CMH Gourmand

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

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Athens Adventures: Bagel Street Deli

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 2, 2014

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Mention three words to any Ohio University graduate from the last two decades and you will see their facial expression light up and a bit of drool slide out of their mouth. Those three words are Bagel Street Deli. Oddly, in ten years of intensive eating in Athens I’ve never dropped by. Mrs. Gourmand is a big fan so we opted to get a couple of sandwiches to go after our latest Athens Adventure.

Bagel Street Deli is not the typical college sandwich shop, but the place is not atypical to the Athens eating experience. The business focuses on using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible and collaborates with other businesses as well including sourcing bagels from Sammy’s and Blocks in Columbus and cookies from Fluff Bakery around the corner. Whether a carnivore or vegetarian there is plenty to fill the bellies of both here. They offer 20+ varieties of custom bagel sandwiches, over 10 different meat & tofu options, six specialty cream cheeses and forty different toppings choices. There are truly too many choices but it is often too crowded to stand and ponder what to order.

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The exterior is unassuming, the brick interior is filled with signs to guide you through the ordering process and maintain the cultural etiquette expectations of Bagel Street Deli. I was also intrigued by what appears to be an informal collection of mini tinfoil sculptures randomly placed and attached to the walls and others areas.

I enjoyed the experience (we arrived at an off-peak time and I have a veteran customer with me). The steamed bagel sandwich I consumed, was really good – plenty of ingredients piled on top of each other and flavorful cream cheese to hold it all together. I’d go again and have added it to my Athens to eat list. A bit of trivia to wrap up, Art Oestrike, the owner of Jackie O’s is also one of the original owners of Bagel Street Deli.

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Posted in Athens, Ohio, Road Trip, sandwiches | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

West End Cider House, Athens Ohio: This Cider House Rules!

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 30, 2014

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In other posts I’ve mentioned my approach to appreciating Athens which usually goes something like this: visit O’Betty’s, Casa Nueva, and Jackie O’s, then depending on time allowed repeat the previous and/or add in one or more of the following: Avalanche Pizza, Miller’s Chicken, Burrito Buggy, (new) Bagel Street Deli and then head home or repeat. I’ve added a new mandatory stop to the list, West End Cider House.

I’ve known Kelly Sauber for a couple of years. I met him in passing at Marietta Brewing Company many years ago and came to know him well when we started to put together the Athens Tour for Columbus Brew Adventures. Kelly is a whiz with all things brewed, fermented and distilled. He was a brewer for Marietta Brewing Company for about 15 years. He grew tired of the commute (about 1 hour) and decided to try his hand at distilling. Originally his distillery was known as Dancing Tree but there is another business with a slightly similar name so Kelly had to change the name to Fifth Element Spirits. Regardless of the name, Kelly crafts some divine distilled delights from vodka and whiskey to an extra tasty rum made with sorghum. I’ve never sampled anything I did not enjoy. Kelly is a wealth of knowledge so it is difficult not to spend at least several hours at his distillery (about 15 minutes southeast of Athens) when dropping in. Apparently Kelly found himself with a few hours of free time and was looking for another challenge so he partnered with his significant other to open West End Cider House in May 2014.

The West End Cider House is the sum of all of my obsessions: Athens + Craft Beverages + Block Pavers!

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I’ll just briefly mention the excellent integration of historic block pavers into the design and decor of the Cider House here and go into excessive detail on one of my other blogs -> Bricks of Ohio.

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Before we discuss the crafts of the business I’ll cover the details of the aesthetics of the building. The building itself dates back to 1880’s. It was once a confectionary or bar of some sort and it showcases some beautiful, original woodwork and cabinets from that era. The Athens area also serves as home to several great wood workers and they have had an opportunity to showcase their craft with some updates bar tops and other accoutrements. The block pavers I mentioned before are showcased on the back patio and the front of the building and include versions from about 20 or more Ohio brick / block making companies from the turn of the 20th Century. They not only look great but they highlight and preserve the history of the region. The space as a whole is just wonderful. It is easy to plant yourself at a seat at the bar and spend all day enjoying the space and what they have to serve.

