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Travel: A Day in Cincinnati

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My brothers and I gather together whenever one of us turns thirty. For my birthday, we ended up in Cleveland doing a brewery tour. For another, we visited a bourbon distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky (I’m starting to see a theme here). So for our youngest brother’s birthday this year, we spent the day in Cincinnati, mostly in Over-the-Rhine. After breakfast at Taste of Belgium and second breakfast at Holtman’s Donuts, we headed out on the Ultimate Underground tour through American Legacy Tours.

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Our tour guide John led us around the heart of Over-the-Rhine. He was incredibly knowledgeable, having led the tour upwards of 1300 times. He also seemed to know EVERYONE in the neighborhood. He’d shout a hello whenever someone would ride by on a bike, or high-five passersby.

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Over-the-Rhine is fascinating from many perspectives. It’s one of the largest historic districts in the U.S., and is a great example of urban renewal. John discussed the history of the neighborhood and pointed out the stories behind particular buildings. He took us into a few buildings – all of which were locked up from public view – that used to be important restaurants, theatres, and homes. In the building pictured above, he walked us through the structure to the courtyard in the middle, and explained how the neighborhood is being renovated without displacing current residents.

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He took us further north to St. Francis Church, all the way to underground crypts where past parishioners are buried. As the church was renovated over the years, some of the oldest parishioners were reburied in the crypts, and their gravestones used to create the floor.

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One of the key pieces of the tour was one of many buildings that once functioned as a brewery. The upper levels are now apartments, but on the main floor John pointed out the old cork wood ceilings and floors, used as insulation for the brewery’s icehouses.

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And then the piece de resistance of the tour. First John took us down to the basement of the building. And then he took us through this hole jack-hammered in the ground. Apparently the building’s owner knew the old brewery had had underground storage (this is all pre-refridgeration, when underground spaces were necessary for storing and fermenting beer). Once proper refridgeration came along, these storage tunnels were unnecessary, so they were filled in with garbage: dirt, rock, metal, glass, you name it. The building’s current owner found old blueprints, which showed him where to find an access point. So he cracked open the floor and discovered…

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…this. Room after room and tunnel after tunnel. Over the years they’ve dug out some of the tunnels, but many of them still remain closed up.

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The tunnels were previously cooled further by running chilled water through copper pipes that hung along the ceiling. Many of Over-the-Rhine’s previous inhabitants were German, and so they produced a lot of lagers (‘lager’ is German for “to store,” essentially) which need much cooler temperatures than the consistent 58 degrees underground. Here’s a panoramic of the group gathered in one tunnel.

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There’s a creepy and delightful sense of history in these tunnels.

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We finished the tour with a stop at Christian Moerlein brewery, where we discussed the brewing process and the history of brewing in Over-the-Rhine.

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When the tour wrapped up, we hopped a bus down to Great American Ballpark to catch the Reds playing the Pirates. Our seats in the upper deck only cost $7.50 each, plus they were shaded and you couldn’t beat the view. Highlights included seeing a few home runs, watching three quick strikeouts from Aroldis Chapman, fastest pitcher in Major League Baseball, and then finishing off the game with a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning (the Reds won 10-6).

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Post-game we strolled back up to Over-the-Rhine. Initially we were going to get hot dogs at Senate, but with a long wait there, we opted for A Tavola instead. It proved to be a very wise decision. We split two crispy, thin-crusted pizza – both were excellent. First, there was the fig & prosciutto, with fig jam, prosciutto, fontina cheese, and arugula tossed with balsamic vinegar.

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Then there was the sausage and sage, with – you guessed it – sausage, sage, and fontina. (I also enjoyed a pint of Mad Tree Brewing’s Lift, a deliciously sweet kolsch.)

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Our final stop of the day – and one I’ve been waiting to visit for quite some time – was Rhinegeist Brewery. I’ve sampled their beers in Columbus, but seeing their brewery is something else altogether. The entryway is a small door off Elm Street. You feel like you’re climbing a back stairway to nowhere, when suddenly the door opens into a giant warehouse space.

