The Story Behind Frisch’s Tartar Sauce

12795163_10153888187240138_6219101357113940849_oWe’re fast approaching the season of the Fish Fry and the time where our city consumes a boatload of tartar sauce.    The highest selling brand is Frisch’s tartar sauce, which is shipped around the world and sold in grocery stores.    This famous tartar sauce has been made by a small family owned company in Reading/Silverton called Food Specialties for over fifty years.   The company was founded in the early twenties by Louis Schulman and specializes in the production of sauces, spreads and dressings.     Frisch’s sells more than 120,000 gallons of the creamy white sauce.
Ironically Frisch’s tartar sauce was not created for fish, but to top its Big Boy double decker hamburger.    In 1946, David Frisch introduced the double decker sandwich to his new restaurant.   He first saw the stacked hamburger in California at the Big Boy restaurants from whom he bought a four state franchise.   In California, they were topped with Thousand Island dressing.   But Frisch didn’t like the pink dressing on his sandwiches, so he created a tartar sauce with mayonnaise, diced pickles and onions.
One day, Melvin Schulman, son of Louis, made a delivery to Frisch’s for another food item, and saw David painstakingly mixing his tartar sauce by hand.    Louis said his family’s company could make it for them and bottle it, they were already making a tartar sauce.     David wiped the sweat from his brow and agreed, if Melvin and his family agreed not to reveal the secret recipe.  A handshake cemented the business relationship that lasts today into the third generation of the Schulman family.     The recipe hasn’t changed much since then.
Mel’s wife Zelma Scharff Schulman, was a local Cincinnati food writer and avid cook.   She promoted use of their family tartar sauce in tuna salad and many other recipes.
But here’s the story behind the story.   At the Over-the-Rhine Museum’s “3 Acts – Feeding Over-the-Rhine” program last night, Joe Tucker, owner of the recently re-opened iconic Tucker’s Restaurant in Over-the-Rhine lent some interesting facts on the rumor of ‘who topped their burger with tartar sauce first.”   He told the audience that Specialty Foods was already making a tartar sauce that his family’s restaurant used.   Joe’s father, Escom Garth Tucker and his wife Maynie, were already topping their double decker, the Big Tucker, with Schulman’s brand of tartar sauce, called Lady Rose Tartar Sauce.   Because, Joe Tucker says, who had heard of topping a double decker with tartar sauce?
The original tartar topped burger, the Big Tucker.
Well, the tartar sauce-topped double decker was becoming a thing in Cincinnati – first Tuckers, then around the same time, the Green Derby and their Derby Boy in Covington, Kentucky.   By the 1950s, nearly every me-too burger chain in Cincinnati, including now forgotten names like Country Boy and Red Barn.
Before the crazy idea of topping a double decker with tartar sauce, Cincinnatians were using tartar sauce to top much more acceptable things, like beef brains.  An 1891 Cincinnati Enquirer article gave a detailed recipe for tartar sauce to go with brains, which included homemade mayonnaise made from raw egg yolk and then whites, gherkins, capers, chervil, parsley, and mustard – sounds delicious!
Those who could answer the rumor are now gone.  Louis Schulman passed in 1972, and his son Mel in 2003.  So, the Lady Rose brand was the precursor to our beloved Frisch’s and may be the final proof that Tuckers tartar-topped their burgers first!


The Coleslaw that Survived the 1937 Flood


Grandma’s Famous Coleslaw


Today, January 26,  marks the 80th anniversary of the day the 1937 Flood water crested at its highest point.  Thousands of people up and down the Ohio River were flooded out of their homes.   Some went to shelters, others were lucky enough to bunk with family.

 When my father and mother met at a Dance Under the Stars at Ault Park they soon learned they had relatives living within doors of each other.   They had probably even seen or bumped into each other as kids visiting those relatives.   My mother’s paternal grandparents and my Dad’s Aunt Emma and children lived two doors down from each other.    My grandpa had actually gone out on a date with my dad’s cousin Sylvia before he met my Grandma.

