Beer not Weak. Beer Week.

Taps at Zip's CafeOne response to a request to name 212 things that first appeared in 1926 would be Zip’s Cafe and 211* US Highways. One of the routes designated when the US Highway System was adopted was US 50 from which Fifty West Brewing Company gets its name. When Zip’s and Fifty West collaborated on a beer to become the restaurant’s house brew, the name 1926 Amber Ale was chosen as something that had meaning to both. The “official” tapping took place on Thursday, the first day of Cincinnati Beer Week.

This post appears very near the mid-point of Cincinnati Beer Week which, like all good weeks since 1964, is eight days long. Cincinnati Beer Week is immediately followed by, but not connected with, the Cincy Beerfest. The Beerfest is a great place to sample a large number of beers though I personally don’t find big events of that sort nearly as enjoyable as I once did. Fortunately, the appearance of “rotating taps” in a large number of taverns lines up well with my own proclivities and allows me to sample a variety of beers over time from the comfort of a bar stool.

So, while I encourage others to do so, I won’t be attending the Beerfest this year nor, for similar reasons, will I be going to the bigger Beer Week events. At least not during their peak periods. The event that started my Beer Week, the Brewer’s Choice for Charity at Arthur’s Cafe, is a big event that packs the place in the evening but I was there early in the afternoon. Arthur’s was the first (if not only) area bar to switch all of their draft beer taps to local brands. For this event, each of the eight taps pours something from a different brewery and each brewery picks a charity to receive a dollar for each pint sold. The restaurant then matches the amount earned by the top selling brew. I beat the crowd while scoring a buck apiece for Madtree and Blank Slate.

Zip's entrance in snowThen I headed on over to Zip’s and even snapped a photo of the entrance with a fair amount of snow covering the curbside area out front. I feared that the tapping at Zip’s might be something of a frenzy but, even though the place was quite busy, it wasn’t crazy. There was not a big ceremony and the new beer started flowing well before the clock struck 5:00. I suspect the introduction was even less formal at the brewery itself, which had several representatives on hand.

At least one of the Fifty West people used to work at Jackie O’s in Athens, Ohio, and there is still a connection of sorts. On this evening, four of the eight taps at Zip’s were devoted to Jackie O’s products and the other four (in the top picture) to Fifty West. While waiting for the 1926 Amber Ale, I stayed hydrated with a standard Fifty West brew, the Thirty-37 Pale Ale.

Zipburger and 1926 Amber AleFifty West 1926 Amber Ale’26, as I heard one of the brewery guys call it, struck me as a pleasant middle of the road brew that should fill the role of restaurant house beer quite nicely. My own timing was no more precise than the new brew tapping and my glass of 1926 Amber Ale was half gone when my Zipburger arrived. They still still make a lovely pair.

* There are many ways to count the number of “routes” covered by the adoption of a national numbering system on November 11, 1926. 211 is the number of entries in the list provided here by Robert V. Droz.

Feedly Fumble: Two weeks ago, this website switched hosting companies. On the morning of January 26, a blog entry titled “Moving Day” was posted from the old server. Toward the end of the day, when the move was essentially complete, an entry titled “Meet the New Host” was posted from the new server. The actual RSS feed and most accesses behaved as expected with the morning post disappearing to be replaced by the evening post in due time. The Feedly reader, which I use and generally like, has been the exception. To date, it continues to show the early post rather than the later one and no flushing, resubscribing, or incense burning has helped. If you use Feedly and fear there is something you’ve missed, the first blog entry from the new host is here. Feedly has performed just fine with subsequent posts.

A Birthday Bash and a Big Bashing

Pleasant Ridge Chili 50th AnniversaryConsistent is not the way to describe my news input. I hardly ever read a newspaper anymore. I do occasionally watch some national news on the broadcast networks and some national and international stuff on PBS. I think I watch local morning news fairly often but it’s hardly regular and I guess it can’t really be called often in the way that most of the world defines the word. I’m writing all of this in an effort to establish an excuse for missing a landmark event in a nearby community where I once lived. Despite significant advance coverage by local TV stations and others, it wasn’t until I saw an “after the fact” report that I learned of Pleasant Ridge Chili‘s 50th anniversary.

It was Friday evening when I saw the report on Wednesday’s celebration. I felt embarrassed, of course, and even a little guilty that I not only missed attending but was totally ignorant of the big event. I corrected things as quickly as I could. On Saturday afternoon, I headed to PRC, grabbed a seat at the counter, and ordered a 4-way. In chatting with the waitresses, I realized that missing the big day wasn’t all bad. It had been a madhouse; in a good way, of course. Ninety-nine cent coneys and free baklava had customers lined up “out the door”. Though things had calmed down considerably, it was still extra busy on Saturday and everyone was looking forward to a day off on Sunday. Owner Danny Sideris was one of the people hustling to keep things running smoothly but he sure was happy and I even got to talk with him a little when he would pause near the end of the counter to contemplate his next move. He estimated that about half of the customers were there for the first time and he wanted to make sure their first impression was a good one.

