Slipped on Down to the Oasis

oasis01The Oasis Diner is back. It isn’t a “high place” in either price range or pretensions but neither is it a “low place”. I want to make that last point crystal clear because I met some friends there Saturday and I’m guessing it would be easy for Garth Brooks fans to get the wrong idea. These are classy friends and the Oasis is a classy place.

oasis02Created in 1954 at the Mountain View Diners Company in New Jersey, the diner immediately traveled west to spend the next sixty years on the north side of US 40, a.k.a. the National Road, in Plainfield, Indiana. There were good and not so good times and a temporary closure or two. In 2009, structural and health department issues resulted in it being closed “permanently”. Permanently, that is, for that location. Earlier this year, the original factory built part of the restaurant was moved across the road and about four miles further west where major effort went into getting it ready to reopen in November. The “DINER” and coffee cup were restored. The entire “OASIS” panel was fabricated anew to duplicate the long lost original.

oasiscoasisaMy first experience with the diner was in 2005 when I met friends Pat and Jennifer Bremer there for breakfast. At that point the Oasis sign had been gone for years and it was known as simply “The Diner” or “The US 40 Diner”. The interior picture is from a 2008 stop with Pat. That’s when I got to try the famous tenderloin sandwich.

oasis03oasis04oasis05When a firm and imminent opening date was announced, I made an online comment about a visit. The comment targeted the Bremers and a couple of other fans of old roads and the stuff beside them. Within a day or two, plans were in place for a gathering at the Oasis and on Saturday it happened. From left to right we are Damion, Garret, & Jim Grey, me, Dean Kennedy, and Pat & Jennifer Bremer. We had all heard mixed reviews that included some downright negative reports on service. The young wait staff is admittedly unpolished but we experienced no problems at all and we all gave the food (Yes, that’s a pork tenderloin next to those fresh-cut fries.) a big thumbs up. The school aged kids waiting tables and the unfavorable comments some customers have made about them made me think of the Rock Cafe on Route 66. Wait staff there is often young (some family members, some not) and their lack of poise and polish has been mentioned negatively in a few reviews. I think it’s great that they’re getting some work experience without wearing a corporate uniform.

oasis07oasis06It certainly looks like Plainfield is happy to have its diner back. It has reportedly been at least as busy as when we were there since it opened. In fact, after just a few days, the owners announced they would be closing between 2:00 and 4:00 each day to recover from the lunch crowd before the dinner crowd hit. There can be little doubt that the sometimes overwhelming crowds have contributed to the service issues some have reported. Of course, this is exactly the sort of place that the group I was with looks for and it would be fair to say that we might be more inclined than others to overlook missteps in a place like this and probably more inclined to overlook them in a diner setting than elsewhere. But the truth is, we really didn’t have any to overlook. I’m happy that the Oasis is back and I’m extra happy to see the palm trees and the big OASIS fronting the place again. I’ll be back and look forward to washing down breakfast with a cup of that coffee advertised atop the building in neon.

Celebrating Diana

diana-1I wavered on going to see Diana: A Celebration at the Cincinnati Museum Center. The Center attracts some of the world’s best traveling exhibits and I generally make a point of taking them in. Some, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, I start planning to see as soon as I learn of them. Others, even though I fully intend to see them, I just sort of work in “whenever”. Until something reminded me of it on a rainy and idle day, I wasn’t even sure that I would be attending this particular exhibit.

My lack of commitment was not due to any dislike for Princess Diana. In fact, I think she probably did as much for the good of the world as any public figure of her time and a lot more than most. I simply don’t have much interest in royalty in general and nothing in the description of this exhibit aroused much interest in it. Gowns and jewels were not the only things on display but they are what advertisements and descriptions mentioned the most. To be fair, the relatively small amount of time that separates Diana’s life from the present no doubt has a lot to do with my lack of interest. I couldn’t wait to attend the Cleopatra exhibit in 2011 and I’m sure I’d eagerly work a display based on Queen Victoria or Catherine the Great. Of course, those women were all rulers while Diana was not and that may have as much to do with it as time.

