Cincinnati Strange Brew



OK Cincinnati microbreweries – this is getting crazy!   Hopping the alpha acid out of your beers and then souring them with wild bacteria wasn’t enough. Now you’re ‘collab-ing’ with food companies, adding extreme ingredients, and driving into the high-occupancy lane! I commend the creativity, but wonder how weird our microbrews will go in one-upping each other.   Are we in for a horchata porter, or a durian flavored hefeweizen?


It’s odd how elegantly some of the most disgusting sounding ingredients pair with beer!   One fall Sunday last year, a fellow beer aficionado friend and I stopped at Listermann Brewery’s tap room across from Xavier University.     I saw their BeetsMe – a hefeweizen flavored with beet and thought, ” I MUST try this strange brew. It’s got to be the weirdest flavor pairing I’ve ever seen.”   And it was AWESOME.   It wasn’t a smack- you-in-the-face beet flavor, it had a mild earthy note, but you could definitely taste the beet. It was refreshing and drinkable and I fell in love.


Listermann Brewery also figured out a way to spray-dry peanut butter into a powder that could be used as a flavor without adding off flavors from peanut oils during fermentation – brilliant and delicious.    Thus was born their peanut butter stout.


Then, the BeetsMe beer was outranked by the Cherry Sour Kriek I tasted at Taft Ale House a few weeks later. It wasn’t too sour, it wasn’t an overwhelming cherry flavor – it was nearly perfect! Only available on tap onsite, I was able to coax a gruller of it from a friend who worked there.   Taft Ale House, with Brewmeister and co-foudner, Kevin Moreland, probably has experimented with the most unusual flavors of any local microbreweries. They have a key lime beer, and they’ve announced a pairing with Over-the-Rhine neighbor, Macaroon Bar, for an upcoming Pistachio Macaroon Porter.


In time for the Ohio PawPaw Festival in September last year, Fifty West Brewery created their Eastern Standard Bitter, flavored with pawpaw fruit from their friends at Fox Paw Ridge Farm in Manchester, OH.  PawPaw is a tropical-like fruit with creamy, fruity flavors of banana, cantaloupe, mango and custard.   There were over 15 other pawpaw flavored beers at the festival from other Ohio microbreweries.


We’re used to berry flavors being paired with beers. The Blueberry ale was popular several years ago.   National chain, Rock Bottom Brewery,  had one for a while, before the microbrew craze took off.   Strawberry, cherry, and raspberry beers popped up as large national brewers were trying to bring back women to beer drinking, pandering to their sweet tooths.


But now it seems a lot of brewers are pairing with confectioners for the sweet-savory balance. But, they’re not being used to flavor the light ales and hefeweizens used to pander to the feminine taste. It seems men like their stronger, meatier beers with a sweetness too. Blank Slate is pairing with the wildly popular Bonbonnerie Bakery in O’Bryanville, for a uniquely Cincinnati flavor – an opera cream stout.   Last holiday season, Warped Wing Brewery in Dayton, Ohio, paired with their local confectioner, Esther Price Candies, to create “Esther’s Little Secret,” a milk chocolate brown ale.

In 2014 MadTree Brewing teamed up with Findlay Market based bean-to-bar craft chocolatier, Maverick Chocolate, to create Rubus Cacao.  Rubus Cacao (pronounced “roo-bus kah-cow”) is a sweet chocolate stout with a slightly tart raspberry flavor, fusing the two in perfect harmony. Maverick sourced the cacao nibs from the Dominican Republic to create the rich chocolate flavor that tickles your taste buds with each sip.   First released in draft only form, it became an instant fan favorite, selling out crazy quick.   The partnering worked out so well, MadTree went on to use the Maverick cocoa nibs to partner with Blank Slate for their Banana Stand chocolate-banana-coconut beer.

My beer aficionado friend, who is well known for his saltiness when it comes to food and drink critiquing, found a weird brew called Shroominous at Blank Slate Brewery near Lunken Airport. It’s a brown ale flavored with shitake mushrooms.    I’ve not tried it but he claims it’s now his favorite regional beer.



This new beer craze is big business for restaurants too.   James Beard Award winning Chef Todd Kelly at Orchids announced a five part seasonal alliance with Blank Slate for five new beers this year.   The first in the series is called Orchids Bloom, a French-style Saison brewed with coriander and hibiscus, and is to be available at the Orchids bar. There’s also a very limited amount on draft at the Blank Slate taproom.

