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.

OH Beer Travels: Willoughby Brewing Company (Willoughby, OH)

Our recent mini-venture into Northeast Ohio allowed us an opportunity to visit some of the area's breweries, starting with our first stop a half-hour outside of metro Cleveland in the form of Willoughby Ohio's long-standing craft beer haven.

First Impressions: "The pictures didn't lie; this is one large space."

Reality: Located in a former trolley car repair company building, Willoughby Brewing, which opened up in 1998, has helped anchor a bit of a renaissance of the downtown area of this Lake County town of roughly 22,000 people. Within its space, one can sneak a peek at the building's former life by looking overhead as the mini-trolley model wends its way around the tracks.

Food Truck Dossier: Ajumama

Food Truck: Ajumama

My First Thought: "I haven't ventured into Korean food too much, and for no particularly good reason, but that truck looks promising."

Reality: In many ways, this is an elaboration and reaffirmation of this previous post I had written well over a year-and-a-half ago in relation to two of Columbus' most prominent food trucks, Catie Randazzo's Challah! and Laura Lee's Ajumama. Challah! itself warrants an update post in the near future as they have expanded their horizons, but for now, we concentrate on Lee's venture.

The WWWLC Club: Skillet

One of the first conversations my spouse and I had when we were still in the dating phase was neighborhoods we would like to settle in should we eventually decide to call the Columbus area our home. Not surprisingly, most of our focus, whether it was economically feasible or not, centered on the neighborhoods with a mix of retail and dining within fairly easy walking distance.

We've found many of the areas had eateries that we've considered "dangerous" next to live to only in that we'd be tempted to drop by there on a whim on almost any day. And then there are eateries such as Skillet, somewhat nondescript at the corner of Beech and Whittier in the Schumacher Place neighborhood, which go into an even more exclusive WWWLC (We Wished We Lived Closer) Club.

As diverse as we've found Columbus' culinary scene, and as adventurous as we try to be in exploring new places, Skillet would be a place that would automatically prompt weekly visits if we lived closer. But alas, 'tis not the case for us, so we make due with our irregular regular status, keeping Skillet always in the back of our mind always as a potential dining spot. It gets even more prominence as a destination should we be hosting friends or family in town.

Down Home & Absolutely Fabulous: The Ohio State Fair & Dolly Parton

Double the pleasure, double the fun: The Ohio State Fair & Dolly Parton
There was a brief time in my life, a bit cocksure and a lot less wise than I thought, when I felt I was too cool for the fair, no matter what its incarnations. I had graduated from the entry-level spin-laden midway rides to greater G-forces, the food was the same old burgers and dogs and lemonades, and the musical acts seemed geared to people much older than I.

The passage of time has a way of changing attitudes, and I am no exception - I have returned to the notion that the fair is one of the coolest things around.

Sure, some things remain the same, and The Ohio State Fair, in existence since 1850, has plenty of those elements. From the old school midway games to the marching band parades every few hours to arts and crafts competitions across all fields, these institutions have become the traditions that provide the base structure of the modern day event. And yes, every opportunity to raise your cholesterol a few points still remains an option at every food booth you see.

For me, the human element has become the most appealing aspect of the fair, whether it be the earnest efforts of children participating in their 4-H or Scouting activities, or the sometimes spectacular arts and crafts produced in that year's competitions, or the whimsical sets of the local train club and the wide-eyed kids watching a miniature B&O-styled locomotive line whiz by.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 3): No Matter How You Pronounce It....

One thing I learned fairly quickly upon moving to the Buckeye State: correct pronunciation of Ohio place names is something of a minefield. Only one other state I've encountered (Washington, with tongue-twisters like Puyallup, Tshletshy and Steilacoom) outdoes the Buckeye State with unexpected or seemingly incongruous pronunciations.

I started a mini-debate not too long ago, when I wandered through the Western Ohio town of Piqua in search of some frozen goodness into the confines of downtown's Susie's Big Dipper. I asked how Piqua was pronounced, and got the proper "PICK-wah" response from the older of the two ladies behind the counter.

"I heard somewhere that Piqua really is like Pickaway?" The younger of the two, almost assuredly a teenager, posed the question cautiously as if she were sneaking through her neighbor's backyard to escape notice. On this day, no such luck.

"What do you mean?" The older woman glanced at her younger partner quizzically.

The younger gal fidgeted her response, saying that her classmate told her that the name of this town should really be more pronounced like the South Central Ohio county because of their origin from the same Indian tribe, but that the pronunciation changed over time.

"No, no, no!" The following explanation was a bit lost on me, with lots of references to a local history teacher and the "Indians" (in the general sense, and most definitely not Cleveland's baseball version.) Suffice it to say, I was convinced that Piqua and Pickaway had nothing to do with each other at ALL by the end of that exchange.