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Help please with Road Trip: Milwaukee-Chicago-Toledo-Cleveland-Columbus (long)

Hi All-

Wife and I will be visiting your region for the first time and could use some help vetting my food itinerary. We will be coming from San Francisco with a goal to sample local eats and institutions. We will have a car, and love hitting up hole-in the-walls as well as the occasional more upscale establishments.

Sun 9/9
Fly into Milwaukee – staying downtown
Sample local eats at Indian Summer
Beer & bowling at Koz or check out a movie at the Oriental Theater

Mon 9/10
Graze at the Milwaukee Public Market (any rec’s here?)
Stop by Usinger’s for sausages
Quick bite & a beer at the Cheese Bar
Hit up Kopp’s or Leon’s for frozen custard on the way of town

Drive to Chicago – staying at B&B in Witicker
Dinner at Malnati’s

Tue 9/11
Sandwich crawl with intermingled site seeing (Untouchable’s TourJH Skydeck & Water Works):
-Pamozzo’s Market
-Al’s Beef
-Portillo’s Hot Dogs
Dinner at Fontera Grill

Wed 9/12
Lunch at Turkish Festival
Site seeing: Mini-Bus & Boat Tour, Navy Pier
Dinner at Harry Caray’s Steak (looking for actual Chicago Steakhouse that dry-ages its beef)

Thu 9/13
Drive to Cleveland by way of Toledo – staying downtown next to Progressive Field
Hit Uncle John’s BBQ for rib tips and sausage on the way out of town
Lunch Tony Packo’s in Toledo (what to get here?)
Dinner at Lola

Fri 9/14
Breakfast at Slyman’s (corned beef hash)
Visit Rock & Roll HOF
Lunch at Sokolowski’s (perogies and fried perch)
Go to Indians Game

Sat 9/15
Early breakfast at West Side Market (are all places open in the morning?
-Czuchraj Meats
-Pierogi Palace
-Maha’s Falafil
-Old Country Sausage
Drive to Columbus – Staying in Worthington
Attend Cal @ Ohio State game
Bite to eat near shuttle drop off in Worthington after the game:
-City BBQ?
-Natalie’s Wood Fired Pizza?
-First Watch?

Sun 9/16
Breakfast across the street at Bob Evans
Lunch: Starliner Diner, Hubert’s Polish Kitchen, Tommy’s Diner, Katzingers Deli, other suggestions?
Visit COSI
Dinner: Lindey’s?

Breakfast: German Village Coffee Shop, Pistacia Vera, The Angry Baker, La Chatelain, others?
Ice cream at Jeni’s
Fly Back to SF

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  1. Yes, the stands at the west side market are all open saturday mornings, saturday is the big day and it's hopping, so getting there early is good. There is a cafe in the market if you want to have breakfast there, or a really good crepe place handily located right next to a coffee place if you want to do a crepe type breakfast (crepes du luxe, next to city roast). Though an original maha's falafil (sic - their spelling) sandwich is a great breakfast as well.

    I cannot in good conscience endorse Sokolowski's but most clevelander's love it. I'm all about steam tables and hearty food but in my opinion they use a lot of cheap grease on things that makes it not sit well.

    Def. love the idea of bfast at slyman's before the rock hall. You may want to first visit Erie Street Coffee on E 4th (very near Lola) for coffee as well at some point.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rockandroller1

      Thanks. The reason I chose Skolowski's was for the perogie's and to hit up a Friday fish fry while in the Great Lakes region. Would you have a more favorable recommendation?

      1. re: Civil Bear

        A lot of people like it, I don't mean to dissuade you from trying it, I just think it's really lousy. I would rather have one beef cheek pierogi appetizer from Lola than a whole table full of food from Sokolowski's, and I am a pretty low-rent type of person.

    2. What a trip! I live in Toledo and have a son in Chicago and a son who graduated last year from OSU (Go Bucks against Cal). Some observations:

      You may want to post an inquiry on the Chicago board. We like Malnati's as a good example of deep dish. Al's, Portollo's are fine for hot dogs and Italian beef. You could get both at Portillo's and do well.

      Frontera is great but takes only a limited number of reservations and can be a long wait. You could try Bayless's more upscale place next door, Topolobongo (sp?) or one of the other great regional Mexican places, Mexique, Mixteco Grill, etc.

