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Best of Ohio 2020

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

Find our full list of 2020 Best of Ohio Readers’ Ballot winners here.

Tiny Cabins:
Going off the grid doesn’t have to mean roughing it. Getaway’s Beaver Creek Outpost opened in 2019 with 36 tiny cabins, tucked across 59 acres in Columbiana County. “I was looking for a way to have more balance in my life after somehow burning out at 25 years old,” says Getaway co-founder and CEO Jon Staff, who opened the first Getaway outpost north of Boston in 2015. “Now, the vision and the mission is to allow everybody to have mindful, disconnected experiences in nature.” Beaver Creek is one of nine Getaway outposts across the country. The two-to-four-person, minimalistic cabins are complete with basics such as a small kitchen, toilet, hot shower, queen beds and a fire-starter kit, as well as novelties like a deck of cards and books for when you power down your electronics. The highlight of it all? The nearly wall-size 84-by-69-inch window showcasing the uninterrupted foliage. 45529 Middle Beaver Rd., Lisbon 44432, getaway.house

Visitors Center: Did you know that the quartzite rocks embedded in the sandstone at Hocking Hills’ Whispering Cave sparkle in the light of the full moon? That’s just one fun fact you’ll learn at the new 8,500-square-foot Hocking Hills Visitors Center, which was completed in summer 2019. With dramatic timbered gables and wide verandas that cover an additional 5,000 square feet outside, the center is the perfect spot for visitors to get an overview of the many recreational possibilities nearby. Exhibits cover the flora, fauna, history and geology of the region and give ample details about the many trails connecting attractions like Old Man’s Cave, Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs and Cedar Falls. “Visitors learn about trail distances, terrain and the estimated time for each hike,” says Pat Quackenbush, a naturalist at Hocking Hills State Park. “Then they can make educated choices based on their own abilities and the amount of time they have.” Located at the Old Man’s Cave area of the park; 19852 St. Rte. 664 S., Logan 43138, 740/279-1177, explorehockinghills.com

Cincy Book Bus (photo courtesy of Cincy Book Bus)
Book Bus: Calling to mind the excitement many of us felt during our elementary school’s annual book fair, the Cincy Book Bus — a curated bookstore on wheels driven by retired teacher Melanie Moore — is bringing that joy to readers of all ages. Moore always dreamed of owning her own bookstore. After reading Parnassus on Wheels, a 1917 novel about a horse-drawn bookstore, Moore slid into the driver’s seat of her husband’s 1962 Volkswagen pickup truck and took off. With new and gently used books she finds during her travels in tow, she motors to Cincinnati-area locations ranging from markets to coffee shops and sets up. “I try to get things that are unique, find appealing covers, maybe special editions of classics and just quality literature,” Moore says. “I find things you can’t get at a local bookstore or even on the internet.” facebook.com/cincybookbus

Winery Hotel: The Villas at Gervasi Vineyard are a northeast Ohio favorite, with their luxurious guest rooms built around a shared central living area and outdoor patios along a lake. So, last spring, the Canton winery unveiled 24 more individual rooms that bring The Villas’ high-end touches, such as heated floors and fireplaces, to a more private setting in The Casa. “While the shareable space [of The Villas] works 98 or 99 percent of the time, it’s not for everyone,” says Scott Swaldo, general manager at Gervasi Vineyard. “Some people are looking for a more quiet, private, romantic getaway.” The Casa does have a grand lobby, two side lobbies and a large outdoor firepit where guests can mingle if they so choose. Or they can opt to take a short walk over to the Still House, an on-site distillery that serves as a cafe by day and a cocktail lounge by night. 1700 55th St. NE, Canton 44721, 330/497-1000, gervasivineyard.com

