Spotted on the Roadside: The Dancing Hares of Dublin, OH

Commissioned by Peter Edwards, “Dancing Hares” was created by London artist Sophie Ryder in 2001; she was inspired by the courtship rituals of hares, in which they stand erect and “box” one another. Originally exhibited at The Hague, the rabbits were later shipped to Dublin and installed in a park for the public to admire as they frolic similarly in the dancing waters of the fountain below. On closer inspection, all of the hares are embedded with dozens (hundreds?) of ordinary objects–coins, toys, tools, and a number of things I couldn’t begin to identify.

Pro tip: After you’re done admiring the art, roll down the grassy hill upon which these hares eternally battle…because why not?

Spotted on Woerner Temple Road in Dublin, OH

Melt Bar & Grilled in Dayton, OH

Melt was one of those places that was on my radar long before I decided to take a trip to Ohio. I first stumbled across them on instagram, where they’d post these insane grilled cheeses loaded with all kinds of things you might not necessarily expect to find on a grilled cheese: kimchi, mozzarella sticks, waffles, ribs, jalapeno poppers, wedges of deep fried mac and cheese…Basically, take a chain restaurant’s entire appetizer menu and shove it inside a grilled cheese. I WILL HAVE THIS GRILLED CHEESE AND I WILL HAVE IT NOW AT A CONVENIENT TIME WHEN I AM PHYSICALLY LOCATED IN THE AREA. Months of anticipation built up, watching specials come and go on the ‘gram, waiting.

As it just so happened, I was near (enough) to a Melt when while my 3D print job was still going over at Proto BuildBar, so we headed over. And promptly had to wait some more. Luckily, this location was right outside a mall, so I was able to cross something else off my list: renting one of those ride-around-the-mall animal shaped scooters in a place where no one in the position of offering me a line of credit might see me. Verdict? FUN. SUPER FUN. Finally, I’m one of those cool older kids at the mall.

“I assure you that is my credit card, sir.”

Mischief managed, it was back to Melt for what I expected to be a life-altering grilled cheese. They were out of the special (damn it!). In its stead, we ordered a number of sandwiches so we could try more of the menu since it was possible we’ll never eat there again. We ordered: The Dude Abides (homemade meatballs, fried mozzarella wedges, basil marinara, roasted garlic, provolone & romano), Cuban War Pig (honey ham, mojo glazed pulled pork, fried pickle spears, honey mustard, swiss), Big Popper (fresh jalapeño peppers, cheddar & herb cream cheese, crispy battered & deep fried, powdered sugar, berry preserves for dipping), and Chicken & Waffles (crispy battered chicken, belgian waffle, sriracha butter, pepper-jack cheese & maple syrup for dipping). Bon choix! 

Honestly, none of them were that great. I’ve been thinking about it, wondering if the anticipation of eating here raised my expectations too high, because I want to be fair. And having thought about it, I think it’s fully fair to say that the food at Melt is not great.

I get pumped about eating a lot of things before I actually try them. Fully half of my trip planning is devoted to where we might like to eat if we found ourselves hungry in X neighborhood, I won’t lie. So it’s not like the case of the 40 Year Old Virgin when I saw it a year after it came out and literally everyone said “You have to see this movie, it’s the funniest movie I’ve ever seen, I wet myself eight times and would’ve gone back to see it again but I got banned from that movie theater  and all the other ones in a thirty mile radius owing to my refusal to pay to replace their seats. YOU HAVE TO SEE IT.” Literally everyone said exactly that. And then when I finally saw it, I thought it was just OK, probably because I’d heard all the references for a year and the gushing (ewww) recommendations and it would take a movie funny enough to make me black out laughing to live up to those expectations and the 40 Year Old Virgin wasn’t that movie.

This restaurant was nothing like the 40 Year Old Virgin, being only a Six Month Anticipated Dinner: I expected a delicious sandwich and they served me a merely OK sandwich. The sandwiches at Melt are consistently too tall to fit an entire bite in your mouth, top to bottom, which means you’re not getting all the components in every bite. That kind of sandwich height also makes it hard on the jaw because of having to open so wide–we’re not snakes, Melt, don’t make us unhinge.  The bread is too thick and crusty, so it competes too much with the insides while it abrades your mouth.

But all that is still not my main criticism: a grilled cheese should be first and foremost cheesy. Equal parts grill and cheese.  Everything else that you add to it should be in a supporting role to the main character, the star, the cheese. Otherwise, it’s just a sandwich, not a cheese sandwich.