      I would suggest David Burke or Chicago Cut for dry aged steak.

      At Packos (I hope you go to the original on Front Street) try the hot dogs and/or stuffed cabbage.

      I don't know the places near Worthington. You should check out the short north area which is a little south of campus for trendy galleries and restaurants. Rigsby's is good and we like the Northstar. In German Village, check out The Thurman for its famous burgers. Bob Evans is just a regional chain - nothing special. Lindey's is also fine. It is more of an iconic Columbus spot, having been around for a long time.

      Jeni's is an absolute must.

      You have clearly done your research. Hope this helps.

      3 Replies
      1. re: sammyo

        Thanks sammyo. I was fortunate to get a res at Frontera, so I should be good to go.

        I will check out Rigsby's and the Northstar. Regarding the Thurman, it seems to be a Columbus type institution that I am looking for. However I caught a glimpse of the place on Man vs. Food and the burgers did not look too appealing (and this from a guy that will eat just about anything!). Any recs on what to order there?

        1. re: Civil Bear

          I've only had the burgers. I didn't see the tv show, but maybe he was trying to eat the "Thurmanator" which is not appealing to me either. The regular burgers come with a variety of addons and are what they are known for.

        2. re: sammyo

          >> Dinner at Harry Caray’s Steak (looking for actual Chicago Steakhouse that dry-ages its beef)

          >> I would suggest David Burke or Chicago Cut for dry aged steak.

          Yes, exactly. I don't think Harry Caray's dry ages their beef. Go instead to David Burke's Primehouse or Chicago Cut Steakhouse. Both dry age their beef. If you ask, Burke's will give you a tour of their aging room.

        3. Your Chicago list looks decent given the short amount of time. Personally, I am a big fan of the abundant taco joints in the area, so I would strongly encourage a trip to Cemitas Puebla for their 'cemita' sandwiches and tacos arabes. Also, I would sub out Portillo's with Franks-n-Dawgs. Not sure what you are looking for at Portillo's, but Frank-n-Dawgs has Chicago dogs along with several more creative sausage/dog gourmet creations.

          At Tony Packo's in Toledo, you want to get the Packo's original hungarian sausage with the chili. It would be a big letdown coming from a place like Franks-n-Dawgs though.


          3 Replies
          1. re: GreatLakesBetterFood

            Thanks GLBF. I'm hoping for an authentic Chicago hotdog and Italian Beef at Portillo's.

            If you were to throw a rock in any direction in many parts of San Francisco you would likely hit a taquaria. The area is lacking in more contemporary Mexican though, which is why I'm heading to Frontera. Would actually prefer to try Xoco, but just not sure what the wait would be like around 8:00PM.

            1. re: Civil Bear

              Gotcha. I assumed you were getting italian beef at Al's, in which case you could get your chicago dog fill at Franks-n-Dawgs along with some other more interesting gourmet sausage/brat creations that you aren't going to find at a chain like Portillos. Portillos does have its fans so I won't talk you out of it too much.

              Xoco is amazing, I love the torta ahogada (torta made with carnitas, black beans, pickled onions served in a fiery hot chile de arbol broth). You should definitely try to go, even if you go to Frontera as well. It's more of a lunch spot, so it might not be that crowded later, not sure how late it's open though.

              I hear you on the taquerias in SF, but I will just point out that Cemitas Puebla is unique in that it serves a version of tacos that is fairly unique to the Puebla area, where there is a large Lebanese population. The tacos are served on a hybrid flour tortilla/pita and the 'arabes' meat is cooked shwarma-style, with slices of marinated pork and onions cooked on a vertical roasting spit. The tacos arabes are probably my death row meal so I am biased, but if you find yourself out on the westside, it is worth a stop.

              1. re: Civil Bear

                Don't bother with Xoco. It's Mexican "street food", stuff like tortas (sandwiches) that you can get back home, just like the taquerias. Instead, stick to your original plan - get contemporary Mexican cuisine, either at Frontera Grill or Topolobampo, or at Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, or Mixteco Grill.

            2. Definitely NOT Bob Evans, and I wouldn't recommend First Watch or City BBQ either. All are large chains with menus designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of palates. I don't know where the shuttle drop off is in Worthington, but I'd check out the Wine Bistro if you want to eat lunch back in Worthington after the game. For breakfast in Worthington, try La Chatelaine.