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The cider is made in-house with the tanks featured in the middle of the space. Kelly typically has 4-5 of his (constantly rotating) ciders on tap with 3 to 4 guest ciders featured as well. The bar features cider samplers with detailed descriptions of each. The beverage choices also include a few craft beers (notably a selection of harder to find beers from Portsmouth Brewing Company) and plenty of local/ regional craft spirits, wines and locally inspired cocktails (like the Meigs i can). While there is no kitchen, there are several locally made bar snacks available and they often pair with local mobile vendors to have food near by. And, it is only a two-minute walk to Millers Chicken.

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So yes, this Cider House is the perfect Athens area hangout, you won’t have to steer around students cramming in cheap beer but you are still close enough to the other local hotspots that you can walk (if you need to) to pace out your evening (or day) while in town. Oh, the the bathrooms are cozy and pretty cool to boot (note the sign below).

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You can check out what is going on at the West End Cider House at their Facebook Page below
West End Cider House

Posted in Athens, bar, cocktails, Ohio, Road Trip | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ohio Donut Trail: Jack Frost Donuts – Cleveland

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 27, 2014

After extensive south of 70 research of Ohio’s bountiful selection of donuteries I finally had an opportunity to start exploring what Northeast Ohio has to offer. What I describe for you next may sound like a fantasy – but it did indeed happen. On my way to the Ohio Craft Brewers conference in Ohio City I had a little downtime and decided to check Jack Frost off of my list. The place had come in as a reader suggestion and in several online searches. I’m glad I made time for donuts. Well let’s be honest, I’m almost always glad to make time for (good) donuts.

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The first thing that Jack Frost has going for it is how conveniently located it is to Ohio City (which is the best square mile of food and beer in Cleveland). Located on Pearl Road, it only took a few zigs and zags through neighborhood streets to get back on track on Pearl Road and more tasty treats after I left the parking lot. The next plus, was close proximity to a windmill. Yes, nothing panics me more when looking for a new place than not having some easy to find landmark as a reference point in case I decide to drop in on a whim in the future. A windmill is an easy thing to remember. The next thing that made me feel warm and fuzzy before I pulled in to the parking lot was the exterior. A bit beat up, weathered and industrial, this was no foo-foo donut shop, Jack Frost was clearly an old school neighborhood hangout. Confidence was high for scoring a classic donut before I walked through the door.

I was worried as well. It was past 3:30 pm on a Tuesday and I was concerned that the cupboard might be close to bare (they frequently sell out). Fortunately, the shelves were packed with too many choices (Jack Frost was conveniently open to 8 pm) and ready to fill boxes for people heading to 2nd shift jobs or heading home. In fact, there were so many choices I was overwhelmed.

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Also adding to the pressure, this was my first trip into Northeast Ohio Donut research and I had just found out the place was voted best of Northeast Ohio (competing against more than a baker’s dozen other donuteries) the desire to get one of each was squelched by the fact that they had 35 – 40 different varieties ready to serve and I still had three breweries, Mitchell’s Ice Cream and a Mansfield Pizza place to visit (as well as some possible random stops) before I was call the day done. So I opted for eight different donuts to try. This was quite a Sophie’s choice – trying to decide on which donuts would go home with me, knowing it may be months or years before I would be back. I opted to go with: Salty Carmel, Maple Bacon, German Chocolate, Blueberry, glazed, Raspberry, Maple with peanuts and Peanut Butter cream. Oh, My, Goodness they were good. The kind store clerk also threw in a couple of complimentary donut holes as well, she mentioned they were a fan favorite and based on my (many, many) questions, she figured I might appreciate them.

The first thing I noted about the donuts is that they are just a bit smaller than the typical donut. However based how the massive amount of toppings and extras piled on to each, I felt no reduction of value, if anything the smaller donut may be a public service, in theory, less bulk could mean more consumption. Their cake donuts (my preferred style) were light and fluffy but sturdy enough to bear the weight of the toppings.

