Flub’s, My Parents’ Fave Creamy Whip, Is One of the Few to Offer Sugar Free Options

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On May 19, Flub’s Ice Cream in Fairfield opened for the season.    Like many of the area creamy whips like Putz’ in Northside, or the Cone in Westchester, those suffering from COVID cabin fever  flocked to the summer tradition to feel normal.   Some of those were my parents, who have been fans of Flub’s for nearly the last 10 years.   The one my parents patronize is the Village Green Complex off of Hamilton Avenue in Fairfield.   They have two other locations, the original location in  Hamilton, Ohio, and one in Ross.   In 2010, they converted an old delivery truck into Flubs on Wheels, which parks at the free summer concerts at the Village Green in Fairfield, which my parents also frequent.

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Now we have always been a soft serve creamy whip family.   I know that’s Cincinnati fighting words, especially when we have a local, nationally recognized French Pot method ice cream maker in Graeter’s and an even better smaller one in Aglamesis.   Growing up we would always go to the Convenient store and King Kwik down the street for their rotating vanilla, strawberry and chocolate creamy whips.   My sister worked at the Greenhills Creamy Whip on Winton Road for several seasons in high school, which we frequented quite a bit too.    And who doesn’t like Putz’ creamy whip with their vintage 1950s horizontal creamy whip machines.    Even today I will patronize the Mt. Washington Creamy Whip or the Dairy Corner in Newtown before Graeter’s or Aglamesis – especially if they have strawberry or cherry hard shell dipped in chopped peanuts (my fave) to create the crunchy outer coating over the creamy whip.

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My parents ordered from the sugar free menu, which is one of the only of its kind offered from our many local creamy whips.   For diabetics and others watching their sugar intake – this is a great way to enjoy a treat that won’t spike your blood sugar.      The sugar free flavor they ordered (socially distanced in masks) was Butter Pecan in a cup,  which they said was very good.   Flub’s mixes it up with a variety of sugar free flavors throughout the summer creamy whip season.   I have gone with my parents a few times in the past and had their sugar free varieties and they’re all really good!      The reason they have sugar free flavors is because the founder Mike Connaughton  had Type 2 diabetes.   He left us on Mercy Sunday in 2004 and the business has strived to continue his legacy by offering sugar free varieties.

They’re famous in Butler County for their 44 flavors of Cyclone, a two layer sundae of creamy whip with chunky goodies and sauces in between.   It’s kind of like the Dairy Queen Blizzard, but not mixed together,  and chunkier.    The Cyclones seem to hover around a candy bar theme – Heath, 100 Grand, Twix, Whatchamacallit, Take 5, Whopper and Payday, but the Samoa and the Grasshopper sound fab too.    Flub’s also have doggie cones, complete with an embedded doggie biscuit.    Sundaes come in a dozen flavors, including pineapple, turtle, and oreo.   They also have a variety of shakes, slushies, and Glaciers (the Butler County cousin to the Northern Kentucky Ice ball – a combo of ice cream and sno cone or slushie).

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The 1966 ad for the opening of the original Flub’s Dari-ette in Hamilton.

It’s cool that Flub’s traces its roots back to 1966, the year my parents met at an Ault Park Dance Under the Stars.     It may be, in addition to their variety of sugar free flavors, why my parents love them so much.  It was in 1965 that Flub’s founders Mike Connaughton & Ann Connaughton purchased “The Dari-ette” (the term used for ‘creamy whip’ outside of Hamilton County) as it was it originally named, from George & Louise Waggonfield. Mike, an intervention school teacher, was looking for a job to do during the summer.  Their original Hamilton location opened in 1966, and served cups, cones, and shakes.  Flub’s started with the original 13 flavors, but more were added as the years went on. Mike and Ann had 3 children, Michael, Steve, and Brian. All of them liked working there, but none had interest in taking it over.

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Flub’s even has our weird southwest Ohio blue Smurf soft serve ice cream, originated at King’s Island.

In March of 2003, Brian took over ownership of the store. Brian had worked as a manager for a long time, and was ready to take ownership. Jodie, his wife, also had been a manager at the original location. Brian and Jodie’s 3 children, Noah, Grace, and Liam – all  work at the shops.

In 2016, Flub’s replaced the former Whip in Ross and brought in all their flavors, sugar free offerings, cakes and pies.

It is truly worth a trip to one of the three Butler County Flub’s locations on your Cincy Creamy Whip Tour of Summer of 2020.

The Reuben: The Sandwich that Incited a NY Times War and Inspired the Best Restaurant Movie Scene of All Time

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Of all the times I’ve been to NYC, I’ve never dined at Katz’s deli.   It’s sort of Ground Zero for lovers of Reuben Sandwiches and the authentic Jewish Deli.     I’d like to go there, have a Reuben, and recreate the famous scene from When Harry Met Sally.    I would of course play the part of Billy Crystal, because in the scene he is eating a pastrami sandwich, not the blah turkey sandwich his partner, Sally is eating, before she offers her famous performance.

The sandwiches in the movie are thinner than the normal heaping portions of meat that are typically served at Katz’s.  This was for ease of eating and talking in the shot.   And a Reuben would have been way to messy for Harry to eat in the scene.

