Skate Wings in Cincinnati:  What’s the Big Deal?

Above image: Jean Robert’s brown butter preparation of skate wings.

The big deal is that only two restaurants in Greater Cincinnati are serving them.    The Midwest is not known for the best quality fish at its restaurants.  We’re too far inland to get good seafood.    So when restaurants go all in with fish entrees, it’s worth checking them out.    And, when they go in with what is considered a throwaway or junk fish, pay attention.     Up until this year, Jean Robert de Ceval was the only chef serving skate wings, a fish that was also until recently considered a junk fish.       Jean Robert has been serving them since the mid 2010’s at his former Table, at La Bar au Boeuf in Walnut Hills, and the French Crust in Findlay Market.

He’s served it as  Skate Wing Grenobloise at French Crust with a brown butter-caper sauce.   It has been described as tender and sweet as lobster.     At Table he served it with lobster cream and mushrooms to accentuate the skate’s texture.

Skate fish’s complex “wing” bone structure intimidates many chefs and is one of the reasons it’s not seen at many restaurants.  But, with a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants on his résumé, it’s no surprise that Jean-Robert  trains his staff to handle the tricky deboning. Some restaurants in NYC cook it with the bones in, citing a better overall flavor when prepared this way.   To remove it from the cartilage after it is cooked is tricky and often causes the wing to fall apart.   So, it makes more sense to debone before cooking as Jean-Robert does.

Skate is actually related to the sting ray, and is found year-round and worldwide — in the Gulf of Maine, as well as the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Arctic Ocean, among other bodies of water.   

The fish’s flat, diamond shape yields two edible wings. Fan-shaped, with a ribbed texture, skate fillets look like pearlescent angel wings, pristinely white with occasional tinges of pink.

When Chef Todd Kelly was at the Orchids – from 2006 to 2011 – in the Netherland Plaza Hotel, he also took on Jean-Robert, offering his own version of skate wings.    One of Chef Kelly’s  preparations of  skate was floating in a tangy pool of beluga lentil vinaigrette with a eucalyptus glaze.   And while chef there he also served John Dory, a super fishy tasting fish not widely used in American restaurant cuisine.  But since he left, the Omni has not offered these dishes.

Now there’s a new high end game in town serving skate wings.    Nashvile based restaurateur Terry Raley of the Amaranth Hospitality Group came to Cincy this summer to open Royce on August 6, a modern French brasserie.   It’s nestled in the new multi-million dollar development by 3CDC overlooking fountain square.   The menu borrows heavily from elements found in a 1920s Paris sidewalk bistro, starring charcuterie, and a la carte meat and fish dishes.     They’ve taken on Jean Robert and offered their version of the skate wing entrée with pureed eggplant and grilled squash at $34.    A former Cincinnati enquirer food writer told me recently that Royce’s skate wings are as good as Jean-Robert’s.   But it’s not clear what chef at Royce came up with the preparation and who is overseeing them, as Royce has been through several executive chefs since opening, including local superstar Jarrod Bennet.   As of September, four year Boca veteran, Gene Turner was executive chef.

Skate’s arrival as a serious fish to the US happened via New York, and can be pinpointed to the day. It was on Jan. 28, 1986, the day when the famous French restaurant, Le Bernardin opened: skate was there on the menu, poached in browned butter.     The French had long been preparing skate, and as such it’s a gift from French chefs who came to head American restaurants.

Gilbert LeCoze introduced it as a fancy fish, says Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin’s executive chef,  referring to the restaurant’s late founding chef. ”In the beginning, customers said: ‘What? Skate? It will never work in such a nice restaurant.’ ”

Today, Ripert sautees his version in goose fat and serves it with caramelized onions, artichokes and fennel with squab broth.

It’s getting hard, in fact, to find a restaurant that doesn’t serve skate in some form in NYC these days. Downtown at Gramercy Tavern, Tom Colicchio sautees skate, then briefly braises it in a lemon-rosemary vinaigrette. At Pearl Oyster Bar, restaurant on Cornelia Street, Rebecca Charles fries skate until it is crisp and golden and dots it with a tiny dice of fried potato. It’s plainer but no less delicate or sweet, with the springy texture of lobster.

At home, New Yorkers are taking the cue and tossing the wings into their saute pans as they would flounder, trout or sole.   It’s very meaty and  has a very mild taste, which lends itself to being prepared in a variety of sauces. It’s very soft and gentle to eat, and it’s difficult to overcook it.    Many describe it as a taste and texture similar to lobster.

So far Cincinnatians aren’t cooking it at home on any scale, as you’d be hard pressed to find it at any of the fishmongers in Findlay Market or elsewhere.   I’ve had stingray in Singapore and I loved it, so I am obliged to try both chef’s preparations.

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Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake and the Evolution of Restaurant Chocolate Ice Cream Cake Theatre

Above image: Frisch’s 2016 Peppermint Hot Fudge Cake

As iconic as the Frisch’s Hot Fudge Cake is locally, they didn’t invent it.  They were actually the last to the game, releasing it in 1970, two years after the Parkmour had.    And, it wasn’t even a local chain that invented it.    Of the three local carhop/diner-style restaurants, Parkmour, Carter’s and Frisch’s,  Parkmour was the first to copycat it into their restaurants in about 1967/68.     But it wasn’t the tall square slab like you see today at Frisch’s, it was a slice of ice cream-sandwiched cake – turned on its side and slathered in hot fudge sauce, topped with whipped cream and a neon red maraschino cherry.    These three local diners competed on their tartar sauce-dressed double deckers primarily.  But Dave Frisch would pick up on Parkmour’s hot fudge cake and release their version that was a carbon-copy of that of its inventor, Shoney’s, who had introduced it with the opening their restaurant in 1947, one year after Frisch’s opened.

While copycatting the Big Boy and getting sued by Frisch’s for infringement of the Big Boy term, Carter’s never carried a Hot Fudge Ice Cream Cake, focusing on homemade pies, and their strawberry pie, which Frisch’s then copycatted into their summer fave, the Strawberry Pie Baby.   See how this works out?    Despite the illicit copycatting back and forth of menu items = Frisch’s persevered and both Carter’s and the Parkmoor are no longer.      But Frisch’s, with its new management is on the endangered list as they continue to destroy the legacy brand – another story.

The former owners (between current and the Frisch’s family owners) saw the value of the Hot Fudge Cake and in the holiday season of 2016 introduced a Peppermint Ice cream Hot Fudge Cake to accompany their sponsorship of the Nutcracker ballet, and a pumpkin spice ice cream cake with hot caramel sauce.    Kudos to them and Chef Greg Grisanti who crafted both cakes.   The new owners have not released them this holiday season.   They’re too busy trying to plan ridiculous Joey Chestnut eating contests and chasing Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwich.

Shoney’s is a chain headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, which operates restaurants in 17 states, primarily the South, with additional locations in the Midwest and lower Mid-Atlantic states.

Founder La Parka opened the first La Parkette Drive-In in 1947, and became a licensee of Big Boy restaurants in 1952. Two years later the name was changed to Shoney’s, and aggressive subfranchising followed. Thirty years later, having outgrown its Big Boy territory, Shoney’s dropped the Big Boy affiliation.

A Hot Fudge Ice Cream cake has several requirements.   It must have the ooey gooey and chocolatey factor,  it must be tall for the spectacle, and it must be warming.    Along with its spectacle, it’s about the contrast in textures and temperatures.   The cold ice cream contrasts the hot fudge slathered on top.    The fudge cakes that sandwich the ice cream are not quite as dense as a brownie, and a bit more ooey gooey than a typical chocolate sponge cake – they must hold up to the ice cream and the hot fudge without losing shape or architectural strength.   With it’s stacking factor, I guess it could be called a Hot Fudge Napoleon too, if it needed some fine dining panache.   The whipped cream contrasts the texture of the ice cream.  Because of all this,  the hot fudge cake does not travel well as a takeout item.     But remember the theater of this cake, that’s important to understand its culinary offspring.

