Beerlunking in Cincinnati

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Me and my family in the tunnels and lager cellars two stories below Vine Street at the Kaufmann Brewery.

Cincinnati is not unique in having a legacy of German breweries.   We were part of what was called the German triangle – the cities of Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati – cities where concentrations of Germanic immigrants settled.   As a result, these cities had a prevalence of German breweries.   Cincinnati is, however, unique in the number of breweries we had, and that many of their pre Prohibition remnants are still in tact.   The recently opened interactive Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail highlights this.

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My first beerlunking excursion in the Kaufmann tunnels in 2010.

Probably the coolest factor of our brewing heritage is that Cincinnati is the ONLY city in the United States that allows the public to tour the lager tunnels dug in some cases two stories under the street, and some over 150 years ago by these German breweries.

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Beerlunking in the old Kotte Brewery lager cellars on McMicken Avenue.

I call this type of touring Beerlunking and I am a seasoned Cincinnati Beerlunker.  It’s like spelunking in caves,  only the participants explore the man-made lager cellars and tunnels of our city’s pre-Prohibition breweries.   It can be perilous, with narrow passage ways and steep climbs, wet, muddy, and claustrophobic.    But it’s some of the coolest exploration I’ve done.

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Me as Cincinnati brewer Frank Linck in the Schmidt Brothers lager cellars two stories below McMicken Avenue.

I’ve had the opportunity to explore four of these tunnels in the last 10 years.    My first was in the Kaufmann Brewery tunnels below Vine Street underneath what was once their brewery.    I spoke during Bockfest in 2017 in the beer tunnels below what’s now the Moerlein taproom and was once the Kaufmann Malthouse.     This year I’ve explored the Kotte lager tunnels behind the Hudepohl Bottling Plant, and just recently descended two stories below McMicken into the old Schmidt Brothers Crown Brewery lager cellars.

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Bockfest’s 2017 Heritage Program in the Kaufmann lagering cellars below Moerlein’s Tap Room.

We can thank a lot of these tunnels for a weird pre Prohibition Ohio law that prevented brewing and bottling at the same facility.   So many tunnels connected the bottling plant to the brewery, as well as being storage for lagering brewed beer.    In the early days while Over-the-Rhine was being built, breweries would offer to dig foundations for new houses if the owner would allow them to build lager cellars with access to the brewer.

As a result, there continue to be new lager cellars discovered as old properties in Over-the-Rhine are restored.  There are hundreds of miles of tunnels and cellars in Cincinnati left to be discovered.    Because carbon dioxide is a byproduct of beer fermentation and needs to be vented, street side vents in old buildings are clues that a lager cellar exists below its foundation.

Hopefully there will be a map created of the Cincinnati lager cellars known to exist.   Maybe there will even be a Certified Cincinnati Beerlunker designation created by one of the tour companies or the Brewery District with special beer benefits to the cardholder.    I of course, will continue to beerlunk the tunnels and cellars as they are discovered and revel in Cincinnati’s unique beer underground.

The Civil War Beer of Cincinnati’s Ohio 9th Volunteer German Regiment

 

Portraits of Joseph and Burgetta Schaller hanging in the offices of Moerlein taproom, donated by their great great grandson, Mike Cottingham.

The members of the Ohio 9th Volunteer Regiment were recruited in Cincinnati at places where recent German immigrants congregated like the Central Turnhall on Walnut Street.   Many were only recent immigrants, but were ready to risk their lives to fight for their newly adopted country in the Civil War.    Many were veterans of Napoleonic wars and the 1848 Revolution, and many were turners and more physically fit than their Anglo-American counterparts.  Thinking it would only be a short while need to quell the Southern Secessionists, they enlisted for only three months.  But that proved a laughable short time and the war went on for four more years.   For their loyalty, the regiment was awarded with late pay, anti-German sentiment, and last dibs on supplies.