I think a desire to not regret not going was a large part of my decision to go. I went and enjoyed it enough to not regret going. The exhibit and my level of enjoyment were pretty much what I expected. The only surprise was the demographics of the other attendees. A young man scanned my ticket at the entrance. About halfway through, I encountered an older fellow wearing a museum ID badge who seemed to be doing some sort of status check on some of the displayed items. At roughly the same time I spotted a guy listening to one of the optional audio guides along with a woman I took to be his wife. I saw something on the order of fifty attendees as I made my way through the exhibit. Only two of approximately half a hundred patrons were male and only one — me — was certifiably there of his own volition. In hindsight, perhaps I should have anticipated that but I hadn’t. Clearly, the trappings of a princess are of much greater interest to those who are at least physically qualified to become one than to those who are not.

diana-2No photos are allowed in the Diana exhibit. The picture at left is from the companion exhibit, Daughters of the Queen City, which honors women noted for their charitable work in and around Cincinnati. Among the women featured were Louise Nippert, Mary M. Emery, and Patricia Corbett whose names even I recognize. Diana: A Celebration and Daughters of the Queen City continue through August 17.

diana-4diana-3While at the museum, I took in two other temporary exhibits. Medicine, Marbles and Mayhem displays items retrieved from 19th century privies. Aside from their intended purpose, privies were used to dispose of just about anything and many details of life in in the good old days can be learned through “outhouse archaeology”. Medicine, Marbles and Mayhem runs through May 26.

diana-5diana-6Treasures in Black & White: Historic Photographs of Cincinnati is quite accurately described by its title. At the risk of angering princesses everywhere, I have to say that this is what I enjoyed most on this museum visit. Every photo depicts something important from Cincinnati’s past plus many of them work as pure art. Some artifacts, such as a Ruth Lyons guest book, augment the photographs. The book is displayed near a photograph of Liberace signing it and opened to show his entry. Treasures in Black & White runs through October 12.

Touring City Hall

ccht01Cincinnati’s City Hall is a building of a different color. It can’t be easily ignored but, although I’ve driven and walked by it countless times, I, like almost all of the participants in Thursday’s tour, had never before been inside. The building’s architect was Samuel Hannaford, who also designed Cincinnati’s Music Hall and many other buildings of note. Construction started in February of 1888. The completed building was dedicated May 13, 1893. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It has been damaged by fire, insulted by, among other things, having marble wainscoting covered by wood paneling, and, like all too many not-so-new structures, threatened with demolition. I sure do appreciate it sticking around until I could finally find time for a visit.

ccht02What I actually found time for was the inaugural Cincinnati Museum Center Heritage Programs Cincinnati City Hall Tour. Unbeknownst to me, tours of the building have long been available and can be arranged directly as described here. CMC Heritage Programs adds a nice presentation on the building’s and the city’s history plus arranging access to a few places not always included in the other tours.

ccht05ccht04ccht03Stone from six different states (Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, & Vermont) and Italy are used in the building. Inside, beautiful marble staircases connect the four floors with equally beautiful stained glass windows at each landing.

ccht06ccht07ccht08Cincinnati’s mayor and nine member council meet weekly in this chamber. The current arrangement is a recent one. For most of the building’s existence, council met at a circular table in the middle of the room. After people protesting a 2001 police shooting completely filled the space, things were changed so that the officials sit facing the room. At one point, the ceiling was covered with acoustic which has now been removed to reveal four paintings and other details. The massive chandelier was once painted black.

ccht11ccht10ccht09For many, most definitely including me, the highlight of the day was the tower. The clock room was near the midpoint of the climb of 109 steps.

ccht12ccht13The climb continued to the open level containing the huge bell. The cube at lower right in the first picture houses the clock mechanism. A cable can be seen rising from it to control the bell’s clapper.

ccht16ccht15ccht14The wonderful views from the bell level include the spire of Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral, completed in 1845, backed by the recently relocated headquarters of Pure Romance. The downtown relocation of the nation’s largest seller of “relationship and intimacy aids” was not without controversy.

ccht18ccht17The view in the first picture is one that the guides alerted us to before the climb. Those with a significant fear of heights can find the sight of the street far below quite unnerving. On the way up, we had paused at this level while the bell rang out 11:00 o’clock. A close look at the second picture reveals the cable running upward from the clock mechanism and the shafts connecting the mechanism to the clock faces.

ccht20ccht19As we were for most of the tour, we divided into two groups for the tower climb. One group hung out in council chambers while the other climbed. I was part of the first set of climbers and now had the opportunity to check out the view from the gallery and make a brief power grab.

ccht21ccht22The current building replaced a much smaller one, built in 1852, on the same site. The large metal seal, mounted high in the courtyard of the current building is all that remains from the older one. Terrible riots, in which the courthouse was destroyed, had shaken Cincinnati in 1884. With that in mind, City Hall was built with something of a fortress flavor that can be seen in elements like a “watch room” in the tower and the heavy steel doors on the courtyard.