There’s not nearly enough cheese in the sandwiches I had at Melt to qualify them as cheese sandwiches, with the exception of the Big Popper, which was straight up disgusting: fried outside surrounding mushy bread filled with jalapeno and a mound of slippery cheese. It’s like someone took a bite out of a brick of cream cheese, chewed it up into a paste with a little bread and jalapeno and then spit that paste in blobs directly into a deep fryer. But in case it wasn’t wet enough, it’s got raspberry dipping sauce so it slides right down your gullet like an alien baby going to nest. Ahem.

In all the other sandwiches, the cheese consistently got lost against the other components. And I guess that would be one thing if it was just a regular cuban sandwich or meatball sandwich or, uh, chicken & waffle sandwich, but they’re supposed to be grilled cheese sandwiches. And because they’re making a “grilled cheese”, they also apply sauce with a very restrained hand, which meant that overall, each sandwich was much too dry for a sandwich that size. Without enough cheese or sauce to lube up the works, it’s less pleasant to eat, especially when you take into account the aforementioned height of the sandwich. And then when you add fried items to the sandwich, it adds yet another layer of breading and the overall effect is just…dry. Slap a waffle in between two dry pieces of bread and a piece of dry breaded chicken and you might as well be biting straight into a loaf of bread. Maple syrup on the side isn’t enough to make this sandwich work. Don’t get me wrong: I was hungry, and the sandwiches were decent (the flavors were fine), they just weren’t mindblowing grilled cheese. Not great.

None of us finished anything. None of us brought home leftovers. I guess Instagram beauty is only skin deep.

Proto Build Bar in Dayton, OH

I was lured into Proto Build Bar by the promise of the world’s largest claw machine, almost as if I had been grabbed by a larger, invisible claw through the internet that took a month or so to reel me in. I wasn’t quite sure what else to expect as the details I saw were sparse, and I assumed that it was something relegated to the back of a dim dive bar, much in the same way the glory of the midwest’s largest urinal was forgotten. If I had done even a little bit of my own research beforehand, I would have seen that was not the case, but I generally prefer to look upon a place with fresh eyes. At least that’s my excuse.

Regardless, Proto Build Bar was nothing like I expected: it was much better. They’re proud of their giant claw machine, they make a killer cup of coffee, and with enough time there, they could probably help you make anything else you can conceive with their array of 3d printers and electrical tools. 

I need more torchwork in my home barista-ry.

We made haste to the claw machine, which was as gargantuan as promised. I especially appreciated that the controller was also huge, which made it feel like I was playing a machine for giants that humans had acquired somehow. Each of us played once and each of us won once, and then we promptly gave our winnings away as a large bouncy ball isn’t the most convenient thing to try and take on a plane–or ship, for that matter. The point of the visit was to play, not necessarily to win.

The game I did want to win was their custom built Edison vs Tesla: War of Currents arcade game, and this, friends, is not because I’m overly competitive (though I am, ask me about the time I almost gave myself frostbite because I wanted to win something more than common sense would allow) but because the loser gets shocked. Electrically. Talk about a punishing learning curve! Until the first shock happened, I still didn’t really believe that the game would zap you. After it happened, I really, really didn’t want to lose.

All in all, Proto Build Bar is super cool, and if I lived in the area, I’d be in there all the time. Far, far away from the arcade game. 

Spotted on the Roadside: Giant Corn in Dublin, OH

 

“So what kind of stuff did you want to do while you guys are here?”
“Well, I read about this giant field of fake corn cobs that’s not far from you–“
“Oh, that’s weird, Melissa. You’ll see it, it’s weird.”

I mean, a giant field of fake corn cobs is weird. Completed in 1994, these 109 concrete ears almost immediately became a town joke, because if I have learned one thing from years of traveling from public art site to public art site, it’s that the public hates public art. It’s all fine until someone finds that a fraction of a penny of their personal tax dollars went into creating it, and then all of a sudden, you’ve got dudes with usernames like FuckTheCorn53 on local papers’ comment sections. ANYWAY, “Field of Corn with Osage Orange Trees” was created on a plot of land that originally was used to develop hybridized corn. This land was later donated to the city, and they went looking for a piece of public art that could be placed on the site, eventually going with Malcolm Cochran’s proposal for the concrete cobs, a happy coincidence because evidently they did not know at the time of the land’s history

Standing at 6’3″, I’d have to stand on a sizable box in order to be top in my field. Ugh, what a corny joke, I’m sure you didn’t want to ear it. Shuck it, what’s done is done.

