The Egg Casserole’s North German Roots

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Eiergeraeusch, the ancestor to our holiday egg casserole.

A breakfast egg dish common in my family is the egg casserole.    It’s still very  popular at holiday brunches like Easter and Mother’s Day, and is an easy way to feed a crowd.  My mom has her version, my aunt has another version, my sister-in-law and sister have their versions, and my sister-in-law’s mother has an even different one.   It’s one of those casseroles that can include “everything but the kitchen sink.”

Some egg casserole recipes have sausage, some have vegetables.   Almost all have cheese, which is melted into a gooey delicious topping.  Some have American or cheddar cheese, or like my sister’s latest entry into the variety – feta.    I’m sure there’s a recipe somewhere in Cincinnati that includes bits of cooked goetta.  But they’re all good, and they all have a starch to give the cooked eggs some bulk.  Most use stale bread crumbs, but others use potatoes or hash  browns.

I had thought this was a product of the 70’s convenience casserole culture.    But I  was wrong.   Recently I learned our simple egg casserole links to yet another older Germanic dish from Northern Germany and the region of  Pommerania, called Eiergeraeush.    It’s hard to understand how it got its name – literally it means “egg noise”.    Perhaps it speaks to the cornucopia of ingredients people add.   The German version is  a mixture of eggs with cream, chives, onions and bread crumbs that can be baked or fried.    But like our Americanized versions, the German version can contain other ingredients like their beloved “spargel” or white asparagus, carrots, leeks, potatoes, and more.

 

This is a cheap convenience dish born out of good home economics.   Imagine life as a farm laborer on a manor house estate in mid 19th century Germany.      Meat is not available to the common heurling or farm laborer, but eggs are abundant.    The eggs become a vehicle or  canvas for creativity of the individual cook.    Use stale bread crumbs from a leftover loaf, throw in some vegetables and meat, maybe souring milk, and you’ve got a great dish that can feed a crowd.

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A Goetta Cousin in Texas Hill Country and Iowa Corn Country

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Jaternice, when pan-fried, looks very much like goetta.

 

We’ve all heard of Tex-Mex Cuisine.    But in Texas there’s another brand of cuisine that’s best named Tex-Czech.  It’s the foodway of the Germanic and Slavic immigrants from the former Austro-Hungarian province of Moravia in the current Czech Republic, who came to Texas from 1840 to 1870.    Mix some of these cuisines with local chili powder and it becomes Czech-Mex.

 

Last year my summer foodie trip was to Low Country Carolinas. This year I’m planning to take a deep dive into this Czech-Tex culture in the Texas Hill Country. It turns out a branch of my Woellert family immigrated there in the 1860s from their Moravian village to the area of High Hill, 3 miles from Schulenburg.

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The Franz Woellert family, like other Austro-Moravians who settled in High Hill, Texas, brought with them their love of goulash, kolaches, and jaternice sausage.

 

About the only thing left in High Hill now is an old Catholic Church called the Nativity of St. Mary, which is on the Painted Churches of Hill Country Tour.   Otherwise, it’s considered a Texas Ghost Town. They have their annual Church festival over Labor Day, where they offer some of this Tex-Czech cuisine.   But during it’s heyday, High Hill had a famous Turnverein, a large saloon with a sign saying “Ein Kleinen Wir Nehmen (We Can Have One More)”, and was the capital of the Catholic diocese of Texas.         Other little towns in the area still have centuries old dance halls, great meat markets, and remnants  of  nine-pin German bowling alleys.

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St. Mary’s Parishioners making Festival Stew (goulash) left, and serving Czech sausages right.

 

What I wasn’t expecting to find In researching the trip was a long lost goetta cousin.

 

Within this Czech-Tex culture are three foods that remain today.  The largest sign of this cuisine today is the beloved kolache pastry.  The second is their local goulash, sometimes called Festival Stew or named after the individual town where it’s served,  like Praha Stew.   But embedded in this German-Czech foodway is a third lasting icon, a little known sausage, which just happens to be a very close cousin to our goetta.   It’s called jaternice (pronounced  yee-ter-neet za)

 

People who grew up eating jaternice are passionately addicted to it, just like those of us in the Cult of Goetta.   They stay hardfast to their recipes – some vehemently leaving out ingredients found in other versions, never going outside their ancestral box.