Now it can be said that the father of the hot fudge cake is the American ice cream sandwich.     The ice cream sandwich and the hot fudge Sunday got together and had this love child, the hot fudge ice cream cake.  However, the ice cream sandwich in its current form, vanilla ice cream between two chocolate cookies, traces its history to a vendor named Jerry Newberg, who sold the treats at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field during baseball games starting in 1945.      The ice cream sandwich created another branch in the culinary family tree that birthed our local Graeter’s Chip Wheelie, a raspberry chocolate chip ice cream sandwiched between to thin chocolate chip cookies.    This family branch evolved as a convenience hand food, not with the theatre of the Hot Fudge Cake.

Locally, there were ice cream and sandwich shops like Kern’s in Madisonville that had their own versions of the hot fudge ice cream cake earlier.   Kern’s released the Devil’s Delight in the summer of 1959 to bring people into their restaurant and compete with the nearby Frisch’s Mainliner in Fairfax.   At the time, Frisch’s offered a hot fudge ice cream Sunday and a chocolate fudge layer cake topped with whipped topping, but it would be another decade before they married them into their Hot Fudge Ice Cream Cake, later shortened to Hot Fudge Cake.       It would become their most popular dessert and an anchor for their eat in business after car hops went the way of the horse and buggy.     It was so popular that even Kmarts locally that had cafeterias offered a duplicate Hot Fudge Cake to shoppers.

Above Image: Frisch’s Pre Hot Fudge Cake Dessert Menu – 1959

Above Image: Ad for Hot Fudge Ice Cream Cake at Kmart – 1968

Now, so American diner’s all caught on to the Hot Fudge Ice Cream cake, but what came next in the theatre of chocolate-ice cream desserts?

Well, it was the chocolate lava cake that came next, which became super popular in fine restaurants and casual chains like TGI Fridays around the country.    Molten chocolate lava cake consists of a chocolate cake with a liquid chocolate core. It is named for that molten center, and it is also known in French inspired restaurants as chocolate coulant, or elsewhere as simply lava cake.   

French chef Michel Bras claims to be its inventor in 1981, after two years of experimentation.   His claim is that the original inspiration came from a family group warming themselves up after a skiing trip by drinking hot chocolate.   French chef and chocolatier, Jacque Torres confirms that such a dessert existed in France in the 1980s.

But it was French celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who brought the concept into American cuisine in New York City in 1987. He recalled pulling a chocolate sponge cake from the oven before it was done and finding that the center was still runny, but warm with both a good taste and texture. He has been credited with popularizing the molten chocolate cake in the United States, where it became an almost de rigueur inclusion on high-end restaurant dessert menus in the 1990s.

Then, as if the hot fudge cake, and the molten lava cake weren’t enough, about a decade or more later, another spawn of chocolate dessert theatre became the new trend.   This was the Melting Chocolate Sphere.    Two restaurants – Bodega Negra in New York and Pantry inside the Verve-Crown Plaza Natick in Boston were the first to introduce what would become a high end Las-Vegas style chocolate dessert.   In 2015, inspired to create a dramatic confection that emulated the opening of an engagement ring box, Pantry chef Alastair Mclean crafted a Valentine’s Day dessert which has since taken the restaurant by storm.

Dubbed “The Chocolate Sphere,” the seven-inch globe of chocolate is equal parts theater and edible Russian nesting doll. Meant for a party of four, the sphere contains vanilla bean ice cream nestled over a chocolate lava cake. To reach the sweet treat inside, a server pours a carafe of buttered chocolate sauce over the globe, melting its upper hemisphere.

Intended as a one-time offering, Mclean introduced the dessert on Valentine’s Day that year and sold out almost immediately. Two days later, Pantry posted a clip of the Chocolate Sphere presentation on their Facebook page, and the video went viral. After three days, the clip received over 100,000 views and the restaurant has been bombarded with requests for its return. So it became a regular part of Pantry’s menu.

Bodega Negra’s sphere covers a chocolate lava cake topped with horchata ice cream, and Negro Modelo caramel sauce.

Then, about three years later, in 2018, the hot chocolate bomb was introduced.   This took the melting chocolate sphere concept and put it in the hands of every man, who could buy them handmade at gourmet coffee shops and impress their kids at home.    A chocolate sphere with a variety of fillings could be dumped into hot chocolate or coffee and the sphere melted, exploding the luxurious fillings into the hot drink.     The first year they were hard to come by and cost upwards of five dollars a dose, but now they are everywhere from Aldi’s to the Dollar Store.

So this concept of chocolate ice cream theatre has gone from the ice cream truck to the American diner to the five star restaurant and back to the hands of the people in home kitchens.   It’s a great example of how food concepts morph and swerve in our foodways.

How the Five O’Clock Tea Biscuit Become Busken’s Four O’Clock Tea Cookie

Busken announced this week that their Christmas tea cookie boxes are now available.     And, get there ASAP  as they will go as quick as they’re put on the shelves.  Contained in each tin are their iced butter tea cookies, mini chocolate chips, Mexican wedding cookies, and one I’d never heard of  -the Four O’Clock Biscuit.    Coming from a bakery family, my family takes our tea cookies very seriously.   My grandpa made an excellent piped butter cookie that was my mom’s favorite.   My sister’s sister-in-law, Anne, and her husband have done a Tea Cookie Roundup, tasting all the suppliers of tea cookies in Greater Cincinnati – from Graeter’s to Servatii.

So I googled the 4 O’Clock tea cookies and found that there’s actually more five o’clock biscuit references and recipes out there.

It seems like the 4 O’Clock tea cookie (or biscuit if you’re English) is just a simple crispy shortbread hard enough for a dunk without falling apart into your hot tea, coffee, or cocoa.  It’s akin to a Girl Scout Trefoil.   

The English Tea ritual is really the only English culinary tradition (maybe aside from fish and chips)  adapted in large scale by the outside world.    They should be proud of it.   And it was invented to help society women from becoming hangry before their late dinners.

It was a Portuguese princess that wasn’t very liked by the English who popularized tea drinking in England. Her name was Catherine of Braganza.    She married King Charles II who got her along with some land in a contract he signed the previous year – yes very misogynistic matchmaking. The dote of the Portuguese Infanta included the Tangier and the Seven Islands of Bombay as well as two million Portuguese crowns.    While unpopular with the Brits because she was Catholic, she did bring several thinks to the UK that also became super-popular, among them the orange and its marmalade, as well as China porcelain that would be used in all the tea drinking she popularized.

The Brits had to have something to go with their tea, so around the same time as Catherine brought her tea to the isles the tea biscuit was invented.  They were developed in Yorkshire, England for the upper classes as a light snack between full-course meals.   But they were more like a graham cracker than a shortbread cookie, like the Four O’Clock tea cookie, because they used malt extract instead of sugar as the sweetener. 

Queens, the borough in NYC, was supposedly named after Catherine of Braganza since she was queen when Queens County was established in 1683. Queens’ naming is consistent with those of King’s County (the borough of Brooklyn, originally named after her husband, King Charles II) and Richmond County (the borough of Staten Island, named after his illegitimate son, the 1st Duke of Richmond.

But it wasn’t until the early 1840s that the Duchess of Bedford started sneaking in a larger snack in the later afternoon with Darjeeling tea, to keep herself from getting ‘hangry’ before dinner.    English dinners had gotten later and later in the 18th century for the middle and upper classes, happening around 7:30 – 8 PM normally, and even later, say midnight if one was attending a party or a ball.   The new meal ‘luncheon’ had already been invented, but was very light, consisting of sandwiches or soup, and happened around noon.     Luncheon was mostly for ladies, in fact when men attended, like the Prince of Wales, eldest son of King Georg III, they would be ridiculed for their femininity.    Men, especially working men would go to Chophouses or pubs, or even bring their own food to get them from breakfast to their late dinner.    This new luncheon invented the term, “Ladies who lunch,” like the song of the same name from the Broadway Musical Company.

