Ohio Life

Best of Ohio 2011

Check out our picks for the best places to go and things to do around the state.

Best Way to End the Work Week
There’s no better place to kick off the weekend than at Polka Happy Hour, a riotous affair at the Happy Dog in Cleveland, a laid-back bar serving up beer and hot dogs. Happy hour is hosted by DJ Kishka, a fake-beard-clad polka aficionado, who spins classics like “Ice Cubes and Beer” for a diverse crowd of college students, families and seniors, all dancing along to scratchy tunes spun on vintage vinyl. 5801 Detroit Ave., Cleveland 44102, 216/651-9474.happydogcleveland.com 

Ohio-Themed iPhone App
The O-H-I-O cheer has long been a fan favorite at Ohio State football games. Now, you’ll find proud Buckeyes raising their arms in the four-letter formation on roller coasters, at weddings and in front of landmarks all over the world. And thanks to Ohio State’s free O-H-I-O app, they can capture and upload their creative poses straight from their iPhones to an online gallery dedicated to what’s round on the ends and high in the middle. osu.edu/O-H-I-O 

Reason to Play Hooky 
Each spring, Cincinnati celebrates a holiday all its own: opening day for the Reds, baseball’s oldest professional team. This year’s opener is March 31 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park. And with the Reds coming off their first playoff season in 15 years, teachers and bosses can expect quite a few empty seats in classrooms and offices all around the Queen City that day. For the 92nd year, festivities will kick off with the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade. reds.com

Sidewalk Cafe

Located just a few miles from downtown Columbus, Grandview Avenue is a favorite destination for folks looking to take a long lunch away from the office, especially on a nice day. There are several places to grab a bite, but nothing’s more enticing than a sidewalk seat at Spagio, which has ruled this strip for a quarter century with its incredible lobster bisque and other tasty creations. 1295 Grandview Ave., Grandview Heights. spagio.com

Taste of Culture
Cincinnati-based Fab Ferments makes cabbage cool with a delicious, multicultural line of naturally fermented vegetables such as Korean kimchi, Japanese tsukemono and Latin American cortido, all made from organic local produce. Find them at Cincinnati-area stores and farmers markets or order online. 513/236-9779, fabulousferments.com 

Way to Zip It
Thrill seekers can’t get enough of the new SuperZip, the latest attraction from Hocking Hills Canopy Tours in Rockbridge. Higher and faster than the original canopy adventure, zippers can clip in seated or “superhero style” to launch themselves from the 75-foot tower and fly more than a quarter mile through the canopy and over the Hocking River at speeds of up to 50 mph. 10714 Jackson St., Rockbridge 43149. 740/385-9477. hockinghillscanopytours.com

Gathering for Film Buffs
If your love of film stretches beyond whatever happens to be opening at the megaplex, Cinevent, a four-day fan convention in Columbus, is a movie mecca. The Memorial Day weekend features almost round-the-clock screenings of classic and obscure movies (and cartoons), a dealers’ room with everything from posters and lobby cards to DVDs and autographs, and a renowned movie poster auction. May 27-30, Ramada Plaza Hotel, 4900 Sinclair Rd., Columbus 43229, 866/785-7687. cinevent.com

Sweets With Spirit
What a concept: selling artisanal chocolates and fine wines and craft beer in one location. At Lilly Handmade Chocolates in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, owners Amanda and Joshua Montague, both classically trained chefs, help customers pair spirits with delicious chocolates, some of which also have a hint of alcohol: the Boozie Suzie, for example, is a concoction of Kirsch-soaked French cherries, Kirsch ganache and dark chocolate. Nonalcoholic varieties are equally indulgent: the popular P.B. Monster is made with milk chocolate, peanut butter, clover honey, feuilletine crunch and Himalayan pink salt. 761 Starkweather Ave., Cleveland 44113, 216/771-3333. lillytremont.com

