CMH Gourmand

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

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Archive for the ‘pizza’ Category

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 »

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

Posted in pizza, restaurants | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

Rubinos: A Bexley Classic, My Pizza Pilgrimage

Posted by cmh gourmand on February 1, 2015

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I had never been to Rubinos. Never, ever, although I know a lot about the place and its history. I once had a slice that someone brought to a Pizza Grand Prix. I never walked through the hallowed doors of one of the oldest, most famous pizza places in central Ohio. First: WTF. Second: I can sense the disappointment that you all feel knowing my dark secret now that I have come clean. Reviewing the archives of CMH Gourmand and cross checking with a short list of “classic” Columbus eateries, I’m trying to get my culinary history ducks in a row by visiting the few remaining outliers.

Any lifelong resident of Bexley has a militant love of Rubino’s bordering on obsession. The landmark spot feels out of place and out of step with the times in comparison to its neighbors. It is as older building with an interior that might have been refreshed in the 1970’s. Rubino’s is the type of nondescript joint one would expect to walk in to on the far west side, or near east side or just about anywhere other than downtown Bexley. The demeanor feels more like a diner than a pizzeria. Anyone that walks in knows what they want to order, so there is no need to hand out menus. The menu, mounted on the wall, is famously small – pizza, spaghetti, a pasta dish and salads. Beverages are served in a can and while pasta is served on a plate, if you order pizza, you are presented with a small paper plate. Based on my observations 99.9% of customers are regulars who are largely known by first name and who have clearly made Rubino’s a big part of their family traditions. Anecdotally, Rubino’s most famous customer, Bob Greene, made the spot internationally famous in his reminisces of growing up in Bexley. In research to ready myself for Rubinos I searched for other perspectives and reflections on the place so I could order the quintessential meal. I found this -> post which may be the most detailed pizza post I’ve ever encountered.

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I’ll now offer a few observations on my pizza experience. I would not place Rubino’s in the Columbus Pizza Category. First, and this may be hard for many of you to imagine, Rubinos to TOO thin to meet the criteria for Columbus style. The thickness is about the same as a Wheat Thin with about the same amount of crispness. The quantity of cheese would be considered to be on the light end of the spectrum (our server mentioned that most people order extra cheese). The sauce had a bitterness to it (unlike the characteristic sweetness of most Columbus Style pizzas) that was a little shocking on the first bite. If you weighed one of the 14 inches pies, I doubt it would weigh in over one pound. I ordered sausage on half of our pizza and I would say that this topping is the most memorable of any pizza topping I’ve ever encountered. The sausage is cut in rectangles and is even thinner than the crust – roughly the thickness of 2 sheets of paper. I’ve encountered countless pizzas, in over 50 cities and ten countries in my culinary life and nothing has been as unique as what I ate at Rubinos. This shop is one of the original shops in Central Ohio, opening in 1954. If you are not a Bexley native, do be advised that Rubino’s is not for everyone, including, Mrs. Gourmand who noted this is the first pizza she has had with me that she would never have again. Do come for the history and the tradition and a slice of the past. And to best experience the pizza like a typical Bexley native order your pizza “well done, with extra cheese, pepperoni and sausage” which appears to be what most people order.

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Another thing of note, especially for pizza history buffs, Rubinos uses special paper sleeves for their pizzas, which harkens back to the early days of these cheesy pies. The sleeves are “tented” to allow the heat to flow up from the pizza which is the perfect way to transport a classic pie home. And most importantly, take cash, Rubinos does not take Visa, Discover, Mastercard, American Express, Travelers Checks or barter just greenbacks and hard American currency.

Rubino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in culinary knowledge, pizza | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Challenge of Joseppi’s Mega Meat Challenge

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 24, 2014

Once upon a Thursday dreary, while I waddled bloated and weary,
after many a salty and curious volume of meats galore-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly in my stomach there was a tapping,
As of something gently, rapping, rapping at my digestive system engorged
Tis too much pizza for two men I muttered, tapping on my laptop, I started to deplore
Quoth the Gourmand “Nevermore.”

