My First Voltzy

Voltzy's Hamburger StandRick Volz, a.k.a. Voltzy, has been serving hot dogs and hamburgers in Moraine, Ohio, for twenty years. I know that because several newspaper articles mention it and because, when he found out that Saturday was my first time at his restaurant, Voltzy informed me that he had “been waiting twenty years for you to get your a$$ in here.” Even before that, a couple he had been talking with let me know that I needed to get a slaw dog. They’re only available on Friday and Saturday and I’d be foolish to pass up the opportunity. At some places you’re a stranger only once. At Voltzy’s it’s less.

Voltzy's Hamburger StandI didn’t want to look foolish but I had set out for a hamburger so, instead of the ‘burger and fries I’d been thinking of, my order became a ‘burger and slaw dog and a mug of Frostop draft root beer. The dog was good but the mustard was a little too hot for my admittedly wimpy taste. The ‘burger I ordered was actually called the “Voltzy” (cheese, ham, & onions) and it was great. So was the root beer. The guy who followed me also ordered a slaw dog plus a patty melt with an egg. Voltzy’s menu is an interesting one.

Voltzy'a Hamburger StandVoltzy'a Hamburger StandFor its first eighteen years Voltzy’s Hamburger & Root Beer Stand operated out of a trailer. I know I drove right by it many times during those years but had never noticed it. Only after a permanent building (dedicated to Rick’s mother, Betty Ann) was constructed in 2009 did it even catch my eye. It was only a year or so ago that I figured out it was a hamburger joint that I ought to try. But I don’t pass the spot all that often and, even in a real building, Voltzy’s, sitting back from the street, isn’t a real attention grabber. Earlier this summer, I saw a poster like the one Voltzy is pointing to while standing in line at the Hamburger Wagon and gave the place a little more priority.

I finally made it and I’m sure I’ll be back. That it beat out the Hamburger Wagon in a head-to-head contest is understandable. I personally really like the Wagon’s little fried ‘burgers but acknowledge that part of the attraction is watching them prepared then walking around town or down by the river while munching. Compared to the Wagon’s one item menu, Voltzy’s menu is huge and, as I said, interesting. The Voltzy isn’t the only sandwich with a name. There’s the HollyGirl triple cheeseburger, the Murph double cheeseburger, and the Grossman grilled bologna just to name a few. Many of the hamburgers are also offered in a “hog” version using a patty three or four times the size of the regular,

When it was still operating in the trailer, Voltzy called his establishment “Montgomery County Ohio’s only 7 Star Mobile Dining Facility”. I failed to ask what he calls it now.

RoadDog Day Afternoon

Don Hatch at American Sign MuseumI get to be part of somebody’s road trip again. Don Hatch is a roadie whose nickname and online handle is RoadDog” and that is the source of my not particularly clever title. He stopped in Cincinnati today on his way back from relatives in North Carolina to his home in Illinois. Unlike Fred Zander, whose road trip I got to be part of last month, Don has been to Cincinnati before and even visited the American Sign Museum in its original location. In spite of that, or more likely because of it, seeing the new and improved set up was high on his list of goals for the visit.

American Sign MuseumTo save time and make sure we didn’t miss the four hour (noon-4:00) Sunday window, we met at the museum. We arrived a little after 1:00 and roamed the museum on our own for awhile then hooked up with about a dozen others for the 2:00 tour. This was my first “official” tour of the museum in the new location. Museum founder Tod Swormstedt did his normal excellent job job while RoadDog took notes.

Neonworks at American Sign MuseumNeonworks at American Sign MuseumNeonworks at American Sign MuseumI experienced another first by going inside Neonworks, the independent sign shop that occupies some of the museum’s space. The shop can be seen from the museum proper through large windows but is usually idle on weekends. Today craftsman Tom Wartman showed up near the end of the tour and we were allowed into the shop for an up close look and a little demonstration. As we watched, Tom sealed and filled then brought to life a length of neon text.