Before I knew of the anniversary, I had determined that nothing blog-worthy was happening this week and scheduled a Trip Pic Peek for the Sunday morning post. I briefly reconsidered this after my Saturday afternoon visit but decided that a post about missing the party would not be very interesting and not worth the effort to put together before bedtime. So, what changed my mind? Actually, nothing changed my mind about the story being interesting. It isn’t and I know it. But, before I fell asleep, I discovered something else I had missed and which made a chili related post almost mandatory. The thing I discovered was posted in October so I’m already really late in reacting. No use waiting another week.

In an unguarded moment, I was led, through some sort of internet baiting, to a blog post titled “The Great American Menu: Foods Of The States, Ranked And Mapped”. The post is here. It is an honest article that declares up front that it is not “scientific”, “researched”, or “fair”. It didn’t take long to realize that the writer was some sort of cyberspace Don Rickles who felt obligated to insult almost every state and edible including those he claimed to like. I never cared much for Rickles but admit that he did occasionally say something funny. Same with the writer and I found myself smiling now and then as I read through the list. As I crossed the halfway point, it occurred to me that he would likely be even more obnoxious with his unscientific, unresearched, and unfair set of losers. I also realized that Ohio had not yet been mentioned and that’s probably what drew me on. As the list moved into the lower fifth, I started fearing that Ohio would pop up around 44 or 48. “Please, Rickles wannabe”, I silently pleaded, “don’t rank Ohio merely near the bottom. We want nothing but the worst.”

My pleas were answered with a tirade that was so far over the top that I suspected the entire list was created just as an introduction for this blast. (It was.) The District of Columbia was included in the list but Ohio did not come in at 51. In addition the the 50 states and DC, the writer inserted “Being Hit By A Car” in front of Ohio for the apparent purpose of moving the state down another notch. Few states got more than a paragraph in the list and many were dismissed with just a few words. Ohio got four paragraphs and over 400 words all targeting Cincinnati Chili. Skyline is the only brand name used but it’s unclear whether that’s the only name he knows or if he has a special grudge against the company. It’s no more clear why the bonus blather for Cincinnati Chili. Maybe a Skyline waitress once saw the guy naked and laughed or maybe he heard a rumor that his conception involved a 3-way and misunderstood. Or maybe southwest Ohio just doesn’t visit enough.

Deadspin is the website where the list appeared. It is described as a sports website with a sarcastic and humorous editorial tone. Add the connection between food lists and sports to things unclear. Perhaps there was a “get more Cincy clicks” directive and the chili bashing was the result. If so, it worked. I visited the deadspin site one more time than I would have otherwise. Hope that’s enough.

Butt Weight, There’s Less

19-Jan-2013The title of this post is how I imagine Ron Popeil hawking some magic weight loss device on a late night infomercial.
I already have such a device. Well, it’s not really magic and it won’t work for everybody but my smartphone did actually help me lose a few pounds.

First off let me say that I have not tried every weight loss trick in the world.
I have, in fact, tried almost none. I’ve weighed far too much for far too long but sugar and cholesterol and other levels have been fine so my doctor hasn’t beaten me up about it. I didn’t, and still don’t, beat myself up about it either even though I wasn’t happy about it. Every now and then I might scan an article on weight loss but they tend to be about various diets to follow, groups to join, or people to pay to tell you what to eat. Then, somewhere along the way, I saw an article claiming that simply tracking consumption was one of the most effective aids to losing weight and that clicked with the geek buried — ever deeper — inside me.

In my head, I somehow managed to relate computerized calorie counting with Quicken. I’ve been a Quicken user since about 1994. Entering numbers into a computer program felt natural to me and sometimes even fun. I’ve never used Quicken’s budget management features though I’ve no doubt they are wonderful. Simply tracking my money helped me get most of my bills paid on time and allowed me to see when a tight spot was approaching. That “tracking helps lose weight” claim seemed perfectly legit to me.

That getting my phone involved made sense was no doubt due in part to a recent addition I’d made to my money tools. I try to track cash expenditures but I’m not terribly good at it and have learned to accept a fair sized miscellaneous expense at the end of each month. Not long ago I installed a free app, Cash2QIF, that lets me enter the cost of my breakfast while I’m still sipping coffee then electronically transfer the data to Quicken later. The miscellaneous expenses have not gone to zero but they’re smaller. Entering calories at the same time seemed like something that might work.

So I picked up a free “calorie counter” app and set out to track what I ate. In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious to me that things would have fallen apart rather quickly if, as was my assumption, I really had to determine and enter a bunch of numeric values. Fortunately the app provided access to a database of foods so it was easy to determine the calories in the three 16 ounce glasses of carrot juice I was drinking everyday. Just kidding. Carrot juice can indeed be found (I just checked) but so can things like Smithwick’s and half pound ‘burgers. Find the food, tap to enter, and the appropriate calories are recorded along with other nutritional data like fat, carbs, vitamins, etc.

