Showing Off Cincinnati's Roadfood Scene (Part 2)

During his recent visit to Cincinnati, Michael Stern — who explores regional food for books ('Roadfood') and public radio's 'The Splendid Table' with ex-wife Jane Stern — told me Aglamesis ice cream was on his must-try list, so we headed to Oakley to vis

Oct 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm

During his recent visit to Cincinnati, Michael Stern — who explores regional food for books (Roadfood) and public radio’s The Splendid Table with ex-wife Jane Stern — told me Aglamesis ice cream was on his must-try list, so we head to Oakley to visit the shop.

“It seems like when you say you’re coming to Cincinnati, there’s a group of people who insist you have to try Graeter's, and then there’s another group that says you have to try Aglamesis,” he said. “What’s the difference?”

Like the differences between brats and metts (asked earlier), I didn’t know, but I've always had a theory. Since he’d had Graeter's on a previous visit, I said that I wouldn’t tell him until after he’d tasted Aglamesis for himself. In the meantime, I asked him about his desert island food — the thing he just can’t live without.

“Pizza!” he said and laughed defiantly when he saw my reaction. “I just love it. There’s endless variety, so many creative ways to make it. And it’s not limited to one area of the country! I’ve had good pizza just about everywhere.”

I think Michael had a moment of skepticism when we strode up to Aglamesis’ pink storefront. But when we stepped inside to the smell of chocolate, past the candy counter and the marble soda fountain, he just beamed with delight.

“Oh, this is perfect!” he exclaimed, and out came the camera to capture the wrought iron chairs and the hex tile floors.

When our footed sundae dishes arrived, I held my spoon at the ready while he snapped away. Then, for the first time, instead of a couple nibbles, he had at least a half-dozen bites of his Two-Step sundae (made with fresh banana ice cream and bittersweet syrup). That was at least three bites less restraint than usual — a real tribute to this treat.

“So,” he insisted, “What’s your theory?”

Suddenly I doubted myself, but there was no turning back.

“I’ve always thought that the two camps are creamy versus sweet,” I said. “I think Graeter's has slightly more butterfat, and so if that taste appeals to you that’s your favorite. Aglamesis is a little sweeter. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, that’s your pick.”

Politely, he demurred and said he’d think about it. For now, he was tired and wanted to head back to his hotel. As we came into downtown on Columbia Parkway, I saw that it was still technically lunchtime. I had a thought.

“Brats and metts!” I announced. "We can go to Avril-Bleh on Court Street and get them to answer your question!”

And they did! Not only did Michael rave about the delicious cheddar mett we had hot off the grill outside, but Len Bleh gave us a tour behind the scenes inside the meat shop. He explained that the filling for brats is very finely ground — twice as fine as the metts. Then the sausages are boiled and shocked with cold water, which turns them white. Metts, on the other hand, are smoked — and he showed us the smoker, which smelled delicious, and the big ovens, where hams were baking.

Michael rubbed his hands together. “This,” he said, with all sincerity, “is a highlight.”

Michael was in Cincinnati for Buick's “Cultural Discovery Tour,” which teams the car company up with Food & Wine and Travel Leisure magazines in hopes that people who want to explore America’s roadside eateries will drive a Buick Regal to get there.

A reader called Michael and Jane Stern’s 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late, and the Very Best Places to Eat Them a “controversial tome” because the Nashville restaurant they recommended for ham and biscuits had “fallen from grace a long time ago.” I understand the Sterns’ dilemma. About two hours after I dropped Michael off at the Westin Hotel, I started to think of a dozen other places I should have taken him while I had the chance.

Would he make it over to Hathaways on his own? And even though it was too early in the day to hit Terry’s Turf Club or Slims, I had completely neglected Kentucky! And what about the West Side?

There are just too many good things to eat in Cincinnati. I might need to think about getting a Buick to help me get to them all.

Read Part 1 of Anne's Cincinnati food tour with Michael Stern here.

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: [email protected]