Setting the Stage

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I’ve known about the Mega Meat Challenge for about a year. My last attempt at epic eating was a two-time wash out – the Mighty Monolith at Neighbors Deli defeated me twice. I wanted an opportunity for redemption and was waiting for the right opportunity. The Breakfast Grub Guy joined me on the pizza tour I offer with Columbus Brew Adventures and during course of our adventure we started to talk about doing the Mega Meat Challenge. By the end of the tour we committed to team up together to take on the Mega Meat Pizza. I was excited. In fact so excited, I was already pre planning to defeat it a second time with Brian Thornton, from OH! Chips as my wingman for round two. I was not cocky, but I was confident about this challenge. I regularly eat a 14, 15 or 16 inch pizza with minimal effort. Stories that James told assured me that if I could just eat 45% of the pizza, we would be champs.

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The Mega Meat Challenge defined

I met James at the Lincoln Village location of Joseppi’s. We were greeted by the manager Jeff Thompson. He explained that it would take about thirty minutes to prepare our pizza. Jeff shared that on several occasions, he has had people (scoundrels) order the pizza and not show up – considering the time, effort and cash that goes into creating this megalith they now have to make it to order and only after both competitors are in the house.

The pizza is 28 inches in diameter. Unlike other meat lovers pizzas, the ingredients for this pizza are not a scattering of meats but thick layers of Topper pepperoni (made for their Topper pizza – this is the old school, crisp at the edges pepperoni that is harder to find in the pizza biz today), Italian Sausage, ham, ground beef and bacon. It is cut in squares (tavern cut or party cut is the term used in the industry). I counted 8 rows and 58 slices. Jeff was kind enough to bring the pizza out for us to look at periodically as he was putting it together.

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The rules are as follows, the two competitors must:

Sit at the round table near the counter
Stay near the table at all times – they can get up to do a lap around the tap, stretch or get more pop from the soda fountain.
They may not go to the bathroom or leave the building
They have 60 minutes to consume the entire pizza (no knocking meat on the ground or under the table)
Buckets are provided in case one or both lose intestinal integrity (no one has used these to date).
Dipping sauces are provided on request to help slide the slices down the hatch
No one was allowed to sit with us at the table or approach near us while we are in competition mode
The challenge can only attempted Monday to Thursday from 4 to 9 pm.

My mindset at this stage? I was confident but it was clear this was going to be a bit of work. In my notebook, I made this note for the blog post “Two men enter, One pizza leaves.” Jeff shared a few other tidbits about this beast of meats. The Lincoln Village location is the only Joseppi’s currently offering this challenge. Interest waxes and wanes, some weeks 2 or 3 groups will try this challenge and some months not one will try. To date, only one team has succeeded. I have included a photo of them below.

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Winning the challenge offers more than just a boost to self-esteem. The winners get $100 in cash, $150 in Joseppi’s gift cards, two t-shirts and your photo on the wall. That is well worth an hour of my time. The cost if we lost, $50.00. Jeff was a real gentleman about the challenge. He offered a few tips to help with our attempt to consume to heart clogging pie including the suggestion of having containers and ranch and hot dipping sauce nearby to help change-up the relentless taste of pork in our mouths. Jeff did not have to be nice to us, at $50.00 for the pizza he is not making a profit when he serves this monstrosity. He also let the pizza sit in front of us to cool down so that we could eat it at the temperature we desired. Once it was to our liking, we just needed to let him know so he could start the timer. James and I locked eyes after 5 minutes of cool down and gave Jeff the thumbs up.

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Detour
While you wait to hear about the outcome, I am going to digress a bit and share some of what I learned about Joseppi’s. Joseppi’s has been around since 1969 and now has several locations in and near Columbus. The family business is well represented by the third generation of Thompson’s and other family members. Jeff started working in the business the summer of his 12th year. It was his 32nd birthday on the day we came in for the challenge (November 20th). He has cousins and uncles working at many of the locations and is best friend (since he was eight, is the manager for another of the locations). Jeff really committed to the family business after his grandparents (the founders) died in a motorcycle accident, the family as a whole wanted to honor their legacy while making a living. The pizza business has been slow for several years and has just started to bounce back in the past year, so the family really relied on regular customers during the lean times (two were dining near us as they have almost every Thursday for a decade). The shop makes heart-shaped pizzas for Valentines Day and made breast cancer ribbon pizzas for some special customers. If you want to see the 30 inch pizza without committing to eat all of it, you can often see it served during the lunch buffet they offer during the week. I was really impressed by Joseppi’s and the background Jeff shared with me.

