Some Quick Travel Thoughts and Observations

Well, we're back from vacation!  It feels great to be home!

Posts on the Chicago and SF food will be coming next week, but in the mean time I thought I'd share a short list of thoughts and observations we took while on the road that I thought you might like to file away for future travels, or just some perspective on being at home in Cincinnati.  They're very simple, and maybe you'll disagree, but here they are:

1. Be sure to add parking, tolls, public transportation, and taxes to your budget.  Probably the biggest expense we forgot to add to our budget was parking.  We are so pampered by meters that get between 15 minutes and 2 hours per quarter a pop in Cincinnati, and never needing to spend more than $10 even for an event if you'll walk a bit.  At $2 an hour at most meters, and plenty of spots (like Navy Pier in Chi) that have automatic $20 rates, you'd be smart to add in a daily parking cost and bring a few rolls of quarters too.  If you want to take the Skyway into Chicago or are going across any bridges and back in SF, you'll need some extra dough there as well.  Oh, and even if you rent a car like we did, you'll still want to ride the El in Chicago and BART or the trolley's or Muni in SF, so plan a few bucks for this as well. As for taxes - they're at 10.25% in Chicago and 9.5% in SF.  And while it looks like those taxes are going to good use in such beautifully kept cities, it does start to add up notably.

2.  Be prepared when you go to wine country.  I know, I know, "be prepared" should be a given all by itself.  But, somehow all of our preparation did not carry over into our journey into Sonoma and Napa.  We had a few suggestions from folks, and mapped them on Google (which somehow missed our final destination of Ad Hoc and our journey home in this saved version), and that was it.  The first one was closed, and when we got lost we were in a bit of trouble.  We have become so heavily reliant on our smartphones, that when even Verizon didn't have service, we were in a bit of trouble without a good old fashioned map.  Then, the first place we went gave us stingily small pours and had a person assigned to talk to us.  So, we're standing inside on a beautiful day, being ushered in and out of a spot where 3 small tastes was $10 and we were gone in 20 minutes.  From there we weren't too happy with the no-so-nice folks in Healdsburg, and when we arrived in Napa there were expensive tastings and, even worse, traffic.  We did have a couple nice flights at a spot in Yountsville before our dinner, but simply put - we needed a plan.  On future trips, we'll:

  • call ahead to check on hours, prices, whether or not they have outdoor seating, and if it is okay to eat a packed lunch or if they have food
  • be sure to also ask about varietals and pick in advance what we want to taste
  • not stand there and talk to the people who work at the vineyard/winery - go sit down, or ask for privacy
  • sit outside, even if they don't have formal seating (on days as gorgeous as the one we had, there's just no sense in being indoors)
  • ask for the flights all at once, so that we can compare one wine to the next

3.  We are pampered with great food, and much of it at very good prices in Cincinnati.  We'll be sharing some of our thoughts on the places we visited - many of which came with high acclaim - in the coming week, but in short, we've got a great restaurant town here in Cincinnati, and we should be happy and proud to be so lucky.  There are, without a doubt, lots of things you simply cannot get here - especially when it comes to ethnic food - but by and large we are blessed to have amazing food that is extremely affordable!  Many, many times we went to places that were supposed to be the best and came out feeling like we could do the same or better in Cincinnati.  It's a classic small city inferiority complex, I think, to always think the grass is greener somewhere bigger, but we should stand tall!

4.  I say go with the young hot chefs when you're in the big city.  This is not yet a highly developed theory, but here it is in its current stage.  We had less than stellar experiences at spots that were supposed to be can't miss (again, more coming soon).  We trusted big names too much.  Our server at one of the restaurants said that she thought a particular restaurant we asked about used to be amazing, but when they moved to a new location they got lazy because they knew, almost no matter what, they'd do brisk business every day.  This is purely opinion, and I don't have nearly enough experiential knowledge to say this with any certainty, but until I have reason to think otherwise, I'm going to be seeking out the hot new folks who are clearly on the rise and aiming for the top.  They won't be lazy, and you might be eating history in the making.  If I had to do SF over again, in particular, I'd pay more attention to this article by a reviewer, Josh Sens, who seemed awfully tough based on the reviews of his I read while I was in town - I like tough.  

A related thought - I wish we'd added together a few pretty expensive meals at prices where I didn't feel quite right asking for something else because either a) there was nothing else on the menu, it was fixed price, fixed menu, or b) it wasn't that it was that bad, it just wasn't that good.  Had we gone to just one really, really expensive spot (we did not, sadly, get in to Alinea), where I would have had no hesitation whatsoever to ask for my money's worth, I bet we would have gotten more bang for our collective buck.

