Savor the State: Great Ohio Food and Wine Destinations

From the August 2014 edition

This month, we take all you foodies and wine lovers out there to 25 fantastic Ohio destinations. Find a legendary winery in the woods. Chomp a hot dog at an old-school drive-in. Indulge in stick-to-your-ribs Eastern European comfort food. Get lost inside the craziest grocery store we’ve ever seen. In the waning days of summer, hit the road and choose your own adventure! 

Edited by Kristen Schmidt and Beth Stallings
Stories by Anthony Dominic, Tristan Eden, Jill Moorhead, Jenny Rogers, Kristen Schmidt, Beth Stallings, Michelle Sullivan and Emily Thompson
Photos by Tessa Berg
Illustrations by Meghann Stephenson

Ferrante Winery, Geneva

If you can visit only one of the nearly 30 wineries in Ohio wine country, which stretches along Lake Erie on the northeast corner of the state, make it Ferrante Winery. Founded in 1937, Ferrante is a third-generation family-owned winery that focuses on growing grapes that thrive in Ohio’s humid climate. “White wine is what we’re known for,” says marketing director Alyssa Ollis. “We’re really kind of a powerhouse when it comes to whites.” Come during the week to avoid long waits at the on-site Italian restaurant and for a chance to interact with the staff, or visit on a weekend for live music on the terrace. Either way, stop by the tasting room, where visitors can sample three tasting trays: dry to medium-dry, medium-sweet to sweet and specialty wines. Each includes six to 10 1-ounce pours. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, get all three for a taste of nearly every Ferrante wine. 5585 state Route 307, Geneva, 440-466-8466, ferrantewinery.com

The Lakehouse Inn, Geneva-on-the-Lake

Visitors feel right at home at this quaint lakeside bed and breakfast. With just eight rooms, three two-bedroom cottages and a stand-alone beach house, The Lakehouse Inn is a quiet Lake Erie getaway. “Because we’re smaller, we’re probably more couple-focused,” says general manager Andrea Bushweiler, adding the inn’s also ideal for girlfriend getaways. “It feels more like you’re staying with family.” The Lakehouse is a short walk from plenty of Geneva-on-the-Lake wine and dining, but it’s worth checking out on-site restaurant Crosswinds Grille, where breakfast is served daily. Chef Nate Fagnilli, Bushweiler’s brother, sources strictly Ohio ingredients for his seasonally changing dinner menu, which features house-cut meats and suggested wine pairings. Stop by the flower-filled patio for daily wine tastings and can’t-miss views of the lake, and be sure to take advantage of the full-service spa. Pro tip: If you’re planning to tour the area wineries, don’t try to do it in 24 hours, Bushweiler says. “You really need to plan a three- or four-day trip to get to all the wineries and really experience them.” 5653 Lake Rd. E, Geneva-on-the-Lake, 440-466-8668, thelakehouseinn.com

The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake

A popular destination for families and couples, this large, country-inn-inspired resort caters to a range of activities. Winery-goers can hop on one of the resort’s shuttles, which transport guests (and non-guests for an extra charge) to four or five wineries year-round. Horizons Restaurant & Lounge is another draw, with a breakfast bar each morning, contemporary American fare (don’t miss the Popcorn Walleye appetizer with cabbage slaw and spicy ranch), views of the lake, live music on the weekends and, of course, a hefty wine list. “We really try to have a good representation of all the Ohio wineries,” says general manager Eric Frantz, adding the list features a Ferrante dry riesling that’s exclusive to The Lodge. “Guests can get a good flavor of local wines from visiting here.” Take advantage of the vintage bike rentals, which are free for the first hour—or snowshoes and cross-country skis in the winter—and head outside, past the white gazebo to the 2-mile trail that lines the scenic shore. 4888 North Broadway, Geneva-on-the-Lake, 440-466-7100, thelodgeatgeneva.com

Washington Place Bistro & Inn, Cleveland

Nestled on a quiet street in Cleveland’s quaint Little Italy neighborhood, Washington Place Bistro & Inn draws a mix of people, ranging from the post-work drinks crowd to fine-dining foodies. “Washington Place is really designed to make everyone feel welcome,” proprietor Scott Kuhn says. “It’s not extremely expensive, but you can certainly come and have a nice dinner and stay the night. Or you can come in on Friday and enjoy a $6 burger and have a really casual evening on the patio.” The restaurant-meets-hotel is the brainchild of Kuhn, the same Cleveland restaurateur and chef behind well-known restaurants Cibreo, Welshfield Inn and 87 West. When he conceived the idea for Washington Place Bistro & Inn, he was drawn to the location because of its history. “Washington Place was the Baricelli Inn previously, and it was a famous institution,” he says. “It was one of the top 10 restaurants in the country at one point.” Now a classic American-fare restaurant and seven-room boutique hotel, Washington Place features comfort foods with a culinary spin, like Braised Pot Roast with a red-wine reduction and Mack & Cheese with goat cheese and local chorizo. 2203 Cornell Rd., Cleveland, 216-791-6500, washingtonplacelittleitaly.com