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I picked up two blueberry donuts for Mrs. Gourmand since it is her favorite donut variety and her litmus test for donut quality. She liked the blueberry flavor in them but still gives DK Diner the nod for best in (Blueberry) show.

The absolute best of what I sampled was the German Chocolate donut. It was full of rich flavors in both the donut, the German Chocolate base and the regular chocolate intermixed in the frosting. This was exceptional. A close second was a tie between the peanut butter donut and the salty caramel. Jack Frost has been in the business since 1937. I do not think the business has had the same family of owners for the entire history but whatever has been handed down during the decades is impressive. The base donuts are old school good – simple and true to style. The flavor combinations are much more modern, riffing off of what gourmet cupcake places wanted to be but typically did not deliver on during the cupcake crave bubble of the early 21st century. If cupcake places had the flavors of Jack Frost with the prices to match – they would be as ubiquitous as Starbucks. If you are heading to Cleveland or nearby, this place is well worth a small detour. Note: By report their Paczki are legendary resulting in the need for a tent and pre ordering during Easter time.

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

HELLoween at Double Comfort: October 24th and 25th

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 20, 2014

The kitchen at Double Comfort is heating things up for the Halloween Holiday with Helloween – a tribute and showcase for what they can do with hot, hot heat. I’ll turn it over to them below.

Five courses of progressively hotter food will be served at Double Comfort restaurant, 505 N. High St., Friday and Saturday, October 24 & 25 at 7 p.m. to only those brave enough to submit themselves to the restaurant’s HELL-oween menu. Specially priced meal (exclusive of beverages) is $25, and guests can see Highball festivities from inside the comfort of Double Comfort!

“Think ‘Russian Roullette Meatballs’ and mouths on fire,” said owner Mary Lyski. “There’s no better way to satisfy a taste for hot and do something good at the same time. This event is definitely for all those folks who love hot chili peppers. We hope Columbus is up to the challenge”

Serving Memphis-style fried chicken in a casual sit-down setting, Double Comfort is guided by the mission of “Buy a Meal. Give a Meal™ ”, donating a portion of its proceeds to local food banks. Since opening in July 2014, Double Comfort has donated nearly $1,200 to local food banks in it’s first 90 days of operation. This season’s food pantry partner and proceed recipient is Broad Street Presbyterian Church’s Food Pantry.

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La Poblanita New to Clintonville

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 2, 2014

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La Poblanita
3589 Indianola Ave, Columbus, OH 43214
(Lot of Starlite Cleaners )
Corner of Arden and Indianola (across from Weilands Market)
614.598.9539
Open Monday to Sunday 10 am to 10 pm (closes at 6:00 pm on Sunday if business is slow)

It seems fitting that a Taco Truck is now serving food on a lot that served home to a soft serve ice cream stand that was a local favorite for years. La Poblanita opened at this spot in late September in the very heart of Clintonville. It is a one woman operation. Marcelita (Marci) the owner is happy to be running her first business and reports great feedback from the community so far. She is originally from Puebla Mexico but she has lived in Columbus for a long time and speaks English well.

Her trailer is small which limits the menu she is able to serve but what she does have is excellent. The standard menus includes: tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas and chuletas (pork chops). La Poblanita also offers the following specials when possble: Carne Asada Platter, Grilled Shrimp Platter and (some weekends) Tamales. The Taco Truck Tasting team has sampled the following on two visits: burritos, quesadillas, pork chops, Carne Asada, and grilled shrimp. Based on two trips and in spite of the fact that this business has been open less than 1 month, I declare this is one of the ten best taco trucks in town. Portion sizes and prices are very good. The vegetables in the side salads and inside the burritos are fresh and served in generous portions. Meat choices are steak, chicken and pork.

For platters in addition to the main dish you receive a side of seasoned rice, a side of pinto beans with queso blanco mixed in, a small salad with lettuce, cucumber and radish and when available a piece of candy. Platters are typically served with 4 fresh tortillas which are served steaming hot and fresh. Do use caution with the two house salsas – both the green and the red are very, very hot.

