Dinner In @ Melt

Melt is only a little more than a stone's throw from our house, and as a mainstay on Northside's main drag - Hamilton Avenue - it does a great job mirroring the community ethos.  With a substantial number of vegan and vegetarian options, local sourcing of ingredients, and creative combinations, Melt is a solid lunch, dinner, and brunch option for just about anyone.  And Melt's even expanding their imprint in the neighborhood, recently launching Picnic and Pantry - "Micro Market & Specialty Foods" - where we bought our produce today!

The Food:  The menu when you walk into Melt can be a bit overwhelming - a large chalkboard is full of sandwiches, salads, and more.  You quickly get the idea that you're in for a treat, with interesting ingredients and thoughtful pairings, it becomes clear that flavor will not be lacking.

On this trip, we ordered 2 sandwiches, both of which come with a side.  The Joan of Arc is a concoction that includes Applegate Farms roast beef, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, blue cheese, carmelized onions, and melted provolone cheese, all on a focaccia bread.  And then the Muffaletta - Applegate Farms turkey, roasted red peppers, olive tapenade, and provolone cheese melted on a focaccia bread.  We had a side of Rosemary Redskin Potatoes (that come with a homemade curried ketchup) as well as mixed greens with a dressing (which I didn't pay close enough attention to to explain).  The sandwiches were both solid.  I particularly liked the olive tapenade (regular readers may be learning that I am a sucker for nearly all things salty), and bites that were full of chewy provolone were especially yummy.  We added some of the salad dressing to the Joan of Arc because it was a bit dry, but the flavors were still tasty regardless.  On the sides, the potatoes are always well seasoned and flavorful.  The mixed greens are literally a small box of mixed greens - no nuts, berries, veggies, or anything else - so if you want super straightforward, this is the way to go.  Otherwise there are plenty of salads as entrees to choose from.

It should also be noted that Melt has Jeni's Ice Creams available.  They are terribly good.  I still haven't been able to get over the per pint price ($9.95), as much as I want to.  I am very willing to pay extra for better quality, and while they do use local Snowville Creamery, pints in Cincinnati are between $1 and $3 more per pint than the same product up the road at their Columbus stores (UPDATE: Pints are $8.50 to $10 each in Columbus - I was wrong on this initially, so actually while you may be paying $1 more in Cincinnati on some pints, there are actually many that are 50 cents cheaper. Thanks to Ryan for the comment below, and to friendly employees at Columbus stores for verifying. I apologize for the error, either prices have changed or I just plain had it wrong.)  However, I did just note that Picnic and Pantry has Jeni's macaroon ice cream sandwiches in their cooler and it's likely that I'm near a breakthrough.  Those things are ridiculous.  I am not going to walk over there right now and get one.

The Ingredients:  Melt has great information available about not just its ingredients, but also its practices at the restaurant in terms of packaging, recycling and more.  There are some places around town that are supplying their customers with a good deal of information about the source of their ingredients, but Melt is definitely at the head of the class.  It is simply awesome that owner Lisa Kagen has taken the time and space to write/explain for her customers about the sources of ingredients and how that ties in with the prices that are being paid.  We need more knowledgeable consumers to support thoughtful businesses, but it takes time and energy on both sides to make it happen.

If there was anything we'd love to see, it'd be a way to share more of this info on the menu board (which is already packed!) and the to go menu, so that folks don't have to dig much on the website to learn about Melt's great practices.  But, this is really a small thing.

Thanks for what you're doing, Melt - you're a model for other Cincinnati restaurants!

The Story, Setting, & Service:  We ordered to go, and at 5:30 it was a quick 10 minutes.  They get quite busy at more peak hours though, so add another 10 minutes or so into your expectations if you're planning to grab something on the fly.

The full name for Melt is Melt Eclectic Deli, and that is a perfect explanation.  With mix-matched decor that is comfortably hipster, even for the uninitiated, Melt's indoor space is fun, but can be on the cramped side of cozy when it's busy.  On the plus side, it makes you feel like you're in a big city!  They've also got a great outdoor space to take advantage of while this weather is so nice.

Service is consistently friendly at Melt, and you count on some love going into all your dishes.

Melt, like Take the Cake, Slims/Vout, and Honey, is another local option that we are blessed to have within such close proximity, and a place that we plan to be sampling from for a long time to come.  We're wishing them the best of luck with Picnic and Pantry as well, and hoping for another successful enterprise in the community.

Melt on Urbanspoon


Existential Eating #11

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future Existential Eating strips, please email or comment below.  Sadly, our current collective imagination will run dry.  If its related to food, it can be the topic of an Existential Eating comic strip.  Just share your idea and Ramsey will do his best to draw it up (probably, someday).


Lunch In @ Cafe de Wheels

I started biking to work this week (well, last Friday I made it 1/2 way before getting a flat tire and walking the rest), and that has led to not packing a lunch, which has led to eating out, thereby likely negating the biking to work.  I've even been thinking of putting my last couple days of out-to-eat lunches in the "exercise" category of our budget, just so it's clear that these things are related.  But I digress...  Today's lunch - Cafe de Wheels.  Sarah and I have been before, but this was my first chance to try their much heralded burger (scroll down on this link).

The Food:  This trip was all about the Wheels Burger.  With American cheese, lettuce, tomato, Mike's mayo, catsup, and balsamic onion marmalade, this bad boy leads to a mouth full of flavors.  The burger was overcooked in my opinion (I suppose next time I email, I'll add a request, all though I don't know if they do that), but there was so much moisture and texture from the other ingredients that it was not a deal killer whatsoever.  The carmelized onions were the star of the show, and the catsup (ketchup?) and Mike's mayo blended together to form a creamy deliciousness as well.

I need to try it a few more times to be sure, but the Wheels Burger is definitely in the "Best Burger in Cincinnati" conversation.  It wasn't a Terry's burger, but as of today, I think this is my new #2, slightly ahead of Gordo's.  Plus, with it typically (this is a food truck, remember) within walking distance of work and at only $5, this is a great lunch option.

As for other menu items, I got the sweet potato fries on the side.  They were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  It's funny how you get used to things and how it can nearly ruin other things.  In this case, a barely full cup of fries looked really small compared to my last cup of fries - an overflowing, nearly bag full, at Five Guys.  But I'll give the local guy the nod any day, so I'll put Cafe de Wheels in the Five Guys spot in the lunch rotation.