              1. If you have a cooler for the car and the time for a further stop on your way out of Chicago, you should consider Calumet Fisheries for various smoked fish and shrimp to take along for the ride after your Uncle John's feast:


                It's old-school, smoked fish, and the atmosphere is like none other. It's a little shack in the middle of an industrial region, alone at the foot of a draw bridge. (Incidentally, the very draw bridge that features in the car jump in the Blues Brothers movie.) It's cash-only (why all the cash-only in Chicago?) I recommend everything there, including sides like cole slaw, etc., but don't miss the trout, whitefish, shrimps, yum...

                Problem is, it could add a half hour or so to your driving time, more if the drawbridge stops you. (But maybe some local Chicago folks will know better than I how to manage the drive there.)

                1 Reply
                1. Going to spend time in Chicago and not hit Greektown?? From the list I'm thinking a Weight Watchers meeting might be in order at the end ! :=)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: miriamjo

                    Greektown was THE place to go in the 1970s and 1980s, not so much today. So many other cuisines have come along, and so many cuisines have developed in contemporary ways, while the Greek restaurants in Greektown are exactly the same as they were decades ago. I live in Chicago and I think I've only eaten in Greektown once or twice in the past 25 years. There are so many places that are so much better!

                  2. Some people love Tony Packo's, but to me it is a over hyped touristy place. I would personally skip it & skip Toledo altogether. I'd drive to Port Clinton and take the Jet Express (ferry) over to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island for perch tacos at the Goat Soup & Whiskey restaurant. Put in Bay is known as the Key West of the north. If time doesn't allow you to leave the mainland, I'd suggest Jolly Roger in Port Clinton for a perch or walleye meal. You won't be disappointed.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: CurryLover

                      Thanks for the intriguing suggestions. I googled "Jolly Roger in Port Clinton" but the only thing that came up was a sailing club in Toledo. Is it one & the same?

                      1. re: Civil Bear

                        Try googling Jolly Roger Seafood House in Port Clinton, OH. It won a Coastal Living Seafood Dive award a few years ago. I am quite certain it is locally owned & not affiliated with any sailing club. Our SF & FL friends who visit us at the lake always insist on going to Jolly Roger if we are grounded by the weather to the mainland & can't get over to South Bass Island.

                        1. re: CurryLover

                          Here's the info:

                          Jolly Roger Seafood House
                          1737 E Perry St
                          Port Clinton, OH 43452
                          (419) 732-3382

                          This very popular restaurant is a fast food place in format; you place your order and pay at the (indoor) window when you walk in, and they bring a tray to your table. It's that kind of casual place. They do not have a website, and you probably won't find a menu on the internet. Their specialties are fried perch and fried walleye, both skin-on fillets. Sides include hush puppies and waffle fries. Good stuff if you enjoy fried food and you're not looking for atmosphere. Prices are reasonable, too. It's right off OH-2 which parallels the Ohio Turnpike (I-80/90) and joins with it further east towards Cleveland, but will take an extra 15 minutes to/from the interstate west of the restaurant.

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            Thanks all. Now I have a decision to make! It may depend on how much perch & walleye I am able to sample at the Indian Festival in Milwaukee.

                            1. re: Civil Bear

                              Do they have perch and walleye there? I haven't seen either all that much around Wisconsin. They seem to be more prevalent around Lake Erie.

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                Hi CB,

                                Indian Summer Fest would probably be one of the last places I would try for a Perch or Walleye fish fry. There are many better restaurant and even bar options in the Milwaukee area if you want a good Perch or Walleye fish fry.

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  Thanks Fowler. Can you help out a fellow 'hound and name a few?

                                  1. re: Civil Bear

                                    I would be happy to help, CB. I could provide a list as long as my arm that serve good perch and walleye fish fry in the Metro Milwaukee area, but here are a few good ones that come to mind and cross the spectrum in both price and atmosphere:

                                    Kegel's (Near suburban)
                                    Mason Street Grill (Downtown Milwaukee)
                                    The Phoenix (Outside suburban)
                                    Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee proper)
                                    Fishbones (Outside suburban)

                                    Walleye and perch can be seasonal and online menus are frequently outdated so please call first to make certain they will have what you are specifically looking for. Also be sure to ask if they take reservations. For example, Kegel's does not take reservations and I don't think you want to go there and get stuck waiting for an hour and a half. Well, unless of course you like drinking several Brandy Old Fashioned's while getting to know the locals. :-)

                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      McBob's is always a personal favorite. As well as awesome Bloody Marys.

                                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                        Good call, IndianRiverFL. I forgot about McBob's. "Home of the Irish Taco!!!"

                                        If I recall correctly, they have (had?) not only Walleye and Perch but a Grouper fish fry as well. Good Reubens too!

                                      2. re: Fowler

                                        Thanks to both of you. Looks like my problem is that the fish fry's at these spots are reserved for Fridays and sometimes on Wednesday, but I will on be in town on Sunday and Monday.

                        2. Since you mentioned sampling "local eats" there are a couple of culinary treats that come to mind. Northwest Ohioans love their Ballreich's potato chips . Former Northwest Ohioans are known to have boxes of Ballreich's chips shipped to them, even overseas. Another culinary treat that is native to Northwest Ohio is Root's Shredded Chicken. Every family potluck, graduation party or church event in Northwest Ohio features sandwiches made from Root's shredded chicken. When my San Francisco friend visits Northwest Ohio, he always packs several frozen containers of Root's chicken mix in his luggage to take back with him. Apparently, it stays frozen in the belly of the plane. It is probably not practical for you since you probably won't have access to a freezer. But if you can pick up a bag of Ballreich's chips, you might enjoy that while traveling.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: CurryLover

                            Thanks CL. I hope to get a chance to sample both the chips and the chicken. Do you know of any convenient spots where I could pick these up along I-80/90 between Chicago and Cleveland?

                          2. Don't skip Toledo! Lunch may leave you hanging, most of the best places are dinner, check out Mancys steakhouse (crazy old history and great lunch) or Grumpy's Downtown. Packo's is more novelty than good.

                            Cleveland-Skip Sokolowski-yuck, everything is beige food. Be sure to wander 25th st in Ohio City, booming area-BarCento, Flying Fig, Black Pig, NanoPub. Lola is beautiful, stop in for a drink, but I prefer Greenhouse Tavern, just 4 doors down,and is increasingly acclaimed. Tremont is also a great neighborhood for food. Parallax, Fahrenheit, Dante and especially, Lolita, which is Symon's original Lola and a neighborhood eatery now. Food is better there, and more casual. Great call on Slyman's, best corned beef in the world.

                            Columbus-Dinner Till Dynamic Fare-Biodynamic restaurant, Northstar Cafe is great too for lunch

                            That's an awfully impressive list, have fun!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ampelography

                              Wow, now I am starting to get overwhelmed! Regarding Sokolowski, is there another place you would suggest to get fried fish in Cleveland on a Friday afternoon? I would really like to get to a fish-fry if I can.

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                A "fish fry" and fried fish are 2 different things. Breaded frozen, deep fried fish you can get tons of places, and there's nothing special about having it in Cleveland. "Fish fry" events are really centered largely around Lent. There are some ethnic places that regularly have them on fridays throughout the year, but I don't know that I can direct you to any specific places. I really think this should not be high on your "wants" list, it's not some kind of Cleveland specialty. JMO.

                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                  Agree. Unless you are planning on catching and frying up your own walleye, I think ordering fried fish is to be missed. If you want seafood and a fabulous view of the lake drive to Pier W for Friday lunch; it is just over the border in Lakewood. You drive through the Edgewater neighborhood of Cleveland which has some lovely architecture; a SF hound should appreciate that!

                            2. I have to say that at the Milwaukee Public Market, we had a horrid experience. It used to be where I would take my elderly father for a steamed lobster every week before he passed away. My wife and I went to have such an obnoxious a-hole behind the counter at St. Paul's that for the first time in the 30 years I have known my wife she told me that we were walking out. I think I posted about the experience on here before.

                              However, as you go south through flatland territory, just south of the border is a place called Captain Porky's in Wadsworth, not that far off of the highway (a good stop to gas up at). Great BBQ, decent seafood, and I was told that on Sundays they spit roast a whole goat. The family also produces their own olive oil. Www.captainporky.com
                              My only suggestion is that if you get the rib ends, ask to try the two sauces on the side. If you get a lobster there, the butter is sub-par, but everything else is great. During the week you may find no seating for lunch due to the popularity. There are two doors - go to the resteraunt, not the bar that has different things.