My great grandparents and my Aunt Emma were lucky enough to live up on the hill in Dayton, Kentucky, out of the wrath of the 1937 flood waters.  Both hosted family who lived closer to the river for several weeks, feeding them and clothing them.     Those that didn’t have relatives had to go to makeshift shelters in Church basements and school gymnasiums.      Both sets of relatives were good cooks.   Great Grandma and Grandpa had grown up on farms and Great Grandma Ling was used to cooking meals for men who spent 10 hours a day in the fields and tending livestock.

 Staying with Aunt Emma would have been a treat for her relatives too.    She loved to cook.    She cooked for Cincinnati Public schools cafeterias, and at Ft, Scott Boy Scout Summercamp.   Her last job before retirement was  a nanny for a  family of seven children in Price Hill whose mother was ill for many years.  She certainly cooked for them.    So, I wondered, what type of meals did they serve their displaced relatives during those cold and sorrowful days of the 1937 Flood? 


Here’s where the coleslaw comes in.   When my paternal grandparents married, my Grandfather learned his new wife, Emma’ sister, didn’t know much about cooking.  She had been the youngest of four sisters, and didn’t have to do much cooking growing up.  Her older sisters, Rose, Emma, and Mayme and her mother were all fantastic cooks.  Grandma said she learned how to cook from their first landlady at their apartment in Newport – a German lady named Mrs. Herzog.    She taught her hwo to make her first cherry pie.

 Grandma would learn and become a fantastic cook, getting recipes from her sisters.   Her father-in-law would brag to his Cumminsville neighbors about how good her barley soup was.    One of the recipes of Grandma’s that lasts is her cole slaw recipe.   It’s simple and one of those every day dishes, but its good.   My cousin Dave made it for our family reunion last year.    It found its way to my other grandmother’s recipes with the note “Mrs Woellert’s Recipe – Very good!”      As a teenager I would cut her grass and she would make fresh cole slaw to go with our lunchmeat sandwiches.   I was amazed at how she would turn a head of cabbage and some other ingredients into the most delicious cole slaw. 


Enjoying Grandma’s famous coleslaw at the family reunion. 

So I thought, this recipe, from Grandma’s family was one of the things Aunt Emma would have definitely served her displaced relatives staying in her house during the 1937 Flood –  the simple, but delicious coleslaw that survived the worst flood we’ve seen.


Fish Logs At the Old Timber Inn


The half fish log with homemade caraway cole slaw, homemade hot slaw, and house made tartar sauce at the Old Timber Inn.

My friend Matt asked me this week, as we were agreeing on a place to catch up, “How have you NOT had a fish log at the Old Timber Inn?   You’re supposed to be the food guy!   Do you know how much history that place has?!”  I was food-history shamed!!  I have had fish logs at other places in Cincinnati, like Lake Nina.   And even though I had passed the Old Timber Inn hundreds of times on my way to Northside, I admitted I’d never stopped in for a log.    You can’t miss the painted sign on the east facing side of the building.


The Old Timber Inn facing east on Spring Grove Avenue.

So we agreed to meet there for a Friday fish log, and step back in time when Spring Grove Avenue was a bustling thoroughfare.      The gravel parking lot doesn’t exactly invite, nor does the Victorian era building look like its a restaurant, but the red flashing ‘OPEN’ sign does tell you it’s OK to walk in.

It’s more of a bar than a restaurant these days.  Eighty five year old owner, Elmer Ferguson, was t-boned by a semi in his car several years ago and had to close the place for a while to recover.   And, he says, the clientele he used to have from the industrial factories along Spring Grove Avenue have dried up with their reduction in employees over the years.  At one time Elmer employed 14 people and had two dining rooms to handle all the customers.

But, Elmer will cook to order for anyone hungry who comes in.   The place’s heyday speaks  from an extensive menu, that in addition to fish logs, includes his personal recipe Cincinnati chili, double deckers, fried chicken, and even another specialty, fried pork chops.      The regular customers are his other eighty year old buds who are in for a drink and some banter.      The one sitting next to us at the bar was close to 90, sharp as a tack, and the has been the head volunteer / disciplinarian at the St. Francis Seraph Soup Kitchen in Over-the-Rhine.    He gave us the scoop on Elmer’s menu, the house made tartar sauce, and some of the local lore.