There’s certainly more to come in this extreme flavor train. What’s next – a rye and corned beef flavor smoked brown ale?   Actually that sounds delicious – somebody please team up with Izzy’s for that one!


Is Jason’s Deli Bringing Back Civil War Hardtack?



When you’re trying to add a vegetarian focus to your diet, it’s hard to find a place that has a good, fresh salad bar, with a lot of variety.   That’s until you find Jason’s Deli. Luckily for me, I discovered the one near me in Rookwood pavilion. They have a huge salad bar with all sorts of veggies, prepared salads, slaws, and sides. They even have hummus and other dips.   On one trip I decided to try their hummus. I searched at the end of the salad bar for the obligator ‘dipper’ in the form of some sort of cracker. So I chose one of their pumpkinseed cheddar crispbread crackers.   It sounded and looked healthy enough.


But then I bit into it and it was like biting into one of those Danish brown rye crackers if it had been made from cement.     Aside from nearly losing an entire row of incisors, the taste was terrible!!     There was no flavor to the bread, and the marketed ‘cheddar’ flavor was barely there.   The only thing with any bit of good flavor were the pumpkin seeds.   Even with the hummus topping, the dry flavorless cracker was the star of that pairing.


I was immediately reminded of Civil War accounts I had read of soldiers complaining about their hard tack rations.   Hard Tack was a type of hard cracker made with salt, water and flour. It was the main source of food for Civil War Soldiers because it was cheap, easy to transport, and kept long.   One of the nicknames of hard tack was “ToothDullers” because of the potential to crack a tooth biting into its hard exterior.


A Civil War postcard showing a solder chipping his tooth on Hard Tack.


Another nickname of Civil War hardtack was Worm Castles, as they were normally infested with weevils larva, and grubs.  Sounds like an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.   As disgusting as it sounds, these vermin offered what little protein many regiments saw regularly, and paired with the lard used to fry them in some of their dishes, provided the only source of Vitamins D and E.



Between 8 and 10 hard tacks were dolled out for a three day ration with 10 ounces of green, unroasted coffee beans to Union soldiers.   Many soldiers dipped them in their coffee to soften them up. That way, if they were particularly opposed to eating the weevils, they could skim them off the top of their coffee as the floated out from the dipped cracker.


A dish called Skillygalee was made from softening hard tack in water and then frying it in bacon fat. They were also often crumbled into soups to thicken them.   Wealthier soldiers who could afford a can of 75 cent condensed milk made them into sort of a milk toast. And those who befriended the company sutler could get butter or sugar to spread onto the cracker to give them some sort of flavor.


Hard tack crackers last so long, that one hard tack made in 1862 still survives and is on display at a Civil War museum.     There are some instances of soldiers writing letters home on hard tack, if they ran out of paper.


Dr. Kracker, who makes these disgusting Crispbreads in three flavors, says this about their pumpkin cheddar monstrosity:


“Seeds and whole grains are packed with vitality, protein, fiber and essential fatty acids. They are nature’s nutritional powerhouse and form the basis of Dr. Kracker’s award winning flavors. (I’d like to know what organization granted them an award) With Dr. Kracker you get the rich, toasty taste of organically grown whole grains and whole seeds as well as an abundance of plant-based protein, heart healthy fiber and essential micronutrients. All this is in a hearty cracker that can be enjoyed alone or paired with almost anything. When it comes to wholesome whole grain goodness packed into an artisan baked and tasty cracker, Dr. Kracker delivers” (NOT!)



I give you fair warning. Make sure you have a glass of water handy if you ever decide to try these crispbreads at Jason’s Deli.   And, if you don’t choke to death on these dry gourmet hard tacks, you know what the Civil War soldiers went through in their daily diets.



Lunch Ladies for the Super Donut


We all have memories – fond or tragic – from our grade school cafeterias.   Who doesn’t remember the steamed rectangular sausage pizzas, or the steamed tator tots from the 80s, when steaming seamed to be preferred method of cooking.    If you were in the school systems in southwest Ohio after 1990, there’s another popular menu item you remember.

A  meeting with Dayton Public School nutritionists taught me about this school menu item that now has a cult following.   It’s so popular it’s available online and in some retail grocers, and it has its own Facebook page.  It’s called the Super Donut.

The Super Donut is a brown donut that when its package is opened, smells like kid vitamins.   It’s reheated from frozen stage, and served in lunchrooms warm, without any glaze or powdered sugar.   The nut is apparently a warm gooey treat that becomes addictive and has become ingrained in many hearts and stomachs of tens of thousands of public school graduates.