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The burritos are densely packed with meat and any other items you would like included. The pork chops were a surprise to see on the menu (not a typical taco truck standard). They were well cooked and lightly seasoned. They are not available every day and do not last long due to popularity. Although a one person operation, service has been very good and friendly. It is a one minute walk to Weiland’s Market across the street which is a nice way to spend some time if you are waiting for a large order. Check out La Poblanita muy pronto.

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Posted in Clintonville, Mobile Food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Arepazo (Tres) Tapas Bar & Grille

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 29, 2014

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The opening of (El) Arepazo is of interest for at least three reasons. First – the authentic Venezuelan and South American themed menu is amazing. Second, owners Carlos and Carolina Gutierrez have a great story of rising from rags to (someday) riches in Columbus. Third, this new location in the Brewery District (their third) may mark the tipping point for the third renaissance of the Brewery District.

I wrote about the couple in the early days of CMH Gourmand when they had just one location located in Pearl Alley. The couple were early adopters of the alley as an area to grow a community and it certainly has changed a lot since they opened there in 2005.

Their next move was to go mobile, which I detailed in this post from 2011. They opened a second location in Gahanna shortly after and they just sold the trailer a few weeks ago. The Brewery District location debuted at the end of August and is drawing in some good foot traffic is a short amount of time.

The Brewery District location is distinctly different from its sister restaurants. There is a lot of space inside and a nicely sized patio on the outside. There is a small takeaway / grab and go counter where you can score some of their addictive cilantro sauce, a dessert or some small dishes to go. Another corner has a pool table for those that would like to linger on between meals of cocktails. The bar space is ample with plenty of room to spread out while exploring the world of latino cocktails such as Mojitos and Caipirinhas. Unique to this space is a larger party room with an extensive wine rack which the couple plans to stock deeply with South American wines. All of the aesthetics aside, they did a great job to create a fun space to enjoy a wonderful menu.

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As for the Brewery District here is a quick history. The area supported six breweries in its heyday, the age of the beer barons on the 1890’s. Prohibition marked the official end of the prosperity of the area although the area started to decline in the early aughts due to a combination of increased competition from Cincinnati and out-of-state breweries, the Anti Saloon League, labor strikes, the “drying of Ohio” as well as grain rationing and anti-German sentiments during World War I.

The second renaissance of the area was in the 1990’s when the Hoster Brewing Company Brewpub was the place to eat and drink and a string of bars led by Gibby’s, Victory’s and Hi Beck Tavern drew the masses to the city’s south side. The opening of the Arena District and Easton caused an entertainment ADHD which drew visitors away from the area and closed many businesses that had once thrived.

This third renaissance officially (according to me) started this year. While Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant, Shadowbox and World of Beer have held their own and kept people in the area, a burst of new blood entered this year starting with Brick (and American Kitchen) in the former Handke’s location and now El Arepazo. Some other spots including Kolache Republic have popped up on the High Street border of the Brewery District and German Village. The addition of the Cbus Circulator (a free bus which travels between The Short North, Downtown and the Brewery District) is bringing in more people to explore the area.

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History lesson concluded I’ll now set the table with a sampling of the food and drink available. Not content with just one Cerviche, Arepazo offers five or more made fresh everyday including Ohio Cerviche made with Walleye and Ohio Sweet Corn. In the cocktail department, the staff behind the bar know what they are doing whether mixing a Mojito, Margarita or Caipirinha. Mix in some Sangrias, Mimosas and Pineapple infusions to the lineup and you won’t find it hard to opt for an alcohol inspired siesta some afternoon. Since this location is designed for more than just dinner, the menu also offers small plates / tapas for those that are looking to linger around for people watching or to hop from place to place in the Brewery District. (What may be) Mayan inspired murals will keep an eye on you while you look over the menu trying to decide what to order. The two Arepazo standbys – Empanadas (consider this a stuffed, fried dumpling) and Arepa (the namesake corn cake which inspired the name of the restaurant) are well represented. You can see my Arepa sandwich below.

