Category Archives: Ohio

Cleveland Weekend

A trip to the Fabulous Food Show was the perfect excuse to spend the rest of the weekend exploring Cleveland. Our last visit following in the steps of Anthony Bourdain was a lot of fun, but only scratched the surface so I was excited to see and taste more. We were lucky with both trips: sunny weather, good friends and lots of great food. Cleveland is a wonderful destination for food lovers with lots of Slow Food friendly restaurants, a wealth of ethnic eateries and interesting neighborhoods to explore while you work up an appetite for another meal.

Cleveland is also a good destination for cocktail lovers. The Velvet Tango Room lived up to every superlative I had heard lavished on it, and was so enticing that we could not resist a second visit. The VTR serves classic cocktails in an appropriate setting and the menu, which you can’t help poring over, is a lesson in cocktail history. Not a flirtini in sight. The fact that they make their own grenadine, bitters, vermouth and ginger beer is one of the reasons that the cocktails cost $15 a pop (or $10 during happy hour). Many of the cocktails are made with egg whites and the amount of shaking involved also commands a premium. You should see the bartenders biceps! It wasn’t just the cocktails that were at hit. I would gladly go back just for the cheese fondue. I wish there was an equivalent to the VTR in Columbus, but for the sake of my bank account its probably good that there is not.

Highlight number two was the bakery On the Rise, which can be found in Cleveland Heights. You can see how sunny it was – hard to believe it was November.

On the Rise has a wide variety of breads and pastries and there was much to tempt us. I chose an almond croissant and it was definitely the best I have had since my trip to France in June. I am sure the pain au chocolat would have been equally good, but you have to get there early to score those.

Croissants weren’t the only baked goods of the day. We stopped at Presti’s bakery in Little Italy for an afternoon snack. I had a buttery buccalati with chocolate, almond and candied peel filling. I also bought some of their homemade panettone to bring home. I was assured that it would keep until Christmas but I have no illusion that it will last that long.

I mentioned Slow Food friendly restaurants and Cleveland seems to have more than its fair share including The Greenhouse Tavern, Luckys, Fire Food & Drink and the Flying Fig.  The Greenhouse Tavern is actively involved in their local Slow Food convivium and will be hosting a special dinner in honor of Terra Madre Day on December 10th. We had a wonderful meal there which included steamed clams with foie gras and a contender for the best chicken wings ever: Crispy chicken wings with roasted jalapeño, scallions and garlic, first confited and then deep fried. Many of the foods including the fantastic frites were cooked in a combination of duck fat and suet – a victory for flavor over calorie concerns. A four course chefs tasting menu is $37 which is extremely good value for the quality of ingredients, execution and portion sizes.

The Greenhouse Tavern also won a place in my heart with their food lovers loo. The restroom came equipped with shelves of food magazines and cookbooks. I’m not sure how wise it is to encourage people to spend any longer than strictly necessary in there but I admired the choice of reading matter.

I don’t think a trip to Cleveland would be complete with out picking up some treats at the West Side Market. This time we headed to Dohar Meats for some of their homemade sausage and bacon. Leaving it in the car is not advisable unless you want to dream about being stuck inside a sausage but it is very tasty.

It seemed that we saw and ate a lot – but I am still left feeling that Cleveland has a lot more to offer. Luckys and Lolita are high on my Cleveland wish list and I want to try Fire: Food and Wine for dinner (I just had a salad on this trip). I also purchased a copy of Cleveland Ethnic Eats which I look forward to using. You can probably tell that I am already plotting trip number 3. More photos on Flickr

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Filed under Drinks, markets, Ohio, slow food, Travel

Fabulous Food Show

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Overall I found the Fabulous Food Show a little depressing. Part of it was the casino-like environment of the IX Center itself and part of it was the range of offerings on display within. There were a lot of demonstrations and tastings but walking around the main floor of the IX center, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the quality and diversity of products just weren’t that exciting. There were too many ‘me-too’ seasoning mixes (I picked up one and the top 4 ingredients were salt, MSG, dextrose and corn starch) and barbecue sauces and products that would be at home on QVC. There were certainly some interesting food products but they were the sadly in the minority.  One could have had a more enlightening afternoon walking around Whole Foods without paying the $25 ticket price.

