CMH Gourmand

Culinary Discovery & Misadventures in the Ice Cream Capital of the World (Columbus)

  • Recent Comments

    614ortyNiner (@CAlip… on The Nine Year: A) Itch, B) Str…
    cmh gourmand on The Original Crispie Creme Don…
    Chris on The Original Crispie Creme Don…
    Dan DeGarmo on The Original Crispie Creme Don…
    Ray Chapman on The Original Crispie Creme Don…
    becky on The Original Crispie Creme Don…
    Beyond Breakfast: Tr… on Tristano’s
  • CMH Gourmand – “a twitter”

  • Categories

  • Top Posts

  • Archives: August 2006 to Now

The Nine Year: A) Itch, B) Stretch, C) Anniversary D) All of the Above

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 26, 2015

It has been a tradition for this blog to recognize the last year of CMH Gourmanding with a reflection on the launch date anniversaryn to include some thanks and a look forward. Welcome to the end of the ninth year of eating with me. It has been a busy year.

There definitely is an itch. An itch to rebrand the blog, to write more, to write better, to hit the road or ride to the end of the street to discover something new or rediscover something that was forgotten. But I won’t be scratching those itches much. Nine years is a long stretch. Nine years is a lifetime in the blogging world. I have seen many people start a blog strong then very quickly go long stretches without posting and then sputter out. I have seen a few – not many – end a blog well – with a great sign off or an insightful or meaningful denouement. Most old blogs don’t die, they just fade away.

So the year leading up to the diamond anniversary begins with semi-retirement or dormancy. The next 365 days may mark the end of this blog. I’m not sure if the next 1-12 months will be a hibernation, a sabbatical or capitulation. Blogging has been more chore or a duty than a passion in 2015. And frankly, this blog is not what it used to be (and the readership attests to that). I don’t get out much anymore. I’m not the first guy at the unknown and undiscovered places and my words have a little less zing and a lot less alliteration. And when it comes to it, blogs are so – 2000, it ain’t what it used to be and there are a lot of new kids on the block (and in my old man voice, I don’t think many of them do that great of a job and are too focused on promoting themselves).

Mr. Man

Gourmand Junior is here and needs my attention as I Mr. Dad around town looking forward to introducing him to his first foods. My wife is not miserably pregnant anymore and her tibia, fibia and ankle have mended, CMH Tobias is mostly healthy again and the Gourmand Abode is finally – almost finished – after a year of renovation, in part by Gourmand General Contracting. Brew Adventures has been going well but needs even more attention and focus from me I want to grow the empire bigger and better before we get too far away from the second anniversary of the business.

If I get the gumption to do ten posts from now until August 2016, then I will do a tenth anniversary recap and see where we go from there. Good eating all.

Posted in Food For Thought | 1 Comment »

Food Truck Basics: How to Make a Good Start on Wheels

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 9, 2015

I was recently casing out a new food truck and found myself going through a mental check list of what they were doing right. Using the criteria I established, I determined that this truck, which just launched a month ago has what it takes to (probably) survive the first critical year of business.

This litmus test was developed from several different sources and experiences:

1) A life time of eating
2) Eating from almost every food truck in the city and writing about many of them
3) Graduating from the Art of The Cart course at Hot Dog University in Chicago
4) Working customer service (in emergency situations) on several trucks
5) Two years of service at Knights Ice Cream as a worker, supervisor and working the mobile ice cream truck
6) Two years as coordinator at the Food Fort, an incubator for food based businesses
7) Hours and hours of conversations with Jim Pashovich, the owner of Pitabilities
8) Hours of “philosophy” sessions with the owners of OH!Burgers, Ajumama and Flattop Pizza

So here is what I and looking for in a new mobile food business:

1) Distance Presentation: Customers decide to eat from fifty feet away, so your truck “wrap” or graphics need to convey what type of food you serve. It you can’t do that, it should at least be clear that your mobile operation serves food and is not a delivery truck or backdrop for graffiti. Smart operators will all make sure they have something aromatic on the grill (onions, cinnamon, etc,) that will lure in customers by smell.

