Back of the Blog: 21 from 2016

Something that I have come in my nearly three years of blogging now is that you just don't get to blog about everything you encounter. Sometimes the event doesn't quite rise to sustain an entire blog post, sometimes the subject of the potential blog post vanishes from the scene before you can make a fair judgment, and sometimes life gets in the way and takes away from a potential post's timeliness.

Despite all that, I've tried to reflect the travels and encounters of my spouse and I as best I could through my social media channels. But as I've looked back at the collective photos from the year, I thought this would be a good time to reflect back on a few photos that didn't make the feed (and a couple that did.)

Nosh Columbus was just a touch farther than I wanted to go for lunch generally, but the time I did go was a bit of a rewarding one, as enjoyed a fairly satisfying rendition of jerk chicken, and at a good price to boot.  In fact, it was enough food for me and a more down-on-their-luck person I found nearby, who was more than happy to finish off this lunch. Nosh closed before I could venture in a second time, due to be replaced by Poke Doki.

Perhaps the funkiest breather you could ever hope to encounter: the Isaac Hayes/Tina Turner/Booker T. & The MG's Rest Area in Jackson, TN.

The Inaugural Vinyl COHvers Post: Holiday Edition

I am not one who craves material things all that much, but one of the items that I have received as a gift from my spouse has been one of my most cherished. My Audio-Technica turntable may be a basic edition, but it allows me (not to mention my spouse) to relive our days when vinyl records were king.

Unsurprisingly, one of our new favorite activities has been to refurbish our vinyl record collection. I had a few vinyl records from my younger days (mainly 1970 and 1980s vintage vinyl), but even with the resurgent market, old vinyl can be found at relatively bargain prices at numerous estate sales, antique stores and record stores.

I have Greenville, South Carolina to thank for what has become one of my unofficial official quests during my search for vintage vinyl. At Horizon Records, located just north of the main downtown area, I stumbled across a compilation album put out by one of Columbus' long-time rock stations, Q-FM-96.  Looking back at it, I suppose it wouldn't be too surprising that this compilation record would be found at this record store. but at the time it was such a novel find to me. Coupled with what I thought was a fair price as well as an increasing desire to learn about the history of this area, I took possession of it that day.

Since then, I've been on the look out for records that have some unique and/or novel connection to this area. As the vinyl collection as well as the reach of this blog grew, I had it in the back of my mind to share a little bit of my finds for you readers once I had the time and capability to do so.

Well, that capability has now arrived, and now the time is nigh - here is my first ever Inaugural Vinyl COHvers post.

First Born and Seven Years Later: Seventh Son Brewing

Sometimes it's easy to take something for granted, especially when there's quite a few around. Take Seventh Son Brewing, one of approximately 40 breweries dotting the Central Ohio region at this moment and participating member of the Columbus Ale Trail.

Now, most folks know that their now popular taproom at the corner of 4th Avenue and 4th Street opened up in April of 2013. What most people don't know is that this brewery was actually born in concept (in more than one way) an appropriate seven years ago in 2009,

Black Friday Bedlam: The Second Annual Mead & Brew Tour (Part 2)

The second half of our Black Friday Libations tour started off at a place that seemed to pique the collective group's curiosity the most out of our destinations this day.

Reading a little bit before my visit about The BottleHouse, first established in Cleveland Heights in 2012, reminded me of Columbus-area breweries like Valleyview's Sideswipe Brewing or Heath's Homestead Brewing in Licking County. The latter two were breweries that had began plying their trade quietly on the fringes, put out more compellingly tasty products over time, and have expanded their facilities and their name recognition as a result. With The BottleHouse opening a new location in Lakewood recently, I was hoping we would find similarly compelling beverages.

Black Friday Bedlam: The Second Annual Mead & Brew Tour (Part 1)

The ritual of Black Friday has become a source of tradition (or avoidance, depending on your viewpoint) for many families around the country.  While most of these experiences center around the greatest shopping bargains you can find, for my spouse's side of the family, it means a gathering of the troops for a whirlwind tour of breweries and meaderies in the area.

Last year's journeys took our collective group into the Detroit area for a sampling at places like Ferndale's Schramm's Mead and Warren's Kuhnhenn Brewing. This year, we ventured into Northeast Ohio for a whirlwind journey in and around the Cleveland area.

Two of our first three visits on the first half of our journey were repeat visits of area breweries that my spouse and I had made not too long ago, with a kickoff of proceedings at Akron's Hoppin' Frog Brewery and a more extensive lunch stop a few hours later at Lake County's Willoughby Brewing.

