Campaign trail leads to good eats for Matt Huffman

Campaign trail leads to good eats for Matt Huffman

By Amy Eddings

Matt Huffman, right, of Lima, and his wife, Sheryl, talk with restaurant owner Scott Carpenter after ordering their lunch at The Willow.

The campaign trail is meant to give candidates for public office an opportunity to meet potential voters, hear what’s on their minds and win their support in November.

A side benefit for Matt Huffman has been discovering new eateries.

“My wife and I found a lot of great restaurants,” Huffman said of his and Sheryl’s time on the stump.

The Republican and former statehouse representative from Lima is running unopposed this fall to replace State Sen. Keith Faber in the Ohio State Senate’s 12th District. Faber, a fellow member of the GOP, is term-limited and is not running for re-election.

The 12th District covers mostly rural and agricultural ground. It encompasses all of Allen, Champaign, Mercer and Shelby counties, and parts of Auglaize, Darke and Logan counties. This has meant, for the Huffmans, stops in county seats like Urbana and Celina, and little towns like Coldwater, New Knoxville and somewhere in between Anna and Botkins — or is it Jackson Center and New Bremen? — where the Inn Between is located.

“We started the door-to-door effort, which is where most of the dining out came from, last July,” Huffman said. “These were, for the most part, going out to dinner after knocking on a couple hundred doors and then being really tired and hungry.”

It has meant a lot of hearty, Midwestern standards like pork tenderloin sandwiches, fried chicken, fried bologna sandwiches, potato and macaroni salads and pizza.

“I almost always order fried chicken,” Huffman said. He also ate a lot of soup.

Even though he is the presumptive winner of the November contest, facing no Democratic opponent, Huffman stressed that this was not a Top Ten list of ranked favorites.

“I don’t want to make anybody angry,” he said.

So, here, in alphabetical order, are Matt and Sheryl Huffman’s 10 restaurant finds in Ohio’s 12th State Senate District.

Don’s Downtown Diner, 208 S. Main St., Bellefontaine, 937-599-4444.

“Hamburgers are primo, but don’t miss out on their bologna sandwiches, which are excellent. The wait staff is really friendly, a good group of people. And it’s also just a block from the oldest concrete street in America, if you like these pieces of trivia,” he said.

If you like a challenge, try eating the Sweet Matilda in an hour. It’s a loaf of Texas toast, 4 half-pound beef patties, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and mayonnaise, plus a side of two pounds of French fries.

Green Thumb Farm Fresh Café, 4247 Southland Road, New Bremen, 419-753-2456.

“This is a nice little farmers’ market and restaurant, as fresh as you can be,” said Huffman of the Fledderjohann’s farm and produce stand, and daughter Samantha’s restaurant. “They were literally driving out of the field with a wagon full of ears of corn,” he remembered.

Recent specials have included a chicken avocado ranch burrito, a “red berry” salad of mixed greens with strawberries, red raspberries, dried cranberries, avocado and feta cheese, and a spicy cheeseburger and broccoli soup. The menu features locally sourced produce and grass-fed beef. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available.

The Grill on Main, 222 W. Main St., Coldwater, 419-678-2656.

“When I walked in, it was jam-packed. There was a football game on. It draws a really great group of people,” Huffman said.

He said he hadn’t eaten all day and ate a whole, hand-breaded tenderloin sandwich and a pizza. The Grill offers specialty pizzas ($15.95) that include the Taco Pizza, with taco meat, shredded lettuce, salsa, onions, tomatoes and black olives, and the Chicken Bacon Ranch (chicken, bacon and ranch dressing). Entreés include liver and onions, country-fried steak and “Ohio’s best” pork chops. Bar offerings include locally brewed beer from Moeller’s Brew Barn in Maria Stein.

The Inn Between Tavern, 16488 County Highway 25A, Botkins, 937-693-8043.

“It’s a true roadhouse. It’s not in town, it’s not close to the edge of a town,” said Huffman. “It’s got pretty much everything.”

That includes fried chicken, which Huffman recommends ($6.25-$10.50), steaks, pork chops, pizzas, fried bologna ($3.50) and mushroom steak ($5.50) sandwiches, wild salmon ($13.99), and breaded oysters ($8.99). Fans on Google rave about the deep-fried cheesecake.

Madison’s Downtown Market & Café, 117 Scioto St., Urbana, 937-653-4444.

Huffman ducked into Madison’s for a quick bowl of soup and a cup of hot tea while halfway through campaigning door-to-door on Scioto Street in 20-degree weather last winter.

“When your mouth starts going numb while you’re telling people why they should vote for you, it’s not good,” he said. “I ordered the dill tomato. And they have good sandwiches and their own coffee blend.”

Assorted hot and cold sandwiches include chicken or tuna salad and bacon, spinach, tomato and siracha mayo ($6.50-$8). There are also wraps, salads and pizza. Save room for gelato.

Main Street Station Restaurant & Carryout, 105 N. Main St., New Knoxville, 419-753-2909.

“It’s the only restaurant in town, the place where New Knoxvillians go to share their community,” he said. “I had good chicken here.”

The chicken comes fried or grilled ($6.50-$9). Appetizers include pulled pork nachos ($8.50), mini corn dogs ($5.25) and fries loaded with cheese, bacon, tomatoes, onions and sour cream ($6). There are Buffalo wings, subs, burgers, sandwiches and a salad bar.

Michael Anthony’s at The Inn at Versailles, 21 W. Main St., Versailles, 937-526-3020.

“We campaigned pretty hard in Versailles,” said Huffman of his successful effort against John Adams in the Republican primary last March. “We ate at The Inn four times. I ordered the French pork and sauerkraut dish called choucroute ($15). The other times, I ordered other things because I didn’t want to order the same thing twice, but that’s what I wanted.”

Other house specialties include Southern fried chicken ($16), Lake Erie walleye almondine ($23) and eggplant parmigiana ($12).

The Montage Café, 527 S. Broadway St., Greenville, 937-548-1950.

“Greenville is not on or close to a highway, so there’s no mall and the downtown has been preserved as a true hub of activity, just like the old days, with a lot of shops,” Huffman said.

That includes The Montage Café and its little gift shop. Sandwiches include Michele’s Veggie Sandwich, with fresh veggies, Swiss, cheddar and provolone cheeses on foccacia bread ($7.25) and Tralfast’s Twisted Ham, with ham, Swiss cheese and honey Dijon mustard served hot on a Bavarian pretzel roll ($7.50).

“They make them by hand,” Huffman said. He was also impressed by the Montage’s many salads, “at least 16,” according to the menu.

Rock’n Robin Diner, 1010 Scioto St., Urbana, 937-484-7625.

“We went in there to warm up, it was in the 30s,” Huffman said. “They had great pie and great hot chocolate. It was real milk and it wasn’t a powder.”

Matt and Sheryl Huffman both praised the diner for its back room, where they had breakfast with 10 to 15 campaign volunteers. The menu is loaded with diner classics like grilled cheese ($5.49), steak or chicken Philly sandwich ($8.99), fried bologna sandwich ($4.99), burgers, and barbecue pulled pork, brisket and smoked chicken ($7.99-$10.99).

The Willow, 1011 N. Main St., Celina, 419-586-4180.

“It’s on the north side of Celina, near some great old houses on Main Street. They make fantastic pork tenderloin sandwiches, and five or six really good soups,” Huffman said.

He especially enjoyed talking with owner Scott Anderson.

“He’s the highlight of The Willow,” he said. It’s a great place for political conversation.”

Patrons on Facebook also recommend the Willow Whopper and the ham sandwiches.

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