CMH Gourmand

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

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Archive for the ‘Road Trip’ Category

Donut Trail: Holtman’s Donuts, Over the Rhine, Cincinnati

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 24, 2014

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I made an accidental discovery on the donut trail. And those are often the best scenarios for finding good donuts. I was in Cincinnati to explore four breweries: Rhinegeist, MadTree, Listermann’s and 50 West. I had an elaborate plan of visiting the new Jungle Jim’s, Aglamesis Brothers Ice Cream and the Senate before meeting my contact in Cincinnati for brewery exploration. However, there was a snag in the plan. I was driving to Cincinnati, on a Friday, in the rain. That was a recipe for inefficiency. I had forgotten what a shitstorm the freeways of Cincinnati are. En route I-71 was stalled due to a semi accident and then the rain started and then Mrs. Gourmand and I hit the 275 belt right at rush hour. As the duder would say, “Suck It.” It became clear that the plan was not going to work and I might be lucky to make it just in time to start the brewery tour.

While looking for a parking garage in The Over The Rhine I spied what looked like a promising donut shop but donutery research was not on the plan…or the timeline. As luck would have it, we got to the Senate minutes before it opened, so we had just enough time to head back in the opposite direction to Holtman’s Donuts. I’m glad we made that detour.

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Looking at the outside of Holtman’s, I had a good feeling that they would deliver. It was a simple storefront with the hours posted in the door. Holtman’s is open seven days per week which is always a good sign. Another good indicator was that they are open to 9 pm Tuesday to Saturday…so they recognize that people NEED donuts past noon. Another good sign was the donut with a bite taken out of it logo as the iconic image over the threshold. I was excited the moment my hand touched the door.

Just to the left of the entrance you can see the enclosed bakery area. Most donut shops block the line of sight from the counter to the production area. Letting customers see what happens in the art of donut making is a sign of pride in their craft. So at this point, not even 4 steps past the door, my donutry confidence rating scale (D.C.R.S) was registering off of the charts. Then I saw the two super comfy chairs for extended donut eating and the wooden communal table. The table has four stools attached to it with old hardware that allows the seats to swing out in many directions. Cool, retro, comfortable and practical…yep, I was simpatico with this place and I had not even made eye contact with the donuts themselves.

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So now, over 400 words in to this story…on to the donuts. There was not an overwhelming selection available which is my mind is a good thing. At places like Bill’s and Donut World I have sometimes been perplexed by having too many choices. Also since it was late in the day, a good amount of the inventory had been decimated by roaming herds of Over the Rhine hipsters. I spent a long time staring at the donuts trying to make the best selections. Exhibiting more contemplation than would be considered normal or socially acceptable I finally decided on the following: Blueberry (cake) glazed, Blueberry Cream Cheese, Cherry Fritter and Maple Bacon Blueberry Cake.

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Hot Dog (read this with the tone and inflection of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life)! Using Mrs. Gourmand as an assistant sampler, we evaluated and deconstructed each donut in great detail. We found the best elements of all of the donuts were the glazes and icing. The Cream Cheese icing was the best I’ve encountered in my adventures in donut hunting. The regular glaze featured on the other donuts we sampled was equally impressive. The standout was the fritter. And while I only tried one, I can say with some degree of confidence, that Holtman’s has the best fritters in Ohio. They make what I call the Goldilocks Fritter which balances all of the critical elements a fritter needs to knock it out of the park. The fritter is neither too thick or too thin. It is crunchy on the outside yet incredibly soft, moist and fluffy in the inside. Each bite was a taste of perfection with the proper balance of everything an old school fritter should constitute. That alone, warrants a trip to Holtman’s. Welcome to The Ohio Donut Trail Holtman’s, I look forward to another visit.

