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Best of Ohio 2019

Make new discoveries and learn about our readers’ favorites in our annual roundup of great finds across the Buckeye State that should be part of your plans this year.

Find our full list of 2019 Best of Ohio Readers’ Ballot winners here.

Landmark Revival 
When Cincinnati’s Union Terminal was completed on March 31, 1933, the breathtaking train station was regarded as one of the nation’s finest art deco structures. Thanks to a recently completed 2 1/2-year restoration project, it still is. Updates made to the 535,000-square-foot complex, which serves as the home of the Cincinnati Museum Center, included cleaning and repairing the building’s magnificent mosaics and fixing the iconic clock face. Visitors will also appreciate the building’s smoother traffic-flow pattern that allows easier access to the new Dinosaur Hall in the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Museum of Natural History & Science. “There are six dinosaurs in the gallery,” says Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “Five were not previously exhibited, and our Torvosaurus is the only one of its kind in the world.” 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati 45203, 513/287-7000, cincymuseum.org

Jelly Bean Art
Offering customers a year-round slate of festivals, wine tastings and cooking classes, Jungle Jim’s International Market places a high premium on fun. So it only seems appropriate the emporium’s Fairfield store observed National Jelly Bean Day by unveiling a portrait of founder Jim Bonaminio made entirely of the sugar-glazed candy. With 72 flavors to choose from, Jungle Jim’s has one of the nation’s largest Jelly Belly displays, and the unique portrait of “Jungle” Jim Bonaminio wearing a safari hat with a snake wrapped around his neck is an instant eye-catcher. Created by Jelly Belly resident artist Kristen Cumings, the portrait is made of 12,000 jellybeans and took nearly three weeks to complete. The portrait is so big it had to be hauled by truck from California. “It came packed just like a painting,” says Jim Bonaminio’s son Jimmy. “There are only 50 of these in the world.” 5440 Dixie Hwy., Fairfield 45014, 513/674-6000, junglejims.com

Zoo Addition
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo executive director Chris Kuhar sounds like a father who is taking his young kids to the playground for the first time when talking about Asian Highlands which opened in June 2018. “When we built the snow leopard space, we wanted to provide the animals an opportunity to climb,” Kuhar says. “From the beginning … they were all over the place. They made us a little nervous at first.” The 1.3-acre, $5.8-million addition is home to Amur and snow leopards, red pandas and a new species to the zoo, takin. With climbing structures, elevated platforms and overhead tunnels, the design of the space enhances both the animals’ lives and the visitor experience. “I love the overhead passage above the moon gate at the visitors’ entrance when the cats pass over,” says Kuhar. “It’s a great view, especially with the colorful conservation flags also displayed there.” 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland 44109, 216/661-6500, clevelandmetroparks.com/zoo

Readers’ Pick: Winter Destination
Mad River Mountain

Before 1962, Mad River Mountain was just a hilly portion of Zanesfield. Today, the Logan County ski resort serves as a hub of winter sports and plenty of fresh white powder. Thanks to Ohio’s largest snow-making system, you won’t have to rely on winter’s whims to enjoy a day on the slopes. “There might not be any snow in Columbus or Dayton or any of the cities, but we have 3 to 10 feet of snow on the hill,” says Mad River Mountain general manager Josh Faber. “It’s hard to relay that message to people: It’s always winter here.

Skiing: Whether you’re wearing a pair of skis for the first time or the slopes are your second home, Mad River Mountain has options for you. “We have a lot of beginner terrain, which is terrific,” Faber says. “The Midwest is known for creating skiers.” Downhill skiers can choose from 20 different runs, ranging from the easy Sundowner to the difficult Sugarbush. Four different terrain parks cater to skiers and snowboarders of all ages with a mix of boxes, rails and small and large jumps.