2) Your Name gets customers in the Game: Just like the look of the truck, the name of the operations should very quickly let customers figure out what type of food is served. If the name does not spell that out clearly, then you need to have a very short tag line underneath that sums it up in a few words. And example of a bad name choice, Stacy’s 5 Dollar Hollar. The name has scared more customers away that the promise of a bargain priced meal.

3) Uniform(ity)((s)) does not equal conformity: While the goal of most mobile food operators is to showcase their individuality and uniqueness and to shed the images and stigma of mass-produced food. While many may not like it, it is still critical to stay on brand and have some type of uniform or uniformity to what staff wear. While, this does not have to look like a bad fast food parody, it still is worthwhile to make sure people can tell any member of your team from a customer. It can be a hat, T-shirt and/or apron to stay on brand with a uniform and show subconsciously that you are a team.

4) Come early and stay til the end: As a past food truck event planner and frequent customer, there are / were certain trucks I knew would be late and not ready to serve at game time. That not only sets a bad tone for developing a relationship with a site or event, it also costs customers. If your hours are posted as 5 pm and you are not ready to serve, you lose those customers that showed up on time to beat the crowd. And those customers are your most important customers to nurture because their enthusiasm could be channeled into repeat business and free brand ambassadorship, instead they feel their extra effort was dismissed. The same applies to leaving early. Yes, sometimes a place is a dud or the weather sucks or whatever, but when you pack up early without a very good reason then the image of your business is that you don’t keep commitments.

5) Price point is the point: I’ve known some great mobile operators that made incredible food, but they lost customers because they charged $15 for a sandwich. While quality is important even more so is price and at a deeper level, value. While food quality for a truck is typically as good or better than an average restaurant, customers do not expect as much or more for a mobile meal than a sit down meal. As a general rule, the average person will pay up to $6 or $7 for a lunch and $8 to $12 for a dinner. And if they like the food and you can meet that price, the customer will come back. And if you struggle to meet that price point then add perceived value. Make the entrée look like a meal by adding a small 3-4 bite garnish to the main entrée to make it appear to be more (than what it is).

6) Be Clean in All Things at All Times: Cleanliness is beyond Godliness in mobile food. There is still some of the street meat stigma to food on wheels. Your truck needs to look clean from the outside and inside. Your team needs to have clean(ish) clothes and you should go out of your way to show off your dedication to food safety with people changing latex gloves, cleaning inside when not serving and keeping the profanity to a minimum too. In the early days of fast food (White Castle) projecting cleanliness was the most important thing to do to get customers to your door and today, you need to do the same to get them to your window.

7) Customer Service starts before the order and continues after:: Greet customers, answer stupid questions, occasionally offer samples but also make sure you have printed menus people can look at or take with them, have plenty of trash cans and keep them from overflowing, make sure to go orders are packaged to survive the journey and offer to correct any real or perceived failing with a smile on your face. Returning all phone calls, answering all e-mails and listening to feedback comes into play here as well. And the 1000 other things related to customer service have to be executed with excellence every time.

As a small business owner as well, I have seen businesses do the above and bomb, but their odds of success are pretty high if they can execute these “surface” elements of mobile food. Behind the scenes the biggest challenge for most mobile operators is maintaining true food costs to under 30% of operating expenses and paying attention to the business part of the business with the same intensity as the passion for the food.

While the above are important, in any small business there are 100 things you need to do everyday to do well and stay profitable, but in mobile food, if you can knock these seven things out of the park at the beginning your chances of seeing your second year are strong.

Posted in Behind the Counter, Mobile Food | 1 Comment »

Mad About Making Cider at Mad Moon Cider!

