Butler County Staycation

Cancel your weekend plans, we’re going to Butler County, Ohio.  Trust me, if you love food, cheese, or booze, you will not be disappointed.  Bold statements, but I say them with confidence because Butler County is home to the original JUNGLE JIM’S INTERNATIONAL MARKET.  Jungle Jim’s is a food mecca, a foodie paradise, a food-filled extravaganza.  A theme park of food.  Honestly, I’m not sure there are enough adjectives to fully depict how cool this place is.



A bit of background.  Jungle Jim’s opened up in the 70’s by owner James O. Bonaminio, “Jungle” himself.  From what I gather, Jungle is a pretty interesting guy and a collector of all things weird, particularly components of old theme parks, which he likes to showcase in his store.  Case in point, Jungle Jim’s has an old monorail outside, which they are hoping to eventually get up and running for visitors to ride from the store to the event space.

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Weekend in Butler County: What to Eat!

Though I’m originally from Ohio, since moving to Columbus last year I find myself realizing I don’t know much about this state.  Outside of the major cities, there are a surprising number of nooks and crannies to explore.  This is great news because traveling locally is budget-friendly, and we all know how I feel about budgets.  We knocked one cranny off the list a few weekends back when we ventured down to Butler County.  It’s less than a two hour drive from Columbus, a bit outside of Cincinnati.  Butler County includes several communities that are worth checking out, including West Chester, Hamilton, Oxford, and Liberty Township.  A great way to get a lay of the land is to follow the Donut Trail, which features ten local donut shops (only one of which spells it “DOUGHNUT”).  If you’re interested in hitting up the trail, you can download a trail passport here.

I like to eat my doughnuts for dessert, so we took a more savory breakfast route.  Our first stop was Hyde’s.  If you’re looking for a homey, locals-approved breakfast joint, this is your place.  Established back in 1946, Hyde’s has the feel of both a diner and a cafeteria, complete with colorful booths and swarms of senior citizens.  Hyde’s isn’t fancy, and they are proud of that fact.  Their website boasts that most of their customers are regulars, many of whom eat at the restaurant once or twice each day.


The breakfast menu has all the basics covered:  eggs, omelets, hotcakes, biscuits and gravy, and even freshly fried bologna.  They also make cream pies in-house with flavors changing daily.  Pie for breakfast is encouraged at Hyde’s.  Overall, homey, comfort food at a great price gets my two thumbs up.


If you’re looking for something a little on the fancier side, you can’t go wrong with Northstar Cafe.  Though we have a few Northstar Cafes in Columbus, I’d never had their breakfast! The Liberty Center location is beautiful, with a large bar, gorgeous open kitchen, and a sweeping wooden ceiling.  Liberty Center is a a cross between a town center and an outdoor shopping area; this area of the county looks particularly modern and new.


The format at this Northstar is the same as the Columbus locations–guests order at the counter and dishes are brought to the table by servers.  I was stoked to see Counter Culture coffee brewing (one of my favorites from NC)!  For breakfast, I had the mushroom frittata, which has hearth baked roasted mushrooms, sweet onions, and loads of Gruyère plus crispy breakfast potatoes.  I definitely recommend this dish.

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Hocking Hills: Winter Getaway + Comfort Food Cruise Giveaway

I don’t know about you guys, but once January rolls into town, I don’t want to do a dang freaking thing.  It’s hard to find any sort of motivation; even getting out of bed is a struggle.  I wake up, feeling half drunk, confused why it’s still dark even though I slept in.

Thankfully, I broke this January rut last weekend and headed down to Hocking Hills.  Did you know winter hiking is a thing?


Hocking Hills in the winter is stunning.  Who knew snow could look so good?

Hocking Hills

The purpose of my trip was to learn all about Hocking’s fourth annual Comfort Food Cruise, a fun January-only foodie event focused on a whole lot of country cooking (more details PLUS A GIVEAWAY below!).

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At the Chef’s Table, a Greenville Food Tour {Greenville, SC}

Looking back over the past two posts, I’m just baffled by how much food and fun I crammed into my short weekend in Greenville!  Nichole of Gap Creek Gourmet sure knows how to show a gal a good time!  I’ve got one last post to share with y’all, and it’s food-filled doozy.

