Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Lumpia: Return Travels to Cincy (Final Chapter)

A bicycle-oriented mural in a neighborhood (Over-the-Rhine) that is
full of creative and colorful murals
Our final Cincinnati trip post includes the third prize in our fun little contest package we won from the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as some odds and ends that added a nice little tree topper to our quick weekend jaunt to the Queen City.

As mentioned in our original Findlay Market post, the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood is one that is in flux, still transitioning from a neighborhood people tended to avoid to one where the concerns of newcomers and longtime residents clash in the oft-repeated gentrification debate.

Crafty Types, Church Brews and Zoo Lights: Return Travels to Cincy (Pt. 2)

Signs of Christmas were everywhere in Cincinnati, including the Cincinnati Zoo
This second of three blog posts naturally contains one of our prize package receipts from the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, and it was perhaps the most anticipated one as will be explained later in this post. As noted in our last blog post, we were hardly going to stick strictly to  our prize winnings, so we added in one of the more unique brewery settings in Ohio for a nice combination of Christmas shopping as well as one of the first breweries in Buckeye State focusing on sour beers.

The blog/website Ohio Explored mission is a a basic one: to awaken people to the beauty of Ohio. One of their most popular methods of achieving that resides in their Ohio Maker Mart, which feature local artisans of food, arts and crafts creations. Due to a last minute from one of my blogger colleagues, we figured out the winter edition would be in Cincinnati that very weekend, at a location that worked out perfectly with our catching up with the area's brewing scene.

Goetta Gets You Stuff: Return Travels to Cincy (Pt. 1)

Who knew that going down for Goetta would lead to nice surprise
Several months ago, we made a jaunt for the heck of it a couple hours to the south for a quick little weekend in the Cincinnati area. Suffice it to say, we had a pretty lovely time of it, with our first samplings of an area staple Goetta at Goettafest, visits to The Findlay Market and the American Sign Museum, and some Queen City brewery hopping.

We weren't exactly planning on returning this year (as they say, plenty of places to go, so little time), but it turned out (unknowingly) at the time that a friendly little hashtag on one of my social media got the attention of the folks of the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, enough so that they picked us for a lovely little travel package back to come back to the Queen City. Suffice it to say, we were very happy to be picked as winners, and we decided the holiday season would be a great time to come back for a quick pre-Christmas vacation.

Nothing Can Take Me Away From Wor Sue Gai: Rice Bowl

While Almond Boneless Chicken (aka Wor Sue Gai) is a huge
Michigan cult favorite according to this article,
its origins apparently go back to right here in Columbus, Ohio
As I have written before when it came to my saga when it came to Downtown Columbus-based Ho Toy Restaurant, American-style Chinese food is something I don't generally seek much these days. However, it did and does fill an important role at my family gatherings, so it will no doubt continue to hold random craving status for the rest of my dining life.

Of course, a little bit of history and circumstance can overcome the random craving frequency, as it did with a dish I've generally seen as Wor Sue Gai on menus here. Frankly, I didn't know what that exactly was and had no desire to ask, until I stumbled upon the article linked in the photo caption above. As explained in the article, this dish, which has acquired a cult popularity in Southeast portions of Michigan, has its roots in Columbus, Ohio, with old school places like Ding Ho and Wing's (via Bexley's Far East Restaurant.)

When I saw that the dish was essentially "fried chicken and gravy", that struck me as an ultimate kind of comfort food, maybe even something like Jollibee's Chickenjoy.  Add in a cold day filled with constant snow flurries and the possible indication that a restaurant that I had always wanted to visit might be on its way out, and I figured it was time to proverbially kill the two birds with one stone.

Silly Notions Negated Splendidly: Service Bar

The basic Hamburger Combo from In-N-Out was a go to in my later fast food days
Back in a seemingly more distant younger day, I justified my fast food leanings with a reason that sounded good at the time, if you were trying to pack on 5-10 pounds of weight per year (which, sadly, proved to be prophetic.)  I surmised that those fancy, visually stunning, incredible tasting, generally more reasonably portioned dishes from restaurants my family could never ever afford were a ripoff. I mean, when you could get a truly filling value meal of sandwich, side and soda pop for around $5, why would I want to spend dozens of dollars more on something that would require a trip to the local fast food place later to sate my hunger?

Ahh, you silly, misguided younger person. To paraphrase a quote from Red, the convict played by Morgan Freeman in one of my favorite movies ever in The Shawshank Redemption, "I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are." But thankfully in my case, I didn't need a meeting before a parole board to learn my lesson that there is a happy medium; I just needed a couple meals at Service Bar.

Worth a Time Out: Van Ness's Time Out Sports Bar (Fremont, OH)

The happy unexpected is always something my spouse and I appreciate on our travels, especially when it comes to food. The Firefly Grill In Effingham, IL (which I wrote about here) definitely qualifies, as does Sandusky’s Small City Taphouse and its combo of sushi and craft beer.

As a matter of course, I have gotten familiar with the usual haunts my wife’s side of the family frequents on a regular basis. It’s easy to expect the typical with any eatery out in the rural parts of Ohio, but when it comes to Fremont, the seat of Sandusky County, a nice surprise awaits if you drop by Van Ness’s Time Out Sports Bar.

Black Friday Libations Tour: Ohio's Last Craft Beer Frontier

You can go miles in 419 area code country between signs of civilization
but even out in the country they'll give you a holiday greeting
This year's family Black Friday Libations Tour would prove different from previous years' versions. During our last three excursions, we explored areas that were all fairly established from a craft beer perspective.  This was not the case this year; in fact, if you were immersed in the developing Columbus area craft beer scene from roughly 2012 to 2014, you’d have a good approximation of where the area we explored, Toledo and the surrounding areas reside at the moment craft beer-wise.

