Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Food Hussy Road Trip: Hocking Hills Comfort Food Cruise

This post is sponsored by ExploreHockingHills.com but all opinions are my own.

The folks from Hocking Hills have a fun thing called the Comfort Food Cruise going on every weekend in January. It's the 4th year for this and it's become a visitor favorite. You pay a nominal fee for a ticket ($18) and you get to sample a special dish from 13 different restaurants around Hocking Hills. You need to do all your sampling over one weekend - but the best thing about HH is all the hiking - so you can eat something - hike a little - eat more - hike more! 

 They invited me and a few other Ohio bloggers to come to Hocking Hills for a preview of the Comfort Food Cruise and I'm always up for a road trip!

We stayed at Cedar Grove Lodge in their Cedar Hill Lodge which can hold up to 26 people. Thankfully - there were only 7 of us!
 
The lodge is great - we all loved it. The beds were REALLY comfortable and everything was well done in terms of design and quality. Nothing was shabby or in need of repair. The couches were all really comfortable too. There's a theater room downstairs with a big wall-size screen - we enjoyed that one night as well. There's a hot tub outside and a fire pit in the back - because it was 7 degrees - we didn't partake in either. ;-)

And let me say again - the beds were REALLY comfortable. That is not often the case in a cabin - so I was thrilled when I slept well both nights! 

 Here's a quick selfie when I arrived - it was so cold - so it was a quick trip outside - but the porch is very nice and would be great in warmer weather. We also saw a lot of deer roaming just in our short weekend - it was their party place for sure.

On our first night we had a guest chef - Chef Matt from Lake Hope Lodge came and made us dinner. He's also the chef at the Dining Lodge in Hocking Hills that was recently devastated by a fire. They are working to rebuild that so Matt is keeping himself busy at Lake Hope.

First Matt made us this amazing veggie salad - cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, onions and fresh mozzarella balls - simple enough - with a fresh red wine vinaigrette and fresh basil. Simple and delicious! We were all DROOLING as he prepared it and could barely wait to dig in!

Matt also made us some rustic Italian pasta dishes - one with clams and fish sauce and the other with chicken, sausage and shrimp - both very simple - light and so freakin delicious! The only sauce was a bit of olive oil and seasonings - which is really all you need. Everybody went back for seconds.

And he couldn't forget dessert - he whipped us up a lemon raspberry panna cotta which had us all drooling. Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert made of a sweetened cream and thickened with gelatin usually to make a mold. Our mold was a teeny tiny mason jar. I am a big fan - it's like creme brulee without the sugar crust or just like a really kick ass pudding.

Lake Hope Lodge is on the Comfort Food Cruise and gives you a Turkey Pot Pie sampling and I can only imagine after tasting Chef Matt's food here - it's not something to be missed!

Our first night - with full bellies - it was a typical blogger evening. All of us - curled up in blankets - killing the wifi. Our cabin had wifi and we tapped into it - it wasn't great in all areas of the house - but it was fine in the big living room.

Here are links to the girls I spent the weekend with - if you'd like to find out about some other great Ohio bloggers:

http://clinecountrymusings.com/
http://www.ohiogirltravels.com/
www.thetravelingpraters.com
http://www.ferventfoodie.com/
http://eatingbooks.com/

The next morning we got up bright and early to start our Comfort Food Cruise tour and the first stop was Pearl's Diner. It's in the strip mall by the Wal-Mart and if you've ever been to Hocking Hills - that's enough directions for you. There's only one Wally World and you inevitably find/need it sometime during your trip!

We met Sandy - the owner - and she told us the story of starting Pearl's (named after her mother) and welcomed us like we were her kids. She even sent us home with a bag of homemade chocolates - something none of us were going to turn down!

Then was the barrage of gravy. The Comfort Food Cruise sample item is Biscuits and Gravy - so I got that but then I also had to try something called the Sausage Cornbread with gravy. I love cornbread, sausage and gravy - so I had to try it!

The Biscuits and Gravy was pretty great - the biscuits were light and fluffy and the gravy was similar to what I love - white sausage gravy seasoned well with salt & pepper.

The sausage cornbread was homemade cornbread with lots of corn in it and inside were two full links of sausage! (bottom left) Then it was slathered in gravy - of course.

Pearls has a thing for roosters - they're pretty much the decor staple so I had to grab a quick pic with the very very large rooster at the front door. I'll leave all the jokes to you guys.

Pearls Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

After all that gravy - we had to walk around a bit and started with Old Man's Cave. And that's the one thing I love most about Hocking Hills. You can really do a lot of fun things in the area FOR FREE. All the caves are within the state park system - so they're free! If you like being outside - it's a great place. It's nice to have so many options that are free - rather than being charged every where you go!

As we explored - it only took about 10 minutes to get to the falls and thank goodness since it was only 7 degrees!!!! But with the ice formations - winter is one of the most beautiful times of the year.

 After freezing our hineys off - we decided we might as well eat again. (right?!) Our next Comfort Food Cruise stop was the Olde Dutch Restaurant. I've been before and knew what to expect...

They are famous for their buffet - which has all the "family style" favorites you would expect - mashed potatoes, corn, onion rings, chicken, ribs, a huge salad bar and more...

And pie!!!! Every kind of pie you could think of! It was funny - the girls were all like, "Oh pie - okay" - then I directed them to the pie buffet and their eyes lit up - OOOOOH PIE!!!

The sampling item on the Comfort Food Cruise at Olde Dutch is their Amish Noodles or Mashed Potatoes. So I definitely had to try a heaping spoonful of each and they are comfort food at their best.

The other thing they have that I LOVED was broasted chicken. Theirs is superb! Super crispy with juicy chicken on the inside. No heavy greasy batter here!

And then - I had to try some pie as well - I wasn't sure what to go for - but in the end - Coconut Cream won out and it was so good! Light and fluffy I enjoyed every bite!

Olde Dutch Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Next up we drove over to Nelsonville to see what they had to offer. It was all of a 10 minute drive and we came upon the Nelsonville Emporium. Here they have an emporium of locally made art ranging from paintings to pottery to scarves and a bunch of food items too. They're in the process of building in a kitchen to have cooking classes and have people come in and make foods for sale.  I love these "co-op" types of businesses where everybody comes together and sells local goods.

The bricks in Nelsonville have a specific pattern and the Emporium sells a lot of pottery and chocolate items all with that same brick pattern.

Jennifer is the owner of the Emporium and she took us in the back to demonstrate how to make pottery. Seeing her whip out a beautiful bowl from a lump of clay was fascinating.

So much so that some of our brood gave it a try. It's not as easy as it looks. We didn't have time for me to try it - but I'm now on the hunt for a place here in Cincinnati to get on a potters wheel for myself! I feel like I'll be good at it - probably not but you never know.

Our next stop was the Rocky Boot Factory Store - they have boots, clothes and housewares in a four story warehouse that you'll definitely need some time to explore.

They also have a restaurant called the Boot Factory Grill and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner in their Factory Outlet Store.

We were here the weekend before the Comfort Food Cruise so we couldn't try their Prime Rib Sliders from the CFC menu - but we did have dinner and enjoyed every bite. I tried the Bison Boot Burger - which was a bison burger topped with thousand island dressing and a bunch of other toppings - very good. Their mac & cheese was homemade and really good as well. I also got potato skins (smothered in a cheese whiz type of substance) that I shared with the group. It's a very family friendly and casual atmosphere that we enjoyed.

 After an early dinner, we decided we needed a little booze so we headed to the Hocking Hills Winery - which is also right near the Wal-Mart.

 It was a tale of two Heathers trying out their tasting menu - I only tasted the whites. And one of the Winery staff members had to photo bomb us. :-) I'm not a big wine drinker but they did have wine slushies and those were SO GOOD! The best was mixing the two together! We were killing those slushies!

One of our girls is pregnant and couldn't partake in the wine so she went for a gourmet caramel apple and chose the Apple Pie flavor and zomg it was delicious! I don't like caramel or granny smith apples but this was delicious!
I was even asked to go on stage and sing with the entertainment - Peter Conrad. He came over to chat up our group and asked if we had any requests - I asked for something by the Eagles and he quickly snapped, "Sure if you come and sing it with me." I'm sure he regrets that to this day but I had a great time and it was a great end to a busy fun-filled day.

The next morning we had one last stop - another place I've been before - the Kindred Spirits restaurant at the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls.

I knew how amazing Chef Anthony was and was telling the girls all about how much I loved the Inn on my previous visit. The Inn is run by Ellen and was started by her mother. Ellen is a spit fire and I had to spread some of her infectious excitement with my group since she wasn't able to hang out with us on this brisk Sunday morning.

The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls is a unique destination in Hocking Hills because it has lodging, dining and activities - all in one spot. You could come to the Inn for a weekend and never leave their property.

We ordered from their brunch menu and I couldn't not turn down Chef's biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon and a fresh made orange blossom muffin. So freakin good. And I'll say - I did slightly prefer Chef Anthony's biscuits and gravy to Pearl's.

The item at the Inn that is on the Comfort Food Cruise is their Ultimate Chocolate Brownie so we couldn't leave without trying it. Wowza - super rich - but zomg so delicious!!! This is a MUST-HAVE on the Cruise tour. Trust me!

After breakfast we got to tour a cottage - this is a great place to disconnect. In the cottages - there are no TVs and no wifi and don't even think about using your cell phone. It's a place to relax and enjoy nature. There's a deck on every cottage along with a small fridge and microwave, a giant comfy bed, a jacuzzi tub and a reading/game nook.

The cottages have either a King or Queen bed and there are a few that are pet friendly. Ellen has done a fantastic job of decorating with little fun touches like the wire bathtub basket next to the big bathtub. The linens and furniture are fresh and up-to-date and let me tell you they have the most comfortable sheets I've ever slept on (they sell them in the gift shop).

If you need more space - they also have cabins that have room for more people and have a full kitchenette.

We also toured the actual Inn at the Inn at Cedar Falls. There are 8 rooms in the Inn and it's behind the restaurant (as opposed to across the street where the cottages & cabins are). These rooms echo the same cozy feel as the cottage and have many of the same amenities. There is a garden and fire pit area right outside as well as a room downstairs with a phone and wifi that anyone staying at the property can use.

A quick tour of the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls was the perfect way to end our fun trip to Hocking Hills.

Kindred Spirits Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

If you're looking for something to do one of the next couple of weekends - I highly recommend the Comfort Food Cruise - the samples are sizable and the quality is excellent! You can find out all the details on the ExploreHockingHills.com page and I'm sure the folks at the Inn or at Cedar Grove would love to have you spend the night with them on your visit.
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