Markko Vineyard, Conneaut

You’ll know you’re getting close when you pass the sign that says, “Pavement Ends.” Markko Vineyard has been ensconced in these woods near Conneaut, and quite near Lake Erie, for 46 years. Arnie Esterer and his late business partner Tim Hubbard were among the first to plant European vines in Ohio, and their success is legendary.

Visitors should call ahead to arrange for a tasting at the winery, which seems built right into the woods. A couple of shaggy, friendly dogs are the official greeters. Part of the experience is the tasting room itself, which is encrusted with the trappings of 40-plus years of Markko history.

Esterer is essential to the experience, too. He’s a giant among Ohio winemakers, and he loves to share wit and wisdom. “When customers taste the wine, I let them judge on their own. They need to use their own palates. Whatever they like is fine—they just need to have an open mind,” Esterer says.

When you taste the famous Markko chardonnay and riesling, do so with a bit of Mayfield Road Creamery Bloomfield brie, offered in the tasting room. It is divine and hard to find elsewhere in the state. 4500 S. Ridge Rd., Conneaut, 800-252-3197, markko.com

Wet Your Whistle, Madison

One of Ohio’s best wine shops doesn’t look at all like a wine shop from the outside. Wet Your Whistle does a very good job of wearing the costume of a convenience store, and a rather rough-and-tumble one at that. Once you’re through the door, say hi to owner Ken Bement and hang a left at the back wall. Wine lovers will swoon at what lies before them: a big, eccentric room filled with a smart collection of wines from around the world (though Bement is partial to French wines, especially Burgundy). Bement, a respected connoisseur, is there to guide customers to just the right bottle. Most days, music pipes from audiophile-worthy speakers. “I’ve got all kinds of passions. Music, wine and food—there’s a symbiotic relationship. They go together,” Bement says. “Generally, people who enjoy fine music enjoy fine wine and fine food. Food and wine are one for me. Nothing’s going to make your food better than wine.” 6663 N. Ridge Rd., Madison, 440-428-5339

Vinoklet Winery, Cincinnati

When he bought 30 acres of land off a windy, hilly road north of Cincinnati to plant a vineyard 34 years ago, Kreso Milkulic never imagined it would develop into a thriving winery and restaurant that allowed him to leave his day job as an aerospace engineer. “It was a hobby that grew out of control,” says Milkulic, who moved to the U.S. from his native Croatia in 1968. His father owned a small vineyard, and Vinoklet Winery is a nod to his heritage; vinoklet means “wine house and vineyard” in Croatian. Nearly 80, white-haired and mustachioed Milkulic lives next door and is an ever-present figure on the scenic property, surveying row upon tidy row of grapevines or bottling one of his eight wines. Don’t be surprised if he pulls a seat up to your dinner table. The eclectic hodgepodge of art, antique collectibles, Croatian memorabilia and personal photographs scattered about the dining room offers a glimpse into the winemaker’s fascinating story—one he’ll happily share if you ask. 11069 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, 513-385-9309, vinokletwines.com

Breitenbach Wine Cellars, Dover

Dalton “Duke” Bixler started Breitenbach Wine Cellars 35 years ago and has been making wine ever since. “Wine is a lifelong education. That’s what’s fun about it,” he says. Breitenbach, which at 166 acres is one of the largest wineries in the state, produces 40 different varieties but is especially well-known for its fruit and berry wines. Made with various fruits—plum, apricot or rhubarb, for example—instead of grapes, fruit and berry wine is very sweet and tastes only of the fruit from which it’s made and nothing like traditional wine. “Berry wines are great on a picnic,” Bixler says. Or for dessert. Of course, there are also several varieties of regular old grape wine (though these, too, are on the sweet side). Breitenbach’s top three sellers are Frost Fire (“like eating fresh grapes”), semi-sweet Road House Red and white zinfandel First Crush. All the wines are available to taste every day. “Just come on in,” Bixler says. Cellar tours can be scheduled for Fridays or Saturdays (Breitenbach is closed Sundays). There’s also barbecue and live music on Saturdays, and a small cafe serves soup and sandwiches throughout the week. 5934 Old Route 39 NW, Dover, 330-343-3603, breitenbachwine.com

