Pie Are Round

piday01Yesterday was Pi Day. It was, in fact, the Pi Day of the Century and, for most people, the Pi Day of a Lifetime. It is possible that some individuals will see Pi Days like the most recent twice in their lifetimes but the chances are good that they will be either too young or too old to wield their own fork on either occasion.

Pi is the name (actually the Greek letter π) given to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It is an irrational number which means calculating it leads to an infinite number of decimal places. To keep discussions from being infinitely long (although they may still be irrational), the number 3.14 is often used as a reasonable approximation. Since folks in the USA usually write dates as mm/dd/yy, the fourteenth of March looks a lot like the short form pi and some clever person, taking advantage of the fact that the Greek letter and the English language name of a tasty edible are homophones, decided to call March 14 Pi Day and celebrate pie. In addition to being limited to people who speak English, the holiday is pretty much restricted to the United States of America. For most of the rest of the world, including other residents of North America, yesterday was 14/3/15 with no connection to either circles or baked goods. But, for English speakers living between Mexico and Canada, yesterday was 3/14/15. The short form pi, when extended by a couple of digits, is 3.1415 and those two digits are what make yesterday the Pi Day of the Century.

piday02I chose to celebrate my Pi Day of a Lifetime at the Bluebird Bakery in Glendale. Glendale is known for its black squirrels and has a number of squirrel statues — almost none of which are black  — displayed around town. This was my second Pi Day visit to the Bluebird and I’m sure it won’t be my last. There are some very good goodies here.

piday04piday03That’s a peanut butter pie at the top of this post and several other varieties were available as well. I settled on key lime since it sort of hints at warmth and sunshine and that’s something I’m definitely ready for. The approximation of pi can be extended as far as desired and it is a simple matter to get the clock involved along with the calendar. I took the picture of my slice of pie exactly twenty-six minutes after 9:00 AM then carefully timed the eating so that I chomped down on the first bite at exactly 3/14/15 9:26:53.

The basis for Pi Day may be silly but some of its effects are not. Silliness is just the thing for drawing attention and the day is being used more and more to make kids aware of the practical uses of pi and some of those other numbers, too. Some area libraries and museums offered pi/pie related activities and an evening program at the Cincinnati Observatory Center demonstrated practical applications of pi along with pieces of pie from local restaurants. Throw in a mention or two of it being Albert Einstein’s birthday and those kids may just learn a little history, math, and astronomy without it hurting a bit.

Bock to Rock

b2r01I stole the title. There’s a music store in Greenville, Ohio, called Bach to Rock which I think is the coolest name for a music store ever. On Friday, I followed up the 23rd annual Bockfest parade with a Dave & Phil Alvin concert. Voila! Fits like a glove.

While looking up the music store’s web address, I discovered that there is now a bunch of franchised music schools called Bach to Rock. They started in 2007 and the store has been around a lot longer than that. The store could probably sue the school but I doubt they will. We Darke Countians are a mellow lot.

b2r02b2r03The sun was shining — at a very low angle — as the parade “formed” on 8th Street near Arnold’s . Perhaps words like “formed” and “organized” are a little out of place when applied to the Bockfest Parade but it somehow happens. This year both marchers and watchers were plentiful despite the temperature being right at the freezing mark. Or maybe it was because of the temperature. WE ARE READY FOR SPRING.

b2r04Another word, “irreverent”, has always applied to the Bockfest parade. That definitely won’t be changing for the event in general but it does no longer apply to one major piece of the parade. Previous grand marshals have included the likes of the four-legged mayor (It’s a dog, don’t you know?) of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, but henceforth, in recognition of the serious celebration of Cincinnati’s past underlying this event, the organizers will select grand marshals for their “contribution to local culture”. This year’s choice is Elmer Hensler, founder and President of Queen City Sausage. The company is turning fifty this year. With honesty and quality, Elmer built it from nothing to being the official brat and mett of both the Reds and the Bengals and the last surviving meat packer in what was once Porkopolis. This year, the company’s bockwurst can be had wrapped in a Servatii (another Cincinnati favorite) pretzel as the Bockfest Pretzelator.

b2r05I really liked this Wizard of Oz themed group and walked a few steps with them so I could ask who they were. The first person I asked answered “Mustard Club” then, when I said something like “What’s that?”, turned me over to another marcher who explained they were from Mecklenburg Gardens, a popular local German restaurant. I later learned that this isn’t your run of the mill mustard club that likes just any old mustard. It’s the Händlmaier’s Mustard Club Cincinnati who go to great lengths to acquire their favorite condiment. If I had an award to give, they would get it because: 1) The Wicked Witch of the West was most convincing when she warned, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little goat too.” 2) There’s a bunch of them, from the group leading the yellow Hummer, through Dorthy and friends on the trailer it’s towing, to the pack at the back. 3) They covered both mustard and beer in their theme title “Follow the Yellow Bock Road”. 4) One of them handed off that giant lollipop to the traffic cop in the picture at the top of the page.

