Brachman – The Mt. Washington Catawba Ghost Town

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Vineyards in Cincinnati, along the Ohio during the Catawba Craze.  Note the woman is carrying the larger load and her husband seems to be barking her orders.

The more I dig into Cincinnati’s native wine heritage, the more I find these ghost towns that popped up around the Catawba Craze of the 1840s and 1850s.      San Francisco had its Gold Rush, while Cincinnati had its Catawba Craze   This was when Nicholas Longworth influenced poor Rhineland, Alsatian, and French/Swiss farmers to immigrate and become his tenant vine dressers.  In the end, the tenant farmers, like the San Francisco miners, were the ones who were most taken advantage of.   It was the brokers, distributers and retailers (German coffeehouse owners in Over-the-Rhine) who made the most out of the Catawba craze.   And Longworth’s great Catawba experiment failed.

Nicholas Longworth died in 1863 before he was able to implement a cure for the phylloxera and black rot caused by our weird river valley climate.    His son-in-law William J. Flagg wrote a great manual on how to cure black rot and prevent phylloxera infestations, but by 1863 after several bad weather seasons and decimated vineyards, none of the poor tenants or farmers could afford to continue to invest in their fickle native grapes.   And most were at wit’s end with the fickleness of our native grapes.

And others like Mr. Campbell of Delaware, Ohio, grafted and created more resistant stocks.     Those that still wanted to tackle winemaking moved to Lake Eire and Pennsylvania where Concord and other more resistant native grapes were being grown.   Longworth’s wine makers – James and Joseph Musson, from Rheims in Burgundy, went on to the East to develop champagnes and vineyards after Longworth’s grandson William P. Anderson sold the Longworth Wine House and began selling off the vineyard land in 1869.    And the small farms – which was most of the 250 or so vineyards in Cincinnati – replaced their grapes with corn, wheat, tobacco and hay, which were more weather tolerant and profitable.

Another of these Catawba ghost towns was located at about where Guardian Angels School is on Beechmont Avenue in Mt. Washington.   It was a small hamlet of farms called Brachman – named after German immigrant Henry Brachman, from Nordhausen, Prussia.   He owned a 99 acre farm with a vineyard planted in Catawba grapes that spanned both sides of Beechmont Avenue between Beacon  Street and Burney Lane.     Brachman Street in between the two is where the family farmhouse was.

While Nordhausen is not really wine country, Brachman was married to a bit of an American wine legacy, Rosalia Bettens, who was born in Vevay, Indiana.    Rosalia was daughter of Phillip and Rosalia Bettens, who were the leaders of the first 16 families from Vevay, Switzerland to immigrate in 1801 to found Vevay, Indiana.   They were all vine dressers and winemakers, and were the first in America to successfully make wine out of native vinus labrusca, specifically the Alexander grape.     So, Brackman had a free vineyard consultant in his father-in-law, and a wife that knew how to dress and care for vines.   Longworth himself even admitted that it was the wives and daughters of his German immigrant tenants who did most of the hard labor in his vineyards.

Nicholas Longworth visited the Swiss winemakers in Vevay in the 1820s when he started getting interested in winemaking with native grapes on his land in Cincinnati.   He invested heavily in the Catawba grape, that was supposedly more tolerant to black rot and pests, but it proved not to be.      Longworth planted his first vineyards in Delhi on the West side in the 1820s, and set up immigrants Ammann, and Tuchfarber to terrace the hillsides and care for the vines.    This sparked several other independent Germanic immigrants to grow grapes for themselves and the Longworth Wine House.

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Brackman was one of the many immigrants who caught the Catawba Craze.    In 1859, he showed his Dry Catawba Wine at the Hamilton County Fair, along with some of Nicholas Longworth’s tenant farmers like Christian Friedrich Schiecke, whose 18 acres of vineyards were part of Longworth’s Garden of Eden that went up into the Mt. Adams hillside from his house, now the Taft Museum.