Cincinnati Christmas Traditions

Among the many interesting pieces of information presented in Cincinnati Museum Center‘s most recent Brown Bag Lecture, “Cincinnati’s Winter Holiday Traditions”, was a listing of the city’s four oldest Christmas traditions.

cintrad014. Duke Energy Holiday Trains – 1946
Duke Energy gave its name to the trains in 2006 when it bought Cinergy Corporation. In 2011, it gave the trains to the museum. Before Cinergy was formed in 1994, the company name was Cincinnati Gas & Electric so these trains spent most of their lives as the CG&E trains and that is still how many people think of them.

cintrad03cintrad02The O gauge layout was originally constructed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a training tool just prior to World War II. It came to Cincinnati in 1946 and for years was displayed in CG&E’s lobby each Christmas season. Today it is the centerpiece of the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Holiday Junction which includes several other model trains, the “Toys through Time” exhibit, Grif Teller railroad paintings, and more. Kids can ride a train or have a conversation with Patter & Pogie, the talking — and listening — reindeer who were a long time Christmas fixture at Pogue’s department store.

Holiday Junction and the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are are inside the fee required museum but free passes are available to all Duke Energy customers.

cintrad113. Boar’s Head Festival – 1940
I have never attended the Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival and I won’t again this year. Tickets for the free event go fast and those for this year’s festival have long been gone. The first Boar’s Head Festival took place in Oxford, England, in 1340 which means it had been going on exactly 600 years when Cincinnati’s Christ Church Cathedral held its first. The locals have now added 70+ years of their own traditions to establish a unique event for the city. I confess to not even knowing of the festival before the lecture but, the more I learn about it, the more I want to go. There are three performances on January 4 and 5. Tickets were distributed, first-come, first-served, on December 14. Maybe I can snag one of those hot ducats next year.

cintrad212. W & S Nativity Scene – 1939
Officially known as Western & Southern Financial Group presents the Crib of the Nativity, this Cincinnati tradition has one year on the Boar’s Head Festival. Western & Southern’s President, Charles F. Williams, had the crib built in 1938 for display in the company’s parking lot. It went public and started the tradition during the very next Christmas season. Initially displayed in downtown’s Lytle Park, it was moved to Union Terminal after the country’s entry into World War II in 1941. It stayed there, a welcome sight to the train loads of GIs who passed through the station, until the war was over. It returned to Lytle Park in 1946.

cintrad22cintrad23With the upheaval and shrinking of Lytle Park that came with the construction of I-71, the nativity scene moved to Eden Park in 1967. It remains there, next to Krohn Conservatory, today.

cintrad26cintrad25cintrad24Parking and visiting the outdoor nativity scene is free. Entering the conservatory is not. The conservatory’s Christmas display is not one of Cincinnati’s oldest but it is one of its most beautiful. If you have parked to visit the nativity scene, you should at least consider spending the $7 to see “A Cincinnati Scenic Railway”, a ton of poinsettias, and other holiday themed displays. The railway incorporates “botanical architecture” which uses “locally gathered willow and other natural materials” to build structures such as the Roebling Bridge, the Tyler Davidson Fountain, and the Christian Moerlein Lager House..

cintrad311. Fountain Square Tree – 1913/1924
According to the “Cincinnati’s Winter Holiday Traditions” lecture, Cincinnatians first put a tree on Fountain Square in 1913. A large crowd had gathered for the ceremonial lighting when someone yelled “fire” and the resulting stampede caused enough injuries to keep the city from trying again until 1924. Things went much better that year and, although the fountain and the square have moved around some, a Christmas tree has stood on Fountain Square every year since.

cintrad32cintrad33cintrad34There was a snag this year when the first tree selected snapped in two at a weak spot in its trunk. A replacement was quickly obtained and the 55-foot Norway Spruce was placed on the square after a one week delay.