And there you have it - random thoughts they are.  Hopefully you'll find them interesting.  More coming soon!


Existential Eating #18

Posting has definitely been slow during vacation... But that's how it should be! :)  This is hot off the presses, and look for more from our travels in the coming week...

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).


A Sampling of Chicago

Some shots of our visit so far.  Full posts on restaurants will come, at some point...


Existential Eating #17

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).


Foodie Vacation, Coming Up - Got Suggestions for Chicago and/or SF?!

Sarah and I are going to Chicago and San Francisco in the coming weeks for what we hope will be an amazing foodie vacation!  We've been gathering suggestions about places to go, and I thought I'd share what we've been told so far, and see if people had thoughts about our current list or wanted to add new ideas.  Maybe you'll find this list useful on your own trip in the future.  So here's what we've got, what do you think?

San Francisco/Bay Area - We planned to go a bit more all out in SF, since we're likely not to be back for quite some time.  We have developed our own hierarchy based on what we've heard and researched on the places below, but would love your thoughts...
  • Chez Panisse - the one reservation we have, and probably the most expensive meal we'll eat - a pilgrimage of sorts you could say
  • Frances - new place, lots of acclaim
  • Boulettes Larder - gem everyone should visit, $15-20 brunch, but so worth it
  • 18 Reasons - food-related space, look at their calendar, that corridor is cool (18th St. between Guerrero and Delores), they also host dinners/tastings
  • Tartine - generally regarded as best bakery in the city
  • Pizzeria Delfina - good pizza for cheap
  • Flower+Water - Italian place nominated for James Beard award
  • A16 - another "Italian"/California cuisine that is really good
  • Aziza - Moroccan place worth checking out, great chef, about to have a show on TBS
  • Dosa - Cali Indian place in the Mission, affordable
  • Zuni Cafe - get roasted chicken if you go, but lots of others do what they do pretty well, known for being solid and consistent for a long time (I asked about this one)
  • Tataki - sustainable sushi (there are lots of small sushi places around too)
  • Slanted Door - Vietnamese, Out the Door is downtown in mall food court, good for cheap
  • Namu - up and coming, 3 brothers, Korean influence, off the beaten path, not expensive, big flavors
  • Ferry Building Marketplace - farmer's market is big on Saturdays, on Thursdays they have food stands set up
  • see if Underground Market is happening while we're in town, very trendy, not sure if its worth the hype
  • ForageSF.com - Foraging is really hip right now - go to foragesf.wordpress.com and see if they're having a dinner while in town
  • street food - use Twitter for this, check out Outside In event, good to find a place where a lot of them are, Off the Grid: A Roaming Mobile Food Service
  • Tacubaya is THE taqueria to go to
  • Dynamo Donuts in Mission
  • Camino in Oakland is supposed to be have a great brunch
  • Bar Jules is supposed to have a great brunch too
  • 4505 Meats - Ryan Farr, has stand at Ferry on Thursdays, most butcher events are one time
  • Avedano's in Bernal Heights - small butcher (Dave Budwith?)
  • Hapa Ramen - pop up restaurant, server in bars, follow on Twitter
  • look at Tablehopper (weekly listing)
Chicago - I should say from the top that I have been following a bunch of Chicago blogs, and one of the Time Out Chicago food folks was kind enough to send us this link to this package they put together, but in general we're going to play this more by ear (and spend less money).  That said, we did specifically hear about:

  • Alinea - we have been on the waiting list forever.  We're hopeful we get a spot this weekend.  It is thought by many to be the best restaurant in the US right now.
  • Table Fifty-Two

Do you have a favorite place - from street food or dive to fancy pants or decadent?!  Any and all thoughts are appreciated.  We're very, very excited!

Oh, and yes, we plan to blog it to share in the joy.  :)


My (One and Only?) Chance at Food Network Stardom

A little over a month ago, I got an email about a casting call seeking a host for a new TV show about food.  They asked for some simple info and a photo, so I emailed them back.  That evening I got a call asking if I could make a 3-5 minute video in the next 3-5 days, introducing myself and some cheap, good food.  It was supposed to be a real find, so my first of several disclaimers is that I played it up a bit for the cameras.  This is based on a true story...

I know, the video is 8 minutes.  Turns out, it is really, really hard to make a 5 minute video.  We cut out the last 3 minutes unfortunately for the final version.

I could ramble for a bit with all the details, but I'm going to just share a few thoughts and then let it be.