This new luncheon was still not enough to get ladies through to the 7 PM evening meal without stabbing each other with sewing needles in hunger.     Lady Bedford loved this idea so much, she invited her friends to afternoon tea, so they could gossip in a slightly less formal setting than luncheon or dinner.     So teas were not set at a formal table .   They would be staged in a lady’s drawing room on couches so women could get up and move from group to group in the guise of sampling something from one of the strategically placed tiered food trays- usually small cookies (or biscuits as the Brits label them) or confections or small ‘finger sandwiches’.   The Louisville Kentucky Benedictine spread and pimento cheese sandwiches come out of this tradition, as Americans adopted the English tea.

But when did “Five o’clock tea” change time?  Well, we can thank the first celebrity chef, Auguste Escoffier at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in  Paris for actually changing this ritual’s time.    Escoffier was a culinary pioneer and changed the way we approach food.   Around 1900, shortly after the Hotel opened, Escoffier, who was the head chef at the Hotel Ritz Paris was super-pissed that people weren’t eating his beautiful dinner meals.

So Escoffier and his hotel workers  went on a quest to figure out why theirl guests weren’t eating their food. They found out that people were having lovely Five o’clock tea from 5-7 pm & dinner time was a 8:00 pm. People were filled up with their delicious tea & cake & not eating their dinner.

And it’s no surprise that they weren’t hungry for dinner, after reading what a typical 5 O’Clock tea menu looked like at that time.   In her 1886 book Five O’Clock Tea  Mary Allen,  lists what was on the menu.  

Miss Allen wrote that they served Champagne Cup, Hock Cup (Hock was a white wine from Rhineland Germany that Queen Victoria tramp-stamped as the best wine in the world in the 1850s), Silver Fizz, or Claret Cup (Claret is a red wine). For cold beverages, they had lemonade & Iced Tea. The Tea Sandwiches listed were Lobster Mayonnaise Sandwich, Pate de Foie Gras Sandwich, Olive & Anchovy Sandwich, Egg & Gherkin Sandwich, Lobster Mayonnaise Sandwich, Caviar Sandwiches, Potted Salmon Sandwich, & Salisfy Sandwiches(which were also called Mock Oyster sandwiches because they tasted like oyster)  There were Drop Cakes (what we know as Scones today) & Lemon Biscuits [Cookies]. And to finish they had numerous Tea Cakes like Cupid Cakes, Chocolate Cake with Chocolate frosting (with raspberry jam spread between the layers), Raisin Cake, Windsor Castle Pound Cake, Gold Cake, Gingerbread, or Silver Cake.    After all that at 5’O’clock I hardly think I’d be ready for a fabulous five course French dinner from Escoffier.

So the Ritz Paris decided to move “Afternoon Tea” to 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. This is so the tea didn’t spoil everyone’s dinner experience.   Other hotels & clubs followed. This is probably the time period where they drop the phase “Five O’Clock Tea.   Somehow there was a compromise – maybe 3 O’clock seemed to early for tea for the fashionably later dinner eaters and they met in the middle at 4 O’Clock.  By the 1920s UK had commercially tinned 4 O’Clock Tea Biscuits on the market.    Hence the reason why the term Five O’Clock tea floated away, & “afternoon tea” is used most commonly today.

So the Five O’Clock Biscuit became Busken’s 4 O’Clock tea cookie.  How gourmet, Escoffier!

Greater Cincinnati Families Who Created Restaurant Empires

Tracing local restaurants is like genealogy.   Chefs go from one restaurant to another and the evolution of their cooking can be studied as they progress.   Chef Jared Bennett, for example,  has been fun to experience  from Metrople, Karrikin, Maplewood, Branch, Khora and Royce.        It’s also interesting to trace ownership of these restaurants.   In Greater Cincinnati there are about 10 major families or groups that have been responsible for the restaurants that have defined our culinary culture.  There is a certain place in heaven for people who take on and revive a failing iconic restaurant or work hard and commit to building a family brand that serves the community for generations.

Unless you live under a rock, or don’t eat human food, your palate has been influenced by one of these families.

We must start with the Russian immigrant Nat Commisar family behind our five Michelin star Maisonette concept.    Although the days of suit and tie fine dining is over in Cincinnati, the Maisonette served its time.    It spawned two other French concept five star Michelin restaurants in the Queen City – Pigalls and the Gourmet Room.   After the Maisonette and La Normandie closed in 2005 the Commisars branched out with Bistro Gigi in Mariemont, Newport Beach in Newport, Kentucky; Chester’s Roadhouse in Mongtomgery, and the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio.

The family of former Ohio senator Rob Portman has owned the Golden Lamb since his grandfather Robert Jones bought and revived it in 1926.

But the Maisonette also spawned chef and restauranteur, French immigrant Jean Robert de Cavel.   After leaving the Maisonette, Jean Robert reamped  PIgalls, Jean Robert went on to open JeanRo Bistro, PhoParis, Table, The French Crust, La Bar au Boeuf, Chalk, Twist, the Greenup Café and the anchor restaurant Lavamatic, which sparked the Over-the-Rhine food renaissance that has got us national recgonition.   

Jean Robert in turn spawned chef David Falk, who went on to start the BOCA restaurant group.   Falk’s Boca first started in my Woellert family’s ancestral house and frame shop in Northside, then to Oakley and then in the old Maisonette space.   Boca, is award-winning European influenced cuisine executed with French precision and technique. Sotto, an Italian trattoria set in the old La Normandie space; and Nada, inspired Mexican packed into a vibrant and energetic urban oasis in Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville, and North Bethesda.   

Falk also brilliantly started a delivery concept called Domo during the pandemic.   It remains to be seen if the high end delivery service will survive post pandemic.

Jeff Ruby and his family have cornered the fine steak restaurant experience in Cincinnati with the Precinct, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Johnny and Carlos, and a slew of former restaurants – the Waterfront and Las Brisas nightclub, and Topicana at the Levy.    In college I danced many a salsa night at the Tropicana.

Then we move from fine dining to casual dining….

Of course there are the three Cincinnati Chili Parlor families responsible for creating our chili crave.   The Kiradjieff family – Tom, John and Argiro – started Empress Chili in 1922.   Nicholas Lambrinides founded Skyline Chili in 1949 and the company now has over 100 + locations in Greater Cincinnati.   And finally the Daoud family founded Gold Star Chili in 1962 and also has about 100 locations in Greater Cincinnati.

There are the two pizza chain families in Cincinnati – LaRosa’s started by Buddy LaRosa in 1954 and the Pat Gramaglia family of Pasquale’s Pizza, started in 1952,and although no longer in business, they started an impressive empire of chain pizza joints in Greater Cincinnati and the U.S.

We have to pay homage to David Frisch for starting the Frischs Big Boy chain and the proliferation of the tartar sauce dressed (rather than McDonald’s wannabe thousand island dressed) double decker hamburger.   Unfortunately the current owners, who are not Frisch family, are driving the brand to ruin.

You cant talk restaurants in Northern Kentucky without the Dick Schilling family of Newport.    The most tragic restaurant fire in America took place at their Southgate Kentucky, Beverly Hills nightclub in 1977, purportedly due to a mob retaliation.    A family of Alsatian immigrants, they got their start farming in rural Campbell County, and then peddling groceries.     Dick, the patriarch was nephew to my great grandmother’s brother George Brosey.