Planes and Things

sam26000_extOn Friday, November 22, 2013, a friend and I visited the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. Among the many historic items on display is the Boeing VC-137C that carried John F Kennedy to and from Dallas, Texas. The two pictures below were taken of the same general area of the plane just a few hours shy of fifty years apart.

johnsonsisam26000_int

drgobs-2drgobs-1Another museum display recently in the news is associated with the Doolittle Raiders. A “Last Man Standing” pact had been established in which the last surviving Raider would drink a toast to all those who had gone before him.On the most recent anniversary of their 1942 bombing run over Toyko, the last four living Raiders decided not to wait but to have their final public reunion and drink their toast now. That toast took place at the museum on November 9 and can be seen here. Their eighty silver goblets, with the seventy-six belonging to diseased Raiders standing up side down, are displayed at the museum. My report on last year’s 70th reunion is here.

Majestic Still

Showboat Majestic“Mothballing” is a term used to describe putting boats and ships into storage. When theaters close down, they are said to “go dark”. In the very near future, both of these phrases may apply to long time Cincinnati riverfront fixture the Showboat Majestic. It’s the last of its kind. That sort of thing happens around here more than it should. Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. The Delta Queen, the last steamboat carrying overnight passengers, called Cincinnati home before losing an important exemption in 2009. Now it is the last authentic showboat that is shutting down.

Showboat MajesticI put the word “authentic” in that last sentence since there may very well be other boats around on which shows are regularly performed. But the Majestic was built as a showboat and that is what it has always been. In 1923, Captain Thomas Jefferson Reynolds set out with his family on the boat he had built with the help of friends and relatives. For the next three decades or so, the boat would be home to the captain, his wife, and their eleven children, six of whom were born on board. Up to the start of World War II, the Majestic cruised the Ohio River and its tributaries providing welcome entertainment to the many small communities along the way. During the depression, seats at performances were traded for, literally, chickens and eggs. In 1943, the boat was docked in Henderson, West Virginia, while Captain Reynolds worked as a river security agent.

Showboat MajesticAfter the war, changes begun long before were even more apparent. Many of those little river towns now had their own theaters and the residents of those that didn’t had cars to drive to someplace that did. Captain Reynolds kept his family and boat afloat thorough contracts with universities who used the Majestic in summer theater projects. Reynolds died in 1959 just months after selling the showboat to Indiana University. The boat spent a couple of years, still working, tied up in Jeffersonville, Indiana, after the Safety at Sea Act of 1965 brought an end to traveling the river with cast and crew aboard. In 1967, the City of Cincinnati bought the boat and a long run of University of Cincinnati student performances began. Since 1991, the floating theater has been operated by Cincinnati Landmark Productions. More detailed histories of the Showboat Majestic can be found on CLP’s website and elsewhere. Those plaques on the bulkhead proclaim the boat an Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark.

My own first contact with the Majestic came early in the University Of Cincinnati era when my wife and her sisters, undoubtedly through some UC contacts, organized an on board birthday party for their mother. The family did not buy out the theater but did buy a few rows and guests were able to hang out after the performance eating cake and drinking sangria. I attended another performance or two in the 1970s then sort of forgot about the theater. Oh, I knew it was there, I saw it often enough, but I took little notice of it until reminded of it by someone on another boat. It was July 2009 and I was staying on the Delta Queen for the first time. The historic steamboat had docked in Chattanooga just a month before and many of the traveling workforce, including entertainers Laura Sable and Bill Wiemuth, were still aboard. As we bemoaned the status of the Queen, Laurel pointed out the treasure that Cincinnati still had with the Majestic. I did attend a performance on the showboat early the next season but Wednesday’s was my first since then and apparently my last.

Showboat MajesticThe show was fantastic. Showboat Follies! contains glimpses of all aspects of Showboat Majestic‘s history with plenty of Cincinnati’s past and present mixed in. It took some incredibly creative people to put it together and it was delivered by a wonderfully talented cast. The performance today, September 29, 2013, will be the last for Cincinnati Landmark Productions on board the Majestic. It is not because I haven’t attended more shows. They have been operating at over 80% capacity for some time now. A new theater, which can be used year round, is being built and will allow the company to deal more with performance issues and less with keeping their theater from sinking or floating away. Leaving the Majestic has not been an easy decision and it is obvious that the boat will be missed. Near the end of Wednesday’s show, CLP’s Artistic Director, Tim Perrino, came on stage to talk with the audience about the move. I sensed approaching tears more than once while he spoke and that was with four more shows on the schedule. I predict a lot of wet cheeks this afternoon.