A full fish log requires the appetite of a lumberjack, at about a foot long, so we ordered the half log.    When asked where he gets his fish, Elmer jokes, that it’s fresh from the Mill Creek, which is just behind the restaurant.   He also  makes his own cole slaw, which has a good zing and a great caraway seed flavor.  Elmer fine-shreds his own cabbage for made-to-order Cincinnati hot slaw, which is the best I’ve ever had.      His tartar sauce is also house made, thick, and I think better than Frisch’s.

Elmer’s menu has a tongue-in-cheek history of the fish log:

“The earliest settlers of the New World would often hear stories from the indigenous peoples making references to strange creatures inhabiting the wilderness. One such account depicted a creature that resembled a large fish-like creature with an extended thorax with a body covered with a type of ‘bark’ where one would typically find scales.  The native tribes referred to this animal as ‘yoopapwa’ or ‘fishlog.’

In 1813 a group of lumberjacks working in a remote region of northern Saskatchewan, an area known for its many lakes and abundance of wildlife, made an astonishing find. Who could have guessed that these men would be the first to record the bizarre discovery that would stand Darwinian Evolution on its ear.  The fishlog of legend was not mere folklore! This was the first reliably documented evidence of genetic hybridization between species so diverse.

Today, of course, domestic fishlog farming has become a lucrative industry.   Restaurants such as Old Timber Inn of Cincinnati have helped to bring the fishlog to the general attention of the public.”


Old Timber Inn’s ‘historical photo’ of a Saskatchewan fishlog.

The place is clean, and the great thing is that once Elmer has made your order, he’ll sit in his chair behind the bar, give you a history lesson, and make you roar with his dirty jokes.

There’s a huge framed old photo of the inside of the bar in 1872, with what Elmer says is Jesse James and his gang, all holding dark beers and smiling for the camera.    They were probably drinking Bruckmann’s beer, which was brewed just a little ways down Spring Grove Avenue near what was then the Canal.      Elmer goes on to say that Cincinnati had the first train robbery in 1865, which happened when a never caught gang derailed and robbed a passenger train on the way to St. Louis, between the stations of Gravel Pit and North Bend, Ohio, about 18 miles west of Cincinnati.    And the James gang was known to have gone through the area.


An 1872 photo of the inside of the Old Timber Inn, with what is supposedly the Jesse James gang enjoying beers.   Note the ‘peekies’ to the right of the gang – these were coin operated short movies of vaudeville girls in skimpy outfits that the customer peeked into.

At one time a traction car also went past the Old Timber Inn.     In the early 1910s five female victims’ bodies  were dropped on or near that traction car.   The never caught criminal became known as  the Cumminsville Ripper, and many stories linked him to Jack the Ripper in London, England, as either a copycat, or Jack himself.


The traction car, turn of the century, with the Old Timber Inn behind.

I highly recommend a trip to the Old Timber Inn for a fishlog and a great history lesson from Elmer.




Where the Coney Buns Are Made


Coney Buns being prepped for the oven, while cooked buns are being prepped for slicing on the conveyor behind at B & J Baking Company.

Our beloved Cincinnati Chili Industry, like the Automotive Industry, has what I call Tier II Suppliers.  These are the companies that make some of the components that go into a meal at a local chili parlor.    These are often items we forget about, but are as important a component as the secretly guarded chili recipes.   You can’t have a car without an airbag, made by a Tier II supplier.   And you can’t have a threeway without  spaghetti and oyster crackers, made by a Tier II Chili supplier.     One of the most important of these Tier II items is the coney bun.

In the 50s and 60s, my grandparents were  one of these local Tier II suppliers of coney buns and chili burger buns to the Dayton Chili Parlor, across the street from their bakery in Dayton, Kentucky.   The Christofield family, who owned the chili parlor valued the proximity of my grandparents bakery and the fresh quality of their buns.    I never had the pleasure of tasting a Dayton Chili Parlor Cheese Coney with one of my grandparents’ fresh, dense egg buns.  But I did get to hear a glaring testimonial of how good they tasted from the daughter-in-law of the owner when I interviewed her for my chili book.   Oddly enough, the old Dayton Chili Parlor came up for sale five days ago.   I hope someone buys it and recreates the chili parlor tradition served by the Christofields for nearly 80 years.