Spotted on Rings Road in Dublin, OH

 

Jungle Jim’s International Market

The Jungle Jim’s experience starts in the parking lot, with a monorail station entwined by a snake large enough to be given its own six movie series by the SyFy channel. Jungle Jim purchased the monorail cars inside from nearby King’s Island for the, uh, kingly sum of $1 when they closed down their wild animal safari ride in the early ’90s.

Originally, Jim intended to have the monorail track run all around the greater property, but as it turns out, even if you get the cars for cheap, installing monorail track is really expensive, so the track runs from the monorail station in the back parking lot to the storefront. The track runs. The monorail itself, to the best of my research abilities, only runs for special occasions, and my arrival sadly did not constitute one of those occasions, so we trudged from the back lot all the way to the front of the store, noting that many of the other businesses tucked into the complex have gotten into the statuary spirit. All except for “AVAIL Vapor”, which my mind insisted on turning into ANAL VAPOR, because of course it did.

If I can’t ride it, then what’s the point?

My father in law didn’t quite understand why I’d flown halfway across the country and driven halfway across the state to visit a grocery store, and that was because he had yet to behold the wonder that is Jungle Jim’s. Once we entered the store, I believe those questions ceased.

This is a grocery store so grand, it requires maps to find your way from the cheese counter to the frozen foods section. It’s a grocery store so grand that giant talking statuary in each section feels like a small, natural touch. It’s a grocery store so grand that you can find pretty much anything you’re looking for inside. It’s a grocery store so grand that if I lived anywhere in the state of Ohio, I wouldn’t be able to grocery shop anywhere else. What’s a three hour round trip drive when I can find all the international treats my greedy little heart desires?

I bought one of these gummy pickles and I can tell you for a fact that if real pickles tasted like its “real pickle taste”, I would never again eat another pickle in my life. Not even to make sure they still tasted terrible. NEVER IN LIFE.

To be honest, I’m not sure if Jungle Jim is a wizard who lives in the jungle or if this is is his cousin, Wizard Jim, but either way, I appreciate the man’s dedication to dress up.

As you might expect, this area plays Michael Jackson music on a nigh-constant loop.

IMO, store brand products never looked better.

The British foods section had its own Sherwood forest, complete with Robin Hood, Maid Marion, and pilfered booty jammed up in the tree trunk.

A grocery store so mighty it dwarfs King Kong!

And somehow, after all that, it’s the toilet that’s famous.

I can’t even really convey just how massive this grocery store was, the multitudes of products it contains. An entire walls of hot sauces. An aisle of nothing but single bottles of craft sodas. A cheese section large enough to live in. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of goods hailing from everywhere around the globe. All I can tell you is that I bought so much stuff that it necessitated shipping two boxes home, one of which USPS lost for three weeks, the box containing the above pictured gummy pickle. I was so happy when that prodigal pickle returned to me, at least until I tried it, at which point I cast it away and told it I wished it had never come back if all it was going to do was make me gag. JUNGLE WIZARD JIM, I TRUSTED YOU.

Cincinnati Eats: Famous Chili and the Best Pie in Ohio

Of course I was not going to take a day trip to Cincinnati and not eat the style of chili for which they are famous (or infamous, depending on one’s perspective on chili). I will tell you that I have never, never been to a city where chili is so heavily advertised and consumed. Chili restaurants in Cincinnati are the equivalent of Starbucks in Seattle: there’s one on every corner, and if you miss that one, there’s one less than a block away. Who is eating all this chili?! And pretty much all of their chili chain stores have drive throughs, which I also find a little mind boggling if only because chili doesn’t strike me as the consummate eat-on-the-go food. Like maybe, maybe I would concede this point if it was of the “frito pie/walking taco” variety where you dump chili and some fixings into an individual corn chip bag (there’s plenty of room in there, after all, given that each of them contains, on average, five to seven chips maximum) and eat it out of the bag with a fork. Or turn around and redump the contents of your bag into your mouth, I’m not the etiquette police. I can barely spell etiquette on the first try, much less put on pants and enforce a system of rigid and complex rules that seem archaic in modern society. Just, for the love of god, as you’re pouring chili and chips into your maw, please try not to burp at the same time.

