The Yankee Pop that Saved Cincinnati’s Oldest House


Cincinnati’s Oldest Brick House, the Betts House, and the pop that saved it.

The history of American Cola drinks teaches us a valuable lesson in reinventing economies. It’s no coincidence that the most successful and iconic American sodas were invented in the south.   Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, by John S. Pemberton.   Its archrival Pepsi, was invented in New Bern, North Carolina, in the 1890s by Caleb Bradhem.   Dr. Pepper got its start in Waco, Texas in 1885.   Ale-8 was born in Winchester, Kentucky, in 1906, and still is an iconic drink.


So why was the south so soda savvy?   Well, after the Civil War uprooted the South’s slave economy, the soda industry was one way they had to reinvent themselves.   In the aftermath of the Civil War, forward thinking business people, newspaper editors, and politicians urged the South to replace its old agrarian economy with a new one of industry and commerce.   With a plethora of soda fountains (that added soda water to ice cream and flavored syrups), and a hot climate that required constant refreshment, the South was ripe to foster a whole new industry.   Former coal regions of the U.S. should take note.


One of those iconic soda brands, started in New Orleans, Louisiana, was given a new product with Cincinnati Yankee ingenuity.   That product became so successful, its fortune ended up saving our city’s oldest house, the Betts House.

That soda pop, invented in Cincinnati, is Barq’s Red Crème Soda.   It was the brainchild of Robert S. Tuttle, Sr., who with partners Hugh Carmichael and Albert Badanes, founded the Barq Bottling Co. in Cincinnati in 1937.


The 1941 Barqer, a company newsletter with Cincinnati Bottling Partner Badanes on the cover.

Before we award Yankee ingenuity, we need to go back to the start of Barq’s.   French immigrants Edward Barq and brother Gaston, founded the Barq Brothers Bottling Company in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1890.   They had early success with orange soda winning an award at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.     In 1898, Edward married and moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, where he invented the drink that would become Barq’s Root Beer.   In 1934, they started franchising out bottlers around the country. That’s where Cincinnati comes in.

The ingenious bottling franchisee, Mr. Tuttle, decided to add red dye to the amber-colored creme soda, creating what would become a kids’ favorite — red pop.    It was even more popular when mixed with vanilla ice cream to create the Pink Cow.


The Pink Cow.

Soon thereafter, the parent company in Biloxi, Miss., where franchise bottlers purchased the root beer and creme soda concentrates, also began adding the dye.


Tuttle experimented with other flavored Barq’s like lemon-lime, and orange, but the red-dyed crème soda remained king.


The thing was, the dye didn’t add any flavor. Unlike, say Faygo’s Redpop, which is a strawberry flavored soda, Barq’s red pop didn’t add any fruit flavors at all. It was the perception of the color red. It was brilliant!   What the industry realized, after Barq’s addition of the red, is that the color red is a bright, fun color.   Most red soda was consumed by children.     Red colored, strawberry soda became a standard drink at end of slavery Juneteenth Celebrations, but was not referred to by its flavor, but as ‘red pop’ or ‘red soda’.


Psychological research in the food industry showed that a consumer’s perception of a food’s taste is more dependent on color than actual flavor. If it looks good, people will think it’s good.   That’s why Blaq water, hucked out by the Real Housewives of New Jersey Manzo family failed miserably – nobody wants to drink black water! By the 1960s, red dye in soft drinks had become an end in itself, a way to attract consumers to a fruitless product.

Sales took off and the threesome realized success as the franchise that covered Greater Cincinnati established plants in Hamilton and Portsmouth.          Mr. Tuttle bought out his partners in the mid-1960s and was president until his retirement in 1980.   He sold the franchise, and then it was bought out in 1995 by Coca-Cola, which is the only plant in the country that makes a Barq’s Diet Red Crème Soda today.

Here’s where the oldest house comes in. Robert was married to Martha Benedict Tuttle, the great-great granddaughter of William Betts.   In 1804, when downtown was farmland, Betts built his house in Cincinnati’s West End. In the 1980s, the house, where Martha’s mother was born was crumbling and in danger of demolition. It was the oldest brick house in the City and not only represented Martha’s family, but a period of Cincinnati living history in danger of being lost. She used her fortune and influence to help restore and set up the foundation that became the Betts House Research Center.   The house had survived the 1811 New Madrid Earthquake that shook the Ohio Valley.   With sufficient funds it could certainly survive the 80s.