Katz’s Deli has been around since 1884 and has been a foodie icon of NYC since then.   They serve their Reuben with either corned beef and pastrami, of course with the obligatory melty Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing (which many, especially Midwestern delis, replace with chunky Thousand Island).  There is a small difference between corned beef and pastrami.  Corned beef is cooked by boiling, and the only spices are the ones that are in the curing marinade. Pastrami is rubbed after curing with a spice blend that can vary from deli to deli, but is almost always heavy on both ground black pepper and crushed coriander seeds. Pastrami is then smoked to cook it.

The Reuben is my favorite sandwich of all time.    I don’t recognize the Rachel, which replaces the corned beef or pastrami with turkey for either health purposes or kosher reason.    Izzy’s in Cincinnati makes one of my favorites, although Boswell’s Alley in Northside makes the best in my humble opinion.  I make a pretty darn good one too.

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My housemade pastrami Reuben.

So all this hype of a great sandwich begs us to ask about its origin story.     With its popularity in NYC Jewish delis it would be easy for us to assume it was invented there.   And its invention has long been tied to Arnold Reuben, owner of a sandwich shop on East 58th Street in NYC, in the early 20th century.     At least that was what food historian Andrew Smith grenaded off to the NY Times, when the great granddaughter of Bernard Schimmel wrote about him inventing it as his Blackstone Hotel, in the 1920s in Omaha, Nebraska, and named it after the poker playing Reuben Kulakofsky, who requested a late night snack.

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The NYC nativity story doesn’t quite make sense.   Why would a Jewish deli invent a non-Kosher sandwich which mixes meat and dairy together?   We in Cincinnati, the center of reform Judaism should be more understanding.   But it doesn’t fit NYC Jewish history, even though the non-Kosher Reuben now is a signature at the last remaining NYC Jewish delis.

Smith cited a 1941 cookbook that included a Reuben sandwich by a NYC author, ergo it was invented there.    It turns out the Rueben at Arnold Reuben’s NYC sandwich shop consisted of ham, turkey, coleslaw and an unnamed dressing.   That’s not a Reuben.    After many weeks and many references to the feud in the New York Times, Dan, the husband of Schimmel’s great granddaughter found a menu from the Blackstone coffee shop in 1937 showing the Reuben for 35 cents, and a 1934 menu from the Blackstone’s main dining room for 40 cents.   They were provided by the Nebraska State  and the Douglas County Historical Societies.     These were both earlier than any of the NYC references and thus proved its origin at Schimmel’s Blackstone Hotel.   So with first hand sources, thanks to local historical societies, the food war was won by Nebraska.    Chalk that up to a win for the Midwest!

What Came First Our S’more or the German Matschbrotchen? (The Marshmallow Snack Cake Family Tree)

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Many people have adapted their Saturday nights from dinner on the town to family fire pits and backyard grillouts.    Hand in hand with the firepit comes making a batch of OGD (ooey gooey delicious) s’mores, the dessert of summer.     Although its invention is credited in 1927 by Girl Scout Troop leader Loretta Scott Crew in her book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, it is part of an ancient family tree of marshmallow cake treats that goes back centuries or more, and started in Germanic Europe.     Oddly enough, it was only this year that the Girl Scouts released a S’mores cookie in their annual Fattening Up America evil scheme.

The S’more or “Some More”, as Ms. Crew called them in her cookbook, are part of a family of desserts that follow a three part rule.   They must be a chocolate covered cream – be it meringue, marshmallow, or something even more gooey – over a cake, cookie, or biscuit.  The s’more takes this formula to another level with the roasted marshmallow which then creates a melty chocolate goo when taken off the roasting stick and smashed between two Graham Crackers.     The American roasted marshmallow as a treat came about in the 1890s when resort towns of the Northeast, like Asbury Park, New Jersey, hosted marshmallow roasts, designed as a way for singles to meat each other.   They were advertised as “excellent opportunities for flirtation because you could nibble off of someone else’s stick.”

American variations of the marshmallow treat come in many forms that were adopted by local candy makers.   Our Aglamesis makes a very old one around Christmastime called the Charlie Chaplin -The Comic Master’s favorite confection, milk chocolate, home made marshmallow, roasted cashews, and chips of toasted coconut.    And then Louisville went bonkers inventing the Modjeska, a caramel-coated marshmallow, named after a visiting opera diva.     Try melting either of them and making them into a s’more – HEAVEN!!!

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Even the fluffer nutter sandwich, and the Elvis Presley inspired ‘nana fluffer nutter sandwiches of our childhoods are s’mores inspired.

And around the interwar and mid century period, this chocolate covered marshmallow formula spawned a worldwide marshmallow snack cake industry, that was born out of the American South.   Many food historians believe that Ms. Crew’s recipe was created as a homemade version of the commercially made Mallomar and Moon Pie.   The Mallomar was the first commercial American marshmallow pie and was introduced to the public in 1913, now made by Nabisco.   The even more popular Moon Pie came to the market in 1917,  from the Chattanooga Bakery  of Chattanooga, Tennessee, named by a Kentucky coal miner.   Both are forms of a chocolate marshmallow pie, which differ from the European version, in that they are sandwiched top and bottom with a cookie, before being robed in chocolate, as opposed to just a bottom cookie.   The Scooter Pie came along, which is now most popular in the Northeastern United States, and then Little Debbie came out with the least creative, which they call the Chocolate Marshmallow Pie – meh!

