We arrived in Cincinnati in time for lunch and crossed the river into Bellevue, Kentucky. Virgil’s Café is a charming little place, located on a charming little street full of shops and nice people. We visited an art gallery, a tea house, gift shops, a creamery and more; and we bought a set of dishes that I couldn’t live without. Be sure to allot yourself two or three hours to explore and enjoy some of the tasty treats. Unlike the corporate malls, these shops are owned and operated by real people with style and character who want to do things their way.
Virgil’s Café is quaint and decorated quite nicely. The dining room is cozy, but elegant with a high ceiling, and old world charm. This was one of those other places that slipped through the cracks planning wise. I forgot about Chef/Owner Matthew Buschle, and all the wonderful food he made on the show (Etouffee, frogs legs, sausage biscuits and gravy, Andoulle, chili, cheddar and jalapeno hush puppies, and more). I ordered a cheeseburger and Anna ordered a brat dog with blue-cheese cole slaw and bacon on a homemade brioche roll (which was buttered and grilled to perfection). Both orders came with the house made potato chips. Anna says it’s the best dog she’s ever had; and I suppose that’s because the house made brat was crafted by someone who really knows (and loves) food.
As for the burger, I wasn’t expecting much; and when it first came out, I thought it looked dry and wasn’t very happy. That all changed as soon as I took my first bite. The burger was so good it was like a flavor explosion in my mouth. This burger was one of my earlier experiences with a hand-crafted burger made by a chef who really understands food. He starts with his own blend of chuck, short rib and brisket, tops it with sauteed mushrooms and onions, cheese (melted to perfection) and the kicker is the house made Kaiser roll which has to be experienced to be believed. It’s light as a cloud, pillow-soft, oven warm, delicately grilled with just a hint of a satisfying crunch, all with a fantastic flavor that complements the burger without overpowering it. A superb balance of ingredients, flavors, textures and aromas. I just sat there, eating that burger bite after bite, shaking my head in disbelief that somebody could make a burger that good. At the time, I didn’t realize the roll was fresh out of the oven. Anna kept raving about how good the Brat-dog was, but I could have cared less. I was in hamburger heaven. Note: I did sample the dog and not surprisingly it was excellent (as were the chips).
I asked to meet the chef, and as soon as he appeared from the back I remembered watching him on the show. I told him how much I enjoyed the burger and that I’d like to learn how to make the bread. Matt was super cool, super friendly, and he actually sent me his recipe for the ingredients, and gave me his personal cell phone number. The next time I make it back, I hope Matt will let me schlep for a day in his kitchen (see his site at www.virgilscafe.com). A week would be better. I am sad that I didn’t sample any of the food that Matt made on the show. I will have the Etouffee for sure next time, and the burger. Actually, I’m planning to make it at least a full day, or two, and sample as many of Matt’s dishes as I possibly can. It’s that good. I would be happy to wash dishes in his kitchen just to learn from a master. Virgil’s Cafe has become a destination unto itself.
Matt’s burger has made my top ten list, and I doubt that it will ever get bumped off. Not that it needs it, but you can also top your burger with your choice of a fried egg, bacon, or house made pastrami. Matt’s burger falls into the Alton Brown school of burgers… no salad! Why mess up a perfectly seasoned and cooked custom blend of beef with something as ubiquitous as iceberg lettuce? There are great burgers with salad too; and it’s just so much the better that there are countless ways to make and enjoy great burgers. If you’re a burger nut like me, an inspired burger menu is a thing of beauty.
Later that day, we hooked up with some friends and went out to dinner at Blue Ash Chili. It’s a casual place, super busy, and very popular. We got double team served by a husband and wife couple, who were attentive and friendly . I first recall having chili on top of spaghetti at Bob’s Big Boy here in California. I liked it well enough. I’ve made it at home a few times, just for something different. It was the star of the show and I was planning to order it. Our waitress asked if we had tried the “Cincinnati” chili before and I told her that we hadn’t. She suggested we try a sample first and it’s a good thing we did because surprisingly enough we didn’t care for it. We ordered sandwiches, a grilled cheese and a turkey club. The food wasn’t as good as the service, but we had a good time visiting with our friends (who hosted our stay in Cincinnati), and enjoyed the meal.
My friend Arthur and I rode motorcycles everywhere we went, and it was so much fun riding without a helmet (which is required out here). I felt like I was getting away with something, like having an open beer in the car. We visited Jungle Jim’s International Market, and all I can say is that it’s the ultimate foodie store. Although I had forgotten about it, as soon as we went inside I remembered having seen this store on television. I could have spent the whole day there exploring, shopping and enjoying the free samples. They had the largest selection of salsas, chile sauces and pepper sauces that I had ever seen. To go with it, they had an expert, who gave me the tour and explained a lot of the differences to their massive collection. I bought several jars, including some for gifts. I even got to sample a sauce made with the dreaded ghost peppers. It must have been tempered because it wasn’t as hot as I thought it should be. They also had the biggest and most impressive selection of oils, vinegars and other Italian foods that I have ever seen. It was an unexpected treat, and anyone who lives there should consider themselves very fortunate (like living next door to Charlize Theron).