b2r08b2r07b2r06There were familiar entries like the Trojan Goat, Arnold’s self propelled bathtub, and the dancing pigs. Arnold’s previous tub, which appeared with some snow on it a couple paragraphs back, had some issues at last year’s Bockfest and, although it was repaired, I guess it’s never been the same. I suppose the new high class ride is more reliable but I still prefer the basic tub and motor style myself.

b2r09b2r10And there were some new themes like Bock to the Future (This is THE year, after all.) and the Bock Street Boys.

 

b2r12b2r11Here are a couple of entries which don’t have any really clever bock related names and really don’t have any particular bock connection at all but I like ’em. On reason I could not leave out the League of Cincinnati Steampunks is that I’m pretty sure this is the way to melt snow. Lastly is the very talented Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle that we last saw here.

b2r13Yeah, I guess there does seem to be a lot more bock than rock but it was really good rock. Dave Alvin and his brother Phil, both formerly with the Blasters, are currently touring together and they deliver one tremendous load of music. I wish I’d seen them years ago but I’m sure happy that I’ve seen them now.

Dinner and a Movie – Cincinnati Style

asmdm01I put Wednesday’s screening of the movie Sign Painters at the American Sign Museum on my “maybe” list as soon as I heard about it. It was moved to “probably” when I learned dinner would be included. When I found out the museum’s almost neighbor Camp Washington Chili would be doing the catering, I bought a ticket. I’ve eaten at CWC many times and I’ve eaten many things there but never a salad. I don’t believe it ever occurred to me that they would even have a salad. It was quite good and apparently can be had with grilled chicken at the restaurant. Who knew?

asmdm02asmdm03The beverage table never really got crowded but I hit it before even a hint of a line formed. Local (Mount Carmel & Christian Moerlein) and “other” beer was available along with wine and soda. I made my food line pass after the initial rush. There were 3-ways and coneys in addition to the aforementioned salad and they even had cold-cut sandwiches. I’m guessing those were for the out-of-towners.

asmdm05asmdm04The tables that were empty when I took my picture of the beverage table, were filled as soon as the food was served as were other tables throughout the museum. Paint trays and cans held a variety of movie-appropriate sweets and one pail was filled with small paper bags so you could carry a supply of Lemonheads, Charleston Chews, Bulls-Eyes, Necco Wafers, and other goodies into the viewing room.

asmdm06asmdm07asmdm08As showtime approached, a drawing of museum founder Tod Swormstedt (accurate enough to identify him should he ever go missing) was replaced by the real thing and Tod introduced the movie. Two large screens were filled by a pair of synchronized digital projectors so everyone had a good view. The event had sold out several days earlier. I don’t really know what that means but something like 200 attendees seems a reasonable guess.

Sign Painters features interviews with a number of painters plus quite a bit of footage of some of them at work. A few of the painters are in their thirties but most are older and there is, as you might expect, plenty of talk about the good old days when sign painting was a thriving profession. There is no question that automation and the availability of cheap — in every sense of the word — product have wreaked havoc on the field but not everything is doom and gloom. There are still people who feel called to paint signs and there are still some customers who appreciate the value of hand crafted advertising. In particular, large wall signs are often seen as worthwhile and they remain something that takes a human touch.

At one point in the movie, I found my mind returning to thoughts of a couple weeks ago. I was loosely following an online discussion about ghost signs. Ghost signs are always old so they are almost always faded and they often, but not always, advertise something that is no longer available. They can be considered eyesores or glimpses of history. People may tend to lean one way or the other but opinions are often of the “it depends…” sort. I believe my participation in the discussion was limited to sharing a link to a local radio story on ghost signs. The story uses the words “art” and “pollution” but that’s really just another way to say “history” and “eyesore”. In the movie, when a large and fading hand-painted advertisement is painted over — by hand — with a new and very different advertisement neither of the signs seem very important. It doesn’t matter whether some history gets covered over or if an ugly wall is made beautiful. What matters is that an art form, a skill set, a profession gets to breathe a little.

The museum’s parking lot is not huge and, in addition to the chili and beer and candy and movie, there was free valet parking. I tucked a couple of bucks into my shirt pocket for a tip but by the time my car was pulled up to the door, I’d already heard what the valet would say to me. “No, I can’t take that. No tips. We’ve been taken care of.” Me too.

