Drive to Utica rewarded with silky ice cream at scenic setting


Normally we wouldn’t travel 45 minutes from Columbus just for an ice-cream cone when we have so many choices around our hometown. But on a pleasant Sunday in May, we decided a drive to the country was in order, and having a sweet reward at the end of our journey was motivation enough.

Our destination was Ye Olde Mill, a restored gristmill on 20 picturesque acres in Licking County. It’s also the manufacturing facility of Ohio’s own Velvet Ice Cream, which this year marks its 100th year making the tasty treat.

Founded in Utica in 1914 by Joseph Dager, the ice-cream manufacturer is now run by the fourth generation of the Dager family. The company relocated to Ye Olde Mill in 1970, and the location has become a family destination. More than 150,000 people venture here each year to sample the ice cream and other simple pleasures, such as fishing in a pond, riding in a horse-drawn carriage and hand-feeding miniature horses, a sheep and a goat.

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The main building is the old gristmill, which dates back to 1817. It symbolizes how Velvet’s ice cream was originally made, using a hand-cranked method. The restored historic mill serves as its headquarters and has become the trademark on the cream’s packaging.

Inside is an ice-cream parlor, restaurant, museum and gift shop.

Velvet started out serving just three flavors: Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Today the selection includes nearly 50 flavors handwritten on a chalkboard. I ordered Italian spumoni, a flavor I normally only see in stores around Christmas. My children ordered double scoops strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream. The icy, stacked spheres hid their faces as they slowly licked them away.

Ye Olde Mill annually hosts the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival over Memorial Day weekend, an annual Father’s Day celebration with barbershop quartet and old-fashioned carriage rides, and regular entertainment on Sundays throughout summer. Visit on July 20 for National Ice Cream Day and Aug. 25 for National Banana Split Day.

Ye Olde Mill, located at 11324 Mount Vernon Rd. in Utica, is open daily from May through October. Free public tours are held weekdays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The walking tour lasts 30 minutes is wheelchair accessible.

For more information, visit velveticecream.com or call (740) 892-3921.

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Play cafe offers equal chill space for adults, kids


Upon entering the coffee house with saffron and terracotta-colored walls in Powell, you wouldn’t expect a haven for rambunctious children would be on the other side of one of them.

Yet adults read magazines, thumb smart phones and peruse the Internet on laptops as baristas prepare espresso drinks and lunch items that are hand-printed on a chalkboard.

What you don’t hear is the sound of screeching kids at Lattes and Lollipops, a play cafe that opened in 2012 at 337 W. Olentangy St.

That’s because they’re having a good time in another room, visible through picture windows. I spy youngsters sliding down a bounce-house slide, playing dress-up and removing wooden cookies from a play kitchen oven.

The 2,300-square-foot cafe adequately accommodates both: Caregivers enjoy some downtime while children get some let-it-all-out time in the well-supervised play area. When I visited with my young children, ages 4 and 6, there were three caregivers supervising a half dozen children.

The two spaces, which feel worlds apart because of the sound control, are separated by a wall with large windows, so you can see your children, but not necessarily hear them. If you’re so inclined, you can sit at a bar table with stools that looks into the play space, allowing parents and children to see one another at all times.

My children enjoyed playing in the bounce house and pretend fire station the best. After an hour’s play, though, they were interested in what mom and dad were doing and exited the play area for snacks. Home-brought food isn’t allowed at the cafe, requiring you to purchase the tempting juice bars and chips.

The cafe’s website emphasizes that it’s not a daycare – parents are ultimately responsible for their children.

How does it work?

You show up, pay the fee and sign a waiver. Children enter the playroom, take off their shoes and go at it, while parents and caregivers take a well-deserved break. No reservations are needed.

Cost for two hours of play is $15 for first child and $10 for siblings. Daily happy hour is from 2-3 p.m. and costs $6 per child and $3 each additional child.

Hours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday. After hours are reserved for planned parties.

For more information, visit lattesandlollipops.com or call 614-798-2071.