In a previous visit, Sarah and I sampled a couple of the sandwiches - the Cincinnati Cuban and the Grilled Cheese.  At $3.50, I expected the Grilled Cheese sandwich to be pretty small, and it was.  Nothing special there.  The Cuban was a bit disappointing with flavors that didn't stand out much, pork that was too dry, and the portion was also quite sparse (and at $6.50 I'd hoped for a bit more going on).  We had some of the fries with cheese on top and they were fine.

Bottom line - if you're going to Cafe de Wheels, I recommend the burger.

The Ingredients:  They do mention items from local bakeries - Servatii's and Shadeu - and at the very bottom of the to go menu in small print they note using "LOCAL purveyors" including Bleh-Avril, Servatii, Shadeau, and Findlay Market.  Props on the information about the local purchasing!  It'd be great to know where specific ingredients come from, as well as to have this information on the online menu.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  I placed this order via email (to what appears to be a cell number).  I asked for a reply about when to come pick it up and didn't get one, so I just walked up after a phone call with no answer as well.  My food was ready when I got there (maybe 10-15 minutes later), so it worked out well, but if they were busy or something it'd be nice to get an ETA for orders as an option in the future.

Now they've got a couple of small tables and chairs that they carry with them, so this can actually be a sit down option if you have the time and inclination.  And the folks in the truck have been friendly, so it's a well put together operation from what I can tell.

The website is a bit odd to navigate - at least on my browser (Firefox) you have to scroll down through a lot of empty space to get to what you're looking for.  They do have a cool GPS system set up so that you can know where they are, so that's pretty cool. 

I will definitely be heading back to Cafe de Wheels sooner rather than later.  I'm anxious to try their other burgers to see how they stack up with what is more than your basic basic burger.  The Tower of Power in particular sounds somewhere between ridiculous and ridiculously good - it's 1/3 lb. of beef, BBQ pulled pork, and cheddar on a Servatii egg bun (they say it's "funkalicious").  I promise to report back...

Cafe de Wheels (Food Truck) on Urbanspoon


Lunch In @ Wicked-wich

Wicked-wich has been getting some solid food blog love since it opened recently (here here, etc.), and after a couple of visits myself, I am happily jumping on the bandwagon.  In a brisk 15 minutes I can arrive at freshly cut deli meats and a wide array of pre-designed sandwich combos coupled with interesting sides.  And if you're ever feeling frisky, you can always create your own.

The Food:  Let me quickly mention that I didn't take photos of my first visit (work-related meeting), and while I do have a photo from today, it's not much to look at.  When Sarah's on break shortly I'm sure we'll get down there with the good camera and take some solid pics to share.

On my maiden voyage to Wicked-wich, I steered clear of the Reuben, noting to my lunch companion that I typically just stick with Izzy's for this classic.  But, after having a chicken barbecue sandwich that was quite tasty, and after reading such solid reviews, I gave them a chance.  And I was not disappointed!  For someone whose most frequent gripe is that things don't have enough salt (I don't yearn for health problems, I just want all the flavor brought out), I was particularly smitten by the salty salt rye bread.  Inside was Emmentaler swiss, a zesty thousand island dressing, and a generous helping of very tasty corned beef.  Simply put, this was a fantastic sandwich!  I'll have to go over to Izzy's real soon so my taste buds can compare, but I think Wicked-wich may be on top.

For a side this time around I got garlic couscous - which is cold, large, pearly Israeli couscous with chopped celery, parsley, and red onion.  On my last visit I had the curried egg salad.  They aren't afraid of bold flavors at Wicked-wich, one of the main reasons I am quickly becoming a big fan.

The Ingredients:  While there's nothing on their menu that notes being sourced locally or using organic ingredients, Wicked-wich does step up its deli game with its "covenant" (see page 2 of the menu).  It's great to see them cutting the meat right there in front of you.  Hopefully as they settle in and learn how to run a great operation they'll take their clear caring for ingredients and customers to the next level by cutting down on the carbon footprint of what's being served.  I'll try to get in one day at an odd hour when they're not so busy and talk to a manager about this as well.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  They must have about 10 people behind the deli counter, so while the lines get long, they move pretty quickly through things at the lunch hour.  The man who took my order has helped me choose two great menu items, and I'll trust his judgment moving forward as well.  Unfortunately, I've asked a couple of employees that are further down the assembly line what they recommend to put on the sandwiches (or even what is on them to start), and they just look back with blank stares or tell you to look at the menu board.  They're clearly not up to speed on all the ins and outs just yet and/or true sandwich aficionados all around.  I think we can forgive this small transgression so early in the game.

Parking on Sycamore between 4th and 5th can be a bit of a pain, but there's usually a meter open if you circle a few times.  So, factor in a few minutes for that part of the trip.

Quick side note:  Wicked-wich is right next door to a Skyline Chili.  I'd eaten at something that was in the W-w space before, and while I couldn't remember it got my co-eater and I wondering - has a Skyline Chili ever closed?  I mean, I assume one has to have, but where?  As a non-native Cincinnatian, this phenomenon never ceases to amaze me.  It's like LaRosa's pizza, I just don't understand how anyone really, truly likes it.

This is definitely going into steady rotation on my lunch circuit.  It's worth it to set aside time for a walk, or figure out the parking, to get such a great meal in the middle of a long day.  As full as it's been on my trips too, it looks like Wicked-wich is off to quite a nice start.

Wicked-wich on Urbanspoon


Existential Eating #10

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future Existential Eating strips, please email or comment below.  Sadly, our current collective imagination will run dry.  If its related to food, it can be the topic of an Existential Eating comic strip.  Just share your idea and Ramsey will do his best to draw it up (probably, someday).


Dinner Out @ Honey

Moving to Northside, we gained the luxury of a number of solid restaurant options.  But, it's particularly satisfying to drink a glass of wine at home and then walk down the street to a steady favorite from the last several years.  A combination of refined and relaxed, Honey is one of Cincinnati's restaurants that makes me feel like there's no need to go to Brooklyn or San Francisco for a hip eatery.

The Food:  On our most recent trip, we started as we almost always do - Honey fries.  They're skinny-cut, skin-on potatoes fried (many to a delightful crisp) and delivered with a mouthwatering sweet chili sauce.  Ordering the fries gives us a chance to ponder the menu a bit longer, as well as the specials, of which there are always at least a few.  On this past trip we ordered a bottle of wine during the decision making process as well - a bright, crisp rose.

There were three of us, and we decided to split three mains.  First, the grilled Pat La Frieda burger with Roth Käse Rofumo, bacon, guacamole, tomato, and red onion on a toasted onion bun with (yes, no shame in it, more) honey fries.  Second, a skate special that came with a couscous and corn deep fried fritter with artichokes and leeks, plated with a tomato vodka broth and green-herbed oil.  Last, a mint-scented sweet pea ravioli in a pool of Riesling-laced chicken broth topped with mascarpone and crispy pancetta.  Mmmm - makes me hungry just thinking about it!