Dick Schilling was known as a flamboyant entrepreneur. People would go out of their way to visit a Dick Schilling nightclub.     Dick wanted to create clubs where people could see and be seen.   At 22, he was sent to run the Officer’s Club in Johnson Field, North Carolina, during World War II.   It was here Dick learned about cooking, purchasing, pricing and cleanliness.   After the war, Dick took over the commissary at Newport Steel Company, where he worked for 10 years.    He then bought and ran the Schillings Drive in and Hotel on Dixie Highway, famous for their tartar sauce dressed Dixie Boy Double Decker.

In 1962 Dick bought Lookout House nightclub and casino and brought it to another level.   Then in 1971 he took on his largest project, the Beverly Hills nightclub.  There were six banquet rooms above and then the Zebra Room below. The Viennese Room could be three banquet rooms and could seat 300 people. The Empire Room was the main ballroom, and held 650 people. The Schillings added the Garden Room and the Cabaret Room.   The Cabaret room was where the big name entertainment played, and was set up like a big Vegas showroom, like the Sahara or the Sands.

In 1978 after the fire at Beverly hills, Dick, with his three sons, opened a new venture in Downtown Cincinnati, an entertainment complex with nightclubs s called January’s, Porky’s and Oodles. January’s was a 900 seat nightclub featuring three bars and a 13-piece orchestra for dancing six nights a week. Oodles was a 300 seat lounge to be open for lunch and dinner. Porky’s was the name of the club in the same building that catered to the 50s and 60s dance craze at the time.   The complex was at the corner of Pete Rose Way (2nd street) and Plum Streets, amidst several other clubs.   I danced my ass off at Porkies on teen night in high school and early college.

Then in 1981, the Schillings opened their last complex in northern Kentucky, the Pink Islands restaurant and Splash nightclub.    We held my sister’s first communion lunch there.     The family moved this riverboat restaurant downriver to Mississippi, bought into the gambling industry down there and are now multi-ulti-millionaires.

While we’re talking about Northern Kentucky, we have to mention the Ben Bernstein family.   Starting with El Greco Steakhouse, they also operated Mike Fink’s and developed Covington Landing.   They owned six Chuck E. Cheese Pizza and TGI Fridays franchises along with bars Howl at the Moon and Sloppy Joe’s.    The grandson of Ben now runs Red Feather Kitchen in Oakley.

The Lanni Group is the newest powerhouse.    Brothers John and Joe Lanni founded Thunderdrome Group which owns 8 concepts with over 40 locations nationwide.    With backing from their father Nick Lanni who started Great Steak and Potato Company in Hamilton, Ohio, their concepts are Eagle Fried Chicken,  Currito, SoHi, Bakersfield Tacos, , Kruegers, Maplewood, City Bird, and Pepp & .Dolores.

And finally, the Ferrari Brothers, Tony and Austin Ferrari came back home to Cincinnati from San Francisco, California, where they own Hillside Supper Club and Provender Coffee, as well as the simply amazing Fausto restaurant in the Contemporary Art Center downtown.   They also have two Mom ‘N Em coffee shops in Camp Washington and Madisonville, where you can eat a tinned lunch and gulp their delicious housemade nog and marshmallows in December.

Crab Rangoon Pizza:   When American-Chinese, Tiki, Japanese, Italian and Burmese Food Had A Love Child

In 2020, piemakers at Fireside Pizza in Walnut Hills collaborated with Guy Burgess and Susanna Wong, chefs at Oriental Wok, to gift Cincinnati with the super-delicious Crab Rangoon Pizza.   Well, its back this week in time for Thanksgiving.  

Here’s how they craft this delicious bite.   Pre-baking, the base of the pizza is slathered with Oriental Wok’s crab Rangoon filling – cream cheese and imitation crab, then amorously sprinkled with mozzarella and provolone cheese. After baking, the chefs add crispy wonton skins, green onions and Oriental Wok’s volcano sauce to the top of the pizza.   Oriental Wok’s volcano sauce is, I’m not joking here, only served on their menu with what they call their Viagra Shrimp.    So it MUST be good.   

Oriental Wok also serves the Po Po Tray, an array of four appetizers, including the Rangoon.  You may have also heard it referred to at other American Chinese restaurants as the Pu Pu Platter – save that for later explanation.   Oriental Wok’s includes their crab Rangoon, fried shrimp, eggrolls and bali maki – flank steak marinated in hoisin, soy, ginger, and sweet bbq and grilled and skewered with a piece of pineapple and a maraschino cherry.   It’s a festive cross pollination or cross polynesianization of American tiki food and American Chinese, which is the interesting story behind crab Rangoon.

Those little deep fried packets are strangely perfect, designed to appeal to our base instincts: creamy and fatty and crispy and sweet and sour and savory, all at once. No modern food company would ever come up with something as deranged as crab rangoon, and if they did today, nobody would buy it. And yet somehow it survived, and watched other American food trends die.

Of all the wonders of the modern American Chinese menu, crab rangoon is for sure the strangest. It contains cream cheese, sometimes sweetened, plus, usually, very small bits of imitation crab, stuffed into a wonton wrapper and deep-fried, served with a syrupy, neon sweet-and-sour dipping sauce. It is, essentially, deep-fried cheesecake with fake crab in it—as sweet as any dessert, but served as an appetizer. It has a Burmese name, is served in a theoretically Chinese restaurant, has Japanese imitation crabmeat, invented at a tiki restaurant, and its main component was invented in New York in the late 19th century.

In 1934, Victor Bergeron opened a saloon called Hinky Dink’s in Oakland, California. Capitalizing on the new craze for the South Pacific, Bergeron began integrating island signifiers into his decor and bar lineup. In 1937, Hinky Dink’s became Trader Vic’s, and began selling many of the cocktails now associated with tiki culture. (He is one of two disputed creators of the mai tai.)

Also in 1937, Bergeron started selling food at the new Trader Vic’s. According to. Eve Bergeron, his granddaughter,  Joe Young, a Chinese-American barback at Trader Vic’s, was a major influence on the early menus. That first one has a couple of nods towards tiki culture: pineapple spareribs, imported New Zealand clams. But it is, largely, early American Chinese food.

Bergeron, though, was a joyful experimenter with both cocktails and food. Sometime in the 1940s, says Eve, he started messing around with wonton wrappers.  Eve says her grandfather probably just started to play different fillings, fry it up, and test the results.

So how did cream cheese end up in a seemingly south pacific dish?  Cream cheese was a staple of 1940s and 1950s American cuisine. Many mid-century cookbooks offer endless creamy, cheesy sauces – with celery, with Spam, formed into balls and rolled in nuts, baked into the ultimate decadent dessert.  Midcentury was the Age of Cream Cheese.

Trader Vic’s crab rangoon recipe, which remains largely unchanged since its inception, has several major differences from American Chinese crab rangoon. Trader Vic’s version uses real Canadian blue crab meat. It also includes A.1. Steak Sauce and Lingham’s Chili Sauce, a bottled British sweet-and-hot sauce, in addition to cream cheese. Eve is offended when people ask if they sweeten their cream cheese, as in other American Chinese restaurants. Trader Vic’s is not (though the sauces mixed in are).

The name of this deliciously crunchy treat is emblematic of tiki culture. Rangoon, now Yangon, is the largest city in Myanmar, formerly Burma. Myanmar has a huge Chinese cultural and gastronomic influence, as the two countries share a border. But neither uses cream cheese in its food—that’s a proud New York product. There’s plenty of crab in Burmese food, but it’s pretty clear that Trader Vic didn’t name his dish after the city because there was any connection there. It is simply a place in a general Southeast Asia-Polynesia-South Pacific zone, suitably exotic-sounding but still easy for native English speakers to pronounce.

