A few weeks back my family and I stayed a couple of nights inside the Maumee Bay State Park at the Lodge. Maumee Bay is located in the northwest corner of Ohio near Toledo. The park features fishing, bicycling, wildlife viewing, and plenty of swimming.

Lake Erie Beach

Lake Erie Beach

It seems that the Lake Erie beach often has high bacteria levels, so swimming is not advised here. The only time we entered the water of Lake Erie was to go on the banana boat or jet ski rentals. Instead there is the Inland Lake, which has a wide swimming beach, plus another area for canoeing and fishing.

Inland Lake Swimming Beach

Inland Lake Swimming Beach

We brought along a couple of bikes to enjoy on the numerous paved and unpaved biking and hiking trails. Biking is not allowed on the boardwalk around the wetlands surrounding the nature center, but it is well worth checking out on foot.

Big Hill

Big Hill

The Lodge was a great place to stay with both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, multiple dining options, every sport court imaginable, and tons for the kids to do.

Very Old Lighthouse

Very Old Lighthouse

In addition to rooms in the Lodge, cottages and cabins are also available for rent. We are already talking about going back up for another visit in November for Thanksgiving with my in-laws. They came along on this trip as well, and everyone seemed to love our stay. Maumee Bay has easily become my favorite state park resort.

A few weeks ago my family and I found ourselves in Springdale with no dinner plans. After quickly browsing Yelp for someplace new, I easily settled on Ena’s JerkMania! The concept is a fast casual spin-off of Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen in Columbus, specializing in jerk cooking.

Roadside Sign

Roadside Sign

The location at 411 West Kemper Road was easy enough to find, and was obviously once an old Taco Bell restaurant.

Old Taco Bell

Old Taco Bell

There isn’t much space inside for dining in, but we had sleeping kids in the car anyway, so I placed a carry out order. The only other patrons I saw during my brief visit also took their food to go.

Menu Inside

Menu Inside

Orders are placed at the counter and food is prepared in the back. There is a small window back into the kitchen so you can kind of see your food being prepared. The menu is pretty simple. First you pick one of a few meats, and then you pick either rice bowl, sandwich, wrap, or salad. From there you select among the handful of jerk sauces and add your own toppings or try a classic build.

Chicken Rice Bowl

Chicken Rice Bowl

My wife ordered the chicken rice bowl with sweet jerk sauce ($6.50). This comes on top of Jamaican rice and beans and has Caribbean slaw on one side. The slaw is a of the dry variety and didn’t add much flavor to the dish. My wife found it best to mix all the ingredients up and enjoy with all the flavors blending together. With that said it might be worth added three build your own items for 50 cents.

Chicken Wrap

Chicken Wrap

I went with the spicy chicken wrap Spanishtown style with mozzarella, Caribbean slaw, and maniac mayo ($6.50). The chicken and sauce weren’t overly spicy but definitely had a nice kick. The cheese and mayo probably helped to subdue the spiciness. The slaw added a nice crunch to the wrap. I was pleased by this classic build and would definitely try some of the other builds on a future visit.

Rosemary-garlic Fries

Rosemary-garlic Fries

We also shared a side of fresh-cut rosemary-garlic fries ($4.00 for large order). Their kickin’ ketchup was served on the side and was excellent. It provides a nice spice thanks to the scotch bonnet pepper infusion. The fries were also very tasty by themselves.

Overall we had a great meal from Ena’s JerkMania! It is a the only quick service Caribbean restaurant that I can think of and is definitely worth a try.

Ena's Jerkmania on Urbanspoon

This past weekend was the inaugural Buckle Up Music Festival, organized by the same folks who brought Bunbury to Cincinnati, which took place for the third year last weekend. The advantage of doing these events in back to back weekends is that the stages and tents can all be easily reused. The disadvantage is that it has left me a little worn out and I only attended one day of each. There were a couple of differences between Buckle Up and Bunbury including the primary beer sponsor (Bud Light vs. Warsteiner) as well as some vendor differences, but the setup was mostly identical.

