Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Playing tourist in my own city

View of Cincinnati from the streetcar
I took a play day last week with my 17-year-old as a chance to capture summer before she’s off to college and a new, young-adult life.

We awoke at 7, were on the road by 8 and parted ways by 8:45. I headed to a meeting in Clifton as she toted her laptop to our favorite near-campus coffee shop, Rohs Street Café. As a chai lover, I adore their freshly brewed, spicy Rishi blend, lightly sweetened with honey and topped with frothy, steamed soy milk. She prefers coffee, but we both like the eclectic vibe in this church-run, old-school coffee house.

After my work wrapped up, we traversed an almost daily transforming Clifton Heights that’s given way to tall, cookie-cutter facades and food franchises at the expense of individual architecture and mom-and-pop eateries and shops. My family has not forgiven Myra for closing her brownstone, boho-meets Moosewood café with dozens of homemade soups, healthy salads, eclectic entrees and sandwiches.

We cut down Calhoun with a quick jog on Clifton, east on McMillian, down West Clifton to Vine, and, in short order, arrived at Findlay Market. The first hour of parking is free, 50 cents an hour for hours one to four, so we aimed for two.

We began with the outskirt markets: Dean’s Mediterranean Imports with its freshly baked zatar flatbread, baklava, varieties of feta (feta is betta, a window sign reads) and hit neighboring Heist Fish and Poultry since 1934 to discover we were thirsty. We whisked through the indoor market perusing early lunch choices such as three hearty salads (think beet, feta and walnut) for $9.99 at Fresh Table, gyros, Belgian waffles, tacos, loads of sweets, spices, cheeses and meats. The siren call of Maverick Chocolate beckoned us inside and the deal was sealed with a frozen hot chocolate imbued with 65-percent cocoa. It is, absolutely, the best drink/food/anything I’ve had in a very long time and I am not easily impressed. We split a $5 frozen treat topped with whipped cream. It would have been difficult, but not impossible, to consume an entire drink. It is bittersweet, creamy with some tooth and exactly like drinking a very good chocolate bar. We learned that giant pods contain the cocao seeds – and could be shaken as musical instruments if not so precious a food – that Maverick roasts, then breaks into nibs for all of its chocolate.

Lily Barney photo
We shared and savored our drink during a spin through the venerable Saigon Market, splurging for some dark sesame oil and tapioca pearls. Now ready for a sit-down lunch, and perhaps influenced by the Vietnamese grocer, we passed up Eli’s BBQ, hungry for something lighter. Pho Lang Thang with its galvanized-garbage can-and-door tables underneath a canopy fit the bill. Again, we split Bun Ga Nuong, a salad of lemongrass chicken, rice noodles,  lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, mint, basil, crushed peanuts and a tangy vinaigrette. It filled us with its crispy chicken and chopped vegetables, providing enough energy to plan a streetcar trip to the art stores in Over the Rhine. Of course, we COULD have walked, but my daughter had never ridden the streetcar and I like to support public transportation. We retuned to the parking lot to add another two hours, but a coin jammed the machine. My daughter tried to push it down with a dime just as an attendant appeared. As he opened the door, a flood of quarters spilled out that my daughter promptly scooped up and returned. He asked our stall number and said he would “get” our parking. A nice trade for her helpfulness and honesty.
Lily Barney photo

We conveniently boarded the north end of the connector line at Findlay paying $2 for two, two-hour tickets by app. We rode to Washington Park, disembarking on Elm Street, then proceeded down 13th, around the corner to Vine and Suder’s Art Store. Almost unrecognizable, this former oasis amid abandoned and graffitied buildings, is buttressed by redevelopment. However, inside nothing has changed. The Great American Art Works, Northside-made sumptuous chalk pastels that I covet are still stashed in a high rise of thin drawers in one unlit corner. When my girls were young and I’d accumulated a stash of change, we'd visit Suder’s so I could stock up on these silky gems. I repeated that story walking in, not realizing it made no sense to my daughter until she saw the price tag of $5.99 per each single stick. “Wow, mom, that’s a lot, no wonder you saved up,” she remarked. They are so worth every penny as they glide onto the surface, transforming paper into art. The colors are lush; some are made with actual metal shavings.

We strolled every wood-planked, winding aisle, then entered the side room full of frames, easels and a napping cat. Happy just to smell the must, turpentine and canvas, we departed for out next stop, Indigo Hippo, a non-profit selling donated art materials. Not at the corner we’d expected, we discovered its new, larger location across Main Street and half a block north. Baskets brimming with odds and ends, tiles, fibers and drawers with papers, stamping and scrapbooking supplies lined shelves, tables and floor space. My daughter delightedly found 10 pounds of glycerin, some scents and dyes so she could make soap. I loved looking, but honestly, was reminded of my crammed garage studio with so many one-offs kind people have donated to my arts non-profit. I struck up a conversation with the clerk, joyfully engaged in arranging the newest cache. I vaguely recognized her.

I inquired about a summer, community-arts program Indigo was hosting and, when the clerk mentioned there would be a trauma-informed art-making component, I jumped in, volunteering I’d taken a similar workshop and really used the material. “Whose workshop?” she asked. I couldn’t remember the organization, but recalled it was held at the Baker-Hunt Cultural Arts Center in Newport. “Ha, no wonder you looked familiar,” she said. “I’m Amy and I led that.” No kidding. Small world, small delight.

After shopping and chatting, we walked back to the Washington Park streetcar stop, attempting to retrieve our car before our time lapsed. We got on the wrong loop, winding up with a jam-packed tour of the city via the connector. Amazingly the track down Race, Central Parkway and Vine whizzes past some of the city’s most-beloved landmarks: Findlay Market, OTR, Washington Park, The Main Branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Library, The Contemporary Arts Center, Fountain Square, Great American Ballpark, The Banks and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. At the riverfront, we turned east on Second Street and north up Main by the Aronoff Arts Center, west on 12th Street, north on Elm by the park, Music Hall, back to Findlay and ending in the Brewery District in front of Rhinegeist. For $1, you can’t beat this tour.

We didn’t know to push the button to exit at Findlay, so rode on to Rhinegeist, walked back to the market area seeking cold drinks. We stopped in Market Wines searching for my friend, Linnea, missing her and the 4pm serving time. The congenial bartender offered his recommendations. The Rhined, a cheese shop that curates domestic cheeses along with beer and wine was open, but empty, so we selected a seat at Harvest Pizzeria's bar, ordering a wheat draft for $1 off during happy hour and a natural root beer. Revived after a beverage and enjoying the view across the front of the market, we doubled back back to our first stop, Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, to collect a dinner feast: French feta, falafel, Kalamata olives, dolma and a large slice of fresh baklava.

From frozen hot chocolate to frozen falafel, we celebrated the best of the Queen City's delights. It's good to occasionally be a tourist in your own city

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