Tiki culture’s widespread popularity occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, just when American Chinese cuisine was also gaining huge mainstream acceptance. The food served in tiki restaurants shared a lot with American Chinese food: vaguely Asian, very sweet, deep-fried. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the cuisines cross-pollinated. Some tiki food gained a spot on those centralized menus. The pu pu platter, for example, derives, sort of, from the Hawaiian pūpū, essentially Hawaiian meze: a selection of appetizers.

There was a strange, circular movement between tiki food and American Chinese food. Trader Vic’s created tiki food by making American Chinese food seem more tropical; American Chinese restaurants took his dishes right back and made them more American Chinese. The American Chinese version tends toward cheaper imitation crab, which is made, usually, of pollock blended with starch and other binders, crab flavoring, and red food coloring. Imitation crab simply wasn’t available to Trader Vic—it started being produced in 1975—and it’s also neither Polynesian nor Chinese, but Japanese. American Chinese crab rangoon is a 1940s crab-and-cream-cheese dip stuffed into a wonton and deep-fried—a pure distillation of tiki fusion weirdness.

So, now deconstruct this bravely formed concoction, slather it on a pizza and now we have maybe the most satisfying eat out there.   I’m totally in.    Bravo Fireside!

Kroger’s New Kroji Characters Inspired by 1970’s Logo

Kroger has long been innovative in mining customer data through their evil loyalty program and producing personalized coupons to increase sales.   They even spun off a separate company – our local 84.51 Kroger Precision Marketing, to do this.   However, I would never have called them an innovative outward facing marketing company because of their ads.    That is until this year.      As they wind up with the acquisition of Albertsons, in review now with the FTC, to become THE largest grocery retailer in the U.S., they are also amping up their holiday marketing spend to an amazingly large degree.

They’ve been working with New York based DDB Marketing for several years now.   DDB created the 3D digitally animated characters that are known as Kroji – a portmanteau of Kroger and emoji.      For the holidays, they just released a one minute Kroji advertisement which features a widower who finds his late wife’s, Isabella’s recipe book and makes some of her recipes.    There’s no dialogue, but the short is perfectly narrated by the 1998  Goo Goo Dolls hit song, Iris, performed by Colbie Callait.    The grandfather makes Iris’ mother’s cranberry tarts and when he bites into them, we are taken back to him as a young boy where he splits one at a party with his future wife.   He then makes the apple pie that Iris brings him on one of their early dates.   Finally, we see him making a turkey and about to taste a piece, when his granddaughter points to a post it note that Iris embedded in the recipe book that says, “Enjoy with family.”   So he smiles and gives the chunk of turkey to his hangry granddaughter.   

These Krojis will be in balloon form in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.   I can’t imagine what it cost to make and include them.    But it’s a huge step in making Kroger THE national grocery brand.    It’s both good and bad.    Kroger ‘all over’ gives expats all over the U.S. access to Cincinnati foods like Worthmore Mock Turtle Soup, canned Skyline Chili, and even Gliers Goetta.    But it also means they have more sinister control of pricing and there’s less competition to put them in check.

Above image: The mosaic 2D pre-Kroji Kroger mascot on the front of the Norwood Kroger.

But these briliiant Kroji characters are not new, they’re just the 3D update of the 2D similar characters Kroger used in signage and ads in the 1970s.    Each Kroger had a mosaic sign on the front of the store with one of these pre-Kroji female figures pushing the grocery cart – which is now the logo for the company.   The woman in the logo wore a typical 1950s house dress, offering us a slice of retail grocering at the time. That logo was brilliant too in the scope of 2D logos as the K was made to look like a grocery cart with wheels under it that the woman was pushing. The last store in Cincinnati to still have this mosaic signage on their store was the Norwood Kroger on Montgomery Road.   Sadly, they removed it with an update only a couple of years ago.   I hope that Kroger was smart enough to keep one of these original mosaic signs from their stores for posterity.

Ok, Kroger, you did it, with a one minute animated short, you nailed the spirit of the holiday season and made me cry.    This one minute has already made my holiday.    Old Barney would definitely be proud!

My 2022 Germanic Gingerbread Tour

This past summer I took a life-changing cruise down the Rhine River  from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland.      It was billed as a Rhine wine and castles tour and filled with enough cultural experiences to last many lifetimes.   We tasted many different Rieslings, some fantastic Pinot Noirs or Spatburgunder in German, in Baden, and even the mild white Muller-Thurgau, also called Ravenna.    I visited the ancestral winery of my maternal grandmother’s family in Merdingen, Baden, and met my cousins running it.   

But the trip also unexpectedly turned into a Germanic Gingerbread tasting tour.        While we think of the one note, very molasses-ey and iced gingerbread we have in the United States, the Germanic countries of Europe have a centuries old tradition of gingerbread and a kaleidoscope of types that are as different as Germanic sausages in every region.   As it turns out, gingerbread is one of my love languages.  While it wasn’t the typical gingerbread season,  I tasted four different types of gingerbread along the way in the Netherlands in Amsterdam, in Strasbourg, Alsace Lorraine, in Rhineland, Germany, and in Basel,  Switzerland.   Each region has its own very traditional versions of gingerbread and there are many more outside of the Rhineland regions.

Although its mostly available year round, Gingerbread is historically a treat of the winter Christmas markets.    You can dip it in hot cocoa or Gluhwein, the spiced hot wine, or munch it by itself.      Bavarians seem to like it the most.    The typical Bavarian (both adults and children) will have eaten 60 pieces of gingerbread by the end of the Christmas season, while the average non-Bavarian will eat 18 pieces.     I am probably somewhere between the average German and the Bavarian.   I do like to savor my gingerbread and not burn out on it.    I love the deep, warm spices, the chewiness, and how well it goes with coffee.   It’s no small wonder that Hansel and Gretel fell hook, line and sinker to the witch’s house made entirely of Lebkuchen!   I frankly would have eaten a piece of that house myself.

This year the Nuremburg style Lebkucken is not as readily available in Cincinnati as it has been in the past.    Aldi’s is not carrying it with their other Deutsche Kuche Christmas products like stollen;  and Fresh Market is not carrying the Wichlein brand this year at all as they have in the past.     Supposedly Trader Joe’s is carrying their house version, but I haven’t seen it yet.

My 2022 gingerbread journey started in Amsterdam.   On a walk to the Rijksmuseum, I found a store that is a gingerbread lover’s dream.    It’s called The World of Peppernuts, which is the English translation of the Dutch  dime-sized pfeffernuse cookies.   They’re also called kruidnotjes in Dutch and spekulas is a larger cousin to the pfeffernuse.   Pfeffernuse are the favorite treat to give Sinterklaus or St.  Nicholas on his visit on December 6, with his helper Swarte Piet or Black Peter.   This ground zero store for Gingerbreadophiles is less than a half mile from the Rijksmuseum, where my favorite Rembrandt painting, the epic mural “The Night Watch” lives.    It’s considered one of the national treasure of the Netherlands, and they just restored and restretched the canvas  on its massive skeletal frame.     And, by the way, pfeffernuse and other Dutch gingerbreads are so ingrained into the culture, there are Dutch masters paintings of people eating gingerbread in the Riksmuseum and others.     Some Dutch even used pfeffernuse to thicken their balkenbrij, a blood-grain sausage cousin of our goetta.   Even some Cincinnati sauerbraten recipes use gingerbread cookies to thicken the sauce.    See my former blog about the year gingerbread was banned in Amsterdam along with Sinterklaas:

What makes this store a Gingerbread Valhalla is that they have what seems like endless flavors.   They even have the Frisian version from the northern region of Friesland between Germany and the Netherlands, which are a little bit larger – more quarter sized than dime sized.   There are all types of chocolate covered.   There are  flavors like crème brulee, salted caramel, apple tart,  lemon cheesecake, stroopwafel, strachietella and raspberry.      And, they let you taste as many of the over 50 flavors as you want.   It’s supremely fabulous.     I came home with three flavors.