The fortune behind a popular kid’s drink now helps teach kids about the pioneer history of our wonderful city.


The Food Behind Norman Rockwell’s 1958 The Runaway


The original photo taken in 1958 by Rockwell that was the basis for his Saturday Evening Post Cover, The Runaway.


July marked the 100th anniversary of Norman Rockwell’s first Saturday Evening Post cover. To celebrate, the Norman Rockwell Museum, hosted a Model’s Reunion day, on July 16, where models discussed their experiences with the artist in panels, discussions, and print signings.


One of the models present was Eddie Locke, now 66, who appeared in one of Rockwell’s most iconic paintings – The Runaway – which was the September 1958, Saturday Evening Post cover.   It depicts a state trooper seated at a diner lunch counter, bending over in counsel to a young boy, presumably intent on running away from home.     At the boy’s feet is a knapsack filled with his earthly possessions – maybe a toy gun, a pack of bubble gum, and a box of cracker jack.   You can almost hear the officer saying, “Awe, your parents can’t be that bad!”


Eddie Locke, the model for the runaway boy.


What setting could be more American than a diner counter?     Well, that’s if you were white. Segregation prevented most African-Americans in 1958 from eating at most lunch counters, which was the protest setting that started the Civil Rights movement.


The painting captures the highest ideal of police work: helping someone in need at a vulnerable moment.     This is an ideal that especially resonates today, with all the police shootings rocking our country. Rockwell’s painting harkens back to an idyllic time and a comforting setting, defined by good old American comfort food.


The models for the painting were Rockwell’s Stockbridge, Massacheusetts neighbors, then 8 year old Eddie Locke, and 30 year old state trooper Richard Clemens.   In April of 1958, they posed for an hour for the artist, at the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Pittsfield, Massacheusetts, on Lennox Road.   At that time there were about 400 HoJo restaurants in the U.S.     They were one of the first national restaurant chains, and popularized fried clam strips in American food.


But when The Runaway appeared on the cover of the September 20, 1958, Saturday Evening Post, all references to Howard Johnson’s had disappeared.  The restaurant’s celebrated 28 flavors of ice cream shown on the mirror in the reference photo, had been replaced with a blackboard list of daily specials. Rockwell claimed his reason for the switcheroo was that he “wanted a more rural look, to suggest the kid had gotten a little further out of town.”

The model for the trooper, Clemens, says his police supervisors were “very pleased a Massachusetts trooper had been chosen for a magazine cover.”  Posters of the painting were soon hanging in police stations all over the country.  To show his appreciation of the force, Rockwell painted a portrait of Clemens in his winter trooper’s cap and gave it to the state police, who reproduced it as a Christmas card in 1961.


Rockwell state trooper model Clemens in 1961 (left) and recently (right).

That was the same year that Johnson hired famed New York chef Jacques Pepin to oversee food development at the company’s main commissary in Brockton, Massacheusetts, where he developed recipes for the company’s signature dishes that could be flash frozen and delivered across the country, guaranteeing a consistent product.

So what were the comfort foods on the daily special in 1958?   We can decipher four of the daily specials on the blackboard in the painting.   The board showed Spaghetti & Meatballs, Grilled Cheese, Liver and Onions, and Cubed Steak – all very iconic American dishes.   A pie rack with three whole pies was added to the far left, with presumably an apple and a cherry.

What would be the food setting behind the counter today, if Rockwell’s The Runaway were re-imagined with an 8 year old runaway African-American boy and a white police officer?

Kentucky Common Ale: Bringing Back a Forgotten American Beer Style


The taproom at Bellevue’s newest microbrewery, Darkness.


This past weekend saw the grand opening of another microbrewery in Bellevue, Kentucky, called Darkness Brewery.   It’s housed in an old car lot garage on Route 8, the main drag through the hip and burgeoning river town across from Cincinnati.   Masterbrewer Eric Bosler and co-owner Ron Sanders are specializing in dark beers – porters, stouts, and black ales – thus the name.   Their dark beers are lighter than the typical dark styles and easier to drink.