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It is easy to decide to head to the German Village / Brewery District El Arepazo location. You are supporting a local business while eating a great meal and fueling the rebirth of the Brewery District.

Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille on Urbanspoon

Posted in cocktails, restaurants, wine | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Double Time It to Double Comfort

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 24, 2014

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Chicken is hot! The last year saw the rise of the Hot Chicken Takeover and other special chicken creations. In spite of this recent uptick in what has historically been a foul attitude to supporting progressive approaches to poultry, finding good chicken has never been easy. Doing a little Wiki-research I found a morsel of history which indicated regular chicken eating is a relatively new dining choice. KFC did not really take off until the 1960’s. While Columbus does boast the infamous Chicken Corner / Chicken District even this chicken churning center has taken some hits over the last couple years. One business burned down, another went out of business and nearby Woody and Jo’s shuttered its bullet ridden shutters. Yes, if you are a chicken lover it has not always been an easy time to fill your need to feed.

Well Double Comfort is here to help. This restaurant has a little bit if a twist that is noteworthy. Double Comfort gives a portion of their proceeds to local food pantries. The space also has a little challenge. Double Comfort took over the former space occupied by Knead. Knead, not unlike chicken, struggled to be fully embraced. Something about this high traffic section of High Street seems to not draw the foot traffic neighbors just a black away can count on.

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On the plus side, Double Comfort has two things going for it. One is owner Mary Lyski. She lived in Memphis, a city that does chicken right, for a decade. Wanting to get the taste of southern style fried chicken right she spent two years tweaking a recipe. Then she teamed up with Ben Walters from North Market Spices to get the special herbs and spices right. The second plus, and in my eyes the biggest, is Chef Dan Varga. Chef Dan has been one of my local favorites. He did amazing food at Explorer’s Club. I came to know him through the restaurant, helping him launch a food cart for the restaurant and gave him a strong endorsement by having him cater my wedding. Dan has worked hard to get the other dishes on the menu dead on good. At Explorer’s Club he excelled at figuring out the nuances of ethnic cuisines and putting menus together that would have made anyone from the country of origin proud. At Double Comfort Dan gets to cook from recipes inspired by his own rural roots. And he gets to pickle vegetables to perfection. While Fried Chicken is the focus, there are plenty of other Southern favorites to enjoy. One of the guys in the kitchen has been frying chicken for over 40 years.

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So is the fried chicken good? Yes, yes it is. The breading is neither too thick or too thin with just the right amount of seasoning. The meat is juicy and tender and cooked to perfection. Double Comfort is the total package for southern fried favorites and your meal supports efforts to make sure someone else than needs a meal gets one. That is a double treat.

Double Comfort on Urbanspoon

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Leftovers: Truck to Table

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 14, 2014

I’ve been writing for 614 Magazine sporadically for the last year and more frequently for their new Food and Beverage quarterly Stock and Barrel. I had pitched an idea to the editor about writing about many of our food truckers that are making the jump to Brick and Mortar restaurant spaces. When I pitched the concept they already had it in development but I was asked if they could use Truck to Table as part of the headline and I was happy to do it.

The photos were taken but the story did not develop as planned so I was contacted and asked if I could do it in 48 hours. I was up for the task since I know the subject matter well and because I have a kitchen renovation to help pay for. The article was to focus on food but I had some challenges. One site was undergoing a menu change, another was closed due to a power outage and the third I did not have time to visit. So, I opted to write “big” (going way over word count) to write the stories of the guys behind the food and hoped that the editor could condense into something useable. He did….a lot of condensing. So you can do an compare and contrast by reading this final cut for print -> HERE and the original draft with sidebars, below.


Truck to Table

Zach James
Truck – Paddy Wagon
Table – Jailhouse Rock at Little Rock

In August 2010 Zach James was a student at OSU that liked to hang out at Dick’s Den. He formed a fast friend/mentorship with JP Potter of Fusion Café one of the first food trucks in the city, which often served at James’ watering hole.

