Happy Halloween in Cincinnati Pastry

Bonomini’s Spooky Halloween cakes in their storefront window.

Two Saturdays ago a friend and I were on our way to a morning tour in Camp Washington, when we just HAD to make a sweet detour at one of the best bakeries in Cincinnati – Northside’s Bonomini.     I have never had anything there that wasn’t OMFG good, but the secret is you have to get there early,  because their cult following will buy them out of all the good stuff!   Now Bonomini is one of the last of the great family bakeries left in the city.   And Virginia B., the owner, is amazing.   They really they know how to dress up a window for the holidays to really get you in the spirit.   They had it all spooked up for Halloween and had three awesome monster cakes on display.    I stood in front of the window, smiling like a kid, ogling the spooky creations, and taking pictures.

Creativity is the life blood of a food business.   And for bakeries, those who add a cheeky, seasonal sense of humor, with their special products, AND socialize them, are the ones who are going to win.     You don’t have to have an MBA in marketing to understand that.

So, it got me thinking, how are the other Cincinnati bakeries ‘bringing it’ with their spooky creations for Halloween?   I turned to social media to see what was cooking, or rather, baking.     Some of said bakeries still don’t get it about the power of social media and food photography in getting business.   Some, are maestros at utilizing their imagery on social media.      To those that are the maestros, here is my tribute to their creations.   To those bakeries that aren’t maestros, some sound advice : you really need to step up your game – its flipping 2017 – try some easy social marketing or find someone to help!!!

Out in Amelia, Marcella’s Doughnuts and Bakery have two cool creations – a vampire doughnut, with usable plastic vampire teeth, and a cute Charley Brown-esque jack-o-lantern doughnut.    For a 60 plus year old bakery that ties into the uber-popular Holtman Donut legacy, they are doing a great job on social media pulling in people from the city.    Kudos to Marcella’s!

Wyoming pastry shop is on its fifth owner, but they’ve been serving the Wyoming community since 1934.   Current owners, Phillip and Kimberly Reschke, have some wonderful products and a fantastic website and facebook page.    Phillip learned pastry from his German baker father, while Kimberly has decorated cakes for over 30 years all over the U.S. including Las Vegas.  Her talent shows in their adorable Halloween cookies below.

Bonbonerie in O’Bryonville always brings it with their seasonal confections.     Their signature Halloween offering this year is called the Bump in the Night cake – a rich chocolate cake coupled with vanilla marshmallow filling, and topped with a monster vanilla bean cream puff, all covered in a chocolate marquis glaze.     Now that sounds amazing.



Busken’s Bakery always brings it too.   I’m scourged with living a couple of miles away from their commissary bakery, and can smell everything baking on my way home from work.      They do a great job with their cookie and cupcake decorating, but my favorite on their website were these furry creature cupcakes.


I’m sure there are lots of great Halloween confections out there at some of our other local bakeries, but in this busy world of ours, if they don’t have them on their websites or in social media, how would we know?!

Meet Me at the Budna Bar & Grill


All that’s left of a once iconic North College Hill bar and grill is the simple yellow and red neon sign that now hangs in the American Sign Museum in Camp Washington.   A few of its chairs made it to the North College Hill Historical Society Museum, and it’s Ken’s Hot Wings recipe is circulating on social media and in the homes of families who have connections to NCH.      The sign, which emblazoned the nights on Galbraith Road for 70 years, shares a dignified spot in the museum’s event space amongst signs of other local businesses like Skyline Chili and City Hall Café.

When Bud and Edna Schlewinksy bought the bar on the corner of West Galbraith and Grace Avenue,  in 1939, from a car dealership, they had no idea what a legacy their business would have for the community.   Budna was a cute mashup of their two names.  It became a rite of passage for NCH’ers coming of age.    When the drinking age was 18, you celebrated by getting your first dime draft beer at the Budna.  Boston may have Cheers, but North College Hill had its Budna.

