Our Eat & Burn series showcases destinations through their cuisine and inviting ways to burn calories.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Butler County is located in the Southwestern region of Ohio; Indiana sits on its western border and Kentucky is less than an hour south.
Reaching this part of Ohio is easy: It’s just a 20-minute drive north of Cincinnati or 35-minute drive south of Dayton.
Why go? There are at least around a dozen reasons—literally, a round dozen or so. Home to the nation’s first donut trail, Butler County is home to dozens of sweet mom-and-pop shops serving up tasty treats worth sinking your teeth into.
Take advantage of the abundant opportunities to hike, kayak, stroll and get active and it’s easy to work off those donut calorie splurges. That’s what we call a win/win: Indulge in tasty treats and go home wearing the same size clothes you wore upon arrival.
The Butler County Donut Trail, which launched in 2016, is the first and currently only trail of its kind (until copycats come along). This foodie trail features 12 family-owned businesses with a combined 372 years of donut-making experience. Stop at any participating bakery, grab a passport, and get it stamped at each shop. Once you visit all 12 donut shops, you’ll get a free T-shirt—the design changes each year, offering an excuse to loop the 80-mile route again and again (including drive- and eating-time, it would take approximately 4.5 hours to complete the whole Donut Trail in one day). Along the way, sink your teeth into delicious donut flavors like s’mores, peanut butter-chocolate, raspberry cheesecake, coconut and more. In addition to circular donuts you’ll find holes, logs, claws, twists, and other shapes in a range of sizes. Some donuts may be topped with candy, others may sport a cute little paper umbrella, a few are plain. Talk about lip-licking fun! The Visitors Bureau reports that with one donut shop for every 15,000 residents, Butler County boasts one of the highest numbers of donut shops per capita in the Midwestern U.S. Official Donut Trail stops include…
- Central Pastry (Middletown)
- Jupiter Coffee and Donuts (Fairfield)—fried croissants are popular, as is the “red storm” roll with raspberry swirl
- Kelly’s Bakery (Hamilton)—the apple fritter with cinnamon frosting is a top-seller here
- Martin’s Donuts (Trenton)
- Milton’s Donuts (Middletown)
- Mimi’s Donuts and Bakery (Millville)—the Reese’s Peanut Butter cup donut is the No. 1 seller here; blueberry lemon is No. 2
- Oxford Doughnut Shoppe (Oxford)
- Ross Bakery (two locations) (Ross and Hamilton)
- Stan the Donut Man (West Chester)
- The Donut Spot (Fairfield)
- Holtman’s Donuts (West Chester Township)
- The Donut House (West Chester Township)—popular favorites include the jelly-filled peanut butter donut
For adults-only treats in liquid form, head to Bourbon’s Kitchen where the bar stocks more than 90 different bourbons. Take your pick among cocktails, whiskies to sip straight up or on the rocks, or a flight to compare multiple pours. “We get a new bourbon every week!” says one staff member. Since it’s best not to try and survive on liquids alone, take a gander at the food menu where hearty options like chicken & waffles, chicken satay, and burgers (especially the Bernie Mac burger with bourbon-smoked bacon, pepperjack cheese and sweet barbecue sauce) are best sellers. One staff member says, “People say we have the best burgers in the County.” Odds are, whatever you order will taste and fill you up good.
The Cone offers a sweet alternative to donuts, though of course you can have both. The owner’s aim is to provide the best tasting ice cream. While vanilla/orange swirl is the best-seller, the menu offers dozens of flavors of soft-serve including key lime, blue raspberry and chocolate plus toppings from sprinkles to cotton-candy flavored dip. The place is kid-friendly, but you can take your frozen treat to-go if you’re not interested in the arcade games.
High Street Café has a cozy retro diner vibe, but the food is scratch-made and fresh to appeal to contemporary palates. The menu serves up a mix of options that convey diverse global influences at breakfast and lunch including three versions of Benedict alongside dishes such as a breakfast burrito, Italian toast, three-pig omelet, and blackened chicken sandwich.
Jolly’s Drive-In offers the formerly-common concept of a drive-in: pull into a slot, park the car, and make your order known by talking into the adjacent box. A server brings everything to your car on a tray. Footlong hot dogs are the top sellers and you can get yours plain or topped with chili and cheese. The menu also offers regional favorites like sloppy joes and frito pie.