James was looking for a challenge and wanted to push his boundaries after a series of food service jobs. Potter revealed his mobile food secrets: how to get started, navigate regulations, etc. and James was a quick study. The original concept for his truck Paddywagon was a burger based menu. His original beat was a mission to dispel the roach coach myth. James learned a lot about branding in his early days which led to two big changes. James changed the wrap on his truck and shifted his focus from burgers to brisket. The first time he sold out all of his brisket was the moment the deputy shifted to thinking like a Sheriff. He knew he was ready to grow out the business and stake his claim on a permanent spot.

One dark night, while sharing beers with Daniel McCarthy (Tatoheads) at St. James Tavern, James was approached by a regular customer who told him about a new bar opening down 4th Street. The bar was looking to partner with a truck so James decided to commit to the new spot for the duration. That bar was Little Rock. After seeing how good food meant good business, owner Quinn Fallon asked James to look at a small space in the bar to see if James could do anything with it. The nook in the back had a walk in cooler, a mop sink and 150 square feet to work with. After plotting out 20-30 configurations James finally found one that was more arresting than the others. Then looking at the layout and what equipment he could shimmy in, he decided a hot dog menu was the best way to get the most out of the little space. Initial response was hot with many regulars working their way through the entire menu in a few visits, To keep customers coming back new items are integrating into the menu as specials and becoming regular items when they resonate with fans but hot dogs remain at the core of the kitchen. Since the space is small like a prison cell and to stay on the with the Paddywagon theme, James dubbed the space the Jailhouse. The operation has also taken a cue from Late Night Slice with some signature (and very, very tasty) sauces available to slather on whatever fills your plate. The Jailhouse recently added Sophie’s Pierogi’s (a truck turned cart) pierogi to the menu to mix things even up more.

What James has learned in his drive from truck to rock and roll dive is that Jailhouse serves as an anchor to consistently connect with his customers. In his experience, even his biggest fans are not going to invest time to find him online and then drive 30 minutes to eat at a different (random) location. Having Paddy Wagon inspired food at the Jailhouse gives James and his customers the consistency both have waited for. Menu items come with names inspired by the Paddy wagon law enforcement motif and the Rock and Roll vibe of Little Rock. James has also moved to Italian Village so he can be a part of the community he is helping to grow. In the meantime the truck rolls during the day and the Jailhouse rocks at night.

Matthew Heaggans
Truck – Swoop
Table – The Hey Hey, operating pop-up eatery Bebe
Table 2 – Swoop Take Over at Ace of Cups.

Forget professional objectivity, Matt Heaggans is my favorite chef to watch in action. In the kitchen he swoops into an action with the mental intensity of an Olympic athlete. A series of serendipitous events seem to be adding more ingredients and experiences to the recipe that may make Heaggans the next big thing.

A few years ago, Heaggans, a Columbus native was practicing his craft (he might say, getting schooled) in a French restaurant in DC. What he learned in that kitchen, “there was no way I would learn it all”. That did and still does serve as his daily inspiration to continue to learn and strive for the best quality in his craft. As he was pondering on what his next life lesson would be, a friend from Columbus contacted him for advice on starting a food truck. Heaggans offered to advice on finding and equipping a truck, consulted on a menu and volunteered to spend two weeks to help train the staff to execute the food he conjured up. While this was in process, his mother had an accident and then needed extra help at home, which was an excuse for fate to nudge Heaggans back home. The offer to help turned into an unexpected business venture and Heaggan’s was back in student mode again.
He figured out early on – to be a sustainable food truck business he needed to change the food he was serving. He “had to adjust to dishes that were tailored to shorter prep time, quicker turn around and tight work space of a truck. His style demands fresh food – which means he had to serve almost everything created earlier that day by the end of the day. A fresh food menu takes a lot of prep, space and forethought but along that path somehow his signature dish became tater tots.