  1. I have a great job.  I enjoy my work, and am passionate about it.  So, its not at all like I was out looking.  A unique opportunity came knocking and I answered the door.  It was a lot of fun.
  2. Thanks to the awesome team of folks who helped out with this!  We had a brainstorming session to get the ideas flowing and start the planning process, and Ryan did the majority of the work - filming and then editing on a very tight timeline.  Thanks everyone, especially you Ryan!!
  3. Thanks to the folks at Melt, Picnic and Pantry, Dojo Gelato, and Blooms and Berries for letting us take some shots on your home turf - I really appreciate it!
  4. I don't know if they contacted other folks in town, or how specific this outreach was (this was the only sign of this I found online - I got the same notice).  There are certainly a number of local food bloggers with far more experience than I, so I didn't do this (nor do I share this) thinking I'm some kind of expert.  They contacted me, I gave it a shot.  That's about it.
  5. There has been no word from the casting folks.  I am putting this out there about a month after I sent the video, and since they told me that I wouldn't hear back unless they were interested, I take it they aren't interested.  Who knows, maybe they aren't done with their process yet, and by posting this I'm killing my chances.  Oh well, I've been wanting to share this for a while, so I'm spilling the beans.
I'm sure I'm forgetting other key details, so if you've got questions, throw them in the comments and I'd be happy to answer.

So there you have it!  It's a little bit embarrassing to put myself out there like this, but it's more fun, so I'll get over it.  Hopefully you'll enjoy...


Existential Eating #16

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 @ Dancing Wasabi

We've been to Ichiban a few times recently, and each time we have gone we've walked by an overflow of people next door at Dancing Wasabi.  Because we've been so happy with Ichiban, we hesitated to go to Dancing Wasabi - why mess with a good thing?  Now that we've gone to both, comparing the two is like apples and oranges.  Ichiban is clearly our choice, but maybe you're a Dancing Wasabi person.

The Food:  The big draw at Dancing Wasabi, like at Ichiban, is the half price sushi.  We barely glanced at the non-sushi menu, so I can't say anything about it.  For sushi they have a full 8.5x11" sheet with room for both the typical rolls and space to write in what you'd like from their lengthy list of specialty rolls on a separate menu.  We chose a solid sampling of items (check the camera phone picture on the left).  Here's what we thought:

  • Salmon nigiri - It's all about comparison with sushi - and since we've had a fair amount of it recently, I am confident in saying that this fish had a disappointingly bland taste.  Its color was so pale, it could not have been wild caught.  This had been my favorite sushi bite at a few places, but the nigiri here disappointed.
  • Tuna nigiri - Similar to the salmon, the tuna was just ok.  Definitely not freshest.  We went on a Thursday, could that have been our mistake (what's the day Anthony Bourdain said not to order fish?)? 
  • Mackerel nigiri - I read recently that this is one of the best sustainable sushi options, so I wanted to give it a try.  It was definitely the fishiest flavor of the nigiri, and it's got a much more notable texture than the smooth salmon or tuna bites I've been getting used to.  I don't have much to compare this to, but it was about the same as above - definitely did not blow me away.
  • Smoked salmon nigiri - Sarah said it was good.  Typical, but good.  In my experience, it's pretty hard to screw up smoked salmon.
  • Spicy tuna roll - This is one of our go to rolls, which we try just about everywhere we go.  Their version was fairly spicy, but had a mealy texture, almost like canned tuna - not so good.
  • Crunch roll - We found this roll to be average.  It is made with spicy crab and cucumber-topped cooked shrimp with wasabi dressing and tempura flakes.  I wrote down while we were there that there was "nothing bam about it."  Also, I couldn't taste the crab.
  • Shrimp tempura roll - This is (and was) a pretty straightforward roll.  They make theirs with shrimp and crab stick, and its solid.
  • Volcano roll - Unfortunately, I don't see this on the menu online (maybe it was the Fire Scallop Roll?), and I can't recall exactly what was on it.  It comes in tin foil, and is essentially rolls smothered in a relatively spicy sauce, with slivers of scallop on top.  There is definitely a crunch from the cucumber, and I don't remember any of the other ingredients standing out.  But, this was surprisingly good - when they showed up with what appeared to be a tin foil reservoir filled with red hot cheese whiz, I wasn't so sure what to think.
  • Red double roll - This was another item that is not on the online menu (note to blogger self: always, always write down all the ingredients, even if they say the menu is online).  It was by far the best looking roll on our plate, and was a bit sweet on the outside.  This was another one of our tasty options, with a few different kinds of fish spread across the rolls.
I should say that across the board, these weren't very good looking rolls, which isn't surprising considering how many they must be churning out during the madness that is half price sushi at Dancing Wasabi.  The quality wasn't that different from Soho Sushi, which is kind of sad to say, honestly.  I'm generally all for supporting artisans, but if they aren't given the time and space to work effectively, their craft will inevitably suffer.

