CMH Gourmand

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

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A Tale of Two Coney Island Joints in Mansfield (and a dialogue about Small Town Ohio)

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 20, 2015

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I was in Mansfield for business visiting Phoenix Brewing Company. I visited a brewery for work. Yes, that is pretty cool. I had only passed through Mansfield very briefly before. My inner nature is to explore any new place so I blocked out a little time to drive around downtown and get a feel for the place. About one minute into the journey I spied a sign for Famous Coney Island. Regular readers know that by the Code of Gourmand, I was obligated to stop – hungry or not. I did. I walked in 6 minutes before closing time (7 pm) to look around. The waitress (that would be the proper term here) asked me if I wanted to order. I said that I didn’t want to be a pain, so I would just look around. She said “sweety, go ahead and order it’s not problem at all.” There are not many places that would gladly welcome a customer that close to closing time. I also found out that the sign outside is somewhat new, the original sign was inside over the counter (from 1936) when coneys were 5 cents each (that is part of the reason they took the sign down).

Of course I ordered a coney. The coney dog is an institution in many towns, especially smaller towns and I always visit one when I can. There is culture to a Coney Island joint, the same as a diner. There are stools at a counter and a few booths. A simple menu and the banter of regulars served with the insights of the folks behind the counter that have been gained from decades slinging hot dogs or one liners at the same place. You can’t find that at many dining establishments. And those few places are disappearing every day.

The other thing I did was survey the menu for “the thing“. Just about every diner or Coney Island has an off beat dish that is unique to the place or a carry over from another time. A signature or iconic item that sets this place apart from any other place like it (and often there are a lot of place like it). Here the thing was pea salad. There was no description of what it was but I knew I was going to get it and probably enjoy it. The base of the salad was ice berg lettuce with a mayo based dressing, peas, shredded carrots, cheese, shredded cabbage and bacon bits. It tasted a bit like a seven layer salad. It was simple and it hit the spot. A comfort food classic.

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The place itself could have come from a Norman Rockwell painting. There was a small ice cream stall at the end. The walls were decorated with year books from the local high school, photographs from the old days, a soap box derby car, and the like. It was a decent meal. A respectable coney (no Oh Betty’s but what is) and a great pea salad. There are all types of culinary tourism. This type is where the food, while good, is secondary to the stories and the traditions. That is OK.

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I got back in my car, drove by a bakery that looked interesting, a place called the Squirrel Den (that sells candy and cards), an old school newspaper stand and a pizza place (Two Cousins) that claims to be the best in the world. All were closed. I would have liked to drop in to each. It took a minute to drive by those spots and that is when I saw something else on the other end of the square – Coney Island Inn. And oddly (it was after 7 pm) it was still open – until 8 pm, which in this case made it the Late Night Slice of Mansfield. I decided I needed another coney so I would know which was best.

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Coney Island Inn is a bit bigger, a lot less brighter and it has an in house Ohio Lottery sales counter. I grabbed a stool to survey the extensive menu – which may very well include every comfort food classic of the Midwest but I knew that I would only be having coney. I have standards, this was my second meal in 20 minutes. The dilemma I encountered was that they offer a regular coney and a King Coney (and foot long versions of each). It turns out the King Coney was a bigger, all beef hot dog and the coney was smaller and not all beef. I had to order both which I did with slaw and coney sauce. Then I asked the waitress if there was anything else I had to get and she suggested the rice pudding (with or without raisins and with or without whipped cream). The coneys were good (not Oh Betty’s good) and I would say better than what I had at Famous Coney Island (and less expensive). The rice pudding on the other hand was exceptional. I had good conversation with the other staff and the one other customer in the place (she sized me up pretty quick – “you’re not from around here are you, or you would know what to order”).

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I was glad I took a detour, I usually am.

So now for a short dialogue about small town Ohio. The impromptu adventure I had is something many people would avoid. Others would just write off these places or the places I could not get into as not worth their time because they figure the food is not up to their standard or because it is middle west bland. Sometimes the food might not be worth it, but again, each place has “the thing” and all have a good story or two that will connect you with the place. Both Coney Islands I visited have long histories in Mansfield and longer traditions.

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Actually Mansfield is not technically small town Ohio, but the town square sure feels like it so I’ll just use that as an excuse for my commentary.

Posted in Food For Thought, hot dogs, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Por’Ketta: Mobile Food Trailer with Pork and Chicken

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 13, 2015

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Por’ketta

Facebook: Porketta
Twitter: PorkettaCbus
Instagram: Porkettacbus
Web:porkettacbus.com
614 570 1107

I’ve known Tony Layne for a few years and I have known his wife for a few more, meeting her for the first time when she started working for Pitabilities. They have a good thing going. In case you did not read this (exact) post on Street Eats Columbus I am posting here so you do.