There’s a Dutch dessert that’s popular called Tompouse, named after a famous dwarf performer of the early 1900s.   It’s a popular birthday cake for young Dutch kids.   It’s a long narrow, rectangular, pink iced napoleon with a sponge cake and creamy filling that flays out when you take your first bite.  My Dutch friend Debby sent me some Tompouse coated pfeffernuse from Amsterdam for my birthday, knowing my addiction to the little treats, and I couldn’t have been happier.

When our ship stopped in Strasbourg, Alsace Lorraine, France, I got to taste their local gingerbread which goes by the name Pain de Epices, literally, spiced bread.     Many people flock to the little bundt cakes called Kugelhopf invented  supposedly by the Three Wise Men on their way to the Nativity to venerate the newly born Saviour.   Why they made a huge detour through Strasbourg is never explained in the origin story, but whatever, it’s a cute tale.    Thankfully, my nose led us to a store right off the cathedral square in Strasbourg that was like the one in Amsterdam – all things gingerbread, or all things Pain de Epices. 

They similarly had all types of chocolate covered and flavored gingerbreads and cute shaped gingerbread people dressed in the regional clothes of Alsace Lorraine.

We stopped at a confectionery in the charming wine town of Cochem.   And although it was Easter, and was more about the marzipan pigs, they had Lebkucken that was similar to the Nuremburger type that I love.

In Baden, Germany, the Lebkuchen is also similar to Nuremburger Lebkucken the chewy, candied citrus stuffed delicacy.    Although we didn’t taste any gingerbread in Baden with  my cousins, because it was not really in season, and not at the local bakery, Lebkucheneis (gingerbread ice cream), or gingerbread ice cream is a popular treat.    My cousin Tanja gave me a Baden cookbook with a recipe for this regional gingerbread Ice cream that I may try to make for Christmas this year.    It calls for the chocolate covered Lebkuchen, sugar, sweet cream,   a ton of egg yolks and cognac.     I’m betting if one replaces the sweet cream with a good eggnog, it would be a match made in heaven.

The final stop on this spontaneous Germanic Gingerbread tour was Basel, Switzerland.   Basel has its own traditional gingerbread, which is called Leckerli and there are specialty Leckerli shops all throughout the city.   Theirs is thicker and more cakey, less chewy than the Nuremburg German lebkuchen.   The Basler Läckerli is made of honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied peel, and Kirsch.  The flat baked dough, when still hot, is topped with a sugar glaze and cut into rectangular pieces.   The kirsch is also what separates Basel Leckerli from Nuremburg Lebkuchen.  

Basel is and has always been a very conservative Catholic city, even though metropolitan by Swiss standards, and therefore not known as a beacon of creativity or innovation.    For that reason, you won’t find all the crazy number of flavors of its leckerli, as you would in Amsterdam and Strasbourg.  They stick to the classics and focus on them.     And they do it very well.   I came home with a bag of assorted Leckerli. 

So, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would experience a German gingerbread tour on my summer German Rhine wine tour, but it was a true mitzvah.   And now, my gingerbread palate is a bit more refined.   Can I now call myself a German Gingerbread Gutachter – a GGG?

The Hyde Park House that Candy Corn Built

Above photo: The Goelitz family on the porch of their mansion built by the candy corn fortune in Hyde Park on Delta Avenue. Far right is matriarch Helena Goelitz. Holding the family dog is Carl, to his left behind him, his wild twin sister Frieda. Far right top behind Helena is Armin Goelitz, the automobile speed demon.

Since I wrote my book Cincinnati Candy: A Sweet History, I’ve known that the beautiful house built by the Goelitz candy corn family, once stood only a mile away from my house.   Unfortunately it no longer stands, but many smaller and less fantastic similar houses stand in Hyde Park along Observatory. It was described in the Cincinnati Enquirer as “one of the most luxurious houses in the Eastern suburbs.”   After a presentation to the Loveland Historical Society last week, I wanted to pursue getting a picture of the house.     I called my contact in California, who is the archivist at the Jelly Belly Corporation, the modern name of the candy company started in 1898 in Cincinnati that introduced Candy Corn, a new type of butter cream candy to the world.   I asked if the family had any photos of that house.  She said, “Of course we do.”   She sent me several of those pictures including what I call a money shot of the family all sitting on the front porch.

The Goelitz candy empire starts with the patricarch, Gustav Goelitz, who came to the United States in 1866 from the Harz mountain region of what is now Germany and in 1869 started the confectionery business Gustav Goelitz in the German immigrant community of Belleville, Illinois.   His younger brothers, Albert and George, emigrated to America soon after joining him in the business. They built a successful confectionery business, the Gustav Goelitz Company, in Belleville, Illinois, and later the Goelitz Brothers Confectionary in St. Louis, Missouri. The business failed during the devastating economic depression following the Panic of 1893. Returning to Belleville, Goelitz worked with his oldest sons as they started their own confection business.

His two oldest sons Adolph and Gustave Jr.,  then moved the company to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1898. Before Goelitz’s death on March 16, 1901, in Belleville, Illinois, his sons began producing candy corn, what they called Butter Cream Corn, a new buttercream treat that would ensure the continued success of the business.     It was an economical replacement for the popular and moldable marzipan candies of Europe that the immigrants brought with them.    Instead of a mix of almond paste and sugar, buttercream used cheap and available corn syrup and sugar to make moldable and delicious sweets. It was originally a Christmas candy, as Halloween wouldnt take off as a holiday in America until the 1950s.

The sons left Cincinnati, shutting down the factory on July 1, 1909, moving operations to Chicago, where they had set up a factory already in 1904. In 1913, they moved the company to North Chicago.

Then in 1922 Herman Goelitz, the second oldest son of Gustav, moved to the West Coast to start his own business, Herman Goelitz Candy Company. The company eventually settled in Oakland, California, in 1924. In the 1960s, the company began to expand the product line to include jelly beans, various jells and other confections. “One of those new products was a small and very flavorful Mini Jelly Bean [developed in 1965] The Mini Jelly Bean center had natural flavoring and the inside and outer shell was flavored, which was innovative for the time.

Ronald Reagan first tried the Mini Jelly Beans in 1966. “The then California governor had quit smoking years before and turned to popping candy as a…substitute.” Reagan wrote to Herman Rowland, Sr., president at the time of Jelly Belly, while governor, “It’s gotten to the point…where we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around a jar of jelly beans. Aloyse Goelitz, Herman’s daughter, married Ernest Rowland, and Rowland too became part of the confectionary company. In Illinois, descendants of the Goelitz and Kelley families joined the business. We owe you a special measure of thanks for helping keep our state government running smoothly.”

Goelitz of Ca and Goelitz of Chicago reunited in 1978 becoming the Herman Goelitz Company

So, a few years after the patriarch Gustav Goelitz’s death in 1901, Adolph and Hermann brought their mother and seven younger siblings to Cincinnati to help them settle into adulthood.   They lived in a nice frame house at 2828 Erie Avenue in the new exclusive Hyde Park neighborhood.

The widowed Helen Goelitz now had a challenging job of getting four daughters married off to suitable husbands.   And she would have her work cut out for her.   It appeared difficult to wrangle in her kids’ wild nature.   She had one daughter who secretly eloped, two daughters who had bad early divorces, and a son busted for reckless driving and sentenced to time at the old workhouse.      Her children, from oldest to youngest were:   Adolph, Gustav Jr., Augusta, Herman, Joanna, Helena, Armin and twins Carl and Frieda.       Except for Carl, who it appears never married, they would all marry Cincinnati spouses.

The Goelitz matriarch, Helena or Lena Goelitz was born Lena Heuff in 1850 in Belleville, Illinois, to German immigrant parents William and Magdalena Saruch Hueff.    She was around the candy business her entire life with her husband, Gustav and her sons and grandsons.    All nine of her children survived into adulthood.    She died in 1925 in Cook County , Illinois, outside of Chicago.