Today the largest supplier of coney buns to our local chili parlors is B & J Baking Company, on Colerain Avenue in Northside.     Owned by Macedonian immigrant, Steve Toleski, they have a long legacy of supply and operation in the local chili arena.    A family owned wholesale baking company, they’ve been making and supplying quality coney buns for the chili industry since 1932.   If you’ve ever had a delicious cheese coney at a Skyline chili parlor, you’ve tasted one of their buns.


B & J buns are inspected before being packaged to be sent to Skyline chili parlors around the region.

Klosterman Baking company also makes coney buns, but they don’t have the legacy in the chili parlor industry that the Toleski family has.

Owner Steve Toleski’s father was Alexander Tolevich (1909-1991).   Alex came to this country in 1933 from Bolno, Macedonia, which later became part of Yugoslavia, after World War II.    After working for Ivan and Athanas Kiradjieff at the Empress Chili Parlor, Alex  would operate the Liberty Chili Parlor in Covington, Kentucky, on Madison Avenue, near the Liberty Theatre.       Coincidentally, Alex’s sister, Luba Tolevich Naumoff and her husband Kime, would operate another Liberty Chili Parlor in Northside, in what had been the Liberty Theatre on Hamilton Avenue.


Alex Tolevich fraternizes with some of his customers in the 1960s at the Liberty Chili Parlor.

The change of last name from Tolevich to Toleski exhibits the complicated ethnic crisis happening in the Balkans between World War I and World War II.    The Macedonian/Bulgarian vs the Slavic variations denoted which side you were on or what group you felt safest with which to be identified both in the region and over here in America.    It’s kind of a similar, although more complicated version of the whole back and forth with the Alscace-Lorrain region on the border of Germany and France.     The Tolevich/Toleski family did a great job of integrating into and even fostering and creating Cincinnati Culture in our Chili industry and for that we should be immensely grateful!    One of Steve’s three daugthers, Lori Toleski Russell is Vice President of B & J Baking, so the coney bun business will continue on into the next generation.


Steve Toleski, owner of B & J Baking leads a tour of his facility.


Coney bun dough resting and proofing at B & J Bakery.

The large dough mixer and conveyer oven used to make coney buns at B & J Baking.





Queen City Poutine – The Cincinnati Chili Totcho



Lovers of Cincinnati chili probably are familiar with the loaded chili cheese fries offered by our regional chili parlors like Skyline, Gold Star, Camp Washington and others. Pleasant Ridge chili takes it up a notch with the addition of gravy for that poutine-y edge.   My favorite are Chili Time’s in St. Bernard.   They fed my over active teenage metabolism many late Friday nights after a football game.


But a newer entry to this family of Cincinnati chili products is the Cincinnati Chili Totcho, what some might call Queen City Poutine.     Totchos are basically like nachos but with tater tots instead of tortilla chips as the base.   Then Cincinnati chili is ladled on, with your choice of sweet Vidalia onions, beans, and a mountain of shredded cheddar cheese.   If you need some spice, don’t forget the tobasco or sriracha sauce or a few sliced jalapenos.


Now the totcho was not invented in Cincinnati, but our chili version was.


A man in Portland, Oregon is given credit for inventing the totcho – or any other of its aliases – like dirty tots.    Jim Parker, is the man behind the totcho.   He opened the Oaks Bottom Public House in 2006 with partner Jerry Fechter.     Their opening was the first mention of the tater tot nacho – later shortened to totchos.     Parker is a well established pub man. If you’ve been served beer in Portland, the chances are high that it was by Parker. He’s worked at Concordia Ale House, the Horse Brass, the Green Dragon and other pubs in Colorado and Washington State.     Today he’s a brewery consultant and part time bartender at Baerlic Brewing.


Jim Parker, Portland, Oregon pub-hound, who invented totchos.



Parker originally suggested the idea with one of his bartenders Jonathan Carmean, suggesting they be called nacho tots.


