November 2009 Issue
The Omnivore's Delight
Be a well-fed traveler with these food-centered weekends.
For some, the thrill of the open road is enough to warrant a road trip. For others, the thrill of an open-air food market is just as big of a draw. From a sustainable gourmet getaway in Athens to a gorgeous Napa wine dinner at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, we’ve put together food-centric weekends for those of you who think some of the best scenery in the state is found in its wine departments, patisseries and at the occasional private chef’s table.
Athens Locavore Itinerary
Fans of celebrity chef Alice Waters and her famed Berkeley, California, restaurant,
Chez Panisse, will appreciate that Ohio University in Athens has been called the “Berkeley of the Backwoods” — and not just for the school’s strong academics.
Athens and its surrounding communities’ commitment to supporting local and
sustainable food practices dates back long before celebrities were driving Priuses. You’ll get the flavor of this conservation-minded town at these spots:
Jackie O’s looks more like a bar than a restaurant, but a white-linen backdrop would be all wrong for this endeavor. As Athens’ only brewhouse, this is where you’ll find brewmaster Brad Clark’s interesting, sometimes unusual and often quite aggressive craft ales. Clark’s beer list is a constant work in progress as he experiments with techniques such as cask aging and fermentation with local wild yeasts. He is also the only Ohio commercial brewer we know of making sour beers. Jackie O’s Athens soul shows itself on the menu as well, particularly in items such as the “spent grain” pizzas, which use leftover grains from the brewing process in the crust, and the “Athens’ own hamburger,” which features locally raised beef fed with the brewery’s spent grains.
Saturday morning breakfast:
The Village Bakery
This is a favorite spot with the locals for a feel-good breakfast. Here, the coffee is free trade and pastries and other sweets are made with locally grown nuts and organic chocolate, sugar, flour and butter — no trans fats or high fructose corn syrup allowed.
The Athens Farmers Market
The Athens Farmers Market turned 37 this year, and not surprisingly, a few of its vendors — Sue Rice of Sue’s Greenhouse and Art Gish of Dutch Creek Community Farm — have been around since that first market day, or close to it. It’s a year-round open-air market, not to mention one of the best places in the state for a culinary treasure hunt. One reason is that foraging is treated as an occupation here; in addition to the expected organic produce, meats and cheeses, you’ll often find unusual mushrooms, ramps, fiddlehead ferns and other seasonal products from the forest floor.
Some of the food purveyors at the Athens Farmers Market got their start at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), whose Food Ventures Center supports a 12,000-square-foot community kitchen where small producers can process and package commercial food products. Among the items that have emerged from the ACEnet kitchens are
Integration Acres’ blueberry spicebush jam, the funky fruit butters and vinegars of Dale’s Creations and the gooseberry jelly from Jack and Dixie Cantrell.
O’Betty’s Red Hot! Dogs and Sausages
Part restaurant, part hot dog museum, part tribute to burlesque stars of the past, O’Betty’s is a hip hot dog joint that meets all of the criteria — locally owned, noncorporate, locally produced menu items — to garner the town’s support. The all-beef hot dogs come from Cleveland, but there are vegetarian options, this being Athens and all.
Worker-owned and -operated since 1985, you can’t get more Athens than Casa. The menu is a showcase of Athens growers, who are all listed at the back of the menu, and the business practices — they reuse, recycle and compost everything possible — are light-years ahead of most restaurants. The basic building blocks start with homemade salsas, burritos, empanadas, enchiladas and quesadillas, but the unusual fillings of seasonal vegetables and sustainably raised meats are what let you know you’re in a slow-food environment. During the past two decades, they’ve expanded to include a cantina and bodega, but, on weekends, stick with the restaurant if you like a quieter experience. Along with your meal, enjoy locally brewed beers, a selection of organic wines and specialty drinks made with infused vodkas.
Sunday morning coffee:
Donkey Coffee and Espresso
A modern incarnation of the spirit of the ’60s, your brain will get a jolt from more than the caffeine here. Donkey is everything a college town coffee shop should be: a gathering spot where you can sip fair trade coffee, a place to take in the work of local artists and musicians, and a source of information and literature about local and international issues of social justice.
