Beyond Oberlin - Ohio's Bounty
Ready, set, salivate! Food lovers, after a half semester hiatus, culinary expert Ben Zilber’s deliciously juicy column is back.
For all those who demean the culinary qualities of Oberlin — whether it be the pseudo-ethnic cuisine, the short working hours, the lack of late night snacks worth the price of drunkenness, the dangerous and bastardized food item known as the “sub” — know that the evidence is squarely against you. Perhaps you can tell by my emotions, but I, too, have agonized over Oberlin’s culinary quirks, stricken by a misery that can only be fixed temporarily by a few choice items: tantalizingly fresh produce, hot Indian food, Swiss chocolates and Nutella, to name a few.
Though the town of Oberlin may not be renowned for its culinary mystique, it has its share of hidden treasures, culinary destinations that either devote themselves unpretentiously and devotedly to a single food item, or that feature the bounty of the farmland around the area — and yes, though it may be hard to believe, there is more than just corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see.
Just a short distance from the chains and malls of Amherst sits O’Armour’s Hot Dog Heaven, a retro hole-in-the-wall oddly located in a quaint-looking home. Though the house may seem to suggest formality, the chalkboard menu, matching Hot Dog Heaven uniforms and eclectic and ecstatic signage set your stomach at ease. Beyond dishing out reliably delicious hot dogs and kielbasas with the requisite chili or cheese toppings, Hot Dog Heaven excels in making heaps of fresh-cut fries, which balance crispiness and potato-skin chew and in supplying exciting milkshakes in flavors such as Pumpkin Cheesecake. All this food is designed not for culinary greatness, but for revitalization of the taste buds, and, with each deliciously greasy bite, it succeeds.
A short drive northwest from Oberlin on Route 113 past Baumhart Road, you’ll find in close proximity multiple apple orchards featuring markets or the opportunity to pick yourself, an exciting bulk goods store and the solitary bastion of hope that is Miller’s Homemade Ice Cream shack.
Though it is near the end of the harvest season, the orchards will most likely stay open until Thanksgiving, so head out soon for delicious and exotic varieties of fresh-picked apples. If you’ve never tried an empire (crunchy and slightly tart) or a stayman winesap (sweet and good for baking), here’s your chance. The only potential downside is you have to buy a big load of apples, but sharing is caring. Late autumn is the best time for cider, since the apples have had time to ripen on the trees: so grab a gallon of fresh-pressed goodness. Among the orchards worth visiting are Rex Lee’s, Hillcrest and Miller’s. Each orchard market features its own quirky selections, such as homemade fudge and chocolates, candy apple kits and the obligatory pumpkins and squash.
At the intersection of 113 and Vermillion Road lies Apple Hill, an orchard and bulk goods store that will transport you far away from Oberlin, evoking the mom-and-pop stores of tiny New England towns, awash in wonderful smells, piles of intriguing goods scattered in disarray and friendly people. If you are a baker, this tiny shop is heaven, as one room is devoted to every kind of flour you could imagine, along with other assorted baking goods. Dried fruits (including delectable figs and dates) and an endless variety of candies come in any quantity available, and just about everything is cheap and, in my experience, delicious.
Sadly, Miller’s is now closed for the season, but for those who haven’t yet made the trek, be ready to head out in April for delicious home-made ice cream that puts a primacy on creaminess, loaded with so much egg yolk it turns a custard-like yellow, and on dishing out interesting flavors such as Black Walnut, Pumpkin and Maplenut and a dynamite Marshmallow Milkshake.
There is an untold bounty beyond Oberlin, reflecting an eclectic mélange that seems to define much of Ohio, with great food to be found in the most unlikely places. Take the time to explore the roads around Oberlin and you’ll find terrific farm-stands popping up in the middle of nowhere. Or, if you want all that bounty in one place, take a slightly longer drive to Crocker Park for the remaining Saturday mornings in November and enjoy the stellar North Union Farmer’s Market, which brings together local farmers, cheesemakers and artisan bakers. Ohio might not be a cosmopolitan mecca, but its abundance of small farms and unpretentiousness combine to supply unique and delicious eats.
O’Amour’s Hot Dog Heaven
493 Cleveland Ave
Amherst, OH 44001
Miller’s Apple Hill
50549 SSR 113
Amherst, OH 44001
North Union Farmer’s Market
Westlake, OH 44145