Tubing: For those who aren’t quite ready to strap on skis, Mad River Mountain offers tubing, essentially “glorified sledding” according to Faber. The resort has 10 unique tubing lanes at its Avalanche Tubing Park from which riders can slide down a 1,000-foot chute on one of Mad River Mountain’s 600 inner tubes. Visitors can pay for tubing sessions lasting up to three hours, which Faber says is enough time to properly enjoy each tubing lane. “It’s not a boring ride, that’s for sure,” he says. A conveyor-belt system transports riders and their tubes back up the hill for more fun.

The Lodge: Sure, most of the action is outdoors at Mad River Mountain, but there’s also plenty going on at the resort’s new lodge, which was completed in 2016. Live music takes the stage every Saturday night in The Loft Bar, which has 20 beers on tap. The lodge’s lower level offers a menu of casual favorites ranging from salads to cheeseburgers and french fries. “There’s definitely a following that just goes up to The Loft,” Faber says. “They’re there to hear live music, see their friends, possibly have an adult beverage and just watch the skiers.”

1000 Snow Valley Rd., Zanesfield 43360, 800/231-7669, skimadriver.com

See our full list of 2019 Best of Ohio Readers’ Ballot winners here.

Sports Park
With 10 playing fields, a sky ropes obstacle course, mini golf and admission to Cedar Point, Sports Force Parks has turned the kids’ sports tournament into a family getaway. Since the outdoor sports complex opened in 2017, it has played host to more than 4,000 teams. The artificial fields allows for soccer, softball and lacrosse playing even after heavy rains. “People are blown away when they come here,” says Will Spence, Sports Force Parks regional manager. “It’s not like anything you see anywhere else.” In between games, families can ride the coasters at Cedar Point and visit other popular vacation spots in the area. “Sports tourism is a booming business,” Spence says. “This is a chance to extend people’s time together.” 3115 Cleveland Rd. W., Sandusky 44870, 419/502-2524, sfpsandusky.com


Readers’ Pick: Craft Brewery 
Rhinegeist Brewery

Rhinegeist Brewery’s home in the former Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. bottling plant on Elm Street in Cincinnati is a perfect fit for a craft-beer-maker that embraces the spirit of the city’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The building is an enormous space that not only houses the huge tanks used to ready favorite brews for loyal fans but also provides lots of fun, from giant Connect Four to special events to a seasonal rooftop with great views of the city. “When you walk into the [taproom] it almost feels like an indoor-outdoor space because of the skylights and how massive the room is,” says Katie Alsip, Brand Experience Manager for Rhinegeist Brewery. “Working here, you almost feel an obligation to do something really cool with it.”

The Games: First-time visitors will immediately notice the foosball tables and cornhole boards. “A lot of it was space based. “We’ve added a lot of tables and other things to reduce that footprint a little,” taproom general manager Jon Colasurd says of making games available to customers. “But it’s also to give people something to do.” The taproom also hosts whiffle ball leagues on Mondays and dodgeball leagues on Tuesdays. 

The Rooftop: The brewery’s rooftop opened for its first full season in 2016, offering an outdoor space to hang out once the weather heats up. “We have 360-degree views up there that are really cool, “Colasurd says. “There are not a lot of tall buildings around us, so you can view south into the city, you get the hills, and we have amazing sunsets.” Patrons can enjoy wine and cocktails not available downstairs in a space that’s down-to-earth and comfortable. “We wanted it to be just as accessible as the taproom,” Alsip says. 

The Events: Rhinegeist Brewery knows how to party, be it New Year’s Eve, the brewery’s annual anniversary celebration or events like the Dad Day party in which attendees are encouraged to wear plaid to match the design on the can of Rhinegeist’s hoppy holiday ale named Dad. Then there’s the time the Cincinnati Museum Center loaned the taproom a dinosaur in 2018. “One of their paleontologists brought us a Galeamopus, a 60-foot-long, more than 80-percent complete fossil,” Colasurd recalls. “We made an enclosure for it at one of the ends of our space, and we had it up for five months.”