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Por’ketta launched in March of 2015, serving to the last sandwich, ahead of schedule time and time again. The simple menu of pork and rotisserie chicken with a few sides may mean limited choices but it is heavy on quality and flavor. The trailer may be a bit harder to maneuver than a food truck but you will see it most places that mobile food can be found. And on a historical note, the trailer has some back story, it used to be a Ray Ray’s Hog Pit Trailer. We spoke to owner Tony Layne to find out about this business of getting pork to the people.

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1) In a few sentences, what do you want people to know about Por’ketta.

I would want them to know that we are a family run business. We love Columbus and promote it shamelessly. Also that our family’s love of food, gathering and community translate into our food. It is also important to note that we searched far and wide within Ohio’s borders to source the best local ingredients that we could find simply prepared with passion

2) What is Porketta (Porchetta)? How do you make yours?
Porchetta is the pig’s skin, belly wrapped around meat and layers of fat, usually with herbs and spices thrown in…all tied up around a spit. Usually roasted over an open fire..this is the traditional Italian method. My version is the belly piece with the loin attached, then we butterfly the loin, rub with salt, pepper, fennel, parsley, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, roll it up, tie it up and let air dry under refrigeration for at least 24 hours, then roast for four and a half hours in a high low temperature combination, let rest for thirty minutes and then ready to slice. Very labor intensive, but yields very moist pork…there are no shortcuts to the method.

3) What inspired your menu?
This is an easy one I love cooking with fire..whether it be a grill, smoker, camp fire, Meat and fire are primal and treated correctly yield incredible results. So that is the method I choose..we have a Rotisserie on the truck, The items I chose also easy..I am a pork fanatic…such a versatile animal…so many different cuts, tastes and textures…I chose Porchetta because it’s the belly and the loin and nobody is doing it, enough said. A great roasted chicken, was my other choice it brings back such comforting memories of cooking with my grandmother. For our salads and sides, we wanted to make sure they were tasty and let the ingredients speak for themselves. Our dishes are not hidden in mayonnaise or heavy dressings. We offer both the pork and chicken as sandwiches, meals, and bulk to go items.

4) What inspired you to get into mobile food?

Thirty years in commercial kitchens, always wanting to do something on my own, but with five kids I chose security and stability for my family over the opportunity of starting my own venture. Finally the planets started lining up …my youngest was a senior in high school in Hilliard. My job with Marriott was starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day”…every day felt just like ever other. I was losing passion for the craft, finding joy only cooking for our weekly family dinners. One day I snapped , quit my job cashed in my 401k and decided to go into business with my wife and children…Mobile food is hot in Columbus…a lot of great food coming off trucks. With a lower cost to entry than a traditional brick and mortar restaurant my decision and direction was made.

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Sandwich 2

5) What did you do before Porketta?
Before this spent the last thirty years doing the Chef thing around Columbus….Umberto’s, the Clock, Crowne Plaza, the 55 group, R.J. Snappers and Marriott hotels…from mom and pop shops to corporate and everything in between

6) How did you get ready to launch?
I left Marriott shortly before Thanksgiving, and basically took the winter, while the trailer was being built out, to come up with the menu, work on branding, build the social media presence, obtain all the proper permits and documentation, purchase equipment, test recipes, try and find spots to park and sell our food at…and the list goes on. They say the devil is in the details…everyday we worked task lists to shoot for a mid March opening. And here we are!

7) Porketta is a family affair – tell us about team Layne and what each person does in the trailer.

Team Layne consists of my son Conner…who is learning the craft and picking so much up. I so proud of him, my wife Michelle who is our backbone, she runs the window and is great with our guests. My other daughters float in and out as time allows. Basically we all do what needs done. I couldn’t be working with a better bunch of people. (Writers note: Michelle worked for Pitabilities for several years so she is no stranger to mobile food customers).

8) You source from Matt Swint (Matija Breads) – where else do you source from?

Yes Matt Swint and his incredible breads…the best in Columbus. Pork was a tough one…to find an Ohio producer of the exact piece I needed was a daunting task so I turned to THE MAN..Albert Thurn…if anybody could find it he could. And he did, sourcing a farm in Sandusky, Ohio. He is my pork connect. Chicken had to be all Ohio…so we turned to Vitale Poultry. Produce comes from Midwest for the time being as spring rolls into summer much more Ohio produce will be used. we like to park at local breweries and tap rooms, because these high quality local beers compliment our food. Even our T-shirts were printed by Traxler. Local was key to our business model, sometimes more expensive, but always the right thing to do.

chicken

Posted in Locally Sourced, Mobile Food, sandwiches | Leave a Comment »