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Holtman's Donut Shop on Urbanspoon

Posted in bakery, donuts, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Whoa: Moe’s Original Bar B Que exceeds expectations

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 21, 2014

It has been a long time since I felt I had a new discovery or that I had beaten to the scene the other online and offline choices you have for your culinary voyeurism. After a long dry spell, I have a scoop. The thrill of the chase is the ultimate reason why most food writers blog. That moment of discovery when you walk through the door and find that you have found something worth writing about and that you get to be that person that opens a door to a new adventure for someone else. So here we go with Moe’s.

Moe’s had a few things going against it. It is a BBQ joint. So many in central Ohio have tried but so few have succeeded at doing BBQ well. And by doing it well, I mean doing it right. BBQ joints frequently excite me at the beginning then quickly disappoint me at the end. The next challenge is the space. Moe’s is in a spot in downtown Granville has witnessed several concepts come and go. The one successful concept in the spot occupied by Moe’s was long ago a place called Brew’s Cafe. You may have heard of that place – everyone loves it and fills the place day after day after it moved down the street.

Business took me to Granville and one of the bonus’ of owning your own business is being able to pick where you meet and who you dine with. The original plan was to meet at Brew’s but while checking the hours of operation I found that a new BBQ place had just opened down the street. This changed the plan.

I hoped for the best but prepared my palette for the mediocre. It is not fair to visit a restaurant open less than 2 weeks and rate what they can or can’t do, but I was ready to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m happy to report this rookie delivers.

The first sign of potential was the sign at the front door – see below.

thanksgiving sandwich

That’s right a Thanksgiving sandwich! Take the best food day of the year and compact it into a sandwich by using a simple bun as a base then adding smoked turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce and a drizzle of white BBQ sauce. I had to get this….but I was conflicted. I mean I can’t properly judge a BBQ place by a smoked Turkey Sandwich so I decided to go in-depth into the menu. Fortunately, Moe’s menu is set up to make grazing easy. So here is what else I ordered in half pint servings: baked beans, mac’n cheese, marinated cole slaw, potato salad, banana pudding, collard greens, skillet corn (relish) , Mississippi Mud Pie (Pudding), squash casserole, corn bread…..and a side of ribs.

Take a look at my spread below:

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Before I go into detail on the above let me share with you why some people consider me the devil. My lunch companion is working with a personal trainer and by ordering the same sandwich as I did – he had already broken all of the rules he with given for the day for calorie consumption. Then I had him help me try the sides. (Then later in the day I took him to wineries and a Moonshine Distillery). Maybe I am the devil, all I know is the devil in the details and Moe’s does the details right. I did offer to write a note to his trainer explaining that his client had no chance by hanging out with me.

The place looks and feels like a BBQ joint (or kind of like a BBQ themed Chipotle restaurant). There are rolls of paper towels on each table – all real BBQ places add that touch. The aesthetics are all rural, industrial and music themed. The furniture is sufficiently wooden, etc. Moe’s could be in North Carolina, Texas or ……Alabama. That’s right greenhorns, Alabama. There is an Alabama style of BBQ which I was schooled in several years ago by the Coop Dawg and O’Pa (might sound like a sitcom but they are real people). Moe’s does “Bama BBQ” as intended. Want a sandwich “Bama style”? Here is how you do it add: BBQ Sauce, White Sauce, slaw and pickles. White sauce uses Mayonnaise as the base instead or tomatoes and/or vinegar.

The owners go by the name Gallagher and they have bounced around BBQ country a bit but they missed Central Ohio and wanted to come home. The way for them to return was through owning and opening a BBQ restaurant. So taking stock of their different backgrounds the menu reflects their history by mixing several styles. The main dish BBQ entrees are Alabama style. The side dishes are inspired by the kitchens of North Carolina and the ribs are strictly St. Louis style. Regardless of what style you subscribe to the whole of the menu is greater than the sub of the parts, or the sides.

So back to the food. The Thanksgiving sandwich was exceptional. The turkey was perfectly smoked – just enough smoke in the meat to add flavor but not enough to dry out the turkey. As for the sides each one reflected the style one would expect at a picnic in North Carolina. My favorites were the Mac ‘n Cheese and the corn relish. Both were properly seasoned and flavored and if going up against other of their ilk they would have come in best of show. The mac in particular, had just enough sear and crunch caressing the cheese to make it just right for me.

