day, our tour participants were treated to their rendition of traditional chilaquiles and a mollete roll. The chilaquiles, tortilla strips cooked in salsa verde and topped with eggs and cheese, were a hit with everyone; even owner Juan Martinez admitted it was his favorite dish during his chat with the group. The mollete reminded me a bit of the Stouffer's French Bread pizzas I gobbled as a kid, except freshly-made with typical Mexican cuisine ingredients.

My spouse and I had the pleasure of visiting Cuco's prior to the tour and sampled two of their other breakfast items on that visit. Our host Nick had actually considered my choice that day, the Oaxaqueña, for sampling on this tour, but decided against it. It was a wise decision: these tasty potato enchiladas, topped with a black bean sauce, with lettuce, tomato and sour cream on the side, is a definite tummy-filler and wouldn't have been the best on day already full of food. My spouse opted for the El Tapatio, a platter containing a very nicely spicy chorizo and potato mix served with two barbacoa tacos and refried beans.

Cuco's Taqueria
2162 W Henderson Rd (Northwest - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43220
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Clockwise from Top Left: Co-owner Hilda Garcia-Mandriotti and tour host Nick Dekker speak
to the tour group; the Barnstormer Diner sign; the unusual sight of the V-22 Osprey on the runway;
and the mini-version of their famed Gutbuster
Jack and Benny's Barnstormer Diner: This diner, located at the Ohio State University Airport along West Case Road near the Sawmill Drive corridor, had already earned a regular spot on our breakfast rotation with its straightforward yet solid diner-style breakfast fare as well as unique location before our visit this day. The various omelets, wraps and special items (like their chorizo scramble) we've eaten are all well made and reasonably priced.

But even though one might think they know a fair amount about a place on a Columbus Food Adventures tour, the hosts usually come through with more interesting insight. Here, our host Nick added plenty of such, explaining that current owners Geno and Hilda Garcia-Mandriotti, proprietors at the typically jam-packed Columbus breakfast institution Jack and Benny's, jumped at the opportunity to acquire this space when it became available, mainly due to Geno's love of flying (in fact, he earned his pilot's license at the OSU Flight School in the 1990s.) In doing so, this Peruvian couple basically brought the same menu from Jack & Benny's over to the Barnstormers space, and created a typically much more relaxed and less hectic experience for this eatery's diners as compared with its Old North Columbus-located older brother.

A neat surprise on this visit was the use of the observation tower, a feature of the airport we had not known about before, to sample our food. Members of the public can visit the airport to watch planes takeoff and land (a couple families with excited kids were viewing the planes on this sun-laden day); getting to sample the Barnstormer's signature Gutbuster and Buckeye pancake in this space made it an even more fun experience.

Jack and Benny's Barnstormer Diner
2160 West Case Rd (Northwest - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 292-5699
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Clockwise from Top Left: Auddino's Storefront; tray of chocolate chip cannoli;
Ray Auddino whips up some cinnamon twists for the tour group; the delectable Doughssant
Auddino's Bakery: This bakery, the last stop on our tour, was a complete surprise to my spouse and I in the fact that we never knew it was there. I personally had driven around that curve on Fishinger Road at the Mill Run Shopping Center many times and had never seen Auddino's storefront until the CFA Tour Van pulled into its parking lot on this day.

Indeed, this bakery, essentially the expansion eatery of the original Auddino's that has been providing wholesale bread products to Columbus retailers at its current location since 1990 (the original bakery itself started in 1968), has been open at this location for more than two years. For my spouse and I, it felt like we had stumbled upon this place by accident on our own.

Inside, the tour group was treated to cases of all manner of delicious looking pastries; gelato, coffee and packaged baked goods are also available to diners. We found out later from Taura, the bakery's co-owner, that lunch items such as sub sandwiches, salads and take-and-bake pizzas are also available.

