Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

If we’ve learned anything during a decade of travel writing, it’s that nothing sells like a trail.

We’ve covered coffee trails, doughnut trails, bourbon trails, beer trails, bicycle-and-beer trails, you name it. One that we’ve recently experienced and can really sink our teeth into is the Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail.

Sponsored primarily by the Miami County Visitors and Convention Bureau, this sacchariferous safari includes 31 stops in Ohio where the tempting combination of peanut butter and chocolate is concocted.

Check out the trail map at the Miami County VCB. Meanwhile, here are four stops along the route that we recently experienced in central Ohio:

Original Goodie Shop
2116 Tremont Center
Upper Arlington
Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Debbie Smith rolls peanut butter batter into logs while making handmade Buckeye candies at the Original Goodie Shop in Upper Arlington. She then cuts out 3-ounce pieces with a dough scraper, the same one her father, James Krenek, used when he opened the bakery in 1967. Debbie now owns the shop with her daughters, Emilie and Miranda, and sells cookies, cakes, breads, potpies and Buckeyes.

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Debbie shapes the batter into balls and then comes the magic. If you’ve ever made Buckeyes, you might have pierced them with toothpicks to dunk them into melted chocolate. That’s how we did it at home, and they always came out with a visible hole where the toothpick entered the nutty ball of goop.

Not Debbie. She lifts each one with what looks like a bent fork with two prongs and dips each into melted chocolate that’s not spoilt with paraffin wax.

“This is my special tool that doesn’t leave toothpick mark,” she says. We can attest that her candies, dunked in high-quality dark chocolate, are delicious – and lovely to gaze upon. Seasonal designs include Santas and bucked-tooth Easter bunnies.

Sweet Tooth Cottage
10221 Sawmill Pkwy.
Powell
Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

The sweet truth about Sweet Tooth Cottage in Powell is that it’s owned by Sue Bissonnette, a dental hygienist who’s passionate about homemade baked goods that make you smile.

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Sue ran her shop out of her home in Powell before moving into a retail shop on Sawmill Parkway six years ago. Inside you’ll find all sorts of neatly decorated butter cookie cutouts, her signature item. She also sells cakes, cupcakes, brownies and Buckeyes, made with melted semi-sweet chocolate and no wax.

“It’s the best chocolate I’ve ever had,” says Nicole Forsythe, manager at Sweet Tooth.

They make the Buckeyes in small batches with fresh ingredients, hand rolling and hand dipping. “We take pride in making them look nice,” Nicole says.

We liked that the chocolate shell had a nice crunch when you bit into the candy, making it extra scrumptious.

Anthony-Thomas Candy Co.
1777 Arlingate Lane
Columbus
Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Bang. Hiss. Bang. Hiss.

Noisemaking doesn’t conjure images of creamy peanut butter-and-chocolate Buckeye candies. But those sounds resonate at the Anthony-Thomas Candy Co. factory on the west side of Columbus, where the 67-year-old company makes batches of 160,000 of the delectable treats at a time.

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Gloved workers at the end of an assembly line release the shiny, chocolate gems from plastic molds with a bang on the countertop, creating a beat that interplays with a hiss of air from a compressor amid the machinery. The smell of warm chocolate wafts through the building.

Smell for yourself at an Anthony-Thomas factory tour, held every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. (Wednesday tours also are available from June through August.) Admission, which can be used toward a candy purchase, is $2 for adults, and $1 for children.

Chocolate Cafe
1855 Northwest Blvd.
Columbus
Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

Confession: We visited the Chocolate Cafe before the existence of the Buckeye Candy Trail, which was created in 2018. We now know that the Grandview eatery offers Buckeye candies, but at the time of our visit, were swooned by the chocolate fondue.

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops

We skewered strawberries, marshmallows, graham crackers, pound cake and Rice Krispies treats before drowning them in warm, fudgy chocolate. Playing with food never felt so fun or tasted so good.

What’s crazy is that you can eat all the fondue you want for $8.99 on Fridays, beginning at 5 p.m., until nothing is left. The cafe also offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and do-it-yourself S’mores. Kids eat for $1.99 on Monday.

Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail: Indulge in peanut butter and chocolate at central Ohio stops
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Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern: Mike continues quest for tasty pork tenderloins in Midwest

Mike continues quest for tasty pork tenderloins in Midwest

Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern: Mike continues quest for tasty pork tenderloins in Midwest
Rusty Bucket has nine central Ohio locations, including our favorite in Clintonville.