Lake Hope Lodge – Not your typical dining hall

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 7, 2015

For no good reason, when I think about a dining in a state-owned park, cafeteria quality food comes to mind. While that may apply to many dining options with government oversight, such is not the case of the Lake Hope Lodge Restaurant. Lake Hope is a state park located about 20 miles from Athens. I have journeyed there at least once per year since the mid 1990’s and it very quickly became my go to state park (after a fair amount of vetting). While my tent camping days are probably over, my first cabin experience was at Lake Hope and now an “Iron Furnace” Cottage is as close as I get to roughing it. I can’t say we visited the lodge in the center for the park for anything other than picking up keys but I did visit shortly after it burned down around 2005 or 2006. The lodge was rebuilt in 2012 with a lot of attention to detail considered through the construction. The lodge is largely built out of locally sourced wood and stone. The design and decor reflect the history and heritage of the area – with photographs throughout the lodge showcasing the people, places and structures of the Lake Hope area from the 1800’s to the 1950’s. The restaurant in the lodge is privately owned and operated with a result that is both appetizing and appropriate to the current culture of the area.

The proprietor/chefs are Matt Rapposelli and Eric Lee, both highly training chefs with plenty of experience including gigs at Ohio University and operating Big Chimney Bakery among other ventures. The menu reflects the locally sourced focus that residents and visitors to the area prefer. The beef for the burgers comes from the Ohio State farm, chips in the nachos are sourced from local favorite Shagbark Seed and Mill, Raven’s Glen Wines add an Ohio option to the wine list and craft beers include Great Lakes and Elevator Brewing Companies. The meats are smoked on site and pizzas (evening only) come fresh out of the wood-ired oven. The menu is not extensive but is “right sized” to have just enough options with a selection of appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas and desserts as well as a non insulting kids menu to provide a good choice for any picky diner.

On our visit we tried the nachos featureing a mountain of Shagbark chips, cheese, smoked pulled pork, lettuce and a more diced tomato de gallo than pico de gallo with a side of sour cream. The nachos were good but they would have benefited from more “goo” either more cheese, a side of BBQ sauce, or something to add some wetness to the dryness (not a bad dry) to the chips and pulled pork.

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I tried the Smoked Turkey, Bacon and Swiss sandwich with: smoked Ohio turkey topped with giant slices of cured bacon and Swiss cheese on freshly made bread. The smoked turkey was exceptional with great flavor and juiciness. The sandwich would have benefited from more and stronger Ohio Swiss cheese. The side of hand cut fries were very good.

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Mrs. Gourmand opted for the Warm Brisket and Bleu salad (opting to sub in cheddar due to her knocked up state) which included: slabs of slow-smoked, Ohio-raised brisket served warm on romaine lettuce with cheese, red onion, carrots and tomato. Mrs. Gourmand and I thought the brisket was very well crafted – tender and flavorful without being overly smoked. CMH Tobias also gave the scraps two paws up when he tried them later. The salad came with a fresh baked roll which could easily be converted to a sandwich bun for some of the brisket.

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For those with challenged digestive systems and eating preferences, the lodge does have a good veggie burger and gluten free pizza crust. For those that like BBQ you can buy all of the meats by the pound to enjoy at home or for a party (or to pretend you are “roughing it” at your cabin.

In addition to very good food, the lodge offers a great view of the lake as well as several good walking trails to allow you to burn off the calories after a meal. The lodge is obviously popular with visitors to the park whose nearest dining options are 15 miles away. But the lodge is liked by locals as well who drive the 40 mile round trip from Uptown Athens and beyond to dine. In fact, I ran into Kelly Sauber (Marietta Brewing, Fifth Element Spirits and West End Cider House Fame) who confirmed that Athens, Meigs and Vinton County residents are more than happy to head to the lodge for a meal.

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Drive time from Columbus is about 1 hour and forty minutes (or 1 hour 29 minutes in my old Subaru which handled SR 278 much better than my current cars). If you are staying overnight and want to explore the area in more culinary depth I can also strongly suggest and endorse the following in Athens: O’Betty’s Hot Dogs, Casa Nueva, Bagel Street Deli, Millers Chicken, Jackie O’s Brewpub, Avalanche Pizza, Purple Chopstix, The Athens Farmers Market and West End Cider House (and yes, I often visit almost all of those places in one day).

Lake Hope Lodge
27331 State Route 278
McArthur, OH 45651
740-596-0601

lakehopelodge.com/menunew

Winter Hours (end April 1st):
Monday & Tuesday: CLOSED
Wednesday & Thursday: 11am-8pm
Friday & Saturday: 11am-9pm
Sunday: Brunch Buffet 10am-2pm

For more about the history of the rebuilt lodge and the origins of the restaurant, click -> HERE.

Lake Hope Lodge on Urbanspoon

Posted in Athens, BBQ, Locally Sourced, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Best Sub in Clintonville….is not at India Oak Bar and Grill

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 26, 2015

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Since my return to being a full-time Ville-Billy, I have heard mention that the best sub in Clintonville is ballyhooed as coming from the India Oak Bar and Grill. There may have been a time when I might have bought into that proclamation. I ate a lot of subs at the Oaks in the 1990’s but that was a different time with different owners. I’ve had the sub there recently, a couple of times in fact, and while it was respectable, I can’t pull out anything from my experiences that would suggest it would be the best. Granted there are not a lot of candidates for the title in Clintonville, but seeing as there are more than one to contend for the honor, I decided to revisit some places to see if my standards are flawed or if the bar had just become lower.