We ordered the burger medium rare, and it was perfectly pink throughout.  A simple guacamole meant you could really taste the avocado (one of those never-going-to-be-local delights), and the cheese added just a hint of smokiness to each bite.  It reminded me a bit of the gouda and guac sandwich at Sitwell's, an old regular order.  The consensus at our table was the skate was a bit overdone, but all was definitely not lost.  With the square fritter acting as the base, it's soft crunch went well with the snappiness of the shaved leeks.  Apparently I was the only who got any artichokes, but I thought they worked well with the tomato broth to bring a nice tang to the dish.  There was also a spicy profile brought by something in that fritter that I really enjoyed.  In fact, a background warmth provided by unnamed and indecipherable spices was a common theme with all the dishes.  Our ravioli with sweet peas was pleasantly peppery, and while it was the most subtle set of flavors on the table, the delicate pasta earned top honors in Sarah's opinion.  The chef did a great job overall with mixing textures, and we were all contentedly full.

Desserts are often a fun finish at Honey.  They are always playing around with new options, and the ice creams are made in house.  On this trip they were all just a bit off - the server would have us until one ingredient (white chocolate or mint julep ice cream for instance) just didn't quite mesh.  Once we ordered foie gras bacon ice cream, because, well, we didn't think we could pass up such a thing.  It wasn't our favorite, but we tell people about the experience fairly frequently.  Recent positive exploits have included a to-die-for chocolate cake (photos at the bottom of this post) and a flight of three ice cream floats laced with liqueurs and liquors.

The Ingredients:  Honey frequently names the sources of its ingredients (i.e. Sallie's asparagus and Rouster's apples on the current sample menu), and it is great to know they support local farmers and producers.  This is one of the many reasons to appreciate what is done at Honey, and I'm looking forward to even more local options coming soon.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  As I mentioned above, Honey is a neighborhood place for us and definitely a destination for others.  In fact, Sarah and I ate dinner there the night we got engaged, so it does hold a particularly special spot for us.

Inside, the restaurant is an attractive, often dimly lit space with expansive (20' or more) ceilings.  Prints of various flora are framed and match the small vases and candles that adorn each table.  They have an outdoor area as well, although I've never eaten there because when the weather is nice, it is always taken quickly

The service at Honey is the one thing that has had its fits and starts.  For a long time, the servers were always very friendly and knowledgeable, and the pretension level was quite low.  On our last few visits, we've had a bit of attitude from servers a couple of times - nothing even close to turning us off completely, but we have had moments of wishful thinking.  I could be wrong, but it seems like remaining a neighborhood favorite for generally laid back Northside and Clifton locals must be a top priority, so I can only imagine that Honey's easy going roots will win out over time.
Honey is a great place for an intimate meal or gathering of old friends.  Along with excellent dinner options, they've also got a fantastic brunch on Sundays from 11-2.  We hope to have this be a consistent stomping ground for years to come.

Honey on Urbanspoon


Backyard Chickens

We had a quick thought process about getting chickens a while back, but decided against it in the end.  We've got a very small patch of grass (about 16'x5') and simply can't imagine birds fitting too well into our lives - our dog already barks madly at the squirrels.

But, we've been intrigued to watch the concept get some discussion here locally.  There's a Yahoo group exclusively for the practice of raising backyard chickens (an offshoot from the great CinciLocavore list), and most recently, a couple friends of ours up the street in Northside decided to jump on the bandwagon.  Craig and Vera are now the proud owners of six new babies, and have a little coop ready for them once they're old enough to be outside.  With a sizable backyard, they plan to move the coop around every so often, let the chickens run when they're home, and put them away when they're gone.  I can't wait to try one of the eggs!

But, without further ado - more pictures of precious little chicks...


Dinner Out @ Riverside Korean

I'd never been to Riverside Korean until this week.  It just slipped through the cracks for years somehow.  I've consistently heard good things, and it's been on my list for a while, so I'm glad I can finally check it off my list.  My Urbanspoon rating is an "I liked it," and I did, but it comes with a few substantial caveats.

The Food:  The menu at Riverside has loads of options, but I was the last one to arrive from our group and had to get in some greetings.  The group chose an appetizer - the Ya Chae Pa Jun (a vegetable pancake with green onions, zucchini, onion, mushrooms, carrots, and long hot peppers), which comes to table with a sauce much like gyoza dipping sauce.  This was a simple dish that was solid but not impressive.

Next came the Ban Chan.  Before the entrees at a Korean place, small plates or bowls of spiced and/or pickled vegetable (and some seafood/meat) are brought for everyone at the table.  The most famous of which is definitely kimchi, made with napa cabbage. In this case, we got eight options, including squid, potato, radish, daikon, and spinach.  We finished off most of these before our entrees arrived, and then ordered another round (at some places they're free).  I was told that these small plates can also serve as ways to blunt or increase the heat of the main dishes.

For my entree, I ordered the Galbi Jhim (on get in mah belly's suggestion) - short ribs with veggies and pine nuts in a pot that keeps on cooking as its placed on the table.  The defining element of my meal though, the sauce - it's very sweet, but has a lot of depth to its flavor and is so good it could be drunk all by itself.  Thankfully, there is enough of the juice to cover all the meat, veggies, and rice.  Unfortunately, too many pieces of the ribs were laden with tough fat or cartilage, and I didn't really want to be chewing and spitting at the table.  It would have been nice if the prep work would have been a bit more thorough.

Others at the table had Duk Man Du Guk (rice cakes and dumplings with beef broth and egg soup), Jhu Ku Mi Gui (grilled baby octopus with spicy tangy sauce),  O Jing Au Bok Um (spicy stir fried squid with cabbage, long hot peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, green onion, and carrots).  This meal was not nearly so focused on the food as most of my trips to restaurants these days, but I did catch the following tidbits: the soup was a huge portion, and the squid was blazing hot (there's no scale, it just comes that way).  I was disappointed that none of us ordered an "Adventure Dinner."

