Where do I find you on this nippy fall morning? Sweating out that second helping of pumpkin pie in the gym? In a line at the mall, wrapping up Black Friday shopping? Setting up your Christmas tree?
Well, regardless of where you are, I wanted to stop by to tell you that you officially have permission to let the Christmas season BEGIN! Unravel the lights, swap out the Bath & Body Works 3-Wick Candles to Fresh Balsam (we’re in Columbus, I have to plug B&BW!) and start the Harry Potter movie marathon (OK, maybe that’s just me…!). Every year, Christmas creeps up on me. I’m a creature of habit and tradition. Perhaps you’re realizing some of what happens in my world on the Friday after Thanksgiving – Tree – check. Decorations – check. Christmas music – check. Harry Potter Marathon commences – check. But you know what the best part about Christmas is? Discovering new traditions. Last year, I stumbled across something spectacular.
My gift to you on this 1st day of the Christmas season is letting you in on my little holiday secret – the Ohio Amish Country Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns!
I received my packet in the mail this week and it was my first sign that Christmas is just around the corner. If you’ve never been, YOU NEED TO GO. Grab a girlfriend, your SIG-O, your mother-in-law (my case), anyone and put it on your calendar. This event is fun for the whole family and is a beautiful take on Christmas in Ohio. The self-paced, self-guided tour stops at 12 inns in Ohio Amish Country (Holmes County). Each inn is DECKED OUT in Christmas decor and you can collect (don’t plan to eat them all, you’ll never make it, I tried and failed) a cookie at each stop. The cookies are homemade by each inn. AND. If you love them and want them again, you can get them! The tour includes a booklet with all of the recipes! One of my favorite parts of last year’s experience was that not only did properties decorate the public space, many of them swapped out the furnishing and decor in guestrooms to transform them into holiday wonderlands as well. I wish I still had a picture, but I remember one of the properties made these fantastic “skirts” for wire-framed mannequins out of Christmas trees – it was super cute! My description is not doing their creativity justice – you’ll have to go check them out for yourself!
For checking out my blog – you can receive a special discount! Call the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce at (330) 674-3975 to order your tickets and receive $2.00 of each ticket! Just mention you read about it on InnLove!
Sometimes we take for granted what our own backyard has to offer. That’s part of why Staycations have become so popular! In last week’s post, you learned I’ve had a lot of backyards, but this week, we focus on three in our semi-regular “Pit Stops” edition. Someone said to me this week, “you get around!” I used to take that as an insult, but now I know it means my blog gets around! You might be shocked where I’ve pulled out my laptop to write to you from, or where others have. Just wait until you see where Christi was this week!
But until then, let’s check out some of the neat things going on around Columbus & Greater Cincinnati. I visited all three of these places in the past week. We’ve got a little of the new, a little of the old and a whole lot of Buckeye. That’s right, I said it…
The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center – Columbus, OH
“Halle, is that The Shoe? How’d you get that view?!” you might ask. That’s a Stadium View Suite at The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center! The Blackwell Hotel is located in the heart of campus. As a member of the Preferred Hotel Group family, I was familiar with The Blackwell because of my time at a Preferred sister property, The Cincinnatian, but I hadn’t spent much time there until I moved to Columbus. The Blackwell is very popular for meetings. The Pfahl Conference Center is beautifully appointed and very well laid out for us
meeting planners. And to top it off, the food here is inventive and delicious. When you’re a meeting attendee, the grand staircase and open lobby floorplan really makes for an impressive entrance if using the hotel meeting space. If you’re in the neighboring Pfahl Conference Center, you’ll notice scarlet & gray touches throughout the hallways. The Blackwell has been gracious enough to host me twice in the past few months for different events.
Every time the food was something to remember and the service was impeccable. These factors aren’t a surprise though, Preferred Hotel Group sets a high standard. The Blackwell is an independent hotel, but by being a part of Preferred Hotel Group, they have some backing and support for marketing and sales efforts.
Although I’ve visited as a meeting attendee a number of times, until this week, I haven’t had a chance to see the sleeping rooms. The good news is, when you’re an independent property, you can make some fun additions to your room package. You’re in the heart of OSU’s campus, why wouldn’t you want the ‘O’ to guide you at night? I’m told the hotel will undergo a major room renovation in upcoming years, but in the meantime you can rest assured a visit of luxury and style.
If they’re in your backyard too and you haven’t had a chance to visit, consider stopping by for lunch at The Bistro 2110!