Dinnertime found us all piling into the car and heading down to Terry’s Turf Club, which is decorated to the nines, inside and out, with a whimsical collection of neon and kitsch. The place was packed and we had to wait outside for a table. Most people were drinking, relaxing and having a good time waiting out front. We ended up joining some other people at a table, and this very attractive woman arrived fashionably late who turned out to be the life of the party. Her name was Becky and she stole the show. We had been talking to her friends about our DDD exploits and when they told her about it, she lit up and wanted to hear all the details. Her group was called in ahead of ours and instead of hand shakes, we all got hugs. Inside, she entertained us with a short dance, and we got her picture with Anna. I’d like to post it here, but we didn’t ask her in advance and now we don’t have any way to reach her. So Becky, if you come across this blog, get in touch with us. After dinner she wished us good travels and lots of love. We’ll probably never see her again, but we do plan to make it back to Cincinnati again, and if we hang out at Terry’s Turf Club every night, who knows…
As charming and fun as Becky was, I would return to Terry’s for the food. I ordered a double cheeseburger and it was more than worth the long wait. It was a mountain of a cheeseburger, hot and juicy. Anna ordered a BLT. Inside, the place was cozy, the drinks were flowing, and there was a definite party atmosphere. Our waiter took great care of us and I enjoyed watching everyone else enjoying their great burgers.
Later that night, our friends took us to Graeter’s Creamery, which has been established for over 140 years and is famous for their black raspberry chip ice cream (we didn’t know that at the time, but both of our friends ordered it). Anna and I shared a brownie hot-fudge sundae (which is my favorite sundae).
After a fun filled weekend with lots of surprises and treats, we rolled out of Cincinnati and headed for Indianapolis, for lunch at 3 Sisters Café. It’s a converted house, and we managed to get a nice table on the front porch. We shared the D’Nai sandwich which was featured on the show. It’s described as slow-roasted fresh ham with low-country braised kale, and pepper jack on a French roll. It’s served with a side of jus. The sandwich was a big hit with us and we loved it. The service was friendly and everything on the menu looked good. I wish we could have eaten more, but we had to save room.
We drove up to Jersey’s Café and looked forward to having a full lunch with the amazing BBQ potato chip nachos (and the cheesesteak sandwiches). We arrived and read the sign on the door which announced that the food was cooked to order and could take up to an hour. Undaunted, we headed inside and got a table. The dining room was huge and the place was packed. A young man brought us some water, and menus. We ended up having a problem in that no one would come to take our order. We waited and waited. At one point, the chef/owner from the show came out from the back, but returned before I had a chance to get his attention. I asked the young man why it was taking so long to get anyone to come to our table and he explained that there was only one waitress working the whole place, and it was her first day. We waited a while longer. I got tired of waiting and went up to ask the young man if he could have the chef start an order of the potato chips for us (while we continued to wait). He went to the back and returned to the front. He said that the chef wouldn’t start an order for us and wouldn’t come out to talk either. Following that, we promptly walked out. I would have been happy to wait an hour for our food, but not wait an hour to get our order taken. I was pretty upset (not to mention greatly disappointed).
Following that debacle, we rushed up to West Lafayette and the famous Triple XXX Family Restaurant. I have to give a little bit of set up for this place. In Season 10, episode one, Guy met a couple at Hillbilly Hotdogs which was their 100th place. The couple’s name is Roger and Jane Holm. The way I had the trip planned, the Triple XXX was scheduled to be our 100th place, and I wrote the owners, Greg and Carrie Ehresman, to let them know of the upcoming event. It was obvious to us that the Triple XXX means a lot to them, and we wanted to let them know that it was special to us too. We didn’t get a reply to our letter, so didn’t really know what to expect.
We pulled in, parked, and went in to sit at the counter. Our waitress, Sarayah, was very friendly and attentive. We asked if the owners were around. She went off to the back, and we heard someone whisper, “Are those the people from California?” Greg Ehresman came out from the back with a huge smile on his face and a hearty welcome. They had been expecting us earlier, and probably figured we weren’t coming after all. Greg immediately called Carrie (at their second location) and she rushed over to visit with us. We ordered the double cheeseburger (from the show), a patty melt, an order of onion rings, and two frosty mugs of their famous root beer. I’m sure it was the best root beer I have ever had. That root beer was the happy exception that I was referring to earlier. We bought a six pack to go (and we still have it).
I loved the food, and I loved the story about how the cook brought Greg his first double cheeseburger when he was a boy. We scarfed the food down and it was so good I wanted to order more. Carrie arrived and the four of us proceeded to have a ball. They were very friendly and gregarious. We started upstairs for a tour of the place and the famous hamburger patty machine. I got to wield the famous tenderizing hammer that guy used to pound some pork tenderloin. Greg offered to put me to work with some real pork, but I didn’t want to put anyone out. We had a great time and the manager took a picture of the four of us together. One of the secrets of their success, besides the hard work and the love, is that they grind their high quality meat fresh every day.
We had a ton of fun visiting and hearing the stories of when Guy was there doing the show. There was some hi-jinx going on and apparently Guy whipped up a batch of Pasta al Carbonara for everyone to enjoy. Greg also mentioned that Guy had a lot of fun goofing around with the Hollymatic patty maker (which Guy had some previous experience with when he worked at Schulman’s Meats in Las Vegas).
Greg and Carrie showed us a great time, gave us some free goodies, including some hats, and put is in touch with Roger and Jane Holm. I bought a Triple XXX coffee mug and it sits on my desk full-time, as a reminder of the great time we had there. We hated to leave, but next time we will stay and visit longer, drink more of the root beer, eat more of the chopped sirloin steak sandwiches, try the shakes, and party with Greg and Carrie.
Lake Station, our intended destination for the night, would have been a straight shot up the road and an easy drive. However, we wanted to drive up into Michigan and so we angled northeast and set our sights on the South Side Soda Shop in Goshen, Indiana. Our GPS (Jill) took us straight there like it was nothing. Too bad for us that they are closed on Mondays. Bummer. We continued our trip north and drove up into Michigan and then cut back to the west on Hwy 12. We were sorry that we couldn’t squeeze in a visit to Detroit, but we did enjoy the scenery and our short visit in Michigan.
Next DDD destination: Chicago (DDD count: 105)