Month: August, 2007

Six ways to Sunday

Sunday, August 5th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Events, Travel

Over the Ohio River into Cincy. Aside from the pair of office buildings we spied in Lexington, KY this was our first glimpse of an urban setting in almost a week.

Cincinnati has one of the largest collections of 19th-century Italianate architecture in the United States, primarily concentrated in Over-the-Rhine, just north of downtown Cincinnati; at the time of their construction, Over-the-Rhine was one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the Midwest. We saw none of those buildings, though, as the Garmin led us through the desolate, rather seedy-feeling landscapes of downtown to our hotel — more on this later.

After dropping off our bags, we went out in search of some famous Cincinnati chili. According to renowned foodies Jane and Michael Stern, who compiled a book on the nation’s chili recipes, “Cincinnati is a city bewitched by chili; there are at least a hundred joints in town that make a specialty of serving it. And we do mean joints, for chili, Cincinnati-style, tends to be one rude plate of food, best eaten off a Formica counter under humming fluorescent lights after midnight in the company of other chiliheads.”

Back in 1922, Empress Chili became the first chain to serve Cincinnati chili. Just three of their parlors remain, but numerous spin-offs and battlers for chili supremacy abound in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky – most run by Greek immigrants as was the original.

We decamped from downtown Cincinnati in favor of the greener, more friendly streets of Newport, Kentucky across the river to try one of Empress’s first followers: Dixie Chili. Dixie’s was started by a former Empress employee Nicholas Sarakatsannis in 1929.

Dixie Chili

We pulled up to the joint, and one glance at the menu underscored the sense that aside from also being called “chili,” this had very little in common with Texas red. Dixie’s Cincinnati chili is thin, brown, sweet, and (though I’m sure there are variants) scented with cinnamon. (The actual recipe is a family secret.) A “bowl of plain” is how locals refer to the chili alone, but more commonly, it is served over spaghetti(!) – a.k.a. a “two-way” – plus any number of toppings : “three-way,” i.e., a two-way with shredded American cheese; “four-way” – a three-way with sweet onions; “five-way” – a four-way with kidney beans, up to a “six-way” (for chili connoisseurs only), which is topped with chopped, raw garlic cloves. Ay! All bowls are accompanied by oyster crackers.

Dixie Chili

The wonderful Calvin Trillin, in American Fried: Adventures of a Happy Eater (1974) (excerpted in his Tummy Trilogy), devoted a section to Cincinnati chili which I just happened to read the following morning. In it, he claims that Dixie’s once offered a “seven-way,”(!) which included an egg (fried or scrambled), and chopped frankfurters. The chain has since abandoned their egg-cooking operations. (They do, however, still offer a “Coney,” which is a hot dog with chili, topped with onion and/or shredded cheese.)

After dinner, we strolled along the Newport Riverfront Levee with its 10-acre pedestrian walk and shopping mall. The annual Glier’s Goettafest was taking place on the waterfront. (Insert obvious “sausagefest” joke here.)

Great bridge-filled view, but very strange: an entire event devoted to German breakfast sausage. There was live entertainment (a pretty mediocre cover band and assorted clog dancers), cooling stations, food vendors serving an almost staggering variety of Goetta-inspired offerings and the “World’s Only Goetta Vending Machine” — being reloaded as we watched — dispensing one pound rolls of Glier’s Goetta for $2.

GoettaFest

GoettaFest

GoettaFest

GoettaFest

Check out flickr for the rest of the fest.

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Packing it in

Sunday, August 5th, 2007 | All Things, Travel

127 Sale t-shirt

Last night’s stay had given us a rosier outlook on Kentucky, and we set out to do a bit of exploring along this last segment of our route.

Unfortunately, we were thwarted – twice – in our side trips this morning. First, at Lovers Leap Vineyard, which was a picturesque, if ultimately pointless detour. Then at the Four Roses Bourbon distillery, where we were turned away by the one person wandering the premises on a Sunday morning: an unfailingly genteel, elderly Southern gentleman. We probably should have anticipated as much; although 90-95% of the world’s bourbon-style whisky is produced in Kentucky, about half of the state’s 120 counties are completely dry, one quarter are wet, and the rest are managed under a prescribed set of specific rules (.pdf), e.g., no alcohol at all on Sundays, or individual drink sales allowed only on golf courses (seriously) or in restaurants with seating over 100.

Tobacco fields. Kentucky is the second biggest tobacco-producing state (.pdf), after North Carolina:

KY tobacco

KY tobacco

As we made our way north towards Ohio, we learned that just as the sales began earlier than advertised, they ended earlier, too. By 4PM most vendors were already packing up for the long drives home. After days and days of living on outdoor lots in makeshift tents and trailer parks, I don’t blame them.

Thanks to J’s eagle eye, I still managed to score not one – but two – of the vintage crocks I’d been coveting all week, so even though I never found my desk, I still felt the sale a success.

Crunk for Junk

Packing up

Kudzu

‘Til next year (maybe), Highway 127

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The Chambers (Danville, KY)

Sunday, August 5th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Travel

Our dining choices were limited on the road, and as the dinner hour grew late (in Kentucky time, that’s 7:30PM) we finally settled for a lackluster meal at Village Restaurant in Liberty, KY where I was introduced to red-eye gravy – a thin gravy, made from the drippings (i.e., fat) from pan-fried country ham, mixed with black coffee or water (or according to J: Coca-Cola.)

We arrived in Danville a little before 8:30 and noticed a marked change in our surroundings: fields gave way to strip malls, and then to expansive Southern mansions.

The Chambers Bed and Breakfast is located on North Third Street, a.k.a. “Beaten Biscuit Row” — so named in the 1800s when it was said that one could walk down the street and hear the sound of cooks in the back kitchens, beating biscuits for breakfast.

The Chambers B&B

The Chambers B&B

After a long and hot, discouraging day, the clean and beautifully appointed home of innkeepers/partners Wynne Creekmore and Carolyn Hogwood was an oasis of gentility. Their Greek Revival home was actually fashioned from the combination of two 19th century homes — a main house and the servants quarters behind it — and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We were assigned “The Cottage Chamber” with its adjoining bathroom, featuring a refurbished original claw-foot bath tub/shower and iron lavatory sink in which to soak and rinse away the grit and grime of the day.

Early the next morning, we were greeted with fresh, hot coffee set out on a silver tray outside our room, to ease us into the morning until the hearty breakfast prepared by Carolyn would be served in the dining room. Fresh fruit salad topped with real whipped cream, eggs — or is that “aigs”? — and bacon, a homemade apple turnover, and a currant scone, but disappointingly, no beaten biscuits.  In their stead, we got what turned out to be (after J just had to ask) a round cut-out of cake, buttered and pan-toasted. Now that’s brilliant.

The Chambers B&B

The Chambers B&B

The Chambers breakfast

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