Cruffin: Downtown Delaware’s Fresh Start Cafe and Bakery has a lot of impressive-looking pastries in its glass case each morning, but none are as attention-getting or as unusual as its hulking cruffins. Crafted in a variety of rotating flavors (call after 7 a.m. to see what they’re making on any given day), ranging from raspberry rhubarb to chocolate chip cookie dough to peanut butter buckeye. The nearly softball-size hybrid of a muffin and croissant embraces the best qualities of each, with the flaky and delicate dough making for an easily devourable a.m. treat. (Be careful, we ate two in one sitting without a problem.) So how does one come up with such a creation? “It’s just the people in the kitchen working through what’s hot and new and putting together something that’s not the usual,” says Fresh Start Cafe and Bakery owner Todd Daughenbaugh. 24 N. Sandusky St., Delaware 43015, 740/990-0388, instagram.com/freshstartcafeandbakery

Couple at Bear's Mill (photo by Timothy Clopp)
Readers’ Pick Winner: Historic Site

Bear’s Mill
One of the few operating water-powered mills left in Ohio sits along Greenville Creek in Darke County. Completed in 1849, Bear’s Mill stands four stories tall and still processes grain and flour, powered by the water that runs through the millrace below the structure. Through both guided and self-guided tours, visitors can take a step back in time and witness how a late 1800s mill operated.

The History: Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, Bear’s Mill has a long and storied past. Moses and Manning Hart began building it in 1848 before selling the structure to Pennsylvania miner Gabriel Baer, who continued construction with his son, John, and his son in-law, Emanuel Hershey. The men completed the mill in 1849 — including the 10-foot-deep, hand-dug millrace — and began operation in January 1850. “It’s used for grinding grain into flour or corn into cornmeal,” says Kimberly Rudnick, outreach director for Friends of Bear’s Mill. “It is still in operation today, and it’s always been used for that purpose.”

The Setting: Walking paths meander among the sycamores and black walnut trees that line Greenville Creek. There, visitors will find a memorial to Darke County residents who died in the Vietnam War. Terry Clark, Bear’s Mill’s master miller and a Vietnam veteran, created the memorial using the old dome from the Darke County Courthouse. Inside the mill, visitors can see the original hand-hewn timber framework as well as the original buhrstones Baer purchased from France for $6,000 each, which are still used today.

The Experience: A pamphlet and signs guide visitors through the mill’s history and how it operates. Guided tours are run by Clark. “It’s very informational, and he does a good job of keeping visitors engaged,” says Rudnick. After the tour, step into the Mill Store, which sells made-on-site flour and cornmeal, unique kitchen items and local products that fit the mill’s rustic atmosphere. There’s also an art gallery that shows work nine months of the year. 

6450 Arcanum Bears Mill Rd., Greenville 45331, 937/548-5112, bearsmill.org

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Cannaley Village Treehouses (photo courtesy of Cannaley Treehouse Village)
Treehouses: You’ve just found the treehouse of your dreams. Starting in May 2020, you can spend the night in the treetops at Metroparks Toledo’s Oak Openings. The $1.53 million Cannaley Treehouse Village will be the largest treehouse village in a public park in the U.S., according to project team member and Metroparks Toledo director of public relations Scott Carpenter. The village will offer two two-person treehouses, one four-person house and one six-person house. There will also be three tent/hammock platforms for camping and a common-area treehouse that’s available to rent for events (Metroparks Toledo will also use the space for nature programs). The park’s crew built the treehouse village after consulting with Nelson Treehouse and Supply of the Animal Planet show “Treehouse Masters.” “It captures the imagination of kids of all ages who may have memories of playing in a treehouse or always wanted to,” Carpenter says. “It’s like you’re inside a storybook.” 3520 Waterville-Swanton Rd., Swanton 43558, 419/407-9700, metroparkstoledo.com

Toy Store: Michael Yeso, who co-owns Deluxe Toy & Hobby in Martins Ferry with his wife Constance, admits toys have changed since his in-laws opened the store in 1955. Hula hoops and View-Masters have been replaced by robot coding kits and Nintendo. But, he adds, that doesn’t mean toys his parents and grandparents played with are out of date. “Classics never go out of style,” Yeso says, adding that Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys and wooden blocks are among his best sellers. “Like a plant needs sunshine, children need toys to grow ... These kinds of toys encourage them to interact with their eyes and fingers and hone fine-motor skills.” Although animatronic must-haves are here, so are the toys that span generations: stuffed animals, model kits, puzzles and the 300-plus board games that are ideal for family game nights. “We’re in the smile business,” Yeso says. “We’re here to make memories.” 501 Hanover St., Martins Ferry 43935, 740/633-2875 

