Category Archives: Ohio

Weldon’s

It is often asserted that Columbus is the ice cream capital of the world, and while the city has a very good case,  including the rest of Central Ohio does make a stronger argument for ice cream dominance. Weldon’s have been producing ice cream in the same location for 80 years and their Millersport store, overlooking Buckeye Lake would be another jewel in the crown.

My first visit to Weldon’s was a welcome reward for a long, hot bike ride through seemingly endless cornfields. Entering the store you have the sense of stepping back in time: painted wooden benches, an old juke box with three plays for a quarter and home-made ice cream drumsticks. Samples of their many flavors are given on a metal spoon.

The most popular flavors are always available but other flavors rotate. Some like Rocky Shores, Mudd Island and Buckeye Blitz seemed appropriate for the location. I chose brown cinnamon peach and craw dad tracks and was particularly enamored with the brown cinnamon peach and the drip catcher was useful on a 95º afternoon. The brown cinnamon peach was a smooth creamy blend with a good balance of the fruit and spice flavors. The craw dad tracks was a creamy vanilla ice cream with pecans and caramel.

Weldon’s is definitely worth a stop if you are in the Buckeye Lake area and may even justify planning a day trip around. Buckeye Lake, man-made as a feeder lake for the Ohio and Erie Canal, is now a state park with plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing and swimming.

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Filed under ice cream, Ohio

Maid-Rite

Today I went back in time, back to an age when fast food and drive-ins were a novelty. I had this taste of vintage Americana in Greenville, Ohio, a small town better known as the home of the Kitchen-Aid mixer.

For the uninitiated (and that will include most people who don’t hail from Iowa), a Maid-Rite is a loose-meat sandwich, which means it’s ground beef that hasn’t been formed in to a patty so it’s similar to a sloppy joe but without the tomato sauce.  The tradition of Maid-Rites started in Iowa where they are much more well known and dates back to the 1920’s, but the Greenville restaurant opened in 1934.

Maid-Rite sandwiches are small and a standard order seems to be at least 2 or 3, with stories of people eating double digit quantities. The meat is cooked in two special trough-like steamers. The buns are pulled out of a separate steamer, the bottom half is spread with yellow mustard, piled with meat and then topped with finely chopped onion and slices of pickle. A classic Maid-Rite is $1.50 and for 15c extra you can add cheese, making it a Cheese-Rite. The menu is limited with a couple of variations on Maid-Rites, ham and cheese or chicken and egg salad sandwiches. There are no french fries, only bags of chips but you can wash your sandwiches down with beer, soda or a milkshake.

I’ve been hearing stories about these legendary sandwiches for over a year and the visit was long anticipated, but as I gingerly unwrapped the crinkly white paper, I was worried that it could not live up to the hype. First appearances were not promising. Maid-Rites are not the most attractive of sandwiches and the soft white bun looked squashed and crumbled, even though it had only travelled a few feet from the counter.

I picked it up, trying to prevent the crumbly meat from falling out of the squishy bun and as I did I got a waft of beefy goodness. Things were looking up. The sandwich is extremely soft and the only crunch is from the onions and pickles. The flavor is surprising, much sweeter than I expected, with a touch of black pepper.  The seasoning is a secret but guesses include beer, cola syrup and mustard.

It’s a satisfying sandwich that disappears quickly and I was soon on my third, understanding how they can become addictive. By the third one I had also worked out a method of holding it so that I didn’t lose half of the filling.

In addition to its craveable sandwiches, the Greenville Maid-Rite is also famous for its chewing gum wall. The exterior walls on both sides of the restaurant are covered by wads of chewing gum left behind by the patrons of days gone by. It’s disgusting but also strangely captivating and I’ve never seen anything like it.

After 76 years the owners have just opened their second restaurant in Oxford, Ohio (home of Miami University). The food will be the same, but they are hoping that chewing gum tradition won’t be replicated.

You can find Maid-Rite at 125 N Broadway Street, Greenville, Ohio (937.548.2251). If you are taking your Maid-Rites to go, or planning to freeze them (such is their following that people often do) you can request a cold bun. By the time you reach your destination the hot meat will have sufficiently steamed the bun.

More photos on flickr.