They advertised in the church bulletin and supported their local Catholic parish, St. Margaret Mary, and sponsored many sports teams over the years, from hockey to baseball.    Many generations of NCH’ers drank and ate there, including my dad  and his three brothers, Jack, Fred, and Fuzz.    When I was in high school you would still see people wearing sweatshirts and jackets from Budna.   They competed against a neighborhood of bars like the Maple Leaf, Juniors, Swing Doors, Pinto’s, DeWitt’s Gardens, and even the German Bund Club, but they lasted longer than any of them.    Their hot wings and fried fish sandwiches on rye were so legendary, they did as much carryout business as they sold in the bar.     Who knows if it was the fish or the homemade tarter sauce that kept people craving.

Bud and Edna’s son, Ken, took over in 1966, after serving in Japan during World War II, and ran the place into his 80s, until he passed in 2009.     It was Ken and his wife Marie, who many still remember.      In 1986, Cincinnati Magazine rated Budna as one of the top jukeboxes in Cincinnati.   They said you could have a burger with Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,”  or homemade soup with Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Chris Hoeweler, a College Hill native, and former chef of Trio bought the place and tried to revive it as an upscale burger place, he renamed Van Zandt’s after the original name of Galbraith Road.   Chris even brought back the special mettwurst Stehlin’s Meats supplied for the annual Mettwurst Dinners at Matthew United Church of Christ in Winton Place that he remembered from his youth.   But, unfortunately he wasn’t able to connect in with NCH the same way the Schlewinskys had with Budna.

And so, in 2014 it became Swad, an Indian restaurant.      My Dad and Uncles would not recognize the Vindaloo or Biryani.

Budna Grill Wings

Ken’s wing sauce – Mix 1 whole bottle of Frank’s red hot sauce (made in Cincinnati), 1/2 stick margarine, add cayenne and red pepper to taste, add black pepper and garlic salt to taste.

In a sauce pan, simmer the above.

Deep fry wings or boneless strips for 10 minutes at 325 F.

Toss wings in hot sauce, place on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 400 F.

Enjoy with an ice cold Hudy or Bavarian.



Food Critics and Disney Characters

Chef Henri Soule, owner of New York’s famous Le Pavillon, and Chef August Gusteau of the animated film Ratatouille.


Dinner parties and food events have been inspirations for literary characters of many famous authors.    Cincinnati has a few such legends of these character inspirations.

In 1842, rich Cincinnati Judge Timothy Walker hosted author Charles Dickens at a dinner party at his mansion in Walnut Hills.   Judge Walker, according to his granddaughter, Clara Longworth de Chambrun, told Dickens of a strange Cincinnati woman, who, after being left by her fiancée, lived out the rest of her life in her wedding dress.    That story became the basis of the character of Mrs. Haversham in Dickens’ next book, Great Expectations.  
Another story exists about inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.    In about 1846, Harriet visited the home of Elijah Herndon in Carthage, Kentucky.   He had donated the land in 1844 for the Mt. Gilead Methodist Church in Carthage, and as such, hosted Sunday dinners for visiting preachers after services at the Church.   Harriet’s husband was one of these traveling preachers.     And, at the time, Elijah owned five slaves, who lived in the basement of the house.     Slaves Sophia and her daughter Elzina, would have done the cooking for this Sunday dinner.  According to local legend, Harriet based some of the characters in her novel from this visit.
For those who appreciate restaurant history, the Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille is laden with similar character references to the dynasty of New York’s famed French restaurant, Le Pavillon, started by French émigré, Henri Soule.      In the animated film Chef Auguste Gusteau dies suddenly and wills the restaurant to his illegitimate son with his mistress, to the surprise of everyone in New York, and especially the villain, Chef Skinner.
Henri Soule, similarly willed a large portion of his estate, half of his valuable Montauk, Long Island mansion, to his mistress, a Mrs. Henriette Spalter, who had been the hat check girl at Le Pavillon for many years.     After the death of Soule in 1966 from a heart attack, she became the manager of Le Pavillon’s sister Manhattan French Restaurant La Cote Basque, that Soule had started in 1957, when his landlord, Columbia Pictures President Harry Cohn, doubled his rent and forced him out of Le Pavillon.
A wiry-thin, snarky New York food critic, Anton Ego, comes to the restaurant in Ratatouille, to rate it after the death of Chef Gusteau.     This character I think is loosely based on the real New York Times food critic, the similarly wiry and snarky Craig Claiborne.      Like Chef Gusteau inspired Remy the Rat to become who he was meant to be, Soule inspired Craig Claiborne to basically create the entire food writing industry.
Craig  was a lifelong admirer and advocate of Henri Soule and his Le Pavilion. Despite Soule’s obvious flaws – his staff clearing temper tantrums – Craig lauded him until he died in 1966.    Soule’s tempers led to his talented staff leaving and starting other restaurants.   A young Jacques Pepin walked out of Le Pavillon due to Soule’s temper, straight to Howard Johnson’s, which launched his career to becoming a celebrity chef.