According to Heaggans, “most cooks are in the kitchen to learn, and grow so the natural progression is to keep growing by expanding the business or the menu”. In the fall of 2013, when the opportunity of the Hey Hey popped up (passed to him by Angela Theado of The Coop) he was ready to have a little more elbow room in a slightly bigger kitchen.. He expected everyone would flock his way right away but the customer rush started with a trickle instead of a stampede. So he had an opportunity to spend more time with his customers, which at the Hey Hey is a very diverse clientel – a little bit of everything– every class and palate He had to create a menu that will connect with people with at any level. It was a lesson in adaptation.

This summer another opportunity presented itself. This one passed along by another food truck peer, Jamie Anderson of Ray Ray’s Hog Pit. Anderson has a good gig set up next to Ace of Cups but the spot needed food the days that Ray Ray’s is not there and it needs a wider range of food and longer hours that Ray Ray’s could do sustainably. So Heaggans and Anderson agreed to pursuing menus that don’t step on others toes. Now Ace of Cups can offer food when its doors are open so owner Marcy Mays does not need to close the doors from exhaustion of running a bar and kitchen. So what is Heaggans lesson from the Swoop Ace of Cups Take Over? Delegation. He can’t be in three places at the same time but he can set the standards for the menus for all of his locations, make the sauces used on all menus and check on the other two when he is not cooking up a new creation at the Hey Hey. While the food at the Hey Hey leans towards comfort foods, the menu at the Ace of Cups plays out as classic bar food for sharing between beers or bands.

Daniel McCarthy
Truck: Tatoheads
Table: Public House

You can blame PBS for the interesting path which drove Daniel McCarthy to the food business. One might even say he entered it out of necessity. His single mother always worked so he had a choice of TV dinners or to make something that he wanted. Public Television was a constant so he grew up with the Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child instructing him in the background. As a teenager he would cut school and make everyone food when they snuck over to his home. As he got older he took a concept of Malcolm Galdwell’s which is one needs 10,000 hours doing something to be skilled at it so he decided at that point in his life, the only thing he had done for close to 10,000 hours was cooking, so he would make cooking as his livelihood.

When I spoke with Daniel McCarthy (I call him Tater) he has just spent the day reconfiguring all of the tables at the Public House (formerly Hall and Al’s). He had also been training staff and fine-tuning some mechanical concerns with his Tatoheads truck. It was well after 9 pm on a weeknight. McCarthy was tired. Running two businesses will take a lot out of a fella but this summer has been a busier that usual. After getting an 11th hour loan he was able to secure the capital he needed to take over the reins of Hal and Al’s but that also meant he had to move to a new house, open a new restaurant and change the home base for his food truck in ten days….during peak food truck season. Luckily, McCarthy is no stranger to a rapid life changes.

In late 2009, the native Chicagoan was given the opportunity to pursue his two passions. His girlfriend was moving to Columbus to go back to school, so he decided to chase her to the capital city. He also decided it was time to make a living by opening a restaurant. That deal fell through but while visiting Columbus he saw the Late Night Slice Truck in action so he decided, “I can do my thing without a restaurant”. McCarthy moved to Columbus in April 2010, bought the truck that May and opened for business on the September 3rd OSU home game that year. He learned a lot in a truck that reached 140 degrees inside. His first three outings were “dismal”. Then he decided he would stay at the same spot until he broke even for the day….that took 16 hours. After a few months he “figured out the trick to the food truck business…work, work, work”. The next step in his transition from truck to table occurred while he was working on a collaborative restaurant project that fell through at the last moment. While disappointed that the endeavor did not launch, he did walk away with an established team, a finished business plan and an extended network of supporters. One was the owner of Hal and Al’s who was looking for the right person to take over the Parsons Ave tavern, a spot that is as much about the community it serves as the food it plates. Having heard of McCarthy’s struggles and frequently experiencing McCarthy’s passion for his menu and desire to grow out his business, it was time for destiny to knock at Daniel’s door.