1910 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202, 513/381-1367, rhinegeist.com

our full list of 2019 Best of Ohio Readers’ Ballot winners here.


Endurance Biking 
The Mohican Mountain Bike 100 is no ride in the park. Actually, the race does take participants through portions of the 1,110-acre Mohican State Park and 4,525-acre Mohican-Memorial State Forest. So, let’s just say it’s not an easy ride in the park. The anticipated 700 participants in this year’s June 1 race will travel through parts of three counties and over varied terrain as they wind their way through the 100-mile course that begins in Loudonville. “About 50 to 60 percent of the race is single track, defined as 12-to-18-inches wide,” explains race director Ryan O’Dell. “That’s what racers want. Those are more challenging, but more fun. Mohican is one of the oldest races of its kind and we bring in people from all over the country.” The 100-mile race is part of the National Ultra Endurance Series and has attracted elite mountain-bike racers such as Jeremiah Bishop and Amanda Carey. A shorter, 100-kilometer option provides an alternative for tackling the course. “I’d say most riders are out there to challenge themselves and not to beat the champions,” O’Dell says. mohican.net

Maple Festival
What’s not to like about a free breakfast? Add to that pancakes shaped like American flags, turtles and other animals, and you’ve got an idea of what to expect at the Craft Maple Festival held at Bissell Maple Farm. Nate Bissell, the sixth-generation owner-operator of his family’s farm, oversees a business that successfully combines modern maple-syrup-production technology with the much-loved traditional sights, sounds and smells of old-fashioned sugaring. His free, family-friendly inaugural gathering in October 2018 featured farm tours, maple vendors, kids activities and even a maple syrup dunk tank, but that was only part of the fun. There was also a ticketed dinner the night before at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds featuring craft maple beers from breweries like Goose Island Beer Co. and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., as well as northeast Ohio’s Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. and Market Garden Brewery. “[Brewers] fly in from all around the country for this event, which is different than what other maple festivals offer,” Bissell says. Bissell Maple Farm, 82 W. Ashtabula St., Jefferson 44047, 440/563-3263, bissellmaplefarm.com

Rural Murals
The Frankfort Dairy Cone in Ross County is adding to its reputation of being more than just a popular place for sweet treats. Chillicothe-based mural artist Pamela Kellough has transformed the outside of the shop into a 66-foot-long tableau of the town’s history. The stunning work includes a large sunflower honoring the area’s agriculture, the Ross County Fair and the town’s annual Sunflower Festival. Shawnee Native Americans and local landmarks are included in the montage. Kellough, who has painted murals for over 25 years, created a similar work in the Ross County town of Bainbridge. She pores over history books and photographs to ensure accuracy. “I research like crazy because I like a mural to follow the history of places and people that existed before,” she says. “I want to create questions for people to learn the answers to.” pamelakelloughmurals.com

Kids Garden
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens began offering children and their families a new way to connect with nature when it opened the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden last year. A canopy walk, nature play zone and a replica of terrain inspired by the Hocking Hills are several of the features open year-round in the 2-acre green space. The garden also contains wetlands ideal for exploring after a rainstorm and offers discovery stations where kids can learn about insects, flowers and the colors of nature. “Children spend a lot of time with technology,” says Bruce Harkey, president and CEO of Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. “The goal of our garden is to help young people reconnect with nature and get involved in the kind of creative play that helps build strong, strategic minds for the future.” 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus 43203, 614/715-8000, fpconservatory.org

Star Park 
Since the dawn of time, the night sky has served as a muse for poets and painters, and the John Glenn Astronomy Park at Hocking Hills State Park offers a remote place to take that enjoyment to new heights. “The John Glenn Astronomy Park gives visitors a chance to connect with our grand universe in a place that is far from the veil of city lights,” says Brad Hoehne, the park’s director. Named after the late United States senator, who was also the first American to orbit the earth in 1962, the park features telescopes from which to view the night sky as it changes with the seasons. There’s also an interactive sundial, an 80-foot-wide circular observing plaza that symbolizes the scale of the sun, a bench representing the relative size of Jupiter and a sculpture that shows how small Earth is in relation to the rest of these objects. Notches around the plaza wall catch sunrise and sunset on the winter and summer solstices and spring and fall equinoxes. 20531 St. Rte. 664, Logan 43138, jgap.info

