Thankfully this image is NOT indicative of the food we ate when the Carol Rector family met in Lancaster to memorialize her mother Liz, who passed away this summer. Brian grazed up north in the Mistake by the Lake while the Mainers and new Renoans joined a few Hales to sip and graze in the new Short North district between downtown Columbus and the OSU campus. The next day (after the obligatory Bob Evans breakfast *at the HOME OFFICE*) we enjoyed a buffet lunch put together by the church ladies of Grace Memorial Church in Lancaster. As a nightcap some of us enjoyed a very good Mexican snack on Route 33. The following morning we reconvened in Jackson County, OH just a few miles from the Ohio River to learn all about the Big Green Egg, with a surprising taste of FORTY YEAR OLD bourbon.
Now that Marc and Brian have returned home to review (and lighten) their images, we’ve pulled together a highlight reel of the visit.
[The image above is not even from Ohio — it’s the cheesesteak vendor at the Philadelphia airport where Alison and I had lunch while connecting to ColuOH.]
Ohio September 2012
It all started Wednesday night at Brian’s house: Happy Birthday Brian… and, he grilled pork chops himself. But that’s not why we were there. We stayed over because we had to get up at 4am so Brian could take us to the airport for our 6:05 flight on Southwest. (Brian and Natasza were flying later.) It was our first time on Southwest and we discovered that when we checked our bags at the curb, all we needed was picture ID… We were already in the computer with our group and number for boarding (A 49). Seats aren’t assigned, but we paid 10 bucks to get in the A group, so getting a seat of choice was no problem. How cool is that?
There’s little to report on food at the airport at 5:15am (no tomato juice available) or on the airplane (just snax, thank you, and oh… bloody marys for 5 bucks each).
We got to Carol’s sister’s house in Baltimore, Ohio, late afternoon and sat down for some of DeeDee’s famous Barley Soup.
“Brown a pot roast real good in a cast iron skillet.
Put it in your slow cooker with potatoes, onion and celery and pour a cup of warm water around, not over the roast.
Cook on Low overnite then just keep adding to it.” (This one had carrots, and corn.)
When I went out for my morning walk Friday, I picked up a few cans of V8 at the IGA. (Note to self: carry your own damn V8 for airplanes and when staying with ordinary people where “juice” means OJ or apple.)
I stopped “downtown Baltimore” to do my walking there… where there are sidewalks. I came across lots of pumpkins in a yard, and a few steps up the street, a very early Halloween decoration.
Meanwhile, Brian and Natasza made a side trip to Cleveland and Kent State University, nearby. A classmate of Natasza from Ukraine teaches at Kent State. Brian took advantage of the trip north to have dinner at Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro.
Roger, Sandy, Alan and Tillie came over for dessert and talk that evening. There was much talk about the small “casino” in Baltimore and the new Hollywood Casino out on West Broad Street, just past Wilson Road. That’s my ‘Hood, we’ll have to go see it.
So, Saturday morning, we were off to Columbus. It was not difficult to find the Casino. It sits back off of Broad Street, where the GM Turnstedt Plant used to be. It won’t open until October, but it is definitely a presence on the scene, and new restaurants and retail are sprouting up on the western reaches of West Broad Street.
One new thing I couldn’t help but notice was a White Castle at the Great Western Shopping Center. One cannot visit Columbus without ingesting a few White Castles. Even though it was only 11:30, we stopped in and ordered 4 and two more of their featured Jalapeno Sliders for me.
Continuing back in on West Broad, I was compelled to take the nostalgia trip.
I don’t remember much about Logan, Ohio, where I was born. We moved to 84 Derrer Road in Columbus when I was about 4 and Wendell, 2 years old. There, I remember playing hide and seek with the neighborhood girls in the corn fields across the street (long since an housing development).
We lived there a couple years and moved to 46 South Harris when I was in the First Grade. Tom and Amy were born there and that was the only other Columbus house I knew, before leaving for San Diego and the Navy.
West High School looks exactly as it did when I graduated; at least on the outside.