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Filed under Burgers, Ohio, sandwiches

Local 127 – Cincinnati

As the only working chef in the US who is also a Master Sommelier, Steve Geddes is an anomaly. Achieving the honor of Master Sommelier is impressive enough as there are fewer than 200 of them worldwide, but Steve decided that where he really wanted to be was in the kitchen. He moved to Cincinnati last year and is now head chef at Local 127, a restaurant that opened in the fall of ’09.

As well as being so accomplished, Steve is also a genuinely nice guy. Knowing that he was a Master Sommelier, we asked for some advice on wine pairings. Not only was he was happy to offer guidance on wines and answer questions about the menu , but he also talked with us at length about becoming a chef, suppliers, rare breed Ossabaw pigs and even sent out some samples of their amazing copa and lardo. Later, when he saw us peeking into the kitchen he said ‘come on in, that’s why we took off the doors’. Like I said, a genuinely nice guy, and passionate about sourcing, sustainability and the local food economy. Where possible, the food on the menu comes from within a 127 mile radius and Steve tries to support local suppliers as well as farmers by, for example, procuring his spices from the Colonel in Findlay Market rather than purchasing them from a wholesaler.

The menu has a ‘cured and pickled’ section with seven house made options to choose from.  We went with the chef’s choice, a selection of four of the seven. Clockwise from the top they were smoked chicken with pickled radishes and a Madeira sauce, a velvety smoothy chicken liver pate with Riesling gelée and pickled pears, smoked golden trout from Idaho but house smoked and a pork terrine with picked beans. They were served with thin crispy toasts.  My favorite was the lightly dressed and very moist trout, but I thought both the pate and terrine were excellent too. Only the smoked chicken failed to excite, mostly because the sauce was a little overpowering.

We decided to share some small plates rather than ordering a main dish. First out was potato skins with crispy pork, cheddar and chives topped with a surprisingly light but very cheesy foam (they would be a really good bar snack). Next was sublime house made gnocchi- large, pillowy-soft, pan seared dumplings with buttery sauteed mushrooms, vibrant pesto and salty parmesan which gave the dish a wonderful range of flavors. Both the pan searing and the puffed rice added an appealing contrast in texture. While potato soup sounds like more of a winter dish, this chilled version was refreshing, soothing and surprisingly flavorful. The bowl, sans soup, arrived at the table with a small mound of potato salad and a swirled pattern of green garlic dressing. The soup came separately and was poured from a mason jar by the server. The fourth small plate, a herb risotto with smoked chicken, preserved lemon and puffed rice was another winning dish. The smoked chicken was better utilized here and the dish was light and spring-like, but satisfying. The preserved lemon gave a fragrant citrus aroma.

Full as we were it was still hard to resist the lures of the local cheese plate, especially as we had some red wine left. All of the cheeses (Tomme, Barren Co. Blue and Kentucky Rose) came from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Kentucky  and were all new to me. The Tomme was rich and creamy, the Barren Co. Blue was a Stilton-esque tangy ripe blue and the Kentucky Rose was a light, buttery blue. They were served with honeycomb, thin apple slices, pecans and raisins.

Overall, it was an exceptional meal. Service was generally very good and my only real criticism of Local 127 is that the decor seems mismatched with its farm to table mission. The menu has a rustic feel both in content and design and the aforementioned mason jar service furthers that impression, but the decor, most of which is inherited, is too polished and has something of a slick ’80s hotel feel. A more eclectic decor, similar to FARM Bloomington would have been a better fit with the ethos of the kitchen. Inconsistent aesthetics aside, Local 127 is definitely worth visiting if you are in Cincinnati. I will be looking for excuses for another trip soon.

Also noteworthy was the attached bar named Tonic on Fourth which has an interesting cocktail and punch menu. They make a lot of their own ingredients such as bitters, grenadine and ginger liqueur. There is also a limited selection of food available in the bar.

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Filed under Ohio, restaurants

Ohio River Valley Winery Tour

Wine isn’t the first agricultural product that comes to mind when you think of Ohio, so you would probably be surprised by how many wineries there are in the state, and the quality of many of the wines that are produced. June is Ohio wine month and it is a great time to explore or re-explore Ohio Wines. Restaurants such as Deepwood, Barcelona, G Michael’s and The Refectory will be featuring Ohio wines from June until November and some will be offering special menus and wine dinners.