Cheese Trail: The Buckeye State has a freshly launched Ohio Cheese Trail, offering a yellow brick road full of tasty creations that’s putting Ohio’s cheesemakers on the map — literally. But the visual directory of nearly two dozen Ohio Cheese Guild members isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B to Point C. It also helps foodies discover both the long-established and brand-new cheesemakers whose passion it is to transform Ohio’s fine milk into exquisite foods. “We’re not always thought of as a cheese state,” says Tracy Enslen, secretary of the Ohio Cheese Guild, a nonprofit that advocates artisan and specialty cheesemaking by way of events and classes. Visit the Ohio Cheese Guild’s website to see the stops along the trail and be aware that not all locations have an on-site store. (Check the website and Facebook pages of individual cheesemakers to learn more about the offerings at each location.) ohiocheeseguild.org

Rookwood Pottery Fionacorn (photo courtesy of Rookwood Pottery)
Art for a Cause: A baby hippo is an unlikely symbol of admiration and perseverance, but in January 2017, when Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden six weeks early and weighing just 29 pounds, her story took the city and country by storm. She quickly earned a spot among Cincinnati’s icons, so it’s particularly fitting that Rookwood Pottery, an iconic city institution, decided to honor Fiona’s tenacity with a commemorative figurine: the Fionacorn. The white hippo sculpture, which measures 5 inches long by 3.75 inches high and features a 22-karat gold lustered horn, retails for $68. The piece is both whimsical and altruistic since 20 percent of each sale is donated to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. “I think Fiona has a heartwarming story that caught everybody’s attention and gave them a sense of hope they hadn’t had in a while,” says Fionacorn artist Gary Simon. 1920 Race St., Cincinnati 45202, 513/381-2510, rookwood.com/fiona2019

Wildlife Spot: Nestled on a small parcel of land just over the Catawba Island causeway, West Harbor Landing offers public fishing access, canoe and kayak launches and a wildlife-watching spot in a pristine wetland. The 16-acre site is a satellite nature area of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and opened in 2018 through a partnership between the Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Catawba Island Garden Club. Located in a heavily traveled area of Catawba Island Township, just outside Port Clinton, West Harbor Landing gives access to one of the most visible Lake Erie marshes in the region. “It’s tremendously important to connect the public with the resources we’ve been entrusted to manage,” says Jason Lewis, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge manager. “Not only is it a great site for people who want to come out and birdwatch and canoe or kayak, but for anglers, too. … We want people to enjoy it.” 273 NE Catawba Rd., Catawba Island 43452. friendsofottawanwr.org

Airplane Watching: The new Austin E. Knowlton Executive Terminal and Aviation Learning Center at The Ohio State University Airport marks a vast improvement over the former 1930s-era structure. Upgrades combine the terminal, offices, classrooms and public meeting spaces under one roof and offer visitors opportunities to indulge their love of aviation. A 1940 Piper Cub hangs from the lobby ceiling, while the walls are lined with paraphernalia highlighting Ohio’s role in aviation and aeronautical history. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford 180-degree views of the runways, so kids of all ages can enjoy free popcorn while watching planes come and go. Airport director Doug Hammon was surprised at the response to the new meeting spaces. “We thought we’ll get a dozen events the first year,” he says. “We got a dozen the first month.” But, he jokingly adds, “The view just makes it hard to concentrate.” 2160 W. Case Rd., Columbus 43235, osuairport.org

Sauder Village Potter Mark Nafziger (photo courtesy of Sauder Village)
Readers’ Pick Winner: Ohio Artisan

Potter Mark Nafziger
Archbold’s Sauder Village invites travelers to step back in time by visiting a 235-acre living history attraction that features more than 75 historical structures in a craft village, where artisans demonstrate broom-making, blacksmithing, glassblowing and more. Among those craftspeople is resident potter Mark Nafziger, who creates functional pottery. Travelers can visit his studio to watch him work and gain insight into the process.