History by the Pint

cbc01Ohio has a new brewery. It wasn’t desperately needed, I suppose, but this one is seriously different. There were already more than 100 breweries operating in Ohio and over 3000 in the country. A dozen other states also have more than 100 each. New mini, micro, and nano breweries are popping up everywhere everyday and, while I’m personally very happy to hear of each and every new launch, it’s a fact that the opening of a brewery is not as exciting and rare as it was just a few years ago. In an effort to distinguish themselves, some breweries are targeting the extremities of things that can be measured to claim titles like “the hoppiest” or “highest alcohol content”. How about “most labor intensive”?

Carillon Brewing Company did not set out to be high on the labor used scale. It set out to be high on the historically accurate scale and provide a piece of living history befitting the 65 acre open air museum it is part of at Carillon Historical Park. It just turns out that, when you accurately recreate an 1850 brewery and use it to make beer the same way it was made more than a century and a half ago, things are going to be a bit more “hands on” than is normal today.

cbc02cbc03cbc04Though many are in really old buildings, the working bits of most breweries we see today look pretty modern. There are usually dials and gauges and maybe some electronics. One or more — sometimes many more — big — sometimes really big — stainless steel tanks are what actually identify a brewery to most of us. There are no steel tanks here and no fancy gauges. Definitely no electronically controlled automation.

cbc07cbc06cbc05Here the beer is brewed in copper kettles and fermented in wooden barrels. Heat comes from wood fires and transferring the liquid between brewing steps is accomplished by hand dipping and gravity. One of the few concessions to modern times is the use of city water to save workers the chore of toting bucket after bucket from the nearby Great Miami River.

cbc08cbc09The doors were opened in August with a full food menu and OPB (Other People’s Beer). In October, house brewed root beer and ginger ale were added. Last Thursday, December 11, two of Carillon Brewing’s own ales were introduced. The Porter (from an 1862 recipe) is pictured. I was served both it and the already downed Coriander Ale (1831 recipe) by Frank, the guy in the second picture. Note the period dress. Another modern concession is the use of refrigeration so that us twenty-first century wussies don’t have to drink warm beer. It is anticipated that some varieties will be served at room temperature to provide a true 1850 experience. Only ales will be brewed here. Even though lagering existed long before 1850, most breweries produced only ales until the mid 1860s

cbc10My new word of the day is “brewster”, a female brewer. Carillon Brewing’s Tanya Brock is that and more. Not only is she responsible for turning out something as tasty as those new stainless steel filled microbreweries, she must do it with historically accurate methods and recipes. Oh, and she has to research those methods and recipes, too. This is one unique operation. With justified pride, Brock says, “No one else in the United States is doing a fully-licensed production brewery in a historic museum.”

cbc11cbc12cbc13The brewery is indeed part of a museum and vice versa. Signs, including several on barrel heads, explain brewing and its history in the area. One barrel head contains an annotated drawing of the brewing operation that stands behind it. Employees and volunteers are knowledgeable and happy to answer questions. Brewing currently takes place Wednesday through Saturday though watching it is sometimes akin to watching water come to a boil. Actually, between the flurries of activity moving the brew between steps, it is exactly like watching water come to an almost boil. Still, it’s mighty interesting. Nowhere else can you drink a beer truly made “the old fashioned way” while watching another batch being prepared for a future visit. You’ll leave not only refreshed and educated on nineteenth century brewing methods but, with just a little counting, knowing how may states were in the union in 1850.

EDITED 15-Dec-2014: Within a day of publishing this article, it struck me that the opening paragraph did not at all establish the right tone. In a move that I certainly won’t make a habit of, it has been rewritten. The original follows:

Ho hum. Ohio has another brewery. No, ho hum isn’t really what I want to say. I’m very happy to hear of each and every new launch but it’s a fact that the opening of a brewery is not as exciting and rare as it was just a few years ago. It’s not just Ohio, of course. There are now more than 3000 breweries in the country and new mini, micro, and nano breweries are popping up everywhere everyday. Ohio is just one of thirteen states with more than 100 breweries in operation. In an effort to distinguish themselves, some breweries are targeting the extremities of things that can be measured to claim titles like “the hoppiest” or “highest alcohol content”. How about “most labor intensive”?

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.

Lasse die Guten Zeiten Rollen!

ofjpAttending a John Prine concert in the middle of America’s largest Oktoberfest may have been the highlight of my week but it wasn’t the only musical event involved. Honky tonk ribbon cutting came before and Revival rocking came after. Here, in the order of their appearance, are the things that filled the last week of summer for me.