I was compelled to try their new beers on Sunday to help escape the heatwave.     But, as karma would have it, their AC had gone out the night before at their opening. They had several industrial sized fans running in their tap room, which made a pleasant Sunday drinking space.     A future rooftop deck will hopefully offer idyllic Ohio River views.


As Eric’s super-friendly wife served us, I got a history lesson from Eric while gulping down two of his Bellevue Uncommon Ales, one of their non-dark varieties.   And, although dark is their specialty, I think the feature of their operation is this historic Kentucky Common.


Eric deserves some huge props for bringing back what’s known as the Kentucky Common Ale, one of only three indigenous beer styles in America.     The style has been largely forgotten since Prohibition, even though before Prohibition it was the most consumed beer in Kentucky.    The other indigenous American Beers are California Common or Steam Beer, and the Classic American Pilsner or CAP, which adds corn, and/or rice to what was typically a barley-only mash in Europe.  All three types are modification of Central European lagerbier with lots of local improvisation by the Germanic immigrants.


Like Anchor Steam Brewing in California brought back the California Common beer in the 1960s, Eric, as a beer preservationist, is bringing this cool legacy back to Northern Kentucky.


The Kentucky Common beer was a once popular form of ale from the area in and around Louisville, Kentucky, from the 1850s to Prohibition.   It was also known as Cream Beer or Dark Cream Common Beer.   By Prohibition, about 80% of all beer consumed around Louisville was this Kentucky Common.   The beer was top-fermented and not krausened, meaning it was fermented once and sent out for sale.   The Kentucky Common typically went from mash to saloon in less than 8 days.   Because it didn’t travel well, it didn’t reach popularity outside the Ohio River Valley, although some reports document it being shipped into Indiana and as far north as St. Louis.


Before modern refrigeration, breweries depended on ice harvested and stored from the previous winter for producing beer. Louisville didn’t have the weather conditions to produce enough ice for this. Common Beer was fermented at higher temperatures like an ale, but was aged for a very short period of time to reduce carbonation, eliminating the need to keep it cool. The end result was that the specific gravity was moderate, the carbonation low and the taste full and sweet. It was consumed fresh, usually as draft beer.    And, it was economical, about half the cost of lager beer.


Typical Louisville water is very alkaline due to underlying Karst characteristics, which refers to the amount of chemically soluble limestone in its landscape. The Kentucky Common used dark malts and rye to help acidify the mash to combat the alkalinity of the water.     Eric’s version uses dark malt, corn and rye, along with East Kent Golding Hops, introduced in England in 1790, only a few years before Kentucky became a state in 1792.    Eric surmises that original Kentucky Common producers, used Nugget hops from New York State, and other native, spicy hops found in Louisville.


Historical accounts reveal that Kentucky Common brewers used California Gray hops for bittering and New York Hops, like Nugget and Clusters for flavor.


Louisville was the 12th largest city in the U.S. at the time of the Civil War.   With a community of Germanic immigrants comparable to Cincinnati’s, it had its own German newspaper, the Louisville Anzeiger.   The Anzieger published recipes and numerous accounts of the varieties of Kentucky Common ales brewed at its six large breweries.    Run by Germanic immigrants, the six breweries producing Kentucky Common were, in order of founding: Conrad Walker’s Brewery (1858), Shelby Street Brewery (1861), Butchertown Brewery (1865), Phoenix Brewery (1865), City Brewery (1872) and Ackerman Brewery (1877).

Being able to taste history and see the revival of an almost forgotten beer style mirrors what’s been happening in Bellevue the past several years.     Now, the hip burg has a gem of a microbrewery to anchor it’s other cool restaurants and shops.   I’ve found a new drinking hub.


The Bitterballen: A Distant Cousin of the Sauerkraut Ball Makes it to Covington


Lisse Steakhuis’s bitterballen.