Northstar Café presents a range of choices, so you can eat as healthy as you want to—though if you can pass up the huge soft cookies that beckon from the glass display case near the register you’re a stronger person than me. Sustainability matters to these folks, so seasonal local fare is presented in a range of dishes from the Pad Thai to New Yorker pizza, the veggie burger to the sweet basil burrito. The atmosphere is fast casual but the food tastes like it was prepared with thoughtful care.
Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House is a full-production brewery plus a restaurant best known for its more than 30 beers on tap and slow-smoked, beer-infused barbecue.
@21plusTravel Tip: We didn’t have time to check out Hanover Winery but hear it pours a variety of wines at its tasting room nestled in the rolling hills of Northwestern Butler County.
Combine your passions for food and healthy activity by walking up and down all the aisles and departments at Jungle Jim’s International Market. Calling this place a grocery store seems like an understatement, it’s a one-of-a-kind food bonanza that’s been referred to as “a theme park of food.” The six-acre compound showcases over 180,000 food items, including exotic meats, Ohio buckeye candies, charcuterie, salsas, olives, cheeses, beers, and so much more.
Find peace and quiet at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum. Stroll among the more than 60 works of art (most of which are contemporary and abstract) nestled among the 300 acres of trees, meadows and rolling hillsides. You can also drive a car or golf cart around the grounds, but you’ll burn more calories if you wander by foot. If art is your jam, don’t miss the Ancient Sculpture Museum that houses Greek, Roman, Syrian, Egyptian and Etruscan pieces dating to 1550 B.C.; it also hosts exhibitions by local, regional and national artists.
Shop ‘til you drop at pop-ups like The Village Green Find Arts Fair, at modern collections like Liberty Center (which boasts 200 stores including American Eagle Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, David’s Tea, Celebrate Local’s made-in-Ohio goods, The Art of Shaving, and more), and/or Downtown Hamilton’s collection of boutiques like Sara’s House for home décor and Inside Out Studio for heart-warming art.
@21plusTravel Tip: We lacked the time and/or weather conditions to test out every possible adventure. Among the remaining options…
- Jimco’s Kayaks – Paddle the Great Miami River, Twin Creek and/or Mad River.
- Topgolf – Ohio’s only Topgolf is a golf entertrainment destination.
- Wake Nation – The Midwest’s only full-sized cable wake park lets you wakeboard, water ski, kneeboard and wake skate without a boat.
- Start Skydiving – Find thrills with DropZone.com’s No. 1 rated place to skydive in the world.
Where To Stay…
Courtyard by Marriott Hamilton
1 Riverfront Plaza
Hamilton OH 45011
Friendly service, convenient location a short walk from the city’s main street, an on-site restaurant, and all the amenities to expect from the brand. Odds of Encountering Children: Moderate; I saw none during my recent three-night weekend stay.
The Whole Donut, ahem, County…
Butler County was founded in 1803; today it’s within a one-day drive of 60% of the U.S. population. Press materials boast that Butler County includes a mix of historic cities, suburban development, rural farmland and a trendy college town:
- West Chester – The most populated township in Ohio is emerging and has experienced large amounts of growth and development in recent years. Recent additions include Ohio’s only IKEA, Voice of America Athletic Complex, and Ohio’s only Topgolf.
- Hamilton – The County Seat, framed by magnificent architecture and the mighty Great Miami River, is undergoing an urban renaissance with arts and events as the hallmarks.
- Fairfield – Home to one-of-a-kind attractions including the original Jungle Jim’s International Market, Wake Nation and an arts center.
- Middletown – From its roots in the Steel Industry, this community has transitioned into an artist haven nestled along the Great Miami River.
- Oxford – Home to Miami University, this community offers boutique shopping, locally owned restaurants, a quaint downtown plus all the arts, culture and sporting events you’d expect of a college town.
- Monroe – Find Cincinnati Premium Outlets and the region’s only casino/horse race track combination.
- Liberty Township – A mixed-use development here features over 1.1 million square feet of retail, dining, entertainment, lodging and living options.
- Okeana & Shandon – A rich agriculture heritage and rolling hills add up to a quiet, tranquil setting.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.