Zip's CafeRoadDog and ZipburgerAnother of Don’s Cincinnati goals was grabbing some chili but, as I’ve noted before, all the independent chili parlors are closed on Sundays. The two big chains, Skyline and Gold Star, have plenty of stores open and both turn out some very fine Cincinnati chili but I talked Don into waiting until Monday for his chili fix and trying out a ‘burger joint today. Probably the currently best known Cincinnati ‘burger joint is Terry’s Turf Club and that’s where Fred and I went. However, Don has experienced — and loved — Terry’s in the past so I led Don to someplace “new”. That “new” is in quotes because, while Zip’s Cafe may be new to Don, but it has been turning out award winning “Zip Burgers since 1926.

Aglamesis ice creamAglamesis ice creamFor dessert, we did exactly what Fred and I had done and ate delicious ice cream at one of the 98 year old marble tables at the Aglamesis Brothers shop on Madison Road. Most people who think of Cincinnati ice cream think of Graeter’s and I don’t want to demean it in anyway. Like Skyline and Gold Star chili, it is an excellent product and I’m proud to live near its source. All three brands are Cincinnati to the bone, if any of them had bones, but they can now be found in other cities in the region. Camp Washington and Blue Ash Chili (which is in tomorrow’s plans) are among a number of independent one-location Cincinnati-only chili dispensaries. Aglamesis does have two stores but all of their ice cream is made on Madison Road. Fred actually had Graeter’s on his list when he arrived but I steered him to Aglamesis. I was happy to learn that he did get to sample their product in Columbus, Ohio, and sent this picture to prove it.

Jake Speed and the FreddiesOver the RhineWe wrapped up the day at Washington Park. The park, which originally opened in1855, had become a somewhat scary place in recent years but an extensive makeover has just been completed. The ribbon cutting was July 6 and tonight a sort of grand reopening celebration took place with a free concert featuring Jake Speed & the Freddies and Over the Rhine. You can’t get much more Cincinnati than that.

The reverse road trip continues tomorrow with stops planned for Blue Ash Chili, Pompilio’s, and Mansion Hill Tavern.

Signs of Summer

Fountain at Cincinnati Museum CenterThe fountain in front of Union Terminal, a.k.a., Cincinnati Museum Center, runs all summer and is turned off all winter. Therefore, one sure sign of summer in Cincinnati is the turning on of the fountain. That happened Friday at 10:30 AM. I had kind of hoped to see the stepped pools below the fountain go from bare concrete to a series of waterfalls right before our eyes but it wasn’t quite that dramatic. Whether the pools were primed in the interest of time or whether the standing water was simply left over from some secret testing I cannot say, but they started the day ready to overflow at the slightest provocation.

Fountain at Cincinnati Museum CenterFountain at Cincinnati Museum CenterFountain at Cincinnati Museum Center




I still think bare concrete morphing to cascading waterfalls would have been cooler but watching the fountain go from zilch to a spurt to a full spray wasn’t bad.

Day in Pompeii CharacterDay in Pompeii CharactersAll the kids, and there were plenty, were properly wowed and they also enjoyed the characters on hand to promote the ongoing A Day in Pompeii exhibit. I’ve seen the exhibit and it’s a duesy. University of Cincinnati Professor Steven Ellis, along with several UC students, has been instrumental in the current excavations in Pompeii and that was instrumental in making Cincinnati one of only four US cities hosting the exhibit. As you can see, security was tight.

The weather was obviously quite nice for the events at the fountain but Friday was just one of several consecutive near perfect days. Perfect not only for fountains of water but for fountains — or taps — of root beer. I made it to three different root beer stands on three of those near perfect days.

Jolly's Drive In, Hamilton, OhioJolly's Drive In, Hamilton, OhioOn Thursday it was the Jolly’s on the west side of Hamilton, Ohio. Back in 1938, Vinny Jolivette opened an A&W Root Beer franchise in Hamilton. He built this place in 1967 and, casting off the A&W identity, used the family name to inspire a new one for the restaurant. It’s west of the Great Miami River on Brookwood. Somewhere along the line, they added another on the east side of town on Erie. That one has a cooler sign but this one still makes its own root beer and that trumps the sign. The two remain officially connected (The car side signs carry both telephone numbers.) but are managed somewhat separately by two brothers. There is a third Jolly’s in Tiffin, Ohio, that was started, also as an A&W, in 1947 by Vinny’s brother, Roy, and it seems there was a fourth somewhere in Indiana (possibly Bloomington) but I know very little about it.