Greenville History Tours

Nearly every Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon, John Nolan, owner of Greenville History Tours, leads a group of food lovers around downtown Greenville to check out some of the area’s most popular restaurants.  He has two food tours–the At the Chef’s Table Tour and the Tastes of the South Tour–both of which cost $45 and last for 2.5 to 3 hours.  During my visit, I went on the Chef’s Table Tour, a unique, behind-the-scenes, VIP excursion on which we sampled signature dishes at five area restaurants AND met each of the chefs behind the food.  Five amazing dishes, five alcoholic beverages, time with the chefs, plus tidbits of Greenville history and architectural facts make this tour an awesome value.  If you’re looking for things to do in Greenville, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than on this Greenville food tour!

TOUR STOP #1:  Soby’s on the Side

Each of the stops on John’s Chef Table tour are part of the Table 301 restaurant empire, and our first destination was Soby’s on the Side.  Soby’s on the Side is located right next to Soby’s (more on that restaurant below).  It’s a breakfast and lunch joint (with breakfast offered all day and brunch on the weekends), and they also handle all of the catering for the Table 301 group.

Our tasting plate featured their interesting take on steak and eggs:  filet mignon, orange marmalade, sorghum syrup, egg yolk, and green onion, with a mimosa on the side.

sobys on the side steak

TOUR STOP #2: Nose Dive

After our breakfast tasting, we headed over to Nose Dive, a gastropub that serves lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends.  At Nose Dive, they take the term “gastropub” seriously–they’re striving for food forwardness, to be more than just a bar.  They’ve got some traditional pub food on the menu (burgers, fish and chips, and tater tots, to name a few), but the menu also feature unexpected dishes like pekin duck, potato gnocchi, and steamed mussels, plus a dark chocolate candied bacon brownie.  Yes, please.

While we sampled a dish of hearty pot roast with creamy Anson Mills grits, sweet heirloom carrots, and blistered tomato (and a beer), Chef Craig Kunhs talked about his home gardening practices, and how he feels it helps him to better understand the products he buys from local farmers to use in the restaurant.  

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Restaurant Roundup: Bacon Bros Public House, Passerelle Bistro, & Roost Restaurant {Greenville, SC}

imageBacon Bros Public House has been open for less than two years, but many people in town have already declared it one of Greenville’s best restaurants.  Located on Pelham Road, a 15 minute drive from downtown Greenville, the kitchen at this meat mecca is headed up by Chef Anthony Gray (who previously served as the executive chef at High Cotton in Charleston), while the front of the house is the stomping ground for general manager Jason Callaway, who worked with Chef Gray at Coal Fired Bistro (also located on Pelham Road).  As a sommelier and mixologist, Jason is the mastermind behind Bacon Bros’ inventive cocktail list as well as the new reserve wine list offerings.  I met these two fellas during my visit to Greenville with Nichole of Gap Creek Gourmet, and was enamored with this duo of fun-loving jokesters.

The food at Bacon Bros is what I’d call farm-to-table, southern-inspired gastrofare–it’s comforting and hearty, and, sure, they’ve got the southern standards covered, but their urbanized approach has upped the ante.  Pimento cheese?  They serve it up with bacon jam.  Mac and cheese?  Theirs has bacon and chiles.  The burgers?  Made with a house-ground mixture of bacon, brisket, and beef chuck.  Jonesin for some pulled pork?  How bout pulled pork shoulder with cornmeal and country ham waffles (yep, there’s hunks of ham right in the batter), sorghum BBQ sauce, and creamy slaw?  It’s awesome, believe you me, and it was my favorite of all the dishes I devoured at Bacon Bros.

Bacon Bros - Pulled Pork w Waffles

When you’re visiting a place with “bacon” in the name, especially one that cures, smokes, and dries all their meats in house, you’d be remiss to pass on the charcuterie offerings.  The term “in-house” used here is literal–there’s a glass-enclosed curing room near the rear of the restaurant, where you can see the Bacon Bros pride and joy:  all-natural, pasture-raised meats from South Carolina farms, which they pitt smoke with South Carolina peach wood.  They even sell packs of their peach wood smoked bacon to-go for $9.  How’s that for bringing home the bacon?

