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.

 

The Creamed Filbert Makes Its Annual Return to Newport

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Right around St. Nick’s Day and Christmas there’s a market on Monmouth Street in Newport that probably has the area’s largest selection of hand made old fashioned candies.   It’s called Peluso’s market and its been around for many generations.   The Peluso family were Italian immigrants who had a large family that has been involved in Newport Mayoral politics since the 1940s.

Peluso’s get their old fashioned candy from where else – an old fashioned candy company called Candy Kraft in Guilderland, New York, that’s been making them since 1935.

The first of these candies to make its appearance this season was the Creamed Filbert, also known as mothballs or snowballs.   The nut that is at the center of the candy is now what we call the hazelnut, but up until about World War II it was called the filbert.

Although the hazelnut has experienced a bit of a comeback in the confectionery world, it has played third and fourth fiddle to the likes of the peanut and the almond or even the cashew.   Indeed, there were no filbert clusters like the goo goo, and no Filbert Joy.      The Peanut and the Almond seemed to be the preferred nuts for commercial U.S. confectionery.   Maybe that’s why peanut butter is more popular in the U.S. than hazelnut based Nutella from Europe.

The creamed filbert is a member of the sugarplum family – a category of candies where a nut or seed is rolled in layers of sugar for a perfect shell.  This was before the modern electric pan coating machines used to coat anything from pills to Boston Baked Beans.   It has been made since the late 1700s, and came to the U.S. with French and German confectioners.   The first filbert or hazelnut tree came to the U.S. in 1737 from Spain, and now 98% of the hazelnuts in the U.S are grown in Oregon, but that’s only a fraction of the world supply.   Most hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, Spain, and Italy.

The hazelnut was called the filbert after St. Philibert, a French saint, whose feast day falls on August 20.   St. Philibert was born in 608 and became an abbot, founding the abbey of Jumieges, which was plagued by Viking attacks, forcing the monks to flee to form another abbey.   The work of his order was reclaiming wastelands, so he is sort of a patron of lost causes.   The history channel’s Vikings series had an entire season based on their ramsacking a French monastery and kidnapping one of the monks who ended up converting King Ragnar to Christianity.

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St. Philibert’s Day also happens to be peak harvest season for hazelnuts, which traditionally mature in late August. So people started applying the saint’s name to the nuts that were in season on his feast day.    Local Cincinnati candy makers like Mullane’s made coated and creamed filberts.    They were also a specialty of Goelitz Candy Company, who introduced candy corn to the U.S. while they were operating in Cincinnati from 1898-1909.

Another derivation of the filbert is said to come from the German word, vollbart which means “full beard,” which the husked shell of the hazelnut resembles. Although the terms filbert and hazelnut are used interchangeably, filbert typically refers to commercially cultivated crops of hazelnuts.   They are also called cob nuts in some places in the U.S.

So if you want to try a very historic cream coated candy – head to Peluso’s and buy a bag of their creamed filberts.

 

There’s No Pumpkin Pie War Needed – Mo Youse’s is the Best

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Frisch’s and Busken can have their pumpkin pies and their pie wars.    Both are now different than their originals and commissary made, which means they’re not hand crafted.    But there is one pie that rises above them all- still made after over 70 years only one day a year in the little village suburb of Glendale.    If you don’t get a reservation before 5 PM at the Grande Finale, aptly named for its decadent desserts, they may run out of this delectable pumpkin pie.

For the last half dozen or more years my parents and I have had Thanksgiving dinner at Grande Finale.     We congregate with the my sister and brothers’ families on the weekend.     Virginia greets and seats us at a table in the Cabernet Room with a lovely view of the interior brick New Orleans style courtyard.   This year, we got to sit in the main dining room with a great view of the entire restaurant.

We’re the weird table that gets the salmon and asparagus, not the turkey, steak or chateaubriand, like almost everyone else.     I usually accompany the salmon with one of their amazing mushroom crepes.   But the main event for us is really the pumpkin pie at the end.

The pie is served in a casserole dish with the crust is baked in.   It’s a deep brown color, not some unnatural traffic cone orange as most others.   Like the large size of its other desserts, Grande Finale’s pumpkin pie is about the size of maybe a third of a normal sized pumpkin pie.     We usually order two for the three of us and end up packing some up for take home.

