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Glaze the Trail

"A donut challenge, you say? I once ate 33 Krispy Kremes in under 15 minutes,” boasted the bartender, polishing a pint glass while behind the bar at the AC Marriott hotel in Butler County, Ohio. It’s no wonder that the discussion of eating a laughable amount of donuts garners the attention of strangers. After all, [...]
Danny Hamen

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“A donut challenge, you say? I once ate 33 Krispy Kremes in under 15 minutes,” boasted the bartender, polishing a pint glass while behind the bar at the AC Marriott hotel in Butler County, Ohio.

It’s no wonder that the discussion of eating a laughable amount of donuts garners the attention of strangers. After all, donuts are a part of the American identity. Look at Homer Simpson—a man whose love for the breakfast snack is arguably more representative of the American lifestyle than Ronald Reagan and his jellybeans. France has the beignet, Mexico has the churro, the Danes have the Danish, and America, specifically the Midwest, has the modern donut—our cultural take on a hunk of fried dough dunked in sugar, a product of our lineage after watching too many episodes of Twin Peaks.

When my editor told me about the Butler County Donut Trail, I was drinking a large cup of coffee at my desk, my stomach grumbling at the idea of adding a “hyper-local apple fritter” into the mix. Eight family-run donut shops in four hours seemed doable, especially considering it meant I got a nifty t-shirt upon completion and that I got to spend a day out of the office binge eating.

This is the story of the Donut Trail: one of gluttony, jelly-filled wads of dough, and a horde of strangers who love talking about donuts.

6:20 A.M.

Location: Stan the Donut Man, West Chester

Input: Blueberry Sour Cream Donut

We pull in to the first bakery just after dawn. The air is brisk as we make our way into the first shop—a small, unassuming place hidden in a strip mall a few miles from the hotel. Although the girl behind the counter, Miranda, goes to Miami University, she greets us wearing an OSU shirt—a welcome sight to us Columbus travelers. The walls behind her are lined with Cincinnati sports memorabilia and the aroma of freshly baked donuts clings to the walls. Stan the Donut Man has been making donuts for 20 years, quite a feat for a small business in rural Ohio. Miranda pulls out a few of her favorites to show off, and then hands us our donut passport—a small slip of paper that lists all of the donut stops on our route. After I decide on a blueberry sour cream donut to start my food adventure, she marks my card with a stamp that reads “scrumptious”—a perfectly suitable descriptor of my first bite. The donut is warm and velvety. The delectably sweet sour cream icing dissolves quickly in my mouth. I chase the donut with a cup of black coffee, and whistle on my way out the door.

7:17 A.M.

Location: Milton’s Donuts, Middletown

Input: Fried Cream Cheese Donut

As we pull into the lot, I notice a spirited crowd gathered inside the tiny shop, all patiently waiting for an iconic Milton’s donut. “They are the best in the world,” croaks an old man balancing himself on a mahogany cane. Well, technically, for now they are the best in the region, or so says a small sign on the counter asking patrons to cast more votes to make them the “Sweetest Bakery in the Nation.” Each team member is sporting a tie dye t-shirt and scampering around to accommodate the overwhelming amount of guests. I order the fried cream cheese donut, a house favorite. It is about the size of my fist. (Keep in mind, I have the hands of a bone-crushing giant.) I bite into the confection and it immediately oozes lukewarm, gooey cream cheese out the other side. Although the staff is all smiles, I can tell that they are too busy to field questions from nosey journalists, so I get my passport stamped with the word “delicious” and am on my way.

7:40 A.M.

Location: Martin’s Donuts, Trenton

Input: Apple Fritter

By the time we get to Martin’s Donuts—a small standalone, flamingo-pink donut shop in the boonies of Trenton, Ohio—thick flakes of puffy white snow are descending from the sky. Is this powdered sugar? My brain is already starting to feel the dough’s dizzying effects. At any rate, I hustle inside to find Misty helping a customer pick out a dozen. Each donut stop on the trail hosts a small road sign in the front entrance, signifying to guests that they are a participating member of the trail. Martin’s road sign depicts Bigfoot carrying some donuts on his back. A hefty man with long, silver hair named Harley ushers us to the back of the shop, showing us where the magic is made. He recommends the apple fritter, saying that the apples come from an orchard not too far down the road. Considering my fritter fantasy earlier in the week, I snatch one off the tray and take a healthy bite. “So what do you do here?” I ask, mouth full of flakey fritter. “I’m the driver,” says Harley with a grin. “And also the Sasquatch.”