Gervasi Vineyard, Canton

“We really wanted people to feel like this was a Tuscan escape,” says Scott Swaldo, general manager of Gervasi Vineyard. “They’re really going away someplace special without having to travel.” While Tuscany is a bit of a stretch, you definitely don’t feel like you’re in Ohio on this surprisingly secluded 55-acre destination winery-vineyard. Nestled north of Canton, Gervasi does an excellent job of creating a deeply involved, guest-centric experience. Whether you’re staying overnight in one of six villas (a total of 24 rooms) or just stopping by for the day, there will be something, and possibly many things, to do. Gervasi offers three different restaurants, more than 20 wines, a farmers market every Wednesday throughout summer, wine classes and tastings, hands-on cooking classes, yoga classes, twice yearly five-course dinners in the vineyard, ballroom dancing and art classes in the vineyard, live music six days a week all summer long, festivals and, for villa guests, free access to the nearby Glenmoore Country Club. There might be more to do here than in all of actual Tuscany. 1700 55th St. NE, Canton, 330-497-1000, gervasivineyard.com

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

For a chance to tour Ohio’s only national park from the comfort of a train, hop on board one of Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s Grape Escape tours. The two-hour, monthly themed events feature 4-ounce pours of five wines paired with chef-prepared appetizers from nearby Moe’s Restaurant, known for seafood and a monthly rotating menu and wine list. Wines are based on the theme—like sweet summer whites this month and Napa Valley wines in September—and wine specialists are on board to explain the characteristics of each. Volunteers serve complementary appetizers like cheese and crackers and small salads with a history of the park and its wildlife (keep an eye out for bald eagles in the trees). Seating ranges from sets of facing coach seats to deluxe seats at tables. Spring for a seat in the dome car for a panoramic view and a more intimate experience, or opt for a hotel package that includes a shuttle to and from the park so you don’t have to worry about overindulging. 330-439-5708, cvsr.com

Dante Boccuzzi, Akron

Dante Boccuzzi Akron is, as its name suggests, the Akron outpost of Cleveland chef Dante Boccuzzi’s young, successful and still growing restaurant empire. Opened in 2012 in what was previously Pretenders singer and Akron native Chrissie Hynde’s restaurant VegiTerranean, DBA is a minimally luxe nightclub-like space that overlooks a lush green valley. Boccuzzi says the restaurant is “made up of all the different places I’ve worked and traveling I’ve done,” which translates to quite a staggering list of influences. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Boccuzzi has worked at restaurants in NYC and spent time cooking in Italy, France and England. He calls DBA’s food “modern American … comfortable, catchy, fun,” and the somewhat chaotic menu—Cola Braised Short Ribs, filet mignon, Maine Lobster Spring Roll, Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, flatbread pizzas—makes more sense when read as a synthesis of these influences. The Green Spaghetti is a favorite, combining homemade spinach fettuccine, spinach, garlic-braised shrimp and a crispy olive oil and breadcrumb mixture known as poor man’s cheese. 21 Furnace St., Suite 402, Akron, 330-375-5050, danteboccuzzi.com

Cooper’s Mill Apple Butter & Jelly Factory, Bucyrus

Located right off the Route 30 exit to Bucyrus, Cooper’s Mill has been crafting its all-natural jams, jellies, butters and relishes for 45 years. On a weekday morning or afternoon, tour the production factory behind the market and watch the pros cook, jar and label dozens of signature spreads. (Call ahead so the staff knows to expect you.) Owners Justin and Jason McMullen still employ the original recipes and techniques passed down from founders Miriam and David Cooper.

The market is chock-full of rustic home decorations and hundreds of made-on-site goodies. Be sure to grab a bag of freshly ground peanut butter and a block of kettle-cooked fudge, with flavors as varied as Butterfinger and Raspberry Cheesecake. (You can sample almost every available product, so show up with an appetite.) But if you leave with only one confection, make sure it’s the sweet-and-spicy Raspberry Jalapeno Jam, perfect on crackers with a dollop of brie. 1414 N. Sandusky Ave., Bucyrus, 419-562-4215, coopers-mill.com

The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, Logan

Cabin retreats are a dime a dozen in Ohio’s Hocking Hills region, but none offer an experience as rich and authentic as the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls. For your stay, there’s a variety of rustic inn rooms, cottages and cabins. (And if you book during the off-season, Dec. 1 to March 15, you’ll get a discounted rate—which is even lower during weekdays.) Go for one of the cottages, which includes a gas log stove, spacious hot tub and private deck. The spa offers almost any treatment imaginable (think warm bamboo, hot stone and Thai yoga massages), or choose a sample package, if you’re not sure where to start.