His Background: Nafziger grew up in Archbold, about a mile and a half from Sauder Village. He originally wanted to be a math teacher and attended Goshen College in Indiana, where he studied math and education. He soon realized teaching wasn’t for him and switched to studying art and math, thinking he may go into the field of architecture. In 1981, after completing college and moving home for the summer, Nafziger learned Sauder Village was looking for a resident potter to work on-site. “I thought, That sounds interesting, I could do that for a while. And then a while turned into 38 years.”

His Pottery: Although Nafziger occasionally makes other ceramic art pieces, he mostly creates functional kitchenware, such as cups, plates, pots and bowls, which are sold at the Sauder Village gift shop and directly out of Nafziger’s studio and other galleries. Although Nafziger didn’t expect to end up as a potter, he says he sees many similarities to architecture — what he thought he would be doing. “With architecture, it’s all about how we interact with our physical space, how we move in and out within that space,” he explains. “Functional pottery takes somewhat that same approach, it’s about how we as humans interact with this space, but on a smaller and more intimate basis.”

His Studio: You’ll find Nafziger’s studio under the name Brush Creek Pottery on the Sauder Village campus, and it’s located in one of the living history attraction’s main craft buildings. A visit to his studio shows pieces of pottery in all stages of creation. “I feel very fortunate that the things that I enjoy making, people seem to enjoy and want to buy,” Nafziger says. “You know, that’s just very gratifying, to find that connection with other people.”

Sauder Village’s 2020 regular season opens on April 29. 26211 St. Rte. 2, Archbold 43502, 800/590-9755, saudervillage.org

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St. Anne the Tart Dessert Table (photo by H&R Fotostudio)

Rustic Bakery: The St. Anne’s Hill neighborhood near downtown Dayton is a charming historical district full of 19th-century homes, ample shade trees and eclectic eateries. St. Anne the Tart, a bakery and coffee shop, moved into a century-old former violin shop in the neighborhood in 2019, and the rustic-chic, Instagram-worthy spot has already turned into a second living room for many Dayton residents. Founder Megan Smith previously established the international magazine and networking brand Cake & Whiskey before settling in Dayton and opening her eatery focused on nostalgic seasonal baked goods. “I’m letting the city and community dictate to us what they need and want,” says Smith. The cafe’s name ruffled a few feathers at first, but Smith says it’s more playful than irreverent. “It’s a little cheeky. For us it has a lot of good feels.” 1500 E. Fifth St., Dayton 45403, 937/259-8663, stannethetart.com

Living Legacy: When the Prayers from Maria Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation planted a field of sunflowers visible from Interstate 90 in Avon in 2013, the goal was to raise awareness for childhood cancer. Maria’s Field of Hope was so stunning and so effective at sharing its message that Cedar Point amusement park approached the foundation about planting another sunflower field near its Sandusky entrance. The 8-acre Cedar Point field opened last summer and features thousands upon thousands of sunflowers in seemingly endless rows of blooms that delight visitors, who come from across the United States and the world. “It was a perfect fit for us because Cedar Point is a place that celebrates being a child, and we are a children’s foundation,” says Deborah Durbin, foundation director of development. “Once [visitors] enter, they become very moved by the purpose of the field, which is to honor children who have been lost to cancer.” Sandusky: next to Cedar Point’s Express Hotel, 1201 Cedar Point Dr., Sandusky 44870; Avon: corner of Chester and Jaycox roads, Avon 44011, prayersfrommaria.org

Art Experience: Forty-seven rooms lit with more than 190,000 LED bulbs and 50-plus projectors feature interactive art exhibits you can climb into, swing on and submerge yourself in. They are all part of Otherworld’s 32,000 square feet of interactive science fiction and fantasy art pieces created by more than 40 artists. The front desk will tell you to touch every nonfragile-looking thing while you roam free, exploring the spaces — and they mean it. If you don’t, you may miss a hidden passageway, unexpected musical instrument or surprise light effect. “Be curious,” says operations director John Umland. “There are secrets and interactive elements spread throughout Otherworld. Each week, small changes and additions are made, and large changes are made once or twice a year.” Each room holds new discoveries as well as potential otherworldly backdrops for your social media profile photo. 5819 Chantry Dr., Columbus 43232, 614/868-3631, otherworldohio.com