The Root Beer Stand, Sharonville, OhioThe Root Beer Stand, Sharonville, OhioI stopped by The Root Beer Stand in Sharonville, Ohio, on Friday afternoon. It started life in1957 as an A&W then went independent in 1982. It stopped using carhops in 1972. Originally built and operated by the Rideour family, it moved on to its second and current owners, Scott & Jackie Donley, in 1990. The Donleys have kept everything pretty much the same and that definitely includes making the root beer using water from their 280 foot well. Claims that “it’s something in the water” may very well be true here.

Neil's A&W, Union City, OhioNeil's A&W, Union City, OhioI got my Saturday root beer fix at the A&W in Union City, Ohio. Despite this being a place I frequented as a teenager, I know few details of its history. I do recall that is was owned by a fellow named Smith in the 1960s and that he operated a used car lot right next door. I have vivid memories of sipping root beer and drooling over a black 1956 Thunderbird that sat in that lot when I was about seventeen. At some point, it became Neil’s A&W Drive In and so it remains today. Curiously, this place doesn’t show up on a the official A&W website nor does it have its own site but it does have a FaceBook page.

All three of these places make their own root beer using at least some of the original A&W equipment. Guess that stuff was made to last. All of them taste great and I’m guessing that the recipes are all the same or similar. The Root Beer Stand has its special water and both it and Jolly’s serve their brew in chilled glass mugs. I love ’em both and I do tend to dislike chains but “real” A&Ws (Not stuffed-into-a-corner-of-a-gas-station A&Ws.) are pretty cool and it’s hard to beat an ice covered mug.

Neil's A&W, Union City, OhioJolly's Drive In, Hamilton, OhioI’m guessing that some noticed the slightly red convertible in the center of the Root Beer Stand photo. That’s my 1963 Valiant and plans to drive it to Darke County and the A&W at the border led to the warm up visits to Hamilton and Sharonville. The 200 mile round trip was the cars longest outing since the cold drive home from Cambridge in early 2011. She done good. These pictures show her at Jolly’s and Neil’s.

Flipdaddys: Burgers & Beers... & BrunchI recently learned that the neighborhood Flipdaddy’s does brunch on Sundays so I walked over this morning to check it out. It was quite good. I’m always dismayed but rarely surprised to find myself alone on a restaurant’s patio. But, with the thermometer at 74 degrees, I was a little bit surprised today. Lots of people just don’t like any temperature I guess. To be fair, one couple and their home from college daughter did venture outside to eat. That was it. The restaurant was fairly busy inside but just one other outside table was ever used all the while I leisurely worked through my bacon & eggs and slowly sipped my Magic Hat dessert.

Tricked into Breakfast

I was tricked (probably by myself) into going downtown on Thursday. A story on the morning news told of artifacts unearthed by an ongoing major development of the Cincinnati riverfront, The Banks. It mentioned the articles being transferred to the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Research Center and gave a time of 9:30. Somehow I read into that the idea that the artifacts would actually be on display for the day. By the time I learned I was wrong, I had enjoyed a delightful breakfast,

Annabel's Restaurant I thought seeing the artifacts would be good and decided that, if I was making an earlyish trip downtown, I ought to take in a new breakfast spot. Annabel’s doesn’t have its own website but has been getting rave reviews at places like Yelp and Urban Spoon. In addition to praising the food, almost all of those reviews mentioned a crowd and a long wait. But many also mentioned brunch and quite a few also mentioned Sunday. Although brunch is certainly not restricted to Sundays or even weekends I hoped that the reviews were and I now think that likely.