During that time, the troops were responsible for finding their own food and drink.    There were no MREs or Meals Ready to Eat, and no official military rations.    What couldn’t be found foraging the forests (or pillaging civilian farms) from marches to battles, was made up by unsweetened black coffee and stale crackers, known as hardtack, often infected with bugs called weevils, which were eaten intentionally or unintentionally.

So, that’s where the Civil War sutler came in.   He was a character sometimes praised and sometimes hated, depending on how fair his prices were to the regiments to whom he sold supplies.     Frank Linck was the sutler to the Ohio 9th Regiment.   He had been commander of Company E during the first three months of enlistment.    He and his brother Joseph had operated the F. & J. Linck Brewery on McMicken Avenue from 1855 to 1860, during the height of Know-Nothing Anti German sentiment in Cincinnati.     One of Linck’s brewers, Georg Roeder, was stabbed and killed in a melee in front of the brewery in the Know Nothing – German Democrat Mayoral Election Riots of April 1855.

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The Schaller & Schiff Brewery on the upper left on the canal in Cincinnati at Plum Street as it looked when it supplied beer to the Ohio 9th.

Linck was a good fit as sutler for the German of Cincinnati’s 9th.    He knew what they liked and that they wanted good German lager beer.  And, he was broke from the debt of his closed brewery and needed to make money.     So, he turned to the owner of the largest and most up to date brewery in Cincinnati, Joseph Schaller (1812-1888), an immigrant from Lore, Baden.     Schaller’s modern brewery at Canal and Plum had been built in 1856 and employed many German immigrants, some of whom might have even fought in the Ohio 9th.

First hand accounts from the ninth describe their pleasure at being on the drinking end of Linck’s  beer runs.

One in November of 1861 said, “In recent days our Sutler Link provided us with an extra pleasure in that he served several barrels of Schaller’s good lager beer.   The long done without drink tasted splendid, and it is only regretted that there was too little, so that all hearts could be able to be amply delighted.   A further edition is eagerly awaited and I hope that our sutler will arrange it.”

And Herr Linck did arrange several more beer runs, but not without having about $8000 worth of provisions intercepted and stolen by the Confederates on his way to Tennessee in September of 1861.

Another soldier’s entry in July of 1862 describes what food often came with the Schaller beer.  “Our sutler Frank Linck, who in the past had large stocks of wares and an excellent selection of all kinds of delicious things – as there are good Catawba red wine, lemon syrup, citrons, Limburger cheese, butter, ham, tongue, mustard, pickles, strawberries and gooseberries – surprised us recently with good cups of lager beer, of which he served up considerable quantities.”

Linck also provided local Cincinnati Catawba wine, made by imported Rhinish workers at Nicholas Longworth’s Wine House on the hills of Mt. Adams.   On April 2, 1862, a 9th soldier recalled, “The dog face soldiers drew the Catawba wine from Frank Linck… and many German and American patriotic songs were sung in a cheerful way and several impassioned toasts were made.

To make more money Frank and Joseph Linck in 1863, rented the separate lagering cellars beneath their malthouse on Race Street near Findlay market to a rock star list of Cincinnati brewers – including the Moerleins, Klotters, Eichelaubs, Windish, owners of Jackson, Bellevue, Mohawk, and Buckeye Breweries, and of course, Joseph Schaller.     The Lincks sold their brewery building in 1865 to the Kauffman’s who had their brewery down the street, and who converted into a malthouse by 1871.  It was sold to the city of Cincinnati in 1911 and the buildings were demolished and now Grant Park stands on its place.     But its short life as the Linck brewery and its ominous spot in the 1855 riots are memorialized by an app-interactive sign on the newly released Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail.

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These lagering cellars were recently discovered by new owners of the property above a few years ago, with the wood tanks still intact with beer sludge.     Urban Artifact brewery in Northside did a scraping of this sludge, and with help from a Chicago lab, isolated the 150 year old brewers yeast and made Linck Ale, which sold out in less than five hours at its release party.

Thankfully, Urban Artifact kept samples of the yeast and plan to make another batch, in conjunction with Moerlein, and host another tapping at the Moerlein Taproom and a screening of the documentary they’re filming about the project.