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Now the Germans have had the chocolate covered marshmallow with a bottom cake or cookie since at least the 1820s.     They were commercially available in 1920 and then industrially in the 1950s.   Most recently they have been renamed Schaumkuss, (Foam Kiss) or Shokoladenkuss (chocolate kiss) to be more culturally appropriate from their older names of the same treat Mohrenkopf (Moor’s Head) and  Negerkuss (Negro Kiss).    Approximatley 1 billion Schaumkuss are made in Germanic Europe annually, enough for a dozen a person.   They’re available at supermarkets, bakeries at local fairs.   Variations include white chocolate covered, coconut and nut covered, and a variety of different flavored marshmallow creams.

Belgium has a commercial brand made by Milka called Melo-cakes, and one of the most popular brands in Germany is Super Dickmann’s.   In Flanders, the treat still carries an non-politically correct name negerinnentetten, which translates into Negress’s tits.

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The German Matschbrötchen, the grandfather of the American S’more.

Of the 1 billion Schaumküsse Germans eat every year, the average child eats around 100 of them.  German children eat them squashed between 2 halves of a Brötchen ( a small bread roll or bun) which they call “Matschbrötchen”, “Klatschbrötchen”, “Datsch” or “Schokokussbrötchen”.    In Swabia in southeast Germany, they’re called “Morenkopf auf ein weckle” – Moor’s head in a weck (the regional small bun – also  the third “w” in chicken wing chain BW3)  This is the formula of the s’more and the American chocolate covered cookie-pie.   So are the Germans responsible for two of our most American treats – the s’more and Moon Pies too?   Well, yes.

In the UK such a treat is called the teacake, and in a lot of cases include a layer of fruit jam nestled between the bottom biscuit and the marshmallow cream.   These were created much later in the 1950s.   Heck British afternoon tea was invented only the in 1840s, about two decades after the Schaumkuss was found in Germanic Europe.

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Not to be outdone in snack cake innovation, Hostess didn’t want to make another ‘me-too’ mallow snack cake.    So when sugar rationing lifted after WWII, in 1947 they introduced my favorite snack cake, the Sno Ball, a marshmallow coated chocolate snack cake – the inverse of the marshmallow cake treat – brilliant!  Sno Balls were originally just chocolate cakes covered in marshmallow and coconut. The gooey orbs didn’t receive creme filling or their signature pink tint until 1950.   And Hostess didn’t stop there. The squishy cakes are not only limited to pink or white.  They turn special colors for the holidays –  green for St. Patrick’s Day, orange for Halloween, and lavender for Easter.

The American chocolate covered marshmallow pie spread across the world.  Australia, capitalizing on the popularity of spaghetti western movies, introduced the Wagon Wheel in 1948.   Inventor Gary Weston placed two Marie biscuits (a vanilla flavored rich tea biscuit invented for the wedding of Grand duchess Maria Alexandronova of Russia and the Duke of  Marlborough in 1874) around a marshmallow filling and covered them in chocolate.  Japan introduced the Angel Pie in 1961.   Korea and later Russia introduced the Choco Pie – which is now all over southeast Asia.

So this summer try mixing up your s’more game with a Charlie Chaplin or a Modjeska s’more – heck maybe even a Sno Ball s’more.

 

 

The Black Raven: The Most Historic British Pub & The Affect of American Rock ‘N Roll

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Once again I am in awe of the culinary history embedded in Julian Fellowes’ new series Bellgravia.   He stages the very last episode, and the scene that has us all on the edge of our seats, at a pub in London called the Black Raven.   The leading character – the thought to be bastard grandson of a rich family, but actually their legitimate heir – is lured to the pub unknowingly by his arch nemesis, his social climbing uncle.   Here in this seedy tavern Charles Pope orders a ‘jug of ale’ before facing the ordeal of his life.

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Charles Pope in Bellgravia at the Black Raven Pub in London ordering an ale before facing the ordeal of his life.

The series is set in the late 1840s in London.   So Fellowes and his team would have had to have known the obscure fact that the Raven did in fact exist at that time, and that it was close to the Thames River.     It had been in existence since at least 1827, founded by Thomas Hollyman, a licensed victualler and wine and brandy dealer.     Thomas had just married his wife, Jane Carter, two years earlier at St. Botolph.    The Pub remained in existence at 13 Bishopsgate (renumbered 185 and 187 Bishopsgate around 1912), about two blocks from the Thames and on the road which leads to London Bridge.   It lasted as the Black Raven for nearly 150 years, until 1975, when it was renamed the Pump.   It was renamed the Handpump in 1982, and then unfortunately demolished in 1987.   It was kind of like our Arnold’s Bar & Grille, one of the oldest continually operating saloons/pubs in the city, but our Arnold’s still pushes on!

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But it was also like our Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey(where Bruce Springsteen got his start), or our Max’s Kansas City in NYC (where the Velvet Underground got their start) or the Neutral Ground Café in New Orleans (where the Indigo Girls jumpstarted their career), or even Long Wong’s in Tempe, Arizona (where the Gin Blossoms got their start).