Early this year, Outlaw Magazine, which is about music rather than law breaking, launched something called the Last Honky Tonk Music Series. Taking its name from a song by singer-songwriter Wayne Mills, who was shoot and killed in Nashville last December, its purpose is “Sustaining the Artists, Sustaining the Venues, Sustaining the Community”. Every state is to have at least one venue in the series and Ohio now has two.

lhtrc02lhtrc01On Thursday, John Nawrocki and I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony that launched the first Last Honky Tonk Music Series performance at Friend’s Backyard Grill in Clarksville, Ohio. Clinton County officials help owner Rhonda Friend cut the ribbon.

lhtrc05lhtrc04lhtrc03Once the “formal” stuff was out of the way, Dallas Moore got on with the honky tonking. By pure coincidence, I’d seen — but not heard — Dallas about two weeks ago at Ohio’s other Last Honky Tonk Music Series location, Win Place or Show. By another, perhaps not so pure, coincidence, that was only the second time I’d stopped at Win Place or Show in the last few years and Dallas was setting up on both occasions. Of course, both stops were to enjoy the outside deck on sunny afternoons which is why I make no claims regarding the purity of the coincidence. That first time, more than a year ago, gear for the whole band was being carried in and I made sure I was gone before they got plugged in. On the most recent stop, it would be a solo performance but I still ate and left. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed. I have seen the Dallas Moore Band in the past and have not enjoyed them very much. On Thursday I discovered that I do enjoy Dallas as a solo performer. I’ll definitely hang around the next time I encounter him alone and I might even give the band another listen some day.

ofz01The John Prine concert was Friday. I got my ticket a long time ago and, because it would be in downtown Cincinnati, even had some vague plans about going down early for dinner and strolling. A few days ago, when I finally got serious and realized that the concert coincided with the first day of Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, those vague plans became very solid and darned near perfect.

ofz04ofz03ofz02Cincinnati’s first Oktoberfest, at least the first of the current run, took place in 1976. With attendance in excess of half a million, it is considered the largest in the United States. I haven’t been to Oktoberfest Zinzinnati in several years and when I did go it was likely to be on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. It turns out that Friday evening, with a somewhat smaller crowd, is a much better choice. The only things missing, besides the Saturday afternoon World’s Largest Chicken Dance, are the carnival rides which don’t get turned on until morning. That not only keeps the number of tikes down but prevents a regrettable tilt-a-whirl ride with a belly full of goetta and Hudy.

ofz05Anchored by Fountain Square, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati occupies five blocks of Fifth Street. A few blocks to the south, the Christian Moerlein Lager House has their own party going on under an immense “authentic Munich-style Oktoberfest tent” they call ÜberDrome. It looks like I captured Moerlein’s commander-in-chief, Greg Hardman, in my picture although I didn’t realize that until I was editing the picture for posting. I’m guessing that many stick with one place or the other though the walk between Fifth Street and the Lager House isn’t all that much longer than the walk from one end of the ÜberDrome to the other.

jp03jp02jp01I got back to Fifth Street with just enough time to add a bit of strudel to the goetta and Hudy before heading inside. John Prine‘s voice isn’t quite what it was in the ’70s; very few are. I’m sure his recent bouts with cancer haven’t helped but the funny songs are no less funny and the touching songs are possibly even more touching. He’s definitely still got it. That’s Amanda Shires, who opened the show, singing with John in the third photo.

bella1bella2bella3Just like Prine and Oktoberfest, I prefaced my third show of the week with a party. This was a birthday pawty for a Great Pyrenees named Mia Bella. I understand that Bella was even greater (by several pounds) at the time of the party than when the poster was created. There were beef, vegi, and turkey hot dogs, each with its own cooker, along with paw and puppy patterned pastries. Note that Hudepohl fits in at smaller gatherings just as well as at big city festivals.

simo01The third show was in the Revival Room at Southgate House Revival in Newport, Kentucky. I first saw JD Simo in Nashville in 2009 and have been looking forward to seeing him again ever since. He was a hired gun in 2009 but has been fronting his own trio, SIMO, for about three years. They have been here once before but I just could not get to that show. This time I made it and was every bit as blown away as I expected to be. The only thing disappointing was the crowd.

simo02simo03simo04I don’t believe there was ever more than forty people in the audience. That made it nice for those of us that were there and the trio sure didn’t slack off because of it but this guy deserves to be seen and heard by a lot more people. In 2009 he impressed me in Nashville where remarkable musical talent fills every stage and sidewalk. In Newport, there were times when I thought I might be having a 1968 Jimi Hendrix flashback. I don’t mean that JD imitates or sounds like Hendrix but seeing the virtuoso guitarist fronting a driving power trio naturally triggers comparisons with Hendrix, Cream, James Gang, Mountain, and the like. SIMO handles the comparisons well.

Must Be the Season of the Fish

Back in 2011, while traveling in northern Ohio during the month of March, it occurred to me that checking out a Lenten fish fry might be a nice break from eating at establishments practicing commercialism full time. It was and I’ve made a habit of patronizing such operations ever since. This year, for what I believe is the first time, I managed to eat at a Friday Fish Fry during every week of Lent and here they are.

Woodlawn Firefighters Association Fish FryWoodlawn Firefighters Association Fish FryThe first Friday of Lent coincided with the start of Bockfest. I’m thinking that might not be a coincidence but don’t really know. Since the Bockfest Parade was firmly on my schedule, I opted for one of the few fish fries serving in the afternoon. As it turned out, a downtown church operated their fish fry more or less in conjunction with the festival and I could have combined the two but didn’t realize that until it was too late. While I ate my dinner at the Woodlawn Firefighters Association Fish Fry, a large ambulance and a smaller fire truck sitting next the truck in the picture went speeding off to answer a call.

St. John the Evangelist Fish FrySt. John the Evangelist Fish FryThe second week I left home for something some distance away but changed my mind as soon as I pulled into traffic. Congestion prompted me to head for the reasonably near St. John the Evangelist Church in West Chester. I chose the sampler which got me some fried shrimp, a crab cake, and baked fish. I could have had fried fish with my sampler or I could have had just fish, baked or fried. I also could have had pizza. For crying out loud! Pizza? I suppose you could claim that things started down the slippery slope when they started offering non-fried (i.e., baked, grilled, broiled) fish at functions called “Fish Fries” but, to me, at least, that seems to be much more in keeping with the spirit of things than pizza. At least it was cheese pizza which is in line with the “meatless Fridays” concept on which this whole fish fry business is built.

Saint Colman of Cloyne Fish FrySaint Colman of Cloyne Fish FOn week three I drove to Wilmington to meet my friend John with intentions of taking in a fish fry in Lebanon on the way home. When the conversation turned to my fish fry plans, mention was made of very popular one in Washington Court House. Wilmington is roughly midway between my home and Washington Court House which meant that, while it was still several miles away, I was the closest I was likely to be during serving time. I made it to the Saint Colman of Cloyne church with about fifteen minutes to spare. John thought the fry’s fame and popularity came from an abundance of walleye parishioners brought back from the Great Lakes. While that may have once been the case, the big draw currently, in addition to it being an all-you-can-eat affair, is pollock. Apparently it is such a big part of the attraction that they preempt  confrontations when they run out by posting the news on the main entry door. The “Sorry, we’re out of pollock” sign was displayed when I arrived and apparently had been for awhile. The cashier reiterated the absence of pollock and suggested I check out remaining offerings before paying then charged me $5 rather than the advertised $8. All that and a cupcake, too.

St Francis of Assisi Fish FrySt Francis of Assisi Fish FryI would be spending week four’s Friday in Ann Arbor, MI, which meant a little extra research but it sure worked out well. I picked a fish fry within walking distance of my motel for its convenience and lucked into an excellent meal. That salad is from a salad bar. At $2, the add-on clam chowder was a real bargain. There is baked tilapia, mac & cheese, new potatoes, and green beans on the big plate and it was all delicious. And that includes the beans which, unlike the overcooked mush that is all too common, actually had a nice snap. St Francis of Assisi has the best fish fry in the entire state of Michigan AFAIK.

St Columbkille Fish FrySt Columbkille Fish FryWeek five found me back in Wilmington for birthday eve drinks with buddy John which led to this year’s only repeat, St Columbkille. Baked tilapia was on the menu but was at least temporarily in short supply and its consumption was ever so slightly being discouraged. I didn’t mind a bit and enjoyed a more traditional fish fry meal of cod that was actually fried. Cherry pie included.

St Veronica Fish FrySt Veronica Fish FryThis is where I was headed on week number two when the traffic caused me to reconsider. St Veronica is just down the road from Mt Carmel Brewery where I had intended to stop after dinner. Since then, I learned that the taproom now opens at noon on Fridays so I left home earlier, avoided the traffic, and visited the taproom before dinner. This was a good meal and I’m happy that clam chowder is starting to show up more and more. Also showing up more and more are non-fish items like pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches. I believe I actually saw grilled ham & cheese on the menu here but I’ve got no proof so maybe I imagined it. I’d like to think that’t the case.

