Sunday, April 23, 2023

Farewell and Thanks for All the ChocoPots:

This post is tribute, invite, and recipe, in that order.

On Tuesday night we got a phone call with some news I hoped to never hear. Our friend Jeff Mathews, better known to some as adorkandhispork, had passed away.

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I met Jeff in 2009, at a Cincinnati Imports happy hour. We had just started Cincinnati Nomerati earlier that year, and I remember being thrilled to meet people whose words I had been reading for months and I looked up to as experienced bloggers.

Jeff and Liz at Cincy Imports

Jeff was a great conversationalist, and we enjoyed talking about a variety of random things. David joined us for the next meet up, at Sake Bomb. Shortly after that, I got on Twitter and joined the club of bloggers and foodies in the city. We’d schedule “Tweetups” at local restaurants, spend Sunday afternoons at Neons drinking mimosas that had no business being as strong as they were, and spent many evenings at Jeff’s tiny apartment on Hosea avenue in Clifton.

Jeff's Den

About Jeff’s apartment – I was always impressed at the amount of people he managed to squeeze into it. From what I gather, the rent was impressively cheap and there was laundry in the basement (Jeff would occasionally reference spats with the “cat lady” on a floor below who would try to pilfer his detergent), but it consisted of a small den, a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen, usually with a pile of dishes in the sink that Jeff was mustering up the willpower to do and would get to eventually.

You’d think with the apartment being compact, Jeff would keep the place pretty tidy, but it wasn’t in his nature. Jeff was a gloriously enthusiastic, exuberant human being and as such, was above those details. His bathroom was notorious - and left you wondering exactly how the toilet’s enamel got chipped that way. One time towards the beginning of a gathering, someone dropped food on the floor. “Five second rule!” they exclaimed, going to retrieve it. Jeff’s quiet response stopped them in their tracks: a slightly pained look and deadpan “Not here.” He once hired a housekeeper, and after spending the morning cleaning out his fridge and making no other progress, she summarily quit, totally exhausted and questioning her career choices.

Jeff's kitchen

That’s not to say his food prep wasn’t safe – we never got sick from anything we enjoyed at his place – but it was NOT without its risks. Case in point: The Blumenburgers. Jeff was a fan of recipes both elaborate and simple. We were invited out on the illustrious occasion at his place for the fussiest burger recipe I have ever seen. Jeff prepped and saved money for weeks for the elaborate blend of beef cuts and was justifiably proud of his creation. There was just one elephant in the room at the party: Jeff liked his burgers rare. Like really rare. I remember desperately locking eyes with another guest across the table as she mirrored my attempt to eat nonchalantly around the burger's edge avoiding the cool and completely raw center. At the end of the party, David and I were saying our goodbyes and a tipsy-but-happy Jeff was holding a plate of the remaining fancy burger patties. His arm wobbled and they all leaped onto the floor with a slapping sound I’ll never forget. The look on Jeff’s face was one of nonplussed resignation, because of course this would happen to these burgers. David and I quickly left, and never asked what became of the patties, lying in a little Blumenburger heap on the scuffed linoleum.

Jeff was my Excel and food phone-a-friend, and an extensive pen pal in the digital age. He encouraged me to chase after my first job in advertising, even though he made what we called the “Splenda face” (he loathed artificial sweeteners of all kinds) at some of the work I ended up doing for clients. He never let me live it down that I made tiramisu with Twinkies, and I responded in kind by what he deemed a hilarious impression of him ordering a margarita. “OK, so I’d like a margarita…” He’d begin, launching into an elaborate, overly courteous explanation of his desired beverage, down to the specific ingredients and quantities.

Later, Jeff’s considerable storytelling skills graduated him from ranks of Cincinnati Bloggers to become a writer for Cincinnati Magazine. Despite the come up, he still stubbornly took the bus to his assignments with what he called his “tea bladder” – sweet tea contained in a precariously sealed ziploc bag – because, well, it was Jeff. He took that writing job incredibly seriously, and I was always impressed at how he framed his experiences.