That is because to contemporary British Rock N Roll Fans, the Black Raven was the home of the Teddy Boy movement, associated with the working class youth culture reaction to the introduction of American Rock N Roll by Bill Haley and his Comets in 1955.   The movement was marked by a reverence to American rockers like Haley, Ricky Valen, and Buddy Holly in music, dance, and rebellion.

The style of the Teddy Boys, though, actually goes back to the late 1940’s when Saville Row Tailor’s attempted to revive the styles of the reign of King Edward VII, 1901-1910, known as the Edwardian era, into men’s fashions. The Teddy Boy fashion of the fifties has its origins in what was an upper class reaction to the austerity imposed by the socialist government in the years following the World War II.   Wealthy young men, especially Guards officers adopted, the style of the Edwardian era. At that point, the Edwardian era was then just over forty years ago and their grandparents, if not their parents, wore the style the first time around.

The original Edwardian revival was actually far more historically accurate in terms of replicating the original Edwardian era style than the later Teddy Boy style which was a fusion of British Edwardian and American Western styles – with hairstyles of pompadours and ducktails held in place with greasy Dippity Doo. Although there had been youth groups with their own dress codes called ‘Scuttlers’ in 19th century Manchester and Liverpool, Teddy Boys were the first youth group in England to differentiate themselves as teenagers, helping create a youth market.

This Teddy Boy style was a contradiction in terms.   It associated with the upper class Edwardian Dandy, of the likes of Oscar Wilde, but was part of the delinquent sub culture of South London.   They were referred to as zoot suiters, cosh boys, creepers, spivs and  hooligans  (I’m loving them already).   With the native conservatism of any English working-class community and its opposition to dandyism and any hint of effeminacy, it must have taken special daring for the first Teddy Boys of South London to swagger along their drab streets in their exaggerated outfits.    In that sense they were like the New York Dolls, straight rockers who dressed in drag for stage effect and started the glam rock and punk rock scene that influenced British rocker, David Bowie’s Iggy Stardust character.     Or they were like the mohawkers and punkers who walked up and down Short Vine in Corryville in the 1980s and 1990s.   Girls even donned the style and became known as Teddy Girls or Judies.  Man we Americans really threw our influence on the British Rock Scene.

 

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Owners of the Black Raven in the Teddy Boy era – Bob and Eve Aclund.

At its height in the 50s through the 70s, the Black Raven was a licensed dealer of Whitbread Ale, a classic English pale ale that is described as smooth, malty and delicious, and made by one of England’s oldest breweries.   Back then after World War II, the IPA or PA, was re-introduced in England as a lighter ale, to lighten up their previous most popular draft beers, Ordinary Bitter and Mild.   It was a far cry from the super-hoppy and sour American Craft IPAs of today, like MadTree’s Psychopathy.

An article from the Sunday Times Colour Supplement, September 27 1970 talks about the Teddy Boy scene:

At the Black Raven pub in Bishopsgate, on Friday nights, it’s as if the 1960’s had never been (meaning that it was the 50s that was being venerated). The bar is filled with men, most of them around the age of 30, wearing the classic costume of the historic Teddy Boys: drapes, crepes and bootlace ties. Deafening music from the juke-box insists on the simple beat of early rock ‘n’ roll. The dancing preserves the athletic tradition of American jive. A chance client might think that some time machine had transported him 15 years back into the past. But the proprietor, Bob Acland, would assure him that he had stepped into the immediate future. “We don’t aim to sort of turn the clock back for people who’ve had hard, unhappy times. The Teds aren’t a broken army, all gone down a hole like rats. Why, even Princess Anne went to a rock concert with Nixon’s daughter. You can’t revive what’s never been dead.

So kudos again to Fellowes for embedding another wonderful British-American food history reference into his amazing new series Bellgravia.

The Convoluted History of the Blintz and the Knish in America

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Lately I’ve been diving into Jewish cuisine, care of the Kosher section of my Remke market. I’ve been sampling frozen cherry and apple blintzes and sweet potato and zucchini latkes. I’ve learned one thing so far – do not microwave a frozen blintz, unless you want it to fall apart. They must be warmed in a skillet or convection oven. I realize that these flavors are not at all authentic to the origins of each, but there is so little Jewish cuisine history in Cincinnati to reference.

Yes, there’s the King of the Reuben, Izzy Cadet, but he’s gone and the chain is Catholic-owned by the Codfather, John Geisen. There’s the King of Bagels, John Marx of Marx Bagels.   Marx even has an authentic link to the NYC bagel in the NYC-owned business he took over in Cincinnati’s former Jewish enclave of Roselawn in 1969. The funny thing is that even though his bagel shops have been the only certified Kosher bagel shops in Cincinnati, Marx is by faith, Catholic. But he retired and passed the biz along to a Jewish owner. All of my NYC expat friends lament that there is NO good New York style bagel to be had anywhere in Cincinnati. I say Big Apple Bagels on Beechmont is a good approximation. Experts say a New York bagel cannot be exported, because the flavor is in the chemical content of East River water.