The rolls also weren't very fresh tasting and didn't have the snappy, crispness of the best rolls we've had recently.

The Ingredients:  Regular readers (I know you're out there somewhere, Mom) may remember that we ordered a guide to sustainable sushi recently.  We carted it along dutifully to this, our first trip with access to such great information.  Only to find (surprise, surprise) that the server didn't know where anything came from, and neither did anyone else working at the time.  So, using the book was officially a bust.  But, they were kind enough to share that they order from Yamasho and True World Foods, and suggested I call and talk to Charlie, the owner, or come see him on a Sunday when they aren't so full and aren't doing 1/2 price sushi.  This was a good learning experience - if we want to know where our sushi comes from in the future, we need to plan ahead and make some phone calls.  I'm confident this would be the case for many to most places, not just Dancing Wasabi.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Again, the big draw here is 1/2 price sushi, which you can get every day except Sunday from 5pm-2am (which is better than at Ichiban, which only has 1/2 price on Wed-Thurs from 5pm-1am and Fri-Sat from 9pm-2am).

I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't what I walked into - it is, in fact, almost the exact opposite of Ichiban next door.  It is a small, cramped space that was loud and packed - mostly with young and youngish patrons, making it feel an awful lot like a college bar.  They have a couple of big screen TVs that made it hard for me to keep my eyes off of Sportscenter, and a weird hodge podge of modern art and sports photography/memorabilia on the walls that made me wonder who their interior decorator was.

We were seated quickly after a short wait, and the guy came out and found us, which was nice.  Our server was no nonsense and nice enough too.

The Last Bite:  I can't see any reason we'd go back to Dancing Wasabi, unfortunately.  We never like to not like places, but this was a disappointment.  Plus, with just a little bit of foresight and planning so that you hit the 1/2 price days and times, you can get better food and better atmosphere for the same price just next door.  If we ever do go back, we'd likely order the Volcano and Red Double rolls again.

Dancing Wasabi on Urbanspoon


Lunch In @ Cafe de Paris

The first time I went to Cafe de Paris - a small place on beautiful Garfield Place just a block away from the main branch of the Public Library - I thought it was very good.  My second visit was not as impressive, but it's comfortable vibe and prime location makes it a lunch choice worth knowing about for downtowners.

The Food:  It smells great when you walk into Cafe de Paris, and what I remember most from my first visit was the freshness of the food.  I asked for whatever they thought was the best tasting thing on the menu, and they gave me a chicken salad sandwich with brie cheese, greens, green peppers, sprouts, and tomato on a fluffy baguette.  It came with a simple, fresh Greek salad that had a light vinaigrette, crumbled feta, banana and green peppers, red onion, tomato, and olive.  The baguette was light and crusty, and there was an earthy flavor from the brie.  But, it quite simply was not as flavorful as I'd hoped.  Less bread and more ingredients probably would have helped, and it definitely was not bad.  I just had a memory in my head of all that freshness adding up to very flavorful food, and in this case it was not to be.

The Ingredients:  Nothing on the menu about local or organic ingredients.  It was a quick stop in for lunch - I'll have to ask more when I go back.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Cafe de Paris has a cute, comfortable inside seating area - a mix of colorful large canvas paintings and photography prints adorn the walls.  There is bar seating as well, and patrons can also sit outside at a handful of tables on the sidewalk.  Most diners appeared to be crossing the street to the large area in the middle of Garfield Place that has seating, landscaped gardens, and is a wifi spot.

The staff at Cafe de Paris is very nice - another of the breed of restaurants in the city which I so appreciate: where the people actually appear to enjoy working there.  I've been reading Heat by Bill Buford, which is in part about his adventures at Mario Batali's Babbo.  The machismo lore of restaurant kitchens simply does not appeal to me at all.

The Last Bite:  I'll head back to Cafe de Paris for the atmosphere and the shady, quite location.  But, I won't be returning often unless my next experience with the food improves.  Especially with Jean-Robert's Table scheduled to open soon or later just around the corner, this could be a nice little hub for French-inspired choices in Cincinnati.

Cafe de Paris on Urbanspoon


Late Night In @ Mayday

We're not late owls in general, but last week we found ourselves disappointed by the fridge's options and went out into the world to seek happy bellies.  We'd been to Mayday before, but it was just as they were getting started and we wanted to give it another shot.  They've got some good stuff going on over there, and it's a unique choice at just about any hour.  There's still room for improvement, but especially at 11pm on a Tuesday you'll be happy it exists.

