The Western Ohio Burger Tour 2011

I was tempted to make either passports or merit badges for the inaugural Western Ohio Burger Tour. For this trip, which we completed in less than 8 hours, I suggested eating four regional burger champs. That may have proved to be too much by the end of the day, but we persevered and made it home safe and bloated. Again, inspired by Motz’s Hamburger USA trek, I knew one could experience an enriching staycation just visiting the burger meccas that lie along Interstate 75 in Western Ohio. The fourth burger (more in a future post) was a delightful detour off the beaten path. So for this post, we’ll stick with the first three, mostly for their aesthetic similarities.

 The first three all fit a common theme. They all sat a mile or two from I-75 (an artery of the rust belt and half of America’s crossroads, along with I-70). They all started (we hit the original locations) in the county seat, at the absolute center of town, usually adjacent the courthouse. They were all emblematic of small town America, cultural institutions embedded in the fabric of these communities. They all have their men’s rooms situated on the outside of the restaurant (anyone know the reason for this?) There’s a reason they’ve all survived and stood the test of time – they provide a wholesome regional identity with their product and a tangible link to the past. It’s something that goes beyond nostalgia -- each place is a living, breathing, reminder. Between Wilson’s, Kewpee, and The Spot, who has claim to the best burger and the best place in which to enjoy that burger?

Atmosphere: I’m probably in the minority here, but I felt Findlay, Ohio had a bit too much of a Pleasantville feel to it. Giant houses lined Main St. all draped in jingo-Americana, some even had massive dollhouses of those house in the grand windows. I thought this was the rust belt, but you wouldn’t know it cruising into downtown. The location was almost too clean, too polished, to indicative of small town America. Almost as if it was forced. Surrounded by windows were orange stools surrounding an open kitchen and typical burger joint counter – all too typical. I suppose that’s my only argument of Wilson’s. Everything seemed quaint enough, but something seemed awry. I just can’t put my finger on it.


Burger: Rumor has it that Wilson’s became Wilson’s because Wilson didn’t want to purchase a Kewpee franchise. So he tweaked the recipe (using mayo instead of Miracle Whip) and opened his Sandwich Shop. It’s still hard to mess with Wilson’s variation on what we’ve found to be the standard Ohio square hamburg (look to your nearest Wendy’s). It’s nothing fancy – the burger, with “everything,” includes tomato, onion, lettuce, a slice of American cheese, off a flattop grill. Perfection, really.


Hype: I can put my finger on that something that seemed awry. They were awfully suspect of strangers and the insider’s guide to ordering a Wilson’s burger killed our initial buzz for Wilson’s. It’s uppity in a way – and didn’t have the underdog status vs. Kewpee that one would think. All of that said, the burger is more than worth your visit, if only to say you’ve tried both for comparison.


Atmosphere: What we loved about Lima is how it was the antithesis of Findlay. The city was pretty gnar/gnar and has seen much better days. Kooler’s, which looked like the most happening abandoned train station turned bar, had long closed up, but three Kewpee’s outposts (including the original downtown location) remain as thriving businesses. And though that downtown was grimy and plain, half shut-down, there was a bustling line through the drive-in at the tiny diner. It had the essential qualities of an old-school burger joint (perhaps because it defined those qualities) and nothing has changed – lots of chrome and kitsch, an impeccable logo/mascot, a compact, steaming, visible kitchen, swinging doors, huge malts, and a staff that was equally accommodating and aging. Priceless. 


Burger: Maybe it was the character of the place, but it was the best food on our trip. Maybe it was the tang of the Miracle Whip that gave the burger a distinct sweeter flavor? Kewpee was the first to use the flat bun, the first to offer the “deluxe” burger (wit’ tomato, lettuce, onions, cheese), and it shows. The “mity nice hamburger” which “caters to all folks” is the blueprint for burgers across the Midwest.


Hype: The chain originated in Flint, Michigan in 1923 and has longed been known to serve as the inspiration for Dave Thomas’ Wendy’s burger. Eventually the franchise moved headquarters to Lima – and now this location is the longest still in operation. You want more firsts? Kewpee founder Samuel V. Bair was also the first to introduce curbside service, which eventually morphed into the modern day drive-thru. So pairing the food with such history – this is the real Ohio burger experience and well worth your time. 


Atmosphere: Though once a chain to serve Shelby and Miami County, the Sidney Spot (previously known as the Spot to Eat) is the only remaining location. It’s been there, at a picturesque corner of downtown Sidney, in one form or another, since 1907. That’s a testament to the brand, the loyalty of Sidney’s citizens, and the durability of a good burger. Though the Spot might be untouched, the excessive displays of nostalgia and ‘50s kitsch and diner-red-leather booths and neon, might have taken from the taste, the experience.


Burger: Still, this was the third stop the day. We needed coffee and walk about the square to keep off the sweats. Cleansed, we tried our best to comply and be objective. The Spot burger is a variation on another classic of the Ohio burger world – namely the Big Boy double decker. There was a “special sauce” (tartar, relish, mayo) and a poppyseed bun sandwiching a somewhat bland thin patty. I certainly prefer Frisch’s. The Spot’s only saving grace on the day was the sheer variety of their diner essentials menu.


Hype: Sidney had the nicest of the three historic downtown districts. We could’ve spent the day just exploring those few blocks. But even that is not worth the trouble to pull off the highway to frequent the Spot when there’s a Kewpee a mere 15 minutes away.



Perfume - "Spice"

It figures the day I'm finished typing up my Year End List, Japan's Perfume swoops in with their latest single, "Spice," and lifts me to pop heaven. Two days later and I've probably listened to this song 300 times. Seriously. It's why here at W.O.W. love the plasticity and sheer future-forward sonics of Britney Spears, Tove Styrke,HyunA and to a lesser extent, even Ke$ha and Rihanna. Perfume have been at the J-Pop game for a spell, but JPN, their first album in four years, has simply come out of nowhere and raised the bar in the pop park. Autotuned, maximal, brimming with 8-bit bleeps and candy-coated arpeggios -- this is something you need to hear in surround, in widescreen, everything ping-ponging around the room. Being stuck in a pachinko machine. I think I've used that analogy before, but it's most fitting here. Maybe it's the cold war between with K-Pop that has raised Perfume to this entirely new level?



Dwarr for All Mankind

Not Gwar. Duane Warr came long before. One look at the album covers for Starting Over and Animals, the man's 1984 and 1986 homespun masterpieces, and you think you know what you're getting into. That's not the case. Dwarr is the origin of trailer-psych metal -- proto-before-proto, but still huffing the ashes of the earliest Black Sabbath. My Agit-Interview with Warr is perhaps one of the most enlightening of my career as a music journalist/hack. Wonderful stuff. I promised the man I'd make sure everyone saw his excellent videos as well.

Here's Are You Real?, my personal favorite:


The Glenn Braggs Appreciation Thread

I have theories as to why I consider Glenn Braggs my baseball-playing alter-ego. I have lots of remembrances of that 1990 Reds World Series team. Larkin, Davis, Rijo, the Nasty Boys, Sabo’s goggles, Billy “Pop-Up Heard Round the World” Hatcher. But I always find my favorites in the utility players (hence my love of Miguel Cairo, Willy Mo Pena, Ryan Freel) and the forgotten intangibles that made them such a fun team to root for that summer and beyond. Glenn Braggs, for many reasons, was my favorite Red that year. He had a monstrous physique, a contagious smile, a built-in name suited for the ultimate ’88 emcee, and the propensity to break bats over his knee, or, on occasion, in mid-swing. Braggs was infinitely likeable, a power-outfielder who worked hard to keep that status despite a .257 career average. Maybe he never had the chance, the ABs to prove them wrong. For his 7 seasons in the majors he played a small role for both the Brewers, who first drafted him, and my beloved Reds (to whom he pledges his allegiance).

And just like Braggs was an integral cog in the (new) Big Red Machine, his life is full of intangibles that make him even more an intriguing personality. He went on to play for the Yokohoma BayStars until 1997, married Cindy Herron of En Vogue, and continues to work his way into the Cincinnati organization. He probably even kicks it with Charlie Sheen now and then, though as far as I can glean he’s not named in the Mitchell Report for steroid use. A true star of the Bo Jackson Shoebox era. Even his Starting Line-Up is rare.

Behold...The Year of Hibernation

Talk about a record that completely flew under my radar. When Youth Lagoon first appeared I mistakenly passed it off as another record using twee as entry into the world of indie rock. Too many bands these days use Young Marble Giants as their first source of influence, but rarely, if ever, make good on that claim. This debut from Boise, Idaho's Trevor Powers is perhaps the closest approximation of that band's tiny sound. I'm having trouble finding any correlation between this record and the comparisons he has gained -- Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips. The Year of Hibernation is something completely different. These songs take a more than just a moment, or a double listen, to sink in and under the skin. Power's has tiny ambitions and big implosions, blasts of color that appear far in the distance. These are huge, hook-filled pop songs that come whispered instead of shouted. The record is almost insufferably quiet and barely registers, requiring even more of an ear to enter this insular and warm glowing atmosphere presented by Powers. Because of this, you have to find your own structure in the guy's out-there existentialism. Chronic anxiety and a hard-luck break-up are said to have shaped Power's music -- and you can hear it -- he's a man with a strong knack for pop, but hides it in the folds. The Year of Hibernation is sure to make it into my best of 2011 list. Believe it.