As many of you know, I’ve written about O’Reilly’s more than a few times and they have a very good sub. But I am an O’Reilly’s loyalist so my objectivity could be compromised. Therefore, it became critical to even out the field. I recruited Mrs. Gourmand who never lacks for an interest in a submarine sandwich. I asked her to join me to sample four other Clintonville (traditional) subs and she gladly accepted. She recently stated “I can never be a vegetarian” and has been observed eating more fruits and vegetables that is her norm. That combined with her state due to her pregnant nature, she has had a lot of hankerings for meats and bread. She was hungry for some subs. It also helps that she is Italian-American so she has plenty of experience in all things Italian and high expectations for sub consumption.

There are not many sub purveyors in Clintonville, but I did find four others that seemed worthy of consideration. I called in all of the orders and picked them up in the order of when orders were placed.

Patrick J’s – Indianola Italian Sub
Hot ham, hard salami, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and banana peppers with Italian dressing. Served with a side of kettle chips and a pickle for $7.50.

Gatto’s Pizza – Italian Sub
Salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone, tomato, banana pepper and lettuce for $5.50.

Dante Pizza – Hot Sub
Cappacola, salami, pepperoni, lettuce, tomato, banana peppers with their special house made salad dressing for $6.25

Smith’s Deli – Super Sub
Ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone cheese, mozzarella cheese, Romano cheese, spices, lettuce, tomato, hot peppers, onions and dressing for $6.19. I oped for this over their Roman Sub which seemed light on the meat and cheese.

To maintain the highest level of objectivity – Mrs. Gourmand watched me unwrap the subs and cut each into pieces to be evaluated. All were still warm to the touch when delivered and were all picked up by me within 5 minutes of each other. I ate in a separate room, recording her observations as she shouted them out. I made my observations silently. These are our field notes from our submarine adventure.

Patrick J’s had the best presentation of all four subs. It was cut in half with great visuals and a big pile of chips with a pickle placed in the the center of the styrofoam carrier.

Gatto’s was clearly the best value of the pack. It was 69 cents less expensive than the second lowest priced sub and it was not smaller or less tasty than it’s peers.

Neither Mrs. Gourmand or I felt that our recollection of the India Oaks sub was clearly better than any of the four we tried in this tasting. Therefore their title of best sub in Clintonville is officially revoked.

We found all of the subs to be of good quality with none radically better that the other. With contention being very tight, my favorite sub was The Gatto’s Sub and my second favorite was Dantes. Mrs. Gourmand liked Smith’s sub more than the other three and she gave second place to Gattos.

These are our tasting notes. All of the buns appeared to be from Auddinos. All of the subs were baked in an oven and had a crusty, toasted texture. Smith’s was the most toasted and Patrick J’s was just lightly toasted. In the case of Patrick J’s the veggies were applied after cooking so they were not cooked with the other ingredients. That manner of vegetable placement is my preference going back to my sub making days at Knight’s Ice Cream. I also liked that the bun at Patrick J’s was not sliced all of the way through so it had a clam shell-like quality to it, which can help with consumption.

Patrick J’s was Mrs. Gourmand least favorite sub mainly due to the possible presence of mayo or a dressing she did not like and because the hot ham was too fatty for her liking.

We both liked Gatto’s sub because the bread had a garlic bread flavor and quality to it. I liked Dante’s because all of the meats had distinctly strong and fresh flavor to them – more that the other subs. Additional diagnosis determined that Mrs. Gourmand liked the Smith’s sub due to the extra cheese embedded throughout the sandwich. I found that I liked this sub as well.

All in all, we did not have a clear winner, but I think we have established that there are some great subs in Clintonville that are not at India Oaks. I was also happy that none of the subs sucked, they were all significantly above the average marker so that is a great benchmark to judge from.

Posted in Clintonville, culinary misadventure, Food For Thought, sandwiches, Sub Dude | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Thurns: A Celebration of Lunch Meats

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 11, 2015

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Spring has always seemed like cold cut sandwich time. After the winter, as much as I enjoy the heat of rising temperatures I’m not interested in anything artificial coming from an oven or stove. The grill, seems more appropriate to summer. A sandwich comes together quickly with no need for prep or cleaning, just get it done and go out to embrace the spring time. When in comes to a good sandwich, the elements are simple – good bread, sometimes a pickle, a nice slice of cheese and a choice of mustards (I feel naked without at least five mustards in the pantry). Those are the basics and we all know where to source those, but what I really get excited about is semi exotic lunch meats. And for that there is only one choice – Thurns.