Regardless, Cincinnati chili is a different beast altogether. Cincinnati chili is a spiced meat and tomato sauce melange that is used as a topping for two things: spaghetti, and hot dogs. It is NOT intended to be eaten by the bowl like chili con carne, and the people of Texas would probably rather blow Ohio off the map than refer to Cincinnati’s signature sauce as chili. If you decide on spaghetti, you can order your Cincinnati chili a number of ways. As in, literally, you tell the server whether you want your chili two way, three way, five way, etc. The least you can order your chili is two way, which is the chili plus the spaghetti. Three way: chili and spaghetti and cheese. To add to the confusion, not all of the ways are the same at all of the restaurants, but they all involve chili, spaghetti, cheese, beans, and onions. Oyster crackers are commonly given on the side as a garnish, but for some reason, they do not count as an additional way, forming the ultimate Six Way Chili. 

I did some polling at the American Sign Museum and they all agreed that Camp Washington Chili was the place to go for the best Cincinnati chili, and in my later research, discovered that it had won a James Beard Foundation American Classics award in 2000, so I feel confident that the Cincinnati chili I ordered and ate was its best possible iteration. The verdict? It’s tasty but I think you have to grow up on it to get it in your blood enough to crave it.

O Pie O was a late addition to the rounds. When we arrived in Ohio, my mother in law had stacks and stacks of every magazine and brochure that had anything to do with Ohio tourism (she knows me pretty well on that score). I flipped through all of them, and a glossy page calling the Honey Vinegar Pie at O Pie O Ohio’s best dessert stopped me dead in my tracks. Ohio’s best dessert? Within striking distance? Obviously we were going to go. Obviously

The verdict on this one was…not so good. I don’t know if I caught them on an off day in the kitchen or what, but the crusts on all of the pies were tough and leathery, not flaky in the least and not nearly tender enough to cut with a fork. Without a good pastry, you really cannot have a good pie aaaaaand it’s especially hard if the insides aren’t all that great, either. I can appreciate the tangy silkiness of the honey vinegar, but it felt like it needed something. The blackberries in the blackberry buttermilk pie were unpleasantly sour.  On the eternal battle that is cake v pie, I’ve switched to team pie, but I’m finding it difficult to go to bat for this particular pie. Now this pie that I made for my Game of Thrones birthday that disappeared before I got a slice and so many people came out of my kitchen moaning about its deliciousness that I had to make it again like a week later, THAT is a pie that I’m willing to ride or die on team pie for. Go eat that pie and know that because of something some magazine said once, that you’re eating a dessert that’s better than any in Ohio.

 

Spotted on the Roadside: Murals in Cincinnati

Cincinnati is FULL of murals celebrating the neighborhoods and notable residents they’ve had throughout the years–a public arts campaign began in 2007 and has continued through 2017, culminating in more than 100 murals that place art into residents’ daily lives.  Obviously my favorite was the toy mural, which could have easily been called “80s child nostalgia”.  I can almost smell those barely lightbulb warmed treats now.

 

Campy Washington spotted on Colerain Ave

Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon spotted on Vine St

Armstrong spotted on Walnut St 

Swing Around Rosie spotted on W Liberty St

Cincinnati Toy Heritage spotted on W Court St

The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati

I say I’m not the biggest fan of advertisements, and sometimes I even mean it. I consider Times Square to be the closest thing we have to hell on Earth, and when I learned that Piccadilly Circus was much the same, I knew what area of town I wouldn’t want to stay in on my trip to London.

I despise all the billboards on the large road nearest my home, and I especially loathe the digital one that blasts blinding light into the low income apartments across the street. (Seriously guys, this is a suburb, not Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, no one needs an advertisement for a weed whacker blazing into their bedroom window at 4am.)

I sent a dude packing who wanted to advertise his business in my front yard with not so much as a “good day, sir”. I listen to a lot of NPR because then I don’t have to hear about my “friend in the diamond business” like I would on other radio stations. I have yet to take money from a single business to put any form of ad in front of your eyeballs, beloved readers*.

But I’m also a shocking hypocrite–stick me in a room with old timey neon lights and I go all doe-eyed with delight. And what the hell is my blog even about if not monuments erected as a form of advertisement? See? Hypocrite. So it’s really no wonder that when I got to Ohio, I shoved my in-laws into a rental car and dragged everyone to Cincinnati to visit the American Sign Museum. 

