By BRENNA GRITEMAN
This is the second in a series of seven stories exploring the counties that circle Hancock County.
Head about 40 miles northwest and you’ll wind up in Henry County. Here you’ll find the scenic Maumee River flowing through Napoleon, the county seat and the heart and soul of the county, along with plenty of wide open spaces.
Here’s a daylong itinerary starting with a quiet morning on the river and ending with a late-night double-feature — with plenty of fun in between.
Arrive early and stay late — and consider bringing along a designated driver.
The Mighty Maumee
Before the heat of the day sets in, start your adventure at Suzie Q’s at 523 E. Riverview Drive in Napoleon. The family-owned business offers kayak, canoe, pontoon boat and Jet Ski rentals, allowing visitors to laze up and down the Maumee River at their own pace. Four river trips are also available, with owner Sue Page personally driving paddlers to various starting points. The trips, ranging from 8.5 miles to 22 miles, each end back at Suzie Q’s.
The shop also offers everything you need to spend time fishing for walleye, catfish, crappie, bluegill and sunfish, including live bait, rods and reels, hooks, bobbers and lures. Fifteen campsites, as well as plenty of camping supplies, are also available.
Suzie Q’s is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.
After a long morning on the river, head a few blocks over to Seasons’ Eatings local foods market and eatery in downtown Napoleon. The vegetarian restaurant and bakery is owned and operated by Robin Weirauch and offers organic, healthful options, making it highly distinctive in the area.
“We’re really part of a movement for people to eat better — and to promote a lot of small businesses at once,” Weirauch says.
The shop partners with about 30 regional vendors to provide locally produced jams, cheeses, eggs, bread, honey and more. Weirauch has met many of the farmers and has toured their operations and can personally vouch for the health and safety of the animals producing the eggs and cheeses sold in her shop. While items like kombucha tea and fair trade coffee are always in season, other offerings change with the calendar.
“This is like a year-round farmers market. So we have what’s in season,” she says.
And, knowing that vegetarian offerings can be intimidating for some, Weirauch strives to keep her menu items recognizable while proving “we’re not all bean sprouts and tofu.” She cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner, with offerings such as black bean burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, sweet corn salad, fried egg sandwiches, beet salad and much more.
Seasons’ Eatings is celebrating its second year in business and is welcoming Kyra’s Bakery Connection to its storefront this summer. It is located at 719 N. Perry St. and is open Mondays through Saturdays.
Now that you’ve eaten lunch, venture a few blocks back toward the river to Ice Creations. Housed in a historic former creamery, the shop is owned by world ice art champion and president of the National Ice Carving Association Chad Hartson and his wife, Mancey.
The couple opened the business in 1998 during their first year of college. Chad graduated from culinary school, where he first learned ice carving, and Mancey has a master’s degree in business. After about seven years they decided to become more than “just ice,” and the shop now also carves multi-ton sand sculptures, snow sculptures and highly detailed food art, with an emphasis on 3-D pumpkin carving. In 2015 alone, Ice Creations carved 120 tons of sand; 3,480 blocks of ice; and 250 pumpkins.
The venture has taken them full circle, as the shop now hosts culinary students from the Owens Community College chef training program each year for a day of on-site, hands-on ice, fruit and vegetable carving. Additional carving and art classes are offered throughout the year.
Mancey says over the years they “started gearing things more toward live entertainment art,” and Chad and his team now carve on-site at 22 winter festivals in four states and in northern Canada annually.
“We absolutely love the interaction with the public,” she says. “Everything we do reaches all ages. All socio-economic (groups), all cultures find it interesting, and there really isn’t anything else like that.”
In just seven weeks, Ice Creations carved seven full-size cars to be displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Each car was created from 40 to 65 blocks of ice, each individual block weighing 350 pounds. The rapper 50 Cent and Barry Manilow are also huge fans of the business, with Ice Creations having created numerous ice portraits of Manilow and even a full-size, functional piano for him.
“Every time he comes to this area we make something for him,” Mancey says.
Commercially, Ice Creations creates custom sculptures for weddings, parties and corporate events, as well as ice bars and ice luges. And, of course, you can stop by the shop to buy crystal-clear bagged ice. It is located at 221 E. Washington St.
For all your mead needs
After all that chilly activity, travel just a few blocks up the street and warm up at Flatrock Winery and Meadery. The wine and mead are made on-site by owner Lawrence Pritchard III, who also runs a brewery around the corner and who recently became licensed to open a distillery.
“I’m pretty sure Lawrence is the first guy in Ohio to have all three licenses (to produce beer, wine and liquor),” says employee Chris Davis.
The brewery originated in Holgate in 2012, which is also where Pritchard began making wine and mead. The brewery was the first to move to Napoleon, with the meadery following about a year later last November.
Davis explains mead — honey wine — predates wine and was a prominent feature of Scandinavian life during the Viking Age. It was considered an upper-class beverage, as honey was more exotic and expensive than grapes.
Flatrock’s mead is made entirely from locally grown fruits, and leftover grains from its production are given to local farmers as pig feed. Rather than being discarded, the fruit skins are turned into sangria.
“We don’t waste anything,” Davis says.
The most popular offering is the frozen peach cyser — half hard cider, half mead — at 6 percent alcohol by volume. Also on tap are the Eureka hard lemonade, Sir Isaac hard cider, buckwheat mead with buckwheat honey maple and Flatrock cyser.
As one of just a handful of meaderies in the state, Flatrock has garnered attraction from plenty of people living in the region and beyond.
“It’s been interesting. I’ve been seeing lots of people from out of town,” Davis says, noting customers regularly come from Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky — and sometimes from as far away as England.
The meadery is open Wednesdays through Saturdays and offers a relaxing atmosphere, including a room with couches, books and board games. It is located at 127 W. Washington St.
If all that wine tasting has got you in the mood to chill (here’s where your designated driver comes in), venture to the small village of Liberty Center to take in a drive-in movie.
The Field of Dreams Drive-In was built in the backyard of Donna and Rodney Saunders in 2007 and has grown into one of the area’s most beloved family attractions. It began as a humble, single-screen operation using 35mm film and a projector. A second screen was added in 2010 and, in 2013, the Saunderses made a $150,000investment to convert from film to digital projectors. In 2011, the couple purchased the former Tiffin Drive-In, built in 1948, and rebranded that as Field of Dreams, as well.
The theater operates seasonally and offers first-run double-features Fridays through Sundays. Donna says kids’ movies typically draw the largest crowds, followed by superhero films.
“We’re really gearing toward families. We want families to spend time together,” Donna says, adding the 250-car capacity theater offers a game area with 9-hole putt-putt and cornhole to play before the start of the movies.
“Seeing little kids running around in their jammies — that’s just awesome.”
Acknowledging that plenty of people told them they were crazy for wanting to build a drive-in theater in their backyard, Donna says still more regularly call it a “genius” idea. She is proud to keep the drive-in tradition alive, adding, “many people, especially under 20, have never been to a drive-in” and call frequently with questions about how the sound works and if they really need to stay in their cars while the films are running.
Field of Dreams is well-known for its concessions, served from a food truck and delivered to cars during the films. Pizza might be the most popular, although Donna says, “we have the best French fries in the world.” And don’t forget the popcorn, popped fresh nightly.
“We have people coming all the way from Columbus to see our movies and eat our popcorn. We have the best popcorn,” she says.
Field of Dreams is at V602 Township Road 6.
Facebook: Ice Creations; Seasons’ Eatings; Field of Dreams Drive-In Theater — Liberty Center; Suzie Q’s; Flatrock Winery & Meadery
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