I’ve written about Thurn’s before but I have not done justice to one of several things they excel at – offering a wide assortment of freshly made cold cuts and lunch meats. Choices include but are not limited to: baked ham, roast pork, hot and mild souse (head cheese / terrine), head cheese, salami, capricola, Schinken (dry cured ham), honey loaf, thuringer (sausage), pressed ham, pepper loaf, bolonga, Dutch Loaf, veal loaf and German Bolonga. As a side note, there are some other sandwich friendly encased meats and spreads – most notably the best ham salad I have ever tried. The Thurn’s know meat, they have been butchering and processing meat for over 120 years so that forms a strong foundation. The freshness of the meats is a major bonus – something that we rarely experience anywhere with overly processed and transported meats encased in plastic packaging. And variety – well look at what I listed above, most of you have never heard of several of these before.

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So follow a pattern I have done during springtime the past few years. Pop into Thurn’s on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Buy a 1/4 pound of two to four meats each time and keep trying them out between bread until you find your favorites. Although I like them all, my favorites are on the bottom row of their chart.

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Posted in Locally Sourced, sandwiches | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

B Spot gets a B+

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 8, 2015

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I have been a fan of Michael Symon before I ever ate his food or saw him on TV. I read about him in Michael Ruhlman’s Soul of a Chef and made note to keep an eye out for him and his restaurant. There has been no shortage of reminders since I read that book years ago. Recently, one of his spin-off concerts, B Spot opened on Hamilton Road. I was not surprised by the expansion to Columbus, that is a logical step that many Cleveland icons are taking (Melt, Noodlecat) but I was surprised by the location. My first thoughts were “why not the Short North or somewhere more hip?” But with more thought and six other locations in the growing empire, it made more sense. On some level, getting some of the Symon philosophy of food outside of city centers makes sense and cents for him and is the key to growing a chain to be.

The concept is simple: burgers with several twists and maybe a turn or two, a few other comfort food sandwiches – bologna, brats and chicken, a couple of salads and sides and several shakes with lots of added in ingredients. The menu is small and (hopefully) easy to execute. A nice addition is the ability to add-on to and customize almost everything. Burgers can be: beef, turkey, chicken, veggie or bologna. Added toppings include nine types of cheese, eight additional meats (garnishes – such as pastrami, bacon, chorizo and etc,) and various other topping such as a fried egg or bacon slaw. So pretty quickly, what seems like a simple menu becomes overwhelming with an endless array of possibilities.

Fans of Michael Symon get a glimpse of what his original restaurant offers with the option of Lola Fries (think cut fries with a big dash of rosemary). Or you could go hog-wild with porky fries which include pulled pork, cheese whiz and pickled chilies.

Speaking of pickled, Michael Symon has a long fascination with pickling things (as do I) so I was happy to see B Spot features a self-serve pickle bar with several types of pickles and pickled vegetables.

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So what is the verdict? My grade is a B+. The burgers were good but did not blow me away. The space was comfortable with bits of bric a brac(y) fun, such as the letter B spelled out in a beer can collection to that takes up most of a wall. Hamburgers are ubiquitous but I think where gourmet burgers go south is by trying to be too complex, often simple is best. What adds to plus to the B spot? Bad A** shakes. Standard shakes include the standards Chocolate and Vanilla Bean as well as more adventurous such as Vanilla Bean Apple Pie and Bacon. Putting pie in milkshakes is something that should happen more often. So much in fact that I once drove an extra 100 miles while researching pork tenderloin sandwiches in Iowa so I could have one at the Hamburg Inn #2 in Iowa City. On my visit to B Spot I sampled a seasonal shake infused plenty of peanut butter and cookies. When he server described it, I actually blanked out for a moment and had to have her repeat the ingredients for me because I could not believe the combination was that perfect. Another thing that excited me was a selection of four tasty sauces (for burgers, fries, onion rings and more) Coffee BBQ, Shasha sauce, Lola Ketchup and of course, a Cleveland classic, Ballpark Mustard.

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To sum it up. Check out B Spot and if you can’t decide what to get, order two milkshakes.

B Spot on Urbanspoon

Posted in food | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

La Poblanita: A Winter’s Tale (or a Mobile Food Moral on Morale and Marketing)

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 3, 2015

Oh, there was great joy last fall when La Poblanita opened in a used car lot across from Weiland’s Market. Then it moved to the parking lot of the dry cleaners 100 feet away. Then it got a professional looking wrap. Then it changed its orientation to face another part of the parking lot. All seemed like good, positive changes. The food was great, service was good and a community was rooting for the new chica in town. Then winter came and hours became erratic. Not that hours were perfectly consistent before, but even factoring in weather, one never knew when the trailer might be open. A competitor just down Indianola Ave, La Morelina, left its spot as winter progressed, then La Poblanita disappeared for a while. I found it a few weeks later in the parking lot of a barber ship near Boston Bert’s Seafood Trailer, four or five streets north of the original spot. On the plus side, the parking lot was bigger and nicer and for the vendor, it looked like they had plug-in electric hook up which makes a big difference in the winter time. (This barber shop used to host a coffee trailer in the past). And in theory, the proximity to Boston Bert’s could be good for both by creating a de facto Mobile food court. But then hours were erratic again. In mid February I dropped by to find the sign below.

