It's Always Ohio

From the far side of the world to just around the corner, It's Always Ohio.


November 2015

Going Back to Athens, Ohio 10 Years Later: It’s Still That Great

You don’t even need to say it, I already know.  As a graduate of Ohio University it’s absolutely, positively despicable that I haven’t spent the night in Athens for 10 years.  A place that’s affected me in such a wonderful way.  A place that’s given me so many memories it’s hard to conjure up every one lucidly.  A place that’s just magical, there’s no other way to put it.  All that being said, I finally made my way back and here’s some of what I found.


The brick streets still just feel right.  Of course this isn’t a revelation, like I somehow expected them to be gone, but there’s just something about the old-school feeling they give uptown Athens.  Something about the way they feel on the bottoms of your shoes.  I wish every town had brick streets…wait, no I don’t.  Save it for here.


On to my favorite lunch spot and quite possibly my favorite in the state of Ohio — Bagel Street Deli.  Everything felt exactly the same, albeit a little bit busier.  Classic rock bellowed from the kitchen, this particular time I think I heard some Zombies and Zeppelin.


A perfectly straight single file line stretched down the narrow corridor filled with hungry college students debating which one of the 50 or so sandwiches they’re going to choose.  Will it be the simply Tom’s Turkey with sprouts on a pretzel bagel (my favorite), or the veggie-centric Kimmie Gibbler.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter, they’re all fantastic and so are the names that describe them.


Bringing back even more nostalgia, I had to take my finely crafted sandwich across to College Green and sit indian-style in the grass.  Much to my dismay, there wasn’t anyone else taking advantage of the green space although it’s fair to point out no one expected a sunny 70-degree day in mid-November.  Nonetheless it was fantastic, view of the Burrito Buggy and all.


Right down the street is the new Jackie O’s Brew Pub, which for me will always be O’Hooley’s, but that’s okay because there’s enough of the old staple inside to make an alumni feel at home. I’ve had plenty of Jackie O’s brew in the past, but these guys really are making some seriously great beer.  Beers like the Paw Paw Wheat and Mystic Mama IPA are solid, but if you get the chance, score one of their Bourbon Barrel Stouts which are ridiculously good.


Now it wouldn’t be a return visit without a night at the bars and by all means this is debatable among the OU elite, but Cat’s Eye is still my favorite.  That’s not to say other taverns aren’t great or even close to top of the list for that matter, but there’s no replacing an old personal staple.  And I’m happy to report nothing has changed, not a single thing at least as far as I could tell.  Beers are outrageously cheap, the two front window seats are still highly coveted perfect for people watching and speed quarters (not ashamed), and the bartenders still have that like-it-or-not-I’m-going-at-my-own-pace attitude which in my opinion, is perfect.  Bottom line: the Cat’s Eye is timeless.


While I certainly could talk about more of my favorite tavern experiences, like Hot Nut shots at Tony’s and the fact that the Court Street Shuffle is still going strong, I’ll skip to the late-night food scene which any Athens dignitary knows is strong.


Souvlaki’s is just like I remembered, uptown’s oldest eatery and still killing the gyro game.  A souvlaki and seasoned fries is really all you’ll need here, although you can certainly add grape leaves for a little extra Mediterranean flare.  But make sure to strike up a conversation with the owners because they’re just as nice and relatable as I recall.  Also, if it’s Friday or Saturday night skip eating inside where it’s too busy to move and opt for a curb outside, nobody’s judging.


Then there’s the old pizza staple, Goodfellas, where you can still get a slice of cheese pizza for $1.50.  Thick, doughy and delicious, one slice will usually do it, even for the most hearty of appetite.  I say that not owning up to the fact that I always and just recently bought two in one sitting.

I could go on and on about all the good places to eat, about how dive bars only get better with time and can’t be made, but that could take eons.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s just something magical about Athens.  Maybe it’s because I’m from northern Ohio or that I’m simply an Ohio University Alumni reflecting on the past, but even the air smells different down here.  A funky little college town whose character rivals most large cities, Athens is a town for me that will never get stale.


Oh yeah, we came across a deer roaming around downtown — Only in Athens.

Taking the Back Roads Along Ohio’s North Coast


“Not all who wander are lost.”  We think that quote comes from the Lord of the Rings, and it’s doubtful that J.R.R. Tolkien ever wandered our midwest state, but the quote certainly rings true in Ohio.  Ohio is the perfect state to wander; small towns, big cities, back roads, lakes, islands, fields, and streams.  The following is a few of our finds when taking that less traveled roads of Ohio’s North Coast.