Tour-goers got to sample their Auddino's breakfast sandwiches on bagel or croissant bread. While these were good (much better than any fast-food version for certain,) the jewel of this visit was their famed Doughssant, a glazed croissant that head baker/owner Rosario "Roy" Auddino has been putting on the shelves since 1991 and way before the so-called "cronut" made its debut (word of warning: do not try to order the "c" word in this bakery.) This sweet treat, explained Roy, is a difficult thing to get right, but it's heaven when you do get a good batch.

This particular batch was good, real good. By this time of the tour, all of us were pretty stuffed from the other samples we had eaten, but most everyone made room for at least one piece of the Doughssant.

Roy topped off the day by giving the group an impromptu treat: a baking demo showing how he turned what were essentially dough scraps into useful (and tasty) cinnamon twists. These flaky toppers, baked up in barely over 10 minutes and fresh from the oven, were packed in a box for the group for our trip back to the start. They had cooled down just enough by our arrival to provide one more tasty reminder of a very successful inaugural Columbus Food Adventures Breakfast Tour.

And oh yeah, we will be back very soon to Auddino's...mmmmm, Doughssant.

Auddino's Bakery and Cafe
3560 Fishinger Blvd
Hilliard, OH 43026
(614) 850-0099
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2019 Update: Auddino's Mill Run location closed at the end of December, 2014. However, the bakery still sells its goods from a small cash-and-carry store located at its main production facility at 1490 Clara Street in the Milo-Grogan neighborhood.

Also, Nick Dekker (aka Dr. Breakfast) has added a Brunch-related excursion to your numerous tour options with Columbus Food Adventures.  For more information regarding those, please visit the Columbus Food Adventures' website.

Breakfast with Dr. Breakfast: The Inaugural Columbus Food Adventures Breakfast Tour (Pt. 1)

CFA Food Van - check; Itinerary - check: and
Dr. Breakfast himself - check: we're ready to tour!
Ever since my move out here, my spouse and I have made the meals of breakfast and brunch our main time to get out and enjoy some time together, often in concert with doing other activities in this metro area. In addition, over our years of dating and then marriage, my spouse and I have found Columbus Food Adventures (CFA) food tours to be terrific way for both locals and visitors to this region to explore this area's culinary highlights.

Thus, it almost seemed too perfect a match when CFA announced a brand new tour hosted this area's most well-known breakfast blogger. We both were pretty excited at the prospect and jumped on the chance.

Nick Dekker, who started his Breakfast with Nick blog as "a glorified hobby" several years ago to chronicle his breakfast eating experiences, has been a main catalyst in bringing national attention to the Columbus breakfast scene, including features from media outlets such as Fodor'sNew York Post and the Toronto Star. But even with the status of local celebrity, he proved to be like most any other person doing something for the first time, just slightly nervous and extra careful to make sure all everything was laid out correctly for this maiden voyage. As the tour progressed, he settled in, chatting amiably with everyone in the group, whether it be about breakfast, other aspects of Columbus' food scene, and any other topics which came to people's minds.

CFA tours typically consist of several featured eateries; tour-goers are treated to sampling of that eatery's typical offerings and receive an idea of the history of the eatery itself, often from the restaurant proprietors themselves. While it turned out that my spouse and I had visited most of the locations picked out on this inaugural breakfast tour, it is that latter history and in-person aspect that makes Columbus Food Adventures tours a step above a typical drop-in and dine experience, as it has in previously taken tours such as the Taco Truck Tour.

Overall, we had a great time on this inaugural run for the Breakfast Tour, and it looks like it will be another delectable addition to the collection of diverse tours that Columbus Food Adventures offers to the public.

Columbus Food Adventures
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From Top Left (clockwise): Ethyl & Tank's Exterior; the Bloody Mary Bar; Mini-versions
of the Tank Pancake & Chicken and Waffles; the "Tank" portion of the eatery

Ethyl and Tank: Our first stop out of our five destinations, Ethyl and Tank, was the most recent arrival out of this group to the Columbus dining scene. This restaurant is a member restaurant of the A&R Restaurant Group; other A&R eateries include The Crest, Cafe Del Mondo, and the Fourth Street Bar and Grill. We were informed that the inspiration for the restaurant's name received its name from a now defunct Georgia gas station. In this eatery's case, this Ethyl and Tank is a mainly brick-dominated structure on the exterior, but with modern urban flourishes within its two-story tall interior. Guests enter in through the "Ethyl" side (with its coffee cafe-styled drinks and light eats) and can venture over to the "Tank" side, where you can dine in for more substantial eats or imbibe in some alcoholic beverages.