This pie is spiced traditional – it’s clove and mace forward, with cinnamon being the third fiddle.    If there’s ginger, its not detectable, but might hold up the background for the deep old fashioned pumpkin pie flavor.   The mild hint of cinnamon is in contrast to today’s cinnamon forward pumpkin pies you’ll find at the grocery.   It’s not too sweet, so you can also really taste the pumpkin.    Consistency is good – more dense than a custard, but still springy and delicious.

The recipe comes from Mo Youse, the mother of the original owner, Larry Youse, who opened the restaurant in 1975 with his wife, graphic artist Cindy.     Even though the Youse’s retired in 2006 from the restaurant, the team that took over still makes this legacy recipe pie in homage of the mother of the man who built the restaurant icon still going strong after nearly 50 years.

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Larry and Cindy Youse shortly after opening the Grande Finale.

Gary and Cindy grew up in Indianapolis and were classmates since Kindergarten.  They fell in love in gradeschool, dated while attending Arlington high school, married after college, and had their son Zachary 18 years later.    Wedged in between there was the founding and building of their restaurant, which they passed on in 2006 to retire to Vail Colorado.     The couple restored the dilapidated Kelly General Store, built in 1850, with a nod to the historic.     The main bar was a find from Germantown, Ohio, and the back bar is from an old Hyde Park Barber Shop.   They also decorated it with fine oil paintings, the media in which Cindy still paints today in her Vail garden.   At the restaurant, they became famous for their over-the-top desserts, their crepes, and their high class funkiness where a crepe could be devoured while listening to Ricky Lee Jones.

So once a  year on Thanksgiving, we look forward to the best pie in town, Mo’s Pumpkin Pie, from an unassuming housewife from Indianapolis.

 

The New Halal Goetta in Cincinnati

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If you’re in Price Hill and looking for a non-chain home cooked breakfast Amir’s Fish and Chicken is a good place to try.      For many years the location at 3900 Glenway Avenue was Sam’s Chili.     But new owner “Mike” Mahmoud Rasras carries on the tradition, serving Cincinnati style chili and fried fish and chicken.    But don’t ask for bacon with your eggs, because Rasras cooks halal , which means no pork.    You can get turkey bacon with your eggs any style.   And, even though pork would make you think that they wouldn’t serve the other Cincinnati breakfast meat  – Goetta – you’d be wrong.

Amir’s serves Cincinnati’s only halal all-beef goetta.   And I’m told by a patron of today’s St. Anthony’s Lebanese fest that it’s very good!   This person was surprised how good it was without the pork.     And she was surprised a Middle Eastern person would try or even know how to make our Germanic grain sausage.    But it’s fairly similar to the Lebanese dish called Kibbeh, which was also served at today’s Lebanese fest.    It’s beef and spices mixed with cracked wheat instead of pinhead oats.  Rasras knows his West Side customers well, and knows that if he serves breakfast it must come with goetta, which he makes himself.      Just like the early Macedonian chili pioneers who listed to their customers’ requests for shredded cheddar cheese atop their chili mac to make the three-way, another Middle Eastern chef is making a Germanic dish for his customers.

The Rasras family had run Al Amir Mediterranean Restaurant downtown on 8th street, which opened in 2010 and then closed around 2017.    They  were known for having one of the best gyros in town, which they still serve at Amir’s in Price Hill.   After closing the downtown restaurant they moved up the hill to the Glenway Avenue location which relies on carry out business, but has a few booths inside for sit-down service.

It amazes me how I am still discovering new house made goetta in Greater Cincinnati.   I tally this one on my list of new goettas to try.

 

Malas Candy and the Spartan Cincinnati Connection

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There’s a great new exhibit at the Main Public Library downtown called Cinema Cincinnati, curated by librarian Brian Powers. It documents the wonderful history of theatres in Cincinnati and is an amazing collection of historic photos. One of the photos in the exhibit of the Orpheum Theatre in Walnut Hills shows the Malas Brothers Candy Shop next to it, which operated there from about 1916 to 1948.

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I was so excited to discover that shot in the exhibit. Last summer, I had found a chocolate box from this Malas Brothers Candy store at a Westwood market for my traveling Cincinnati Candy Museum, which I use in my presentations on Cincinnati Candy history. I had never seen a photo of the shop.

