Nutcracker Family Restaurant: Quizzical ’50s-style diner near Pataskala makes you smile

Quizzical ’50s-style diner near Pataskala makes you smile


After visiting the impressive Works science museum in Newark, we were famished. Wendy had heard about a ’50s-style diner in nearby Pataskala, so we sought out the Nutcracker Family Restaurant.

It’s easy to see where the place got its name. There are nutcrackers everywhere, on wall ledges, windowsills and even on top of an old gas pump.

The combination of retro signs, neon lights, classic candies at the checkout counter and other ’50s accouterments didn’t seem to jibe with the dozens of nutcrackers, which emit a Christmasy, Germanic vibe. Still, it’s one of those places that elicits a smile when you enter.

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The counter has seating for half a dozen or more, and I suppose the wonder of finding a place like this amid rural Pataskala was worth the effort. The fact that the Nutcracker has been open more than 20 years is impressive enough on its own.

But the food isn’t something to write to Vienna about. My Reuben sandwich used what seemed like a pressed type of corned beef that wasn’t overly flavorful. Wendy said her veggie burger was “good.” The kids had kids meals, and they were decidedly kids-meal like.

However, like 6- and 8-year-olds would say, they can’t wait to go back. “It was so much fun,” Rosie said. She and Max dared each other to pick up one of the nutcrackers that was decked out like a firefighter. Wendy thought they would be glued down, but they weren’t.

They also enjoyed an animatronic-type band that appeared from behind a curtain and played along with the music they chose for a quarter on the jukebox. They also loved that their meal came with a free lunchbox, which they each chose upon departure.

The bottom line is that the Nutcracker Restaurant is a fun place to seek out if you’re on an adventure. As long as you check your “foodie” instincts at the door, you’ll enjoy the visit.

That said, the pies are made fresh daily, and weekly specials include all-you-can-eat perch on Tuesday and Friday, all-you-can-eat pasta on Wednesday and all-you-can-eat fried chicken on Thursday. Veterans eat free on Veterans Day and the day after Memorial Day.

The Nutcracker Family Restaurant is located at 63 E. Broad St., Pataskala. For more information, call 740-964-0056 or visit www.nutcrackerpataskala.com.

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Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop: Find retro treats in funky Short North store

Find retro treats in funky Short North store


We’ll most likely never witness a bull in a China shop in our lifetimes. But my husband, Mike, and I recently had the pleasure of seeing a kid in a candy store.

It happened when we took our 6-year-old son, Max, to the Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop in the Short North. The candy store in the heart of Columbus’ Arts District is just what you’d imagine it would be – but visibly way better if you’re a kid.

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As its name suggests, Rocket Fizz is a nostalgic soda pop and candy shop offering thousands of types of candies and more than 500 varieties of bottled sodas from around the world – all colorfully displayed alongside retro posters and gag gifts.

The destination proved to be a real treat for Max and a reminder to us of the allure of candy. As we watched our son move about the store in an apparent sugary haze, we could see a spark of wonderment in his gaze with so much candy within his reach. Dots, Necco Wafers, Pop Rocks, Goobers, Cow Tales, Now and Laters – they’re all there in perfect harmony with face-sized lolly pops and footlong Charleston Chews.

There’s also a neat assortment of Japanese candies, bins of salt-water taffy in such flavors as chili mango and blueberry muffin, and bubble-gum cigarettes (amusingly sold at the cashier’s station).

The store enticed a steady stream of customers (mostly curious adults), who viewed the candies and sodas like they were in one of the many art galleries in the area. Rocket Fizz sells its own zany line of soda flavors based on food, such as bacon with chocolate. They’re made with mountain water from the High Sierras and real sugar.

The prices of candy and the soda are not what you might come to expect. With the high rents of the Short North, some of the candy seemed quite expensive. But the assortment is worth the visit.

The Short North store, 944 N. High St., is among more than 70 stores across the U.S., with dozens more locations set to open, according to rocketfizz.com.