Disney’s character Anton Ego, and food critic Craig Claiborne.


After Soule’s death,  Claude C. Phillipe bought Le Pavillon, trying to ride the coattails of Soule, but Claiborne gave them nothing but criticism on their missing of fine points of service like serving lemon wedges without removing the seeds.    Madame Spalter’s La Cote Basque, however, received great praise from Claiborne.      For Craig Claiborne, like Anton Ego, it was all about these small details.


The Lost Beer Gardens of Cincinnati


mecklenburggardnesGrowing up we heard my Dad’s stories of the lavish family Christmas parties at the Top Notchers’ Club my grandfather belonged to.     Endless supplies of yummy greasy Gordon Potato Chips, German pretzels, and Fresca kept the kids in check, while endless supply of Hudy and hard liquor got the adults in the holiday spirit.     After getting small boxes of hard Christmas candy from a Santa, the kids got to watch the roaringly hilarious Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers movie on reel.     We were submitted to this movie as kids at Christmas too, as my father relived his youth.   Man, we thought, those special effects weren’t half as good as the newly released  Star Wars:  A New Hope!   It was all very nostalgic.


This all took place for my father at a long gone North College Hill hall called DeWitt’s Gardens at 6508 Parrish Avenue, owned by William DeWitt from the 1940s to the 1960s.    It was demolished in the 60s, as was the fate of hundreds of Cincinnati’s old German beer gardens, dotting nearly every neighborhood.     But DeWitt’s, like other Cincy beer gardens, hosted many clubs, societies, and families with good German food, drink, and live entertainment.      In the 1950s, the NCH Republican club held its meetings there, presenting a four-legged rooster to the Mayor of NCH.

There are a handful of these old ‘Gardens’ left in the city – Mecklenburg Gardens in Corryville, is the oldest, incorporated in 1865 by Louis Mecklenburg.   In it’s early days it staged mock elections of a fictional town called Kloppendorf to help recent Germanic immigrants understand the voting process.   Now it hosts FC Cincy’s Innenstadt Fan Club, the Handelmeiers Mustard Club, and the Schlaraffia Society.     Then there’s the proudly divey Dana Gardens on Dana Avenue in Norwood near Xavier, that will never renovate, at the risk of losing said status.     Salem Gardens on the East Side has been a meeting spot for families since 1926 and famous for their broad array of fried bar foods.

Most of the old Cincinnati German ‘Gardens’ died out by the 1970s, as fast food changed the way Americans dined out.        No one seemed to have the time to spend an entire evening in the beer gardens with extended family and friends.    Those that held on, like Cassidy’s Gardens at Springdale Road in Peach Grove, promoted steak and chicken dinners and rented their halls and gardens out for events and weddings.

When a Cincinnati establishment had the word ‘Gardens’ attached, you expected to enjoy an outdoor beer garden with the entire family, home cooked German specialties, and usually high quality  musical entertainment.   A great example of that was Forest View Gardens in Monfort Heights, which closed in 2001.    All the waiters there were singers, many of them College Conservatory of Music students from UC, and they put on amazing shows for over 60 years.    Swiss Gardens in Bond Hill on was one of the few female owned gardens, run by Minnie Lohman, and made it through Prohibition because of the quality of their musical entertainment, which included a house orchestra.


