Youngstown Gems

If you find yourself in Youngstown, fear not—there is fun to be had.

(Blog courtesy of Lisa Davala and About Magazine) 

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Photos by Lisa Davala

Whether visiting friends or family, or stopping in on your way to Pittsburgh, there is an understated portion of Youngstown worth a visit.

The downtown area has worked hard to attract new business to, in turn, attract more people. Luckily, as a college town, the area has been accepting of fun, trendy shops and restaurants, and they work well with old favorites that keep their historical relevance.Join the townies and YSU students out at these Youngstown gems.

Touch the Moon Candy Saloon is a candy-lover’s haven. Old-time candy, childhood favorites and new discoveries are in the tiny shop on South Phelps. Bubble gum in every flavor, giant Pixy Stix, Super Rope licorice and all sorts of retro candy are available. Thirsty? Grab a soda from the cooler. Choose from Tahitian Treat, Big Red, bottled Coca Cola, Cheerwine or Sioux City sodas. Better yet, try one of the hand-drawn root beer floats. While the candies, soda and ice cream are sweet, so is the story of why Touch the Moon exists. Founded almost 10 years ago, the candy saloon provides employment for adults with developmental disabilities. —8 S. Phelps St., Youngstown. 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. 330-480-0829. touchthemooncandysaloon.com

Cassese’s MVR is a few blocks from the candy saloon and the next stop for your trip. A staple, this restaurant is unpretentious, slightly dated and a fine producer of really great Italian food.

If you find yourself in the area on a YSU game day, this is the spot for friends, family and fans to gather. Jim Tressel’s favorite items are highlighted throughout the menu, showcasing a mutual respect of the restaurant and former YSU football coach now president of the university.

Start the meal off with Italian greens (a Youngstown favorite), which consists of escarole, garlic and spice. Follow up with the Hot Peppers Monica: spicy green peppers stuffed with sausage and topped with a heaping of mozzarella and served with marinara.

Hunker down for a filling lunch, or heavy dinner with Tressel’s Tortellini—the local favorite. The dish is fairly simple, but still a crowd pleaser: three-cheese tortellini with a creamy marinara sauce, topped with basil. MVR’s best-sellers all are delicious and all equally damaging to any New Year’s diet.

Come back in the warmer months for a game of bocce: There’s an entire outdoor court connected to the MVR. Free entertainment, a large bar and plenty of room for companions. —410 Walnut St., Youngstown. 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday. 330-746-7067.

Rust Belt Brewing Company calls “Yo, Ohio” home. Its name says it all—location, mission and passion. Luckily, the beer and brewpub don’t reek of Rust Belt struggle. Quite the contrary, actually—the brewpub is welcoming with an industrial-chic interior, and the beer isn’t too shabby.

The brewpub lends a few taps to fellow craft brewers such as Dogfish Head and Brooklyn Brewing, but holds most of the stock for its own brews.

Many of the brews offered are good for those who don’t associate with being a beer aficionado; but, there are a few for those who have a more complex palate (and sense of humor), for example, the Frackin’ Vanilla Porter or the Southern Migration Pale Ale.

If you haven’t filled up at MVR (or Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts), Rust Belt Brewing Co. also offers a small food selection to help soak up some of that alcohol. Mostly dips, sandwiches and hot dogs are offered—the kind of munchies to fulfill a craving you might get after a libation or two. —112 W. Commerce St., Youngstown. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, noon to 2 a.m. Saturday. 234-855-0609. rustbeltbrewing.com

If live music isn’t at the brewpub, head over to Cedar’s West End. This music venue used to live downtown near the campus, but has moved a few minutes away. However, the venue still draws quite the talent, and quite the crowd as well.

Thursday through Saturday, you can pop in to hear a variety of music, mostly independent artists that range from rock to folk, teen-pop to jazz. Entertaining the masses is a weeklong endeavor though, and Cedar’s is open both as a bar and a place to play. Swing lessons, movie nights and get-togethers for the fun of it are offered throughout the week and month. —706 Steel St., Youngstown. 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 p.m. to midnight Sunday. 330-792-3333. cedarsyoungstown.com

The cold months are upon us, but Youngstown has even more to do when Northeast Ohio thaws out. The area hosts more public golf courses in the region than any other part of the country and has attained a high ranking in the country for top-quality public courses. Plus, there are numerous family-friendly activities such as hiking in Mill Creek and exploring the museums around town.

Bottom line: don’t count Youngstown out. Fun little pops of business are found throughout the tall buildings, banks and deserted buildings. There is an eerie charm among the streets, a once-bustling town now struggling to find its voice, its purpose and its people; it actually seems like the start of something good.

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