GEM CITY SPIRIT: A VISIT FROM THE PALOMARS AND VELETA WINERY, A BIT OF HOMESICKNESS, AND THE DEATH OF CAFE BOULEVARD GIVES WAY TO THE BIRTH OF LILY’S CAFE

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Not to be forgotten, I met with my favorite winemaking couple, Juan and Nola Palomar and their daughter, Nolita, recently, along with Tony! Toni! Toné!, Dijon and Heidelberg’s Kymber Tymber for a flight of their newest vintages, and I got to thinking about my last full-time restaurant gig – Café Boulevard.  It was almost 16 years ago when I went to work for what would become a mainstay of sorts in Dayton, Ohio’s Oregon District, anchoring part of the Westside of the downtown restaurant district.  I think about strolling into what I would eventually find out was the next door neighbor to one of my Grandpa Brennaman’s many offices for the Dayton Elevator Co., and I was so exhausted by a previous stint at a rather dysfunctional restaurant (though a great deal of my coworkers there I still think of as my dearest friends), I actually tried to hide my managerial experience on my application.

Unfortunately, I would end up running the bar two months into my stint there.

The owner was eclectic, internationally attuned, Croatian-born Eva Christian, who along with her husband, Rodney and son, Julian, became a strange, bohemian part of my adoptive family, and I felt that in some ways, I had become part of theirs.

I spent the better part of three years meeting new people, working with an equal amount, gaining and losing many friends, and even meeting and marrying my wife there.  Yet after those three years, not making much money, I was forced to quit and try something else.  I would soon leave Dayton behind, though it is still and always will be home to me.

And to where I have drifted in this diatribe, my favorite winemaking Daytonians Juan and Nola, it was good to get the staff in front of them, as well as Kymber, who hadn’t yet tried the wines.

Veleta Vijiriega Granada 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  This version is a bit different than the 2011.  The 2012 shows sweeter pineapple and lemon custard notes, with touches of apricot and white spice.

Veleta Rosé Granada 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Pretty, sultry dry pink wine, kissed with Bing cherry and pomegranate notes.

Sierra Sol Tempranillo Spain NV.  Grade=Outstanding.  This is in the running for the Best Damn Value of the Year, showing juicy red fruits, hints of vanilla and cocoa – at this price ($7.99/bottle) – you should be buying this by the case.

Veleta Tempranillo Joven Granada  2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  A bit different style than the Sierra Sol, there is a bit more cedar smoke, dried herbs and dark red berry fruit.  Clean acidity for balance.

Veleta Tempranillo Granada 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Gorgeous structure, pretty red fruits and sturdy tannins leave you believing this is one Tempranillo built to last.

Veleta Cabernet Sauvignon Granada 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A real rock star!  Hands down the best Cab from Spain.  Full-bodied, lush black fruits, brown baking spices, pepper and rich oak.

Veleta Nolados Granada 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  I love this wine!  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  Full-bodied, voluptuous red with dense chocolate, blackberry, pepper and spice notes.  Most likely will be high on my Top 100 this year.

Veleta Sweet Melodies Spain NV.  Grade=Outstanding.  This late-harvest Viognier is one-of-a-kind.  It’s lively and effervescent, with sweet apricot, honeyed peaches, white flowers and finishing with bright acidity.  Kind of like Moscato, only better.  Much better.

Veleta Don Miguel Granada NV.  Grade=Outstanding.  A dessert-style red, juicy and jammy with unctuous chocolate-covered cherry, sassafrass, strawberry pie and raspberry coulis.  Finishes slightly dry, giving it delicate balance.

Despite the fact that Juan spends most of his time at the winery or on the road, and Nola and Nolita are headed to Spain for the summer, they remind me of how connected I am to the Gem City, which despite only being less than an hour away, I feel like I live in a different time zone.

And as far as Café Boulevard is concerned, or should I say Boulevard Haus, which they became a few years ago, is no more.  With my former boss’ legal woes, Boulevard Haus was forced to close, and according to Dayton Daily News writer Mark Fisher’s blog, Lily’s Café opened up in their old space.  I wish them well.  It is fitting to wash away what inadvertently became a tarnished eatery with a new name, a new owner and a new direction.

Home is definitely where your head is.  Sometimes.

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