Poblanito

On March 1st, I went looking to Poblanita at the new site….and nothing. I found Poblanita back at the old spot (minus the sign)….and there was no sign of life. I hope Poblanita comes back, I like the food and Clintonville needs that type of culinary diversity. Granted, this winter was sucky for any mobile food vendor but Poblanita made some avoidable errors that could have improved the odds for more customers on the good days.

OK, now for mobile food 101. The first rule of mobile food club is: Be Consistent. The second rule of mobile food club is: Be Consistent. The third rule: communicate to your potential and regular customers in as many ways as you can as often as you can. If you follow these rules, you could have average food and still have better than average chances of being successful.

These are some things Poblanita could have done:

Write your hours on a laminated sign and post to the trailer.

When you can’t keep those hours, have another sign that indicates when you will be back during normal business hours.

Make sure you have a sign that says open that can be easily seen from the road (100 or more feet away).

When allowed (sometime you can’t use stand alone signs on some properties in some parts of town ) buy or make a sign (use two by fours if you need to, paint it orange if you need to), so that when people drive by they know you are open for business.

If you can’t maintain your hours, change them and communicate to your customers what is going on, they will be more likely to visit you if they know that you can’t maintain the hours they might prefer.

Don’t just rely on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram to communicate to customers. If you picked one of more of those tools – keep with each and use them every day. If you did not, pick one and learn to use it. And no matter how many of those that you use, assume that few if any of your customers are paying attention to your social media at any given moment. And if you have a sign with your business hours, that sign or another one should list the social media you are using. Not just that you use it but the exact handle or address that you are using.

There are hundreds of other things that small businesses need to do to make it, but the first business that ever opened, and each one since then, has used signs to let customers know that they are open for business…..and when they are closed for business.

Post Script (March 2015)

Poblanita did not move, it can be found in the parking lot of Beechwold Barbershop at 3825 Indianola Ave (Intersection of Northridge and Indianola.). Open Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 am to 9 pm. Cash only.

Posted in Clintonville, culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, Mobile Food | 4 Comments »

Hounddogs Three Degree Pizza: Revisited, Reviewed….Revived

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 28, 2015

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Reviewing the extensive archives of CMH Gourmand, I find a few references to Hounddogs but nothing extensive. Of course there is a brief listing in the Slice of CMH section of the blog and back in 2012, there was the Nerd Night Clintonville Pizza Challenge, but that is it. That is an oversight on my part so I’m going to fix that.

I have always been a fan of Hounddogs but I have become even more of a loyalist over the last year. I lead a tour of four of the best pizza places on the city with Hounddogs as one of the stops. There is a big change of perspective when one shifts from a fan to a pizza docent focusing on what is great about a place. Over the past year, I have learned much more about a business I have patronized for over 20 years and it spite of that, I still feel I have more layers to peel off of the onion that is this pizza place.

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Ultimately, what makes Hounddogs stand out from the pack is variety. It starts with the crust, there are three to choose from: Thin crust, Smokin Joe’s style (a thick garlic butter crust right paired with a mild, sweet sauce) and a Gluten free crust. All are good, but the people (Hounddogs is “pizza for the people”) go with Smokin’ Joe’s style 70% of the time.

Then there is the sauce, well, make that sauces, the five choices: pesto, Joe’s (mild, sweet), regular, spicy, and howlin’ hot. There are also some interesting speciality pizzas to choose from in case all of the options available make creating your own, overwhelming. Three speciality pies that pop out to me are: The hot mama, pesto pie and BBQ chicken. The hot mama combines smoked, sliced Cajun hot links, ham and bacon with sauerkraut. Yes, sauerkraut, think of this as a Reuben with pizza sauce and it works. The pesto pie is a vegetarian pie that is a carnivore’s delight. There are mounds of provolone, mozzarella, tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese over pesto sauce on thin crust. The BBQ Chicken pizza begins with a spicy garlic BBQ sauce with chicken, red onions, bacon and cheddar cheese.

I could go on, but then I would be giving the tour away for free. There are so many stories in the place from the murals on the wall to the beer cans collections in the bar. There is a lot to look at in between bites. However two recent changes are true game changers for the business. First, the iconic black limo that was used for deliveries was finally sent the the scrap year after sitting in the back lot for years. It could not be repaired and they need the parking spaces. The good news is the Hounddog mounted on top was removed and may appear on another classic car for delivery in the future.

