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Road Trip 2006 - Culinary crawl across the Midwest


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I just safely returned from our first ever Suburban-family road trip. We loaded up the family truckster and made a decent-sized loop around the midwest. Our first stop was my wife's hometown, Alexandria, Indiana. Once there, we headed over to the premiere local eatery in town The Alexandria Bakery, which, after sitting idle for the past couple of years, was recently purchased, remodelled and re-opened by one of my wife's high school friends, Barney.

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A quaint setting to be sure.

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Newly-refurbished dining room.

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Grilled cheese on white with bacon.

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The Bakery's signature item: Caramel Rolls . . . they're basically cinnamon rolls with caramel-flavored icing. Yum!!

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Alexandria is just a few miles from Orrestes, IN, which is home to Red Gold, so you won't find much Heinz product 'round these parts. The Red Gold ketchup stacked up fairly well.

Next stop . . .

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the Madison County 4-H Fair.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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They definitely win the aesthetically pleasing label competition. I would think the ketchup would taste better just because it came out of a less-boring bottle.

"The Suburban family" conjures up a visual image of the Griswolds. :biggrin:

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Man Ronnie, I grew up with those red chairs in the bakery. Did he raid my mom's basement?

Yeah, they stirred up a few memories for me as well. Formica and vinyl remind me of my childhood. :biggrin:

"The Suburban family" conjures up a visual image of the Griswolds. :biggrin:

But no Christy Brinkley in this version :wink:

Perspective is everything. For my wife and son, the annual Madison County 4-H Fair is about family and friends gathering together, renewing old acquaintances, catching up on another year-gone-by and the thrill of strapping oneself into rickety, road-worn carnival rides operated by folks who looked like they escaped from a Dickens novel. For me it was solely an eating opportunity. I started out under a covered tent for a well-organized steam table-type "church" lunch . . .

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Plate of Chicken and Noodles with mashed potatoes and green beans. Unfortunately, this wasn't even as good as it looked.

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These tomatoes were probably the best part of the church lunch but still, it isn't quite time for tomatoes and these weren't great.

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I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the Taco in a Bag being offered here but once I learned it was basically a ladle full of canned chili dumped into a bag of Fritos, I decided to skip it.

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Sausage sounds good . . .

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. . . but when I look inside, I'm not crazy about what I see.

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Moving on, with my appetite growing, I spot a promising trailer.

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These BBQ pork skewers were terrific. The teriyaki marinade was delicious and the pork was tender and juicy.

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Nice caramelization, great flavor and texture. Sorry for the poor focus/

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I don't know what it was before it was changed to Walleye, but this could be good . . .

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A delicious sandwich! What's not to like about freshly-deep-fried fish on a soft bun with generous slathering of Indiana tartar sauce? As you can see, the lettuce was a little on the brown side but otherwise, this was terrific.

You can't go to a County fair and not have a corndog, right?

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Each of this purveyor's dogs were hand-skewered. . .

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. . . and hand-dipped. The batter was from a mix but also had some personal tweaks applied to it. This one booth said they went through about 40 pounds of batter per day.

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These dogs were 'gently' fried in vegetable oil.

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The finished product. Sweet, hot, crispy and corny on the outside and a very non-Chicago kind of dog on the inside. A squirt of yellow mustard helped make this just-about-perfect Fair food.

Speaking of corn, what do I see here?

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Yummmy . . .

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After being grilled, in-husk, on a gas grill, shucked and removed of silk, the ears go through the all-imporant butter immersion phase.

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Totally delicious, although corn here will be much better in a few weeks.

Aside from sweet corn, the best culinary offering from Central Indiana (which may have, in fact, actually originated in Iowa) is the Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich . . .

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Do not adjust your monitors! The tenderloin patty on this sandwich is supposed to greatly exceed the size of the bun.

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This patty on this sandwich is actually on the small side, relatively speaking

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This is one of the better renditions I've ever had. It was a bit thicker than most and the meat was moist and easily identifiable as pork. This might be blasphemy, but I actually enjoyed the smaller-diametered patty. Sometimes the patties can be as much as 9" and that's just too much overhang for me.

After all that savory stuff, even a non-dessert-lover like myself is going to need a few sweets to balance things out . . .

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I spot a line at this booth and take it as a positive sign.

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Elephant ear, partially-eaten.

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The quintessential County fair confection: Funnel Cake.

Those were both tasty, but I think I might need something else . . .