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The slaw was a mix of long shards of cabbage and a sweet yet sour dressing. The banana pudding featured an out of the box vanilla wafer on top in a manner I would describe as old school. The St. Louis style ribs were true to the style, expertly rubbed and with meat that was tender and easy to pull from the bone. The cornbread had a corn muffin quality (which is how I prefer it) and paired perfectly with all of the sides and all of the sauces.

And about the sauces – there are several styles and levels of heat and all are made in-house. Also in the house – a great bar on the second floor and plenty of local beer including Buck’s from Newark and Homestead from Heath. There as a lot to like about this new kid on the main block of Granville and I look forward to the Gallagher’s growing their business and refining the menu to meet the meat needs of the community. I think this place is going to be a hit. And I was so glad to find a Bar B Que joint that did not disappoint.

Moe's Original Bar B Que on Urbanspoon

Posted in BBQ, Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Zen State – Brunch: Purple Chopstix; Athens, Ohio

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 4, 2014

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Over the last few years, I may have gotten a bit cocky about my knowledge about eating in Athens – my North American Home away from Home. In fact, as you will read in a later post, I developed a very happy rut of a cycle of places that I visit over and over again. Until one day when Dr. Balbo, Medicine Woman mentioned “why didn’t you go to Purple Chopstix?” “Purple what the who?” Apparently it is the Bees Knees of downscale hippy dining in the locavore mecca of Athens. Not only had I never eaten there, I had never heard of it. On my recent Bachelor Sabbatical to Athens, I was determined to try out the place. Unfortunately, I started my journey of discovery in a non Zen like state. Purple Chopstix Sunday hours on their website indicated that were open to 1 p.m. and I was running late in picking up my companion for the trip, the vice president of marketing and creative endeavours for Ohio Pop. In theory, we did not have time to make it before closing, but I was focused on meeting my need to dine at this place. Thank goodness for the Nelsonville Bypass, light traffic and good weather because we made it a few minutes before 1 pm. I was happy to see that the proprietors had hand written on to the hours sign closed….1:30 pm which allowed me to not feel like a complete douchbag for coming just before the door shut.

Upon arrival, my companion was a bit skeptical about my choice of dining establishment for first lunch. He was very hungry to the point of pre-crankiness and by nature he is very focused on the appearances of things and design. The exterior of the place would best be described as unassuming. While I am a variant of hippy my companion is anything but and I think he experienced minor discomfort when we saw the sign below.

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So of course I banged the gong. We waited quite some times and the gong was not responded to so I barged into the room and asked the most hippy looking person if it was OK to seat ourselves. It turned out that person was a customer but a very pleasant young lady then took care of us and gave us her favorite table for two. You can see the table below, the booth we sat in reminded us of an old train car dining station. I am happy to report I could fit in. Looking out the window I saw a peaceful, babbling brook, many trees, some interpretive art and an odd assortment of eclectic items decorating the landscape including numerous block pavers (expect a post about that in Bricks of Ohio Blog soon). I knew the second I sat down I had found my new spot.

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However, Purple Chopstix only offers a buffet on Sundays and we were arriving at the end of service. Some of the dishes were already wiped out and the rest looked unassuming at best. I was concerned that my dining companion would be displeased but to the contrary after we loaded up on our first plate he was completely in a blissful state I rarely see him in unless we are both intoxicated. The first item he sampled was a mini crepe which was exquisitely well executed. My first bite was a curry dish with vegetables and tofu. We quickly devoured our first round of breakfast items, salads and biscuits and returned for more. While my dining companion enjoyed coffee, I went out the patio area to explore and check out the landscape. I was pleased to see there were a few patio tables for use in better weather. I was pleased indeed.