In fact, one can easily argue that this historical home for the 419 area code easily qualifies as the last large region in Ohio that is really ripe for a craft beer boom. And it's not like this area hasn't had a prominent brewing presence: Toledo's prime location next to Lake Erie and the Maumee River allowed pre-Prohibition breweries like the original Buckeye Brewing, Finlay, Maumee, and Huebner-Toledo to thrive.

Having some time to absorb the whole experience, I went with a more nuanced look on this blogpost at the four breweries we visited to try to paint a picture of where the 419 craft beer scene stands now, and where it could go.  Not that we didn't find any great beer during our travels (one of the best beers my wife and I have had this year was drank on this tour), but the scene's best days are most decidedly geared toward the future.

Playing The Host: A Kid-Friendly Tour of Columbus (Pt. 2)

A bloom hangs on against the impending winter cold at Columbus's Park of Roses
As noted in the last blogpost, we don't get to play host very often to family members, so when we do it becomes a special occasion, especially when there are kids (in this case, a 10- and a 13-year old) involved. This kid-friendly (though, in reality, an all-ages-friendly) excursion continues in this blogpost with another German Village staple.

Playing The Host: A Kid-Friendly Tour of Columbus (Pt. 1)

There's more than macarons to titillate the taste buds at Pistacia Vera,
a German Village standout and family destination
While we do not have any children to call our own, we both have gaggles of nieces and nephews with whom we play favorite aunt and uncle to whenever we can. Due to circumstances established well before we became a couple, we don't often get to host to other family members. However, when we do (in this case, my wife's sister and her two kids aged 13 and 10), it adds something special to the mix and also adds a rather fun challenge in catering a Columbus-based itinerary pleases all ages.

Food Truck Roundup: Autumn 2018 Edition

A little blast from the mobile food past: the colorful truck of Horn OK Please
To paraphrase from my previous Food Truck roundup, the local food truck scene has become a tough thing to keep tabs on.  New ones are popping up all the time (one of them, Hisham's featuring tasty dishes derived from the highly unique Cape Malay cuisine, was featured in its own blogpost in October.) Likewise, with all the businesses utilizing and places designated for hosting food truck operations in the metro, it's pretty easy to not encounter the same food truck for months at time.

Thus, I implemented a change of strategy - instead of comprehensiveness (which isn't as huge a factor with a medium like a food truck), I thought a roundup of some of the most notable experiences I've had with food trucks and carts would be a good way to go forward.  Interestingly enough, the autumn brought some long timers I hadn't encountered in awhile back into the fold, as well as a blue collar entrant that reliability is often most of the battle in the world of mobile cuisine.

Surprise, Surprise! A City Tries To Shed The "S" Word

If you watched the "Heartland" episode of "Anthony Bourdain's
No Reservations" when it was first broadcast in 2010, you would've
thought Ohio's capital was a desolate wasteland for credible eats
"It's hard to believe we're in Columbus. Columbus, Ohio!"..."This is not the world you know!"..."This is Applebee's country!"

Famously, or perhaps infamously for Columbus natives, these lines were uttered roughly nine years ago in 2009 by food author/entrepreneur/Cleveland native Michael Ruhlman during the filming of the "Heartland" segment of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" show for the Travel Channel. The two men seemed incredulous that the delicious creations of Chef Ryuki "Mike" Kimura of Kihachi could actually be found within what seemed to be portrayed as a culinary desert.

As it turns out, this particular way of thinking, as exemplified by the "S" (as in Surprised) word, where this area actually has quality eats within its borders, has been more or less the prevailing narrative for years, but lately the winds have been trending a different direction.

Columbus Pizza-politan Adventures: Near the Banks of the O-Hi-O

First Responders Park in Hilliard, Ohio, which is also home of the only Central
Ohio location of a unique entry in the pizza pie sweepstakes
Well, there are some changes that are due to my pizza map, including a new location of Harvest Pizzeria in Grandview, the closure of Nidovi Pizza in Dublin, a new Gionino's Pizza in Pickerington, and the impending move of OH Pizza and Brew into the old Stack'd space in Downtown.  When the latter happens, I'll make those changes.

As for the November segment of my Columbus Pizza-politan Adventures, we look out to the (near) east to two franchises which have roots close to the state's namesake river, including perhaps one of the more divisive regional pizza styles around.

Two of the Old Guard: Michael's Goody Boy Diner/Chef-O-Nette

Considered the oldest restaurant in Columbus proper, Ringside Cafe has
been serving its burgers and other eats in Pearl Alley since 1897
I've grown fond of history as I've gotten older, with much of that sparked by my move to Columbus and my curiosity about how this area evolved over time. Being a food blogger, that quest to learn a history behind a place has extended to the restaurants and similar destinations I have both visited and written about.

Columbus itself has a fair number of historic restaurants, with two restaurants reaching back to 1900 or before in German Village's Hey Hey Bar & Grill (1900) and the downtown-located Ringside Cafe (1897.)  With that said, even the more recent vintage eateries can be a fun trip back in time, and in two consecutive weekends, we randomly dropped by eateries which have roots to the decade proceeding World War II in Michael's Goody Boy Diner and Chef-O-Nette.