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Hmm . . . what's this Apple Dumpling you speak of?

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Even with the ice cream being softserve, still a tasty treat.

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Money shot.

All in all a relatively deep-fried experience but a tasty one. My faves were the tenderloin sandwich and the pork skewers. For its food, the fair pretty much met my expectations.

Next stop . . .

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. . . Shapiro's Deli, Indianapolis, IN

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Next stop . . .

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. . . Shapiro's Deli, Indianapolis, IN

=R=

Hope you aren't coming to Indy to get away from the hot weather. :raz:

I still haven't been to Shapiro's yet. Just today Jane and Michael Stern were talking about Delis outside of New York (on NPR's Splendid Table) and mentioned Shapiro's in a short list of worthy contenders.

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This does indeed look like a good sandwich. If I didn't just eat it would make me very hungry. As it is it inspires a little rumbling in the tummy.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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wow ron... as a fan of anything fried it seems weird to say this, but I feel like I need a cholesterol check just reading this post!!  I must be getting old!!!

Yeah, the offerings at the fair -- and in this part of Indiana, for that matter -- are a bit one-dimensional. I'll also admit that I didn't actually eat all the items pictured above either. Luckily, many fair-going folks were quite happy to let us snap their purchases. Still, the items we did sample were very tasty.

Hope you aren't coming to Indy to get away from the hot weather.  :raz:

Luckily, we were just passin' thru. :smile: More on Shapiro's below.

This does indeed look like a good sandwich. If I didn't just eat it would make me very hungry. As it is it inspires a little rumbling in the tummy.

Still Doc, I'd hold off on the culinary sojourn to IN . . . for now. :wink:

I never thought ANYTHING would make me think about going to another state fair, but I think you've done it!

Hehe . . . I knew I could be a bad influence if I tried hard enough.

I've been to Shapiro's Deli in Indianapolis many times and I really am a fan. In fact, I often jokingly describe it as the 'best deli in Chicago." I'm not sure why, but this trip to Shapiro's just didn't do it for me like my previous ones have.

I started with the matzoh ball soup which was not as tasty as it has been on past trips to Shapiro's. The soup itself was pretty devoid of flavor and appeared much lighter in color than last time. Still, the matzoh ball was really nice and had just the right density for me . . . not too light, not too heavy.

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Cup of matzoh ball soup with noodles.

Soup aside, the biggest issue I had on this trip to Shapiro's was the latke which was a major disappointment. Previous latkes at Shapiro's have been, in my opinion, the best I've ever had at a restaurant; savory, crispy and dense. This was not the case this time around. In fact, the latkes had changed so much, it was alarming . . .

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Upon first inspection this latke looks pretty good but it is a bit 'puffier' than I remember.

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The interior is not very latke-like, in my opinion. It's cake-like, not dense. It looks like maybe even flour has been used. Previous latkes I've enjoyed at Shapiro's were made from a batter that seemed much more potato-meal-like than this. Most disturbingly, the latkes almost had a sweet flavor and lacked the garlic and onion notes that made previous ones so delectable. A big disappointment.

Luckily, the sandwich I ordered came through in typical Shapiro's style . . .

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Pastrami and Corned Beef combo on rye bread.

As we were leaving, a customer told me that Shapiro's may be coming down -- in favor of condos -- and relocating. I didn't get the whole story but apparently, the space it currently occupies is being sought for residential development at a very attractive price. Again, I'm not sure how accurate this information was but it seemed like the guy knew what he was talking about. As I was snapping away, he ominously told me "take those pictures while you can . . ."

Next stop . . .

Jungle Jim's International Market in Cincinnati, OH.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Oh how I miss home! After cooking fine dining six days a week that food looks delicious! I can't wait till the first full week in October to go home to Evansville, IN. for the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival. It's the second largest street festival in the US behind Marti Gras with four blocks of glorious street food, all for non-profit groups. Just no topless women! :laugh:

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Hmm . . . what's this Apple Dumpling you speak of?

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Even with the ice cream being softserve, still a tasty treat.

