November 2007 Issue
There's a lot cooking in Greenville and history-steeped southwest Ohio.
The original reason to head to Greenville was obvious: KitchenAid was calling.
Where else but at that city’s KitchenAid Experience Center, a popular southwest Ohio spot known for its cooking classes and demonstrations, could I receive a much-needed intervention? It’s been three years since my husband and I said our “I dos,” and yet the gleaming cookware we received as wedding gifts remains virtually untouched in our home near Cleveland. I crank out countless variations on the same drab dinner recipe night after night –– a tired blend of chicken, seasoned salt and Italian dressing that would make Martha Stewart cringe.
Clearly, a primer on the finer points of cooking was in order.
Apparently, though, so was a proper introduction to Darke County.
Just as Greenville features a sanctuary for the culinary challenged, the area in which it’s located also offers a rich blend of history and culture that makes it a haven for travelers in search of an entertaining day trip or overnight getaway. From a museum dedicated to Greenville’s famous hometown girl, to a local restaurant legendary for its burgers and bubblegum-coated building, the jaunt to KitchenAid taken by my husband and me –– after all, he could use some help around a stove, too –– became much more: a weekend in a region whose unique atmosphere feels made to order.
Our excursion began on Broadway Avenue in historic downtown Greenville, where the long, red awning of the KitchenAid Experience Center serves as a beacon for wannabe chefs.
The KitchenAid Stand Mixer, which has been assembled by hand in Greenville for more than 60 years, is such an iconic piece of Americana that it’s on display in the Smithsonian Museum. And the brand is so beloved that KitchenAid has a museum of its own in the basement of its two-story building, showcasing the history and development of its products. The company even hosts tours of the KitchenAid Factory: a 256,000-square-foot space less than 10 minutes from the Experience Center that introduces visitors to everything from wire wrapping to motor mechanics, and reveals the efficient manner in which KitchenAid produces up to 1.5 million mixers annually.
The Ohio company’s history and expertise is clearly worthy of admiration. But for someone like me, the Experience Center had the potential to overwhelm: The type of person who thinks Wolfgang Puck is a maestro of classical music isn’t normally found in a showroom of cutlery and appliances.
And yet there I was, amid the colorful grandeur of the Center’s store, its shelves lined with every imaginable type of cookware in an array of sleek designs and warm hues –– and feeling surprisingly at home. The credit goes to the store’s knowledgeable and friendly staff, who pointed out the helpful identification tags on all the products and patiently guided my husband and me through the aisles of items. Before long, I was recognizing the difference between the Professional 5 Plus Series Mixer and the Commercial 5 Mixer like a pro.
Since 2001, KitchenAid has hosted live cooking shows for Greenville residents and travelers alike, inviting a guest chef to flip, toss, bake or fry a recipe of the day, and show visitors new ways to use the company’s items.
We’d arrived on a Saturday, the busiest day, for a special “celebrity guest”: Frederic de Villeneuve from Ghyslain Chocolates, a high-end chocolate shop in nearby Union City, Indiana, who would instruct us in how to create hard and soft caramels from scratch, as well as decadent, dark-chocolate truffles.
Before class, a group of foodies had lined up along bar stools at the counter of the demonstration kitchen and shared tips on where to buy good chocolate in the area and the best way to preserve pastries. Now that the class was underway, the audience of 15 peppered de Villeneuve with questions.
“Where can you find sugar cocoa powder?” asked one woman.
“At what temperature should I remove the chocolate from the heat?” asked the husband of another.
Chef de Villeneuve answered the questions with ease. From the moment he began to measure and melt the chocolate (using KitchenAid products, of course) the sweet smell escaped the kitchen and permeated the Center’s store, luring nearly every customer to line up around the counter in hopes of a taste. Before we knew it, the chocolatier was squeezing dark chocolate from a pastry bag and presenting us with picture-perfect truffles.
The sweets melted in our mouths, and I marveled at the fact that de Villeneuve’s creations seemed so easy, even I could make them. Maybe. For now, though, I imagined effortlessly crafting truffles in my kitchen back home, and savored the perfect dessert.
When our chocolate craving had been satiated at KitchenAid, we left the Center eager to chow down on something more substantial. Fortunately, the place to go in Greenville for fast and filling service is located just down the road at Maid-Rite, and the cars that lined the street for the restaurant’s drive-through pointed the way.
Maid-Rite’s famous bite-size burgers are a staple of the Greenville diet, and have been since 1934. The loose-meat sandwiches (best described as a sloppy Joe without the sauce) draw visitors from all over to the truck-stop-style restaurant, complete with red booths and bar stool seats.
Like most out-of-towners, I made a few rookie mistakes upon ordering: First, requesting only one of the tiny sandwiches (which would have even the smallest appetite begging for more); and second, not specifying that I wanted it with “everything” (pickles and onions). Leave it to my Philadelphian husband to understand how it’s done: He’s ordered enough cheese steaks in his day to know that there’s a proper lingo to ordering local cuisine. Together, we consumed eight of the burgers, along with potato chips and thick strawberry milkshakes –– and were ready to hit the road again in less than 15 minutes.
Of course, you can’t leave Maid-Rite without honoring its quirky tradition. The food isn’t the only reason people flock to this restaurant: One side of Maid-Rite’s brick exterior is covered with colorful wads of gum. Sticking gum on the side of Maid-Rite is like a rite of passage in these parts, and some tourists come to Greenville just so they can say they performed the deed.
Chalk it up to the area’s local color. In most places, travelers take a souvenir with them to remind them of their time there. In Greenville, visitors leave a little something behind.
Maid-Rite is just one example of the region’s singular attractions. Another can be discovered just a five-minute walk away at the Garst Museum.
The museum’s main floor features artifacts related to Darke County’s past, from presidential visits to the importance of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. My husband and I were drawn to a display that was a bit more, well, eye-catching: the massive tusks of a mastodon that roamed Greenville millions of years ago.
Prehistoric creatures notwithstanding, the museum’s most impressive exhibits are of its famous former residents, such as popular radio commentator Lowell Thomas and “Little Miss Sure Shot” Annie Oakley. Among other things, the Lowell Thomas exhibit includes live radio recordings, news clippings and gifts from royalty; the Annie Oakley collection features flyers from when she and husband Frank Butler toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, as well as Oakley’s prized rifle and live footage of Oakley in action.
Steeped in Little Miss Sure Shot’s lore, we decided to make the half-hour drive north on U.S. Route 127 to Brock Cemetery, the final resting place of Darke County’s favorite daughter and her husband. Oakley’s legacy is still alive and well in Greenville, and is celebrated every year during the Annie Oakley Days Festival, a July event when thousands of attendees enjoy a parade, historical tours and impersonators, shooting contests and more. Visitors to the area can see how much she’s revered in the community any time of year with a visit to Annie Oakley Memorial Park, where a life-size, bronze statue of the legendary shooter stands atop a pedestal, and an Ohio historical marker recounts her life (she was born in Darke County’s Patterson Township in 1860 and died in Greenville in 1926).
We hardly needed proof of how much Oakley is revered here. But we got it anyway: Resting there in the cemetery’s grass, subtly occupying the foot of Oakley’s modest tombstone, lay several bunches of red flowers.
Our appreciation of the area’s history ended at popular tourist attraction Bear’s Mill, a fully operating, water-powered flourmill listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Those who aren’t captivated by the three floors of authentic milling equipment and historical artifacts can find enjoyment in the mill’s store, which is anything but aged. There, artists and craftsmen offer a wealth of diverse works, ranging from photography and pottery to jewelry and purses.
As dusk drew near, my husband and I were ready to unwind. Fortunately, the charming Inn at Versailles is located just 20 minutes from downtown Greenville –– although, stepping out of the car, it suddenly felt like we were a continent away.
The inn’s European theme is announced immediately upon entering the parking lot, where guests are greeted by a two-story mural of an idyllic French village. Inside, Old World architecture pairs with frescos and Gallic prints in the hallways and dining areas, and the rooms and suites have a French-inspired flair.
We dined at the on-site restaurant, Michael Anthony’s at The Inn. Our day’s dining schedule had been a little backwards: Normally, the caramels and truffles that we’d snacked on earlier would have been served as an evening dessert at an upscale establishment such as this one. But we weren’t going to let that keep us from enjoying another after-dinner treat. My husband finished his chicken Marsala, I ate my farfalle entree (bowtie pasta served with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and grilled chicken), and we dove into the Inn’s homemade gelato, complemented with a glass of merlot.
Still, we weren’t quite done with our exploration of the region. We decided to continue our evening of sophistication with a five-minute drive west on St. Rte. 47 to The Winery at Versailles, a family-owned enterprise featuring 20 wines and tastings on select evenings. We each chose a flight of wine to sample, starting with a dry Pinot Grigio and ending with a Framboise dessert wine.
We sat on the winery’s balcony, gazed out at the vast vineyard and raised our glasses to the adventurous day. It all began with a desire to make more appetizing meals at our home back in northeast Ohio.
Never mind that we hadn’t learned any new dinner dishes during our trip. That just gave us another reason to come back to Darke County.