Three of a Perfect Fare: Luck Bros. Coffee

If one takes out a marker to a map, one will see it’s not too hard to divide up Columbus underrated local and Ohio-based coffee riches into compact threesomes. In Downtown alone, there are three such easy-to-roam-among shop triplets available (Winan’s, Red Velvet Cafe & Hemingway's Coffee Nook; Cup O Joe, One Line Coffee Huntington Center, and the original Cafe Brioso; and Stauf’s View on Grant, Roosevelt Coffeehouse, and Brioso Roastery.)
The residents in and close to Grandview Heights also have a similar three-fer option. Two such places are basically just down the block from each other and the subjects of prior blog posts in Grandview Grind and the flagship Stauf’s.

The other is a nice brisk walk down Grandview and a left on 1st Avenue, but more than doable if you’re in any decent physical shape (I’ve done it myself.) This other destination, Luck Bros Coffee House, is also a bit of a surprise in that I’ve never blogged about them before despite numerous visits prior, and I figured it was time to fix that oversight.

Fast Food Reckoning: White Castle

My first exposure to White Castle anything was the 2004 cult classic movie
"Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" starring John Cho and Kal Penn
While I'm not all that into fast food anymore compared to my younger days, my new surroundings here in Ohio made me realize that franchises that I grew up with such as Jack In The Box, In 'N Out Burger, and Carl's Jr. are now replaced by counterparts like Rally's, Skyline Chili and White Castle.  My initial thought was to simply ignore them at large, but sheer simple curiosity over time has made me wonder if these places would've earned a mostly fond place in my past fast food pantheon.

With that said, who goes first?  Two factors went into that, the first being a question that I posed to some friends and newly minted relatives about White Castle, the Columbus-based franchise that started in 1931 with a Wichita, Kansas location. They didn't think too much about the idea, unless I was itching for a date with indigestion or worse.

The second involved my first exposure to White Castle in the 2004 cult movie classic "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle." A recent showing of the movie on cable TV reminded me how truly whacked out the plot was, but it also reminded me of the level of love for this restaurant's iconic Slider, a burger deemed the country's "Most Influential" by Time Magazine.

So thus, the Castle it is for this post, the first of this long term look to figure out what might have made my fast food nostalgia list had they been available to me.

Food Truck Dossier: A Delicious Escape to the Cape

Big events like the Columbus Arts Festival aren't the only options for the many
Columbus food trucks (like The Cluckwagon and Schmidt's Sausage Truck) these days
As I mentioned in my previous food truck post rounding up some of my summer encounters, the combo of increased numbers of food trucks and increased numbers of places that host them within this city makes it tougher to even try all the menu items on a particular food truck.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - it is rare when any food entity does everything well, and with a food truck, you're usually pretty happy with two or three solid selections. Consider it a bonus when you find a food truck that does everything well; in those rare instances for us, we're more than happy to make trip out to where they're setup (Ajumama and their melding of Korean and Midwest comfort classics comes to mind.)

Then there are those rare trucks that feature something so novel and unique, you're willing to make the extra effort to check out what they have to offer and see how the dishes stack up.  This has definitely the case for me in regard to Hisham's, a newcomer to the Columbus scene.

Fond of Flora: The Franklin Park Conservatory

The Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, one of those
"For The Tourists" attractions I never considered visiting until later in my life
When I still lived in the Bay Area, there were several attractions that came under what I liked to call the "FTT" category, or "For The Tourists" category. Any number of things fell into this category, including but not exclusive to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, Cable Cars, Ghirardelli Square, and any number of restaurants. In fact, it wasn't until I began dating my wife long distance that I even thought about visiting "For The Tourist" places like Alcatraz Island or the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

As I found out, what falls under this category when it comes to Columbus is a more murky affair, as many of the places that are recommended to visitors to the city are actually places that are enjoyed by the locals. Even then, one attraction stuck out in my mind as falling into this category, and a combo of an unexpected day off plus the signs of fall and colder temperatures on the horizon proved perfect for a perfectly enjoyable time sampling what the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has to offer to the public.

Temple of the Dog: Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace

Even the Swedish have learned the value of the venerable hot dog, offering
a dining enticement to those stop by the IKEA Columbus location
Growing up, I thought of hot dogs as something you got at baseball games or at picnics.  It wasn't until later in my life when I thought of it as a regular lunch/fast food option (via Der Weinerschnitzel or the Bay Area's Casper's Hot Dogs mini-chain), and even much later when I discovered of even larger sausages in a bread roll (Polish dogs? Uh, yes please.)

But when it comes down to it, I generally go simple with my hot dogs (mustard for sure, and onions and relish if available). When the mood strikes, the basic hot dog cart (Downtown Columbus sports its own regulars) works perfectly, and I'll always grab a dog whenever I get out to the ballpark.  Occasionally, though, I'll want a little bit of the wild and unpredictable, and that's where an original member of the Columbus Food League of restaurants comes in handy.

First Look: Fadó Pub & Kitchen (Dublin, Ohio)

The support tower of the planned pedestrian bridge from Old Dublin
dominates the skyline from Dublin's Bridge Park development.
When we moved away from northwest Columbus to our current house, the city of Dublin and its surroundings became a less frequent and familiar destination as the years have gone. That (lack of) familiarity made itself quite evident in our first ever visit this weekend to the city's Bridge Park.

Announced in 2012 and located on land that had long been in our mind mere grass and hills, the multi-story constructs that comprise this development were a bit of a mental jolt, as we wandered from residential and retail spaces with names we weren't familiar with (Hen Quarter, Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea, and REBoL) and were (Fukuryu Ramen, PINS Mechanical and Cap City Diner, among others.)