Spot for Train Lovers
Ohio has lots of model-train shops and historic rail lines, but for the total train lover’s experience, you should visit EnterTRAINment Junction in West Chester Township north of Cincinnati. It claims to be the world’s largest indoor train display (25,000 square feet) and also offers kids’ play areas, a cafe, a train museum, gift shop and more — all train related. 7379 Squire Court, West Chester Twp. 45069, 513/898-8000. entertrainmentjunction.com

Way to Bring the Beach Home with You
Cathy’s Wire Art Jewelry on Kelleys Island represents decades of longtime islander Cathy Coffman’s seaside treasure hunts. She fashions her beach glass finds into earrings, necklaces, rings, pendants and bracelets, as well as photo holders and other household decor. Visit her storefront Apr. 1–Nov. 1, or order year-round through Facebook by searching for Cathy’s Wire Art Jewelry. 144 Division St., Kelleys Island 43438, 419/746-2751

Spectator Seats to See Motorsport Races
Grab a blanket or lawn chair and head for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington. Make your way to the grassy slope near the 2.4-mile track’s Esses — s-shaped curves sloping downhill — where fans witness passes and crashes. The road course has 15 turns, but the Esses is where drivers have to speed up, slow down, push to go uphill and pray going downhill. Watch as vintage motorcycles, sports cars, Indy cars and super cycles navigate the trickiest part of the track. 7721 Steam Corners Rd., Lexington 44904. midohio.com     

Sports Record
Kenyon College in Gambier may be small (1,600 students), but it has a huge reputation in men’s swimming. The Kenyon Lords swimmers have won 31 consecutive NCAA Division III national championships, a record that no other college team in any NCAA division — of any sport — can match. The Lady Lords are also a swimming powerhouse; they’ve won 23 of the last 27 NCAA Division III national championships. athletics. kenyon.edu

Gallery to See Flora and Fauna Images
You might expect this gem of a gallery to be in a famous museum or a hip urban area. Instead, the National Center for Nature Photography is located within the beautiful 600-acre Secor Metropark, Metroparks of the Toledo Area. Some of the best nature photographers in the country, including Clyde Butcher, hang work there, sharing exhibition space with talented local and regional photographers. Coming up: images of reptiles. Can snakes say, “Cheese?” 1001 W. Central Ave., Berkey 43504, 419/407-9757. metroparkstoledo.com     

Festival with a Twist
Some people love to dunk them in cheese. Some like them coated in cinnamon. And others just like to wash theirs down with an ice cold beverage. On Sept. 24-25, all kinds of pretzel lovers will converge in southwestern Ohio to get “knotty” with their favorite Bavarian baked goods at the 32nd Germantown Pretzel Festival. pretzelfestival.com

Demolition Site
Back when it opened in the heart of downtown Columbus in 1989, the 1.2-million-square-foot City Center Mall was the place to shop in Central Ohio. Today, it’s not even a place — the mall was demolished last year to make way for a nine-acre community park. When it opens this spring, Columbus Commons will be the place to have a picnic, toss a Frisbee and enjoy the great outdoors. downtowncolumbus.com/progress/columbus-commons

Place to Wind Up in Stitches
Susan Holmes knows quilts. Her Nelsonville Quilt Company shop has a terrific selection of books, patterns, notions and an impressive 2,300-plus bolts of fabric in every color imaginable. But the nicest part of a visit to this shop in Historic Downtown Nelsonville is knowing that you’ll get a friendly and helpful answer to your crafting questions. The shop offers regular classes that appeal to both newbies and experienced quilters and a full line of quilting services, including custom-made quilts. 52 W. Washington St., Nelsonville 45764, 740/753-3343. nelsonvillequilts.com

History Lesson
Remember the little shoebox book-report projects that you made in grade school? Picture those dioramas as room-size — not to mention much more sophisticated — and you’ll have an idea of what to expect at the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in Norwich. The 136-foot-long display illustrates the construction and evolution of the historic National Road. In fact, the exhibit encompasses — in miniature — 200 years of American history along a 40-mile stretch. Plus, the museum houses historic vehicles, Zane Grey memorabilia and a collection of Ohio art pottery. Open May 1–Sept. 30; group tours by appointment. 8850 E. Pike, Norwich 43767, 740/872-3143. ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/se.shtml

Blue Plate Special
Set in an unassuming row of restaurants and bars just off the main drag of Hyde Park Square, Echo Restaurant, a Cincinnati staple for more than 65 years, is known for inexpensive breakfasts and homemade dinner specials. The restaurant is constantly evolving — like opening on Sundays and adding a liquor license — but patrons still enjoy affordable comfort food in a vintage and kitschy setting. 3510 Edwards Rd., Cincinnati 45208, 513/321-2816. echo-hydepark.com

Truck Stop
Carla Saunders, owner of Columbus’ mobile cupcake truck, Three Babes and a Baker, is known for her moist cupcakes topped with rich frosting. She specializes in unusual creations — like sweet potato — along with popular flavors such as German chocolate and buckeye, packaged in Chinese take-out boxes. The Three Babes truck is often parked at the corner of Gay and High streets. Follow Three Babes on Twitter for specials and locations. twitter.com/3babesandabaker

Island Adventure

Captain Peg Van Vleet of Blue Sky Charters has spent a lifetime fishing on Lake Erie, which explains her sixth-sense abilities when it comes to finding walleye. It also helps that her Baha cruiser, the Blue Diamond, is equipped with fish-finding sonar. Anglers can customize trips, and novices can learn how to fish. The best part? If you ask nicely, she’ll bait the hook and clean your fish. Lakefront Marina, 1805 W. Lakeshore Dr., Port Clinton 43452, 937/414-6742. blueskycharters.net

Homage to Bibliophiles
Fondly referred to as “the book fountain,” the Amelia Valerio Weinberg Memorial Fountain — created by former Cincinnati sculptor Michael Frasca and named after its benefactress — has been a popular meeting place for bookworms since it was completed in 1990. The sculpture, located outside the main branch of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, features water cascading down a stack of ceramic tomes. It was designed to represent the free flow of information and ideas conveyed through the printed word. 800 Vine St., Cincinnati, 45202, 513/369-6900. cincinnatilibrary.org

Taste of Collegial Spirit
Ohio State University fans won’t be able to resist the sweet temptation of Block O Buckeyes, the latest confection from mother-daughter entrepreneurs Melanie Bunstine and Emily McCurdy, owners of Emlolly Candy in Worthington. Each block — sold individually or in packages ranging from two pieces to 30 — consists of creamy peanut butter candies covered in the chocolate of your choice: solid dark, solid milk, mint or white. Each is shaped like the university’s iconic block “O” symbol. They’re a winner for fans of all ages. 667 High St., Worthington, 43085, 614/436-4060. emlollycandy.com

Ode to a Kid’s Toy
Pretend you’re a kid again at the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum, housed in an old school in Bellaire. The unofficial LEGO museum contains room after room of the plastic interlocking bricks formed into elaborate scenes, characters and objects, as well as displays of LEGO memorabilia that will inspire you and your kids to get building. 4597 Noble St., Bellaire 43906, 740/671-8890. brickmuseum.net

Dessert Delights
Columbus Food Adventures offers a guided dessert tour of the capital city that is too sweet to miss. Tour takers are treated to a tasting-menu-size portion of pure decadence from four of the city’s best confectioners, culminating with a stop at trendy M restaurant downtown for a dessert-style cocktail from the restaurant’s master mixologist (a non-alcoholic drink option is also available). 800/838-3006, columbusfoodadventures.com

Restaurant to Bank On
When Dante Boccuzzi opened up his aptly named restaurant Dante in Cleveland’s hip, Tremont neighborhood, fans of the well-traveled chef knew they were in for a treat. Not only does the eatery dish out a reliably delectable menu including pasta, fish and beef, it’s located in the regal confines of an old bank, and guests can request to dine in the old vault. 2247 Professor Ave., Cleveland 44113, 216/274-1200.  restaurantdante.us