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Coffee shop with indoor play space just right for Gahanna, New Albany


Peapod Play Cafe recently opened its doors in northeast Columbus, joining a string of indoor play spaces in central Ohio offering fun for youngsters and a coffee-shop atmosphere for parents.

Peapod, at 4874 Thompson Rd., fills a void, says owner Chien Shu Cho, who opened her spacious, modern gathering place in November.

“There are no indoor playgrounds in the area to serve New Albany and Gahanna,” said Shu Cho, during a soft opening in late October. “Moms here need a place for their kids to play, especially in the winter.”

What makes Peapod different?

Shu Cho, originally from Taiwan, offers an assortment of unique toys and play items, mostly from her home country. There’s a sturdy, plastic bowl that several children can sit inside and rock. There are also four-wheeled riders that children pedal while standing up.

“Toys are important,” Shu Cho said. “I want to offer something that kids never see and want to play with.”

Shu Cho and her husband, Tengyin Hu, built a wooden playhouse and an ice-cream truck for the cafe and even created ice-cream treats out of fabric.

The duo are graphic designers by trade. Shu Cho moved to Columbus 17 years ago to attend the Columbus College of Art and Design. After being laid off from a design job one year ago, she said she felt the need to reinvent herself.

Having two young children, the couple was drawn to the play cafe business and saw an opportunity in northeast Columbus.

Their cafe is geared toward an age range of children beginning to walk through 7-year-olds. Other play items include rubber balls, train sets and a metallic wall for sticking magnetic letters. There’s also a lot of carpeted space for children to romp around.

For the parents there is a separated space with seating and free Wi-Fi. Coffee and healthy snacks also are for sale.

How does it work?

Just show up, sign a waiver, pay and allow your kids to play and yourself some “me” time.

Cost is $10 per child. Price decreases with additional children ($6 for second child, then $4 each additional child). The cost for crawlers is $4.

Half-priced admission is available during the last hour of playtime.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed from 1-2 p.m.), Monday through Friday; and 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Saturday.

The space also is available for parties during after hours.

For more information, visit www.peapodplaycafe.com.

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Watch football while kids play games of skill for prizes


While thinking of a place to watch an Ohio State football game with our young children, my husband and I decided to visit Dave & Buster’s at Polaris Fashion Place, 1554 Polaris Parkway. The restaurant seemed like a good fit for the four of us. It offered a sports bar with big-screen TVs for dad and a bustling arcade with more than 200 games for mom and the kids.

I figured, though, that we wouldn’t be the first ones in this football-crazed city to come up with the idea, especially on a rain-soaked Saturday. But, likely because the Buckeyes were playing in Columbus, the place was far from packed.

There are two Dave & Buster’s locations in central Ohio and more than 60 across the United States. The chain was founded in 1982 in Dallas by two friends, not surprisingly, named Dave and Buster. Earlier in their careers the two owned side-by-side businesses that attracted the same clientele. Buster ran a casual eatery, and Dave ran an arcade. Why not include both experiences under one roof, they thought.

The restaurant contains three areas: a dining room, sports bar and game room. We ate lunch first while watching the Buckeyes take on the Florida A&M Rattlers. Some of the wall-mounted, flat-screen screen TVs were as wide as 180 inches.

The menu is described as “fun gourmet,” which boils down to traditional American dishes with some twists, such as a side of sweet-potato fries instead of French fries. The kids menu offers some interesting choices, too, such as linguine, Caesar salad and doughnut holes for dessert.

Our kids, though, could hardly keep still during lunch thinking about the flashing and buzzing games in the room around the corner.

We paid for our lunch and ordered Power Cards, one $10 card for each child that totaled $24 with a charge-up fee. Cards can be kept and used again later.

The usage went fast – about 15 minutes of play per each card. The best deals were the ones that spit out tickets that could be used to redeem prizes in the Winner’s Circle. These included several Skeeball-like games and another game with piles of shiny gold coins that you tried to shove over the edge to win tickets.