One of the best things about the show was how many great Ohio products were on display. When we think about eating local foods the things that spring to mind are fresh produce, dairy and meats but at this time of year its good to remember that there are some businesses making notable Ohio made products that can be found in grocery stores all year long. These were my ‘fabulous’ picks from the Ohio Food products.

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I have bought Almondina cookies from Whole Foods without realizing that they were made in Ohio. They are thin and crispy wafers packed full of almonds and come in a variety of flavors, at the show we had a chance to try their new pumpkin spice cookie. Did I mention that they have no added fat?

I was introduced to Kitchen Basics stocks when I was invited to a turkey broth tasting with Robin Davis, the food editor of the Columbus Dispatch. Kitchen Basics was our unanimous (and overwhelming) favorite and really tasted home made. At the show I was able to see the full range of their products from ham to veal to clam and seafood as well as the usual suspects and bring home some samples. If you don’t have time or don’t want to make your own stock, this is the next best thing. It is available at Giant Eagle and Kroger (limited range).

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I was very pleased to see Blue Jacket Dairy represented and finally meet cheese maker and owner Angel (pictured above). Angel donated some of her fabulous cheeses for the Local Food Roundtable Reception last week. Her cheeses are available at various farmers markets, the Hills market and at Whole Foods. If you haven’t tried the Gretna Grilling cheese, I highly recommend it, and I also love her chevres.

One of the tastiest samples I had was some smoked chunky kielbasa from State Meats, an old fashioned butcher’s shop in Parma that specializes in kielbasa and European delicacies including pierogi. If you happen to find yourself passing through Parma please pick me up some pierogi and sausage.

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Last but not least was one of our favorite finds of the show, the floral elixirs from the Lounging Gourmet. These sweet, fragrant syrups are from a new family owned company in Cleveland. There are currently four flavors: Damascan Rose, Antillean Hibiscus, English Lavender and Andean Fire Orchid. Each one is a blend of flavors, for example the lavender is blended with a touch of vanilla to soften the flavor, the orchid is blended with mango. The Elixirs are primarily intended as a drink mixer but there are other potential uses in salad dressings, sauces and desserts. They would be good in cocktails, with tea or sparkling water. I am looking forward to experimenting with some cocktail recipes (lavender and gin, orchid and tequila), but I think the hibiscus would make a great addition to champagne as a twist on kir royale. I’m not sure where they are available yet but I am sure they will be hitting bar menus soon.

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Filed under Ohio, special events

Busy but Fabulous

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One of the sad truths about blogging is that usually when you have a lot to write about, you struggle to find time to sit down and write about it. At the moment I would like to tell you about my first visit to Indochine for Vietnamese and Laotian food, a fun trip with old and new friends. I’ve been craving their cabbage salad all week. I would also like to share a fantastic (and surprising) recipe that included kimchi marinated apples and smoked bacon jowl from the Momofuku cookbook; I would also like to tell you about how inspiring yesterday’s Ohio local foods roundtable conference was (with over 100 attendees passionate about local food issues); and tell you about my delicious taco truck tamale breakfast and some of the winter taco truck offerings. Unfortunately I can’t. It will have to wait until next week because we are going to the Fabulous Food Show in Cleveland!

fabulous foodThe Fabulous Food Show is billed as the Midwest’s premier consumer culinary event  and it promises a lot with over 200 exhibitors and hosts of cooking demos and celebrity chefs. Our last trip to Cleveland (and my first) was so much fun that I can’t wait to explore more of the city and I am sure that we will find some fabulous food outside the show as well. I have written down the recommendations I had after my last post, but happy to have more too. We already have dinner booked at the Greenhouse Tavern which I am excited about. We were offered accommodation at the newly renovated Cleveland Airport Marriott and it looks beautiful.

The sad thing is that my weekend away means I am going to have even more to write about next week, but I look forward to sharing my Cleveland discoveries with you. For now, have a great weekend!