Readers’ Pick: Amish Country Food
Dutchman Hospitality 

What began as a 75-seat restaurant in Walnut Creek in 1969 has since grown into multiple destinations for Amish Country-inspired cooking. The Walnut Creek-based Dutchman Hospitality chain has five Ohio restaurants and one in Florida. (Four operate under the Der Dutchman banner, while the one in Sugarcreek operates as Dutch Valley Restaurants and the one in Berlin goes by the name Berlin Farmstead Restaurant.) All locations offer an on-site bakery and gift shop, while the Sugarcreek location also has the Ohio Star Theater and Dutch Valley Market on its campus. “We want to give people dining in our restaurants an opportunity to enjoy more things and make it a trip,” says Mike Miller, director of restaurant operations for Dutchman Hospitality. Still, the food is king, and here are three great ways to enjoy it.  

Belly Up to the Buffet: The expansive buffet is the most popular option at Dutchman Hospitality restaurants, with roughly 60 percent of diners choosing it, Miller says. The option allows guests to sample from across the expansive menu, which includes Amish Country fare such as broasted chicken, noodles, mashed potatoes and stuffing as well as house-made sides such as macaroni salad, potato salad and coleslaw. “You get to try a little bit of everything,” says Miller. “People leave full.” 

Dine Family Style: For those who want a more traditional experience, Dutchman Hospitality offers family-style dining. Groups choose from just chicken, two meats or three meats, as well as sides, rolls and choice of drink. The meal is charged per person, and this style of dining is available to larger groups as well. “It’s served family style in big bowls and they can pass [them] around the table and share,” Miller explains. “It’s all you can eat, and nobody goes home hungry.”  

Save Room For Dessert: Even if you normally skip dessert, you’ll want to rethink that choice given each Dutchman Hospitality location’s 18 flavors of pie, all made in house. Choices range from classics such as apple, cherry and blueberry to fun creations such as butterscotch, raisin and coconut. But each Dutchman Hospitality location also has ice cream sundaes, a cake of the day, bread pudding and more. “We want to give people a good variety to choose from,” Miller says. 

For information about Dutchman Hospitality restaurant locations, visit dhgroup.com.

our full list of 2019 Best of Ohio Readers’ Ballot winners here.


Outdoor Destination 
Ohio’s newest state park, named for the state’s history-making athlete who raced to glory in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, is a reclamation success story. The 5,735-acre Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area in McConnelsville offers a wealth of outdoor recreation, ranging from hunting and fishing to hiking and camping. Once a surface coal mine owned by what is now American Electric Power, the land is today filled with brush and seasonal wetlands that are home to deer, rabbits, wild turkeys, waterfowl and shorebirds. Ponds and waterways contain bass, bluegill and catfish. “AEP passed the torch … and provided the chance to improve the park for wildlife enthusiasts,” says Adam Sikora, the park’s manager. Picnic areas, two primitive campgrounds and Miners Memorial Park, where the 240-ton bucket from Big Muskie, the largest dragline excavator ever built, are added attractions. parks.ohiodnr.gov/jesseowens 
Hotel with History 
Guests who check into the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel get more than a magnificent view of the waterfront and plush amenities. The 241-room hotel honors the city’s history and culture by celebrating four themes that made it famous: a color scheme of blue, green and brown waves emulate the Maumee River; room numbers are framed as dog tags to salute the TV show “M*A*S*H” and its co-star Toledo native Jamie Farr; the stemware in the restaurant is made by Toledo-based Libbey (acknowledging the town’s Glass City moniker); and an original Willys Jeep is parked in the lobby as a nod to the vehicle’s production beginning in Toledo in 1941. “Locals come through, and their eyes light up because they get it right away,” says Brian Crooks, the hotel’s assistant general manager. “But what’s most fun is telling the story of our city to visitors who have never been here.” 444 N. Summit St., Toledo 43604, 419/244-2444, marriott.com