Natalie Stovall and the Drive on Bud Light Stage

Natalie Stovall and the Drive on Bud Light Stage

Buckle Up was primarily a country music festival. However, Saturday’s lineup was mostly dedicated to folk, bluegrass, and Americana artists, which is much more my style. Natalie Stovall and the Drive caught my attention with an opening set medley of rock cover tunes before moving on to their original country genre, but I soon found myself on my way over to see singer-songwriter Joe Pug’s blend of folk-Americana.

Joe Pug on River Stage

Joe Pug on River Stage

The early Saturday afternoon crowd was light, but boats were already anchoring near the festival site and people were setting up blankets and chairs near the main stage to save spots for later bands. There were obvious age differences between the Bunbury and Buckle Up crowds. The youthful Bunbury crowd quickly bounces from stage to stage all day long, while many in the Buckle Up crowd seemed content to sit at a stage (maybe two) for the entire day, even if that meant time spent without listening to any live bands.

Houndmouth on Main Stage

Houndmouth on Main Stage

One cool thing I saw at Buckle Up that I didn’t notice at Bunbury were the temporary tattoo schedules that Cincinnati Bell and other vendors were passing out for free. The tattoos only listed the lineups for the top three stages, but it will still a convenient way to quickly see who was playing without digging out the paper festival guide or unlocking your phone.

Schedule Tattoos

Schedule Tattoos

My favorite act of the day was easily The Lone Bellow’s performance on the river stage. This would be my third time seeing them play in the last year. Their 5 PM start coincided with the growing crowds, but I arrived a few minutes early to get a good spot on the floor just a row or two from the front rail. Their crowd continued to grow as their set went along and by the end the river stage seating area was near capacity. When I saw them first it seemed like 45 minutes was a full set for the band, but now with a year of touring under they belt they could have easily played for longer than the 45 minutes provided by the festival setting. I look forward to seeing them play again soon.

The Lone Bellow on River Stage

The Lone Bellow on River Stage

After catching some of Emmylou Harris on the main stage, I made my way back over to the river stage for Drive By Truckers. I was hoping I could get another good spot down on the floor, but upon my arrival it was clear that the crowd had continued to grow. At this point I realized that the crowd was larger than Bunbury’s Sunday attendance.

Drive By Truckers on River Stage

Drive By Truckers on River Stage

After catching some of Alison Krauss and Union Station on the main stage, I again returned to the river stage this time for Old Crow Medicine Show. Unfortunately the crowd had grown so much that we were forced to watch their set from the far left side of the stage, where the sound was less than ideal. When the crowd is manageable, the river stage is a great place to catch a set, but when the crowd is too large for the contained space, the beauty of this unique setting is lost.

Old Crow Medicine Show on River Stage

Old Crow Medicine Show on River Stage

Willie Nelson closed out the night on the main stage with a massive crowd gathered on the festival lawn. I’m not sure what attendance was like on Friday or Sunday, but I would have to say based on Saturday’s crowd that the Buckle Up Music Festival will absolutely be back next year. If it does return, I hope that they again dedicate one of the days to music outside of standard country music. I know that I would do it again, but it makes buying tickets before the lineup is announced impossible.

Last month I had a dining experience that I am still dreaming about today. Ash American Fare occupies the end-cap of the East Hyde Park business block formerly occupied by Cumin. The ownership is still the same but the concept is new and features American comfort food.

Jack-Ash

Jack-Ash

My wife and I started with a couple of drinks from the libations list ($10 each). I went with the Jack-Ash, which featured Tito’s vodka, lime juice, and Crabbie’s ginger beer. My wife went with the Traskwood, a more complex mix of Bulleit bourbon, muddled orange, brown simple sugar, orange bitters, and Lost Coast tangerine wheat beer. We both enjoyed the drinks but I doubt I would order either of them again based solely on the high price of each.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

To begin our meal, we started with fried green tomatoes served with molasses souffle and whole grain mustard aioli ($11). The tomatoes were perfectly fried and tender, while the souffle added an interesting sweetness to compliment the subtle spice of the mustard seeds. Our meal was off to a great start.