Most importantly, 24/7 service has ended. Hounddogs made a name for itself and kept it by being a 24 hour pizza place since 1992. That changed January of 2015. I have posted a photo of the new hours below. While the place has always been a destination for an eclectic mix of guests, the new hours and other changes have made it a destination for families over the last year or so. If you have not visited here since college or before 4 am, you may want to drop in and reacquaint yourself with pizza for the people.

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Hounddog's Three Degree Pizza on Urbanspoon

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Roadtrip: Coccia House Ristorante & Pizzeria – Old School in Wooster

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 10, 2015

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As a citizen in good standing of the allied members of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, when Mary MacDonald asked me to moderate a panel on Effective Media Interaction, I said yes. When Mary was marketing director of the North Market and asked me to do anything, I said yes. That is a good habit to follow when Mary is involved. It has never steered me wrong. Now granted, Wooster in the winter might not be every person’s dream but in that it was the first Ohio Craft Brewers Convention paired with the first Ohio Hop Growers Convention how could I avoid standing in the middle of history?

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As is the per usual for me, when I am anywhere new and I have more than one hour for free time, I’m going to explore and see what the area has to offer and find an authentic spot to assimilate with the locals. While encamped at the local watering hole, the Great American Beer Festival awarding JAFB (which stands for Just Another Fucking Brewery – at least that is what I am told) Brewery I decided I had time to go on a food expedition, I had some initial research on where to get food but then I recalled I had an ace up the sleeve. I know Wooster’s Golden Girl, who now resides in Columbus ( she has a Ph.D and is a certified Policy Duder). I texted her to ask where to go and she replied Coccia House Pizza. This was promising because when I mentioned this to Cheryl Harrison, from Drink Up Columbus, who at that moment had allowed me to be part of her entourage, she too had been told Coccia House Pizza. Then, over the next 10 minutes, I saw several JAFB customers walk in with 2-4 boxes of Coccia House pizza. I then checked with the bartender and he too said……Coccia House Pizza. Finally, it was confirmed by one Angelo Signorino Jr. that in in 20 years of trips to Wooster his relatives had steered him to Coccia House many times. At this point, there was only one thing to do – call.

I called in an order for pick up (Coccia was only 1/2 mile away) and was given a one hour pick up time. I arrived 20 minutes early to observe this place in operation and following my standard checklist for likable small town Ohio haunts things looked promising before I even tasted a a slice of pie. Let us review the rankings on the S.C.L.S.T.O.H

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Restaurant located in an old house with multiple additions: Check

Parking lot full before 6 pm on a Thursday in poor weather conditions: Check

Pizza slingers instantly recognize me as a non local because I don’t know what to do when walking through the door: Check

Inside of house converted to restaurant is full of customers who every server knows by name while an endless string of pizza pick ups occur with each pizza slinger knowing each customer by both pizza preference and first name: Check

Photos of customer holding Coccia pizza boxes taken all over the world including places like Papua New Guinea: Check

Place is closed Tuesdays and open for carry out (Pizza, salads and Antipasta only) only on Sunday. Those non standard hours are the “You complete me” of small town haunts: Check.

Old menus and information about a place dating back to 1958 placed in the trophy case: Check

Three generations of ownership: Check

Ships pizzas around the world: Check

There appears to be at least one menu item that is not on the menu but known by all, pepperoni bread: Check

Noted on the menu: homemade bread and butter, anchovies (real) charcoal peppers: Check

Last and not least, with Wooster being just outside the Ohio Valley Pizza belt the place still abides by the rules of all Ohio pizza preferences: Topping on top of the cheese….or below, cheese charred, half-baked or unbaked: Check, Check and Checkmate!

At this point it did not matter what the pizza tasted like, this place was old school in all the right ways and I was glad I was putting money in their pockets to keep things going. During my 15 minutes waiting for my two large pepperoni pizzas I sat on a bench and watched these pizza slingers at work. They ranged from 16 to 22, working as an efficient team of four (one wearing sunglasses). The pizzas had big square slices of cheese on top. Pizzas were assembled in a frenetic yet focused manner. If pizza makers could rock stars these kids would have been the Rolling Stones.

Now on to the pizza. I quickly transported one pizza to JAFB while the other stayed in my car for delivery back to Mrs. Gourmand home in Columbus town. The first thing I noted was the weight of the pizza boxes. They were heavy from a high volume of cheese and a thicker than typical crust. I had one slice at the brewery and instructed the brewers to consume the rest (which is the only time I think they might listen to something I say). My initial response to my first bite, other than…TOOO HOTTT, was hmm. The topping to cheese ratio was proportionally pleasing. I thought the core crust was too crunchy. At this point it was time to head back to Columbus with the other pizza.