So to go to the source of the blintz and the knish, another iconic Jewish food, I had to go to New York – virtually. A great new book called The Dairy Restaurant by Ben Katchor, takes you back in time to the history of both Jewish dishes. Each came through a style of Jewish restaurant called the Dairy Restaurant, or in Yiddish, the Milckhige, which were once as common in the Lower East Side of NYC as chili parlors are in Cincinnati. They are kosher restaurants that only serve dairy products, with no meat, and like the indie Cincy chili parlor, are an endangered species.

Beginning in the 1890s- the same time Macedonian, Bulgarian and Greek Chili and candy pioneers were coming to Cincinnati – Jews from Eastern Europe and the Balkans began flooding into the Lower East Side of New York City. They were mostly Ashkenazi Jews, but some Sephardic Jews as well came from Turkey and Greece. Austrian Jews formed Little Vienna on lower 2nd Street. Hungarian Jews formed Goulash Row on East Houston Street. The Bohemian Jews settled on 1st and 2nd Avenues between 70th and 80th streets. Polish, Galician, Bessarabian, and Bukinova Jews settled North of East Broadway to Houston around Bowery Street. Romanians settled on 2nd Avenue near Hester street and started the Yiddish theaters in the Bowery and Knish Alley on 2nd Avenue between 14th and Houston. And finally the Western Russian and Lithuanian Jews settled south of east Broadway to the river around Catherine  Street. And, while similar, each ethnic group of Jews had a little bit different cuisine, although the Romanians and Hungarians were given the most street cred as the best restauranteurs.

The Jewish press, like Der Tog or Forvarts, and even the English speaking press began to dub kings of each Jewish dish. There was Max Green, the Knish King, there was M London, the Matzoh Ball King, Jacob Kampus was the Blintz King. Felix Marx’s Restaurant was dubbed the Kosher Delmonico’s. He was the rare unicorn known as the Alsatian Jew. And of course, there was the Bagel King, Harry Lender, a Polish Jew who came to NYC, then escaped the pressures of the Bagel Union 338 of New York to Connecticut, where he took the frozen bagel to the American public.

Both the knish and the blintz are considered dairy products and would be found at a Jewish Dairy Restaurant. They’re basically the same thing – a pastry of some sort made to wrap a dairy filling of potato, cheese, fruit, grain or vegetable. The knish is considered a dumpling, while the blintz is a rolled, thin pancake.

Much like Cincinnati’s Jewish community migrated from West End to Roselawn to Amberly Village and then to Blue Ash, Mason and beyond, New York City’s Jewish communities migrated from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn and Harlem. The conservative Hasidic Jews settled in the Williamburg neighborhood of Brooklyn after World War II to ‘replenish’ the Jewish population after the Holocaust. The new Netflix series, Unorthodox , is set in that Hasidic community.

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Jacob Kampus, the Romanian immigrant who introduced the Bucharester Blintz to America.

Jacob J. Kampus, the man credited with bringing the blintz to America was born in 1862 in Bucharest, Romania, and came to NYC in 1892. He was a short, dark haired man, with the stylish handlebar moustache and quite the marketeer. He called himself the famous piemaker from Bucharest and that he had been awarded medals at the Paris, Bucharest, and Antwerp International Exhibitions prior to 1901 for his confections (there is no evidence of these awards.) The blintz that he introduced was actually a rename of his traditional pancake filled, deep fried dessert from Romania, the plancinta. And the placinta actually descends from a thin buckwheat pancake made by the Turks and brought to Romania when they conquered them to became part of the Ottoman Empire. This might be related to the injera, the Ethiopian spongy, pancakey flatbread, although its used to scoop rather than to wrap a filling.  The placinta spread from Romania to Ukraine and Moldavia in the 1600s and got a new name, the blintz. So while Kampus was calling them Placinta in 1901, by 1910 he had renamed them the Bucharester Blintz, to appeal to his Polish, Russian (where they were called blini), Ukranian, and Lithuanian Jewish customers to which the blintz was more familiar. At his Dairy Restaurant on 64 Delancey Street Kampus also made kreplach (another filled pastry) and mamaliga (a cornmeal cake sandwiched with quark like cheese). A humorous ad in Der Kibetser reports that doctors and pharmacists were complaining to the paper that they were running too many ads for Kampus’ restaurant. Their complaint was that since running the ads they were losing business because customers of Kampus’ healthy dairy foods were clearing up their stomach ailments. His slogan was, “Eat Blintzes and Become Fat!” – apparently a thing to aspire to at the turn of the last century. His Dairy Restaurant operated 24 years, even three years after his death in 1913, by his wife and son. And now you can get frozen blintzes in a variety of flavors in your kosher breakfast frozen section.

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Yonah Schimmel, Romanian/Polish immigrant who introduced the knish to America.

The Knish is said to have been introduced by Yonah Schimmel, another Romanian immigrant who came to NYC as a scribe and rabbit. When no community could support his as a rabbi, he began peddling his wife’s knishes in a pushcart at Coney Island, and then opened in 1910 the store at 137 Houston, which today is the oldest knishery in NYC. The business was taken over in 1910 by Yonah’s cousin Joseph Berger, who married Yonah’s daughter, Rose, and the business passed through the family ever since. Well, at least that’s the official story from the current owner.