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 29, 2015

One of the best things about Columbus Brew Adventures is the diversity of people I get to work with and learn from. Several months ago I met Peter Moon, one of the owners of Mad Moon Cider at a tasting. After trying his products and hearing a bit of his story, I knew I had to get some tour groups into his space. I tested out the concept with private groups over the winter and each trip there was a crowd favorite. At each tour, I picked up a bit more of his story while meeting his wife and cider making partner Sally. I really became hooked on the craft of craft cider.

When Peter mentioned that they sometimes need volunteers to help with cider production I promptly volunteered. Then the stars and the Moons aligned and I had my opportunity to report for duty. Our team was small – the two Moons, myself and a fella I think may one day become a folk legend, Vic. I’ll digress about Vic for a bit. Vic has been there, done that, survived countless mishaps and misadventures and somehow thrives on doing great acts of endurance and physical strength – most of this seems to be fueled by a daily regimen of honey, apple cider vinegar and some assorted juices. As I observed at the end of my service, if Vic had lived in an earlier era, we would today measure speed and production on Vicpower, not horsepower.

Anyway, step one of cider production is the sort apples. In our case, we had some multiple 800 lb crates of apples that had been stored over the winter. While these apples make great cider, they also require significantly more sorting than other batches. If you have heard the phrase “one bad apple spoils the bunch”, it is true and we had to search for them among 1000’s of apples in each crate.

IMG_2941

As the apples get sorted into milk crates and buckets, the apples go down a chute of a device that looks a lot like a chipper to get mashed into apple pulp.

IMG_2939

The pulp gets wheeled over to get crafted into sheets of “cheese”. The job of the cheese maker is to take scoops of pulp, and using a plastic mold and cheesecloth, create squares of apple pulp to stack on other squares to slide down to a press to squash (with 1000’s of pounds of pressure) to create juice.

IMG_2945

IMG_2950

IMG_2949

Once the press gets going, the juice really starts to flow (down a long open trough) to a bin. Once the bin gets to a certain height, a pump gets switched on to transfer the juice to a holding tank (during my tenure I think we made about 300 gallons over four hours). After the pressing, the square molds are unfolded to start the “cheese” making process again. After the pulp is mashed, the residual looks like a very dry energy bar made by an eighties era hippy.

IMG_2943

All in all, I was a great afternoon. If you are familiar with the story of John Henry (there is a statue down where my kin reside) if there was a production contest between a machine, Vic and myself, Vic would beat the combined efforts of the machine and my human self. It was hard, messy work but worth the effort. You can see my work shirt below….taken near the beginning of my labors.

IMG_2946

For my efforts I was rewarded with good company, a nice lunch and plenty of cider to take home.

IMG_2947

Others things I could do in the future include bottling and capping, using the equipment you see below. The capper is pretty amazing, it was made out of a broken drill press Peter picked up for $50 (worth more than that by weight alone at a scrap yard) and mounted with a special capping mold he found on the internet. The MacGuyvered tool works like a charm. In fact much of what is in the cider house is customer made, crafted, reverse engineered and conjured up which is the nature of any small start up business. Mad Moon has a lot a stories to share and these are just a few of them. (FYI: the next Columbus Brew Adventures Tour to Mad Moon is August 30th).

IMG_2942

IMG_2944

Posted in Behind the Counter, beverages, culinary knowledge, Locally Sourced | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Lisska Bar and Grill: Crossed off My Bucket List

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 10, 2015

IMG_2848

For the last two years, on my way to Actual Brewing and over the last year on my way to pick up tools at the tool library (worst name ever, Rebuilding Together Central Ohio) I have passed by a bar that looks lost out of time. Lisska Bar and Grill probably looked ancient when it was a day old. From the outside, it looks like a neighborhood joint one might find in the hills of Pittsburgh or the east side of Cleveland. It is old and battered now, like the neighborhood it resides in.

In my mind, I envisioned the inside to look like the Nick’s bar (a bizarro Martini’s, from the alternate universe of a world without George Bailey) of It’s a Wonderful Life, with people slumped over tables with empty shot glasses and empty eyes. In spite of that vision, I still had a nagging interest in the place. In June, Lenny Kolada from Smokehouse Brewing shared that he spent part of his birthday at Lisska enjoying a $3 burger with his wife Joan. That sealed the deal for me. The place had food as well so I had to check it out.