Come on down to Kansas City and try one of my apple dumplings! It would move to the top of your list, I can assure you that! :wink:

Edited to add: okay, that sounded dirty, but I really do make good apple dumplings! :smile:

Edited by Katie Nell (log)

"Many people believe the names of In 'n Out and Steak 'n Shake perfectly describe the contrast in bedroom techniques between the coast and the heartland." ~Roger Ebert

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Well, I'm not going to get any work done here tonight -- I'm going to have to pour the drool out of my keyboard after looking at all those scrumptious photos. I love fair/carnival food -- can't wait until my hometown has their Old Settler's Days in 2 & 1/2 weeks. Barbecue, funnel cakes and lemonade... :wub:

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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Aside from sweet corn, the best culinary offering from Central Indiana (which may have, in fact, actually originated in Iowa) is the Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich . . .

gallery_3085_3339_85488.jpg

Do not adjust your monitors!  The tenderloin patty on this sandwich is supposed to greatly exceed the size of the bun.

gallery_3085_3339_74049.jpg

This patty on this sandwich is actually on the small side, relatively speaking

gallery_3085_3339_51937.jpg

This is one of the better renditions I've ever had.  It was a bit thicker than most and the meat was moist and easily identifiable as pork.  This might be blasphemy, but I actually enjoyed the smaller-diametered patty.  Sometimes the patties can be as much as 9" and that's just too much overhang for me.

That's the closest thing I've ever seen to a schnitzel sandwich. Add some brown mushroom gravy and you've got jagerschnitzel!

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I'm glad my shots could bring some pleasure or fond memories to some of you guys. Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago, I never experienced fairs like the one above when I was growing up. In this instance, I'm happy to be able to latch onto my wife's memories and enjoy the fair I never experienced as a kid -- the one she grew up with. I can easily see where the emotional attachment comes from. She was remembering stories from fairs-gone-by all weekend, and most of them in great detail. Food is a powerful emotional gateway, especially to our own personal histories.

I'd heard about Jungle Jim's International Market in Cincinnati so many times, it was, without a doubt, my #1 destination in the Cincinnati area. In fact, the moment after we checked into our hotel, off we went to Fairfield, OH, the actual home of Jungle Jim's.

I don't have any pictures to share of JJ's. Honestly, its 275,000 square feet were so staggeringly chock full of goods, that pictures would have been irrelevant -- and decent coverage would have been nearly impossible to obtain. After we entered the store, we passed by case after case of meats and cheeses, subdivided by type and then again by their origins. I spotted at least 6 brands of prosciutto de parma in one case alone. It was unbelievable and that was just the beginning. I think there were more deli cases in that first section of JJ's than there are in my entire hometown.

JJ's has a massive wine department, a produce section that seemed the size of a football field and a 'live' section that offered rainbow trout, dungeoness crab and lobster to name just a few items. There were aisles upon aisles of 'International' sections, a mini theatre/stage where cooking lessons are given, an interesting reasonably-priced kitchenware section and really, just about every brand of everything you've ever heard of. The saturation of goods and redundancy of brands was amazing. My son particularly enjoyed the shrink-wrapped, fresh goat head and multi-pack of fresh duck heads (I think it was an 8-pack).

It was frustrating being a no-kitchen, no fridge, out-of-town visitor to JJ's. While browsing the store -- we killed about 2 hours just wandering around the place -- I kept seeing all sorts of things I wanted to cook with. I did my best to scratch the itch by buying a few non-perishables . . . a huge bottle of Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce (a co-worker's favorite brand), some oddball beverages, some trail mix for the rest of the road trip and some Bison Sausage sticks and a fine, personally-selected assortment of Jelly Bellies.

As luck would have it, very near JJ's -- and on the way back to our hotel -- was an outpost of one of Cincinnati's most well-known institutions: Skyline Chili. This was another Cincinnati "must-try" on my list and it was great to have it "appear" in front of us, without having to search for it. We stopped in to sample a few items.

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Coney Mett, which I believe is short for Mettwurst. This was a 'limited time only' item.

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Chili 3 Ways . . . noodles, chili and cheese.

First of all, I apologize for all the pics of already-bitten-into food. All the pre-bite shots were terribly out of focus. My Cincinnati friends tell me that Skyline is an acquired taste and after experiencing it for the first time, I have to agree. I didn't really care for it.

I dig the concept and think the idea of chili and noodles topped with cheese is a fine one, but Skyline chili is just too sweet for me. In my mind, it wasn't chili, it was more like a sweet spaghetti sauce. It reminded me a lot of the meat element in the Greek dish, Pasticcio. In any case, I'm not bashing. It just didn't scratch chili itch for me. Again, my Cincinnati friends assure me that after you have it 3 times, you start craving it about once a week.