Not surprisingly, not much had really changed since we blogged about these two breweries not too long ago. However, we did want to say Hoppin' Frog's special Black Friday release, the Gavel Slammer Dark Ale (a direct reference to the measure which eliminated the ABV cap on Ohio-brewed beers) turned out to be an appropriate commemoration strictly based on its 17.4% ABV.

Mo' Momos? Who wouldn't go? (Momo Ghar Ohio)

With the recent influx of immigrants from Himalayan countries such as Nepal and Bhutan into the Central Ohio area, it's probably not too surprising that restaurants specializing in the cuisine are coming into the fore.

Perhaps the most signature of these items is the momo, which essentially is a Chinese-style dumpling with various fillings. Momo Ghar Ohio, located in a cozy little kitchen space inside Saraga International Market (perhaps the most diverse of its kind within the Columbus metro, has gained acclaim as one of the best purveyors in the area of these bite-sized treats.

Columbus Coffee Chronicles: Armando Reconsidered

The exterior of Crimson Cup's Uppter Arlington location, one of
two active company-owned coffee shops in the area
When I started my coffee explorations of the Columbus area, I had one "obstacle" when it came to one of the local purveyors in Crimson Cup: my spouse didn't care for them too much.

Mainly, this was due to her particular circumstances: working at Ohio State University, her coffee choices were pretty much limited to the company's Armando's Blend (named for Armando Escobar, who helped with the founding of the company; he has since moved onto North Carolina's Synchronicity Coffee), a fairly middle-of-the-road blend of various Central American, African and Indonesian coffee beans that just simply wasn't her favorite. It happens, right?

Admittedly, for a bit, her lack of enthusiasm for that blend kept me away from this company's wares as well. Soon enough, however, one particular punch-you-in-the-mouth concoction put them in our regular rotation along with the other excellent local roasters and coffee shops here in the metro.

(Ale) Trailblazing Across The Country: Part 4 - Along The Two-Eight-Seven

Previous Ale Trail Blogposts
Part 1 - Beer Tourism and The Ale Trail (with a focus on the Columbus Ale Trail)
Part 2 - Brewery/Ale Trail Comparisons with similarly-sized metro areas to Columbus
Part 3 - A Compendium of the Nation's Ale Trails

From a United States craft beer perspective, there are a select few cities that make the craft beer seeker's palate water just from the mere mention...Portland, Oregon...San Diego, California...Asheville, North Carolina...and so forth. For these cities, extra ancillary promotions like an ale trail concept are pretty much not needed; for all intents and purposes, the attraction and strength of these craft beer scenes speak for themselves.

For this post, I had originally considered taking a brief look at how all these cities promote their craft breweries and how it fits in the overall picture.  Upon closer inspection, it turned out one of these meccas, recently named as one of the top craft beer destinations in the country by a prominent online travel site, provided a contrasting approach to the ale trail equation: one part of the named metro has an ale trail, while the other part does not.

(Ale) Trailblazing Across The Country: Part 3 - All Ale Trails Great and Small

Previous Ale Trail Blogposts
Part 1 - Beer Tourism and The Ale Trail (with a focus on the Columbus Ale Trail)
Part 2 - Brewery/Ale Trail Comparisons with similarly-sized metro areas to Columbus

Part 3 of this mini-series of blog posts covers the ale trails that I located offering a similar passport/stamp system as the Columbus Ale Trail (detailed in Part 1 of this series, as noted above.)

I will say that while I tried to make this as wide-ranging an incentive-laden ale trail list as possible, this is by no means a comprehensive list. With that said, I would like to hear of others that exist if you got 'em to share. Perhaps with enough feedback, I could be persuaded to do a followup post in the near future.

Also, I found that the Columbus Ale Trail card deck for this year's edition of their trail is pretty unique in terms of ale trail giveaways. The closest most unusual swag that I could find on other ale trail concepts was sunglasses on the Kalamazoo Ale Trail as well as a discounted homebrewing kit for the Santa Cruz Beer Trail (more details on both below.)

Boatyard Brewing, a member of the Kalamazoo "Give a Craft" Beer Trail
(Photo courtesy of

(Ale) Trailblazing Across The Country: Part 2 - Six Above, Five Below

Track 7 Brewing from Sacramento, California, which is about to embark
on their own version of the ale trail concept
Research Parameters, Such As They Are
I posed the question on my last blog post, which touched on the concept of the ale trail with a focus on my locally-based Columbus Ale Trail, about what other craft beer ale trail promotions might be found around the country, their structure and their incentives.

Other than actually finding those cities and regions with active ale trails, I figured a meaningful comparison in relation to the Columbus area would be useful. Once I thought about it a little more closely, I figured looking into metro areas with similar populations would be an easy and relevant comparison measure.