                              Oh - go into but don't but anything at Mars Cheese Castle. Very expensive. If you want cheese, go into Woodman's in Kenosha. Again, filled with flatlanders, but great prices and selection.

                              Tenuta's In Kenosha is a divot, but they are an interesting place. During the warm months they have

                              And people will hate me for this, but if you ever wanted to try a White Castle slider, they are on hwy 50 in front of Woodman's. And the other very elderly burger chain scarf&barf, um, Steak and Shake is in Gurnee just off of the highway. When in the area my standard is to get a crave case at White Castle for the teenager, a frisco for the wife at steak and shake, and Captain Porky's for myself as well as bringing home a couple of orders of rib tips for later and usually having the teenager snarf them before I got hungry for dinner.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: exvaxman

                                Thanks. Cpt Porkey's sounds interesting.

                                1. re: Civil Bear

                                  Kopps in Glendale on your way out of town (well, I suggest the one in Glendale, have a burger at Solly's (they made several top ten lists, I only take out of towners there since I am not a fan,
                                  Go a couple of blocks to Sprecher's brewery). Also check out the Klemets outlet as you go south. Usinger's is better, but Klemet's private brands some of the most expensive places you can find. (allen brother's comes to mind). Hit or miss on what you find there. While at Usingers, walk the block to the spice house. You can skip the cheese mart. The old german beer hall has some great huge pretzels.

                                2. re: exvaxman

                                  Following up on exvaxman's comment about Milwaukee Public Market, while I still recommend a visit there I also strongly advise against eating at Margarita Paradise which is on the tail end of the market from St. Paul's. We went there for a late lunch, sat at their "bar" and the two employees that were within a few feet of us were chatting away in their native language. I made eye contact with them but they continued to babble away to each other. Finally I said, "Well you must be closed for the day." That got one of them to take our order but she was clearly not happy about it.

                                  We gave them a second chance when we took some visiting friends to MPM and the service was just about as bad and the food seemed to mirror the service.

                                  1. re: Fowler

                                    After reading so many good things about the Milwaukee Public Market on this board, Mr. Shaja and I made a special trip in to check it out ... and didn't like it at all. I was expecting something special given all the raves and love it gets here, but it was just a cramped, overpriced food court. The fresh fish counter looked the most promising, but the help was grudging and I've seen better scallops at the Delafield Sentry. Won't be back.

                                3. Regarding Columbus: In Worthington, I have not yet been to Natalie's Coal Fired pizza, but I have heard good things about it and it's on my list to try. La Chatelaine is locally owned and has very good quality baked goods. Their food is also good; the Worthington location has an especially nice patio.

                                  Elsewhere in Columbus, I love Northstar (several locations), Rigsby's, Tasi Cafe (owned by the same people as Rigsby's; their house smoked salmon is excellent). Pistacia Vera is an amazing bakery in German Village, famous for the macarons, but everything there is good. They do a limited but very tasty breakfast menu. Other places in German Village that I like are G. Michael's (a small but nice patio, Barcelona (one of the best patios in town), and Skillet. I am not a big fan of Katzinger's, although there is nothing wrong with the food. Oh, and Lindey's is supposed to be good but I have never eaten there.

                                  Starliner Diner is good and the decor is amusing. I can't help you with Tommy's Diner or City BBQ. I can't recommend First Watch to you at all; I think the food is just OK and would never go there if I could help it. I also can't help with the German Village Coffee Shop. I have heard good things about the Angry Baker but haven't eaten there personally. Jeni's ice cream, yes, you should absolutely try (several locations). They are very good about samples so just taste everything before you order! If you plan to visit the North Market, there is lots to eat there, and that could be an entire thread to itself. My personal favorites at the North Market (besides Jeni's) are the pretzels from Brezel, the waffles from Taste of Belgium, and the chocolates from Pure Imagination. My husband is partial to Hubert's pierogi. Actually, all of Hubert's food that I've tried has been good. I hope some of that is helpful and not overwhelming!

                                  1. Civil! I'm bummed - I wished I had seen your post and I could've given this SF ex-pat's view of what I've found here in the Columbus area during my nine months plus here.

                                    I'm interested in hearing your report on where you've eaten, and I hope you had a good foodie adventure (the football adventure came up a bit short for Cal) here through the Great Lakes area.