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Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Published: Monday, 3/24/2014

COMMENTARY

Touting Toledo’s seat at the table

BY MARY BILYEU
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

I might be new to Toledo — I’ve lived here just seven weeks — but already I feel protective of my new home and want to support it wholeheartedly. And I found two opportunities just last week to do this.

Nearly every day I look over Eater.com, as it’s important to keep myself — and all of you — abreast of trends, gimmicks, and other food news from a variety of sources (Serious Eats, Chow, The Salt, Food Republic, and more). Such renowned food towns as San Francisco and Austin and Charleston are obviously on the list of places with their own pages on the site.

But where is Toledo? Where is Ohio as a whole? Three of New York City’s boroughs are included, but not our own Ohio?

I was feeling feisty and wrote to the national site to complain: “Toledo isn’t one of your featured cities; in fact, the entire state of Maine is included but Ohio isn’t feeling any Eater.com love. How do we go about getting some recognition for a place that I’m finding, after being raised in NYC and spending 30 years in Ann Arbor, is a pretty good food town?”

I continued on to cite classic Toledo institutions such as Tony Packo’s and Inky’s, as well as “really lovely contemporary places like Element 112, The Beirut, and Registry Bistro.” I noted that Ohio is home to Jonathon Sawyer, the Cleveland chef who was just named a finalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes by the James Beard Awards. I pointed out that the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation had recently held a tremendously successful dinner at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan to raise funds in support of Team USA chef Philip Tessier. I even resorted to reminding them that they had written this headline: “Ferran Adrià Exhibit Coming to NYC & Cleveland in 2014.” This particular Eater.com article promotes a series of photographs, “drawings, notes, and other ephemera” from the famed El Bulli restaurant in Spain that was regularly voted No. 1 in the world before it closed so that its chef could pursue other projects. This tremendous exhibit is coming to only two cities, two states. But one of those two — Ohio — is being neglected by Eater.com.

As, unfortunately, am I. I have yet to receive a response, or acknowledgement, of my passionate advocacy.

So I moved along to defend Toledo when a man attending the recent Mud Hens tasting event, showcasing new foods for the 2014 season, called out to me, “So, the food editor has to come here to get a good meal!” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant until he noted that I’m thin, which he presumed was indicative of the lack of quality dining choices here. (I’m hoping it wasn’t an indictment of my own cooking.)

I naively believed that my “street cred” and title might win him over, so I quickly responded that I’m finding Toledo to be a great — and underrated — food town. I thought that would be the end of it, that he might then be curious as to which places I recommend.

Uh uh.

He proceeded to tell me that going to his friend’s (and tablemate’s) house would provide the best meal in town, as his buddy’s wife is an excellent cook. He brought up New Orleans, where he’d spent a great deal of time, as setting a standard that Toledo just can’t meet. Well, we all know that New Orleans is a food town virtually without peer. But that doesn’t mean that Toledo has nothing stellar of its own.

Two women were sitting at this gentleman’s table, unfortunately caught in our friendly and joking — but also deeply serious — debate. I asked if they were from Toledo, and they nodded between bites. I asked them to help me. What places would they recommend?

They quietly (I’m sure they wished they had sat in different seats) responded, “Registry Bistro,” at which point my opponent’s friend chimed in, as well, about how lovely it is. I was garnering teammates, my side had won a prized point.

I asked the man if he’d seen my recent article about the aforementioned Bocuse d’Or dinner. No, unfortunately, he hadn’t. I quoted from it, and from chef John Selick who’d provided the assessment, by noting that Ohio had been declared “The center of the culinary universe.” What? Ohio?

Yes. Ohio.

And don’t ever forget it.

I had to leave to start typing to meet a deadline, but my opponent and I left on good terms. He challenged me that he’s going to keep reading my articles, as he wants me to prove to him, through my features, that I said what I meant and I meant what I said.

And I intend to keep proving my point and supporting my new home.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 
mbilyeu@theblade.com
 or 419-724-6155 or on Twitter @foodfloozie.



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