For more on the Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail – see http://www.brewingheritagetrail.org.

 

Cincinnati’s Celebrity 19th Century Chef Who Popularized Lager Beer in America

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Cincinnati’s famed Burnet House at 3rd and Vine Streets.

Over a century before Travel Channel and Food Network, there were celebrity chefs who were sought after and who could write their own salaries.     And, one of Cincinnati’s most prominent hoteliers stole one of New York’s rock star chefs.     When A. B Coleman decided to open the Burnet House in Cincinnati in 1850, he wanted to rival the cuisine of the famous Delmonico’s in New York City.     So he poached their chef, Louis Schultz.     When it opened, the London Illustrated News called the Burnet House “the finest hotel in the world.”

No other mid nineteenth century chef boasted the credentials of Louis Schultz.    He was an Alsatian who had trained in Paris and rose to be top chef at the famous Maison Doree.  He then ran the kitchen of Phaezler Hof in Mannheim, Germany, and spent the summers from 1845 to 1849 cooking spa food for the rich and famous in Baden-Baden, Germany, during the failed 1848 revolution that sparked a flood of refugees to Cincinnati and other cities.    Then, in 1849, Lorenzo Delmonico contracted him to run his kitchen at Delmonico’s, but he lasted only one season.

That’s because Mr. Coleman stole him to Cincinnati, to be the inaugural chef at his Burnet House.    While Schultz’ training was largely French, he longed for the congenial world of German cuisine, which he certainly found in Cincinnati.      An 1850s menu from the Burnett House shows that Schultz liked preparing mutton – he had seven different preparations of it – soup, ragout, roulade, boiled, broiled, as cutlets and tendrons.  He also had rabbit and calf tongue en papiote (steamed in paper bag).    For as much pork as was being herded through Porkopolis at the time, only one pork dish made Schultz’ menu.

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In 1863, Balthazar Roth opened his St. Nicholas Hotel and Restaurant in Cincinnati and he too wanted to rival Delmonico’s with its cuisine, so he stole away the only Cincy chef who had worked there – Herr Schultz.      Louis Schultz worked for the Roth’s for four years until his success became too good for his own britches.    Roth disliked the public praise his chef was receiving over him and insisted upon squelching this positive PR for Schultz.    So, Schultz did what any chef would do – in 1867 he took his ego and opened his own restaurant, Schultz’s at 141 West Fourth Street, which lasted for over a decade.    In the late 1870s he left Cincy for the east and ended up at a hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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But that was not before, according to his obituary, while in Cincinnati,  he popularized or gave cachet, to the German Lager beer in America.      That wasn’t hard in Cincinnati, as by the 1860s, he was surrounded by dozens of good German brewers – the Moerleins,  Windisch, Mulhauser, Schaller, Kauffman, Klotter, Sohn, Eichenlaub, Kleiner, and others.   The lagered their beer in the miles and miles of underground tunnels we have only recently discovered here in Over-the-Rhine.    He served this Cincinnati lager beer to all the dignitaries, famous figures, and royals who stayed at the Burnet House and St. Nicholas hotels while coming through Cincinnati.   President Lincoln stayed at the Burnet House in 1861 on his way to the inauguration in Washington.      Could Honest Abe been served his first German lager beer by Schultz right here in Cincinnati?    William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant met at the Burnet House in 1864  to spread out their maps, planning the final campaign of the Civil War.   Could Cincinnati German Lager beer be what gave them the frame of mind to create the winning strategy that brought our nation back together?   I’d like to think so.

And Schultz took that love and promotion of German lager beer with him when he left Cincinnati for New York.

Peppermint Patty and a Threeway: Part Five

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The candy counter at Skyline Walnut Hills checkout.

If you go into a Skyline or Gold Star these days, the after dinner chocolate mints that you’ll find are not made in Cincinnati.    And you’ll probably find Reese’s cups and assorted candy bars next to the mints.   You will most commonly see a box of York Peppermint Patties, now made by the Hershey Company.    Milton Hershey sold his caramel business to Roscoe Rodda, a Cincinnati candy maker who moved to Pennsylvania and then invented the marshmallow Peep.   The York Peppermint Patties were originally produced in 1940 in by Peter Hessler at the York Cone Company in York, Pennsylvania.