What McCarty learned in his transition from truck to table was the never-ending need to constantly change the business to accommodate what he learned on a daily basis and how to reconfigure the design and equipment in his truck kitchen to work best with the menu he wanted to execute. While Tatoheads has won the hearts and minds of the TatoNation through fries, McCarthy is excited to have the elbow room to flex his cooking muscles and show the public a diversity of menu he has wanted to do for years. In the process, Public House also become home base for the Tatoheads truck so he can prep menus for both concepts from one kitchen. His girlfriend will be using her horticulture skills from college to create and expand a community garden for the restaurant and the neighborhood. McCarthy has planted his roots on Parsons Ave. by moving his household there as well and he plans to grow with the community as the business blooms.

The original concept of Tatoheads was to have a rotating menu but McCarthy could not run with that concept because the fries were so popular. Now with Public House he plans to add dishes like Shepards Pie, Chicken and Potato Pot Pie and more. He is also excited to have the space to do catering, events and parties. He is even more excited about growing a new business in an area where he feels his business can make a difference in the community. Maybe patrons will be watching PBS instead of NFL at Public House?


Sidebars

Table To Truck (Restaurants that have gone mobile)

White Castle – two food trucks
Donatos – One food trailer
Cuco’s – one food truck
Pizza Cottage – one food truck
Schmidt’s – two food trucks
Giant Eagle – Market Place Food Truck
Explorer’s Club – food truck
Los Jalapenos – Tortillas Food Truck
Costello’s (closed) – now the Cilantro Food Truck
Yabos Tacos – one Truck

More Truck or Cart to Table
Skyward Grille – from multiple carts to brick and mortar base of operations and restaurant
Late Night Slice – went from Shack, to Truck to over 8 locations across town
That Food Truck – Dan Kraus is working on a concept in Italian Village

Posted in FooderHero, Leftovers, Mobile Food, restaurants | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sophies Pierogi 2.0

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 11, 2014

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Cuisine: Pierogi and more
614 715 3210
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InstaGram: Sophies_gourmet_Pierogi

There are many paths into the Food truck field. There is Truck to Table – where ones goes from truck to their own restaurant. There is Table to Truck, where an established restaurant opts to go mobile to expand service or get out of the brick and mortar life. There is also the cart to truck progression. But Steve Redzinak took a different path. He started with a truck back in 2012. Then he got out of the business for a year and 1/2. But with the encouragement of many in the food truck community including: Swoop, Ajumama, Pickled Swine, Green Meanie, Matija Breads to name a few – he came back with a cart in May of 2014. You can read more about the earlier history of the truck in our previous post about Sophie’s.

The name of the cart, like the name of the truck, was inspired by two Sophie’s. The first is Steve’s mom, who paved the way for his passion for food. His grandmother inspired many of the recipes. You can see her below.

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The other Sophie, is Steve’s daughter. You can see both of them in the lead photo for this post.

The menu, obviously, focuses on Pierogi – which have never been widely available in Columbus. In addition to being delicious, this menu really fills and ethnic food niche. A pierogi, in case you have never tried one is boiled, stuffed dumpling from Poland and eastern Europe. The Sophie’s versions take that as a base, add interesting fillings on the inside and tasty toppings on the outside. Steve is an experienced, trained chef with plenty of experience to back up his family recipes.

During his break from the business, he took what he learned from Sophie’s 1.0 and applied it to the cart to make it a leaner, more viable business. This is what Steve shared with me. “We scaled down our mobile unit, simplified the menu while increasing our production ability. Our commissary is at Smokie’s BBQ / Little Tony’s Pizzeria on 900 Columbus Ave. in Marysville. As of Sept 1st, our Pierogi will be available Monday through Saturday for Dinner 4-9pm at Smokie’s BBQ. We are also supplying a few restaurants with our Pierogi such as Jail House Rock @ Little Rock Bar and Explorers Club” (Jailhouse is the brick and mortar version of Paddywagon and Explorer’s Club also has a food truck).

If you can’t find the cart out and about head to the other locations listed above. We have an example of a typical pierogi menu below.

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And here is a photo of a Sophie’s pierogi at it’s finest.

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