 

Jaternice (also called hurka and jiternice) is a sausage made from pork offal (heart, lungs, liver, kidneys) along with rice or barley.   Older recipes call for boiling the pigs head.  Meat is cooked and ground and it is either linked in a sausage, or poured into pans in porridge form and then pan fried crispy like goetta, served with baked potatotes and beets.     Texans like to say ‘fry it like hash’, where in Cincy we know exactly how to pan-fry goetta – thin and crispy – no need to specify.

 

Jaternice is a slaughter sausage, akin to goetta.  It’s the catch-all recipe that ensures every  part of the pig is used at slaughter time.  The German Czechs of Texas call this celebration at hog slaughter, zabijacka.

 

Another Czech dialiect calls the sausage  jiternice.   In Czech the word ‘jitra’ means liver, so its probably a reference to the sausage’s liver content.    But, another observation is that the Czech word ‘jatra’ means morning, and typically the sausage is eaten as a breakfast food, so maybe the derivation of the form jaternice or jatranice.

 

But this slaughter sausage is not just a product of the Texas Czech communities.  It’s also to be found in Iowa, Minnesota, and even Wisconsin’s Czech communities.     Like the Texas Czech immigrants, many of these immigrants came to the US from the 1840s to the 1870s  from the kingdom of Moravia, very near the border of today’s Slovakia, an area known as Wallachia. There’s a town in Texas Hill country by that name.   The people are said to be Moravian Vlachs, speaking a distinct Czech dialect with a have Slovak Accent.  But also ethnic Germans whose ancestors settled the forested regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and the former Austro Hungarian empire, were part of this emigration too.

 

 

Recipes for jaternice from Iowa and the Midwest call for salt, pepper and marjoram, and typically use barley as the grain, rather than rice, commonly used in Texas.    Texas recipes call for just  salt and pepper and maybe garlic, but usually sauteed onions.   The meat is also a coarser grind with more seasoning in texas.  Many describe the flavor as tasting overwhelmingly of  liver.   Some prefer the cartilaginous aspect of the pork head meat.   Some, like the Minnesota version, use a high amount of liver, offering a darker looking version.

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Texas Jitrnice on the left, and darker Iowa Jaternice on the right.

The Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grange has a large collection of Czech cookbooks with generations old jaternice recipes from the area.

 

Although it’s getting harder to find, as legacy butchers go out of business, there are still some places it can be found in Texas and the Midwest.

 

In Shiner, Texas, it can be found at Maeker’s and Patek’s, and also can be washed down with a locally brewed Shiner Bock.     Polashek’s Locker Service in Provatin, Iowa, uses barley for theirs and says it contains ears, snouts, cheeks and tongue.   Andrew Zimmern made them famous with a recent visit on his show.   Nolachecks, in Thorp, Wisconsin also uses barley, snouts, skin and theirs is  darker than the Texas and Iowa varieties.     New Prague, Minnesota, has a few meat markets carrying it.   Perkarna’s Meat Market in Jordan, Minnesota call it jiternice.   In Minnesota it’s eaten for breakfast with cottage cheese, hasbrowns, scrambled eggs or kolaches.       Many also serve it with toasted houska, the Czech brötchen (braided bread, crusted with poppy, caraway or sea salt).

 

Whether it’s with rice or barley, or more offal or more liver, jaternice, is another sibling in our Goetta family tree.

 

 

Ice Cream Drinks – One Thanks to Prohibition!

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In today’s world of craft brew and curated cocktails, it’s hard to imagine the days of Prohibition.  How did people get through the toils of life without cocktails?   And, with what drinks did they pair their food?

 

It just so happens that soda fountains and lunch counters were just becoming hip and popular in 1919, at the start of Prohibition, and they offered a variety of non alcoholic drinks to enjoy.       We blame Prohibition on the growth of the mob and organized crime.   But could one good thing to come out of Prohibition be our love for ice cream drinks?   If alcohol were not taken away from us for two decades, would we not be a nation of malt, selzer, and icey lovers?

 

To stay in business, many pre-Prohibition breweries turned to soft drinks or ice cream production.     The Bruckmann Brewery, in Northside, was one of the few Cincinnati breweries that made it through prohibition.   They changed production to Root Beer, and a ‘medicinal malt tonic.’    They were so successful, they bought a second brewery facility in Camp Washington to keep up with demand.       A 1925 menu from a local lunch counter, Schroder’s Little White Bungalow Barbeque on Colerain Avenue in Northside gives us a peak into the variety of nonalcoholic drinks offered.