Brachman was active in the Cincinnati Horticultural Society and the American Winegrowers Association.    While being a farmer and a winemaker, Brachman was also a bit of a politician – serving as an Ohio Senator from 1862-1864.     He was quite successful in enterprise as in 1873 he started the Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Portsmouth Railroad, a narrow gauge railroad that connected the farms of Anderson township and Clermont County to downtown.   We might even call it the Catawba Choo-Choo.  Brackman was able to sell the farmers to turn over their land for free for the right-of-way,  with the promise of having a convenient daily route to bring their farm products to Cincy and Northern Kentucky markets.    The railway operated until 1935, and its remnants can still be seen in California Woods off of Kellogg Avenue, which is where it descended the Eastern hillsides into Cincinnati.       The railroad connected the vineyards of the immigrant winemakers in California, Five Mile, and another Catawba ghost town, Sweet Wine (called Wineburg, by the Germans), near Coney Island, founded in 1854 by Franz Helfferich, a founding member of the Cincinnnati Turnverein.

The immigrant wine growers of Sweet Wine had a connection with Stepstone, Kentucky, across the river, as they went to the St. John German Lutheran Church of Stepstone, which was the closest local Lutheran Church.    Stepstone, Carntown, and neighboring Camp Springs (Four Mile), Kentucky were also enclaves of wine growers from the winegrowing regions of Germany – Baden-Wuertemburg, Rhinepfalz, and Switzerland.     The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church of Stepstone, Kentucky was formed by early wine country Germanic immigrants, who had originally come to Cincinnati.

While Brachman did get to see the success his narrow gauge railway provided for the farmers of Eastern Cincinnati, it did not stop the end of the Catawba Craze.    The hamlet of Brachman was soon annexed into Mt. Washington, and its history almost lost as it became, like many others a Catawba Ghost Town.

Hartwell Heights – The Last Catawba Vineyard in Cincinnati

Nestled atop a southeasterly facing hill on East Galbraith Road in Hartwell, is an old Greek Revival stone manor house that guards the massive wine cellars of the last commercial Catawba vineyard in Cincinnati .    It was called Hartwell Heights and built by George and Peter Bogen.   Most Cincinnatians go instantly to Old Nick –  Mr. Nicholas Longworth, when thinking of Cincinnati wine.   And he might have sunk the most capital and time into winemaking, but he was neither the greatest, the most prolific, nor the last to make native Catawba wines.  Old Nick passed away in 1863, the year ‘the blight’ caused by a bug called phylloxera, decimated most of his and other growers’ vineyards and created a massive shift to other products like tobacco, hay, and corn.

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Many have toured the lager cellars below Over-the-Rhine, but this wine cellar predates them, and connects to an even earlier history with the area’s wine industry.   I hope to get a tour of this cellar in the very near future.   The vaulted wine cellar descends 25 feet below foundation and extends the length of the main house – about 100 feet.   It could hold over 100,000 bottles of wine, where they were aged two years before hitting the market.      The Bogen Brothers had a retail wine and liquor business near Brighton, at the bottom of Clifton to distribute their wines to the many Germany coffeehouses in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati.   They also distributed outside of Ohio to other German immigrant communities who liked sweet Rhine wines.

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The entrance to the massive wine cellars of Hartwell Heights – now the event space of Evergreen Retirement Community.

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The Bogen Wine Cellars

Without having caught the story after seeing an old ad for G and P Bogen, I would have never known this gem of Cincinnati’s wine making history was still standing.    The Germans from the Rhine River winemaking regions settled in hillside communities like Lick Run and Delhi on the West Side of Cincinnati, and Mt. Adams, Columbia Tusculum, California, and Sweet Wine (near Coney Island) on the East Side.    Rhineland immigrant communities across the river in Kentucky – Camp Springs, Four Mile, Stepstone/Carntown – also made wine and sold grapes to Nicholas Longworth for his wine houses.   An 1850 report said there were 264 winemakers employing over 700 acres of vineyards within a 20 mile radius of Cincinnati.   Learning that one of the largest and the last producers of wine in Cincinnati was in Hartwell came as a complete surprise.

Perhaps the only original elements of Hartwell Heights 1844 stone house.

The weird thing is I passed this thousands of times in high school and after.     The old manor house is discreetly nestled amongst the homes of the Evergreen Retirement community, which uses it as their events space and offices.   I interviewed a resident there about the old German smoking casinos not knowing there was another history hidden in the site.   The rest of the original 159 acre Hartwell Heights farm is now the Williamsburg apartment complex, where I partied many times with coworkers from my first professional engineering job.