For more information, visit rocketfizz.com or call 614-525-0052.

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The Kitchen: Make meals, memories at participatory eatery in German Village

Make meals, memories at participatory eatery in German Village


It was a sweet chore that my family was only too happy to perform. We carried marshmallows, candy corn, licorice whips, and other confections to a food-preparation table, where we constructed edible haunted houses out of gingerbread cutouts and frosting.

Our handicraft was part of a participatory food experience at the Kitchen in Columbus’ German Village neighborhood. The business, which opened in 2013, offers the tools and guidance for guests to tackle intimidating culinary creations in a fun environment. It’s housed in a hip, 1920s-era building with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and a tin ceiling.

“Our focus is on the social side of getting people together with food. The educational component is sort of accidental,” said Anne Boninsegna, who co-owns the Kitchen with chef Jen Lindsey.

We visited the Kitchen on Halloween. For $20 apiece, we were given all the fixings to create masterful haunted houses during a three-hour workshop. It was a bargain, considering the amount of preparation that went into the craft, including setup and cleanup.

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Chef Lindsey made the icing and the tasty gingerbread cutouts that formed the walls of our houses. She also made energizing, whimsical snacks including apple slices with caramel, veggies with ranch dip and hot dogs wrapped in biscuits that she called “mummy dogs.”

The Kitchen is open most days of the week for public and private events, each priced according to the number of participants and necessary ingredients. The space offers a commercial cooking environment with professional tools and a seasoned chef.

Most Kitchen experiences are adult-oriented, and the place is often booked for corporate business. But several times a year, families take center stage. Family-related events have included candy making on Valentine’s Day and creating a vegetable soup with colorful ingredients to the theme of the children’s book Rainbow Stew, by Cathryn Falwell.

“Just fun stuff that brings parents and kids together,” Boninsegna said.

The owners say that the best memories are formed around a dinner table. Guests can help prepare a meal before they sit down together to enjoy it, narrowing the line between patron and chef.

“We feel it’s great to sit down and have a dinner with somebody,” Boninsegna said. “But if you cook food together first, you get a richer experience than if you just make reservations and go out to dinner.”

Themes have included a gluten-free dinner party and a Harry Potter potluck, when guests, dressed as characters from the books, created dishes that corresponded with their personalities.

So how can you get a taste of the Kitchen without attending a private party? Attend Taco Tuesday, weekly from 5-9 p.m. The event features unique taco themes – from Mexican to Italian to southern BBQ-inspired tacos. The menu is served a la carte and features specialty cocktail selections, beers and wines that pair with the night’s theme. No reservation is needed for this family-friendly dinner.

For more information, visit thekitchencolumbus.com or call 614-225-8940.

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The Blueberry Patch: Head to Mansfield to pick your own plump berries

Head to Mansfield to pick your own plump berries


If you typically avoid the tasteless blueberries that often populate your local supermarket, there’s no need to plan a trip to Maine to pick your own. Just head to the Blueberry Patch in Mansfield.

The Blueberry Patch is Ohio’s largest blueberry farm, 45 minutes northeast of Columbus. Steve and Lisa Beilstein began planting the now well-established bushes in 1981, and their foresight has paid off. The 27-acre patch yields plump, tasty berries that are easy to pick.

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Seventeen varieties of blueberries grow in the ideal sandy and acidy soil where thousands of honeybees are needed per acre for pollination.

Blueberry season is from late June through August. We arrived in late July to pick mid-season berries called Blue Ray, which are large and flavorful. Each member of our family was given a plastic bucket to take to a designated area in the patch. Rows and rows of bushes were loaded with blueberries, ready to pluck at our leisure. We combined our buckets into one then had them weighed. We paid $20 for four pounds of berries.