The Food:  At Mayday, it is all about the hot dogs.  You can either build your own, or choose from their suggested combinations.  I went with a "signature dog" and Sarah built her own.  Sarah ordered horseradish, raw onion, and sweet green relish with pickle on the side on her dog, which comes on a house-made pretzel bun.  The horseradish turns out to be horseradish mayo, and she thought it would be nice if that was clear and that they would have straight up horseradish.  I ordered the Mayday Dog, which comes with carmelized onion, grilled peppers, spicy mustard, house ketchup, and house relish.  The spicy mustard is quite sweet as well (it reminds me of Woeber's sweet & spicy), and I don't even really like green peppers, so it's my own fault for ordering them.  In general, the toppings erred on the sweet side more than the spicy, and I would have been happy with louder flavors across the board.

We both agreed that overall both the hot dog and the bun taste good.  The dog didn't have that casing snap that is familiar and, in our opinion, desired.  With a bun that is fairly dense, and just a bit sweet, if you want toppings and bun and dog in a bite, it is bound to be a big one.  It wasn't way off, but in our opinion, they could get a better balanced dog, that has a better bun/dog/topping ratio if they tweak it just a bit more.

It's notable that these dogs range from $4.50 to $6.50, so if you're one of the people who simply cannot believe the price of Senate's hot dogs, not to worry - Mayday dogs are more in the range you'd expect.  They also come with a side of either Husman's potato chips (noted on the menu as locally made) or mixed greens with homemade basil vinaigrette dressing.  The chips were, well, chips.  And the salad was ok, and a nice option to make you feel better about eating a big hot dog, but it was overdressed (probably much earlier in the night), and I agree with Sarah's assessment to just ask for it on the side.

The Ingredients:  The menu doesn't say much other than what to order, but we found all of the information about ingredient sources and origin to be great!  Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market supplies the all beef hot dogs, and the Chef Aaron Cross makes the pretzel buns fresh daily.  It'd be great if they'd share the sources of the other ingredients on the menu as well.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  The first time we went to Mayday they had recently started doing hot dogs, and frankly (pun intended), it could have better.  They forgot the hot dog in one of our hot dogs, and we weren't too excited about the combinations we got.  But, it's only a couple minutes from our house, and they've got some cool ingredients, so we thought we'd give it a try again.

You pick up an order form at the bar, circle all the things you want, and then the bartender tallies up your bill.  You walk the now-stamped order around the corner to the kitchen (it's sort of a Comet-esque process) and in a few minutes - hot dogs!

Mayday is in the space where Gypsy Hut used to be, and it is still pretty much the same overall.  As an avid ping pong player, I love that they have a table upstairs, and the non-initiated can choose from a number of indoor and outdoor seating options.  The space is very hipster/garage/warehouse feeling, and honestly, it looks somewhere between rough around the edges and a mess (we've never understood, for instance, why the trash pile on the side of the building can't be enclosed or in some way diminished - it's an eyesore for sure).  But, on my last couple visits it has felt on the unpolished side, and the vibe is decidedly Northside hipster.  The reviewer from Metromix may have said it best, saying "I'm probably not cool enough to come here on a regular basis."

There are a number of indications that these folks are skilled artists - from stenciled art to eye-catching flyers, which makes you feel like you're at a insider's hangout.  Posters advertising Mayday's events focus on sexy ladies in almost every instance, but I think most people would be lying if they said they didn't want to take a second look.  With bingo nights and drunk spelling bees, they've got some pretty cool ideas that would be worth checking out.

The most recent event info is loud and proud on the front of Sidewinder Coffee & Tea - the owner there is a part-owner at Mayday too.  These are clearly folks that are connected in the community.  When I asked about how the hot dog eating contest went at the May 1st Mayday party that was advertised behind the bar, they told me not enough people wanted to participate and instead gave the glut of dogs to CAIN.

It was great to be able to grab a late bite to eat, and with NorthSlice Pizza coming soon, there will be another option.  Now, if someone can just open a thai/noodle place in the neighborhood that is solid, I'll be all set!

The Last Bite:  We'll head back to Mayday, if for no other reason than to try to construct the perfect hot dog.  With a number interesting ingredients to choose from, we're bound to get it right sometime soon.  My next try: spicy mustard, banana peppers, carmelized onions, and beer cheese.  Hey, why not?

Mayday on Urbanspoon


Existential Eating #15

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).


What We Buy & Where We Buy It (Got Suggestions for Us?!)

In a recent post, I wrote about our decision to buy local over organic when we have to choose. That reminded me that I'd been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.