In 1901 Adolph as a good son,  bought a lot in Samuel Sachs subdivision of Hyde Park for $1100.   On that lot he would build the fantastic family house for his mother and siblings described as “one of the most luxurious homes of the eastern suburbs.” It fronted Delta Avenue at 1312 Delta Avenue, near Griest across from what is the old telephone exchange building.   It now has non descript postwar apartments on it.   At the time it abutted St. John’s Park on one side and the Kilgour estate on the other.     It was also at the end of the streetcar line, which would make it convenient for Herman, Gustave and the other Goelitz family who worked at the Candy Company downtown on 2nd Street.

On Oct 26,  1905 the Cincinnati Enquirer would tell of Adolph’s purchase of his own fantastic house for his growing family:

An interesting exchange of property was made yesterday by Myers Cooper, broker acting for David Oliver and Adolph Goelitz.  Mr Cooper sold for Mr Oliver to Mr Goelitz the formers magnificent home on Red Bank avenue in Mt lookout for about $17,500 2 acres of property surrounding the house are included in the sale.  The purchaser will live in the house, which contains 14 rooms.  The house is modern in every particular and was built about two years ago.    Mr Goelitz takes the residence of Mr Oliver on Mooney Avenue, Hyde Park at a valuation of $9500.

Unfortunately Adolph’s Mt. Lookout home no longer stands either, and I have not yet found an image of it.

The next year, 1906, Adolph became  vice president of Hyde Park Supply Company with Hyde Park developer and future Governor of Ohio, Myers Coopers as president 1906.   This would give him access to the building materials needed to build his family house, which they would all move into in 1907.

In rapid succession the Goelitz children would marry off, some of those unions more successful than others, as the family business grew into an

Gustave married Ida Mueller, daughter of Soloman Mueller & Mary Moser, on October 10, 1900 in Cincinnati, but she would die in a few short years.   He married Anna Uder on April 4, 1906 in Racine, Racine Co., Wisconsin.    He would settle later in life in San Antonio, Texas, and had two daughters, Alberta Romburg and Eleanor Russell.

Adolph had already married in the early 1890s in Belleville, to Anna, before moving to Cincinnati.   Their oldest son, Arthur G. Goelitz, would become vice president and production manager of the Goelitz Confection company of North Chicago until his death in 1947.  He had started working there in 1911.

The first Goelitz daughter to marry in Cincinnati was Joanna Goelitz.   She married Edward Francis Kelly in 1902 in Cincinnati, but they had known each other back in Belleville.    They would live in Walnut Hills at 3106 Durrell Avenue.   He was  the accountant for Goelitz Candy Company, and it would be their son and grandson who would take on the business with the Goelitz Company of Chicago.   Theirs seemed to be the most stable of the Goelitz daughters’ marriages.   Their son Wiliam born in Cincinnati in 1903  would take over the Chicago operation until his death in 1962. His son Bill took over in 1962 and retired from the business..   

In 1910, Herman, who had already moved to Chicago with Adolph to run the business, married Alice Weinheimer of 2763 Madison Road in Oakley.

Armin married Pauline Welling in 1911 at age 22.   She was an immigrant from Germany and lived with her parents on Wade Street downtown.   Armin was living in Chicago working for his brothers at the candy company but had met her in Cincinnati, while living in Hyde Park with his mom and siblings.

In 1913 Phillip Wenner of West McMillen announced his engagement to Helena Goelitz.

Augusta “Gussie” Goelitz married in 1914 Thomas C. Bishop,  a fireman from Clifton living at 2322 Clifton Avenue, his second marriage.    But she sued him for divorce and alimony, in 1916, getting an injunction in his wages until the suit settled with help from her family’s good lawyers.

The youngest, Frieda Goelitz, was a member of the Delta Sigma Sorority and hosted numerous card parties for the girls and was invited to many parties around Cincinnati.   But Frieda would be the wild child whose antics made the Cincinnati newspapers, and for whom Adolph had to come back to Cincinnati to clean up.  

A young lawyer, Robert O’Connell, who lived with his parents in Hyde Park on Red Bank Avenue called on Frieda at the Goelitz home on Delta frequently.   Robert’s father John O’Connell was a prominent judge in Cincinnati.   The two quickly developed a romance and in 1913 Robert and Frieda escaped to Maysville, Kentucky, and eloped under  pseudonyms.   They came back to Cincinnati, revealing the news the Goelitz family and Robert’s parents.   The O’Connells did not want the marriage announced in the papers and refused to take Robert and Frieda in.    So they stayed at Helen Goelitz’s house on Delta.   That is for two months until Robert stopped coming home and when confronted denied ever having married her.    Adolph came into town to clean up this mess, and with Frieda went to Maysville and got testimony and proof of the marriage from the minister in Maysville.   Frieda sued Robert for divorce and alimony in 1914 on the grounds of neglect and cruelty in a very public case.    This embarrassing society case might have been the impetus for the Goelitz family to move back to Chicago to be with the other three brothers. 

In 1918 Frieda married Emerson Wales Walker of Chicago, in Waco, Texas ,who was going into the US Army during World War I.   She would stay with him for the duration, settling in New Jersey.     

The Goelitz family loved their cars but apparently were speed demons.  They were rich enough to afford the mysterious new automobiles said to replace the horse and carriage.  In 1910 Armin and his brother Carl took their brother Herman’s car on a joy ride in downtown Cincinnati near the candy plant.   Armin bowled down a Mr. Lewis from Chicago,  at Vine and 4th streets, mildly injuring him.   Armin was fined 10 bucks and 10 days in the old workhouse, but his family’s lawyers found a loophole and got him out of time spent in the slammer.   The injured pedestrian, Lewis, was more interested in the money, knowing that the family ran the successful candy business.   He filed claim in common pleas court against Herman for the car and $1500.

Frank Zumstein bought the Goelitz house in 1913 for $16,500 and the remaining family moved to a smaller home at 2560 Erie Avenue, where they spent the last couple of years in Cincinnati.   In 1917 the home was severely affected by a strong tornado that came through the area.    The entire front porch was torn off and a large tree thrown across the roof.

The youngest brothers Armin and Carl Goelitz would operate the Goelitz Candy Corn plant in Midland Park, New Jersey, which opened in 1946.   Carl’s twin sister Freda and Augusta would also settle with them in that area.      In September of 1950, during the Halloween candy rush, there was a devastating fire at the Midland Park Goelitz Plant.  Walt Goelitz, son of Armin oversaw the plant and its 12 workers there at the time.  The fire was started in a kettle lined with beeswax and sparked the biggest Halloween candy factory disaster on record.

Flames devoured the block-long building as police held back a throng of 5,000 onlookers, according to a report in The Newark Star-Ledger. All 12 workers escaped unharmed, but the same can’t be said for the Halloween confections. About 2,000 pounds of candy corn were lost in the inferno of smoke and sugar.    The company abandoned the plant and the Town and Country Diner was built on the spot.

Although some stores had received shipments of the chewy Halloween staple before the blaze, others placed emergency orders with Goelitz’s rivals, like Brach’s, Heide and Wunderle.     Armin’s granddaughter Gloria McCann told the story 61 years later.

Goelitz of Chicago continued to sell their candy into the Cincinnati market at stores like Graeters and Lazarus into the early 2000s.   Now their legacy is nearly gone in Cincinnati.