In Cincinnati, before the advent of the mega movie theatres, Candy Shops and Chili Parlors chose locations next to or within quick walking distance of a theatre. Candy shops were usually a combination of sandwich shop, soda fountain and confectionery, giving theatre goers an after show hangout, just like the chili parlors. Both were closely related, as their owners were Greek and Macedonian immigrants. In Cincinnati, and elsewhere, starting in the 1910s, candy shops used to be owned by immigrants from the area of Sparta Greece. Names like Mehas, Aglamesis, and Drivikas were in neon marquees at candy shops in Cincinnati. It wasn’t necessarily that immigrants from Sparta had knowledge of candy or ice cream making. It was that their countrymen who had immigrated the earliest found these low capital, easy-to-start industries to get their start in America.

The Malas brothers were John C, Peter, George, and James and they operated four candy shops from 1916 to 1948 in Cincinnati. Their flagship store was at 913 East McMillen in Walnut Hills near to the bustling Peebles Corner and next to the Orpheum Theatre. Other stores were at Enright Avenue in Price Hill, and in the Norwood Theatre district at 4907 Montgomery Road. They had immigrated to America in 1905 from Geraki, Sparta, Greece, and joined the community of Sparta immigrants who owned candy shops in Cincinnati.

Malas Brothers represents how interconnected all these Greek family-owned candy shops were in Cincinnati. John Malas was married to the daughter of Nicholas Farres, who immigrated to Cincinnati from Greece in 1904 and operated a confectionery at 1223 Vine in Corryville until he retired in 1933. Farres got his start with an ice cream cart and then moved to his brick and morter store, which he operated with sons John and Andrew. His son Andrew bought out the Pullman Sweet Shop at 2629 Vine Street in 1945, that had operated there since 1929. Nicholas Ferras’ wife was Mary Mehas, from the Mehas Brothers Greek confectionery family that owned a flagship store on Fountain Square near the Albee Theatre.

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Another Malas brother, George was married to Margaret Harritos, daughter of Pete Harritos, who also ran a candy shop at 37 East 6th Street Downtown.

The Malas brothers probably learned the business from their respective fathers-in-law and went out on their own. Malas made chocolate creams (probably our beloved opera creams), chocolate covered hazelnuts (then called filberts), brazil, and pecans, and candied fruits. They were all active in the Cincinnati Greek Community – helping raise funds for the Greek War Effort, and supporting their church, the St. Nicolas-Holy Trinity Orthodox church that throws the amazing Panegyri Festival every June. They were even part of the Candy Day (the precursor to October Sweetest Day) Committee that distributed free candy to orphanages, old folks homes, and the poor.

We can thank these Greek immigrant candy shops for proliferating our beloved Cincinnati Opera Cream, the Nectar Soda, and introducing us to the old tradition of having a chocolate mint after a meal of Cincinnati Chili.

 

Two Forgotten Prussian Beers My Newport Kentucky Family Might Have Brewed

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A Prussian Potsdammer Stangenbier brewed by Weyermann in Germany.

 

I remember a great beer story from a visit to my grandma one Saturday while I was in college. We were listening to the Reds game on the radio with Marty Brennaman. I told her we had just learned how to brew beer in our chemistry lab and that my friend Matteo and I decided to brew a batch of our own ale in his apartment. That was to become Buddha Belly Amber Lager, the first of many homebrews I have crafted over the years.

Grandma smiled and said when she was a little girl – during Prohibition in the mid 1920s– she helped her father cap his homebrew beer in the basement of their Newport shotgun house on Thornton Street. Her father and brother Paul were multi instrument musicians – guitar, banjo, fiddle and harmonica. They both played in bands at the saloons and speakeasys of Newport’s Spaghetti Knob Hill neighborhood and in Corpus Christi Church musicals. Bootleg homebrew was a part of their celebrations and gatherings. Grandma always referred to her siblings, family and friends as ‘goodtimers.” I was thrilled to hear this story and asked her if she remembered what kind of beer her dad made or how he brewed it. She laughed and said it was so long ago and she was so young she wouldn’t have known, but she was happy I was carrying on the family tradition of home brewing.

