Shine on, harvest moon! Fall is one of the best times of year to savor agricultural bounty. And with nearly a thousand farms taking up about three quarters of its land, Union County is one of the best places in Ohio to enjoy locally grown foods and unique fall experiences — like the opportunity to sit down and dine on a historic covered bridge!
Out of the Ordinary Dining
During the last weekend of September, three different dining experiences will be offered on the Pottersburg Covered Bridge in Rush Township, one of seven such bridges in the county. On Friday evening, a sumptuous four-course dinner with live music will be served on long tables lined down the center of the 94-foot bridge with white tablecloths and a chandelier. The next evening, a more informal “Barbeque on the Bridge” event will be served buffet style with lots of local stories served up as entertainment. A Sunday breakfast event features high flying pancakes tossed onto your plate by Chris Cakes, a Guinness World Record holder as “Fastest Flipper.” Guided bus tours of all seven of the county’s covered bridges also will be offered.
From Field to Plate
Unique dining experiences can be found in Union County all year long. The little town of Magnetic Springs was once a mecca for thousands hoping to find healing powers in the mineral waters found there. Nowadays, the Magnetic Springs Café is a different kind of mecca, serving up home cooking in an actual home — a cozy bungalow complete with a front porch. Staples like meat loaf, mac ’n cheese, and chicken and noodles taste just like (your!) mother used to make.
Likewise, the Double Comfort Chicken Sandwich and Smoked Cheesy Brats pull repeat customers back to the cafe at Bluescreek Farm Meats near Plain City with tasty seasonal fare that includes a lamb burger customers are adamant remains on the menu. An onsite full-service butcher shop sells local beef, lamb, pork and goat meat as well as veal, poultry and even bison, all locally and naturally raised. Bluescreek’s Bakery offers fare like peanut butter ‘smores and rustic oak bread, while a small market sells local eggs, milk, honey and other items like a Kombucha tea made in Plain City.
Other “Fall Farm Feasts” taking place in Union County include family-style dinners served to guests seated on straw bales at Mitchell’s Berries. Owner Shelly Detwiler’s family has owned their farm near Plain City for nearly 200 years. In the spring and summer, Mitchell’s serves as a pick-your-own facility, selling strawberries, red and black raspberries, asparagus and edamame. In the fall, attention turns to monthly meals of rustic elegance, including a low country boil offering shrimp, mussels and crawfish.
Flavors that Fix
Behind the counter at Marysville’s new Soda Pharm, you won’t find the soda fountain of yesteryear. Instead, you’ll find big jars full of dried herbs like sage, chamomile and peppermint that Dawn Combs uses to craft artisanal sodas from her handmade syrups. A nationally known ethnobotanist, author and functional foods expert, Combs has devised an array of fruity, herby, floral and spicy sodas aimed at supporting a variety of health issues. Stop in and enjoy unique sodas, handcrafted teas, specialty coffee drinks, her nationally acclaimed line of botanical supplement products and a house-made menu in a one-of-a-kind store where your food and drink should not only be good for you, but taste great too!
Another new addition to downtown Marysville is the House of Spirits housed in an ornate brick mansion dating to 1884. This establishment has been transformed into a swanky speakeasy complete with the original woodwork and pocket doors. The House of Spirits specializes in fine bourbons, whiskeys, other spirits and craft cocktails. The newly remodeled house can also be rented for corporate meetings and special events. The new establishment sits adjacent to and is operated by the same owners as Leon’s Garage, a perennial Marysville favorite featuring 20 craft beers on tap, outside dining space and barbecue food items. Leon’s features live music every Friday and Saturday through the year.
Another new food establishment in Union County is Kitschen Bakery near Raymond, a roadside farm market selling produce, cut flowers, jams and jellies, and the baked goods owner Katy Porter-Conley has long been known for. Whipping up an array of pies, sweet rolls, cookies, cupcakes and muffins, her focus is on modifying existing recipes or experimenting with unusual flavor combinations. Think Honey Cornmeal Cake or Lemon Tarragon Cookies or Pear Rosemary Pie. Her all-natural ingredients come from local purveyors. The “kitsch” in Kitschen Bakery comes from accouterments like gnomes or gingham or polka dot fabrics Porter-Conley is fond of.
Bokes Creek Winery is named for a stream running adjacent to the property, where owners Mike and Diane Frasca found a lot of wild fruit growing when they purchased the land several years ago. They started making fruit wines out of it that were so good their friends told other friends, and strangers started knocking on the Frascas’ door asking if they could purchase a bottle. That inspired the couple to open the winery in 2011, where customers can now purchase such whimsical wines as Gooseberry Giggles, Strawberry Serenade, Rhubarb Ruckus and Raspberry Rhapsody. Whatever fruits or grapes the Frascas don’t grow themselves, they purchase locally.
Dalton Union does double duty as both a winery and a craft brewery, the first of its kind in Union County, with husband Dale Mabry concentrating on beer brewing, while wife Tonya serves as the chief wine maker. Their 43040 beer, a hops forward golden ale, is named for the local zip code and uses ingredients entirely from the Marysville area. Among their wines, the biggest seller is their Black Horse, a pinot noir with notes of black cherry. Other offerings include hard cider, sangria and mead. Dalton Union’s sizable tasting room packs them in on Saturday nights with live music and a food truck on the premises with karaoke, trivia contests and open mic nights to attract crowds on other evenings.
Attractions That A-Maze
And what would fall be without a trip to a corn maze? There’s a huge 9-acre one at The MAiZE at Little Darby Creek with a design honoring this year’s 50th anniversary of the moon walk — weave your way through formations of a flag, lunar rover and an astronaut. Other activities range from laser tag to dodgeball and the chance to shoot corn cannons or pumpkin blasters. Take a hayride to the pumpkin patch. “The Great Pumpkin Smash” takes place on the final day.
For those who see fall as a time to prep for spring gardening, one of the largest bulb distributors in the country is in Union County. The Leo Berbee Bulb Company ships millions of bulbs to retailers nationwide, but folks visiting Union County can stop by Berbee’s own retail outlet, the Dutch Mill Greenhouse, and pick up bulbs for fall planting like crocuses, daffodils, irises, and more than 120 varieties of tulips. Unusual bulb varieties on hand include alliums, fritillarias, and snow drops that bloom in February.
Honda Heritage Center
There’s also good reason on your travels around Union County to make a stop at the Honda Heritage Center. The onsite museum shows the progression of Honda motorcycles and cars and other products the company produces like race cars, ATVs, personal watercraft and even a six-seat corporate jet. See robots simulating the welding and painting of cars, but if you’ve made reservations well in advance, you can see real robots doing that very same work in the popular one-hour factory tours in the auto plant, where two different assembly lines of workers produce 1,900 cars per day, proof that there’s industrial as well as agricultural bounty in Union County.