This tasty treat was created in 1990, along with the Super Bun,  by former pro football star Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers.     Each 250 calorie Super Donut packs in 14 vitamins and minerals and 7 grams of protein into each nut.     It uses a trademarked fortifier called NutriDough, that contains the 15 vitamins and minerals.    The recipe was developed with research assistance from Penn State staff.    They were apparently the first products of their kind approved by the USDA as a fruit/grain component for the school breakfast program.   Let’s be honest, they’re still a fatty, deep fried, sugar bomb, but one fortified with vitamins and protein.


Super Bakery founder and former Pittsburgh Steelers star, Franco Harris.

Franco’s company is Super Bakery Inc., whose mission is to be the Leader in Bakery Nutrition.   They aim to bring healthier products to the public, while promoting a lifestyle of wellness – a balance of work, play, family, diet and exercise.     Starting as a regional foodservice company, selling only to schools in a cluster of mid-western states, they’re is now a national entity.     Giant Eagle around Pittsburgh, and Jewels in Chicago, both offer the Super Donut and Super Bun.   They’re even available in some convenience stores like 7-Eleven and some Walmarts.

Franco graduated from Penn State in their hotel , hospitality and food program.   He didn’t have any specific plans after retirement, and the transition for most players from football to life after football, can be daunting.   So he started Super Bakery.   He thought kids deserved a nutritious donut with no artificial flavors, preservatives, or colors, and one packed with vitamins and protein.

Boxes of the Donuts have current MVP stars on the outside, and a portion of the proceeds goes to their respective charities.   Currently the featured MVPs are Max Starks of Pittsburgh and Roberta Garza of Chicago.   So the proceeds go to either the Max Starks Foundation or the Los Amigos de Roberto.


A box of Super Donuts featuring Jack Wilson.

Kids and lunch ladies alike are happy to be able to obtain these through their retail grocer. I am too old to know the Super Donut, but I certainly understand association with a childhood favorite lunch item.   I say bring back the rectangle pizzas of my childhood!

If you want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and protein,  check out the site

God Save the Queen – and her Cake!


A Queen Elizabeth Cake, with delicious broiled coconut caramel butter cream topping.


Today is Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday.   It’s hard to imagine her that old, given how active she still is!   I hope I am still greeting the public in perfect form with a gleaming perfect smile at that age.


The honor of creating the Queen’s birthday cake was given to the most recent winner of the wildly popular Great British Bake Off on BBC.   Her name is Naida Hussein.   As an English born Muslim woman who wears a head scarf, Hussain represents a modern Britain.   Originally nervous and ready to turn down this golden opportunity, she finally decided she couldn’t say no to the Queen.   She will be making an orange drizzle cake with butter cream frosting and a marmalade filling for Her Majesty.


Great British Bake Off winner, Nadia Hussain, and the Queen.


There’s another cake, popular in Canada, called Queen Elizabeth Cake or just Queen’s cake. I tasted it many years ago on a business trip to Montreal in November to visit a lottery printing customer of ours.   Yes, we chose the coldest time of the year for our visit, and I recall about a foot of snow on the ground. I was having dinner with my coworkers, Larry, our lab manager, and his assistant, Ann, at a typical Montreal pub the evening before the visit, when we sampled this Canadian delicacy.


I relayed to my co-workers the story from my adolescent days when I was a big collector of autographed pictures of famous people.   I had written to and received autographed photos from the likes of Jim Henson, actor Jimmie Stewart, and even Ronald and Nancy Reagan.   So, given my success rate, I wrote to the Queen at Buckingham, asking for her autograph.     Several weeks later I received a haughty letter from one of Her Majesty’s Ladies-in-Waiting, who said I surely couldn’t expect the Queen to respond to all requests for her autograph, given all the important duties to which she must attend. I think I even heard a big cackly British laugh while I was reading those words.   Wow, I even told the Queen my mother’s family was descended from English Yeoman – how rude!


The Queen Elizabeth cake was created for her 1953 Coronation.   Post World War II rationing was still in existence, so it consisted of just a few ingredients.   It is made with sugar, flour, dates, eggs, and butter, and topped with a sugary icing infused with shredded coconut. The coconut topping is broiled or grilled and the icing is prepared using a caramel base – it’s reminiscent of the icing on a German-chocolate cake, which is appropriate, given Queen Elizabeth’s German ancestry through her great-grandfather Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg.   The dates used are chopped, giving the cake a dark coloration. Chopped walnuts or other types of nuts are sometimes used atop the cake. Queen Elizabeth cake is low in fat compared to other cakes, and has a moist consistency.    It is related to the Lazy Daisy Cake (which doesn’t contain dates) and Sticky Toffee pudding.    It was even used as a popular type of wedding cake in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s.


Another story goes that this is the only cake that the Queen makes herself, and is actually her own recipe.   It is supposed to be sold only for Church (of England) purposes at fundraising bake sales, and each piece is supposed to come with a recipe.    It was also used by the Brownies after the war as a fundraiser. But there is no documentation in print or on the web that the Queen officially recognizes this as her cake or of the above story, although the recipe did appear in the 1953 Guide to the Coronation.       If I were her, I’d endorse this cake, because it’s killer moist and delicious.


I hope she enjoys her orange drizzle, marmalade cake today.       God save the Queen!

Crosley Field’s Spicy Mustard



In Cincinnati our brands have longevity.   In many cases our brands outlive the founding company.   And Cincinnati consumers are extremely brand loyal.   This loyalty amps up when you talk about ball park food.     Crosley Field was a magical place for generations of Cincinnatians and Red’s fans.   Heck we invented professional baseball in 1869, with our Cincinnati Red Stockings. When older Cincinnatians wax nostalgic about the old Crosley Field, they fondly remember food and drink they enjoyed in the park.   Imagine smelling the fresh roasted peanuts that Peanut Jim Shelton sold in his cart, buttered popcorn, the smell of 5 cent Ibold cigars, and of roasting sausages.

Over the years fans could guzzle a Hauck, Schoenling, Wiedemann, Bavarian, Burger, Hudy, or Brucks beer with their dog or brat.  And topping those Cincy sausages was one of the most beloved products, the special the spicy brown mustard served at its concessions.   This holy condiment was made exclusively for Crosley Field by local Frank Tea & Spice Company.   It was a combination of their brown Dusseldorf style mustard, and their Frank’s Red Hot, the same cayenne pepper sauce that was used to create the original Buffalo Wing sauce in 1964.   Frank’s Crosley Field spicy mustard wasn’t available to the consumer, but they also made a spicy brown product called Mr. Mustard that was.


A 1940s Brucks beer Ad for Crosley Field.

The Frank Tea & Spice company was founded in Cincinnati in 1896 by German – Jewish immigrant Jacob Frank.   He saw a niche in bringing smaller, shelf sized packages of whole and ground spices to the consumer. They expanded into sauces, mustards, and Jumbo brand peanut butter.


Jacob Frank, founder of the Frank Tea & Spice Company, in his twenties.


Redland Field opened in Cincinnati’s West End on May 18, 1912, and was closed June 24, 1970. It was renamed Crosley Field, after the local radio, car, and device entrepreneur Powell Crosley, Jr., in 1934 after he bought the team.   The very next year lights were added and the very first night games in major league history played.   The park stood at the intersection of Findlay Street and Western Avenue, where industrial Queensgate is today.   The main gates into the park were approximately where Phillips Supply Company sits today. Between seasons of 1911 and 1912, the former Palace of the Fans and the original League Park seating were demolished for the new stadium. It was built during the ballpark construction boom of 1909-1923, the same era Chicago’s Wrigley Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park, both still in use, were built.


The main turnstiles of Crosley Field.


For over 60 years, Cincinnatians topped their dogs, brats, metts, and soft preztels with this beloved spicy brown mustard.    According to John Frank, Jr., son of the last president of the company, the Red’s wanted their mustard really hot.   The hotter the mustard, the more beer sales. That was until 1970, when the team moved to the new Riverfront stadium.   Frank’s mustard did not make the move with the team, because the company had been sold in 1969.   Instead, the Riverfront concessions began serving the neon yellow French’s and Gulden’s brown mustard.

Then in 2001, with a 1996 ½% sales tax increase voted in by Hamilton County, the new Great American Ballpark was built, and a new mustard contract came up for bid.   Cincinnati fans believed strongly that a Great American Ballpark deserved a Great American mustard.   Something local and something that tasted as close as possible to the original Crosley Field spicy brown.     In the process, we first looked to Bertman Ball Park Mustard, served at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field, and two of the previous Cleveland stadiums for over fifty years.   Yes, it was a local Ohio-made product, and yes it had a local ball park legacy, but I need not go into how we feel about Cleveland teams here in southwest Ohio.

