You can go home again, but the food won’t be the same

I am speaking specifically about ice cream and bagels. Another of my favorites, Skyline Chili, remains exactly the same. Actually, on my most recent trip, I had the best Skyline I'd had in years. (Jonathan Weiss/Dreamstime/TNS)

I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone.

Actually, the city was still there, looking better than ever. But some of the places I used to go to for food had changed.


I am speaking specifically about ice cream and bagels. Another of my favorites, Skyline Chili, remains exactly the same. Actually, on my most recent trip, I had the best Skyline I’d had in years.

On this particular trip home, I had a delightful conversation with a young woman who will soon be marrying into my extended family (by “extended,” I mean “very close family friends to whom I am not technically related”). We agreed pleasantly enough on any number of topics, but she was dead set against the whole concept of Cincinnati chili.

“You’re not looking at Cincinnati chili the right way,” I said as her fiancee accused me of mansplaining. “Cincinnati chili is not chili. Cincinnati chili is spaghetti with a Greek meat sauce on it.”

My new young friend was not convinced. Then again, she is originally from Hawaii and is just as passionate about Spam as I am about Cincinnati chili. In my mind, I win.

I usually get Cincinnati chili at the chili parlor nearest our hotel, but I stayed at a different hotel this time. I ended up at a different branch of the same chain, and that made all the difference.

So I had no problem with the chili. But the bagels? It was as if aliens had come down and, for reasons we humans can never understand, surgically removed a vital part of my childhood. And not just my childhood. They had taken away one of the few representatives of true bageldom in America.

What you think of as bagels are probably not bagels, at least not as bagels existed for their first 450 years. The bagels I grew up with, when they were still unknown to most of America, were about 3 inches wide with a pronounced crust and an addictively chewy, dense texture. Most of all, they were distinguished by a certain pleasing tang that instantly let you know you were not merely eating doughnut-shaped bread.

Today’s bagels taste like doughnut-shaped bread. They are even a little sweet, which is the opposite of traditional bagels.

But surely, I thought, the bagel shop I used to go to in Cincinnati, the bakery that probably had the best bagels west of Manhattan, would still be as great as they ever were. Surely, those bagels would not change.

Those bagels changed. They tasted like life saver-shaped bread that had no discernible flavor other than the topping. One tasted like sesame seeds. Another tasted like poppy seeds.

I have played around with time a little here — you can think of it simply as being inaccurate. The disappointing trip to the bagel shop was actually a few trips ago.

This time, I went to a different bagel shop, a national chain. Their bagels are relatively close to the real thing. I had a couple there and brought back a dozen for the freezer.

But it’s not just bagels. I had a similar disappointment a couple of months ago at my favorite ice cream parlor.

Cincinnati has two great, Ted Drewes-level ice cream parlors. One, Graeter’s, is nationally known; you can buy pints of Graeter’s ice cream. If you do, be sure to get a variety that has chocolate chips in it. While other chocolate chips are all hard and bland, the chocolate chips in Graeter’s ice cream are soft and chewy and actually taste like rich, delicious chocolate.

Even so, I prefer the actual ice cream (as opposed to the chips) at another ice cream emporium. Aglamesis’ ice cream, to my palate, seems richer, with better, fuller flavors.

We went there on another trip home a couple of months ago. I got my favorite, mocha chip, in a cone. I think my wife got a sundae with French vanilla and caramel sauce.

We were disappointed. Both felt a little gritty, as if there had perhaps been a problem with the freezing process. We felt so cheated by the experience that we actually went immediately to Graeter’s but decided only to buy a couple of jars of their hot fudge sauce. But we briefly contemplated getting an ice cream there, too.

I hope that whatever happened at Aglamesis was only temporary and has been fixed by now. I’m sure I’ll try them again.

But nostalgia, as they say, isn’t what it used to be.

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