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally happened.  Amsterdam’s historic and most popular pub food has made it to Greater Cincinnati at the new Lisse Steakhuis in Mainstrasse, in Covington, in the former Chez Nora.   A   Dutch-inspired steakhouse, Lisse is named after co-owner, Hans Philipo’s hometown in the Dutch province of West Holland, the bulb capital of the world.   It’s also the first time the Dutch huis instead of the German haus has been used in a Mainstrasse business name.

After hearing about this new restaurant, and having seen an episode of Weird Foods with Andrew Zimmern about the Dutch pub treat, I sampled my first bitterballen last night with a friend.      The restaurant is in the process of its soft opening, so service is being worked through and the Dutch dishes are being perfected.      The team of black dressed, high booted, ‘simply irresistible’ hostesses make you feel more like you’re in a Robert Palmer video than a Dutch restaurant.

So what is a bitterballen?   It’s a deep fried ball of meat pieces of veal or beef dispersed in a viscous roux or gravy.     They’re not bitter at all, but salty and crunchy.  They sometimes have onions or carrots or other chopped up vegetables and are typically flavored with nutmeg.   There are other versions that are spicier and include curry.    The croquet like treat are a much older, but distant cousin of our beloved sauerkraut balls.     They are about 300 years old, a popular pub food to go with a Dutch beer.    Legend has it that they are the Dutch answer to tapas, which they were exposed to during Spanish rule about 500 years ago.   But they started to show up at pubs in the 1700s in Amsterdam.    An enterprising pub owner was tired of losing hungry customers in the late afternoon, and so he invented these as an appetizer to hold them over to dinner, and keep them drinking into the evening.

The name bitterballen came from the fact that originally they were served with bitter liquors instead of today’s beers.     If you’re used to the crunchy and sauerkrauty texture of a sauerkraut ball, then you might find the bitterballen a bit off putting.   There’s really no texture outside of the crunchy, deep fried exterior.    The inside is a gooey, or more accurately slimy center of warm gravy with meat bits.    I would prefer some more texture with carrots, or even some onions.    The saving grace of the dish is the spicy homemade ground mustard that accompanies the balls.    It’s got a good amount of horseradish and heat.


The meat gravy inside the bitterballen.


So even though the bitterballen doesn’t live up to the texture and crunch of it’s younger cousin, the sauerkraut ball, the Dutch have a leg up on us in Cincinnati.  They have a commercial manufacturer, actually several, who make bitterballen for the many pubs in and around Amsterdam who serve them.   Van Doebben brands cranks out over 120 million bitterballen a year.

Lisse really upsold the bitterballen at the restaurant last night – every single table surrounding ours had an order.   So whether we’ll see the bitterballen at an upcoming Oktoberfest remains to be answered,  but we now have a great new Dutch restaurant with some interesting dishes to explore.   And Lisses make a strong Windmill cocktail, which is also worth trying.



Kenyan Cheese Coneys


Kenyans enjoying Cincinnati style Cheese Coneys in the Rift Valley of Kenya.


Food certainly brings people of different cultures together.   Fusian food should be the modern form of foreign diplomacy.     Cincinnati Chili, for example, is being served at Chili House franchises in the areas of the Middle East where we’ve been at war for the last nearly two decades.   But has our government ever thought to use Cincinnati Chili as diplomacy?


A local nonprofit, Child Wellness Fund, headquartered in Cheviot, introduced Cincinnati Cheese Coneys halfway around the world too.   In existence for 15 years, the CWF is a non-profit that uses Twisted Creek Farms as a camp for kids with behavioral needs, and sponsors among other programs, a Kids in Kenya Fund, which hosts a number of operations there for underprivileged youth from camps to durable medical equipment exchange.


Jamey Ponte, Director of the Kenya Fund, recently returned to Cincinnati for business meetings accompanied with one of his workers from Kenya, Patrick Othieno.   While in the Queen City, Othieno was exposed to Starbucks, Budweiser beer, and Skyline Chili, two of which are well- known brands in Africa.   But the third brand, well known to us in Cincinnati, stuck with the young Kenyan. As part of their going-back-to-Kenya sendoff, the Cincy folks sent Jamey and Othieno back to Kenya with four cans of Skyline chili.