The restaurant is a highlight, led by executive chef Doug Manfrin (former executive chef at Sushi Rock and sous chef at Spagio). In addition to a full bar featuring Ohio drafts and spirits, the kitchen turns out multi-course meals with fine-dining flair, sourcing seasonal herbs and produce from on-site gardens. For $10, you can even place brown-bag lunch orders for those treks to Old Man’s Cave and the resort’s namesake waterfall (both located less than a mile away). 21190 state Route. 374, Logan, 740-380-7489, innatcedarfalls.com

Village Bakery & Café, Athens

Though it doesn’t afford the same people-watching opportunities as cafes up the hill on always-buzzing Court Street, the wide, Star Brick-adorned front porch of Athens’ Village Bakery & Cafe is the best spot to refuel while also getting a taste of this inimitable Southern Ohio community. The cafe is a quiet spot, but workers and patrons are eager to strike up conversation on topics from politics to farming. The cafe—part of a local sustainable food system that also includes Casa Nueva—is a quintessential Athens small biz, serving anti-fracking bumper stickers along with its robust menu of sweet-and-savory breakfast and lunch items (try the breakfast pizza, which changes daily). After dining, head back inside to the cafe’s gift shop, where you’ll find wine, cheese, organic baking ingredients, jams by Jorma Kaukonen (of Jefferson Airplane and nearby Fur Peace Ranch fame) and much more. 268 E. State St., Athens, 740-594-7311, dellazona.com

Senate, Cincinnati

The concept was simple: “Let’s build a gourmet hot dog restaurant in the ’hood.” That’s what native-Chicago chef Daniel Wright and his wife, Lana, did in 2010 when they opened Senate in Cincinnati’s once dilapidated, currently hip Over-the-Rhine. Every night but Sunday, Senate attracts an army of diners willing to wait an hour and a half or more for a seat in the narrow, brick-walled space. Leave your number with the host—while you pop in a nearby bar for a drink, perhaps—and they’ll call or text you when you’re up. “It’s fun. There’s nothing overly pretentious about them,” Wright says of his knife-and-fork dogs, piled high with well-paired toppings (like caramelized onions and goat cheese or kimchee and braised short ribs) served on a wooden cutting board. First-timers and regulars embrace the Trailer Park, an all-beef wiener wrapped in bacon and American cheese, slathered in coleslaw and topped with crushed Cincinnati-made Grippo’s barbecue potato chips. But the menu isn’t limited to hot dogs. There’s burgers, steaks, scallops and oysters. So what does Wright recommend to the hot-dog averse? “A hot dog. Easily a hot dog.” 1212 Vine St., Cincinnati, 513-421-2020, senatepub.com

The Winds Café, Yellow Springs

Other places strive to have an atmosphere like the one at Winds Cafe—part bohemian, poetic, intellectual, simple, cozy—but only 37 years of cultivation can yield this feeling. There is no other place like Winds, though it might remind visitors of California classics like Chez Panisse or Zuni Cafe. The Winds is Ohio—specifically Yellow Springs—through and through. Menus change every two months, and specials change constantly to take advantage of ingredients with the shortest harvest periods. Preparations are elegantly simple but intensely fresh, flavorful and comforting.

Chef Mary Kay Smith herself writes the charming, quirky menu descriptions that are a signature of the restaurant. “At first I did that when I was writing wine descriptions,” Smith says. “It was hard for me to sell these lovely wines that were super-esoteric in the early ’80s. Really, I ripped off the J. Peterman catalog. You could sell something to someone because you tell the story. It just kind of stuck.” 215 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs, 937-767-1144, windscafe.com