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George (left) and Peter Bogen, who built Hartwell Heights, were immigrants from the Rhinepfalz winemaking region.    They came with their parents in 1826 to Germantown, Ohio, near Dayton, and then moved to Cincinnati in 1829, where they started a sausage business that turned into a very successful pork packing business on Hamilton Road.    Peter was married to Willhemina Schatzmann in 1835 and celebrated their 50th anniversary on the estate presided by the pastor of St. Paul German Evangelical Church on Race and 15th, now the Taft Ale House.

The brothers used the pork packing money in 1844 to buy the 159 acre farm that they named Hartwell Heights.   They built the  gorgeous house the same year of  limestone dug from steep hillside that is  now Galbraith Road.      Adjoining the two and a half story main house they built two one story stone wings divided into apartments for the extended family that lived on the farm.   A winding drive from Vine Street to the house was lined with crabapple trees.   The land extended to where the railroad into town crossed Vine Street (then called Carthage Pike).

The main vineyard consisted of 15 acres, with four rows of 4 foot thick stone-walled terraces, each seven feet high with steps in between.    A total of 35 acres were employed to three vineyards by 1850.    They had several wine presses that they used to juice the grapes into must.    The skins and seeds leftover were distilled to make Bogen Catawba brandy, or used very smartly as fertilizer for other crops.

Not only did the Bogens grow native Catawba grapes, which Nicholas Longworth had obtained from Baltimore, but they also grew Ives and Alexander grapes.    Alexander grapes were used to make what was called Shuykill Wine.    The Bogens showed their Shuykill, Sparkling Catawba, Dry Catawba, and Old Catawba Wines at the 1859 Cincinnati Horticultural Fair, along with other local wine makers Henry Brachman, Michael Werk, John Mottier, Friedrich Schniecke, and James Eshelby.    The formidable Nick Longworth was strangely not a contendor at this wine competition.   But this was the peak of the Cincinnati wine industry.

The Blight of 1863 would also affect the Bogens’ vineyard but they soldiered on, while others stopped growing grapes. George decided to divest from the vineyard and Peter became the sole owner of Hartwell Heights.  By 1875 Peter was only producing a trickle of wine, and sold to his sons-in-law, Jacob and John Pfau, for $146,000, quite a fortune.    The Pfau brothers continued to grow all the grape varietals with which Peter Bogen had been successful, but also supplied local whiskeys through their retail business at 258 Main Street, which they had established in 1855.     Their premium brands of whiskeys were T. J. Megibben Copper-Distilled Bourbon and Monongahela Rye, but they also carried brandies, gins, and imported Champagnes, and fine French and German wines.     Both Pfau brothers had died by 1883,  their father in law outliving them by five years. The Pfau family would own the estate for another 60 years, turning it into a dairy in 1909, and leasing it out to a real estate developer who in turn would develop it  into the Williamstown Apartments in the 1960s.

The last Cincinnati Catawba wine was made in 1883, the year John Pfau died, almost 20 year after the Longworth Wine House stopped commercial production after Old Nick’s death.   So this new year, when toasting with champagne, just think, if not for the Blight of ’63, you might be toasting with Sparkling Catawba wine, made in Cincinnati.

The Magi Invented the Bundt Cake, According to the Alsatians

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The Three Kings, or Magi, have a wonderful mythology about them.    The Gospel of Matthew is the only one that mentions them, and very vaguely as “wise men from the East.”  No names, no number, although three is what history has settled on, unless you’re Syrian, and then there’s 12.

Tradition says their names were Balthasar, King of Arabia, who gave frankincense; Caspar, King of India, who gave myrrh;  and Melchior, King of Persia, who gave gold.  In Spanish speaking countries, kids have to wait till the Feast of the Epiphany to get their gifts, brought by the three kings.   Here, in the states, in New Orleans, the King Cake makes its first appearance on January 6, so they can avoid choking on the plastic baby Jesus hidden inside.