I almost forgot – the bread in the photo is a bacon baguette from the Petit Boulangerie. Currently found at farmers markets in Columbus – but soon (I hope) to be stocked at a new shop on High Street.

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Filed under bacon, blogging, Ohio

Last call for Clark’s Chicken

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Reputed to be one of the best places for fried chicken in the state of Ohio, Clark’s is a 91 year old institution, but if you want a taste of their traditional comfort food, you only have four days left. Clark’s will close their doors for the last time on Sunday evening, November 1st. If you are a fan of fried chicken, have been meaning to visit Clark’s, or if you want a taste of nostalgia, put it to the top of your to-do list now.

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Clark’s is found about an hour east of Columbus, on old route 40 in Jacksontown and very  close to Dawes Arboretum. Chances are you will have to wait, maybe a long time. A lot of people want a taste of iron skillet fried chicken while they still can. On our visits there the wait was anything from 45 minutes to an hour and 45. The menu is simple: chicken, steak or ham. You get a full dinner served family style with a choice of salad, coleslaw or apple sauce to start, mashed potato, gravy and vegetables, followed by pie. While there are other choices, it is really all about the chicken. Four pieces per person of salty, crispy skin with tender steamy chicken underneath.

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Everything at Clark’s is made from scratch each morning – they section the whole chickens, peel and mash the potatoes and bake every kind of pie you can think of. It’s not unknown for them to sell out before closing time.

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I mentioned pies and the day we visited there were 14 on offer. My favorite (although I admit to only trying a couple) – and one of the most popular was the chocolate cream pie. Hell, what’s a few more calories after a plate full of fried chicken.

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I first heard about Clark’s on a bike ride out to Dawes Arboretum. After a chilly 28 mile ride we were ravenous and when one of the group suggested a fried chicken place nearby we didn’t hesitate. Unfortunately, when we arrived the line was out the door and we didn’t have time to stick out the 45 minute wait. It is pretty rare that a restaurant has that long a wait at 2pm on a saturday and my curiosity was piqued. I started googling and found out:

a) that Clark’s is claimed to have the best fried chicken in Ohio.
b) that Clark’s was about to close.

You won’t be surprised that I dragged my friends back there the next day. We were prepared for the wait but on sunday it was even longer: almost 2 hours. Our patience and determination were rewarded – when others left the line and we were seated within an hour.

Is it the best in Ohio? It certainly was good although I can’t say I have sampled enough to judge. Restaurants come and go, but it is sad when somewhere with as much history as Clark’s is forced to close. It is obvious that it will be missed, and not just in Jacksontown.

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Filed under Ohio, restaurants

Camel Sausages

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I can safely say that I had never (knowingly) eaten camel. Ridden on one yes, but considered eating one? No. It sounds like a contender for Andrew Zimmern‘s Bizarre Foods, not something you would find in Ohio. So how did it come about that I sat down to a dinner of camel sausages?

As many things have done this year, it started with a trip to a taco truck. We have some interesting experiences taco trucking and this was one of them. One evening when we were at Los Potosinos chatting with the owner Lidia, she was animatedly talking about camello. We asked a few questions to make sure that we were understanding correctly and that this wasn’t some new variation of beef or pork offal. No, she was quite clear, it was camel. She explained that the owner of a neighborhood convenience store had camel meat for sale and was disposing of off-cuts in a nearby dumpster. Local residents were complaining about the pungent dumpster smell and blaming it on the taco truck. Lidia was agitated because they had called the public health inspectors and she had been wrongfully accused.

We sympathized with Lidia but at the same time our curiosity was piqued. This was soon after project octopus and we gleefully teased Bear that we had found a new cooking project for him, possibly a candidate for the smoker. We left him to guess but to no avail, our clue of ‘they have them at the zoo’ not being very helpful in narrowing it down. He was left mystified. A little joking around, one failed attempt to find the aforementioned camel meat and then we forgot all about it.

That was until our little jaunt to Cincinnati where we stumbled upon some camel sausages with Moroccan seasoning at Kroeger and Sons Meats. They sell over 30 different sausages and apparently they sell quite a lot of camel ones. Of course, we couldn’t resist trying them and we invited Bear and Colleen to a ‘Moroccan’ dinner.