The Westin Columbus – Columbus, OH
Oh, my. Hopefully you’re quick to realize that I love food and historic hotels. You could ask me to spend a week at The Westin Columbus wandering around and I’d be a happy girl. To be honest, I don’t get there enough. I was jumping up and down, clapping in my office when I realized I had the chance to
visit The Westin this past week for a luncheon. Why? THAT BALLROOM. What a dream, to get married in The Westin Ballroom. Sadly, that dream has passed for me (my band and guest list were too big!), so I take every opportunity to visit it. In the spirit of all things delicious, we find ourselves at yet another
culinary experience. You will never receive “banquet chicken” at The Westin. Our table was seasonally dressed to impress and the menu followed accordingly. After our luncheon was over I asked for a quick room tour. Luckily, I was led into a complete surprise. I stayed at the Westin well over 5 years ago, so what I thought I was about to see was completely wrong. The Westin recently began the process of transforming, and I mean transforming, the sleeping room package. When you have an historic hotel, trust me, I’ve worked in two, it can be very difficult to do a remodel. How do you move modern without upsetting the historic charm enthusiasts? They nailed it. Picture this. You walk into one of the oldest hotels in the state. From the outside, you aren’t sure what to expect. It’s simple and timeless building that leaves much to the imagination. All I can assume is that what stands on the other side of the doors is dignified. But is it old, or is it new? The lobby, a three story marble room with arching reception area and a chandelier the size of Texas, greets you. The staff is waiting to assist you at every turn. There are hints of contemporary – a living wall, modern artwork. You ascend the elevator. The doors open. The carpet is new. Brand spankin’… This could be a ploy. You open your door and BAM! Never would have expected it. Somehow, the team at The Westin has managed to pull off a feat. Incorporating modern luxury into a (nearly!) 120 year old frame. Just look at it!
But seriously, if you haven’t been to The Westin Columbus recently, stop by and check it out!
Hotel Covington – Covington, KY
Yep, I get around! I’ve been waiting for a chance to check out the new HotelCovington.
If you didn’t know, this little gem is located just across the river from downtown Cincinnati. The Hotel is still finishing up construction, but I needed to see the public space. I’ve read so many articles about it!
The building itself was originally the home of John Coppin’s department store. Located on Madison Ave, it was in the heart of it all. The style of the hotel mimics the
buildings history- dripping in lux modern and fashion whimsy, the lobby is
breathtaking. Virtually the entire first floor is enclosed in windows. When you walk inside, you feel like your part of the display case. The stylish lounge chairs and banquets are lined with fur blankets and sparkling pillows. The bar sits in the middle of the lobby, tempting you for an afternoon drink. Although I was visiting on a Tuesday afternoon, I would bet this place draws the locals and the visitors to the lobby bar nightly. Stopping by for a drink or listening to some live acoustic, you will be transported to another time and another place. I cannot wait to go back to stay!
And with that, I leave you with some hot spots in my backyard. What’s in yours?
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
OK, you probably already knew that. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what my favorite restaurant of all time is. I panicked. I actually broke a sweat and I’m pretty sure my heart started racing. What a question! My favorite restaurant? Of ALL TIME? Like, I only get to choose one? Yikes. So this got me thinking. Fortunately, I’ve been to a lot of restaurants in a lot of places. Why not post about it? After all, an excellent dining experience is like an adventure… for your mouth!
So let’s get started. I did have to give my friend an answer, so I’ll give you one too. But, I do live in Ohio, and since I frequent the cities here the most, I’ll also tell you my favorite places in the Three C’s. If you’ve been there too, let me know. Have another place I should try? Share away!!
My first home – Cleveland (sort of… you get the picture)
This is a new favorite of mine and I’ve only been twice. We’ve all heard of it, or at least the mastermind behind it. Lola (Michael Symon’s restaurant!). It’s located in the East 4th Street entertainment district. First of all, if you haven’t been there, shame on you. Cleveland has done wonders to transform its social scene over the past few years and this area is the heart of it all. Lola is located on a small section of a pedestrian only street. This is fine dining, folks. They welcome you in your game attire, but let’s not make a habit of it. The service is impeccable and the food, top notch. The first time I visited Lola I was by myself. I took some study materials as I was teaching a class the following weekend. NOT RECOMMENDED. It’s hard to concentrate with good wine and low lighting. Luckily, my food was out in minutes and it was phenomenal. A sweet corn gnocchi. ‘Nuff said. The second time we visited, the item that stood out the most were the pierogies on the appetizer menu. I married a Pole, so I am required to like pierogies, but these were delicious. Better than any pierogi I’ve ever had – stuffed with beef cheek and mushrooms. YOWZA.