Unfinished Rainbows' First Voyage

A few Sunday's back, there were possibly ten people (at most) milling around my favorite new bar in Columbus, Double Happiness, waiting around for Jerusalem and the Starbaskets to play their cheery-yet-ragged psych-pop and Sundown to get Americana-kosmiche. Surveillance footage managed to catch a glimpse of Unfinished Rainbows (playing to about 3) droning to the max. UR is Matt Horseshit's multi-purpose psych-unit-destroyer. For 20 minutes or so he took us into the world that probably only gets played through headphones late at night. This is not anything resembling his other band -- it's a trip for several movements, spliced with samples, and soon lurching with death-sized beats. Sick. Be on the lookout for more Unfinished Rainbows performances, including one coming up in December with Radio People and NYC's Forma.

Black Bug Welcome You To the Machine

Keeping up the the Hozac's is a nearly a full-time job -- and being that I have a few other jobs to fulfill on a daily basis, I mistakenly tuned out the label for much of the second half of this year. Besides the excellent Fungi Girls debut LP, I couldn't really tell you what's going on up in Chicago. The singles club still functions, the releases come at a rapid clip, and as a result a lot of great things there get lost in the shuffle. One such single comes from Sweden's Black Bug. Their Police Helicopters EP is one of those occasions for the label to delve into the gnarliest, darkest corners of cold wave. This is as black as they come. It's perfectly reminiscent of the Human League before they became "Human" with possibly a splash of Napalm Death -- if only for that bands hyper-blasts. The drum machines here are cranked to that setting, and left on auto-pilot. Throughout there are space-punk sci-fi shouts (think 1984) battling with the droid overlords. The synths keep up, speeding to a colorful paranoia. One has the feeling that as automaton as Black Bug sounds they could certainly conjure some hooks from those machines. Like an 8-bit Cramps or Suicide plopped into the middle of one of those endless Metroid dungeons. This is decrepit, scummy, vile, noise terrorism quite worthy of the three or four minutes you'll spend with the duo. Not sure I could handle this as a full-length (maybe if they kept it under 15 minutes?)

 Here's a vid for the single's title track:



Iceage and the New Brigade

Back in the midst of Summer, when IceAge (read up by hitting my interview with them back in May) rolled into the Carabar, there were a lot of naysayers shunning their brief, but pummeling 20 odd minute set. Maybe it was the buzz that was rolling behind them, liable to swallow the young Danish punks before they got the chance to head back home. Sure they weren't all that personable on stage, stormed off in an apparent fit, and blasted through their songs without much room to breath and/or acknowledge/fix the sound and/or deal with the technical issues - but that's their speed. I doubt their first whirlwind tour through the states involved much sleep and/or health and/or comfort and/or privacy judging by the way they were received their first NYC show back in June (saw that one too). I helped them haul their gear up two flights of steps and into a crust-punk palace, where no one was having it, but they ended up destroying those Bushwick kids nonetheless.

It's getting time to start listing off the albums of the year -- and I'm revisiting this debut over and over. It's certainly a top 5 record. And anyone who disagrees might just be too old. I firmly believe this record has the same weight as a number of other punk landmarks -- Wire's Pink Flag, the Refused's Shape of Punk to Come, Minor Threat, Discharge, Warsaw -- and any rebellious teen who puts this on will have their minds blown, subsequently scrawling the quartet's logo onto their Trapper Keepers.

All in all they are pretty kind, unassuming dudes. They know how to attack when it matters. Melodies abound atop a great approximation of '10s hardcore. Can't wait to hear what's next.

Here's the band's first video for New Brigade's title track:

Live in Columbus, Ohio. Taped by the infamous Mike Sperry.


R I M A R Reveals Himself

I guess we call this the arrival. With the once free debut digital album from Brooklyn's Rimar now coming in the vinyl format on Bella Union Records -- it was only a matter of time before the elusive beat-maker/popsmith revealed himself via this video for Higher Ground's title track. Here he rocks the rooftops of two boroughs and dances awkwardly like a b-boy who has just decided to rule the world. It's blissfully hazy and a perfect introduction to the man. Though I've already put into words an introduction to the man over at Agit-Reader.