Community Movie House
When it isn’t showing a steady stream of first-run flicks, the Strand Theatre in downtown Delaware — one of the oldest movie houses in continuous operation in the country — gives new meaning to the term “community theater.” A summer kids’ movie series pulls in donated school supplies and sporting goods for needy children; events on the theater stage raise money for the American Cancer Society and local health department programs; and free tickets are given to those taking part in Red Cross blood drives. 28 E. Winter St., Delaware 43015, 740/363-4914. thestrandtheatre.net

Place for Your Funny Bone
If laughter is indeed the best medicine, you can get your prescription filled nightly in Columbus, which is fast becoming a hotbed of young comedic talent. Today’s big names can be found at the city’s aptly named Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant, but weekly open mic nights and an annual comedy festival put on by the city’s Wild Goose Creative are the places to catch tomorrow’s funniest stars. Funny Bone Comedy Club, 145 Easton Town Center, Columbus 43219, 614/471-5653,. columbusfunnybone.com; Wild Goose Creative, 2491 Summit St., Columbus 43202, 614/859-9453. wildgoosecreative.com
Fest Makeover
In 2010, one of Cleveland’s most unique festivals changed things up a bit and brought in more fest-goers than ever before: More than 40,000 people attended IngenuityFest in September at its new location beneath the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Previously, the event was held in downtown’s PlayhouseSquare. The 2010 IngenuityFest featured more than 800 artists and hundreds of performances, art installations, tech demonstrations and more. Veterans Memorial (Detroit-Superior) Bridge subway level, W. 25th St. and Detroit Ave., Cleveland 44113, 216/589-9444. ingenuitycleveland.com

Salon for Making a Statement

Despite its name, you’re not likely to leave Crazy Mullets with a “business in the front, party in the back” look — unless your heart’s set on one, of course. Instead, count on a cut that will turn heads and a dye job that will have you shunning the thought of ever going natural again. A friendly and knowledgeable staff — not to mention the quirky decor — add to the fun of getting an awesome ’do.  Cleveland  Heights/Coventry: 1830 Coventry Rd., Cleveland 44106, 216/320-9891; Lakewood: 14807 Detroit Ave., Lakewood 44107, 216/712-7733; Columbus/OSU Campus: 1896 High St., Columbus 43207, 614/299-9717. crazymullets.com

Way to See the State
If your idea of vacation is more about personal reward than relaxation, GOBA’s for you. The annual week-long Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure offers riders an incredible opportunity to learn a little about Ohio’s geography, history and culture, all while getting some serious exercise — riders average about 50 miles each day. The best part of GOBA? Experiencing the good-old Ohio hospitality along the way — host communities provide dinners, welcome events and more. 2011’s route, June 18–25, includes stops in Kenton, Marion, Delaware and Bellefontaine. 614/273-0811 ext. 1, goba.com

Excuse for Bundling Up
It can be tough to leave the house in January, but the annual Hocking Hills Winter Hike is absolutely worth the extra layers. Now in its 46th year, the six-mile guided trek from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave provides you with some of the state’s most beautiful winter scenes, from frozen waterfalls to icicle-lined rock formations. This January 15, don’t forget your camera — or your mittens. Hocking Hills State Park, St. Rte. 664 S., Logan 43138, 740/385-6841. hockinghills.com

Way to Wear Out Your Hiking Boots

Want to take a walk? If you take the Buckeye Trail, you can follow pretty much the entire perimeter of the state — a 1,444-mile loop of interconnected trails marked by blue blazes. It moves through familiar spots, such as the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Old Man’s Cave trails in the Hocking Hills, and is maintained and promoted by the nonprofit, all-volunteer Buckeye Trail Association. First proposed in 1958, the trail is billed by the association as “one of America’s longest and most diverse trails.” Maps and other news can be found at buckeyetrail.org.

Movie Talk
Everybody loves to talk about movies, but nobody does it like the gang at “Filmically Perfect.” Every Friday afternoon on WYSO-FM (91.3), the public radio station in Yellow Springs, movie nuts J. Todd Anderson and George Willeman, joined by host Niki Dakota, spend 30 minutes poring over favorite classic films that meet their four rules for movie perfection. As Anderson, a Hollywood storyboard artist, and Willeman, a government film archivist, hold forth on how everything from “Jaws” to “The Misfits” to “White Zombie” meet these criteria, they don’t just teach — they make you laugh your socks off, too. You can find their podcasts at perfectmovie.net or at npr.org.

Classic Car With Two Ohio Museums Devoted to It
That would be the Packard, a luxury marque that was enormously popular from the early 1900s until its demise in 1962. Packards were famous for reliable engines and rich, elegant styling. Today, two museums celebrate the car: The National Packard Museum in Warren, which recently expanded, and Dayton’s America’s Packard Museum, which sits in a restored downtown Packard dealership. America’s Packard Museum, 420 S. Ludlow St., Dayton 45402, 937/226-1710, americaspackardmuseum.org; National Packard Museum, 1899 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren 44483, 330/394-1899, packardmuseum.org

Sky-High Structure

When you’re in downtown Cleveland, look up … way up … and you’ll see Ohio’s tallest building: Key Tower. At 57 stories and 948 feet, it’s at present the 17th tallest building in the United States. Known as the Society Center when it was built in 1991, it was designed by famed architect Cesar Pelli and was the tallest building between New York and Chicago; the slightly taller Comcast Tower in Philly topped it a few years later.

Place to Sell Your Used Furniture
Tired of your old dining room set? Centerville’s Home2Home bills itself as “Ohio’s largest furniture consignment store” at 22,321 square feet of floor space, and all but promises results. Based in an old Gold Circle department store, home2home just marked its sixth anniversary. From sofas to high-end fashion items to decorating accessories, the place provides plenty of fun shopping. Their slogan: “You’ll think it’s new, until you see the price.” 251 E. Alex-Bell Rd., Centerville 45459, 937/439-6688. home2homeconsignments.com

Notorious Artifact
The infamous Depression-era bandit John Dillinger had plenty of Ohio connections (among them, he robbed banks in Bluffton and New Carlisle). A tangible reminder of his violent run through the state rests today in the collection of Dayton History: the Colt .38 Super semiautomatic handgun he was carrying when arrested in Dayton while visiting Mary Longnaker, a girlfriend there. Her bragging about the relationship around town drew attention from Pinkerton detectives, who worked with Dayton police to bust Dillinger in September 1933. daytonhistory.org

Place to Have One ‘On the Rocks’
The south Dayton suburb of Centerville claims proudly to have “Ohio’s largest collection of early stone buildings.” Many are plainly visible in and around the business center of the town founded in 1796; a visit to the Centerville-Washington Township Historical Society’s website provides nifty thumbnails of 30 still-standing houses, most built in the early 1800s of locally quarried limestone. mvcc.net/Centerville/histsoc

Civil War Battlefield
OK, it’s actually the state’s only major Civil War battlefield. The Battle of Buffington Island occurred when Federal troops caught up with Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry during the summer of 1863 in Meigs County. “Morgan’s Raid” had little strategic value other than scaring the locals and distracting Union soldiers from more important spots, such as Gettysburg. Buffington Island — not actually an island, but a small river town — is marked today by signs and a park memorializing the fight in the village of Portland, about 20 miles east of Pomeroy, on St. Rte. 124. ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=660

College Comeback
Antioch College, the storied liberal-arts bastion in Yellow Springs that schooled Coretta Scott King and Rod Serling, closed in 2008. But loyal alumni, faculty and Yellow Springs residents created a corporation that took up the job of raising funds for the school’s revival. They pulled it off: Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has been hired as the new president, campus facilities have been brought back to life, and a new class is to begin in fall 2011. antiochcollege.org

Source for Native American Botanicals and Herbs
Smudge sticks are tied bundles of dried herbs that release a pungent aroma when burned. A variety of believers, including Native Americans, use smudging in purification rituals. Spirit Apothecary, a small shop in Bedford, offers several stick varieties, including white and desert sages, as well as cedar and juniper choices, all handcrafted by Native Americans from California. A variety of other herbs and teas are sold here, including sweetgrass from the First Nations people of Canada, said to encourage positive energy. 664 Broadway Ave., Bedford 44146, 440/439-HERB. spiritapothecary.com