Annabel's Restaurant Annabel's Restaurant - Faux ToastAnnabel’s is small. Reviews that talked of a wait almost always mentioned this. There is seating for exactly two dozen people. Today, three two-tops to the left of the picture were full or, in the case of mine, half full, as was a two-top to the right. The restaurant is open 9:00 to 2:00 Thursday through Sunday. One of those reviews suggested getting there at 8:00 AM on Sunday to be sure of a seat. I suggest getting there just about whenever you feel like it on Thursday. No long wait for me but the food was just as awesome as the reviews claimed. I had the Carrot Cake Faux Toast which the menu describes as “French toast without the French” and which I describe as delicious. As I told the waitress, I was almost as impressed with the honey/syrup server as I was with the food. The top bit lifts off of the bottom bit and pressing the lever dispenses syrup through a hole in the bottom. Even if it dripped, which it didn’t, it would drip into the base and not in your lap. Brilliant!

The Thursday evening news also had a segment on the artifacts. Some of the items, such as nineteenth century bottles, were shown but the segment ended with a clear message that, though a public display of the artifacts is planned, that’s not yet the case. The morning version might have been somewhat misleading or I might very well have mislead myself. In either case, on Thursday morning I found myself on the west side of downtown Cincinnati in need of a new plan. Not a problem. Some conflict had interfered with recent plans to visit an exhibit at the nearby Betts House so that became a perfect substitute.

Betts HouseThe Betts House was built in 1804 using brick made on site. It started as a two-room farm house and grew to a two-story eight-room residence as the city grew around it. The house that was once far beyond the settlement’s boundaries, now has to include the qualifier “downtown” in its claims. The website identifies it as “the oldest residential structure in the downtown Cincinnati area”. The house was restored in the 1980s and opened as the Betts House Research Center in 1996. The “Research Center” part of the name came from plans to establish a reference library in the house but that turned out not to be feasible. Director Julie Carpenter calls the Betts House a “museum without collection”. The house itself is certainly a worthwhile exhibit and it usually has something else, like a photo or painting exhibit, going on, too.

Betts House - Big Shake ExhibitIts current exhibit is The Big Shake – How the 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Rocked the Ohio River Valley. When I first read about the exhibit I wanted to see it but I really didn’t make any particular connection with the house. I thought of it as simply a display and a space coming together. The exhibit — and Carpenter, who organized the exhibit and provides an introduction — soon straightened me out. Though the series of earthquakes was centered more than 300 miles away near what is now New Madrid, Missouri, they were huge. The tremors were not just felt in Cincinnati; They did some damage. No large structures were destroyed but houses were severely shaken and chimneys were toppled. A brick summer kitchen behind the Betts House was made unusable and it’s felt that a toppled chimney was the likely cause. So the house is a survivor and a rare one. Other area structures certainly survived the earthquake but they didn’t survive the two centuries of progress that followed. In that, the Betts House is alone. It is a most appropriate setting for this exhibit which provides information on earthquakes in general and the New Madrid Earthquake in particular including its connection with the Betts family.

Olive, an urban diveOlive, an urban diveOn Saturday the 14th, I stopped in another new eatery that had been on my list for awhile. It’s Olive, an urban dive in Dayton, Ohio, and, yes, it really was once a Wympee’s. I never ate there when it was actually part of the Wympee empire but I did eat there a few times while it was an independent diner/’burger joint. The outside may look the same but the inside, as photos on the restaurant’s website show, has been totally redone. The menu is slightly Mediterranean but everything else is local. “local over import, labor over convenience and service over everything else” is their published motto and I can vouch for the service part. The service was excellent, the food quite good, and the prices OK. That local streak extends through the music, too. It comes, at an unintrusive volume, from an iPod (or something similar) that contains nothing but local performers. A nice touch that I particularly liked.


General Denver Thanksgiving BuffetThere’s no doubt that Thanksgiving and road trips go together. One of the most wonderful trips in the world is a drive home for a meal with family. As a kid, I remember riding in the backseat as we traveled to my grandparents for the big day. The  distance wasn’t much but the presence of seldom seen aunts, uncles, and cousins made it an exciting outing. After moving to Cincinnati, I returned to my grandparents’ Darke County home several times for Thanksgiving. The distance was now greater and so were the odds that I hadn’t seen those aunts, uncles, and cousins since the previous Thanksgiving or Christmas. The excitement, though subdued by the adult me, was still there.