In no time I was putting $10 more on each card to appease my ticket-hungry children, who were now collecting coils of them in plastic buckets, casino style.

We turned in all their tickets to be weighed, and they totaled about 750 points. The prize room was filled with kid-drooling prizes such as remote-controlled cars and Hello Kitty and Angry Bird toys. Top-shelf items included XBOX games, iPads and an electric guitar with amplifier. “Who earns enough points to claim these?” I thought.

Our loot included two strawberry suckers with laser lights, two neon-colored bracelets and a package of gummy bears. We also got to enjoy OSU’s 76-0 victory over the Rattlers, allowing us to head home full and satisfied.

For more information, visit www.daveandbusters.com.

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Consume meal and movie in 2 hours at Easton


Taking youngsters out to dinner and a movie can be an exhaustive and expensive endeavor.

One way to do both in about two hours is at a dinner theater, where you can consume a restaurant-style meal and a movie at the same time.

My family of four tried out this concept at Easton Town Center’s Fork & Screen dine-in theater, which opened at the Columbus shopping mecca in 2012.

We found the experience to be a good destination for families wanting to do something special together. The evening was no less expensive than having dinner and seeing a movie separately, though. Expect to pay upward of $100 for a family of four. That’s without dessert or adult beverages.

Easton’s AMC theater offers 30 auditoriums, 17 of which are reserved for dining experiences. There are two options: Cinema Suites is for the 21 and over crowd, offering upscale dining and personal recliners. Fork & Screen serves casual meals to guests seated at leather rocking chairs with swing-out tables. Both options offer seat-side service at the push of a button.

I ordered our tickets online for a same-day showing of “Monsters University.” The PG-rated, 3D-animated movie seemed like a visual feast for our children’s eyes and a good pairing for a feast for their bellies, too. When ordering online, you also can select your seats, as you would ordering tickets for a concert. I chose the remaining adjacent seats in the second row. All seats appeared to offer a good view of the movie screen.

We arrived early to place our carb-filled orders of pizza, grilled cheese and quesadillas. I found our servers to be friendly and unobtrusive. (To save time, you can review the menu online beforehand.)

We seated our 4- and 6-year-olds between us, to prevent them from wandering astray during the movie. This theater offers lots more personal space than regular theaters. I had to get up and take a couple of steps to pass a drink to my husband. There also seemed to be more previews for upcoming movies than at regular showings.

My son, Max, especially liked his personal space with its own little light, food tray and self-service button. Our kids behaved exceptionally well, being preoccupied by the movie and their intimate surroundings. They did get cold, however, so we covered their legs with their own little cloth napkins.

For more information, visit dinein.amctheatres.com/locations/easton30.

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Firefly Play Cafe

Community vibe keeps customers coming back to Clintonville cafe


Since opening in 2010, the original of the play cafes in central Ohio has made itself at home in the Columbus neighborhood of Beechwold.

Firefly Play Cafe, at 4822 N. High St., has become a welcoming gathering spot for children to play and adults to socialize in the environmentally conscious community.

The 2,500-square-foot cafe is sparsely decorated, resembling a warehouse or a big basement, with exposed ductwork and a concrete floor topped with mismatched remnant rugs. There are colorful splashes of lime green and tangerine on the walls, where paintings by local artists also hang. Toys lie scattered about – rubber balls, magnetic tiles, wooden scooters and hula hoops.

The cafe is geared for kids ages 2 to 6. They can jump in the bounce house, climb and slide on a wooden play set and romp around in the open space as adults catch up with friends or sip on locally roasted coffee or freshly brewed tea.

The cafe also serves light snacks, juices and sandwiches by the Columbus-based business Fresh Box Catering, which supports local, homeless families.

I visited the cafe with my two young children on a Tuesday night, when hours are extended until 8 p.m., and a local musician entertains the crowd. I sipped on “Scarlet and Grey” tea, a delicate blend of Earl Grey and dried red roses, while taking in the atmosphere from a corner seat.