Another long term gardens was Quebec Gardens on the West Side that started out as Gries Wine Gardens in 1865.    The Metz Wine Garden in Lick Run was a competitor of Gries’ and a beloved tourist attraction to Cincinnati.   These were the group of beer and wine gardens that existed outside of the city limits and thus the Sunday Blue Laws prohibiting drinking on the Sabbath.    Reichrath’s Gardens in Northside/Cumminsville on Spring Grove Avenue was a popular beer garden for that reason too, before being annexed to the city in 1871.   In addition to musical entertainment, Reichrath’s staged boxing matches outside in the gardens that drew huge crowds, keeping them alive until Prohibition.


There were many gardens in the city too.    On Vine Street popular spots were John Ast’s Gardens, the Atlantic Gardens of John Lederer, and Meidle’s Gardens.   For the wealthier Germanic hill dwellers of Walnut Hills there were places like Schmiesing’s Gardens at Blair Avenue and Rosskopf’s Gardens at Churchill and Gilbert.     Schmiesing’s boasted bowling, which might have been outdoor German nine pin kegel bowling, rather than our modern indoor lane bowling.    That would be a cool sport to bring back to the Cincinnati-style beer garden.

Mecklenburg’s is keeping up the tradition strongly.   And, recently Queen City Radio in Over-the-Rhine has done a wonderful job promoting themselves as an inner city beer garden.   The gardens at Germania Park or the Donauschwaben Park are very similar to these long lost Cincinnati beer gardens.    But the old school Cincinnati beer garden, seems an endangered species, relegating itself to Fall Oktoberfests.

The Third “W” in BW-3 Comes From a Swabian Halloween Bread



If you’re a Gen Xer like me, you probably spent way too many college weekends or game days eating at a BW-3,  or B-dubs, as we affectionately called it.      This is where most Americans were introduced to the ingenious and now ubiquitous Buffalo wings.   The delicacy was invented in 1964, at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, by Teresa Bellissimo.

It was invented out of necessity with Cincinnati-made Frank’s Tea and Spice Company’s Frank’s RedHot Sauce, founded by German-Jewish immigrants.

But if you’re also like me, you had no idea where the third “W”  in BW-3 comes.     Wild Wings takes care of the first two, but where’s the third W?    To learn that we have to go back to its founding.

In 1982, three buddies Jim Disbrow, Scott Lowery, and Bernard Spencer, from Buffalo were living in Columbus, Ohio, and decided to open a restaurant to supply their favorite tailgate food – Buffalo wings – which was not yet available in the Buckeye State.     Not being marketing geniuses, they first named their restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck.  And, because THAT name is so memorable, they shortened it to BW-3.    It was a good decision because in 35 years there are now over 1200 locations around the U.S.    So there’s the third W, but what the heck, is a weck?

Weck, as it turns out is shorthand for another Buffalo favorite, the beef on weck sandwich.   Weck refers to the bread its served on, another German immigrant invented bread, called Kummelweck or “caraway bun.”     Weck is what the southwest Germans call their bun.  In the north its called Brotchen, in Austria it’s called Semmel.

Legend has it that Wilhelm Wahr, a baker from the Black Forest, near Swabia in Germany, immigrated to Buffalo, New York, and brought his recipe for kummelweck to his bakery on Herman Street, which he operated from 1886-1924.    In 1901, Wahr, as legend goes, convinced Delaware House owner, Jon Gohn, to use his signature kummelweck to serve as the bread in his thinly sliced, rare roast beef sandwiches, with fresh shaved horseradish and dipped in beef jus.      The kicker for pub owner Jon Gohn was the flecks of kosher salt on the bread, which increased his beer sales at lunch time, when he served the beef on weck for free.    Other bartenders caught on and the beef on weck became a staple at Buffalo and West New York bars and breweries.