Knights of Columbus 3908 Fish FryKnights of Columbus 3908 Fish FryPlans with friends meant I couldn’t make a Good Friday fish fry for dinner but I found one that fit my schedule. Lunch at the Knights of Columbus in Erlanger was my only fish fry outing in Kentucky this year although I’ve gone to other locations in the state in the past. Their dinner menu is pretty complete with baked and fried fish along with shrimp, chicken!, and hamburgers!!. The only thing on the lunch menu is the sandwich in the picture but it’s a pretty good sandwich that comes with french fries and hush-puppies for a mere $5. I asked about those Lenten hamburgers and was told they don’t sell many. Maybe one a week to some youngster. Chicken nuggets, however, move rather well. But fish fries aren’t restricted to Lent for this particular K of C council. In addition to being held every Friday during Lent, they hold a fish fry on the first Friday of every month during the rest of the year. Non-Lenten hamburgers sell really well.

HBW2Me

Arnold'sHappy Birth Week to Me. A week that ends on Saturday has to start on Sunday but not much happened Sunday. Monday, however, was a different story. It was Opening Day. With temperatures climbing into the sixties, it was a fine day to start the Reds’ season and really get my birth week rolling. I often visit Arnold’s after the Opening Day Parade but this year decided to start my day there when I learned that Cincinnati’s oldest bar would be tapping several unusual beers at 9:00 and serving breakfast from 9:00 to 11:00. I passed on the early morning beer but did enjoy breakfast in what I believe is Arnold’s only window seat.

Arnold's Opening Day Menuodp2014eArnold’s normally opens at 11:00 with lunch as the first meal of the day. The special breakfast menu was short. Kids under five could have scrambled eggs. Adults had three choices none of which appear on the menu at IHOP. There were hot dogs, for those wanting to get an early start on the ball park diet plus Sausage Gravy Bread Pudding and Geotta Hot Brown. I decided that the Geotta Hot Brown was the most “Cincinnati” of the choices plus, as you can see by the picture, it’s just the thing if you’re planning on running the bases several times later in the day. As I was leaving, sometime after 10:00, I heard a waitress telling new arrivals that the goetta supply had been depleted and that ham was now being substituted. Bummer but technically not a violation of Porkopolis guidelines.

odp201404odp201403odp201402I reached the parade’s Findlay Market starting point well before the noon step-off and was working my way back along the parade route when things began to roll. I was not at a very good vantage point when Grand Marshall Dave Concepción came by but managed an only partially obscured picture. The scene in the last picture is an unusual one. Because of street car construction, the parade, which usually runs straight down Race Street, detoured over to Elm for several blocks which took it right by Music Hall. It is expected to be back on Race next year.

I am aware of a campaign to make opening day a national holiday (or maybe — it is organized by Budweiser — it’s a campaign to sell beer) but I don’t see that happening. The fact that not all teams open the same day is just one of the details bedeviling the idea. It is really immaterial to Cincinnatians since opening day has been a de facto holiday here for decades. Sometimes Reds opening day and my birthday actually do coincide as they did in 2012 when I wrote a little more about opening day history.

The PrecinctSteak Collinsworth at the PrecinctTuesday was nice but windy. As I ate lunch on the patio of a local pizzeria, a strong gust lifted the large umbrella standing unopened in the center of the table and tried to drop it on my head. It missed. Rain arrived Wednesday afternoon but I got in about a 6K walk before it hit. Six kilometers isn’t all that much when there is a bar and a meal at the turnaround point. On Thursday, I bought myself a birthday present and ate it. I finally made it to the Precinct where I devoured what might have been the best steak I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. The only possible exception is a filet I ate at the Pine Club in Dayton but it is only a possibility. More research is needed.

Good times continued on Friday with a few drinks with buddy John in Wilmington and a continuation of this year’s fish fry streak at Saint Columbkille.

On Saturday, my actual birthday, I had to work. Well, maybe not exactly work. OK, not even remotely work. It did, however, involve just about the only thing I do on a regular schedule, live trivia. The team once again qualified for the semi-finals which took place at noon. I really intended to get a picture to include in this post but completely forgot in the heat of competition. The top five teams move on to the finals. We tied for sixth.