Even better is the app’s use of the phone’s camera to read bar codes. As a kitchen challenged single male, I eat a goodly amount of packaged foods. With dinner in the microwave, I can point the phone at the package before pitching it and the calories, carbs, and calcium I am about to consume are instantly recorded. I also eat out a lot and menu items from many restaurants are available in the database.

My rate of reduction is a long way from remarkable. Twenty-two pounds in twenty-weeks. Barely a pound a week. A friend who went on a low-carb diet a while after I started recording calories has lost more than twice that in less time. I like his results but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t stick to that or any other real diet. I haven’t really cut out anything in particular. I have a target number of calories per day. I don’t panic if I miss it but I’m aware of it and try to do better the next day or the next one or the one after that. Most, but not all, weekly totals have been below the target.

5-Jun-2013The number on that scale is significant for a couple of reasons. First off, I think it may be the first time I’ve been below 200 this century. Secondly, it’s near a halfway point of sorts. The most generous of guidelines puts my “ideal weight” around 175 pounds. When I started counting calories on January 19, I was 47 over. Half of 47 is 23.5 and the 22 pounds that I’ve lost is within a large smidgen of that. I don’t know that I’ll ever make it to that “ideal” but it no longer seems completely impossible.

The app I’m using is the Android version of MyFitnessPal. I didn’t do much research so I don’t know that it’s the best available. I do know that it has the features I was looking for plus some I wasn’t but which have proven key to my continued use. It also has features, such as counting vitamins and connecting to scales, armbands, and other devices, that I doubt I’ll ever use.

A significant boundary was crossed about halfway between the two pictures. During the middle of some night in April, I went from being officially obese to being officially overweight. Yeah, that’s a lot like learning that your checking account isn’t overdrawn as much this month as last but I’ll take it.

Tasting Cincinnati 35 years of age, Taste of Cincinnati is “the nation’s longest running culinary arts festival”. It started as a one day affair in 1979 but within just a couple of years had grown to two. Since 1988 it has filled the entire three day weekend of Memorial Day with food, drink, and entertainment. When it expanded to three days, it moved from Piatt Park (Garfield Place) to Central Parkway. Since 2007, its home has been several blocks of Fifth Street around Fountain Square.

Taste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiMy attendance has been spotty but when I do go I sort of target the winners and I did a pretty good job of that this year. At left is this year’s Best Entree, a very tasty Honey Sweet & Sour Shrimp from Arloi Dee. It was preceded by the Best Appetizer, Thai Taste’s Crab Rangoon. I’d also try the Best Dessert but that would be later.

Walking between the rows of booths exposed me to all sorts of tantalizing aromas and sights and I yielded to a Third Place Pulled Pork Sandwich from Giminetti’s Bakery. Third place is pretty impressive and it tasted mighty fine but, largely because of what I came to next, I didn’t really need it.

Taste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiWhat I came to next was the Taste Experience. New this year, the Experience features some of the area’s top tier restaurants along with Les Chefs de Cuisine, the regional chapter of the American Culinary Federation. The restaurants generally do three hour stints while Les Chefs are there through the full weekend. I decided to try the Rigatoni Bolognese being offered by Palomino for $3 but, when told I could have it and the Pear Bread Pudding for $5, I just said yes. Considering the ladies doing the serving, it’s surprising I didn’t go for ten of each.

Taste of Cincinnatitoc08Shortly after arriving, I had registered for a Christian Moerlein brewery tour. As tour time neared, I returned to Fountain Square to board the shuttle. On the way to the brewery, we passed Piatt Park, site of the first nine Tastes, which was occupied today by the March Against Monsanto.

Taste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiI had expected a tour of the rather new Moerlein production facilities so was surprised to learn that the tour involved the lagering cellars beneath the brewery. The building now occupied by Moerlein was home to the Kaufmann Brewery before prohibition did it in. I’ve been here before but it’s always interesting to visit the massive hand dug cellars and see what several decades of use as a trash bin produces.

Taste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiThough there really wasn’t a tour, someone was on hand in the brewing area to answer questions. The taproom officially opened today and will be in operation regularly on weekends.

It always thought it a little embarrassing to attend a “taste” event in a city that was once a leader in beer production — and consumption — and find nothing but the likes of Budweiser and Miller. Christian Moerlein and owner Greg Hardman have changed that in a big way. Moerlein is a presenting sponsor of this year’s event and Moerlein booths were plentiful but there was no monopoly. Miller and Bud were there and so were folks like Rivertown, Great Lakes, and Bells.

Taste of CincinnatiTaste of CincinnatiAfter the tour, I returned to the festival area for two specific reasons. Food trucks have become increasingly popular in the area. Taste of Cincinnati added a Food Truck Alley this year and that’s something I hadn’t yet seen. And then there was that Best of Taste dessert. There were definitely some inviting food trucks in the “alley” but I was saving what little room I had left for the Vanilla Bourbon Bread Pudding at Blue Wisp. A color coded living statue made the place easy to find and the excellent bread pudding was the perfect finish to a day of epicurean delights.

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.


Weber's CafeI turned sixty-six on Friday. Had I waited, I would now be eligible for full Social Security benefits. Sixty-six is what the Social Security Administration calls “full retirement age” for folks born between 1943 and 1954. But I started drawing my monthly payment about three years ago so nothing about that changed on Friday. Sixty-six is not a particularly exciting birthday. At sixty-two I became eligible for reduced Social Security and sixty-five brought me Medicare but there are no more birthdays with benefits in my future. There was a period, in the distant past, when every couple of birthdays brought something new and wonderful. Turning thirteen made me a teenager, I could drive when I reached sixteen and buy 3.2% beer at eighteen. Twenty-one brought the possibility of buying whiskey and voting. Twenty-two brought nothing. Thirty, forty, fifty, and sixty were all big deals with the first three being celebrated mightily but not one birthday between twenty-one and sixty-two brought new privileges and neither will any in the future. Sixty-six is like twenty-two with more aches and pains and a much earlier bedtime.

Weber's CafeWeber's CafeOf course the lack of new privileges did not keep me from enjoying the day. I got it started with some phenomenal pecan pancakes at one of my favorite breakfast spots, The Original Pancake House. I hung out at home for a bit then headed out again in the early afternoon. My first stop was at the place pictured to the left and at the top of this post. Not only was it my first stop of the afternoon, it was my first stop ever at Weber’s Cafe and, unless I get back there one of three days next week, it will be my last. Weber’s is closing next Wednesday and it was a news article about the closing that brought the neighborhood bar to my attention. The place couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming but it really is a place where friends gather. I drank a couple of PBRs and had delightful chats with both George and Nancy (who appear in the article and accompanying video) but in the end I was a tourist who could admire the comradery of the regulars but who was certainly not part of it. Those guys are really going to miss this place. Heck, I’m going to miss the place and I was only there once. There’s a nice blog post from a few years back here.

Next up was a drive to Wilmington to meet buddy John. We met at Daluca’s Dugout and I really should have grabbed some pictures there because Deluca’s (perhaps better known as Sal’s) is a blue collar place with its own set of regulars and its own set of sports memorabilia though its memorabilia isn’t quite in the same class as that at Weber’s. John is a regular and I’m becoming a semi-regular and it’s a very comfortable place to down a few brews. From there we headed to MacD’s Pub with intentions of having one beer and ended up splitting a pitcher while chatting with John’s boss, Norm, who graciously bought a round of Woodford for the three of us. This had developed into a bit more of a celebration than I had anticipated.

My next move was partly, but not entirely, spontaneous. John and I had devoured a couple of baskets of chips at Sal’s but the idea of seeking out some real food seemed a good one. Over the last several days, the thought of a special meal for my birthday had occurred a time or two. One of the places I’d thought of is in Dayton. I can reach Dayton from Wilmington in about the same amount of time as I can reach home. Of course I’d still need to get home from Dayton but I saw that as a detail that could be dealt with later. Dayton was where I headed.

Pine ClubPine ClubThe Pine Club is an old school steakhouse with a mile high reputation. Though the restaurant and I are the same age, I’d eaten there just once. On that one visit, however, I was served what I believe was the best steak I’ve ever eaten. I certainly do intend to enjoy another one someday but that’s not what was on my mind this time. In addition to a variety of steaks, the Pine Club offers a nice seafood selection and some sandwiches including hamburgers. I really was surprised when I first saw Pine Club and hamburger mentioned together but it seems the restaurant has been showing up on best ‘burgers lists for quite awhile. I’ve lusted after one of these babies for a long time. The lust was justified and the drive rewarded. This is a high quality and tasty hamburger that is neither over-priced nor over-hyped. Happy Birthday to me.

Chili All Week and It’s Cold, Too.

Cincinnati Hills and ChiliThe most recent AAA magazine contains an article titled Cincinnati’s Seven Hills. There are a lot more than seven hills around here but Cincinnati gets its name from Rome and likes to connect with it in other ways, too. So, like that ancient city, Cincinnati is said to be built on seven hills although there is no universal agreement on which seven those are. AAA picked Mount Adams, Mount Auburn, Mount Lookout, Mount Washington, Mount Airy, Price Hill, and Walnut Hills and the article contained a brief description of each one. Price Hill’s description included mention of Price Hill Chili. There are even more chili parlors than hills in Cincinnati and everyone has their own favorites. Not only was Price Hill Chili not on my personal favorites list, I’d never even been there. I can’t reproduce the exact thought sequence but I seemed to naturally move from seven hills to seven chili parlors to seven days between my planned Sunday posts. So, when the next Sunday afternoon rolled around, I set out for the first of seven daily 4-ways. In Cincinnati, chili is commonly eaten over spaghetti with shredded cheese piled on top. That’s a 3-way; spaghetti, chili, cheese. Add onions or beans and you’ve got a 4-way. Add both for a 5-way. I’m a 4-way with onions sort of guy.