One of those names we were also familiar with was Fadó, though on a limited basis: I knew of Fadó Irish Pub in Easton but had never visited prior, while my spouse had a couple visits there before we were officially a thing. Thus, we were pretty excited to get an invite from the restaurant via the kind folks at Drink Up Columbus to sample their new pub and kitchen concept at Bridge Park.

Spheres of Influence: Bexley Coffee Shop

One of the more delicious spheres in the Columbus metro:
The Nibbler from the North Market's Destination Donuts

Who knew that a humble sphere could be so tasty?  Here in Columbus, we have numerous examples of this, from the Destination Donuts sublime Nibbler to Katalina's tremendously awesome Pancake Balls to the falafel of any number of Mediterranean places like Mazah, Lavash Cafe, and Little Lebanon. And with all the good things we have heard about the meatballs of Carfagna's, a visit over there sometime soon pretty much seems mandatory at this point.

Of course, we wouldn't mention spheres if this blogpost didn't have one as the point of focus, one that we finally got to sample in a cafe located on some of the less traveled roads of one of the tonier suburbs of the metro.

Ohio Pizza-politan Adventures: North High Pie and Rising

Ain't nothing wrong with a little char: the pies of Natalie's Coal Fired Pizza
help make the north part of North High Street a bit of a pizza destination 
If one remembers, what has become a more or less regular series of posts on this blog was inspired by the simple question of whether the little town of Worthington was, in terms of sheer numbers, the the pizza capital of Central Ohio. We never did find a definitive answer for that question due to a number of factors, but we did realize as the end of the year was coming that we really hadn't explored for anything new in this area in quite awhile.

We considered that fact as more than enough incentive to get back to this pizza-heavy corridor of the metro, as we dropped by two places less than a mile from each other on the northern reaches of High Street in the area between Old Beechwold and Worthington.

From Indy to Columbus via Columbus: A Sweet Return Home

A beautiful morning in the Village of Broad Ripple greeted us for our return home
Our final Indy trip threesome of destinations on our recent road trip are by far, in my humble opinion, the sweetest of our group. It was so sweet, in fact, that our experience was actually enhanced by encounters with a traitor and several (soda) jerks.

Let’s start up modestly with a little coffee shop action. The history behind the Village of Broad Ripple isn’t too unlike Columbus’s Clintonville or even Grandview Heights - established along the banks of the White River in 1836, the community was annexed into Indianapolis proper in 1922 and eventually transformed into a hip, artsy district with a big youth component due to its proximity to Butler University.

Indy In Threes: Fiber Hugs, Small Pugs, and Big Lugs

The unique Indianapolis Cultural Trail provides a convenient way for
people to travel to the city's cultural districts without an automobile
Many of our destinations on our recent trip to Indianapolis ended up near either the Monon or the Cultural Trails. The Monon Trail is not too unlike Columbus’s longer bike trails like the Olentangy or Alum Creek, providing people a chance to bike or run/walk between different parts of the city or different cities altogether.

However, the Indy Cultural Trail was the one that really caught our eye as an eight-mile-long wide connector between some of Indy’s most popular and significant districts and attractions. This trail essentially borrowed a lane from existing roads to create a more-or-less separate but easily accessible route for bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-automobile users to travel between the city's major districts. While we did not ourselves ride it, the sight of numerous folks zooming by on this trail was a constant, and it is something my spouse and I would love to test out next time in town.

As it turned out, Rook (which we wrote about on the last blog post) is right on the trail, as was our “fiber hugs” source in the Mass Ave Knit Shop.

Indy In Threes: Oldskool, Old School, and just Plain Old

Silken banners and windsocks made for a colorful display at this
impromptu art exhibit near the Fountain Square area of Indy
Founded in 1820, Indianapolis isn't too much younger than its fellow capital city of Columbus, which was established in 1812. In other words, Indy has its share of the old.

But in this second of four Indianapolis-related blogposts, the meaning of old is stretched out a bit, from the oldskool (a sleek, modern eatery that has earned "Best of" honors) to the old school (a former facility to treat mentally ill patients turned museum) to the just plain ol' old (antiques in an antique building.)

Indy In Threes: Beer and Wine and a Voice Divine

Midtown Carmel, located to the north of Indianapolis. Not unlike Columbus,
parts of this city are undergoing a massive redevelopment effort
Indianapolis, the state capital of Indiana, has been a city that we have dabbled in on previous journeys, but have rarely dug in as deeply as we might like. With our current status of having to having to stick a little closer to home due to job-related duties, easy weekend jaunts to places like Indy (in this case, a mere straight three hours west on I-70) have a very high desirability factor.

This first post of this mini-series is composed of highlights, but only in the sense that these three destinations either inspired our trip to Indiana's capital city in the first place or stuck out in our minds immediately as definite must visits. As it turned out, we found much more to keep us entertained during our stay, with the realization that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of things to do here.

Broad & Delicious: Our Dream Casual Columbus Culinary Street Corners

The Short North has many naturally occurring delicious culinary street corners
that threaten to increase your waistline more than you'd like
Back when my spouse and I were still officially in our long-distance dating phase, we would talk a lot about local neighborhoods and where ideally we'd like to settle down in, had we the choice. One of the common positive aspects to us were houses that were within easy distance of numerous instances of delicious eats (we also thought it would be a bit dangerous too, as the temptation would always be there to go forgo the kitchen and dine out again and again.)