Having spent significant time in Indiana last year researching a story on the Tenderloin Lovers Trail for USA Today, I was encouraged to see a well-known restaurant in Columbus offering a similar sandwich.

So our family paid a visit last week to the Rusty Bucket in Clintonville to see how the tenderloin stacked up. Rusty Bucket’s nine central Ohio locations feature the tenderloin sandwich as the blue plate special on Tuesdays, and we were delighted to see a lot of other specials on the menu.

If you’re not familiar with the pork tenderloin sandwich, it’s a well-bred institution in Midwestern states such as Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, where pork production is high. It seems that every restaurant and bar in the Hoosier State offers some sort of tenderloin sandwich. They say it began at Nick’s near Fort Wayne, but now they’re seemingly everywhere.

But in Columbus? Not so much.

Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern: Mike continues quest for tasty pork tenderloins in Midwest
Yellow mustard is a must condiment on a pork tenderloin sandwich.

It sounds obvious, but a proper pork tenderloin sandwich should be from the tenderloin, not the pork loin. It should have a crisp bite and be seasoned, but still retain the full pork flavor. It’s typically served with lettuce tomato, pickles and mayo. For some reason people in Indiana also like to plaster them with yellow mustard. So that’s the way I topped mine.

The Rusty Bucket special includes a 5-ounce tenderloin, which is tenderized and pounded flat, breaded and fried, served with fries. It was moist and tasty, and I would say stacks up well flavor-wise to what I experienced in Indiana. It wasn’t nearly as large as some of the sandwiches I found there, however, which sometimes expand beyond the dinner platter only to be barely covered by a ridiculously small bun.

Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern: Mike continues quest for tasty pork tenderloins in Midwest
The pork tenderloin sandwich is Rusty Bucket’s Tuesday’s “Blue Plate Special.”

We found good deals all over the menu. Rusty Bucket sells appetizers and pizzas at half price from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays, when the “Juicy Lucy” burger is offered at $5. There’s a drink special every day, including half-priced bottles of wine on Tuesdays.

The variety is good, since Wendy is a vegetarian. She tore into a harvest salad, while Rosie munched on half-priced potstickers and Max went with tried-and-true chicken fingers. But anytime I want to pretend I’m a Hoosier, I know where to go for the breaded pork sandwich experience.

Learn more about Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern.


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Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster


Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in LancasterIf you’re like us, date nights are few and far between. But a lack of short-order sitters and poor planning on our part doesn’t stop us from getting out once in a while for some quality adult time with our kids in tow.

One surprising place to do just that, we recently discovered, is the Rockmill Brewery in Lancaster, 30 minutes from downtown Columbus.

The small-production brewery is located on a former horse farm, and the rural landscape is both romantic and adventuresome. There’s plenty of room to roam, including a fishing pond that reflects the trees around it. The Hocking River flows near part of the property, resembling a painting, meandering off into the wooded horizon. And, even more surprising, there are explorable recess caves.

We paid a visit on Father’s Day, and it sorta felt like we were crashing a private party. Folks were nicely dressed, sipping beers on a hillside, as their children played alongside stretched-out blankets. Other guests threw Frisbees and played corn hole, awaiting a band that was scheduled to play in the evening by a small building that resembled a church.

But this, we learned, is how you behave at Rockmill. It’s a family affair, and bonding is encouraged.

Rockmill opened in 2010, and it’s gotten a solid reputation among craft brewers in central Ohio. The company also operates Rockmill Tavern in Columbus’ Brewery District.

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in LancasterOwner Matt Barbee describes Rockmill as a “Belgian-style brewery,” with added sugars that provide distinct flavor profiles, such as fruit, spice or herbs, in addition to the traditional beer notes that come from grain and hops. The results are big, complex flavors that go far beyond the common lager. Rockmill’s standard beers are named simply after their style: witbier, saison, dubbel and tripel.

The quaint tasting room was once a horse stable, and there are several nooks and crannies where you can get lost while you indulge in a brew. Or, take it outside on the spacious grounds. You can bring your own food, or opt for the tasty selections from a food truck outside — Backcountry Barbecue offers standard BBQ fare. Check its website for dates and times of operation.