So a mustard taste-off was planned.  Five judges were chosen, among them Skyline Chili’s then VP of Marketing and the park concession’s purchasing manager.     A blind taste test was devised of five worthy opponents:   Findlay Market Zydeco, Woeber’s Spicy Brown, Findlay Market Jalapeno, Zatarain’s Creole, and Uncle Phil’s Spicy Brown Dusseldorf.       The contender from Berlin, Wisconsin, Uncle Phil’s won and became the new ballpark’s signature mustard.  It was the only mustard served at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

Now a little about mustard chemistry.   The level of heat in a mustard is directly related to the specific type of seed used. Yellow mustard seeds (also called white) are the mildest, while brown and black seeds much hotter and more pungent.   The liquid used to moisten the seeds and bind the mustard also plays a role in a mustard’s pungency.

Spicy brown mustard is made with brown mustard seeds, which are soaked in less vinegar than a standard mustard. The combination of the hotter seeds and less acidity makes sure the nose-scorching heat is more prominent. Spicy brown mustard also leaves the bran on the seeds, which don’t fully break down when processed, giving the final sauce a coarser texture than yellow mustard. It can be mixed with spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to give the mustard a slight earthy note.

Spicy brown is also known as deli mustard, because it can stand up against other robustly flavored items like pastrami, roast beef, and sausages.

Dusseldorf’s mustard is a type of spicy brown that consists of ground brown and yellow mustard seeds, unfiltered spirit vinegar produced in Dusseldorf, the special lime and mineral rich water of Dusseldorf’s Rhine River, salt, sugar and spices. It has a bright creamy consistency and a malt brown color and contains small pieces of husks.   The flavor is hot, malty, and spicy, which is credited to the triple grinding of the mustard husks.

Many chefs believe Dusseldorf mustard has much better flavor than Dijon. It’s better for cooking, better for salads, and in Cincinnati, it has the sex appeal to be a better topping for dogs and our local ballpark sausages than the more universally popular Dijon mustard.

In 2010, because of a mustard dispensing pump change by park vendor Delaware North Sportservice, Uncle Phil’s was replaced by Heinz Brown mustard, causing an uproar with fans.     The Uncle Phil’s mustard was splatting out on fan’s clothes when it was dispensed in the new pumps, apparently being too thick.   But, the Heinz Brown wasn’t the same spiciness and didn’t remind loyal fans of the old Crosley Field spicy Brown, like Uncle Phil’s.   Protests quieted down as fans became used to the new mustard, but a search was in store for another one.

In 2013, the mustard story came full circle back to the old Crosley days. Springfield, Ohio’s Woeber Mustard Company won the 900 gallon-per-year mustard concession contract at Great American Ball Park.   Their own Woeber’s Dusseldorf Mustard, and the original Frank Tea & Spice Mr. Mustard were awarded the contract.     Woeber’s bought the Mr. Mustard brand from Paul Fischer, owner of House of Herbs, in 2008.   Fischer had bought the brand in 1980 from Durkee Foods, the inheritor of the Frank Tea & Spice Company.   Woeber’s, a third generation German immigrant family-owned company, ousted the Wisconsin based Uncle Phil’s mustard at the ballpark, and our local legacy was restored.

So when it comes to ballpark mustard in Cincinnati, don’t take out the spice or the Dusseldorf, unless you want to cause a mustard revolution.

Which Burger Came First: Frisch’s Big Boy or the Derby Boy?



The Frisch’s Big Boy is a local burger icon. Its towering two quarter pound beef patties, dressed with special tartar sauce, shredded lettuce and dill pickle slices has been eaten by nearly five generations of hungry Cincinnatians.   But could this icon of fast food actually be a knockoff, from a Northern Kentucky icon, just as old? According to Michael Brauninger, the new owner of Green Derby in Newport, Kentucky, the Big Boy IS a knockoff.


Michael relayed this story to me this past weekend on what I thought would be a low key late Sunday afternoon lunch at the Green Derby with my parents.   A favorite of my mother’s and her high school gal pals, who meet there at Christmas to celebrate, the Green Derby is one of northern Kentucky’s oldest and most beloved restaurants.       This year the Derby celebrates 70 years since Helen Azbill Haller Cummins started the place with her second husband, Wilbur in 1947.     We chose to eat there for their fish. They’ve been awarded best fish sandwich in the Cincy by CityBeat several years in a row, but they also have great blackened fish – grouper, halibut, and sole – on their menu.