Even though we've settled down (alas, nowhere near easy walking distance to culinary bliss), discussion on this "dream culinary street corner foursome" concept has continued to this very day, and across numerous categories (breweries, pizzerias, coffee cafes, etc.)  It was only recently, after a particularly long work day, that I figured out that this would make a fun topic for a blog post.

Columbus Pizza-politan Adventures: Ohio Pizza Cage Match! (Pt. 2)

Cincinnati's Dewey's Pizza sports a decent inventory of craft beer,
including seasonal selections from various Ohio breweries
This first of this two part "Ohio Pizza Cage Match" mini-series of blog posts started off by looking at two area locals, both long-time purveyors of the Columbus-style pizza in Donatos and Massey's (for a look at that previous post, please take a look at this link.)

Their opponents, if you will, are the out-of-towners, originating from opposite ends of Interstate 75 on the west side of the state and sporting decidedly different styles of pizza.  While they don't have the combined experience of their Columbus counterparts, they do bring it in terms of enjoyable pies.

Columbus Pizza-Politan Adventures: Ohio Pizza Cage Match! (Pt. 1)

Donatos Pizza has been a familiar name to Columbus residents since 1963
First off, I wanted to announce that the Central Ohio Pizza Map has been recently updated!  With all the spots covered, the changes are subtle, but I did want to specifically point to the following:
Obviously, if you see something that needs updating with the map, I'd love to hear from you - just use the comments section below.

As far as most recent pizza explorations, what folks know as area anchors are still relatively new eateries for me, so these posts may cover some familiar territory.  My last exploration was two national chains in Domino's and Ohio-transplant Sbarro, so this time I thought it was time to focus on some of the familiar names with true Ohio roots.

No Toying Around: Ho-Toy Restaurant

A big tray of Chow Mein or crispy Orange Chicken historically
wouldn't be out of place at any of my big family gatherings
Chinese-American cuisine has, at least in my household, gained an increasingly important role at the family table over time. I was introduced mainly to the somewhat compact sweet side of the cuisine when my family moved to San Francisco, when boxes full of Custard Tarts or Sesame Balls would occasionally make their way home with my parents and grandparents.  Also memorable were the Haw Flakes, which reminded me of a far tastier rendition of a Communion wafer - my Grandpa would sometimes drive us into Chinatown after a day of fishing at the old Municipal Pier to grab a multi-pack, much to the joy of me and my siblings..

Later on, trays of Chinese-American cuisine standards like Sweet & Sour Pork, Chinese Fried Rice and Chow Mein would make appearances side-by-side by the Filipino standards I grew up with, mainly as a way to ease the cooking load off my elders as well as guaranteeing everyone got more than enough food.  After all, it would be a shame if the foam take-away trays stored conveniently underneath the serving tables ended up unused.

Nowadays, I don't actively seek out Chinese-American restaurants on a regular basis, but I'll get the occasional random craving for it.  However, my move to Columbus revealed that something that I thought I had conquered in the pursuit of tasty treats still needed some work.

Pretty Fly for a Walleye: A Day in Port Clinton, Ohio

Marblehead Lighthouse, just one of the many attractions located in or along
Lake Erie near the town of Port Clinton, Ohio
With the Labor Day weekend at hand, millions of folks around the country will be getting in their last summertime vacation jaunts. For many in Ohio, this means a trip up to Lake Erie to ride the coasters at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky or to enjoy the leisurely lake life on South Bass Island and Put-In-Bay.

Chances are if you're driving through here, you'll pass through the proclaimed "Walleye Capital of The World" in Port Clinton, Ohio. Lest you think that nickname is just a cute saying, community members back that up annually when they brave often windy and frigid temperatures on New Year's Eve to experience the Walleye Drop, a tradition that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  But that's not all this town of just under 6,000 has to offer the visitor though, as we found out recently.

Food Truck Dossier: Summer 2018 Roundup

The success of Food Truck Thursdays at the Columbus Commons is
just one sign of the prospering food truck scene in the city
Perhaps it's not terribly surprising for anyone who has been paying attention, but the local food truck scene has become a tough thing to keep tabs on.  There are some staples that have been around for seemingly forever (Pitabilities, Ajumama, and Paddy Wagon come to mind), there are new ones that have created quite the buzz (most notably, Cousins Maine Lobster).

Still others no longer seem to be around (Horn OK Please, which I rather liked) or moved on to other destinations and venues (Alice's Aebelskabels, which I wrote about previously, has moved to the land of aebelskilvels to Solvang, CA, while the well-loved Challah! has moved on to brick-and-mortar land with both Woodland's Tavern and Preston's Burgers.)  And with the plethora of businesses and spots around the metro hosting food trucks, it's pretty easy to not encounter the same food truck for months at time.

For a blogger like me, this means a lot of notes built up over time for a number of food trucks waiting for that next visit.  So I figured a change of strategy was needed - instead of comprehensiveness (which isn't as huge a factor with a medium like a food truck), I thought a roundup of some of the most notable experiences I've had with food trucks and carts would be a good way to go forward.

Reminds Me Of Home: Kuya Ian's Bistro

A turo-turo (point-point) or buffet style setup that you might see in a
Filipino restaurant or household hosting a big celebration
One of my adjustments in coming to Ohio several years ago was the changed demographics: as I found out at the Asian Festival, the Central Ohio region as a whole had up to 15 times less Filipino-American residents when compared to certain Bay Area cities. The lack of Filipino-oriented businesses of any sort was a little jarring, especially when it came to food: dishes that were both part of growing up and easy to obtain were things I would have to cook myself if I wanted them.