As a result of helping run a local meat CSA, we get a fair amount of questions about where we buy different items and ingredients. Plus, Sarah is an awesome cook (and I dabble a bit myself), so keeping her with plenty of supplies is always the way to go. We have spent a fair amount of time looking for the best quality/taste, price, and source (ideally local and organic), so we enjoy sharing this information. This post is an attempt to share what we buy and where we buy it - it's split into 4 sections if you want to scroll down below: produce, meat, dairy, and other. If you have thoughts on ingredients or options we should consider, we'd love to hear from you in the comments or via email! I should say from the top that we do our best to buy local and organic products and recognize that this is not a choice available to everyone because of the cost involved. At the same time, we've been surprised how many items that we believe are more sustainable and responsible choices can be purchased at the same, or even less, cost with a bit of searching. So, here you have it...

Produce - Sarah is growing us an amazing garden for the 2nd year at our place in Northside, so we get a number of veggies straight from the ground. But, here's our order of preference from there:
  1. Findlay Market - We usually have more time on the weekends, plus we can get far more than just produce, making it a great one stop shop. We usually make a list of what we need and then choose the spot that has the freshest, best looking options - almost always from the local area under the roof on the north side of the market. Over time you learn who specializes in what, and often get into a bit of a pattern. Findlay is also great for items that haven't quite hit yet in the garden, like tomatoes that were started in a green house or other choices that other simply got in the ground first. We've also gotten into the habit of going to Madison's Markets (since they stock Snowville's milk - see below) and often buy things there when we can't find a local option on produce. We do also go to the Northside Farmer's Market occasionally, although it seems that our weeknights are so frequently filled that we don't go there as much as you think we would.
  2. Picnic and Pantry - This is a new addition to our shopping routine, as it just opened. With it being so close to our house, and stocking a lot of local products, we are really hoping to see it succeed. So, we've decided to spend a good chunk of our produce dollars at P&P. They're open later than the farmer's market, and every day, so they're more convenient too.
  3. Trader Joe's - As we wade into the murky chain store waters, TJ's has definitely risen to the top of the list for us. It may be owned by Germans, but when local options don't exist, TJ's often comes through with a plethora of organic options at reasonable prices. We buy a lot of our fruit here when we can't get it anywhere locally (either because they're not in season - apples, or not available - oranges).
  4. Kroger - We got hooked on the Hyde Park store back before we were consciously seeking local products first. It's a solid store, and the produce section has grown substantially. They also have some local options now too. We often end up with a small list of items we can't find for some reason or another and then buy a thing or two at Kroger while we're there. Organic cilantro is also an ingredient that Kroger always seems to have and we often buy when we don't have a local choice.
  5. Jungle Jim's - Every once and a while we'll need some "exotic" produce that nobody else has, in which case we'll usually end up taking a trip to Jungle Jim's. It's more of a destination than a regular stopping place, but boy is it a good destination.
This is all, of course, based on a summer routine. Once winter hits, we get more produce from the retailers who ship in from afar, and less locally.  By freezing (we didn't particularly care for canning), we'll make some things last until next year.  We didn't do it last year, but we're thinking that at the end of the growing season when there are farmers with loads of one thing, we'll buy a whole lot for cheap and then preserve.