Price Hill ChiliPrice Hill ChiliSunday: I started with Price Hill Chili, the place mentioned in the article. It calls itself a “family restaurant” and there is a lot on the menu besides chili. There is also a bar area and a big patio that I’m sure is an attraction in the summer but not so much in February. It’s been in business since 1962. The place was certainly busy though not so full that I had to wait for a seat. It didn’t take long for my 4-way to appear and it disappeared rather quickly, too. The chili is plenty meaty and tastes quite good but not good enough to dethrone my favorite. It does, however, top the lists at both Urban Spoon and Metromix.

Empress ChiliEmpress ChiliMonday: This might be as close as you can get to the “big bang” of Cincinnati chili. Cincinnati style chili is said to have been born when Tom and John Kiradjieff started serving a modified Greek stew on hot dogs and spaghetti in their stand next to the Empress Theater. The brothers adopted the theater’s name for their restaurant and the whole city adopted the stew and the style of serving it. Ninety years later, Empress Chili is still very much around although details of the “empire” are foggy. There are several restaurants in the area that advertise and serve Empress Chili without being Empress restaurants and the product can be purchased in many area supermarkets. There are somewhere between two and four official Empress Chili parlors and Empress Chili in Hartwell, where I stopped, is one of the two “for sures”. The other is in Alexandria, Kentucky. The employees on site when I was there were friendly and competent but didn’t really know how it all fits together either. This was the first I’ve had Empress Chili in several years and, while it’s not my own favorite, it is quite good and is the favorite of bunches of people.

Dixie ChiliDixie ChiliTuesday: Some of the oldest evidence of the Empress “big bang” can be seen at Dixie Chili in Newport, Kentucky. Greek immigrant Nicholas Sarakatsannis worked at Empress for awhile before moving on to start his own restaurant. Not wanting to compete with his former bosses, Nick picked a spot across the river. That was in 1929 and the restaurant, though greatly enlarged, is still there and there are two more. All are in Kentucky. The phrase “greatly enlarged” may be a little weak to describe growing from the original 8 x 30 foot store. It’s that white covered area between the buildings and is shown left center in an array of photos displayed at the restaurant. With all that history, it’s kind of hard to believe that this was my first visit. Sad but true. However, it’s a place I liked well enough to assure a return visit.

Delhi ChiliDelhi ChiliWednesday: This was the last place to be added to my schedule. Picking six chili parlors was fairly easy. Picking seven was much tougher and it sure wasn’t due to a lack of candidates. As I read about the various places that internet searches turned up, Delhi Chili worked its way to the top of my list. Everything I read about Delhi Chili made it sound like the independent neighborhood parlor I was looking for. Eating there clinched it. The restaurant has been there since 1963 and features chili but operates like a diner with daily specials and other non-chili offerings. Plus, you can’t get much friendlier. There’s not even a decent Facebook page let alone a real website but you can find the place with this and once you find it I think you’ll like it. I like it a lot — especially the cheese — and will definitely be back. Wish it was closer.

Pleasant Ridge ChiliPleasant Ridge ChiliThursday: Pleasant Ridge Chili began in 1964. It looks and feels like a neighborhood chili parlor should and, like Delhi Chili and just about every other non-chain chili joint in the city, its menu includes much more than chili. Although there are 4-ways I personally like a little better, those at PRC are certainly good and the place is definitely comfortable with friendly staff and customers, too.

Blue Ash ChiliBlue Ash ChiliFriday: I was just a little surprised when Guy Fieri selected Blue Ash Chili for an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I’d eaten here several times but had always ordered one of their over-stuffed double-decker sandwiches. I had never tried the chili but that was something I soon corrected and decided that Guy had made a pretty good choice. Blue Ash Chili started in 1969 and recently added a second restaurant that’s actually just a little bit closer to me but it had to be the original for this visit.

Camp Washington ChiliCamp Washington ChiliSaturday: Camp Washington Chili moved a couple of notches up the street and built a new building in 2000 when street widening took the brick structure it had occupied since 1940. It’s open 24 hours a day 6 days a week and serves breakfast and sandwiches in addition to chili. I can’t deny that the around the clock diner image is part of the reason I like the place but I really do like the meaty chili. I want to say it has more flavor than most but maybe they all have the same amount of flavor and this just has more of the flavor I like.