Then Red Velvet Cafe, owned by Krizzia Yanga, came to Downtown Columbus in 2015, with first a modest introduction of Filipino cuisine (sandwiches featuring Filipino-styled meats like lechon and bistek.) Later came the Filipino silog-style breakfasts (featuring an over-easy egg, garlic fried rice, and a Filipino-styled protein), which brought me memories of home and were eagerly consumed by both me and a host of others.  This success led to the opening of Bonifacio, whose modern Filipino fusion menu items as well as more traditional takes into the cuisine (with their region-focused and Boodle/Kamayan events) plus uniquely-styled cocktails have also been well-received by the public

With that said, many people don't know there's a second Filipino option on the northern end of the metro area, and it's an option that reminds me a lot of home for more than one reason.

Donuts and Development: Buckeye Donuts

The snapshot of the ongoing redevelopment of High Street next to
Ohio State University from earlier this summer
As you may have noticed, the students at Ohio State University are back. What had been a slow drip earlier in the month became a full cascade of youngsters last weekend, as almost all university freshmen and sophomores (who, with rare exception, are required to live on campus with recently enacted university policies) arrived into town to move into their new living quarters.

What some of those newcomers may not realize is that the High Street corridor that abuts the campus has been undergoing an ongoing longer transformation to "promote a vibrant, mixed use environment within a multi-block district centered at 15th Avenue and High Street", according to Campus Partners, an organization created by The Ohio State University in 1995 to "spearhead the revitalization of the urban neighborhoods around its Columbus campus."

Admirable goals, for certain.  But to this observer, the glossy sheen of new storefronts and chain-rich storefronts and luxury apartments to come has sucked and will continue to suck the distinctive character of the area to close to nil.

Cincy Travels Pt. 4: A Fifty-Fifty Brewposition

Just one of the several photographs one can find of famed highway US 50
at Fifty West Brewing, located on the eastern outskirts of Cincinnati
When it comes to US highways, Route 66 generally has the most ballyhoo and mythos attached to it as this country's ultimate road trip experience.  But based on my travels, I think US Route 50 might be the more satisfying road trip route.  Once stretching coast-to-coast, US 50 still meanders just over 3,000 miles through the middle of the United States, offering all manner of towns and cities of all sizes and just about every prominent geographical feature that this land has to offer, including a section in Nevada dubbed "The Loneliest Road in America."

Unlike the major Interstates, US 50 in Ohio is a pretty affair, playing tag with the Ohio River through Cincinnati. Once out of the Queen City, the route winds through forests and over rolling hills into the college town of Athens and then beyond, finally crossing over the river proper into Parkersburg in West Virginia.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, one can launch into a pretty fair tour of breweries nestled on this route, and we figured a visit to a couple of them would be a perfect coda for our Cincinnati weekend.

Cincy Travels Pt. 3: The Mmmm's Have it

This sign for Yost Pharmacy, which has served the residents of Mason since
1945, might be a future candidate for Cincinnati's American Sign Museum
Our trip to Cincinnati was an anomaly for us: other than the Cincy Brew Bus tour, all other places were either in the "possible" category or visited completely on the whim. This led to a mild bit of meandering as we explored the northern reaches of the area with stops in Middletown and Mason and knocked off a lot more stuff than we had even figured we would.

Cincy Travels Pt. 2: When You Goetta Wet to Get Even Wetter

A view of the Cincinnati skyline from across the river in Newport, Kentucky
Though it may not be as prevalent as other vehicles, the what I'll call "slab of something" side order can be found in many cultures.  For many in this country, a slab of bacon or sausage is common, but variations can be found with Spam and scrapple.

However, when it comes to the Greater Cincinnati area, the king of the plate in this little niche realm has to be goetta, a mush of ground meat, pin-head oats plus herbs and spices that originated with German immigrants to the area in the 1800s. We had a little sampling of this very regional specialty during our visit to the Sleepy Bee Cafe, a local eatery popular for its unique and often healthier takes on breakfast and brunch dishes. But for the full immersive experience, we figured we need to dive straight in to the frying pan with the 18th edition of the Glier's Goettafest.

Cincy Travels Part 1: Lechon with a Double Shot of History

One of the numerous gorgeous murals which dot Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine neighborhood
In most of our ventures, my spouse and I have found the history behind our destinations to be as fascinating if not more so than the attraction or food and beverages we have the pleasure to experience.  This could not be more so the case with what might be our most extensive exploration of the Greater Cincinnati area itself, especially when it comes to the Findlay Market and the American Sign Museum.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): Bucyrus...This Is Truck 275, Over

As a younger lad, I was a huge fan of TV medical shows (something which may have come from my mom's love of the soap opera "General Hospital".)  I wasn't particularly picky, so I enjoyed the broad spectrum of shows from "Marcus Welby, M.D." to "Julia", progressing on to "Medical Center" and "Quincy, M.E.", and finally "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "ER."

But perhaps my favorite of the bunch may have been the exploits of paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto on the show "Emergency!" on the NBC Network. One of my favorite things about the show is that not every dispatch was necessarily worthy of a true 911 call, though there almost always would be one multi-alarm, disaster-in-the-making challenge in each episode.

While the hot weather around here can feel sometimes that there was a rapid-response service for rapid cooling relief, the true 911 is generally not the manner to call for that.  However, the closest thing for that might just lies roughly one hour north of the metro in Bucyrus, a town of roughly 12,000 people that celebrates the Bratwurst like few others.