But kummelweck is not something you will find in Swabia, so where did the recipe come from?   In pagan Europe, people believed the souls of their dead rose from the grave one day a year to visit their familiar old haunts.   It’s the Germanic version of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.    Gifts of food were offered to these souls to ensure good luck in the upcoming year.  After Christianity spread through Europe the Church tried to accommodate these long held pagan customs and created All Saint’s Day in late October to honor the dead.

Though the Catholic Church didn’t like the belief that the actual spirits of the dead wandered from house to house, some people continued to leave food offerings while others dressed up and played the role of the departed to collect these treats, just to be on the safe side.   Thus began the tradition of Halloween.  And the Germans love dressing up in masks and costumes – a la Halloween, Fasching, and Krampuslaufs.   Each region had its own specialty for the occasion and in Swabia it was a long thin loaf – looking sort of like a coffin or corpse –  covered with salt and caraway seeds.   It is known as Schwäbische Seele, which translates from German as “Swabian soul” bread.  Centuries later and thousands of miles away, this Swabian Halloween treat would be shrunk into a weck or bun and cast in an entirely different role by Herr Wahr.


Swabian soul bread with caraway and sea salt.

An interesting local German immigrant Halloween custom is reminiscent of this soul bread custom in Swabia.  Up into the 1960s in historically German immigrant  neighborhoods of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, kids would say “Kickele, Kickele” instead of Trick-or-treat at Halloween when going door to door.     Originally this was a request for the kickele, a sugary type of fried donut from Germany.

Locally, you can try a beef on weck sandwich at Kelly’s Public House in the first floor of the Radison Hotel in Covington, Kentucky.


The Best German Cookbook in Cincinnati 2017


There’s nothing more precious than the collection of the recipes of our ancestors.  There are several recipes I wish I had, but never thought to write down as a kid – my Grandfather’s North German Eierliquor (eggnog) recipe, for example.  At long last, one such compilation of recipes is available thanks to the wonderful ladies of the Cincinnati Donauschwaben Verein.  I had the lovely opportunity to cook with a group of them at Findlay Kitchen’s Stir event back in the Spring.   I picked up my cookbook last night at the fabulous Donauschwaben Oktoberfest at their clubhouse ‘Conditorei‘  or Sweet Shop, in Colerain Township.  Appropriately, in discussion over apfelstrudel ,  I found out my oldest friend is actually a Donauschwaben by ancestry, via Romania.

Interlaced in the cookbook are both the German names for the recipes, as well as history behind the Donauschwabs and their customs.   The Donauschwabens were a group of German pioneers who settled the area of modern day  Hungary, Romania, and Serbia, after Princess Marie Theresa of Austria and others defeated the Ottoman Turks.     These Donauschwabs travelled to the area by barge on the Danube or Donau River, originating from areas like Alsace-Lorraine and Luxemburg.    Here in what is called the Banat, or Panonian Lowlands of Eastern Europe.     They kept their German customs alive, especially their food, and post-WWII Communism in Eastern Europe sent many of them, all Catholics, back to Germany and many to the United States.

The Donauschwabens were known for their yummy pastries – many filled with apricot, cherry, or poppy seed.   Their cakes were made with ground nut flours of hazelnuts and walnuts, giving them a richer, deeper flavor.

One interesting note in the book is that on St Nick’s Day it was a special treat for children to receive oranges in their shoes, because there were no orange trees in their area.    It reminded me of my visit to my father’s family’s ancestral hometown in Northern Germany.   When my cousins invited us into their house, they didn’t serve us wine, beer, or brandy, they served us orange juice because it was rare and expensive.    We received oranges as kids in our St. Nick’s Day stockings too, but since they were readily available, I didn’t understand the origin of the tradition.

One of the recipes in the book is for Palatschinken, an Eastern European crepe, that will be served in a few weeks at the Donauschwaben’s Kirchweih or Church Dedication ceremony, where traditionally a young woman and a rosemary bush were auctioned off to the highest bidder.   The tradition sounds on the outset a bit barbaric, but it was really more tongue-in-cheek.  Usually a betrothed was picked as the Kirchweih Frau and her father, cousins, or brothers upped the bidding so her fiancé would have to fork out more money to save face.     The Palatschinken crepe is filled with sweet jams or can be savory with creamed mushrooms or meat fillings.