Showboat MajesticMartha won’t be back but both the Delta Queen and the Showboat Majestic could be. The City of Cincinnati has no intention of scrapping the Majestic and hopes that a new tenant can be found. In a strange twist, the US House of Representatives voted to restore the Delta Queen‘s Safety at Sea exemption just hours before I sat down for Wednesday night’s show. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and get the President’s signature. A cruising Delta Queen is still a long long way off but it is a whole lot closer than it has been in a long long time. The picture is of the Delta Queen docked next to the Showboat Majestic during the steamboat’s last visit to Cincinnati in October, 2008.

Dayton Remembers

Great 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkAt right is a very old light bulb with some very old water inside. The bulb was in a Dayton, Ohio, high school during the 1913 flood and a microscopic hole allowed water to get inside. The worst natural disaster in Ohio’s history struck on March 25, 1913. On March 23, 2013, a permanent display, devoted to the flood, opened at Carillon Historical Park. I saw the exhibit for the first time yesterday.

Great 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkGreat 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkAn existing building was greatly enlarged to house the display though it’s almost impossible to tell the new from the old. The original building was nearly filled by the Rubicon fireless steam engine. The NCR (National Cash Register) owned engine had been a big help in the flood recovery so adding the display to its home seems appropriate.

Great 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkGreat 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkThe 1913 flood wasn’t the first for Dayton. The city stands at the convergence of three rivers and a creek so flowing water is ever present. Some actual photographs of the 1866 flood are on display with a larger image of from the 1898 flood as background. There were also major floods in 1828 and 1847. The TV screen with modern style reporting of 1913 weather may look a little corny but it is an effective way of describing the wind, rain, and temperatures that gave rise to the flood.

Great 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkGreat 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkMany personal stories and artifacts help make up the exhibit. Katherine Kennedy Brown’s diary, with a large “The Flood” headlining the record of her experiences, is one. Another is the dress Grace Hall had made for her wedding. Trapped by the flood, Grace was rescued by her fiance but the dress was left behind. Read the placard here. The three-dimensional map beyond the dress was made by NCR in 1914 to show the extent of the flood. About fourteen square miles of the city were under water at the flood’s peak.

Great 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Historical ParkAttics often figure prominently in floods and they certainly did in this one. “Remember the promises you made in the attic” became something of a rallying cry after the flood. A recreated attic is part of the exhibit but I didn’t expect much when I stepped into it. The moving light patterns on the solid floor looked about as corny as the derby-wearing weatherman. Maybe so but it is also just as effective. As I stood in the small space listening to the sounds of water coming from the dark hole that led the lower parts of the house and the creaking of the structure as water pressed against it, that concrete floor became a lot less solid and I had just a tiny sense of what it was like fearing that one of those creaks would change to a crack.

dayflood9The exhibit loops back to the Rubicon where the story of the birth of the Miami Conservancy District is presented. Many also consider this the birth of modern flood control. Under reminders of those “promises made in the attic”, Daytonians organized and financed a project that has succeeded in keeping Dayton dry to this day. It’s impossible to say just what this hotbed of invention would have become without the flood but it’s fairly easy to guess what it would have become without the MCD.

Carillon Historical ParkCarillon Historical ParkCarillon Historical ParkAlthough the carousel and 4-D theater were here when I visited last year, I didn’t actually see them. The carousel is filled with Dayton icons such as the Wright brothers’ dog and a Huffy bicycle. The animatrons in the theater tell of Dayton history with the help of some seat shaking, wind blowing, and a few dashes of water. The Wright brothers are there along with John Patterson, Charles Kettering, and Colonel Deeds. One of the reasons I’ll be coming back next year is shown in the third picture. Work has just begun on the Carillon Brewing Company which should open by the end of 2013. The brewery will produce and sell beer using historic tools and methods.

The flood was also the subject of an earlier blog entry,  a guest post from HistoricNaturalDisasters.com.

5 More 4s

More 4s MapWhen I did my week of 4-ways, I noted that there were a lot more than seven chili parlors in Cincinnati and trimming the list had not been easy. I didn’t pretend that my list contained the best or the most popular or the top of any other particular category but, like just about every list ever made, it left out some places somebody else thought should be there. Leaving out somebody’s favorite was pretty much unavoidable but in this case one of the somebodies whose favorite I left out is a friend who very politely made me aware of that fact. Her favorite had, in fact, been on my semi-final list of nine but didn’t make the final cut. So here is chapter two. It’s shorter than the original and spread over several weeks rather than seven days. It includes the two independents that were on my list of nine, the two biggies that are sprinkled around the area like McDonald’s and Subway, and one slightly spontaneous addition.