Having been a fan of Kinkead Ridge wines since I first tasted their River Village Cellars Syrah at the 2008 Flying J Dinner, I wanted to see their vineyard and meet the producers. With the assistance of Andrew Hall, Ohio wine expert and author of the blog Oinos Nervosa I have been trying to organize a Slow Food wine tour of the Ohio River Valley (provisionally September 11th). Yesterday was a scouting trip to visit the wineries, drive the route and check out a proposed dinner venue.

Our first stop was at Valley Vineyards in Morrow Ohio which was first planted in 1969. Three generations of the Schuchter family operate the business, one of the largest vineyards in Ohio. With 30 varieties of grapes on approximately 100 acres, Valley Vineyards offer a wide variety of wines including ice wines and a vintage port.  With a large tasting room and two dining rooms Valley Vineyards cater well for visitors and hold special events and  cookouts during the summer. As we visited in the morning, with a long day ahead of us, we only tasted a couple of the wines.

Our lunch stop (and the proposed dinner venue for our tour) was at the Wildflower Cafe in Mason. A converted house, this small restaurant is run by chef Todd Hudson and focuses on local, organic and sustainable food. Many restaurants claim an interest in sustainability but Todd’s menu and sourcing make his commitment clear. This was one of two menu boards:

It was hard to choose but based on the claim that it might be the best in the world I couldn’t resist the burger. Wildflower Cafe get their grass fed beef from Webb Valley Farm 25 miles away. It was a very good burger: a juicy, well flavored patty, perhaps a little dense, in a soft pretzel roll with smoked bacon, herb mayo, cheese, greens, tomato and onion. The bacon was particularly good and the use of pretzel roll was inspired.

After lunch we headed south to Ripley Ohio. Ripley used to be an important tobacco center and is still home to the tobacco museum and festival. The collapse of the tobacco market caused some farmers to diversify into wine. Our first stop was the Meranda-Nixon winery, historically a tobacco farm and now a successful winery. As we arrived, we could see wine maker Seth Meranda out on the tractor in the vineyard.

His wife, Tina, was running the tasting room and cheerfully offered tastes quite a few of their wines. Like all of the wine makers we met yesterday she was friendly, happy to answer questions and to talk about their wines. All of the wine makers we met were very down to earth making Ohio winery tours comfortable to visitors with all levels of wine knowledge.

Meranda-Nixon are known for their Traminettes and their popular reds generally sell out. A newer experiment for them is Norton, an Ark of Taste product, more common in Missouri, and the oldest cultivated American grape. It won’t be ready until 2011 but we had a sneak preview. I particularly liked the Catawba, a blush light sweet wine from a grape that was traditionally grown in the Ohio River Valley. I think its going to make a fantastic summer spritzer.

From Meranda-Nixon it was a short drive to Kinkead Ridge. The actual vineyard is just outside of town, but the winery, only open to the public a couple of weekends a year,  is on a quiet residential street in Ripley. Kinkead Ridge does not have a tasting room and we were warmly greeted in their production room surrounded by tanks and barrels, with the smell of fermenting grapes that you only get in a cellar.

Kinkead Ridge is run by Ron Barrett and Nancy Bentley and you can follow Nancy on twitter @wineladyohio or read their blog. Ron was a wine maker in Oregon for many years but was looking for a new challenge and determined that the SW of Ohio had potential to produce world class vinifera. They first planted vines in the Ripley area in 1999 and had their first vintage in 2001.

Kinkead Ridge released two 2009 white wines this weekend, a blended River Valley Cellars white and a Viognier Roussanne. Their harvest of white grapes last year was very small and only produced 168 cases in total. If you want to try one of them you’ll have to act quickly. I thought the Viognier Roussanne was a lovely dry white, lightly fruity and floral.

Our final winery visit of the day was to La Vigna, a vineyard with a picturesque view set high up in the valley (first picture in the post). There was a live band and a large tent set up for people to relax and enjoy a glass or two of wine.