Being located right next to the Ohio State University campus, Ethyl and Tank caters mainly to the student crowd; our hosts informed tour-goers that it does try to keep things affordable for its main clientele (their menu items all range in the $10 or less range.) Along with traditional happy hours, this eatery has novel events such as build-your-own-hot-dog Mondays as well as an upstairs (free) arcade; in addition, its late night hours has made this venue a destination place for concert-goers of the famed nearby Newport Music Hall as well as anyone with late-night munchies.

Tour goers were treated to three of their specialties. My spouse and I were never into Bloody Mary drinks, but Ethyl & Tank's do-it-yourself bar, which included a from-scratch tomato juice mix, your choice of four different vodkas, and all the fixings you could want, really made our first dip into them a special one.

Foodwise, we received mini-versions of their Tank Pancakes (house-braised pulled pork layered between pancakes topped with cheddar cheese and syrup) and their Chicken and Waffles. The former blended the starchy, savory and sweet together in a uniquely tasty way and will be targeted on a future visit. The latter dish was also quite pretty good, reminding me a bit of the rendition put out by Little Skillet in San Francisco.

I had visited Ethyl and Tank once before prior to this tour and ordered their Mediterranean Scramble ($7); this was a solid scramble, with substantial portions for the price. I had thought back then that Ethyl and Tank was worthy of a future visit based on that experience; this tour visit only cemented that thought in my mind.

Ethyl and Tank
19 E. 13th Ave (University District - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 947-0140
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From Top Left (clockwise): Delicious donut samples from Buckeye Donuts; effervescent owner
Jimmy Barouxis, the iconic Buckeye Donuts sign; one of the old-school menu signs inside

Buckeye Donuts: Some people might think, "Eh, it's just a doughnut shop" and dismiss this as a destination. However, there's an certain aspect attached with many of Columbus-area doughnut purveyors that makes many if them neighborhood gems, at the minimum.

Such is the case with Buckeye Donuts. This smallish store next to campus, which never closes its doors (it was joked during our visit that the staff couldn't lock the place even if they tried,) has been lovingly tended by the Barouxis family since they moved over from Greece and opened their shop in 1969.

Jimmy Barouxis, Buckeye Donuts' current owner, is probably one of the main ingredients behind its current loyal following. Inheriting the business from his father, Barouxis greeted us tour-goers, crammed in the very tight quarters of the restaurant's kitchen, with an enthusiastic smile and as if we were family (in fact, he even stopped at one point to take a couple pictures of the tour group.) His love for his business was impossible to miss in his voice as he relayed the history of his business to the gathered.

The donuts, you ask? Buckeye Donuts' rate solidly in the top tier, in that if I had a dream baker's dozen box of Columbus-area donuts, a couple of their offerings would be in that box. Thankfully for us tour-goers, the donuts were cut into smaller bits, allowing everyone to sample multiple flavors without over-gorging. For my spouse and I, the best in show went to their seasonal pumpkin spice donut, with the cake-style donuts in general (there's just something texture-wise about a well-made cake donut I can't resist) coming close behind.

If you think Buckeye Donuts is all about the fried dough, however, you would be mistaken. Barouxis stated that the business really gained a solid financial foothold when it introduced its non-donut menu items such as gyros, salads and breakfast sandwiches. With no item on the menu more than $6, those not in the mood for their fresh hot donuts have other inexpensive options available to sate their appetites.