My Hilltop Nostalgia sated, we drove on out West Broad to High Street, the main North South street of Columbus. Ohio State is north, Carol’s hometown of Lancaster is south. Broad and High. I pointed out where Roy’s Jeweler used to be. I bought a portable radio there; my first ever purchase on the “installment plan.”
We turned left on High Street and found a sports bar in Short North — Bernard’s Tavern — to watch the Buckeyes versus UAB (University of Alabama, Birmingham). Neither team looked great, but UAB had a great field goal kicker — made 5 for 5 kicks, 2 longer than 50 yards. Not enough: OSU 29 UAB 15. The Buckeyes played down to the level of their competition. The place was teeming with pretty coeds of course, as well as other students and alums decked out in Buckeye jerseys. Fine lookin’ red jerseys. I should get me one.
We ate us some Buffalo Wings and I drank me some beer and we had a good ol’ time.
After, we met Eric and Alison at the Downtown Westin on South High Street. Their flight got in from Maine at 3:30.
After freshening and changing, we all went back to Short North and had a drink at LEVEL, reputed to be a happening bar and a place to see and be seen and start your evening. I’ll buy all of that.
Eric had made dinner reservations at Deep Wood, where Carol’s brother Jon and his son Evan joined us. A very good dinner and imaginative menu were in store, as you shall see.
Our day began with a TXT from dad while Alison was enjoying a bath in the Westin Columbus and I was sleeping in —
We r leaving @ 10 2 go 2 Bob Evans 3776 S High
A visit to Ohio, for me, isn’t complete without a breakfast at Bob Evans, and even though mom and dad had already been to Bob Evans once, they decided to accompany us to our “Signature” Breakfast that morning. Not only that, but when we arrived at the appointed address we found that we would be eating at BEHQ — the Corporate Offices restaurant. Hot diggity!
And right next door is:
I am NOT a breakfast guy. As much as I like a good plate of eggs, I’d just as soon have them for lunch or dinner than only to start the day. So I have not really sampled my way around American Breakfast Restaurants (which is how I would characterize Bob Evans and it’s brethren) even though they all offer a full lunch and dinner menu in addition to their breakfast-all-day. Of course I have visited a few Dennys, Waffle Houses, Golden Corrals, etc., but none draw me back the way Bob Evans does. It is relentlessly comforting and personal in a way that I have not felt at those other ABR chains, and it’s probably a bias on my part because of my Ohio connection. But there it is, and here we were at the center of the Bob Evans empire (stretching from Wilkes-Barre, PA to Springfield, IL) where I could get me some sausage gravy and a pitcher of coffee.
[As a side note, I’m “known” within the family for enjoying a plate of Fried Mush (or “Golden Cornmeal Mush” as they list it on their menu) at Bob Evans, which goes back to my college years when my sweet tooth had not yet shriveled and fallen out, as it’s served with “warm syrup” which, for all you New Englanders reading this, does NOT refer to maple syrup, but to “Syrup” which pretends to be maple syrup but is a brown-colored simulacrum of complex sugars, primarily corn syrup. This is a dish of a by-gone era when “porridge” was not just something you read about in a Dickens novel, but a regular part of an American meal. In the case of “mush” (which almost certainly is a corruption of “mash” meaning ground grain) it is almost always cornmeal based, and in the fancy-pants restaurants they now call it “polenta” which mean’s “porridge” in Italian but will get you in the mood to pay big $$ for mush. The Bob Evans fried mush is deep fried and comes dusted in powdered sugar, making it really a state fair indulgence served for breakfast. Back when I had a sweet tooth I enjoyed the incongruence of ordering an old-people’s food, and then being delighted with its yum factor. Lately my dad has taken to ordering his sausage gravy on fried mush instead of biscuits, and though this is tempting, it requires a good deal of explaining to the waitress, who then needs to change how the cook handles the order, all of which more often sets you up for a sweet and savory mistake. And since I’m not a fan of the deep fried mush (when you fry it on a skillet you develop a broken but crunchy layer of carmelized corn surrounding a creamy interior, instead of a relatively mono-texture of fried corn batter like eating the outside of a corndog), I now stick to the classic interpretation of sausage gravy over soft steamy baking powder biscuits for breakfast.]