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I’d write more about the food but our friendly server shared that the buffet is different every week. We stared at the regular menu long and hard then made a verbal pact to come back in the future for three days in a row so we could explore the dinner menu in the depth it deserved. My colleague Jared from Nothing Better to Do, wrote a fine post on this spot a few years ago which I will share -> HERE. The next day we ran into our server again at Farmacy, where she also works and she once again served us well by helping us find the best place in town to restock our supply of spirits for the rest of my sabbatical. I look forward to writing about Purple Chopstix in-depth later this year. In the meantime – please share your experiences here and let me know what to order on day one.

Purple Chopstix on Urbanspoon

Posted in Athens, Locally Sourced, Ohio, restaurants, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Back on the Donut Trail: McHappy’s, Athens Ohio

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 2, 2014

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While this is bad news for the Dining Duder, the donut trail is back. And this was as unexpected for me as you. I was minding my own business with no intention of consuming a donut when I noticed that McHappy’s offered donuts. I was visiting a new Athens favorite, Purple Chopstix (suggested by Dr. Balbo, Medicine Woman) when I noticed that McHappy’s was open via a sign advertising donuts. While I have driven this stretch of Richland Ave. many times, I never noticed McHappy’s nor did I have an inclination to look – I was always on my way to somewhere else. I’m glad I dropped in.

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Dropping in was a pure whim. In fact my passenger tried to dissuade me from doing so because we had just filled up on a buffet. The place does not look like much from the outside and we had a challenge finding the door since is largely a drive through business. However, I was focused on finding out what this bakery was all about and I needed to stockpile provisions for our next several days at Lake Hope State Park. The moment I waked through the door, I was glad I did so. The first doughnut my eye spied was an Ohio classic – maple glazed cake donut. It was at this point I decided a full dozen was in order. In addition to two maples, I added several other varieties including a new one for me – Applesauce. I also picked up a cinnamon roll, a apple fritter and a peanut butter egg. This mass of sugar was a good value. If you are even more value oriented, McHappy’s sells bags of day old doughnuts for $1.99.

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To cut to the chase, in comparison of all of the other Ohio Donut Trail entries, McHappy’s rates a solid B. None of the regular donuts stood out or where craveable. I expected a lot, perhaps too much from the Applesauce donut since that style was new to me. It was good but what I think I liked the most was it’s star like shape. The winner of everything we tried was the apple fritter. It may place in the top five in the fritter category to date. I should note a few disclaimers about McHappy’s. We purchased the donuts around 1 pm and we did not try any until about 5 pm so they were not at their peak freshness. McHappy’s is a five location chain operating in Athens, Belpre, Marietta and Parkersburg. And for some reason, which no longer makes sense we nicknamed the lady that served us Biscuits McGillacutty.

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McHappy's Donuts and Bake Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Posted in desserts, donuts, Ohio, Ohio Donut Trail, Road Trip | 2 Comments »

Swenson’s Drive In: Worth the (Road) Trip

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 1, 2014

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If you find yourself traveling in Akron or the nearby area this year, I’d suggest you block out 30 minutes to travel through time. Swenson’s Drive In Restaurant started in 1934 and other than a few price increases, has not changed a thing since day one. This is a cap hop restaurant, so when you pull up in your car, turn on your lights and a young server will pop out the door to take your order. Your selections will be simple, chiefly burgers, fries and shakes. When your order is ready the same server or a different one will bring your food out to you on a tray you can mount to your car window.

Swenson’s has earned a large legion of loyalists over the last eighty years expanding to eight locations and a food truck in three counties. Swenson’s excels in the principle of keep it simple. Check out the menu below.

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Swenson’s serves as a good reminder that you don’t have to have an extensive menu with fancy ingredients to be successful – just deliver a good product, consistently with great service. On my recent trip I tried their signature burger, the Galley Boy which is a double cheeseburger consisting of a buttered, toasted bun with two burger patties, two slices of Velveeta and two special/ secret sauces (a sweet BBQ and a tartar style mayo and onion (?) sauce with an Olive skewered on top with a toothpick and a small tub of ranch dressing on the side.

