This quiet town an hour south boasts an unassuming, vibrant food scene
A languid pace seems prescribed by the bucolic landscape that surrounds the quirky and quaint village of Yellow Springs, an hour's drive from Columbus. Founded with academic and utopian ideals in the 1800s and still uniquely liberal among Western Ohio cities, visiting this bastion of live-and-let-live is akin to tripping back to Berkeley, California, during the 1960s.
Christmastime is special there; the historic, still-working Clifton Mill three miles away pierces dark wintry nights from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day with 3.5 million lights, illuminating buildings, trees, a whole hillside and the riverbank.
If the dining scene weren't also bright, though, I doubt I'd visit much. Most Yellow Springs restaurants are located along colorful Xenia Avenue, where you'll find exceptional breakfasts at the Sunrise Cafe.
Sunrise, specializing in scratch cooking with organic local ingredients, conveniently offers half-sized entrees. So you might pair the Biscuits and Gravy ($5; $8 for a whole)-which, instead of that meaty and gloppy thing you often get, are creamy, rich and textured like grits-with Sunrise's racy Huevos Rancheros ($6/$10). This combo, or the massive and excellent Fill-Up ($11; choose pumpkin pancakes, vegan or bison sausages and multigrain English muffin), goes great with Sunrise's wild bloody mary ($8). Heavily garnished with frilly microgreens, shaved cabbage, sliced onions, carrot shreds, olives and a strawberry on top, finishing that spicy morning cocktail (and you'll need a fork to do it) is like getting a healthy salad in you, too.
The menu at Ha Ha Pizza features a chef smoking something suspicious. This giggly BYOB lunchtime pick has a decked-out salad bar and offers nifty pizzas (toppings include falafel) sold by the slice until 2 p.m. daily. Sturdy whole-wheat calzones are also available-try the one starring creamy ricotta cheese, brightened with locally grown basil pesto ($8).
A two-minute drive leads to Young's Dairy, a kid-friendly complex with playgrounds, two family restaurants, miniature golf ("Udders and Putters"), homemade cheeses and about 40 ice cream flavors. Try the Cow Patty, a killer dark-chocolate-and-Oreo amalgam.
Back in town, pop into a kitschy antique store, then have coffee or wine at relaxed Emporium Wines and the Underdog Cafe. If a beer and burger's more your thing, hit Ye Olde Trail Tavern (the website boasts it's "Ohio's second oldest restaurant"). Prefer liquor? Then veer a couple blocks off Xenia to The Gulch, a rowdy townie bar with a pool table, decent jukebox and huge pours.
Dinner must be at the wonderful Winds Cafe. Casual yet sophisticated and obsessed with great wine and seasonal local sourcing, it's much like Alana's. The menu changes frequently, but mainstay Squash and Pumpkin Lasagna ($19) is justifiably famous, and I recently loved an elegant halibut Aqua Pazza ($27) and the Pork Chop with Cider Sauce ($23), a great bang for your buck.
Feel like staying over? The cute, cheap (about $70), pet-friendly and partially solar-powered Springs Motel offers a gazebo and clean dorm-sized rooms (cable TV included). Against its wooded backdrop, this charming and classic mid-century motor inn appears simultaneously iconic and mundane, like it might've escaped from a 1960s Ed Ruscha photograph. Be sure to read-and add to-room journals, where visitors record the uniquely fun times they've enjoyed in funky little Yellow Springs.