Stick around to see all the blueberry products in the gift shop. Troyer Home Pantry in Apple Creek, Ohio, uses the blueberries to make pies and jams. Also on site is a greenhouse, coffee beanery and Blossoms Cafe, where you can get brunch after morning berry picking, which begins daily at 8 a.m. The cafe is open until 4 p.m.

I had the quiche with a warm blueberry muffin, fresh fruit salad and blueberry iced tea, which was delicious. Of course you also can get blueberry smoothies, shakes and parfaits.

On a future trip, I’ll take time to enjoy the onsite winery aptly called Winery 1285 for its address. Sample a selection of wines including dry and sweet blueberry varieties, order wood-fired pizza or even participate in a “wine and paint” party. This handsome bar could fit into a vibrant Columbus neighborhood.

Once home, Mike transformed our blueberries into tasty scones, a sauce for angel-food cake and frozen yogurt.

Can’t make it to Mansfield in the near future? Blueberry Patch berries also are sold at central Ohio farmers markets including the Clintonville and Worthington markets.

The Blueberry Patch is located at 1285 W. Hanley Rd., in Mansfield. For more information, call 419-884-1797 or visit theblueberrypatch.org.

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Don’s Downtown Diner: Keep Bellefontaine restaurant top of mind for burgers, shakes when visiting nearby attractions

Keep Bellefontaine restaurant top of mind for burgers, shakes when visiting nearby attractions


The back of the menu at Don’s Downtown Diner in Bellefontaine, Ohio, reads: “You shouldn’t drive out of our community to enjoy a great meal.”

But Columbus folk like us who have driven an hour northwest of home will be lucky to find this modest joint in the heart of Logan County. Don’s serves “quality food at a fair price,” which includes the best chocolate-and-peanut-butter shakes we’ve ever had. It’s well worth the effort to seek it out.

We discovered Don’s on the Internet while researching places to eat in between exploring caves and riding horses at nearby attractions. The restaurant is located near Ohio Caverns and the Piatt Castles in West Liberty and Marmon Valley Farm and Mad River Mountain in Zanesfield.

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Don’s received rave reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor and Urban Spoon. The most accurate, we learned, was one that read: “The exterior gives the wrong impression of the place.”

Once in downtown Bellefontaine, we nearly passed the squat, white-brick building while driving along Main Street. The restaurant is located one block south of the Logan County Courthouse and Court Avenue, the oldest concrete street in the nation – paved in 1891.

It’s small inside, too. There are a dozen tables and booths and a half dozen counter seats. The decor is mostly stainless steel and black vinyl. The floor and walls are white, except for a splash of red on the side where we sat. We could see the cook’s ball cap bobbing behind a wall as he prepared meals to order.

We also learned that produce is purchased in season from local farmers and fries are hand cut. The menu includes sandwiches, salads, sides and stellar shakes made with ice cream from Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, Ohio – more about that in a minute.

Don’s is best known for its steak burgers, which come from a local, family-owned butcher’s shop, and are priced from $6.99 for a hamburger to $17.99 for the Baby Matilda – a deluxe model made with two half-pound patties, two grilled cheese sandwiches, bacon and cheddar cheese.

Other out-of-the-ordinary menu items include deep-fried pickles, a bacon cheeseburger topped with peanut butter, and the “Fatty Patty,” featuring bacon and cheese served between two Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. We passed on that one, but I’d love to hear from someone bold enough to give it a try.

Kids meals, which cost $4.99, include the standard chicken fingers, grilled cheese, hamburgers and hot dogs, with fries and a drink.

Mike had a simple cheeseburger with pepper jack and extra pickles. It was pretty large, and he said it was “terrific.” My fried fish was tender and white on the inside and delicious between a wheat bun with a side of fries, and the kids ate their grilled cheese sandwiches and fries without complaint.

The highlight, though, were the shakes that arrived in the stainless-steel malt cups that they’re mixed in. They’re thick, creamy and full of flavor and served before your meal arrives, which might explain why they’re so good. Who wouldn’t want dessert first?