The Andes Crème de menthe is also a common companion to the York at most Cincinnati Chili parlors.     It’s a layer of crème de menthe sandwiched between two chocolate layers. This candy does have some connection to the Greek candy industry, as it was invented by Greek immigrant candy maker Andrew Kanelos in 1950.   He started his candy business in 1921 in Chicago, originally called Andy’s Candy.    But he soon realized men didn’t like to give boxes of candy to their sweethearts with another guy’s name, so he changed the name to the Andes Company after the mountains.    It was his son George Kanelos who took the now iconic mint national and the reason we have them at Cincinnati Chili parlors.  Andes was purchased by the Tootsie Roll Company in 2000.

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George Kanelos, who is responsible for the Andes mint in Cincinnati Chili Parlors.

Back from the late 20s into the 60s there were numerous Spartan Greek owned candy stores that supplied neighborhood chili parlors with house made, hand-dipped chocolate mints.    The first to pair them alongside Cincinnati chili was the Sam Haggis Sweet Shop at the Hollywood Theatre in College Hill.    But there were Coston’s, Droganes, Kalomeres, and Mehas, to name a few.

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Aglamesis mint cream chocolate egg.

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Jim Aglamesis, the last Spartan-Greek descended candy maker in Cincinnati.

The last surviving Cincinnati Greek family owned candy company in Cincinnati is Aglamesis in Oakley and Montgomery.      Jim Aglamesis, near his mid nineties still dons his white coat and works at the Oakley store.  And they make both a version of the York Peppermint Patty in the form of a mint cream egg, and a version of the Andes crème de menthe.       The Oakley location was opened in 1913 and is a step back in time with marble counter tops and the last remaining soda fountain Tiffany style tulip lamps that nearly every Greek candy or confection shop in Cincinnati and Middletown had.

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The same tulip lamps at Aglamesis were in (top left to right clockwise) Meakins #1, Droganes, Mehas and Meakins # 2.

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Aglamesis hand made crème de menthes.

So the next time you eat at the Oakley Skyline or Fairfax Gold Star, do yourself a favor – nix the York or the Andes mints –  drive to Aglamesis and get an original Greek recipe chocolate mint to experience what the original Peppermint Patty and a Threeway tradition tastes like.

For links to other parts in the Threeway series:

https://dannwoellertthefoodetymologist.wordpress.com/2019/04/12/peppermint-patty-and-a-threeway-parts-3-4/

https://dannwoellertthefoodetymologist.wordpress.com/2019/02/09/peppermint-patty-and-a-threeway-part-two/

https://dannwoellertthefoodetymologist.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/peppermint-patty-a-threeway-chasing-the-origin-of-greeks-and-their-candy-connection/

 

Our Unique Cincinnati Easter Candy

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Schneider’s personalized opera cream eggs, made at their candy store in Bellevue, Kentucky.

As folks in the candy biz know, Easter is the largest sales holiday of the year.   To many people’s surprise it tops even Christmas and  Halloween.     Chocolate bunnies and eggs of all sorts, jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and other confections fill Easter baskets.   And, to hop up above the rest, our Cincinnati Candy companies have come up with some great new unique Easter candies.

 

Vintage chocolate molds from Doscher’s.

Of course the Cincinnati candy most associated with Easter is our opera cream, invented by the Maysville, Kentucky-turned Fort Thomas native, Robert Hiner Putman in 1900.    It became so popular by 1920 that every candy company in Cincinnati had their own opera cream, and today that is still the case.    Papas Opera Cream eggs are probably the most visible in the retail market, but my favorites are those made by the Schneider family, either at Schneider’s in Bellevue, or their other family operation, Sweet Tooth in Newport, Kentucky.    Today the unicorn of Easter opera creams are the white chocolate opera cream crosses made by Papas, at their factory in the hillside Lewisburg neighborhood of Covington, Kentucky, catering to the young First Communicants.