The Cincinnati chili giants, Skyline and Gold Star, are, I suppose, conspicuous by their absence. That’s not because they’re no good or that they’re not genuine Cincinnati chili parlors. They are both very good and very Cincinnati. Skyline was started by a former Empress employee in 1949 on Price Hill and four brothers launched Gold Star in 1965 on Mount Washington. But I wanted to eat at independent parlors and came pretty close to succeeding. Dixie and Blue Ash do have multiple locations but they are few and not far between. Empress is the closest of the seven to being a chain but its unique spot in Cincinnati chili history would warrant a stop no matter what.

None of my week’s worth of 4-ways was less than good and none were expensive. Not one stop required more than a ten dollar bill for a 4-way, iced tea, and tip. Camp Washington and Blue Ash remain my number one and two choices respectively but Dixie and Delhi are both credible challengers. More data is needed. While the others are left at the bottom of the list, it’s a pretty short list and I’d happily scarf down another 4-way at any of them… after a little break.

Common Ground Veterans Initiative Scholarship Fund

I’ve mentioned musician Josh Hisle in a couple of trip journals and in an earlier blog post. I very much like his music but there’s a lot more to Josh than meets the ear. He has been involved in Common Ground on the Hill for several years and now, as a veteran himself, is very active in their current effort to increase veteran involvement even more. That effort includes an Indiegogo fund raiser here. Check out the video, tell your friends, and chip in a few bucks if you can.

Ohio National Road Meetup

Springs Motel, Yellow Springs, OhioAlthough I did spend a night away from home, it wasn’t really a road trip and, though I did attend an event, it wasn’t the sort of thing that produces a lot of pictures for an Oddment page. Good thing I’ve got a blog, eh?

The focal point of my little outing was Friday’s annual meeting of the Ohio National Road Association. These meetings are held in the Columbus area and, while it would be feasible for me to drive home after one of them, it wouldn’t be all that much fun. In the past, I’ve used them as an excuse to spend a night near Columbus and do Columbusy things. This year’s meeting was in Lafayette, Ohio, about midway between Columbus and Springfield. I thought about using it as an excuse to spend the night in Springfield then had a better idea.

Springs Motel, Yellow Springs, OhioSprings Motel, Yellow Springs, OhioThe Springs Motel is about ten miles south of Springfield near the town of Yellow Springs. I stopped here a few years back to check out the place as a possible overnight on a weekend cruise being planned. It didn’t work out that time but it has remained in my mind as a place I’d like to stay. I had envisioned staying here in the summer when I could sit outside and chat with the neighbors but temperatures in the twenties pretty much eliminated any chance of that happening. I still very much enjoyed my stay, however. The twelve room motel was built in 1956 and refurbished in 2002. It’s reasonably priced, quite comfortable, and operated the way an independent motel should be. Its owner has imprinted it with a personality that comes through on the website and in placards like this. Folks often rent the entire motel for family gatherings or events in Yellow Springs.

Red Brick Tavern, Lafayette, OhioThe meeting in Lafayette was at the Red Brick Tavern which identifies itself as “A house of hospitality since 1837”. Its construction anticipated completion of the National Road in this area by just a bit but it was soon providing food, refreshments, and lodging to travelers on the new road. What better place for a bunch of National Road fans to meet than in a building that started serving our kind about 175 years ago? The tavern’s fortunes fell with the coming of the railroads, rose with the coming of automobiles, and fell again when I-70 pulled traffic away from the National Road/US 40. It was idle and about to be auctioned when the current owners, Madonna Christy and Cris Cummins brought it back to life. It was sure busy Friday night. Of course, our group of near forty helped but, in addition to the dining room that we occupied, the main dining room seemed just as full and the bar area was overflowing. Partly because of the crowd, I took no pictures inside and barely got this one outside as the sun was setting. I had to deal with on going construction as the road is widened once again. I wonder how may times the Red Brick Tavern has seen that happen.

An excellent meal was immediately followed by the business meeting. Highlights included a report on the ongoing interpretive signs project and the ramping up of a project to replace or repair missing or badly damaged mile markers. Two Milestone Awards are given each year. Mike Peppe received the Leadership Award for his work with the interpretive signs while  Madonna Christy and Cris Cummins received the Preservation Award for their resurrection of the Red Brick Tavern. Dean Ringle will remain on the board as Immediate Past President while Doug Smith ends his possibly record setting run as Vice President to become President. Mary Ellen Weingartner is the new Vice President.

Springs Motel, Yellow Springs, OhioSprings Motel, Yellow Springs, OhioIt was full on dark when I drove back to the motel so the lighted sign and neon bordered building were welcome sights. My room was also quite welcoming. Take a look here.

Winds Cafe, Yellow Springs, OhioWinds Cafe, Yellow Springs, OhioOn Saturday, I hung around Yellow Springs long enough to try out the highly acclaimed Winds Cafe. This place gets considerable press and I found it classy but not stuffy. I was there for lunch so it’s possible that dinner time is different but I doubt it. Menus, featuring local ingredients, change seasonally. Today’s offerings included an omelette and, this being my first meal of the day, that was my pick. This was not, however, a ham & cheese omelette from some chain restaurant. This was a smoked trout and Boursin omelette “flipped the traditional way” in a French iron pan and that’s exactly what it tasted like. Excellent!