The American Sign Museum opened in 2005, the brainchild of Tod Swormstedt, of the sign industry magazine baron** Swormstedts. Its purpose is to preserve and display (you guessed it) signs, and they must be doing a bang-up job as they outgrew their first location and moved to this new location in 2012. Even at this new location, they’re only displaying a small percentage of their overall collection, and they’re looking to raise the roof and double the museum’s size in the future. I honestly wish I could tell you more, but there isn’t a ton in the way of context in this museum. I can tell you that while I was there, they blocked off the whole back room for an interview with/photoshoot of a Kroger executive, and part of me really, really wanted to play reporter and ask him what those brown lumps were in my brand new non-expired Kroger Brand heavy cream, but a bigger part of me didn’t want to be dragged off the property. 

All those signs sure are pretty, though.

You can hardly read it here, but that door purports to lead to “funtown”. Not to judge a funtown by its door, but…run, children. Run.

Every single time I see an indoor faux streetscape, I think of House on the Rock. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. 

The fish in the blender is obviously my favorite, because a fish smoothie sounds like a nom or vom in the making.

I’m 99.99999% sure that the person in this photo *is* Sign Industry Magazine Baron Tod Swormstedt. I literally was not even going to include this photo in the post until I did a triple-take whilst perusing their website. If this was a professional-person blog, this caption would read something like “above: Tod Swormstedt working in his shop at Neonworks of Cincinnati”. If it was indeed Tod Swormstedt. And also if they managed to take a photo that didn’t completely obscure his eyes.

That feels less like an ad, and more like a threat, just saying.

 

*Not for lack of trying, and I did post that one thing one time but those people got weird and I took it down, not just because they got weird but also because they didn’t pay me, which, to me,  feels like a really important part of the whole buying an advertisement scenario.

**I mean, yes, they own Signs of the Times but I honestly just don’t even know what qualifies one for a non-nobility barony honorific

Tree Cave at Kalaloch Beach

This summer I realized I still hadn’t made it back to Kalaloch beach to see the legendary tree cave; I’d looked for it on my last excursion but was on the wrong beach entirely, as there are several beaches called Kalaloch beach to the confusion of no one but me, evidently. When yet another photo of it popped up in a NW photography group, I asked if the photographer could be more specific about its location and got “It’s on the beach” as an answer. Gee, thanks. Well nuts to you, lady, now it’s been added to Google Maps and anyone who comes here searching for more information will be glad to know that it’s easiest to park at the Kalaloch campground and take their stairs/ramp down to the beach, and once you’re on the beach, walk north.

Ahem. 

We really wanted to take little Napodog to the beach–he’d been to lakes and rivers but never the ocean, and I wanted him to have that experience.  He loved it. Water that comes rumbling forth in a challenge? Check. Gross dead critters to nibble? Check. Driftwood to pee on? Big check. He was like a little dog shaped machine, pulling us at a high rate of speed up and down the beach to whatever new thing interested him, fiercely fording streams of ocean water, leaping over driftwood, and generally acting much younger than his age. He definitely wasn’t ready to leave when it started pouring rain, which is especially funny because he would always give me the hairiest of eyeballs if I made him go out in the rain to pee at home, but it’s different on the beach, guys

All that, and we finally found that darn tree cave.

The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward

Horned Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Pretty sure this is a female harlequin duck, but you can call her Adorabill

Common Murre

Common Murre

Rhinoceros Auklet

I tend to like aquariums best when their focus is local, and thus, I loved the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. From their local bird aviary to their efforts to ensure that humans don’t bring rats to Alaskan islands where they are not native (and thus devastate native bird populations) to the effects the Exxon Valdez oil spill had (and still has) on native wildlife populations, the Alaska SeaLife Center has its view firmly centered on Alaska.

I was shocked to learn that as of 2014, some 21,000 gallons of oil from that 1989 spill still remains on beaches and that ExxonMobil fought the government’s claim for 92 million dollars for restoration for twenty five years, finally weaseling out of it in 2015 when the government dropped their claim. What they did to this area was appalling, they did just enough “clean up” so that people like me assumed it was taken care of and forgot about it, and then used their vast economic resources to litigate into infinity to avoid taking culpability. I’ve since read an article that claims that true cleanup and recovery is essentially a pipe dream–the oil remains in some form or another, the cleaned wildlife rarely goes on to live a healthy breeding life (many never breed again), and thus these companies must properly face the risk of spills with multi-billion dollar bonds up front. I’m in full agreement on that last point, and furthermore, I’m working to reduce my individual dependence on oil and fossil fuels. I’m as willing to watch these companies go extinct as they are to sit there and do nothing when oil from their tanker coats 40% of an endangered species’ remaining population. I hope to see their demise in my lifetime. If not now, when?