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New this year from Fawn Candy company of Cheviot and Rookwood is what they call Bunny Trail Munch.    It is a calliope of  popped caramel corn, drizzled in white chocolate and topped with Pectin Jelly Beans, Bunny Candy Corn, Sixlets and Chocolate Covered Gummi Bears.    It’s an explosion of color and looks like an explosion of flavor too.    Fawn has a variety of sugar free chocolate options too.    No one has come up with a sugar free jelly bean to my knowledge, which would be great for those of us watching our glycemic levels.

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Fawn’s new Bunny Trail Munch

The cutest chocolate bunnies in the world are the Zombie Bunnies made by Chocolates Latour in Northside.    Who can imagine a cute hoppy, floppy-eared Easter bunny, dripping in blood munching into your head to eat out your brains?    Well owner Shalini Latour can.   I mean it makes sense, the whole idea behind Easter – violent death by crucifixion and then rising from the dead – relates.

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Latour’s army of Zombie Bunnies.

Maverick Chocolates is the only game in town that makes a Bean-to-Bunny chocolate Easter bunny.   That means the ethically sourced (non African child slave labor harvested like all of the big retail chocolatiers) beans are roasted and the cacao processed into a lovely high %  cacao chocolate.    They’ve also got a unique lemon white chocolate bunny that sounds amazing.

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There are the bird nests made by Graeter’s, (yes they make candy too, not just ice cream) and in a variety of forms by home bakers, that are chocolate covered coconut, filled with jelly beans or hummingbird eggs.      To me, the butterscotch topped Chinese noodle version of the bird’s nest, made by many home bakers could be marketed as the Crown of Thorns and take on a whole new category.    But maybe that’s too macabre for the children.

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Graeter’s birds nest in center – Chinese noodle version to the left, and marshmallow cereal version with malted milk eggs to the right.

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And of course, we can’t forget the handmade chocolates of Aglamesis made on site above their ice cream parlor in Oakley.    They call themselves your “One Hop Stop” to build an Easter basket.     Aglamesis are also the last remnant in Cincinnati of what was once a market of hundreds of Greeks from Sparta who owned retail candy stores all over Greater Cincinnati.  It’s these families that started our tradition of having a chocolate peppermint patty after eating a Cincinnati chili threeway.   Stop into Aglamesis and get a chocolate mint and taste what the original would have tasted like before all the chili parlors bought Andes mints or Peppermint Patties, which are not made in Cincinnati.

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Many don’t know that Roscoe Rodda, the man who invented the marshmallow Peep, one of Easter’s most iconic candies, was a candy maker in Cincinnati for Reinhart & Newton, Peter Echert Company, and even a partner with Opera Cream inventor Robert Putman.    He probably learned the art of shaped marshmallow candies that spawed the Peep at Peter Echert’s company.  And, the original Peep had wings, but when it was automated by the company that bought Rodda out, the wings were clipped off and now the Peep is flightless.

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The original hand-piped, winged marshmallow Peep.

Other local candy companies have chocolate dipped the Peep, a variety of flavored Oreo cookies for other unique basket stuffers.     The chocolate dipped Peep opens up a whole new genre of candy that can be dipped in coconut a variety of finely chopped nuts as well as sprinkles, nuts, and even Pop Rocks candy.

 

 

 

 

 

Peppermint Patty and a Threeway: Parts 3 & 4

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The Elite Confectionery in Middletown, Ohio, owned by the four Greek immigrant Revelos Brothers, who taught Thomas Haggis how to make ice cream and candy.