The Ingredients:  There is nothing on the menu about local, organic, or sustainable.  Just as we'd hope for the other restaurants around town - and particularly the highly rated, highly publicized places - it would be great if Riverside would source ingredients locally, and if they'd note it on their menu.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Riverside is located on Main Street in Covington, in a relatively nondescript storefront.  When I was heading out the door, I asked Sarah how nice the place was so I could figure out if I needed to change clothes.  She said she remembered white table clothes.  It turns out that if you sit on the floor in the raised area of the restaurant, there are white linens.  But, in the booths at floor level the tables are wood and have a metallic opening that appears to be for an on-the-table heat source.  Overall, I was underwhelmed by the atmosphere and decor - it doesn't strike me as a place you would think of as "nice" and warrant dressing up for.

The service was pretty straightforward.  We had a few jokes with our server, but there weren't many other people there on a Tuesday night, and generally we were on our own.  Waters went unfilled at times, and we asked twice before getting another round of Pan Jun.

Because Riverside has been listed #10 the past two years in Cincinnati Magazine's list, I think my expectations just didn't mesh well with reality.  Top 10 spots usually are "nice" - they tend to be more expensive and the decor + atmosphere usually = dress up a bit (wine me, dine me noted this when she wrote about Slim's and Cumin making the list in 2009, though she calls it "special").  I was expecting big, bold flavors from a Korean place, and in that regard, Riverside delivered.  But the setting and service left something to be desired, surprising me that the total package put them in the Top 10.  I also left thinking I could get a lot more bang for my buck than I did for that $35.

Lastly, the photos - not so good this time, I went sans Sarah and had to make do on my own.  But, check out the slide show below anyway.

I will definitely be back to Riverside.  I need to go as a dedicated eater, and I need to do it again sooner rather than later.  The menu is chock-full of selections that sound amazing, and there are more than a few ingredients listed that I'm not sure you can get anywhere else.  But until then, I'll keep wondering what those Cincinnati Magazine scores were.

Riverside Korean on Urbanspoon


Dinner Out @ Taqueria Mercado

This is going to be a quick "review" for a quick meal.  We were headed down to see the Reds vs. Cardinals, and by parking next to the public library we a) got free parking and b) walked right by Taqueria Mercado (the downtown location isn't on the website yet).  The latter brought an immediate end to our conversation about what bad food we were going to have to pay ridiculous prices for at Great American Ballpark.

The Food:  All we had on this to-go trip was 2 tacos each.  I ordered carne asada and barbacoa, and Sarah had carne asada and carnitas.  I should say right now that we walked all the way downtown and found our cheap seats in the bleachers before we ate, so there is simply no way these tacos were in peak condition.  But, even with that said, these tacos are clearly the real deal.  The carne asada was seasoned well, the barbacoa was moist and delectable, and while the carnitas may have been the most tame of the three, it was still very yummy.  

My most recent downtown taco experience at Senor Roy's Taco Patrol had been a real disappointment, but I was not let down on this attempt.  While the carne asada was a bit dry, and the limes were just about juiceless, in general these were flavorful tacos that I'll eat many, many more of.  They are classic with 2 corn tortillas, cilantro, and raw onion, and the both the red and green salsas they came with were quite tasty and helped add a nice kick as well as moisture.

The Ingredients:  Nothing on the menu about local, organic, or any other notable sourcing information.  When we eat and sit down, we'll definitely have to ask and encourage them to consider sourcing locally.  I've heard co-owner Lourdes de Leon has been generous about donating to local campaigns and non-profits, so hopefully that thoughtfulness will extend to the restaurant's ingredients.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  As I mentioned above, this was a quick in-and-out before going to a Reds game.  The food came fast and we were on our way, so nothing much to say about the service other than it met our basic needs.

The place looks exactly the same as when Javier's was there, and it took me a second to understand that I wasn't supposed to order at the counter in the front.  It'll be interesting to see if/how they distinguish this place in design and decor.

Overall, Taqueria Mercado seems to be off to a good start with solid reviews from other bloggers (Epi-ventures and get in mah belly, amongst others) and a good reputation in Fairfield to build off of.  It's close enough that I'll be walking there for lunch in the near future, and hope they'll be able to stick it out for the long haul.

Taqueria Mercado on Urbanspoon


Brunch Out @ forkheartknife

If you're digging the growing number of laid back restaurants around town where the people who work their actually appear to be happy and enjoying themselves, and the vibe is decidedly unpretentious, then the new restaurant forkheartknife (and a blog) will be added to your list of favorites quite quickly.  Soapbox did a piece on them the other day that covers many of the details of the opening, so we'll just focus on our experience at brunch.

The Food:  The menu was short enough and we were intrigued enough that we ordered one of everything.  While waiting for a friend to arrive, we sampled one of the muffins, and while I couldn't help but think of Betty White on SNL, it was full of raisin-y, walnut-y goodness.  The fruit gazpacho and lemon bread pudding with raspberry sauce came first.  We thought the gazpacho was a fun idea to put a twist on the typical fruit cup, and while I feared it might be syrupy, it was simple and tasty.  As for the bread pudding, I always hesitate on this order because often it is too sweet - but theirs combined just a bit of tart with a smooth, not too rich custard to come out very well.  And the bread part has that chewy/crunchy edge that makes stuffing on Thanksgiving so good.  A winner, especially for those with a sweet tooth in the morning.

Next came the frittatas - bacon and collards in one and red pepper and collards in the other, both with a bit of parmesan sprinkled on top.  Both had a nice flavor, and my only feedback would be that I usually like my frittatas a bit fluffier and a little saltier.  We also had a bowl of the whole new potatoes.  Topped with a unique mixture of chimichurri and red pepper romesco, the combined flavors continued the slight smokiness that began for me with the bacon frittata.  They were like no other breakfast/brunch potatoes I've ever had, and my taste buds were happily curious.  Check out some photos of all the food below in the slideshow.

The Ingredients:  There's no mention on the menu of any local, organic, or other notable ingredients.  And I didn't bug them about it today since they're just getting going.  But, I do hope they'll list their sources as they hit their stride, and I did overhear them talking about buying local produce and looking for a place downtown that is interested in their compost, so it's clearly on their mind.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  I should say from the start that one of the 2 folks who opened this restaurant is a long time Cincinnati-style connection.  You know, the people you know a bit, and see around consistently, and have multiple friends in common?  Six degrees of separation - more like 3 inside the city.  So, full disclosure, while I'm always hopeful people will succeed and be fruitful - I have an added incentive on this one.

As I mentioned at the top, forkheartknife just feels good - they've done a great job with making sure small feels cozy, not cramped.  There are also a bunch of nice personal touches that make it unique - a school style clock with "Cincinnati" written in a cool font (which does not yet tell time/operate), Timmy-built benches and tables, and more.  The menu is written on brown butcher paper that is rolled down on the wall - very cool.  Also, the Counting Crows on the radio really made it clear this was my generation's kind of place.

The place is so small that "service" means looking up at the kitchen area and waiting for all of 5-10 seconds until someone locks eyes with you.  Food came quickly and without hassle.  They've got a drink set up where you can serve yourself water and coffee, which works out nicely.

At this point, one basic question that you probably need answered - when is forkheartknife open?  Right now, the best way to know is by following them on Twitter, checking their Facebook status, or eyeing the window of the storefront for a sign.  As they get settled in, I'm hoping to able to walk over for some of the delicious looking lunch sandwiches that Sierra has been posting about on her blog.  Oh, and no credit cards yet if you go - just cash.

I'm excited and hopeful that this will become a consistent lunch option by week and brunch option by weekend, and of course we'd come through for dinner as well.  There are, I'm sure, kinks to be worked out in these opening weeks, but from the outside it looks like they're off to a great start.

Forkheartknife on Urbanspoon

Existential Eating #9

If you have any suggestions or ideas for future Existential Eating strips, please email or comment below.  Sadly, our current collective imagination will run dry.  If its related to food, it can be the topic of an Existential Eating comic strip.  Just share your idea and Ramsey will do his best to draw it up (probably, someday).


Scoop: The Painted Fish - A New Restaurant Coming Soon to Northside

At a Northside Community Council meeting recently, Nick Andersen introduced himself and said that he is planning to open a sushi restaurant called The Painted Fish in the old Gajah Wong space on Spring Grove Avenue, just off of Hamilton Avenue.  The crowd seemed quite pleased.

After I followed up and heard some of the ideas they’re kicking around, here’s what I’ve got to share:

They’re hoping to open in July, and it will be a casual place (if you’ve been in that space, you know it would take a serious makeover to do anything else).  The sushi bar will be less traditional, with lots of specialty rolls, and they’ll also planning to have noodles, chicken, steak, and lots of seafood.  Embracing healthy, alternative menu options was clearly a focus, so they’ll plan to have vegan, gluten-free choices, and good ones!  Nick also mentioned having wifi, and they have an espresso machine as well.  The space is quite large, so there is plenty of room for folks to linger and enjoy themselves.  Finally, The Painted Fish intends to have a late night martini bar where people can grab a few drinks, maybe a small sushi roll, or some edamame.

And I almost forgot – the outdoor patio is huge!  Take the average patio space and triple it.  They’ve got a bar, a stage, and lots of greenery.  A kitchen garden is even in the works.  This city is short on good outside dining options, so it’ll be great to have this area back in operation.

Nick was most recently a sushi chef up in Mason at Bistro Ginza in Mason, and has moved down to Cincinnati from a spot at Uraku in Bowling Green, Ohio.

And while we’re on the subject of NW Ohio, here’s a short “the world is very small/full disclosure” interlude:  I walked in to talk to Nick at the space (they’re doing some repair and painting now), and I was quickly greeted by Anne Steiner – Nick’s wife – who I had no idea I was about to see.  Anne and I are both from the bustling township of Bluffton, OH and, amongst other things, grew up going to the same church.  I had recently been in touch with her parents after a trip to Bluffton and then a cameo on their blog/website – The Bluffton Icon.  Nick and Anne now live a couple blocks from Sarah and I.  So, yes, the world is very small (especially if you limit it to Ohio).

Hopefully all will go well, and we’ll have another great food option in Northside!


Origin Stories: Where Coffee Comes From

Few commodities are as ubiquitous across so many cultures as coffee.  So, even though I drink it only rarely, and Sarah only occasionally, when we had the opportunity to learn from Cincinnati coffee experts about it's origin, we took advantage.  This is our 2nd "origin story" (after flour), and we were lucky that our hosts, Les Stoneham and Chuck Pfahler, were very generous with their time and information, so we have a lot to share.

We've split things up into 5 sections in case you'd like to skip ahead, and there is an awesome slideshow of photos by Sarah and Jonathan Miano at the very bottom:
  1. The People & Their Passion - working together so you've got access to great stuff 
  2. The Process - from the tree to your local shop
  3. The Final Product - what ends up in your cup (or cake or recipe, I suppose)
  4. The Sales & Distribution - an important step you don't read as much about
  5. The Last Tidbit - a final nugget of information as we come to a close
And now, without further ado, coffee!

The People & Their Passion

We did the homework for this blog on 2 separate trips - the first was a visit to 1801 Mills, followed by a jaunt over to La Terza Coffee (here on Facebook, including a great video about their process).  Les Stoneham was our awesome tour guide, answering all of our questions thoughtfully and thoroughly.

1801 Mills is also the home to the The Espresso Guild - a non-profit organization that does barista training, consulting, machines/equipment, and more. We came to this Norwood location to see and hear about the process of getting coffee to your cup.  The three "experts" of the Espresso Guild are Les, Larry Bourgeois (also the visionary behind 1801 Mills, and who used to be at Old Saint George in Clifton), and Chuck Pfahler (of La Terza).  You'll hear the most about Les and Chuck, because while we did briefly meet Larry, we talked to these two the most.

It was immediately apparent that these guys are not kidding around about coffee.  When we walked in, there was an espresso machine set up about 10 feet from the entrance, with a dozen or two used coffee cups laying about.  Two local baristas, Courtney and Logan, were busy making coffee.  More accurately, they were practicing (yes, practicing).  They were heading off to the Great Lakes Barista Competition in Milwaukee the next day.  With a panel of judges drinking, and technical judges too, the winners move on to the United States Barista Championship and each have a "signature drink" with ingredients like fig balsamic reduction or roasted beet juice.  Later we learned that last year for Ohio, Les placed 1st, Courtney was 2nd, and Logan was 3rd.

Les got into this 6 years ago when he started working on Rohs Street Cafe, and simply "didn't want to make a bad cup of coffee."  Then, he was connected to Guatemala because a friend from the University of Cincinnati was there doing mission work, and "going to origin is a barista pilgrimage."  At about the same time Rohs Street was opening, Chuck's La Terza Artisan Coffee Roasterie was getting off the ground as well.  Les and Chuck started working together, going to specialty coffee shows and learning about all aspects of the process.  The following year, Chuck and Les went down to tour some fair trade places - that's how the relationship began with La Armonia Hermosa, the farmer's cooperative in Guatemala whose coffee Deeper Roots Development imports and La Terza now roasts. 