Jana’s Soul Food Café
Brunch at Jana’s is a fitting end to this weekend. Housed in one of the restored buildings of the Eclipse Company Town in the Plains, the parallel rows of uniform white buildings were constructed more than a century ago to house the employees and their families of the Hocking Valley Coal Company. Jana’s is no frills, but the ingredients are high quality and consistently good. They don’t have a liquor license, but don’t mind if you bring your own (there’s no corkage fee). After brunch, the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is just a few steps away if you need a walk before that long car ride home.
Wine grapes thrive along Lake Erie, and so do celebrity chefs, apparently. During the past decade, the number of Ohio wineries west of Cleveland has more than doubled, and on weekends, the wineries along the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Wine Trail coax you in from the cold with special events in their tasting rooms. Nearby, you’ll find Iron Chef Michael Symon’s latest local venture, as well as gourmet events at the renowned Culinary Vegetable Institute.
Avon Lake (barsymon.com, 440/933-5652)
The latest local addition to Cleveland’s own Iron Chef Michael Symon’s restaurant family: spicy pork cracklins, pork and fennel sausage, pork belly croutons (topped with spinach, poached egg and pickeled onion), a pork pastrami sandwich, a smoked pork butt entree and every Monday, the daily special is pig roast. Need we say more?
Kiedrowski’s Simply Delicious
Be warned: After a stop here to ogle the house-made cookies, crullers, cream puffs and cakes, dreams of Kiedrowski’s will dance in your head. With so many family-owned bakeries disappearing off the culinary map, Kiedrowski’s doors are in no danger of closing, because you just can’t get better old-school baked goods than theirs. Period.
Paper Moon Vineyards
Vermilion (papermoonvineyards.com, 440/967-2500)
The focal point of the attractive stone-and-stucco tasting room is the expansive copper tasting bar, where you can order samples of Paper Moon’s wines, produced
largely from Ohio-grown grapes. For lunch, grab a table by the fireplace and enjoy one of the winery’s delicious panini sandwiches.
Quarry Hill Winery
Berlin Heights (quarryhillwinery.org, 419/706-8005)
Situated inside a century-old fruit farm’s on-site market, seasoned Ohio winemaker Mac McLelland crafts a nice assortment of wines from his own vinifera and French-hybrid grapes, as well as fruit wines and a dry hard cider from the adjacent orchard’s trees.
Napa Wine Dinner, Culinary Vegetable Institute
Milan (culinaryvegetableinstitute.com, 419/499-7500)
The CVI has hosted the complete who’s who of celebrity chefs, from Sara Moulton to Thomas Keller to Bobby Flay. On November 14th, they’re hosting a special event dedicated to wines from the Napa Valley, paired with an exquisite five-course meal ($85 per person) showcasing the flavors of fall. Dinner commences with a shooter of crème of pumpkin soup topped with fragrant truffle oil and crispy celeriac chips, features greens from the CVI’s parent company, the Chef’s Garden, tossed with gorgonzola, walnuts, warm figs and a sherry vinaigrette, and ends with poached pears and hazelnut sponge cake served with warm cream and cinnamon caramel sauce.
The CVI is not open daily for meals; however, a list of dining and wine events can be found online.
It’s a place to get a great cup of coffee and a little comic relief, thanks to the unusual collection of nostalgic candy, sodas and juices, and homemade sandwiches and soups. Take a stroll around the cute downtown before you head home.
Southwest Market Madness
Both of these southwestern cities have more than enough to satisfy a hungry
traveler’s appetite, but when it comes to favorite specialty markets, you can’t have
one without the other.
The Meadowlark Restaurant
Miami Township (meadowlarkrestaurant.com, 937/434-4750)
Local, seasonal products are in many restaurants, but the soul of the chef behind that restaurant is not always apparent. After one meal at Meadowlark, you will know exactly who chef-owner Elizabeth Wiley is, and you will like that person. It doesn’t hurt that Wiley is a veteran of the venerable The Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs; she opened her restaurant a few years ago, infusing it with her imaginative take on scratch-made American fare and a penchant for simplicity that is simply delicious.
Saturday breakfast: The artisan breads/patisserie at Dorothy Lane Market,
Springboro (dorothylane.com, 937/748-6800)
There are three locations of this specialty foods market in the Dayton area, but the artisanal bakery and patisserie at the front of the store in Springboro, the newest location, is a multi-sensory experience that will stay with you. Grab a morning java from Dayton’s own Boston Stoker (also located in the front of the store), and a gourmet muffin or pastry to go, or sit in the store’s mezzanine.
Dorothy Lane also offers cooking classes that are, unfortunately, nearly sold out for November. But they are worth planning another trip around.
Saturday Snack: Yagööt Yogurt
Cincinnati (yagootyogurt.com, 513/351-2222)
Yes, it’s November, and a steaming bowl of Cincinnati-style chili might sound more appealing right now, but if you’re headed downtown, it’s worth a stop at Rookwood Commons to taste this treat. Yagööt, a sour-style frozen yogurt, was first made popular in the Queen City by Busken Bakery in 1977. Now back in vogue, you can get this semi-healthy snack (120 calories, 1 gram of fat and 19 grams of sugar per half cup) topped with about 20 different options, from fresh fruit to Fruity Pebbles, or as a shake, float or breakfast concoction.
Saturday lunch: Findlay Market
Downtown Cincinnati (findlaymarket.org, 513/665-4839)
Although it’s not exactly a meal, grazing is a great way to save room for a multi-course dinner in the evening, so why not nibble your way through the vendors at Findlay Market? It’s one of the state’s oldest public markets in continuous operation, with a cast of characters who make you feel like a welcome guest. Be sure to visit De Stewart (aka “the Colonel”) at Herbs & Spice and Everything Nice, where the selection of more than 400 herbs and spices (including organic and Kosher varieties) is off the charts.
Saturday night: Local 127
Downtown Cincinnati (mylocal127.com, 513/721-1345)
For years, Ohio has been home to just one master sommelier, but with the opening of Local 127 downtown, that number has doubled. Chef Steven Geddes is one of just 100 wine experts in the country to hold the distinguished credential, and it turns out he can head up a kitchen as well. The restaurant opened in September with a strong commitment to all things local, which is why the wine list contains only domestic bottles, and the water, available in still or sparking, is Cincinnati tap that has been purified. Geddes aims to gives diners homespun dishes with a sophisticated twist; but listen up all you pork belly fans — what they’re doing here with locally raised pigs could be enough for Cincinnatians to proudly reclaim their “Porkopolis” title.
Sunday morning: It’s Just crepes
Downtown Cincinnati (itsjustcrepes.com, 513/63-CREPE)
There will be two Elvis sightings today, so you’ll need to fuel up. But given that your next stop is a 300,000-square-foot marketplace and about a 30-minute drive from downtown, there’s no time to dawdle. Fortunately, It’s Just Crepes takes a traditional French concept and makes it fast paced without compromising the integrity of this brunch favorite. This fun and funky downtown spot makes your crepes to order; pick from the savory or sweet side of the menu and watch as one of the staffers pours the batter, adds your choice of toppings and serves it to you neatly folded into a triangle and wrapped in parchment paper. Choices range from the traditional (Swiss cheese, ham and Dijon mustard), to the Elvis (peanut butter and bananas),
but we say every option is fit for a king.
Fairfield (junglejims.com, 513/674-6000)
It’s been around for 35 years, and when you’re in the area, it would be wrong to pass this place up. The Magic Kingdom of grocery stores, you can get your weekly basics here, along with 1,400 different cheeses, 60 brands of cigars, butter from nine different countries, kangaroo, alligator and elk meat and wines that retail for more than $4,000 per bottle.
As for Elvis — an eight-foot-tall mechanical lion in a glittery green jumpsuit — you’ll find him perched by the candy department, just one of many animatronics that make the shopping experience here unexpected in every sense. n