War protestors, Yellow Springs, OhioAs I headed south out of Yellow Springs, I passed something that could have been part of an SNL skit about old hippies. Of course it also looked like something I could probably be a part of so I smiled and waved as I drove by. I get to Yellow Springs a few times each year but I guess I’ve not been there between noon and 1:00 on a Saturday in at least ten years. Since late 2002, a small group of anti-war protesters has been spending the first hour of each Saturday afternoon standing on  a Yellow Springs street corner. A nice article here tells much more. I have immense respect for those people and they’ve got me thinking about digging out my old beads and scrounging up some cardboard.

Circleville Pumpkin Show

Circleville Pumpkin Show2012 is the 106th year that Circleville, Ohio, has held a pumpkin show/festival. They did the first 105 without me but I finally made it to one on Thursday. The festival started with a Tuesday night preview and will continue through Saturday. The closest I’ve come to attending in the past was a morning after drive through when the tear-down process was in full swing. I could tell from the empty booths and stages that this was a pretty big affair but I don’t believe I realized just how big.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowCircleville Pumpkin ShowCircleville Pumpkin ShowSeveral blocks of downtown Circleville are blocked off and the streets are lined with vendors and at least a half dozen stages. Craft booths and food booths make up the bulk of the offerings but there was at least one fortune teller, a petting zoo, and a tent filled with more exotic creatures. Some vendors added pumpkin themed items to their normal offerings while others were “all pumpkin, all the time”. In addition to ice cream, funnel cakes, and deep fried pie, there was, pumpkin fudge, cookies, bread, and good old fashion un-fried pie. There was also an abundance of standard festival fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, Italian sausage, french fries, tacos, and deep fried everything. The longest line was at a chicken booth.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowMy dinner was something festival appropriate. The question on my lips was obviously one that had been asked many times before. The folks operating this trailer simplified things immensely by posting a description. The pumpkin burger was a sloppy joe sort of thing and quite good. It even had just a hint of pumpkin flavor if I held my mouth just right.

Circleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeThe Circleville Pumpkin Show calls itself “The Greatest Free Show On Earth”. In addition to those six stages with bluegrass, rock, symphony, and everything in between, there are parades. Lots of them. This year there are seven with beauty queens, marching bands, and all the trimmings.

Circleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeYou may have noticed that Mr. Pumpkin had a stroller with a little Pumpkin. That’s because this is the Baby Parade with somewhere around 500 babies; All under three years of age.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowCircleville Pumpkin ShowSo you lug your half-ton pumpkin to the show and it’s only good for third! Yep, 1141 pounds of pumpkin was bested by 1216 and 1315 pound giants. There were actually several 1000+ pound entries. In theory, just one of those big pumpkins could produce several pies like the one pictured since a mere 96 pounds of pumpkin is required. The complete recipe is on the wall for all you home bakers.

Circleville Pumpkin Show Ohio University Marching 110I stayed long enough to see part of the evening Band Parade which featured the Marching 110 from Ohio University. It was really too dark and I was too far away to get any decent pictures but it’s pretty obvious that “The Most Exciting Band in the Land” filled the streets. Several high school marching bands filled out the parade for a rousing musical finale to my day.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowIt’s not easy getting your crops to grow in formation but Ohio farmers are up to the task.


Washington Park & Music Hall at MPMF.12Some consider Cincinnati’s Mid Point Music Festival second only to Austin’s South by Southwest and some concede even that grudgingly  The eleventh coming of MPMF has just concluded and it was only the third I’ve attended at all. I think I was there the first year and again for the second or third but I’m not at all certain. Whichever ones they were, I know they were pretty early on and know that I’ve spent many years since feeling guilty about not going. Sometimes I was out of town or had another legitimate reason but mostly I was just too lazy. The effort that I shied away from was not the driving downtown or the hiking between venues; It was the effort of determining which venues to hike between.

This year is typical. There are 180 bands playing at 16 venues over 3 days. Unlike most music festivals, MPMF doesn’t book the world’s most well known bands to get you to attend. It books lesser known but highly talented bands to get them and you some exposure to each other. Unless you are an industry pro, you’re not likely to be familiar with many of those 180 bands. You can either show up and hope you stumble upon a couple of performers that you like or you can spend time planning your visit in hopes of not missing your next big favorite. Or you can do what I’ve been doing and dodge the whole thing.