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Colleen was less enthusiastic than her husband about our choice of protein. Bear on the other hand calmly assured me that he had the perfect wine to go with camel. It was my turn to be mystified (and slightly sceptical)…. but he was right. A Lebanese Chateau Musar did seem as close a pairing as possible.

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The camel sausages were extremely lean but unnervingly turned bright red as they cooked. We made sure they were well done and although a little wary we tucked in. The flavor was great with pine nuts, cinnamon and lots of mint. If you didn’t know, you would have thought they were lamb, especially given the mint seasoning, which goes to show that not all unusual foods taste like chicken!

So there you have it – camel sausages from Findlay Market. Hungrywoolf approved ;-p

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Filed under dinners with friends, markets, Ohio

Localicious: Local Foods Week Columbus

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This week has been local foods week in Columbus and while many of us could say that every week is (or should be) local foods week, this week was special. It was special because every day was packed with events highlighting local foods, local producers and the people who are working to promote these things. The week was organized by the Central Ohio not-for-profit organization Local Matters who have a number of great programs in our community and run the Greener Grocer in the North Market.

I attended some wonderful events during the week including the Market to Market Bike Ride, North Market Harvest Festival, A benefit dinner at Alana’s and A Cow to Cone tour at Jeni’s Ice Cream. Coincidentally our Slow Food Locavore Dinner at Otter Creek was also held during local foods week, so it really was a localicious week.

The Market to Market ride was a joint venture between Hills Market in Worthington and the North Market. You could start at either market, have breakfast and then ride down the bike trail to the other market, stopping at various rest stops en route, to be rewarded at the end with Jeni’s ice cream and a goodie bag of coupons. It was a great idea and a fantastic example of local businesses working together. Hills had their Ohio Market day and the North Market had their Harvest Festival, so both were bustling and over 300 people did the ride.

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We chose to ride up to Hills and have their blueberry pancake breakfast. It was really busy but they were churning out coffee, pancakes and sausage. My only disappointment – Log Cabin Syrup. On Ohio Market Day, during local foods week? What a missed opportunity to show off Ohio Maple Syrup. (Ohio is 4th in the country in Maple Syrup production).

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By the time we made it back to the North Market the harvest festival was in full swing. I fought my way through the crowds to the Dispatch Kitchen where I was due to be judging the pumpkin bread competition. I had worked up an appetite cycling, but was still relieved to see that there were only 9 entries in the competition. I’m still recovering from the 39 entry pawpaw competition and I wanted to have room for my ice cream! I was joined by Bacon Camp winner Roland, judging supremo CMH Gourmand and RJ from A Taste from Belgium.

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There was a tie for the second place pumpkin bread and Mary Martineau called for a taste off…. unfortunately it was still 2 votes apiece and Mary threw her hands up and awarded a joint prize. I left them to the pies, ate some ice cream (highly recommend pumpkin five spice with the Maker’s Mark), bought some apple cider and headed home.

Ruby beet and apple salad with black walnut vinaigrette

Alana's Ruby beet and apple salad with black walnut vinaigrette

Dinner at Alana’s is always a treat, but more so when it is for a good cause and you get to enjoy a family style meal with friends. There were ten different dishes and highlights included Bunny B’steeya, pumpkin, bacon and kale risotto and shell bean hummus with buttercup focaccia. A blow by blow photo account of the meal can be found on G.A. Benton’s blog. The wines were from our friends at  United Estates and the dessert was a ‘surprise’ from Jeni’s,  pawpaw ice cream in a waffle cone with her magical caramel sauce.

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Alana does an outstanding job of using local ingredients and her menu always highlights local producers and farms. In this case it was particularly special because several of the farmers and producers who had supplied ingredients were at the dinner.