Gold Star 4 wayGold Star ChiliFeb 27, 2013: Gold Star was once the number one Cincinnati chili chain but it was passed several years ago in number of stores, gallons served, dollars made or some other thing that bean (and onion) counters count. At the time of writing, the Gold Star website identified 87 restaurants plus their product is available in groceries and online. This particular parlor is about two and a half miles from my home directly in front of my grocery. I once read that you should never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and, since that meshed perfectly with my belief that you should never do anything on an empty stomach, I embraced the advice. My pre-grocery meal is usually breakfast but, as it was well past noon and well past two weeks since my last 4-way, I decided to kick off phase two of my chili parlor tour en route to a much needed Kroger visit. This stuff is pretty darn good; Better than I thought I remembered and definitely filling enough to fend off that desire to dash to the snack aisle. Gold Star was started in 1965 by the Daoud brothers from Jordan. The first restaurant was called Hamburger Heaven until the brothers realized that their chili was outselling everything else on the menu. Hamburgers are still available but I’ve never had one.

Chili TimeChili Time 4 wayMarch 7, 2013: This is the place that prompted my friend’s “Have you ever tried…?” question. I explained that it was one of the last two to be cut from my list and that I had indeed tried it although it had been a long time ago. When I said that, I was thinking that a long time ago was ten or twelve years. As it turns out, this particular “long time ago” was a wee bit more. There were once two Chili Time parlors; The 1963 original on Vine Street and a somewhat newer one on Reading Road. In 1987, CVS offered something in the neighborhood of a million bucks for the Reading Road location and that paid for this bigger and fancier place across the street from where it all started. Since the only Chili Time I can recall ever being in is the one on Reading, it’s pretty clear that I last visited sometime prior to 1988. There is real flavor here. It’s not super hot spicy but has a tang that stayed with me for awhile.

Gourmet Chili 4-wayGourmet ChiliMarch 13, 2013: The title of this post was supposed to be “4 more 4s” which I thought sounded vaguely poetic but, half way through, I messed it up by stopping at Gourmet Chili. It wasn’t on my original list of nine but it kept popping up in other folk’s online Cincinnati chili chatter to the degree that I knew it would haunt me if I didn’t try it. So, when I was fairly close at the right time of day, I slipped on in. It’s in Newport, Kentucky, just a couple of blocks from the original Dixie Chili. There is a real diner feel here with a counter and grill and a menu of standard short order items in addition to chili. The chili is quite meaty with a middle of the road flavor. It doesn’t look unbalanced but, as I worked through the 4-way, I thought there should have been a little more cheese and a little less spaghetti. Just a minor complaint about a basically good meal.

US ChiliUS Chili 4-wayMarch 21, 2013: I really had to make an effort to eat here. Not because it’s out of the way but because it isn’t. US Chili is right across the street from Camp Washington Chili so I’ve seen the building plenty of times while dining at what I’ve called my favorite. My visits across the street made me aware of the place but it was seeing all the favorable comments in the web that caused me to put in on that original list of nine. The building housed a Provident Bank until 1972 and the big vault door is still there filling one wall of the men’s restroom. The ‘US’ in the name stands for Uncle Steve although the Steve it refers to was the owner’s grandfather rather than uncle. There once was a Steve’s Chili and I was told the location but have forgotten. I’m certainly glad I managed to work in a stop because this was a 4-way I really liked with a meaty and flavorful chili. I’m going to have a tough decision to make on future visits to Camp Washington.

Skyline Chili 4-waySkyline ChiliApril 4, 2013: Skyline is the current Cincy chili champ. I’m not sure when they passed Gold Star but there are now more than 130 Skyline parlors in four states. Most are in the tri-state (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky) area but four are in Florida so that snowbirds don’t have to go all winter without a chili fix. That means, of course, that a Skyline is statistically more likely to be near a given point than is a Gold Star and that is indeed the case with my home. This one is less than a mile away and I walked there on the first day that it seemed warm enough to walk anywhere. Skyline Chili was started in 1949 by Nicholas Lambrinides, a Greek fellow who first worked at Empress, the granddaddy of Cincinnati chili restaurants. It’s said that the view of downtown Cincinnati from the first location was the inspiration for the name. It’s also said that that first location was at the intersection of Quebec Road and Glenway Avenue on Price Hill. I’ve been to that intersection and, while there are some great views a few blocks away, I couldn’t find one very close. I did find this 4-way, like the one at Gold Star, better than I thought I remembered.