I finally made it. It was what I expected and maybe more than I expected. It is definitely a beat up place. It features a large area to sell lottery tickets. Next to that is an old, old bar with a lot of booze piled on the back shelves. The bottles do not look like they move much but the frosty cans of Bud Light look like they do not linger long in the cooler. Sliding down that sight line, is an old grill area that efficiently churns out what you see below.

IMG_2845

Intermixed among these areas are some bits and pieces of furniture one might expect to see at a third hand flea market. There are some Polish themed jokes, a pencil sketch of an ancestor or grandfather of the proprietors in a 19th century Austrian uniform showcasing a sharpshooters medal and a long, narrow photo of an amateur football team from 1933. The place has a lot of character. The characters that come through the door come for the wisecracks as an entrée and the food as a side. The customers are mostly long in the tooth and have probably been coming here since it opened decades ago. Listening to the banter going back and forth from the counter is well worth an investment of time to walk through the door and linger a while. And the food, is not bad and reasonably priced. The standouts seem to be the homemade desserts (pies, spice cake and cookies were spotted) as wells as soups and chili.

IMG_2847

Posted in bar, culinary misadventure | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Chicken Corners / Chicken District

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 8, 2015

Chicken District

Columbus has become known for it’s districts: Arena, Brewery, University, Discovery, Dentist (Clintonville between Henderson and Weber) and so on. One of the oldest but lesser known is known as both the Chicken District and Chicken Corners. Centered in Milo Grogan at the intersection of Fifth and Cleveland Avenues there is an area with not one, not two, not three, but four chicken frying establishments within mere yards of each other. At one time, there were six. Back in the day, three were located in a four section intersection of Cleveland and Fifth, today, two are still standing.

Today, we have Churches Chicken at the Northeast corner. Buckeye Express Chicken is located at the Southeast corner (it used to be Popeyes). There is nothing at the Southwest Corner and while there used to be a place at the Northwest Corner but it burned down. Royal Fish and Chicken is about 1/2 mile to the east at Fifth and Peters and KFC is just west of the intersection of I 71 and Fifth Ave. Back in the day, Woody and Jo’s was at the intersection of Fifth and Fourth but it has been torn down. I don’t know how this area can support so many menus that are based on the most eaten white meat of our continent, but it is.

Why did the customer cross the road? To eat the chicken on the other side.

And now…..you know.

Posted in culinary knowledge | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

KDB: Kitchen Den Bar, the bar has been raised.

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 7, 2015

IMG_2723

I loathe Easton. Everything in my essence is pre-disposed to have my skin crawl at the thought of an area dedicated solely to the pursuit of consumer goods in a suburban environment. I have gone to great lengths to avoid the lifestyle zone with a few exceptions. I would go at off-peak hours to visit the Apple Store when it was the only location in town. I made trips to the Container Store on the periphery to appease my inner need to organize, but even that was reluctantly. And the only time I was ever recruited for job was at the Ocean Club, it was an exceptional meal even for a person allergic to fish. As a person that has never been reluctant to visit the rough parts of the city, or the world for a good meal, the aura of Easton was enough to make me hesitant to stuff my face. With that as a background, when I received an invitation to visit KDB, I was game to go. KDB is in the former space of Gameworks. I had been hankering for some good old-fashioned video shot em up action and when a chance to do so to my hearts desire had me on board. My expectations were low. My expectations were exceeded within moments of stepping in.

IMG_2728

The space has been completely redesigned with emphasis given to showcasing all three aspects of the name. Kitchen: these guys are serious about their food. There is a pride in what is on the menu. The pizza/flatbread dough is made in-house. Den: Forget man cave, this space is filled with games grouped together by type: racing, first person shooter, sports, etc. Many of the materials are repurposed. The furniture is set up to be inviting and comfortable with our a frat boy eye for fashion. Bar: Local Craft beer are more than an afterthought here and you will be hard pressed to find a better Bourbon selection in town. To the point that they could change the name to KDBB. And they might add an extra D for decor, this place is not some dark man cave, it is set up to be an inviting bar, a cosy eatery and an arena for the arcade.