Grandma’s Polish family of brewers – her Grandfather and father, her Father and brother.

Great Grandpa’s family were immigrants from the area that is now Gdansk, Poland, on the Baltic Sea, but at the time was German occupied East Prussia. They were devout Catholics, spoke German, but had a Polish last name, Muchorowski. I wondered if Great Grandpa John was using a recipe his father Augustus, had brought over from Prussia. Man I would have loved to have had that recipe. Was it a recipe native to their little village Kalwe, south of Gdansk? Was it a popular Prussian beer that was still being brewed in some small brewery in the countryside? Unfortunately for me, the answer was kind of lost to history.

Beer was essential in the life of my grandma. Even later in age, when her meds prevented her from drinking alcohol, her physician caved and allowed her to drink near beer while listening to the Reds games on the radio. Grandpa, who was raised in a teetotalling Anglican family, always said it was Grandma who taught him how to drink beer – the Wiedemann that was brewed in their Newport neighborhood. By the time I was around, I thought the Wiedemann or Wiedy-pop, as they called it, was a foul-tasting American lager. And by that time, it wasn’t the original Newport-brewed German lager, it was a Big Beer commercially brewed lager made out of town. Grandma and Grandpa even smuggled beer to the nuns out at St. Ann’s Convent in Melbourne Kentucky – the one where Rain Main was filmed – with whom they were friends. Grandma had an aunt, Sr.  Mary of the Immaculate Conception (born Elizabeth Ann Brosey), who was a Sister of Divine Providence there.  Grandma said the nuns had already made so many sacrifices in their lives, they deserved some solace – beer!    To their knowledge, Mother Superior never found out about their Newport-Melbourne beer runs, but they certainly gained a lot of prayers for our family from the Sisters of Divine Providence.

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The Sisters of Providence who benefitted from my Grandparents’ weekend beer runs.

Well I would frequently wonder what kind of beer Great Grandpa John made in his Newport basement. It must have been pretty special if he didn’t just buy Wiedemann after 1933 when Prohibition ceased.   And, their home on Thornton street was in the shadow of the Dorsel Flour and Pinhead Oats Company at Monmouth and 13th.   So he was privy to a variety of brewing grains, especially since his sister-in-law, Great Aunt Loretta Brosey , was married to Jack Dorsel the grandson of the founder and owning family of the business.

That question was somewhat answered in the November issue of Brew Magazine which had a fantastic article called 15 German Beer Styles Rediscovered. I was pretty excited to see the cover headline and bought the edition. Sure enough, two of the 15 beers mentioned were from the area of my Grandma’s family! One was even called Danziger Jopenbeer. Danzig is Prussian-German name for the now Polish city of Gdansk. It was a highly hopped beer, boiled for 10 or more hours, and its viscous wort was flavored with rosehip and fermented like a sour in open casks in basements with mold and other microbes, that as it fermented picked up supposedly port-like flavors. It had unpredictable alcohol levels from 2.7 to 7.5%. There was even a recipe in the article with commercially available ingredients

The other Prussian brew was called Potsdammer Stagenbier. Potsdam is a suburb of Berlin, just to the west of Gdansk, but was still part of East Prussia. Stange is a tall cylindrical beer glass that Kolsh beers are typically served in. The Potsdammer Stagenbier was originally an unfiltered milky ale made from a mash of barley and a little wheat. Reportedly, frugal Prussian brewers would pour the thick yeast slurries and beer residues from returned barrels into their fermentation tanks filled with fresh wort. This would guarantee a quick and vigorous start of the fermentation. By the turn of the 20th century, after my ancestors had immigrated, it evolved into an effervescent amber colored lager. The Potsdamer stangebier remained popular in old Prussia until the First World War and then it nearly disappeared entirely.

So now thanks to this article, I have two brews from the region of my Grandma’s family that were perhaps that secret recipe Grandma had helped her father illegally cap during Prohibition. I’m so proud !