So I took a look at where Columbus stood in terms of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) - as of 2015 (Note: Population statistics were taken from Wikipedia's List of Metropolitan Statistical Areas and rounded down or up for simplicity), the Columbus metro area, which here reaches as far as Marion and Zanesville, comes in at just over 2 million with a rounded total of 2,022,000 people.

From here, I decided to take the MSAs both directly above and directly below in terms of population and dive in. Interestingly enough, the next metro area population-wise higher than Columbus that had an active ale trail really isn't all that far away from Ohio's capital city. The remaining metro areas researched included two neighboring Ohio cities, a couple of fellow capital cities, and a journey from coast to coast.

(Ale) Trailblazing Across The Country: Part 1 - A Focus on the Locals

Pretty much since the beginning of our relationship with my spouse, craft beer has been part of our tourism experience. One of our first memorable experiences was a brewery tour of San Francisco's Anchor Brewing, one of the originators of the modern craft beer movement. A subsequent visit into Oregon was equally as memorable as we dropped by Deschutes Brewing in Bend. Not only were we greeted by the smell of freshly harvested hops (courtesy of a day-of-visit shipment), but also had the opportunity to sample the not-released-for-general distribution Black Butte XXII.

"Beer Tourism" is a Thing Now
These trips were long before the term "craft beer tourism" came into vogue. All-encompassing beer tourism economic stats are a little hard to come by, but hints of the economic impact that craft beer has had can be found in many places. For example, a 2015 report released by the Vermont Brewers Association estimated that craft beer contributed over $50 million dollars to the total tourism take for the state in 2014.

Even closer to home, a study released by Experience Grand Rapids in Michigan estimated an over $12 million dollar impact from 42,000 beer tourists. Most recently, the travel booking site Travelocity, in partnership with the Brewers Association, released a Beer Tourism Index, which not only uncovered some impressive statistics related to craft beer in the United States, but also revealed their poll results on the Top 6 Large and Small Metro Areas for craft beer in the country.

One tool that cities and regions have used to promote their areas has been the ale trail or beer trail concept, where incentives are offered to folks who visit a certain number of breweries. When individuals involved with the Columbus beer scene adapted the concept in 2015 to promote the area's booming industry, they expected a fairly modest response from the public.

Steady Diet of Everything: Anthony Bourdain's "The Hunger"

Anthony Bourdain: The Hunger
Palace Theatre
October 29, 2016

The book that put chef/author/media personality Anthony Bourdain on the map
Whatever one may think of "Kitchen Confidential", chef/author/major media personality Anthony Bourdain's exposé on the culinary world published in 2000, there were two notions that the reader would've wondered back then when it came to the author himself.  One notion would lie in the author's self-obsession, in that there was nothing in the world that would've crossed Bourdain's path to change his primary focus to someone other than himself.

Never doubt the power of a child, however. At the age of fifty, Bourdain was blessed with the birth of his one and only child Ariane, an event he acknowledges came at the right time for him in his newest literary release "Appetites: A Cookbook." As he noted in the introduction, "I was no longer the star of my own movie - or any movie. Like most people who write books or appear on television...I am a monster of self-regard. Fatherhood has been an enormous relief, as I am now genetically, instinctually compelled to care more about someone other than myself."

The Pork In The Road: Mom Wilson's Country Sausage

Heading on up on highway Twenty-Three
Easing past the North Side Fix
Praying the traffic ain't too bad
As we drive up into the sticks

Heading into Delaware town
Always tempted by their craft beer
Or maybe stop by the gas station where
One President Hayes once rested here

Just before the roadside honey stand
Perched along road two two nine 
A well-worn yellow & red arrow beckons 
Along with a series of rhyming signs

It's not like we have to make
A time deadline on most days
So into the Porkin' Lot we drive
Mom Wilson's, we're on our way

Out On The CAT-walk: Buckeye Lake Brewery (Buckeye Lake, OH)

CAT (Columbus Ale Trail) Brewery: Buckeye Lake Brewery

First Impressions: "Garage doors...patio...a perfect warm season hangout."

Reality: Most everyone familiar with Central Ohio knows about the struggles that the businesses surrounding Buckeye Lake, located roughly a half-hour east of Columbus, have gone through the last two years. The moment, while dreaded, was inevitable - the 180-year-old earthen dam that created the lake was determined to be on the verge of failure, requiring upgrades to prevent a major flooding catastophe. However, the completion of this work would require a drastic reduction of lake levels for a few years, a reduction that would seriously constrict what has long been the area's historical financial lifeblood: tourists coming out to the area enjoy a day on and around the lake.