In the end, I’m kind of glad I added that fifth stop to this group because now I can reflect on an even dozen chili parlors sampled over the last couple of months. I’m not at all capable of describing the subtleties of flavor or other characteristics of the various offerings. All I have is my subjective opinions and they are very subjective indeed. That’s made obvious by the fact that some that top other lists would be near the bottom of mine. But even those I like the least I still like. As I said after the first seven, I’d happily scarf down another 4-way at any of them and that includes the big Skyline and Gold Star chains which I’ve unjustifiably snubbed in the past. When I started this, Camp Washington and Blue Ash were my number one and number two choices. I encountered three legitimate challengers while doing the dozen. Dixie, Dehli, and US all impressed me. Guess that means I now have five favorites instead of two.


Forty-eight ways (12 4-ways)Eleven of the twelve chili parlors serve their 4-ways in oval plates with the other using a round one. There was also just one parlor that served those oyster crackers loose in a bowl rather than in a sealed plastic packet. A full twenty-five percent (i.e., 3) of the dozen bravely served their 4-ways without the protection of an underlying safety plate. Name these five standouts (1 round, 1 loose, 3 brave) and I’ll buy you a 4-way at any of the dozen Cincy chili parlors I’ve mentioned. Transportation not included.

Sappy Ohio

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalI really goofed last week. I was in Greenville on Saturday but didn’t realize it was syrup making time at the Shawnee Prairie Preserve with demonstrations and a waffle! breakfast. It would have been perfect but, in my ignorance, I dawdled, ate breakfast in Dayton, and only reached town and learned of the event long after breakfast was finished and the whole shebang was pretty much over. I cast about for a way to make up for this missed opportunity and even briefly considered returning to Hinckley with the buzzards for one of the area’s big maple sugaring weekends as I did in 2011. But, in the end, I decided to stay closer to home and yesterday checked out the 47th Maple Syrup Festival at Hueston Woods.

sapo2Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalI started out by standing in line for the very popular pancake breakfast at the park lodge. I realize that the breakfast isn’t all that photogenic but it sure tasted good. Pure maple syrup does that.

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalThen I headed over to the Pioneer Village area to stand in line for a “hay ride”. Trucks pulling trailers with seats made of straw bales carried people to the start of a short trail leading to the “sugar shack”. A guide would then lead the way down the trail while providing information about the area and the syrup making process. In chatting with some of the volunteers, I learned that a shortage of guides had resulted in a minor bottleneck. Even though our departure was delayed as long as practical and the ride to the trail was as slow as possible, we still reached the trail several minutes ahead of our guide.

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalHueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalHueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalThe wait was worth it. I feel extra bad about not learning our guide’s name because he sure was an extra good guide. He spoke, in a most entertaining way, about both the natural and human history of the area and he talked of the social as well as technical aspects of sugaring. He explained that, since the sap contains only a percent or two of sugar when it comes from the tree, it doesn’t taste very much like syrup. At the guide’s invitation, several young tour members personally verified this by licking fingers that had caught a few drops.

Hueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalHueston Woods Maple Syrup FestivalThere was another line at the sugar shack but it wasn’t a long one. The original Hueston family shack burned in the 1980s but the current one looks much the same and is on the same foundation. Maple syrup must be about two-thirds sugar which means an awful lot of water has to be removed. This is accomplished by the wood fired evaporator  The fog makes it hard to see but the warmth is certainly welcome. After hearing an explanation of the evaporation process, there was one more short line for the shuttle back to the car at Pioneer Village. The well run free festival is a great fun and educational, too.


McGuffey MuseumMcGuffey MuseumNot far from Hueston Woods, the home of William Holmes McGuffey, the man behind the incredibly successful McGuffey Readers, is now a museum. It’s owned and operated by Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. McGuffey was part of the university faculty when he had the house built in 1833 then took on creating the first reader, published in 1836, as a way to augment his professor’s salary. The house is filled with wonderful period furnishings including several of McGuffey’s own pieces. Among these are the eight-sided rotating table and the tall desk behind it. I was accompanied as much as guided by a fellow named Steve who thoroughly answered every question I had. Like the festival, the McGuffey Museum is free and fun and educational.