But this is where the story gets a bit sketchy – according to the ads in the Yiddish press and city directories. Also there’s a family account from a great granddaughter of Yonah’s younger brother Leo, who ran a dairy restaurant in Brooklyn, called the Famous Sunset Dairy Restaurant from the mid 1930s to 1955. The great grandaughter said the Schilman’s were not from Bucharest, Romania, but Lvov, Poland. But that’s complicated. Lvov is like Alsace Lorraine and has been under several different jurisdictions. It is literally at the intersection of Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and was called Galacia and Austrian Poland. So, it’s possible that the Schilmans were ethnic Romanians living in Polish Lvov, or that Yonah smartly tied himself to the Romanian well known restaurant culture of Bucharest.

Yonah Schimel (with one n) by 1915 had two J. Schimel Bakeries – one at 144 East Houston Street and another at 1363 Fifth Avenue between 112th and 113th streets in the then Jewish neighborhood of Harlem. By 1917, a restaurant is listed at 22 West Houston and the two bakeries are listed one at 44 Avenue B and the Harlem Branch. The Avenue B location now named Yona Schimel Milkhiger Restaurant closed by December 1920 . Then, in 1921 an ad in Der Morgn Zhurnal announces, “Yonah Schimel is again here! The famous restaurant opens a magnificent Milkhiger Restaurant today, Tuesday at 175 Rivington Street, near Attorney St. where there will be served the finest milkhige dishes a la Yonah Schimel with prices as in the year 1910. The ad ends with the warning, “This is the only Yonah Schimel restaurant in all New York. No connection with those other restaurants.” The accusation of restaurants fraudulently operating under Schimel’s name or a slight variation to avoid prosecution, raises the possibility that the Houston Street store and possibly other locations were operated by parties who continued to trade on the well known name, but had no direct business relationship to the Schimels.

The current Knish King is actually a Queen – owner, Ellen Anistrotov is supposed to be a fifth generation descendant of Yonah. Her father Alex Wolfman, former owner, is supposed to be a great nephew of Yonah. The owner before Wolfman, Sheldon Keitz, in 1995 was implicated on a loan sharking scheme. The bakery was one of the locations where the loans, given out at illegally high interest rates were paid. And a 1973 ad of Yonah Schimmels advertised non kosher products on the menu like franks-in-jackets, liver puffs, and mini egg rolls. So, there’s evidence that the current location does not have ties to the original Yonah Schimel.    But the legacy story and it’s famous visitors like Babs Streisand, Woody Allen, and both Eleanor and her uncle Theodore Roosevelt – has people turning their eyes to the murky history.

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Alex Wolfman, great nephew of Yonah Schimel.

Today Schimmel’s make the traditional potato and kasha (buckwheat) knishes, along with savory flavors – mushroom, sweet potato, potato and spinach, jalapeno and cheese (for the Puerto Rican population), and a pizza knish, and sweet versions – like cherry, apple and blueberry cheese. They say the original Romanian knish is always round, never triangle, thin, light dough, and baked, never fried.

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So why is Schimel not given the title of Knish King? Well there was actually a Knish War (like Cincinnati’s Pumpkin Pie Wars) that made national news in 1916 from two knisheries on Rivington Street that earned its winner the title. Max Green, a Yiddish speaking Austrian Jew arrived in NYC in 1899 and was running his knishery and a restaurant by 1916. He took the Romanian knish that Yonah Schimel had introduced and improved it, which became very popular. A rival, United Knish Factory opened across the street and started a price war, dropping their knish from 5 cents to 3 and introducing a cabaret show. Green retaliated with a German band to provide entertainment at his store and then began giving out gift coupons. One customer ate 20 knishes at one sitting to get enough coupons for a pocket knife, and had to be carried out of the store. By 1920 Green had won the knish war, but moved to the area around Union Square to open two branches of the Central Lunch Company. A childrens’ book titled “The Knish War of Rivingston Street” documents this important Jewish food war for children to understand and get a good business lesson.

Ozark Pudding: The Dessert that Started the Cold War

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I just finished binging the first three seasons of the Netflix series Ozark.   It’s about a family that gets in with the largest Mexican drug cartel and cant seem to find a way out.  It’s riveting, exciting and fills the hole where the series Breaking Bad sort of left off.   I was surprised to see a reference to Ozark Pudding, of which I wasn’t familiar.    And I was even more surprised to see that it was President Harry Truman’s favorite dessert and his wife Bess made it for him all the time and even served it to visiting dignitaries at State Dinners.

Ozark Pudding is really not a pudding, it’s more like a pecan pie, although the Ozarks version typically uses regional black walnuts as the nut.    It is named after the Ozark Mountain region.   And, it can be heaped into the category, like sugar pies from Indiana and the Midwest, as a desperation dessert, made with only a few common ingredients:   an egg, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, salt, baking powder, half cup each of chopped apple and nuts. After 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven, this caramelized mound of apples, nuts is just enough cake to keep it together.   A nutty crust rises to the top, like the pecan pie, and a chewy, goey custard beneath it.   Bess Truman’s serving such a humble dessert at state dinners may have sent the message of American sacrifice and the “we’re in it together attitude” from the recent war – a sentiment we sort of know about in this pandemic.      Bess added a bit of rum to make a boozy whipped cream dollop to finish her pudding.   Good girl!