Bacon Bros -- house-cured meat

There are half a dozen “snacks” (or small plates)  on the menu, including tater tots with smoked pork shoulder, sticky bacon caramel popcorn, and cornmeal fried pickles with smoked ranch.  I imagine most people come to Bacon Bros to eat themselves to the brink of meat sweats (I know I was successful in this mission), but if salad is your thing there are several interesting options, like the frisee topped with a poached farm-fresh egg, kale with grilled fig and lardo (cured meat) vinaigrette, or arugula with lamb ham, apples, and pistachios.

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Greenville, South Carolina. Who knew?

Greenville Downtown 2

I hadn’t a clue what to expect as I set out on the hour-and-a-half drive from Charlotte to Greenville, down in upstate South Carolina.  I’d heard some things–mostly that is was a lively city with a great food scene–but still, I was hit with an unexpected surprise when I rolled down Main Street that first time.  Downtown Greenville is ADORABLE, with its tree-lined streets, each adorned with cute little shops and boutiques plus restaurants galore.

Greenville Downtown

My first stop on the trip was to meet up with my new friend Nichole of Gap Greek Gourmet.  It was a cold and rainy day, so the subterranean oasis  that is Coffee Underground felt especially cozy while we enjoyed a quick warm up of the caffeinated variety.  I loved the place so much, that I came back once more during my short time in Greenville for a cappuccino and warm cinnamon chip scone while getting in some computer time.  It was fun and nostalgic sitting there listening to the conversations of the Greenvillians (did I make this term up?), many of whom were college students studying for what appeared to be an upcoming history exam.

Greenville - Coffee Underground 2Greenville - Coffee Underground Scone

After coffee, Nichole and I headed above ground to check out some of the shops on Main Street.  We stopped into the infamous Mast General Store, and I was super excited by their candy selection.  Every time I see Mallo Cups, I think of my mom (since they were one of her favorite childhood candies), and Mast had dark-chocolate mallo cups!!?!  I managed to exercise some self-control since I had a feeling I’d be eating my face off later that day, but I’m kicking myself for not picking up a pack!

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Satiated in Seattle {IFBC 2013}

Last week, I headed west for the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle.  While the conference was my primary purpose for making the journey, I had my mind set on doing some big eating and on spending some quality time at Pike Place Market.  So, the moment I arrived at my hotel after twelve hours of travel, I threw my bags in the room, and walked as fast as my tired legs could carry me, down the hill to see the sun setting over Elliot Bay.  It was magical.

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As the sun melted away, I strolled over to the market.  Most of the shops and vendors were closed, and the place felt peaceful, like the calm before a massive storm.  I savored every moment of this trip, the first of seven I made to the market during my three-and-a-half-day stay.


At the recommendation of a friend (and former Seattleite), I dined at the Pink Door, in the Post Alley near the market.  Even with the restaurant name and address in hand, I was confused when I finally stumbled upon this simple, nondescript door in the subtlest of pink hues.  No sign to confirm your destination, no windows or lights to verify the place was open for business.
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I timidly pushed on the door, and found that behind the facade the restaurant buzzed with the energy of chatting diners, fast-moving servers, and live music.  My friend raved about the Pink Door’s bechamel lasagna, but for my first meal in the city I was set on some Seattle-sourced seafood.  At the bartender’s recommendation, I ordered the Cioppino:  prawns, mussels, clams and calamari in a spicy tomato and white wine broth.  As I sat at the bar, a solo traveler on the prelude of her first-ever cross-country expedition, sipping wine and dunking the crusty house bread into that delicate broth, I felt immensely satisfied both with the meal and with my first night in Seattle.

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I’d been warned of the hills in Seattle, but their presence didn’t register with me until I made the trek from the Pink Door up to the hotel.  My calf muscles were on fire, and I couldn’t catch my breath at the top. I wonder how often drunk people trip and fall and wind up tumbling head over heels all four blocks down to the water.  They really should install some sort of a safety net system at each intersection.  Letter to the mayor, perhaps?  Or just a cheesy selfie as proof that I made it back to room unscathed.

