Monday, November 16, 2009

Been around the world ... or, at least, a small segment of Ohio

Last week took me out of the city multiple times to places in Ohio I'd not been or only been to once in the 2.5 years or so I've lived in Clevo. I like going new places, especially when I get a chance to do what I love best - checking out cool neighborhoods, cafes, and record stores.

Here's what I did, and what I thought.

Trip #1: Impromptu ice cream-driven road trip to Columbus.

Cookbook and I hit the road to get a first-hand look (and, more important, taste) at the new seasonal flavors at Jeni's. For the record, they are all really good, though I'm particularly pleased about my pint of lime cardamom and lingonberries currently languishing in frozen bliss in my freezer (though I'm kinda excited about the Influenza Sorbet blend, too). Cookbook's been raving about the Blackstrap Praline, though I gave her my pint since it was a touch (and then some) too molasses-y for me.

While Jeni's was the impetus for our afternoon escape, we also hit up some other classics. On the way down, we hit Grandpa's Cheese Barn for all the free midwestern cheese samples you can handle (but unfortunately no apple cider) and snagged a surprisingly delicious bag of chocolate covered fritos for the rest of the trip to C-Bus.

Once in the state capital, we started things off at Magnolia Thunderpussy, where I scored a used Galaxie 5000 album I didn't have and a recently traded-in copy of the kinda just released Monsters of Folk album. Despite the score, I wasn't too impressed with the store. It was like a dumpy FYE, with just a touch more indie cred. I hear tell there are better indie record stores in Columbus - I'll be sure to focus my energies there next time.

Finally, we hit Cookbook's favorite Columbus dive diner, The Blue Danube. It was a great little joint, but don't tell her I said that. The vibe was weird and wild, the buffalo wings outstanding, and the burrito-sized Irish Egg Rolls (corned beef and swiss wrapped in a fried egg roll wonton the size of your head). Before heading down, I'd posted a facebook status update asking folks what their Columbus eatery recommendations were, and while there were some really excellent ones and it seems like everyone has their favorite joint to hit when in town, you should add this one to your list. I'll put it this way: if I lived there, it'd quite possibly be my regular diner.

Trip #2: Art Brut plays Oberlin

Unlike Columbus, I'd been to Oberlin before, a couple of times a year ago to give a pair of lectures. I was pleased to see that Art Brut scheduled their recent gig at the campus venue, The 'sco, because as bucolic as the setting was, I'd not been able to spend any measurable time checking the elite college town out. This time I wasn't able to add too terribly much to the agenda, but I did catch a good dinner at The Feve (the wings sucked, but the Wellington burger was utterly killer with some quality beef, meunster cheese, and a chipotle lime spread. The Feve itself was a weird joint, half filled with generic upscale bistro restaurant furniture, the rest reminiscent of college town bar USA with rickety bar tables and t-shirts for sale lining the walls. But whatever, that burger was genius.

The show itself was awesome (check out my review here, as well as my interview with Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos here), but perhaps the best part of the night was when my pal (Cookbook, once again) and I stumbled upon a public library booksale. Using our best charm (OK, mine, since Cookbook has none), we managed to get a 2-for-1 membership to the Friends of the Library club, which allowed us entrance to the bookroom a day before everyone else got to go in. As we were only to be in Oberlin for the next few hours, it was that or bust, and both Cookbook and I struggle mightily when it comes to passing up booksales. In the end, we both scored huge, and I'm particularly stoked about the wide range of new additions to my sagging shelves, including Neal Bascomb's Hunting Eichmann, Patty Friedmann's Secondhand Smoke, Phil Campbell's Zioncheck for President, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, and a handful of Soviet-related books (one of my ongoing amateur historian passions), including a non-fiction one about the Spetsnaz, an auto-biography of an African-American tool maker from Detroit who spent nearly a half-century behind the Iron Curtain, and Frederick Forsyth's classic, The Odessa File. All these are great, but the nerd in me is most geeked about a 1962 pamphlet of plays that included a pair of productions, respectively titled "The Delinquent, the Hipster, and the Square" and "The Sandpile Series"

Trip #3: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Unsparing Sea play the Kent Folk Fest

Finally, to wind the week down, I visited another place I'd been to once before, but knew barely, if that: Kent. I'd been to Kent one afternoon when I first moved here, hanging out with some early Cleveland friends, and found the college town charming. When my pal Roger let me know Edward Sharpe had been booked to play the annual Folk Fest, I jumped at it. Once again, Cookbook joined me - I had to let her this time, since she was the one who bought the tickets - and at the last minute my buddy Fred came along, too.

We hit the downtown about 6:30, with plenty of time to grab dinner at Ray's. Unlike Columbus, where I'd received an inordinate number of suggestions, the vast majority of folks who'd given me Kent dining advice all suggested Taco Tontos, a recommendation I quickly vetoed as I'd been there before, that one time in 2007, and thought it was lame. (Hey - I moved up here from Texas, where burritos are actually interesting.) Ray's was a second-choice listed by a few, though they all echoed the same warning: look out for douchey frat boys. Apparently the joint attracts them like flies to shit. Things weren't too bad while we were there, but after the concert ended (which was awesome, by the way; stay tuned for a review to be posted in the very near future) and we were walking back to the car, I did notice a disturbing number of young white dudes decked out in shirts affixed with Greek lettering.

Far more exciting was our pit stop at Sheetz on the way back to Cleveland. What a fantastic gas stations. You know, as far as gas stations go. I mean, I wouldn't drive down there just to visit it, but if I lived nearby, I wouldn't ever go anywhere else.

Overall Recommendations:

So what should you take away from the hardly vicarious thrill you just got from reading my lame, halfhearted travelogue? To keep things simple and universal, I'm gonna give each of the aforementioned institutions a letter grade. Do with that data what you will.

Grandpa's Cheese Barn: B-
Magnolia Thunderpussy: B-
Jeni's Ice Cream: A
The Blue Danube: A-
The Feve: B-
The 'sco: B+
Ray's: C
Sheetz: A+


Cookbook said...

I would like to point out that I charmed the heck out of those ladies in Oberlin by a). telling them I am a librarian and b). telling them I belong to three other Friends groups. They loved me until you came along, the sexiest intellectual they'd met in a long while. And then I lost them. Sad.

Also, really, Grandpa's only gets a B-? I would say it at least ranked a tad bit higher than Thunderpussy.

Pulp said...

When next in Cbus, check out Used Kids Records. When next in San Francisco, go to Amoeba. haha

Bridget Callahan said...

Why is it every guy who ventures out of Cleveland immediately falls in love with Sheetz?

Bob Ignizio said...

You ate all of Grandpa's free cheese, and the best you can give the man is a B-? Harsh. Sheetz is a pretty cool chain. Don't know why they haven't infiltrated Cleveland to any great degree yet.

Blue Danube sounds like a winner. I can't remember the name, but there's a German restaurant called Schmidt's in the German Village section of C-Bus (go figure) that has an outstanding buffet. Definitely not vegan friendly, but if you like sausage and starch, check it out.