It’s appropriate that the totcho was born in Portland.     In 1952 brothers Nephi and Golden Grigg bought a foreclosed freeze-drying plant in Ontario on the Idaho Border to make frozen frnech fries. They named the business Ore-Ida.   The production at the plant left a lot of waste in the form of potato shavings, which were sold as livestock feed, at very low profit.   The Griggs brothers came up with a more profitable and ingenious waste solution. They mixed the shavings with spices, extruded them in pellets and par fried them.   The tator tot was an immediate hit and has donned grade school cafeteria and football fan tables since then.


The original totchos come with melted cheese sour cream salsa and other nacho toppings like say jalapenos.   In Portland, totchos are a mainstay of sports bar menus and the concession stands at Providence Park. In 2013 totchos started trending nationally as they appeared in hipster faux dive bars from Seattle to Brooklyn and filled up the food blogs.


Other versions exist around Portland and beyond.   Boxer Ramen has ‘okonomiyaki tots’ with spicy mayo, worchestershire-like tonkatsu sauce, bonito flakes, togarishi spice and dried seaweed.   Seasons and Regions Seafood Grill has a salmon and cream cheese version.   Jolly Roger bar has a garlic and parmesan version.


Add our Cincinnati chili version to the mix, and another permutation is born.  Unfortunately, there are no chili parlors yet that offer this hearty comfort dish.   But, they’re perfect for the upcoming Superbowl.