The Paramount Chili Parlor at Peebles Corner

Every so often I go on ebay to see if there are any new Cincinnati Chili parlor artifacts for sale.     Every once in a while a matchbook cover for an obscure Cincinnati Chili parlor will float to the surface.    I recently found one for Paramount Chili Parlor, at 905 East McMillan Avenue near what’s known as Peebles Corner in Walnut Hills at the intersection of Gilbert Avenue.       I was happy to see it, although knew nothing about it.    But, as with every indie chili parlor in Cincinnati, behind the matchbook was a great immigrant story and an intersection with other Cincy chili parlor families.

It is no surprise that there was a chili parlor near the Paramount theatre at Peebles Corner, which opened in 1931.    Empress Chili Parlor, which opened 100 years ago this October,  cemented the location strategy of chili parlors being either inside a theatre or near enough to feed hungry movie goers before or after a feature.

Also, Peebles Corner  once served as the largest shopping and entertainment district outside of downtown, bustling with high quality businesses and restaurants, served by numerous streetcar lines.

The matchbook reveals that Paramount Chili Parlor served good food and the best coffee.   During the 1940s this was a big deal, as wartime coffee shortages and high prices made many cafes and restaurants water down their coffee, use fillers like chicory and other less palatable replacements.  

Ads in the Cincinnati Post show that the Paramount Chili Parlor opened in 1931, around the same time of the Paramount Theatre in 1931.    The ads tout their delicious double deckers, short order items and their famous chili.   After the end of Prohibition in 1933, ads start showing that they served all brands of bottled beer and that with a meal a beer cost 10 cents.    What a deal!    The parlor was run by Greek immigrant Nicholas Antony Barbas, born about 1893.

He came to Cincinnati when he was a young teenager before 1910, common for Greek men of conscription age, who were escaping the Balkan Wars.    By his 16th birthday, he was a lodger with Louis and Theodore  Christofield, relatives of the Christofields who opened the Dayton Chili Parlor in Dayton, Kentucky.     The other lodger at the Christofields was Alexander Andon, brother of Steve Andon who co-founded Camp Washington Chili in the 1940s. Both Nicholas and Alexander were shoe shines in a shop.

Nick married Vellma Knabb and had two twin sons – Nick Jr. and Thomas, and a daughter, Victoria, who worked as a waitress at Paramount in the 1940s.    He lost his wife in the late 1920s and took in his widowed sister-in-law Mae Knabb Hoffman and her son Kenneth.      Nick passed away early in 1940, and the parlor came under a new name, the Orpheum, after the second movie theatre at Peeble’s corner.

The Paramount Building was recently restored with generous funds from Ohio and Cincinnati after being vacant for decades.   It houses Esoteric brewery and C’est Cheese, a grilled cheese themed food truck, operating out of a walk up window in the brewery.

At one time, as the photos show there was a huge vertical metal sign on the top of the center of the building, but local lore is that it was removed and given to the War effort in the 1940s for scrap metal.

And only a few blocks down from the original location is a Skyline Chili whose way was paved by the Paramount Chili Parlor.

Len Goorian:  Friend of Pasquale’s Pizza and Producer of WCPO’s MTV Precursor, The Paul Dixon Show

One of our local and national TV icons and pioneers, Len Goorian passed away at 100 during the pandemic in 2020.    He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was a dancer and dance instructor before going into television production in the 1940s.

Len Goorian was a producer and innovator in the early days of WCPO television, when the new TV space was still very experimental.   He was also a marketeer of several local legacy food brands that he helped promote on those shows he produced.  He was 30 years ahead of MTV when he produced the original “Paul Dixon Show” on WCPO from 1950 to 1954.   Goorian’s job on the Dixon show, known as the “Music Shop,” was creating a 1950 version of MTV.   Long before VJ’s Martha Quinn and J. J. Jackson, Goorian had teenagers up and dancing to popular music in front of their black and white TVs.

Goorian and Dixon were the creative geniuses behind the three daily hour-long shows that featured Dixon, Dotty Mack and a young Wanda Lewis pantomiming songs and performing comedy skits. Lewis, wife of Al Lewis, also starred as Captain Windy on the couple’s famous “Uncle Al Show” on WCPO, which Goorian produced from 1950-1984.   In between, Doorian produced and starred in more than a dozen shows at WCPO and other stations, including the Uncle Al Show.

Len became friends with one Pasquale “Pat” Gramaglia, who would found one of Cincinnati’s most successful pizza chains a year before Cincy’s Pizza King Buddy LaRosa started his.  I got some insight into this relationship in an interview I did in 2014 with Pat Gramaglia’s son, Pat Jr., for my book Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati. In 1953 Gramaglia was working for Lawson’s Manufacturing on Harrison and Spring Grove Avenues.   The company made laminated medicine cabinets.  He volunteered to help in the employee cafeteria, where he experimented with Italian marinara sauces, hoagies, and a variety of items for a restaurant concept.    Then, in November of 1953  he opened Pasquale’s Pizza Parlor at 1742 Queen City in what used to be a chili parlor/delicatessen owned by Joseph Ventre.

Gramaglia  wanted to open more stores, so 1 year later, he sold that first store to his Aunt Louise Bellisimo and his father, Vito Gramaglia for $6000 total.  His Aunt Louise operated that store from 1954 to 1984.  Her husband worked there for a while, but couldn’t take the interaction with people   Pasquale then opened the Camp Washington Pasquale’s location, which later became a franchise owned by Isadore Bellisimo, Aunt Louise’s son, which he later renamed Isadore’s. Isadore Bellisimo went to Roger Bacon High School in the 1950s with Buddy LaRosa and my dad.

Len, along with Mike Tanguy, remodeled the original Queen City Pasquale’s store and helped with promotion and advertising.    Mike Tanguy is now Senior VP of Marketing for L’Oreal Cosmetics in New York City.   Goorian saw to it that the Uncle Al show advertised Pasquale’s Pizza along with local bottled Barqs root beer and Mama’s Cookies.       Although founded and run out of New Orleans, Louisiana, Barqs locally was franchise bottled by Robert Tuttle since the 1930s.   Tuttle invented Barq’s Red Pop in 1937, by adding Red # 40 dye to Barq’s Crème Soda, and it became a hit throughout the U.S.   Tuttle also created  other flavors – Lemon Lime to compete with Coca-Cola’s Fresca and Sprite, Pepsi’s Teem and Mountain Dew, 7Up and Squirt; Orange flavor designed to take on 7UP’s big name Orange Crush;  a grape flavor went up against Nehi’s Grape Soda.    He even introduced  a unique Fruit Punch flavor for a limited time that was meant to go up against local Over-the-Rhine bottler Wagner’s fruit flavored soft drinks.    Tuttles wife Martha saved the historic Betts house in West End, the oldest brick house in Cincinnati from their Barq’s fortune.

Mama’s Cookies were small thin shortbread cookies without icing or filling and came in eight or so flavors – devil’s food, shortbread, lemon, walnut, pecan, orange, oatmeal and macaroon.  They were distributed by local Shur Good Biscuits in Oakley.    I loved the devil’s food and loved that you could stick your finger in the center hole and munch around in a circle.  From 1950 to 1985 Uncle Al  featured Mama’s Cookies as a sponsor, and kids in the audience and in skits were often seen munching on the little crispy cookie rings.    Doorian even created the catchy jingle that accompanied it, a variation on the folk song “Shortnin’ Bread”: “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’, shortnin’, mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.”

Because of the connection with Doorian, Uncle Al would MC all grand openings of Pasquale’s new pizza parlor locations. 

Goorian, being the ad and marketing guy that he was, even drew the moustachioed Pasquale’s caricature that was their mascot.

Goorian was also known for producing two popular, long-running shows on WCET – “Conversations with Irma” with Irma Lazarus and “Lilias, Yoga and You” with Lilia Folan.

Goorian was inducted in the Television Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Silver Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  He also managed the former Shubert Theatrer downtown and served as head of the American Theatre Guild in Cincinnati.     So, kudos to Goorian for his contributions to food, television, music and theatre in Cincinnati!