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Early the next morning, I took a run along the waterfront.  It was sunny in Seattle that day, as it was for most of the trip, and I could not take my eyes off the hills on the opposite side of the bay.  I wondered if this bank looked as beautiful to them as theirs did to me, and if their hills were as steep as those downtown, and I hoped, for the sake of their drunks, that they had some sidewalk safety nets installed.


After my run, I walked my sweaty self over to the market, just as the shops were opening.

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The market was full of energy and movement:  vendors unpacking, employees offering free samples of their produce, and shoppers hoping to witness a legendary monger fish toss.

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Of all the food I ate in Seattle (and there was an abundance of eating), Piroshky, Piroshky, a Russian Bakery located at the market, was a hot contender for my favorite.  A piroshky is a handheld pie of sorts, with either sweet or savory filling, and a delicious soft yeasty dough.  I went there twice, emerging both times with a piroshky in each hand.  My top picks were the potato and cheese, rhubarb, and the marzipan (with almond paste).

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After eating my weight in piroshky, I spent a lot of time walking around the market area, which, just like the buttery crumpet I had at the Crumpet Shop, is full of delightful nooks and crannies.

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I wasn’t happy about it, but I snapped a few shots of the legendary gum wall.  My stomach clenched as I thought of all the dried saliva just inches from my face.  I gagged as I snapped photos and my mind attempted to quantify the number of dislodged food particles stuck in those colorful gobs of gum.

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Seattle is known for its coffee, and I drank my fair share while there, including a tall Pike from the original Starbucks, which somehow tasted smoother and less bitter than any I’d drank before, and a foamy cappuccino from the swanky, soon-to-be opened Storyville Coffee.

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Saturday night, Urbanspoon hosted a dinner for all 300+ IFBC bloggers, which were divided into groups and sent to mystery dinner locations.  There was quite the build up!  Where would you go?  Who would you dine with?  What would you eat??

My group traveled to Bellevue, a city that sits next to Seattle, for a five-course dinner at John Howie Steak.


It was an extensive meal, my favorites of which were the scallops with pickled chanterelles (I’d never eaten pickled mushrooms before!) and the lobster mashed potatoes… and dessert, of course.


The next day, I went to Fremont with a few friends to try Paseo’s a small shop I’d heard had legendary Cuban sandwiches.  When we arrived, the place was CLOSED, and I nearly cried.  Luckily my foodie friends Suki, Ryan, and Johnny, rallied and we set off on a mini tasting of Fremont, including ice cream, dumplings, burgers, and booze.

Later that evening, I headed to dinner at Delancey, which is owned Molly Wizenberg (of the Orangette blog) and her husband.  Molly is also one half of the Spilled Milk Podcast, which I love (LOVE!).  I’ve heard Molly talk about Delancey on the podcast so many times, it was sort of surreal to dine there.  My favorite item was the super simple tomato toast with anchovy aioli.  Get this:  the tomato actually tasted like a tomato!

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It was a fantastic final meal in Seattle.  Thanks Shulie for the photo of Jenifer, Me, and Jill!


 Stay tuned for a post about the IFBC conference sessions!


I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC!  Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates. 


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Leaving, on a jet plane. {IFBC 2013}

On a whim, a whole eleven months ago, I bought a ticket to attend the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. The proofs right there, in black, size 10 Arial, in my 2012 budget spreadsheet, and when I look at that entry, sandwiched between an outrageous dry cleaning bill and a weekend trip to Trader Joe’s, I’m awestruck that I had the balls to buy the ticket.  Somehow in that moment, I knew the coming year would kick me so hard in the keister that I’d need a cross-country escapade, and now all that stands between me and the Emerald City is a couple of days and a mere 2,800 miles.  (Actually, it’s more like 5,000 miles, courtesy of my cheap plane ticket’s Texan layover… 12 hours of travel, totally worth it.)