However, one wouldn't suspect the area was going through a crisis was going on if you looked at the area's namesake brewery. Since its opening in early 2012, the brewery has undergone two separate expansions, including bottling and distribution of their brews in bottles to local area stores and the removal of their brewing equipment to a separate space to accommodate more guests at their brewpub.

A Tale of Two Diners (Westerville Grill and Fitzy's Old-Fashioned Diner)

Westerville's The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches in happier days
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

This well-known line from Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" could easily apply to one our early favorite places for brunch after moving to the Buckeye State. Westerville's The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches, which featuring some of the best fresh corned beef hash in the area, special in-house hot sauces manufactured by local all-things-spicy gurus CaJohn's, plentiful portions, and some of the better diner-level coffee you can ever hope to get, proved to be a regular destination spot for us and many other locals.

Alas, an ownership change in 2014 brought warning signs via social media reviews that the place wasn't quite what it was. Indeed, our visits were a mixed bag - the corned beef hash was still good, but the portions seemed just a touch smaller, the service just a bit more scattershot and the coffee was on the weak side of the diner coffee ledger. We hoped that the eatery would find its footing again, but alas, The BB&S bit the dust officially summer of this year.

That begged the question: when we were in the area, where do we go when we want a good hearty diner-style meal?  What follows is a tale of two diners...

CNN: The C(raftbeer) News Network

With the Internet creeping closer and closer to its 50th anniversary (this momentous occasion will take place in the year 2019), one can imagine that a lot of websites have come to live...and its history. Some sites are gone for good, but if you're lucky and remember the web address, you can still relive that site's glory days via portals like the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Other websites that are ostensibly long gone still have little snippets alive in the deep dark recesses, and a chance search through a website like Google can creak open the covers. This happened to me recently when doing some research related to the history behind the Burkhardt Brewery, the home of Akron's Thirsty Dog Brewing (that related blogpost can be found here.)

Apparently, famed media mogul Ted Turner's baby, the Cable News Network (CNN), had a section on its webpage featuring the world of home brewing back in the day.

The Brewer and the Bahn Mi: Three Tigers Brewing/Mai Chau on Prospect (Granville, OH)

Intent is as constant a force as there is in the explorer's vocabulary. The phrases are familiar and off-repeating: from "that's on my list of to-dos now" to "hey, we should check out such-and-such place this month" to "oh, yeah, that's somewhere we haven't gotten to yet." So it figures when you unintentionally visit a place several times in a short span after seemingly infinite "intending to's", it's about time to get writing about it, especially when that something's initial incarnation has evolved numerous times since we first learned of them.

Mai Chau originally started as a Granville-based food truck. Inspired by time spent in Vietnam, owners Scott and Ashley Wilkins brought their love of the country's food back to Granville starting in 2013, and both my spouse and I heard nothing but good things about their offerings from friends and family in the area.

As it turned out, we never could make it out to the truck itself before the Wilkins clan opened up their brick-and-mortar Mai Chau on Prospect eatery in November, 2015. Even more intentions built up prior to their latest venture: the opening of the companion Three Tigers Brewing but five months afterward when the space next door came available, and something of a flip of the typical fledgling brewery adds food service model.

A couple months later in July, Three Tigers announced a weekend brunch service. Geez, our favorite type of meal for my spouse and I. Twist our arms enough already, why don't you...

Pickers and Peanuts - A Venture into Vintage at the Peanut Shoppe

As the years have gone by, my spouse and I have gone quite a bit away from so-called "appointment television" routine. However, a few shows still make it into a semi-regular viewing rotation, including the History Channel's "American Pickers." For us, the combination of catching a glimpse into the history of a region or familiar brand product, plus the give-and-take between the hosts of the show (Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz, and Danielle Colby Cushman) and those who collect the memorabilia, make this an appealing way to spend an hour or two per week.

On Monday's season's opening episode, the pair traveled to Springfield, Missouri, and visited Don Johnson, a man with a gigantic stash of collectibles (over four warehouses worth, according to this Springfield News-Leader article detailing the filming.) The climax of their pick involved a vintage 1920s-era peanut roaster featuring one of the most recognizable advertising mascots ever: Mr. Peanut of Planters Peanut fame. As the negotiation played out (Frank did eventually bite at $13,000, despite some alterations to the mechanism), it was implied that only twenty of these vintage machines were left in the whole country.

Of course, this exchange caught our attention immediately - as residents of this fair city, we had had several encounters with what seemed to be a similar machine at one of downtown's long time businesses, The Peanut Shoppe (detailed at this blogpost written earlier this year.)  I was curious to find out the truth, and I figured the best spot to go was straight to the source.