Hosting Thanksgiving sort of skipped a generation in my family. By the time my grandparents passed on, I was married and participating in my wife’s family events and my sister was on her way to a sizable family of her own. She became a Thanksgiving host pretty much without even thinking about it. I even made the trip there a couple of times while my parents joined the group at my sister’s or visited other relatives. My sister’s brood reached seven with six being girls who inherited her mothering and cooking talents. Somewhere along the line, Sis moved into a hostess emeritus role and spends the day stopping by meals hosted by her offspring for their offspring. Her itinerary this year included three different households.

While I was between wives and significant others with cooking skills, I managed to fumble my way through a couple of Thanksgiving meals. All three of my kids moved out almost as soon as they could and I’m thinking those meals might have had something to do with that.

There was never a shortage of invitations to spend the holiday with friends though I think they may have increased just a bit when I went from head of household to sole occupant. Nature abhors a vacuum. Wives and mothers abhor a bachelor. Not abhor in a we-don’t-like-you sort of way but abhor in a we-can-fix-that sort of way. Friends and coworkers who were wives and/or mothers along with the wives and/or mothers of friends and coworkers who were neither wives nor mothers assured me I was more than welcome at their celebration. I like to think I was polite while declining most invitations.

In 2005 I hit upon the idea of a road trip to avoid the drama and trauma of turning down invitations without a note from my doctor. I suspect I was partially driven by the desire for a break from a heavy work schedule but the whole world seemed simpler once I could honestly tell people I’d be out of town for Thanksgiving. I hit the road early on Thanksgiving day and had pulled pork for dinner in Nashville. I repeated the escape in 2006 by going to Bryson City, North Carolina. This was also the first year I went on the lam for Christmas. I returned to Nashville for Thanksgiving 2007 then drove the Dixie Highway to Asheville, North Carolina, in 2008.

Things changed in 2009. I retired in the middle of November, drove to Illinois a week later, and found myself in the unusual position of driving toward home as Thanksgiving approached. The Nawrockis, close friends who I had actually enjoyed a few past Thanksgivings with, had some changes, too. Their two daughters had moved out and the idea of a big at home feast was not as attractive as it once was. I’m not entirely certain that ’09 was the Nawrockis’ first time at the buffet in the old hotel but I believe it was. In any case, it was my first. For the unemployed, the need to wring pleasure from a four day weekend doesn’t exist. In fact, four day weekends don’t exist and you have to watch carefully to pick out weekends at all. Though I continue to scurry out of town for Christmas, Thanksgivings since 2009 have found me home and at the buffet. My daughter and son-in-law live nearby and they attend too so I even have some real family there.

General Denver HotelThe old hotel I mentioned is the General Denver in Wilmington, Ohio. If it wasn’t for that city in Colorado, the hotel might be the best known namesake of a fellow who left Wilmington to become, among other things, a California Representative to the US Congress, the US Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Governor of the Kansas Territory. The hotel is named after James W Denver. His son, Matthew R Denver headed up the group that built the first-class four-story hotel in 1928.

General Denver HotelMark and Molly Dullea own the place now and live on the top floor. It has an abundance of old time charm which makes it the perfect place for Thanksgiving dinner and the buffet table is filled with all the appropriate goodies. For motherly cooks responsible for feeding a family every day, orchestrating a holiday dinner might be no big deal. For empty nesters and others who don’t feed even a small flock on a regular basis, it can be stressful. I’m quite happy leaving the orchestrating to professionals, eating my fill of turkey, stuffing, and pie, and going home thankful that I didn’t impose on anyone.