Buckeye Hotel: There’s an immediately detectable theme at Columbus’ new Graduate Hotel. A mural of Ohio State University sports legends adorns the wall behind the front desk, and a chandelier of silver-plated instruments saluting The Best Damn Band In The Land hangs from the ceiling. There’s even a friendly bulldog — named Scarlet Ann Gray — who greets visitors while wearing a little plaid skirt. Like other Graduate hotels in college towns like Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, the Columbus property pays homage to the powerhouse university just up the street but also stretches beyond campus. Decorative items honor local icons such as James Thurber and Wendy’s, and duvets replicating Ohio’s iconic state flag adorn the beds in all 171 guest rooms. “Our design celebrates Ohio pride,” says Annamarie Moore, the Graduate’s general manager. “We welcome guests to explore and learn something new.” 750 N. High St., Columbus 43215, 614/484-1900, graduatehotels.com/columbus

Watershed Distillery Spirits (photo courtesy of Watershed Distillery)
Readers’ Pick Winner: Ohio Distillery

Watershed Distillery
Watershed Distillery is just shy of a decade old, but it feels like it’s been around much longer. Originally known for its signature gin, the Columbus-based distillery has since grown to include an adjacent restaurant, Watershed Kitchen & Bar, with an ever-changing lineup of cocktail concoctions and seasonally inspired food. The distillery prides itself on sourcing from local suppliers and building community around its products, which is the way it got its start. “When we made the spirits, it wasn’t just us sitting around tasting them. We were out there working with the community,” says Watershed Distillery CEO Greg Lehman. “There’s something really exciting and cool to be a part of it as a consumer.” 

The History: Established in 2010, Watershed Distillery was the brainchild of Greg Lehman and Dave Rigo. The two entrepreneurs wanted to craft a new and unique spirit, leading to the creation of Watershed Distillery’s classic Four Peel Gin, followed by its vodka. “[People] were excited about us doing it in Columbus,” says Lehman. “It was really cool to see that support. That really helped us get established.” After a year and a half, Lehman and Rigo turned their full-time attention to the distillery. In 2018, Lehman and 10 silent investors bought out Rigo’s share of the business.

The Spirits: The distillery has not only spent the past decade perfecting its citrus-tinged Four Peel Gin, it’s added six more spirits. From its vodka (made with Ohio and Indiana corn) to its Apple Brandy (made with apples grown, pressed and fermented in Ohio), Watershed offers classic spirits with a local touch. One of its more unique creations is its bottled Old Fashioned. “When I hear bottled cocktail, it doesn’t sound great,” Lehman says. “But our team came up with a delicious recipe.”

The Restaurant:
In 2017, the business became the first distillery in Ohio to open a restaurant, hiring Jack Moore as its executive chef. The kitchen and bar work hand in hand, pairing seasonal flavors with enticing and creative cocktails. Diners are given a well-thought-out drink menu with varying themes that make selecting a cocktail fun. “The nice thing is, if you come in and are handed this menu with a bunch of drinks on it, and if you have this deer-in-the-headlights look, your server does a really nice job asking you what you normally like to drink,” Lehman says. 

1145 Chesapeake Ave. Suite D, Columbus 43212, 614/357-1936, watersheddistillery.com

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The Garage at Rock and Rock Hall of Fame (photo by Eduardo Olmeda)

Jam Pad: A visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has always made us want to pick up a guitar or sit down at the drums, and now you can do just that. The Garage opened last summer, inviting visitors to take a moment from their exploration of the galleries to make some music. Beginners can learn how to play a famous rock riff via a short video lesson, while those who already know how to play can jam on their favorites. “We’re a museum that’s dedicated to music, but there was no place to actually play music,” says Rock Hall vice president and chief curator Karen L. Herman. “You could see all these guitars … but you couldn’t pick one up. What’s more inspiring than being able to do that?” In addition to individual stations with drums, guitar, bass and keyboard, there’s an adjoining acoustic guitar and ukulele lounge with comfy couches as well as a separate jam space for a full band. 1100 E. Ninth St., Cleveland 44114, 216/781-7625, rockhall.com