Ed Hill Chicken Roulade

Ed Hill Chicken Roulade

For dinner I ordered the Ed Hill chicken roulade ($22). The chicken is filled with apple and sage stuffing and served over a bed of couscous with grilled tomato and broccoli rabe, finished with lemon thyme jus. In one word this dish was amazing! The presentation was very nice and every bite was incredibly delicious.

Vegetarian Black Bean Burger

Vegetarian Black Bean Burger

My wife went with the vegetarian black bean burger with red pepper coulis, charred corn salsa, and roasted poblano aioli ($15). This is served with a large basket of fries and a pickle spear. Corn and black bean always go so well together, so I’m not sure why it has taken us this long to find this combination so well executed in burger form. The sauce on the burger was full of flavor and had a bit of smoky taste, which paired well with the grilled patty.

I can’t say enough great things about the food at Ash American Fare. Though we will probably save it for a special occasion, a return visit will definitely happen.

Ash American Fare on Urbanspoon

Yesterday I was treated to a special tour of Graeter’s state of the art manufacturing facility thanks to Yelp. This plant is four years old and has been optimized for nationwide distribution of the finest ice cream around.

Outside Graeter's Manufacturing Plant

Outside Graeter’s Manufacturing Plant

Before taking our tour, we were given hair nets and beard nets when appropriate. I was excited to wear a beard net for only the second time! You may recall my first beard net from my tour of the Frisch’s commissary.

Hair Net and Beard Net!

Hair Net and Beard Net!

Those who are familiar with Graeter’s ice cream already know that one of the best parts of the ice cream are the massive chunks of chocolate in many varieties. These chunks of chocolate start out as ten pound blocks of the finest chocolate available. I believe that retail price of this chocolate is $19.95 per pound. Nothing like staring at a $200 piece of chocolate!

10 Pound Chocolate Block

10 Pound Chocolate Block

The chocolate is melted and mixed with non-GMO soybean oil to achieve a better consistency for use in ice cream. The vats containing this rich chocolate mixture smelled heavenly.

Melted Chocolate

Melted Chocolate

Graeter’s still a small-batch french pot process slowly creating just two gallons at a time. This creates an irresistible creaminess that cannot be achieved through modern commercial products.

Still Using French Pots

Still Using French Pots

There are four pods of eight french pots. Each pod is staffed by three employees, two who work the french pots and the other who hand-packs the ice cream into containers.

Flavor of the Day: Double Chocolate Chip

Flavor of the Day: Double Chocolate Chip

The flavor of the day during our visit was double chocolate chip. Yum!

Freezing 2 Gallons

Freezing 2 Gallons

As I just mentioned, all the ice cream is hand-packed into the packaging, nearly 20,000 pints per day.

Still Hand Packing Too

Still Hand Packing Too

One employee was kind enough to hand pack samples for our entire tour group right off the assembly line. This ice cream was almost of a soft serve consistency and was simply perfect.

Assembly Line

Assembly Line

The new manufacturing facility does make use of machines to automate the bookends of the manufacturing process, while still allowing the ice cream to be made by hand in small batches.

Packaging Line

Packaging Line

After viewing the entire production line, we took a quick tour of the warehouse, which can reach temperatures of negative forty! It literally took minutes for my body to recover from just a quick visit to this massive storage room.

Warehouse

Warehouse

After our tour was over we were treated for a few more samples, including two varieties of the new gelato line, the most authentically made gelato in North America. I really enjoyed the caramel truffle variety and will have to check for that in stores.

Handcrafting Irresistible Ice Cream Since 1870

Handcrafting Irresistible Ice Cream Since 1870

Unfortunately public tours are not currently offered. But I have some news that should make up for that. In celebration of national ice cream day, you can get any single scoop cone on Sunday for $1.44, commemorating Graeter’s 144 years. This offer is valid at any retail location and for any flavor.

A few weeks back I took my family on BB RiverboatsPirates of the Ohio Cruise on board the Belle of Cincinnati. The cruise on the Ohio River departs from Newport, Kentucky and lasts for one and a half hours.