One of these assignments was at the now defunct Jo An which was absolutely, ridiculously dreadful. I remember Jeff doggedly trying to get a description from the server about what types of pickles were on the plate so he could write about it accurately. She struggled with English, and her earnest response was to point at each item and repeat “eeees peeeeeeckle.” David and I still giggle about it to this day. The experience was a non-stop, excruciating comedy of errors, where every dish’s fate was either to come out 40 minutes late or – after the same amount of time – to be canceled, telling us that they were in fact out of some key ingredient. We started making jokes to ease the frustration until we became so delirious with the absurdity that we had to beg for our check and make our exit. Once the fresh air hit us outside, we all had a distinct feeling like being freed from an elevator that we had been trapped in for three hours.

Occasionally I would get a letter from Jeff, but more often I would receive an email, detailing out concepts in a dizzying display that had me doing abstract detective work to keep it all straight and sort out all the people and places, a mental forensics with push pins and strings. Jeff loved connecting people and was always strategic in who he put in that tiny apartment. I doubt I’m the only one who owes him a debt of this kind – I’ve met so many of my current friends because of his gregarious nature. His usual modus operandi  for such invites was sending out emails with everyone BCC’d, reassuring us that despite the blind copy, he “loved us all as individuals and look forward to talking to you all very soon.

One of those events was the not-quite-annual “Ice Cream in a Bag” where you would make ice cream from scratch using an ingenious double-ziploc-bag-and-duct-tape mechanism. It was always a raucous afternoon, and you’d finish with salt all over your aching arms, enjoying the fruits of your laborious shaking, sitting at picnic tables under the Ault Park’s shady trees. It was delightfully imperfect and messy with a delicious outcome, to be expected with anything that involved Jeff. Not to bury the lede here, but this is an open invite to anyone who wants to join us and celebrate at Ault Park on May 2nd at 6:30. Here’s a link to the sign up sheet

Jeff was wonderfully unconventional yet distinguished, and for someone who could be so persnickety about recipes, he embraced the humble as well. That attitude carried over towards his friends to our benefit; while he was observant and perceptive, he often purposefully turned a blind eye to the negative things about people. He was admittedly frugal but generous with the things that really mattered. It still hasn’t sunk in that after 14 years and over 300 emails and even more random texts and Instagram DMs, I won’t be getting another teasing remark about marketing buzzspeak, toast points, or a cryptic note that mentions Tanya Harding (IYKYK).

One of Jeff’s longstanding recipes he loved making personally and for others was chocopots – which we invite you to make and post a picture (hashtag #adorkandhispork). I’m sure Jeff would make the Splenda face at the hashtag, but for his friends across the country that can’t make it on May 2nd, consider this another way to show how much he meant to all of us, even if life has taken you far from Cincinnati or you can’t make it on Tuesday.

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Until we meet again my friend. We won’t forget you.

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Jeff ... somewhere tasty

Jeff B&W Portrait

Jeff's first watercolor

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Alabama Fish Bar:

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Fish Fry season is almost upon us. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, some beloved options like Bridgetown Finer Meats are no longer on the table for many. That said, there are still some fabulous options in town and we’re happy to share one of them with you.

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Alabama Fish Bar has been in business for almost three full decades now, on the corner of Liberty and Race. It’s still cash only, and you can still smell the mouthwatering aroma of peppers and onions being cooked on the flattop over a block away.

The options are fairly simple on the menu. Which of the three types of fish (perch, whiting and cod) you'd like and whether you want peppers and onions (spoiler alert, you do). Sides are fries (krinkle cut!) and bread. The three types of fish are all enjoyable for different reasons.

After waiting in a fairly socially-distanced line, we used a warmer afternoon to our advantage and walked North just a few blocks to Findlay Market, where we used many, many Purell wipes on our fingers and dug in at a table outside.

The perch was the “Goldilocks” of the three – not too fishy, not too mild – in smaller, skinnier pieces, with excellent crunchy breading-to-fish ratio.

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The whiting, on the other hand, was a bit more "oceany," in long pieces that were a bit flatter. It's a good choice if you are fan of bolder flavors like catfish or mackerel.

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The cod was our favorite, clean and mild in flavor, but firm and flaky, in larger cubic pieces.

Any of these three are absolutely wonderful on their own, but they would also be a great basis for a fantastic fish taco with some fresh avocado and salsa verde, though cod and perch might be the easiest to fit in a tortilla if you want to give that a try.