Next stop . . . The Suburbans, with an over-tired 9-year-old in tow, dare to fine-dine in Cincinnati at Nicola's Ristorante Italiano.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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When I lived in Louisville back in the 70s, the Cincinnati chili influence was very evident. I swear there was only one tomato-meat sauce. If you ordered spaghetti, they poured over the sauce. If you ordered chili, you got the same "sauce" and spaghetti with chili beans added. Neither was very good. I don't mind pasta in my chili, but think macaroni is better.

Oh, those pork tenderloin sandwiches! Here's a hint about dealing with the overhang: tear off the pieces that stick out and pile the pieces inside the bun. That way you get condiments with every bite.

This is my kind of junk food. I swear this thread makes me hungrier than the dinner thread! Too many years of fair deprivation.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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I'd never heard of Nicola's Ristorante Italiano but after reading over some posts in this forum, I decided that it would be a good spot. We hadn't had a "real" meal since the trip began and the menu on Nicola's web site looked great. Of course, I didn't look at the web site too closely and when we arrived at Nicola's in jeans, I felt a bit under-dressed. After we made apologies to the hostess -- and were told that it was nothing to worry over -- we chose to sit in the dining room. The outside terrace was beautiful but it was hot outside and sitting inside seemed more comfortable.

We started with a couple of special appetizers: some stuffed and lightly fried zucchini blossoms and an heirloom tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella. The fritti was wonderful and also included some perfectly tasty red onion rings. The caprese salad was also great, the only negative aspect being that one of the 3 types of tomatoes in the salad were a bit hard. Still, the flavors were great and the olive oil on the salad was outstanding and the basil was wonderfully fresh.

My favorite of the 3 entrees we ordered was definitely the Tagliatelle Bolognese. The pasta was al dente and the sauce was rich, hearty and aromatic. My wife really loved her skinless seared duck breast which was served with foie gras over greens and grilled spring onions. I ordered a Carnaroli Risotto with tomato sauce and sausage which was perfectly cooked but a bit on the tart side for my palate.

After dinner we were extremely full but managed to split an order of some locally-made Pistachio gelato that was terrific. In spite of the teaser (posted above) about my over-tired son, he was a perfect gentleman and behaved accordingly. I was so proud of him -- not only for being so mellow -- but also for enthusiastically tasting everything on the table. I really liked Nicola's and I would definitely return there -- and hopefully will the next time I am in Cincinnati. My only complaint, if you can call it that, was the pricing, which was high even by Chicago standards. Pasta were priced in the mid $20's and the Duck Breast was $32. Again, based on the level of cooking and freshness of ingredients, I can't say it was way out of line but I was a bit surprised by it nonetheless -- especially considering that the pastas are essentially listed as Primi piatti.

After dinner, we cabbed back to the hotel (we were told by several locals that the walk wasn't a particularly safe one) and crashed. The next morning we met up with some friends who took us out for brunch before we headed out of Cincinnati.

Next stop . . .

Slim's on the Northside

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Next stop . . .

Slim's on the Northside

=R=

Geographical clarification:

That would be Slim's in Northside. Northside is one of the old neighborhoods in the city. It is about 3 miles north of downtown and almost as far west. It would have been considerd to be on the northside of the area about 150 years ago. Today it is a neighborhood completing transition, particularly popular with the artistic community.

Ronnie, if you took your 9 year old to the leather bar almost next door, please don't tell the rest of us about it.

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Geographical clarification:

That would be Slim's in Northside.

Duly noted :smile:

Northside is one of the old neighborhoods in the city.  It is about 3 miles north of downtown and almost as far west.  It would have been considerd to be on the northside of the area about 150 years ago.  Today it is a neighborhood completing transition, particularly popular with the artistic community.

It was definitely a cool-looking neighborhood, although it being Sunday morning, there wasn't much open.

Ronnie, if you took your 9 year old to the leather bar almost next door, please don't tell the rest of us about it.

LOL . . . well, of course not. This forum is strictly about food and I would never stray off-topic so. :wink::biggrin:

As I mentioned above, some friends in Cincinnati took us out to Slim's in Northside for brunch and it was fine. I don't mean to step on any toes but it wasn't the kind of place for which I was in the mood. The eclectic food was all fine but it just didn't really scratch the"brunch itch" for me so well. There were times during our meal when the place maybe felt a bit too hip for its own good, like when we learned that we couldn't just order a couple of eggs (even though one could order sides of bacon and sausage or an apparently pre-made Spanish-style tortilla) or when we were told that the grape and lime juices in one particular beverage were "pre-mixed" and not available for ordering individually.

