Grandpa’s Cheese Barn

If you have spend any amount of time driving Interstate 71 between Columbus and Cleveland, you undoubtedly have seen the big white barn near Ashland emblazoned “Cheesebarn.” Sure, there are a few different kinds of cheese places in northern Ohio, where many local cheeses are made. But this one is likable because it has a series of businesses all tied into one. Sample some of the many cheeses, pickles, sauces and dips that are made at this place, and you’ll find an engaging experience and a great place to try.

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B Spot Burgers

Chef Michael Symon has been credited with leading the revival of Cleveland’s food scene, and his much loved concepts have made waves all over the country. As his concepts continue to capture national fame, they’ve been creeping into other cities, among them the very popular B Spot Burgers. This restaurant chain, now with locations in Cleveland and Detroit, brings Chef Symon’s mastery to a very American dish: the burger. Something as common (and inexpensive) as a burger…from a world class chef. Yes, this is absolutely worth a visit.

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Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Evan Williams is a brand of bourbon you’d recognize throughout the Midwest, and the longstanding distillery has a retail spot and tasting room in downtown Louisville’s legendary Whiskey Row. This spot is renowned as the first stop on Kentucky’s beloved Bourbon Trail, and the tasting room offers a chance for a tour of the history of the company and the city where it resides, as well as a chance to taste the many varieties of bourbon that you can try today from the distillery Evan Williams first founded in 1783. Bourbon is a proud Kentucky product, and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a must if you want to really understand what the famous spirit means to the identity of the Bluegrass State.

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Dark Horse Tavern

Dark Horse Tavern is a bar and barbecue joint just off the highway in Miamisburg, south of Dayton, one that can still be easy to miss unless you know where to look for it. While the exterior is simple and the interior a dark, close-in and very classic feeling bar, the food shows the extra effort that really kicks the Dark Horse up a notch with its food. It’s a great option for Midwest-style barbecue and some good music for the Gem City.

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Keystone Bar & Grill

The Keystone Bar is a small chain in the Cincinnati area, currently with three locations. All of the locations have a very sophisticated-feeling interior, low-lit with fancy woodwork, and all-in-all it might look like an upscale bar when you first walk in. Not to be trite, the Keystone has a very cool twist: They specialize in mac and cheese. Yes, this is a bar you go to to enjoy a few beers and watch a game like so many other corners of the Queen City, but if you’re here, you’d better have a craving for some seriously hearty pasta and cheese concoctions.

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Center Point BBQ

Center Point BBQ has been in the business of providing seriously good food to Nashville since 1965. Though it looks humble from the outside, there’s no mistaking the laurels adorning the pit barbecue joint’s walls; hundreds of autographed photos proudly display just who Center Point has made into believers; from country stars like Taylor Swift to George H. W. Bush and his son, to the 2009 Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders. The aroma of freshly smoked hickory wood wafts through the parking lot, a testament to the flavors being created within the red bricks.

But then, Tennessee Barbecue is serious business.

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Walt’s Homemade Salsa

The more I write about food, the more I realize just how many local food businesses there are around the area that I never find out about. A lot of great people sell great foods in places you’d easily miss; corner shops, street fairs, or just online. Without a supermarket to make things easy, how else would you know where to look?

Such is the conundrum that strikes me when I taste Walt’s Homemade Salsa. Founders Walt and Cassie Major are everyday Miamisburg residents whose love of salsa prompted them to make their own. And it is good.

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Ben’s Sweet & Hot Mustard

The people at Ben’s were pretty humble when I stopped by their booth at the Troy Strawberry Festival, but that website has everything you need to learn about this product. They sell only two things and are damn proud of it. The joy of street festivals for me is that little places like Ben’s get to show off their products, and you really do get a taste for what you’ve been missing. Too many people pass these places by without recognizing them, and in this case it’s a real shame to miss. Sauces like these are what make food interesting.

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City Barbecue

One motto on City Barbecue’s website really embodies what this business is all about: “Other restaurants serve barbecue, we’re a barbecue restaurant.”

Since its inception in 1999, this Dublin-based chain of 20 restaurants has exploded all over the state and into neighboring Indiana. City Barbecue really goes for a classic community smokehouse feel; exposed skeletal walls filled with paraphernalia of local high school sports, dominated by an oversized counter where the line of hungry customers watch as red meat is slathered with sweet Midwestern Barbecue sauce. It’s a shame that few barbecue chains tend to do well, but City Barbecue seems to be bucking the trend, and deservedly so.

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Montgomery Inn

Cincinnati has many restaurant institutions. Invariably, most people know about the most prominent of them, Greater’s Ice Cream and Skyline Chili have so many locations around this part of the state, they’re the easiest to remember for sheer muscle memory. There are other, smaller institutions which nonetheless hold huge influence. Since 1951, Montgomery Inn has been one of them. The inn itself sits in the eastern suburbs of the city, and now it operates a pair of branch locations and a very notorious boathouse, which according to its site is the most popular restaurant in Cincinnati. 800,000 customers a year can’t go wrong.

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