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I'll end with one last Alabama Fish Bar piece of trivia. You've probably noticed that Snoop Dogg is a busy dude these days. Between hosting the Puppy Bowl with Martha Stewart, dishing out Cameos, and being a spokesperson for Corona Beer, he seems to be everywhere.

But did you know that Alabama’s is near and dear to the D-O-Double-G’s heart, too? It’s true. Just listen to Snoop’s outro in Hi-Tek’s in “How We Do it.” If these pictures and our endorsement isn’t reason enough to give it a try, hopefully that’s enough to pique your curiosity and to get you in the door.

You won’t regret it.

“What's the name of that fish spot in the 'Nati I like goin’ to?
You know what's happenin'
Yeah, Alabama's; that the name of it?
Get me some nephew, that three-piece dinner
Yeah, and tell Bootsy I'm back.”

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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Aquabats & "Pizza Day" Week:


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Times continue to be challenging as we wrap up the strangest summer I can remember. And as we head into what will surely be one of the craziest election seasons on record, I think we could all use some content that doesn’t make us want to run screaming in the other direction. To me, that means ska. Say what you will about ska music (and many have), it’s always had a happy place in my library.

We’re finding joy where we can and hope you are too. We’re still not dining at restaurants (takeout only) so we’ve been cooking a lot at home. We’ve discovered a lot of delicious tasty things and dusted off some of our favorite techniques and recipes in the last few months.

David and I went to see the Aquabats (a favorite ska band of ours) a few years ago after a different stressful time in our lives. It was a few months after his transplant operation and we were more than ready to celebrate. We got fancy meet-and-greet tickets and I brought the band a cake from the Bon Bonerie because why not. Who doesn't want cake when you are on tour? Also I may have promised to bring them a cake if they came to Cincinnati the year prior – and I keep my promises.
 
We were all set to go see The Aquabats again along with Reel Big Fish earlier in this spring, but the pandemic cancelled those plans. Is nothing sacred?!

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So if we can’t go see The Aquabats this year, we figured we’d just bring The Aquabats to us via their classic, “Pizza Day.”
 
If you’ve never heard the song, it details out school lunches by day of the week. Monday: hotdog, Tuesday: tacos (naturally), and so on. Friday is pizza day - the best day of the week.

It also talks about how the normal, seemingly boring things like the lunches, scorned by the band at the time, were now a fond memory of a better time. Sound familiar?

Yeah, I thought so too. So queue up Pizza Day and sing along like no one is watching. Because they probably are not. Or if they are, you’ve surely done weirder stuff while stuck at home for the past year, so who cares?

Well I remember my first day of public school
I was very scared of getting pummeled
And sure enough I did at first recess
I got pegged in the head by a big red ball
And it stung and my head hung
Back to class with a bloody nose
And soon it was lunch time
Mom said I should ask about how poor kids could get fed
So I got a book of tickets and a schedule and it read ...

Monday: Hotdog
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We’re big fans of Nueske’s bacon – we prefer the nitrate free triple thick cut, which we order in batches and then leave the Styrofoam box around for the cat to nap on (he loves it so). We decided to give their hotdogs a try as well. These have a nice snap and great flavor, and are super juicy. We put it on a bun from North College Hill Bakery and served it with a little leftover mac and cheese from Jeff Ruby (one of my favorites if you’re going for a deluxe mac and cheese experience, though I did serve it via the school lunch requisite, an ice cream scoop).

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Tuesday: Taco

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We’ve been making A LOT of tacos during the pandemic, and one of our favorite meats to include is the local skirt steak from Eckerlin’s. It’s super beefy and perfect for tacos, and one steak can stretch a few meals, especially if you are like me and prefer the Mission mini street tortillas. We season ours with either adobo or sometimes even steak seasoning. We also used our two “daily drivers” when it comes to hot sauces: Private Selection Jalapeno Tomatillo, the ONLY hot sauce I have ever bought and used multiple bottles of, and David's favorite, Gringo Bandito, a project from The Offspring’s Dexter Holland. You may smirk until you try it - it’s extremely tasty.