Originally, there was just 1 farmer working with Deeper Roots to get coffee to the states, but now there are about 20.  The farms are located near Antigua, Guatemala, in a small town with about 20,000 people called Santa Maria de Jesus.  Folks there speak and dress Mayan and are blessed with amazing land - 6,000 ft. above sea level, volcanic soil, even better than famed Antiguan.  Les says they truly lucked out that where they had their initial connections turned out to be a place that could produce such amazing coffee.  He chuckled a bit at their good fortune as he tells us he didn't know this originally.

While Les was working at Rohs Street, Chuck was perfecting his roasting skills at La Terza.  Les was anxious to hand over Rohs Street and start roasting and learn that part of the process, and its now been 4 years that he has been working for Chuck.  They're not quite interchangeable yet - Les still consults Chuck sometimes - but they are both clearly very good at what they do.

Both Les and Chuck credit Larry with exposing them to something larger - bringing his 30-plus years of experience and nationwide perspective.  Larry is also instrumental to the idea of building "third places" - community gathering spots where creativity and ideas (and often, coffee) flow.  Read more about this part of their vision at HabitatForCommunity.org.  But, Les, Chuck, and Larry all clearly care deeply about what they do, about the communities they are a part of.  Throughout our conversations, they consistently reiterated the importance of the people and places their work and passion is intertwined with.

Chuck is a born and bred Cincinnatian, and says he loves the people here in the city.  Les is from north of Columbus, but has been here in the area for many years now.  They said their approach is that they are artists with a legit craft.  They want to bring the uniqueness from each coffee, and to do justice to the producers because they deeply respect them and want to be respectful of their work (their consistent focus on doing right by the producers reminded me of this fascinating TED talk by Dan Barber on foie gras).   For both men, working with coffee is a labor of love - and they feel privileged to do what they do.  Chuck told us about working at a cubicle farm - he did customer service for P&G and didn't walk away satisfied.  Now that he's been successful with La Terza, he doesn't want to be a mega-roaster, he wants to stay connected to his customers and his community.

These are good people who should be applauded for pursuing their passions in Cincinnati!

The Process

La Terza gets coffee from all over the world, but we'll be tracking La Armonia Hermosa from tree to cup. To give you a sense of scale, the first year Deeper Roots and La Terza brought coffee from farms in Guatemala, they moved 1,000 pounds - much of it in brought by UC students and other travelers in small increments.  Now, they're up to 10,000 pounds arriving by boat.  Here's how it works.

Farmers pick the coffee tree's fruit in Guatemala.  What happens next makes a big difference in terms of the amount of money that the farmer makes.  Until Les and Chuck came along, the fruit was sold to coyotes (middlemen/exporters), who then took it from there to the valley where the mills are located.  With no virtually no value add, the farmer's make very little - between 10 and 20 cents per pound.

The relationship makes all the difference for the farmers.  Together, the folks in Cincinnati and Guatemala worked to figure out how they could go from just one shop to a much bigger opportunity.  Now, the farmer's can improve their take by 400%.  But back to that coffee fruit - it is about to undergo "wet processing."

First, the berries are removed using a depulper, while the discarded fruit is then broken down to use for fertilizer or compost.  Fermentation in large barrels of water happens after the depulping, and takes about 1-2 days - closely followed by a washing of the coffee beans.  And finally, the beans are turned into what is called pergamino, after they are thoroughly dried (which takes somewhere between several days out in the sun, being turned many times a day for even drying, or a day if the producer has a drying machine).  Just before exporting, the parchment layer left on the bean is removed and beans are finally sorted for size and quality by hand or machine.  It is the resulting "green coffee" that is typically sent overseas to the roaster, and it is fairly stable at this point.  Producers can fetch about $3 a pound for high quality green coffee.

Les is working right now to ensure that as many steps of this process are happening directly as possible.  In Santa Maria de Jesus, things are moving past one farmer with a vision to now having an organization of 20.  And, they are very close to starting construction on building a mill with a bicycle powered depulper (become Les' Facebook friend and then you can check out his videos, including one of the bicycle powered depulper).

Because the folks in Guatemala are working with Deeper Roots and La Terza without any middlemen, they are participating in what is now known as direct tradeMany people believe that direct trade is an important next step beyond fair trade, which started in the 1940s, expanded in Europe in the 60's, and became a widespread phenomenon by the 90's in the US.  Fair trade requires certification, and some people believe that prices paid to producers haven't gone up enough in proportion to profits (the best resource on the pros and cons of fair trade is probably Joseph Stiglitz' Fair Trade for All).  The direct trade method was trademarked in 2006 by Chicago's Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, which also happens to be what Les thinks is some of the highest quality coffee in the country.  Direct trade is now happening in both large and small ways around the world, and La Terza is proud to be part of the growth of the model.  But, Les is clear to point out his opinion that "that 'direct-trade' can be good and fruitful but also destructive and manipulative as a marketing term with no proper certifications or ability for transparency to consumers.  Others in the area are quick to jump on the direct trade term in other ways."

La Terza, and an increasing number of roasters, are interested in both a good product and the fact that it is done well.  The good product is actually necessary to truly break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala, and in much of the rest of the developing world that sells to developed countries, because otherwise the demand will not exist for the product at the price needed.  This is the core work of Deeper Roots Development - breaking the cycle.  USAID does some solid coffee development projects, and there are hundreds of different approaches, many of which are essentially basic microfinance and sustainability, like Heifer International or Grameen Bank.

So, now the coffee has made it to the United States.  It is likely sitting in burplap bags (although some coffee is now coming in GrainPro bags to preserve freshness) that let it breathe.  When Sarah and I arrive at La Terza's space on Colerain Avenue in Northside, we see a few dozen such bags as we walk in the door.  The beans will get used in 6 weeks, although the La Armonia Hermosa is warehoused there for the whole year.  Chuck and Les will now take the beans and start the roasting process.

Chuck uses Google Calendar to keep track of the whole process of when to roast what beans.  A bigger day would be 20 batches (taking 5-6 hours), and on a Friday they'll do more like 8 batches.  The whole operation is a balance between time and temperature.  About 6 years ago, Chuck started out roasting with a hot air popcorn maker with a thermometer on top, and believe it or not, developed the flavor profile that La Terza still uses today.  As Chuck put it, he "nailed it."

The coffee roaster itself that La Terza uses is a model they've had for 4 years that is made by Ambex - a company based in Florida and whose parts are built mostly in the USA but also in Turkey.  Chuck had to get a fan custom built in Turkey a while back, so he's got his eye on a new roaster that costs about $25,000 and, most importantly, has all parts available.  As Chuck puts it, "I can't afford down time."  Here's how the process works:

1.  The roaster has a preheat temperature, and is designed to hold the coffee at the top.  Shrinkage will occur when the beans are roasted - they'll lose 25% of the raw product.