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As soon as I heard about the tour of Jeni’s I called to book a spot and I am so glad that I did. This rare behind the scenes tour  guided by Jeni was limited to twenty people (the reason became obvious as we squeezed into the kitchen and completely disrupted production) and had a wait-list of 50 plus. Given the 4 pm start time there were a lot of children and it was fun to listen to their comments and questions. For example: ‘my family loves your ice cream so much that we can’t even go to Graeter’s any more’, ‘can we go in the freezer again?’ ‘do you have any cherries?’ and ‘how many bags of sugar do you use a day?’.

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The kitchen is surprisingly small for the amount and range of ice cream flavors they produce. Each of the two ice cream machines makes a batch of 10 gallons and Jeni’s can produce up to 70 gallons a day. The most popular is salty caramel which is usually made first thing in the morning every day. We watched as beets were juiced to color the red hot apple sorbet, pumpkins were washed and trimmed ready for roasting and marshmallows were mixed into the smoky milk chocolate. It was great to see the actual vegetables being used and to know where they came from (in this case Wayward Seed Farm). Of course not all the ingredients are local and we also got to smell the Ugandan vanilla beans that are specially flown in for Jeni’s.

As well as learning more about Jeni’s ingredients, process and philosophy we also got to eat ice cream – right in the kitchen. We had a sundae of freshly made vanilla ice cream and apple sorbet with caramel sauce and whipped cream. We also got a sneak taste of some of the upcoming winter flavors and the exclusive Dean & Deluca flavors including Limoncello with almonds and dried cherries, Goat cheese with cognac fig compote and Norwegian fruit sorbet.

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Everyone from Jeni down seems to be intensely proud of their product and works hard to ensure that customers are happy with every pint.  The attention to detail is impressive from the hand packed pints, to the house-made and hand mixed marshmallows, and the hand written labels and gift cards. The kitchen staff were very friendly even though we were completely in their way and happy to discuss their favorite flavors to eat and to make and how salty caramel is a great breakfast food.

You can see more photos from the tour in Jeni’s blog Salty Caramel.

What did you do for Local Foods week? Did you get scared by the living statue scarecrow? and what are you favorite local foods?

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Filed under Columbus, hills market, ice cream, judging, North Market, Ohio, special events

Pawpaw Festival

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Last year when I tried my first pawpaw, I had no idea that a year later I would be judging the best pawpaw competition at the Ohio pawpaw festival. Although this was my first experience food judging I did feel somewhat qualified. I have watched CMH Gourmand in judging action many times and as well as eating my fair share of  paw paws, I have visited Integration Acres the largest pawpaw processing facility in the world.

If you are unfamiliar with pawpaws here is a quick introduction: pawpaws are the largest native fruit in the United States and the official native fruit of Ohio. They are also an Ark of Taste fruit.  They grow on trees in woodland areas in Ohio and 25 other states and have a pale green skin that turns yellow as they ripen. They are amazingly tropical for something that grows in Ohio and are like a cross between a custard apple, mango, guava and banana. The flesh is creamy yellow but have a lot of seeds and bruise easily so aren’t popular commercially.

There were three pawpaw competitions taking place on saturday. The best pawpaw, the pawpaw cook-off competition and the pawpaw eating competition. I judged the first two, but I felt like I had entered the third. I think I ate more paw paws than any of the contestants in the eating competition. I love pawpaws but Saturday was a good lesson that you can have too much of a good thing.

We started at 12.30pm with the best pawpaw competition. The three other judges were Matt Rapposelli (Executive Chef at Ohio University), Debbie Phillips (State Representative, D-Athens) and Scott Bradley (Chef at Zoë’s Fine Dining, whose restaurant we went to on our Slow Food tour in June). Master of Ceremonies and Organizer of the competitions was Barbara Fisher (former chef at Salaam and blogger at Tigers & Strawberries).

This has been a bumper year for pawpaws and we had 26 entries in the best pawpaw competition with some coming from as far as Indiana. Some of the pawpaws were named varieties and others were wild. We judged each entry on appearance, skin surface and thickness, aroma, flavor and texture. We also scored the pawpaws on weight and seeds which allowed us to look at the ratio of seeds to flesh. More flesh is obviously desirable. The pawpaws ranged in weight from 5 to 17 oz with the average weight 8.4 oz. The number of seeds ranged from 5-16 (in general there is a seed for every oz of flesh but some are more seedy than others). With all the entry numbers, weights and seeds being called out it felt like we were playing bingo.