One particular interesting legend about the Kings’ lives after adoring the baby Jesus, and dropping off the first Christmas gifts, takes us to the Alsace Lorraine region – a disputed region on the border of France and Germany that changed hands 7 times between 1871 and 1920.   Needless to say their culture is a hybrid mix of French and German.

In this region, there is a cake called the Kugelhopf (what we call a bundt cake in America) that is said to have been introduced by the Magi, who in addition to being wise scholars, were also incredibly ingenious bakers, and very early risers.

The story goes that they were returning from the MIddle East and were near the Alsatian village of Ribeauville and were caught in a bad storm.  The knocked on the door of one poor Mr. Kugel, who took them in and showed them great hospitality, despite his meagerness.   The next morning, eager to continue their journey through Germany (why they were travelling through Germany, since they were from the East is puzzling, but bear with me for the story….)  they either made the mold from their precious metals, or made the first Kugelhopf cake in the mold that Mr Kugel had in his house.

The cake was a rich yeasted cake with raisins, fruits, nuts, and sometimes booze.    There is a long tradition of decorated Alsatian earthenware pottery in the region and that’s what kugelhopfs are made from today.     They are said to resemble the crown of the three kings.   Some Alsatian chefs say you cannot produce a good kugelhopf until it has been baked in the same pan for 15 years.   That’s a lot of throwaway kugelhopfs!

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It’s a wonderful legend for the Christmas season, and the cake is super popular in Alsace.   But the historical way the cake made it to the region is probably through King Stanislaus of Poland, who abdicated his throne and in 1737 and received the province of Lorainne, in Alsace, as a consolation prize.    The Austrians had supposedly invented the cake to celebrate their victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1683, and it was made to resemble the Turbans worn by the Turks.

If you want to try yourself, Williams Sonoma makes a non stick kugelhopf pan.   Just make sure it’s not Teflon, if you’ve seen the movie Dark Waters!

The Fruit in Cincinnati Fruitcake

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The Rheinstrom Brothers factory in 1900 at the foot of Mt. Adams.

Last week I posted about my grandmother’s Christmas fruitcake recipe that my father had recently mentioned.   He said it was very good and well liked by the family.   They called it Poor Man’s Fruitcake for some unknown reason.     I thought for sure the recipe would be in the recipe box of my Aunt Betty’s, her only daughter, which is now owned by her granddaughter, my second cousin.   But, unfortunately for this food etymologist, it was not one of those recipes in the box.

So I recently saw a posting of a panoramic photo from about 1900 showing Mt. Adams and Eastern Avenue here in Cincinnati.    One of the prominent factories in the skyline was that of the Rheinstrom Brothers, distillers and producers of glace fruits.    I remember coming across the name in my research for my Cincinnati Candy Book.   Glace fruits, also known as crystallized or candied fruits, are fruits or peels of fruits immersed in hot sugar syrup.   The syrup aborbs into the fruit and preserves it.    Rheinstrom Brothers made glace cherries, pineapple, and citrus peels.   The candied cherries became the center of the cherry cordials made by local candy companies like Mullane’s and Dolly Varden.   They were also used by local ice cream makers like Aglamesis and Graeter’s, particularly in the super-popular Nesselrode sundae.

The Rheinstrom Brothers had been founded by two Bavarian Jewish immigrant brothers, Abraham, born in 1845, and Isaac, born two years later.    Abraham left home at 14 and came to America , landing in heavily German Cincinnati, also the home of Reform Judaism,     They fit well with the other entereprising Jewish immigrants who locally started in the flavoring, distilling, or food products industries – the likes of the Fries and Frank Brothers.   Both Brothers worked at the Freiburg Distillers in Cincinnati from about 1862 to 1875, which made nearly 30 proprietary whiskeys.    But the brothers left and started their own liquor business, surpassing their mentors with over 50 of their own branded whiskeys and bitters in the 40 years they were in business.    When Prohibition hit, James, the son of Abraham, expanded their Rosebud line of glaced fruits.