 

The Ham Loaf: An Old Butcher’s Trick, Now a Northwest Ohio and PA Comfort Food

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A friend’s recent visit to her customer, a butcher in Springfield, Ohio introduced me to a new comfort food called the Ham Loaf.  It’s like a meatloaf, but made with ground smoked ham and pork, some sort of cracker meal like saltines or Ritz crackers, egg, onion, usually pineapple bits, and sometimes maraschino cherries and spices.   It is usually served with a sweet, barbecue like glaze made of apple cider vinegar, brown sugar or Coca-Cola, and mustard.   Sometimes the acid component of the vinegar is replaced by pineapple juice.

The ham loaf has been made by butchers in middle and northeast Ohio since about the 1950s, maybe earlier.   But it’s the Amish and Mennonites of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who have the rightful claim to its origin.   It’s been a staple of their community since the late 1800s.     The ham loaf appears on the menus of any Amish family style restaurant and is present in any Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook.

It then travelled to Ohio’s Amish communities of Holmes County around Millersburg, where it can also be found on the menus of the restaurants there.

While it became a beloved comfort food of Ohioans and Pennsylvanischers, it also gave butchers a way to use up the ends of their deli hams and other luncheon meats.   Sometimes a version called ‘deli sausage’ appeared,  which used more than just the ham ends.   The butchers would save up the unused ends of their deli hams and grind it up with fresh pork to make the ham loaves.   Most butchers would sell them ground and mixed together, but uncooked in loaf pans like goetta, and would sell to customers to cook at home to return the pan when done.   So, like the scrapple of Pennsylvania, ham loaf gave butchers a way to extend either older or off cuts of meat.    Today, like with goetta, good cuts or fresh ham and ground pork are used.

It’s said the sweet glaze was to hide the off flavor of the older meats used back in the early days.   The pineapple or maraschino cherries also performed this function.  Some butchers even used red or cherry jello to sweeten their ham loaf.  It’s similar to the function that the addition of raisins or currents to Bremen Knipp and Dutch Balkenbrij (ancestors of goetta) performed to cover up minerally flavors of blood and organ meats used.

The ham loaf is prevalent in Altoona, Pennsylvania, between Lancaster and Pittsburgh, where it can be found at grocery stores, butchers, mini marts and gas stations.   It can also be found in Venango County, Pennsylvania, in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, near the Ohio border.  Just west of Lancaster County, it can be found in groceries in Pittsburgh.   The Lancaster County Ham Loaf may also have given birth to the two New Jersey ham loaf-like products – Trenton Pork Roll and Taylor Ham.

In Ohio, the ham loaf can be found to the north of Holmes County Amish Country  in Akron and Barberton areas, and southeast in Springfield, Ohio.  It has an interesting local recipe in Clinton County Ohio, near Wilmington, just northeast of Cincinnati.   Here, Clinton County Ham Loaf calls for the use of graham cracker crumbs as the binder.   I like this adder and might try the cinnamon graham.  Wilmington, Ohio, was an area where the local historical breed of Poland China Hog was bred prevalently, so the original Clinton County Ham Loaf was a Poland China Hog Loaf.

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Outside of Pennsylvania and its Ohio homes, the Pork Loaf’s reputation is challenging.   Many people see it as a version of SPAM and right it off as trash food.

In Franklin, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles from the Ohio border, is a commercial ham loaf producer, Gahr’s Ham Loaf Co., that is one of the only two makers who are USDA licensed and inspected to sell across state lines.  Owner Mike Gahr is on a mission to bring ham loaf to the masses – a mission to which I can relate.   Their original recipe comes from a 1930s Domino Sugar cookbook, probably because of the use of brown sugar in the sweet glaze.   Another mainstream ham loaf recipe appeared in the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  But, by the 1989 edition of that cookbook, it was reduced to a footnote under meatloaf.   So, unless Gahr’s amps up their marketing outside of Pennsylvania or starts a Ham Loaf Festival, it looks like the commercial ham loaf is on the endangered list.

Locally, Avril-Bleh on Court Street downtown makes a ham loaf with ham, pork, egg, bread crumbs and milk.   It’s topped with a sweet glaze of pineapple juice, brown sugar and muster.

While the ham loaf is not native to Cincinnati – we had many more Germanic porcine products like cottage ham, brats, goetta, schwartenmagen and ham salad (called sandwich spread outside of the 275 loop) – it did have a similar Germanic origin and is beloved by many Ohioans northeast of the 275 loop.