Belle of Cincinnati

Belle of Cincinnati

All kids pick up their free pirate hat, eye patch, and treasure map before boarding.

Pirate Selfie

Pirate Selfie

The treasure map is filled out during the cruise using clues from the sightseeing tour. My kids are a little too young for this, but that didn’t stop me from participating in the fun.

Downtown View

Downtown View

During the cruise there are a variety of pirate games for the kids to participate in. There is a limbo, sword fighting, water pistol fight (followed by swabbing the deck), and then everyone gets to walk the plank to find treasure at the end.

Swab The Deck

Swab The Deck

This was our first time cruising with BB Riverboats but it will certainly not be the last.

Walk The Plank

Walk The Plank

The Pirates of the Ohio Cruise is offered Fridays (Memorial Day through Labor Day) from 3:00 – 4:30 PM. We had so much fun on this pirate cruise, we may end up doing it again before the summer is over.

Last month was the second annual Food Truckin’ for Josh Cares down on Fountain Square. Over $33,000 was raised for Josh Cares, an organization that make sure no seriously ill child feels alone and afraid while hospitalized. It is estimated that over 1,500 people gathered on the square during the three-hour event to sample food from 10+ Cincinnati food trucks. I can attest to the large crowd, as it was packed upon my arrival just before 1 PM.

Crowded Fountain Square for Food Truckin' for Josh Care

Crowded Fountain Square for Food Truckin’ for Josh Care

I was only able to sample food from one truck, but fortunately it was one that was new to me. Joseph Garcia, owner of Texas Joe, was born and raised in the heart of the South, Houston, Texas. According to his website, “His food comes from generations of family home cooks that didn’t measure or use recipes.” With the exception of the tortillas, Garcia prepares all the items on his menu from scratch. He offers quesadillas, tacos and tostados with a variety of meat: including chipotle pulled chicken, braised beef brisket and 12-hour hickory smoked pork.

Texas Joe - "The Legal Mexican"

Texas Joe – “The Legal Mexican”

Unfortunately it seems that Texas Joe was working with an abbreviated menu for the food truckin’ event. The only thing on the menu for the day was tacos (1 for $4), however they were not the standard tacos either. Normally the tacos come topped with black bean and corn salsa, shredded cabbage, and grated cotija cheese, which sounds awesome! The tacos for this day did not have the salsa or cabbage but were instead served topped with a mix of sautéed vegetables. Both the chipotle chicken and the vegetables tasted good, but they did not blend well together and I found it to be a rather odd combination.

Chipotle Chicken Taco

Chipotle Chicken Taco

I really wish I could have tried to taco as advertised on the standard menu, as it sounds so much better than the funky combination I was served on this day. The food was freshly prepared and tasted good, but I feel that it wasn’t a very Tex-Mex inspired dish. I look forward to seeing Texas Joe out again so that I can try the true “Legal Menu.”

Texas Joe on Urbanspoon

I bought tickets for Bunbury last year at the conclusion of last year’s festival after having a great time and being guaranteed the lowest prices. The down side to buying this early is that you have no idea who is going to be playing when the lineup is eventually announced months later. In addition future plans can sometimes take place on the same weekend, like what was supposed to happen for my family this year. We had tentative plans to be out-of-town during Bunbury and after what I considered to be a lackluster lineup announcement, I went ahead and sold our tickets to some friends.

ZZ Ward on Main Stage

ZZ Ward on Main Stage

Fast forward to this past weekend and as the festival approached I starting digging into the lineup a little more and finding bands that I wouldn’t mind seeing perform live. Then our plans to be out-of-town fell through and I started thinking about buying a single day ticket to attend Friday, but I just couldn’t convince myself to spend $70 for the single day ticket after originally buying the three-day pass for just over $100 last year. Fortunately I was able to secure a free pass into the festival on Sunday to experience at least a little of Bunbury’s third year.