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At one end, under the tall ceilings, is the brewing facility itself.

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Near the brewery itself, in a large alcove, is the bar and rows of tables.

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They’ve got a pretty wide selection of beers.

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I haven’t had a bad beer from Rhinegeist, but I’m partial to their Panther Porter and Saber Tooth Tiger imperial IPA.

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The rest of Rhinegeist’s massive space is open for more tables and rows of corn hole and ping pong tables. I’m sure they’ll fill this in with brewing equipment soon enough, but for now they’re certainly not wasting it.

Rhinegeist was a very fitting end to a great day in Cincinnati. Even just staying in Over-the-Rhine gave us more than enough to do, and a large list of places to try when we next return.

Mrs. Breakfast With Nick: Breakfast Pizza

I have a secret. My favorite breakfast does not include eggs. It does not include toast, or bagels, or even – dare I say it – bacon. My favorite breakfast is, hands-down, cold pizza. And not fancy pizza. In fact, the cheaper the better. It’s not even that I like pizza so much or anything, although I make a mean homemade one: Exhibit A:

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I honestly just want some chilly cheap pizza with my coffee in the morning! But I am Mrs. Breakfast with Nick. It was only a matter of time before I was forced to reconcile my pizza-breakfast ways into an actual Breakfast Pizza. We have had some great ones in the past – Due Amici and Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza, for instance.

I started with my dough (recipe courtesy Dave Scarpetti of WeberCam. Thanks again, Dave!) the night before and made a few naked pizzas. I love doing this when we’re doing a make-your-own night and the oven is at a screaming 475 – we just make extra dough, and par-bake a few with simple olive oil and cracked sea salt. These work great for an easy meal later – breadsticks, steak wedges (do people have these outside of PA?), or a quick and easy pizza later in the week.


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We had a few of the crusts made up already, at room temp, and fired up the oven again to get it to about 400 degrees (no need for higher, the dough is already baked).

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Then, the toppings. I’ll admit, we went a little nuts. (In our defense, a lot of these items were from cooking we had been doing all week as a family, so it was a bit about cleaning-out-the-fridge too.) Spiraling out from the middle: pre-cooked hashbrowns, fresh basil, sautéed onions, marinara, sautéed peppers, browned sausage, cooked bacon, eggs, tomatoes, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, aged mozzarella, and sautéed zucchini. Just note that you will want things mostly cooked – the time the pizza spends in the oven isn’t long enough to cook meat or soften veggies.

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I don’t have many life-changing secrets to applying ingredients, except:

1. Go. Light. On. The. Sauce. I know you want to glob it on – it’s the most fun part. But hold back, because it will get soggy.

2. Don’t put the basil in the oven, wait until it comes out or it will turn black.

3. Finish with cheese. It will hold everything together after you bake and cut it.

I usually start with a little bit of sauce, and then a thin layer of cheese. If I’m using meat, I’ll put that on next (so it doesn’t dry out on the very top), and then veggies followed by another layer of cheese.


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What’s that?  You can’t have breakfast pizza without eggs? I agree!!! But we wanted to know what would work best for cooking them on the pizza – do we crack them right on or fry them before? We tried to crack them and bake them, with mixed results.

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8-10 minutes was just about the right time for the toppings to be heated all through and the cheese melty, but it took about 12 minutes to cook them through with semi-soft yolks, but the other toppings got a bit too crispy. (Delicious, but crispy.)

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Then, we tried frying the eggs perfectly sunny-side up, and putting them on top – it was exactly what they needed.  The yolks were deliciously runny with perfectly cooked whites.

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These pizzas were a great way to feed a crowd at breakfast, and do it quickly. It was a lot of fun, perfect for kids to get involved, and the prep ahead of time was well worth it.

Pizza Dough

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, and place your flat pizza stone in the oven to heat.