Bakery 'Round The Corner: Laughlin's Bakery

I've learned that traveling down High Street in the Short North area often gives me a bit of tunnel vision. When I'm in a car, the traffic during the most traveled times slows down to a trudge, caused by a combination of COTA city buses and bicyclists being squeezed along car-lined sidewalks, keeping my focus mainly on the road around me.

When I ride the bus or walk through the area, other distractions predominate. The streams of people traversing this once sketchy neighborhood are natural attention grabbers, not to mention the surrounding buildings, which like a chameleon change over time due either to constant construction or the latest business venture hoping to strike success in one of the metro's most attractive neighborhoods.

These aspects make it easy to lose track of what might lie in the areas block or two over on either side of High, and is certainly a big factor for me personally as to why it took me so long to get over to the very compact space that is Laughlin's Bakery, just a couple dozen steps off the main strip on East 2nd Avenue.

Punching Up In Weight: Hoppin' Frog Brewery (Akron, OH)

In my mind, the two biggest breweries in Akron paired together sound something like the beginning salvo to the Biblical plagues of Egypt. Perhaps this would be the case if there was a third beer-oriented place in the area (Lupulin Locust Brewing? Hail and Fire Brewpub?) to back up this line of thought, but that's probably not the image the Rubber City would like to put forth for area visitors.

In reality, all you have to fear from these Akron mainstay breweries is to miss out on some pretty delicious beer. After our brief visit to survey the taproom of Thirsty Dog (detailed in this blogpost), we made the trip across the metro to have dinner and brews at Hoppin' Frog, which celebrated its 10th anniversary of operation just this summer.

Who Let The Dogs Out: Thirsty Dog Brewing (Akron, OH)/Brewdog USA(Canal Winchester, OH)

Having your business go to the dogs is hardly a bad thing if you're in the brewing world; in fact, it may actually be a boon to the bottom line. 

Recent travels to the Sacramento area brought me in contact with two very dog-friendly venues; my return to Buckeye State put my spouse and I firmly into the canine world with a trek up to Akron's Thirsty Dog Brewing and the debut event for Scottish-import Brewdog, who are setting up their distribution and taproom facilities in the southern portion of the Columbus metro.

First Impressions: "Looks like a pretty neat red-brick industrial facility."

Reality: Established in 1997, Akron's Thirsty Dog has some serious history embedded within its production facility, lying within the historic Burkhardt Brewery facility. Founded by Wilhelm Burkhardt in the 1870s, his wife Magaretha broke convention and guided the brewery after her husband's death in 1881 well into Prohibition. 

After surviving Prohibition through a combination of their soda pop, real estate, and commodities business lines, the company returned to brew its beer for another two decades under the Burkhardt name and for a few more years under the ownership of Cincinnati's Burger Brewing. In 1964, Burger closed the Akron facility, which sat idle until Thirsty Dog set up shop in the existing space.

A nod to the pioneering members of the Burkhardt brewing legacy on the doors leading to the bathrooms - replacing the standard men and women placards are portraits of Wilhelm and Magaretha themselves.

Burgers and Beer Week, Traveler's Edition - Part 2: In-N-Out Burger, and Twinburger MSP

With (614) Magazine's Burger & Brew Week starting to wind down for folks in the Central Ohio area (you have until the Saturday the 24th to enjoy this event), we heartily finish off this national hamburger mini-series with a West Coast staple and a regional variation on the burger.

For almost all my visits, I stuck to the basics - burger and a fries and a beverage, with little in the way of enhancements for either of those two items.

In-N-Out Burger
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First Opened: 1948 (Headquarters: Irvine, CA)
Number of Franchises: in-N-Out features 300+ locations in six southwestern states (AZ, CA, NV, OR, TX, UT)
Branches Visited: 8202 N. IH-35, Windcrest, TX/1364 Holiday Ln, Fairfield, CA

Initial Reason for the Visit: Not my first visits by any means, but the visits are getting fewer and farther between.

General Feel: I doubt someone walking uninitiated into the tiled, red and white trimmed interiors of this eatery for the first time, watching the nattily uniformed workers scurry behind the counter to knock out orders, would necessarily suspect the almost cult-like adoration for this eatery, save perhaps for the long queues that are generally the norm.

In fact, I doubt the founders of the eatery in the Snyder family would've themselves suspected their first modest stand established in Baldwin Park, CA would garner praise from numerous culinary celebrities, including but not exclusive to Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, and Julia Child.

Burgers and Beer Week, Traveler's Edition - Part 1: Five Guys and Whataburger

With (614) Magazine's Burger & Brew Week whetting Central Ohioans' appetites, as well as the arrival of National Cheeseburger Day this weekend, hamburgers will be on the forefront of many people's minds this week, including ours.

My recent travels back to the West Coast reminded me that I had stumbled into an unintended nationwide mini-sampling of some of the country's burger purveyors during this year's travels, with all but one being a first-time experience. If any week was the perfect time to flame-broil these mental tidbits back to the forefront, this was the week for certain

For almost all my visits, I stuck to the basics - burger and a fries and a beverage, with little in the way of enhancements for either of those two items.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
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First Opened: 1986 (Washington, DC)
Number of Franchises: According to their website, Five Guys has 1,000 locations in 47 states and 6 Canadian Provinces (including 50+ in OH and 110+ in CA)
Branch Visited: 4116 Summit Plaza Drive, Louisville, KY

Initial Reason for the Visit: There simply ain't much open on certain holiday weekends.

Brews Cruising (California Edition): The Yogi Berra Conundrum

A decision between these two Russian River sours may not be as tough as
figuring out where else to go for craft beer in Santa Rosa
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post on one of craft beer's long time stalwarts in Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California. One thing I noted then is that the throng of locals and out-of-towners that make getting into the brewpub a bit of a challenge, and this was no different on a my return to the brewery to pick up a couple bottles of their sour brews.

Thankfully for someone in my position, a second line strictly dedicated for bottle sales on particularly busy days makes things go a lot faster. For those dining in on these days, however, even an arrival a half-hour before opening is no guarantee that you'll get inside in short order. From where the picture was taken below, the waiting time was close to an hour.

This phenomenon may be eased a bit with Russian River's planned 15-acre brewpub facility in nearby Windsor (the current schedule slates an opening of Summer 2018, per this article.) But until then, one may ponder the old Yogi Berra conundrum when seeing this queue.  Berra, long-time Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees and master of contorting the English language into a confusing understandability, is often credited with saying, ""Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

So where does one go for craft beer in Santa Rosa other than Russian River? My spouse and I had been to downtown neighbor Third Street Aleworks previously and found it a decent enough place, but I was itching to try something new. Based on a tip from a Cleveland area ex-pat now enjoying the Sonoma County life craft beer loving friend, Cooperage Brewing was the place I needed to visit.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 3): A Truly Holey Alliance

The marriage of classic sweet treats (donuts and ice cream) is alive and
well in the Sacramento area, as evidenced by this food truck from The Parlor
For this ice cream encounter, we need to focus briefly on a country almost 8,000 miles from California's capital city. As detailed in this Sacramento Bee article, Cambodian refugees fleeing to the United States from the horrors of genocide in their homeland in the 1970s ended up discovering donut shops as a way to earn money despite limited work-skills and education. As noted in this same story, unofficial estimates show that roughly 90% of the independent donut shops in California are now owned by families of Cambodian descent.

Fast forward to 2013 to the Cambodian-owned Baker's Donuts in South Sacramento, which has been frying up dough for its customers since 1985. Siblings Douglas and Stephanie Hem, who grew up working in their family's donut business, persuaded their elders/business owners that both social media interaction and more unique creations were the key to keeping up with recently arrived corporate competitors like Krispy Kreme.

As it turned out, one of their menu additions, ice cream filled donuts (often sporting tropically-flavored ice creams like ube and mango), proved to be a runaway hit, sparking an eventual niche market in the region for this "holey" alliance of these two classic sweet treat favorites.

Alas, a trip to the originating source wasn't going to work with my itinerary on this quick jaunt out west, so I went with a slightly more convenient yet still highly-regarded purveyor in this sweet combination in The Parlor Ice Cream Puffs shop.

Brews Cruising (California Edition): Sac-Town Sipping

Sacramento's State Capitol Building, whose construction was completed in 1874
Having lived in the both the Columbus, Ohio, and Sacramento, California areas for a few years of my life, I have found quite a few parallels beyond their capital city status. These parallels range from geography (mostly flat land at the junction of two rivers) to population (roughly 2 million people in their respective Metropolitan Statistical Areas to their quests to gain more prominence on the world stage) and even extend to pop culture. As hipster as Columbus can be, Sacramento is apparently more so, if you believe the folks behind, which rated this Central Valley city 4th on its Most Hipster City in the U.S. list (FWIW, Columbus didn't do too badly by its own man-bun, coming in at 20th.)

Not surprisingly, the craft beer scenes in both cities have also seen parallel, big-time growth. Starting in the single digits prior to 2010 like Columbus, Sacramento's brewery count now hovers in the mid-forties. A brief jaunt to the West Coast recently allowed me to dip into Sactown's beer scene with visits to West Sacramento's Bike Dog, and the Natomas-area production facility for Track 7 Brewing.

Food Truck Dossier: Horn OK Please

Food Truck: Horn OK Please

My First Thought: "Hey, that food truck kind of looks like a Jeepney!"

Reality:  Actually, this food truck is about as rare as a Filipino Jeepney in the Columbus area, though one would think it shouldn't be. Columbus has a fairly large number of residents from India within the region, and a corresponding fair number of brick-and-mortar restaurants as a result. One would think there would be a few Indian-food-related food trucks out there as well, but as far as I know, Horn OK Please (which debuted in the summer months of 2015) is pretty much it.

A fun little factoid lies in the food truck's name itself: Horn OK Please is a traditional phrase found on many commercial vehicles within India, indicating a request that the driver behind honk prior to passing the vehicle in front.

OH Beer Travels: Roll Out The Barrel

Our third stop on our recent mini-venture into Northeast Ohio brought us into metro Cleveland to kept us in the ever-growing craft beer destination that the Ohio City neighborhood has become, where we got to sample the small batch creations of Nano Brew.

First Impressions: "Now that looks like a nice patio area!"

Reality: Rated as the Best Bar Patio by Cleveland Scene magazine, this space sure looked like a great place to enjoy a beer in the sunshine. However, Mother Nature had turned up the heat and humidity to unbearable levels on the day of our visit, forcing all bar patrons into the air-conditioned comfort of the brick-lined interior.

Nano Brew's initial space had been that of the former Garage Bar, but more space to hunker down within was happily accepted by owner Sam McNulty when their former neighbor The Black Pig restaurant relocated just up the road. The existing bar now curls around into both spaces and the added kitchen capacity helps Nano Brew handle those who are there for some beer and grub.

One thing that did not change was the presence of Nano Brew's signature moose head, which stood steadfastly perched on the northern wall. In addition, the bicycle portrayed in Nano Brew's logo is no accident - through collaboration with the nearby Joy Machines Bike Shop, the brewery houses a bicycle tune-up box with all the requisite tools (and brews) you could need inside.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 3): Going Straight to the Source

During my first year of these Ice Cream Chronicles, I got the pleasure of experiencing the ice cream from Toft's, founded in 1900 and holding the honor of being Ohio's oldest operating dairy. Alas, I was chagrined to find out during my most recent travels through Fremont that the small little company store located in town had closed down.

That fact, combined with the intensely hot and humid weather we experienced during our Cleveland mini-excursion, meant only one thing: it was time to venture directly to the source - Toft's combination headquarters and ice cream parlor located in Sandusky, home of the famed Cedar Point Amusement Park.

I Feel Pretty (Hungry) - West Side Market

During my relatively short time as a younger lad when I lived within the boundaries of the city and county of San Francisco, some of my most memorable moments came with spending time with my grandparents. From hours at the Municipal Pier fishing and crabbing, to strolls through Chinatown (if we kids were lucky, we would pick up some pork buns or packages of haw flakes,) or trips to Mitchell's Ice Cream to pick up some tropical-fruit-flavored ice cream, the world grew exponentially large during these times, and my brain would try to absorb all that was whirling about me.

Another fun place for me was the Alemany Farmers Market. Decidedly unfancy, this market, the first-established in the state, was a working family's nirvana, with vendors selling loads of produce from concrete stalls. While I admittedly was a kid who often claimed to be veggie-allergic most days, the bright color vibrancy I spied from tomato red to bok choy green to eggplant purple, the push and pull of the bustling crowd, and the multilingual chatter of vendors and visitors was a sensory extravaganza.

The latter memories had nestled within me in deep dormancy, almost forgotten. But then, nearly unexpectedly, those same cues I had experienced in my younger days sprouted to life again as I strolled the produce arcade of Cleveland's West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood.

What catches the eye immediately is the market's main building, a grand neo-classical brick construct with clock tower completed in 1912 (with some refurbishments and upgrades since.) This structure continues to draw your eyes to it as you wander inside upward to its tiled walls and vaulted ceilings. For me, it is not hard to think of the similarities between it and San Francisco's Ferry Building, a place I used to wander through on a regular basis.

Unlike the two other such markets I have had the most recent experience with (Columbus' North Market and San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace), however, the stalls at Cleveland's West Side Market don't generally sport bright signage, hint at hipster cool, or even try to grasp at anything froufrou. Aside from some personal touches from vendor to vendor, the products offered are the main distinguishing feature from one booth from another.