Brauninger bought the Green Derby a year ago, on April Fool’s Day in 2015. And he’s done anything but fooling around with reinvigorating the historic restaurant.   He has amped up the menu, added a full bourbon bar, added an outdoor patio, hired a southern pastry chef to make their homemade pies, and is reinstituting some of the older menu items.


Two of these old items are faves with the regulars. The potato puffs were created by Helen as a knockoff of hush puppies, she and her husband Wilbur sampled on their way from Florida tasting roadfood eateries to create their original menu.   Their signature salad is a take on the Cincinnati favorite, hot slaw, but uses wilted lettuce instead of cabbage, which is easier to eat and uh-em, digest.


Another one of the first menu items on Green Derby’s menu was the Derby Boy – a double decker hamburger, with two quarter pounder burgers, shredded lettuce, dill pickle slices, and homemade tartar sauce. Sound familiar?   Well, this was introduced in May of 1947 when Green Derby opened.


Now the Big Boy burger is older than that.   It was introduced by the Wian brothers in 1936 Glendale, California, at their then Bob’s Pantry restaurant. But it was a double decker burger with two quarter pound burgers, dressed with mayonnaise and their homemade red relish – something commonly known at the time as Thousand Island Dressing.       The ingenious brothers Wian conceived the Big Boy burger because it actually takes less time to cook two quarter pound burgers than one half pound burger.   Then they found a baker who could cut a bun into threes so they could stack them.


Cincinnati restauranteur, David Fritsch visited the Wian brothers in California in 1946, obtaining the first Big Boy Franchise.     The Wians were concerned with other knockoff burger joints outside of California stealing their idea and riding on their brands’ coattails.   So, they let Frisch have a superb deal on a four state franchise territory, (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida) for $1 a year, so they could stop these knockoffs.   That’s a bit ironic, considering the context of this story.


Frisch turned his Fairfax Mainliner restaurant, that he had opened in 1939, into the first Frisch’s Big Boy franchise and began serving the Big Boy hamburger there in 1946.     However, his Big Boy was originally served with mayonnaise, not the tartar sauce and shredded lettuce that we know today.   However, early menus show that he served the tartar sauce on his cheeseburger and hamburgers.     A 1949 menu I included in my book, Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati, shows that by then, all their burgers were dressed with their signature tartar sauce, then called Frisch Sauce.



But, the story goes, according to Brauninger, that in July of 1947, AFTER Green Derby introduced their Derby Boy burger, that Frisch’s converted their Big Boy to a tartar sauce, shredded lettuce dressed burger.     They realized that it was more economical to use one condiment on all their burgers, rather than have another SKU in their system.


At the time in 1947, Newport was Sin City, with gambling, adult entertainment and all the night life that brought the mob element to our area.     Before there was Las Vegas, Nevada, Newport, Kentucky, led the country in gambling and adult entertainment. And, the Green Derby, was smack dab in the middle of all this activity, meaning its Derby Boy burger would have been known to the restaurant set.


So, Brauninger believes that it’s highly likely that the Frisch family saw this, stole the idea and the Frisch’s Big Boy became what it is today, thanks to the ingenuity of Mrs. Helen Cummins.   Of course, history has lost this fact, and gives the tartar sauce notoriety to Mr. Frisch, not Mrs. Cummins.


Sometimes it’s not the first-to-market innovator who gets the credit for the invention, it’s the one who takes it to the next level. And Frisch’s, with their 67 locations in their four state area, has sold more Big Boys than Green Derby has sold Derby Boys.   But let’s not give them all the credit.   One entrepreneurial woman, whose concept is still going strong, thanks to Michael Brauninger, was the woman behind the Big Boy.

Jacques Pepin Part Deux: Stinky Cheeses


Tete de moine cheese with its specialized serving tool, the girolle.


One thing for which the French are known is their stinky cheeses.   And again, smelly for Americans usually signals not fresh.     We have our beloved stinky Limburger cheese here in Cincinnati that we pile with even stinkier onions on rye bread.   But for the most part, our cheeses are homogenized, pasteurized, and not so stinky.