Buckeye Donuts
1998 N High St (University District - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 291-3923
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(Note: Part 2 of this post can be found here at this link)

The Falls Report: Niagara Falls

In reality, words do not do justice to Niagara Falls. This three-cascade (Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil) wonder of nature, the most visited waterfall in the world and one of the world's largest in terms of width and water flow rate, is really best described in visuals, whether it be in person, video or, in this case, pictures. Luckily for me, my spouse and my parents, we hit just about the best time for visiting: just after the last big influx of tourists (the Labor Day weekend) but before the weather started taking a turn toward chillier temperatures.

Anyone visitor to the Falls, and particularly first-timers, should try to view them from both sides of the border (note: if you choose this option. bring your passports - you are required to present them to inspectors when crossing the United States-Canada border.) The American side of the falls, particularly at Niagara State Falls Park at Goat Island ($10 entrance fee) allows you to get the closest to all the falls as well as the rapids immediately before, but the views are generally from a sideways angle. Horseshoe Falls is also viewable at less of a sideways angle, but the prevailing winds this day and the overwhelming mist from these falls made this a drenching experience for all who to ventured even remotely closely to the edge of the overlook.

(Top) A rainbow-enhanced view of American & Bridalveil Falls from Goat Island
(Bottom) The rapids and mist that greeted us from the Goat Island view of Horseshoe Falls
In addition, Goat Island also has the "Cave of the Winds" option, where those determined to get soaking wet can pay a separate admission fee for a raincoat and the opportunity to descend on to wooden pathways around and near the base of American and Bridal Veil Falls (as it was a cool blustery day, we chose not to partake in this option.) Another point of interest, for those with a scientific streak, is the statue of Nikolas Tesla, the inventor of numerous things including the alternating current electrical power system (not surprisingly, the Niagara Falls area was one of the first areas in this country where people attempted to harness the power of the rushing water into electricity.) This statue, a gift from the former country of Yugoslavia to the park in 1976, is now a topic of much debate due to its possible relocation to the nearby city of Buffalo.

The Tesla Statue, and a rain-shielded guidepost to the Cave of the Winds attraction.
A river-level view of where Cave of the Winds participants end up
The Canadian side ups the ante by giving you the panoramic, head-on view of all three of the falls, as well as a view of the colorful curtain that the falls create at night through some carefully-placed lighting. In addition, area ups the ante in the scope and number of super-touristy attractions available to the area's visitors as compared to the U.S. side. Most of these attractions, mainly concentrated in or surrounding the Clifton Hill region, may not be everyone's bag of tea. However, I figure the appreciation factor for these sideshow attractions goes higher for those with bigger families and/or larger tour groups.

Panoramic views of the three falls, including the view of American Falls at night
You can find it all (for better or worse) in the Clifton Hill section of Niagara Falls, ON
One attraction that we would say is a must at least once for any visitor is the boat cruises that take you to the base of all the falls, whether it be the Maid of the Mist (American side) or, in our case, the Hornblower Cruises on the Canadian side. Here, the slightly off-peak period of the year again made it easy to acquire a walk-up ticket ($19.95 CDN) at the time that worked out best for our group, and the relative lack of passengers made traversing around the boat for multiple angles of the falls fairly easy. This is perhaps where we found out why the Rainbow Bridge (the main connector between the U.S. and Canada here) is named such: you almost couldn't help but have a rainbow or two pop up in your visual field.

River level on the Hornblower Cruises' trip to the bases of Niagara Falls
Our family visit to Niagara Falls was in reality fairly short, but nonetheless a more than worthwhile visit for all. Though it may be somewhat obvious to say, anyone considering a trip of more than a couple days to this region should investigate the multitude of tourism-oriented websites and resources that tout region-wide discount passes to various attractions and other visitor incentives (for us, the local AAA Office in Worthington had such passes available should we have had the need.)

2019 Update - No notable changes in social media links needed.

Niagara Falls State Park (Visitor Center)
332 Prospect St (Google Maps)
Niagara Falls, NY 14303
(716) 278-1796
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Hornblower Niagara Falls Cruises
5920 Niagara Parkway (Google Maps)
Niagara Falls, ON  L2E 6X8
(905) NIA-GARA
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