Robert DeLong on River Stage

Robert DeLong on River Stage

I arrived just before 4pm having no idea that some bands were pushed back due to severe weather earlier in the day. This was good news for me as I was able to walk right in and see The Lighthouse and the Whaler perform on the river stage, which was fortunately back on the banks of the Ohio River this year. Last year this stage had to be moved up out of the floodplain due to high water. The serpentine wall provides a great natural setting for a concert with its steep steps and tiered seating areas. The disadvantage is that sometimes this natural amphitheater can cause the volume to swell a little too loudly, but that is worth the risk due to the ideal setting and great backdrop.

Young the Giant on Main Stage

Young the Giant on Main Stage

Bands set times were cut just a bit in an effort to squeeze everyone in and the curfew was pushed out so that the headliners could still play full sets. I spent the middle of the evening bouncing primarily between the river stage and the main stage, which was moved to the other end of the grass of Yeatmans Cove Park. With the move they had to take out the western most entrance to the festival, but as I mentioned last year this stage had to be moved somewhere else. In the old orientation, the stage and crowd created such a bottleneck situation as the evening went on. I was so glad to see that the stage was moved, and I’m sure many others were too, even if it meant longer walks to get inside the gates.

Flaming Lips on Main Stage

Flaming Lips on Main Stage

I really enjoyed the stretch of music provided by Red Wanting Blue, Kopecky Family Band, ZZ Ward, Robert DeLong, and finally Young the Giant. These bands all alternated between the main and river stages, which are within close proximity to each other. So even though the following band would start immediately after the prior, I was still able to catch nearly all of their sets. The night was closed out with the Flaming Lips, who I have seen a couple of times before. As I experienced at these past shows, their set was much more about the stage show and theatrics than it was about the music. The fireworks were a nice touch though.

I saw enough continued improvements to visit the box office and purchase tickets for next year. Bunbury is worth the risk of buying tickets without knowing the lineup.

A couple of weeks ago my neighborhood and surrounding areas in Cincinnati suffered a major power loss. This wasn’t the first time I’ve lost power at home during work hours, forcing me to find a coffee shop to work from for a few hours, but this was the first time all of my neighborhood shops were also without power. A friend of mine suggested heading towards either the University of Cincinnati or Xavier University, and while on my way toward UC I drove past Café DeSales, who appeared to have power.

Inside

Inside

Once inside I found a few others already setting up a workspace at the neighborhood coffee shop and deli. After ordering a cinnamon roll from the counter, I found a table and started my work day. Hours later power was still not restored to our house and it was well after my normal lunch time. Fortunately Café DeSales offers a variety of sandwiches and salads for lunch, in addition to breakfast items be server all day.

Chicken Salad Croissant

Chicken Salad Croissant

I was pleased to find a chicken salad croissant sandwich on the menu, always a favorite of mine. It is served with lettuce and tomato along with a side of chips, potato salad, or pasta salad. I chose potato salad, which is a large serving in a plastic cup. Both items were tasty and better than I would expect from a place that is predominately a coffee shop. I ended up spending my entire work day at Café DeSales and would gladly do it again in the future.

Café DeSales on Urbanspoon

Before leaving the Smoky Mountain area a few weeks ago, we parked the car for one last hike. Kim’s brother Chris and his girlfriend Kirbi joined us for our last night in our cabin and came along for the hike to Laurel Falls.

On The Hike

On The Hike

This is one of a few paved trails in the park, so we were able to push our stroller up the trail and we saw many others doing the same. Parts of the trail have a steep drop on one side, so you’ll want to be careful with your little ones.

At The Falls

At The Falls

It takes about an hour and a half to cover the 2.5 mile round-trip hike to see the cascading waterfalls. The falls are 80 feet tall and a bridge crosses over the water stream about half way down. You have a great view of the upper falls from the bridge and shallow pool on the other side. The bottom half of the falls are hard to see, though you can walk right up to this edge and peak your head over.

Laurel Falls

Laurel Falls

The parking lot at the trailhead was very crowded, so it’s best to get an early start if you want to beat the crowds, otherwise you may find yourself having to hike extra just to get to the trailhead. Better yet, I’ve read that there are more scenic and less visited waterfalls in other ares of the park.


Gatlinburg City on Dwellable