Seattle has topped my travel wishlist since college, and not because of the sappy romance flicks filmed there—it’s deeper than that.  It’s in my bones and my gut.  It’s cosmic.  And it’s why I’m making this voyage alone.  Just me, a bag of snacks, a couple of books, and my big girl pants.  Much has been written about the personal discovery one experiences when traveling solo, and for a gal whose been running on E since April, I’m aching for it.  Maybe it’s just undiagnosed-ADD, but I have this insatiable craving for adventure.  I’m constantly seeking opportunities to grow and learn and see and do, and in this vein, here’s what I’m hoping will come of my trip:

photo (8)Grow.  The first, and most personal, of my hopes is to enjoy this uninhibited opportunity to experience a new city, new people, and new food without feeling the need to fill my time with productivity and networking.

Learn.  My creative brainwaves are desperate for stimulation, and of all the awesome seminars offered at the IFBC, I’m especially excited for those geared towards writing and photography.  The agenda includes sessions on increasing blog traffic and readership, but that’s not where my head or heart are right now.  Instead, I’ll be hanging out with Andrew Scrivani (photographer and food stylist for the New York Times) and listening to Dorie Greenspan speak (yes, that Dorie).

See.  Aimless, unscripted meandering will be my primary pastime.

Do.  In this context, “DO” loosely translates to “EAT.”  It wouldn’t be a food blogger conference without an exorbitant amount of food, not to mention the awesome Seattle restaurant scene I’ve read so much about.  My goal is to try new foods, especially those local and/or special to Seattle, and to eat my face off without eating myself sick… and maybe squeeze in a run or two.

I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC!  Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.  For those attending the IFBC, be sure to check out the Truly Good Foods goodies in the gift suite!

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Overwhelmed in NYC

My ideal vacation day would consist of breakfast at a quaint café, aimless meandering around the city (on foot, preferably), lunch someplace with a view (or prime vantage for people watching), a relaxing cup of coffee, sightseeing and/or napping, followed by a fantastic dinner.

Last weekend, a trip to visit friends in Brooklyn unexpectedly turned into an unplanned weekend in Manhattan, and though I consider myself a fairly flexible traveler, I found myself quickly feeling overwhelmed.  Where to stay?  What to do?  Where to eat?  What to see?

I put the power into Priceline’s hands, and quickly scored a 3.5 star hotel in midtown for only $150 a night!  The Club Quarters was cramped, but safe and clean, and the staff was very friendly.  Before crossing the bridge (literally) to Manhattan,  I had the saltiest, most delicious egg and everything bagel sandwich at Bergen Bagel’s in Brooklyn.  I loved a lot of things at Bergen:  the delicious chewy bagels, the endless assortment of cream cheese (easily mistaken for a case full of gelato), and that every patron is asked if they want ketchup, salt, and pepper on their egg sandwich.  Why, yes I do, fine sir.  Yes, I do.


After breakfast, I took a stroll near the Brooklyn Bridge where I spotted the Statue of Liberty.


Before stepping foot in Manhattan, I accumulated a large list of restaurants to try  through Facebook, Twitter, and SOS emails.  Despite this, our first meal in the Big Apple was picked based on hotel proximity and Urbanspoon reviews, and that dinner at Bistro Milano ended up being the best meal of the weekend.  The cavatelli with sausage was fantastic, and I loved the contrast of the bitter broccoli rabe, sweet sundried tomatoes, and garlicky tomato sauce.

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22 hours in New York City

This week, I had the pleasure of spending 22 hours in New York City, 11 of which were dedicated to work, 8 to sleep, and 1 to my morning get-ready rituals, leaving 2 measily hours for exploration.  Luckily, those work hours included a great dinner at ViceVersa, an Italian restaurant on West 51st.  ViceVersa’s menu is fairly mellow, but with hopes of eating something I could only find in New York, I ordered the Casoncelli, a pillowy pasta stuffed with crumbled veal, raisins, and crushed amaretto cookies, of all things, topped with butter and fantastically salty slivers of pancetta.  Let’s not forget the wine and the delicious garlic and herb house bread.

new york city

Even though time was scant, there were three key New York moments during my trip that made me smile like only an out-of-towner can.

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