It’s an unpretentious place. This welcoming vibe was accentuated by the laid-back guitarist, who encouraged children to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” at lowered microphone stands or join the jam on tambourines and small guitars.

The cafe also offers regular art activities and story time. Visit Firefly Play Cafe on Facebook for information about upcoming programming.

When closing time rolled around, I was surprised to see that all the toys had been neatly put away by all those using them, as if the cafe was their own house.

Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday; and 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday.

Admission is $4 for children ages 1 to 23 months; and $6 for those ages 1 to 11. Children younger than 1 year and those older than 12 are admitted free. Guests with children are asked to sign a waiver, which is available for review online.

For more information, visit www.fireflyplaycafe.com or call 614-230-2375.

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Respite for parents, rumpus room for kids in Bexley


Play cafes are popping up like posies around central Ohio, offering rumpus room for restless children and a degree of respite for tuckered parents.

Included among the pack is Piccadilly Modern Play and Creative Cafe, which opened last year at 2501 E. Main St., Bexley.

I visited the colorful cafe while attending a superhero-themed birthday party with my 3-year-old son, Max. He and his friends decorated fabric capes, ate cupcakes and clambered around a wooden play set that had a ladder and slide.

Meanwhile, we parents chatted in comfortable chairs, drinking herbal tea and munching on crackers and hummus. It was the perfect place for a play date. I felt no nagging urge to clean as I watched the children strew toys by the bucket.

“Our goal is to make your life easier,” owner Allyson Morena said as she dished out pizza to party guests. Piccadilly is the latest venture for Morena and her husband, Stuart Hunter, who have two young boys. They also own three roll: bicycle shops in central Ohio.

Piccadilly is in a transformed office space and offers coffee and healthy snacks on one side and a play area on the other. There’s a big, spongy floor mat that’s meant for babies. There’s a train set surrounded by cubbies full of puzzles and toys for toddlers. There’s the wooden play set with underneath coves for preschoolers to play house and hide-and-go-seek. There’s a stadium-style seating area for viewing movies, and a rear room for creating crafts and hosting birthday parties.

Other services include babysitting and daily innovative classes for babies to preteens, such as how to cook by color.

Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Thursday; and 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Saturday. The space is closed for private parties on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.

Admission is free for those younger than 6 months and age 13 and older. Day passes for children cost $10 for the first child and $5 for each additional child. Ages 6 to 12 months cost $5.

For more information, visit www.piccadillydally.com.

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Decorate your own dessert


A cupcake can be a real treat. But a handful of moist cake can taste even better when you decorate it yourself, as my 4-year-old daughter, Rosie, recently found out at Our CupCakery in the Columbus suburb of Dublin.

The bakery, which opened seven years ago in the city’s historic downtown, specializes in made-to-order cakes, cookies and confections. Customers also can stop by the little shop and purchase to-go items including cookies and gluten-free cupcakes.

Rosie, however, wanted no part of the pre-decorated sweets. Her eyes were on the cupcakes she could frost herself.

The bakery’s cupcake bar is a kid-sized shelf lined with jars of toppings including crushed Oreos, candy bars and gumballs. There are also spice bottles filled with a variety of colored sprinkles and nearly a dozen types of bagged frostings to choose from.

Decorated cupcakes and cookies are priced by weight. At $1 an ounce, the average cost is $3.

The activity allows kids to be imaginative with food and works their manual dexterity as they squeeze frosting from a pastry bag.

Rosie chose a strawberry cupcake among a selection of chocolate, red velvet and vanilla. She piped chocolate frosting on top and layered it with spoonfuls of Froot Loops and Skittles. She completed her masterpiece with a shake of butterfly sprinkles.

One bite of the sugary concoction was enough to appease my sweet tooth. The freshly baked cupcake certainly was the best part.

Rosie and I sat at a quiet café table, looking out the window into the historic neighborhood. The bakery has an upstairs space for decorating parties and baking classes, too. But on this day, one cupcake would do.

Our CupCakery is located at 16 N. High St., Dublin. For more information, visit OurCupCakery.com.

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