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The Meat of the Matter
When James and I began, we started with gusto. I opted to use the corn on the cob approach, pick a row and work my way down right to left. He aimed for a military approach by making a hard drive to the center. We were both happy that the pizza tasted really good. We both observed that it really was a MEGA meat pizza. We started consumption at 7:58 PM. After the first slice the table got really quiet and the atmosphere subdued. I became very focused on my prey, zeroing in on each piece with all of my attention. After the 3rd piece, I decided I needed to make sure I chewed each piece 100 times to ensure I had the room I needed for sweet victory. After the fifth piece, I started to falter in my plan. Originally, I was going to limit my pop consumption to one glass with small sips spaced out at long intervals so as to not overfill with carbonation. But my rate of pizza consumption was slowing as my need for fluids was increasing. At 8:24 PM. I communicated with James for the first time in 20 minutes. He was in the zone as well so I may have startled him. I just said, “I’m getting up.” I rose to do a lap around the table, fill my glass with more Coke and then a returned to my seat. I wrote the following in my notebook: “salt+bacon = salt lick”. At 8:27 PM we had some awkward side talk while I took the photo below.

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I started my next piece and 1/2 way into it I knew I was not going to eat my 45% of the pizza as planned. At the end of that piece, I thought that I would have to throw in the towel. At the end of the thought I glanced at James and could tell by his body language and demeanor that he too was struggling with his will to go on.

After a brief, dejected, conference, we opted to capitulate at 8:38 pm. Shortly after Jeff’s sister (who also works there) came in to the shop, walked by and gave us a look of pity that was painful to behold. She and all present thought we had what it takes to win the Mega Meat Challenge but as you can see from the next photo…..we were not even close. (We only ate two more pieces). #agonyofdefeat

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Reflection, Remorse, Reconstruction and Deconstruction

I don’t like to lose. Like anything in life, if I can’t obtain my goal I obsessively reconstruct the events to determine where I went astray with the intensity of the investigators of the JFK assassination. My first observation and deduction was at the end when I was (shamefully) boxing up our leftovers. Each box had 8 to 10 slices in it. Using a style of pizza dead reckoning, I determined that each of the four boxes weighed 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. Next, I cut one of the pieces in half for a side profile. Take a look below. That is a THICK slice of pizza with a layer of each of the meats. Doing some quick and imprecise math, I estimated this pizza to be about 10 to 12 pounds of meat and dough. In my best food challenge performance to date I consumed 3 pounds of food. Sadly, I think that the Mega Meat Challenge was never meant to be for me. Oddly, I think I could do the challenge if it was cheese only.

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The score: Mega Meat Challenge 1, Gourmand 0

Post Script
The pizza was really good as a cold meal the next day. CMH Tobias was pleased to eat any morsels offered to him. I think if it had been served cold, with the meat and cheese chilled and condensed, I might have consumed more than I did the fateful night but I would have still missed the mark. If you try this – and I think you should, use this tale as an inspiration and to guide your training, but don’t ask me to join you, I might have flashbacks. You can read The Breakfast Grub Guy’s tale of this trial -> HERE.

Joseppi’s Pizza
Lincoln Village location
4764 W Broad St.
Columbus, OH 43228
Tel: (614) 878-7291

Joseppi's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in culinary misadventure, events, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Back to the Basics: Villa Nova

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 1, 2014

Oddly, I’ve never written much about Villa Nova. I checked the Gourmand archives and found this post about “Big Beers” in their bar back in 2006. And a brief mention, while I was exploring the pizza options of Clintonville. For a restaurant that could best be described as a powerhouse of North Columbus that is a major oversight on my part.