Flipdaddy'sGraeter'sSkyline ChiliMy plans for the rest of the day centered around doing nothing. It was a beautiful day, however, with temperature in the fifties so, as soon as I got home, I headed out for a walk. Within a few steps, I came to the realization that I could continue the celebration and not leave the neighborhood. Not only did I personally stay close to home, there’s hope that some of the money I spent will stay nearby as well. I made three stops and all were at regional chains based in Cincinnati. I started with a 4-way at Skyline, had Chocolate Coconut Almond Chocolate Chip for dessert at Graeter’s, then washed it all down with Mount Carmel Amber Ale at Flipdaddy’s. A birthday that was good to the last drop.

Chip Shot

Ballreich chips & Jolly rootbeerMaybe I wouldn’t normally drive to Michigan just for a concert and maybe I wouldn’t normally drive to northern Ohio just for a potato chip, but at the trailing edge of a winter that has snow falling in the last week of March, either would have qualified as raison d’roadtrip. Together, they could not be denied.

As a child, I had a certain amount of fondness for the well-oiled curled-up and crunchy product of the long gone Star Potato Chip Company in nearby North Star, Ohio. There was also a brief period in my early twenties when I faced the risk of addiction to Mikesell’s Green Onion Potato Chips. Since then, although I’ve certainly eaten my share of chips and crisps and even those impostors that are neatly stacked in tubes, I’ve not had a favorite. I hadn’t really thought about it until a Jim Grey blog post made me realize that I lived in a state that was a legitimate “King of the Chips” contender. The post is here and well worth reading but the important point for me was that Jim, after some serious research, had picked two Ohio made chips as his favorites.

The musical part of the equation is that Willie Nile, who I’ve recently discovered I like a lot, would play his last concert before heading to Spain in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One of Jim’s picks is based in Tiffin, Ohio, which is, if you look at it with the proper motivation, right on the way to Ann Arbor. You could also look at it with the idea that, once you’ve driven to Tiffin, Ann Arbor is just a hop, skip, and a jump farther. Either way works for me.

Ballreich chipsBallreich chipsI headed north on I-75 then left the interstate at Findlay to follow US 224 to Tiffin. If I had studied the history of Ballreich Brothers Inc. a little better, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it in what is basically a residential area on the east side of town. Big buildings have been built and much equipment installed over the last 90+ years but the company remains located right where Fred and Ethel Ballreich started making potato chips in a copper kettle in their garage in 1920. Although the company store is open Monday through Friday during the Christmas season, the normal schedule is Friday’s only. Lucky thing that I was going to a Friday concert and even luckier that I checked in advance since I initially thought of stopping on the way home. In addition to all the company’s snack products, the store offers clothing, mugs, and other items bearing the company logo. I grabbed both a large and a small bag of the Original Marcelled chips and a big bag of sweet potato chips which were unexpected but immediately snagged my interest. I intended to also get a small bag of Sour Cream & Onion but another surprise, Salt & Vinegar, must have distracted me because I let the Sour Cream & Onion get away.

Jolly's root beer, Tiffin, OHI had forgotten that a Jolly’s Root Beer stand existed in Tiffin but instantly recalled the connection with the two in Hamilton, Ohio. The ones in Hamilton can be traced back to 1938 and founder Vinny Jolivette. This one was started by Vinny’s brother, Roy, in 1947. The stand surprised me but the fact that it was open — with temperatures in the 40s — surprised me even more. I’m sure the idea started to form as soon as I saw the Jolly’s sign and it was fully formed by the time I left the Ballreich company store. Rather than having my first Ballreich experience in the parking lot or as I drove out of town, I headed back to the drive-in and that’s how the photo at the top of the article came to be.

Even though I thought I knew what Jim was talking about with his dry chips and moist chips, it wasn’t until I chomped down on one of Ballreich’s beauties that I really understood. All the moisture and much of the flavor had disappeared from my chip supply so gradually that I didn’t consciously miss it. I do now, of course, but I fortunately live in Ohio and, even though Ballreich’s hasn’t reached Cincinnati yet, I frequently pass thorough places where they are supposed to be available. I’ll be OK.

Lamp Post Inn, Ann Arbor, MII asked a couple Michiganers about independent motels in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti resident, Russell Rein, reported that only one remained standing that he knew of. One was enough. The Lamp Post Inn had pretty good reviews, reasonable rates, and a very acceptable location. There is a peek inside my room here. The location became more than acceptable when I searched for Friday Lenten “fish fries” and found one within walking distance of the motel. I’ve made a habit of attending a variety of such events for the last few years and this year am planning on posting some sort of summary after Easter.

The Ark, Ann Arbor, MIThe concert venue, The Ark, was just a couple of miles away. It’s quite a nice place on the second floor of the building in the picture. I’m guessing that it seats no more than 300 and less than a third of those are reserved. I had been able to buy the last reserved seat because, as is often the case, few people want a single seat. Overall, the show was close to being sold out but not quite.