The other food that Rheinstrom’s candied fruits went into were Cincinnati fruitcakes.    That includes all the German stolen and north German Klaben made by the local Germanic bakeries.   In the above photos of their containers, there are notes “for making fruitcake at home,” and “for fruitcake, see recipe inside.”   My food antennae went up!   Most of my grandmother’s recipes were standards off the back of ingredients packages.    Her beloved chocolate cake was from the Hershey’s Cocoa tin.   Her goetta recipe was off the Dorsel Pinhead oats bag.  her lasagna recipe was from the back of the Creamette noodle package.   It was the love and skill with which she made these that distinguished her food.   So, could her fruitcake recipe be this recipe on the inside of the Rheinstrom candied fruit??

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The fruitcake recipe came from Marion Harris Neil, the cookery editor of the Ladies Home Journal in thee 1910s and 1920s.    The mid 20s was when my grandparents were married and setting up home, and when Grandma was learning how to cook and amassing her recipes.    As it turns out Ms. Neil had a double gig locally with Rheinstrom and Proctor & Gamble, who were just releasing their new Crisco vegetable shortening.    They were marketing it to the large Jewish housewife population.    They, unlike the Gentile Cincinnati housefrauen, who used much more available pig lard from the local meat packers, had to painstakingly render their own schmaltz for cooking, from chicken fat.    You could write to P & G with proof of purchase of Crisco and get an entire cookbook by Ms. Neil, which contained her recipe for  fruitcake.   A simpler recipe is found in the Crisco cookbook, called the Southern Fruitcake, which doesn’t have nuts or as much fruit as the one below.    You also had to know the difference between a slow oven, and a moderate oven.

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I recently found a copy of that Crisco cookbook from 1914 and found the simpler Southern fruitcake recipe.  I would imagine the above is the one promoted by the Rheinstrom Brothers and contained inside their fruit containers.      Maybe the simpler recipe is why Grandma called it Poor Man’s Fruitcake.

While I have no conclusive proof that Ms. Neil’s Southern fruitcake is the same as my Grandma’s Poor Man’s Fruitcake, it would certainly follow her pattern of recipes from food containers.   It very well could be – it certainly fits the time period.   I will have to make it for Dad and see if it tastes the same.

Marion Harris Neil’s Southern Fruitcake from the Crisco Cookbook

(Possibly also Norma Woellert’s Christmas Poor Man’s Fruitcake)

1 cup each sugar, Crisco, molasses

1/2 cup sour cream

3 cups flour

1 tsp salt, cinnamon

1/2 tsp each baking soda, allspice, cloves

1 cup seeded raisins

1/2 cup currants

3 eggs

Cream Crisco and sugar together, then add molasses, sour cream, flour, soda, well beaten eggs, salt, spices and fruit.   Mix well and turn into Criscoed and papered cake tin and bake in slow oven one and a half hours.

 

 

 

 

What Ever Happened to Mincemeat Pie?

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I was doing some Christmas shopping recently and the store had some homemade goodies out for sampling.    One of said goodies were bite sized mincemeat squares.   It made me smile because these were my grandma’s favorite.     And, she was probably the only one in the family who liked mincemeat.   She would rave and rave about how good it was, how when she was a young woman every holiday came with mincemeat pies.   She tried to try to win us over and get one of us to buy a mince pie for our holiday dinner.    But she hooked none of us.   So finally one year she took the time and baked her own mince pies to prove to us how delicious they were.   I visited her after she had made them and she cut a huge slice for me.

Now granted my grandmother was a fabulous baker.   Everything she baked was done with love and turned out great.   So it was unusual that anything she made would be viewed with such disdain as mincemeat pie.

I remember how rich it was and saying there was no way I could eat an entire piece.    I did humor her and sit down with the glass of milk she poured for us both.    While she was devouring her piece, I was reluctantly forcing a few bites down so I wouldn’t offend.    I just couldn’t take the super-clovey, super sweet, rich raisin taste.    I much preferred her princess squares that were made with dates and had a streusel topping.

It just seemed like one of those old timey pies.  My teenage palate just couldn’t be swayed to like Grandma’s mince pies.   And that was the last time I had mincemeat until this shopping experience.

The mincemeat pie has a long legacy.   Originally it did have meat in it and has been around since the 1600s having a connection to the Christmas season in the UK.    They lost the meat over the years and became hand pies.   Walkers, the UK company famous for their shortbread makes a seasonal mince hand pie.