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Wednesday: Hamburgers and Chocolate Milk

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Ok, so we fancied the burger up a little. More local ground beef from Eckerlin’s, butter lettuce from a local farm via Madison’s with an heirloom tomato and of course American cheese because it makes everything better. The burger is also served on THE BEST burger bun in town, a potato roll from Blue Oven. Blue Oven is a fantastic local bakery – their English Muffins are quite simply, a revelation – but tragedy struck recently when their bakery burned to the ground in August (thanks, 2020). No one was hurt, but they are fighting their way back and rebuilding. Please consider supporting them if you can, via their rebuilding fund or this personal Go Fund Me for the employee that lived above the bakery and lost her home
 
For the chocolate milk, we decided to make our own. Last year I went a bit nuts with hot chocolate. I started trying all sorts of them, and now we have a box of two dozen different types (whoops?). We used a blend of our top two faves – chocolate from Jacques Torres (yes, the chef from Nailed It) and MarieBelle.

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The "hot chocolate box"

Thursday: Sloppy Joes and Burritos in a Bag

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Once again on a fantastic Blue Oven roll, we modified this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny her rise to fame and power has been fueled by solid recipes like this one. The sauce is quite a bit more sophisticated than you what you were likely to encounter in a school cafeteria, but still has the homey comfort of a ketchup base.
 
The burritos in a bag, however, were a bit of a puzzle. We could not figure out if it was meant to be a walking taco, or if it was actual burritos in a bag. So I did the sensible thing. I asked the Aquabats Legion of Righteous Comrades Facebook group (yes, of course I'm a member) what they thought it meant. The answer was overwhelmingly that it was an actual burrito in a bag, but I couldn’t easily find any, so I ordered Skyline chilitos and put them in a bag. Pro tip: get the chilitos with the “bean mix” instead of the regular chili and thank me later.

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Friday was pizza day, the best day of the week
All the kids would line up super early just to eat

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The pizzas we’ve been making are a quick, easy way to make a high quality bar pizza. We first learned about it from Kenji at Serious Eats and have been making it ever since. Say what you will about this method, but if it’s good enough for French master chef Jacques P├ępin it’s certainly good enough for anyone else. We like to use a fire-roasted crushed tomato as our sauce, and I sprouted some basil cuttings over the pandemic (which I didn’t even know you could do!) which are pulling their weight.

We also like to use the Extra Hot Mike’s Hot Honey and pepperoni from La Quercia to create a copycat Hellboy from Paulie Gee's, or sometimes La Quercia prosciutto and ricotta from Golfo Di Napoli. I also like to put some Cobanero chili flakes on mine from Burlap & Barrel - another company we’ve discovered recently producing amazing spices to up anyone’s home cooking game.

Friday was pizza day, the best day of the week
It always came with salad and a side of cold green beans


The green beans should ideally be from a can, but I couldn’t find any and wasn’t about to set foot in Kroger so we made ours fresh. The salad we also outsourced as one of our favorites - the “little salad” from Goose & Elder. There are so many elements to the salad: pickled veggies, egg, beets, tons of things other than just lettuce, we order this every time we get takeout. Jose Salazar, the head chef and owner of Goose & Elder, has been up to a lot of good things - even using one of his other restaurants, Mita's, to partner with The Lee Initiative and provide food to restaurant workers in need in the spring. Please support him if you can.

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The rest of the song is below with some more beauty shots, and if you’ve made it this far through one of the silliest posts we’ve done, you are to be commended. While the days may be dragging on as we head into the fall, try to find your reasons to celebrate, no matter how small or silly they may be.

Any day can be pizza day if you try hard enough. And I won’t judge you if you swap out the Capri Sun for a juice box of the more adult variety.

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Well I remember my first day of Jr. High
I had hairspray in my hair and my pants were way too tight
And all the breakers and new-wavers and the rockers and the preps
Would all be in their places on the front lawn or the steps I hung out with some punker kids who used to make me laugh
Got thrown in the dumpster by some rich kids near the caff
As time went on we figured out it was totally uncool
To eat the welfare lunch Provided by the school
So in poser punker fashion we just mooched off all the kids
And lived off eating candy bars and bags of nacho chips


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Monday hotdogs
Tuesday tacos
Wednesday hamburgers and chocolate milk
Thursday sloppy Joes and burritos in a bag
Friday was pizza day, the best day of the week
It always came with salad and a side of cold green beans
Hooray for pizza day
Hooray for pizza day
I miss pizza day
The best day of the week


