Traveling on your stomach

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Over the past year, my wife Debbie and I have been traveling around Ohio … eating.

Our favorite type of vacation is not an ocean cruise or a long flight to a big-shot tourist spot. Our favorite thing to do is to hop in the car and head out on a driving vacation. We don’t always know where we’re going or when we’ll be home, but one thing is constant – we eat well while we travel.

Often, we will settle in for a nice big breakfast and our conversation will drift to where we might be and what we might want to eat for dinner that evening.

Napoleon would be proud of us. It has been widely reported that Napoleon Bonaparte was the first military leader to say, “An army marches on its stomach.” Well, I’m not sure about Napoleon, but that quote sure applies to Randy and Debbie Riley.

When we drove through New England, we enjoyed lobster and crab cakes wherever we stopped. Debbie wasn’t wild about the whole Maine lobster experience, but I couldn’t get enough. Drawn butter, corn-on-the-cob and shell-cracking tools for getting to the lobster meat were all I needed for a smile and a happy tummy.

A few years earlier, we hopped in the car and headed west. Around Tombstone, I discovered good-old cowboy food — anything that might have been eaten by Wyatt, Doc or any of the Earp brothers.

Last year, Debbie saw an article entitled, “19 Place in Ohio Where You Must Eat Before You Die.” Well, obviously, we were intrigued.

The next thing Debbie knew, I had all 19 places mapped out and a graph designed to chart our visit to all 19 places.

Our first stop was at Kewpee’s Hamburgers in Lima. It is advertised as a vintage 1930s diner, specializing in burgers, fries and other grub. Our grand adventure almost stopped in that little, Kewpee doll-filled diner.

The service was lousy. The food was no better than any fast-food burger available anywhere. The men’s restroom was outside, around back. The tiny, narrow door, with a nearly invisible men’s room emblem was nestled between a nasty exterior wall and an even nastier overflowing dumpster.

On our two-hour drive home from Tipp City, we reconsidered our options. We finally decided, “One out of nineteen isn’t that bad. Let keep trying.”

I am so glad we did. In the past several months, we have found some delightful places to eat. Our list has grown from 19 to over 40.

I ate the best steak I ever tasted in Portsmouth at the Scioto Ribber; the best warm potato salad at Tony Packo’s in Toledo; the best bologna sandwich ever made at the G&R Tavern in Waldo.

We drove to Gallipolis for lunch at a small Italian place named Tuscani Cuccini. Wow. The restaurant was in an old 1950s-style, converted Pizza Hut building, but the food was absolutely Italian and wonderful.

We even found a restaurant that didn’t make the original list of 19, but they had a simple sign outside their establishment that stated, “The Best Food in the World.”

Surprisingly, that store was right here in Wilmington at the Xenia Market on Xenia Avenue.

They specialized in Indian food. We couldn’t eat in their shop, so we ordered Indian food to go. We had friends over for dinner that night. They agreed with us – it was very good, but the best in the world? Probably not, but it was very good. We enjoyed feasting on original, homemade Indian food.

Unfortunately, the Xenia Market is no longer selling food.

However, there are still several great places to eat in Clinton County. Looking for great steak and seafood? Try the Spillway. Looking for a burger that is nothing like anything you would get from a fast food outlet? Try the Rod Burger at Rod’s Capricorn Inn. The plate-sized pile of fries will be completely covered by one of the biggest burger patties you’ll ever see.

Want a deli sandwich? Stop in at Jen’s Deli. If you feel daring, order the Hot Mayor with bacon on whole wheat toast.

That’s right. it was named after me during my term as mayor. I love to order one and wait until Rocky shouts out, “I’ve got a Hot Mayor!” I always respond, “Yes, you do.” All the patrons at Jen’s get a nice, little snicker out of that exchange.

We have great places to eat right here in Clinton County and Wilmington – the General Denver, the Mediterranean, Fiesta Vera Cruz and El Dorado. If you want a great breakfast at an outstanding price, try Sams’ on the west side of town — eggs, toast, bacon and coffee for less than $5. I doubt if any place in Ohio can match their quality and price.

We’re still going to drive the highways and byways of Ohio looking for great food, but we’re also going to enjoy some great food right here at home.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist