Midwest Meals

If you wait breathlessly for each annual Bob and Ellen’s Best Eats Awards, you might want to close your eyes for the next sentence. You’re bound to see some of the food we ate along America’s “North Coast” on this year’s Best Eats list.

When you’re in this part of Ohio — in this part of the US, actually — there are a couple of things you really should try.

At the top of the list: lake perch. Yellow perch. Find the freshest you can. Then tell me if you don’t like it even better than ocean perch (if you do, I won’t believe you). You’ll find it more places than you once did because the lake is thriving again with fish, having recovered after many years of illness and abuse. Do watch your intake; check to see what the recommended amounts are.

The only thing better than lake perch is to have it served with soft-shelled crabs. We found this surprising combination at DeMore’s Offshore Bar and Grill in Sandusky, Ohio. Add some locally grown, fresh asparagus from the grill and MMMMMM!

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Terry DeMore, original owner, came around to shake hands and reminisce with Bob; they go way back. Terry entertained us with stories from his boxing days — fighting and sparring with boxers even I’ve heard of. He coats the perch every morning, years after having sold his restaurant to his daughter. We did find that the earlier we ate, the better it was (unusual for us to eat at the regular lunch time, but when we stopped in once around 4 p.m., the food wasn’t as good…. different cooks, we think).

Another must-visit restaurant for us was Phil’s in Port Clinton. Phil’s is a local institution serving pasta — and we weren’t disappointed. After many years away, the servers remembered Bob, and we remembered the delicious sauce — a hint of sweetness, maybe?

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If we had an award for nicest floor in a bathroom, Phil’s would get it, hands down. I don’t usually take photos in ladies’ restrooms, but I couldn’t resist snapping this pic of the floor in Phil’s:

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Some of our favorite spots were gone. The Garden in Port Clinton is not even a restaurant, and the Angry Trout in Bay View is an empty lot. We bid a sad farewell to the awesome planked trout they used to serve there.

One of our favorite spots to cruise to on the Harley back when we lived in Ohio was Miller’s Drive-in out in the middle of almost nowhere. It was a little ice cream stand with the best chili hot dogs we could find. Miller’s is now a sit-down restaurant and the food just doesn’t have the same flavor. Maybe it’s the atmosphere… maybe a difference in who’s in the kitchen… or it could be our tastes have just changed over the years.

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I did appreciate their corn chowder, which you don’t find many places, and seemed especially good in corn country.

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Before we found the key lime pie at Dolphin Den in Avon, North Carolina, (yes, that part of my novel, “Pea Body” is true — awesome pie!) the best key lime pie we’d found was at the Crow’s Nest in Catawba Island.

So we ventured out onto Catawba to hunt down that pie. It was a beautiful June day, and we settled into one of their fun swinging tables. Okay, it didn’t really swing, but it did sway….

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And that was a good thing, since we found out the chef with the key lime pie recipe was long gone, and he’d taken his recipe with him. Oh, well. At least they had Lobster Mac and Cheese on the menu (okay… that’s not exactly an OHIO seafood, but it was impossible to resist):

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We made up for the non-Ohio entrees (we also tried their pizza) by ordering the Sauerkraut Balls as an appetizer. Yep, roll up your kraut, drop it in the deep fryer, dip it in some red sauce, and you’re in kraut ball heaven. Maybe that’s going a bit far. I’d put kraut balls in the same bucket as fried pickles, something else we found on the menu: something to try once so you can say you did. Other than that… nothing special.

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Roller coaster fans know Sandusky, Ohio, as the hometown of Cedar Point Amusement Park, where they can ride more roller coasters in a day than anywhere else. Of course, on a busy day, you’re lucky to get into all those lines before closing time because the wait is so long, but that’s another story. What’s important in this post is food.

Those of us who grew up going to Cedar Point at least once in the summer and maybe (as I did) working there to earn money for college know it as the place for Berardi’s french fries. They came in a paper cup and the treat wasn’t complete unless you squirted them silly with malt vinegar and globbed them with ketchup. I don’t know if you can still get Berardi’s fries at Cedar Point, but you can definitely get them at either of their two restaurants. We opted for their Huron location (rather than Sandusky) and decided a balanced meal consisted of their famous french fries as a side to their spinach salad, which was excellent.

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We found out too late we should have ordered them crispy, which isn’t the way they normally are served — another surprise. Our memories aren’t what they used to be. So unless you like your fries soggy (even before malt vinegar and ketchup), ask the server how to order them, or they’ll be limpy, limpy, limpy.

Of course we had to try a few new places. TripAdvisor has been a great help in narrowing down choices. We’ve discovered that coffee shops, in many towns, have become excellent cafe choices. This held true in Port Clinton, where we hunted down Coffee Express. Their coffee was good, but their quiche was out of this world. Many great choices made picking one hard, but I can’t imagine any of them being better than the one we had, with spinach, tomato, basil and feta. They served it hot — many places serve quiche slightly warmer than room temperature — so this was another reason we hoped to get back (unfortunately, they were closed the next time we were in the neighborhood).

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You didn’t think we forgot about dessert, did you? Tofts. Tofts Ice Cream Parlor. The original spot in Sandusky closed years and years ago, and you can go to a Tofts in Fremont, but by far the best place to get Tofts ice cream is right where they make it. I tried counting the number of flavors you can choose from — probably thirty or forty (not kidding), then sit outside at a picnic table or inside at one of the old-style wooden school chairs with the little desk on one side. All lined up against one wall, you can lick your ice cream while watching everybody else go through what you just went through: standing eagerly in line, trying to choose… changing your mind… maybe trying a sample, ordering… and then wondering if you should have gotten that one instead… or that one…. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo…. I was just too distracted with the whole ice cream ordering ordeal to remember to take a photo.) If you’re in Sandusky, you MUST stop at Tofts.

Then ride your bike or walk the beaches to will those calories away. If you do, reward yourself by going back 🙂

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About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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