All I Owe O-Hi-O: A Return to the Ohio State Fair

It's taken a few years, but now I think I've come to truly appreciate the entity that is the state fair.

I visited California's version of the state fair a few times both as a college student and later as young adult, but during those years my enjoyment of carnival and roller coaster style rides was waning, and the more informational exhibits weren't all that interesting to me at that time.

My first visit to the Ohio State Fair was something akin to the movie/musical "State Fair", where my spouse and I were still deeply experiencing the thrills of a young romance alongside the midway. The next couple of visits were more for the concerts, with Dolly Parton in 2016 (a fabulous show that I wrote about on this blogpost) and then comedian Gabriel Iglesias the following year.

This year, we got the full on fair experience, with a little help from some long time fair participants.

We've Got Five Years, What A Surprise: Kolache Republic

One of my first blog posts ever was related to Kolache Republic, the cozy little shop lying where German Village and the Brewery District meet, that had by circumstance become our launch spot for special trips to the south.  Their hand-sized kolaches, a pastry of Czech origin that my spouse had first discovered during a stint in Texas, paired up with coffee (brewed from Cafe Brioso beans, in this case) was just about the perfect travel food.

This initial blog post was written right around their first anniversary as a brick-and-mortar operation. And while their celebration of their fifth anniversary this week may not truly be a surprise (I couldn't help toss in the Bowie reference), how they reached it might be a bit surprising.

Central Cooling: Java Central (Westerville, OH)

Once nationally known as "The Dry Capital of the World", the Columbus
suburb of Westerville is attracting a new wave of culinary and beverage treats
For those unfamiliar with the San Francisco Bay Area, the "Casual Carpool" was and is a familiar concept to numerous area commuters.  Essentially, anyone driving a vehicle into or out of San Francisco who needed passengers to (legally) cruise the carpool lane would drop by designated pickup spots, typically at area Park & Ride lots. There, they would find commuters who either weren't keen on driving themselves and/or didn't want to pay a transit fare.

As it turned out, there was one very talkative driver in a small pickup that by sheer coincidence I'd ride with every 4-6 months. It turned out this was enough time to advance the narrative that he had shared during the last drive, whether it would be a new job assignment, family-related issues, and possible future developments.  Interestingly enough, this unique "several months later/new developments" has been duplicated over here whenever I've dropped by Java Central in Westerville.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): It's Clean Clear to Flag City, C'mon

The stately Hancock County Courthouse, located in the heart of Findlay, Ohio
When TourismOhio, the agency charged with enticing people to visit the Buckeye State, announced the launching of the Ohio Ice Cream Trail, I thought it was an idea that was a bit overdue. Not only is there a plethora of great ice cream in the state, and not only is there a plethora of other food-related trails in the state covering everything from beer, coffee, donuts, and wine, but they also were beaten to the punch by the folks of Hilliard, who launched their own version back in April.

Still, better late than never, as the old saying goes, and of course my curiosity was perked considering I've visited my share of ice cream places around the state during my time here.  Out of the 15 destinations listed, I have visited 11, in either the location listed in the trail promotion or a branch thereof. Well, that is, until just recently, when I made it an even dozen when I made it up to the town that has been dubbed "Flag City USA."

Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 3: Columbus's Counterparts)

The Tech Museum Of Innovation in San Jose, CA, our first of ten cities
we compare with Columbus in regard to "Best Of" lists
In Part 1 of this "Chains on "Best Of" Lists" series of blog posts, we looked at how Columbus locals voted on various media-based polls, and in Part 2, we compared and contrasted Columbus's "Best Of" lists to those produced in the four largest cities in the Buckeye State.

Well, it only seemed right to continue the progression to its logical conclusion. How do cities that are Columbus's counterparts in terms of population size chime in on their local "Best Of" polls?  The selecting was pretty easy: I took 2015 population statistics and took the five cities ranked just above and just below Columbus (I used the list found on Politifact for my numbers, which at the time of this post dated to 2015) and found a the best "Best Of" list that I could find.

In many ways, the look at these ten cities kind of cemented my initial thoughts I posted on the first blog post looking at Columbus's reader poll list.  While Columbus wasn't alone in the questionable nods to chains as "Best Of" category, the fact that it did and has happened in the past shows that improvement is there to be had.

With that said, the right kind of outsider chain love can be a good thing: the arrival of Chicago's Giordano's and its stuffed deep dish pizzas was eagerly anticipated, and there is growing anticipation related to the arrival of Akron-based Swenson's Drive-In. And if you look at Seattle's polls, three of their "outsider" chains would be great additions to any scene, including here in Columbus.

Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 2: Ohio in the House)

The Art-Deco style "Guardians of Traffic" totems provide an
eye-catching sight for those on Cleveland's Hope Memorial Bridge.
As noted in my previous post, a news story on Taco Bell being named this country's "Best Mexican Restaurant" gave me a story idea about "Best Of" lists and how often outside-the-area chains appear on these lists.  Part 1 of my series  focused on three local Columbus-based reader polls from some of the major media sources here, where I found a decent amount of chain love, including a couple of head-scratchers that named P.F. Chang's as "Best Asian" and Chipotle as "Best Burrito."

It only seemed natural that Part 2 of the series would stay within the Buckeye State and focus in on Columbus's largest state neighbors. Would we find similar results in cities of similar stature (namely, Cleveland and Cincinnati) or cities of more modest size (Dayton and Toledo)?  As you might have judged from the picture above, we're going to start with a city that has gained quite a bit of prominence in the national scene in Cleveland and work counterclockwise from there.

Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 1: The Locals)

With a new location in Pittsburgh, the popular Columbus-based Condado
now rates as a small but growing restaurant chain.
Certainly, a few eyebrows were raised when most media outlets reported that Taco Bell was voted as this country's Best Mexican Restaurant for 2018. Discounting the fact that only six restaurant chains were eligible for this voting category, and that the actual designation was "Brand of the Year", the "Best Of" list is pretty a common thing you'll hear in the news, from nationwide media powerhouses down to the small town publications that you might find in the clutter of the local coffee house.

While these lists feature everything from businesses, events and even celebrities, one thing pretty much universal in these lists is a food and drink element. While sometimes it's strictly limited to the opinions of the publishing staffs, most of these "Best Of" lists have a vox populi element, where the public can put in their proverbial two cents into the process.

Unsurprisingly, Columbus is a metro area large enough to have several such "Best Of" lists, and unsurprisingly, these lists have a large food and drink component to them. And in certain cases, the ultimate winners of various poll categories have caused some consternation and head-shaking among certain readers, especially when a chain restaurant is nominated for the top spot.

Ice Cream Chronicles (Year 5): Four Scoops Along State Route 3

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the 1879-built
Wayne County Courthouse stands proudly in downtown Wooster.
Although the completion of Interstate 71 through Ohio didn't officially finish up until 1975, the freeway had usurped State Route 3 as the major route used to travel between Ohio's "Big C" cities years prior. However, the gains in terms of travel time for the new freeway sacrificed some of that bucolic countryside charm and small town atmosphere of its parallel highway neighbor, which was first established by state officials back in 1923.

On a recent travel day along Route 3, with summer heat and humidity in full effect outside, it was probably no surprise that ice cream quickly rose to the forefront of my mind. And considering the brutal conditions, it was probably no surprise that I double double dipped this day.

Signs of the Times: A Little Downtown Columbus Restaurant History

LeVeque Tower provides a lovely backdrop for this pathway along the
Scioto Mile, a green space respite from the concrete of downtown Columbus
In the course of everyday life, even the simple things can your day go better. In terms of Downtown Columbus, something that initially was quite helpful early in my orientation to this area has slowly become a curious combination of light annoyance and culinary history.  But as I recently discovered, signs of change (or is it changes in signs) are on the horizon.

The Old Man and the C(offee): Hemingway's Coffee Nook

Part of the Poindexter Village staircase mural at the
Columbus Metropolitan Library, as depicted by renowned
local artist Animah Robinson
Depending on your particular likings, your high school English class was either right in your vocabulary zone or something you dreaded during the school week. It may surprise you to find out that as a regular blogger the past four-plus years, I had a middling attitude toward English class, especially in comparison to things like science- and math-related classes, which I was far more enthusiastic about back then.

This middling attitude could be swung drastically in either direction if we were venturing into novels and literature. I came to dread novels from William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while books from George Orwell and John Steinbeck were guaranteed page-turners for me. Then there was the vast middle of works which were more shrug-inducing than anything, such as the numerous plays of Shakespeare or the stories of Ernest Hemingway.

I admit I don't read too much of that type of literature these days, but at the very least the notion of Hemingway has evolved from the middling to the desirable, at least when it comes to coffee.

Hole Foods and Jim-nastics: Weekend in Butler County (Pt. 3)

(As noted in my previous two posts, our trip to Butler County was sponsored by the Butler County Visitors Bureau. Our immense thanks go to them for hosting us; all opinions on the places we visited are ours alone.)

The Homer Price Doughnut Machine, located on the east side of
Municipal Brew Works, is part of a mural dedicated to Hamilton-based
illustrator/writer Robert McCloskey
Donuts....I mean, come on, who doesn't like donuts?

When I heard that the Butler County Visitors Bureau was launching a Donut Trail in 2016, I thought that was a pretty novel idea that they heard from somewhere. Except here, this doesn't appear to be the case at all; when I tried to find another similar promo on the Internet, I found basically a big old (donut) hole.

Yes, you have all manner of trails around the country: the Columbus Ale Trail is but one of many adult beverage trails around the country; an ice cream trail tempts you both in New Hampshire and close to home here in Hilliard; buffalo wings provide the heat in (where else?) Buffalo, NY; and a Green Chile and a Boudin trail give you a delicious direction in New Mexico and Southwest Louisiana, respectively.

The promo appears to be a perfect fit too, as Butler County is said to have more donut shops per capita than anywhere else in the country. So yes, we were absolutely, positively, without a doubt going to explore at least a portion of this dozen-strong sweet treat contingent before we left.

Brews and 'Ques Deluxe: Weekend in Butler County (Pt. 2)

(As noted in my previous post, our trip to Butler County was sponsored by the Butler County Visitors Bureau. Our immense thanks go to them for hosting us; all opinions on the places we visited are ours alone.)

A statue of Alexander Hamilton straddles High Street in downtown Hamilton
We are already fans of the Marriott hotel chain from our previous travel experiences: we have found their service to be solid and their beds uniformly comfortable across all brands. The Butler County Visitors Bureau put us up in their Courtyard location in downtown Hamilton for the weekend, and this experience turned out to be as good as any others we've had with them.

Added bonuses include this hotel's central location for all things Butler County as well as its location right across the street from Municipal Brew Works, a place we detailed in this previous blogpost. We took our trip one week before their first anniversary celebration, but if our down moment visits during our stay are any indication (lots of foot traffic and solid brews across the board), they'll have plenty more anniversaries to celebrate.