Sweet Road Trip
When it comes to desserts, it doesn’t get much more Ohio than the buckeye: the classic peanut butter fudge ball partially dipped in chocolate. To celebrate this sweet favorite, the idea of a statewide Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail was originated by the Ohio Tourism Leadership Academy, an Ohio Travel Association organization that helps develop new leaders in the industry. Marketed by the Miami County Visitors & Convention Bureau, the statewide route highlights candy shops that artfully merge chocolate and peanut butter. “We were looking for shops with a rich family history that created and sold the candies right in their store,” says Leiann Stewart, group sales manager with Miami County Visitors & Convention Bureau. “We started with 31 and we’re planning to add more.” homegrowngreat.com

Country Apparel
Lena Schlabach founded her clothing line to reflect a variety of influences — urban farmhouse, boho, shabby chic, cottage and prairie styles — with the aim of making any woman who wears one of her creations feel beautiful. “My two daughters and I create the styles, an Amish seamstress makes the pattern, and then Amish women sew the pieces,” explains Schlabach, who launched Farmhouse Frocks in 2014. “It allows them to work at home while helping to support their families.” A retail store, which will move two doors down the street this month, opened in 2015 and Schlabach says the business has a strong online following. Farmhouse Frocks’ comfortable, stylish clothing runs in sizes 5 to 28. Schlabach’s favorite is the Rita Romper with its two-tie knot adjustable straps that looks terrific on women of all shapes and sizes. Farmhouse Frocks closed in 2023. Follow along on Instagram or visit the website for owner Lena Schlabach's next venture. farmhousefrocks.com

Winery Revival
Once one of the largest winemakers in the country, Lonz Winery is back — only this time instead of being a winery, it’s serving as the iconic centerpiece of Middle Bass Island State Park. Last summer was the historic building’s first full season in operation since closing in 2000, and it’s quickly become a gathering place to enjoy breathtaking views of Lake Erie and neighboring South Bass Island. Since the renovated structure reopened, it’s also been the site of weddings and a popular music festival. Visitors are invited to tour the expansive wine cellars — some of which date back to the Civil War — and see relics from winemaking days, including a press, casks and bottling machines. “It’s a very unique venue,” says Eric Heis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which runs the park. “It’s special having that view over the lake. The residents are all very excited that it’s open again.”1719 Fox Rd., Middle Bass Island, 43446, parks.ohiodnr.gov/middlebassisland

Mental Museum
The psychograph was a popular machine in hotel lobbies and movie theaters during the 1920s and ’30s. A wire basket placed over a person’s head measured bumps and contours as a way to determine the subject’s mental faculties. The psychograph’s popularity waned quickly, but a rare version of this device is one of more than 1,200 objects in the collection of the National Museum of Psychology at the University of Akron. “We have 53 years of collecting here and donors from all over the world,” says David Baker, executive director of the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Akron. The exhibits examine the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, race and gender, social norms and more. “Animal Subjects in Psychology Research,” a new exhibit for 2019, looks at the role rats, pigeons and other animals played in the field. Although visitors can’t try the psychograph, there are interactive elements, such as the opportunity to kick back for a moment on a replica of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud’s couch. 73 S. College St., Akron 44325, 330/972-7285, uakron.edu