Rockmill Brewery is located at 5705 Lithopolis Rd. NW, Lancaster. Learn more at www.rockmillbrewery.com.


Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

Rockmill Brewery: Plan date with kids at picturesque beer haven in Lancaster

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Search for pixie portals while discovering downtown Dublin’s quaint shops


Be it beer, wine, doughnuts or chocolate, we’re suckers for organized trails. So when I recently learned of a fairy trail in downtown Dublin, my daughter, Rosie, and I made plans to check it out.

The Irish Fairy Door Trail was created in 2016 by the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau as a fun way to highlight the independent businesses in downtown Dublin. Trail guides are available online or can be picked up in person at the Dublin Visitor & Information Center at 9 S. High St. The center is open daily from 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

Eight small, glitter-encrusted doors have been hidden inside an equal number of businesses in the historic downtown area. It’s up to participants to find them and take note of the fairy’s name that’s been attached to each. Jot down the names of the fairies found at six of the eight participating stores on your passport to earn an Irish Fairy Door Trail T-shirt. Completed passports can be slipped into a box inside the visitor’s center.

The real prize, Rosie and I discovered, was spending time together exploring the unique stores. I drank coconut-flavored coffee and devoured sea-salt caramels at Winans of Dublin. Rosie found a shamrock-spotted rubber duck at Ha’Penny Bridge Imports of Ireland and a comfortable seat in a giant Teddy bear at the Dublin Toy Emporium.

Here is the full list of participating stores at the time of our adventure:

Learn more about Dublin’s Irish Fairy Door Trail.

Also check out Dublin’s new Celtic Cocktail Trail, and Dublin’s Art in Public Places Tour.



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Saraga International Grocery: Columbus' growing diversity reflected in store's colorful offerings

Columbus’ growing diversity reflected in store’s colorful offerings


Saraga International Grocery: Columbus' growing diversity reflected in store's colorful offeringsA grocery store doesn’t typically come to mind when thinking of adventuresome destinations for families in Columbus. But Saraga International Grocery in a former Toys “R” Us along Morse Road isn’t your typical grocery store.

Stepping into the 40,000 square-foot store feels like entering another country. The aisles are lined with fascinating foods and produce from all over the world, especially Asia. Shoppers are just as diverse, speaking multiple languages as they fill their carts and order fresh fish from the pungent seafood counter.

The Saraga chain, with three stores in Indiana and Ohio, was founded by Korean brothers, Jong Sung and Bong Sung, in Bloomington, Ind., in 1994. The Columbus location opened in 2013, meeting Columbus’ growing diverse population.

  • Saraga International Grocery
  • Columbus' growing diversity reflected in store's colorful offerings
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“We recognized that America was becoming a multicultural and multiracial community where diverse people from Asia, Europe, South America and Africa lived together,” say the Sung brothers on their website, saragafood.com. “So, we decided to establish an international grocery store to accommodate the lives of these people.”

Saraga International Grocery: Columbus' growing diversity reflected in store's colorful offeringsThe fast rising star of Saraga is Momo Ghar, a tiny Nepali and Tibetan restaurant located inside the grocery store that specializes in dumplings called momos. International accolades include being named one of Yelp’s top 100 places to eat in the United States and being featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with host and Columbus native, Guy Fieri.

Saraga International Grocery is located at 1265 Morse Rd. Learn more at saragafood.com.

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Enjoy homemade Italian favorites in a fun, funky environment

Enjoy homemade Italian favorites in a fun, funky environment


We’re starting to notice that we like hometown-styled Italian restaurants. Especially ones that offer home-cooked meals at a decent price in a zany environment with lots of noise.

Villa Nova Ristorante in Columbus is one such happening joint. We like it because it reminds us of Mike’s hometown in southeastern Ohio. Walk into the Villa Nova, and you immediately feel welcomed by folks who look like someone you’ve known since childhood.

The family-run restaurant, founded in 1978, offers a wide selection of pasta, chicken, steak and seafood dishes, as well as sandwiches and pizza. Go for the homemade meatballs and Italian sausage. All dinners come with garlic sticks and soup or salad.

  • Villa Nova Ristorante
  • Enjoy homemade Italian favorites in a fun, funky environment
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Italian standouts include lasagna, ravioli, gnocchi, tortellini, manicotti shells florentine, rigatoni and eggplant parmesan.