My second home – Cincinnati
Cincinnati has one of the best culinary scenes in the state. My guess is, this is the work of the chefs that led the iconic Maisonette – for the longest time, North America’s highest rated restaurant in our very own state of Ohio. One of its last chef’s Jean Robert de Cheval is still in Cincinnati, perfecting his skills as the owner of The Table. Since, many other great chefs have hit the ground running in Cincinnati and I was fortunate enough to indulge in their epicurean masterpieces for 7 years. Since its fall in 2005, the Maisonette building has at least been resurrected and thank God, not by apartments or a law firm or something boring like that, but a fabulous restaurant that also ranks high on my list of favorites – Boca. The atmosphere is one of my favorites of all time. You just have to go, people. I can’t tell you anything more.
A number of Cincinnati’s chefs have won awards, been on TV and more. But one chef in particular stands out in my mind – Jose Salazar. Everything he creates is amazing. He opened his namesake restaurant, Salazar, almost three years ago. It is still, by far, my top pick when returning to the Queen City. Jose was nominated and a semifinalist for the 2016 James Beard Award. The restaurant is small and bustling. Most nights, good luck getting a table. The menu is always changing and I could choose
something blindfolded and not be disappointed. Jose recently opened a second restaurant a few blocks south, Mita’s, named after his grandmother. This restaurant has distinct Latin flair, but one thing you
can expect no matter which of his restaurants you choose – the food will be amazing, the drinks all handcrafted and beautiful, the service will be impeccable and he will be there, expediting in the kitchen. I swear the man lives at his restaurants, but it’s that love that shines through in everything he does. If you haven’t been to either of these places, add them to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.
My home – Columbus
This is a tough one. And I’m a tough critic. As you can probably tell, I have high food and service standards. I also do not believe in not taking reservations. No place that doesn’t take reservations is so good it’s worth an hour or month long wait. Sorry. There are too many excellent restaurants I’d rather go to that respect my time. In Columbus, this happens more than it should. Luckily, I have some favorites lined up for you (all take reservations!) and one in particular that you probably haven’t been to before! Because, heaven forbid, it isn’t in one of the Columbus entertainment districts.
Columbus is different than Cincinnati in that it has a lot of GREAT, bistro type restaurants. Restaurants that specialize in one thing or another. Cincinnati on the other hand, has a handful of excellent, hands down best freaking restaurant, fine dining experiences you’ll find. Good news! I can afford more of the quick stops in Columbus. Some of our standbys are Marcella’s (or anything Cameron Mitchell, really), Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (the brunch… oh, my…) and Hubbard Grille (Gorgonzola & Walnut Gnocchi – every. time.). We also love to brunch, so if you serve breakfast too… and before 11AM? SOLD.
This leads me to my favorite restaurant, situated on a busy little corner in Powell, OH – Kraft House No. 5 (KH5). KH5 was an accidental discovery. See, there’s this winery. It stole my heart. We go there A LOT. I don’t even drink that much, people, but set me up with a bottle of Jeff & Gina’s wine at Powell Village
Winery and I’m set… for life. (The picture below is one for the history books. Who thought we could sit on the patio — without a fire and a coat — the last weekend in October?!) If you’re going to try KH5, you need to make this part of your trip. Great news, Powell is small. Park your car at one place or the other and you can easily walk between the two. Anyway, we’re here for food. KH5 has so many good things, it’s hard to pick out what to discuss. Here’s what you have to try: KH5 Burger, Muscles & Fries, and
seasonally, if they have it, this quinoa, lima bean salad thing on the menu with skirt steak. MUST TRY. One of my favorite dishes at KH5 comes after the savory. There is this dessert, that is mind blowing – their S’mores Creme Brulee. It’s seasonal. But when it’s there, they’re in trouble. It goes so fast. We actually went there once (for my birthday, of course) and it was gone. Ask when you get there if they have it and make that server hold it for you!!! OK, so I mentioned brunch. it’s important. TJ and his man friends swear by KH5 brunch. Not only do they serve excellent craft beer, but look at the Chicken & Waffles! If you plan it right, you might catch them on a Distillery Tasting morning. Gin and Breakfast?
OK, OK. At this point if you haven’t already abandoned this post to find something to eat then you’re probably thinking, “And none of these are your all time favorite?” You’re right. They’re not.
How does a girl choose her all time favorite restaurant? Is it somewhere I frequent? Somewhere where I can always name my favorite entree or dessert? No. For me, it was somewhere that I always tell people to go. I’ve actually only been there twice. My first experience was so impactful that when I think about my first visit, it makes me smile. Does this restaurant know how it makes me feel? Probably not. Could it be skewed because of the time in my life that I found it? Maybe. But either way, I know if you go, it’ll make you happy too, or at least your belly.