So in Part Two of the Peppermint Patty and a Threeway, we connected the Greek candy legacy in Cincinnati to Cincinnati Chili through the Sam Haggis Sweet Shop in the Hollywood Theatre in College Hill.   It is the first documented location where a chocolate mint cream candy was sold alongside or as a finish to a bowl of Cincinnati Chili.     Sam Haggis opened his shop in the Hollywood Theatre in about 1926 and was serving light lunches of chili and sandwiches by 1930, as well as candy and ice cream.    He had help from his younger brothers Peter and Thomas.   Peter’s father-in-law Sotirius Shoukas came with his family and got a job with the Kiradjieffs at the original Empress Chili in 1922 and learned how to make Cincinnati Chili.

But this story just keeps getting better.   In the food business the legacy can go back even further.   Where did Sam and his brothers learn how to make candy?   Where did they get their start?  While in many cases, without family oral history, these questions can go unanswered.  In our case, one cool public record answers that question very specifically.     In 1918 Samuel Haggis was 18 years old and required to sign up for the Draft for World War I.   At the time he lists his job as candymaker at 328 West Fifth Street at the Sarros Brothers Confectionery.   He lists his younger brother Thomas Haggis as his nearest relative, who is working in Middletown, Ohio for the Revelos Brothers at their Elite Confectionery.

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James Revelos was the first brother to come through Ellis Island in 1903 from a small village of Kosma, Sparta, Greece, where his family were farmers and sheepherders.    There his name was changed by the recorder from Rempelos.   James learned the candy trade from Greek immigrant relatives in Lima, Ohio.   Nick and Charles came to the U.S. in 1909, and John in 1912.   They opened the first Elite Confectionery in 1909 next to Gordon Theatre, and then moved across the street.   By 1920, the time Thomas Haggis worked for them, the Revelos brothers had bought three properties and had an ice cream and candy factory and soda fountain that became a popular after theatre destination for generations of Middletonians.     Many soldiers who came back to Middletown from World War II stopped at Elite for a thick Chocolate Delight malt before seeing their family.

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The soda fountain of Elite Confectionery about the time Thomas Haggis worked there.  Note the same Tiffany tulip lamps and white marble tops as at the original Aglamesis Ice Cream in Oakley in Cincinnati.

In 2010, before the last of the Elite Confectionery locations was demolished in Middletown, George Revelos, the oldest remaining sons of one of the founders, saved the Revelos sign for his nephew, Nick Revelos in Columbus.

In 1918, the Sarros Brothers confectionery consisted of brothers Nicholas J. and Frank J., who had come to the U.S. from Sparta, Greece, in 1900 and 1906 respectively.    The brothers  had help from their father John, who immigrated in 1903.    Their other brother George soon joined, and they also had help from other Sarros relatives Argiro, Christoph, James, and another Nicholas.    They operated a retail store and all the relatives – as many as 8 at one time including other workers, like Sam Haggis, lived behind or above the store.

Sam, Thomas, and Peter had learned the trade and saved enough money in 1922 to form the Haggis Brothers Confectionery, at Eire Avenue in Hyde Park, which is now the location of Graeter’s Ice Cream.   Sam brought his knowledge from the Sarros brothers, and Thomas brought his knowledge from the Revelos Brothers, perhaps bringing their most popular candy, the Klondike, a mix of chocolate covered, roasted Spanish peanuts and caramel.      Then Sam started his Sweet Shop in the Hollywood Theatre with help from Thomas.

Nicholas Sarros had been an espionage agent in the Greek Navy and was captured by the Turks in 1898 in Constantinople.   He escaped and made it to Cincinnati by 1900, where he was first a candy peddler and then worked with his relatives at 528 West Fifth Street, in the Greek enclave around Fifth Street at the time.

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Nicholas Sarros, who taught Samuel Haggis the candymaking business.

In about 1903 he started the Chophouse, a saloon, pool hall and restaurant at 319 Central avenue for the next 22 years.    He worked with the Greek Council in Chicago, helping Greek immigrants in Cincinnati, and was an interpreter in Hamilton County courts for the Greek community. In 1919, he would invest with the Stephen and Charles Ponticos in forming Cupid Ice Cream, which was later sold in 1966 to French-Bauer Ice Cream.