 

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Shroder’s was pure Cincinnati lunch stand. They offered Turtle Soup and Chili for 15 cents each.   In addition to barbecue beef and pork sandwiches, they also offered one of my favorites –a Pimento Cheese Sandwich.

 

For liquid refreshment, Schroder’s offered Brucks Root Beer and their Malt Tonic Beverage, which had alcohol, but was more like a Near Beer.     They also offered a variety of soft drinks like Vernor’s Gingerale, Sunshine Grape Drink, and Orange Crush.

 

One of the other sodas on their menu was something called Green River.   It was made by the Shoenhofen brewery in Chicago, Illinois, to help them get through Prohibition, just like Brucks and their sodas and malt tonics.   The Schoenhofen brewery was in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, at Canalport and, oddly enough, 18th street (the number of the amendment stating Prohibition).   It was a vivid green color, lime based soda, with a hint of lemon.   It became a popular syrup at soda fountains, trailing only in popularity to the ubiquitous Coca-Cola.

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Mix any of the above sodas or syrups with seltzer and ice cream and you had an ice cream float, cow, or egg cream.   Brucks Root beer with local French Bauer vanilla ice cream became a Brown Cow.     Orange Crush and French Bauer vanilla became an Orange Cow. I’m sure there was even a Green River Cow as well.    I guess it’s no coincidence we don’t see Budweiser Cows or Miller High Life Cows.

Also on the Schroder’s menu was a chocolate egg cream, which contained no egg or cream.   The three main ingredients were milk, flavored syrup and seltzer.

These seltzer, cows and egg creams made it through Prohibition and became even more popular as drive-ins, car hops and movie theatres became popular in the 1950s and 1960s.    So the next time you’re slurping down a United Dairy Farmer’s chocolate malt, you can thank Prohibition for one good thing – popularizing the ice cream drink.

The National Restaurant Industry Show

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Dayton, Ohio, raised Chef Min demonstrating cocktails and cuisine at the 2016 NRA show.

 

Every year around Memorial Day the Restaurant Industry gets together at Chicago’s McCormick Place to tout all the new trends and technology in Foodservice.       I’ve been lucky with my job to attend this the last four years. It’s an exciting and brave new world of what’s hip and hot for the next year.     For the past several years it’s been a lot about how to capture the Millenial market.   How can you make your operation relevant and enticing to this next generation of uber-finicky consumers.     Millenials demand fresh, local, healthy, and ‘curated’ – the new buzzword for hip.

 

Cool new products like cold brewed tea served with nitrogen are all over the place.     The nitro gives the coffee a creaminess without adding dairy for those who are lactose intolerant.   New crazy flavors like the strawberry cheesecake icy pop up for sample.

 

But of all the crazy new flavors and trends that are supposed to take off, guess what always stays the same?   It’s the popularity of just plain old comfort and street food.       Mexican and Japanese streetfood are trending hot in Chicago. Some of the hardest restaurants to get reservations with are chef-driven casual streetfood restaurants like Chef Matthias Merges’ (worked under Charlie Trotter) Yusho in Logan Square, and Rick Bayless’ Xoco (the Azetc word for Little Sister) in River North.   And these aren’t trends, these are foods grandmas and momas have been cookin for centuries – like churros, empanadas, and sticky buns.

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The outside and inside of Yusho’s in Logan Square, in Chicago.

Nashville hot chicken is trending everywhere – including in large Quick Service Restaurants.   It’s as if it was  invented yesterday.   It’s only recently been discovered by the masses.   The African-American community of Nashville will tell you they’ve been making hot chicken in home kitchens since before the First World War! It’s no trend for them, it’s in their DNA.   You might call it a haplogroup.

 

There are marketeers and consultancies that make HUGE money telling foodservice operations where to invest in the next trend.   Bring Kale into your menu.   Peruvian is the next Mexican.     Put poached eggs on everything.   But the formula, as it turns out, is very simple.   Provide quality comfort food that people know and love at a fair value, provide great service and you’ll make it.