Meat - We get a large portion of our meat from the Eaton Farm because of the aforementioned local meat CSA called the Good Eaton Club. But here it is, one by one, our meat sources:
  1. Beef - We get most all of our cuts of beef from the Eaton's, but in the event that we want something else, we have frequented Busch's Country Corner at Findlay Market - especially for New York strip steaks. They've often got Ohio-raised beef, and since we're at Findlay a lot, we've found it is a fine place to stop.
  2. Chicken - The Eaton's are our main source, but the one thing we like to get independently that they don't do is chicken wings. The last several times we've gotten our wings, they were Amish-grown chickens from Luken's Fish, Poultry, and Seafood. I seem to remember them telling me the Amish farm is in Ohio, but I could be wrong. If we're in a pinch for a whole bird, or for cut up breasts, Busch's Country Corner also has Amish birds, and they are kind enough to de-bone the breasts (which is pretty cool to watch as well).
  3. Pork - Again, most of our pork comes from the Eaton's, but the one other item that we buy frequently is bacon. Kroeger and Sons Meats at Findlay Market has become our go to option for their nitrate-free thin-sliced bacon from pigs in Indiana. We've also certainly had Kroeger's sausages plenty of times (but we'd love other suggestions for places to get good sausages around town too!).
  4. Lamb - We don't eat a lot of lamb, and our freezer was stocked for quite a while after we got half of one (or was it half of a half?) from Doug Weber at Mud Foot Farm in Amelia, a connection through friends here in town. I am a bit sheepish to admit, but I am still coming around to the taste of lamb - it is just a bit gamey for me. I have found the New Zealand lamb from Kroeger & Sons Meats to be more mild, so when we make our favorite kabob recipe, we often opt for a pound of the ground lamb from here.
  5. Seafood/Fish - Because of all the meat we get through the CSA, it doesn't seem like we go for seafood or fish too often these days. Trader Joe's has a number of good frozen fish options that have been a consistent choice, and we've bought our lobster from Luken's at Findlay. I feel pretty ignorant still in this area, so want to do more research to find out about what the best choices are for a land-locked Ohioan when it comes to seafood and fish. I bought a book called Sustainable Sushi recently, and printed out a pocket guide with a similar purpose, to start paying closer attention while eating out, but I'd also like to figure out how to shop for shrimp (which we've mainly bought at Kroger, honestly), and salmon (it's my understanding that wild Alaskan is best, and farmed is to be avoided at all costs) - our most frequently purchased items in this category. Also, as we get more into sushi, I'd like to find out where the best spot is for sushi grade fish for home cooking.
  6. Other - I recently found veal bones from Eckerlin Meats, we've gotten duck from Heist Fish and Poultry (although the next time we buy a duck, we'll find a local source - anybody know a good one?), and that's about all the meats I can think of that we've purchased any time recently (no rabbit, although I want to soon, etc.).  The last thing I'll add here is that we'd love to find locally raised and processed lunch meat.  We've heard you can get ham at the Northside Farmer's Market, but we don't really eat sliced ham.  I'd love to find sliced turkey, corned beef, and salami in particular.  I know, I know - I can just make my own.  But if we all follow that logic to its conclusion, we'd all be farmers!
All of that said, we are still looking for a favorite butcher! Any suggestions would be greatly, greatly appreciated. There are so many cookbook recipes, especially old editions or ones written by foreigners, where they tell you to "ask your butcher" or "have your butcher" do this or that. We've tried a whole lot of places and have found that consistently either the people working at the meat counter aren't that knowledgeable, or more often, they aren't very nice about answering questions or helping out. We'd love to find a person who we could trust to be honest about the source of their meat, and also who can tell us about different cuts, their uses, and then be willing to do any of the work that they are more equipped to do before we take our order home. All of this also goes for a good fishmonger too - we don't buy fish as much as I think we'd like to, in large part because we haven't found the right place.