As at Kinkead Ridge, tasting was in the production facility and we were able to compare two different vintages of their red and white proprietary wines as well as see where the wines are made. The La Vigna white is 100% Petit Manseng and the 2008 oak aged vintage was much sweeter than the steel tank 2009. Of the reds I preferred the younger 2008 cabernet blend to the more heavily oaked 2007 vintage.

From La Vigna we had a beautiful drive along the river towards Cincinnati. We had a fantastic dinner at Local 127 that deserves its own post.

More photos from our trip can be found on flickr.

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Filed under Drinks, Ohio, slow food, special events, Travel

Middle West Spirits: a micro-distillery in the neighborhood

We had an interesting evening at Middle West Spirits open house, a new micro-distillery that has opened in the Short North. Sadly they are not allowed to sell any of their product yet, but they hope it will be available in May, and we will be eagerly awaiting it. This is the first micro-distillery in Columbus and it is very exciting that there will be a local artisanal product available.

You can learn more about the owners Ryan Lang and Brady Konya and hear about how and why they started the business in the in-depth interview they did with Walker Evans from Columbus Underground. Ryan comes from a long line of bootleggers. On the tour we learned about their high tech German still, the lengthy and labor intensive process of distilling vodka and why their product won’t give you the hangover that cheaper industrial vodkas will.

Ryan and Brady have all sorts of exciting ideas including vodkas flavored with local fruits and herbs and are planning to expand their range into gin and whisky. They try to source as many of their materials from within a 100 mile radius as they can, and most of their raw materials are organic. They are also trying to close the supply chain by returning the spent mash to farmers for animal feed and selling some of the by-products for organic cleaning products.

The first product to be launched is OYO vodka (O-Y-O) with a very Ohio theme. Oyo is derived from the Native American name for the Ohio River meaning beautiful and the botanical drawing of a tree on the bottle is the buckeye, synonymous with Ohio.

You can follow Middle West Spirits on twitter. More photos from the event are on flickr.

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Filed under Columbus, Drinks, Ohio, whisky

Ramp-ant

Ramps, also known as wild leeks and more properly known as allium tricoccum are a native plant found widely in wooded areas of Ohio and other states from South Carolina up into Canada. They are especially popular in West Virginia. I first tasted them at Details (RIP) last year, mixed into a spoon bread by the much-missed Chef Drew.  Last week I spotted ramps at the Greener Grocer and started thinking about possible uses. Ramps can be substituted for leeks but they are much more garlicky, so if you are substituting them for leeks I would suggest omitting garlic if the recipe calls for it.

I highly recommend the book Abundantly Wild: Collecting and cooking wild edibles in the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marone. It has a whole chapter on ramps (which it lists as one of its top ten wild foods), as well as information about nuts,fruits, berries, flowers, greens, mushrooms, roots and starches. Many of the plants and trees mentioned are not isolated to the Midwest. It is a useful field guide for foragers including safety advice about ‘dangerous lookalikes’ and also has a wealth of recipes and practical information for preserving your haul.

I lucked out when my friend Josh brought me a grocery bag of ramps from the Hocking Hills area. When I opened the bag they seemed to double in size, filling the whole sink. Luckily, Teresa Marrone had lots of suggestions including candied ramps, ramp custards, ramp flatbread, pickled ramps and various salads. You can also add them to eggs, mashed potatoes, stir-fries, soups and stews. Knowing that I wouldn’t  be able to use 4lbs of ramps in a week, I blanched some and put them in the freezer. Ramps are generally eaten cooked so the blanching would not be a problem – I just hope no one mistakes them for spinach.

I also made a large batch of ramp pesto, using 1 cup of ramps per 1/4 cup of pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan and salt, which I will freeze too. Had I thought of it sooner, I might have tried making some with my remaining green almonds. The pesto is quite similar to garlic scape pesto but tastes like it has even more chlorophyll. You could mix ramps with basil when/if the seasons coincide.

We ate some of the pesto for supper last night with spaghetti. It is potent and has the burn of strong garlic, but made a fresh light supper and would be wonderful supplemented with spring greens or asparagus.

As for the pound and a half of ramps left in the fridge – I’m planning a vegan bean salad for a potluck dinner, possibly some ramp flatbread and I’m still looking for other ideas.