East Africa is a new frontier for Cincinnati Chili, and they seem more receptive than Americans outside of the I-275 loop to try it.  Maybe it’s that this is a hometown food, not a national brand.   It’s something we all know, and many of us even make with our own family recipes in the home.   Maybe they can relate to Cincinnati chili, because the Kenyan diet consists mainly of braised stews.


Armed with the key ingredient to our local delicacy, all Jamey had to do was go to the grocery and put it together.      But it’s not so easy for someone living in Mau Narok, a small village in the Rift Valley of Kenya.  The western sandwich buns are replaced by starches like Ugali, a white cornmeal mush made into a thick paste and served with vegetables, like Sukuma wiki (like our collard greens) or the rare meat stew.   Think of it as the Kenyan cornbread, served with every meal.   There are also flat breads like Indian chapatti, and a denser fry bread like a donut called mahamri that is made with coconut milk.


Kenyan Ugali, a white cornmeal paste, used as starch with most meals.


There’s also maharagwe, a type of kidney bean coconut curry soup. You might call it their version of ‘chili’, albeit meatless.   The western bun is really only attainable in the large cities like Nairobi, which has a Burger Hut restaurant.   But that’s a many hours trek from the Rift Valley.   You won’t even find Coca-Cola very easily in Kenya, to go with your chili dinner.    Ginger sodas are much more popular, and the Coca-Cola Company makes a ginger ale cola called Stony Tangawizi, which has a jolt of ginger that will clear your nostrils.


Kenyan Maharagwe, a bean and coconut curry stew.


After staring at him on the shelf for several weeks, Jamey decided to make a cheese coney feast for his Kenyan colleauges.   Despite the said challenges, he went to the ‘fancy store’ to find the makings for cheese coneys.   Finding bread that could be split as a bun, and cheddar cheese, he spent more than a Kenyan would typically spend on a week for this meal. But the end result was successful.     Jamey served his local food from the heart, as close to it as he could, and the Kenyans loved it, as evidenced by their lovely smiles.   Call it Food Diplomacy.   Now we just have to teach them not to eat cheese coneys with a fork!

The Country Boy: A Lesser Known Cincy Double Decker



In honor of Cincinnati Burger week, I thought I’d tell the story of another legacy double decker I discovered over the weekend.   I’m always on the lookout for great vintage Cincinnati restaurant memorabilia.   One of those explorations took me to Covered Bridge Antiques in Mt. Healthy where I found a fifties matchbook that had a cool burger guy logo on the front.   Turning it over I saw that it was a local joint I had never heard of.     After snagging it for a deal, and doing a bit of research my eyes opened to another great Cincinnati burger story.    And, like the Big Tucker in Over-the-Rhine, it has Appalachian routes.   This double decker was called the Country Boy and was the signature burger for a still successful line of restaurants called Country Kitchen, founded in Cincinnati.   Like the Cincinnati Big Boy, it was dressed in cheddar cheese, pickles, lettuce and special tartar sauce.



Like Escom Garth Tucker, founder of the Big Tucker Double Decker, Country Kitchen’s founder, William “Big Bill” Johnson was born on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains – near a crossroads called Foggertown in Clay County, Kentucky.   Bill was truly a country boy himself.    He walked up a dirt road a mile and a half to a one room schoolhouse to receive his eighth grade education.   Being an only child, he shared a heavy load of work on the farm – mending fences, milking cows, pruning apple trees, picking blackberries, and planting.   For fun on Saturday nights, they’d go to a neighbors to play a game called holygull, which involved guessing how many grains of corn someone had hidden in their closed hand.


Big Bill Johnson, the founder of Country Kitchen.


Not particularly inspired to farm or teach, the only two real opportunities in Clay County, he devised to escape to the big city.   At 14, he told his parents he was going to visit friends in a neighboring county, and instead he and a buddy hitchhiked to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where they planned to join the army.   With a document that contained forged signatures of his parents declaring he was 18, he made an attempt, but was turned down because of poor eyesight.