8:20 A.M.

Location: The Donut Spot, Fairfield

Input: Raspberry Cheesecake Donut

About 30 long minutes passed before we reached The Donut Spot—not because it was that far away (about 10 miles or so) but because it was snowing so intensely that we were only able to drive 20 MPH down the long, country roads. Even then, my brakes locked up and caused my poor little Honda Accord to hydroplane, nearly sending us careening into a cornfield. Once I regained control, we lurched forward towards our next destination. No matter, though; the Donut Spot is warm and inviting, with walls striped turquoise and yellow, and decorated with kitschy signs about donut love. I choose a raspberry cheesecake donut, which is light and delectable—a perfect choice after a near-death experience.

8:40 A.M.

Location: Jupiter Donuts, Fairfield

Input: Miami Maple Merger Donut

Even though Jupiter Donuts is burrowed in rural Ohio, it has the feel of a hip, urban donut shop—from the coffee bean mosaic adorning the wall to the chintzy chalkboard menu,  to the braided turquoise hair of the young cashier. Although Jupiter is only two years old, it has the feel of a longstanding staple of Fairfield. I take a bite into their Miami Maple Merger, a long john body donut with maple fluff topped with candy pecans, and a smile. It was light, airy, and just the kick of sugar I needed to precede on my way.

9:35 A.M.

Location: Mimi’s Donuts & Bakery, Hamilton

Input: Reese’s Donut

It took about an hour to reach our next destination, but that is largely in part to the yellow Mustang that careened off the road into a small ditch. Nobody was hurt, but we had front row seats watching the tow truck fish out the luxury sports vehicle, unable to turn around due to the line of cars behind us and the increasingly dangerous weather. Sherry, the owner of Mimi’s, greets us with a smile and her famous Reese’s Donut. Having retired from the police force, she watched YouTube videos of how to make donuts, turning her into an aficionado nearly overnight. Her donut was rich and creamy, filled with velvety peanut butter—a savvy and delightful execution for a little old lady/ex-cop. (And yes, she’s heard the jokes.)

9:55 A.M.

Location: Kelley’s Bakery, Hamilton

Input: S’mores Donut

After eating seven donuts, you’d think the smell of another sugar shop would get to be nauseating, but when I stepped inside Kelley’s Bakery, the aroma was comforting. Their specialty S’mores donut was topped with chocolate, graham cracker chunks, and marshmallow pieces, inciting wistfulness for a campfire and a soulful rendition of Kumbaya on acoustic guitar. I smacked my lips, high-fived the nice lady working the counter, and made my way to our final destination.

10 A.M.

Location: Ross Bakery, Hamilton

Input: Dirt Trail Donut

By the time we made it into Ross Bakery, the display case was nearly barren. All of the exotic and popular flavors, like maple bacon and devil’s food, were picked over, leaving only run-of-the-mill donut options. Considering they’d be closed in a few hours, all of the early birds got the worms—quite literally, as their specialty Dirt Trail Donut is topped with a multi-colored gummy worm. Fortunately for us, they had expected our arrival and saved us one of their Oreo-topped gummy worm confections. A small child in a puffy pink jacket marveled at the donut as the clerk pulled it from the back room, coyly asking her grandparents for “one of those.” I looked at the expertly crafted donut, felt a food cramp in my belly, looked into the big blue eyes of the hungry little girl, and decided to hand it over, settling for something a little more unadorned to end our journey. The whole family was so excited by the offering that they insisted on taking a group photo with the specialty donut, further affirming the cultural significance of the donut: a reason to get up at the ass crack of dawn and spend precious moments with the ones you love.

Here’s to the donut, and to all of the mom-and-pop shops that wake up even earlier to make our breakfast special—a tasty testament to the American way.