Brother George J. Sarros left the candy business and operated a Royal Chef restaurant on Wooster Pike in Mariemont, and then a Flying Saucer burger chain on Glenway Avenue in Westwood.   A sign remnant of another Flying Saucer chain still exists on Eastern Avenue in Columbia-Tusculum in front of a junk yard.

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Brother Harry J. Sarros opened the Marathon Inn at 7215 Montgomery Road in 1928, and is credited for inventing the local double decker sandwich called the Hippo, a heaping portion of ham and turkey.   It’s probably so named because it takes the mouthspan of a hippo to take a bite of this massive sandwich.   His sons George and John Sarros took over the business after his death in 1949 and operated the Marathon until 1959.

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The site of the Marathon Inn today on Montgomery Road.

Yet another interesting connection exists with the Sarros family.    George Sarros, wife was Katherine Kalomeres, brother of Charles Kalomeres, who owned candy stores in Cincinnati, and whose daughter Tula Kalomeres married Ted Gregory, and co-owned Montgomery Inn.  Tula invented the now popular and super sweet Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce.

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Both Peter and Samuel went on to run chili parlors after leaving the candy business, but the tradition of a chocolate mint and a threeway that started on Hamilton Avenue in College Hill lives on today nearly 100 years later in Cincinnati.

 

The Pretzel Ministry of Fr. John Aloysius Seiler of Covington, Kentucky

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The hat, apron, oven mit and soft pretzel recipe of Fr. John Aloysius Seiler next to his memorial plaque at St. Elizabeth Hospital.

Ministry to the sick and dying may be one of the toughest jobs out there.     There’s no easy way to comfort a family going through such a time of trial.     But one local priest created a unique “Pretzel Ministry” that left a lasting mark on thousands of northern Kentuckians.  Fr. John Aloysius Seiler ministered to the sick and dying at St. Luke/ St. Elizabeth hospitals in Ft. Thomas and northern Kentucky for over thirty years from 1981-2015, after a long career as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Covington.      With a compassionate ear and an offering of his hand made and delicious Bavarian soft pretzels, he ministered to families and their care givers.

It’s not known if the pretzels he made were from a family recipe, but his next door neighbor growing up was a baker, Albert Heineman, Jr.     Perhaps he developed a taste or a knowledge of soft pretzels from him.  We also know that long lines of people formed at the hospital whenever he brought his pretzels, to savor a delicious. comforting bite.    His recipe that hangs in St. Elizabeth’s hospital, next to a memorial plaque, is designed for a quantity of 100, to be made into straight, twirled, or cigar shapes.     Fr. Seiler clearly understand the maillard reaction and the German Laugengebach Method (lye dipped breads) that makes the crunchy outer crust, and is caused by dipping the dough quickly in a lye bath before baking.     And his recipe warns to use a porcelain or stone dish for the lye bath, not aluminum, which would rust in the caustic solution.

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He was born in 1935 into a Germanic northern Kentucky family to parents  Raymond and Henrietta Seiler.    Their house was on 17th Street in the Austinburg neighborhood, in the parish of  St. Benedict Catholic Church, near the Licking River.    He returned there many times, bringing his fellow postulants and brother priests for pinochle games with his family, something he took with him to wherever he was living.

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A young Fr. Seiler, shortly after his ordination in 1959.

Fr. Seiler was ordained  a Diocesan priest into the Archdiocese of Covington, Kentucky, in 1959, by Archbishop Paul Leibold.   He served a variety of Covington parishes, but lastly served as a parish priest at the German-American Catholic Corpus Christi Church on 9th and Isabella Streets in Newport, Kentucky before it closed in the 1980s.    This was the ancestral parish of both of my Grandmothers’ Germanic immigrant families and now operates as a retirement home.

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He was known as a soft and gentle man with a good listening ear, and one who offered sage advice to those searching for answers and comfort.     Many of the hospital workers at St. Elizabeth couldn’t start their day without a greeting from him on their respective floors.      Fr. Seiler returned to the Great Pretzel Baker in the Sky in 2016, and in true form, donated his body for scientific research to the University of Cincinnati Medical School.

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