Honor Wall
Justin Boehme always looked up to his grandfather, Eugene, and followed in the World War II veteran’s footsteps by joining the military himself. After serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Boehme decided to honor his grandfather in another way: He opened Eugene’s Canteen in Columbus’ Short North Arts District. The spot is known for its food and goods (courtesy of Preston’s: A Burger Joint and pop-up retailers), drinks and billiards but also something else.  Eugene’s Canteen’s Wall of Heroes is covered with pictures of men and women in uniform from various generations, and Boehme invites customers to bring in a framed picture of themselves or loved ones who served to help the tribute grow. “We offer a safe space for veterans with reasonable prices on food and drinks,” Boehme says. 765 N. High St., Columbus 43215, 614/826-3739, eugenescanteen.com

New View
The breathtaking vistas found on the National Veterans Memorial and Museum rooftop provide visitors an inspiring and tranquil place to take in the striking Columbus skyline, the beauty of the Scioto River and the poignant 2.5-acre Memorial Grove of trees honoring veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Visitors walk to the top by way of a curved, ascending pathway that’s part of the building’s design. “We wanted to create this sacred space that not only has a great view but also provides a reflective opportunity,” says Amy Taylor, chief operating officer at the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., which was a partner on the project. The rooftop incorporates a grass surface and can hold up to 1,000 people, making it an outdoor gathering space as well as a place for visitors to contemplate the veterans’ stories the new museum honors. 300 W. Broad St., Columbus 43215, 888/987-6866, nationalvmm.org

Butterfly Bungalow
A charming pink and green house is the centerpiece of the children’s garden at the aptly named Smiley Park in Van Wert. During the summer, the house is full of monarch and swallowtail butterflies. A butterfly-shaped garden with various types of milkweed — the only plant monarch caterpillars eat — surrounds the house. The 1-acre garden is managed through a partnership between master gardeners and the Van Wert Parks and Recreation Department. Each summer, the park offers a variety of free programs for kids, and at Christmastime the garden sets the stage for a holiday light display. “Kids absolutely love it,” says Rachel Hoverman, Van Wert County Master Gardeners program coordinator. “It’s a chance for them to witness nature up close. They can witness all the life cycle of the butterflies.”1425 Leeson Ave., Van Wert 45891, 419/238-1214, vanwertparksrecreation.weebly.com


Movie Magic 
In the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” all viewers see of the Bumpus family are their hound dogs. Now, visitors to the Cleveland home the movie made famous can book a stay next door at a house inspired by the Parker family’s notorious neighbors. Because viewers never see the inside of the Bumpus House in the movie, the look and feel of the place came from the imagination of A Christmas Story House & Museum executive assistant Jennifer Hoffine. “It’s beautifully designed, and it’s a beautiful place to stay,” says Steven Intermill, curator of A Christmas Story House & Museum. “We lovingly refer to it as ‘hillbilly chic,’ but it’s way more chic.” Visitors can rent a four-person suite, a six-person suite or the entire home and enjoy 1940s-era decor that includes a stained-glass depiction of a Bumpus hound and “A Christmas Story”-themed quilts. Sorry, no dogs allowed. 3153 W. 11th St., Cleveland 44109, 216/298-4919, achristmasstoryhouse.com

Themed Cocktails From the Jungle Jack Hanna (orange vodka, pineapple juice, cranberry juice and 7-Up) to the Columbus Gin Fizz (a mix of Columbus-made Watershed Distillery gin, St. Germain and ginger beer), Tip Top Kitchen and Cocktails embraces a capital-city theme with its concoctions. The offerings continue to grow and adapt to seasonal tastes with additions like the Cozy Cardinal, a blend of cinnamon, cherry-infused Bulleit bourbon and root beer. Or you could partake in one of bar manager Keith Thompson’s favorites: Flytown Pick-Me-Up, a cocktail crafted with Ohio maple syrup, Old Crow whiskey and ginger ale. “When the owners opened it over 10 years ago, they decided focusing on Ohio history was important,” explains Thompson. “Being so close to the Statehouse and all the rich Ohio heritage, it seemed like a great fit.” 73 E. Gay St., Columbus 43215, 614/221-8300, tiptopcolumbus.com