On Thanksgiving day I posted a link to a video on Facebook. I’d seen the video just a few days earlier on a blog that I follow. Ara Gureghian is an accomplished chef and photographer who sort of dropped out of the main stream about five years ago. His blog, which he has described as “My daily therapy, published weekly or so…”, includes some great photographs, some soul searching, and some travel. Until quite recently, all the travel was on a BMW motorcycle with sidecar. In September, a Honda based ECamper, which will allow some cold weather outings, was added. The video isn’t his. It’s the creation of filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg and Ara just passed it along as I’m doing. I believe that most readers of this blog will like the six minute video. Many may also like the blog.
Gratitude (Louie’s video)
The Oasis of My Soul (Ara’s blog)

Old Fort and Young Chicken

That’s my sister and me in the lock-up at Fort Recovery sometime in the mid-1950s. From about age six to age ten or so, the site of the 18th century fort was my favorite “vacation” spot. During those years, a summer was not complete until I’d talked my parents into taking us to this far away and ancient attraction. In time I learned that the log structures were not the originals from 1794. Those were already long gone when a 1938 WPA project produced the one-third sized replica that was there on my first visit. The building we’re peering out of was part of the replacement constructed toward the end of my fascination. A worker at the museum thought 1957 or ’58. Eventually I even learned that this particular “far away” was something less than fifteen miles north on the very road we lived on. Figuring that out took me awhile since all other travels — school, shopping, relatives, Dad’s job — were in some other direction. I still greatly appreciate my parents taking me there even if the effort wasn’t quite as extreme as I once thought.

I mention this now because I stopped by the old fort today. I was near my childhood home for other reasons and there were some happenings at the fort centered around a new book titled Wabash 1791: St. Clair’s Defeat. Yesterday John Winkler, the book’s author, led a walk around the site for educators. Today he gave a pair of talks. I was there well ahead of the first talk at 3:00 but didn’t move to the lecture room until it was filled to overflowing. I did get a good seat for the slightly less crowded 4:00 presentation.

St. Clair’s Defeat, a.k.a., The Battle of the Wabash, occurred 220 years ago last Friday. On November 4, 1791, St. Clair’s 920 men were attacked at the future site of Fort Recovery by a slightly larger force of Miami, Shawnee, and Delaware Indians. The result was pretty much a massacre with 632 soldiers and all or nearly all of the approximately 200 camp followers killed. I’ve seen conflicting statements that the dead soldiers represented a quarter of the U.S. Army at that date and that the battle reduced the U.S. Army to around 300 men. I’m guessing that the discrepancy comes from varying counts of deserters and the sick. I picked up a copy of Winkler’s book so maybe I’ll find the accurate numbers there. Regardless of how much Army remained, much clearly didn’t. By several different measures, this battle was the worst defeat in United States history.

Just over two years later, troops under “Mad” Anthony Wayne began construction of what they would name Fort Recovery. It was completed in March of 1794 and in June of that year survived attack by what has been called the largest force of American Indians ever gathered east of the Mississippi. That was followed by Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers which was followed by the Treaty of Greenville which was followed by the state of Ohio.

When I did an Oddment page for the 2010 Fair at New Boston which included a reenactment of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, I discovered that a song existed about St Clair’s Defeat. A recording by Roger McQuinn, complete with lyrics, can be heard or downloaded here.

Anthony Wayne was my childhood hero. I imagine part of the reason was the “Mad” in his name but I was really impressed with that cocked hat. When I saw my first picture of a bare-headed “Mad” Anthony, the general came near to losing me as a fan. But I overcame the shock and stuck by my hero and still enjoy knowing that he and I ran up and down the same roads separated by just a couple of centuries.

Of course, sis and I did eventually get out of the frontier hoosegow but it happened again.

I was alerted to the Fort Recovery doings by a Ohio Historical Society newsletter. Just a couple of days prior, the Lincoln Highway Facebook group had a link to this article on Balyeat’s Coffee Shop in Van Wert, Ohio. I’ve eaten at Balyeat’s multiple times but have never had the “Young Fried Chicken” advertised on their wonderful neon sign. The Facebook post reminded me of that and, since Van Wert and Fort Recovery are only about thirty crow miles (or forty Subaru miles) apart, I decided to correct that gap in my experience. Today the chicken is baked rather than fried but I’m sure it’s still young.

I have now removed the forum that was added in 2010. I said I would do that in the very first entry of this blog but I saw no need to rush. Until this week, it has sat there idle exactly as it had for the seven preceding months. Every now and then some spammer would attempt to set up an account but they were few and far between. But this week there has been a mini-flurry (6) from folks with names like “Okkgeiwk” and “horrhyday” which prompted me to finally delete the thing.