Dateline — Cincinnati, Ohio. Wednesday, April 5th. The Cross Country Craft Chocolate Odyssey continues ...
The primary reason for visiting Cincinnati was to visit Marlene and Paul Picton, founders of Maverick Chocolate (and to see their factory and store). That, and the fact that Paul was one of the first people to reach out to me to let me know he would welcome me if I routed my itinerary through Cincinnati.
While I had met Paul (but not Marlene, IIRC) in the past, and I have record of correspondence with Pail dating back to 2013, this was the first time I had the opportunity to spend quality one-on-one time with them, learning about their backgrounds, how they got into chocolate in the first place, what their approach was, how they are faring now, and their plans for the future.
Like many (most?) craft chocolate makers this is a second or third career and Paul’s background is in aviation. (That background provides a clue to the graphics on the packaging – take a closer look.)
I could not, of course, expect them to pick me up at 3:30am – so I made an arrangement with Paul that I would find a place to get coffee and he would pick me up at a less indecent hour.
Completely at random, I found myself at Deeper Roots Coffee on W 4th St, parked on a park bench across the street patiently waiting for the doors to open.
Why do I say completely at random? It turned out that Maverick and Deeper Roots have worked together.
At about 06:32 (plus/minus thirty or so seconds) I maneuvered my way through the front door, settled my bags, ordered a coffee and a breakfast pastry (both tasty), and texted Paul that I had arrived safely.
He showed up sooner than I expected to get me and after joining me in a cup of coffee we left and headed toward his home across the river in Kentucky. While I would not be staying there, I could not check into my hotel until 4:00pm. So Paul and Marlene had graciously offered me the use of their shower to freshen up – an offer I readily accepted as I was approaching the 36-hour mark of the trip by this point.
Once I had freshened up, Paul and I headed to the Cincinnati suburb of Rookwood to visit the factory/store.
What you can‘t see in the BOH picture above is some of the mix of equipment they use to produce their chocolate. What you can’t see is a DIY dual-level mold cooling tunnel modeled on the dual-level Selmi tunnel but built at a fraction of the cost. While not a secret, I did not take photos though I could have. Maverick uses melangers for some of their chocolates and a small ball mill/conche for others. And yes, the roaster is FOH.
Originally, all manufacturing was done in the back of the retail space in the Findlay Market. The location in Rookwood does not have the same foot traffic as the Findlay Market but it made sense, financially, to move manufacturing to another location that could also accommodate retail as they cater to different clientele.
We also made time to head to the Columbus area to visit with one of Maverick’s customers, Denise Steele of Lohcally Artisan Chocolates. While Lohcally doesn’t (yet) use a Maverick couverture, they do make a range of beautifully presented, and well made, and very tasty products that feature ingredients and products from local Ohio sources. While perhaps not a reason to go to Columbus on its own, if you do happen to be in Columbus and you have the time – plan to stop by.
Things to Eat in Cincinnati That Aren’t Chocolate
There are two pop-culture food-related reasons to go to Cincinnati – chili and ice cream, and it was my intention before I arrived to have both.
However, I did not for a moment consider the remote possibility that every Skyline Chili location in downtown Cincinnati closed at 5:00pm on weekdays. I have only been to Cincinnati twice before in my life, and visited Skyline on both occasions, I was, sadly, unable to complete the trifecta because, my bad for not checking the hours.
I was able to console myself with a bowl of Chicken Waterzooi and some good Belgian ale – Rodenbach (on tap!) – at Taste of Belgium in OTR, Over the Rhine.
Graeter’s is the other one of the two reasons I was happy to be revisiting Cincinnati. (It‘s not quite the same in pints I can find in stores in NYC, and I remember the days when the only way to get Graeter’s outside of Cincinnati was to have it shipped with dry ice or to have a friend bring it back with them after they visited, which I did one when I was at RISD.)
The black raspberry chocolate chip. Chooclate chunk is a better term than chip – Graeter’s fans will know what I mean.
One of the additions to the Cross Country Craft Chocolate Odyssey I added to my plan after visiting with Monica and Tom Rogan at Goodnow Farms was a bar exchange.
I gave Marlene and Paul at least one of the Goodnow Farms bars (IIRC we tasted several), and I picked up some Maverick bars, one of which I would give to Mike King whom I would be visiting in Kansas City. I picked up items from Mike and Christopher Elbow, who I also visited, to share down the line. I will be sending bars from Orinoco here in Prescott back to Monica and Tom in Sudbury.
One of the most meaningful conversations I had with Paul over the course of the time I spent there was his telling me that not many chocolate professionals ever make the trip to Cincinnati.
I had not considered that aspect of my journey during my planning stages, but after hearing Paul say that, my resolve to make future trips has been steeled, and I have already started thinking about traveling by Amtrak to Seattle for the NW Chocolate Festival in October. Flagstaff to LA and then north, stopping to visit makers along the way on my way there, and back. If I go to the Dallas Chocolate Festival this year I will take the train from Maricopa (south of Phoenix).
Want me to visit you on a future Cross Country Craft Chocolate Odyssey? Drop me a line to let me know.
Amtrak Part 2
As I mentioned previously, Cincinnati Union Terminal is only open four hours a day – from midnight to 4:00am. One can wait at the terminal building in a vestibule if you arrive before midnight (which I did) but you can’t wait in the terminal itself, even though the doors are not locked and there are guards inside.
Amtrak’s Cardinal from NYC to Chicago – another Superliner – is scheduled to depart at 1:30am and, for some reason, the attendant in Cincinnati decided he wanted everyone to weigh their bags – even those not being checked but being carried on. This did not happen in Boston or in Chicago on my way to Cincinnati so I was not expecting this turn of affairs and wasn’t paying close enough attention to announcements.
I had picked up a lot of chocolate and other items by this time, and so I was 4kg overweight on my rolling suitcase. So I found myself, with minutes to spare before the arrival of the train, with my roller spatchcocked, throwing random heavier items onto the scale until I reached the weight I needed to redistribute. Fortunately, I had a bag I could throw everything into, which I did. (I now had four bags to handle. And I was still carrying on the same total weight.)
While waiting for the train to arrive I was tired enough to sleep, I figured. But after repacking my bags in a hurry and making it down to the platform on time I was wide awake. Assigned seating was the case on the way back, and even though I did not have anyone seated next to me, restful sleep still eluded me.
After departing on time, arrival in Chicago was set for around 10:00am.
I “only” had four hours in Chicago before the train to Cincinnati and my plan was to check my bags so I could have lunch at a highly-regarded deep dish pizza place not far from the station. (The $20 bag check fee would make that one of the most expensive pizzas I had ever ordered – the sacrifices we make, I know.)
But the first thing I did was go to the passenger lounge and repack everything back into two bags, taking the chance they would not be weighed later. However ... the parcel check room was not open when I got there. After waiting around for what I thought was an inordinately long a time, I made the decision to just wait in the station, forgoing the pizza. The food options in the station are decidedly very limited (Starbucks is the best coffee to be had) but at least there are some nice places to sit while you wait.
Amtrak’s SW Chief was announced on time and we made our way to the track where there was again assigned seating. But something very different was in store – the train consisted of double-decker Viewliner cars.
Amtrak Part 3
When people found out I was taking the train from Boston to Prescott they all gushed about how exciting the idea was. Based on some romanticized view of train travel they had internalized from somewhere – possibly movies with scenes of European train (not involving murder plots).
That romanticized view is not warranted, in my opinion, on Superliner trains east of Chicago. While there may be sleeper cars, a business class car, and a café car, they are spartan in their accommodations.
The Viewliners are much, much, nicer cars, and in addition to the coach and sleeper cars there is a lounge car with huge windows with tables and seats facing the windows with the café service below – and there is a separate dining car. If you have booked a sleeping car/roomette three meals a day are included in the fare with priority seating. Coach passengers can pay a la carte, but buying all three meals will cost about $90/person for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner.
More pragmatically (my USA Rail Pass was coach seating only), the coach seats are nicer on the Viewliners as are the windows, and there are more restrooms – which, to be honest, end up being the least pleasant aspect of train travel after one overnight, let alone two. (The train to LA that passes through Texas takes 61 hours.)
I did not know this on this leg, but it is possible to spend the night in the lounge cars – you just can’t go to sleep before 10:00pm. That was not an issue on this leg as the train was scheduled to arrive in Kansas City at 10:00pm on the eve of Easter Sunday.
Arriving in Kansas City
I has received a notification from Amtrak before getting on the train in Boston that the NFL draft was setting up in Kansas City Union Station beginning on March 31st. While the notification said the south side exits would be closed, it turned out that there was zero signage within the station to help a first visitor to figure out how to exit the terminal let alone find the cab rank or arrange for an Uber pickup.
I had picked the hotel I did in large part based on its proximity to the station and, to my initial delight found it to be on the north side. Why delight? Because the hotel was less than 500 meters from the station even going the long way around and I figured that after eight hours cooped up on the train it would be nice to get some fresh air, even if it meant dragging my roller. I had survived the long walk in Cincinnati at 4:00am, so I figured I could cope.
At that time of night the station was empty and it took a while to figure out how to get outside and when I did I found out there was no signage on how to exit the vicinity because, in fact, it was the north side of the station that was closed down.
After spending a very frustrating half-hour trying to navigate an exit I gave up and called an Uber to make what has to be the shortest trip Uber I have ever made.
The next post will cover my time in Kansas City (Easter Sunday and Monday), the overnight trip to Santa Fe, and my time in Santa Fe.
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