Ninety Years of Black Licorice in Cincinnati

Long before Twizzlers reigned supreme, black licorice, was the favored flavor.        Now black licorice is polarizing – you either love it or you hate it.    The Red Raspberry flavored variety is what kids today know as licorice.   The Queen City can boast of a company that manufactured black licorice candy for nearly 90 years and were known nationally.     Today the majority of licorice confections use anise oil for flavor, but back in the day the John Mueller Licorice Company used real Spanish licorice.   That’s probably why those who tasted Mueller’s black licorice miss it so much.   Unfortunately, none of the three buildings where they manufactured the candy are standing today, so all that’s left are memories.
The company was founded in 1885 by John Mueller.  John was son of 1848’er, Andrew Mueller, and immigrant from Anweiler, near Alsace Lorraine, who came to Cincinnati in 1848 to escape the failed Revolution in the German states.    John’s  birth in 1865 on Christmas day  one of the largest days for the candy industry, foreshadowed his career.
John grew up on his father’s farm in an area then known as Turkey Bottoms, which is now the area of Lunken Airport.     After finishing his schooling at age 15 in Cincinnati, he worked at the Goode Candy Company for five years, learning the candy trade from German immigrant candy baron, George Wilhelm Goode who had partnered with a Louis McNamara a few years before.
Being an entrepreneurial young man, John decided to leave Herr Goode in 1885 and began manufacturing candy for himself.   In 1901 he, with several other investors, incorporated the John Mueller Licorice Company, focusing on the manufacture of black licorice confections.   It’s not known where he learned how to make black licorice candy, or why he decided to focus on it, but Mueller created a profitable national niche for his company in the candy industry.  For those of us who love black licorice, what a treat it must have been to live near the Mueller factory and smell the black licorice being boiled into candy
One of the first brands Mueller trademarked was Neldynes, which was registered with the U. S. Trademark and Patents office in 1905.     Neldynes, crowned King of all licorice candy, was guaranteed not to stick together in summer.
The company’s first location was at 2117 Reading road in Mt. Auburn.  When they outgrew that location, they moved to a location at Wade and Freeman Streets in Cincinnati’s West End.
Mueller’s sold through the jobber network to retailers all over the country.   And to get the word out, Mueller was a dedicated marketeer, running wonderfully descriptive ads in the Confectioner’s Journal in the 1920s.      By 1922, they led the candy industry with candy cigars and Famous brand black licorice candy  cigarettes, a line which they would carry into the 1980s.    Other candy manufactures followed and introduced lines of candy cigarettes by the 1930s.    Back then it wasn’t the health concern it became, so the American public didn’t bat an eye at allowing children to pretend to smoke these candy imitations.   Slogans encouraging kids to smoke, “Just Like Dad”, would cause trouble in the 1950s, when the first reports of smoking’s health hazards surfaced.     Early brands modeled after the real cigarettes.    Marlboro became Marboro, Winston became Winstun, Camel became Acmel in the candy brands.     Although National legislation was proposed in 1970 and 1991 to ban the sale of candy cigarettes, the only state to outlaw them was North Dakota, from 1953-1967.    The word cigarette disappeared from all national candy cigarette brands and was replaced by ‘candy sticks.”
By the 1930s U.S. Industry was importing some 35,000 tons of licorice root per year, for flavoring tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and candy.
By 1922, Mueller  had been around for nearly 30 years, and employed 30 people in his factory.   They played to their legacy with slogans like “made famous and kept famous by two generations.”      Not only did they produce the loops and whips of black licorice, but they had a full line of innovative licorice candies, like a candy train set with licorice tracks, a licorice wristwatch, and even a huge oblong shaped hunk of black licorice they called the XLCR.
In 1922 they had the following candy lineup:
Neldynes,  XLCR,  Famous brand candy cigarettes, banded candy cigars, whoppers, twisters, wrist watch, train assortment, whips , 120 tubes, 120 Famous stick busters, chocomels (a unique type of chocolate-black licorice- caramel that sounded amazing!!) , Big 4,  bricks , lozenges, plugs, trio tubes, travelers companion, and 240 tubes.
In their ads, Mueller played to the health and safety of their workers:
“All our goods are manufactured in an updated, sanitary plant where sunlight and fresh air contribute to the health and happiness of all workers.”
Their West End plant was flooded in the 1937 flood, but they cleaned up and continued manufacturing after the waters subsided.
The house that black licorice built – the Mueller red brick family homestead at 1722 Queen City Avenue, on the West Side of Cincinnati in Fairmount, is still standing.  John Mueller exhibited the traits of a true candy baron.    He volunteered as Treasurer for his church, the German Emmanuel Church on the corner of Tremont and Lawnway in Fairmount for twenty three years and supported the local Republican partly    He was active in the Candy Jobbing Confectioners’ Association, the Candy Salesman’s Association  and the Travelers’ Protective Association.
The John Mueller family homestead at 1722 Queen City Avenue in Fairmount.
Having only one daughter, Nelda Mae, with his wife Elizabeth Dennert, he had no sons to pass on his business.   So, in 1920, only a few years before his death, Mueller sold his business to Walter H. Pritz, a Jewish entrepreneur who had been president of the company, for $66,000.    Pritz  ran the company until his death in 1950.  At that time, Mueller was said to be only one of four manufacturers of black licorice candy in the world, all of whom were in the U.S.   They were American Licorice, founded in 1914 in Chicago; National Licorice, founded in 1848 in Brooklyn, New York; and the Switzer Company, founded 1887 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Pritz introduced black licorice mixes in the 1940s, like Miami Mix, Lucky 7, and the Fair-N-Warmer mix.   He also continued the line of black licorice cigarettes with a brand called Domino.   One of his candy makers, Edward Schoettle patented a black licorice cigar  candy in 1940 for the company.    Schoettle would take over the company after Pritz’ death in 1950 and move the company to Norwood in the early 1950s.
The new plant was a Teamster’s Union-run factory at 2011  Ross Avenue in Norwood, just north of downtown Cincinnati.  The area is now inhabited by the newly built Paycor and the Urology Center facilities on the Norwood Lateral.  Here the company continued introducing new lines of black licorice candy until they went out of business in 1973.   In 1965, they introduced their Space Age candy cigarettes, and in 1970, trademarked a new candy called Kettle Treats.   They also introduced trading cards with their candy in the 1950s.     For all their years in Cincinnati, the John Mueller Licorice Company was a leader in the U.S. black licorice confection market, and an under-known sweet asset to our city.


Tyropita and Baba Feke’s Macedonian New Year


The Tyropita, the Macedonian version of the Greek Vasilopita, served on New Year’s Day.