Washington Park at MPMF.12Maybe the feelings of guilt finally caught up with me or maybe it was the addition of the recently redone Washington Park as a venue or maybe it was actually recognizing the performer who would be headlining one of the Washington Park shows. It was probably all the above and more that prompted me to at least dip a toe — or ear — back into the Midpoint Music Festival. I decided to attend one night of the three day festival and partake of only the Washington Park offerings. The photo at the top of this post is of Washington Park a couple of hours before the official opening of the festival. That is the glorious Cincinnati Music Hall in the background. At what I believe was the first concert at Washington Park in July, the bands had played from the permanent stage where I stood to take the picture at left. Yes, the music has started but the crowd is almost non-existent. The opening crowd at festivals, especially those with sixteen stages, is often like that and rain & rumors of rain didn’t help. As it turned out, not a drop fell on Washington park during the entire concert.

Here We Go Magic at MPMF.12Pomegranates at MPMF.12 Bonesetters at MPMP.12The group that opened the show and is playing to a lot of grass in the previous picture was the Bonesetters from Indianapolis. The crowd was significantly larger, though far from large, by the end of their set. With a good performance of very solid original material, they deserved more but, being both new and semi-local, the exposure was still no doubt good for them. Next up was the even more local but well established Pomegranates. I’d heard of them but don’t believe I’d ever heard them and know I’d not seen them. From the white clothes and dyed hair to the Fender Mustangs, there is plenty of formula and gimmickry here but it’s backed with solid music, lots of energy, and impressive vocals. The next band, Brooklyn’s Here We Go Magic, seems to basically be a group of talented musicians delivering singer-songwriter Luke Temple’s well crafted tunes. They sounded good and I liked the material but there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of energy or conviction coming from the stage. It appears that band personnel may vary from time to time so maybe there’s a killer …Magic lineup out there somewhere.

That headliner I recognized was Andrew Bird. I surprised myself by recognizing the names — not necessarily the sounds — of at least eight performers. Eight of one-eighty! I doubt many attendees would brag about a 4% recognition rate but this old man is doing exactly that.

Andrew Bird at MPMF.12Andrew Bird at MPMF.12It was full on dark when Bird took the stage and, while that didn’t help me get crisp photos, it did show just what those overhead spirals were there for. Spinning slowly and lit by frequently changing colored spot lights, they were a nice visual backing for Bird’s music. I had heard a few recorded tunes so was aware of Bird’s whistling ability but did not realize just how good it was or how much he used it. Where another musician might blow into a harmonica for a little non-verbal music, Bird just purses his lips and blows into the microphone. It might seem like a gimmick for a few seconds but it quickly becomes just another instrument in the mix. That mix includes a bassist, guitarist, and a drummer that plays keyboards. And then there’s Bird. Seemingly equally proficient on guitar and violin, he usually plays one or the other but sometimes uses both in the same song. In the close up, he’s playing a glockenspiel while holding a violin which he will pick or bow then lay down to play the guitar hanging at his side.

Andrew Bird at MPMF.12Music Hall’s circular stained glass window sure looks good hanging above Andrew Bird’s lighted spirals and there was a nearly full moon floating behind me. I truly enjoyed my one venue return to MPMF. I’m sure Thursday is the least crowded of the festival’s three nights and the threat of rain may have also played a role. The crowd at Washington Park grew steadily as the first three bands performed then took a big jump as Bird’s slot approached but it never reached the shoulder to shoulder mass that I feared and the promoters hoped for. I hope it was enough and I hope to be back next year. Sorry I’ve been away so long.

Island Noodles at MPMF.12Not all of the entertainment in Washington Park was musical. Among the food vendors was new-to-me Island Noodles. I happened to be Brad’s first customer of the day which meant I had to wait awhile for dinner but I got a great show and absolutely fresh food in return. Although it’s hard to beat a huge flame, it was also fun to watch the veggies get chopped into the big wok. Before I even finished paying for my noodles, the next customer was beside me and business picked up from there. This is good eating.

This particular operation is based in Florida. That’s where Brad lives but he is originally from Toledo and has spent the summer staying with his parents and working festivals around the state. Events included July’s Bunbury Festival which was also in Cincinnati. As he cooked, we chatted, and Brad said he wished he had learned more about Cincinnati when he was growing up near the other edge of Ohio. “This”, he says, “is the friendliest city I’ve ever been in.” That’s nice to hear. I think so, too.

Montgomery Inn ribs & shrimpI was in Indianapolis last week and in my trip journal I raved about a bar-b-que joint named Squealers. It deserved the raves but it reminded me of two things. One, I hadn’t eaten in my favorite ribs joint in quite some time and, two, I had a gift card that would let me do it for for free or close to free. I made use of that card on Wednesday. If I am ever convicted of a capital crime in a country that honors the last-meal-for-a-condemned-man convention, this is what I want; Montgomery Inn ribs, shrimp, and Saratoga chips. Being warned about stirring the sweet plum sauce and hot mustard is as reliable as death and taxes. I kidded the waitress about it and she shrugged. “You don’t know what they do to us if we don’t tell you”, she said.