Wilmington’s Denver and Murphy

dandm1I live about thirty miles from Wilmington, Ohio. It’s where my daughter lives as do some very close friends. The nearness of my own bed means there’s hardly ever a reason for me to spend the night there and the willingness of friends and family to put me up means there’s really no need to resort to commercial lodging in any case. In fact, when I first mentioned I that intended to spend a night at the General Denver Hotel, I was met with incredulity. Why would anyone, I was asked, want to stay in that old place when they could stay in a nice warm no-cost bed just a few blocks away? Fortunately, they know me well enough that there wasn’t a big fight when I explained that I wanted to stay there precisely because it was such an “old place”. I did realize, however, that the warmness of the available bed was stressed because my friend’s parents had once nearly frozen while staying at the GDH and that the temperature of my room would be a hot topic, so to speak.

dandm2I’ve mentioned the General Denver in this blog before. It’s where I’ve eaten, in addition to several other meals, my last four Thanksgiving dinners. I wrote of the one in 2011. It was built in 1928 by Matthew Denver who named it for his father, James Denver. James was born in Virginia and seems to have dropped off his parents, and eventually his own offspring, in Wilmington while he went out west to became the Governor of the Kansas Territory, a Civil War General, and enough other high profile things to warrant having the city of Denver, Colorado, named after him.

dandm4dandm3The General Denver Hotel was certainly a high toned place when it opened but it wasn’t alone. The ten year old Murphy Theater stood across the street and the nine year old courthouse was barely a block away. The courthouse and theater had cost $300,000 and $250,000 respectively. It was a pretty classy neighborhood and still is. All three buildings remain in use today. In fact, it was an event at the Murphy that allowed me to finally justify a night at the Denver on Saturday. Lisa Biales, who I’ve also mentioned in this blog, performed there as a New Lyceum Circuit artist.

The guy who the Murphy’s named after was a pretty high profile fellow too but he built the theater himself rather than waiting for the next generation to do it. Charles Murphy was born in Wilmington. He worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer and Times-Star newspapers and the New York Giants baseball team before becoming a team owner himself. The Chicago Cubs were his from 1906 through 1913. The Cubs have won exactly two World Series in their long history. Both — 1907 and 1908 — were on Murphy’s watch.

dandm5dandm6Matt and Jim and Chuck are still in town. I stopped by Sugar Grove Cemetery to see them before checking in to the hotel. There are large family markers — the Denvers have a truly impressive Washington Monument style obelisk — surrounded by smaller individual ones. Finding them took some luck in addition to the FindAGrave clues but I could now be a guide if the need ever arises.

dandm9dandm8dandm7Checking into the General Denver involved signing a real register. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve never signed one before but I certainly can’t remember ever doing it. My friend, John, met me in the bar and, although I did eat dinner there and had good intentions, lively conversation made me forget to take a picture. I did get a picture of breakfast. I had the Denver Bake which is simply a casserole version of a Denver omelet. It seemed super appropriate to eat, as I Tweeted at the time, a Denver omelet in the hotel named for the man that the city that the omelet was named after was named after. Both meals were good and the from-the-menu breakfast is included with the room. That elevator is the original with manual controls that must be operated by a trained professional (i.e., essentially any member of the hotel staff). I took a ride before I left and found it very smooth. Like most hotels more than a few years old, the The General Denver is reportedly haunted and I’ve mentioned the heating problems of the past. I saw neither ghosts nor frost during my stay and thought my room rather comfortable.

dandm10The bartender had suggested that, if the concert audience was small enough, it might be placed entirely on stage as had been recently done at another show. I didn’t give it much thought and John and I walked across the street as show time neared with me thinking we would simply take our reserved seats. The bartender’s prediction had indeed come true so our last minute arrival put us in the last rather than the first row. That was hardly a problem, though, as the last row on the stage put us at least as close to Lisa and violinist Doug Hamilton as the front row on the floor would have and the setting was clearly much more intimate. Lisa was just getting over a cold she had been fighting for several days but you would not have known that from her voice which was spot on. I think this was probably the first time I’ve seen just the two of them perform which may explain why Doug sang a bit more than I’m used to. Nice addition. Of course, both handled their instruments masterfully and the duo delivered two great sounding sets separated by a short break. Anyone with even slightly sharp eyes may have noticed that Lisa Biales is not listed on the marquee in my picture of the theater. That’s because I didn’t get around to taking the picture until Sunday morning after the sign had been changed. However, her name can be seen on an enlarged section of the photo at the beginning of this article.