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

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

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.

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.

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  • 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, “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

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.


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 or call 614-846-5777.

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

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.

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  • 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

The Seasoned Farmhouse: Build skills, confidence at recreational cooking school

Boost skills, confidence at recreational cooking school

In this fast-paced world where heads of lettuce are sold pre-shredded in plastic bags, it’s nice to slow down and crack an egg once in a while.

I recently did just that and more with my daughter, Rosie, thanks to a Christmas gift from my husband. It had us measuring and mixing ingredients to make cookies during a cooking class at the Seasoned Farmhouse in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville.

The recreational cooking school offers classes that help home cooks boost their skills and confidence with hands-on instruction.

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Tricia Wheeler, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, opened the school in 2013. She and other local chefs can teach you how to make everything from pies and cakes to soups and salads to a five-course French meal.

Rosie and I took a daughter-and-mommy baking class over winter break. We made six types of cookies in two hours and got to take the goods home to share.

Wheeler said she found inspiration for the class from a box of child-sized aprons that she bought.

“I chose this age group because my daughter, Kensington, is 10,” Wheeler told our group of a dozen girls and their moms. “I picked age-appropriate recipes in the hopes that your girls will make these cookies on their own at home, too.”

Wheeler and her helpers created six stations for participants to use over two hours. It was amazing what we could accomplish when we put our minds to it.

We made sugar-cookie bars, chocolate chip cookies, no-bake caramel sea-salt cookies, pretzel toffee, Nutter Butter acorns, and polar bear marshmallows that we dipped into hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream.

When done, each girl received a basket that she filled to the brim with the group’s cookie creations. Since then, we’ve duplicated several of the recipes at home.

Most classes are geared toward adults, but kids’ classes occasionally are offered, such as a Valentine’s Day candy-making class. Otherwise adult classes are open to teen-agers with an adult chaperone.

Classes typically accommodate a dozen students and last up to three hours. Currently advertised hands-on classes cost from $65 to $150.

Classes fill up quickly. Learn about classes before they’re posted online by subscribing to Seasoned Farmhouse’s e-newsletter by clicking the “Be the First to Know” tab at the lefthand-side of the website at

The Seasoned Farmhouse is located at 3674 N. High St. Call 614-230-6281 to learn more.

Buca di Beppo: Let kids eat spaghetti and get whacky

Let kids eat spaghetti, get whacky

Buca di Beppo: Let kids eat spaghetti and get whackyIn the spirit of family gatherings over the holidays, our family-friendly restaurant pick for December is Buca di Beppo. Sure it’s a chain restaurant – with more than 100 locations worldwide – but our kids love it, and we can’t resist the smile-inducing decor.

What’s the story?

Buca di Beppo is an American restaurant chain that was founded in 1993 in the basement of a Minneapolis apartment building. Its name means “Joe’s basement.”

How’s it Italian?

Buca di Beppo: Let kids eat spaghetti and get whackyTo encourage sharing, plates of pasta, pizza, salads and breads are served family style, making the dining experience more of a social engagement.

It’s not a place to eat alone, unless you like lots of leftovers.

You’re also likely to hear the music of Frank Sinatra, whose parents were Italian immigrants.

What’s with the decor?

The chain is known for its amusing, vintage photographs plastered closely together on the walls.

During our last visit, I spied portraits of Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti, Joe DiMaggio and a nun wiping a baby’s bottom.

The maze-like layout also adds to the chaotic feel, making it hard to find the bathroom, which is plastered in even more amusing pics.

For large parties, reserve the Pope table – it’s big, round and has a bust of the Pope as its centerpiece.

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Biggest complaints

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t cook, but when I do, it’s usually spaghetti. So the idea of going out for dinner to eat spaghetti isn’t usually my first choice. That said, our kids like spaghetti. (And nobody wants to share a big plate of eggplant parmigiana with me.) But the idea of spending $27 for a large plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce is a bit much. Capeesh?

But if you want to save money, join Buca’s eClub to receive emails and occasional $10 coupons, which will at least buy you another glass of chianti.

Why do we keep going back?

We go for our kids. They like the food and they get to be as loud and goofy as they want, because other kids and adults are acting the same way.

Also, the food is pretty good. They’ve got pasta, pizza, salad, fresh garlic bread and yummy cannoli and tiramisu for dessert. And, there are always leftovers.

There are two Columbus-area locations – in downtown Columbus and Worthington. Our favorite is in the Arena District at 343 N. Front St., Columbus. For more information, visit