Swenson’s Drive-In, Akron

Swenson’s is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and if you’re wondering how the drive-in has lasted so long, one bite of the signature Galley Boy should make it obvious. We’re talking two thin but juicy patties, a bunch of American cheese and—the best part—a healthy layer of not one but two sauces: creamy mayo-and-relish on the top and tangy-sweet barbecue on the bottom. Then the whole thing is enclosed in a golden-brown bun that’s just a little too big for the patties, creating a soft and melty ball with crispy buttered edges. But man cannot live on Galley Boys alone, which is where the rest of the menu comes in. There are fried bologna sandwiches, sturdy french fries, crunchy onion rings, 18 milkshake varieties and a signature drink made with ginger ale, crushed ice, lemon juice and either grape (“California”) or orange (“Florida”) flavoring. Multiple locations, swensonsdriveins.com

Rue Dumaine, Dayton

Chef Anne Kearney works the room like she’s hosting dinner at home, resting a hand on the shoulder of a familiar customer, even delivering plates to tables. She is affable, yes, and she is a formidable talent in the kitchen; New Orleans still rightfully misses Kearney’s cooking at Peristyle, which she sold in 2004 to return to her Ohio roots.

She still cooks some Louisiana food, but the real soul of Rue Dumaine is Kearney’s American take on French classics like pissaladiere, pate, duck confit and the classic cheese course. For Kearney, an emphasis on local and seasonal products is a way of life. “When you know your farmers, they come to you and say, ‘What can we grow for you this year?’ ” she says.

The restaurant’s beverage program meets the bar set by the food, too. “There’s not a lot of middle-of-the-road mainstream wines being offered,” Kearney says. More in the mood for a cocktail? Try a Sazerac, just one of Rue Dumaine’s affectionate nods to New Orleans. 1061 Miamisburg Centerville Rd., Dayton, 937-610-1061, ruedumaine.com

Dietsch Brothers Fine Chocolates & Ice Cream

Ask anyone from Findlay if there’s a city institution, and they’ll tell you to visit Dietsch Brothers. Since opening its doors in 1937, this family-run business has won over locals and, more recently, travelers with a sweet tooth, being voted one of America’s top 10 ice cream shops by TripAdvisor users last year. In addition to 60 flavors of ice cream (ask about the seasonal flavors, like summer favorite Blueberry Pie and winter’s Eggnog), the cozy, diner-style shop boasts more than 90 varieties of chocolate and caramel confections, like their generously chocolate-covered pretzels. Everything is handcrafted in the on-site kitchen—they even roast their own nuts. You can grab a bag of chocolates from the shop store (which includes dozens of odds and ends, like the family’s “Great Confectioners … and Cooks, Too!” cookbook), or handpick your own bag of goodies right from the counter display case. 400 W. Main Cross St., Findlay, 419-422-4474, dietschs.com

Snowville Creamery, Pomeroy

Good product becomes great product when someone behind the scenes has the passion to make it so. Warren Taylor, owner of Snowville Creamery in the rolling hills of Southern Ohio, has been a part of the dairy industry for decades, working as a process engineer at the largest milk-bottling plant in the world and consulting for yogurt giants like Yoplait. Today he plays arguably a bigger role as the new face of American dairy. “We’re part of a new progressive American dairy community that’s part of a larger sustainable movement,” he says. “The dairy industry has, for years, been giving people what they wanted. But we have a sacred obligation to bring good food to people. And we need mainstream good food.” You’ll get this type of in-your-face passion from Taylor on a creamery tour—available by appointment only—which begins inside the plant with a brief history of the company. Guests then visit the room where raw milk is pasteurized and stop in the lab, where T-shirt-clad techs are happy to share how they check bacteria levels in each batch of milk. The end of the tour brings the real treat, when samples of Snowville’s dreamy yogurts are offered. 32623 state Route 145, Pomeroy, 740-698-2340, snowvillecreamery.com

Sokolowski’s, Cleveland

Long before Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood could be called hip or trendy, there was Sokolowski’s University Inn. Its circa 1923 founding makes it one of the oldest restaurants in the city. And family ownership means it hasn’t strayed too far from its blue-collar Polish and German roots. (It’s a point of pride that earned it a James Beard “American Classic” Award in May.) It’s old school in every sense of the word, with wood-paneled and brick walls covered in old news clippings and sports photos. Service has been cafeteria-style since the ’50s, so grab a plastic tray and wander down the stainless-steel line. Servers will dish out your meal—a main dish and two sides—and tell you everything is good (and they’re not lying). Classics like house-made bratwurst and smoked kielbasa are always on the menu. So are butter-covered, potato-stuffed pierogi. But if they’re on the day’s menu, go for bicep-sized stuffed cabbage filled with oniony ground veal, beef and pork and pleasantly drowned in tomato sauce. 1201 University Rd., Cleveland, 216-771-9236, sokolowskis.com