IMG_2729

Back to the Kitchen. With the D and the B, the place could slide on the Kitchen component but that did not happen. This is no place to park the kids while you sneak a drink, this is a spot where everyone gets what they want without having to compromise the quality in the food, games or spirits. I tried the flatbread and have it two thumbs up. The crust was perfect and the topping were generous and of very high quality. The wings are not something frozen dumped out of a bag and the options here are more than typical, you can choose dry rubs like old bay or lemon pepper or wet rubs such as the standard buffalo of the off the beaten path spicy sriracha or curry. The whole menu is pub grub on the high-end.

So, and this is a big deal, I’ll be back to Easton for KDB.

Posted in bar, beverages, pizza | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Louie’s Daybreak Diner: Eating Lunch at a Breakfast Spot

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 5, 2015

IMG_2839

Old School advertising brought me to Louie’s Daybreak Diner. During my daily walks with CMH Tobias I walk by the sign you see above. This battered banner is right in front of a church / school so during the school year and every Sunday, hundreds of people walk by this sign. In the age of social media, SEO, etc., you have to respect someone with the thought to try some old timey marketing. Granted, I have walked by this sign for almost a year, but it worked.

Another thing that inspired me is the proximity to Susie Sub Shop, the best place for subs in town.

IMG_2838

My first visit was on a Wednesday, which did not work out so well because the business is closed on Wednesdays – but looking at the menu on the door, it seemed like they had some good specials. On my next trip, I took a very pregnant Mrs. Gourmand. She has the BLT which she reported was exactly what she wanted: well toasted Texas Toast, crispy, meaty bacon, lettuce and tomato with a little mayo on the side. I ordered the Reuben. I must admit I was very disappointed. The Reuben is $8.00, the version I had was worth $4.00. It was generic wheat bread, with three slices of corned beef, some cold sauerkraut, an afterthought of melted cheese and a volume of salad dressing from a bottle which had greater weight than the meat, cheese, and bread combined. My report, it was a let down and a definite “meh” sandwich. On the other side of the plate, the hand cut fries, although a trifling portion, were among the best I have had anywhere. Mrs. Gourmand agreed. I can’t fault the place, only myself. I violated the a cardinal rule: only get a Reuben from a Deli.

In spite of the fries, if I come back to the area for lunch, I’ll be going to Susie’s next door. However, I will be heading back for breakfast sometime. The breakfast menu is extensive and has two off the beaten path menu items. The first is Bill’s Breakfast Rice: Rice, sausage, Onions, mushrooms, soy sauce, with cheddar cheese and served with toast. Intriguing to say the least. The second item f note is the Panhandler: choice of pancake, french toast or biscuit on the bottom then sausage gravy, hash browns, two eggs, then cheddar cheese and choice of meat.

A final point of interest. I noticed there is a service window connected the diner to the sub shop next door. I asked our server / grill cook about it and she shared that the owners of both businesses and best friends and that family members work shifts at both locations. These two places definitely put the neighbor into neighborhood business.

Posted in breakfast, Diners, restaurants | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

S.W.A.T.

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 24, 2015

SWAT

If you missed my article about the late Roger Gentile in Stock and Barrel, I’d suggest you read it -> HERE, before you proceed.

S.W.A.T. stands for Secret Wine Appreciation Tastings. These were outings by a small number of friends that traveled to the best wine regions of the world to learn about wines and stockpile the best of them. This small cadre of gentlemen was composed of the Who’s Who of Columbus’ upper echelon with the means to live large while expanding their collections. However, this was no collection of rat pack style playboys, this group was one and all, on a mission to do some good with their good fortune. For years, they have taken some of the best of their collections to make dream packages for auctions to support charities such as Recreation Unlimited. This group has largely chosen to remain in the shadows and well….secret. I’ll keep their identities classified but I will offer a small insight into what they do.