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Well now I'm out of school and I don't have a job (you're a slob)
I just sit around all sweaty and lethargic
And I'm just thinkin' 'bout where it all went wrong
Why I can't concentrate on anything but reruns
I wish I had some more stability and I
I wish I had somebody makin' lunch for me
I guess I miss the simple things in life
The thought of pizza day
I thought it's stupid then but I wish I had it now


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I just want Monday hotdogs
Tuesday tacos 
Wednesday hamburgers and chocolate milk 
Thursday sloppy Joes and burritos in a bag
Friday was pizza day, the best day of the week
It always came with salad and a side of cold green beans
Monday hotdogs
Tuesday tacos
Wednesday hamburgers and chocolate milk
Thursday sloppy joes and burritos in a bag
Friday was pizza day, the best day of the week
It always came with salad and a side of cold green beans
Hooray for pizza day
Hooray for pizza day
Hooray for pizza day
Hooray for pizza day
I miss pizza day… the best day of the WEEK!


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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

New Riff's Popup "Riff Top" Rooftop:

What do you even say about 2020 at this point? It’s undoubtedly the weirdest year we’ve experienced, ever.

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Mask Game On-Brand

All my races are cancelled or moved to virtual events (though I did manage to barely squeak in a marathon in Little Rock in March), I’m singing karaoke on the balcony with an online app (sorry neighbors), and David’s sporting a very impressive quarantine hairstyle.

We’ve been extra vigilant because David is in the high-risk category as a transplant recipient under immunosuppression — indoor dining and socializing is absolutely out of the question — and we’ve got a nice mask collection in progress.

Our abundant caution means that very few opportunities to get out meet all of our criteria, so when I got a very thoughtful PR pitch (always appreciated as a fellow marketer) about the rooftop situation at New Riff, we discussed it and decided to visit.

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In the interests of multi-tasking, we were overdue for a Party Source trip anyway. Side note: we highly recommend the online ordering and curbside pickup option at the Party Source. It’s quick, easy, and if you don’t see something in the online catalog, a quick call will usually turn it up.

New Riff’s “Riff Top” has a simple, but thoughtful setup. There are no reservations. It’s a first come, first serve, model, with limited and carefully controlled capacity. Plexiglass barriers, social distancing markers and hand sanitizer are plentiful. Names and contact information are taken at the door for potential tracing needs.

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We staked out a spot at the far (far) end of the rooftop, scanned the menu from a QR code on a table tent, and went about ordering some beverages and dips.

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I wanna be ... where the people aren't

We started with New Riff’s version of a tiki classic, the Painkiller, dubbed “Everybody Hurts.” If you don’t like bourbon, this is the cocktail for you. Sweet and fruity, this reminded us of one of our favorite punches to make at parties.

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Remember parties???

I also sampled the Kentucky Mule, which is a fairly potent potable, so recommend letting the ice melt a bit in this one to enjoy fully.

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David also tried the Okey Dokey Artichokey, made with artichoke infused New Riff gin, Cocchi Americano and Cynar artichoke liqueur.  This Negroni-style cocktail was refreshing with a pleasantly heavy bitterness that worked well with the snacks.

Dips are served with a variety of Blue Oven offerings — focaccia, pretzels and chips — all up to the usual high Blue Oven standard. David liked the pimento cheese dip the best, while I preferred the sun dried tomato tapenade. The spinach and artichoke dip was also solid, and the most scoopable with the chips. We also appreciated that everything was dated with the day it was made.

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While we were on the rooftop, staff regularly were making rounds to commonly touched surfaces, disinfecting door handles while keeping their distance from patrons. Everyone wore gloves and masks (the RIGHT way, over their noses) the entire time and were very conscious of giving us plenty of space when bringing us our drinks or taking our orders.

Is this situation normal? No. But then again, this year isn’t either. It’s like a Cards Against Humanity deck version of Jumanji. We sincerely appreciated the chance to get out for the first time in (quite literally) months and the care and attention to detail New Riff has put into keeping guests and staff safe. So place a curbside pickup for some quarantine provisions, mask up, and check out the Riff Top! It will be open Friday and Saturdays through July, and if you like the cocktails you try, they even have larger formats to-go.

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Enjoy some views with your booze