Anywhere else in the cheesemaking world, where they’re are aged and not pasteurized, smell is a sign of quality.  For one such stinky cheese, tete de moine,  the stink is so important to the flavor it has its own serving apparatus called the girolle.     The apparatus, invented in 1982, has an axle implanted in the center of the cheese, with a lowering blade that scrapes thin layers of the cheese into rosettes that curl and form a sort of cone shape.   The goal is to increase the surface area to be oxidized to help develop the odor and thus flavor.      The serving of this cheese is quite a spectacle, equal to the intensity of its flavor.


The monk’s tonsure or bald spot.

The cheese translates to ‘monk’s head.’      It’s named so because the shaving of the top of the cheese is said to resemble the shaving the top of a skull to create a monk’s tonsure or bald spot.  The cheese was Invented over eight centuries ago in the mountainous Jura region of French speaking Switzerland.     It was made by the monks of the abbey of Bellelay, in the community of Saicourt.   It’s a favorite of Chef Jacques Pepin, and one of the stinky cheeses served in his cheese course.   Pepin was born in Bourg-a-Bresse, on the French side of the Jura Mountains, so this cheese is a delight from his childhood.   His parents owned a restaurant in the town called Le Pelican, where they served the cheese.


The stinky cheese course at Pepin’s Jacques Restaurant – with tete de moine in the center.

The semi-hard cheese is made from unpasteurized, whole cow’s milk.   It’s lightly cooked and formed into a cylinder with a height equal to or about 70% of its diameter.   It’s aged for a minimum of two and a half months on a small spruce plank, and is typically paired with a dry, white wine.    It also goes well with fresh or dried fruits.    The flavor is more intense than the more widely known Swiss cheeses like Gruyere and Emmental.      It’s sweet and slightly tangy, with notes of musty wood and nuttiness.


The cheesemaking prowess of the Swiss monks was widely praised.  And over its history, the  cheese was used as payment by tenant farmers to their land owners.    It was offered as gifts to the prince-bishops of Basel, Switzerland, and also used in legal settlements as currency.


Abbey Bellelay in Switzerland, where tete de moine was invented.

Since 2013, it has the appellation d’origine protegee (AOP) certification, which protects its style, ingredients, and geography of origin.   It can only be called tete de moine if made in the Jura region with the ascribed recipe and method.


While produced by fewer than 10 cheese dairies of the Jura Mountains, it is exported throughout the world.   Considered the calling card of the cheese making tradition of the Alps, it’s one of the world’s finest stinky cheeses, and one not too easy to come by in the U.S.






Polynesian Peschetaria: What’s the Story on John Dory?



A Young Jacques Pepin in his restaurant “Jacques”


All you hear about on Bravo’s  Top Chef is how many of the competitors have worked with Jacques Pepin.    It’s implied that just  by association working for Chef Pepin will make you a phenomenal chef.   And you should fear the culinary chops of anyone who’s ever prepped in his kitchen.   Well, I finally got to taste what all the fuss was about.  But I had to travel to French Polynesia to eat at a Jacques Pepin restaurant.   Yes, I could have gone a lot closer, say to New York, but I was going for the sun, sand, and scenery.  The Pepin experience happened to be a cool foodie add on.

 On this Society Island adventure, I decided to eat only fish.    I thought being so close to the source,  it would be the freshest and tastiest fish I could find.  And my thoughts were correct.    An Asian prepared red snapper at a place called Red Ginger was a highlight. I had fish for breakfast, fish for lunch, and some amazing fish at dinner.   That was  until I went to Jacques’ restaurant.

 At 80, French born Chef Pepin is still making headways.  He’s partnered up with Oceania Cruise lines and designed the menus for all their food on board.  There’s even an exclusive cruise where you can learn to cook shoulder-to-shoulder on board.      His restaurant on the Marina is where I had this experience.

 After a long day of island exploring and swimming, we were excited to sit down to an over the top French dinner.   After making a wine selection, you are greeted with a bread basket with Jacques’ edible signature imprinted on each piece.   


The meal began with a wonderful crab salad.  Then a pea vichyssoise ,  created a rising crescendo  which I hoped would have a bombastic finale.     