The menu was mostly populated with items I associate more with lunch -- or even dinner -- than brunch. The lechon was tender and comforting but a tiny bit underseasoned. The tamale was quite tasty. We shared a very good sandwich on toasted multi-grain bread which contained a wedge of plain frittata and some chicken salad, IIRC. It had a proper name but I cannot remember it. The mixed greens salad was wonderful and the house-made vinaigrette was a nice accompaniment for it. I was also a bit disappointed with the beverage selection which seemed very limited to me. It would have been nice to have something with carbonation. Again, the place was solid, with a cool vibe but I wanted something different. I wanted goetta (which I still have never tried) and eggs and toast and it's my own fault for not making that clear to our hosts. My bad, definitely not Slim's.

With our bellies full, even if not 100% satisfied, we said goodbye to our friends and piled into the family truckster. It was another beautiful, sunny day with blue skies and more puffy clouds overhead. We pointed the vehicle southwest -- I-71 West to be exact -- and made our way toward Louisville, Kentucky.

Next stop . . . Lynn's Paradise Cafe

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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As I mentioned above, some friends in Cincinnati took us out to Slim's in Northside for brunch and it was fine.  I don't mean to step on any toes but it wasn't the kind of place for which I was in the mood. 

=R=

I didn't even know that Slim's served brunch. And it is a different sort of place. Patrick had some sort of farm/restaurant thing near Cleveland before coming to Cincinnati a few years ago.

At least when he opened, dinner was a 4 course affair with the only choices being among 3 main courses. As you would have seen, the kitchen is nearly non-existent. You do have to be in the mood to do it "Slim's Way" to go there.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As Willie Nelson might say, we're back "on the road again." :smile:

Of all the places we visited on our trip, Louisville surprised me the most. I'm not sure exactly why but it just had a vibe which really spoke to me. The city itself is beautiful and impressive and the riverfront is a scenic and relaxing place to spend a chunk of time. In this case, the folks at our hotel were extremely friendly and we also had the benefit of being hosted by Marsha (aka eGS member zilla369), who went out of her way to make us feel at home. Even before we arrived, she was in communcation with us via cell phone -- while on her computer -- providing us with valuable information about the Louisville Slugger Museum. If not for that 'uplink' we would have missed their last guided tour of the day. Instead, we arrived there with 5 minutes to spare and had an awesome walk-through.

Of course, after seeing all the cool baseball iconography, I was hungry and thinking about our dinner -- the one for which Marsha again came through and made us a reservation -- 6 pm at Lynn's Paradise Cafe

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Lynn's is a fairly kitsch spot but they also happen to serve excellent food and cocktails. The space and environs reminded me a bit of Archie McPhee's in Seattle, except with food. The dining room is adorned with all sorts humorous novelty items and other assorted wonders. But, what they're really known for is their chicken . . .

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ok, just kidding about the chicken :wink:

We ordered some artful and potent libations (bloody mary was terrific) and sampled some of Lynn's famous Blue Frog Legs . . .

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ok, just kidding about the frog legs :wink:

We tried a few appetizers which included some crispy potato pancakes served with a bowl of creamy, dippable goat cheese. We also ordered the pork rind flight (no, I'm not kidding about that) and it was, while not oustanding, fun and decent.

Entree-wise we had great success too. My wife ordered Lynn's famous meatloaf, which, purely for the sake of research, I felt I needed to sample. It was marvelous. I ordered a BLT in which the "T" meant Fried Green Tomatoes. Needless to say, it was delightful. My son had very well-rendered order of fish and chips.

We were stuffed but still decided to share a piece of 'patented' Derby Pie. Derby Pie became a registered trademark in 1968 and Marsha explained that every outlet which sells Derby Pie, procures it from the same place; the place where it was invented: The Melrose Inn. This is the only authorized source for the Derby Pie and, from what I understand, violations are simply unheard of. So, if you order it in Louisville, it's almost certain to have come form the Melrose Inn. The pie is basically a pecan pie which also includes chocolate. In this case it was served with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream and it was absolutely delicious. The words 'Melrose Inn' were embossed on the rim of its delicate and delectable golden-brown crust.

After dinner, we chatted for a while and then said our goodbyes . . .

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As you can see, no Blue Frogs were actually harmed during our meal at Lynn's.

Next stop, it's lunch at The Brown Hotel where we'll sample another Louisville icon -- The Hot Brown -- at the very place where it was invented.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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