Happy Dog – Ohio City

If you find yourself cruisinIMG_0039g on route 2 near Cleveland, take a turn on the Detroit Ave exit and seek out Happy Dog.  Part neighborhood bar, part music venue and quite possibly the best hot dogs on the planet.  Yep, their hot dogs are simply elongated meat like other hot dog joints, but folks a hot dog is about the toppings and they have a ton.   We’re not just talking ketchup and mustard here, give Spaghetti O’s or Andy Capp’s hot fries a whirl on your dog.  Happy Dog’s doing it with 50 toppings to choose from and don’t get us started on the tater tots.

Woodstock Cafe – VermilionIMG_7246

Stick near the shores of Lake Erie and you’ll roll into the harbor town of Vermilion, Ohio.  If you’re feeling a bit cosmic, Woodstock Cafe is an ideal spot.  The owners focus on local sustainability and the food won’t disappoint.  Savory soups and huge sandwich will balance out perfectly with the excellent selection of craft brews.  Peace brah!

Sheldon Marsh – Huron

After hot dogs, sammies and brews you’re going to need to burn a few calories.  No need to burn those cals on Stairmaster, do it at one of the most breathtaking location on the North Coast.   At Sheldon Marsh nature preserve in Huron, Ohio you can stroll down the 1-mile paved trail to the shore of Lake Erie.  Plenty of nature to while you ponder your next stop, make sure spend a few minutes looking over the ponds as well, always some fun critters to entertain you.


Volstead Bar – Sandusky

If you can find it, you win.  Volstead Bar is a gem on East Water Street in downtown Sandusky.  This 24-seat speakeasy features fine crafted cocktails prepared with the precision of a surgeon.  Quite and quaint you’ll feel an instant sense of relaxation as you cozy up to the all oak bar.  Make sure to ask the barkeep what used to be housed in late 1800’s brick building Volstead is located in. 


Insider’s Tip – you can find the bar through its social media channels.  Facebook TwitterInstagram 

IMG_0943Crazy Lady Saloon – Curtice

Somewhere Southeast of Toledo you’ll find Curtice, Ohio and when you arrive you’ll most likely double the population.  The definition of a townie bar Crazy Lady Saloon is a great place to order an ice cold MGD and a stacked burger.  Another bar with a history, make sure to ask about the building between trains sliding by the parking lot.

Put-in-Bay, Ohio Has an Outdoorsy Side and it’s Beautiful

It’s no mystery that the village of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island has a legendary food and nightlife scene, as evidenced by the amount of people that show up on any given Saturday flooding the streets of Delaware Avenue.  From munching on mouth-watering perch tacos at the Goat to sipping on minty mojitos at Mojito Bay, there’s more than enough to go around.


That being said, the island’s unique location in the western basin of Lake Erie coupled with the fact that its limestone foundation was carved from glaciers thousands of years ago make for some awesome outdoor experiences.  Worthwhile for a visit on nature’s merits alone, a trip to Put-in-Bay in not really complete without scoring some of this gorgeous Great Lakes scenery.


Getting there — Unless you have a private plane, which sadly most of us do not, taking the Miller Ferry is the next best thing.  Very affordable with a transit time of under 20 minutes, it’s easily the most efficient way of getting to the islands and perfect for checking things out on the way in.  Once docked, taxis are a modest $3.00 and will take you right into downtown Put-in-Bay where you then can determine your mode of transportation.  While golf carts are the preferred method, bikes, mopeds and walking work well too.


Speaking of alternative modes of transportation, there’s some fantastic kayaking.  At Kayak the Bay, which is about a 10-15 minute walk from downtown Put-in-Bay, you can rent a kayak with quick access to some of the area’s best spots.  Gibraltar Island, which is home to some really neat limestone cliffs, has a tiny hidden sand beach as well and also what’s called the Needle’s Eye —One of Ohio’s few remaining natural arches and perhaps the only one you can paddle through.  The Benson Ford Ship House, a freighter that’s been converted into a island home, is another cool attraction to check out, albeit much further of a paddle.


Kayak and jet-ski rentals are also available at another great spot, South Bass State Park.  While the park is certainly a great place to camp and scope a Lake Erie sunset, the unique stone beach is the perfect spot to get your feet wet…plus the smooth, round stones feel really nice on your tootsies and keep the water crystal clear.


Heading past Perry’s International Peace Memorial to the opposite side of the island you’ll find some often overlooked plantations.  Though mostly private, you can see a lot from the comfort of your golf cart and catch a unique glimpse into some of Put-in-Bay’s early history.


Travel just a bit further and you’ll find yourself at the Scheef East Point Nature Preserve, which has some wonderful hiking trails as well a few points of beach access that look out towards Middle Bass Island and Ballast Island.  And for the extra adventurous, you can wade through ankle-knee deep water across a shallow reef to catch a glimpse of a little remote island on Buckeye Point.


