Location: Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky
Recipe: Me Cook? We’re Going Out to Eat!
“Gawd, these taste like farts!” Jona chortled, as she bit down on a handful of smoked pork rinds and handed the plastic bag to me.
We were driving through Northern Kentucky, the trees on the nearby hills turning mustard and vermillion against a greying fall sky.
Jona had stopped at a gas station to grab me a taste of local food.
It was a Saturday night, and I’d just completed the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which meant I’d spent the last 24 hours not eating a damn thing. Little did I know then, when I agreed to couchsurf with Jona in Covington, Kentucky on the border of Cincinnati, Ohio, that I’d be staying deep in the belly of pork country; Cincinnati’s moniker I’d later discover being Porkopolis.
But it was too late to feel guilty about committing a sin within hours of closing out the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, because we were already speeding away from the gas station and down a dark, deserted highway to The Log Cabin Inn.
The restaurant, a former lodgers hotel during the civil war, had been uprooted a few years back and moved to this off-ramp. Jona confidently scanned the menu, laughed heartily, and ordered us a dinner that included goetta (fried pork sausage and pin oak),
hot slaw (green cabbage mixed with vinegar, sugar, bacon grease, and topped with bacon bits),
and fried frog legs that looked ripped from the largest frog this side of Toad Hall.
At this point, I was morally bankrupt as a Jew but, as the saying goes, when in Kentucky…
Interestingly, Jona was a Jew too, perhaps the last in Kentucky by her reckoning. Although, technically, she said, she was Jewbamish (1/3 Jew, 1/3 Buddhist, and 1/3 Amish); I figured it was the Amish part that abided the pork.
I’d actually met Jona a few months earlier when she couchsurfed with me in New York. She’d come to shoot a documentary about underground, alternative economies like couchsurfing and freeganism. She didn’t bring a recipe, stating she was too busy to cook for herself. Then one night, after dumpster diving with the freegans, she unexpectedly plopped a large bag of groceries on my kitchen table.
“Get a load of this!” she said, surveying the night’s haul with satisfaction. “Can you believe this? People were practically throwing stuff at us. They weren’t even putting it in the trash. They were like, ‘Here. Would you like some pasta?’” And, sure enough, she was right, the bread, salami, and pasta she’d scavenged all tasted fine, that is after I got over being slightly skeeved out by the nearly expired “Sell By” dates on the labels.
Anyway, Jona and I hit it off so well that she insisted I visit her in Kentucky, and since I’d always been curious to see how people west of the Hudson River live, I decided to take her up on the offer.
The Kentucky countryside was more beautiful than I could have imagined, full of pumpkin farms,
and simple, white churches, their front lawns covered in tiny, white crosses representing all the fetuses killed that year due to abortions. Truly heart-warming.
But that wasn’t the only education I got in Southern/Midwestern mores. For example, even though Kentucky makes 95% of the world’s bourbon, 70% of the state is dry, meaning you can’t buy alcohol in many towns, ergo the proliferation of moonshine or illegal alcoholic spirits.
What I didn’t know is that Kentucky also boasts the country’s first commercial vineyard and winery, and the state still maintains a thriving wine industry that, while not bringing France or Italy to its knees any time soon, is still an under-appreciated gem in a state where whiskey and Derby get all the glory.
And so it was that Jona whisked me off on Day Two to a wine tasting at Elk Creek Vineyards,
where we whiled away a leisurely afternoon imbibing, before responsibly driving (we ate locally made Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese and crackers to be sure we weren’t tipsy),
Before I could say “halal” though, it was Day Three, and Jona had one more pork dish for me to try before heading back east. To my surprise, it was a pork and rice roll from the anomalous Pho Saigon, a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of a strip mall next to a Jo-Anne Fabrics, this being west of the Hudson River and all.
And with that, my porcine weekend came to a sad but inevitable end. Jona drove me to the airport, my carry-on bag now filled with airline bottles of bourbon and a styrofoam container of Cincinnati Chili. I knew I’d be back soon, as there was much more to eat and explore.
Only next time, I’d definitely arrange my visit for BEFORE a major Jewish holiday.
Where to Eat and Drink in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio:
Camp Washington Chili Parlor – 3005 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, OH, (513) 541-0061
Elk Creek Vineyards – 150 Hwy 330, Owenton, KY 40359, (502) 484-0005
Melt Eclectic Deli – 4165 Hamilton Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45223, (513) 681-6358
Pho Saigon – 7705 Mall Road, Florence, KY 41042, (859) 371-7900
The Log Cabin Inn – 322 Old Madison Pike., Covington, KY 41011, (859) 356-9141