Very satisfied, we moved on to the main event: the memorial service for Grandma followed by a church supper prepared by the church ladies of Grace Memorial Church in Lancaster, supplemented by family contributes.
Everything is ready.
Europe can have its tables in the street, and dining under grape arbors — the church basement dinner is an American icon. The polished linoleum floors, the paper napkins, and the table full of casserole and other one-dish concepts can be found in every church of every denomination everywhere the Interstate highway system can take you. Only the particulars will vary. Here in “The Heart Of The Midwest” our buffet line featured TWO deviled egg plates, potato salad, macaroni salad, macaroni and cheese, tossed salad, corn bread and corn pone, cole slaw, ham and cheese sandwiches on white, green bean casserole, baked beans, EIGHT different desserts, ice tea, and lemonade. AND it was “supper at 3pm” a concept unknown to us folks who live on the coasts.
The church basement supper is not about the food, though. It’s about the fellowship, with yelping chairs as people stands up to greet someone walking by, or move to say hello to another table, or hurry back for seconds on that disappearing green bean casserole.
Eventually the coffee was served, the dessert pans were polished, and the family proceded onto the scattering of ashes, and then to long goodbyes. Alison and I were then taken to view a work in progress outside of the city: a restored grain mill, Rock Mill, one of about a dozen that used to straddle the Hocking River in Fairfield County, but the only one still standing when the local historical society got it’s hands on it. By 2013 they plan to get a brand new white-oak mill wheel turning to power an old set of grindstones that will convert grist into meal, possibly for mush.
Our private tour ended as the sun dropped behind the hickory and walnut trees on the ridges of the low foothills around the mill. Several others from the church basement must have heard about the private tour because they were there. As we inspected the craftsmanship on the Rock Mill Covered Bridge, dad turned to Alan and asked: “what’s the plan for dinner?” We all laughed — we had just come from dinner/supper. At 3pm. In the church basement. But, clearly, dad’s stomach was still on coastal time and what we’d had at 3pm was a late lunch. A few options were tossed around, but the one that stuck was Fiesta Tropicana on Route 33 — mainly because those who had eaten supper already could top it with a tangy margarita.
…Or not. It turns out that “spirituous liquor” is specifically regulated in Ohio after 2:30am on Sundays…and Fiesta Tropicana was allowed to serve only beer and wine.
Still, our group enjoyed cold Coronas along with *fantastic* chips (warm and fresh) and salsa (very fresh tasting). The hungrier folks ordered a taco plate and shared, plus a salad or two. On the basis of the chips and salsa (I was not hungry for more than a Corona), I will want to return another time when I have NOT had a 3pm supper.
Alison and I were lucky enough to be put-up by Alan and Tillie on Sunday night, and the best part was bread pudding the next morning with nice strong coffee. A great way to start off our get away day.
Sunday night Brian and Natasza sped to Jackson to spend the night with Mark and Jan in their new (to them) house. On Monday morning, the rest of the Rectors joined them.
Mark and Jan have downsized from a place that takes 3 days to mow, to the house Jan’s father built that only takes one day to mow. Still, it is as rustic and charming as their former place, and the pond is much closer to the house.
After our tour, Mark and Jan fed us on their marvelous long table on their screened porch. It’s such a lovely setting on a fine September day.
Over the years, with Jan’s collecting and reselling business, emphasis on collecting, they had some serious downsizing to do when they moved. Among the items still to be “moved out,” is Mark’s collection of Jim Beam Decanters.
They are commemoratives ranging from state to city to celebrations to insurance groups. The collection of Jim Beam bottles is a big deal, and there are many to be seen for sale on e-bay and beyond. When we city folk saw the prices Mark had on the bottles, we said “Wait, you can get a lot more than that!” Mark allowed as how he just had to unload them to save his marriage. He said, “Hey, pick whatever you want and take it.” We obliged.