 

It’s all about legacy and bringing us back.    Food memories are some of the strongest memories we have.     Playing those hear strings are what smart foodservice operators are channelling into.   You can see this ‘back to the start’ mentality with beverage companies.   Pepsi has released a new line called 1893, harkening back to their origination. They are introducing a new line of soft drinks with ‘a bold combination of kola nut, real sugar, and sparkling water” with flavors like Original Juniper, Mint Julep, and Ginger.       These are designed to bring legacy, or hip, pre-Prohibition, into the expensive, ‘curated cocktails’ scene that Millenials are eating up like penny candy.

 

So the lesson to foodservice operators is don’t look too far out of your reginonal comfort foods for success.      You don’t need crazy trends to keep it real and relevant.    Cincinnati chili is 94 years old and has hardly modified its platform since.    Pretty simple for a $250 million industry in only one smalll metro area.     Big time restauranteurs take notice!

 

The St. Louis Threeway – the Slinger

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The St. Louis Slinger looks strangely similar to the Cincinnati Threeway.

 

We like to proclaim that our Cincinnati Threeway cannot be found in any form anywhere else in the world.  We’re so damn innovative in the Queen City.   Well, that’s not entirely true.   In Greece, the Threeway’s Cro-magnan ancestor is the dish called macaronia mi kima.   The biggest difference is that the ancestral dish doesn’t have a heaping helping of American or cheddar cheese.

 

In the broadest sense of the word, a Threeway is a meat on top of a starch, covered with cheese or dairy.   Our building blocks are spaghetti, chili and cheese. Sure we add onions or beans to make a Four and Fiveway, or we add jalapeno caps to make a Sixway.     We have a vegetarian version too, and even a crazier version that uses chopped garlic.

 

Other regions in the U.S. have their version of the Threeway. Minnesota has this formula in the form of their Hot Dish (see my blog on 1/5/2016) . Rochester, New York, has this in their Garbage Plate (stay tuned).   And Quebec has its Poutine.     Our Midwest neighbors to the north, St. Louis, too have their Threeway, and that they call Slinger.    I recently saw reference to it in Andrew Zimmern’s tour of St. Louis in his Weird Foods TV series.

 

Of all these Threeway mashups, I’m proud to say, our Cincinnati Threeway is probably the healthiest of all of them.   I never thought I’d find myself saying “healthier in Cincinnati.”

 

The Slinger is similar to our Threeway in its origin.   It’s a diner food, born of the necessity of late night hunger.   It usually consists of two eggs, hashbrowns and a hamburger, topped with chili sauce, cheddar cheese and onions.   It’s as beloved in St. Louis as is our chili threeway.   It’s also a right-of-passage for college students, who have the off-the-charts metabolism to digest this hearty dish.     A comfort food, just like our Threeway, Slinger eaters span the dining demographic from lawyers to day laborers.   But St. Louis seems to have more appetite to modify their Slingers, than we do our Threeways.

 

As with the Threeway, there are variations on the Slinger, served at numerous diners in and around St. Louis.   There’s a vegetarian version.     There’s a version with white sausage gravy instead of chili, and one with half white gravy and half chili.   Another version serves a tamale on top.   The standard looks remarkably like a Cincinnati Threeway, and the chili sauce looks very much like our Cincinnati-style chili, but without the sophistication of our 14 spice Baharat-based blend, if I can be a bit of a regional food snob!

 

The Powers family of Eat Rite Diners claim the Slinger originated in their Fenton store in the 1970s.  Supposedly an unnamed trucker asked for eggs topped with chili. He said, “Sling me up somethin’ with eggs,” and the name stuck.   Lewis Powers opened his first restaurant in 1957 in downtown St. Louis called Rock Hill Diner.

 

The Courtesy Diner serves the “Hoosier”, which substitutes white gravy for the chili. The “Hangover” features chicken-fried steak covered in white sausage gravy in lieu of the hamburger and “The Devil’s Delight” includes everything but the hamburger patty.   Adventurous eaters can go one step further and try Courtesy’s Super Slinger, the diner’s slinger made with either a soft tamale or fried burrito under the chili.  One has to have an incredible appetite to be able to handle the Super Slinger.

 

Tiffany’s Original Diner has been serving its versions of the St. Louis Slinger since 1960.   They serve the “Toby,” with white sausage gravy instead of chili, and the “Yin Yang,” with half chili and half gravy.

 

The White Knight Diner takes it up a notch and serves their version of the Super Slinger.   All of the signature slinger components are in play – a bed of shredded hash browns topped with a hamburger patty, two eggs cooked to order and two slices of American cheese all doused in chili and served with toast.   The White Knight amps up its Super Slinger by adding button mushrooms, strips of red and green bell peppers and onion.

 

Mud House Diner serves a vegetarian slinger with black bean chili and the Southwest Diner serves their Slinger “Christmas style”, with red and green chili sauces.   Many other variations exist, and for the road food aficionado, a food tour to St. Louis to eat through their many Slingers may be a delightful summer trip.

A Tale of Two Condiments: Historic Double Decker Burgers

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Double decker burger eaters can be divided into two categories. You’re either a white sauce or a red sauce consumer. We know that one local double decker burger dressed theirs in white, with tartar sauce, before Frisch’s – Green Derby’s Derby Boy.   Digging deeper, we find even another that predates Frisch’s.   Like the Derby Boy, the Big Tucker, also has Kentucky roots, deep into Appalachia in Russell County, Kentucky, near today’s Lake Cumberland.

 

The Big Tucker, is a product of Tucker’s restaurant, an Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati institution.   Escom Garth Tucker, and his wife Maynie Gosser founded Tucker’s Restaurant on East 13th Street in 1946.     They came north from the rural crossroads town of Ono, Kentucky, looking for factory jobs and a better life.   Escom’s family hailed from a fifth generation farming family whose land was named Tucker Ridge.   The land was named for their earliest ancestor Gabriel Tucker, who settled there just when Kentucky was becoming a state.

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Escom and Maynie Tucker behind the counter at their original East 13th Street Diner.

 

 

But why did Green Derby and Tucker’s choose tartar sauce over the more popular Thousand Island dressing for their double decker burgers?   Both California burger powerhouses McDonald’s and Big Boy dressed theirs with Thousand Island.

 

Tartar sauce is just mayo and chopped pickles, but Thousand Island is mayo with ketchup.   Was there a shortage of ketchup in the Midwest after World War II? Or was tartar sauce a Kentucky Appalachian condiment first?

 

In the Phillipines a product called Banana Ketchup was invented during a World War II shortage of tomatoes on the islands. It’s alarmingly chunky and has an unnaturally iridescent red dye to make it look like real tomato ketchup. But did the tomato shortage extend into the U.S.?   We do know that the “Blue Stamp” rationing in the United States during the war covered canned, bottled, and processed foods like soups, baby food and ketchup.     It seems ketchup was harder to obtain.   Even though a lot of people did make their own ketchup in the World War II era, they also made their own mayonnaise.   Mayo was a lot easier to make and just required whisking together eggs, vinegar and oil. Chop up some readily available pickles and you had basic tartar sauce.     Thousand Island was much harder to make if ketchup wasn’t available.     And there was no Sysco Corporation back in 1946 you could call at any hour to order a tub of red sauce when you ran out.

 

Thousand Island dressing is named after that island region in the upper St. Lawrence River, between the United States and Canada. Earliest references to its existence date back to 1912 as a salad dressing, not a protein condiment.   References to tartar sauce date back much earlier, to the mid 19th century, but mostly for seafood, not beef.

 

Both the Derby Boy and the Big Tucker were dressed with tartar sauce in 1946. Frisch’s started dressing their Big Boy with tartar sauce later in 1946 and early 1947.

 

As we moved out of wartime shortages and into the 1950s and further into the 1960s, other local double decker burgers popped up. They either mimicked the McDonald’s Big Mac (Thousand Island) or the local Frisch’s Big Boy (tartar sauce).

 

Zip’s in Mt. Lookout, has been serving burgers since opening in 1926. Unfortunately, their Double Zip Burger’s first introduction is lost to history.  It may have predated both the Big Tucker and the Derby Boy, but it’s dressed with neither tartar or thousand island, just mayo, but only if requested.

 

Quatman’s Cafe, founded in 1965 in Norwood, had a double decker much like Zips. It’s served with mayo, while ketchup and mustard are left tableside.

 

Parkmour Drive-Ins popped up in the 1950s in Cincinnati.   They had their Jumbo Burger with a special red sauce –that was neither tarter or thousand island – which people craved and still talk about.

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Carter’s was another drive in that popped up in several locations in the 1950s. They had their Big Burger, a sloppily mayo dressed double decker with American cheese, pickles and shredded lettuce.    Another mayo dressed double decker, the Blue Ash Boy, is served at Blue Ash Chili along with American cheese, tomato, lettuce, and onion.

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Neff Jenkins had their double decker King Burger at their one location on Duck Creek and Smith Road in the 1950s, which was a white sauce dressed burger.

 

The Sixty Second Shops, were 24 hour burger shops located near street car stands. They had a tartar dressed burger called the Big Sixty.   Many considered them a clone of the Frisch’s Big Boy, but they were open longer and got the after bar business.   The Blue Jay in Northside started serving their Tom Burger in 1967 with tartar sauce, lettuce, and pickles.

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A popular 1970s chain, Red Barn, had the Big Barney, dressed with tartar sauce and American cheese. One popular location was on Hamilton Avenue near Galbraith Road in North College Hill.

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Sandy’s was a competitor of McDonald’s who had a Big Scot Burger like the Big Mac, at their two locations on Beechmont and Glenway Avenue on the west side.     Although long closed, their burgers are recreated yearly at WestFest for nostalgic west siders.

 

Another local shop in Springfield Township was the Double Scoreburger, which was dressed with Thousand Island, lettuce, pickles, and American cheese.   They were operated by a former Cincinnati Bengal, and were open only a few years in the late 1970s at Winton and Kemper Roads in the Promenade Shopping Center.   Their double decker was greasier and had more sauce than the Big Mac but it was indeed delicious. I ate my fair share of them after soccer and T-ball games as an adolescent.

 

Whatever the reason behind tartar sauce dressed burgers, they became very popular in Cincinnati.   Like our chili parlors, the big burger joints that chained, like Frisch’s, over took the small mom and pops.   Frisch’s tartar sauce became a Cincinnati food icon and expats around the world order it online.   No local Thousand Island sauce exists to rival the Frisch’s condiment, making Cincinnati largely a town of white-dressed burger eaters.

Cincinnati Arab-American Food: The Misleh Family’s Legacy

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The inviting counter at Larry Misleh’s Madison Diner.
The food contributions of  Cincinnati’s Arab-American community have the Misleh family’s resume deeply embedded.    They’ve been operating restaurants in our city for over four generations now.   And food being the great equalizer, it’s no surprise that Misleh in Arabic means ‘peacemaker’ or ‘social reformer.’   They’ve been reforming our city’s taste buds since before World War I.
After a visit to Larry Misleh’s Madison Diner this Saturday afternoon, I learned how prominent his family has been in Cincinnati food scene, while keeping their native food traditions alive.       Misleh owns Madison Bowl and the Madison Diner, as well as the Oak Tavern in Oakley.   He bought the Madison Diner from the owner of El Coyote restaurants in 2006.  You can have breakfast or lunch at his retro 8-stool counter, with the sounds of crashing pins in the background.   And you can sample his secret recipe Cincinnati chili (whose not-so-secret ingredient is a can of Worthmore Mock Turtle Soup) or his fantastic 12 bean soup with smoked turkey legs, served with a hunk of cornbread.   Growing up in the Skyline world, Larry thinks he might have discovered the ingredient (in Worthmore’s Soup) that gives Skyline chili it’s signature taste.     His does taste remarkably similar to Skyline, with a light vinegary tang that only Mock Turtle Soup can bring.    Spiro Sarakatsannis of Dixie Chili confided to me he thinks the Skyline secret ingredient is red wine vinegar, but I think Larry’s on to something.
Larry’s shaved head and gruffy salt-and-pepper ZZ Top-length goatee make you think he’s tougher than he is.   A family man deeply involved in his church, community, and a legacy foodie, he’s keeping the family tradition alive.   One of his sons helps him behind the counter at the Diner on the weekends.
Larry’s dad, Jack, and his Uncle Adeeb, owned east side Skyline Chili Franchises starting in the early 1960s, including Oakley, Walnut Hills, Norwood and Fairfax.   Adeeb served 13 months in Japan with an Eighth Army construction battalion during World War II.   Both have passed, but their legacy lives on in Larry in his food enterprises, and his cousins, who took over operation of the Skyline franchises their dad and uncle owned.
Larry recalls picking up pots of Skyline chili from the original restaurant in Price Hill with his father, before Skyline built their modern commissary.  They had to be careful not to drive too fast to avoid chili spillovers in the truck they used to deliver to their east side Skyline franchises.
But the Misleh food legacy started even earlier, with Larry’s grandfather, Kaleel Misleh, a Palestinian Arab Christian immigrant.      Kaleel owned El Arab Restaurant, on Fourth Street west of Broadway in the old Broadway Hotel. It opened originally in 1913 in  a second-floor apartment on Third Street as a club for Cincinnati Arabians. The Misleh’s moved it “uptown”  in  1937  but they held to the Eastern dishes like lamah mishwee, lamb skewered and broiled over an open fire.   Larry proudly showed us an old photo on his iPhone of his 18 year old father standing in front of the restaurant.   Kaleel met his wife, Alice Hamad, a Lebanese immigrant, through the community. and their children helped him operate the restaurant for over 50 years until it closed in 1962.
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A 1947 Cincy Enquirer article talks about Alice Misleh: “Mrs. Alice Misleh and her Arabian cooks can prepare scores of Arab dishes like grape leaves stuffed with rice, lamb and eggplant stew. Lamb is the basic meat on the menu and the Misleh’s offer some eight to 10 different Arab dishes daily.”   Alice also owned her own Lebanese restaurant on Third street for  a few years.
Another article describes some more of the Lebanese  menu items the Misleh’s served at the El Arab.  On the menu were Mohamisa (Lamb Stew) Lebanese-Style Rice, Kibbeh,  Kubiz  (Traditional Flat Bread), Salata (Vegetable Salad), Baklawa (Honey-Nut Pastry), and of course Hoomus  (before it was spelled ‘hummus’).  Adeeb said in the article, “The Arab-speaking countries boast of their couscous, or bulgur dishes; and sweet pastries are the delight of the Syrians”   Imagine how exotic these were to Cincinnatians in the 1960s,  as another Church community (St. Anthony in Farimount’s Littly Italy) had just introduced us to ‘pizza pie’ in the early 1950s!  Back then the unusual ingredients like bulgur, tahinl, pine nuts and flat bread could be purchased at Trotta’s, Bilker’s and Pogue’s.  Now, you get them at nearly every Kroger or Remke market.
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As Cincinnati Greeks congregated around St Nicholas Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the Lebanese and Palestinian Christian Arabs did the same around St. Anthony of Padua Marionite Christian Church in Walnut Hills.   The Cincinnati Greeks showcase their food at the yearly Panegyri Festival.  And the Cincinnati Italian Catholics of Sacred Heart Church do the same at their biannual Ravioli Dinner.   The Arabs too have a long running St. Anthony Festival, where their native foods are showcased.  In the 1960s this food festival was held at Kolping Grove, oddly enough, a German club, but recently its been held in the church basement.   The Misleh’s have been highly involved in the food preparations at this annual food festival, keeping alive the recipes of Kaleel’s parents.
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I first tasted kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon in the Church basement of St. Anthony at their festival, nearly a decade ago.   It’s a lamb and wheat dish that can be fixed In almost a dozen different ways. “If seven cooks prepare it,” Adeeb MIsleh said in the 1960s Enquirer article, “you’ll end up with seven different dishes.” A requirement for kibbeh is lean, tender lamb run through the grinder twice. It used to be pounded instead of ground.  Seasoned with onion, a hint of cinnamon and basil, it’s then mixed with soaked cracked wheat or bulgur.  One of the ways to eat this is uncooked, like steak tartare, which is how I had it at St. Anthony’s. Or it  may be a type of meatloaf with a coarse ground lamb stuffing as the Mislehs served it at El Arab.  It even might become meatballs in yogurt.   You might even go so far as to call it “Lebanese Goetta” – a meat product extended with grain.
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St. Anthony’s Taste of Lebanon festival is coming up this year on June 12, the same month as St. Nick’s Greek Panegyri festival.  We’re so lucky to have these great food festivals in our city and I plan to be chowing down at both.  I say ‘Nushkurr Allah’ – ‘Thank God ‘ for the Misleh’s and their contribution to Cincinnati food.