I had a very good vanilla shake, but if I had more experience at the place I would have taken the time to ponder on one of the 17 choices of shakes including grape. There is more to explore on the menu so if it is as good as what I tried, the small sidetrip will be worth your time.

Posted in hamburgers, Ohio, Road Trip | 2 Comments »

Slate Run Vineyard

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 10, 2013

It took two trips for me to find Slate Run Vineyard. Based on my chat with owner Keith Pritchard, that is a common occurrence. It seems his land is located where three counties and several different mail system merge together. GPS systems are frequently stymied when trying to find Slate Run. So to help you, here is the key to not driving up and down Winchester Southern Road for hours on end. Find Slate Run Metro Park and drive 1/2 mile north looking for the sign below.

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After turning onto the gravel driveway you will find a large estate vineyard with over sixty varieties of grapes. All the wines at Slate Run are made with grapes from the property. Keith admits he may have lost count on the exact number. He started volunteering time at Shamrock Vineyard and from there….his collection grew and grew. He opened Slate Run in 1996. The property houses a tasting room and a Weinhaus which is used for weddings, meeting and more. It is largely a one man show at Slate Run. Keith has an extensive knowledge of wine and some opinions on the complexities of selling wine in Ohio. Over a dozen wines are available for sampling and sale. In addition to an appreciation of (or at least support for) Ohio wine Keith and I share a love of Ohio cheese. Pearl Valley Cheeses are available to enjoy with samples or to take with a bottle for a picnic at the nearby park. For my opinions on Pearl Valley Cheese as being one of the finest our state has to offer take a journey back in time to this post from 2008.

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The Slate Run Vineyard is scenic and mostly peaceful, in between frequent automated bird chirpers which sound off to protect Keith’s grapes from varmints and the like. As a day trip, the Vineyard pairs well with a jaunt to the nearby Metro Park and a stroll through downtown Canal Winchester or even Lithopolis. As for which wine to try or buy I can’t advise you on the best one, I only sampled a five or six. I did enjoy the Rose and thought it was a reasonable value for the price. I am sure you will find at least one wine that pleases your palate and your pocketbook. The scenery and some wine education from Keith is well worth the drive. Add in a bottle of wine and a meandering drive finding Slate Run and you have a great Ohio afternoon.

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Slate Run Vineyard
900 Winchester Southern Road
Canal Winchester
614.834.8577

Posted in Ohio, Road Trip, wine | Leave a Comment »

Kuhlwein’s Farm Market and & Deli

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 30, 2013

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As some of you know, I have often said that there are only two reasons to go to Hilliard: Starliner Diner and Olive Tree. I have now added a third – Kuhlweins. I went there in search of two items. Jami’s Cheesecake and the Kulhwein’s Sub. I was only able to get one, we will get to that in bit.

Kuhlwein’s has evolved from a farm stand to an almost-suburban farmers market destination. The market is located next to some of its fresh produce, in particular, farm fresh corn. Visitors have come to that for years. The recently expanded their deli and it’s offerings to include a wider range of sandwiches and lunch meats. My goad was the Italian sub, but they were out of subs. How could this be? Well it seems that they serve the sub with a special multi-herb and seasoned Italian dressing that uncle Kuhlwein has crafted about 6 months ago (according to his nephew). This is liberally doused onto an Auddinos (home of the cronut) sub bun then piled high with freshly sliced deli meats, fresh lettuce and tomatoes then topped with mix of mozzarella and provolone cheeses which melts while the bun is toasted. They start making them fresh daily at 11:00 am.

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Sounds like the perfect sandwich right? Well, as it goes, it may be. However, I did not eat it. They generally run out of sauce and ingredients early in the day so it is suggested that you order ahead. I was told they would make more sauce but they have two people picking corn full-time right now and if they had enough people they would have two more out there. So no extra hands to increase sauce production. The sandwich was described to me by a combination of employees and nearby customers – they all love the sub and say they have sworn off all other subs.

I’ll be back for that sub.

Also at Kuhlwein’s are large scoops of ice cream, a lot of produce. homemade baked goods from many nearby bakers, canned and pickles vegetables, groceries, a lot of corn, on the day I arrived a sign for free rabbits and much more.

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I did find Jami’s Cheesecake – there were a few left. I sampled the Oreo. It was exquisite. Dense, moist, fresh, with a very tasty crust. Every rating area on my cheesecake index scored in the 10 out of 10 level. Thank goodness they had the cheesecake. And thank you Jami – whoever you are, you make a great product.

When I have the sub sandwich, I am sure I will tweet about it and hope to write about it too.

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1859 Walker Rd
Hilliard
614 876-2833
Kuhlweins.com

Posted in bakery, culinary misadventure, desserts, pies, Road Trip, sandwiches, Sub Dude | 2 Comments »

Food Truck Tour via Columbus Food Adventures

Posted by cmh gourmand on July 16, 2013

One might think that as writer and tri-creator of Taco Trucks Columbus and Street Eats Columbus (as well as my daily work with the food truck community) that I would be food trucked out. Quite the opposite. I found that I wanted a fresh perspective and different point of view on mobile food. I hoped to feel like it was my first taste into this culture again. I wanted to see the world of food trucks through fresh eyes once more. So instead of being my own guide, I opted to ride along on the newly added Food Truck Tour with Columbus Food Adventures as an anonymous rider and to listen to the questions “greenhorns” would have.

One might say, with the two websites in place, why would anyone want to go on a tour of food trucks when you can DIY. I would counter with – why wouldn’t you not want to take a tour? If you have never tried a food truck, then you want to do a tour for sure. First, the tour ensures you are sampling some of the best in the city. Second, you are being educated on the culture and nuances of the food truck world at each stop as well as additional background and commentary between each destination. Third, you typically get to meet the owners of the food trucks and have one on one time with them. Often they are creating a sampler of some of their favorite dishes to share with you to make a first good impression to get you to come back. Fourth it is fun. Fifth there are five trucks to try. Sixth it is a great way to meet new people who share a common interest….or at least a curiosity. And seventh, you will be full by the middle of the tour and definitely stuffed at the end.

So if you are a newbie to this world, the reasons above should sell you on the concept. But what if you are an experienced Taco Trucker or Food Truck enthusiast like me? In my own experiences, my personal interaction with food trucks for food has become pure hunter and gatherer mode…wham, bam, thank you ma’am of sir as I get my food and go. On the tour, I was able to go back to the good old days where I could sit back and leisurely enjoy my food while getting to know the owner and finding out why they decided to do this as their living. That was a big part of the joy for me in the beginning of my mobile food exploration phase where I could appreciate the personal connection between the customer and owner. The experience changes from transactional to educational and conversational. Plus, the sampler plates are often unique to the tour. Indecisive and don’t know what to order, these mobile amuse bouches (can I use that word?) will give you a quick and efficient sample of what the truck boss thinks is the best.

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The current tour presents a variety of menus and a mix of old pros and new kids on the block.

Our first stop was Ajumama which is based at the future site of Zauber Brewing in 5th Ave. Chef Laura Lee creates a mini sampler of 3-4 of her signature dishes. She is very articulate and passionate about her business and takes pride in explaining her Korean cuisine.

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Next on our route was Ray Ray’s, now based at Ace of Cups in Old North Columbus. The sampler here is a mix of brisket, pork, a rib, a chicken wing from Jamie’s new venture inside the bar and his personal favorite sidedish, a mini serving of greens (which he says he eats with every meal).

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Ray Ray’s former location is the new home of Mya’s Chicken. Mark the chef, owner and chief chicken fryer presents a slightly different sampler each time based on his signature items as well as what his daily special may be. And thank goodness, there is a biscuit, one of the best in the city.

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Our fourth stop was Aromaku the only Indonesian food truck in Columbus (and probably the only Indonesian food based experience to be had in central Ohio). There really is nothing like this in town. As a bonus, Aromaku shares a parking lot of Taco Nazo, one of the favorites of the Taco Trucks Columbus team so a little Taco Truck history is thrown in as a no calorie side dish.

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The fifth and final destination for our tour was Tokyo GoGo based at Brothers Drake in the Short North. In addition to getting an education on authentic Japanese style late night bar food there is an opportunity to try some very unique Ohio made mead in the process.

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The itinerary I joined may not be the same as the one you take on your tour but you can expect to try five or more of the best trucks in town and then be well prepared to continue on your own food truck adventures afterwards.

For more information on the Food Truck Tour, cruise over to the Columbus Food Adventures website.

Posted in culinary knowledge, Mobile Food, Road Trip, tour | Leave a Comment »

CLEWeek The Muse & The Ritz on Top of My List: Fresh Market Package

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 16, 2013

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My Cleveland to do list remains long, especially in the area of things I have not eaten. At the top of my list is an experience I have been teased with twice but have never tried. I travel on the cheap for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t skimp, but I focus on value in transportation and accommodation to have more cash for culinary tourism. There are however times when you deserve to splurge a little. Through past employment and an eye for a deal, I have had a few opportunities to stay in some of the finer hotels in the North America, including The Fairmont in Dallas and The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. Through a quick of fate and Hotels.com being unprepared for my wraith of a reservation gone wrong, I did once score an executive suite at The Mutiny Hotel in Coral Gables for $59. So I know a little about living large but don’t allow myself to indulge often. A few falls ago, I had the opportunity to stay at The Ritz-Carlton in Cleveland. Oh, my. Staying there was as close to living as a rock star I will ever be. In fact, there were a couple of rock stars I ended up mingling with while there including Patti Smith. Rarely does one stay in a hotel without some mildly annoying things that are just not right: poor pillows, bad water pressure, a thin towel, etc. You will find none of these things to be less than fine at the Ritz. The bed was so comfortable that I did briefly consider how I might sneak it out of my 11th story window onto my waiting Subaru in the alley. And even though that is crazy and illegal and in some circles morally wrong, I think, if I had asked, the doormen would have helped me load the bed on the roof of my car while the front desk replaced the bed for my room and discreetly send a bill to my home to pay for it. The service was that good. My favorite memory, of many, was swimming alone on the pool looking out the rooftop skyline window at the moon and the night sky of Cleveland. One more thing – best hotel robe ever. The downside, is while I was there gratis, I was rarely there, I was too busy eating my way through Cleveland. What I did get to experience, I appreciated for the high luxury it was. And when I think of where I would want to go if I wanted to live large for just one night – of all the places I can think of, the first thought that comes to mind is the Ritz in Cleveland.

On my second culinary trip to Cleveland last fall, I did stay not at the Ritz but I did score a second visit to their in-house restaurant, Muse. Many people are quick to dismiss the concept of a hotel restaurant as mediocre by default. Not the case for Muse. Ritz-Carlton set a high mark for the restaurant to be in one of their signature locations and have worked hard to staff it well.

On each occasion, I have had the privilege to meet Executive Chef Richard Sören Arnoldi. On my two visits I was able to share breakfast with the culinary team of Muse and experience part of one of their special offerings paired with the hotel. The Fresh Market Package includes: Friday night accommodation for two, a bottle of wine (I am sure you could get an Ohio Wine if you ask nicely), breakfast the next morning with the Chef in Muse followed by a chef guided tour of The West Side Market. It wraps up with a lunch prepared by the chef with what was sourced at the market, and if you chose, you can join in him the kitchen to help prepare it. That sounds like an incredible day to me.