Willie NileI bought a Nile CD, Places I Have Never Been, at that impressive concert in Newport, Kentucky, in February (my post here) then ordered American Ride online. Those two CDs, one more than twenty years old and the other less than a year old, went into heavy rotation in the car. I was becoming quite a fan and thinking I’d like to see another show now that I was a little better prepared. The Ann Arbor show was not only the last in the States for awhile, it was also the closest. Every time I listened to one of those CDs, I would be ready to make plans as soon as I got home. Then some time would pass and I would talk myself out of it. Eventually I listened to Willie Nile and read about potato chips on the same day.

Larry BeersJohnny PisanoMatt HoganThe lineup was the same as it had been in February. Guitarist Matt Hogan and Bassist Johnny Pisano had a little more room than they had in Newport and used it. They certainly had not stood still at the earlier show but here they were just a little showier and they also teased each other a little more. A picture here is just a hint at how much fun they were having together. I’ve read that Alex Alexander has played at least some of the shows since Newport but not this one. I’d kind of like to see the group with him sometime but I sure can’t complain about the job that Larry’s doing. I claimed to have forgotten his last name when I wrote about the concert in Newport but now I have to think that I never heard it properly. Beers! How could I forget the name Beers? Larry Beers is the name and top notch drumming is his game.

Willie Nile bandWillie Nile bandWillie is now off to tour Spain but will be back in the US in May. There is currently nothing very close to me on his schedule but I’ll keep watching. I’ve a lot of catching up to do.

P.S., The sweet potato chips are excellent.

windshield chipADDENDUM 2-Apr-2014: I don’t know how I missed this obvious title connection when I wrapped up this post Saturday night. Earlier in the day, as I left Columbus in traffic, I heard a now familiar clack and soon located this crater in my windshield. “Chip shot” indeed!

Book Review
The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili
Dann Woellert

History of Cincinnati Chili coverThere is definitely a lot of information in this book. That’s why it’s here. I’ve often said that all my reviews are positive not because I like everything I read but because I see no reason to spend time reviewing something I don’t like. The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili had me wavering. The subject matter is clearly in my strike zone. History? Check. Cincinnati? Check. Chili? Are you kidding? This looks like a book that could have been written specifically for me, right? Digging into it, however, was not quite as tasty as I thought it would be.

As I read, I noticed some repeats and the occasional oddly formed or slightly out of place sentence. There were many tiny details, like the address of a parlor owner’s home or the what movies played in nearby theaters, that pushed the too-much-information boundary. I was about halfway through the book when I had an epiphany. I’m not sure it was a real epiphany in which truth was revealed or a pseudo-epiphany in which i concocted a theory that made things make sense to me but it suddenly struck me that I was reading somebody’s notes. Not completely raw notes but notes that had been jotted down to record every bit of information that an interview or newspaper article provided then wrapped in enough conjunctions, adverbs, adjectives, and punctuation to turn bulleted lists into paragraphs. There are exceptions. The introduction and a chapter called “Unlocking the Flavor Secrets”, perhaps because they are overviews of multiple chili operations and recipes, manage to avoid the just-the-facts but all-the-facts style of most of the book.

All-the-facts is a lot. Woellert obviously did extensive research and interviewed several members of Cincinnati Chili’s founding families. Founding family members also supplied several photos from the early days of Cincinnati chili for inclusion in the book. There is a family tree type chart showing how it all goes back to Empress. If you have a question about the history of chili in the Queen City, chances are the answer is in this book; maybe more than once.

I did not have a question but I did have a suspicion that was validated by this book. Tradition has it that Skyline Chili’s name came from the view of downtown Cincinnati from the chain’s original restaurant. Some versions of the story claim it was the view from the kitchen. I readily accepted that until I visited the site on Glenway Avenue last year. The original building is gone but I couldn’t imagine how anyone could see down town from the ground floor of any building at that location. Bill Lambrinides, one of the founders, tells a different story which, since it’s one of the few “revelations” in The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, I won’t retell beyond saying that Bill confirmed that the view was not from the restaurant.

There are some errors in the book but I’ve a feeling that all the dates and addresses associated with actual chili parlors are not among them. In my most recent book review, I used the phrase “well researched and well written”. I can’t use it here. One out of two it is. I found myself scratching my head or chuckling at some of of the writing but still ended up believing the collection of information made this book worth keeping around.

The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, Dann Woellert, The History Press (April 16, 2013), paperback, 9 x 6 inches, 176 pages, ISBN  978-1609499921