This group periodically gets together to share the company of each other, an excellent meal and too many bottles of wine to count. I was given the great honor to attend one of these lunches, the first after the passing of Roger, as a thank you for writing about the group’s defacto leader, heart, soul and chief instigator.

The group met at Worthington Inn for lunch. Lunch was of course, excellent. Each member brought a guest with them (typically new potential member) and some of their best wines. In my invitation I was advised to “make sure I had a way to get home after, just in case.” While I did not partake to that extreme, I did indeed have wines that I have never had and most likely will never sip again. Of the 50+ bottles on the table I spied a bottle from at least 20 countries with price tags greater than what I earn in a week, maybe a month in a few instances. The oldest bottle of wine was from 1974 the youngest was not from this decade. Each had a story of being a rarity, a tale of how it was obtained, or an epic on how it was “stolen” at auction.

In the past I have judged wines for competitions and poured wines at festivals but I never saw an array of alcohols of this caliber. However, my second favorite memory of this time involved a wine encased in tin foil to hide its identity. The experts around the table were asked to guess where the wine hailed from. After tasting, smelling and swirling there was no consensus. Guesses ranged from a specific region of France to a specific Napa Valley Vineyard. The man who poured this sample for everyone was a man who has hosted and supported this group over many, many years, Kamal Boulos from the Refectory. I was able to see the glint in his eye and a trace of a smile as he unveiled the bottle which was from none other than Ravenhurst from Mt. Victory Ohio!

My favorite memory of this meal was witnessing this fellowship of a group of old friends as we made a Toast to Roger Gentile, the leader of the pack. Roger made his mark with these fellas and they continue their work for charity so that his spirit will live on in their efforts.

Posted in Food For Thought | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

El Conquistador

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 16, 2015

IMG_2773

El Conquistador
5225 N High St, Columbus OH 43214
-parking lot of the Blue Pickle (bar)
west side of High Street, north of Graceland Shopping Center
614 804 0330
Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 9 pm

Greater Clintonville now has not one (El Mantinal Latino), not two (El Mantinal Latino 2), not three La Poblanita), not four (La Moreliana) but now five Taco Trucks. When I first spotted El Conquistador I had hoped this was the original – which served Dominican dishes. Well, this trailer now has a new owner whose menu is traditional taco truck fare but it is well worth checking out. The trailer is based as the newly renamed Blue Pickle (formerly Porter’s Pub). As I approached the trailer, several Blue Pickle patrons without being solicited shouted out to me that the food was great and I should try it. That was a good sign. I sampled the Flautas (rolled, crispy taco) sometimes called a Taquito. Flautas are served in groups of four with plenty of toppings on top. These were great. This is definitely a spot I look forward to trying out more this summer.

IMG_2775

IMG_2776

IMG_2779

Posted in Clintonville, Mobile Food | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Hounddogs debuts new delivery vehicle

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 15, 2015

IMG_2784

In the early days of Hounddogs Pizza, the business had a couple of trump cards in their small business deck: they served pizza 24 hours per day and they had a kick ass car with a hounddog mounted on top. Starting January of this year, the business is no longer open 24 hours. And for well over a year, the iconic black limo with a hounddog mounted on top languished in a parking space unused. In March, it was finally taken to the scrap yard to open up a spot for the new car. Several cars with a mounted canine on top served as the calling card for the business since the early 1990’s but for the last several years that was a missing piece of the delivery pie. This week, we will start to see limited run by the new Hounddogs mobile. How many pizza delivery guys do you know drive a car with a historic car license plate? The hounddog on top is new (the original has been preserved) and was created by the maker of the previous versions. Many are unaware that the dog was modeled after the owners (now deceased hounddog).

IMG_2761

hounddogs

Posted in Columbus | 1 Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 273 other followers