For many years, Villa Nova was one of few restaurant options between Clintonville and Worthington. Frank and Donna Colleli started the place in 1978, converting a bar into a restaurant with a bar. As you can see from my linked post above – the bar business never suffered. The family had also operated Franco’s Pizza just down the street (another area icon). The place quickly became a cash cow so Frank sold the business and moved to Florida in 1986. His son John, convinced his Frank come home and buy back the restaurant in 1998. The restaurant has never looked back since then. It is still a family affair with three generations working in the front or back of the house everyday. As for popularity, you can see the parking lot full of cars seven days a week. In fact, the original lot was so full, Villa Nova eventually bought the lot and building next door (Just Pies) and turned it into a large lot just for the overflow traffic.

The formula is, and has always been simple. Offer Italian American Fare that is quick to serve and at a low to medium price point with no surprises. The food is basic, filling and comforting in large portions. Proximity to a large residential neighborhood and a retirement community don’t hurt business either. Of note, should you drop in is the extensive collection of pressure gauges and brass kettles numbering in the 100’s. One of the things that keeps people coming back are the daily specials. One special, which I believe has been a Sunday mainstay for 20 plus years. This was once a 1-4 times a month ritual for me. The only thing that has changed is a very slight change in price the meal is now $10.95 instead of the $8.95 of the early aughts.

I’ll walk you through the Sunday Spaghetti Special.

The special includes: your choice of soup either Italian Wedding or the soup of the day, a basket of bread sticks and a salad with your choice of dressing (I’d suggest the house Italian).

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Then you receive a plate of spaghetti with one meatball and one Italian sausage served with plenty of thick, rich sauce on long, thick noodles.

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And then your meal is topped off with a cup of Spumoni ice cream.

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Villa Nova Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Posted in bar, pizza, restaurants | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Flat Top Pizza Company: New to the Streets

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 20, 2014

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Cuisine: Pizza, Ice Cream, Soda and Seasonal specials

Website
Facebook
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We begin with a bit of Columbus Mobile Food culture. You may have heard of Mikey’s Late Night Slice, a guy named Mike started the first mobile pizza empire in the city. Then you may have heard of Pizza Mike, Mike Evans owned the first restaurant (pizzeria) in Westerville to serve booze in the dry city. Then his pizzeria burned down. Mike was on the Great Food Race and used that experience to start a food truck last year. And then there is Mike and Other Mike. In 2012 a couple of lads working on a food cart decided they needed to do something different to stand out from the cart crowd, so they started doing a grilled cheese style pizza on a cart. The concept worked but they found a cart limiting so they started working on a truck. It took a lot longer to build out the truck than expected so Mike opted for full-time employment while Other Mike continued plugging, painting and paying away on the Pizza Truck. Other Mike is owner/operator/dough slinger Mike Cyan. The lesson of this paragraph – if your name is Mike you are probably running a pizza truck. The name of the truck is an homage to how the pizza is crafted, on a flat top grill.

Flat Top pizza is much more than pizza. The menu also includes truck made ice cream and craft soda. Future menu items may include pepperoni rolls, cinnamon rolls and soups.

The pizzas start with homemade dough and high grade ingredients. The sauces and pesto are made from scratch.

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The ice cream is made in small batches and served in scoops or floats.

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The soda pops are hand crafted as well with a mix of traditional with not so traditional flavors. Mike makes special syrups and flavorings for each pop, which are mixed to order.

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As for the name, Flat Top Pizza is made on a grill not in a pizza oven. The end result still combines pizza with a little grilled cheese char.

We like the look of the truck as well (as do many of the other food truck owners in town). Mike spent a long time crafting his truck, doing almost all of the work on his own. There is a cool retro look to the Flat Top (a Grumman truck, older than Mike is) with wood doors integrated into the design. Adding to the retro, pizza to go is served in paper bags (the way pizza was served back in the 1940’s and 1950’s). Flat Top officially launched in May 2014 so keep an eye out for truck as it starts to build a following at the usual spots. The easiest place to find Flat Top in action will be at Zauber Brewing Company, check with the truck and the brewery for schedule information.

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Posted in gelato, ice cream, Locally Sourced, Mobile Food, pizza | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Tyler’s Pizzeria and Bakery

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 29, 2014

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I’m not sure when I first heard of Tyler’s. It was brought back to my attention when my esteemed colleague at Columbus Food Adventures shot me an e-mail that highlighted the wood-fired aspect of the business. I then put Tyler’s on my very long and never completed to scout list. A month later, after dropping off some friends at the airport I found that I had time to kill and was much closer to Reynoldsburg than I ever get so that was the day.

Tyler’s is located deep in the heart of Reynoldsburg, in fact, I think it was the first time I been to the burg other than any sections attached to 270. That being the case I was hoping that Tyler’s would be a destination, because otherwise, I knew I would never have any legitimate reason to return.

Tyler’s is located in a nondescript building with simple signage. It could have easily been Tyler’s Barber Shop or Tyler’s Comics if one was driving by and did not know to look for it. I parked then spent a few minutes to search the web on my phone to see if I could find any suggestions on what to order. (At this point you are thinking….order a pizza idiot) but I do have an obligation to be thorough so I wanted some guidance, even from Yelp. I found very little on the place. Also, I must admit, when I see the term wood-fired I initially get very excited then quickly recall the many wood-fired disappointments I have experienced to date. Wood-fired often means wood flavored or wood smelling or would have wished I had gone elsewhere. I did not want to be disappointed but I was ready for it.

Walking in, the inside looked much like the outside – simple and plain. There was a sample board from which the sole employee cut off some items for me to try. There were all good. Then, I spied a Pepperoni Roll. I knew I would get one of those haven just spoken to Gary Seman at This Week about the subject a few days before. I saw many things that I wanted so I take home with me so I started with my initial order and then when I was given the price…which seemed like a steal, I added several more items to my bag of goodies.

So you are asking yourself, dude, where’s the pizza? Well in seems that Tyler was not in when I was there. The young lady at the counter has worked for him for two years and has learned a lot about baking but she was still learning the art of making pizzas in the oven so she suggested that I hold out until I could have one made by Tyler. I am sure that his apprentice could have made a fine pie but I respected that she wanted me to try one from the master so I opted to get some more bakery items instead.

This was my final stockpile of goods: butterscotch chip scone, chocolate croissant, blueberry muffin, pepperoni roll, Cornish pastry and a cookie bar. Verdict each one would finish best in show or close to it in their respective categories. A few highlights from above. The croissant was light, flakey and perfectly balanced in the proportion of chocolate to croissant. Cornish pastry, who in the heck makes these in Ohio? If you have never had one, go here to fix that little problem of yours. Mine had exceptionally buttery and flakey crust with a fine mix of spiced and seasoned meat and vegetables inside. As Jimmy Fallon might say…So Good, So Good.

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And let me back track to the pepperoni roll. While Omega Bakery is still my favorite place to get this West Virginia staple, Tyler’s comes a close second. One bonus on the roll I tried was a strip of charred cheese about the length of a dollar bill and the thickness of my little finger attached to the bottom and never removed after it came from the oven.

Based on the baked goods, I have no doubt that the wood-fired pizzas will not disappoint me when I do get back to try them. One more thing gave me hope. Having gained the confidence of the apprentice I was allowed to get a close up look of the wood fired oven. Take a look. Doesn’t that give you hope and a warm feeling inside?

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Tyler's Pizzeria & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Posted in bakery, desserts, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant – Revisited

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 31, 2013

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It has been over six years since I wrote about Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant. However, It has not been 6 years since I have eaten there or even six weeks. I am also happy to report that not much has changed in six years, and that is a very good thing.

Many people do not know that Columbus Brewing Company and CBC Restaurant have different owners. Eric Bean has been brewer and owner of the Brewery for quite some time now. While the two business share a roof and a name, they are very different entities. The restaurant continues to feature and serve Columbus Brewing Company brews as well as to make the beers active ingredients in some recipes. As the Brewery has continued to expand as a business, the restaurants CBC offerings have contracted a bit. If you are a fan of CBC’s Bohdi (Double IPA) the restaurant is still one of the best places to find this award-winning beer but they also run out fairly frequently. However, there is no need to fear, the restaurant does a fine job of sourcing guest beers into their line-up with a strong focus on local breweries such as Actual Brewing Company.