Dairy - Here's what we get and where we get it:
  • Milk - We have been buying Snowville Creamery for a while now (which is also the milk used in the now famous Jeni's Ice Creams), and we almost always buy it from Madison's Markets.  In a pinch, we do stop through the Whole Foods in Hyde Park too.  Recently, Madison's also started carrying Traders Point Creamery milk, which raised some questions for us that are still unanswered.  See that story just below in yogurt.  Finally, our trip to a farm recently got us thinking about true school, old school milk - straight from a cow.  Imagine that!
  • Cheese - I've been looking for a while for a good "every day cheese" that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.  Before the local/organic switch, we'd get the bags of shredded cheddar cheese from Kroger that are dirt cheap.  We like a $15-20/lb. cheese for a special occasion every now and then, but when it comes to throwing something on a burrito or sandwich, it's nice to have something less expensive.  We've generally settled on Gibb's Cheese and Sausage at Findlay Market - they have an Amish mild cheddar that isn't my favorite, but they'll shred it when you order more than a pound and it's definitely affordable.  Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market on Court Street downtown is another option that has some Amish choices, but its not as convenient as Gibb's.  Both places have been inconsistent with their answers about where things come from and whats in them though, so if you have a line on some affordable cheddar/jack/straightforward cheese that tastes pretty good, please do share.
  • Yogurt - This is a staple for us, and we most commonly get ours from Trader Joe's (I like vanilla low fat, Sarah gets plain).  It's organic and at under $3 has been hard to beat.  Then we met Craig Sanders from Traders Point Creamery - he was handing out samples of grass-fed, organic yogurt from their dairy in Indiana.  It was very good, but also very expensive.  We emailed back and forth a couple times (and I think another post with more depth is still needed), and he was generous enough to share this piece from Chicago blogger Grant Kessler at myfoodshed.com.  The writer explores the cost of a few different kinds of milk, all of which are somewhere along the spectrum of being sustainable/organic.  Traders Point is the most expensive option, but it raises a great question about what you are willing to spend for something.  It's pretty well documented how little we pay for food compared to our parent and grandparents, so a big part of the process of being conscious about what you are buying and eating is recognizing that we are not paying the true cost of cheap food.  But since I'm not advocating getting ripped off on the other end either, Sarah and I have had an ongoing conversation about how much is too much, and where are we willing to spend more.  When it comes to yogurt, we went back to TJ's for the time being, but that may change.  After a recent conversation in the comment section about the cost of Jeni's ice cream, I bit the bullet and bought (what may have been my favorite ice cream ever - Mackenzie Creamery Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries) a pint recently.  It is funny how we're willing to pay more for some things and recognize the differentiation from one to the next (not just with food, of course, but lots of products), but not with others.
  • Eggs - Our eggs come from the Eaton's, but if we run out we'll stop at a farmers' market, Picnic and Pantry, or in an act of desperation, Kroger or Whole Foods.
  • Other - We'd love to find a good source for local butter! We churned some recently and it was the best butter I've ever had. I'd love to replicate that consistently at our house.
Other - There are a bunch of other items that we buy regularly or semi-regularly (if that's a time period).  Here are some of those others:
  • Herbs - many come from Sarah's garden, but when that's not possible, we always go to the great folks at Herbs & Spice & Everything Nice.  They have a host of conventional and organic options and you can get as much or as little as you like.
  • Baking Ingredients and General Foodstuffs - We have a stock of flour left from Tim King in my hometown of Bluffton, Ohio.  And when that's gone, I know we have a line on some options from Carriage House Farms.  Because that takes a bit of work though, we have leaned on Hyde Park Kroger's organic section, and this has been something that has also taken us to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  Whole Foods is sort of our last resort, and is where we have found things like organic pickles, condiments, broths and various pantry items that we haven't found in other spots.  Oh, and we've been getting our extra firm organic tofu from TJ's (we've found that if you freeze it and then thaw it, it becomes more porous and then crisps up more easily and sucks in flavors as well).
  • Ethnic foods - I could go on and on about this section, but I'll keep it short.  Here are our commonly visited stores and what we get there (in no particular order):
  1. Saigon Market at Findlay Market - Because we're at Findlay so frequently, this is a go to spot for a number of staples - sesame and peanut oil, sriracha, bean sprouts, etc.  It's sort of a catch all, but is best for Chinese food ingredients.  We pick up most of our noodles for Thai and Vietnamese food here too.
  2. CAM - We've been going here now for some of those items I just mentioned from Saigon.  It's so large that you can get items here for a wide variety of Asian cuisines.  They've got loads of choices for things that there are only one of at other places - dumplings or steamed buns or rice for instance.
  3. Jungle Jim's - I mentioned their produce above, but one of the coolest parts of JJ's is that they have rows and rows of ethnic food options.  Chances are, if there is an ingredient you simply can't find anywhere else, you should check at JJ's.  We go out every few months with a list we've been keeping and knock it out.
  4. Dean's Mediterranean Imports at Findlay Market- This is where we come for falafel, a variety of different cous cous options, Greek yogurt, more olive (and other) oil options, and more.  It's also where we duck in to grab a samosa or empanada when we're hungry pre/during shopping.
  5. Ottugi Foodmart - Just outside of Findlay, on the corner of Central Parkway and Findlay, is this Korean Market.  It's where we've bought our soba and udon noodles and a handful of spices and sauces we couldn't find otherwise.  We don't come here as often, but it's worth having on the radar.
  6. Francis International Market - I've only been here once, as it was just introduced to me as "the Filipino store in Northside" - to which I responded "we have a Filipino store in Northside?!"  The signage is darn near non-existent, and I have no idea if it is actually a Filipino-owned/themed store, but it certainly does exist.  Plus, they said they're open until 9pm during the week, so we may never have to be more than 2 minutes away from an emergency jicama or other random ingredient to finish off one of the recipes we're trying out.
A large number of these choices are based on the fact that we've found what we think is the best price/quality ratio. We also factor in the ease of not just access, but consistent access (i.e. if we lived by Jungle Jim's, I'm sure we'd do more shopping there), and sometimes even order online when we've been told to be excited about a product and we trust the source.

If you'd like to do some of your own research, we'd highly recommend the CinciLocavore list on Yahoo, which has an awesome database that you can access after you become a member of the group.  For the DIYer, this is a great place to find out about different local producers and what they offer. The challenge then becomes contacting people or finding retail outlets, then deciding based on quality and other factors (like how easy the product was to get). Realistically, this can be a tedious process, and is something that most people won't do. We've also experienced the sad but true reality of some producers not being honest all the time, or simply being difficult to deal with (as with many vendors, like the butchers I noted above).

So, is there a spot we just have to know about?  An ingredient you've been searching for and cannot find?  A person or place that makes doing your shopping that much more enjoyable that you'd like to share?  Share or ask - we love these sorts of things!