Don’s is located at 208 S. Main St., Bellefontaine, Ohio. For more information, call 937-599-4444.

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Landmark eatery serves authentic German cuisine in historic neighborhood


Schmidt's Cream Puff

Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant is a landmark eatery in central Ohio, drawing large crowds daily. Alongside the schnitzel, cabbage rolls and potato salad, you’ll find decadent, half-pound cream puffs and Schmidt’s signature Bahama Mamas – hickory-smoked sausage served on a bed of sauerkraut.

Located in a nationally registered historic site and tucked along a brick-laden street in Columbus’ neighborhood of German Village, Schmidt’s has been the go-to spot for authentic German cuisine for more than 120 years.

My family and I visited on a Sunday, when the line to get your name on a seating list went out the door. We passed a half hour’s time by posing for pictures behind wooden cutouts of a German couple – the male figure wearing lederhosen and holding a beer. We also had time to visit the nearby Schmidt’s Fudge Haus, offering handmade chocolates such as “Schmurtles” with chocolate, carmel, peanut butter and pecans.

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When we finally got seated we were greeted by a female server wearing cheery German garb, who made the great suggestion of seating our children in their own double booth, allowing Mike and me and sister-in-law, Mary Jean, to dine comfortably beside them.

Schmidt's serverFor those unfamiliar with German food, I’d suggest ordering the all-you-can-eat buffet, which allows guests to sample a variety of delicacies. The buffet also is offered on the children’s menu, along with grilled cheese without crust and Germany’s version of the hotdog called a frankfurter served on a split-top bun with chunky applesauce.

Schmidt’s has been operated by five generations of the Schmidt family since 1886, when patriarch J. Fred Schmidt ventured to America from Frankfurt, Germany, to open a meat-packing house. The restaurant opened nearby in 1967, serving passed-down family recipes by traditionally dressed servers.

Guests can experience an Oktoberfest atmosphere every Thursday and Friday as the energetic duo Schnickelfritz takes stage, performing German oom-pah-pah tunes on a horn and accordion.

Schmidt’s is located at 240 East Kossuth St., and is open seven days a week. No reservations are accepted.

For more information, call 614-444-6808 or visit www.schmidthaus.com.

Schmidt’s also sponsors Columbus’ annual Oktoberfest in late September at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Admission is free. Learn more at www.columbusoktoberfest.com.

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Prime picking time for farmers markets


One of the best things about summer in Ohio is the bounty of fruits and vegetables. There’s nothing like a sun-ripened tomato, picked fresh from the vine. Even better is dicing it up and combining it with peeled cucumbers, strips of basil and a freshly made vinaigrette for a tasty summertime salad.

You can find these ingredients and more at the many farm markets sprouting up this time of year in central Ohio. I recently visited the farmers market in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville, held each Saturday from April through November.

Vendors from around Ohio set up temporary shops along N. High Street, offering fruits, vegetables, pastries, jams, honey and flowers. The farmers grow their produce within 75 miles of Columbus, so it’s made for flavor — not made to survive long trips on trucks or trains.

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Here is a brief look at some of the many farm markets around central Ohio:

Bexley Farmers Market: 4-7 p.m., Thursdays, May through October, Bexley City Hall, 2111 E. Main St., Bexley. Learn more: www.bexleyfarmersmarket.com.

Canal Winchester Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon., Saturdays, May through October, Main Street in downtown Canal Winchester. Learn more: www.thecwfm.com.

Clintonville Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, April through November; and 4-7 p.m., Wednesdays, June through August, west side of N. High Street between Orchard Lane and W. Dunedin Road, Columbus. Learn more: www.clintonvillefarmersmarket.org.

Delaware Farmers Market: 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Saturdays; 3-6 p.m., Wednesdays, May through October, Sandusky Street, downtown Delaware. Learn more: www.mainstreetdelaware.com/farmers-market.