300g water

36g olive oil

20g honey

250g flour

10g salt

10g yeast

Stir ingredients together until combined and leave in plastic bowl covered with a damp cloth or saran wrap – wait for about an hour or so until the dough doubles in size. (OR put all ingredients into a bread machine on the “dough” setting.) Dump out onto a floured surface, punch down, divide into two balls and round dough by folding it underneath itself. Let it rest for 5 minutes, and squash dough into a 6″ disk. Cover it with a bowl or a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Roll out the disc to about a 14″ circle (depending on your chosen thickness), place on a floured wooden pizza peal and cover each while they rest for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the dough with olive oil, cracked sea salt and transfer the pizza to the oven using the peal. Par-bake the crust for 6-8 minutes. (At this point, you can bag or cover the par-baked crusts to save for future pizzas. They freeze well when fully sealed. Treat them as you would any bread on the counter.

Pull out of the oven, add the toppings however you’d like, return to oven for another 5-6 minutes. Enjoy!

Clever Crow Pizza | Columbus, OH


[UPDATE: Clever Crow Pizza is now closed.]

Clever Crow Pizza (Facebook / @clevercrowpizza)
59 Spruce St. (in the North Market)
Columbus, OH 43215
Open Tues-Fri, 9 am – 7 pm; Sat, 8 am – 5 pm; Sun, 12-5 pm (bfast served Saturdays from 8 – 10:30 am)
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS & ATMOSPHERE: Pizza on a breakfast blog? Why, yes, I believe I will. Clever Crow Pizza has rapidly become one of the favorite pizzas around Columbus. Despite their original location inside the Circus bar in Short North, they’ve garnered enough attention to be featured in Anthony Bourdain’s and Michael Ruhlman’s now-notorious visit to Columbus for No Reservations. (For a full discussion of Columbus’ reaction to his visit, see here.)

Just recently Clever Crow upped its profile by opening a space in North Market, too. Anyone who knows North Market knows that it’s a fantastic incubator for small businesses, so I hope that even greater things will come to owners Gary and Brooke Robinette.

FOOD: This past Saturday, Clever Crow offered up breakfast pizzas for the first time, so I hopped in the van and headed down to a fairly quiet North Market.

Brooke says that the breakfast pizzas will become a standard for Saturdays, and maybe for Sundays, too. They offer two types. The Traditional Pizza features your bacon, eggs, cheese, and potatoes. The Vegetarian drops the bacon and adds onion and goat cheese.

Both slices are served on a bed of arugula, with a dash of (I think) a vinaigrette dressing.

This is the Traditional. In some ways, it was surprising, in some ways, not. Clever Crow’s crust one of their benchmarks – a unique cornbread and sourdough mix – and they handled the breakfast ingredients well. I’ve seen some breakfast pizzas that overload the toppings, resulting in a chunky mess that falls apart, but not so here. The bacon was the right crispiness, the eggs hard boiled and sliced thin (including the yolk), and the potatoes were sliced the right size, too. So in most ways: it was exactly what you would expect a breakfast pizza to taste like. The arugula helps add a special tang of flavor. Overall, not bad, but not as surprising as some of Clever Crow’s other offerings.

Same with the Vegetarian (on the left). Ingredients handled well, good flavors, excellent crust, but about exactly how you would think a vegetarian breakfast pizza would taste.

SERVICE: I chatted only briefly with Brooke, but both she and Gary seem to be doing well with their venture, and they clearly deserve the success. You can read more about their story on their official merchant page of the North Market website.

OVERALL: Great pizza, interesting take on breakfast. I wouldn’t necessarily rush back every Saturday morning for it, because it’s not quite as uniquely awesome as their other pizzas. But I’m excited to see where this will go, and it’s always nice to have another breakfast option in North Market.

OTHER LINKS:
-> Clever Crow’s appearance on No Reservations
-> page for the “Heartland” episode of No Reservations

Clever Crow Pizza on Urbanspoon

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