Go buy his record. Cheer him on. I have a feeling he'll be backing numerous up-r-coming young emcess in the coming months -- aside from making a more profound second record.

Chili Quest Finale: Blue Ash

For the longest time and for some unbeknownst reason whilst organizing the Cincinnati Chili Quest, I had thought Blue Ash Chili was a copycat, or recently built parlor styled to authenticate the Cincinnati Chili Experience. I had no idea, until finally visiting the quiet Northern burb, that Blue Ash was an original, or at least since 1969 -- a long time for a small scale chili parlor to survive. I suppose it was just the assumption that Blue Ash was an affluent hood outside the ranks of the river living communities near downtown and over the river.

We were on our way to the best seats ever at the Paul McCartney concert at Great American Ballpark (my highest ranking experience there all year, didn't see the Reds win once this season) so it only seemed logical to stop and finish the tour (unless you can steer me towards an "open" Empress franchise?). I must say. It was perfect. In many respects I can rank this among Price Hill as the place for authentic Cincinnati Chili. It might even have a slight advantage -- the addition of fried jalapenos.

Then again, there wasn't much Cincy pride memorabilia dotting the walls or a lore surrounding the place. It's also in Blue Ash -- which is somewhat of a hike, and has somewhat become that affluent escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Perhaps another point for Blue Ash come to think of it.

 Is the Quest over? You tell me.

We Interrupt this Blog...for some Unholy Two GIFS

This was taken at the first annual MegaCity Music Marathon back in September. Unholy Two destroyed that night. (hint, hint -- mark your calendars for next year's Marathon -- Saturday, June 9th). Now is a long time from then, so I'm taking this opporutnity -- and giving you a double shot of the UH2 -- to let you know to expect some (more) regular posts aboard here. Lots of fall/winter goodies in store. 

James Ferraro's FACT Mix

Funny. Just picked up a Glenn Jones album for $1 the other day. You can't go wrong with "If It Isn't Love" by New Edition in the autumn. Sounds like Ferraro is on exactly my same wavelength. All I ever want to make for you to consume here, sounds like a clear TDX mixtape full of forgotten 92.1 slow jams and new jack, melted beyond any reason of familiarity, and re-cut for an age when we'll need cassettes like this again. I can't vouch for the Teletubbies/Starbucks designed clarity of Ferraro's new Far Side Virtual (I much prefer the older stuff), but this mix has latest for weeks now.

  Go Here to Experience the Magic....

Me Phi Me...Too Smart for His Thyme

My sudden interest in Me Phi Me came directly from this article from the AV Club regarding novelty hip-hop bands (mostly from the ‘90s, the era of most Bo Jackson entries) – many of these novelty acts were purchased and neatly tucked away in the shoebox. The shocking thing is that back then, when a teenager’s music catalogue was limited to FM radio and a shoebox, I would listen to many of these tapes from front to back repeatedly. Imagine trying your best to listen to Candyman’s debut repeatedly – that may or may not attribute to my onset adult ADD or blurry judgment when it comes to my perception of hip-hop nostalgia. Maybe it was basic training, played out on Justin Smith’s mammoth boombox (it was 3 feet high and rising, I was infinitely jealous of it)? Regardless, I hold a soft-spot in my heart for the first time I heard Me Phi Me’s “Sad New Day.” Blame it on De La Soul initially – the flower children of the Native Tongue era – or P.M. Dawn’s daisy romantics, or how much I appreciated Arrested Development’s entry into thinking man’s rap-pop (“Tennessee” has stood the test of time).

I think it was more my eventual transition to ditch the Starter hats and jackets and assimilating into an aesthetic of “alternativeness.” Classics, Punk, and Metal (all teenage touchstones) had been a part of me for some time, but somewhere between 9th and 10th grade it all changed. I was fully acceptant of folkies and poetry geeks, vegans and revolutionaries, French New Wave and Public Enemy-esque anti-politics (forcing me to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X at a very young age). So Me Phi Me’s adherence to an individual spirit was magnetic. Seriously, no one in hip-hop was using smooth jazz pioneer Michael Franks in their recordings (though the guy is almost directly responsible for over 75% of chillwave) and no one was referring to themselves as a “fraternity of one.” The existential “sun brotherhood” is the overriding concept of Me Phi Me’s One, his debut in 1992 -- there are more than a few full-fledged chants for this fraternity all over the album – and by the time you make it through the whole record (I can guarantee you won’t) you’ll have a sense of the direct inspiration of Me Phi Me’s left-field curveball here. It stems from the escalation of an artist like Tracy Chapman or the aforementioned paisley coalition.

Meditate at your own risk.