Road Trip: Our Guide to Eating and Drinking in Yellow Springs
Editor’s Note: This article was published before Ohio’s dine-in ban began on March 15, 2020. Call ahead to find out if parks and businesses are open; some may require masks.
From May to October, the Greene County village of Yellow Springs becomes a bustling destination for outdoors enthusiasts, thanks in part to hiking trails at nearby Glen Helen Nature Preserve, John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve. Home to Antioch College, the town (population 3,700) is also a stop along the Little Miami Scenic Trail, a paved 78.1-mile route from Cincinnati to Springfield popular with cyclists. But any beautiful weekend is enough to coax visitors to this quirky and socially progressive enclave, one that feels like a small Colorado ski village, minus the skiing. Whether you visit the village after a hike or to admire local art or in hope of bumping into its most famous resident, Dave Chappelle, here are our recommendations on where to eat and drink.
Sunrise has been around since 1948, but chef/owner Brian Rainey has run the colorful, funky café for 15 years. Its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus don’t follow a certain cuisine—they’re more “chef’s whim”—but Rainey says Sunrise has one over arching ethos. “Our main focus is to get everything local as much as possible,” he says. To that end, Rainey works with more than 20 area farms, sourcing eggs from Morning Sun Organic Farm, produce from Patchwork Gardens and pork from Buck-I-Hillz Farm. During breakfast, Sunrise customers will find crispy-edged pancakes, omelets, house-made biscuits and gravy, and huevos rancheros. At dinnertime, the menu roams all over the map, ranging from schnitzel (a recipe from Rainey’s Austrian grandmother) to Thai tofu stir-fry to wagyu steaks. Looking for something more tropical? Rainey also owns Calypso Grill and Smokehouse (1535 Xenia Ave.), an island-inspired lunch-and-dinner spot he launched in 2018 after vacationing in the Cayman Islands. It’s open on Sundays for brunch. 259 Xenia Ave., 937-767-7211, sunrisecafe.net
A Local Specialty: The whole idea of The Vick Burger, says Sunrise Café chef/owner Brian Rainey, is a “chef’s-choice garbage burger.” You never know what you’re going to get. The burger is named after Vick Mickunas, a local DJ at radio station WYSO, who would call in with the order: “Me want burger.” Mickunas didn’t care what toppings they would put on it, Rainey says, so the Sunrise staff would challenge themselves, making the burger more over-the-top every time. Thus, The Vick Burger was born and added to the regular menu. “This isn’t just a burger, it’s an event,” Rainey says.
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The Greene Canteen
Brittany and Tim Baum, owners of Brezel in the North Market, fell in love with Yellow Springs and relocated there from Columbus in 2015. “It reminds me of how life was like when I was young—I grew up in a small community,” Brittany says, calling Yellow Springs her “forever home.” The couple, who are vegetarians, opened this hip, veggie-focused spot last April, serving an ever-changing menu of salads, smoothies, soups, toasts, stuffed sweet potatoes and more highlighting seasonal produce. All items are served in compostable or recyclable containers, and the café sends its vegetable scraps to farms to help feed their chickens. “The idea was to build a sustainable eatery where produce is in the spotlight,” Brittany says. 134 Dayton St., 937-319-0468, thegreenecanteen.com
Miguel Espinosa serves excellent Mexican street fare from this tucked-away taco truck parked behind Asanda Imports in Kings Yard. Miguel’s offers proteins such as al pastor, carnitas, carne asada and chicken tinga, served in taco, bowl or burrito form. Homemade salsas bring it home. 230 Xenia Ave., 347-651-9640, facebook.com/miguelstaco
If there’s one must-visit dining spot in town, it’s Winds Café, a 43-year-old landmark run by chef/owner Mary Kay Smith, who moved to Yellow Springs from Beavercreek, Ohio, in 1978. Winds was doing the locavore thing long before the movement went mainstream, originally growing its own produce before switching to partnerships with local farms. Today, Smith changes up Winds’ European- and Asian-inspired menu every two months and offers specials that highlight ingredients with brief peak seasons. Smith also still writes her own menu descriptions (wine, too)—creative passages that add a nice, personal touch. Although Winds is certainly fine dining, it’s casual at its heart. “We have people that come in bike gear all sweaty in the summer. And that’s fine,” says Smith. “And we have people that come in with all their hiking gear and … their big muddy shoes. For us, it’s just all about ‘how do you enjoy our food?’” Over the years, Winds has shifted in the direction of serving small plates and, Smith says, “is moving away from the large protein in the center of the plate.” One example is a dish Smith added in March: Ohio Aloo Gobi. Her Midwestern twist on the classic Indian dish combines roasted cauliflower steak, spiced fried potatoes and saffron-and-ginger ghee. Reservations are a must. 215 Xenia Ave., 937-767-1144, windscafe.com
Yellow Springs Brewery
Launched in 2013 by husband-and-wife team Nate Cornett and Lisa Wolters, Yellow Springs Brewery churns out a wide variety of beer styles, including core brews such as Captain Stardust saison, Boat Show IPA and Zoetic American pale ale. Tours of the brewhouse are given every Saturday starting at 5 p.m., and don’t miss the taproom’s back patio where you can sip a cold one (or a flight of them) while watching the bikes go by on the Little Miami trail. 305 Walnut St., 937-767-0222, yellowspringsbrewery.com
Ye Olde Trail Tavern
Built in 1827, Ye Olde Trail has the distinction of being Ohio’s oldest tavern. By looking at the old log cabin, you can almost imagine stagecoach riders, weary from the bumpy roads, stopping here along the route from Cincinnati to Columbus. These days, the tavern serves a menu of burgers, wings, pizzas and German specialties (e.g. currywurst), to go with draft and bottled beers. 228 Xenia Ave., 937-767-7448, oldetrailtavern.com
The Corner Cone
A perfect break from the bike trail, this seasonal ice cream stand is a walkup option for soft serve ice cream, shakes and sundaes as well as hot dogs and brats. 101 S. Walnut St., 937-319-1788, cornercone.net
Young’s Jersey Dairy
Just before you get to the village, this working dairy farm-meets-summer-carnival tempts drivers to pull over for house-made ice cream, farmstead cheese and family activities such as putt-putt golf. The bustling ice cream parlor, staffed by a throng of teenagers and college students, is something to behold. 6880 Springfield-Xenia Rd., 937-325-0629, youngsdairy.com
There’s a lovely piece of pottery on the dining tables at Winds Café that has stumped more than one diner (including me), despite its righteous place next to the pepper shaker. Winds’ unique saltshakers—kiln-kissed orbs with one teeny opening underneath—are the handiwork of Naysan McIlhargey, owner of Miami Valley Pottery (145 E. Hyde Road) in Yellow Springs and a longtime friend of the café. Mary Kay Smith says McIlhargey was a busser at Winds when he was a high school student, and now she carries many of his creations, including bowls, plates, a big vase behind the bar and his popular saltshakers. “They’re a real conversation piece,” she says.