We love the atmosphere. We visited during a busy Saturday evening in March, and we had to wait about half an hour for a table. But they gave us a buzzer for our pockets, and we headed for the bar. Villa Nova’s bartenders aren’t afraid to tip the bottle when they pour you a drink. Mike, especially, appreciated that.

Meanwhile the kids raided a candy dish as I admired the restaurant’s eccentric decor that includes a wall full of nautical devices and another full of license plates and paintings from mob movies, as well as shelves overflowing with hundreds of copper kettles.

Specials

All meals on the children’s menu cost $1.99 on Monday for those ages 12 and under. Options include spaghetti with meatball, fettuccini Alfredo, pizza, chicken tenders, hamburger, grilled cheese and mini corn dogs.

A special on Sunday includes spaghetti, salad, soup and spumoni ice cream for $10.95.

Villa Nova is located at 5545 N. High St., Columbus. For more information, visit villanovacolumbus.com or call 614-846-5777.

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Starliner Diner: Quirky Hilliard eatery serves up Cuban-inspired fare

Quirky Hilliard eatery serves up Cuban-inspired fare


Worlds collide at Starliner Diner in Hilliard. As Martians fly spaceships alongside hamburgers, watermelon and pies on a fanciful mural, the independent restaurant dishes out Cuban-inspired fare in the city’s historic downtown.

A giant crescent moon gazes affectionally at the sun – a scene that’s become synonymous with this 20-year-old restaurant that moved a year ago from its longtime home on Cemetery Road to Main Street in the heart of Old Hilliard.

It’s this quirky atmosphere and an eclectic menu that makes Starliner Diner our family-friendly restaurant pick for February.

The unique combo draws crowds, especially for breakfast, which is served until 3 p.m. on weekends. Big portions of traditional favorites, such as huevos rancheros and an egg scramble called Chiliquiles, have earned Starliner Diner accolades as the “Best Breakfast in Columbus” in polls of local magazine readers.

Prices range from $3.25 for a banana pancake to $13.75 for Cajun Jambalaya with shrimp. There also are lots of of vegetarian choices.

Strainer Diner is located at 4121 Main St., Hilliard. For more information, visit www.starlinerdiner.com.

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Cap City Fine Diner: Comfort food at its finest in Columbus

Comfort food at its finest in Columbus


We love diners, but we find the experience finer when the owners really care about what they put on the plate. Our go-to spot for elevated comfort food in central Ohio is Cap City Fine Diner – our family-friendly restaurant for January.

Why go?

This Cameron Mitchell classic opened in 1996 in Grandview, and transformed everything we associate with diners – including neon signs, red vinyl and meatloaf – and cranked it up to foodie levels.

Here, meatloaf is artistically served with molded beef stacked upon a slice of thick toast and topped with buttermilk-chive mashed potatoes and chili onion rings.

The three-layer “Seriously Big Chocolate Cake” lives up to its name and is more than suitable for sharing.

What’s missing?

You won’t find weathered waitresses who affectionally call you “Honey,” but you’ll find attentive young professionals who mind their own business when they’re not taking and bringing orders.

  • Cap City Fine Diner
  • Comfort food at its finest in Columbus
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You won’t find bathrooms with rusted plumbing and quarter-operated machines, but you’ll find dimly-lit pamper rooms with complimentary mouthwash.

You also won’t find spatula-flattened grilled-cheese sandwiches with cooked pickles for less than $3. Rather, a pan-seared ribeye with a twice-baked potato cake and steamed broccoli will set you back about $30.

Why take the kids?

This is a rare, finer restaurant where kids seem encouraged to join you on a date – as evidenced by the care that’s gone into the children’s menu titled “Capital Cuisine for Kids.” Pick from complementary baby food to a grilled PB&J, to a kid-sized portion of Cap City’s famous meatloaf.

Cap City is a place where kids go gaga over the giant bubblegum machine, and adults freak out over the bar’s giant container of vodka-soaked pineapple wedges.

Cap City has two locations: Cap City Gahanna and Cap City Grandview. A third location will open in Dublin in the summer of 2017. Our go-to location in Grandview is the original at 1299 Olentangy River Rd. For more information, visit capcityfinediner.com.

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