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Churchill giving the Iron Curtain Speech in 1946 at Fulton, Missouri.

According to the book All American Desserts, the grandmother of the Ozark pudding is the French Huguenot cake gateau au noisettes (cake with hazelnuts), which they brought to South Carolina to escape religious persecution in Europe.   Because hazelnuts were not prevalent, the nut was replaced with pecans and called Huguenot torte.  When it finally made it to Missouri and Arkansas, the pecan was replaced by the local black walnut and it was renamed for the third time.     The pecan pie, therefore is a close first cousin of Ozark pudding.

One of the dinners that Bess Truman had Ozark pudding on the menu was the luncheon on March 5, 1946, in rural Fulton, Missouri, after the Westminster College’s Green Lecture, where British Prime Minister coined the phrase, the “Iron Curtain,” which started our suspicion of Stalin and his urge to spread communism throughout the world.   Churchill condemned the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe and declared, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”  The speech is considered one of the opening volleys announcing the beginning of the Cold War. It soon became clear that a primary purpose of Churchill’s “vacation visit” was to argue for an even closer “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain—the great powers of the “English-speaking world”—in organizing and policing the postwar world. In particular, he warned against the expansionistic policies of the Soviet Union. In addition to the “iron curtain” , Churchill spoke of “communist fifth columns” that were operating throughout western and southern Europe.

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Truman and others warmly received Churchill’s speech as they wolfed down fried Chicken,  Callaway County Missouri county ham, tomatoes in aspic and Ozark pudding at the post lecture luncheon in the university’s dining hall.   It’s not known whether Churchill liked Ozark pudding, but his favorites was Yorkshire pudding, roasted (not fried) chicken, and tinned Mandarin oranges, although he hated Chinese food.   It’s also not known if Missouri’s native Norton grape wine was served at the dinner, but it probably was, given the regionalism of the menu.   The Norton could have saved our Cincinnati Wine Industry from ruin, but Longworth was a Norton hater and put his chips all in on the Catawba.

While Churchill wouldn’t accept ‘payment’ for his speech, he did say he wouldn’t mind a small painting by Midwestern artist, Thomas Hart Benton.   As a painter himself, Churchill was quite the connoisseur of art.   He was given appropriately enough, a painting titled The New Fence, which is now in the museum on site at Fulton.   Although Truman said he was not aware of the content of this speech and the ‘iron curtain’ reference the gift of this painting and other evidence say he probably read the speech on the train from D.C. to Missouri.

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The painting Churchill was given for his speech – The New Fence by Thomas Hart Benton.

Many in America still saw Russia as an ally who helped us win the recent war against Hitler and did not take this so well.   Stalin, whom both Truman and Churchill had met at the Potsdam conference at the end of the war, immediately denounced the speech as war mongering, and referred to Churchill’s words about the English-speaking world as imperialist and racist.    The Cold War lasted until Gorbachev and his policy of Perestroika took down the wall in 1989 after Ronald Reagan’s famous line delivered at the Berlin Brandenburg Gate, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”    Decades of hamburgers, blue jeans and rock and roll did what guns and the military couldn’t.

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The section of the Berlin Wall at the Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.

Fulton Missouri now houses the Churchill Museum in a 17th century British church dismantled, shipped and reassembled on site in 1969 to commemorate the Cold War Speech.   It now also displays a section of the Berlin Wall in a sculpture called Breakthrough.   You cannot get Ozark Pudding, however, at the gift shop café.   You can also see a piece of the Berlin wall here in Cincinnati at the Ohio River side of the Underground Railroad Freedom Museum.

 

Is the Best MBH (Meat Ball Hoagie) in Cincy Hipster or Old School?

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A tribute to Scotti’s, our oldest Italian restaurant in Cincinnati, and home to one of our oldest MBH’s.

With this lockdown and all of us feeling so shut it, it seems we’ve all developed cravings for something not readily available.   Comfort food is just that – something that gives us temporary joy, feeding our soul, taking us back to simpler times. Recently a friend posted a pic of a meatball hoagie he made to alleviate said craving.  It sparked great discussion about the best meatball hoagies in town, how to dress them, and what sauce to bathe them in – red or brown sauce -and what form of each is appropriate to the MBH.   It even added the controversial method of dressing with red sauce AND mayonnaise.

Not everyone is a fan of the meatball hoagie, and perhaps why our local steak hoagie is more popular than the MBH.   There is a MBH Haters club, to which another friend subscribes.   Harry justifies his membership by saying, ” It never looks like a good meal value.   A huge hoagie bun with only three meatballs, which have a high probability of falling off while eating?   What’s that?”    I argue that he hasn’t found an MBH yet built with the correct sandwich architecture.  You see, every piece of a properly dressed MBH is key to the meatballs’ survival inside the bun.   Each ingredient acts like a morter in the bun to the meatball bricks.   And I would also argue that the MBH is designed to be an easier pre-portioned 3-bite experience than say an Italian sausage sandwich, which is smothered in too many peppers and onions.  There’s more chance with that bite to propel sandwich items outside the bun. The melted provolone cheese of the MBH acts as a net to keep the meatballs in, and the proper amount and viscosity of the sauce, the crispiness of the bread, the ridged pickle chips on the top of the bun providing ‘stick’, the raw onions, all are designed to keep the meatballs in.