As for food, Brian Cook is still in the kitchen which is good news for me and some of my favorite dishes. I think CBC Restaurant has some of the best nachos in town and if you are dining with mixed company (vegetarians and carnivores) they do a fine job of deconstructing their nachos to meet everyone’s tastes when needed. The Cuban Burrito with a mix of meats, chips and plantains remains nearly the same as the version I raved about years ago. Another favorite of mine is the beer cheese soup which is typically available in the evening is a perfect starter for a fall or evening meal. Desserts are top notch as well (insider tip: sign up for the restaurant e-mail list for a free dessert of your choice with your next meal). Another dish worth mentioning is the Bye Bye Miss American Pie: a wood-fired pizza with house-made fennel sausage, banana peppers rings, pepperoni and smoked provolone cheese.

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The restaurant recently expanded hours to include Sunday Brunch so there are plenty of opportunities to see the depth of the menu the kitchen can push out. I’m happy to report that six years later that this place has retained everything that made it a great dining spot and if anything, has upped their game.

A final side note, I am slightly addicted to the house smoked chipotle sauce found on the nachos and the burrito. The restaurant partners with CaJohn’s to bottle their sauces so you can take them home with you. So there are two types of bottled products originating under the same roof.

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Posted in bar, beer, pizza, restaurants, Vegetarian Friendly | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Iaconos (Kenny Road) Pizza Buffet

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 9, 2013


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In my high school days, we were frequent flyers of the Iaconos pizza buffet. If memory serves me, I think it was all we could eat for $6. While, I never forgot about Iaconos, I did forget about the buffet in college and afterwards.

As the years went by the general concept of pizza buffet downgraded significantly – equating with low quality pies and mass-produced mediocrity. Strangely although I love a true value meal I had forgotten about the Iacanos pizza buffet. During my temporary exile from Clintonville, I have required a centrally located base of operations for business meetings, so on a whim, I popped into Iaconos to meet with a client. I had forgotten how much I like Iacono’s and it was a bit of a homecoming as well bringing back memories of good friends and good times.

The pizza buffet is a great value. For $8.75 you get unlimited trips to the salad bar, plenty of pizza, soup and a bottomless fountain drink. I think we all have low expectations for salad bars today. The Iacono’s salad bar does not have any surprises, it is stocked with the basics of what we expect in a Midwestern buffet bar: peas, carrots, cottage cheese, macaroni salad, potato salad, pudding, sunflower seeds, a multitude of dressings including a tasty homemade Italian house dressing, and more things that I have forgotten. And while what I have listed are standards, we often don’t expect them to be good. The peas are fresh and still have a pop to them. The carrots are freshly cut. The potato salad tastes good. The soup choices change daily. There are typically two pizzas available throughout the afternoon.

On my visits I have always observed staff asking arriving guests what their pizza preferences are and adding those requests to the pizzas coming out next. Shawn, the afternoon manager, greets guests and makes an effort to get to know repeat customers by name. And the pizza is as good as I remember it. Iacono’s pizza making history dates back to 1953. The Iacano family was among the founding pioneers of Columbus pizza. The crust has a nice “crackery” crunch and the sauce to cheese ratio is finely balanced. I always have a little lower expectation for buffet pizzas but what I have sampled to date has been on par with any dine in or carry out pizza.

Other things I have discovered about Iaconos since I found my way back to being a regular customer almost everything is made in-house from scratch – the dough, the sauce, meatballs, sausage, lasagna, most of the dressings and so on. The cheese is hand grated. It is the little things that add up to a big difference.

If you have low expectations of a pizza buffet – prepare to raise them with a trip to Iacanos. The buffet is offered weekly Monday to Friday 11 am to 2 pm.
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Iacono's on Urbanspoon

Posted in Columbus, Columbus style pizza, pizza | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

 
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