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Locally, in Greater Cincinnati everyone made a mincemeat pie into the mid century.   Hubigs made 15 different pies, but also made a mincemeat pie around Christmas.    Frisch’s is one of the last to still make them seasonally, but you have to ask for them special and order them.   Buskens and Servatiis do not make mincemeat pies.  I have never seen a mincemeat pie at a holiday party.    So it was really odd to see these mince squares at the shop.

I smiled and took one out of nostalgia and love for my Grandma.    And to my surprise, it was really good!   There was just the right amount of filling in this blond streusel square.  It wasn’t super clovey like I had remembered and the combo of golden raisin, apple, and maybe even some coconut had a wonderful holiday flavor.  I commented to the shopkeeper and she said “Good, I’ll tell the baker you said that!”     I even went back for a second square as I exited the shop.

I know Grandma was smiling from the other side.   It took over 30 years, but she finally converted me over to a mincemeat lover.

Aunt Betty’s Recipe Box and the Goetta Alien

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I ran into one of my favorite cousins, Nancy, coming out of Langen Meats on the West Side this past winter, where I was about to interview the owner about their goetta.    We nearly bumped into each other and then had a wonderful cousin hug.    She asked what brought me to the West Side and I told her about my goetta book research.  I asked if she might have Grandma Woellert’s goetta recipe and she said she’d look.    Her brother David has Grandma’s Slaw Recipe that was served to relatives her family hosted during the great 1937 Flood.   And Nancy said they figured out Grandma’s awesome chocolate cake that we all loved was from the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa Tin.

It’s pretty significant that Grandma had any recipes as she was the youngest of four girls and never had to cook before she got married.    It was her first landlady Frau Herzog, who taught her how to cook after she and Grandpa got married.    One of the first things she learned how to make from Frau Herzog was a cherry pie.   I’d think that maybe she’d start her culinary lessons with a casserole or something maybe from the main course, but I guess Frau Herzog was a sweets girl.

Grandma did learn how to cook and she did very well.   She made a great lasagna, barley soup, and great goetta, in her 1930s era gas stove.   That stove seemed like such a relic when I was a kid.    I had many lunches with her in the summers after I cut her grass.     She’d whip up a cole slaw and a grilled luncheon meat sandwich of Dutch loaf or olive loaf, with a pop and we’d talk family history.

There was another unique recipe of my Grandpa’s for spiked eggnog, based on the north German eierliquor, from the area his grandfather was from in Mecklenburg, Germany.   He used to make it every Christmas for the adults – and unknowingly for some of our older cousins who stole cups out of adult eyesight.   That recipe too was lost to history.    We also had three types of pickled herring at our Christmas gatherings – straight pickled, pink creamed herring, and brown creamed herring.  This tradition also came from the north German area near the Baltic Sea where my father’s family hailed.

I think family recipes are more valuable than pictures or heirloom silver.    Food memories are some of our most vivid memories, and certainly the holidays conjure up the best of those memories.   I love the tibdits of family history that are seen in family recipes.   Notes like “Served at Betty’s baptism,” or “given to me by great aunt so-and-so.” Hard times were noted by, “if nutmeg is too expensive, just add more cinnamon.”

Unfortunately Nancy never did find Grandma’s goetta recipe, and my goetta research put that search on the back burner.

Recently Dad brought up that Grandma used to make holiday fruitcakes that were really good.     And then Nancy texted me very shortly after that and I asked if she knew of that recipe.      She is connected to another of our cousins, Greg, who is the son of my Aunt Betty, the only daughter in my dad’s family.    Aunt Betty’s family moved to upstate New York when Uncle Bob was transferred there with American Can, who he worked for in Northside.   Greg’s daughter Haley, owns Aunt Betty’s old recipe box, which would assumedly have all Grandma’s old recipes.   Oddly enough, at family gatherings Aunt Betty was known for her sausage and rotini pasta casserole.

That whole branch is celebrating their Christmas this weekend and Haley is bringing the recipe box.    I cant wait to see what mysteries are unlocked from the recipe box

If Grandma’s goetta recipe is in Aunt Betty’s recipe box, it would be certainly foreign and alien to them – like an illegal immigrant lurking amongst other recipes.   The second cousins were all raised in upstate New York, and so even things like Cincinnati Chili are just outside of their culinary wheelhouse.     But every year Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob would make their annual trip to Cincinnati, stay with my Grandma and she’d make them all the Cincinnati faves.