Island SpeakeasyOne doesn’t expect to find a speakeasy at Put-in-Bay, but it’s there if you look and in plain sight. (Keep an eye out for the red light near the entrance to the Park Hotel). Red Moon feels like a well-kept secret in all the right ways, just steps from the hustle and bustle of downtown Put-in-Bay. The cocktails here are strong, made well and on par with what you’d find at speakeasy spots in larger cities (with a friendlier price tag). The drink menu spans classic cocktails and house concoctions such as the Oliver Perry (Bulleit bourbon, muddled strawberries, rhubarb syrup, egg white, lemon, lime, bitters and sugar). Located next to Put-in-Bay’s popular Round House Bar, the speakeasy draws on that connection with its engraved tabletops, which were crafted from picnic tables that provided seating for patrons of the iconic Put-in-Bay bar during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. 234 Delaware Ave., Put-in-Bay 43456, 419/285-2323, redmoonbar.com

Luxury Lodges: The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls’ nine, newly built luxury lodges offer even more variety to the business’ lineup of Hocking Hills accommodations that already includes cottages, cabins, yurts and traditional guest rooms. The spacious structures sleep between six and 24 people and, depending on the lodge, have group-friendly features ranging from arcade games and shuffle puck to ping-pong and pool tables. Each lodge has a full kitchen with high-end appliances, at least one fireplace, a hot tub and an outdoor fire pit. “We’ve tried to feature all of the comforts of home with the style and luxury of the Inn at Cedar Falls,” says owner Zac Loomis. Although the lodges are secluded, they’re located within 15 minutes of local attractions as well as the scenic hiking trails for which the region is known. 21190 St. Rte. 374, Logan 43138, 740/385-7489, innatcedarfalls.com

Poutine Machine Meal (photo courtesy of The Poutine Machine)
Poutine Truck: Cincinnati food truck The Poutine Machine elevates comfort food to the level of pure savory joy. Poutine originated in Quebec and features a base of French fries sprinkled with cheese curds and drenched in rich gravy. Co-owners Ben McCoy, Jordan McFarland and Jamie McFarland take this simple foundation in unexpected directions. “Our culinary expertise lies in slow-cooked meats, so we originally wanted to be a barbecue truck,” says McCoy. The trio has topped poutine with everything from Cincinnati-style chili to Buffalo chicken, but they’re best known for their Barbacoa with barbacoa beef, rosemary and honey Sriracha sauce. The truck’s outings to area breweries and festivals see lines of folks eager for this unique intersection of culinary comfort and creativity. “Everyone has had French fries, cheese and gravy, but maybe not all together in one dish,” says McCoy. “So, guests can try something new but also not entirely foreign to them.” 513/312-3981, facebook.com/thepoutinemachine

Zoo Addition: Inspired by the savannas of Kenya, the Akron Zoo unveiled its Pride of Africa attraction over the summer. It includes a new habitat for the zoo’s African lions as well as for its gazelle, white storks and crested guineafowl. Pride of Africa also features a boma, a livestock enclosure that members of Kenya’s Maasai tribe use to help protect their live-stock from lions. The Akron Zoo’s boma houses African pygmy and Nigerian dwarf goats, which visitors can pet and buy crackers to feed. To raise awareness, the zoo has partnered with Rebuilding the Pride, a conservation organization that aims to uphold the ecologically healthy predator-prey relationships in Africa. “This exhibit’s really special because it’s got a lot of good conservation messages throughout it,” says Akron Zoo curator of animal operations Eric Albers. “It’s a really great educational opportunity for everybody to learn more about wildlife in Africa, especially lions.” 500 Edgewood Ave., Akron 44307, 330/375-2550, akronzoo.org 

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