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Arriving home 90 minutes later. I found the pizza even more pleasing to my palate. The oil/grease had soaked into the crust making it more malleable for mastication. The rest of the pizza minus my assessment slice was placed on the refrigerator for the next day. The next morning, Mrs. Gourmand texted me to let me know she was very pleased with the sauces because it smelled and tasted like it had fresh tomatoes in it. Mrs. Gourmand is a bit of a hard ass when it comes to sauce so this boded well. I then spent the next two days assessing my pizza one slice at a time. I continued to find the cheese, the level of cheese char at the end of the crust ring, cheese ratios and pepperoni quality to be exceptional. Sometimes I liked the crust a lot and other times I just thought it was OK. The crust is about 3/4 inch thick. On the bottom these is a 3-4 mm thick browned crust and then from there to the top, the crust sometimes had a focacia quality and other times a dense, doughy toughness. The result, I like this pizza a lot but I have my feelings about the crust are still mixed. Not that I don’t like it but I don’t know how to feel about it. Doing some more research, I found the style in practice here is Abruzzi which is not too far from where Mrs. Gourmand’s old world people live, so that explained her satisfaction with the sauce. The only solution I can come to resolve my ambiguous feelings about the crust is to sample more. If you pass near Wooster, check this place out but be prepared for a long wait on the weekends. The wait is worth it and there is a lot to watch while you pass the time.

Coccia House Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in Ohio, pizza, restaurants, Road Trip | Leave a Comment »

My Omnivore’s Deliemma: I’m No Michael Pollan

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 2, 2015

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One could summarize Michael Pollan’s writings into these seven words: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Following that philosophy, one could eat well, enjoy good health and avoid many of the maladies overeating and the Western diet create. There was a time (brief as it was) that I did live by that model and I miss it. Over the last several years I adapted an approach of: Eat Food, frequently, mostly carbohydrates. I can’t make any legitimate excuses for my current food lifestyle but I do feel the malaise that comes with it.

So when I was offered tickets to hear Michael Pollan speak, I was excited for an opportunity listen to one of my favorite food writers and infuse some inspiration to get back on track.

Pollan is a great public speaker, he mixes just enough facts with humor without being preachy, just pragmatic information that hopefully will make a difference. There was not much information in his presentation that would be news for anyone that has read his work, but he did offer a lot to think about. For those of you that did not get to attend and especially for those of you that have not read his books, I thought I would offer some of the information he shared that is good food for thought.

The first thing I wrote down in my notes (with an explanation point!) was the phrase “social delusion about gluten”. I mean no disrespect to those with true gluten issues, I know several people with celiac disease and other gluten based illnesses and those truly suck. Pollan meant no disrespect either but what he was referring to was this gluten epidemic that is out of proportion to true incidence of these diseases. There is a marketing technique that creates a fear and then gives the “buyer” a solution. An example that was used was Chex Cereal. It is now marketed as Gluten Free. Well here is a shocker, it never had gluten. And it is marketed as no High Fructose Corn Syrup which is nice and all, but the company replaced that with Fructose, which is worse for you. Gluten is bad for some people, but big food is using that fear of gluten to push products and deliver a message of no gluten to get the attention of everyone.

Another example. Wonder Bread went out of business but now is back as a 100% whole grain bread. However, Pollan wonders about the math skills of the manufacturers of the food, if it is 100% grain what about the 30 other ingredients in the product?

Milk is trending as a new “super food” with big soda getting to the milk business. For generations we have been oversold on milk as a health food. There is even a beverage called Muscle Milk (which in small text mentions….contains no milk). Yogurt falls into this category as well, when you look at a typical yogurt you will see if has more sugar that an 8 ounce Coke.

Deciding what to eat is becoming more and more confusing, that are over 10,000 items in a typical grocery store and each year more than 15,000 new food products come out. Most offer single size servings, or convenience (such as a straw made our of cereal to drink milk) and in the process of creating convenience more not food ingredients are added to make to foods….easy to consume.

What is referred to as the American Paradox continues to thwart us. While we live in a country obsessed with health and spend larger and larger amounts on “healthy” foods, exercise equipment, fitness clubs, and etc., as a society more of us are getting fat and those of us who were fat are getting fatter. The Western Diet is the one diet that consistently causes health issues and our approaches to address it have gone no where. One of the best / worse examples: for children born after 2000, over 1/3 will have Type 2 Diabetes, which could be avoided with modest changes in lifestyle and diet.

Pollan offered some food wisdom that was shared with him from readers.

“The whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead”

“Eat foods that will eventually rot”

‘If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, don’t eat”

The best question of the night and the least expected point to ponder came at the end, with a short discussion on the importance of health soil for healthy foods and the nutrients that good soil infuses into foods. Many of the trends of modern agriculture are taking the health out of the soil, not adding to it.

It was a fun evening and it was refreshing for me to think about eating better instead of just thinking about eating.

Posted in culinary knowledge, Food For Thought | 1 Comment »

 
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