For those of you who want some ramp action of your own: If you want to pick your own – look for wooded areas and plants that smell of onions; if you want to buy your own – head to the Greener Grocer at the North Market or Hills Market in Worthington; and if you want someone else to do the work for you – head to Captain Cream Cheese on High Street in the Short North for some ramp cream cheese on a bagel and scrambled eggs with ramps and bacon! yum.

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Filed under hills market, North Market, Ohio, recipes, Vegetarian, wild foods

Christmas gift ideas for the food lovers in your life

This post is prompted both by my need to finish my christmas shopping and also by the bombardment of emails I have received with gift ideas from local businesses. These suggestions are therefore central-Ohio centric but could be adapted depending on where you live.

Jeni’s Ice Creams now do mail order and by the power of dry ice they can be sent anywhere in the country (sadly not overseas). I know I would be over the moon if a package of Jeni’s ice cream arrived on the doorstep. Perfect for someone who is homesick for Columbus or to initiate someone to the joy of Jeni’s. You can choose their current seasonal range including two of my favorites the fantastic dark chocolate peppermint and blackstrap praline  – or you can choose your own flavors. Selections start from $48.

If you think its too cold for ice cream how about some desserts, cookies or sweets from Pistacia Vera, Pattycake or one of the other local bakeries?

If you aren’t sure of someone’s tastes there are all sorts of gift certificates to choose from: A Dine Originals gift certificate would allow them to select from over 40 local restaurants, a North Market gift certificate offers a similar range for eating or shopping.

Cooking classes make a fun gift for the person that has everything. The North Market School of Cooking have just announced their winter and spring classes with a series of Dine Originals chef classes, classes taught by James Beard award winner Robin Davis and a couple of cooking classes for kids, one of which will be taught by your very own Hungrywoolf (May 1st). I will also be assisting at some of the other classes and am particularly excited about learning how to make bacon (Feb 18th). Evening classes include dinner, the class and recipe sheets to take home. You always learn something and have some delicious food at the same time. There are a wide variety of classes from Meat 101 to Eastern European. Dine Originals chefs who will be teaching include Alana Shock, Kent Rigsby and Richard Blondin. Here are posts from a couple of the classes I went to in the fall: Robin Davis Land and Sea and Spencer Budros from Pistacia Vera.

Hills Market has a great promotion at the moment. Until December 24th you can buy any of 55 Ohio products and Hills will donate 10% of the sale to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. You could create an Ohio Themed Gift Basket, use these items as hostess gifts or enjoy them yourself and have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping to feed the hungry of Central Ohio, supporting small Ohio food innovators and supporting Columbus’ premiere locally owned market at the same time.

Products include Buckeye Mustard, CrimsonCup Coffee, Dick’s Horseradish Sauce,  Honeyman BBQ Sauces, Integration Acres Spreads, Kitchen Basics 32 oz. Chicken Stock, Little Rosie’s Filipino Dressings, Milo’s line of Bruschettas, Oakvale Farm’s line of Goudas, Stan Evans Flatbread Crackers, Robert Rothschild Farm’s Peppermint Dip and Gingerbread Dip, Rossi Pasta, Smith Dairy’s EggNog and Wolf’s Premium Gourmet Nuts.

There are lots of places that you can find Ohio wines including House Wine in Worthington (where we are holding the next Slow Wine event on December 15th), The Twisted Vine in Grandview, The Ohio Statehouse gift shop and Grapes of Mirth in the North Market. My favorite Ohio wine is from Kinkead Ridge.

Branching out from food Columbus Underground have a series on shopping independent for the holidays one of which is more shopping ideas from the  North Market including the Greener Grocer gift basket. Hounds in the Kitchen has some gift ideas too, including a homemade olive oil pourer and their store Baying hound has some eco-friendly gift ideas. Here are some ideas for homemade food gifts.

Another gift idea is membership of an organization such as the Franklin Park Conservatory, Ohio Historical Society, Local Matters or the Wexner Center for the Arts. The Wexner is showing a food film series in February and members get discounted tickets.

Please feel to post other suggestions. I’m sure there are lots of other great gift ideas.

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Filed under Columbus, hills market, North Market, Ohio