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Restaurant Review: El Lugar and Alpine bring Spanish, German tapas to German Village

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Displayed proudly along the wall behind El Lugar’s bar are rows and rows of canned seafood—not the ingredient of choice one might expect from an upscale tapas and pinchos restaurant, located in a city with a culinary scene that typically fawns over either traditional American, or fresh and local food. Nevertheless, the Espinaler cans of tuna, razor shells, and cockles reside there like a dare for those with adventurous enough appetites to try some of the finest seafood in the world. 

Photos by Julian Foglietti

El Lugar is a shared effort by co-owners Enis and A.J. Ndreu and Elidon Hizmo to bring new and authentic European flavors to Columbus. Their two new restaurants, El Lugar and Alpine, sit next door to one another and provide different, yet complementary experiences of Spanish and German cuisines. One side boasts a more family-friendly selection of meats, cheeses and hearty vegetables, while the other is fresh Mediterranean flavors of citrus and seafood. Both share an intriguing selection of signature cocktails. 

In contrast to El Lugar, Alpine features cuisine that showcases flavors from across Germany. Nicholas Paxton, the executive chef at both restaurants who was tasked with transforming the owners’ vision into menus, is neither German nor originally familiar with German food, so he brought in consultants more familiar with the region to help develop the recipes. “I love the authenticity that we provide here on the Alpine side,” Paxton said. “There’s a broad spectrum of what German food can be.”

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Alpine is continuing the tradition of authentic regional food that has helped characterize German Village, where it and El Lugar are located. The two restaurants replaced Juergen’s Bakery, a community staple that provided Columbus with Bavarian-style fare for 50 years. Co-owner A.J. Ndreu said they’d been looking for a spot in the area to open up another German restaurant (they also own Wurst und Bier in Worthington), so when the opportunity presented itself, they jumped.

“I used to buy all my pastries from Rosemarie [Keidel, Juergen’s Bakery’s owner],” A.J. Ndreu said. 

“We just connected and she’s like, ‘I’d love for you to take over and make a German restaurant out of it.’ ”

With that, he and his cousin launched into bringing to life their concepts for German and tapas restaurants, which they’d been developing for a decade.

One of the most instrumental sources of inspiration for A.J. has been traveling around Europe. He lived in France, where he fell in love with French food. But once he experienced all the different ways Spanish cuisine used seafood, beef and pork, he was convinced otherwise. “I thought French food was the best cuisine in the world until I started going to Spain.”

The simplicity of Spanish food is a challenge for Paxton, who says his tendency when developing a recipe is to mess with its components. Spanish cuisine, in contrast, consists of ingredients that can speak for themselves; all Paxton has to do, he says, is figure out how they work together and wait for inspiration to hit.

Back in 2008, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Catalonia for his show “No Reservations” to explore the same flavors that intrigued Ndreu and Paxton. At a little bar about half an hour outside of Barcelona, Bourdain tried Espinaler’s canned seafood, and asked, “How can any chef do better for you than that?” Ndreu was captivated.

“I was like, ‘What the hell is he talking about? It’s canned,’ ” Ndreu puzzled. “So […] I went, and I was amazed. It’s unbelievable. It’s some of the best seafood I ever ate.”

After that, A.J. spent years trying to find a way to bring Espinaler’s products to Ohio, and he finally uncovered an opportunity in El Lugar. But besides the seafood, El Lugar also features Vermut Lacuesta—not the vermouth used for lining a martini glass, but a wine-like drink to be enjoyed on its own or in a cocktail. It also offers the Spanish serrano and ibérico hams, which can be cured for years. The more expensive of the two, ibérico ham comes from black pigs fed an acorn diet and can take up to five years to reach peak flavor.

Next door, Alpine’s menu describes dishes like leberkäse (a meatloaf) and wurstteller (a selection of sausages). Diners can also order raclette, available by the scrape, over any meal. But not forgetting that it’s still in the United States, Alpine offers a handful of American classics during happy hour. These include mini cheeseburger sliders, tater tots with beer cheese dip, and fried chicken wings, among others. 