So, Big Bill and his buddy put up with a hill family living on Columbia Avenue in Cincinnati, and went to work bundling Chipso boxes on the night shift at the Cincinnati Container Corpo. That was during the Depression so the pay was low and jobs didn’t always last.   He held a couple of jobs, like sanding furniture, but always saw that his lack of education would prevent him from moving up in the factory world   So he found his future while frying hamburgers at White Castle in Cincinnati.   Here was a business, Bill thought, that required common sense and a knack for getting along with other people.   He had both.


So he and a friend, Bill Goodman, in 1939 saved $400 to make a down payment on restaurant equipment and opened their first Country Kitchen at an empty store on 3rd and Vine Streets.   Selling hamburgers for five cents and steak burgers for 10, they pulled in about $32 a day.     This was several years before Frisch’s Big Boy opened in Cincinnati in 1946.   In 1942 Bill moved the restaurant to Paddock Road and Vine Street.   Feeding a steady stream of hungry World War II factory workers, business boomed.   Open 24 hours a day and serving more than just hamburgers, Johnson then opened stores in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, and sold them.   When the ‘eat in your car’ craze took hold, he quickly initiated curbside service with parking canopies and modern telecom equipment.   He continued to serve customers with the philosophy of “Treat Folks Special,” and in 1958, began franchising his Country Kitchen restaurants all over the country.


Johnson and his wife, Ruth, lived in a six room ranch style house in Wyoming suburb, sending his two daughters and son to Greenhills High School, never really living a high rolling lifestyle that his phenomenal success would have allowed.   But he was recognized for his generosity to his home state by being awarded the “Outstanding Kentuckian Award” in 1970 and given the honor of Kentucky Colonel.



He was one of the hundreds of Appalachian migrants who came to the big cities of the north for better opportunities.   “The whole thing about being a hillbilly,” Johnson told the Cincinnati Enquire in 1957, “ is to admit tat you are a hillbilly and not resent the remarks made about them.   You can also remind folks that all Hillbillies don’t act the same, and that Jesus wasn’t born in Ohio.”


Although Bill sold his trademark interest in 1968, Country Kitchen still exists today and is a testament to his hillbilly ingenuity and entrepreneurial prowess.   Pretty good for a country boy from this hills of Kentucky!

Francois Nothelfer – Cincy’s First Celebrity Chef


Chef Francois Joseph Nothelfer, Celebrity Chef of the St. Nicholas Hotel.


Today there are hundreds of celebrity chefs, each with their own line of equipment and cooking shows.   Long before QVC and cooking shows, big cities had celebrity chefs who made their restaurants famous.   New York had Delmonico’s, which is still in business since being founded by Swiss immigrants in 1824.   Classic American dishes like Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska came out of Delmonico’s.   New Orleans had Antoine’s, founded in 1840, and gave us the popular American dish Oyster’s Rockefeller.   Behind those restaurants were celebrity chefs.


Cincinnati had the St. Nicholas Hotel, which gave our city a reputation for high end cooking.      Responsible for that foodie rep was our own celebrity chef, an Alsatian named Francois Joseph Nothelfer.


The St. Nicholas hotel was founded in 1865 by Balthasar Roth.   The hotel boasted ‘the best cuisine between the east coast and San Francisco.’   Think of Roth as our first Jeff Ruby.     Mr. Roth and his wife Thelia, were natives of Gottingen, Germany.  Before starting the St. Nicholas, the Roths lived in New Orleans, where they landed. Then upon arriving in Cincinnati, Balthazar was partner in the Bank Exhange / St. Charles Restaurant on Third Street near Sycamore, with George Selves (1814-1862), an English immigrant and restaurant mogul.


An Ad of George Selves’ Bank Exchange Hotel, famous for its turtle soup.


Their son Edward Roth, was born in 1846 in Cincinnati.   He would take over the hotel from his father in 1879 as its sole proprietor.     Edward would hire the chef who made St. Nicholas’s cuisine famous and put Cincinnati on the culinary map.   In 1885, the young Chef Francois Joseph Nothelfer, was extended the offer of Executive Chef.

st. nicholas.JPG

An early ad for the St. Nicholas, showing the blue point oysters they served daily.


Chef Nothelfer had only been in the U.S. for two years, coming from a quick stint at the Hotel Brunswick in New York City, where he is said to have introduced sweet potato soufflé to the United States.   This dish became a favorite of robber baron millionaire Jay Gould.