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I’ve toured the West Side Market twice with chefs from Muse. The last time was with Chef Arnoldi. You don’t need a tour to enjoy and appreciate the West Side Market. However exploring the market with someone who visits many times a week and knows each of the purveyors – their stories, best items, what is in season, etc. changes the experience from that of a tourist to that of a local. Chef Arnoldi is not a Cleveland native, but he has embraced the city and made a conscious decision to stay to pursue his craft. He shared the West Side Market reminds him of going to the markets with is father as a kid in Philadelphia. It is a tradition he continues with his son today. I am not sure when I will take the plunge to enjoy the complete Fresh Market package, but since I have done much of it in bits and pieces, I will look forward to writing about it when I do it as a full experience.

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Muse
(at Ritz Carlton)
1515 West 3rd Street
Cleveland – Downtown
216.623.1300

Posted in CLEGourmand, markets, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

CLEWeek – CROP: Where the Art and Science of Food Connect

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 15, 2013

CROP is a great restaurant. It has the writeups and awards to prove it. The modern menu is constantly transforming, morphing, refining and becoming more local so writing about what I had before won’t help you make plans for what to order now. The elements of a good restaurant are the core values of CROP: attention to detail, presentation, a focus on working with superior purveyors, a commitment to customer service, etc. I’ll pop in a few photos below to whet your appetite and then we will move on to the things you may not know about CROP.

cocktail with logo

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Let’s cover a few of the basics before moving on to the elements that establish the uniqueness of CROP. The name: CROP stands for Customized Restaurant Operations Platform. That name might create a disconnect for those that experience the menu today but I’ll explain why that makes sense later. Take solace in knowing that CROP also focuses on finding the best of crops (of everything) everywhere. As a cheat, take a look at this short video from CROP about what they do – cheat is linked here. A picture is worth 1000 words, well the video I linked will save me about 10,000 of those (which for you means 2-3 typos, some witty phase and some horrible rhyming phrase averted).

The man behind, and as you read further, underneath CROP is Steve Schimoler. Looking at his work history, any single restaurant or project on the list would be notable. All of those experiences combined: culinary training, food science, concept development working for large and small organizations created the base for CROP. A job with Nestle brought him to Cleveland in 2005 but a quick connection to and love for the community made him want to stay. CROP is part of Rolling Fire Enterprises a concept development company that focuses on food initiatives as well as the Rock and Roll heritage of the city via Cleveland Food Rocks! At this point, you may be getting the sense that CROP combines a lot of parts into it’s whole.

An appreciation of CROP starts at the curb. The United Bank Building has been an iconic landmark of the neighborhood since 1925. The building had long since passed its glory days of the roaring 20′s but Schimoler saw great potential in the edifice. The large space featured murals, marble and other classic features of a building waiting to be reborn with a lot of hard work and creativity.

dining room

As impressive as the upstairs looks, it is the basement that got me excited. Part of this underground lair houses a culinary lab where the science aspects of the business are pursued with passion and vigor. Water is a big deal for cooking. The type of water used in beer, bread and even bagels give foods part of their distinctive flavor. Water adds to the Terroir . Buried in this basement is a water system that can replicate any type of water from tap drawn water of New York that gives a Jewish bagel it’s characteristic crunch to Bay Area H2O that makes sourdough a little bit better when baked in San Franciso. Water seems like a generic element in a recipe, but it turns out, this little thing, makes a big difference. That is one example of the “underground” work going one here.

The basement is also used as extra production and event space. The centerpiece is a 5000 square foot vault. At one time it was one of the three largest in the country. The multiple feet of concrete, the many inches of steel and the craftmanship of a bygone day make this vault virtually impenetrable both to burglars and cell phones. The locking mechanism and elaborate designs of the door make this as much a work of art as a practical form of protection. If the end of the world is coming, you want to book a dining room and dinner in the vault because you are likely to survive anything other than a direct meteor hit (and you will have plenty of food & water to sustain you in the aftermath).

Schimoler was a generous host, sharing everything on all levels. He clearly has found his calling mixing the art and science of the culinary world together in one place. Yet another example of the many things going on above and below ground in Cleveland.

CROP
2537 Lorain Avenue, (Ohio City) Cleveland
(corner of W. 25th Street & Lorain across from West Side Market)

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

 
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