Before the end of the Balkan Wars, many of the early Cincinnati Chili parlor pioneers, like the Kiradjieffs of Empress Chili, who immigrated to the Queen City, considered themselves Macedonians, even though their villages now are renamed with Greek names and part of Greece.   Macedonian customs were a bit different than the Greek, and more similar to the Bulgarian customs than Greek customs.  In Greece and the Orthodox Christian East Mediterranean, New Year’s Day is the bigger celebration than Christmas. It’s when Greek Santa, St. Basil comes, and when the Vasilopita or St. Basil’s cake is eaten. But for the Macedonians, a similar but different custom was practiced on New Year’s Day.


One of the families I spoke to in writing my book, “The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili,” were the Manoffs.   Petro and Sophie Manoff started the Strand Chili Parlor in Newport, Kentucky, after Petro left partnership with Nicholas Sarakatsannis of Dixie Chili, which was just a few blocks south on Monmouth Street.     The Manoff chili recipe is probably the most authentic to the original Empress chili of any of the recipes out there.     That recipe found its way to Hamburger Heaven through Petro’s son, Thomas, and then to Gold Star Chili when the Daoud family bought Hamburger Heaven.   It found it’s way through Petro’s daughter Mary Elcoff to West End Chili Parlor and Mary Lou’s Grill.



As a result of the interviews with the Manoff family, I received a fantastic family Macedonian cookbook of all the recipes of Sophie Manoff (known as Baba Feke to her grandchildren), from her granddaughter, Karen. Embedded in the cookbook, is a wonderful snapshot of what a Macedonian immigrant New Year was like in Cincinnati.     All her life, Baba Feke was part of the Macedonian league in Cincinnati, called “Bistrita”, after a river that flowed through Bulgaria and Macedonia.   She served as a delegate to the larger national Macedonian league, who were lobbying to get Macedonian independence from Greece.   She never considered herself Greek, and never really learned to speak English – her daughters, Flora and Mary serving as her translators.   She left strong memories to her grandchildren of their Macedonian heritage through her cooking.


Instead of the Vasilopita, Baba Feke, would make a Tyropita or cheese pita pastry (like the Bulgarian feta cheese banista) for the large New Year’s Dinner celebration.   She would craftily stuff it with a blade of grass, a leaf, and several dimes.       If someone found the grass, it was their job to cut the grass for the year.   If someone found the leaf, then come fall, it was their job to rake the leaves.   The dimes were always guaranteed to be found by her little grandchildren.      It was considered by the Macedonians that cabbage was good luck and so either lamb stuffed cabbage rolls, or lamb and cabbage stew was the main dish at New Year. Along with the pita and stew, Baba Feke would serve sides of feta cheese, black olives, sweet peppers, baklava, and karoubiedes, or spiced half moon cookies flavored with ouzo.   Turkish coffee was also served with the desserts.   What a festive New Year it must have been at Baba Feke and Dedo Pete’s table!


Birth of the American Cherry Cordial in Over-the-Rhine



Today, January 3, is National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day.   It may be a lesser known food holiday, but it is a recognized holiday by the National Confectioner’s Association, and the confection has American origins in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine.   They are also called cherry cordials, because at one time they included cherry liqueurs like kirsch, inside.


A chocolate company, called Dolly Varden, founded in 1900 in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, by Jewish entrepreneur Isaac Weinreich (1878-1945) is credited for bringing the chocolate covered cherry to the American market.   Dolly Varden was a character from the Charles Dicken’s novel Barnaby Rudge.   She was a locksmith’s daughter and known for her flowered hat and dress which gave its name to a popular women’s outfit of the 19th century.   Her character was well known in America, and thus a brilliant name for a chocolate company.   The company motto was, “When Words Fail – Send Dolly Varden Chocolates.”


Weinreich was son of Bavarian immigrant David Weinreich, who was a cattle dealer and butcher.   Isaac’s brother, Elias owned a cigar manufacturing company in Dayton, Ohio, where Isaac grew up with his 11 other siblings.


Apparently cigars and chocolate went together well in retail at the time. Dolly Varden chocolates were advertised as a good companion gift or a free box with purchase of cigar brands like Knauf’s cigars in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or Litman’s in Coffeyville, Kansas.   Perhaps Isaac and his brother Elias worked together in retailing their chocolates and cigars together.