Alpine and El Lugar present their guests with foreign foods that encourage diners to explore the culinary diversity of Europe. Portion sizes, particularly at El Lugar, may be a bit smaller, but Paxton hopes Columbus diners will recognize the value in great, unique-tasting food and finding excellence in unexpected places.

“We don’t want you to fill up on it. We want you to taste some amazing flavors that nobody else is doing,” Paxton said.

Alpine and El Lugar are located at 525 S 4th St. in German Village. Find out about Alpine at alpine614.com and El Lugar at ellugar614.com.

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Food & Drink

They’ll be nothing to wine about at these 9 local wineries

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Everyone knows that Columbus is a craft beer city, but fortunately for those who never got acclimated to the yeasty drink, there’s wine. We may not have the best climate for grape growing, but these nine wineries around Columbus are breaking down barriers and serving up delicious bottles to vino lovers.

Camelot Cellars Winery | 901 Oak St, Columbus

Camelot Cellars, an award-winning Urban Boutique Winery, handcrafts all their own wines sourcing premier juices from vineyards all over the world. Offerings include retail wines by the bottle, wine tastings, flights, and event spaces.

Via Vecchia Winery | 2050 S High St, Columbus

This family-owned, urban winery is tucked away off a private lane and hosts 7700 square feet of exclusive venue space. With original exposed brick archways, wood ceiling beams and limestone walls, every experience is sure to be unforgettable.

Wyandotte Winery | 4640 Wyandotte Dr, Columbus

Wyandotte Winery is the first and oldest winery in Central Ohio, conveniently located just miles from Easton Town Center. With wines made from Ohio grapes and a beautiful patio to enjoy them on, you’re sure to enjoy your experience at Wyandotte Winery.

Signature Wines | 3816 April Ln, Columbus

Unlike many urban wineries, Signature Wines makes wines predominantly from whole grapes  and juices brought into Columbus from predominately California and Ohio using traditional, small scale winemaking techniques.  Stop into the Winery to enjoy a glass of wine in a comfortable atmosphere.

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Hidden Lakes Winery | 650 Winchester Pike, Canal Winchester

Hidden Lakes offers a delightful selection of house-made, award-winning wines and unique craft beers. Along with beverages, enjoy food from the newly-updated kitchen while taking in the scenic lakeside view.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant | 4230 The Strand, Columbus

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants celebrates moments that matter with chef-crafted food, award-winning wines, and life-long friendships. Outstanding wine, modern fare, Napa-inspiring tasting room: Cooper’s Hawk.

Good Vibes Winery | 2 S State St, Westerville

Good Vibes Winery is an urban winery located in Uptown Westerville, offering guests a wine experience, bistro samplings, and a beautiful environment to be enjoyed by friends and family.

Plum Run Winery | 3946 Broadway, Grove City

Plum Run Winery is a family-owned winery focusing on small batches of quality wines made from locally sourced fruit. A 3-acre vineyard located five miles south of the winery provides many of the grapes for the estate wines. Stop by and enjoy the wine and hospitality!

Powell Village Winery | 50 Liberty St, Powell

As one of the first wine négociants in Ohio, Powell Village Winery sources, blends, and produces small lots of high quality vinifera wines from America’s notable grape-growing regions. From bold & dry to sweet & fruity, they strive to create a diverse range of distinct wines for every taste.

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Food & Drink

Tuttle Mall getting a lot sweeter thanks to 2 newcomers

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Malls have changed a lot over the years. Remember Waldenbooks? Was KB Toys your go-to as a kid? Heck, even Sears will soon be nothing more than a memory.

While mall establishments are frequently lost to the sands of time, it’s rare that you see a former retailer return to a mall it’s already vacated once. Well brace yourselves, sweets fans, because a gooey, sugar-frosted favorite is making a comeback at Tuttle Mall.

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Of course we’re talking Cinnabon, which was last in operation at Tuttle some years ago, and is now listed as “coming soon” on the mall’s directory. But wait! As tempting as it will be to fill up on cinnamon rolls after this long absence, you’ll want to save room for this other coming attraction: it seems Duck Donuts is also setting up shop in Tuttle.

Hop on the treadmill and give your dentist a heads-up, mall lovers—sweets are back at Tuttle in a big way!

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