There are a variety of savory goulash recipes in the book that look amazing, and many vegetable dishes like cauliflower with paprika sauce (blumenkohl mit paprika sosse) and a creamy & vinegary celery root slaw (Zeller salat), both of  which are on my bucket list.   Unfortunately, one recipe you won’t find is for the insanely delicious Donauschwaben sausage, smoked and non smoked, that they serve at the clubhouse and which I had the pleasure of eating last night at the Oktoberfest celebration.    I unsuccessfully tried to get the sausage spice blend from several Oma’s at the food booths, but all were sworn to secrecy.    They would not even tell me who the butcher was who grinds the meat and makes the sausages for them.     I guess some bit of mystery is good.   The sausage is dense, not too much fat, and has a wonderful mild herby flavor and is not too spicy.   They do make a spicier version in their annual sausage sales that typically sell out very quickly.


I’ll just have to be happy with buying the wonderful Donauschwaben sausages without knowing their secrets.   But now I have a whole cookbook of wonderful historic meals to cook my way through this winter.



Pemmican, The Original Craft Jerky


As we approach Columbus Day, many cities and municipalities are voting and deciding to change the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Day.  I do think its a bit ridiculous to celebrate a man who never knew he wasn’t in India, enslaved the people he met, and never set foot in North America.

If we in the former Louisiana Purchase Midwest were to celebrate the first non Natives to discover our area – it would be the French Jesuit missionaries from Quebec, Canada, like Fr. Jacques Marquette.    Fr. Marquette explored the area of the Ohio and Miami Valleys by canoe and actually ate with and lived with the Indians.   He documented over 30 Shawnee villages in Cincinnati’s Little Miami Valley from today’s Mariemont, Newtown, and Columbia Tusculum.    There were even ancient burial mounds of the Shawnee’s ancestors on early maps of downtown Cincinnati that were leveled for development – a la the naming of Mound Street.

Fr. Marquette documented what was on the menu at these Shawnee villages in our city.    He talked about their corn and vegetables, and their meats.     Before refrigeration these Shawnee and other Indian tribes had to come up with a way to preserve this meat to last in hotter weather months.    The way they preserved their large game was making it into a jerky that was called Pemmican, derived from the Cree-Chippewa word ‘pimmi’, which means fat or grease.   There was probably a Shawnee specific word for this prepared meat jerky, and certainly a local recipe, but as Fr. Marquette was more interested in conversion of the Indians than their food etymology, we do not have that deep a  history.


Today we have this explosion of ‘craft’ jerkies that boast numerous flavors.  I don’t think the Shawnee had Sweet Sriracha or Honey Bourbon flavored pemmican.    Some of these makers to their credit do give invention shout-out  to the Native Americans.     It’s about high time that we gave our Native Americans credit for the food that we now think of as American.  It was they who introduced us to corn, tomatoes, the clam bake, chili, Boston baked beans, pumpkins, avacados, lobster, and many other dishes.      Heck, we couldn’t tailgate without the majority of these Native American foods.   Had the Indians not had cooking classes for the weary Europeans, there would be no guacamole or tortilla chips, no game-day chili, and no tomato sauce for our pizzas.    And for you fans of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, there would be none of that either.

This Pemmican, was made from meat dried in the sun and then ground with fat, and mixed with local berries – cranberries and Saskatoon berries in the north, and wild blueberries, cherries, chokeberries, and currants.   In a sense, this prepared meat was like a verion of Indian Goetta, minus the grain addition.  Our Losantaville Shawnees might have used local blackberries or service berries as their additives.     The Indians carried this with them as energy bars on their hunting and scouting expeditions.   Even the French fur traders that they interacted with adapted the use of pemmican on their long trips, even using it as a form of currency.

So, it’s about time we thank Tecumseh and Blue Jacket and their families for sharing their kitchen with our ancestors.