Dublin Farmers Market: 3:30-6:30 p.m.., Wednesdays, May through September, Oakland Nursery, 4261 W. Dublin-Granville Rd., Dublin. Learn more: www.dublinfarmersmarket.com.

Franklinton’s Market at 400: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturdays (biweekly), year round, 400 W. Rich St., Columbus. Learn more: 400westrich.com.

Grandview Avenue Farmers Market: 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays, July through October, 1371 Grandview Ave., Grandview Heights.

Grove City Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, April through October, Grove City Town Center, at the corners of Park Street and Broadway.

Hilliard Farm Market: 4-7 p.m., Tuesdays, June through September, parking lots at the corner of Wayne and Center streets, Hilliard. Learn more: hilliardfarmmarket.com.

Jefferson Township Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, June through September, Jefferson Community Park, 7494 Clark State Rd., Blacklick.

Lancaster Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, May through October, Government Services parking lot, 239 W. Main St., Lancaster. Learn more: www.lancasterohfarmersmarket.org.

Pearl Market: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays, May through October, Pearl Alley, one block north of the Ohio Statehouse, downtown Columbus. Learn more: downtowncolumbus.com/pearlmarket.

Powell Farmers Market: 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, May through October, City of Powell Municipal Building, 47 Hall St., Powell.

Reynoldsburg Farmers Market: 3-6 p.m., Thursdays, June through August, Huber Park, 7300 E. Livingston Ave., Reynoldsburg.

Worthington Farmers Market: 8 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, May through October; 9 a.m.-noon, Saturdays, November through April (indoors), downtown Olde Worthington. Learn more: worthingtonfarmersmarket.blogspot.com.

Upper Arlington Farmers Market: 3-6 p.m., Wednesdays, May through September, Upper Arlington Senior Center, 1945 Ridgeview Rd.

Uptown Westerville Farmers Market: 3-6 p.m., Wednesdays, May through October, N. State and E. Home roads, Westerville. Learn more: www.marketwednesday.com.

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Runway restaurant in Urbana serves up aerial delights and delectable pies


After visiting the Cedar Bog Nature Preserve in Urbana, we headed to a place that I had read about on the Web: Doug and Michele’s Airport Cafe at Grimes Field in Urbana.

It was recommended as the only place to eat in Urbana on a Sunday. I also read that it’s always crowded. Sure enough, when we arrived, the cafe was open and crowded.

It’s not the fanciest joint, just a lackluster building off Main Street. But it’s near the airport runway, and the full parking lot at this time of day meant that it was the real deal.

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Grimes Field is Urbana’s municipal airport. It’s named for Warren Grimes, who is described as “father of the aircraft lighting industry.” As the story goes, Grimes was working as a lighting contractor in Detroit with his brother when Henry Ford approached him to create a light for the Ford Tri-Motor airplane, aka “The Tin Goose.”

Two days later, Ford adopted his design, and Grimes eventually employed 1,300 to produce the lights at a factory in Urbana.

This success led the city to name the airfield after Grimes when it opened in 1943. It remains operational and also houses the Champaign Aviation Museum. You can take flying lessons there, or just sit and watch the small planes take off and land.

The restaurant menu is an interesting mix of salads, burgers, omelets and dinners with surprising specials including bison and ostrich meat, which come from a nearby farm.

We sat outside and ordered mac and cheese and chocolate milk for Max, who especially enjoyed watching a steady stream of small planes taxiing the runway.

Michele, one of the owners, waited on us and said that people regularly fly in from all over the country to eat their homemade pies, made with local berries and apples. Like the restaurant, the black raspberry pie and butterscotch pie, at $2.79 a hearty slice, were the real deal.

The Airport Cafe is located at 1636 N. Main St., Urbana, Ohio. Hours are listed on the menu as 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; and 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sunday. It’s closed on Monday.

For more information, call 937-652-2010 or visit www.urbanaohio.com/grimes-field/airport-cafe.html.

Learn about our trip to the Cedar Bog Nature Preserve.

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