There! I said it! That’s it. Kind of a funny name, right? Or at least its nickname is. Guys. This place is magical. If you’ve ever traveled by yourself, you know what it’s like to eat alone. Sometimes it’s hard. A restaurant quickly moves to the top of my list when they cater to solo diners. So here’s the story –
I lived in Charleston, SC for 4 months. I was still in college and I was on the last week of an internship. My roommate had left a month ago. I was so homesick. I wanted to go home so bad. Don’t get me wrong, Charleston is my favorite city in the US, it wasn’t Charleston’s fault. I missed my family, friends, my boyfriend. I decided I would treat myself that last week to what our hotel told people was one of the best low country dining experiences you could find.
I had a reservation, so they knew I was a loner, but I always find it hard to admit “it’s just me” when at a restaurant. This is the moment of truth, folks. Where do they seat you? It’s the make or break of the experience. The hostess smiled at me and said, “would you like a regular table or would you like to sit at the community table overlooking the kitchen?” WHAT?! You mean, I get to watch the crew without paying for a chef’s table? You’re rewarding me for being alone?! (Well, that’s probably not what she was thinking, but whatever). I almost squealed at the opportunity.
This table overlooks the kitchen and had neat little stacks of books about Charleston. I flipped through
some of them, but was immediately interrupted by a member of the kitchen staff who wanted to see how my evening was going.
This was at least 6 years ago, so I do not remember what I ate. I know, I wish I had a memory that good. But, I’m in the service industry, and that is what stood out to me the most. It’s why it’s my favorite restaurant. They took better care of a solo, not-yet-of-age diner with a very low bill than they would a royal family. It meant so much to me. Over the course of my dinner, multiple members of the kitchen staff stopped by to talk to me. I left and quickly returned on my next trip to Charleston one year later with my friend, Sam (the same one that asked what my favorite restaurant is!). This time, I know exactly what I had. My favorite was a Pork Belly appetizer that was the perfect balance of sweet and salty. The wine was exceptional. Needless to say, the service paid off, and this time, my tab wasn’t so low!
If you’re ever in the low country, make a stop at S.N.O.B. I hope that it gives you the same feeling it gave me.
And with that – I hope you can discover some great epicurean adventures and share them with me!
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
My first opportunity to guest-blog for Halle’s InnLove adventures coincided with a trip to Cleveland for an all-to-rare event for those of us born and raised in Northeast Ohio – the Indians’ first World Series appearance since 1997. Having the opportunity to host some life-long friends to the games and to
showcase the city’s amazing hotel properties (some of the best in the world), I showed my friends many of our member locations, but arranged for us to stay at the spectacular new Hilton Cleveland Downtown.
This stunning property opened this summer and became an instant icon of the New Cleveland. Adjacent to the Cleveland Convention Center, its 600 guest rooms have greatly enhanced the strong hotel package in one of America’s major cities.
Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by some of the most genuinely helpful and friendly valet staff we’ve ever met. Even with
many high-profile guests staying for the final two games of the series, they treated us with every bit as much care and attention. The tone that
this can set for one’s experience can’t be underestimated.
The space within the hotel is nothing short of spectacular. The design, quality of materials, and attention to detail are world-class. The truly comfortable, varied and ample public spaces for meeting, lounging, working, or just taking it all in are among the best all of us had ever experienced.
This level of quality and enjoyment continues into the hotel’s guest floors and rooms. From the custom map-themed carpeting, to the use of bold graphics in the rooms highlighting the local flavor of this great city, one truly has a sense of locale. Ours featured a mural of one of the 43-foot tall “Guardians of Transportation” on the historic Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.
The crown jewel of the hotel may be its 32nd floor open-air bar, with some of the most breathtaking views in town. It is the perfect spot to kick off your Cleveland experience, or to wind down while enjoying the sparkling city below.
One of the beautiful things about Cleveland’s resurgence is the walkability of the city. Just steps away from the hotel, Public Square offers wonderful green space and an unexpected contrast to the hustle and bustle of the urban center.
Our visit was all about the chance to root for the home team. A few short minutes of pleasant walking from the hotel, we arrived at Progressive Field. No need to worry about parking, car fare or other transportation. I highly recommend the Hilton and all of Cleveland’s downtown hotel properties to those interested in experiencing not only Cleveland’s sporting events, but also theater, arts, the casino and more.
In the end, we weren’t able to bring home a win on the baseball field. But the real magic of events like this is the chance to spend time with friends that we may not see as much as we would like, but who we know are always there for us, and will always be part of who we are. Providing a special experience for those who visit and giving them memories to last a lifetime makes Cleveland and its hospitality community true winners.
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck