by Jake Fernberg; Photography by Jim Stephan
While Hocking Hills is certainly a summer and fall destination, the scenery is still gorgeous in winter. Getting Ohioans to brave the cold and experience the area is a challenge, though, and the main reason that the Comfort Food Cruise has taken hold in the area. The restaurant tour, organized by the Hocking Hills tourist association, allows people to drive around the area and see the state park, take in the scenery on foot on the many walking trails, and also experience a smorgasbord of comforting winter meals.
Karen Raymore, the executive director of the Hocking Hills Travel Association and the creator of this event, told me about the history, merits, and future of the tour. The Comfort Food Cruise is now entering its third year running, and now includes a dozen restaurants (with an optional stop at the Tourism Association for morning coffee) that all feature authentic, soulful, comfort food. The restaurants are spread throughout the Hocking Hills area, with stops in Laurelville, Logan, and Rockbridge. The menu offerings change from year to year, but each iteration of the cruise includes one staple: macaroni and cheese. This year, the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge is preparing the comfort food classic. Looking towards the future, Karen does not foresee the food cruise greatly expanding—it’s at a great size right now. The cruise isn't just for fun, though: a portion of the ticket price goes to local food pantries.
As a curious diner with an eclectic appetite, I asked Karen what her ideal three-meal route was for the comfort food cruise, and after some deliberation, she plotted a course. After stopping for coffee at the Hocking Hills Tourism Association, breakfast—biscuits and gravy, of course—at Pearls’ would start the day. For lunch, Karen recommended the meat loaf at the Ridge Inn Restaurant, and, rather than another filling meal for dinner, Karen suggested an early desert of the “Ultimate Chocolate Brownie” at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls—it’s “hard to resist.”
The Comfort Food Cruise is running from January 23 to 24, January 30 to 31 and February 6 to 7. Tickets are available online at http://www.explorehockinghills.com/comfortfoodcruise.aspx and can also be purchased by phone or in person.