The company had humble beginnings.   Starting as a small retail store, Weinreich first patented a medicinal cough drop called “Checkers” in 1901, which he sold at the store on Vine Street. When they added 11 flavors of soft centered chocolates, including the chocolate covered cherry, their business grew, requiring two Over-the-Rhine moves to 14th and Plum, then Canal and Walnut Streets.   Finally, in 1919, they built a five story factory on the West End at Laurel Street, which employed 400 workers.       Coveted positions for females in Cincinnati were chocolate and bonbon dippers, who could make good money for the times.    Beginning wages at the factory in 1914 were $4 a week.


The Dolly Varden Chocolate Factory on Laurel Street in Cincinnati’s West End, next to the Dolly Varden Theatre.


By the 1920s, Dolly Varden chocolates were a national brand, and a sister division in St. Louis, Missouri was formed.   Charles Eisen, son of Baden immigrants, became President in 1905 and believed in large advertising budgets.  As a result a lot of store signs and elaborately decorated Dolly Varden candy boxes still can be found by antique buyers.   The Dolly Varden fortune allowed him to build a mansion in College Hill on Hamilton and Belmont Avenues, designed by Cincinnati architect Samuel Hanniford.   Eisen retired from the company, becoming a famous piano player with the Cincinnati Symphony.



Today the three main brands of cherry cordials on the market are Cella’s, Brochs, and Queen Anne.   Cella’s is the oldest, established in 1865, but only started mass producing chocolate covered cherries in 1929.   Broch’s started making chocolate covered cherries in 1930.   Finally Queen Anne was founded in 1921, but didn’t start making the cherry treats until 1948.   The oldest record I can find of Dolly Varden making chocolate covered cherries is 1917, but there is reference to them making as early as the founding in 1900.   Whatever the date, although Dolly Varden didn’t invent the chocolate covered cherry, they did bring them to the American market.

Sumo-size me with Chankonabe


Chankonabe, the stew of the sumo wrestlers.

While most of us are strategizing our winter weight loss for that beach body come spring, there’s a group of Japanese bulking up to prepare for wrestling season.  They are the popular sumo wrestlers of Japan, who’s season starts in early March.       The optimal weight for a modern Japanese sumo wrestler is between 400 and 600 pounds, and that’s sustained by a daily diet of a whopping 20,000 calories!     That’s an astounding amount of food considering the recommended intake for an active, healthy male is 2500 calories.

My first trip to Japan was in late March right at the popular opening of sumo season, so, like getting tickets for Hamilton in New York City, I was relegated to a less popular and equally weird Japanese leisure activity, the kabuki theatre.

Sumo is considered a modern martial art, but has been around professionally since the Edo Period, and religiously much further back than that.   It is said to have originated at Shinto temples, where it represented humans wrestling with Shinto gods.   The goal of a sumo match is for one of the freakishly large wrestlers to push the other either outside of the circle ring, or flip them inside the circle so they land on anything but the soles of their feet.


So what makes up the 20,000 calorie diet of the sumo wrestler?  It’s actually a relatively healthy stew called chankonabe.  It’s not your fried chicken or double whopper.   Nabe is a traditional Japanese stew, but the sumo version is amped up with fish, pork, chicken, beef, tofu and vegetables.   To make up for the calories the seemingly healthy stew offers, the sumo wrestler, called a rikishi, eats 5-10 bowls or rice and up to 6 pints of beer.    They also skip breakfast and work out to slow down their metabolism before this behemoth lunch.   Then, they nap after each meal to help again slow down their metabolism.


Sumo wrestlers live and eat together in a commune called a heya, and are under strict regulations by the National Sumo Association of Japan.

The non-sumo tourist can eat chankonabe at restaurants around Japan.   It comes in a variety of flavors, including, soy, miso, kimchee, and more.   But you have to bring a hefty appetite.    While none of the local Japanese restaurants like Matsuya, Kosho, or Ando, serve the chankonabe, they all serve the lighter and more interactive version, called shabu shabu.  And now, even some of the Thai restaurants like Bankock Bistro around the corner from me are jumping on the shabu shabu – just don’t eat 10 bowls or rice and 6 Sapporo beers if you want that beach body!