2.  It works like a dryer - a drum tumbles the beans as it rotates over a gas flame.  It is the agitation and heat that roast the coffee.  Managing the heat is vital.  Different beans are roasted at different temperatures, so while Chuck and Les know intuitively now what temperatures to start at, the process can vary by 30-40 seconds and 30-40 degrees depending on the bean.  The range overall is about the same - "first crack" (the point at which beans visibly expand and pop) is at 371-380 degrees, then "second crack" varies.  Those are the two key points, and there is no one way to get to those points - this is what separates different roasters and their profile.  After the right temperature is reached, the beans are spit out and ready for cooling.

How to best heat the beans is a topic of much debate.  Some people use drum roasters that heat with infrared or convection, others use a fluid bed or air roasting method.  My favorite quote of Chuck's from the day may have been "my palate prefers what I get off the Whirley Pop versus what I get off the hot air corn popper."  It's understandable if you missed it, that is some highly technical jargon.  Seriously though, there are a lot of discussion boards and forums online about which is the best way to roast a coffee bean, and Chuck was legitimately excited when he found the sweet spot that is his roasting profile.  In fact, it's "sort of a trade secret, and I don't want to just give that away."  It took over 12 months so that Les could match Chuck's quality, and now it's no problem.

3.  Here, the beans are cooling as they're being turned.  The hot air is being sucked out by the pipe (spewing coffee smell goodness onto Colerain Avenue).  It's cooling, but it's still cooking, just like meat even after it's out of the oven.  As the coffee is cooling, we watched Chuck pick it up in his hands consistently and then smell it - he told us he was making sure that there is a certain sweetness to the aroma of the coffee that lets him know it has been roasted correctly.  "Really, I know," he says, "I don't need to smell it.  It's part of my enjoyment."  But, even a roaster as confident as Chuck does make mistakes - probably under 5% of the time though, and its usually a problem related to time management.  While roasting, they're also weighing, packaging, and preparing for the next batch.

4.  After the beans come out, they got into a bucket.  The beans shouldn't be too dark - most places they would be very dark though.  Darkness equates to a loss of sweetness, kind of like the way a lightly browned marshmallow is perfection but when you get impatient you end up with a crispy mess!  Finally, the beans are measured and packaged.  One whole batch takes12-13 mins (they like to do 4 batches an hour), and while they could technically do 18 pounds, 15 is about what they like to do.

After being roasted, beans are always shipped within the day.  Orders are put in one day, then it's out in the shop the next.  After a week the coffee bean has changed, and at 14 days Chuck says "I don't like to drink it."  If you're not a regular drinker, you should only order based on what you consume - don't let coffee sit in your freezer or cupboard for a long time.  Chuck and Les both laugh as they say that "then after a while you'll become a fiend and want more," and I can't help but smile and wonder if I'll be a regular coffee drinker someday soon.

Now, jump down to The Sales and Distribution if you want to know where to get some of this great stuff!

The Final Product

After the whole process is complete, you've got a final product.  So now comes the fun part, actually making and drinking a coffee.

As Les puts it, "some baristas have a rock star mentality, but they only do 10% of the work - it's really about how do baristas not screw this up."  Hopefully, they won't make too many mistakes, because The Espresso Guild does training on a quarterly basis for La Terza baristas and offers training and classes for the rest of us too.  Many baristas around town have some serious machinery to help them get their espressos and cappuccinos just right.  The Espresso Guild has a Rancilio at $590, and other options ranging up to $15,000.  And beyond the machine, there is the grinder - Les notes that "baristas have a special relationship with their grinders."  In fact, most baristas takes their own grinder to the US Barista Championship.  But making a perfect cup of coffee is most certainly an art form that requires skill and practice.  Here's an article about the winner of the USBC - he's now won two years in a row.

Aside from espresso, if you just want a great cup of single brew coffee (and don't want to spend beaucoup bucks on a Clover), Les and Chuck were excited to tell us about sharing the love of the hario dripper, something you will likely see popping up around town at coffee shops as they work to provide a top notch cup of coffee for customers.  When ordered, the dripper would "get the attention a customer gets on an espresso."  Nobody in Cincinnati does it yet except Dojo Gelato.

When Sarah and I were talking with Les and Chuck while we talked about La Terza, we sampled coffee from Sulawesi (an island in Indonesia) that La Terza hadn't had in before.  We thought it was delicious.  And now it's available to the public, so enjoy!

The Sales & Distribution

There's one last piece of the puzzle that we're happy to share with you - some information about the sale and distribution process for La Terza.  Most of their clients are around here, but they are also shipping to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Detroit - they even have a customer in California.  With no advertising, it is all word of mouth, and this coffee is really getting around.  They occasionally do espresso tastings for "espresso nuts," and they pay attention to many of the same terms as at a wine tasting: aroma, acidity, mouth feel, body, finish, and more (and I'm told it involves spitting too).  But most coffee tastings are for brewed coffee.
In Cincinnati, you can get La Terza coffee at the following: Rohs Street Cafe, Taza, Coffee Shop on Madison, and a couple of items at Sidewinder.  You can also visit La Terza directly, and some folks do that.  Just email Chuck ahead of time to make sure he'll be there. 

Les tells us that their are very few really good coffee places in town, and that Cincinnati is still behind the big coffee centers, "but not as far behind as we were 10 years ago."  Also, there's not a lot of difference between most shops in town.  Seven Hills Coffee is the biggest roaster in town, while Coffee Emporium and Tazza Mia use their own in house roasters.

Les says that he is confident Rohs Street makes the best coffee in Cincinnati, and that as a result real aficionados do seek it out. Intelligentsia in Chicago is next closest best coffee, and that's the best in the country - so there's a real gem on Rohs Street in Clifton by just about any standard.

As far as the distribution goes, Chuck started out be selling to local shops, then "stumbled into wholesaling."  For the first 4 years he was working another full-time job, but now this is what he does Monday through Friday.  He's busier in the summer because he does about 5 farmers' markets.  Wyoming people tracked him down years ago, and now many are regulars.  Chuck loves interacting with customers at the markets, and they're important because they offer a place for "people to buy locally and people who care about quality - my target audience," he says.

So, how do they choose the coffee they roast and distribute?  Well, it depends in part on the demand, and of course, what is available.  Apparently in Louisville right now, everyone is in to Ethiopian, which Les described as "like a training coffee" because "it hits you over the head with flavors."  But, in general they need to pick a range of options.  In Cincinnati, there is definitely a groupthink going on - "this is the way we did it in the late 80's and early 90's, so that's the way we'll keep doing it."  Some shops have a hard time getting past that.

