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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

Uh oh, Adam's on his high horse again...

A year ago, I spent the better part of the afternoon writing a very angry and venomous rant about how Toledo can improve the diversity of its cultural landscape. I have reconsidered said article, and I can’t help but feel like it’s time to reiterate, restate, and reassure upon what I said in 2005.

Dear Toledo,
You have done me proud, you have embraced the concept of a food and wine community. Restaurants that take wine seriously like Mancy’s Blue Water Grille Cohen & Cooke and Diva are busier than ever, and have garnered much deserved buzz around town for both their food, but also their wine program and well-trained staff. And this sort of adaptation has been sorely needed in this community for some time. The tide is turning because of establishments that offer a true voice by their cuisine, ambiance and dedication to individuality. All of these qualities will be the defining traits of this community. As much as we may embrace them, we also fall very short on the promise offered. Independent restaurants in Toledo continue to be outpaced by newly opened chain restaurants throughout this city. Every anchor restaurant at Westfield Shopping center is a chain, as well many of the restaurants in Levis Commons. Every dollar spent at one of these chains filters money out of Toledo at an alarming pace. This is money that will never be used to contribute to our community. Chain Restaurants continue to be the bane of our existence, and by their very nature, they are a catalyst for homogenization.

I recently participated in, what I consider to be, the best food and wine event I have seen in Toledo. During this event, I was speaking to a group of about 65 or so diners, and I made the off-handed comment that it almost didn’t feel like Toledo. To which I was greeted with boos and murmurs. Well, I apologize if I offended anyone, but Toledo needs to start recognizing it’s own problem. We may talk about locally owned-businesses, and how we really want downtown to improve, and we want to be like other great cities that have rebounded, but sometimes it seems like we are using Fort Wayne as our template rather than Chicago. In great cities like Austin, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky, and Portland Oregon, movements have begun to “Keep Austin (or said City Name) Weird!” These movements are the last battlefronts for individuality of these communities. They haven’t yet been overrun by homogenization. And although, the battle front has advanced quite far into our corner of Ohio, it’s not too late to fight back. And the best way to do that is with your wallets and your feet.

Here is my recipe for Toledo Food & Wine Success:
1. Spend some time trying restaurants that are not a chain. It’s too easy to be lazy when deciding where to eat out, but it takes someone that truly cares to break the routine.
2. Explore parts of the city where you don’t live, see what else is going on outside of your corner.
3. Ask about restaurants that are using locally grown produce.

4. Find out the name of the chef at your favorite restaurant, time willing, they will come out and chat with you about inspiration and ingredients.
5. Get yourself on mailing lists, find out when special events are happening, these can be the best experiences.
6. Tell your friends. If you have a great meal at one of our locally owned restaurants, tell a friend, send out an email, and give details.
7. Order adventurously. Because of our lack of variety, we order predictably, next time you’re out, order something other that Steak, Chicken or Salmon, it will give the chef hope that they can try dishes that inspire them
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At 2:39 PM, Blogger jens at cincinnati wine said...

I agree 100%. What makes a city vibrant are the local businesses like chef-owned restaurants.    

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Restaurant GM said...

I agree 50% - I have learned many lessons from my experience managing several restaurants in the Toledo area with upscale menus and better than average wine lists.
1. Most of the people who say bad things about Toledo and do not see its potential are from Toledo. These are the people who view a great restaurant as something that makes them feel "not in Toledo". People from out of town who eat in these restaurants don't think this - instead they think "Wow, Toledo has great restaurants".
2. When I completed my latest restaurant opening the members of the media always treated it strangely. They said things like "Is Toledo ready for this type of restaurant" and "Wow this doesn't feel like Toledo". They wanted me to slant my advertising in this way. Why can't people see that a good restaurant is a good restaurant no matter where it is. Is Toledo ready for a food and wine culture? I say absolutely - but the media who has to help promote it is not.
2. Most great cities with an identifiable food and wine culture have a media base who readily and enthusiastically shares info with the public about the city's offerings. In Toledo I have found this to be almost void. My experience is with a media base only intersted in your advertising dollar or your health department report card.
3. There are many restaurants in Toledo who may, at first glance, seem to be corporate chains that really are not. Although owned by and managed by a "corporation" the decisions on menus (both dining room and bar) are left up to the local managers and chefs running the place. These restaurants are great because they have the corporate backing of money and excellent decor without the rubber stamp taste.

The part that I agree with is that diners have to become more informed about food and wine and more willing to order outside of their norm for the culture to emerge.

Blogging about it is a great place to start - wonderful job.    

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