Nothelfer was Alsatian but worked at several Paris restaurants including, Durand’s in Place Madeline, and the Patisserie Frascati, a bakery and ice cream shop famous for inventing the Religeuse pastry.   The Religeuse is made of a small eclair dough (pat a choux) stacked on a larger on, iced to resemble a nun.     But, having this famous pastry experience, Nothelfer, neither brought it or other French pastry to Cincinnati.   Maybe he realized our city was already dominated with good and popular German bakers all throughout the Ohio River basin.


Where Chef Nothelfer specialized was meats.    He was famous for serving a variety of wild game at St. Nicholas that drew in the wealthy men of the city, many of whom were game hunters themselves.   A list of fowl served included:   pheasant, grouse, quail, snipe, woodcock, Holland plover, Mallards, canvasback duck, red-headed duck, and butterball duck.       But, Ohio game laws in the late 1910’s prevented the serving of these game birds in hotels and restaurants.


In 1917 Chef Notfleter predicted “horse meat will come into popular use in this country.   In larger European cities splendidly equipped equine shops are conducted and the eating of horse flesh is by no means confined to the poor class of people.”   Indeed Europe today doesn’t have the taboo we have in this country for eating horsemeat.   You can find ‘Pferdroulladen’ (horse meat roll ups) in almost any local market in Germany or Central Europe.


He described horse meat flavor as between beef and venison. “Although a little sweet, it is very good and just as healthy as any other meat.”     He himself ate horse meat five months during the siege of Paris in the 1870s.   He had a recipe for horse meat soup and horse goulash, described by the Cincinnati Enquirer, as ‘the-way-Mother-used-to-make.”   That was if you had an Alsatian mother.


Chef Nothelfer took a high level view, typical of master chefs.   He looked at ways to increase productivity and quality of what he served, going back to the supply chain.   He created a cut of beef called the St. Nicholas loin, that was adopted by the hotel industry.   It was a cut out of only the loin end and hip bone, leaving the tenderloin entire and sirloin strip without any butt, and a minimum of bone, compared to the standard pin bone loin cut.



At a time when gas ranges were being brought into modern hotel cooking, his philosophy was that steaks could not be properly cooked by any fuel other than charcoal. He believed in wood for the bake ovens and only used a gas range to cook fish, as he said gas doesn’t affect the taste of fish as it does meats.


He produced some of the booziest sauces for his properly prepared meats.    One called “Ham Glaze Latonia” includes sherry, brandy, sweet pickle juice, brown sugar and allspice.   Another sauce, me might call ‘even drunker sauce’ is his “Colonel Bruce Mutton Sauce,” which included current jelly, ketchup, mutton gravy, claret, wine, brandy, and brown sugar.


His ingenuity extended even to equipment design. He designed and built a combination oven and hot plate for banquets – an early predecessor to the deli merchandiser of today’s retail groceries.


As a local celebrity Chef Nothelfer’s opinion was sought out by other cooks and housewives.     In 1916, he published an extensive list of kitchen equipment for new brides and housewives, that would be sufficient to feed a family of six.    We might consider him one of the first chef brand spokespersons. If he were around today, there would certainly be a Notfelter line available at Sur la Table.


Like our current Cincy celebrity chef Jean-Robert, Notfelter is said to have graduated more notable chefs from the St. Nicholas kitchen than any other chef in the country. In 1904, his chef Victor Hirtzler opened the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco and later wrote the famous St. Francis Cookbook.   After almost 40 years leading Cincinnati’s high end cuisine, at the St. Nicholas, and it’s successor the Sinton hotel, Chef Notfelter was recruited away to Cleveland.


So what legacy did our first celebrity chef leave us in Cincinnati?   The game he served is no longer popular, nor is the fussy French style banquet-cuisine.     His prediction about horsemeat being the new hamburger never came true.   His boozy sauces aren’t bottled on Kroger’s shelves.   But what he did leave us is the notion that a Chef is more than just a cook – he is consultant, designer, definer of social guidelines, dietician, entertainer, and more.   He paved the way for hundreds of other chefs to innovate in our foodie city, for which I am thankful.