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Here are some things I learned during the best pawpaw competition:

  • There is surprisingly little correlation between the taste and the aroma.
  • There is a lot of variability in flesh color from pale buttery yellow to deep mangoey orange.
  • Under-ripe pawpaws are a cure for constipation
  • Don’t eat the skin or the seeds (I knew that before, but it’s useful to know)
  • Pawpaws are best eaten at room temperature
  • The taste is different close to the skin and can be bitter there
  • Pawpaws can be a lot riper on one side than the other if one side had more sun.

By the time we finished judging the best pawpaws it was already time for the pawpaw cook off and I was already feeling fairly full of pawpaw. Matt Rapposelli was also judging the pawpaw cook-off and we were joined by Colleen Braumoeller (Slow Food Columbus and manager of the Greener Grocer) and Kelly Kingman, a free-lance journalist and blogger at Hudsongrown.com.

Kelly had been inspired to come to the Pawpaw Festival by reading the book The Fruit Hunters and had driven all the way from the Hudson Valley without ever having tasted a pawpaw before. It was truly a baptism of fire with 39 entries in the competition. Entries were divided into drinks, breads, sauces and desserts, the latter being the most competitive category with 19 entries. Barbara was a whirlwind, slicing, describing and distributing food and managed to keep her sense of humor throughout. The judges had a lot of fun discussing flavors and favorites. I will admit though, that by the end we were counting down the dishes and praying for it to end soon.

Here is a taste of what we ate: pancakes, polenta, bread, spice cake, cupcakes, cheesecake, salad, vinaigrette, chili sauce, chili, chicken curry, mole, deep fried oreos, sandwiches, pies, date bars, creme brulee, brownies, salsa, elephant ears… all of course featuring pawpaw. To drink there was pawpaw lassi, pawpaw wine, pawpaw melomel (honey and pawpaw) and a pawpaw mojito. Foods were judged on flavor, texture, appearance, aroma, originality, use of pawpaw and pawpaw flavor. As a first time judge, at first it was harder to judge originality but by the third cheesecake it was becoming easier.

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The winners were announced by category: Best dessert was a pawpaw semifreddo (bottom left, above) with a pawpaw reduction. It was my favorite dish overall and was apparently made by one of the chefs from Fur Peace Ranch. The winning sauce was a chicken curry with cashews which was very popular with the judges, the winning bread was punjabi pockets with pawpaw chili sauce (bottom right, above) and the winning beverage was a pawpaw mojito. Some of the dishes were delicious but you could not taste the pawpaw and the judges agreed that that was an important factor.

Advice for future entrants: Originality is important – try to think beyond the obvious. Odds of winning are lower in the dessert category as it has the most entries. Get someone else to taste your entry and ask them if they can taste the pawpaw. Don’t forget presentation – it scores the same as flavor and is the first impression that the judges have of your dish. Make sure that garnishes are edible (don’t use real pawpaw seeds as a garnish, you could dip some almonds in chocolate to look like seeds).

The judging finally finished around 4.30 and after four hours of eating pawpaws I miraculously found room for an Integration Acres pawpaw pop and a taste of the hand churned Snowville Creamery pawpaw ice cream. This brought my tally up to 25 pawpaws tasted and 41 pawpaw foods. After that it was time to lie down, enjoy a little pawpaw beer and watch some other people eating pawpaws. In the picture below Chris Chmiel, founder of the festival, is introducing the eating competition. Competitors had to race to clean off 20 pawpaw seeds with their hands behind their backs. If only I hadn’t been so full….

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The pawpaw festival is a family friendly festival with the laid back feel you would expect from Athens. The weather was perfect and the setting overlooking Lake Snowden was beautiful. I recommend checking it out next year if you haven’t been before. It is also a good excuse to check out the Athens Farmers Market and local restaurants. There are more photos of the festival on flickr and on CMH Gourmand and there will also be some interviews on the next Columbus Foodcast.

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Filed under Ohio, special events