"I don't live in Hollywood. I don't have celebrities as friends. I like them, but I don't pal around with them. I just live in the Midwest, a real normal world." Jerry Springer
State 8: Ohio - July 15, 2017
We woke up in Bloomington, IN, and headed east for a 3-hour drive to exit the Hoosier state and enter the 8th state of Ohio on our year long cross country trip to discover America, and find a new state to call home. Ohio’s state tree is called the Buckeye Tree, thus Ohioan's are commonly referred to as Buckeye’s. We were looking forward to meeting a few Buckeyes, during our week in Ohio. Our map had us crossing the Indiana/Ohio border at the city of Cincinnati. New York is the Big Apple, and Chicago is the Windy City. However, we had no idea what Cincinnati nickname was until we came across the sign pictured below.
Yes, Cincinnati is the Queen City. My first thoughts were we happened across the cross dressing capitol of the country. The Queen City actually earned its name from a poem and song written in the mid 19th century, which referred to Cincinnati as the Queen of the Mid-West. Cincinnati has a very long and impressive resume. It has the unique distinction of being the first American city founded after the Revolutionary War, in 1788. In 1869 the city established the first professional baseball team: The Cincinnati Red Stockings. Above all else, the cities greatest accomplishment came in 1972 when Jerry Springer was elected the Mayor of Cincinnati! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Although Lori and I dislike cities, we recently had a blast in Indianapolis. Let’s see if the Queen City can convert the cross country couple into true city slickers.
Our first scheduled stop was Carew Towers located in the heart of the downtown region. The tower was built in 1930, has 49 floors, and was the tallest building in the world up until WW2. The entire building has since been expertly restored to its original art deco style, and is still a mixed use structure consisting of office, retail and hotel. The real treasure of this antique building was the observation deck located on the top floor that promised unprecedented views of the Cincinnati skyline. To get to the observation deck was an adventure in itself. First you had to take an antique medium sized elevator to the 45th floor. Then you had to take old rickety and very tiny 2-person elevator to the 47th floor. Once on the 47th floor you go up 2 flights of stairs to 49th floor, and speak to the person in charge of admission. Per the reviews, you must then give him a secret password while performing a special hand shake in the correct order. You can also just pay him $4.00 per person to enter, which is what we opted for. As you can see from the pictures below, the views were spectacular! We then headed back down the stairs and down the 2 creepy elevators and across town to visit the Cincinnati’s legendary Findlay Market.
Cincinnati’s Findlay Market was founded in 1852, pre-dating the American Civil war by 9 years! The vendors were local small business, their products were fresh, and the prices were just right. Outside of the main building were local artists and produce vendors. Inside the main building there were vendors on either side of a jam packed central walkway. On one side of the walkways, vendors were selling fresh beef, poultry, fish, cheese, and handmade sausage. Although I do not eat most of the aforementioned, I was extremely impressed with the presentation and the freshness. On the other side of the walkway, there were food vendors selling every type and style of food imaginable. I have had a hankering for an egg roll for over 6 states, and was ecstatic when I saw a food vendor selling something called a monster egg roll. See the pictures below.
Maybe I was being tad bit gluttonous, but seriously, when would the opportunity ever present itself again to eat a 12-inch-long egg roll weighing in over 3 pounds! I popped a beano, and chased it with a swig of Mylanta, and I was off to the races. The egg roll was absolutely delicious, and worth every minute on the treadmill in Planet Fitness the next day. Lori on the other hand decided to be a tad more sophisticated with her option for lunch. She had been craving a crepe’ for over 2 years, and it is so hard to find a good French chef who knows what they are doing. We just happened to find such a person making crepes at the market, and Lori was very excited. She ordered a red roasted pepper, goat cheese, and spinach crepe with a balsamic vinaigrette reduction. I assumed she was enjoying it, because I was hearing her make sounds from the other side of the table, which I haven’t heard her make in a very long time. We have visited many city markets in our journey, and the Queen City sets an stellar example of how to do it right!
After leaving Findlay Market, we headed across town to the Smale Riverside Park located right on the Ohio River. Want to know what else is on right on the river? The Red's baseball stadium. The citizens of Cincinnati clearly took their baseball team very seriously. It was quite the sight to witness an onslaught of people wearing red shirts and caps, engaging in a mass exodus from within the city, and descending upon the stadium consuming every parking space in their wake! This was the second city we visited where a home game has wreaked havoc on our plans! We actually had to cross a bridge over the Ohio River and enter Kentucky to find a parking space for Rosie! It was a 2 mile walk from our parking spot in Kentucky back over the bridge across the Ohio river, and then into Cincinnati’s Smale Riverside Park. However, the walk across the bridge was awesome, and we took tons of great pictures below. At this point in our trip we have seen too many dilapidated, or poorly developed city river front's. Once again, Cincinnati got something else perfectly right, and visiting this park was one of the highlights of our trip. For example, most parks have benches, which no one usually sits on. In Smale Park there are no benches. They have a series of metal front porch swings, sporadically located throughout the park. Each one was full of people swinging to and fro and they watched the river and cool Saturday afternoon pass by. Other attractions within the park included: rock climbing walls, multiple fountains for the children to play in, an indoor carousel, the biggest checkers and checkerboard game I have ever seen and so much more pictured below. This appeared to be where everyone who played hooky from the Red's game ended up. The park was packed people, and everyone was having a great time.
Philadelphia is known for the cheese steak sandwich, and Chicago is known for deep dish pizza. However, the food Cincinnati is famous for is not as commonly known, and will definitely surprise you. Cincinnati is the chili capitol of the world! With 180 chili restaurants within the city limits, clearly The Queen City takes it's chili extremely seriously. Even more surprising, the cities definitions of chili is very different from what you would expect. Instead of your chili being served in a bowl, in Cincinnati, chili is served on a plate over spaghetti. This is where things become titillating! You can customize your chili creation, by ordering a 3 way, 4 way or 5 ways. A 3 way is spaghetti, chili, and cheese. A 4-way is spaghetti, chili, cheese, and onions. Last but certainly not least the granddaddy of them all, a 5 way consists of spaghetti, chili, cheese, onions and beans. Of the 180 chili shops, only 2 had a vegetarian chili available. We ended up going with a place called Gold Star Chili, which has a dozen locations throughout the city. The review stated Gold Star was a fast food joint which concerned us, but upon entering the restaurant, it had the feel of a casual restaurant similar to a Denny’s. Whenever you eat vegetarian at a restaurant that does not specialize in such cuisine, the quality of the food is usually a crap shoot and the house usually wins. We read an article online that the owners of Gold Star made over 22 failed batches of veggie chili before perfecting their recipe. We also read reviews from fellow vegetarians who have had Gold Stars veggie chili and they were all quite impressed. We were very excited to eat authentic vegetarian Cincinnati style chili for the very first time. We decided to go all out, and ordered a 5 way, topping it off with sour cream and oyster crackers like the locals do. It was the absolutely the best chili we have ever had vegetarian or otherwise. It was so good, that I followed it up with an order of their veggie chili cheese fries, which were also oh so yummy.
With our bellies full, we departed Cincinnati and headed north. We found a Walmart in Lebanon, OH to spend the night.