The importers that sell coffee to Chuck are also key.  Chuck says "I know my importers palates are good," and it's very much a relationship-based process.  They meet at shows and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) events, and if what they say and what you get match, then they are legit.  Importers are the ones who do most of the visits, because a small business like La Terza can't afford to fly all over the world.  There are vastly larger quantities, which can lead to larger margins, for the importers so that they can visit everywhere, and good ones will even have origin trips.

The Last Tidbit

There is one other small story that we simply must share.  Long before we came to 1801 Mills, or talked with Les, Chuck, or Larry, we'd heard rumblings of an espresso machine in Norwood that had been blessed by the Pope.  Well, we're here to set the record straight.  The Espresso Guild does have an amazing Victoria Arduino collector's edition of which only 100 were made on the company's 100 year anniversary.  It normally costs $20,000, but they got it for cost.  In fact, the first one was given to Pope, and their machine was not blessed!

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading what turned out to be much, much more than an average blog post at Amateur Foodies!  We'd love to hear your thoughts if you'd like to comment below.

Something tells me wine people would disagree, but Les told us that coffee has more complexity than wine.  He's emphatic that "it's all in the aromatics!"  And even after all we learned, I'm excited to delve deeper into the intricacies that make this fascinating drink a connector across the globe.  Plus, if your experience is anything like ours, now that you're more informed about coffee, the info starts showing up in other places.


Why Join the Farm Bureau

Amongst folks I've talked to about food and agriculture issues, the Farm Bureau and 2008's Ohio Issue 2 (overview here on Ballotpedia and here on the League of Women Voters' Smart Voter) both carry decidedly negative connotations.  But, truthfully, I don't deeply understand either.  So, while I've generally formed opinions, if I'm being honest with myself I have to be open to new ideas until I have significantly more knowledge on the subjects.

Doing some shopping this past weekend, we ran into a Northside neighbor - Cynthia Brown.  We struck up a conversation and the Farm Bureau came up, followed by Issue 2.  I thought she had such an interesting perspective that I asked her to share her thoughts about why to join the Farm Bureau and her take on Issue 2.  I think this is very relevant to thoughtful farmers and consumers alike that are interested in building a sustainable food system - and it touches on key issues around organizing, power, and how to make systemic change.  So, without further ado...
There is an old saying that you cannot really change the system from within the system. I believe that most of the time. I do believe, however, that there are exceptions to the rules about almost everything.  The Farm Bureau is one of those things. Every farming member of the Bureau has a vote. That means that if you have a working farm and earn some income from your farm, you can have a vote on all policy issues the Farm Bureau addresses. You can even help select the issues that the Bureau is going to address. So, if you join the Bureau, you can join the policy committee and, at the annual membership meeting, you can vote for or against supporting policies which are then taken to the state and national levels.

The question then becomes, who does the Farm Bureau really represent? At this time, on the national level, it is agribusiness. Why? They have all the money. Why join the Farm Bureau now? At this critical moment in time, when the local movement is really gaining momentum, when urban agriculture is taking hold and garnering a great deal of United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) funding, when small, diversified farms are being examined as engines of local commerce, there is strength in numbers. Further, the age of the small farmers, the micro-processor, the urban growers is significantly lower than the traditional agri-business farmers. Add to that, the social media available to the younger generation and the time is really right to pack the house, so to speak.

If every person who grows and sells at small farmers markets and every person looking to find an urban plot to grow food for commerce joined the Farm Bureau, the sheer numbers would change the focus and policies of the organization. There has never been a better time to make your one vote count. And, the organization is completely democratic – one member, one vote. Further, while currently in bed with corporate interests, the Bureau is still on the forefront of agricultural issues. The Bureau membership is constantly updated on potential legislation etc. and many times those issues are still in committee and not even on the floor of the state or national legislature.

Look at issue 2. The Farm Bureau made a presentation to its membership on the need to pass the issue months before the campaign went public, months before the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) or any other agency was aware it was really coming. Why was the Farm Bureau for Issue 2? They helped create it. When the Humane Society of the United States passed their ballot initiative in California, they came to the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and told them they were going to pass the same kind of legislation in Ohio. They asked those two agencies to work with them. Both agencies listened, smiled, thanked them for their time and, after the Humane Society left, they decided to do something to stop them.

The question became, “How do you block a ballot initiative?” The correct answer, legally, is with the passage of a constitutional amendment. The answer was correct; the question was wrong. The question should have been, “How can we get the farmers in Ohio to help us defeat this initiative?” The Farm Bureau is the largest lobby in the country and has deeper pockets than big oil. If they had mobilized to get the vote out against the Humane Society rather than mobilizing for a constitutional amendment, the outcome would have been very different. The Humane Society would have learned that all Ohio farmers were opposed to their initiative, not jut the well-oiled Farm Bureau war machine. Of course small farmers are worried that the new commission will be heavily weighted toward agribusiness, and, it will, because the Bureau membership is also weighted that way. To change that, small farmers need to make sure they are represented on that commission. How do they do that? By joining the organization that is helping to form that commission. They need to make sure that the commission fairly represents small, diversified farms. And, in the future, when outside interests try to change how Ohio farmers do things, the entire state can and will speak with one voice. In our world of convoluted politics, there are not many opportunities for the individual to really make a difference. In an organization like the Farm Bureau, time, age and the wave of new ideas, means farmers have that opportunity. The question is will the new generation of small farmers, both urban and rural, take it?
- Cynthia M. Brown
So, what do you think?

Personally, this made me think about how it disappoints me when folks simultaneously say they don't pay attention to politics because all the politicians are the same or because Congress gets nothing done, when really they just don't know (Jay Smooth does an excellent video blog about this).  It's ok to not know, and it's ok to have a take on politics, but you can't have both at the same time.  And so when I look myself in the mirror, I have to say that on the Farm Bureau and Issue 2, I still just don't know.

This is important for folks interested in the Farm Bureau in our tri-state neighbors Kentucky and Indiana too, as well as folks in every state - livestock care boards will make their way to you as well eventually. Finally, a big thank you to Cynthia for putting her ideas out there!  They won't be popular with some folks - Humane Society folks will disagree with the basic premise regarding Issue 2, farmer's with poor experiences with the Farm Bureau may have understandably lost hope, etc.  I hope that there will be a constructive dialogue about this topic though, because this is exactly the kind of thing we want to foster on Amateur Foodies - a place for folks to learn from one another.

Please forward and post this with your networks, and please comment below.