Switching directions again to the west side of the island visitors will find what locals refer to as the “West Shore.”  Filled mostly with private island homes and residences, there’s a few hidden spots that face west away from the lights of downtown and are perfect for mellowing out to an island sunset.  And if you happen to be strolling through on a windy day, you might be lucky enough to catch some of Lake Erie’s fury crashing up against the rocks.


While we’ve only just touched the surface of what Put-in-Bay has to offer, it’s certainly a good place to start for first timers or maybe even a new outlook for a wily island veteran.  Of course after all that exploring, you’ll need a cocktail or two afterwards to relax.  Or three.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll see you over there next summer at RoundHouse…you’re buying!

Have another spot you’d like to see on this list, please share below or on Twitter @ItsAlwaysOhio.

Wooster is the Coolest (And Tastiest) Town in Ohio You Haven’t Been To

We’re dead serious, this place is cool. Like, really cool. Of course the College of Wooster ArtKeyholeresides here, a lovely place it seems to get an education, but that’s far from the coolest thing in this burgeoning little town. Although it should be known that the students do inject a nice bit of positive, youthful energy into an already spirited city.

So first things first, that vibe. Almost european in feel, you immediately get the sense that something unique is happening in Wooster. A look of pride and concerted effort is evident on everyone’s face, as if they’re stoked to see what they’ve created here.


Places like Lucky Records, an invariably cool local vinyl shop that sells new and used EP’s in addition to servicing and maintaining record players, is the kind of place you’d only expect to see in a large metropolis, not a small town the edge of Amish country. It’s also the perfect compliment to the local music scene here — Jazz festivals and music events happen all the time, highlighting the diversity in arts that Wooster brings to the table.

Secondly, the food. Oh my goodness the food. It’s almost tough to explain because the options here are nearly endless, but we can certainly try.


Starting with Local Roots is probably a good idea, as it kind of sets the tone for the culinary scene here in Wooster. This co-op/community
center focuses on organic groceries and locally sourced fare, all while acting as a cornerstone within the community.


Then there’s places like Spoon Market where the menu comes on butcher paper, the deli sandwiches are mouth-watering and the smoothies are perfect for a midday uplift. Louie’s Local Meats resides in the rear of Spoon, where Adam Nussbaum, the prodigal meat vendor specializes in slicing up meat the old-school way. Starting with carcass meat and breaking it down himself leads to some unbelievable gourmet sausages and super fresh hamburger.

Since meat is on the mind, let’s head across the street to City Square Steakhouse. Heavenly steaks and ultra-fresh burgers are the specialty here and labeling them as a ‘specialty’ is putting it lightly. Most of their beef is sourced locally through Certified Angus Beef, whose headquarters are not far down the road. Try an Ohio-sourced center-cut ribeye steak from these guys and you may just ruin your local steak joint back home. City Square also makes it a point to offer several Ohio-made beers on tap.


JAFB Brewery, which stands for Just Another F****** Brewery (one of the best brewery names ever created), is also just down the street and has continued to take home medals for their craft from the Great American Beer Fest in Denver, Colorado. Mean Bean Bourbon Stout or their prized Rain Delay IPA? It really doesn’t matter, these guys make incredible beer.


Back to the topic of Wooster having establishments that usually only appear in a sprawling metropolis, there’s Mott’s Oils and More. The containers of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars seem to go on for days in this unique place and akin to the amount of oils they offer is the sheer knowledge of the staff. So if you’re looking to put a healthy spin on your favorite dish at home, look no further.

And lastly, Wooster sits on the edge of Amish country in Wayne County and needless to say this presents a lot of other very fun opportunities.


Let’s see, if you’re into rare and gourmet cheeses then Shisler’s Cheese House is an absolute must. See if you can find Rita for a conversation, she’s a character and just extremely fun to talk with. Just down the road is the very small town, or rather intersection of Kidron, Ohio, where Quince Cafe & Bakery and Lehman’s reside.


Quince will serve you some of the best, locally-made desserts you’ve ever tasted while Lehman’s will show you how to make your own — The place is almost 3/4 mile long and has every old-style item one could ever imagine.  Put it this way, if the power ever goes out you’ll wish you would’ve bought more at Lehman’s.

Not sure where to stay? The St. Paul Hotel in downtown Wooster is a revelation. Heated bathroom floors and spacious showers will have you singing before starting your day. StPaulSignContemporary and comfortable, this spectacular boutique hotel is worth every penny.

While it would most certainly take a lot more pages of to cover everything that makes Wooster, Ohio cool, I think we covered some of the great parts. Of course if you want to find out more, go explore for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Have something to add about Wooster, please share below or on Twitter @ItsAlwaysOhio.

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