For me, much of what fuels the West Side Market is threefold: first off, its sheer size is mesmerizing - over 180 stalls total (many vendors double up on their spaces) are available within the main building and the outdoor produce arcade combined. The Ferry Building Marketplace comes close to that number when it combines with the Saturday version of their Farmers Market with normal operations, but on a year-round basis, the West Side Market stands alone in comparison

Also striking was the heavy presence of what I'll call "meat and potatoes" - the sheer number of meat and other protein vendors to me was a eye-catching aspect. Combined together, meat and produce sellers make up over half of the 110-plus total vendors doing business at the market.

Finally, the vendors reflect the current and historic cultural diversity found in the Cleveland metro area. From Polish to Hungarian to Middle Eastern and onward, the smorgasbord of goods for sale makes it that much harder to keep your wallet inside your pocket or purse.

Perhaps it speaks to the West Side Market's essence that the item that draws the biggest line isn't some fancy coffee preparation or artisanal ice cream but an everyday sort of item in the gyro sandwich. However, the gyro made by Steve's Gyros, with its homemade tzatziki sauce and lauded nationally in broadcast shows such as Man V. Food and The Best Thing I Ever Ate, is an uncommon creation, and folks hoping to land one this day were in plentiful supply.

It's perhaps a blessing and a curse that we came to the West Side Market this day with full bellies. On the plus side, we weren't tempted to spend more than we should have on various food items. And while we did spend some money on some delicious tasting vegetables from Bacha Produce (yes, chatting up potential customers does work,) fresh-baked pumpernickel bread from Vera's Bakery, and a bouquet of flowers from Ohio City Flowers for a gathering later on that day, the fact that we didn't have that temptation to delve in deeper felt disappointing strictly from an explorer's mindset.

We look forward to soothing that latter disappointment soon.

West Side Market
1979 W 25th St. (Google Maps)
Cleveland, OH 44113
Monday & Wednesday: 7am – 4pm
Friday & Saturday: 7am – 6pm
Sunday: 12pm – 6pm
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OH Beer Travels: A Platform We Can All Agree On

Our second stop on our recent mini-venture into Northeast Ohio brought us into metro Cleveland to the bustling Ohio City neighborhood, where we dropped by a brewery with plans to expand into the Columbus area in the Platform Beer Company.

First Impressions: "Oh, cool -  A six ball bowling arcade machine!"

Reality: The bowling arcade machine hints at this century-old building's past as a bowling alley, reportedly the first in the metro. Some of that past history has been implemented into the brewpub itself, as parts of the original interior has been recycled for use as the bar top and signage.

Sangria in the Rain: Barcelona

For my spouse and I, this is around the time of year where we indulge a bit more due to various personal landmark days. Last year we allowed ourselves to experience the excellent tasting menu of Veritas Tavern in Delaware, Ohio. This year, we made a visit to one of those places that for some unknown reason we hadn't made it back to ever since my relocation to the Buckeye State - Barcelona, the longtime tapas-oriented standout in German Village.

Barcelona was an eatery we experienced firsthand during a Columbus Food Adventures tour of the area. At the time, we got to taste the creations of Chef Paul Yow and, unlike our previous stops, felt closer to a meal than a sampling. We enjoyed everything from a panko-crusted crab-stuffed salmon with a cherry gastrique to their house made hummus with an assortment of veggies to their baby spinach salad replete with Marconi almonds and feta cheese. While the chef had changed since that initial visit (Yow moved on to establish the Korean-leaning Hae Paul in downtown, with sous chef Jacob Hough receiving promotion to Executive Chef), the Spanish-oriented menu had not. It was as good a time as any for us to get ourselves reacquainted.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 3): In Search of Liquid Cold

In one of my favorite science-fiction/action movies ever in Terminator 2, liquid nitrogen played a positively shattering role in what turned out to be the penultimate scene before the finale. The film's antagonist, the experimental T-1000 shape-shifting, liquid-metal Terminator (played menacingly by Robert Patrick), unrelenting in his pursuit to kill the movie's young hero John Connor (Edward Furlong), gets a tanker truck's worth (a postively frozen -320.44°F degrees worth, that is) of this unique substance, which figuratively paralyzes it from moving farther.

The older Terminator model reprogrammed and sent back to protect Connor, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, takes aim at his now frozen-in-place nemesis with his gun and utters perhaps the most famous line in the movie, "Hasta la vista, baby." One big kablam! later, the T-1000 blows apart into hundreds of little pieces.

Little did I know then at the time of the movie's release in 1991, however, that liquid nitrogen could do far more tastier tricks. This chilly fluid helps the folks who run Piccadilly Artisan Creamery in the Cleveland area create some of the more unique ice cream in the state.