Then came my entrée – “Filet de Saint-Pierre au Fenoil, Emulsion a l’Estragon et Olives Vertes d’Espagne’ – Braised filet of John Dory fish with fennel, tarragon foam and Spanish green olives.    With a name like that, I thought it had to be spectacular.    It looked so delicious and wonderful.    It even seemed too good to be true, as my fork pierced a piece of the delicate white fish.    And it was – too good to be true.   I closed my eyes, forking in the tarragon foam drenched bite.  And, the first taste was ….wham-bang fishiness!!      I thought, “OK, this must be  my imagination.”   I took some fennel with the next piece, which  had most of the strong licorice flavor braised out of it.    That didn’t help.    I took another bite, and another, but all I got was this supreme fishiness, the kind you try to avoid, especially with a mild with fish.     I tried one of the sparse, but salty, sour green olives, with another bite, and that helped a bit, but the fishiness prevailed.     Maybe there should have been more acid in the dish to cut the fishiness, but clearly, the mildness of all the other flavors were meant to feature this odd fishiness.  I kept eating, thinking the fishiness would mellow on my palate, but it didn’t.    The texture was fine, only the flavor that was off-putting.   This was the first time on the whole trip I wasn’t a member of the clean plate club.


My John Dory entrée at Jacques. 

I was so disappointed and thought my mind was playing tricks on me.   How could a Jacques Pepin fish entrée make me scowl with its fishiness?  Had he made such a basic error of leaving out acid?  I consulted our waitress, a young 20 something Italian and asked her – was I crazy that the Filet de Saint-Pierre was super fishy?   She said that yes it was very fishy and most Americans never finish the dish, but eat the fennel.   

 John Dory or St. Peter’s fish has been a fave of European Chefs for many years, as it’s native to the Mediterranean.     It’s known to Europeans to be a fishier fish, but  they generally have a stronger palate for  this innate fishiness.    We Americans aren’t used to such a range of fish and for our unrefined palates, fishiness signals not fresh.       It hasn’t been available in the U.S. for very long, so it has a long way to go for universal acceptance.    While it’s  habitat is chiefly in the Mediterranean,  it’s also native along the coasts of New Zealand and Australia, close to the Society Islands of French Polynesia, which is probably where this variety I tasted swam. 

 The claim is that if you like sole and turbot, then you’ll like John Dory.      But, apparently it takes longer to boil than either.    When the parts near the tail  or edges of the John Dory gape open during cooking, (which is usually the signal of being done) the thicker parts in the middle will still be underdone.   A French cook book of 1822 by Chef Louise Eustache Ude recommends serving John Dory with either caper or anchovy sauce, both of which have acid and salt to balance the fishiness.   Another classic preparation recommends orange , fennel and caper, similar to Jacques Pepin’s preparation, but with the all-important acid component.   Of course it’s also called for in the common bouillabaisse, which would offer a lot of acid and saltiness in the tomatoes and olives.    These preparations make sense to me, and I would like to try all  to form my final opinion of the fishy John Dory.   It might make me actually respect the strong flavor of this powerful poisson.

 In the wild, this fish has a horrific appearance.   It has a laterally compressed olive-yellow body, with a large dark spot, and terrifying long dorsal spines.   The large ‘evil eye’ that this spot forms confuses prey, who are scooped up in its large mouth.  Its large eyes at the front of the head provide it with binocular sight and depth perception – both critical to a predator.    A member of the genus Zeus, its known to the local Polynesians as kuparu, and has a variety of names to Europeans. In France, he’s Saint-Pierre (also Poule de Mer (Sea-Hen) and Doree); Gall in Catalonia; Sankt Petersfisk in Denmark and Norway: Pez de San Pedro in Spain; Sveti Pear in Yugoslavia; Pesce San Pietro in Italy; Christopsaro in Greece, Hout sidi sliman in Tunisia, Petersfische in Germany, and Kovac in Croatia.



I do like the story behind the name, though, so it’s hard to trash talk the John Dory.   Jules Verne in his novel An Antarctic Mystery accounts that the name John Dory comes from St. Peter being Janitore, or ‘door-keeper’ to the gates of heaven.       St. Peter, patron saint of fishermen,  apparently brought a fish of this species to Jesus, at his command.    The dark spot on the fish is said to be St. Peter’s thumbprint, when Peter threw the fish back in the water because it was moaning.   However, the John Dory never saw the fresh waters of the Sea of Galilee, but it is known to moan when  taken out of water.    Other etymologies suggest John comes from the French word jaune or yellow, and that dory is a jocular form of the French word doree or gilded. 

 So, I hope to try some other preparations of this interesting fish that Europeans love.     Once again I’ve proven myself wrong that the fishiest flavors in the world come from Japan.   I’m not John Dory’s cheerleader yet, but I’m willing to give it another try in expanding my unrefined palate.