At my Aunt Betty’s memorial service, I was talking to my second cousin Chucky, and was comparing our Cincinnati Brat to the Rochester New York White Hot.    He talked to the owner of the bar where we were having the obligatory after service family gnosh, and he came out about 10 minutes later with a tray of grilled NY White Hots for us Cincinnati cousins to taste for the first time.   They were good and the New York and Cincinnati sides of our family bonded over a similar shared sausage.

So, hopefully they find Grandma’s Goetta recipe in Aunt Betty’s recipe box, and maybe even that treasured eggnog from Grandpa.

Arnold’s Greek Spaghetti Isn’t Chili Parlor Spaghetti, but It Could’ve Been

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Arnold’s Greek Spaghetti has been on the menu since 1959.

This month the owner of Arnold’s, Ronda Breeden,  passes the torch of ownership to her son Chris Breeden.  He will become the 8th owner of the restaurant (9th of the property if you count the madame who first owned it and operated it as a whorehouse, Susan Fawcett).

There’s a dish called Greek Spaghetti that has been on the menu since 1959, whose invention is credited to then owner Jim Christakos, but probably invented by his wife, Athena Jones Christakos.    There’s always the woman behind the man who rarely gets the credit!    Duck tailed and poodle skirted teenagers were dancing to the two top hits, Venus by Frankie Avalon, and Mack the Knife, by Bobby Darin.   My own father graduated from high school that year.

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Athena Jones Christakos, the likely inventor of Arnold’s super-popular Greek Spaghetti.

Now in Cincinnati, when we think of Greek Spaghetti, our minds go to the three-way, or Cincinnati Chili.  But this dish is not that – its a mix of a buttery garlic sauce with sautéed onions, green peppers, cremini mushrooms, green and black olives, and yummy bacon.      The reason for it’s 60 years on the menu is that it’s one of the most popular items.

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Alex Chaldekas in the back and Jim Christakos in the foreground.

But it very well could have been a Cincinnati chili and here’s why.    Jim and his brother George Christakos bought Arnold’s from the third generation of the Arnold’s family.   Both Jim and George had been wrestlers for the Central Parkway YMCA.   Jim was crowned the light-heavyweight champion in 1934 and received the nickname “The Greek God.”  He went on to become a professional wrestler, grappling with the likes of another famous greek wrestler, Jim Londos, who was sort of the Hulk Hogan of his day.   Jim is also rumored to have made pickups for the mob in Newport, Kentucky.

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Will Chaldekas behind the counter of ABC Chili Parlor in Covington, Kentucky on Scott Street in the 1950s.

Jim sold the restaurant to his brother-in-law’s brother, Alex Chaldekas when he thought he was dying of throat cancer, which he survived.   Alex Chaldekas has operated the ABC Chili Parlor in the 1950s with his brother Will Chaldekas.   Will Chaldekas’ wife, Bess Jones was a sister to Jim Christakos’ wife Athena Jones.   Their brother Albert Jones owned the downtown Skyline Chili.      Albert’s wife Carolyn Georgeton was the sister to the Georgeton Brothers who started the venerable Ludlow Avenue Skyline Chili in Clifton.     Nicholas Lambrinides, founder in 1949 of Skyline Chili, said Alex Chaldekas was his first customer at the original Price Hill Location.    Chaldekas’ dollar bill hung on the wall of the original Skyline until it was demolished in 2001.

The Cincinnati Chili parlor family is a small and very interlaced one, as you can see!   They all belonged to the St. Nick-Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that hosts the annual delicious Panegyri Food Festival every summer, where all the chili parlor purveyors discussed the business.    So, for very good reason, Arnold’s could have become a Cincinnati Chili Parlor, but it never did.   And to my knowledge, Arnold’s never served Cincinnati Chili or cheese coneys.

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George Christakos, co-owner of Arndold’s with Jim Christakos.

So, the Cincinnati Greek stamp still lives on at Arnold’s, maybe for another 60 years, thanks to Athena and Jim Christakos.