Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Short Visit to Cincinnati

The end of our Midwestern swing this month took us to the city of Cincinnati for a wedding celebration held in Mt. Airy Forest Park.  I have spent a fair amount of time in Cincinnati over the years — when I clerked for Wade McCree on the Sixth Circuit my co-clerk and I divided up three-week argument terms, so I had a couple of ten-day stints there in late 1976.  Since then I have been back for a number of court appearances over the years; Sam and I were there for a soccer tournament perhaps ten years ago.  But this was the first time I had got any real appreciation for Cincinnati at large, and I was favorably impressed by the downtown areas, at least – we were all, in fact, favorably impressed.

Our hosts had arranged for accommodations at an excellent discount rate at the Best Western Plus Hannaford Suites, out in a suburban part of the city – the hotel was perfectly fine, sizeable and pleasant rooms with a reasonably extensive continental breakfast, but its location, away from all the tourist sites in the city, would not make it a good choice for any reason of tourism.  Due to a family misunderstanding about what reservations had been made, our boys each thought they had to fend for themselves for reservations for the Friday before the wedding, so that one of them ended up at the Garfield Suites downtown, which they found to be excellent, while the other was at an Airbnb in Mount Adams, both excellent locations.  In the end, we spent our evenings hanging out with the extended family (an effort to swim in the outdoor pool on Saturday night after the wedding was foiled first by unduly cramped pool hours and then, after we had pushed back on that, by a lightning storm).  In addition to getting to know the Schramm family, we also became very well acquainted with several excellent products from the line produced by Schramm’s Meads, which are unfortunately at this point only available inside Michigan.

After checking in and spending a bit of time with the gathering family on Friday night, we headed out to pick up Joe and Avita from the Cincinnati airport (actually located well outside the city and across the Ohio River in Kentucky).  They checked into their hotel, and then we headed out to choose a downtown restaurant.  Looking at a couple of menus and focusing on the fact that it was going to take at least a half hour before we could eat at one of our choices, located in Fountain Square, we settled on the Istanbul Café, located on Vine Street only a couple of blocks from the Garfield Suites.  For appetizers, we had zucchini pancakes, which were interesting, but truly outstanding was ezme, a spicy tomato walnut mixture that have never seen before in a Turkish restaurant in the United States; I have started trying to replicate it home.  Sadly, they were out of the main course that I wanted the most, a seafood casserole or lamb casserole, but the stuffed cabbage rolls were also good.  Two of us ordered the shared mixed kebabs -- the lamb and chicken were especially tasty.  My wife had the baked eggplant stuffed with ground lamb:  I am not an eggplant fan so I didn't sample it, but others at the table did so and were favorably impressed.

For dessert I ordered künefe, a freshly baked confection, some form of shredded wheat with cheese in the middle and soaked in honey, served with whipped cream; after everybody else passed on dessert, the rest of my party couldn't get enough of mine. After dinner, I had hoped to head up to one of the breweries in the Over the Rhine neighborhood, maybe hear some music as well, but everybody else said they were tired so we just drove back to the hotel.  On the way to the freeway, we passed a HUGE casino called the Horseshoe.  Back when I was clerking, Cincinnati’s reputation was for being somewhat prudish, while all the fun was located across the river in Covington, Kentucky (which was, in fact, where I stayed in a college friend’s group house, saving the per diem for good eating!).  Cincinnati, meanwhile, was where Larry Flynt was prosecuted.  Apparently, however, in the intervening years the financial benefits of hosting a casino had outweighed the city fathers’ morals.

The following morning, we headed downtown for a short morning of sightseeing before picking up the younger generation and heading off for the wedding.  By the time we managed to get out of the hotel and drive downtown, we had barely more than three hours to look around and have lunch, so we decided to concentrate on walking around the Over-the-Rhine area, named for the German population that originally settled there across a canal the divided the area from the main part of downtown.  We parked in a garage located under Washington Park,

where some kind of fair of non-profits peddling health services was being held; right across from the park was the splendid music hall.

Unfortunately, there was no way to get inside for a visit.

Nice old architecture

many murals on buildings' outer walls

signs of the former German population of the neighborhood

and there were signs of gentrification everywhere.  We stopped in to look at a former garage that had been popped up into a two-unit loft, each apartment more ghastly than the other, being offered for downtown-DC-like prices of $589,000 and $599,000.  Yuck.

As we approached and then crossed Liberty Street, where I was trying to locate the Rheingeist Brewery as a possible lunchspot, there were some nice buildings but it was clear that we had crossed past the line of gentrification.

Nobody we asked had the slightest idea where the brewery was located, so we turned back into Over the Rhine, where we got another reminder of how Cincinnati had crawled down from its high moral horse -- this former church now houses the Taft Brewery.

We ended up having a nice lunch at Quan Hapa, an Asian Fusion restaurant focused on street food.  I was attracted by the possible similarity to Pok Pok in Portland – but the places were very different; much less variety here and, let’s face it, Thai street food might just be better!  We managed to snag the last outdoor table.  Apparently there is a wider selection of dishes at dinner time, but we each chose an okonomiyaki, a sort of pancake which I had somewhat Korean style with short rib while Nancy had the house version.  I had a local sour beer which was something to get used to.

After lunch, we headed of to Mount Adams to meet up with both of our sons, Joe and Avita having checked out of their hotel and headed over there to meet up with Sam and Nafisa.  Following the map, I had no difficulty finding a way across the freeway that separates the neighborhood from downtown, but the area was full of winding streets that navigate the steep hills of the neighborhood, and I just could not find the street where Sam’s AirBnB had been located.    We managed to get completely lost, and in the end I had park the car and call Sam on his cell phone so that HE could walk over to OUR car.  He gave me a hard time about relying on printed AAA maps – "time you two got a cell phone so that you can enjoy the superiority of the GPS apps!"  Mount Adams looked to be a nice neighborhood as well, if a bit more precious than the still-gentrifying Over-the-Rhine.

I drove off with the family toward Mt. Airy Forest Park, a solid ten miles away in the middle fo the more suburban part of the city.  Although Nancy was offering directions based on looking at the AAA map, Sam was offering very different directions based on the GPS app on his smartphone.  Chastened by our experience locating Sam, I decided to go with his app.

We drove on toward the park, but I began to worry when Sam's app was leading us into what sounded from the app like a street (Quante) but sure looked like an alley.  Sure enough, we ended up at a dead end next to somebody's garage and no way into the park.  "OK, Sam, it's time you got yourself some good printed street maps!"

And so the debate between digital technology and old-fashioned printed maps continues in the Levy family.

I took a closer look at the AAA map of Cincinnati and, thus aided, we navigated our way toward a real park entrance.  As it became clear from the map that we were headed in the direction of Putz Street, the conversation veered off in a humorous direction as I explained the English meaning of the Yiddish word “putz,” and then we talked about various other Yiddish words referring to the same body part.  Then came this sign

and the whole carful of us broke out into giggles.

Wonderful excerpt from the shop's web site:  "family traditions that have touched the lives of many Cincinnatians, as they return year after year for that silky-smooth taste of a Putz’s creamy whip."

The land of unconscious double entendres!

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