So, the question arose, with a vanished Little Italy in Cincinnati, where does one go on the quest for our best MBH?    It’s truly an Italian invention in a largely Germanic city.   And, If I designed an MBH from scratch, it would be made of North German frikadellen (their version of the meatball) on a German brotchen with spicy currygewurst (spicy currywurst sauce) dill pickles and raw Vidalia onions, but that doesn’t follow the Italian cannon.  My favorite MBH of all time was from Germantown Pizza in St. Bernard in the late 80s.   But there too, it was that rare MBH unicorn that used brown sauce instead of red.   Sadly Germantown Pizza went the way of feathered hair and the term Alternative Rock.

I’ve heard others lament the MBH’s of other shuttered restaurants like Buona Vita in Bellevue, Flying Pizza in Mason, and Pomidori’s Pizza and Meatball Kitchen in Clifton.     Kim, A New York Italian transplant to Cincy says Aponte in Mason was her fave meatball until it closed.   And having a good meatball is the key to a good MBH.   It should be a mix of at least pork and veal.   But must it taste like a sweet or spicy Italian sausage?   Should the sauce be as spicy as the meatball or should it compliment?   Should the bun be toasted, a dense sesame yeast roll, a spongy baguette?  So many questions….

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LaRosa’s MBH, the Pizza Joint MBH standard.

The oldest MBH’s in our area can be found at the local pizza joints like LaRosa’s, Angilo’s, Richard’s in Butler County (which uses a red meat sauce, not a marinara), and Italianette in Deer Park.     I’ve had LaRosa’s, which comes with what they call their pasta sauce (really just a less pasty version of their sweet San Marzano pizza sauce developed by Buddy’s maternal aunt Dena), melted provolone, pickles, raw onions on a standard Sysco sesame hoagie bun.    These are five inside-the-bun must haves for the Cincy Pizza Joint MBH – meatball, provolone cheese, red sauce, pickles, and white onions.    Padrinos in Milford, NYPD Pizza in Northside, Fesler’s Pizza in Bellevue are some that follow this canon.  Variations are sauteed onions and peppers (Martinos on Vine’s Mob, which also includes Italian sausage), spicy Giardiniera (Betta’s in Norwood) But the pizza joint MBH investigation led me to all sorts of questions about the variety of red sauces used and which is most appropriate or tastiest.

To get the scoop on Italian red sauces I consulted the great grandson of the founders of Scotti’s, our longest continually running Italian restaurant in Cincinnati.    His grandmother yelled at my mother on one of her and my father’s first dates there in the 60s, when she couldn’t finish her heaping plate of pasta.   Like French sauces, there are a lot of them, and each is really designed for a particular purpose whether it be to accompany pasta, meat or fish.    The MBH is an American invention, so it takes liberties on the original intent of the red sauce. According to Signor DiMarco, here’s the rundown:   the marinara is a simple veg based garlic and tomato sauce, maybe herbed with basil and oregano, not cooked very long, with not a ton of other ingredients.  The meat sauce adds beef and pork bones cooked in the sauce to let the fat flavor the sauce.  Diavolo is the same as marinara, with peppers added for some heat.    Robusto has more root veggies in the sauce like carrots and onions.   Finally, Romesco, which 20Brix in Milford uses with their lamb meatballs, was originally designed to flavor fish and has Catalonian origins.   It may sound weird to have a fish sauce to flavor an Italian meatball, but 20Brix’ chef Paul Barraco won best new chef in Cincinnati in 2018, so maybe he has something.     It is a tomato-based sauce that originated from Valls, Tarragona, Catalonia, invented by fishermen and typically made of a mix of roasted tomatoes and garlic, toasted almonds, pine nuts, and/or hazelnuts, olive or sunflower oil, and nyora peppers.  It’s like an amped up diavolo.

Then there’s the elusive brown sauce – which is a beef broth based onion sauce at its core, sometimes with mushrooms added.   The only place is Cincinnati I know of that still offers a (mushroom) brown sauce MBH is Trotta’s drive through pizza on the West Side, which by the way, offers a great Goetta pizza too.    My fave MBH at Germantown was a brown mushroom sauce.

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Gary Leybman at Pickled Pig’s take on the MBH.

And now there are newcomers to the local MBH game.  Pickled Pig in Walnut Hills offers a solid special MBH of fennel tomato sauce, Tomme, on Pan de Cristal, hold the onions and cheese.    Forget the red sauce and bathe it in Pickled Pig’s awesome smoky Bakla Jan salsa and I’m all over it.   Allez bread in OTR offered a special meatball hoagie that apparently sent people into religious ecstasy.     Catch a Fire Pizza in the Madtree Brewery has a good MBH, as does Ferrari’s in Madeira.    Pepp & Dolores on Vine Street in OTR offers their MBH starting today.

So, whether the best MBH in Cincinnati is old school – like that of the Pizza Joints or Italian Restaurants – or hipster like any of the new OTR or Walnut Hills places – remains to be confirmed.  But I think it’s all of our jobs to do an MBH carryout roundup and voice our votes – safely distanced and write in, of course.